Learn to wrench on your bike
Choose your own motorcycle
Make your own mistakes (with reasonable approach)
Educate your moto brain
Ride alone, somewhere you’ve never been
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.
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.
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.
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::
- Aprilia 50cc Scooter: 3,599 miles in 1 YEAR. woooo hooo! I'm ready to move up.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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....
It's been a painful last couple of months. Haven't been riding much and I feel completely out of it.
A couple months ago I decided to visit a Podiatrist to see about my left foot. I have this painful bump on the top of my foot which I thought was a bunion. Nope, turns out it's probably a ganglion cyst. And turns out I have terrible foot issues that cause me to walk uneven and as a result puts undue pressure on the nerve inside the ganglion cyst. I also have a really high instep so that's not making the situation any better. It's already hard for me to find shoes to fit my feet into, let alone additional pressure on the top of my foot that makes it feel even worse.
Generally, I have to find shoes that aren't too tight around my ankles because of this.
Good times. This makes wearing my motorcycle boots for 10+ hours a day difficult unless I wear them really really loose which isn't going to work either. So I did a little bit of physical therapy for my foot which has helped a bit, but hasn't completely resolved the cyst issue. I think I need to go back to the Podiatrist soon.
Next on the list, is my right shoulder. I went to the Ortho the other day and I likely have Bursitis. I haven't done any long rides recently but it's hard to say whether it'll be affected by that. I basically need to keep working on strengthening my shoulder muscles (which I've been working on for almost 5 months now with Crossfit. LOVE IT. Shoutout to Fearless in Philly!) I'll probably need physical therapy too.
Ok, what else? Oh doh, the main reason I wasn't riding last month is because I had a terrible case of Vertigo. Turns out my blood pressure is so low (~95-100/70) that it caused dizziness and lightheadedness. It took a few weeks, but my head finally came back to normal. The weather was pristine here in Philly too (low 70s) and I totally missed it. Now we're into high 50s, low 60s but I still want to try and go riding this weekend.
I had several issues with dizzyness/lightheadedness in the past 5-7 years where I would feel that way for 2-3 weeks at a time and I never figured out what it was. My blood pressure has always read below ~120 so I suspect this is it. The solution per my doctor is drink lots of water (which I'm doing, going through about 60oz every day) and more salt in my diet! I'm totally ok with that, because I have a Savory Tooth.
I am trying to find a bike that is safe to lower... I have a 27 inch inseam... all of the sport bikes are too tall and I dont want a cruiser or rebel.... wanted a ducati 696 but thats too tall and too much power... any suggestions ? - Susan ( love your page too )
First, thank you for reading GearChic.com!
A Ducati Monster 696 can be a terrific bike to start on. But it's not for everyone. And it certainly wouldn't have been for me. If you've read about me, then you know I started on a lightweight scooter. No, you don't have to start on a scooter. However, it's MUCH easier to start on something LIGHTER AND TALLER than heavier and taller. My scooter weighed ~250lbs but had a 30" seat height! But it didn't matter since the weight was really low (below my butt) and I could easily pick it up when I dropped it. :D
If the Ducati Monster 696 is the sportbike if your dreams, then I really recommend starting with something smaller and spend the time you need to learn how to ride! Just because you start on something like a Ninja 250 doesn't mean you are going to be married to that bike forever. We can't grow taller, so what can we do? We can hone our riding techniques and skills so balancing a bike with 4-5" of extra seat height doesn't matter!
By the time I started riding a Ninja, it was an easy transition. I was already used to using my left foot first and keeping my right foot on the brakes to keep the bike from falling over. I was already used to something almost 300lbs, so jumping up to ~350lbs was easy.
The other thing to know is that with a 27" inseam, you will probably never flat foot anything if your dream is to ride a taller bike like a Ducati. Also keep in mind that lowering sportbikes means losing ground clearance, meaning when you lean you will be limited to how much you will be able to! Something that you don't understand know, but trust me you will learn to love especially when you ride a sportbike.
A Ninja 250/300 might have a 30" seat height but that doesn't mean you can't ride them. Keep in mind that when you buy a proper pair of motorcycle boots like these you will automatically be 1.5-2" off the ground from the heel to the arches of your feet. You're now close to 29". And when you take your motorcycle safety class, you will learn the proper techniques to brake and use your controls so you don't drop you bike.
The key to all of this is being willing to learn, grow and make mistakes. It's not easy, it's not quick and it's going to take time. But trust me, when you put the time into a smaller, lightweight bike the payoff is amazing!
