Riding a motorcycle is something we’re very passionate about. Others can see that, too—through our photos on social media, clothing we wear, or with a wave as we ride by.
Sometimes we’re asked the question, “Why do you ride a motorcycle?” The classic retort may be, “If I have to explain it, you wouldn’t understand.” However, if we instead engage positively with non-riders about our exciting journey to be the best motorcycle rider we can be, they might just get it.
Who doesn’t appreciate the quest for excellence? As motorcycle owners, we realize the more you know and the more you prepare, the better the ride gets.
Here are five tips to use on your journey of self-improvement when it comes to motorcycle riding.
1. Safety first means gearing up
We’ve been hearing a lot about the importance of personal protection equipment (PPE) in the last several weeks, bringing greater awareness to how essential it is to protecting life.
As experienced riders, we have known the value of our version of PPE for a long time. The question is how much do we use it? Sadly, we can be lax about using proper motorcycle safety gear.
There’s never a good reason not to think safety first, yet we often ride without life-saving gear. This is something we each should invest in changing, for our riding buddies and ourselves.
All the Gear All the Time (ATGATT)
There’s a movement afoot in our motorcycling community called “ATGATT.” It stands for all the gear all the time. You wouldn’t play baseball or football naked. So why ride a motorcycle in shorts, a T-shirt, and flip-flops? A pathway to being a better motorcycle rider is to dress for success by applying ATGATT.
Start from the ground-up with a good pair of motorcycle boots, protecting your feet and ankles and providing an oil resistant sole for sure footing at stops. Next, get a leg-up with some heavy jeans or, better yet, chaps or abrasion resistant riding pants with knee armor.
A good motorcycle jacket wraps your torso and arms. Consider adding body armor for your spine, elbows, forearms, and kidneys. Good gloves are a must to protect hands and fingers. Last, but not least, wear a full-face helmet. Your mind and your face are worth the 360-degree protection.
All this gear is available to handle all four seasons of riding. Good, quality gear makes motorcycle riding more comfortable—and that helps you focus on riding your best ride.
2. Practice makes perfect
Motorcycle riding is often called a sport. While you may see it as a lifestyle, viewing it as a sport has virtue. Professional athletes invest a lot of effort in practicing and staying in shape. If you think of motorcycle riding as a sport, it can help you focus on practicing your riding skills and be a better rider.
On your next motorcycle ride, be critical about your performance. Are there things in your riding technique you could improve upon? Consider your lean angle when cornering, braking, and scanning skills—are you riding at your best?
We can all improve our riding skills. Ask any professional motorcycle racer—the more you practice, the better it gets. All it takes is time and an empty parking lot to create a makeshift rider course. Add a few cones or colorful plastic cups filled with water, and you have a rider practice field. Always ask permission to use the parking lot first and leave it cleaner than how you found it.
Set up your cones or cups to mark turns and braking points. If you have taken a rider safety course, these should be very familiar drills. Consider doing this with a riding buddy—keeping your distance, of course. You can observe each other’s riding skills, and committing to practicing with a friend makes it more fun.
Few things are more satisfying as a motorcycle rider than cruising down your favorite road and carving perfect lines through all the curves. Being in better control of your motorcycle makes for a smooth ride. And that feels as good as sunshine on an early morning.
3. Know your motorcycle
At the center of the riding experience is the motorcycle itself. Whether it be a touring bike, sport bike, or trike, you’ve chosen your motorcycle as an expression of yourself. Motorcycles are the ultimate personal transportation. For many of us, our bikes are the most prized possession we own.
In the quest to be a better motorcycle rider, your motorcycle must be the best it can be, too. This is so obvious we often forget about that aspect and just hop on and ride. Yes, many of us do a pre-ride safety check, but do you do it before every ride?
When times get tight financially, we might justify postponing an oil change and run to the outer limit of the recommended oil service life. A good motorcycle mechanic will tell you that’s penny wise and pound foolish, as clean oil is cheap maintenance.
When it comes to the running gear and critical components, keeping them in perfect running order is of vital importance. Riding a motorcycle is a magical experience. When everything works right, you’re nearly flying, gliding along the pavement in a smooth harmony of rider and motorcycle.
Your motorcycle tires should have good tread and be correctly inflated. Your brakes should have clean pads within wear limits and good rotors or drums. Keep hydraulic fluid fresh and bubble-free. Check that control levers are smooth working and cables aren’t worn or frayed. Verify you have working lights, signals, and horn. Everything from the steering to the frame should be in good, working order.
With everything in place and working properly, then all your practice and skills will combine with a fine motorcycle for safe and enjoyable riding.
4. Ride your own motorcycle
When you and your motorcycle are in top-flight condition, you can expand the envelope of your riding experience. Maneuvers that were once a challenge will feel smooth and easy. This is the time to make sure your caution and wisdom are up to specs.
When riding solo, it’s easy to stay within the envelope of your skills and motorcycle handling limits. But what about in group rides (when that’s feasible again)? Do you get tempted to keep up with faster riders? Even when you casually ride with riders you encounter on popular motorcycling roads, do you get competitive?
It’s a common and natural thing in most sporting endeavors to want to be the best. Or expressed another way—to win. Motorcycle road riding isn’t a racetrack competition. There is no checkered flag or podium. Only a safe return home to ride another day. Beware the temptation to ride someone else’s ride. In group rides or when sharing the road with fast strangers, ride your own ride!
5. Ride sober
We seek to be the best and safest motorcycle riders we can be. Always remember that motorcycle riding is mostly a mental activity. True, we develop muscle memory through practice and experience. Through practice and the use of our riding skills, we are training our mind to use our muscles to respond properly when the unexpected happens. We constantly scan for hazards and plan to avoid them.
All this depends on a clear mind and sharp senses. Alcohol, drugs, and some prescription or over-the-counter medication can dull our senses. The bravado from a bottle doesn’t have the competence and the reasoned caution of a sober mind. Be smart and safe. Be a sober rider. Remember: If you call someone a friend, don’t let them ride under the influence of alcohol or drugs.
Till next time, ride safe!
With your motorcycle in riding shape and your mind clear, it’s time to enjoy some great rides. We offer a recap of some of the best motorcycle rides in the U.S. How many have you been on?