Cross Country on Our Motorcycles – A Father Daughter Adventure

And what is good, Phaedrus,
And what is not good-
Need we ask anyone to tell us these things?

-Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance

Two days before I was to depart on a journey by motorcycle across the United States, I cracked my oil pan. What was only a classic beginner mechanic’s mistake was a dramatically devastating occurrence for me as I faced the countdown to my rapidly approaching trip.

The summer before my senior year of college I was living in New York. I busied myself with classes at Columbia University from May-June, and then worked on a dressage barn through the muggy heat of July. August proposed a free schedule and only some ambiguous desires on my part; I wanted to see my parents back home in Washington and ride my motorcycle. My motorcycle being in New York and my parents being in Washington created a predicament.

After mulling over my endless August options the solution dawned on me, in all its romantic and adventurous grandeur: I would ride my motorcycle cross country! This would not only be an undoubtedly epic adventure, but also one which would solve the geographical location of my motorcycle dilemma. I announced the news to my parents and dreamt each night of me, my motorcycle, the open road and highway attractions like the world’s largest frying pan, or the country’s largest ball of string!

Sometime after my decision my father decided (or more truthfully, my mother elected him) to join me. I only needed to find him a bike; he would purchase a one way ticket to New York and join his daughter’s venture. July rolled around and I began shopping for a bike worthy and capable of this trek. The nature of the bikes specifications created complications: budget, comfort, mechanical soundness…and located somewhere I could take a train to pick up. I finally found a bike in Brooklyn with potential. I hopped on the train to the city after work and to my dismay discovered the Long Island Express doesn’t work as efficiently as one might desire. I finally made it to Grand Central Station and out to some hood in Brooklyn, I found the address and waited for the seller to arrive home. I plopped my sticky self down on a curb and watched the children playing in the wild spray of an open fire hydrant which spilled water into the street in every direction causing medium size rivers to flow down the streets of Brooklyn.

Eventually the seller showed up. He flung a tarp off of a motorcycle shaped object to reveal the product – a 1992 Suzuki V-max, rhino lined black, with metal spikes in the front fender. I tried to have an open mind: the bike just needed to get across the country and the price was right. He jumped on the bike and beckoned me to hop on, I warily climbed on the back with this enthusiastic stranger and he gunned the black devil down the tree-lined Brooklyn block, water flying up behind us from the ghetto hydrant-rivers. He energetically explained and demonstrated how the acceleration on the bike was and then slamming on the brakes -how top notch the braking power was. We flew back onto his block and up on the side walk. I got off asked him if he would ride it to Washington State, he said yes and I said I’ll take it. A half hour later I was navigating the black devil onto the Long Island Express freeway, struggling with the cruiser style fork pitch and suspension, rolling my eyes at the inconceivable situations I get myself into.

My next task to prepare for the trip was the infamous oil change. I set up my tools and provisions neatly around my shiny blue Suzuki GSX-R, excited the way newbies are when they perform their first task of motorcycle maintenance. At the moment I triumphantly thought: ‘mission accomplished’ I over tightened the bolt and cracked the oil pan. Oil gushing out onto the yard I saw the dreams and plans of this trip washing away with my engine lubricant. ‘How could this happen right before the trip!?’ My father being the ingenious man he is got off the train in New York with a helmet, a small backpack and God’s gift to motorcycle riders: JB Weld.

With my oil pan JB Welded and oven baked, we were ready to cruise on out. The morning we left I gave my Dad a tour of the barn I had worked at over the last month. Lines of expensive German horses, the smell of wood shavings, and just as we exited the barn to start our adventure the radio station hailed the start of our journey with, Steppenwolf, ‘Born to be Wild.’ My Dad of course thought the cinema heavens were speaking directly to us, but had to explain the Easy Rider reference to me.

We left New York in an August heat wave and navigating up through the Catskill Mountains we were met with the sporadic, but violent, thunderstorm. We pulled over at Niagara Falls to cool off in the spray of the natural wonder, marvel at my hair sticking straight up from the electric charges and ask some tourists to take our photo. We continued on around Lake Eerie and stopped for a meal at a local café boasting the local flavor of their renowned grape juice.