But that's what worked for me, and I feel I'm a MUCH better rider because of it. There's absolutely NO WAY I'd be able to ride bikes like these without having invested the time and making mistakes.
Whatever you decide, just know that motorcycling is something you work at, constantly. Even after 12 years, I still struggle every time I ride to do it better and safer each time.
I found your site on Google. I know you usually do motorcycle gear for women but I was wondering if you had any strong suggestions for great for first time riders.
I was very much against my son getting a motorcycle but his father decided to gift him one for graduation. He's graduating from usf this semester. With that, he is signed up to take the motorcycle courses in two weeks. The bike his dad got him is a kawasaki ninja zx6r? I think which is a 600 engine which people don't usually recommend for a first time bike. My son likes to go fast but he's a safe driver if that even makes sense.
I am much more concerned for his safety as San Francisco drivers, Bay Area drivers all together are very dangerous.
So I only agreed if he got all the gear and classes necessary. I also had him sign up for maintenance and motorcycle knowledge classes at motosf and he wasn't very happy but he agreed just to make me feel better.
He lives in San Francisco but from time to time he will be commuting to South Bay for his new job. I've been doing my research and do you recommend him get a one piece suit? Two piece?
He gets hot very easily so he's not a fan of very heavy clothing. What would do the job? His dad bought him an arai rxq helmet as well as dainese gloves. Not sure which. But I wanted to know more about the protection and clothing he would be able to wear in commute vs shorter rides. Is there something he can wear over his work clothes of snacks and a button up shirt without getting sweaty and smelly?
What brands do you recommend. What protection? Also sizing... He likes to wear baggy things. Not super baggy but he likes to have room. Is that not recommended when buying motorcycle jackets? Also what do you recommend in leather vs textile jackets?
Thank you so much for your opinion and time.
I totally understand your hesitation and anxieties concerning your son. I would have to agree that a sportbike such as the Ninja ZX6R is not exactly the perfect first bike for everyone. However, if he's a fairly levelheaded person, he'll probably be okay. I think you've done everything you can by pushing him to get training and educate himself on how to ride and take care of his motorcycle. It's definitely a good idea to know exactly what he's getting into. I'm not sure where he's signed up for classes, but if he hasn't checked out Bay Area Moto Shop in San Francisco, I highly highly recommend it. It's a fantastic community of riders for him to get comfortable and excited about riding!
As far as gear, he could definitely do a 1 or 2 piece, depending on his lifestyle. It will also depend on his body type and overall fit profile. If he hasn't already, I recommend going to the Dainese Store SF. They are extremely knowledgable and have an incredible selection of 1 piece suits. I also recommend going to Scuderia in SF as well, and ask for big Dan. :D It also sounds like he has
Personally, I'm a fan of 2-piece suits because it allows flexibility when you go places. You can take your jacket off if you need to, or wear your jacket with different pants. If you wear a 1 piece, you always wear the 1 piece. He can definitely find overpants and jackets to wear over work clothes. He can also find vented gear that allows air to flow through the jacket so it's not too warm. There are many options, especially for men!
Everyone has different preferences in how they want to dress, but the one thing that is definitely important about motorcycle gear is Fit. Gear must fit close to the body so the body armor sits on top of the shoulders, elbows, hips, knees and back so it doesn't move upon impact. Unfortunately the baggy fit doesn't translate with gear. There's almost no point in wearing any if it isn't fitting you properly, as motorcycle gear's #1 purpose should be to protect the body. Anything can be labeled as motorcycle gear, but if you read my Basics then you know how to tell if it's real motorcycle gear.
As far as leather v. textile, it's definitely a personal choice. Basically you choose leather if you want more durability and a little more protection. However, not all leather is the same. There's everything from lightweight, 0.9mm casual style leather to 1.3-1.4mm high quality, heavy leather. So you definitely have to look at each one individually and see what that jacket offers in terms of protection.
Generally, textile offers a little more functionality like the Revit Tornado Jacket on the left; it has one removable liner that is waterproof and warm. The outside has mesh panels so he'll stay cool, but when he has to get back up to the City he has a warm liner. Most people prefer textile at first because it's immediately comfortable, doesn't feel as restrictive as leather and just feels good from the get go.
Leather requires break in time, because it starts out stiffer and less comfortable. Many new riders (including myself when I was new) aren't willing to make this investment until it feels more comfortable. It certainly can offer more protection, but it's all about what feels good to the rider. If it doesn't feel good or comfortable, a rider won't wear it.
