3 Simple Truths: The Journey of a New Harley Rider

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September 20, 2011 | By: Tim Barcz

A few months back I wrote a blog entry about becoming a new Harley motorcycle rider after the passing of my grandfather. In that post I shared how, quite unexpectedly, I became the owner of a 2001 Heritage Softail Classic.

J&P Cycles Senior Technician Scott Holton, recently blogged about how motorcycling is often a hereditary thing – an obsession that’s often passed on down the family tree. What Scott didn’t explain is what happens if that trait skips a generation in the gene pool. Where’s your mentor? How do you learn? Of course there are huge benefits when you have a close relative or friend take you through the paces. And signing up for a sanctioned course at a local community college or dealership can also do the trick, I’m told.

Since my original post, I’ve climbed on a motorcycle (OK, a dirt bike) a couple of times at the home of a coworker. He’s been gracious — and patient — enough to lend me his time, experience and his bike so I can get familiar with the concept of riding something with a motor attached to it, but only two wheels. After a few slow laps around his yard, I picked up a few tips fairly quickly.

First off, it’s not as easy as you guys make it out to be. At least not for me it isn’t. The coordination required to make the bike maneuver in a dignified manner is something that eluded me at first. Back in college, I used to borrow my brother’s bike and ride into town, but what little coordination I might have possessed at that time has long disappeared.

Starting, stopping and shifting are all part of a laundry list of action items in my head, all clamoring for my attention in what should be a carefully choreographed symphony of hand and foot motions. It’s nowhere near second nature and requires far too much quick thinking on my part. My jaw drops in amazement when I see you guys just pick up your feet and go. What’s that all about? Where the heck did you learn that?

Second, it seems to be all about the clutch. One of the most useful things I’ve learned is relying on the motorcycle clutch to control the bike and smooth out the ride. Not only for shifting, but to slow down or approach an obstacle with caution (and more control). Despite my newly discovered mechanical understanding of the clutch, I’ve provided laughs and guffaws on several occasions due to my inability to “feel” the clutch – either releasing it too slowly or too quickly.

Finally, I’ve come to the realization that I could get used to this real quick. Once the bike is actually moving and I’m maneuvering around the yard, around buildings and between piles of dirt, I’m getting this feeling that all is well with the world. Even in the confined spaces of a backyard, this feels somewhat liberating and freeing. Now you might be sitting there thinking this boy ain’t seen nothin’ yet, and you’d be correct in that pronouncement.

I’ve found myself looking forward to these “yard trips,” and I’m pretty sure skill will come with time and experience. And I’m making plans. In addition to “yard riding”, I’m checking into a Motorcycle Safety Foundation (MSF) basic rider course. I figure that between the classroom setting and riding with my coworkers, I’ll end up with a balance of theoretical and practical knowledge.

Do you remember back to your first ride? What got you “over the hump?” Was there a tip or trick you picked up, or did it just take time?

Comments: 10 Comments | Categorized Under: J&P Team Members, New Motorcycle Riders

Comments (10)

My son bought me a training class for Christmas & even took it with me. I bought a 2006 Honda 600 to ride as soon as I got my license on the advice of several co workers & bike instructor. I rode it for a few months ( about 330 miles), since it was late summer when I got my license. 1 year later I bought a 2006 Harley Street Bob. I luv it!…O Ya …Im a 58 year old, SINGLE grandma, but now its time for ME !!

I rode an Kawasaki KE 100 enduro for 6 years before getting a ’07 Honda Shadow this year. The experiance onthat enduro while out on open rode allowed me to transition to the Shadow comfortably. Nothing beats experiance when learning. Good luck.

Rider courses from MSF or private companies work, even for the decade + rider. There’s no end to experience, good riders know this and are willing to learn more.
Just remember they’re Karmacycles, not just motorcycles. The right attitude will keep you out of problems the wrong attitude will lead you straight into. Keep your head in the game, know you don’t know it all, ride smart and ride for the love of the road. That’s what 30 years on two wheels have taught me, little grasshopper.

Destroy the dirt bike before you even try to put the Harley in traffic. Much cheaper{and better} to wipe it out a few times than crashing a Harley. You WILL crash a number of times on the street because of lack of coordination and experience if you are not fully confident in your riding capabilities on the road. Just keep on practicing until you feel confident, then simply accept the fact that EVERTHING out there IS trying to KILL YOU! That includes the trees, leaves, cars, trucks,dogs children and the world and you will do fine. Been riding Harleys for 47 years and been down once{damn left turner}. Watch out for EVERTHING and you will do fine. Just ride EVERY DAY and it will come to you.

I had never even been on a bike when I bought my 2001 Honda Shadow. The bike sat quietly in the garage until I took the motorcycle safety course…but has been out for lots of miles since then!

However, I don’t think I ever really “relaxed” that 1st year because I constantly reminded myself about all the things I had to remember to do. This year, I’m having a lot more fun.

Hang in there, Tim, it’s worth it!

I gave my wife a Harley 1200 low for her 41st birthday this year. She wanted a motorcycle and had to have a Harley (like me). She had never drove a bike before, she had only rode with me. She took the 2 day class given by the DMV in Georgia and has been riding everyday now for the past month. I love her but her cordination leaves a lot to be desired. If she can do it so can you.
Oh and welcome to the family.

Get all the “sperience” you can on that dirtbike cuz once you start riding that nice Harley, you don’t want to be laying that thing down. And take that course already! They have little 250′s you can putt around on and lots of repetition to work on your coordination. After that it’s just alot of riding time learning what you can and can’t do on your bike. Have fun!

I completely agree with Amanda Weil, the tips that you have mentioned are very good. And a motorcycle cover will surely save your bike from changing climatic conditions.

Great tips. It is also important to make sure that you take care of your bike by giving it tune ups and using a motorcycle cover.

The class will help a lot. Getting out and riding around will help to bring it all together – especially with other riders who dont mind that you are going to be taking it slow since you are still gaining skills and knowledge. I dont think there is any one aha moment. I have been riding for a little over a year (just under 10K miles) and I discover something that brings what I have learned together with a real world experience all the time. Never loose respect for the bike. God luck…

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