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Me: A motorcycle writer, photographer, and instructor, whose life goal it is to recruit more people to ride motorcycles.
My mission with this article: To convince you not to ride a motorcycle.
Stay with me.
In fact, I do want to see more people riding motorcycles. Especially younger people, but if you exhibit some of the following traits, I'd suggest you take a moment to reflect before swinging a leg over any bike with a motor.
As a motorcycle instructor here in California, among the number of students I see come and go every weekend, a handful leave me worried as to whether they'll survive long-term on a motorcycle—and that includes those who pass the basic safety course.
Anyone can learn to be a better rider, and the reckless can learn to be responsible, but take this as a strong warning from someone who does this professionally: If you possess one or more of these traits, and also would like to live for a while yet, motorcycling may not be for you.
1. You Lack Self-Discipline
Riding a motorcycle is first and foremost about learning proper technique and control. Remember the whole wax-on, wax-off bit from "The Karate Kid"? Mr. Miyagi was using basic, repetitive tasks to teach muscle memory—because even though they're not as cool as sweet, ass-kicking karate, basic repetitive tasks are what's required for muscle memory. Likewise for riding a motorcycle: doing U-turns around a cone in a parking lot may seem devoid of practical application, and it's one of the least exciting things you can do on a bike, but it reinforces body and head positioning, plus clutch and throttle control. Doing it well requires understanding how to brake before a turn and then smoothly transition to the throttle, and how to lean into and counter-steer in the turn. It also requires dedication and practice. Failure to learn proper technique may not bite you in the ass right away, but that lack of commitment will certainly bite you eventually.
2. You’re A Know-It-All
You took the basic safety course and got your license. Awesome! But please don't think that means you know how to ride a bike now. There's no statistical evidence that the basic safety course makes you a safer rider. The only way to be a safer rider is by using this equation: Extensive Personal Practice + Advanced Riding Courses = a Safer Rider. If you think you can cheat or hack your way to responsible riding, you can't. If you think you're just super sweet and God's gift to the motorcycling art, you're not. If you refuse to believe me on this, please stay off a bike and ride the bus. In fact, you probably shouldn't even be driving a car.
3. Your First Bike Is Going to be a Rocket
I see this one all the time. A dude comes in, thinking he’s the man (and it's always a dude, by the way—I've never seen the same type of arrogance in any of my female students) and absolutely needs that Gixxer 1000 or svelte Ducati V4 Panigale because a 300cc or a 500cc bike will lead to boredom.
Motorcycling is not about absurd power and speed; it’s about control and confidence. Develop those skills first, and speed will increase apace. Learn to ride a slow bike fast before trying to ride a fast bike fast. If you don't have the patience for that, please go ride the bus with the know-it-alls.
4. You Lack Good Judgment or Spatial Awareness
Does your car have a bunch of dings in the back bumper because you back into the same pole every day? Do you tap the bumpers of other cars when parallel parking? Do you follow other cars too closely or have been in a couple car accidents? If this is a marginal barometer of your past driving experience, please save yourself the misery, potential maiming, and one-on-one meeting with St. Peter for another activity. Having an understanding of what is around you at all times and understanding relative distance and velocity of incoming and outgoing objects might be one the most important traits when riding a motorcycle.
5. You Think Motorcycles are Best for Going Really Fast and Doing Wheelies
This is a quick way to get seriously injured or die on a motorcycle as a newbie. I love lofting the front end of my bike, it’s highly beneficial off-road when surmounting obstacles and there is nothing more badass than a well-held wheelie but on public roads, it can be dangerous and it is also illegal. Too many students I coach come into my class wanting to jump right onto a 600cc or 1000cc sportbike and care nothing about learning the basics of riding. Speed is something that comes with time and practice. Have patience. If not, welcome to the world of hurt and a drained bank account.
Look, motorcycles are dangerous. In fact, motorcycles are 38 times more dangerous than driving a car and if you hit an immovable object or someone hits you, you’re the one that’s going to get hurt or even die. Simply though, motorcycles are bicycles for adults. With high risk comes high reward and, at the end of the day, there's nothing else quite like piloting a motorcycle. For me and many others, it is nirvana.
I want to see more people on bikes but it takes dedication and the development of skills to do it safely. If you cannot commit to that, then you’re going to become a statistic. In the end, that’s not really helpful in building the motorcycle community.