In light of recent industry efforts to entice new riders to a life on two wheels, MotoUSA thought it helpful to offer advice on what it’s like to become a new rider. Luckily enough, as a noob to the team and to motorcycling, I fit the bill as a suitable in-house guinea pig. Starting from nearly scratch (I’m not completely without experience on a motorcycle, though it’s been some years since I’ve ridden), I plan to document all the steps of the newbie rider, from getting licensed, to choosing the right gear and bike. I’ll learn how to perform some basic and necessary mechanical duties of a responsible owner and then ride my butt off to get as much experience as I can before the winter weather returns. Commuting, long-distance rides or day-long jaunts into the hills, off-road adventures, you name it and I’m game.
Editorials and informative articles will follow in the Learning to Ride series, tracking my experiences on two wheels and offering what tips and advice I can to the person that wants to ride, but doesn’t know where to start. I’ll also participate in some of the upcoming comparisons and bike reviews to offer a new rider’s take on different motorcycles in the market. To kick things off, however, I asked myself and a few others, why ride at all?
Without a doubt, some of the best memories I have are from the years spent on my grandpa’s farm as a child. It was 90-plus acres of green rolling pasture about five miles inland from the Pacific Ocean in Northern California. There were over 100 head of cattle on that farm, which was lined on the far side by a long stretch of redwood trees; it had a fully stocked pond (bass) and an archery range that meandered up the side and through a forested hill outside the barn. I built my first bookshelf there, learned how to tend the livestock, caught my first fish and grew my first ear of corn, but most importantly; it was the place where I rode my first motorcycle.
That first bike was a Honda TR200, the short-lived “Fat Cat,” and it was the most glorious thing I’d ever laid eyes on. For a number of years though, I was too small to handle it. There was a kid-sized Honda ATV at my disposal which quelled my frustration, but every time I saw my dad run out to tend the herd on that bike, I was jealous.
I was also scared. I’d ridden on the back before and nearly soiled myself the day my father took me up the steep embankment at the far side of the pond for a ride around the narrow perimeter, right along the water’s edge. Or the time my uncle neglected my cries of protest as he pushed the bike to the top end. It had a hell of a lot more kick than the little red ATV and seemed to be an unruly beast that demanded a powerful, knowledgeable pilot. I knew that when I finally got to ride solo though, I’d be as much a man as I’d ever need to be.
There was no speech or ceremony; my mother didn’t send me off with tears running down her cheeks, pleading with me to be safe the day I finally got my chance to venture out alone. It was just time. I vividly remember throwing a leg over, bouncing a bit on the wide, blue seat and tilting it ever so slightly back and forth to feel the weight. I had filled it up with a small red fuel tank and could still smell gasoline in the air and on my hands. The rubber grips were starting to warm inside my palms and I felt good. I felt really good.
The bike was alive once the engine turned over, the throaty idle grumble rose and fell at my command and all I had to do was kick it into first and go. So I did.
It was a short ride across the driveway from the barn to where a long half gravel, half overgrown grass road started which split his property in half. There were a few gates along the way that I had to open in order to create the long straight I wanted, but once I did I let loose. Riding back and forth from one end of the farm to the other, feeling the wind whip across my face and watching the ground blur beneath me was exhilarating. I was in control of a machine that made the world a different place and it was my task to explore all I could from this new, magnificent vantage. I veered off into various, undulating fields, bobbed up and down on the soft suspension as I kicked up dirt, cow dung and sod, merrily oblivious to anything but the moment, the patch of ground ahead and the bike in my hands.
After that first ride, I never wanted to do anything else but take the squat bike to every corner of the property I could find. I spent many days breaking branches and crossing streams in the woods, narrowly missing deep mud pits and traveling the open landscape in a solitary nirvana I could find nowhere else.
Things change though, and a few years later the farm was sold along with many of the things I’d come to love, including the blessed “Fat Cat.” Then life got busy and there never seemed to be an opportunity through my middle to high-school years to find a different ride. One of my good friends had an RM-Z250 in college that he let me ride under supervision a handful of times, but I was always leery of bruising the machine he cherished by way of some noob mistake, so never returned to that blissful freedom I remembered from my past.
Luckily I’ve found my way, by virtue of chance, luck and hard-work, back to a place where I finally have a real opportunity to ride again. And I’m going to take it, come hell or high water. My experience on the street is limited to the jaunts back and forth in my grandpa’s driveway, but I’m now restless at night thinking about future cross-country, back-road rides. I’m giddy every time I imagine opening the throttle after finding a clear line through the trees and I know that soon I’ll be flying down another half-gravel, half-grass road, cutting through the air with the biggest grin I’ve had since I was 10.
