How To Ride a Motorcycle

Two wheels good.

parked motorcycle
Jonathon Klein

The Drive and its partners may earn a commission if you purchase a product through one of our links. Read more.

You’ve just seen the cinematic masterpiece Torque and now your world’s empty without a high-revving motorcycle in it, but you’re unsure of how to actually ride a motorcycle safely? Well, good moto-cinephile, you’ve come to the right place.

Riding a motorcycle is a truly rewarding experience. It’s as close to total freedom as possible without being asleep and dreaming. Still, real dangers exist, but you can reduce the risks by learning some basic skills and adopting a mindset of constant improvement.

The Drive’s crack How-To team is here to help and guide you through learning how to ride a motorcycle. Your helmet ready?

How to Ride a Motorcycle Basics

Estimated Time Needed: Two to four hours with a lifetime to perfect

Skill Level: Garage Hero

Vehicle System: Motorcycles

Motorcycle Riding Gear
Sam Bendall

The author looking fly in his motorcycle riding gear.

Motorcycle Safety

Motorcycling is dangerous: full stop. You can be seriously injured or worse. Wearing the right gear, using solid judgment, and being alert are the key tenets to riding safely. Here’s what you’ll need to ensure you keep your skin spotless, and your bones intact.

And if you can't find your perfect helmet, gloves, jacket, jeans, and boots above, you can visit our friends at RevZilla to find the perfect motorcycle gear for your first adventure! Click here to check them out.

Organizing your gear so everything is easily reachable will save the headache of dismounting your steed mid-start or waiting for your handy-dandy child or four-legged helper to bring you that sweet Sons of Anarchy Bowie knife. (You don’t need a Bowie knife for this job. Please don’t have your kid hand you a Bowie knife—Ed.)

You’ll also need a wide, flat piece of pavement, such as a parking lot or nice quiet street. Check your local DOT motorcycle licensing procedures laws to make sure you’re not violating any laws when using the street, because we aren’t gonna pay off your impound or court fees.

Everything You’ll Need to Ride a Motorcycle

We’re not psychic, nor are we snooping through your garage, so here’s what you’ll need to get the job done:

  • You.
  • The safety gear outlined above.
Indian FTR12000S Handle Bars
Jonathon Klein

Indian FTR1200S handlebars and controls.

Here’s How to Ride a Motorcycle

We strongly recommend a professional motorcycle training course, like those offered by the Motorcycle Safety Foundation (MSF), with an instructor, a safe location, and a cadre of small displacement motorcycles to aid your learning. Learning by yourself with a ratty motorcycle you picked up on Craiglist can be done, but we don’t recommend it. 

Riding Basics

Get to know where the controls are. Looking down to figure out where the clutch, throttle, or turn signals are could mean the difference between seeing an obstacle and hitting it. Here’s a rundown of a motorcycle’s controls:

  • Right-Hand Controls
    • Throttle
      • Handlebar
      • Twist to engage
    • Front brake
      • Lever ahead of the handgrip
    • Engine start and cut-off
      • Buttons on the handlebar controls
  • Middle Controls
    • Ignition
      • Key
    • Gauge cluster (speedometer, tachometer, fuel gauge, or digital display)
  • Left-Hand Controls
    • Clutch
      • Lever ahead of the handgrip
    • Indicators
      • Buttons on the handlebar controls.
    • High beams
      • Buttons on the handlebar controls.
    • Horn
      • Button on the handlebar controls.
  • Right Foot Controls
    • Rear brake
      • Push to engage
  • Left Foot Controls
    • Shifter (two-way control lever)
      • Push down for 1st gear
      • Lift upward with your foot for neutral and second, third, fourth, fifth, and sixth gears.
    • Kickstand
      • The kickstand keeps the motorcycle from tipping over and will automatically kill the engine if you try and roar off with it down.
Parked Motorcylce
Jonathon Klein

Ducati Hypermotard 950.

Getting Going

  • Put on your safety gear.
  • Straddle the motorcycle and turn it on.
  • Grip the front brake lever so the motorcycle can’t pull forward.
  • Move the kickstand into its stowed position with the heel of your boot.
  • Engage the clutch lever.
  • Press your left foot down and shift the motorcycle to first gear.
  • Don’t touch the throttle. The motorcycle has enough torque to set off without using the throttle.
  • Release the brake lever, but maintain your hand placement as you may need to brake quickly.
  • Gently begin releasing the clutch until the motorcycle begins to move forward.
  • Release the clutch fully and ride in a short straight line with your feet hovering over the pavement so you don’t accidentally tip over.
  • Pull in the clutch lever and gently grip the brake lever to come to a stop.
  • Repeat until you feel comfortable riding those short distances with your feet placed on the foot controls.
  • Put the kickstand down with the heel of your boot.
Honda CB1100
Jonathon Klein

Honda CB1100

Shifting Gears

After you get going, it’s time to shift.

