If you want to play an instrument well, how do you go about it? Focused academic study perhaps, or take lessons, join a band, watch YouTube, connect with friends – or maybe just muck about until something clicks. Well, the same might be said for learning to ride well. Some of the best racers and riders in history were essentially self-taught… especially prior to the industry becoming so specialized. But really, the best way isn’t through such trial and error – it’s formal training.
When BMW created the first GS in 1980, reactions were mixed. Back then, the motorcycle industry did not have the fragmented family tree of specialized segments that it has today, with sport bikes, sport touring, touring, off-road, enduro, retro sport, standard, and all manner of cruisers. However, by mixing on-road, off-road, and touring characteristics into a single bike, BMW must have known they were on to something, because they soldiered on with the model, and not only has the GS survived, but it has thrived. Today, adventure riding, the segment that the BMW GS created, is one of the fastest growing in motorcycling, with every major manufacturer having some variation of the GS formula in their current lineup.
Looking out over the Pacific Ocean, six months into a ride across the Americas, I found myself attending The Cold Start, an off-road riding clinic in Ensenada, Mexico. This may seem like an odd way to spend finite travel funds, but the rewards for this type of investment are surprisingly numerous.
I’m a product of rider education. Before I logged my first mile on the street, I spent two weekends on the range, attending an MSF-certified beginning rider’s course in Connecticut. Later, I became a CMSP instructor for the State of California and taught a similar program. Throughout all my years of riding, I’ve attended six different riding schools, some of them multiple times. Additionally, I’ve been fortunate enough to work and ride with some of the most talented motorcyclists around. So, given the folks I ride with, I feel like I am a perpetual student. That’s a good thing. Motorcycling is a sport that offers tremendous rewards to those who pay attention. And you should, because the costs of inattention can be very high.
Every motorcycling parent dreams of their child expressing interest in the sport. For me it started with a request to be taken for rides on the back of my bike, but then one magnificent day, she asked, “Can I learn to ride?” I’ve always wanted my kids to be interested in riding, but I was not going to pressure them. I’ve supported them in their interests (from ballet for my oldest to competitive gymnastics for my youngest) and tried to avoid pushing them into mine. So, when my 13 year old asked me, I sprung into action. What I didn’t know is that I would end up learning almost as much about myself and my daughter as she did about riding motorcycles.
The rear brake is probably one of the most taboo subjects in motorcycling, second only to the black art that is motorcycle suspension. The truth is neither subject has to be any more intimidating than you make it to be, and the rear brake is actually very useful. Granted, the front brake(s) carry the majority of the workload when it comes to slowing down and stopping, but knowing how to use the rear brake effectively will serve you better when it comes to bike control rather than simply scrubbing speed.
Motorcycle licensing in the United Kingdom is a convoluted process that requires several steps to be taken before riders qualify for riding bigger and more powerful bikes. It’s a tiered process dependent on age and riding experience that begins with the AM Mopeds (less than 50cc) stage, then to the A1 Light Motorcycle (120cc to 125cc, less than 14.8 hp) and then the A2 Motorcycle (at least 395cc and between 26.8 and 46.9 hp).
We all know what school self-taught motorcyclists end up attending: The School of Really Hard Knocks. Really hard. Since we think that MO readers are somewhat more intelligent and skillful than your garden variety motorcyclist, we thought we’d ask about your level of moto-education. What categories of riding schools have you attended? Have you stayed with street only, or maybe dirt only. Did you move up to performance riding? Perhaps even racing?
So, you’re considering joining the ranks of motorcycle riders. Congratulations! Motorcycling is an activity that many riders immediately fall in love with and even claim to be life altering. You won’t hear any of the MO editorial staff argue with that. After all, we’ve devoted the bulk of our lives, professionally and personally, to motorcycling. Consequently, our opinions skew hugely motorcycling-positive. However, we won’t sugar coat it either. Riding a motorcycle is a challenging sport that requires diligence and constant self-analysis to be done proficiently while limiting danger. With the stakes being so high out on the road, you don’t want to depend solely on the advice of a riding buddy (though it’s always good to have more experienced friends as resources) or just plain dumb luck. With that in mind, we’ve put together this rider training primer to help start you rolling down the highway the right way.
Whenever former staffer, and now MO contributor and guest columnist, Gabe Ets-Hokin, talks about bromances, as he did in his recent Skidmarks column, further investigation is needed. In his column, Gabe talks about his first time meeting Lee Parks, forming an instant bond with the riding skills master. Buried in that column is a link to this magical experience Gabe had riding motorcycles in Lee’s front yard, then shooting guns in the back. This story from 2005 was too good to let rest in a hyperlink in a column, so for this week’s Church feature we’re re-publishing it in all its glory.