Here at RideApart we're fortunate to ride a huge variety of different motorcycles on a weekly basis. We may ride a high-powered naked bike as a loaner, head to an event to try out a heavy Adventure bike, and come home with a cruiser—all within one week. Therefore, the staff at RideApart needs to be ready for any bike at any time. We’ve decided to compile a list of things we remember to do before jumping on a different bike for the first time.
We know you don't want to be a part of the next YouTube "2015 Motorcycle Crash Complication" video, so here are a few tips for riding any motorcycle for the first time.
Don’t Out-think the Electronics
“I can do a lot of things in Street mode,” said the PR rep from KTM after picking up the 1290 Duke a few days ago.
Where are you riding this bike? On the race track with warmed slicks? No. Are you Valentino Rossi or Nicky Hayden? No. That means you’re not too good for traction control, ABS, or wheelie control. When you’re on the street you never know what’s around a corner.
I’ve met many experienced riders who have had their asses saved from ABS and traction control, so don’t think, “I’ve never ridden a bike with TC, so I don’t need it,” or “I grew up riding dirt and don’t like TC.” If you're on the street, these electronics will certainly not hurt you, so what do you have to lose?
Check the Bike
I’ve been burned—literally and figuratively—from friends and strangers who told me to trust them in regards to the condition of their motorcycle. Give the chain a quick grab with your finger to make sure it’s not too loose or too tight. Also check the tires and tire pressure (at least bump them with your fist), check for any oil leaks, and finally, make sure all the lights are working.
Do A Walk Around
If you’re taking a demo ride or looking at a new or used motorcycle, have the salesman or owner do a walk-around to show you the basic operation of the bike. If the dealer does not do this initially, be wary of the condition of the bike you’re getting ready to ride. All demo rides should involve some sort of a walk-around—all of our review bikes we receive from manufacturers certainly involve one.
Check the Brakes
Before going anywhere, move your foot back and forth a few times to get accustom to where the pedal placements are. A quick back and forth with your foot will help you remember where the rear brake is in case of an emergency.
You should check both brakes at least three different intervals before you complete your first mile:
1. When the bike is not running and you’re stopped, grab both brakes. This can tell you if the brakes are extremely worn out.
2. When you're doing around 5 mph, softly grab the brakes and come to a stop, but PLEASE do this before pulling onto a busy road (I watched a skilled mechanic, who was in a hurry one evening, forget to bleed the brakes. He came to this realization as he pulled out onto a busy road. He fortunately laid the bike down just before the entrance onto the road.)
3. At speed, softly grab a little brake (make sure no one is behind you), but don’t stop this time. Do this before you reach an intersection, and remember to engage the clutch too.
Also, attempt to lock up the rear brakes at a slow speed. Yes, this sounds crazy and arguably a tip for more experience riders, but I like to lock up the rear brake to check it’s threshold. Don’t flat spot the tire, but a quick firm placement on a safe, traffic-free street at a stop sign will let you know what to expect in case of the unexpected.
Our resident racer Bruce Speedman racing around on the Victory Cross Country. This was his first time riding a big cruiser.
Check the Throttle
All throttles should snap back into place. Make sure of this before it's cranked, but only do this once, so you don’t flood it (if it’s carbureted of course). Bottom line: make sure the throttle operates smoothly and returns to a closed position when you let go. If it doesn't do this, you and the bike can get seriously hurt…
Adjust and Check Controls
Check and adjust the controls way ahead of time. You will distract yourself fiddling with the buttons if you’re not familiar with them before leaving. Don't do that!
MOST IMPORTANT: Where is the kill switch? (Remember the mechanic I mentioned earlier? Using this button might have saved him from going down.) This bike doesn't have one? Don't ride it.
Two fingers on the clutch and two on the front brake are for normal riding, but use all fingers the very first time you compress the clutch. Try this: When the motorcycle is running, check your friction point with all fingers before moving to two or three fingers covering the clutch. If the clutch adjustment is way out of whack, it could need the lever fully compressed. If that’s the case, when you put the bike in gear—and have your other fingers pinched in order to keep the clutch lever from being fully compressed—the bike may lurch forward.
Maybe save the big, smokey burnouts for your bike, not your friend's. Photo by MotoAmerica
Most bikes have lever adjustments, but don’t worry about these unless you’re riding the bike for a couple days. Also adjust the mirrors to show as much around you as possible. Sit up straight and point the mirrors so that your shoulders are barley in the frame. Don’t block too much of your mirror with your body.
Don’t be an idiot. As I write this I’m riding the 2015 KTM 1290 Superduke, one of the baddest naked bikes on the market—it’s nimble and insanely fast. Going 90mph on this motorcycle feels like 45 mph on most others. It’s deceiving, and besides the fact that it can get me in serious trouble with the law and the asphalt, I won’t ride that motorcycle fast for at least a day. Get comfortable with the motorcycle and take it easy.
Use Hand Signals
It seems every bike on the planet has a different way of using signals, whether it be bulbs that are too tiny, or switches that are hard to use. Get used to using hand signals. I often forget to turn off my signals as my personal motorcycles doesn’t have the usual signal controls. Don’t be distracted by the signals and don’t distract other drivers around you by leaving yours on.
Do NOT RIDE it at all if...
Reasons you should not ride the motorcycle in the first place:
- You don’t have gear or the wrong borrowed gear (meaning it doesn’t fit you)
- It doesn’t have a kill switch
- The brakes are too worn out
- When you rev it at idle, it won’t idle back down right away
- Issues with the brake or headlight
- A demo ride that doesn’t involve a walk around or provides you with information before the ride
- You don’t feel comfortable—this is simple, don't force yourself to do anything you don’t want to do
This isn’t a ride at the carnival, if you don’t have the confidence and get hurt, it can result in serious consequences. I’d much rather be a guy without a crazy story to tell, than an Internet star who is know for the fiery crash into a parked car.