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#314 Words to the Not-Yet Wise

What can one say to a new rider? It turns out, there’s quite a bit.

I met a new rider at Richard Flohil’s Playhouse Night—live music at a west end Toronto hot spot called The Painted Lady. Ossington is where I used to go for Bosch plugs or starter motor rebuilds. Now it’s bars, patio restaurants and the starting place for the Mods & Rockers vintage bike and scooter weekend in August.
Knowing I’m a long time rider, Richard introduced me to a friend who immediately asked a rather big question. What advice would I give a new rider? She quickly explained that she’d had the bike for a week. Bought it from a friend. Didn’t even know what size it was. I had in fact noticed the black Yamaha parked on the street. So the first bit of advice I gave her was to move her bike from the No Parking zone before she got a ticket. When she returned I told her she was riding a perfect beginner bike, a 250cc Virago. Then the show started, with various bands, and I never did get back to her. But I’ve been thinking about it ever since.
What advice would I give a new rider? Generally, and for years now, I advise new riders not to speed, and to be very cautious in their first two years of riding. It takes time to develop that sixth sense that warns us of a car about to make a left turn in front of us, or to stop suddenly for a snack. Those who are experienced car or bicycle riders may have that feeling already developed. Listen to it. There is no cage to protect us.
There are all sorts of problems motorcycles experience that give Slippery When Wet a whole new meaning. We have the speed of a car but can lose traction on wet leaves or wet painted lines that are slipperier than wet pavement. Yes, I mean your tire might slip on the painted lines, especially when turning. Ride cautiously in the rain. Two wheels are not as stable as four,
Uneven pavement is another trick of the road just waiting for an unsuspecting rider. There may be a depression worn deep by heavy trucks tires and a hump in the middle. When stopping, think a few metres ahead. Sometimes a traffic light is where you’ll drop if your foot doesn’t hit ground when you expect it too. It’s also where your foot might slip out on an oil patch left by vehicles idling at a red light, dripping oil. Rain makes oil rise and in rain that slick spot is much worse.
Groceries, camping grate, the latest outfit or tools: strap them down. Well. I saw an enormous bald spot on a tire that was the size of a saucer. It looked like a half-inch of rubber was warn off the spot. The brand new tire was ruined. Two women were riding two up, and the experienced rider kept the bike up during a spectacular locking of the rear wheel. A sleeping bag had come loose from the back and lodged between the rear wheel and fender. Could have been a disaster.
Another possible disaster is the simple bungee cord. They’re wonderful. But if you lose your grip while you try to secure your load, the metal hook will fly directly at your face. Keep your eyes open for signs of wear. You don’t want one to break when you’re riding—for many reasons. Those bungee nets are very popular with riders. Some have one strapped on the rear seat at all times.
Nothing, in my opinion, is worse than being cold. For a 10-minute jaunt in the city, it hardly matters. But if you find yourself two hours outside the city on a joy ride and the afternoon turns to night, the temperature can drop significantly. If 28C in the day turns to 15 at night and you dressed for 28, you’ve got a problem. Some riders always carry a spare sweater or electric vest along with rain gear—which one should always carry for a significant ride. There is not always a bridge to duck under or coffee shop to wait in. Twenty minutes in a downpour can change your day. Rain gear works as an added layer in cold, and it’s very helpful in the rain, as are gloves and boot covers. Those things fit nicely in saddlebags and with luck give better, more regular coverage than paper insurance.
Saddlebags are handy for groceries or gear. There is an enormous difference between those who are able to hit the store on the way home and those who don’t even have a backpack. I have hard bags at all times. Soft bags can be installed and removed quickly, but there is some risk in that. Also, monoshock bikes can suck in a soft bag. Some people opt for a tail rack instead. Be careful not to overload it because the weight is behind the rear axle and can be destabilizing.
I’d warn against carrying passengers as well, unless the passenger is the person teaching you and also an experienced rider. If you do take passengers, you’ll want to instruct them how to get on and off the bike. Don’t stand on the rear peg. Tell them how to lean with you in turns and not to make sudden movements that shift their weight.
Fatigue. It’s harder riding a motorcycle than sitting on a couch in a car. Really. Even on a hot sunny day the elements draw moisture from your body. On a cold day your body works harder to keep warm. Being “in the wind” is fun beyond compare, but it’s also exhausting when you’re new.
Riding a motorcycle takes more concentration because there are more obstacles to be concerned with. A stone or bee at 100 kmh will do more than chip paint or crack a windshield. Those you can’t see coming, not until they’re about to hit. But potholes, flattened plastic water bottles, debris, dogs and more are things we need to look out for, as well as the car driver that “didn’t see the bike.” If you’re tired, don’t ride. Imagine being dead or worse. Don’t risk it.
Many riders will tell you that we also don’t ride if we don’t feel good. Clearing the cobwebs out of one’s head is the oldest excuse in the book, and it works every time! There’s nothing like a good ride to feel awake and alive. But there are times I just don’t feel safe and alert enough to ride. Know your limits. And of course we’re not even discussing riding while intoxicated. That’s a given, right?
If you’re really new, I recommend only riding for pleasure, not for transportation. By that I mean don’t add the stress of needing to be someplace on time unless you can leave with plenty to spare. It takes longer to get there when you’re new. Everything does. New riders take longer to put their helmet on. But riding is also more exciting, fun and stressful when you’re new. It takes a lot of concentration, thinking your way through the gears and around the curves than it does when you’re experienced and it’s automatic.
And watch where you park. It’s still free at the meters in Toronto and may continue to be. Our voices might have been heard. But you still can’t park at a bus stop, fire hydrant or anywhere it says “No Parking.”

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