So You Want to Ride.. Part 1 The Philosphy

in advice, howto

So you want to learn to ride? Do yourself a favor. Don't!!! What!? Yeah, don't learn.  Do yourself a favor and stay away from bikes.  Bikes are dangerous.  You'll fall and get hurt.  You may even get killed.  Those of us that ride and have ridden for a long time, know people that have crashed bad, been maimed or even killed from crashing.  So, ask yourself how bad you want to ride.  Are you prepared to be maimed, crippled for life or even die?  Can you live without?  Is the risk worth it to you?  Many people simply see a bike and see the people riding them and think it would be something cool to do.  Don't be one of them.  Think it through.  Imagine in your head what it would be like to live in a wheel chair, or worse be trapped inside a body that simply doesn't respond.  Imagine what those you leave behind will go through if you die. I use to urge and encourage everyone to ride.  Not any more.  Not only will operator error get you maimed or killed, but debris and other motorists may just as easily do you in. Oh, and you if you can't ride a bicycle.. don't try riding a motorcycle... seriously, ride a bicycle first. Yeah.. you laugh, but you'd be amazed.  Now.. still want to ride?  Read on then.

I'd say the first thing to learn is fear.  Fear is good.  You know all those "no fear" stickers you see.. those stickers are the dumbest things I've ever seen.  The whole idea of no fear is a very poor idea when it comes to riding.  Fear is your friend.  Fear will let you know when you are in danger and when you need to pay the utmost attention.  "But, shouldn't we pay attention all the time?", you ask. No, that would be impossible and you'll wear yourself out.  You'll become exhausted and fatigued.  Fear will let you know when to pay attention.  How you react to that fear will determine how well you survive.

Fear is different than excitment.  They're very similar and you may get the two confused at first.  Excitement are the butterflies in your stomach.  It's the nervous feeling, the dry mouth and the shaky voice.  Fear is the hair standing on the back of your neck, it's the tendency to quickly tense up and you suddenly feel so alert it makes your head hurt.  Some people crave excitement. Some people do not.  If you don't crave excitement and are not a thrill seeker.  I urge you, don't ride. Do you scream when startled by spiders or other bugs? Don't ride.  Do you easily panic? Don't ride.. you get the idea.  You have to have the ability to overcome your fears and control your reactions.

There are any number of ways to begin to learn to ride.  But the ultimate goal is for your riding skills to become a reflex action.  It needs to become as natural as walking.  You need to be able to stop, turn, accelerate and change gears as easily as you walk or sneeze when your nose tickles.  That's where not having to pay attention all the time becomes a good thing.  It allows you to concentrate on learning new skills by letting your auto pilot reflexes take over.  You should strive to constantly push the limits of your abilities.  You should ride often and exercise those skills regularly.  Havn't panic stopped in a while? Have at it.  Wait till nobody is behind you and hammer those brakes.  Test those skills.  Me? I panic brake every time I see a cop.. just in case I was speeding.  You need to just think stop, turn or go and your body needs to make it happen.  If you're still mentally concentrating on turning the throttle and coordinating you gear shifts through shear concentration.. let off throttle, pull in clutch, lift gear shift lever, give throttle, let out clutch.. then you're not ready for prime time.  Practice, practice, practice.  It needs to just happen. 

