You are now a fully road legal motorcycle rider. And from experience, now it’s time for the learning to really begin.
This first year on the road surely is an exciting one. Of course, there will be bum clenching moments, but we’ve got to remember to enjoy it. The ride that is, not the clenching.
The world, the road, and the motorcycle taught me a few lessons during this, my first year of riding.
These lessons can essentially be broken down into three chunks.
Staying Alive, Staying Functional, and, Staying Secure.
I’ve put them in that order for a reason. Without the 1st, the other 2 are useless.
As I’m sure your nan, your mum, and that stranger in the lift has already told you… Motorcycling is inherently dangerous. In fact, statistically your first few months on a motorcycle are your most dangerous. While you shouldn’t dwell on this, I do keep it in mind. It’s been helpful to cool down some of my hotter headed moments over the past 12 and a bit months of riding.
In fact in my first summer on the road I got into the habit of thinking to myself as I got on the motorcycle
‘Don’t make this your last ride’
Morbid, sure. But more importantly, sobering.
Awareness is key.
So without further ado, let’s look at some of the secret weapons I’ve gathered on my mission to stay alive in the first year of motorcycling.
The Invisibility Machine
Surprise surprise, you are harder to spot than your neighbours migraine-orange ford focus.
By staying aware of this and adjusting the way I ride, I’m taking a big bit of my safety out of a stranger’s hands. Which can only be a good thing
Learn some roadcraft
There are a number of excellent Youtube channels that deal with motorcycle roadcraft, but one of the finest in my opinion is RoadCraft Nottingham
I’ve spent many an hour on ‘virtual lessons’ with this chap.
Also the Police Riders Handbook is essentially the roadcraft bible, and well worth a few geeky hours of your time.
Top tip from the advanced motorcycle instructor?
- On a left hand bend, hold the right side of your lane
- On a right hand bend, hold the left (only applies if you have a clear view around the corner, on blind bends or with a restricted view you should stay more to the left to avoid vehicles on the other side which may have strayed over the line)
It’s incredible how much more of the road ahead you can see by doing this.
It’s all about squeezing as much information as you can from your surroundings.
Giving you more time to react when that minicab doesn’t see you, and it’s always a minicab.
In fact by actually pretending you are invisible, you will be less alarmed when other drivers behave like you are invisible.
Another top tip is eye contact.
Seeing the whites of the car/bus/truck/amphibious tank driver’s eyes at a junction is comforting, at least now you know they are looking in the right direction.
Of course this is no guarantee that they’ve seen you. They may just be thinking about dinner. Chicken, probably.
What Would You Do?
People make bad choices. You only need to look in my wardrobe to confirm that.
So why would it be any different on the road?
Cars will pull out on you, trucks will reverse without seeing you, and pedestrians are sure as day going to waltz out in front of you.
The internet is filled with footage of people making mind-bogglingly bad choices on the road, and for me these videos have been a great tool.
MotoVloggers that share their everyday experiences on the road give us an opportunity to practise reacting to some of the more common, and sometimes uncommon dangers, risk-free.
Be Cool, Man
I find it handy to remember, I’m the one perched on top of an engine.
Meaning that more often than not, I’m the vulnerable one in the situation.
Sure, people should be more aware on the roads, but calmly dealing with the situation and moving on is far more likely to end well for all involved.
Arms flailing, horn blaring, finger raising, engine revving anger is at best going to distract you from that next hazard, and at worst going to make you a 4 tonne enemy.
Relax, It’s all good.
Shoulda, Woulda, Coulda
I’ve been ‘lucky’ enough to have a couple of spills in my first year. One more serious than the other.
Fear not, I learned a few lessons from these fun little excursions to the ground.
Firstly, ‘ATGATT’ or ‘All The Gear, All The Time’. My first spill was at 5mph and arrived thanks to a wet manhole cover in Sainsbury’s car park.
Aside from being properly embarrassing, it hurt way more than my second, write-off of a crash.
Because stupidly, aside from my helmet I was without any protective gear. ‘Just nipping to the shop’ is the one that will get you.
Dress for the slide, not the ride.. As they say.