  • Put on your safety gear.
  • Straddle the motorcycle and turn it on.
  • Grip the front brake lever so that the motorcycle can’t pull forward.
  • Move the kickstand into its stowed position with the heel of your boot.
  • Engage the clutch lever.
  • Press your left foot down and shift the motorcycle into first gear.
  • Don’t touch the throttle. The motorcycle has enough torque to set off without using the throttle.
  • Release the brake lever, but maintain your hand placement as you may need to brake quickly.
  • Gently begin releasing the clutch until the motorcycle begins to move forward.
  • Gradually feed in a small amount of throttle.
  • As your speed increases, place your feet on the footrests. 
  • When the tachometer reaches around 7,000 rpm, simultaneously pull in the clutch lever and using the top of your left foot, pull up on the shifter and select second gear. 
  • Continue until you reach your desired speed.
  • To come to a stop, release the throttle, pull in the clutch lever, and using the sole of your boot, push the shifter down to downshift.
  • As your speeds slow, downshift to the next gear until you reach first gear and come to a stop. 
  • Using the top of your left foot, pull halfway up on the shifter to engage neutral.
  • Put the kickstand down with the heel of your boot.
Ducati Hypetmotard 950
Sam Bendall

Leaning with a Ducati Hypermotard 950.

Turning and Leaning

Motorcycle dynamics are similar to bicycle dynamics, in that steering the handlebars isn’t the primary method of changing direction. Rather, your lean angle and body weight is the main steering input. 

Let’s start slow and get practicing.

  • Put on your safety gear.
  • Straddle the motorcycle and turn it on.
  • Grip the front brake lever so that the motorcycle can’t pull forward.
  • Follow instructions above.
  • Gently begin releasing the clutch until the motorcycle begins to move forward.
  • Reach a comfortable speed. 
  • Keep your eyes up and always look where you want to go. Don’t look at obstacles you want to avoid, as the phenomenon of target fixation will increase the odds that you will hit them. 
  • As you approach a corner, ease off the throttle and look through the corner to where you want to go.
  • Gently push away from your chest on the opposite side of the handlebars you wish to turn (left side for right turn, right side for a left turn). 
  • Lean your body toward the inside of the corner to tighten your cornering. (The more you lean, the sharper your motorcycle’s turning will become, so don’t lean too far when first starting out—Ed.)
  • As you exit the corner, gently push away from your chest on the opposite handlebar as originally pushed (left side for right turn, right side for a left turn).
  • Lean away from the inside of the corner to return to a straight line.
  • To come to a stop, release the throttle, pull in the clutch lever, and using the sole of your boot, push the shifter down to downshift.
  • As your speeds slow, downshift to the next gear until you reach first gear and come to a stop. 
  • Using the toes of your left boot, pull halfway up on the shifter to engage Neutral.
  • Put the kickstand down with the heel of your boot.

You did it, you rode a motorcycle! Congrats.

KTM 1290 Super Duke R
Sam Bendall

Author leaning into a turn on a KTM 1290 Super Duke R

Pro Tips To Learn How To Ride a Motorcycle

Over the years, The Drive’s editors have made friends with professionals across the industry. That’s why we asked our friend Sam Bendall, who’s a licensed motorcycle teacher and owner, operator of LiveMotoFoto, to give us his pro tips for learning how to ride a motorcycle. 

  • Take a motorcycle class and then take an intermediate class within six months of getting your license. Learning, understanding, and executing proper technique is the single best investment you can make as a motorcyclist.  
  • Invest in quality riding gear. Head to toe. Wear that gear all the time.
  • A small-displacement (under 500cc) motorcycle is a great and cheap way to get into riding. Parts and costs are cheap and when you become more comfortable with all riding dynamics (controlling the bike) you can sell the bike for around the same price you bought it for and upgrade to a bigger bike. The inputs and techniques you’ve sharpened over the course of your small-displacement ownership applies to any machine.

How Often Do You Need To Take a Motorcycle Training Course?

You’ll never be Valentino Rossi—neither can a robot—without understanding that continued training is vitally important to your continued motorcycling longevity. Refreshers after a few years or a small accident can help re-hone your motorcycling skills. 

How Much Does A Motorcycle Training Course Cost?

Most states offer motorcycle training courses, but prices vary state by state. The median price of a motorcycle training course is around $300, which is a bargain if you don’t have a friend like the author or Sam Bendall to teach you for free. 

Riding Motorcylce
Sam Bendall

The author geared up and ready to rock on an Indian Scout.

Life Hacks

Since you may not have access to the right tools, or have a friend you can bum a wrench off of, we also compiled a list of our best hacks to make your life easier and drain your pocket less.

  • Learning to engage the clutch is one of the hardest things to do. If you have a garage, it can be slightly easier using this method and keeps speeds and the potential for danger in check:
    • Push the motorcycle into the garage and move its front wheel until it’s almost touching a wall; one to two inches away.
    • Get onto the motorcycle and turn it on.
    • Don’t touch the throttle, nor will you in this entire exercise.
    • Engage the clutch.
    • Shift to first.
    • Don’t touch the throttle.
    • Gently begin releasing the clutch until the motorcycle begins to move forward and touches the wall. Don’t touch the throttle.
    • When it touches the wall, pull the clutch back in and push the motorcycle back into position.
    • Repeat until you feel comfortable moving further back; five to eight inches.
    • Repeat until you feel comfortable moving further back; two to three feet.
    • Repeat until you feel wholly comfortable with the full release of the clutch. 

Featured Products

Shoei RF-SR Helmet

Motul 7100 Synthetic Motorcycle Oil 4T

SIDI Adventure 2 Gore-Tex Boots

Got a question? Got a pro tip? Send us a note: guidesandgear@thedrive.com