These are definitely options that each rider has to explore on his/her own and possibly make the wrong decision(s) to make the right one. It sucks but sadly that's how most people realize they need better gear, or gear in general.
I hope this helps, good luck to your son in making great riding choices!
"So I have been thinking a lot about riding, i don't know many that ride so it would primarily just be me by myself. But this leaves me with no one to get answers from.. I read all about the gear things, I just ordered these riding sneakers but the more I read the more I think i need actual boots... anyway what about bikes themselves, i'm pretty short, what happens when i go buy a bike new/used what if i feel like I'm too high off the ground? is there anyway to fix that or am I kind of left with being uncomfortable."
First, I want you to know that you are Not alone! There are so many resources online, women's motorcycle groups and more to help you get started. A few resources:
- Clubs: Motor Maids, Women on Wheels. Both of these groups are national, and have chapters all over the country. I'm sure there is a chapter in your area.
- Meetup.com: Depending where you live, you may be able to find riding groups in your area. It's free to join, it only costs money to create a group.
- Try googling for "women's motorcycle groups <yourcity>" There are lots of women's motorcycle clubs/groups all over the country, many of them welcome new riders with open arms. If you're anywhere near Philly, please join my Facebook Group.
- Moterrific.com: I have to recommend my podcast show since we talk a lot about new riders and things that every rider wants to know about including gear, used bike shopping and more. There are lots of other podcasts that you can learn from as well including The Pace and Wheel Nerds.
If you can tell me where you live, I'm sure we can find a group / club near you.
To answer your first question, yes, I would definitely recommend riding boots. Not just sneakers. Especially one of these to give you the most traction, stability and protection that you can get as you start out. Starting with a really good pair of boots helps you gain better control over your braking, shifting and stopping so you have lots of stability when you come to a stop. I like to tell people that when you put your feet down when you're seated on a motorcycle, it sends a very strong message to your brain. Either "This is Great! I feel fantastic." or "Oh Shit, what have I gotten myself into?" Of course, this will only feel good if you're on a lighter bike that's a good match for you (think under 300lbs).
I also recommend taking the motorcycle safety class (if you haven't already), so that you get proper instruction and you'll get to ride a few small beginner bikes to get a feel for the whole experience. You may Love or Hate it after that. I think that will ease a lot of your anxieties right there. You'll also meet lots of fellow new riders in your class, and will probably make friends with some of them as well. If you've already taken your class, you've taken the first step.
Here are a few beginner bikes that I recommend looking at:
- Ninja 250R (old or new, I had a 2003 and it was fantastic)
- Yamaha TW200
- Honda CBR250R
- Honda Rebel 250
- Suzuki DR200 (although it's a bit taller than the others, it's SO light it doesn't matter)
- Suzuki Tu250
- Older standards like a Honda CB350
Since you're a new rider, everything will feel uncomfortable if it isn't short enough to let you flat foot with both feet. That's why I recommend the safety class because almost all the bikes will be short! But you will also learn lots of good techniques like smooth braking and stopping which helps you manage taller motorcycles. I know it's not easy to be patient, but if you start on the right bike for your experience level, I know you'll find it to be much easier than you expected. I think you run into trouble when you start on bikes that are way too heavy, tall or powerful to learn on.
And there are things you can do to alter your motorcycle if it's a bit too tall. I'm not a fan of lowering motorcycles but if you need to always consult a shop that specializes in motorcycle suspension, because they will know *exactly* how to lower it properly. Most dealerships don't have suspension mechanics on site. Before you do that, look into lowered seats! You can get an aftermarket low seat, depending on your bike, or you can have one custom made too.
Generally speaking, being shorter means having to struggle a bit to ride bigger bikes. There's no way around it. So it helps if we start out small and just get used to riding to work our way up. I spent more time doing this than most folks, and I know not everyone has the patience to do so but I highly recommend it. As a result I've been able to ride a lot of bikes that I never, ever thought I'd be able to ride because my inseam is so much shorter than these bikes.
As you ride more, you get better. The better you get at perfecting your riding techniques, the easier it gets to ride bigger bikes. There are so many people out there who ride tall motorcycles, it's not impossible!
As far as buying a used bike, here are a couple resources for you to read with regards to used motorcycles:
- AMA Used Bike Checklist
- Article about Shopping for Used Motorcycles
- Moterrific Podcast Episode about Used Motorcycles