Reader Story: Top 10 List for Beginners

Rules for the road from a seasoned beginner

By Rachel E. Clark
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Author Rachel E. Clark with her Harley-Davidson Heritage Softail Deluxe.

I received my motorcycle license in April 2011. When I completed my first thousand miles in August of that year, I wrote down what I’d learned along the way. Perhaps this list will take you back to your first thousand miles, or if youre just starting out, maybe it will remind you that you aren’t alone on your journey.

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  1. If you pull the front break on a sharp turn at low speeds, you are going to go down. Slow down before you get in the turn. If your bike starts to fall, you aren’t going to catch it. I don’t think any of us can lift 700 pounds, so if your bike starts going down, get off. I also haven’t found a way to look cool while dropping a bike, so don’t worry about how you look while you’re trying to jump off of it.
  2. The Harley-Davidson videos make it look really easy to pick up a Softail once you have dropped it (see #1). However, its not so easy to pick up a bike when youre going downhill on gravel by yourself on the hottest day of the year. The day when I do drop my bike on a flat, level surface that is free of sand or gravel, I’m sure she’ll be shiny side up in no time.

Passing trucks on a two-lane highway is not fun, but it can be done. You are going north, the truck is going south. You see the beast coming toward you, so you sit up extra straight, get a really good grip on the handlebars, say a quick prayer, and hold on for dear life. The truck passes and so does a small gust of air. Just as you start to let the blood flow back to your fingers, a large gust of air pushes sideways on your bike. Is this some kind of physics joke? Remember—the big gust comes after the truck has passed by. Kind of like ponytail whiplash.

[photo 14317]In my experience, “H-D” actually stands for “Hundred Dollars.” When I walk into a Harley-Davidson dealership, I can actually hear the shirts, coozies, stickers, helmets, boots and gear singing to me. I didn’t even know Harley made a set of dishes—but once I saw them, I couldn’t imagine my life without them. I swear dealerships are like crack. Once you go into one, you must go into all of them. And while dealerships are fun, its good to shop on eBay once in a while, where the stuff is generally less expensive and often still in good shape.

Just as its not a good idea to be an aggressive driver in a car, you shouldn’t feel a need to drive like a maniac on a motorcycle. I consider myself to be a pretty laid-back driver, in the car and on the bike. I don’t have to be the first off the line, and I dont view getting to my destination as a competition. My husband drives his truck like hes a NASCAR driver in second place, and it took me a while to realize that our driving styles are different in automobiles and on motorcycles. Just because I take longer to get somewhere doesn’t mean I am a bad driver. In fact, I have learned that in many ways I am a safer driver—which makes me the better driver.

I have now driven at night, in the rain, in the heat, in the cold, in the fog, and in humidity so high that your lenses fog up as soon as you walk outside. No matter what conditions youre riding in, safe riding gear is key. Invest in some good boots with thick rubber soles. Just because you can walk in stilettos doesn’t mean you should drive in them. Get a good pair of jeans or riding pants. I buy my riding jeans a little longer than normal because I don’t want to be riding down the road looking like I am getting ready for a flood. I am a huge advocate of wearing armor in riding jackets. I have seen some really hot women riding in sexy tank tops, and thats their choice. I wear tank tops and booty shorts when I wash my bike just because it makes me feel sexy. However, when I am actually riding my bike, I know theres always the possibility that someone in a car is going to pull out in front of me, cut me off, or rear end me and leave me sliding across the pavement. I may not look sexy in my mesh jacket with full armor, but I feel safer in it. I also ride with full gauntlet gloves, and I always wear a helmet that’s DOT certified. Yes, I look like a Q-tip, but I love my brain too much to ride any other way. If you always ride with that much gear, you won’t know any different and you’ll always be protected. 

Saddlebags are awesome! Granted, they are never big enough, but I could never ride without them. I am a mother of four, so when I get to ride, it’s usually on an errand (grocery store, doctor’s office, etc). By the way, you can fit a half-gallon of milk, four pounds of shrimp, eight crab clusters, two pounds of sausage, eight red potatoes, and four ears of corn in the saddlebags of a Heritage Softail Deluxe.

Riding in the rain isn’t as scary as I thought it would be. If you haven’t done it, I encourage you to force yourself to get out and try it when the weather’s not too cold. It feels like a thousand little bugs hitting your body. That said, get some good rain gear! I don’t know why they make black rain gear—I want to stand out enough for everyone to see me when it’s raining. I bought the brightest, most obnoxious rain gear I could find. 