Motorcycle gear options are almost endless. Depending on your budget, style, size, gender, and type of riding you’re going to have some choices to make. See here for our guide to the motorcycle essentials you will need to get started safely.
People like Fort9 give superb and independent reviews of gear, and even some pretty hilarious ‘testing’.
If you are looking for more official ratings, try The Sharp Helmet Safety Scheme. A government regulated helmet testing scheme which is well worth the look before making your lid choices.
Be a gentleman, take a moment before you swing your leg over
With motorcycles, mindset is everything.
Riding a motorcycle when angry is about one of the silliest things you can do.
I like to take a second as the bike warms up to get myself ‘zen’. Remind yourself, you’re about to do something that’s a bit more dangerous than your other hobbies. (Unless you collect poisonous stamps, you wild child)
Leave your anger, worries, revision, and any other mental clutter parked on the driveway.
Set aside this time and promise yourself to enjoy one of the ultimate pleasures of riding a motorcycle. Focus.
There is only room for one set of thoughts in that helmet. Make sure they’re the ones about the road ahead.
There’s no medals here, mate. Left that bloke standing at the lights? Nice one.. Except it makes no difference. At.All.
Sure, you may think your motorcycle is a magnet for the opposite sex, or guaranteed to get the respect of every bloke pavement side. But it isn’t.
In fact ride like a numpty and you’ll likely be met with muttered sentences beginning with the words “What a…”. Especially if you bin it racing a Saxo.
The only person that wins on the public road is the one who gets to where they are going safely.
Make that you. If you do fancy spinning the back tyre, or really putting that rev limiter to work there are a number of great track days out there.
Or, if you can’t resist the daftness, then fun such as The Wheelie School are there to help you keep the hooligan stuff off the highstreet.
The same road is always different
I commute on my motorcycle, so a lot of the miles I do are on the same stretch of road. Except that same stretch of road is always different.
Diesel is slippery enough to send you and your pride and joy skittling down the road, as is ice and neither come with warning signs.
Potholes pop up overnight, temporary traffic lights enjoy hiding around corners, car doors seem bizarrely attracted to motorcycles, teenagers love popping out from in front buses and grannies stop without warning wherever they please.
The same old road always has something new. Just being aware of some of these more common dangers can buy you enough time to do something about it.
I’ve heard of seasoned motorcycle riders talk of a sort of ‘Sixth Sense’ and while I doubt very much that these guys are in anyway magical, they do seem to have an ability to second guess that door opening, or to predict a car’s non-indicated right turn. I guess it’s something you get a feel for.
I try to consciously recognize the areas that might cause me an issue, and react before the issue has happened.
Complacency kills the commuter.
Fingers and toes
I’m left handed, but my right hand, and right foot have saved my bacon on many an occasion.
Covering your brakes means you’re ready the moment you need them.
Sure, it will only take you half a second or so to get to them if you don’t keep them covered, but that half a second can be all the difference between a clenched bum and a broken leg.
Be a clencher.
I’ve always been the outdoorsy type, but I have never been more acutely aware of the subtle changes in the seasons than in my relatively short time riding motorcycles.
At times, riding seems to be a swinging pendulum between feeling cold and wet, and feeling hot and sweaty.
The aim of the game here is to not only make yourself as comfortable as possible, but also to reduce your distractions. It’s pretty hard to think about anything other than cold hands when you’re hands are cold.
This of course, leaves less of your brain power honed on on the road ahead.
But, with the right gear and accessories you can really help keep your hands warm, your back dry, and your mind focused.
Don’t battle mother nature without the right armour.
See more tips for riding a motorcycle in winter.
Its a wrap
There are many lessons we can learn everyday from being out on the road. This is just a few of my personal top tips for Staying Alive in your first year of motorcycling.
Of course it isn’t an exhaustive list, but it’s food for thought. The important thing for us all is to never stop learning.
If something does go wrong, question how you could do it differently next time.
If you feel less comfortable doing one manoeuvre, give yourself some time to practice it.
My main challenge has been to make sure my confidence doesn’t overtake my ability.
Keep that balance in check and we can look ahead to keeping our motorcycles functional, and secure.
Enjoy the ride.