Monday, June 10, 2013

Beginner Bikes - Teach a Friend to Ride

I have taught a couple of friends to ride over the years, and I've learned some things I'd like to share.

First off, there is no such thing as too small of a bike. 200-250cc is the PERFECT size for a beginner. So many people start with bikes that are just WAY too big. A Kawasaki 250 Ninja will cruise all day at 80mph -- two up. It has a top speed of 105 (115 in a full tuck with a tailwind and 3 more teeth on the rear sprocket). That's plenty powerful. It's also a very light, very low bike. It's the bike I recommend the most, it's been made for years and you can find a nice example for $1500. The ONLY disadvantage is that it has plastic that is easily damaged.

The bike I recommend the second most is the Yamaha TW200. First off, yes it's smaller. Yes, it's slower (with a solo top speed of 75mph, and even then only if you take 3 teeth off of the rear sprocket). But holy hell it's FUN. It's extremely low, and it has a 130 front tire and a 180 rear... and these are full-on knobbies!! It corners like a sportbike and will wheelie with some effort. In short: a total blast, even for a 235 lb fatass with several 100+ hp motorcycles and 17 years of riding experience under his belt.

I taught this slight little French girl to ride on my badass TW200

Whether you loan a bike to your friend, or he (or she) buys her own, the more beat up the bike is, the better. Chances are it's going to get dropped once or twice. Or wedged into trees at the edge of the parking lot. Or driven into a ditch full to the brim with sticky gooey mud. Or ridden into a telephone pole.

All of these things have happened to friends of mine. In addition, the very first time I tried to ride I was trying to take a right turn and ended up heading for the ditch on the far side of the road, and then just panicked and fell over. Here's all that I learned:

  • Convince your friend to take the MSF course. It's a hassle. It's expensive. You lose an entire weekend. But it's totally worth every minute.
  • Even after the MSF course, if they don't start riding right away, they will lose any skill they acquired VERY quickly.

However, if you're reading this you've already dismissed the MSF course, so let me get down to the meat of this post:

  • The first thing to do, before your friend even looks at a motorcycle, is to talk about target fixation. You go where you look. If your friend looks at the muddy ditch or the telephone pole, he's going to hit it. It's important to drill into the student, if there's trouble, if there's panic, LOOK WHERE YOU WANT TO GO. This is the MOST important lesson.
  • You should take time to teach the student where the controls are. Clutch, brake, throttle, etc. I'm not going to go into that. (It's very helpful if the student knows how to drive a stick, that makes things *so* much easier.)  But the SECOND most important lesson is, if there's trouble, if there's panic, the first thing to do is look where you want to go. The second thing is to pull in the clutch and close the throttle. 
  • The lesson should begin in a large parking lot, with the student slipping the clutch and walking the bike around. Feet on the ground, walking. If feet are dragging, he's going too fast. Slow it down and walk the bike while slipping the clutch
  • Continue with starting and stopping in a straight line. Don't have them do it once. Or even twice. The student needs to complete 30 or so drills. Start moving, clutch completely out, clutch in, brake to a stop. Do it over and over again. Feet should be ON THE PEGS the moment the bike starts moving.
  • When out of straightaway, have the student slip the clutch and WALK the bike around to point the other direction.
  • Once he has a handle on that, it's time for turns. The hardest thing for a beginner is starting off and turning at the same time. So, use chalk or cones to set up an intersection in your parking lot, and have the student start off with making 90-degree right-hand turns. Feet should be on the pegs the moment the bike starts moving -- dragging your feet actually makes it much more difficult to execute the turn. Do another 30 drills, until he has it right. Then do left turns. Don't forget, you go where you look!
  • Now he's ready to graduate to shifting. Have him go down the parking lot, upshifting until half way across, then downshifting the other half. Then turn around with feet on the pegs, and continue back the way he came. Again, at least 30 drills.
  • Now your student is getting cocky, so it's time to go back to basics. Find a hill, and have the student practice holding the bike in place using only the clutch. Have him walk it up the hill, and then slip the clutch and roll it down the hill backwards. Clutch control is essential, it's the place where the beginner makes the most mistakes at first, and drills like these really make a difference in building skill -- and confidence.
  • Now the student is ready to graduate to riding on the street. But limit it to lightly traveled surface roads at first, at slow speeds, with you FOLLOWING, not leading. This is so you can watch the student and make a judgement whether you should continue riding, or head back to the parking lot for more practice. It's also so the student doesn't feel like he or she has to keep up with you. You go at his pace.

There are probably a million more things to consider when teaching a friend to ride, but I've found these to be the most successful. I've learned these by teaching friends how to ride over the years -- some with success, some without. These experiences have also resulted in a few amusing asides:

(This is the opposite of what your friend should learn on)

  • A cocky friend and 75hp (or more) motorcycles do not mix. Instead they make a skid mark down the driveway and across the street, and then a deep muddy rut across the neighbor's lawn, culminating with the bike climbing the front porch stairs and falling over. Also screaming -- lots of screaming and stained underwear from the both of you.
  • New riders do the damndest things. Like find the only telephone pole in the entire parking lot, and hit it. Or turning the throttle too hard, panicking, and ending up in the trees at the side of the parking lot, held up by branches with the bike 5 feet in front of him, also wedged into branches. 
  • If your friend crashes but is okay, and she removes her helmet and glasses... take her glasses from her. She won't remember where she put them, and they will be stepped on after a frantic 45-minute search in tall grass.
  • Don't teach your friend to ride on a chopper with 7" over fork tubes and some serious rake. Sure, it's stable in a straight line. Sure, the floorboards keep it from falling over beyond about 30 degrees, so it won't be damaged. But he'll never learn to turn that thing. Ever.
  • Cute girls on Mad-Max looking ratbikes are all sorts of awesome.
  • ATGATT - Wear All The Gear, All The Time

Okay, that's it for today!

1 comment:

  1. Dude, I did the MSF today and rode a TW200 actually. Aside from the clutch and brake controls being really worn out, it was surprisingly fun, I wished I could try opening it up. It has a lot less oomph than I'm used to, but you can fling that sucker around like mad It made me kind of almost wish I had gotten a well loved dual sport (maybe with a little more engine) instead of a shiny new street machine.