With kind feedback from Lee Parks who founded Total Control Motorcycling, I've updated this article to correct some mistakes and to reflect some changes that have occurred over the last 10 years.
- Don't buy a bike. Sign up for a beginner riders course in your state. If you can, take the Total Control Beginner Riding Clinic. In my humble opinion, even if you have to travel over a state or two it's worth it.
- Don't buy the bike. Get good gear including a DOT rated helmet, armored jacket and pants, gloves, and boots.
- Get an inexpensive smaller bike first. You will drop it. So put your first few thousand miles on it. Then get your first dream bike.
- For the first thousand miles or so, don't ride alone. Find yourself a trusted coach to ride with.
- Never stop learning. Never stop practicing
I've been asked by so many people, "How do I get into motorcycling?".
Because there are many people who do not take responsibility for themselves and the outcomes of their own choices, I feel the need to preface this article with the simple fact that motorcycling, like life, is inherently dangerous. You may do absolutely everything I suggest here and still have a bad accident and be killed or even worse yet, maimed for life. If you get on a motorcycle, or you don't, you are solely responsible for yourself. If you ask me, "Should I get into motorcycling?", I will tell you no. It's a very serious endeavor and one that should never be taken lightly.
But you're an adult responsible for yourself and at this late date you've decided to get into motorcycling and you want to know how to get started.
I should point out that I pay a lot of attention to context. In my opinion, when someone is making a recommendation or giving you some advice, as I am in this article, it's often useful to define a context in which that advice is given. Otherwise, you can find yourself in a situation where someone tells you one thing and someone else tells you the exact opposite but both can be simultaneously correct given differences in context.
For me motorcycling is about controlling the motorcycle and more importantly gaining that self-knowledge to better control myself. Phil called my bike my meditation chamber. For me this is a deadly serious activity with potentially grave consequences and I approach it as such. I have no delusions about it's danger and neither should you. I also find it to be an intensely philosophical activity.
I've been riding for 47 years. In the last 18 or so, I've taken it much more seriously as a "sport" since I met a certain woman who ran circles around me in the Smokey Mountains. Before meeting her, I thought I could ride pretty well. Through that meeting a whole new world was opened to me that I did not expect could teach me so much or that would demonstrate how little I actually knew. Humbling me, it's radically changed how I teach people to ride. More than a teacher of motorcycling, I'm a continuing student always looking to learn something new.
Also, I should say, I am a "sport touring/adventure" rider. I enjoy going long distances over varied landscapes. But I also enjoy cornering and carving canyons. I enjoy the act of riding. I'm not much of a social motorcyclist. I don't belong to any clubs and I typically don't ride with people I haven't known for ages. I may ride quickly on occasion, but I don't ride irresponsibly. Like many serious BMW riders, I ride Out There far away from the crowd. I am not competitive so have little interest in racing but have found that I enjoy track days. I am inclusive. I wave at anyone on a motorcycle regardless of what they ride. (I'm not so sure about scooter riders for some reason.)
I intensely dislike stunters on public roads. You know the guys that pass you doing a buck 50 in a wheelie while wearing a wife-beater, shorts and flipflops. Every time I see one of these guys, and it's virtually always guys who do it, I find myself thinking I hope they've signed up to be an organ donor. There is a world wide shortage of transplantable organs after all.
I dislike disrespectful riders who split lanes and act as if traffic is an obstacle course. I get nervous watching people lacking what I would say are the necessary skills riding bikes way too powerful for them. In my humble opinion, your first bike should never be a Hayabusa, GSXR1000, R1, S1000RR, etc.
So the recommendations I make are based on the assumptions that:
- You are interested in the sport of motorcycling.
- You want to become a good rider who can control the motorcycle and yourself so you can be safe on the road and react as well as possible when Bad Things(tm) happen.
- You are willing to give yourself the time to become good at this.
- You want to manage the downside risks of motorcycling. You don't want to crash. If you do crash, you don't want to get injured. If you do get injured, you want it to be the smallest injury possible.
- You don't want to waste money.
- You want to enjoy the act of riding the motorcycle in contrast to others who may simply enjoy sitting at a bar talking about how cool it is to own a bike they rarely ride.
- Similar to learning to play a musical instrument, you want to start out developing good habits early that you can build upon rather than have your progress limited later by bad habits that need to be unlearned. For example, 47 years later I am still trying to unlearn bad riding habits I developed as a kid. Don't make the mistake that I made. The point is to become a better rider than I am.
