Everything you need to know about riding a motorcycle!


by Larry Cornwell


Posted on August 25, 2010 at 5:00 AM

Updated Tuesday, Aug 24 at 2:59 PM


Ask any motorcycle rider about bikes or riding and their face will instantly light up. But a subdued reaction will be given by someone who had to give up riding because of the dangers.

As an automotive journalist, I have tested plenty of motorcycles on race tracks and public roads. To this day, I have ridden over 30,000 accident free miles on various test bikes. While riding motorcycles is not as safe as driving a car, there are ways to make it as safe as possible. And the best way to start is with a basic motorcycle rider course, as I did in Concord taught at Rowan-Cabarrus Community College. In fact, the first time I had ever ridden a bike was during a basic rider course.

This basic and especially the advance course can help everyone from the novice, to experienced riders. The basic rider course has a great mix of classroom time that involves videos, written tests and group discussions on different road scenarios. Learning the controls and operation of these controls is another important part of this course.

Outside, students start off learning to steer and brake without turning the bikes on. Most bikes are smaller models, so it is easy for most walk the bikes, which is a lesson in itself. Then the bikes are turned on for the first time when shifting, acceleration, vision techniques, hazard avoidance and obstacle maneuvering is taught.

Helmets and motorcycles are provided with these courses which are conducted by schools like Rowan-Cabarrus Community College and Central Piedmont Community College. For a complete list of courses taught in your area go to the Motorcycle Safety Foundations website at http://www.msf-usa.org/ or call (800)-446-9227. There are a number are Harley Davidson dealers across the country that teach similar courses and even Honda offers courses too.

Unlike riders who do not take and pass the course, once a rider graduates, the road test at the DMV is waived and only the written test has to be passed. Now that you have passed all recommended courses your drivers licenses will now have a motorcycle endorsement on it.

Personally I feel that everyone, even those who don’t ride, should be required to take this basic rider course. Not only can it save the life of the rider, but it will give a greater understanding of motorcycle riding to car drivers. And this will make it better for everyone.


Now that you have passed the basic rider course, it is time to pick the right type of bike. The best type of bike for you and the kind of riding that you want to do. There are two basic categories of bikes; off-road dirt bikes and on road bikes. Then there are several different types of on-road bikes which include; cruisers, customs, three wheeled bikes, street fighter/naked bikes and sport bikes. Take a look the models below, to see which one will fit they type of riding you want to do.


During a visit up to Wisconsin, to test the Porsche Panamera on the famed Road America race track, I stopped in Milwaukee for a visit at the Harley Davidson headquarters. While there, I rode the CVO Softail Convertible, which is a cruiser model.

Typically a cruiser is a larger, heavier bike with wide fairings and a taller windshield.  Fairings are body work pieces that cover the engine and frame. Although the Harley Davidson CVO has a lower seat high, most cruisers can be a bit tall for shorter riders and with their added weight can be a handful. The HD CVO had great torque which powered if off the line quickly, had a smooth ride and was pretty “nimble” for a cruiser. If you are looking to get a cruiser make sure that you are able to pull the bike up from the kick stand position and balance it. Advantages: Comfortable, style, good power, good rider space and good cargo space.


Custom bikes are a cross or combination between a cruiser and a sport bike, but more cruiser than anything else. The Honda Fury is one of a few customs that you can buy from a large manufacturer. Most customs are designed and manufactured by much smaller outfits, which makes each custom creation very expensive.

Choppers are the pinnacle of customs with their style and wild attitude. Customs are not about safety or comfort, but all about style and attitude. More often than not, they also have a lot of power for flashy, loud exits. The long forks, uncluttered fit and finish, and seamless engine compartment create a visual master piece. Bikes like the Honda Fury give not only give you a fun ride, but are also works of art. Advantages: Power, style, style and more style. Oh, and attitude.


The Can Am Spyder is most unique bike in this line-up with its signature three wheel stance. Unlike a traditional bike, a three wheeled motorcycle like the Can Am Spyder is much more stable. If you are somewhat intimidated by two wheel bikes, falling over, a three wheeled set up could be for you. It is also much easier to convince your girlfriend or wife to ride a three wheel bike over a two wheeled bike. The Spyder had good speed, nice comfort, lots of passenger space and good cargo space. And with the two wheels up front, it is more stable than three wheeled bikes that have only one wheel up front.  Oh and I almost forgot, the Can Am Spyder is pretty fast too! Advantages: stability, comfort and versatility.


A streetfighter also commonly known as a naked bike is a model that has no or a very few fairings. Like the Triumph Speed Triple, a naked bike is almost a sport bike but is higher off the ground with handle bars that are positioned higher. This helps if you are a bigger or a taller rider providing more leg room. And because the riding position is more upright, it is a more comfortable riding position.

Another thing that naked bikes are known for, is a rebellious, in your face, bold, unrefined style. The Triumph Speed Triples style is exactly that, and when dressed in matt black, the menacing look is complete. But naked bikes aren’t all about style, they can perform too. In fact, the Triumph Speed Triple is as close to a two wheeled muscle car as you can get. One disadvantage of a naked bike is the absence of fairings and a windshield leaves the rider open to hard hitting wind at speeds above 75 mph.

Advantages: comfortable riding position, muscle car power and awesome style.


Sport bikes are some of the fastest road going vehicles PERIOD. For instance, the Aprilia RSV4 Factory has 182 horsepower, more than many cars that weigh thousands of pounds more. The Aprilia RSV4 Factory has a 0-60 of 2.8 seconds and a top speed over 180mph. Sport bikes are known for a harsher rider, a lower stance, more compact riding position and out of this world performance levels.