Memories like these are a big reason I’m excited to ride, as is the thought that there are many, many more to come. I’ve already taken some preliminary steps to be ready to go, primarily finishing the Team Oregon safety course and taking care of the paperwork at the DMV. Technicalities aside though, hearing why others ride, more experienced riders and noobs alike, has been as eye opening and thrill-inducing as indulging in my own personal remembrances. Here’s what some of my colleagues had to saw when asked, “Why ride?”
MotoUSA Contributor, Frank Melling:
The joy of motorcycling is not practicality or cost efficiency or safety. Rather, it is the melding of man and machine in such an intensely intimate way that the experience is arguably unique. You don’t need training and cost evaluation analyses to become a motorcyclist – you need passion.
You have to feel a physical aching in your body and soul if you don’t ride.
You need to go across to your workshop last thing at night, lift the dust cover on your mechanical horse and feel awe and wonder at the privilege you enjoy in being a rider.
You need a tingle in your soul, and maybe your loins too, when the engine fires up.
You need a child’s wonder at the utter, total joy of getting a corner just right – of balance and throttle control and being at one with a mechanical creation.
More than anything else, you have to answer one question with absolute honesty, and before every God in the Multiverse. What recreational activity would I rather do instead of riding my bike? If you can think of one then go do it – and leave motorcycles to motorcyclists.
To quote some other bloke, look round at everyone who is not riding and think:
‘And gentlemen in England, now a-bed
Shall think themselves accursed they were not here…’
MotoUSA Road Test Editor, Adam Waheed:
Freedom: That’s the number one reason I ride—but the thrill and exhilaration ain’t half bad either. In an age where most folks are bound by rules and made-up laws, when I’m riding a motorcycle I feel free. It’s just me and my motorcycle. I love the ability to go anywhere and do anything, anytime of day. You’re never stuck in traffic, you’re never late for an appointment (well hopefully) all the while you’re smiling ear to ear experiencing a sensation close to flying except you’re not leaving the ground—unless you’re leaping off jumps on a dirt bike.
Seriously, the great thing about motorcycles is how much of a blast they are to ride. Sure economic factors like gas mileage and greater overall efficiency help too but in the end I just like to twist the throttle. These days there are so many great motorcycles built that cover virtually every spectrum of riding from pavement to dirt, I am amazed why more people don’t ride. Considering some of the high-end electronics and cutting edge designs the majority of motorcycles are easier to ride than ever before. It’s almost seems like you’re missing out on life by not riding.
MotoUSA Cruiser Editor, Bryan Harley:
When Associate Editor Byron Wilson asked me the question, I scratched my head. Exactly why do I ride?
Because when I’m on a bike, I’m alive. My senses are on hyper-alert. The world rushes at you at Mach speed as you breathe it in. It’s the connection to your surroundings, the smell of fresh rain, the cold of the morning, the heat of the afternoon, the crispness of the evening; everything is exacerbated when you ride.
There’s a symbiotic relationship between man and machine you don’t get sitting in a car. Your body moves with every compression of the suspension, you lean along with the bike into every turn, your heart beats along with the engine’s drumming in its stroke. To me, it’s the closest thing to flying without being in a plane. You look where you want to be, your wrist responds virtually without thought, and in the blink of an eye, you’re there. I ride because there’s no other experience quite like it. Alive.”
MotoUSA Managing Editor, Bart Madson:
I love motorcycles for a number of reasons. For starters, I like that a motorcycle demands total focus. When I ride I am living totally in the moment. The every day cares and worries are pushed out of the forefront of my mind by necessity – only the bike and the next corner command my attention… I find focus and active engagement to be relaxing. Those long rides help untangle my mind.
Speed and performance certainly add to the thrill, and riding a motorcycle well is challenge. Riding on the street, even for commutes, can be an adventure. I also love the visceral rush after riding at the track, or off-road. Both are endeavors that I have improved at, but I’m still mastering my skills. Riding is an activity to learn, share and improve upon – a discipline.
Mostly, I love the freedom of motorcycles. Ever since I was a kid, I craved the idea of the open road and seeing new country. I enjoy pouring over maps and finding new paths – far away and close to home. Riding a road for the first time on a motorcycle… It’s still the best part of my job and something I cherish.