I’m Molly, the new wordsmith for Augusta and Adeline. I am a very new rider at what some would consider a late age, so I wanted to share my experience and encouragement for getting out there at any age and experience level.
My dad was a huge motorsports guy before I was born, so it wasn’t something I grew up around, but it was something the family maintained interest in. I was obsessed with watching the X Games growing up and while I was limited to my mountain bike, I always wanted to be on a motorcycle. Then one year my dad decided to get a commuter bike. I was a little older then, had had my driver’s license for years, and was a great driver. I asked my dad to teach me how to ride and he said “No, you’ll drop it.”
So that was that, I spent years wanting to learn - but without a teacher, and with pure discouragement from my family, I just didn’t do it.
Then my 30th birthday came around. I started going to See See’s in Portland (a sweet motorcycle coffee shop) and made some friends that were willing to teach me how to ride. I met my friend in a parking lot, put on his giant jacket and helmet, sat on his extremely tall Honda CBR 500, and learned how to use a clutch.
The rest, as they say, is history. Instead of continuing on with my own story, I’m going to outline the best approach for learning to ride. It’s what I did, and what I encourage everyone who’s interested in learning to do. I will also tell you where I had shortcomings so you don’t make the same mistakes I did! Let’s get rolling:
Sit on a bike + do some research
If you’re on the fence about riding, the first thing you need to do is sit on a bike. It doesn’t matter what bike it is, (although it helps if it is your size) but as soon as you do, you’ll get it. If you have the opportunity to learn some super basic skills from a trusted friend, then do that too, but it’s totally not necessary to get started!
The best place to do this is not drunkenly outside of a bar on some tuff dude’s Harley. Go to a motorcycle shop. Most of the time they’re happy to let you sit on multiple bikes, and will even start up the engine for you so you can feel the raw power you’ll soon be intoxicated by.
Do your research, too. Figure out what a good starter bike would be for you. A lot of people like to start with smaller engines, especially if you’re completely new to riding. The more power you have, the more trouble you can get into. That being said, if you want a bike that you can grow into, that is something to consider as well.
Do you like sports bikes or cruisers? Do you want something you can take off road? Do you want a V-twin engine for the killer torque and unfiltered sounds, or do you want the smooth energy of an inline? Do you want something brand new, or are you looking for something vintage and more affordable? Keep in mind - you will drop your bike at some point. A lot of people choose an older model to learn on and potentially rough up before they’re ready for something brand new.
Sign up for a class
Once I rode that bike in a parking lot, I immediately signed up for classes. I already knew what bike I wanted, but I also didn’t know anything about riding except for the few parking lot lessons.
If you’re thinking about getting started - whether or not you have some experience with friends, or experience from riding as a kid, or even if you’ve never even seen a bike - sign up for a class. Many states require the class to be taken and passed to get your endorsement. Even if your state doesn’t, take a class.
The best part about taking a class is that it’s super low stakes! This is where you decide if you belong on a bike (you do) and learn the necessary skills to be out on the street. And it’s only a weekend for a few hours. You can literally wear gardening gloves.
A class will teach you the rules of the road (literally, not like in a cool way), and how to navigate driving in the real world among cars who don’t know how to look for motorcycles.
A class will allow you to get on a bike and learn the basics with a whole group of people who are as excited as you are! If you’re ever like “how do I make friends as an adult?” this is your answer. And don’t be worried about who will be there! The class I took had every type of person - from experienced dudes who just needed to renew their license to middle aged women tired of being on the back of their husband’s bike. One of the best things about motorcycle culture is that the only thing you need to fit in is a passion for riding.
This class provides bikes for you, usually very small engines that are super easy to ride and super forgiving. You’ll spend hours and hours learning how to ride, mastering the clutch, learning how to navigate corners, understanding breaking power, etc.