- You want to be recognized by other riders who know what they are doing as someone who knows what they are doing.
There are many teachers out there and many points of view. Mine is just one. Learn from as many as you can.
So, now that you know where I am coming from and that I'm just one guy of many who might have something to say, here are my thoughts on the subject of getting into motorcycling.
Step 1. DON'T BUY A BIKE! Borrow some gear and go take the Beginner Rider Course in your state instead.
Typically I get the wrong question first. "Yermo, I like this bike. I want to buy it and learn to ride."
Regardless of what I say here, almost everyone does this one backwards. They get all enamored with some bike they see and they go and buy it. Don't do this. Don't buy the bike. Stop. Think.
You've never ridden. You have no way of knowing, at this point in your development as a rider, what the experience of riding is like. You don't know what kind of rider you might want to become. There are, after all, many different kinds of riders. You may like the look of a Ducati Monster and go buy one only to decide that not being able to lock things on the bike is a real pain. Or you may love it. You might like the classic look of an old BMW R80 only to realize it's not powerful enough for the kind of riding you might want. Or maybe you just want an around town bike. The bike may not even fit. I love my Beloved Blue Bike because it fits me better than any other bike I've ever tried. Who knows what kind of bike you might like?
Until you have some miles under your belt, you're just not going to know.
And you may not even like motorcycling, as one friend of mine found out. So save yourself some money and headache and go find out first.
So find yourself a Beginner Rider course to take. What courses are available vary by state. Here's a list to see what's available in your state.
Total Control now offers a Beginner Rider Clinic. If you can, this is the one to take but it is not offered in every state. You'll want to check that the location you choose provides the bikes. Not all do.
The Total Control Beginner Riding Clinic is designed for the novice rider with no (or limited) street-riding experience. This course includes five hours of classroom and ten hours of on-cycle instruction.
I am a shameless fan of this organization. I took their Advanced rider courses and it made me a better rider. Even if you have to travel, I would recommend it over all other options. I pondered becoming an instructor for them at one point.
If Total Control is not available in your state, there is also the Motorcycle Safety Foundation Basic Rider Course which is available, as of this writing, in all but 7 states.
They provide the bikes. Like with Total Control, they are little easy to control bikes. They teach you to operate the motorcycle and give you the basic mental tools you need to start learning how to become a good rider. The course ends with a license test. Some, if not all, insurance companies will even give you a discount if you complete the course. It is not as thorough as Total Control, but it will give you a taste of what riding is like for a minimal investment. I have long said the MSF Basic course is necessary but not sufficient.
All you need is a helmet and you should wear a jacket and gloves. Go find someone who will loan you gear. At this point, you don't need super expensive gear. You're just trying to see if motorcycling is for you.
There is no reason not to take a beginner rider course first.
Step 2. DON'T BUY A BIKE! Spend Real Money on Gear
You've taken the Total Control Beginner Rider Clinic or the MSF course and you now have your newly minted license. Now you think ... scratch that. If you hadn't ignored my advice above, you would now likely be thinking, "Time to buy a bike!".
Don't. Seriously. Don't buy a bike now. Wait. Patience Grasshopper, patience.
The first 6 months on a motorcycle are likely your most dangerous. For those first months you're still focusing a lot of attention on the controls, the physical operation of the motorcycle. You're still not comfortable with how the bike leans. You still want to overuse the rear brake. The simple act of getting on and off the bike, which is /never/ simple, is still a challenge. Getting the bike up on it's center stand continues to frustrate. While it's always possible to have a major accident at any time, from my personal experience here are the types of things that always seem to happen during the first six months of riding to almost everyone:
- You will drop the bike at a gas station because you rode too long, are tired or cold, and you won't notice that you got some oil on your boot so when you step down on the center stand your boot will slip off. If you do not jump away quickly enough, you will fall down.
- You will drop the bike on a very tight very slow corner, possibly in a parking lot, but definitely going uphill, because you don't have enough speed and you feel the bike tipping over and you panic. I'm embarrassed to say this has happened to me.
- You will drop the bike because you let the clutch out while in the wrong gear and the bike stalls and stops abruptly catching you off guard. If you are not lucky, the bike will fall on you.
