How to Ride a Motorcycle: What You Need to Know
Written by Carolyn Jackson
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Thinking about investing in your first bike? Beyond ogling over all the options for the best motorcycles for beginners and looking into how to get a motorcycle license, the next important step in owning a bike is learning how to ride it. So, if you’re ready to start riding motorcycles, keep reading for everything you need to know.
Riding a motorcycle has some similarities to driving a car, but some key differences are important to learn before you are street-ready. Most cities have a few motorcycle education courses that you can take for a reasonable price (The Motorcycle Safety Foundation has a number of courses to choose from as well). We recommend reaching out to your local motorcycle vendors to see which courses they would recommend.
This article will go over the key steps and things to know when sitting on a motorcycle for the first time. We are approaching this as if you have never seen a motorcycle before in your life. Hopefully, this can give you some background and basic knowledge to make you feel more excited and confident about that first class.
- Learning how to ride a motorcycle is an essential step in the process of purchasing your first bike
- Driving a motorcycle is different than driving a car
- You can find motorcycle education classes to learn how to ride from seasoned professionals
- Reading about how to ride a motorcycle is a great first step, but getting on a bike in a safe environment is the best way to learn
Table of Contents
Understand the Motorcycle Controls and Parts
The best place to start is understanding where the different parts of the motorcycle are and what they are called.
Some of the most important parts of the motorcycle are:
- Rear Brake Pedal (right-hand side of bike, where the right foot rests) — controls rear wheel brake
- Front Brake Lever (in front of right side handlebar) — control front wheel braking
- Throttle (right-hand handlebar grip) — controls the speed of the bike
- Clutch Lever (in front of left side handlebar) — used to switch gears
- Shifter (left-hand side of bike, where the left foot rests) — this controls the gear the bike is in
- Headlights/High Beams (left side handlebar area) — controls your headlights and high beams when it is dark out
- Indicator (left side handlebar area) — this is your turn signal to turn left or right
Getting On and Starting the Motorcycle
Now that you are somewhat familiar with the bike parts and controls that have the biggest impact on riding, you can move on to mounting and starting the motorcycle.
Step 1: Find the Ignition on Your Bike
Pro Tip: Motorcycles do not all have their key ignition in the same place as a car. You will need to find out where the key goes in on your bike.
Step 2: How to Mount a Motorcycle
When your motorcycle is not in use, it will be leaning on the kickstand, like a bicycle. Most people will tell you getting on a motorcycle from the kickstand side is easier, but both sides are fine to mount the bike.
To mount, grab the handlebar closest to you, and simply swing your leg up and over the motorcycle’s back and seat, so one leg is on each side of the bike and you’re centered over the seat. Grab the other handlebar and stand the bike up off the kickstand. Put both feet flat on the ground (or in tippy toes if necessary)
Step 3: Before You Ride
At this point, make sure you feel balanced and comfortable.
Once you mounted the bike, there are a few things you should always do in order:
- Put the key in the ignition
- Turn on the kill switch
- Ensure the bike is in Neutral
- Pull the clutch in
- If you have a choke or carbureted bike, pull the choke
- Check mirrors
The Clutch on the Motorcycle
Crudely put, a clutch allows you to shift gears on a motorcycle. If you are less familiar with gear shifting and manual driving, the clutch on a motorcycle can seem intimidating. Don’t worry, it’s not nearly as scary as it seems. Automatic transmissions are fairly rare for motorcycles, so you will need to learn the different gears and how to use them when driving.
A clutch temporarily disconnects the engine from the transmission, allowing the driver to switch gears or get the motorcycle moving.
The clutch has two major roles:
- Connect an idling engine to the transmission so the motorcycle can go (0-1mph)
- Disconnect the engine from the transmission to switch gears (20-60mph)
Learning your clutch and how to use it properly will take time and practice.
How to Go from Zero to One (or 60) on a Motorcycle
Now’s the time. You’ve learned the controls and parts, and you’ve turned the bike on, you know what to do. As they say, put the pedal to the metal, or in this case… the clutch to the rubber? Going from zero to one on a motorcycle is different from the ease of just stepping on the gas in a car. There are a few steps you need to follow to start going successfully.
1. Shift out of neutral into one
To shift, you will pull the clutch (lever in front of the left handlebar) towards you and use your left foot to click the shifter down. Some bikes have gear indicators on the dashboard so that you will see the bike shift gears. Otherwise, you will notice the shift by the bike lurching forward without your hand on the throttle.
Pro Tip: Most bikes have 5-6 gears. Usually, it goes one as the lowest, and then a half click above that is neutral. So to go from neutral to 1, you will click down.
2. Keep the clutch closed (as close to you as possible) after shifting to 1
3. When you are ready to go, start to very slowly release the clutch (let it go out away from you) while simultaneously gently pushing the throttle on the handlebar with your right hand.
You will need to continually and slowly let out the clutch as you begin to move forward and increase the throttle. Once you are about 30-50 feet out, you can fully release the clutch.
If you let the clutch out too fast, the bike will stall out and die.
4. Always have your hand on the front brake
Pro Tip: To quickly stop if the bike responds in a way you do not like, pull on the clutch with the left hand (all the way in) and then pull on the front brake with your right hand. This way, the engine will stop sending power to the transmission, which will stop forward movement, and then the brake will stop whatever speed you have already gained.
5. To shift while riding, kill the throttle, pull towards you on the clutch, and use your left foot to shift up one gear at a time.
Braking on a Motorcycle
Remember, there are two brakes on a motorcycle. The front-wheel brake is the lever in front of the throttle and your right hand. The rear wheel brake is the peg where your right foot rests when riding. Most of your overall braking power will come from your front wheel brake lever, so do not rely on the rear brake only.
When you are ready to break, pull on the clutch, so it is as close to your and the handlebar as possible and then pull on the front brake and ease on the rear brake with your foot. Remember to apply pressure gently to avoid transferring all the weight to the front or back of the bike, which can cause serious and dangerous issues.
Once your bike comes to a full stop, you will keep your left hand on the clutch, so the bike does not lurch forward. At this point, your bike will be in first gear. To stop, put the bike in neutral gear with your left foot and then you can turn the bike off and take the keys out of the ignition.
Riding a motorcycle requires some extra safety precautions. First and foremost is gear. When riding a motorcycle, you will need some basic gear to ensure you are safe from a potential crash and the elements that affect your driving. For example, a helmet not only protects your head and skull in the case of a crash, but it also can protect you from wind, rain, or even bugs if you have a face shield.
Other recommended gear includes:
- Motorcycle Jacket
- Motorcycle Gloves
- Motorcycle Pants
- Motorcycle Shoes
- Some sort of wind/sun face protection
In addition to gear, one safety consideration to know when getting started is turning. Whenever you turn on a motorcycle, be sure to turn your head in the direction you want to go and look all the way in that direction before you turn.
Once you’ve got all of the safety gear, you can also start to into the best motorcycle accessories to take your ride to the next level.
Where to Go From Here? Hit the Road on Your Motorcycle
The key to learning how to drive a motorcycle is practice, practice, practice. A lot of riding a motorcycle is muscle memory and becoming comfortable and familiar with the controls, parts, and movements. Ensure you practice riding in a safe location like an empty parking lot before you hit the roads.
Remember that every bike is different, and these instructions are generalizations about how to ride a common motorcycle. Your bike might be different or have different methods for starting, shifting, and riding.
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Check out more helpful motorcycle guides and articles:
- The Definitive Guide to the Different Types of Motorcycles (2020)
- Motorcycle Insurance: What to Consider Before Your Purchase
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