By Mark McNichols / J&P Cycles Inventory Manager

Ask a motorcyclist how they started out riding a motorcycle and you will get a variety of answers, anything from “I started as a kid” to “I bought my first bike when I retired.” It all really depends on when the motorcycle bug bit you. I started riding when I was 27-years-old for no other reason than asking myself, why don’t I have a bike. I have always enjoyed driving fast cars, so why not get out on a bike and take it to the next level. On the road to becoming a motorcycle rider I feel that I got some of the steps out of order. Given that fact, I wanted to help others learn how to become a motorcycle rider with a step-by-step guide.

Step 1 – Take a MSF RiderCourse.

This class is a must for anyone riding a motorcycle on the streets for the first time. This 15-hour class is a combination of classroom instruction and riding drills. This was a great first step to learning all about motorcycles and riding, not to mention a huge confidence booster. This class may also waive the DMV license test in your state along with the possibility of earning a discount on your motorcycle insurance. This was by far the most beneficial step for me in starting my motorcycling journey. It instilled confidence and made me feel comfortable on the bike, which is your first step to enjoying the ride.

The Motorcycle Safety Foundation (MSF) offers a variety of courses, from beginner to advanced riders. They even have group riding classes and classes where you learn to ride with a passenger. This is a great step in sharing the love of motorcycling with your friends and loved ones safely.

The Motorcycle Safety Foundation (MSF) offers a wide-range of courses and is the best way to learn basic riding skills. 

Step 2 – Research motorcycles.

It’s a grand time to be a motorcycle rider. There’s never been so many incredible motorcycles on the market than right now, especially great starter bikes. While the Kawasaki Ninja 250 has been around forever, the majority of other manufacturers have jumped into the small sportbike game as well. Between their light weight, easy handling, and manageable power, these are great motorcycles to learn to ride on. While we can understand being eager and wanting to jump into the riding game head-first, we highly recommend starting with a smaller displacement bike to hone your skills on. There’s plenty of factors to take into consideration, from seat height to riding position, too, which will vary from person-to-person. Read motorcycle reviews and comparisons from reliable publications because the information is out there. Be informed before you buy.

Step  3 - Buy gear.

Money spent on quality motorcycle gear is money well spent. Good gear could be the difference between walking away with a few bumps or bruises or a trip to the emergency room. For starters, I bought a helmet, jacket, gloves, pants, and boots. I bought everything online and would definitely recommend making your purchase from somebody with a free exchange policy for gear like we have at J&P Cycles. Buying online gets you great deals and the free exchange program is a worry-free way to feel confident in your purchase. It also gives you the ability to test out your gear for size and comfort without having to pay shipping each time you need to try on a different size. While we’re all about a person’s right to ride however they want, we advocate the ATGATT principle: All The Gear, All The Time. Motorcycle safety gear should be worn at all times, even when you think risk levels are low, because people in cars are more distracted than ever these days and the repercussions outweigh the inconvenience of gearing up.

Crotchless leather pants are not an example of ATGATT. And be smart, don't drink and ride. 

Step 4 – Take the written motorcycle permit test.

Learn the rules of the road and motorcycle laws for your state. There are some great tools online to prepare you for the test complete with practice questions. Check your state laws because I had to have my permit for a minimum of 30 days before I could get my license. Follow this up by booking your test at your local DMV, or better yet, have the riding test waived because you already passed an accredited rider’s training course.

Step 5 – Buy a motorcycle.

Be smart, do your research, and as we mentioned before, start small. Sit on the bike and size it out. Personally, I bought a Yamaha R6, which is an agile sportbike that’s quick and has light steering.  I was really wanting to step up to the R1 but that would have been a squid move. Don’t be a squid. I opted for the R6 since it was less powerful, but still fast and fun. There are many different riding styles, sport, adventure-touring, cruisers, café and more to choose from. In addition to reading articles and reviews, I suggest talking to your buddies who ride and ask your local dealership about what bike is best for your needs. The more information you have, the better.

Step 6 – Practice, practice, practice.

The nearest parking lot is a great place to familiarize yourself with the weight and balance of your bike, to become confident using its controls, and to practice stops, starts, and emergency maneuvers. It doesn’t take much to set up your own personal obstacle course. The more you practice, the more everything becomes natural. When I started out I’d never been on a bike, nor had I driven a manual transmission. Let’s just say I pulled a couple of inadvertent wheelies and stalled the bike at a stop sign or three. As a motorcycle rider, you never stop learning. Take a class if you can. I followed up my initial learning experience by signing up for the MSF Basic RiderCourse.

Practice, practice,practice! No matter how good of a rider you are, you never stop learning. These Saint Paul motorcycle policemen got so good at handling their big Harleys because they're constantly training. 

Step 7 – Make the bike yours.

Accessorize and customize. This is a fun and ongoing process to make the bike your own and increase its usability and performance. For me this started with an air filter, performance exhaust, Power Commander, windscreen, clutch and brake levers. Once you start, it’s too much fun to stop. There is nothing more satisfying than receiving the parts you just ordered, getting the wrench out, and doing the install yourself. There’s a step in there for a beer or three depending on what you are installing, but that is part of the fun. Working at J&P Cycles is dangerous, like Augustus Gloop in a candy store dangerous. I’m still finding new and cool products to add to my bike and still having as much fun as that very first install.

Step 8 – Enjoy the ride!

Now that I have the bike, gear, and training, I have everything I need to get out and safely enjoy the freedom and fun of riding a motorcycle. Whether it’s a work commute or a nice country ride, doing it on a motorcycle is way more rewarding than being stuck in a car. The sights, the smells, the awareness of your environment, nothing else compares. Get out whenever you can because nothing puts a smile on your face more than some two-wheel therapy.