We’ve all been there. Really. We were new riders once. We understand where you’re at: You’ve just bought your first motorcycle. You’re all excited to be riding your new (or new-to-you) bike home, you park your bike and stand back to admire it – and then it hits you: Now what do I do?

Get the Flash Player to see this player.

Here we’re offering some ideas for how to change from a newbie to a seasoned motorcyclist with a minimum of mistakes and a maximum dose of fun. As we thought about the hurdles we had to surmount as new riders, we decided that since some of our memories had faded with hindsight, we should enlist an actual new rider to give us his/her experience. You know, the view from the trenches.

MOto Mentor – New Rider confused

All experienced riders were beginners at one time. You just need the right place or person to ask your questions.

After weeks of searching, we found Giovanny Olivares, who at 25 is the proud owner of his first motorcycle, a 2015 Honda CBR300R. We’ve taken him under our wing to travel the road of a new motorcyclist and offer advice about life on two wheels. Together with Giovanny, we’ve broken new ridership down into four categories: gear, wrenching, community, and education.

Saddle up, and let’s hit the road.

MOto Mentor – New Rider Giovanny

Our official MO new rider and proud CBR300R owner, Giovanny Olivares, seems to be enjoying his time with us.

Giovanny says: Back in 2009, I saw a Harley-Davidson Iron 883, and the first time I saw that bike, I thought, man, I’ve got to get into motorcycles. On forums, people were saying that it was better to start on something small. You know, less expensive and light. I decided to go with a smaller sportbike because I wanted to test the waters to see if I liked riding. When I first looked, one of the things that stood out, as a starter bike, was the Kawasaki Ninja 300. I also saw the Honda CBR300R and liked the looks of it. Since my car is a 2009 Honda Civic and it never gave me any issues, I knew the Honda was reliable which is the main reason I decided to go with the CBR300R. 

MOto Mentor – New Rider dealership

Motorcycle dealerships often stock a variety of gear for you to choose. Mission Motorsports is a prime example of a well run dealership.

Gear Up

Immediately after you purchase your first motorcycle, a new task follows: acquiring proper riding gear. In fact, having riding gear is so important that you should include it in your budget when buying a bike since first-time riders often spend everything they’ve got on just the bike.

You don’t need to spend top dollar to protect yourself in a crash. You just need to make sure you’re properly protected for a mishap. Additionally, riding gear will actually make your rides more comfortable. So, we’ll take a look at what you should get and in the order you should get it.

MOto Mentor – New Rider discussing jacket

Motorcycle-specific riding gear has many safety and comfort features you won’t find in street clothes.

Your local motorcycle dealership is a tremendous asset to have. The well-run ones will have a variety of riding gear available for you to try on. For a new rider, this is of primary importance since you don’t yet have the experience to make good buying decisions without checking the items for correct fit. This is also a good time to start building a relationship with your dealer’s parts guy. They can help you through many problems, so it’s good to be on friendly terms with them. In these days of internet discounts, remember that if you try on the gear at the dealership and decide to buy it, you really should buy it there, too. Yes, you can save a few bucks online, but a web store isn’t going to be there to hand you a part you suddenly realize you need late on the day before you leave for a big ride. So, help them stay in business. It’s in your self-interest as a motorcyclist.

Buyer’s Guide To Motorcycle Helmets

If you’re in one of the 19 states (plus the District of Columbia) that have universal helmet laws, you’ve probably already purchased a helmet when you picked up your bike. If you live in one of the 28 states that have limited use helmet laws that require only some motorcyclists to use helmets or one of the three states with no helmet law, we’re going to risk offending some of you by saying that your first gear purchase should be a DOT-legal (U.S. Dept. of Transportation) helmet. Really. The statistics are in, and those who wear helmets fare far better in crashes.

When dealing with helmets, the truism of buying the best riding gear you can afford is a major factor. Since you’re only considering DOT-legal helmets, the extra money you spend on premium brands/models might not provide extra protection. Instead, it gets you more comfort features, like a softer liner, lessened wind noise or better ventilation. Eight hours into a 10-hour ride, you’ll understand the importance of comfort in your gear. Although the racer graphics may appeal to you, the plain white helmet offers just as much protection. Also, we recommend sticking to the major helmet brands which have a reputation to protect.