Sipping on my grape-float I described to my father the goals for the trip, beyond finding Zen and peace inside a helmet. Food and local flavor, I wanted to stay off the interstates and check out the locals, seriously what is in middle America besides Bush voters? I’d heard rumors of corn fields and cheese, but we were about to find out for ourselves!

We pushed forward through the heat and thunderstorms. After grapes and the first great lake, we hit Amish county, Cleveland and then the ominous sight of Chicago fortified by its construction clogged highways. Approaching Chicago the tan lines on my back were seared in red and my fragile GSX-R kept ‘reminding’ me of the inescapable heat by reaching obscene motor temperatures then nagging at me with the check engine light. We headed into Chicago with one motive: push through to the other side. The Motorcycle gods had another plan.

After struggling through 5 lanes of traffic in the merciless sun we found ourselves in standstill traffic on a giant overpass, high in the air with zero shoulder room. My bikes temperature ticked progressively higher then I had ever seen it and then conveniently shut off. With semi trucks on my rear and nowhere to go, I helplessly tried to get the bike running, no luck. I was left to push my bike, Flintstone style; I paddled like mad to avoid getting swallowed by Chicago’s ruthless traffic. I frantically coasted across the many lanes of traffic, finally descended the ramp and stopped under the shaded mercy of an over pass.

Thoughts of a cracked oil pan seemed petty now! Had I blown my engine right here in this Chicago heat wave?

My father and I fiddled around with this and that, to no avail. Finally I went into the city to call a tow truck and find a shop. We dropped the bike off just as the shop was swinging its gates closed for the night. We enjoyed the unexpected layover in Chicago, exploring downtown, walking along the water and eating at a rather questionable Persian joint. The next morning we both piled on my Dads bike, me half perched on top of them luggage and nervously rode to the shop.
To our utter relief my bike was fine, a little gunk in the kill switch assembly had prevented it from starting, but other than that the old Suzuki was sound. My father was eyeing the windshields in the shop like candy after being blasted by wind a third of the way across the country and ended up purchasing one. After installation of the windshield we got back on the freeway. Anyone who has drove Chicago knows not only are the freeways plagued with traffic and construction; in addition ill-placed toll booths act as giant speed bumps and catalysts for more traffic jams.
One of these toll booths, I got the toll money out of my tank bag and as I sped away from the booth, realized I didn’t put my wallet away -I caught sight of my pick wallet flying away behind me. Determined not to lose my money, identity and credit cards to this city seemingly determined to destroy me, I screeched to a stop and ran back to my wallet on the side of the freeway. As I jogged up to my wallet, I saw it flying up in the air as cars sped over it sending my cards and cash spinning up into the air. I half laughed and half cursed at the idiocracy of the entire scene as a dashed onto the road during a break in traffic. I collected everything I remembered having in my wallet, which I guess anything forgettable isn’t worth having.

By this time my father, unknowing of the entire situation had exited and passed by me going the other direction. Seeing I was in one piece and getting back on my bike, he had to go through the tolls 2 more times to get back on track. Irritated, we finally rendezvoused and got back on the road together, leaving the windy city once and for all.

The next few states were pleasantly peaceful. Throughout Wisconsin we kept seeing signs for ‘custard’ a delicacy I have never experienced. Unfortunately every time we came across an establishment with custard it was either 7am or we had just ate, so custard remains the elusive edible item of our trip.

Minnesota surprisingly stole my heart. The twisty roads, green mountains, misty valleys and country lifestyle were alluring and beautiful. One night we stayed in ‘Winona’ a bit of a haul off the road we were following, but worth it. That night we poked around in our tank bags, both out of clean clothes we decided to find a laundry mat. Wearing our night gowns and flip flops we cruised down to the local laundry mat. As our laundry tumbled dry we enjoyed some ‘authentic Italian pizza’ from Minnesota’s finest and then rode back through the quiet summer air.

