The Non-Academic Motorcycle Rules

When I first got my motorcycle endorsement I was terrified, but why? I had done all my research. I wasn’t getting a bike beyond my capabilities. I had even taken the Motorcycle Safety Foundation course and passed with flying colors. There is only so much a classroom or book that can cram into your head, and only so much of that cramming that will actually be referenced by your mind when the time calls for it. As with anything, the experience is where the real learning comes from and I had very little experience. My fears and doubts were stemming from all the little things that I didn’t yet know. Things I would have to learn on my own, without the aid of an instructor or the reference of a book index.

Fast forward to today, three years later, and I’m still learning things all the time. Motorcycling is a fun and exciting sport, hobby, and mode of transportation, but it comes with a relatively steep learning curve. To help other beginner motorcyclists, I sat down and created a list of rules that they don’t teach you at the beginner MSF course. These are some of the things that I had to learn on my own, the things I was afraid of learning years ago. Despite accidents, close calls, and operator errors in the past years, I continue to ride every day. With the experiences I learn, I will continue to update this list as needed.

  • Wear footwear with good traction, and take note to where you are putting your feet down. If your foot slips out at a stop, guess what…
  • No matter how mature, prepared, or well-mannered you think you are, the bike will bring out the hoodlum in you. Prepare for this. Tame it at the track.
  • If you ever ride into a low sunset, be sure you have a tinted visor or sunglasses.
  • Likewise, if you’re expecting to ride at night make sure you have a way to ride unhindered by tint.
  • Clean your chain every 500 miles with nothing more than kerosene, don’t use brushes, lube afterward, and learn to do this procedure properly and routinely.
  • New tires are slick and will slip out on turns under heavy loads. After getting new tires, ride easy for 50 miles at least.
  • Ride your moto at your own pace, don’t let anybody push you or pressure you beyond your comforts, including yourself.
  • Don’t expect leather gloves to last longer than a year if you wear them daily.
  • Sans professional racers, nobody really needs more power from a sportbike than a 600cc I4.
  • Riding with a pillion changes all your dynamics. Pre-adjust your suspension if necessary, and be prepared to brake sooner.
  • Right-hand 90 degree turns from a main (45mph+) street onto a residential (25mph) street are terrifying with traffic on your ass. Keep an eye on the vehicle behind you while braking to determine whether it is safe to commit to the turn. If they aren’t slowing, abort and double back (this has saved my ass before). If you determine that the vehicle will not hit you, put your eyes back on the road and commit to the turn. Either way, don’t watch the car behind you more than the road in front of you.
  • Get a helmet with a good visor/windscreen. Rocks and debris will hit it at high speeds. Goggles and glasses are not good enough for street riding.
  • Learn to lean.
  • On a sportbike, the stance can wear you out. Squeeze your legs on the tank to relieve pressure from your arms.
  • Don’t have a good place to keep your registration? Put it in your tool kit pouch.
  • The laminate coating on the concrete commonly found at gas stations and parking garages provides very little traction, so turn slowly.
  • Parking on a hill? Back up into it so your rear tire is pointed downhill. Leaving will be much easier if you are facing uphill.
  • Need to turn your parked bike around in a tight spot? Lighter bikes can actually pivot and spin around on their kickstand. I’ve seen it done with sportbikes, but never tried it myself. Try this at your own risk.
  • If you’re parking somewhere where you might get towed, don’t lock the steering column. If you do get towed, the tow guy will likely torque your locking mechanism while loading it on the truck, essentially damaging it.
  • Start your bike before gearing up. This will let your bike warm up for a minute or two. Additionally, it’s no fun to get all your gear on first just to find out your battery is dead.
  • You’re gonna need at least one rear stand if you intend to do even the most basic of maintenance. I prefer Pit Bull stands.
  • Most OEM headlights will be almost useless at night (varies).
  • The first 5-10 minutes of rain is when the roads become the most slick. Keep this in mind if you ride in the weather.
  • Feel like your speedometer is off? It’s common for motorcycle speedometers to be inaccurate. Figure out how much it is off by using a GPS, or having a friend drive next to you and match a pre-designated speed.
  • Listening to music can be fun, but you have lost an entire sense. Don’t freak out when a speeder or emergency vehicle comes whizzing by you at Mach 3 unexpectedly.
  • Sportbike mirrors are a legal requirement, but they are useless. As in a cage, do a quick shoulder check before making your lane change.
  • Cops only consider it a full stop if you put your foot down for the stop. I have seen cops ticket someone who’s bike stopped, but they didn’t put their foot down.
  • A proactive motorcyclist is constantly changing positions within a single lane to avoid potential situations. Before you do, be sure to shoulder check just as you would changing lanes normally, because other motorcyclists will sometimes pass you in your own lane.
  • When you are driving on city streets in heavy traffic, ride cautiously when your lane opens up for you while all the other lanes are stopped. Other traffic might try to seize that opportunity to get ahead and pull out right in front of you. Also, if you see a 1-2 car gap in the traffic in adjacent lanes, slow down. It might be a car creeping perpendicularly to traffic to get to the strip mall.
  • Never, for any reason, put tire shine on your tires. Not even on the sidewalls. It will bring you down.
  • When stuck behind slower traffic, be sure to peek around them before performing a gas-n-pass. You don’t want to blindly pull out into an adjacent lane only to get caught off guard by even slower traffic or a piece of debris.

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