10 Riding Tips for Beginners: Part 2
This second part of the guide will deal with some more things which can make your first rides easier and by all means safer, allowing you to gain more experience and build up confidence.
3. Riding stance
When you're going to ride your motorcycle for the first time in traffic, it's understandable to be a bit on the stiff side and pump a bit too much on all muscles.
Now, riding all wry is not a good idea because of multiple reasons. First of all, grasping the handlebars too firmly and squeezing the bike hard between your knees does not make you ride better. In fact, this manner of riding will cause premature fatigue and this leads to poor steering.
Poor steering also occurs when riding with a death grip on the handles. Some maneuvers require a gentle action on the throttle or clutch / brake levers and being all stiff and tensioned is not helping.
Even more, during turns, you're supposed to attain the perfect balance between the leaning of the bike and the counteraction of your own body. This balance is very easily obtained by means of very subtle weight shifting which is impossible to do if you don't loosen up a bit.
Tight on the bottom, looser on top
You should always remember that what keeps you best in your seat is the way you grip the bike and the tank with your thighs, knees and ankles, and not the handlebar grip. Hands are for steering, signaling, braking and accelerating, and not for keeping you up.
You should grip the bike with your knees and thighs so that you are comfortable, yet feel you are well attached to the machine, from your waist and below. If you're not sure, the best way to test if you're securely seated is to try and slightly lean into all directions without the support of hands gripping the bars, while still in the parking lot. Pay attention to the way you squeeze the bike and you'll see that you soon find the optimal grip.
Now, how about the “loose on top” thing? First of all “loose” means just firm and “in control” and not wry or wobbly. Just as we mentioned above, the upper half of the body should be way looser than the bottom one, and there are many reasons for this. For starters, it's damping the road bumps transmitted via the handlebar.
Especially when it comes to turns, you should remember that your body is not a concrete structure and it can bend and act in countless ways, complementing the behavior of the bike according to speed, riding surface and type of motorcycle.
As a rule of the thumb, the heels should be as close to the bike as possible, as they help you get a better grip and even steer more easily. Taking a closer look at the rider's foot rests you'll see a small metal part separating the foot from the bike: it's there where the inside of your heels should be.
If you haven’t ridden like this out of instinct, then you'd better start training that instinct. The position is a most natural and ergonomic one and it also allows for some of the bike's vibrations to pass through to your body. In time you'll learn to “decipher” these vibrations and see that they can actually offer a lot of information. It's just like rally pilots get a lot of similar info from their seats, using the nerve endings in their rears.
Each different type of motorcycle comes with its own riding stance: while off-road or enduro-touring bikes offer an upright position, sport motorcycles will have their pilot leaned to the front, having to use more hand support. And if you're the proud owner of a large beer belly, you'll see that riding sport bikes is a thing for the slimmer guys.
Keyword: riding stance. Despite the differences between bikes, the same rule applies to them all: get used to having a firm grip on the handlebars without using excessive force, and squeeze the tank between your thighs well enough to have a good balance without hand support.
Tip: experiment with various riding positions until you find the one which feels the most comfortable and offers the best control of the bike. There is no absolute right or wrong: but not being able to control the bike with smooth, fluid moves is definitely wrong.
4. Look ahead, look in the mirrors, look ahead and so on
It's true that beginner riders are sometimes a bit afraid of actually hitting the road; and a bit of fear is both normal and safe. Normal because it's them and the great unknown and safe because too much confidence decreases awareness and can lead to nasty things.
However, the fact that you're new to the 2-wheeled world does not mean you have to give the road a couple of feet in front of you a death stare. In fact, looking at a fixed point in front of the bike is one of the worst things to do.
As a general rule, every experienced biker will tell you that the motorcycle goes where you look, and after some thousands of miles you'll start figuring this out for yourselves. Looking ahead broadens your field of view and also allows you to spot potential dangers, no matter whether they're cars driven recklessly, bumps and holes in the ground, patches of road covered by oil or gravel and whatnot.
Looking ahead builds up confidence and trains instincts, even though it may seem scary for some of you during the first hundred miles. Looking in front of you allows your body to get used to various riding stances, learn how to lean, shift gears and brake with as little brain intervention as possible: THAT means instincts, and well-trained reactions can make a huge difference.
Spotting a potential danger ahead will trigger defensive actions such as slowing down, preparing to swerve or even pull over if necessary and will usually grant you some more time to make a decision. You'll learn over time that time on a bike is an extremely pricey resource, decreasing with speed: the faster you'll be riding, the less time you have to make decisions and act. So why not get as much time as possible for all this?
Look far and look back
Don't ever be afraid to look as far on the road as possible from time to time. Getting yourself used to looking far ahead in turns is also very useful: it will help you detect obstacles, varying turn angles and will also make your riding more stable and confident. As you look ahead, the road seems to be wider and wide roads are less scary than narrow ones, aren't they?
Mirrors are there for a reason and making your bike look good is not it. Checking with your mirrors twice a minute or even more (if you're riding in busy traffic) is one of the key elements of safely riding a bike.
When in the city or on roads with multiple lanes, checking your rear is mandatory, even if you don't plan to turn either right or left. It's just better to know a bit of what's going on behind you: it’s more than once that this saved guys from being rear-ended badly.
Some guys prefer to turn the mirrors way to the outside so they get a perfect view of the lanes in the right and left with little-to-none view of the back, but that's up to personal preferences. In the end, it doesn't matter how much of your shoulder you see in the mirror: it's how well you see what's behind.
Keyword: eyes on the road. Until you've gotten used to riding without too much fear, it's best you look at the road, ahead and behind (mirrors). You may be riding in a beautiful scenery, but if you feel like sightseeing, it's better to pull over than be distracted by the misty mountains red with sunset.
Tip: get used to knowing where you are on the road and what's happening around you, back and front. Knowing your position in traffic allows you to react faster in emergency situations and provides a more relaxed ride.
Make sure you read the next episode of the Autoevolution "Riding Tips for Beginners" guide.