As we entered the Dakotas, we started noticing a very visible phenomenon, Harley groups, like locust, seemed to be getting thicker by the minute. We realized our trip fell on that hallowed Harley meet in Sturgis and began to develop our inside jokes as it seemed each viewpoint or cultural attraction we stopped at groups of men in leather giddily requested we get a group shot.
Our trip had been pretty free spirited, for weather reasons we wanted to stay North, for quaintness we stuck to small back roads, but there were two destinations I had to see, a twisty road called ‘Spearfish Canyon’ and Yellowstone. Spearfish Canyon because it stuck out on the map as a twisty motorcycle haven and Yellowstone to catch a few geysers. Ironically Spearfish Canyon was minutes away from Sturgis and since we were already headed there, we figured we’d go into town and check out the meet.

Sturgis was a spectacle, I was an odd ball on a sport bike, but it was worth the look around. As we reached the far end of town we took off for Spearfish Canyon, without needing a map as a clear flow of bikes flocked toward it. The entrance to the canyon is marked by Deadwood, a town made all too famous by Hollywood and it was an adult Disney Land full of casinos, entertainment and fatty food. We enjoyed some fatty food and left the rest, as we cruised down the twisty road along a glittering river.

Leaving North Dakota we entered Wyoming, on track to hit Yellowstone in a day or two. Unsuspectingly, Wyoming dazzled us with some of the trips most amazing natural wonders and settings. One evening we found ourselves descending a small mountain range. As the sky grew purple the bluffs which reached up into the heavens contrasted in glowing shades of orange. Sporadic frail pines struggled out of the rocks adding to the unearthly wonder we were witnessing. Mouth open wide I looked from side to side taking in the sight, nearly running off the tightly twisting road a few times, which jolted my adrenaline and focused me back on the road.
Once down in the valley we pulled into ‘Ten Sleep;’ population 287. We stopped for fuel and while fueling a teenage boy raced out of a beat-up old pickup to gawk at my bike. He wanted to chat about the bike and ask the normal questions, I guess sport bikes are not that common in Ten Sleep. As we parted ways he exclaimed, “That’s just a sick-ass bike.” I gracefully thanked him as my father marveled at the linguistical refinement of this sleepy town.

The next day we entered Yellowstone. After a day of cruising around lakes, up and down mountains, exploring thermal pools and geysers, and even riding through a herd of buffalo, the hype over Yellowstone was clearly obvious. We moved north toward Montana, where the Rocky Mountains slowly became a visual reminder we were approaching home. The mountains loomed in the distance for hours on end, they signified the light at the end of the tunnel and our imagination climbed up and over them to our hometown which resided on the other side.

We took a northern route over the Rockies and Idaho boasted its finest of glittering lakes and god-like mountains. As we descended into Eastern Washington we had around 4hours to go which left us alone in the flat desert to reflect on our adventure. As we raced down the highway, Dads face shrouded with stubble and my hair able to break any brush that dare near it, there was a strange sense of accomplishment. Memories of the muggy heat of New York and Chicago, however embedded in our shirts, seemed distant and now the explicit details of our adventure were being replaced with more implicit lessons and memories.

In today’s instant society, we have facts and documentation outlining nearly every aspect of our life. It’s difficult to really find adventure, to seek out the unknown. While riding cross country you may not discover an uncharted sea or continent, but undoubtedly you’ll feel the excitement and wonder of complete mystery around each bend. The more we learn and accomplish in this life you see that it’s not the destination that matters it’s the journey, but with a journey of this proportion you also realize that; it doesn’t matter where you go, it’s who’s beside you that counts.

Robert M. Pirsig. Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance. New York: Bantam Books, 1973.

7 Life Lessons From Motorcycles on Communications

Life Lessons from Motorcycles is a new Monday series exploring the lessons we learn through riding.

Here, we examine the 7 ways our bikes teach us about communications.

The basic communications model is simple. There’s a sender and a receiver. In between are filters. Often it’s not what we say but how we say it that carries the meaning. Responses are influenced by the verbal and non-verbal messages that get through to the receiver after they’ve been filtered.

