07 Oct
October 7, 2013

Motorcycles are complex, yet our reasons for riding them are basic: thrills, freedom, affordability, convenience.

I’m no expert, but I’ve loved motorcycles for as long as I can remember. One day not too long ago I decided I had waited long enough. Riding a motorcycle is, without any doubt, the most life-threatening activity I will ever engage in. While we frequently encounter high risk scenarios in our day to day lives, we are mostly unaware of them. It’s different on a motorcycle: the danger of the situation is obvious as is the agency of the rider.

It’s more comfortable to live in a world where we can defer responsibility for caring of ourselves to something or someone else. By climbing on a bike, you’ve decided to take your life into your own hands. This can be both incredibly disconcerting and liberating. Rest assured, you’ll feel alive, and maybe that’s all you’re looking for.


1. Get training

Take the MSF. This is the single most valuable and important step in the process. The instructors behind the Motorcycle Safety Foundation classes are experienced riders who love motorcycling and want you to stay alive. Pay close attention to everything they have to say and read the book they provide you front to back several times.

2. Get experience

So now you’ve indulged your fantasy a tad, but you’ve also realized that getting an M1 is the practical equivalent of legal permission to commit suicide. So now its up to you to fix that.

  • Go ahead and get your license. Reasons for this should be obvious. If nothing else, it looks badass in your wallet.
  • Talk up biking with your friends. Keep doing this until you’ve found someone kind or foolish enough to let you ride their bike. This step is invaluable for anyone who doesn’t have a bike at their disposal to practice on.
  • Check out the Bay Area Rider’s Forum for mature and accessible advice on riding.
  • Read the /r/motorcycles FAQ.
  • Read Proficient Motorcycling: The Ultimate Guide to Riding Well. Seriously, just do it.
  • Find a parking lot to practice emergency braking and other techniques you picked up in your classes and through reading.
  • Focus on one lesson at a time. Get to know the bike you’re riding. The more attention you put into the technicalities the less likely you are to notice the driver turning in front of you. Then you die.
  • Read the crash statistics (contained herein). Focus on those related to city street accidents and alcohol related incidents.
  • Don’t become a statistic.
  • Watch a bunch of motorcycle accident videos on Youtube. If you’re not prepared to do this, you should probably give up on riding.
  • Search Youtube specifically for “motorcycle smidsy” (SMIDSY = “Sorry, Mate, I didn’t see you.”) and watch as many of the Crash Course videos as you can find.

3. Get equipped


Dress for the crash, not the ride.

You’ll witness a wide display of varying opinions on what to wear while riding, from AGATT (all gear all the time) to the brazen recklessness best captured by these guys.

I recommend checking out:

  • Revzilla but before you buy…
  • Craigslist and Ebay
  • You may also have some luck on a local rider’s forum.
  • There is quite a lot of information out there regarding what helmet to buy and why. What matters is that your helmets FITS REALLY WELL. Going to a store and trying several on is the only way to know for certain.
  • Whatever you do, buy a good full face helmet.


There’s really just one thing you need to be concerned with when buying your first bike. But be sure check out this excellent used bike buying guide and refer here for an explanation of tire dot codes. Lastly, use a site with reviews like Yelp to find a trusted dealer or repair shop and get the bike checked out. Note you’ll also have to return to the DMV to get the title put in your name (which usually requires a fee).

4. Stay alive


  • Wait three seconds and glance after the light turns green.
  • Match your speed to your vision.
  • Overemphasize the turn of your head when turning the bike.
  • Brake early.
  • Strap your helmet as soon as you it goes on.

5. Live it up

Congratulations on being a badass. Ride safe and check out these ride planning sites:

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