Take as many motorcycle driving courses as you can afford! I took the basic course and then practiced in my driveway. When my husband got home, he drove my bike to the local high school parking lot and I practiced there. Then I moved to the local roads. I had put about 500 miles on my motorcycle when I took the Motorcycle Safety Foundation (MSF) experienced rider class. I was scared to death, but I loved it. I got so much information from the instructors and other students in the class. I also learned the correct way to ride on my motorcycle. Don’t be afraid to learn. Don’t be afraid of being judged by other riders. We are a group of people all seeking the same goal.

Driving a motorcycle is a journey, not a destination. It doesn’t matter how quickly you move from the driveway to the interstate. The important part is that you get there in your own time, on your own terms, and in one piece. I have dropped my motorcycle four times, splashed gas all over myself and my bike twice, and shifted into the wrong gear too many times to count. I still think about what gear I’m in when I come to a stoplight, and I always lean forward when starting out on a hill (I know it doesn’t help, but it makes me feel better). I have had to learn to just shake my head and laugh. God has kept me safe, and I know my guardian angel is riding in my passenger seat. I can’t wait to see where the next thousand miles take me. 

51 thoughts on Reader Story: Top 10 List for Beginners

  1. Excellent article. Will read this multiple times, especially the last two paragraphs. I will ride my own ride and not try to keep up with other people. Just bought my first bike in August.

  2. Thank you for sharing not to rush to be a expert rider.

  3. Great story. I just started to ride big bike.

  4. Congratulations Sister. Great job darling. You have a beautiful bike, Amy. Keep riding, be careful and always have a peace of mind. This is what I like the most about riding, the freedom you feel and the peace of mind.

  5. Great article!! I am a new rider myself. Finished my beginners course two weeks ago and I have been out on the road twice. The first time was a nightmare. Stopping and starting on hills is my struggle. I even dumped my first time out. My second time out was much better. It was only a 50 mile day but it was amazing and I kept the shiny side up. I know I will get there in my own time. Thanks for sharing this article!

  6. Great article. Can definitely relate to many of your topics. As a new rider, I took the BRC and received my license about a month ago. I found it very helpful. So many times I found myself thinking, “Yep, that’s me!” Thanks for sharing and for the encouragement!

  7. Great article. I’m a new rider. One of the issues I have is riding with experienced riders. They almost expect me to keep up with their skill level. I know my capabilities and limits so I’m very clear to them that I will ride my ride, not theirs, and if I’m too slow then I’ll meet them there. One of things I try to keep in my mind is from an article a few weeks ago where the writer said he is never in a hurry. I think this is very good advice. I challenge myself all the time for the experience: I go a little further, lean more in the curves, ride on different terrain and in all kinds of weather. For me, riding is about what I want and it’s my “wind therapy.” Thanks for the article. It is very encouraging!

  8. This is a great article. I went through the Basic Rider Course Memorial Day weekend. That was my first time on a bike. The day after the class I put more than 100 miles on the bike. Within a month I had 1,500 miles on it. I ride every chance I get. I learn something new every time I ride. By the way, you have a beautiful bike.

  9. I agree with everything you said…completely! Please write more articles. You have a great way of sharing your experiences and making other riders feel empowered!

  10. #5, #5, #5! Although I’m thinking a motorcycle course might open his eyes…

  11. This is great advice and so true. I had a very similar experience in 2009, except that my first time on a bike was at the motorcycle safety course, and the second time on a Deluxe. I put 1000 miles on that summer, and went through all of the above. In hindsight, I would have not moved so fast so quickly – would have practiced on a smaller bike for a while to learn where my fears were. Now I’m mostly comfortable, but still get nervous sometimes. Maybe that’s a good thing!

  12. I have been riding for two years now and this is a very encouraging post. I’m still learning and enjoying. I still get nervous and sometimes discouraged but I have come a loooooong way and will continue in my journey. Thanks.

  13. Loved your article. Finally got my license this year and can relate to many of your topics. You had my husband and myself both laughing.

  14. I love the articles on here! I am taking my motorcycle safety course this weekend and I’m excited and nervous. Thank you for the part about “don’t be afraid to learn, don’t be afraid of being judged by other riders.” I will embrace this during my class time and focus on learning safe skills, not what the other riders think. We are all there to learn. Can’t wait to get on the road with my Honda Shadow 600.

  15. Love the articles. Found this one to be particularly helpful as I am 46 years of age and just now purchasing my first bike. I am starting on a smaller bike because I think if I drop a heavier bike I may be scared away from riding. Thanks for your advice.