The immediacy and potential severity of the outcome when we misinterpret or ignore signs when we ride make our motorcycles excellent models, which deliver indelible lessons.

Communicating intentions.
Motorcycle: We live in a world full of distractions. Headlights, brake lights, turn signals and horn indicate our approach and intended action. Being visually conspicuous can catch the eye of other drivers and prevent a collision. Not only does this include our apparel, it also means letting others know when we’re going to turn or stop, especially if the change is sudden.

Lesson: While it’s wise to keep some things to ourselves, how we communicate with each other is a key ingredient to maintaining healthy personal and professional relationships. This can be a life-long lesson!

Signals that Work
Motorcycle: Checking turn signals, brake lights and headlights prior to going out for a ride is a good, proactive practice. It gives us greater confidence in our ability to travel safely, knowing that we can be seen.

Lesson: Confirming that the messages we intend to send out are those that are being received, goes a long way in averting misunderstandings, hurt feelings or miscued behavior. A few clarifying questions are a good idea, especially in matters of great importance.

Mindfulness
Motorcycles: We receive signals through our senses on surface conditions, posted signs, traffic, weather and other potential hazards. We are constantly scanning our environment to prepare for the road ahead.

We are also vividly reminded of sights, sounds, smells and sensations that are part of our world that we miss when we’re traveling with a metal cage around us.

Lesson: Clearing our mind of clutter brings us to the beauty of present moment. When we ride, we are alone with our thoughts. This explains the miraculous ability of a motorcycle ride to clear our minds, inspire and rejuvenate.

Prioritizing Inputs
Motorcycle: While we’re riding, we take in only what we need for right now and stay focused on our immediate surroundings. It’s important to focus only on those things which are salient to where we are.

Lesson: We get lots of signals but we need to listen first to the ones that are important. Distractions cloud our thought process and take precious energy. There is no point worrying about something down the road which may never materialize. Better to stay in the present and focus on current reality.

Filters
Motorcycle: Anything that impedes our senses can affect our ability to make an informed decision. This includes dirty mirrors, visors, ill-fitting gear, poor lighting, excessive noise.

Lessons: Thoughts, biases, subjectivity, cultural training, expectations can all act as filters and influence how we perceive messages. Everyone has them. Awareness is the first step to understanding and overcoming the potential barriers they can erect. Diversity, while not without its communications challenges, can be very enriching. We just have to be receptive.

Authenticity
Motorcycle: A motorcycle has no emotions. This objectivity makes it easier for the rider to respond appropriately. Ignoring an engine noise, failing to check tires for wear or checking oil levels can result in avoidable trouble down the road.

Lesson: The communications we receive are complicated by the filters mentioned above. Becoming more self-aware allows us to perceive communications and messages as the sender intended. Masking, ignoring or duct taping them may be a short term fix, but eventually, something will give.

Mirrors
Motorcycle: Mirrors reflect back to us what we can’t otherwise see: what’s coming up behind us. They also remind us of lessons we’ve learned along the way. They allow us to react appropriately in the present and prepare for future.

Lesson: Other people mirror back to us what we don’t otherwise see. They provide feedback on how our message is being perceived. Whether their response is favorable, neutral, disappointing or hostile, there’s a lesson for us, even though it may not be immediately apparent.

Motorcycles and our relationship with them, have much to teach us. As Women, Motorcycles and the Road to Empowerment describes, “The partnership of rider and machine when they join together in perfect harmony is like observing a beautiful dance that gives birth to power, strength, balance and positive change.”

How to Ride a Motorcycle Properly

So you want to ride a motorcycle? This article will address the proper riding techniques and tips and will give you the base information on what you’ll need to know on starting to ride a motorcycle.

Motorcycling is a great deal of fun. But it’s very important to learn how to ride defensively and respect the motorcycle and it’s power. If you start out with this attitude at the outset, you will ensure that you’re entering this high risk activity with thoughtfulness and self-preservation, and it will make the riding experience so much more enjoyable.