Warm-Weather Gloves Buyer’s Guide

The next item to purchase may seem counter-intuitive, but you need a set of gloves. In a crash, humans stick out their paws to absorb the impact. Since that’s hardwired into our systems, the only logical thing to do is wear gloves when we ride. Gloves can be had for less than $50 and are worth their weight in gold should you hit the pavement. The rest of the time on a motorcycle, they’ll be offering you better grip and control of your bike’s levers. Oh, and they’ll make you look like a rider.

The key features to look for are leather construction with additional layers (plus padding) in the heel of the palm – the primary impact point. Leather construction throughout offers better protection than those featuring textile components. Gloves with hard armor over the knuckles offer better protection than those without. Some gloves combine finger protection with active vents, allowing air to flow over a rider’s hands. A strong wrist closure is important – as is a fit that is not too loose – to prevent the gloves from being flung off in a crash. Shorty gloves offer less protection than one with gauntlets that cover jacket sleeves. However, shorty gloves can allow a cooling breeze to flow up your sleeves on a hot summer day. So, consider your compromises. Finally, avoid gloves with metal components  in the palms because they can get hot enough in a slide to give a serious burn.

Warm-Weather Jackets And Pants Buyers Guide

Now, we finally arrive at motorcycle-specific jackets, pants, and/or suits. Many riders begin just wearing a jean jacket, sweatshirt, external plastic spine protector, or even just a t-shirt for the first few months of riding. After all, the down payment on a new bike plus a helmet and gloves can tax the resources of many first-time motorcycle buyers. That’s okay. However, you will ultimately want to purchase some riding gear that features armor and higher abrasion resistance than your Levis. The good news is that many textile jackets are equipped with quality armor and other features, like breathable mesh, at reasonable prices. If you think you’ll want to buy riding pants other than riding jeans, look for jackets that offer attachments for pants that can be purchased at a later date. The advent of riding jeans has made it possible for you to go to the grocery store after a ride without looking like a leather fetishist.

MOto Mentor – New Rider Giovanny

Giovanny liked the combination of leather and textile in this Speed and Strength jacket and combined them with a pair of Speed and Strength riding jeans.

When looking for jackets and pants, pay special attention to whether the armor is CE-approved or similar. Also, look for reflective piping, panels, or strips to make you more visible at night – particularly if you buy black riding gear. Options to consider, if you can afford them, are zip-out liners to extend the amount of the year your gear can be comfortably used. Also, if you’re planning on commuting on your bike, consider buying waterproof gear or a rain suit to cover your riding gear. Some jackets come with back protectors, and some only have a zippered pocket for an optional back pad. Consider buying one.

Warm-Weather Boot Buyers Guide

The last piece of motorcycle-specific gear to buy is a pair of riding boots. Why last? Simply, many people already own boots or high-topped sneakers that can work in a pinch while saving for a pair of dedicated riding boots. If you own a pair of boots that cover your ankles, like work boots, hiking shoes, or cowboy boots, (padding is a nice extra), you’ve got footwear that offers basic protection. The type of riding you do will tell you which path to follow for your first boots. Over the years, that style may change. Many riders start with a nice basic boot and add other options over the years.

When you are ready for motorcycle boots, look for ones that offer protection for your ankle bones and shins. Extra-cost items, like Gore-tex or venting, are nice but not necessary if you’re struggling to afford them. As you move up the cost spectrum, boots will gain adjustable fit and replaceable components. While the MO staff love these features, we all started with more basic boots and moved up as our riding experience – and the content of our wallets – increased.

Giovanny says: I never really looked in to gloves before. I thought I should just put something on. I didn’t really see gauntlets and things like that. I’ve never seen anything like that webbed pinkie finger, either. 

MOto Mentor – New Rider tools

As your experience increases, your tool collection will grow proportionally.

Service Oriented

Motorcycles depend on us for more than just keeping from falling over. They are a good bit more maintenance intensive than other vehicles. So, an integral part of becoming a motorcyclist is learning how to wrench on your machine. Whether it is performing maintenance on your bike or bolting on performance or dress-up parts, the satisfaction and self-confidence that come from wielding your own tools can’t be overstated. Most new riders, unless they’re already experienced mechanics, begin with easy, low-risk tasks, like changing oil or adjusting a chain. Eventually, it moves on to replacing bent levers or scratched bodywork. Ultimately, you may find yourself venturing into the realm of valve adjustment and clutch replacement – or more.

