"How to Ride a Motorcycle" Book Review

Leif Merryfield
by Leif Merryfield

You mount your bike and are about to start it when you are accosted. It is yet another wide-eyed innocent fawning over your ride du jour.

“Gee mister…,” they burble, “Someday I will get a motorcycle and pay a lot in traffic fines and receive paternity suits via registered mail – just like you!”

Being the prepared sort, you stare off into the distance, hawk up some mucus, and dispense the usual advice:
- Buy a pair of flip-flops and a ’Busa.
- Take the MSF Basic Rider Course.
- Read some books. What books? I dunno. Some books. Now get out of here, kid, you bother me.

Here we examine a book that is of particular use to beginners. You old salts might glean something out of these books too, not that you would admit it.

how to ride a motorcycle book review

“How to Ride a Motorcycle. A Rider’s Guide to Strategy, Safety, and Skill Development”
By Pat Hahn Motorbooks, 2005 publication, 143 pages.

Pat Hahn’s book focuses on the most vulnerable time of a new rider’s career – their first year on the road. It is meant to supplement the MSF Basic Rider Course, which makes sense as Hahn is an MSF rider coach. This book is a solid recommendation for a new rider, as it dispenses some advice that I wish I had received. For instance: buy the gear before you buy the bike.

This book would be particularly valuable for someone who has never ridden and has yet to sign up for the BRC course (sign up early, as they fill quickly!). It goes over the skills that will be covered in the course and what to expect of it. It also goes over skills that you will need when you leave the sanctum of the parking lot of the BRC.

The beginning rider is given a plan on how to organize their first trips out into the concrete jungle, keeping a new rider from swimming into the deep end too quickly. When do you “take on” the highway, for instance? The point? Have a plan! Hahn recommends a new rider map out their first rides: “…literally draw the roads you will be practicing on.” Visualization of this kind is common in other sports, like gymnastics. Incidentally if you are female and have the body of a gymnast, please shoot an email to: [email protected]

how to ride a motorcycle book review

When one is working with beginners, you have to straddle a fine line. Too little information (be careful of braking while in a curve) is just as bad as too much information (chili dogs give me gas). Let’s sample some of Hahn’s advice and you can be the judge if it is appropriate for a beginning rider:

“Don’t ride at night, wear all your riding gear, stay off the freeways, and don’t carry a passenger.”

“More than anything else, it is the rider who poses the biggest risk to him or herself.”

“Smart riders will tell you to buy the riding gear first.”

These brief quips are not enough, you say? Hahn’s technique is to reinforce the fundamentals, and fundamental principles should be concise. And then as the reader (and presumably rider) develops, more information is layered on. For instance, the admonition not to ride at night during the first few months is later tempered by advice to make sure your eye protection is absolutely spotless when you do take on the night.

how to ride a motorcycle book review, Your first week or two riding should not be spontaneous it should be carefully planned so you can concentrate on developing your skills
Your first week or two riding should not be spontaneous, it should be carefully planned… so you can concentrate on developing your skills

As you would imagine, rider gear is naturally covered, as are “appropriate” beginner motorcycles. While I am not sure an SV650 is an appropriate choice for a beginner, Hahn at least lets loose a cautionary: “The bike you’re lusting after is almost always not the right bike to learn on.”

A strength this book has is the chapters are peppered with recommendations for books and websites that reinforce and supplement the topics at hand. I was going to mumble a compliment about Hahn mentioning websites, but Motorcycle.com isn’t one of the listed sites in the book. Therefore, I will instead insinuate that some of the models in the pictures are in fact airbrushed manatees.

how to ride a motorcycle book review, Power Ranger or Smart Rider
Power Ranger – or Smart Rider?
The mental aspect of riding is repeatedly addressed. A heightened sense of awareness is required of a rider: “Devise a backup plan for every situation, imagine your escape route(s), and be ready for the worst.” Hahn contrasts this against the commuting suburban cager: “How many times have you been halfway home from work without even realizing how you got there?”

This book isn’t all about hard work. New riders always ask about the “wave” and Hahn does his best to soften the cosmic blow levied by riders who do not wave back. There is a hardcore one-percenter that I often see on my commute home from work. I always wave, and he always waves back. Of course, he only uses one finger when he does it, but still. It counts, right? Right?

The book eventually covers pillion riding, trading up to your dream bike, the skills required to ride in a group, and ends with a plea for more rider training. Hahn even squeezes in a recruitment shtick for riders to eventually become MSF Rider Coaches. Unfortunately this wouldn’t mesh well with my upcoming autobiography: “It’s All About Me.”

how to ride a motorcycle book review, Have you ever been experienced You have to learn to walk before you can run
Have you ever been experienced? You have to learn to walk before you can run.
Hahn’s advice is not dispensed with a heavy hand, and the book is written with a good deal of humor. Of course, I laugh at knock-knock jokes, so be warned. The target audience of this book is first-year riders, and as such it meets a very real need. Know someone who just signed up for the BRC?


Hahn’s book goes to the heart of the beginner experience. The book is simple where it needs to be – in order to not overwhelm. The book doesn’t fail to layer on complexity as the rider develops, however. This book answers a need – according to the Hurt Report, a large percentage of accidents occur during a rider’s first critical months of motorcycle ownership. “How To Ride A Motorcycle” picks up where the parking lot of the Basic Rider Course ends.

I will leave you with a plea to remember to enthusiastically wave at your fellow riders. At least don’t forget to wave at the guy on the white Buell. You will know it is me – I rarely remember to turn off my turn signal.

Leif Merryfield is a regular contributor to Motorcycle.com and can be found in our Forum section under the pseudonym “Cheesebeast.”

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