Perhaps you know what type of motorcycle you want, or you already own a bike, or maybe you just want some refresher information — no matter who you are or where you are in the process of riding, you can use this online guide and information as a source of information on anything from how to start riding to wearing the proper gear or to whatever.

And please know that the Motorcycle Safety Foundation (MSF) offers rider safety and education courses. The courses are covered in more depth further in this article and found as its own section on our site (you can go to our website for more info on the MSF rider courses.

Proper Riding Gear

Whether you are just learning to ride or you’re already an experienced biker, remember to always wear your safety gear. Going down on a motorcycle hurts, there’s no denying it. Have you ever fallen off a bicycle? Remember how badly your skin and hands hurt because they were scraped along the street or sidewalk? Remember how easily your knees and elbows bruised? Now magnify that based on the speed your traveling on the motorcycle. Even if you’re driving around the block in your development or driving in a parking lot, you will easily scrape yourself up worse than any bicycle fall. I’m not stating this to scare you away from riding a motorcycle, I just want to make sure you protect yourself by wearing as much safety gear as possible, including gloves, leather jacket or armored clothing, boots, goggles or sunglasses, and a helmet (which is required by law in most states) . Go to my website to view the proper gear and shopping pages. Once you have your proper riding gear, you’re ready to get on the bike.

Getting On

Before you just jump in the saddle, you should do a T-CLOCS check of the bike. Let me explain —- EVERY TIME before you ride, you should make sure it’s fit to be on the road. The Motorcycle Safety Foundation has a checklist they call T-CLOCS:

T — Tires, wheels (air pressure)

C — Controls (clutch lever, throttle, brakes/pedals, cables, hoses)

L — Light (battery, headlights, turn signals, mirrors)

O — Oil (and other fluid levels)

C — Chassis (the frame, suspension, chain/belt, etc.)

S — Stands (kickstand and/or the center stand )

If the motorcycle checks out just fine, you’re ready to get in the saddle. Always mount the motorcycle by throwing your right leg over the seat. When getting off, always bring your right leg back over the seat. This is done for two very important reasons: 1) The kickstand is on the left side of the bike and that’s where the motorcycle weight is hanging. 2) When getting off, it is very easy to burn your leg on the exhaust pipes on the right side of the bike, and you don’t want to get your leg caught on the seat and pull the bike down on you.

So, starting at the left of the motorcycle, grab a hold of the handlebars, put the weight of your body on your left leg, and lift and throw your right leg over the seat and onto the other side of the bike. Take a seat on the motorcycle. Take your time and get accustomed to the bike. Make sure your mirrors are adjusted properly to where you’re sitting, get used to where the controls are (horn, turn signals, lights, etc.). While the kickstand is still down and holding the bike upright, put your feet on the pegs and get a feel for your leg positioning.

Now before you put that kickstand up and start riding, let’s walk through the controls…..

Controls/Hands&Feet

Let’s go over the basic controls of a motorcycle. Get familiar with the key controls like the brakes, clutch, pedal shifter, throttle, and turn signals. This will enable you to learn fairly easily and then we can work on technique. I say this because you don’t want to be looking down at your feet or your hands while riding.

Let’s start with the right side:

Your right hand is responsible for two major functions in motorcycling – accelerating and braking. If you turn the throttle by twisting the right grip toward you, you apply throttle and give it ‘gas’ to the engine. Do not overdo it here as a little twist will do the trick. If you pull back on that throttle too hard, you’ll end up on your butt before you get out of the driveway. So be gentle with this control.

The right hand also controls the front brakes, just like you would have had on your bicycle. Pulling the lever toward you applies the front brakes. You want to gently add pressure to braking as you don’t want to yank the lever too hard, forcing the front brakes to lockup, thereby causing the bike to skid, and possibly end up in an accident. Most bikes are able to come to a stop using a two-fingered technique (your index and middle finger on the brake level while the thumb is under the throttle and the other fingers are on top of the throttle). Some bikes require all fingers around the lever and the thumb under the throttle. You’ll need to assess and use whatever technique works best with your bike.

