Things learned on his first day of riding…a very astute and self-aware post from

I saw this today in the “becoming a better rider” forum of and was totally impressed that a new rider could have such a perfect enlightened day and be able to verbalize it into a very readable post. Thank you Derek for a wonderful read!!

Things I Learned on my First Riding Day
I completed the California Rider Safety Education program, got my endorsement and my license from the DMV, bought some good protective gear (gloves, legs, jacket, full-face helmet, boots) and a new Kawasaki Ninja 650r motorcycle. I had taken it up and down my home street a little after practicing the friction zone in my driveway for a while, then parked it safely at home.

I am a new rider and this advice is based on what I learned in my first day out. I am thus not writing from a well of experience but I’d like to share my observations with anyone who cares to read on.

On Saturday, my good friend joined me. He’s been riding for about 3 years and commuting every day. I think he’s got about 20,000 miles on his bike. We rode all day Saturday, from morning until evening, with stops for food and the like. I learned so much in that first day – from both success and mistakes/failure and thought I’d log it here.

1. Have a Plan

I wanted us both to know the plan when we were riding. My plan included the following:
Where we would be going
Communicate directions
Know who was leading and following
Parameters of how we would ride (to the lowest common denominator)
Review of basic group riding guidelines (staggered except in corners, etc.)

I’ve read that you put a more experienced rider in the rear. I found it beneficial to be in both positions during different parts of the day. I learned on the highway by watching my friend’s positions and control and felt more confident knowing he was there in case I needed help.

What should have been on my list, but wasn’t:
Hand signals

It wasn’t clear we were pulling a U-turn instead of making a left at a particular light. Also, if fuel is getting low (which wasn’t a crisis this time around) it’s important to be able to communicate that between riders.

2. Country Road and Easy Curves

I didn’t push myself past my limits. What I did learn was the material from my MSF course was incredibly helpful. I slowed if I couldn’t see over the tops of hills in case a hazard was present. Turning my head and looking where I want to go was paramount to making smooth turns.

My friend pulled off at one point and asked me, “Did you see the lose gravel in those corners?” Nope, I hadn’t. He explained those popping and clacking sounds were loose gravel hitting the bike as we rode. In the country, steer clear if possible of:
Dry leaves
Wet leaves
Round thorny seed or acorn things
Loose gravel

It’s always okay to ride your own ride. Sometimes I felt I didn’t want to try to keep up (as he enjoyed a few of the straight-aways) and eventually I’d catch up while he backed off a bit and waited.

3. The Fuel Pump

You pull the lever… no gas comes out. How the heck do you fill your tank at a pump?
Don’t park the bike too close to the pump, or there will be no room to pump gas.
There’s a spring-activated mechanism on each gas pump nozzle that is designed to disengage the pump lever in case the nozzle springs out of a car’s gas filler tube while filling. My friend showed me to engage the catch of the fuel spring on the outer part of the filler hole and push gently so the pump lever will engage and allow you to fill.
Back-pressure still shuts off the pumping action, so to top it up to the right place takes a fair degree of control.
Leave the tank bag on your seat, not on the ground, to reduce the chance of forgetting it.

4. The Highway

Wind force is AMAZING! It’s like nothing I’ve experienced, and my top speed was only 75mph. Gusts from the side require attentiveness and good lane position to safely compensate.

Suspect every driver in a cage. For the first time on Saturday, I was on the other side of the fence – now I was the invisible one and everyone else was out there to get me. Minimizing risk and choosing a position with an exit strategy is a constant, demanding but necessary task. I would try to position myself where cars couldn’t get inside the riding group but also wouldn’t fight it if a car wanted to move. I’d back off – remembering that I’m invisible. I would leave room for cars to move into my lane, or would pass them so that they could see me and know I was there.

What I don’t know yet is where the best lane is. The right lane has constant traffic merging and exiting, so that in many cases seemed higher risk. The far left lane, on the other hand, is where the fastest traffic is moving (where I normally am in my sports car). I rode in this lane several times for the advantage of not having anyone on my left. At other times, the next lane over felt safer.

My friend explained no two situations, drivers, cars, etc. are the same and you have to fine-tune your strategy to each car you see on the road. I felt most comfortable when I made room and chose a position that gave me more time to react.

5. Friction Zone, Friction Zone, Friction Zone

I suck at it. I stalled the bike about 4 times yesterday because I didn’t have enough gas, didn’t let the clutch out with enough control, or a combination of both. This morning, I did much better. Practicing this seems so important, because when a light turns green, cars expect you to go as a matter of normality, and if you stall out someone impatient could hit you. That was my observation – intersections are not safe!

6. No Seatbelt

I have been driving for over 20 years. About a half-dozen times on Saturday my brain went “You’re not wearing your seatbelt… there is no seatbelt”. At another time, I was in a decreasing radius turn and realized, at 40mph, that if I hit the terrain at this speed (seeing a hill go by) I’m going to feel it. The ride drilled home that I’m exposed on a motorcycle and I must always be alert as to what is going on around me.

7. It’s cold at Night

Even on a hot day, it gets cold riding on the freeway at night! I’m glad I had my riding gear, but even through the jacket I could feel the difference.

8. Easy on the Rear Brake

In certain situations it feels more natural to apply more pressure to the brake pedal. I didn’t skid (except while practicing in a parkinglot), but front brake is where it’s at. I need more front brake and easy on the rear brake, though (due to rider training) I always apply both.

9. I dropped My Bike – Get back on that horse!

Someone on the forum here suggested the Legion Hall parkinglot in Lafayette, CA, so I checked it out. There’s a lot of room on the weekend. I was practicing low speed turns (figure 8s) on my 650, which I hadn’t done before. I was doing okay until at one point I stalled it and down she went. I received two little scratches on the new faring as a reward and some experience:
Speed is required to maintain a turn, along with weight-shift. My friend explained it’s not all about the throttle and I need to work in my clutch control.
It is true that the techniques I learned on the 250cc bikes in the MSF class applied directly to my 650! Shifting the weight, “standing” onto the outside peg, turning the handlebars – nice!
Crank my head around and look where I want to go. (My friend quipped, “If you look at the ground, you are going to be on the ground”).
I read on another forum how to lift a goldwing. My bike isn’t that heavy, but it’s 480 lbs wet. I bent my knees with the bike behind me and walked backwards to get it back up. That worked great!
Better to fail while practicing in a parking lot than to fail in an intersection.

Well, that’s all I got for now but I’m sure there’s much more that is soaking into my brain as it climbs this new (and fun) learning curve.

Would be glad to hear your comments!


*reprinted with Derek’s permission*

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