Evans Off Camber – Wrenching

Traveling by motorcycle involves its own set of mechanical challenges, from setting up your bike to accommodate extra weight of luggage or a passenger, to roadside maintenance (like lubing/adjusting your chain), to repairs from tip-overs or equipment failure. If you have no previous experience in wrenching on your bike, a campground 60 miles from the nearest shop isn’t the place to start. Why not learn in the comfort of your own garage with the help of an experienced friend (or Youtube)?

MOto Mentor – New Rider

Giovanny wrapping up his first oil change with his CBR300R.

The place to start with your mechanical education is your bike’s owner’s manual and its list of periodic maintenance items. If your bike has a chain, you’ll quickly become familiar with measuring its slack – if not the actual adjustment. Second in line will be the routine oil change. This simple chore can be a real confidence builder for a neophyte mechanic. Adjusting throttle free play and shifter/brake pedal height will go a long way towards making your bike fit you better. Lubing the pivot points on your bike (shifter, brake pedal, clutch/brake levers, and sidestand) will help you become intimate with the condition of your motorcycle while providing an often overlooked form of upkeep.

At some point, you’ll probably want to move on to modifying your bike. Many riders start with an aftermarket exhaust system. Unfortunately, many are simply way too loud, reflecting poorly on all motorcyclists. Another issue that often appears with a pipe is that, while it may increase top-end power (then again, it may not), it can also cause dead spots in other places in the rpm range – quite possibly at an engine speed you use frequently. So, perhaps try something else as your first modification.

Cruiser riders have a wealth of dress-up items available from the manufacturers and the aftermarket. Sport riders usually go for more performance-oriented modifications, like braided stainless steel brake lines. For those feeling less adventurous, a fender-eliminator kit or aftermarket turn signals are a great place to start modifying your bike. However, beware of changes that radically alter an important function of street bikes. (We’re looking at you, tiny billet or bar-end mirrors.)

Giovanny says: Wrenching is a skill I’d like to learn. One day, I definitely want to build my own bike. That’s something I would like to do. Once I’m a little more settled and have looked into the designs, I’d probably take on a project. Wrenching is something I would definitely like to do. It’s something I’m really interested in. 

MOto Mentor – New Rider forum

Forums provide both a knowledge base and a sense of community for riders – new and well seasoned. You might even be asked to work with the MO editors on a story, like Giovanny.

Plug In

New riders, today, are blessed to live in an era where information about riding and motorcycles is so easy to gather. Have an obscure question about your particular model of bike and nobody in your town that owns one? Well, odds are that there’s a web forum inhabited by knowledgeable riders devoted to that bike. All you have to do is log in. Now, opinions are as common as avatars on the web, so a modicum of caution is recommended. If you’re unfamiliar with a particular forum, take the first advice you get with a grain of salt until you hear from other users, or you can check the person’s profile to read their previous posts to see if their suggestions are coming from some actual knowledge or just being pulled out of their posterior orifice.

VerticalScope’s Motorsports Forums

When looking for forums, your favorite search engine is your friend, but we’d be remiss if we didn’t mention that MO’s parent company VerticalScope owns a ton of motorcycle forums. A thorough, but by no means complete, listing can be found here. Once you’ve found a forum that fits your needs, introduce yourself in the new members section, but the best way to learn from these sites is to search their archives. Unless you’re unusual, your questions have probably been asked before. After you’re familiar with the topics, you can start a new thread with a basis on the previous discussions. Also, many forums have regional sections that might allow you to meet up with some local members, allowing you to start building your group of riding buddies.

Join a brand-specific club. Many manufacturers either offer their own sanctioned clubs, like Desmo Owners Club, Honda Riders Club of America, Riders Association of Triumph, Riders of Kawasaki, and STAR. Facebook is also a great place to look for brand/location/model-specific motorcycle groups.

MOto Mentor – New Rider

Bike nights are a good place to get to know other riders.

Bike nights are a good way to meet other riders. Ask your local dealership if they know of any. If all else fails, call the local Harley dealer, they seem to have mastered the art of social interaction as a means of selling motorcycles. Once at a bike night, don’t be shy. People at these events want to hang out with other riders and show off any modifications they’ve made to their bikes. Don’t let brusque exteriors fool you; many riders love to help newbies out.

MOto Mentor – New Rider Rock Store

The Rock Store is a famed location for a gathering of the motorcycle tribes. There’s probably a similar place not too far from you.

Many areas also have a popular destination for the Sunday ride. Find out where the nearest one to you is and go by yourself a few times. Even if you don’t know anyone, this environment is a great place to watch motorcyclists in their natural habitat. Sooner or later you’re going to click with a few people, and you’ll have someone to meet when you get there – or possibly ride with beforehand. This is how most of us found our riding buddies.