- You will drop the bike at a stop light just after a light rain because you don't know that the center of the lane at an old intersection is both slightly raised and incredibly oily. You will put your foot down and it will slide out from under you. If you don't jump away from the bike, the bike will fall on you.
- You will drop the bike because you stop on a hill at an angle and you go to put your foot down only to realize the ground on that side of the bike is further down than you expected, the bike tips, and you fall. This happens daily at the Deal's Gap parking lot exit. The road is a hill that goes up to the right. The exit is a hill itself. So you're facing uphill but it also slopes off to your left. It's always the big touring bikes that fall there. Just this last time down at the Gap I helped picked two or three of them up.
- You will go into a corner faster than you intended and instead of leaning the bike you run wide, a.k.a. going wide in a corner. It's human. If you are very unlucky you will fall. If you are even unluckier you will really hurt yourself because you're moving at speed. It seems like I'm always helping to pull Harley's who've had this happen out of a ditch when I'm down at the Gap.
- You will drop the bike because you are cold, tired, hungry, sick, distracted, rushed, wet, thirsty, ...
- You will lock up the rear wheel because you don't trust the front brake and not stop where you intended. Or you will lock up the rear wheel panicking in a corner, which is very very easy to do, and fall.
You'll notice that the big bad scary accidents involving other cars, deer, trees and the like are not listed. These typically, in my experience, happen less frequently, probably given that once they happen it's unlikely the rider will be around to make future less costly mistakes.
But what people don't think about are the kinds of injuries that happen in very minor falls. When the bike tips over and you don't let it fall, which of course you won't because you didn't follow my suggestion and you did buy that expensive Ducati or that antique BMW that you can't get parts for, so you try your best to save your precious machine and you either wrench your back irreparably or the fool things falls on top of you. Either way, you get hurt and your precious expensive bike is damaged.
When you fall sideways, typically your hands always hit ground first, then your hipbone, then your elbow, shoulder and then head. Go outside with a step stool. On pavement stand on it. Look down to your left and right.. Imagine simply falling to your left or right. Ouch. Imagine the kind of concussion you can get from such a simple get off.
SO BUY GOOD GEAR!
By gear I mean:
- Helmet preferably full face to protect your jaw, which as a friend of mine will tell you, are terribly difficult to fix once they break. The helmet should be DOT certified. There are stickers on the helmets that let you know they meet the standard. Make sure the thing fits well. It should squish around your head slightly so that you can shake your head back and forth without it moving noticably.
- Reinforced leather gloves. Leather construction worker gloves can work but are not nearly as good as dedicated reinforced motorcycling gloves. I prefer gloves that have plastic over the knuckles and additional padding on the palm to absorb impact in addition to a longer gauntlet to wrap over the jacket sleeve, not under it. I learned this the very hard way once when a wasp flew up my sleeve.
- Riding boots. You want leather boots which go well above the ankle and provide some support. I have read that steel toed boots should not be worn in case the steel gets crushed under the bike because it can make it damned difficult for the EMTs to remove the boots afterwards. You preferably want motorcycle specific boots which have protection around the ankle. You'll see pucks on both sides of the ankle which are there to protect those frail bones when a bike falls on them. You also, if possible, want to get some that are pretty solid around the toes again so that if the bike falls on you your feet don't get crushed. I had a buddy have a very minor 10mph get-off some months go and the bike fell on his foot. He didn't suffer any permanent damage but it took a while before he was out of pain. He has since bought a set of near Sidi boots which, to my dismay, I am now envious of.
- A motorcycle specific jacket with armor in the shoulders and elbows in addition to at least a back protector pad if not a full armored back protector. You want to protect your fragile spine as best as is practical. Whether you buy a synthetic textile jacket or a leather one is a matter of preference. Leather gear tends to handle abrasion a bit better than textile but textile gear tends to be lighter and cooler. I wear leather gear primarily but I do have a textile oversuit that is fully armored.
- A motorcycle specific pair of riding pants. These should be reinforced in the seat and have armor in the knees and hips. I do have a pair of riding jeans which have perforated leather on the inside and slots of knee armor. They are better than just normal jeans but I don't think they would do all that well in a crash. I haven't tried them yet but there are what are essentially armored and reinforced long-johns that you can wear under jeans. That might be an option as well.
