Surprise! There really isn’t one motorcycle lifestyle. Riders are as varied as the big melting pot we call the U.S.; we’re drawn from every ethnic, age group and socio-economic class in the country. While the stereotypical leather-clad bearded Hog rider lingers on like a hairy eccentric aunt, you’ll note that lately there are as many kinds of bikes out there as people who ride them: White-collar prosperous business people on BMWs (with GPS of course), college kids on Ninja 250s, recumbent-bicycle scientific types on highly fuel-efficient scooters, dashing Hollywood look-alikes on high-performance sportbikes. Like so many things, the more you look at motorcycles, the more you find out there’s a lot more to learn. And when you start thinking and talking about motorcycles, you’ll be surprised how many people ride.
Learning to ride is easy.
No, you don’t have to have a motorcycle
Dive right in. Unlike the bad old days, there are now really good, safe ways to learn to ride a motorcycle. The Motorcycle Safety Foundation (www.msf-usa.org) is an industry-supported organization whose mission is to get people onto motorcycles safely and to keep them that way. The Motorcycle Safety Foundation runs training courses all over the country, and even provides user-friendly bikes to get started on.
If you’re really feeling your oats, the best way to learn to ride is in the dirt; the reduced traction and obstacles you encounter when there’s no pavement teaches you to be in control of your machine like nothing else, and that skill makes you a better street rider too. The MSF is there for you again, with dirt riding courses that provide a motorcycle and riding gear; i.e. helmet, boots, etc.
Once you’ve got the basics down, the sky’s the limit. You can just ride, or you can be one of those type-A people who are all about the ongoing education; there are all kinds of post-graduate riding schools to teach you everything from roadracing to observed trials (sort of like rock climbing on specialized off-road bikes). Use your Google.
Aren’t Motorcycles Dangerous?!
Obviously you are more exposed on a motorcycle—that is the whole point! As for safety—that part is up to you. Research shows that if you do the three following things you are dramatically less likely to be involved in an accident or injured riding a motorcycle.
Education: Riders who have taken an MSF riders course are dramatically less likely to have an accident. Beyond basic rider training—keep learning. Professional racers, police motorcycle officers, both groups regularly practice their skills and take training. It is the most fun learning you will ever do.
Ride straight: Don’t drink and ride. Over 50% of motorcycle accidents involve a rider intoxicated on alcohol or drugs. Simple solution to this issue—Just Say No! Nancy Reagan will be proud of you and you will stay safe.
Safe speed: Evaluate your surroundings before twisting the throttle. The final element that is dramatically over represented in motorcycle accident statistics is riders riding too fast for the environment they are in. Pay attention, watch your speed, enjoy the ride.
Books have been written, plenty of them, about how to stay safe on your motorcycle—not to mention entire forests-worth of magazine articles. We like to boil it down to one simple thing to remind yourself of every time you get on your bike: Act as though you are invisible! That’s it. When you assume that others on the road don’t see you, you will not put yourself in positions that rely on other avoiding you. Instead, you’ll be ready to take the proper evasive action and proactively keeping yourself safe.
Here’s another thing we see enthusiastic rookies doing: When the light turns green, they go! Don’t do it, on your bike or in your car. Green does not mean go, it means proceed when it is safe to do so. Look both ways before proceeding.