Learning to Ride

If you’re interested in learning to ride a motorcycle, I encourage you to do so!

First, if you don’t know how to ride a bicycle (that is, where you are the motor), you should start there. You’ll be able to get your grips on the fundamentals of two-wheeled riding at a much lower risk of injury (well, assuming that you aren’t riding on the street). The physics of riding a bicycle and motorcycle are very much the same, and having an innate sense of how a spinning wheel generates a stabilizing force that tends to keep it running in the same plane and same direction is fundamental to understanding how the bike moves, turns, and how it will behave in emergency situations. At low speeds, riding a motorcycle is much like riding a very heavy bicycle. ;)

When you’ve got bicycle fundamentals down, I recommend taking a professional riding safety course, such as those provided by the Motorcycle Safety Foundation. Hands-on (and feet-on) training is really the best way to learn, and being able to use a class motorcycle instead of a snazzy new bike that you just bought for your first riding experiences is great.

I’ve listed a number of Seattle-area motorcycle schools toward the end of this page… if you’re in the area, check them out. It’s going to be well worth your time.

Next, I’d advise finding a large, vacant parking lot where you can practice without traffic buzzing around you. Bring all the gear you would wear on the street (helmet, boots, gloves, jacket, pants, etc.) and practice cornering, stopping, starting on an incline, swerves, front vs. rear brakes vs. both brakes, and so on. When you don’t need to keep checking for an SUV that may be about to roll over you from behind, or a BMW that might suddenly dart left in front of you without signal or warning, or dogs, wild animals or children that might try to run under your tires, it’s a lot easier to concentrate on what you’re trying to learn. I promise.

Continue your learning with supplementary books, classes, and continued practice in the seat:

  • The Ride Like a Pro videos are great if you’re wondering how people who ride heavy cruisers and touring bikes can nimbly move around at low speeds. It’s all low-speed stuff, here, but well worth practicing: here in the city, much of the time I’m navigating corners, parking lots, starting on hills and having to do u-turns on dead-end streets. Practicing the exercises that Jerry Palladino has put together here gave me a lot more confidence in navigating around–and my bike is nowhere near as heavy as the Harleys and Victorys that he’s got on the courses. I viewed the video in “chapter” form–taking the time to practice the stuff in one or two lessons, then moving on to the next couple, and so on.
  • The MSF provides advanced rider courses with both course and on-street instruction, beginning with the Ultimate Bike Bonding RiderCourse and continuing on. Learn all that you can!
  • Pacific Northwest author David Hough has written some fantastic books that are definitely worth studying until you grok the contents within. His book Proficient Motorcycling: The Ultimate Guide to Riding Well is an excellent place to start, and offers sage advice about many aspects of riding beyond just operating the motorcycle itself: visibility, road hazards, how to ride in the rain, the heat, and also importantly when not to ride. It’s a treasure-trove of useful information that can save your hide. I highly recommend it!

Seattle-area Motorcycle Training

It’s always good to get some professional training before taking to the road, whether it’s for the first time or as part of a yearly ritual to get ready for “bike season” (Whatever that means… I’ve been riding throughout the winter here in Seattle, and I’m not sure when the season is supposed to end or begin).

In any case, more training never hurts. It’ll definitely provide you with skills and practice-time that can help you avoid hurt once you take to the streets…

Evergreen Motorcycle Safety
I took my Basic Rider Course here, which provided me the documentation I needed to get a 2-wheel endorsement on my driver’s license, which is required in Washington to ride on the streets. They offer basic courses only, but have locations in West Seattle, Renton, Totem Lake, and SeaTac.
Washington Motorcycle Safety Training
Another training facility that offers endorsement testing, the BRC and other courses, including women-only courses, on-street courses and cornering courses. Their training facilities are in Everett and Marysville.
Puget Sound Safety
Offers both street and off-road training. I’m interested in off-road training myself, to help with my skills when the road gets nasty… or when it ceases to exist! They also offer the Advanced Street Skills and Total Control courses, both of which I’ve heard a lot of good things about.
Northwest Motorcycle School
Offers “ride like a cop” courses, taken from the King County Sheriff’s department curriculum. Those guys are out there on big, heavy bikes in all kinds of weather and in pretty sketchy situations. I’d be proud to be able to say I could ride like a cop, myself… though, at this point in my experience, that’d be a flat-out lie! ;) The courses aren’t cheap, and seem to be offered only in the Portland area for now, but they let you ride on old police bikes (so you don’t scratch up your own ride). Probably the best training you can get for riding a heavy cruiser!

There are probably many more courses around; the Dept. of Licensing keeps a list of a number of them on its website, as well.

May your rides be safe, fun, and full of adventure. I look forward to seeing you out there!