For example here is a review of the gear that I wear: Yermo's Transit Suit Review which shows the kind of armor and features a high-end riding suit has. I'm not suggesting you get a Transit Suit. I'm merely listing this as an example to illustrate armored gear.
The market for motorcycle gear is going nuts these days. There are so many options out there. There is always a trade-off between wearability and crash worthiness. Tourmaster makes a wide range of acceptable low cost gear. It's not the greatest quality in terms of fit and finish, but they have both leather and textile options. Josh, Yun, Bruce and Duncan all bought suits similar to the one Josh describes in his Tourmaster Review. I also have one of these. Yun recently picked up a suit by RevIt which, to my surprise, isn't that bad.
There are also quite a number of options for smaller female riders. Small sized helmet and suits are readily available. Bob's BMW has an entire section dedicated to women riders, which I think is awesome.
Another consideration when choosing gear is you should choose gear that you will actually use. It doesn't do much good if it's so uncomfortable or unwieldy that you don't actually wear it or you don't go riding because you don't want to put it on. For some an oversuit is the right answer. There's the Aerostich Roadcrafter oversuit, as an example. Tourmaster also makes something similar.
A further word on gear. Back in 1991, I taught a buddy of mine to ride. I made certain to give him my pitch on gear. He did as I suggested and bought the best gear he could which at the time was reinforced leather. Truly armored gear wasn't commonly available yet. After riding together for over 1000 miles we embarked on a cross country tour. In St. Louis on I70 he was leading when a car in front of him kicked up a piece of angle iron which hit his oil pan and acted like a lever arm launching his bike about 8 feet into the air and him about 10. Kobayashi Maru. At 65mph, he flew through the air and landed flat on his back and slid a ways. The bike was totalled.
My heart stopped. I was convinced that he was dead. There's no way anyone could survive a crash like that. To my utter amazement, he stood up, brushed himself off and with the exception of a few bruises he was ok. We camped out at BMW of St. Louis for a few days. He bought a new bike and we continued on.
Another buddy of mine took a corner too fast and went wide in a tight Deal's Gap corner. The bike slid. He tumbled. He also had good gear on. Helmet, boot, leathers took a beating but other than some bruises, he was fine and continued riding for the week, after replacing the helmet and getting his leather sewn.
Good gear can not only save your life, but it can also save a trip.
Remember the maxim: Dress for the crash, not the ride.
Roughly I would suggest you budget around $1200 for a set of gear. You should be able to get an armored suit for $600 or so. A decent helmet for $300 or so. Gloves for $100 or so. Boots for $200 or so.
I don't mean to belabor the point too much, but watch this video:
Rock the Gear Inc. is a national, not-for-profit organization that focuses on safety apparel education and provides a community of support for those who want to
Step 3: Don't Buy The Bike of Your Dreams, Buy or Borrow A Light Inexpensive Starter Bike
No one does this. I tell everyone this but no one listens.
Go review the number of ways you are going to drop your bike in the first 6 months.
Also think about whether or not you know what kind of rider you want to be.
Now think about spending $16,000 on that shiny new S1000RR sport bike you've always wanted. 190hp monstrosity meant for racing but you're going to go out and buy this thing as a first bike. And it's going to scare the living shit out of you and each time you drop it it's going to cost you something like $1000 to fix all that bodywork.
So since you're most likely going to drop your bike, drop a bike that's cheap, light, easy to lift, and easy to fix. Make your mistakes on a bike you don't care about or that a friend doesn't care about. Do have it evaluated to make sure it's safe, that the brakes work, the suspension is ok, the tires are good, and that it's not going to be a liability.
The market for bikes has changed dramatically over the last 10 years. It's now possible to find fairly affordable small bikes that even come with fuel injection and ABS.
There are a bunch of bikes out there that fit the bill. Cheap. Small. Popular. Easy to sell when you're done with it.
Standard bikes without a fairing with a largely straight up and down seating position, i.e. not leaned too far forward like a sport bike and not leaned too far back like a cruiser are probably best, but this is also a matter of personal preference.
Most people don't get a little beater bike as their first bike. For some it works out. For many it turns into an expensive lesson. For some who are very unlucky it turns into injury or worse.