 The first thing you'll need is a bike.  If you're lucky, you'll have a friend who has a bike you can try.  That's how most people get started.  If you're not so lucky, you'll have to buy one.  Buy used, buy cheap but make sure it's in good shape.  Don't go right out and buy the biggest hog you can find.  I know people who have done this, and have trashed their 30 thousand dollar ride within a month.  You will drop your first bike.. repeatedly.  Don't argue.. you will.  EVERY rider I know has dropped their bikes.  Some of us do have bikes we have never dropped.  But we have all dropped our first bike.  I HIGHLY recommend starting with a dirt bike or small dual purpose bike.  They won't be easily damaged when dropped and riding in the dirt will teach you more than you could possibly learn by just riding on the street alone. Street teaches you speed and smoothness.  Dirt teaches you control.  Dirt teaches you the feel of limited traction.  It teaches you brake control and when you crash, you won't be going that fast.  You can learn to slide, without putting your feet down.  Does that sound scary? Or cool?  If it's scary, you should re-examine your desire to ride.  I've had to slide a bike on the street quite a few times.  Some of the time it was on purpose, some of the time it was forced upon me either from slick roads, or idiot avoidance.  I also routinely use my rear brake to induce an ever so slight drift when trail braking into a turn.  I've found it helps settle the bike into a turn and actually aids in panic stopping if needed when entering a turn by not overloading the front tire.  But that's a more advanced topic for later in the series.  Get a dirt bike, learn to ride in the dirt.  I see so many people who have no experience riding, go buy a hog or a wing, then they take a day long riding course, and think they're ready to ride.  Hey, it's their life... literally.  Just don't ask me to go riding with them. 

I'm going to go off on a rant here.. Today it seems that so many people want things to come in a pill form. They want to get skinny without diet and exercise.  They want to get a blackbelt in 6 months.. without training for years.. or even a decade. They want to become Nicky Hayden after a week of riding.  It's not gonna happen.  It takes a long time for riding to become a reflex.  The biggest part of riding is the journey.  I'm not talking about the journey of going from point a to point b on a map.  I'm talking about the journey of learning to ride.  Building those skills and continually learning is the journey.  There is no destination when it comes to riding.  The entire experience IS about the journey. 

I would suggest learning some riding skills before taking a class.  These weekend long classes are not that great.  Many people think that because they are sanctioned by the state, that they are good classes.  They teach you the very basics.  Nothing more.  If you've never been on a bike before the day and a half long class will leave your head spinning.  You should at a minimum have a firm grasp on using and slipping the clutch, changing gears and braking.  Lot's of people do wash out of the classes because they are simply incapable of operating the clutch correctly.  If you've never done it, it's difficult.  People who can drive a manual transmission automobile will have a much easier time adapting.  All you auto drivers out there.. are in trouble.  Learn the basics first, then take the riding course.  I recommend getting a complete skillset from an experienced riding before taking the class... and preferably learning that skillset in the dirt.  

Wear protective gear.  You know when you fall on the ground it hurts right?  Now, have a 400lb guy pick you up, throw you on the ground and then fall on top of you.  Hurts more right?  Right!!.  Have somebody drive your car down the road at 30mph.. now jump out of the passenger door.  Hurts right?  Don't want to try that? Ok, get some 40 grit sandpaper, tape it to the ground rough side up.. now rest all your weight on your knee and move your knee back and forth on the sand paper for about 4 seconds.. Now, imaging that all over your body.  If you're riding on the road, get leather.  Nothing else compares.  Get leather, or get scraped.  Riding in the dirt, nylon gear is ok.  But make sure you have hard plastic elbow and knee guards.  Knees split open handily.. and it aint pretty.  Full face helmets are a must if you wnat to keep your jaw and nose attached to your face.  Goggles or bullet proof glasses are a must too.  And, finally gloves.  You remember those reflexes.. your hands coming out will be the first thing that happens when you fall.  Crash a few times, and you'll learn to tuck and roll instead of putting your hands out.. yes, that's experience speaking.  Hands and forearms do not make good bumpers.  But.. more on that later.  Protective gear is a must.

Can you ignore this advice? Sure you can.  But, if you want the benefit of my experience, heed it.  You'll have a much more enjoyable time while learning, and chances are, you'll stick with it if it's more enjoyable.  I can't stress learning to ride in the dirt first.  Mud is even better, it's much softer. :)  You'll probably find it more difficult learning to ride in the dirt, but that's the point.  Dirt is slippery.  Slippery means you're more likely to fall.  Falling is discouraging.  If you get discouraged and decide to forego riding on the dirt in favor of jumping right to the street.. don't.  Don't give up.  You'll be thankful you did because riding on the road will be that much easier.  You'll have the skills you need to handle the bike and survive.

Stay tuned next week when I'll talk about specific skills, get into the meat of things and get you some things to practice...  


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