Giovanny says: Meeting other riders has been the most challenging thing about getting my bike. I use it to commute. I don’t know anyone else who rides motorcycles.  

MOto Mentor – New Rider MSF class

Though a MSF Basic RiderCourse won’t turn you into an instant motorcyclist, it does give you the tools to transform yourself – if you put in the time.

School of (Avoiding) Hard Knocks

Humans learn from making mistakes, but when the stakes are as high as they are when riding a motorcycle, we want to maximize the learning while minimizing the risk associated with miscues. Riding schools offer a controlled environment with expert instruction to help riders improve their technique. For riders who have never ridden a motorcycle before or those with very few miles, it’s hard to beat a MSF Basic RiderCourse. While nothing can beat logging miles on a motorcycle, a MSF course gives many new motorcyclists the tools to use in their journey to become proficient street riders. More experienced riders can move up to the Advanced RiderCourse, which expands on the basic rider skills and delves deeper into crash avoidance techniques. MSF courses are taught nationwide. Go to the MSF website to find the location nearest you.

MOto Mentor – New Rider Total Control ARC

Schools, like Total Control, help you become a better rider in a compressed period of time.

Filling in the gap between the MSF courses and the more race track-focused, high-speed riding schools, riders can look to Lee Parks’ Total Control Advanced Riding Clinic (ARC). Combining classroom discussions ranging from vehicle dynamics to suspension setup to riding techniques with step-by-step instruction in a parking lot riding range, the ARC builds rider’s skills and confidence incrementally without the need for a high-speed venue. With an emphasis on cornering skills and how different styles of bikes (cruiser vs. sportbike vs. tourer) require slightly different techniques, students can begin practicing their skills as soon as they ride home from the class.

Lee Parks’ Total Control Advanced Riding Clinic Review

Streetmasters Motorcycle Workshops, which has previously run on Willow Springs Raceway’s street-modeled race track, the Horsethief Mile, has moved to actually riding on the street with their students. Unlike many track schools, Streetmasters has always focused on developing skills for riding on the street regardless of the type of bike ridden.

MOto Mentor – New Rider Evans at Laguna

Even if you never plan on racing, a track day can give you a chance to learn how to operate your sportbike at speed. Also, you’ll get time on some of our country’s epic road courses.

Then there are the more sportbike-focused track riding schools. While the net benefit of taking one of these schools is that the students become more proficient riders in the controlled environment of the track and carry those skills over to the street, these schools are primarily directed towards sportbike riders who want to explore their bike’s capabilities in the environment for which it was designed. Still, most track-based schools are very newbie friendly (in addition to welcoming bikes other than the sporty ones) in their structure and content. Here is a sampling of options: American Supercamp, California Superbike School, CLASS Motorcycle Schools, Keigwins @ The Track, STAR Motorcycle School, and Yamaha Champions School.

Giovanny says: I learned a lot in my motorcycle safety class. Most of the stuff I learned, I wouldn’t have figured out on my own. Maybe in the future I might go to a more advanced riding school. That’s something I’ve been looking in to. It’s definitely an experience I want to have.

Sidestand Down

Becoming a motorcyclist is a tremendous adventure. Many safety instructors mention the contact high they get from new riders as they feel the skills start to come together in the riding portion of a class. Revel in your newness. While more experienced riders may have a broader skill set and more tall tales to share, we’re all a little jealous of new riders because they’re in the early days of riding when everything is new and exciting. Just like a relationship, there’s a level of infatuation that comes with the unfamiliarity before the comfort – and maybe even a bit of complacency – that can settle in over the long-term.

MOto Mentor – New Rider Giovanny rides

Go out and chase horizons and apexes. Riding motorcycles is a journey of discovery.

As a new rider, you’re at the steep part of the bell curve – where the new experiences are coming at you at a phenomenal rate. You’re acquiring the basic skills that you spend the rest of your riding years refining, and you’re beginning to make the riding buddies with whom you’ll share many an adventure. Yeah, experienced riders may smile when you ask them a question. They’re not mocking you (well, maybe a little). So, look closely, and you might see a little envy. We were all novices once, and it was that feeling that’s kept us coming back all these years.

This article was made possible through the generous support of Honda.

