My First Week Riding a Motorcycle

“It’s patina,” was my second thought. That after I looked at the black marks left by my header pipe heat shield. It’s all I could think after scraping against a curb less than ten miles on my new ride.  My first thought was, “oh shit! I’m going to tip over.”  I didn’t though. Transferring skills from a 249cc 300lb bike I learned uewto ride on to an 883cc 560lb bike was more challenging than I anticipated.  I intellectualized what I needed to do before I got on my Harley Iron 883, but without experience, I would not know the nuances, despite similar riding positions, of how different these two bikes really are.  In just one short week, my patina on my heat shield is one of many skills I learned and, believe it or not, a great example of what I enjoyed.  More on why below.

Here is how I break down my first week.

What I Enjoyed 

The similarities and differences between motorcycling and bicycling 
Before I even considered getting on a motorcycle, I knew that there would be some similarities.  Balance and shifting weight to turn have to be similar, I thought.  Cyclists and motorcyclist share one really important issue in common, we both face the same dangers from the road, elements and other vehicular traffic.  Many motorist don’t understand that shit in the road and potholes feel multitude times larger while riding  a bicycle. It’s no different on a motorcycle, except that avoiding these requires faster reaction times.  So it’s ecesntial to be alert and constantly scan for dangers in the road. Wind.  I didn’t expect it to be as much of a factor on a motorcycle as it is.  Wind while riding bicycle makes it easier or harder to pedal depending on wind direction. On a motorcycle, cross winds are challenging especially if there are strong gusts. Leaning correctly against the wind is important.  For other vehicles, visibility is the obvious one similarity, but when motorist do see motorcyclists, they expect them to behave as other traffic would. In the short week that I’ve been riding, I’ve been clipped a few times.  I’ve learned to expect this and adjust my position on the street accordingly.  Motorist also expect that motorcyclist should travel at the same speed as other motorist.  Depending on the conditions (wind, curves, road detritus, potholes, other vehicle traffic) it’s necessary to adjust speed differently than cars.  Some less patient motorists react in negatively by tailgating or speeding around in a no passing zone.

The challenge of learning a new skill, sped way up

Holy piston slap, batman.  There is a lot to contend with!  Balancing, leaning, shifting (without lugging or revving high RPMs), scanning for motorists that want to kill you!! Is this supposed to be fun?!  Well, it is.  I started riding on Saturday of this week.  By Wednesday I was riding in traffic. By Friday I was really comfortable riding in traffic.  So comfortable I was visibly shaking my head.

Discovering the nuances of my motorcycle

Learning to ride your motorcycle is a lot like the beginning of a relationship.  How should you handle the shifter, the clutch, and the throttle. My bike likes it rough with the shifter, tender softness with the throttle and depeding on the situation, a little of both with the clutch.  This is all true for now, but monotony may set in and we’ll have to mix things up a bit.  We’re still talking about learning to ride a motorcycle, right. Whew,  I feel a nervous sweat setting in.

So What Did I Learn in this first week?

Relax and don’t deathgrip the bars on the motorcycle.  Loosen up your grip.  Rigidity is not only uncomfortable, it slows your reaction time and makes turning and leaning more difficult.  Each time I found myself with stiff arms and a deathgrip, I paused for a short second and reminded myself to relax.

Weight really matters.  I’ve only been riding a week, so I’ll speak to this as a new rider.  My Harley Iron 883 is 562 lbs. The little Suzuki I learned on was 300 lbs lighter.  I felt I could maneuver that little bike wherever I wanted the moment I got got on it. Not so much with the Iron 883.  I needed a little more time to get the feel of how to shift my weight with the bike.  I have a lot more time to fully get the feel for this. It part pf the relationship factor.  It’s still early on. We need more time for our love to set in. We’ll get there though. This ain’t no hit it and quit!

Where your eyes go, you go.  I knew this to be true from riding a bicycle. Sped things up 20-30 mph and this becomes more true than ever.  If I look at that pothole, I’m going to ride right over it and feel all it’s ugliness on my bum.  Take a quick scan of the road.  If there is a pothole, lean if there is time or swerve if you can do so safely and look down the road to where you should be going next.

“Four Fingers on the Front Brake” should not be law said in mantra to remember. This phrase was repeated so many  times during my MSF BasicRider course that it darn near got stuck in my head.  On the little Suzuki, this worked well for me.  Noit so much on the Harley. With four fingers on the brake, I would grab not only the brake, but a palmful of throttle.  When I pull on the lever, I’d roll on accidentally.  This lead to my  header pipe heat shield “patina” shown above. Once I started using only my pointer and middle finger did I get better control f the bike. This was not a way I wanted to learn this, but I have a nice reminder every time I look at the drive side of my bike.

It doesn’t take long to develop muscle memory.  I’ve learned so much in a week.  Riding over 300 miles in that week helped and it lead to training my brain to go on autopoilot so that it can think about more important things like scanning for motorists that are about to kill me and buick-sized potholes.  I became so comfortable on the bike that my next post will be about riding 100 miles to my parents house in central Wisocnsin. I look forward to telling you all about it.  In the meantime, if you’re a new rider, or a seasoned one, go on get cozy with your bike.  Get to know her nuances.  You’ll only have this early part of your relationship once.