Learning to Ride Can Be Really F*cking Hard. But It Doesn't Have To Be.

scooter 12.JPG

Learning to ride is something that takes more than a few days/weeks/months. It's 15 years later and I'm *still* learning.

Imagine learning to drive a car for the first time and your mom/dad offers you:

  • Honda Civic 2 Door
  • Chevy Suburban 

Yes, you could theoretically learn on both but which one is going to give you more confidence, self esteem and increase your driving skills? Most of the time when I've thrown a leg over a new bike (either mine or borrowed) I've gone in with some self confidence and some actual riding ability. But riding ability alone isn't enough for me to ride something I've never ridden before. I need the confidence too. I need to feel like I can do it because if I don't, I won't even try. 

I've been getting a lot of questions lately from new riders or potential new ones and I wanted to repeat what I've been telling them here. I know not everyone's experience is the same, but I can guarantee you that learning to crawl before you walk makes a HUGE difference. But ask anyone who started on a small displacement motorcycle or scooter before moving up to a 600cc-1000cc-1500cc option how much they learned. Too much? Not enough? Why or why not? 

Think of learning how to ride this way: 

  • 200-500cc: man, this is a lot easier than I thought. I kick ass. I'm getting the hang of this. 
  • 600-1000cc: shit, this is a lot harder than I thought. I suck at this. I never should've bought a motorcycle.

When my husband took this photo of me back in 2004, we just took our new Ninja 250 for a spin (because that was the *only* small sportbike/naked sporty you could buy in the US) and he basically taught me how to shift up to 2nd and 3rd. I rode around the parking lot a bit to see what it was like. My MSF class was the following month. I never took it on the street, I just did a few laps, nothing special.   

 Me in the Presidio Parking Lot, San Francisco. We didn't have iPhones back then, but we did have Motorola flip phones :0

Me in the Presidio Parking Lot, San Francisco. We didn't have iPhones back then, but we did have Motorola flip phones :0


But before all this motorcycle business, I rode my awesome 50cc 2Stroke Aprilia Scarabeo Scooter. 

I rode her A LOT in my first year of riding (Sept 2003 - Sept 2004). 3,599 miles all in San Francisco to be exact. 

I loved her for the short time I had her. But as soon as I threw a leg over the Ninja (it was his but I needed something to ride so....) I knew it was meant to be. And I figured out how to ride her to work (across San Francisco) in a couple days. 

If you see my pic above on the Ninja, I'm on my toes. Did I care? Nope. Because I was already riding my scooter on my toes. 

 2006 Kawasaki Z750S

2006 Kawasaki Z750S

Contrary to popular belief, scooters can be a lot taller than most motorcycles. The Scarabeo had a 30" seat height. But my learning curve was far far less steep than if I forced myself to throw a leg over something like my next bike, the Kawasaki Z750S for the first time (instead of the Ninja). It was taller, heavier, taller and heavier. Did I mention how much heavier it was? Almost 500lbs wet. Ugh.

 2003 Suzuki SV650S

2003 Suzuki SV650S

The higher center of gravity on this thing would've been ridiculous. If I had to learn on this or even my SV, I doubt I would've had the skill to move up. 

When I chose that Z750S, it set me back 3 years in my riding development. Everything was suddenly harder: parking, cornering (imagine driving a tall, heavy truck on a twisty road instead of a convertible), uturns. The only thing that was easier was accelerating on the freeway merging into traffic.  

For perspective, this is how much that bike choice affected my riding. This list is in order of when I owned each one and how much I rode them::

  1. Aprilia 50cc Scooter: 3,599 miles in 1 YEAR. woooo hooo! I'm ready to move up. 
  2. Kawasaki Ninja 250: 12,000 miles in 3 years. I learned so much and did a mix of city and highway riding/touring for the first time.
  3. Kawasaki Z750S: a little under 8,000 miles in 3 years. Some city riding, and a couple of long distance rides to LA from San Francisco. But riding the twisties? Forget it. It was annoying, hard, not fun and I was miserable. 
  4. Suzuki SV650S: 6,000 miles in the first 8 MONTHS. YESSSSSS. Where were you all my life? Why didn't I buy you sooner? Ahhh, this is how you corner. That's what it feels like to actually lean. You were so much easier to park and maneuver in San Francisco. And you were WAY MORE FUN to ride. 

Remember, riding is supposed to be FUN! Not stressful, not frustrating and not miserable. When you get off that bike you might be in a little pain from the seat time but you should be HAPPPPPPPY. Ask yourself these questions:

How do you feel when you look at your bike, or think about riding it? How do you feel after? Confident? Excited? 

As soon as I bought the SV, my learning curve flattened and it was so much easier to ride. So much so that I rode it everywhere/everyday/constantly. I learned so much in that first year and felt like it should've been my second motorcycle. This is a photo of the first "curve" I ever took on the SV when my seller delivered it to my house (from 300 miles away, there are still GOOD people left in this world!). It doesn't look like much but just taking this little bend, I felt a huge difference in what I had been missing for the last 3 years. I felt confident, happy, excited, and most of all HAPPY

All I learned on my Z750S was how to manage a taller, heavier bike. But it didn't teach me anything about advanced cornering techniques. Improper cornering is an extremely common factor in solo motorcycle accidents aside from DUI. I firmly believe that It doesn't matter how long you've been riding, it matters how well you can ride. 

Your bike choice will greatly impact how well, how much, how confidently you ride for the next 6-12 months. So make the EASY choice that benefits you in the long run. 


Because are you planning to ride the same bike for 50 years? Not me..... I'm 3 years in and will probably get itchy in a couple :D

A quick caveat to this post. Learning to ride isn't easy like taking a bite out of a freshly baked chocolate chip cookie. But you can lighten the load a bit and bring down the level of difficulty down from a 10 to a 5. Struggling is definitely part of the experience and you will learn through your mistakes because you have to in order to learn. But when it's so hard that it starts to make you question your ability to ride or the decision to ride in the first place, then it's time to rethink some things. I hope this post does just that, helping you rethink some things. Please post a comment or two below....