  • Craig Hoffman

    Great article. To it I would add this thought. Relax, be patient and take the long view. Experience will come in time. The article does nice job of showing how investing in proper gear and training via MSF classes pays dividends. All too often, people jump into riding, get in over their heads, crash and get out and then tell everyone how dangerous motorcycles are.

    Life is dangerous, in fact it is 100% fatal as we all eventually meet our end. Might as well live while we are alive eh?. For me, the key ingredient to that sauce are my motorcycles and the people I ride them with.

    • giovanny

      You’re right on the part of people jumping into motorcycling and being way over their heads, that after their first crash, they quit motorcycling and preach about it being bad and dangerous. I’ve heard this from several people with their bad experiences spent on motorcycling before i aquired my bike.

      After two months of purchasing my motorcycle, i was hit by a car trying to change (more like threw his car) into my lane just to be first on the lane and didn’t see me there. Fortunately for me, i was coming to a stop because the light had just turned red and i was at about 10mph or less when it happened. So just a minor accident. When the contact occurred, i went down on my left side with the heavy part of the bike falling on my left leg and my head (in the helmet) under the guy’s right side of the car. I ended up with two road rashes on my left knee as well as two on my left elbow, and a bruised left leg from the heel all the way up to the knee. This however, did not scare me away from motorcycling at all. Even though this accident was not from any mistakes or errors on my part, rather than having fear about it, i saw it more as a learning experience. When i got back on the bike, i make sure now more than ever, that I’m visible to all the cars out on the streets before approaching them.

      The way i see it, the only sure thing we have in life from the moment we are born, is that one day we will die. So how we live our lives from the happy moments to the thrills, it is what keeps us living.

      • Craig Hoffman

        Really cool to hear directly from the man the article featured. Gotta love the Internet. Glad to hear you fared well in your crash. That gear is worth more than it’s weight in gold once a rider meets asphalt.

        Been riding dirt for 40 years (ya, I am older than dirt it seems) and street since the late 80s. Have had a few crashes on the dirt bikes of course. Had a 500cc two stroke dirt bike that was one hell of a crash teacher. The powerband on that bike was like getting rear ended by a bus. Knock on wood, never crashed the street bike, and that is not for a lack of cars “trying” to take me out. We are like science fiction warships on our bikes, equipped with a cloaking device that makes us invisible.

        Mention all this as off road instills a “decisive looseness” in a rider. When the front end slides, you learn to roll on more power to unweight it and give it a chance to catch. Works off road with knobbies at 25 mph, and on a track in an 80 mph curve on a super sport. It is a lot easier to pull off such a save if that 80 mph turn at Buttonwillow is not the first time a front end has slid on you. Lessons learned in a dirt lot on a clapped out XR100 are useful on a BMW S1000RR. Bikes are bikes. :)

        Experience will bring that “decisive looseness” I speak of. It is so damn valuable. The thing is, when presented with an errant left turning or lane changing car, the rider has to decide quickly and decisively. Even the “wrong decision” if carried out quickly, is far better than no decision (freezing up in a panic). It is irritatingly arrogant of me I know, but at this stage in my game, I would consider it a failure if a left turner or a lane change managed to get me. So many have tried! To fingers over that front brake in every intersection or danger zone. Cuts the reaction time, and if you are really scared, your fingers will tremble on the lever, which acts as a poor man’s ABS. Don;t ask how I know :)

        Always ride with lots of “reserve” and never near the limits of your personal comfort zone, which will expand as you grow more experienced. Be playful on the bike. Take it to a parking lot away from the cops, set up a “track” and zip around. Try some progressively harder braking so the first time you have to ride the front end on the edge of traction for a left turning car is not the first time you have braked that hard. Have fun. Pop a wheelie. Become the master of that 300, over time of course.

        A lengthy post, but there you are. I hope you find my ramblings helpful!

        • giovanny

          I will make sure to take notes on the advice you mentioned so that i can keep on perfecting my riding skills and techniques. I do want to get into dirt riding in the future as i see it not just a fun factor, but also a way to get into different techniques and skills to perfect. Also several riders have told me its a way to get more comfortable in the are of traction and that it helps in conveying that comfort out into the street riding. I see myself getting into different areas of two wheel riding. My passion is just starting to grow!

  • Karl Jens

    A very well thought out article with some great advice that mostly applies across borders too (I’m an Aussie). I’m a new rider myself, didn’t get my license and first bike until I was 55!

  • scoobs

    First thing to do go out ride fast.
    Reach top speed.
    Drive madly ,speedy till your tank is empty.