  16. This is a great article. The hardest thing about being a beginner as I remember was getting back in the saddle after dropping the bike. There are a lot of mental humps we have to get over and as fellow women riders we have to support and encourage each other.One thing I’d add is that I tended to drop my bike on right handed turns, when you stop and check for oncoming traffic. What I didn’t realize I tended to do was not straighten my wheel and level the bike–as if I intended to ride into the turn instead of stopping. So important to level your bike when you’re stopping!I am now in my third year of riding and can’t imagine giving it up. I’m moving on from my Kawasaki EX250 to my second bike (leaning towards the Kawasaki ER6N based on a review here).

  17. Number 12, I drive my bike. To me a rider is on the back. I always ask that when talking to other women and they tell me they ride…do you drive? Most times, the answer is no, I ride…I could never drive. Yes you can!Very good article, and yes I was smiling and nodding too!

  18. Awesome article! I ride a Road King, and there is no way I could ever pick it up! The three times I dropped it, (all while stopped!), I was fortunate enough to have my husband riding along side to help me pick it up. He threatened to stop helping me, and I haven’t dropped it in two years.

  19. I am 50 years old and have only been riding for two years. I started out on a Honda Rebel so picking the bike up when I dropped it was not a problem (and I agree, everyone will drop his/her bike at some point). I graduated to a Honda Shadow ACE and love it more than I ever could have imagined, but picking up the bigger heavier bike was much more of a problem (although I was able to do it after some time, and a lot of gas on the pavement). Luckily I had the crash bars and saddlebags to save the bike from the inevitable. Also, I agree that you cannot be graceful when dropping your bike; it’s just not physically possible! I’ve landed on my rump twice jumping off. But you are right, when the bike is going down, get off of it! It’s better to pay for repairs to the bike than it is to pay for repairs to your body.

  20. Hi, I loved this article. Number 1 is the very thing I did while taking my rider class and could not finish the course. To this day I still have not gone back. I passed the written test but was unable to finish the riding part. I use to ride when I was 18 sooooo many years ago. Thanks for the encouragement!

  21. Been riding 57 years. How things have changed. All for the better.

  22. I’ve been riding for nearly 18 years. I have a beautiful 2000 Heritage Classic and don’t want any other bike. The weekend I bought it, I put on 1000 miles! Rachel gives great advice. I would add that if you fit your bike correctly, the chances of falling down will be minimal. I’ve only dropped mine twice, both because of a tricky spot. Ride for the joy of it, whenever you can!

  23. I love this piece. It reminds us that no matter how goofy we are sometimes, someone else is just as goofy! Thank you for the memories.

  24. More:11. Get one of those gas rubber neck things so gas doesn’t spill when you fill up12. Use the word, “ride” not “drive.” You ride a bike.

  25. I just loved this article. Parts of it made me smile and other parts had me nodding in agreement. And have to agree 100 percent with number 5. Many times my hubby will ask when we get to our destination, “Is everything all right; you didn’t keep up,” and my answer with a big smile is, “All is OK. I just didn’t feel like going that fast I want to enjoy my ride.” Gotta love him!

  26. There are a lot of things that was said that I too have been there and done like drop my bike or gone off to practice alone. Riding gear I feel the same that it should be colored so we can be seen in the rain. I think she did well in her writing and honesty.

  27. Greta article! And the information is perfect for a beginner or even just for someone who hasn’t ridden in a few months. Thanks for sharing!

  28. Great synopsis from a “seasoned beginner”…I love that term! That is how I would describe myself too, and so identified with you…except (and this is a major exception) I was 63 years old when I got my first bike. It’s now been almost a year and I’ve put more than 5,000 miles on my Heritage Softail Classic. I love it, and have learned much the same way as you did. I still consider myself proudly to be a “seasoned beginner!” Every time I put the bike to bed — the garage — I’m thinking about our next trip. Can’t believe I waited so long to find this new passion! I encourage every gal, no matter how many gray hairs you might have earned, to go for it! You’ll never look back!

  29. Nice article! I’m so glad you took the time to write this. I’ve always wanted to find a way to tell new riders certain things like, “More throttle while controlling the clutch will help you stabilize in low speed turns.” I found that watching a Ride Like a Pro DVD, reading Proficient Motorcycling, and Twist of the Wrist for street riding were extremely helpful, too.

  30. This is awesome! I started back riding quite a few years ago and started keeping a journal. Every time I have gone for a ride no matter how short or far I jot down a few lines when I get home. It is pretty cool to sit and read how things were, where I went, etc.

  31. For someone who has been riding for very long you made some fine points. I love your sense of humor. It’s a great way to get your point across. You were spot on in your comments. I’m a slightly more seasoned rider. I’m on bike number seve since I started riding. You’re making me think about new rain gear in some hot new color…mine is presently black. I look forward to more articles.

