By Harley Lightfoot - Manager, Customer Service – Rider Service Center

I’ve been around motorcycles and riders my entire life. Some of my earliest baby photos are of me sitting on my dad’s 1966 Electra Glide. As a kid, anytime my dad would take me to or pick me up from ball practice on the bike all the other kids thought it would be so cool to ride a motorcycle. To me it was a normal thing, a part of our family lifestyle. As I became older, dad made sure there were dirt bikes to tear through the back field on. As he put it, that’s less grass I had to mow.  As I grew older and approached the age when my friends and I were looking for our first mode of transportation, I often got teased that I should be looking for a motorcycle. Hell, dad even offered to buy me a bike. Truth be told, I had no interest in getting a motorcycle.  I’d already had my fill of being on two wheels.  It was time to move on to a car, something I could squeeze my friends and eventually my family into and take them with me.

As I got older the itch for two wheels started to grow. As life’s twists and turns came, it was never really a priority for me, especially since I lived in northeast Ohio and riding season seemed way too short. Several years back I was afforded the opportunity to move to Florida.  Having the year-round riding weather and the constant visual reminder of riders everywhere increased that itch to get back on two wheels. I wanted out on the open road, this time without friends and family squeezed in with me!

This is not how you learn to ride. Do your research because requirements vary by state. 

1.       Get your license.

First things first. I had to research my state to see what the requirements are. In some states you can apply for a motorcycle permit before you get your motorcycle license or endorsement. In other states, like Florida, you only have to pass a motorcycle riders safety course to get your license or endorsement.  Before you can actually start riding on public roads, you will almost certainly have to pass a written test.  These tests consist of basic motorcycle terminology, functionality, techniques used in riding and a review of laws pertaining to motorcycles. The material on the tests is often found in material from the DMV or covered in the classroom portion of motorcycle rider safety course. Eventually you will have to pass a road course as well. This portion was by far a lot more fun and exciting. When looking at a rider safety course, do your homework to review what is included and what you need to provide. The price of the course is another thing to compare as some courses can run around $200 and up. Make sure you are getting your money’s worth.

I would recommend all motorists at least take a motorcycle riders safety course once, even if they do not have a desire to get a motorcycle. This would go a long way in helping everyone understand some of the obstacles motorcyclist’s face daily. After not really being on two wheels in over 20 years, I know it sure helped me the first time I took a rider safety course.  Yes, I said the first time, meaning I failed and had to take the course a second time.  Nonetheless, I learned so much in that class. I had a renewed appreciation for my two-wheeled companions. Check with your employer, you may be fortunate enough to work at a cool place like J&P Cycles that offers rider reimbursement for team members interested in obtaining their endorsement or license when you pass.

2.       Choose a Motorcycle

Once you have that permit, endorsement, or license, you need a motorcycle to ride!  Here are some common things to seriously take into consideration when selecting the right motorcycle for you.  You want to make sure you don’t buy more bike that you can handle. Start with a bike that fits you. When seated you want to make sure that you’re able to get both feet flat on the ground. This means no tip toes. You want to have full control when stopped or when taking the bike on or off the kickstand. You will also want to make sure you don’t go after to many CC to start with. With as many motorcycles as there are in the resale market, there is nothing wrong with starting out small and working your way up to a bigger displacement.  At the same time you do not want to get something too small to get you around safely.

3.       Make Sure You Have the Right Gear

The next step is a controversial topic for some - motorcycle gear. What is needed, what isn’t? In my opinion, safety first. Sure, it’s nice to cruise down the street with the wind blowing in your face and while not all states require a helmet, the facts and studies will show that riders who wear a helmet are less likely to suffer head trauma than those riders who don’t. Keep in mind gear is there to protect you from wind chill, bugs, debris, and road rash. Many brands offer reinforced padding and mesh options in their gear to provide safety and comfort in warmer riding weather.

4.       Practice (Seat Time)

Now that you have the proper education, your ride, and the required protective gear, it is time to head out on the open road, right?  Not so fast.  Safety first! I would recommend some practice seat time.  Find an empty parking lot to review everything you learned in your rider’s safety course. I was fortunate enough to live in a neighborhood that is set up like a grid and does not have a lot of traffic. This allowed me to practice accelerating, braking/stopping, taking off, and both right and left hand turns while moving or from a stop, everything I do on a daily basis out in the real world.

5.       Kickstands Up!

In keeping with our safety theme, a safe rider will give the bike a once-over or a walk-around before they leave. Do my lights, turn signals and brake lights work? Are my tires properly inflated? How does the wear on the tire tread look? Do my brakes work properly?

After you have safely made the decision to head out on the road, keep in mind that most things you encounter are going to be bigger than you. Ride defensively! You have to be alert and aware of your surroundings. Keep a safe distance from the vehicles in front of you, watch out for motorists changing lanes or pulling out in front of you. Watch for road hazards. Cross railroads crossings head on, not at an angle. Avoid wet spots, remember water will cause oil to rise to the top of the surface. When you come to a stop, try to stay in the tire lines and out of the center of the road where AC condensation and oil drips are common. We have to be aware of and avoid anything that will cause our tires to not want to stick to the road. Small things like sand, leaves, grass clippings, or loose gravel, all can cause a tire to come out from under you, ruining your day and potentially your life.

Since I got my endorsement, I have been riding my bike every chance I get.  If in the Daytona area, you may see me cruising around on my Heritage Softail, full-face helmet on, long sleeves and all.