Things I've Learned as a New Motorcyclist

Top 10

  1. Get MSF training. The Motorcycle Safety Foundation has franchises all over the United States. 92% of the accidents in the Hurt Report involved riders with no formal training.
  2. Get your license.
  3. Wear a full-face helmet.
  4. Wear full protective gear from head to toe. Otherwise known as ATGATT ("All the Gear, All the Time"), this means helmet, gloves, jacket, riding pants (not jeans), and boots that cover the ankle.
  5. Wear earplugs. Wind noise damages your hearing and fatigues you.
  6. Don't drink and ride.
  7. Don't speed.
  8. Don't ride at night.
  9. Start off with a small bike. Trade up as you become more skilled.
  10. Read Proficient Motorcycling. Then read it again every year as a refresher.


  1. Ride your own ride. Experienced riders can't remember what it is like to be a newbie. If riding in a group, ride as slowly as you want. You can catch up later.
  2. Perform a pre-flight checklist just like a pilot. In addition to obvious things like tires, lights, and oil, check the masterlink clip if you ride a chain bike.
  3. Develop your own curriculum. Make a list of everything that scares you and work your way down the list at your own pace. My list included: highway riding, night riding, rain, dirt roads, gravel, high wind, low speed maneuverability, and starting from a stop while on an incline.
  4. Be able to predict the future. Be two steps ahead mentally. Never be surprised. Have an escape plan. Frequently ask yourself, "What if?"
  5. Analyze other drivers. Is there a poorly maintained car over there? The driver probably doesn't care about his driving, either. Stereotypical SUV owner talking on a cell phone? Steer clear. Temporary license plate tag? The driver probably isn't experienced driving that vehicle. Rental truck? It may be the worst day of the year for that driver.
  6. Act like you are invisible. Never assume a driver can see you.
  7. Don't target fixate. Motorcycling is like snowboarding: you go where you look.
  8. Don't ride when you are tired. I can honestly say I will never be a member of the Iron Butt Association.
  9. Riding a motorcycle makes you a better driver.


  1. Wrench your own bike. Learning how to do the maintenance yourself will not only save you money, it will give you the skills and confidence to fix problems you may have on the road.
  2. Perform garage maintenance with your bike toolkit. You will quickly find out if the stock toolkit that comes with the bike is adequate.
  3. Add to the OEM toolkit. Whenever you use a tool to fix your bike in the garage, ask yourself whether you would need it on the side of the road. You will find out what tools need to be added to the OEM toolkit so that you'll have them when you're traveling. Put colored electrical tape on tools that become part of your toolkit. That way, you can look at your workbench and know instantly which ones you need to pack, plus it helps to identify your tools if you're wrenching with someone else and are mixing tools.
  4. Clean the bike before you work on it. You don't want the dirt and gunk to get inside bearings and seals, etc.
  5. Take notes while you work on the bike. You will want to remember when you put on new tires or replaced a part.
  6. Order parts well in advance. You could easily wait a month for your order to arrive. Order it before you need it.
  7. Buy extra parts. It makes sense to have extra parts lying around versus ordering exactly what you need and then finding out you need more.
  8. Don't perform lots of maintenance right before a big trip. Let things break in a little.
  9. Vacuum an online parts catalog and keep it on your laptop.
  10. Never utter the word "motorcycle" in an auto parts store. You'll receive the same treatment as you would ordering a hotdog in a Parisian café. As soon as that word is uttered, everyone will assume they don't have what you're looking for and will stop helping you.

Long Distance Travel

  1. Go on medium-distance overnight trips a few times before heading out on an epic adventure. You need to test your gear, your packing, your bike, and your skills. Take baby steps.
  2. Develop a packing system that works for you. Searching for stuff is frustrating and wastes time. Know where to find things. My system includes putting tools in one pannier and clothing in the other. I put spare earplugs in every ziplock bag I carry.
  3. Learn to love convenience stores. I used to think convenience stores were a blight on the landscape. Now I see them as an oasis of food, fuel, and rest.
  4. Taking frequent breaks keeps you alert and rested.
  5. Eat light. Small, frequent food stops are better than 3 large meals a day. Eat light the day before you depart, too.
  6. Buy a Camelbak. Don't get dehydrated.
  7. Protein bars melt, and fruit gets bruised. I like Fig Newtons and beef jerky because they give me energy and will not melt.
  8. Pitch your tent with the rain flap attached. The weatherman may be wrong.
  9. Bring your rain gear and jacket liners. The weatherman may be wrong.
  10. Bring spare parts. Light bulbs, nuts, bolts, fuses, spark plugs, etc.
  11. Buy a good pair of boots. You will live in them.
  12. Say goodbye to natural fibers. Fabrics like cotton absorb sweat and water, and they dry slowly. I wear nothing but synthetic fabrics like Under Armour and Coolmax when I travel.
  13. Woolite is your friend. It's a portable laundromat. Eventually you will need to go to the laundromat, however.
  14. Wash Durable Water Repellent (DWR) gear in Tectron. Regular laundry detergent will ruin DWR fabrics like Gore-tex, et al.
  15. Pack your laptop in the side pannier as close to the rear wheel as possible. It will limit vibrations.
  16. Shutdown your laptop instead of suspending it to protect the hard drive. You don't want the drive head to grind into the platters and destroy the drive.
  17. Buy a large capacity memory card for your digital camera. Memory cards are cheap, and you can take as many pictures as you want in a day without fear of running out of room.
  18. Take good pictures, please. Don't put your bike in every shot. After the first picture, nobody cares about your bike. Read a book on photo composition. If you don't know what the Rule of Thirds is, you are not going to take good pictures.
See also: IBA Wisdom.