Your right foot is used to operate the rear brake, but just note that when you use the front brakes, the rear is a little less effective. See, what happens is when you break with your front brakes, the bike’s weight is transferred to the front. Rear brake application is more useful during low speed maneuvering.

Use this as an approximate guide for braking: Slow speeds up to about 10 mph, you can use your rear brake. Speeds above 10 mph, you can use your front brake lever. Now, in any case where you need to come to a quick and sudden stop — USE BOTH BRAKES!! It’s been proven that using both brakes in an ’emergency stop’ can cut the stopping distance by more than half.

Clutch

Now the left side:

The clutch is the lever just forward of the left hand grip. Sportbikes typically only require only a two-fingered operation (or pull of the lever), while other bikes like the cruisers and touring motorcycles typically require your whole hand to pull the lever and engage the clutch. The clutch is used as a way to connect and disconnect the engine from the transmission. If you’ve ever ridden a stick shift in a car, you understand what I’m referring to. In essence, when you pull in the clutch lever, you’re cutting off the power to the rear wheel and bike will coast as if it’s in neutral even if you’re in a specific gear. Once you release the clutch, the engine kicks in and if you’re in gear, and will power the rear wheel.

I’d suggest you practice this part before you ride off for the first time. Practice by gradually and slowly pulling the clutch with your left hand. Don’t think of it as off or on. You need to find that spot where the engine begins to engage. Each bike is different, so you have to find that ‘sweet spot’. I’ll give you more info when we get to starting the bike and riding off.

Shifting

Motorcycles shift differently than cars. The thought process is the same (Pull clutch/throttle off, shift, release clutch/accelerate), the motorcycle shifting is handled by moving the left foot lever (shifter) up or down with the left foot. The typical shift patters for motorcycles are:

— 6th gear (if applicable to your bike)

— 5th gear

— 4th gear

— 3rd gear

— 2nd gear

— Neutral

— 1st gear

Most motorcycles fit this pattern, which is referred to as the “1 down, 5 up” or “1 down, 4 up”. Finding neutral with your left foot will take some getting used to, but you’ll pick it up pretty quick. The gauge in front of you will have a green “N” that will indicate you are in Neutral. There have been comments and arguments from all over stating that you can shift without using the clutch and it won’t hurt anything. I agree that you CAN shift without using the clutch. My argument is that you SHOULD use the clutch when you shift. Over the long haul of your motorcycle, it will be worth it to use the clutch every time.

I mentioned it earlier with shifting, but here’s how the shift should be done: If at a complete stop, pull in the clutch with your left hand, shift down to first gear with your left foot, ease off the clutch until you feel the motorcycle moving forward and give it a little throttle. If you are already moving, pull in the clutch with your left hand and ease back on the throttle with your right hand, shift gears with your left foot, ease off of the clutch your left hand and twist the throttle to continue the acceleration. I know it sounds like a lot to remember, but when you’re moving, everything happens quickly. Some happen simultaneously. Pull clutch/throttle off, shift, release clutch/throttle on.

Starting it up

Ok, we’ve covered a lot of functionality of the motorcycle, and now we’re going to ‘fire it up’ and start the engine. Most motorcycles these days no longer need to be kick started. We all have that image of the biker jumping up and thrusting his leg down to get the bike started. Not anymore. Here are the steps to follow to start up your engine:

— If you have a choke on your bike, pull it out completely

— Turn the key to the ignition position (you’ll see all the gauges come on)

— Flip the red kill switch down to the on position

— Hold in the clutch (not necessary if you’re in Neutral, but a good habit to just ‘make sure’.)

— Push the engine start button (black button located below the red kill switch)

— Slowly release the clutch (make sure you’re in Neutral – the green N will be lit up)

If you have a carbureted bike, you may need to twist the throttle a little to get gas into the cylinders. If it’s fuel injected, there is no need to throttle.