The first day of the class I took - I went out and bought my bike. I do not encourage you to do this. You should wait to pass the class and be totally sure you’re ready. Plus, when you go with your fresh new license, you can actually test ride the bikes to see what you like (if you’re at a dealership, private parties may not be thrilled about it).
By the time you’ve finished class, you’ll know whether or not this is something for you. That’s why it’s important to do before investing in a bike. To be totally honest, it isn’t for everyone. One woman in my class dropped her bike several times and couldn’t master the clutch and ultimately decided she was too anxious to continue, and that’s totally fine! What’s important is to just find out what you don’t know - do you like it or not?
Once you have decided it’s something you want to do for sure, then it’s time to really get started.
Get a bike + gear
If you’ve followed step 1, then hopefully you have an idea of what bike you want! Again, I highly encourage some in-depth research, and spending some time at a dealership. I know dealerships get a bad rap because they obviously want to sell you on something, but many of the salespeople are just as passionate about riding as you are and are typically thrilled to share their knowledge. This isn’t going to be a Mazda dealership where people are just trying to sell a car and make a living - motorcycle dealers are all riders with a passion for the sport.
You don’t have to jump into buying a bike, but you do want to stay riding (even if it means borrowing a friend’s). The class you took covers the bare basics, but you really have to get out on the street and start using those skills as soon as possible so you don’t forget everything you learned in class.
Now let’s talk about gear: gear is expensive, but so are hospital visits. If you think of gear as something that’s literally there to potentially save your life, or at the very least your skin, then a high price starts to look a little lower. There’s a common saying that will probably get beaten into you as you get started: “dress for the slide, not for the ride.” That means you’re dressing to crash, not to look cute. (Although with some apparel you can do both!)
Invest in a good helmet. Invest in a solid protective jacket. Make sure your pants are suitable, or better yet wear whatever pants you want and add some chaps on top. Get some good high ankle boots or shoes. Get some dope leather gloves. The choice you make about your gear is not any less important than the choice you make in your bike.
I mean, this is obvious right? You have a bike, gear, your license, some experience. Get at it!
When I started, I literally only rode in big parking lots for the first month or two. I got feedback from the class leader on what to work on, and that’s what I did. We even broke out the traffic cones for turning and swerving. It’s totally ok to hang out in a parking lot until you feel comfortable!
Once you do feel good - and this is totally dependent person to person - then get out on some side streets. You want to experience driving with cars, but not like, rush hour. I personally liked going out at night, but the trade-off is that it’s dark so you’re also learning to ride in the dark.
It’s all about your comfort level. Just keep riding and building up your muscle memory and confidence. Even if it’s just for 10 minutes at a time.
Find a community
Once you’re a confident rider, then it’s time to find some riding friends (if you don’t have them already). I literally started working at a dealership to make friends. The guys I met had years of experience riding and took me out on fun easy rides and were able to help understand things the class didn’t cover. It also made me feel comfortable to be out on the streets with another bike that I trusted.
You don’t have to get a job at a dealership to meet people though! See if your city has a moto-related coffee shop, or a mechanic where people work on their bikes. Some places offer classes on repairing bikes, which is a great place to meet people. There’s also internet groups like The Litas who have city chapters. Then there’s events like The Dream Roll where riders come together from all over to get together for a weekend. As I said before, all you need is a passion for riding and the people with the same passion will quickly identify themselves!
Just do it
Not to totally rip off Nike, but I did want to take a moment to encourage you. When I first started riding, I had so many people say “I wish I could ride” or “it’s too dangerous” or “it’s too late for me.” There’s a lot of reasons not to get started, but there’s even more reasons to do it. Riding a motorcycle is one of the most freeing experiences in the entire world. It’s accessible at any age, and once you educate yourself on the basics and get the feel down, it becomes second nature. Plus, you look cool and everyone thinks you’re cool (which is not a reason to do things, but it’s a plus).
If you’re looking for a sign to get started with riding motorcycles, this is it.~Molly