There are many ways to go about it and if you're willing to accept the expense of dropping a bike along with it's subsequent decrease in value then maybe a new "better" bike makes sense. Regardless of that, for the vast majority of riders my recommendation stands. If this is your first bike don't try to go out and get the bike of your dreams from the get-go. Get something small and light to learn on and build up to the bike of your dreams. It's likely to end up being a vastly different bike than you expect.
Step 4: Don't Ride Alone For The First 1000 Miles.
After getting gear, this is probably the single most important thing you can do. If you can avoid it, do not ride alone but also DO NOT RIDE WITH THE WRONG PEOPLE.
The MSF course is a great way to get an introduction to motorcycling. Starting out I will even go so far as to say it is necessary. But it is not sufficient. There is so much more to riding a motorcycle safely and well than can be covered in a few days.
I've taught a good number of people over the years how to ride and I've come up with my own approach which, I suppose, is a little different. It's not enough for me just to teach someone how to operate the controls. That's the easy part. I can teach you to ride a bike in a parking lot effectively in two days. The challenge and real danger in riding a motorcycle is Out There on the road where Bad Things(tm) happen. When I teach someone to ride my intention is to teach them to become a good, safe and responsible rider. It usually a few times a week for three or four months. I always ask those I teach to promise that for the first 1000 miles on the road they follow me or some other experienced responsible attentive and courteous rider. That's where the real learning happens.
At first riding a bike on the street is overwhelming. You have not yet built the muscle memory. So much of your available attention is spent on the simple operation of the bike. There isn't that much attention left over to spend on road conditions and hazards. You also have not yet developed the intuition of a rider. Eventually, after enough miles, you get a sense for cars and how they behave around bikes. Your experience in a car is your enemy here.
The law of gross tonnage applies and the motorcycle is on the bottom of the food chain. Cars will cut you off. Cars will not see you. Sometimes, cars will go aggressively out of their way to try to harm you. Yes, this has happened to me a few times.
You also, over time, develop a keen sense for the road. Sometimes I'm already looking for gravel in a corner up ahead and I don't even know what pattern I observed that led me to believe there would be gravel but I'm almost alway right. Josh seems to think it's magic.
Before you venture out on the road, find yourself an experienced rider. Find yourself someone who has taken the topic seriously. If you know me, find me. The person you choose as a coach, and that's really what I'm talking about here, needs to be someone who will ride for you, at your pace. While you're fumbling with controls and trying to get a sense for braking, traction, stopping, and going your coach leads. He or she is the one who watches out for hazards and warns you ahead of time. For instance, while I was riding with Yun on his first 1000 miles I would flash my brake lights three times if we came upon a tight slow corner. I would point out hazards in the road. Your coach should critique your riding but be patient enough to let you develop at your own pace.
Also, since you followed my advice and got yourself a beater bike, ask your coach to take you on some dirt roads or grass so you can feel what it's like to have no traction. Off road experience is, in my humble opinion, the best teacher.
When I was coaching Yun, I would carefully pick increasingly challenging roads. We didn't go out into real traffic for quite some time. We started out in parking lots. Then we would stay on slower back roads. We even went on a couple day tour so we could do some mountain roads. Eventually, we moved up to in-city riding and rushhour.
But more importantly, during those 1000 miles all kinds of topics come up that one forgets to address in a course. How do you handle fatigue when you're out on the road? How do you ride with someone else? What lines do you take through corners? What are the traditions of motorcyclists, which strangely seem to be univeral around the planet? How do you handle dealing with helmets, gloves, gear, etc?
And when you drop your bike, you have a coach there to help you pick it up again. When you run out of gas you have someone there. If something breaks, you have help.
It's just a really good idea, while you're aclimating yourself to this new sport, to have a coach.
But a word of caution. Do not ride with someone who pushes you too ride far beyond your limit. To learn, you need gradual slight escalation, but that's all. If someone rides too fast, too carelessly, too aggressively or doesn't take the time to teach you, then find yourself someone else to ride with.
Step 5: Motorcycling is About Continuous Education
You've taken the MSF course. You've gotten some gear. You've done your 1000 miles with one or more coaches. Congratulations, you are now a rank beginner.
To be a good motorcyclist is to be a constant student. There are always things to study and much like flying, it's the catastrophic 1 in 1000 events that we have to practice for the most. You're coming around a blind corner and there's gravel right in your line. You're leaned over and surprised. How do you manage the panic reaction? How do you create a mental space where you have the most options available to you and the clarity of focus to be able to execute?