Warming up/Choke

Warming up a car engine is basically a thing of the past. But a motorcycle engine requires the rider to trust the engine will perform at its optimal level and therefore, must be warmed up before taking off and riding. Once the engine has turned over, allow it to sit idle for a minute to several minutes, and do not rev the engine during this time. Revving the engine can cause issues as the oil may not get properly distributed to the moving parts. Again, if your bike has a choke, begin pushing the choke back in until the motorcycle is idling properly and not sputtering. You’ll get used to the sound of your engine and will easily know when the engine is warmed up. You can use the temperature gauge as a general guide that your motorcycle is warmed up and only start off when you’re confident your engine won’t sputter or fail because it’s not properly warmed up.

Kickstand

Today, most motorcycles have an automatic shut-off if you try to put the bike into gear while the kickstand is down. So, before you attempt to switch into first gear, balance the bike while sitting on it, and use your left heel to pull the kickstand up into place. If you have a bike that has a center-stand, the process is quite different. You’ll need to stand up while straddling the bike and rock the bike forward in order to get the stand retracted.

Now let’s get riding!

Get going

Now that you’ve gone through all the preliminary steps of making sure you’re wearing the proper gear, checked the bike over to make sure no issues (T-CLOCS), are now comfortable with where the controls are, how to shift, how to brake, etc., you are now ready to ride!

Here are some of my suggestions for getting the feel and taking it slow: Practice where the clutch engages the engine – pull the clutch all the way in, and shift down into first gear. Hold it there and relax. Very smoothly and slowly, start releasing the clutch. At a point somewhere halfway between pulling it all the way in and having it all the way out, you should feel the bike start to lurch forward. This is the ‘sweet spot’ where the clutch engages the engine/transmission and the rear wheel begins to move.

Now take your time and just play with this feeling. Let the clutch out slightly until the bike moves forward, then pull it back in. Do it again. Do it again. Get comfortable with this feeling.

Ok, now that you’ve got the feel for where the clutch engages, now it’s time to move. As the motorcycle begins to move forward, twist the throttle with your right hand just slightly to give it some gas and you will start moving forward. Once you start moving, pull those feet up onto the pegs. Get comfortable moving with the bike. You’ll be surprised at how easy it is to keep the bike stable once moving forward. Once you’re moving at a rate of up to about 10-12 miles per hour, you’ll hear and feel your engine race and you’ll need to pull in the clutch/close the throttle, shift upward with your left foot (pump it upward), release the clutch and twist the throttle to accelerate. It may sound like a lot to do in little time, but trust me, it’ll come naturally with practice. Do the same (Pull clutch/close throttle, shift up, release clutch/twist throttle) to pump the shifter up again to get into 3rd, etc. You also do the same to downshift the bike into a lower gear, except instead of pumping the shifter upward you are pumping it downward. To come to a very controlled and steady stop, you can downshift your way and let the engine do the slowing for you. Again, practice this and it will come naturally to you.

Turning

Now you’re a rider…but wait, what about turning the motorcycle!? Have you ever ridden a bicycle? Ok, if you have, it’s almost the same with turning a motorcycle. Anything under approximately 8-10 mph, you actually turn the handlebars to steer the motorcycle. Once you get over about 8-10 mph, there’s a lean that’s involved. Say your motorcycle is at 35 mph and you’re coming up to a right hand turn. Slow the bike down and downshift to where you are comfortable BEFORE you get to the turn (use 2nd gear as an example). Say you’re now at 12mph as you enter the turn. Push the right handlebar to the left slightly and lean to the right to make the right turn. Yes, I said that correctly. With your right hand, you push the right side handlebar slightly to the left to make a right hand turn. Push left, lean right, go right. It’s called countersteering and it works. Most bikers will tell you ‘that’s not right’, but trust me, they are doing this exact thing and sometimes don’t realize it. And if you take the safety course, they will cover this subject. You can also practice these exercises in a controlled area like a parking lot. Click here to view the various motorcycle exercises

All of the above that I’ve discussed takes practice. The idea is to start and stop and ride as smoothly as possible. This will be your key to a safe and incredibly exciting time on the road with the wind in your hair, bugs in your teeth, freedom that only comes with riding a motorcycle. Remember to check out the riding courses offered in your area. Enjoy! And Safe Riding!