Disadvantages are that the riding position can be uncomfortable, especially for long rides and a harsher ride because of the firmer suspension. And if not respected, the pace and performance a sport bike can be dangerous. Models like the Aprilia RSV4 Factory, an Italian bike, are just as stylish as they are fast. The Aprilia RSV4 Factory for example is basically a street legal race bike, or you can think of it as a two wheel Lamborghini. Advantages: power, performance and style. Humm, did I mention power, performance and style?


We have all seen it, riders on their bikes wearing nothing more than t-shirts, shorts, flip-flops and sometimes no helmet. For some riders, protective gear is an afterthought, which is a huge mistake.

It is true that gear, especially during the Summer months can be uncomfortable. However, quality gear can minimize injury and save lives. When picking helmets it is important to pick a helmet that is both Snell and DOT certified.

Leather gloves, jackets and good boots are a must, but mesh material gear that incorporates body armor is good as well. While gear from manufacturers like Scorpion, Alpinestars and Joe Rocket can be expensive, it will never cost as much as the loss of your skin or life. Don’t just go for style, but quality. It is also important to go for comfort, because if your gear is not comfortable, it will not be worn.


Once you have passed the basic rider course and you know what type of bike you want, along with the best gear, it is now time to buy a bike. As a Rookie Rider, you may be most vulnerable, not in traffic, but once you enter the showroom of your local dealer.

It is best to wait until after you have completed and passed a motorcycle cycle safety course before you buy. There are good reasons for waiting before making a purchasing decision. You may not pass the course. On the other hand, if you are determined to get out on the open road, you probably could pass the DMV test and get your endorsement without passing a safety course—however this would not be a good idea. After all, motorcycle safety courses are designed to prepare riders for the challenges of riding a bike and the challenges of the road. Bottom line, if you cannot pass the course, you are probably not ready to ride.

Do not allow anyone to talk you into a purchase that “they” think is best for you. If you have done your research and you have made a decision, stick with that decision.

There are three primary factors to consider when purchasing a bike—price, type and miscellaneous which include things like the type of engine: air cooled, liquid cooled, drive type: chain-drive, shaft-drive, color, fit or accessories.

Since price is the most important lets concentrate on price. One of the most important factors is knowing the “true cost” of the bike. If you dont know in certain terms what the true cost of the bike is, most likely you will be taken. There are two ways to purchase a bike: a cash purchase or a financed purchase. One of the first things that you need to do is to come to a clear understanding with the salesman or finance officer as to the meaning of the total out the door price. In other words make sure that you both are on the same page concerning the bottom line price, one that constitutes ownership once everything is paid.

If you are paying with cash or a certified check it is important that you ask, “how much do I need to have to ride the bike off the lot?” If they cant or are unwilling to tell you in definite terms, you should head out the door because you will be taken.

In a finance deal, the sales price is totally secondary in importance. The true cost of the motorcycle is the total amount of your payments over the life of the loan including the down payment if applicable. Once you have settled on the true cost of the motorcycle, get it in writing.

If a deal sounds too good to be true, it probably is. For example, you have probably seen or heard enticing advertisements that push deals with small or no down payments, and tiny monthly payments. These deals also offer free stuff like helmets, gloves, and jackets. Some deals even offer to pay for motorcycle safety courses. Since bikes and helmets are provided at these courses you do not have to own a bike to take the course. In addition, if you pass a DMV recognized safety course you will not be required to take the road test when you test for your endorsement at the DMV. And one more thing, insurance companies will discount your premium 10%-15% if you take and pass the course.

Now back to these seemingly unbelievable deals. These great deals are like shiny lures that have hooked many unsuspecting buyers like wide mouth Bass. The problem with these deals is that they do not reflect the out the door price. If you read the fine print—which is where the true information is always hidden—numbers change dramatically in time. Once the initially period is over, the monthly charge escalates. Sadly the tiny monthly payment that hooked buyers, most times barely covers anything, paying practically nothing on the bike itself. And once interests and other charges kick in, some buyers find themselves in a world of hurt. Some of these deals have even damaged many a buyers credit.

At the time of the sale, the salesman or finance officer will probably offer a program or package with the bike. These packages or programs normally involve an extra warranty, theft protection, etc, etc, etc. Before you decide on the program, first make sure that you determine the merit of the program in relation to you. In other words, do you really need it?  If you decide to go with such a program get details from the salesmen or finance officer as to how much it will cost you. Make sure that you get this information in certain terms. It is very importantly that you know the true cost of the program, because this will allow you to fairly compare their deal with another dealer. For instance, one dealer may offer 50% off of their program and another may offer 45% off of theirs. On the surface the first deal seems to be the best choice. But if the true cost of the first program is $1,000 and the second one only is $700.00 the latter is the best deal.

The responsibility for making a good deal falls squarely on the shoulders of the buyer. Be careful with each step and read everything concerning the deal carefully line for line. Always get final numbers and deals in writing. Dont be embarrassed to bring someone with buying experience along. And if you dont know anyone with buying experience, simply having an extra set of eyes and ears is helpful too. Remember the most important tool a buyer has are questions and that yield clear and direct answers.

Now you are ready to hit the road. Always remember, riding can be dangerous, but when approached with the right attitude, it can be fun too. Although I have nearly 40,000 miles under my belt, I am still a Rookie Rider and hopefully I will never feel that, I got this, because there is always some new to learn. Look for you on the open road!