Training and Study.
I strongly recommend reading this book:
Total Control: High Performance Street Riding Techniques, 2nd Edition [Lee Parks] on Amazon.com. *FREE* shipping on qualifying offers. <DIV>Today's super high-performance bikes are the most potent vehicles ever sold to the public and they demand advanced riding skills. This is the perfect book for riders who want to take their street riding skills to a higher level. Total Control explains the ins and outs of high-performance street riding. Lee Parks
What Lee Parks has done is taken lessons learned by top racers and come up with a way to apply those lessons to normal street riding for the purpose of increasing your control of the motorcycle while expanding your available options when Bad Things(tm) occasionally happen. This is one of those rare cases where a company backs into a business model. He wrote the book and there was such a wide call for courses that he developed courses that provide instruction on the topics covered in the book.
Once you have about a year's worth of riding under your belt you should consider taking the advanced Total Control course. It's just a one day course divided up into classroom and parking lot exercises. It will likely blow your mind. I have taken two of his courses.
If you are serious about becoming a good motorcyclist, regardless of the fact that he is a race instructor, Keith Code's writing is required reading. He wrote two very infuential books
A Twist of the Wrist: The Motorcycle Roadracers Handbook [Keith Code] on Amazon.com. *FREE* shipping on qualifying offers. <DIV>Here's everything you need to successfully improve your riding, novice or veteran, cruiser to sportbike rider. This book contains the very foundation skills for any rider looking for more confidence when cornering a motorcycle. Notes and comments by Eddie Lawson. Foreword by Wayne Rainey. </DIV>
A Twist of the Wrist Vol. 2: The Basics of High-Performance Motorcycle Riding [Keith Code, Doug Chandler] on Amazon.com. *FREE* shipping on qualifying offers. Straight facts about riding! A Twist of the Wrist, the acknowledged number one book on rider improvement for ten years straight
He also produced some videos:
A twist of the wrist by KEITH CODE (2002-03-01) on Amazon.com. *FREE* shipping on qualifying offers.
Find A Twist of the Wrist II at Amazon.com Movies & TV, home of thousands of titles on DVD and Blu-ray.
As a word of warning, Keiths first DVD which dates from back in the '80's is very low budget and while it has a tremendous amount of good information and insights, it is almost unwatchably bad. Suffer through it, you'll learn something.
Step 6: Practice, Practice, Practice
Riding is a physical activity but it involves a tremendous amount mental energy and attention. It's a learned skill involving muscle memory. If Bad Things(tm) didn't happen then we could approach riding the way we do driving a car, just as transportation. The problem is Bad Things(tm) happen after long long intervals of quiet riding enjoyment. We get lulled into a false sense of security. This is especially true after a long hiatus from riding such as is likely to happen over the winter. The lessons we have learned most recently are the ones that we lose the quickest. This is one of the reasons it is so difficult to unlearn bad technique and the foundation of the reason why I suggest "Just do it seriously from the get-go. Build a foundation of good skills". I still have 30 years of bad riding technique to unlearn. When I run into problems I sometimes, even now, still fall back on old bad habits.
Probably the most dangerous thing one can do with the motorcycle is ride it only occasionally under the same circumstances each time. You develop a riders instinct by riding regularly over a wide range of conditions. Repeat practice builds the muscle memory you need.
Once you are proficient and have some miles under your belt it's often educational to ride with a variety of people. You'll quickly learn what kind of riders you enjoy riding with and which you don't. Some people have a military "team" approach to riding. Others feel that it's every man for himself. Personally, I prefer the team philosophy more. But you can learn something from any kind of rider. One of the riders who had the biggest influence on me was a Canadian racer chick who could ride like nobody's business.
I also think it's valuable to ride a range of bikes. You may find that as your skills improve the kinds of bikes you're drawn to may change. Ride bikes that you know you won't like to develop a vocabulary of what you like or dislike. No bike is perfect. Each is a compromise.
Step 7: Go Ahead, Buy That Bike
Now that you have some experience and a sense of what kind of rider you actually are or want to become, go ahead and buy your first dream bike or two.
Enjoy and always remember to keep the rubber side down and the shiny side up.
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This is currently a rough draft. I suspect I will be editing this and writing additional how-to articles. If you have any suggestions or criticisms I'd like to hear them. I'm still feeling my way around with writing.