How To Become A Confident Motorcyclist

In a recent blog, we asked: “Are You A Confident Motorcyclist?” While a very rare few of us are born with natural ability on a motorcycle, the majority of riders learn by doing. We try to avoid mistakes, especially painful ones, keep our eyes and ears open, and hopefully become mature in our abilities. Even the best of us can make mistakes, or have bad luck, no matter how long we’ve been riding. But how did we evolve from that timid newbie, cautiously releasing the clutch so as not to stall the bike AGAIN, into the motorcyclists we are now (or who we want to be), brimming with confidence? Here are a few of the things we learned along our journey about how to become a confident motorcyclist:

1) Ride, Wash, Repeat When it comes to gaining confidence on a motorcycle, there is no substitute for saddle time. When I first started riding on the road, someone I trusted told me “get through the first 100 miles, and if you don’t hurt or scare yourself, then get 1000 miles under your belt. When you hit 1000 miles you’ll know if you’re a biker or not.” He was right – those first 100 miles were thrilling, the learning curve steep. By the time I hit 1000 miles, I was addicted. I noticed that as my miles of experience increased, my riding got smoother. I anticipated things instead of just reacting. As the years rolled on, I noticed that I felt most confident in those years where I clicked off the most miles. It makes absolute sense – practice makes perfect!

2) Ride Lots Of Different Types Of Bikes I started on a 1985 Honda V30 Magna; bit of an odd bike, chain driven V-Four 500cc Cruiser. Put about 10,000 miles on it in two years, then got a 1993 Ducati 900ss. Those bikes were chalk and cheese – everything on the Ducati was “more”, it was faster handled better, stopped better, it demanded a lot more of my attention. Riding it made me a more confident rider (eventually), as it challenged me a bit, and I had to adapt to it. Later, I owned a KTM 950 Adventure, and a Honda GL1800 GoldWing, again, totally different riding dynamics. But riding these various types of bikes increased my “knowledge envelope”, and enabled me to think differently about all the dynamics of riding a motorcycle. If you’ve only ridden one type of bike, it’s a bit like only speaking one language….you will have a better understanding of the world (in this case the world is motorcycling of course) if you speak a few languages, or at least visit other countries 🙂

3) Ride In All Sorts Of Weather Conditions Get out and ride in the wet, the cold, at night, in the fog, in the blazing heat. Learn how to deal with these conditions before you’re on a quiet ride and get caught out. Riding in challenging conditions requires specialized skills that can only really be learned via experience. How will the bike react to hard braking in the wet? How much traction do you have when your tires are cold? How do extreme temperatures effect your attention and physical ability? Gain this knowledge and you will be confident no matter what the weather does (and btw, it’s OK to park the bike and stride confidently into a cafe if it’s hammering down, we do all the time!)

4) The Day You Stop Riding Is The Day You Stop Learning No matter how many miles you’ve done, no matter how old you are, you can learn something valuable every time you strap your helmet on. But you have to be receptive to the lessons – after you hit a certain skill level as a rider, it’s easy to start thinking you’ve got it nailed. But we can always improve, whether it’s body positioning, smoothness, balance, etc. Approach your ride with intent; know what you’d like to improve and commit to working on it while you ride. Of course, the road can always throw lessons your way when you least expect it, so being truly present on the bike is essential.

5) Wear The Right Gear It’s amazing how much confident a good bit of kit can give you. After years of riding with cobbled together riding gear, I bought a Rukka riding suit. It was crazy expensive, but I got nearly a decade out of it, and every time I put it on, I felt invincible. Same thing with a great helmet (Tim and I both wear Arais) and boots (I prefer Sidi); if you buy ill fitting, cheaply made gear, you really aren’t saving any money in the long run. Knowing your kit is up to the challenge and being comfortable wearing it provides peace of mind and increased confidence every time you ride.

6) Ride Offroad Riding in the dirt teaches you how to deal with variable traction, obstacles, and requires you to be physical on the bike. You might not need these skills every time you ride on the street, but eventually a situation will arise when you will. Riding off road will program these skills into your brain, and they become an automatic response. It’s simple: if you know how to control a bike that’s lost traction off road, then if it happens to you on road, you won’t freak out: you’ll apply those skills, without thinking about it. All the top guys in MotoGP train on off road motorcycles, and those guys are the best in the world.

7) Get Rider Education Just about the best money I ever spent  in 25+ years of riding was for two days at the California Superbike School. The knowledge they provided me with over those two days has stuck in my head and saved my bacon many times. It’s a very special thing to see someone do something amazing on a bike, then have them show you how do do it, confidently and safely. I could not believe how much my corner speed improved, and more importantly, how much I could control a motorcycle with seemingly subtle inputs or a change of attention. There are many schools out there, so focused on track riding, some more road focused. Nearly all of them can teach you something worthwhile. Even if you don’t plan on racing, track day schools can be a great way to get a better understanding of what you and your motorcycle is capable of. Before you spend a ton of money on an exhaust or some other performance improvement for your bike, take a school. You’ll get a much better return on your investment, and your confidence as a rider will get a huge boost.

8) Read When You Can’t Ride There are some great books out there to help you improve your riding, here are a few of our favorites: Nick Ienatsch Sport Riding Techniques,  Red Pridmore Smooth Riding The Pridmore Way, David Hough Proficient Motorcycling The Ultimate Guide To Riding Well. Use those cold and wet months to hit the books and become a better rider!

9) Learn How To Perform Basic Maintenance On Your Bike Basic maintenance on your bike is not tremendously difficult to learn. Changing the oil, checking tire pressures, lubricating the chain and keeping everything clean is something every motorcyclist could and should do. If you know how your bike is supposed to look, sound, and perform, then if a problem develops you’ll notice it sooner. In fact, it’s important to go over your bike before every ride to ensure everything’s working properly.

10) Absorb Good Advice, Ignore Bad Advice Riders are friends with other riders. Just because someone’s been riding longer than you does not automatically mean they are more skilled, or have good habits on the bike. Use common sense – watch how your friends ride, and emulate the ones see who ride smoothly, and safely. There’s always time to go faster, but what’s most important is to have a good foundation of skills on the bike and be steady. Here’s our Golden Rule: Don’t listen to a f*cking word from anyone who rides in trainers and drags their feet when they stop.

11) Always Know Your Limitations As a new motorcyclist, riding with others, it’s important not to get sucked in to situations above your skill level. When the red mist comes down, you’d better be sure your ass can cover the checks your wrist is writing! Modern motorcycles have such accessible and incredible power, but unfortunately the designers haven’t yet figured out a way to get around physics. It’s up to you to make the right decisions, know when to click it back a notch. The more confident a rider you become, the better your sense of timing on this will be. Just remember – you want trophies, go to a race track. If you know you need work on some skill, take your time, don’t push yourself too hard. The rewards of motorcycling are unique and very special. But the consequences of bad decisions are serious. Know your limitations, and work on them intelligently, with intent. If you do, you’ll surely end up the confident motorcyclist you always wanted to be.

We hope you found this article helpful – if you have any thoughts or comments you’d like to share, please leave them below.

Ride Safe!

Jim McDermott

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