  32. I’ve been riding solo since 1988 and still can remember my first 1,000 miles. Rachel’s comments help beginners realize they are not alone and soon they will be seasoned riders enjoying the amazing pleasure of riding their very own motorcycle!

  33. I love reading about other peoples stories as they come up through the ranks of motorcycle riding and become proficient at it — especially on this site that is dedicated to women riders, and although I’m a guy, I think I might be learning something pretty important here. Women have a propensity for being successful at many things and riding motorcycles happens to be one of them. The care they take and the skills they achieve are second to none and I’ll be the first one to say that there are women riders out there who are better in the saddle than I am. I just wished my ex-wife had the will to try riding with me, but I do have a daughter who loves it and I am one proud papa to see her confidence soaring. To all riders out there – ride safe and just as Rachel Clark said, riding on the road isn’t a race. Blessings.

  34. I feel like I wrote that article. I too am a fairly new rider. Took the Riders Edge class in Dec. 2010, bought a 2012 Harley-Davidson Softail Deluxe in Dec. 2011 and have about 2600 mile on it. I have dropped my bike three times, twice in my own driveway (always remember to put the kickstand down) and once it starts to go down, you’re right, unless you are Wonder Woman you can’t stop it. There is not a graceful way to get off a falling bike.

  35. I got my first bike, an ’09 Honda Shadow Aero, as a birthday present for myself on my 56th. I cannot believe how many women get bikes that are too heavy and too tall for them. Feet flat on the ground ladies! I too always ride fully geared up and my full face helmet is the best investment I ever made. One addition to the advice about big trucks…I always tuck my chin in and tilt my head into the tail wash, that way my head never feels like it is about to come loose in the gust of wind. Thanks for the great article!

  36. Fun article! I was licensed in September 2012 and have taken the Basic Rider Course twice. Purchasing my first bike in a couple of weeks! Planning to ride in parking lots on clear sunny days during the winter and taking the Advanced Rider Course in the spring. I can’t wait!

  37. Very nice article.Regarding #1 – even if you are at a stop light/sign, waiting to make a turn, do not have your front brake applied! I have dropped my bike twice because I had the front wheel slightly turned and the front brake on, not even moving.

  38. Thanks for such a refreshing article! I’ve got three years under my belt, and I laughed out loud when you said you’ve shifted into the wrong gear more times than you can count! Been there, still doin’ it! I too wear ATGATT, and I also throw on my hi-viz vest every time!

  39. In regards to #9: take the MSF course and get your license **BEFORE** buying your first motorcycle. Learn to ride safely and correctly from the start. That way you would have already known #1–brake before your turn.

  40. Excellent and very funny article. Thank you. I hope to read about more of your adventures in the future.

  41. I may not look sexy in my mesh jacket with full armor, but I feel safer in it. I also ride with full gauntlet gloves, and I always wear a helmet that’s DOT certified. Yes, I look like a Q-tip, but I love my brain too much to ride any other way. Smart=sexy, ladies. Keeping the shiny side up is a good rule of thumb for your body, too. When I see riders who aren’t wearing their gear, I don’t take them seriously as motorcyclists.This advice should always be number 1 on every list.

  42. Thank you for sharing! As a new rider it is great to hear others experiences and know that you are not alone.

  43. Thank you for your article. I always feel like a biker-nerd covered head-to-toe, but now I do not feel alone.

  44. Thanks for sharing your experiences! I’m excited to get up to 1,000 miles and more. I appreciate knowing that I’m not the only one dedicated to riding gear at the risk of sticking out like a sore thumb. Blessings!

  45. Love your article. I am 51 and just bought my first bike, a Honda Aero Shadow 750 and still working to get my license and feel more comfortable with my riding skills. I loved your article and it made me feel better about waiting to get my license until comfortable.

  46. It’s been so difficult to get the female perspective as I’ve been learning to ride. Thanks so much for sharing your experience and the pic of your gorgeous bike.

  47. Great story. Had me laughing and thinking a lot. I bought a Sportster XLH 883 this week. In April I take the class. I have always been the passenger. Can’t wait to ride on my own. Yes I am very scared but excited too. I’m not sure about shifting gears. It will be a new adventure for me! Thanks for all the advice.

  48. Good article! I am a new rider too and can recall doing (and still ) a lot of the very same things.

  49. I love this! I am in my first 1000 miles right now. Got my license in April of 2012. I need more folks to go ride with! And yes, dealerships are addictive. I would buy one of everything if I could afford it. Kudos for her gearing up. I see too many half dressed riders out there. I for one, always wear my helmet and glove and boots. I wear the jacket when I can stand it, but at least wear a leather vest and long sleeves. Thanks for sharing!

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