You’ve had your heart set on one for years and now the day has finally come: You own your own motorcycle, the embodiment of freedom on the open road. You’re now exactly as cool as you always thought you could be if only you owned a bike.
Australian motorbike registrations rose by 22.3% between 2010 and 2015, almost twice the rate of total vehicle registrations in that period, now accounting for 4.5% of vehicles on the road. That means there are a lot of relatively new riders out there, their numbers growing every day.
Unfortunately there are several mistakes the first-time rider will make in their excitement. Taking the time to educate yourself can save you a lot of headaches - or more serious injuries on the road- later on.
Just because it looks awesome doesn’t mean it’s going to effectively protect your head from the concrete in the event of a motorcycle accident. Don’t sacrifice safety for the way a helmet matches the jacket you picked out. It’s better to be safe than to look good. The key is “chipmunk cheeks.” You’ll know your helmet fits right if you look just a tiny bit ridiculous in it.
It’s also important to make sure your helmet complies with either the A/NZS or UNECE22.05 standards. The first is specific to Australia, while the second comes from the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe. Retailers, both online or offline, are allowed to sell helmets that meet either set of these guidelines, so double check before you pick one out.
Sounds obvious, I know. But unlike in a car, your entire body guides the motorcycle, and your head guides your body. Where you look is where you will turn, and it’s kind of unnerving at first to look away from the road in front of you to turn the bike. It takes a leap of faith, but it will become more natural in time.
This also becomes critical as you look through your turns on windy roads. Get up on some relatively traffic-free twisty roads and practice going through corners - make sure you can see all the way to the end of the curve as you go through it.
You’re feeling liberated and free as the scenery rushes past you. Nothing can stop you. The power vibrating through you is unlike anything you’ve experienced before. It’s very easy to get ahead of yourself here, and forget about the power of your bike. Especially if you’re on a sportbike, you need to deeply trust your gut, and slow down when you start to feel that power trip kick in (because it likely will). It’s important to have a healthy fear and respect for your bike.
When you first start out, don’t ride outside your comfort level. There’s a fine balance between moving outside your comfort zone to grow, and flying outside of it at 300kmh and into a seriously dangerous situation. Chill out. There’s plenty of time to learn how to handle your bike confidently, and there is plenty of fun to be had until then.
Unless you’re already a gear head you may not be used to visually inspecting your vehicle prior to each and every trip. Assuming everything is fine and jumping on your motorcycle without a once-over can be dangerous for you and everyone else on the road.
The margin for error on a bike is so much narrower than it is with a car. Low pressure in one of a car’s four tyres may not be an immediate safety crisis, but low pressure in one of a bike’s two tyres can be a big deal. Learn what to inspect each and every time you saddle up. In the motorcycle world we check what’s known as TCLOCS, which comes from the Motorcycle Safety Foundation (MSF), and stands for Tyres, Controls, Lights, Oils, Chassis, and Stands.
Your new motorcycle is so much more nimble than that old clunky car. You can zip in and out of traffic without a problem. Either that or you think you occupy the same space as you did in your car and can therefore drive exactly the same way.
Both assumptions can put you in dangerous situations quickly. You have to remain alert at all times. Use hand signals and other gestures to get other drivers’ attention, drive defensively when it comes to spacing between vehicles. If possible, wear bright clothing and get a bike with nice loud pipes. With every move, assume you are not seen. You’d be amazed at how invisible you really are.
You’ve set out and are enjoying your bike, riding safely and following all the necessary rules of the road. You are the very example of the responsible beginner biker. Right up to the point you run out of gas and are hitchhiking to the nearest gas station.
Some models of bikes don’t feature fuel gauges, or you’ve got about 5 miles once that light goes on. Familiarizing yourself with your new motorcycle; learn its estimated fuel usage rate and capacity. Begin tracking your trips and figuring out how much fuel you’ve used, estimating when you’ll need to top the tank off in miles. Better to do some math now than cause an incident or accident on the road when you’re on empty. There’s nothing quite like pushing a 350kg steel horse uphill, in head-to-toe leather on a 35 degree day.
A motorcycle has half the amount of tyre rubber on the road and less than half of a car’s overall footprint, not to mention a much different center of gravity. You have to remain aware of every potential pitfall. You are more susceptible to slipping on wet pavement or gravel, and more prone to crashing due to minor potholes or other hazards a car can handle with ease. Avoid sudden changes in direction, quick braking or acceleration, and be overly cautious in less than optimal conditions. You may also find that when you’re riding, you notice things you’ve never had to think about in a car, strange things like oil slicks, stray dogs, low-flying birds. Stay aware, and respect the bike’s limitations.
What tips would you offer new riders?