New At This

Steve Lita, American Iron Magazine Editor

Steve Lita, American Iron Editor

RIDE TO WORK, By Steve Lita, Editor

No, I’m not talking about me being new to this magazine. I’m talking about new riders. Wait, don’t go, don’t turn the page. Even if you’re a seasoned veteran, please read on. There’s stuff in here for you, too, and it relates to how we relate to beginner riders. It might be a neighbor, a spouse, an offspring, or a complete stranger you met at a social event, but chances are if you’re already a rider, you’ve probably been asked about how one becomes a rider.

Go ahead, admit it. It might give you a big head for a moment: Gee, this person is looking up to me and asking how to become one of us. Now for the humbling part. I suggest you don’t speak off the cuff and set this person up to fail.

Experienced riders have a pretty sizable responsibility when it comes to helping newcomers. Let’s not steer this newbie in the wrong direction.

There are lots of ways to get involved in motorcycling. And there are lots of opinions out there about what’s the best way. When asked for advice, I suggest playing it safe. Be up front about the thrills, fun, and camaraderie, but don’t sugarcoat it: be forthright about the risks, costs, and pitfalls.

I’ve been fortunate enough to have been granted the credentials to teach riders in Motorcycle Safety Foundation classes for over 13 years now. And while we have a defined curriculum and specific guidelines to follow, it’s inevitable that students will ask the darndest questions on a coffee break or rest period. There’s so much new material coming at them, and they’re being bombarded with all this strange stuff. Well, at least it’s strange to them the first time out.

One of the classic questions I get is: what should I get for my first bike? I know I’m going to get letters on this, but here goes: I always suggest starting on a small, used bike, followed by practice, practice, and more practice, and then, when ready, stepping up to that dream bike. There are four steps behind my thought process. One: if bought correctly, the initial expense won’t be huge, and the new rider can get on two wheels quicker. Two: since it’s a used bike, it’s probably been predisastered, and our new rider won’t feel so bad about scratching it in a parking lot drop. Three: if the bike’s taken good care of, one could break even when reselling it; you can even stand to make money if you fix it up, or, at the least, only lose a small amount due to depreciation. Four: the fear and intimidation of dropping that dream bike won’t be in mind, so the new rider can concentrate on developing riding skills, not profiling (which is another popular newbie question: How do I look?). Want more reasons? How about cheaper insurance on a used bike and getting exposure to other models? Who knows, a person’s dream bike might play second fiddle to another style of bike once he gets some miles under his belt. And, finally, older bikes are, at least I find, easier to wrench on. A brand-new rider on a brand new bike might be confronted with technological wonders, but an advanced degree is required to fix it if it breaks down.

One of my colleagues was attending a class designed for experienced riders recently. Part of the purpose of this event was to help develop a new genre of curriculum. And, of course, when time came to share opinions about certain bike-related topics, not everyone was in agreement about the ideal first bike. Debates were heated and passionate; each side walked away thinking its opinion was right. I guess it’s kind of like politics. My disclaimer here is that I’m not saying my way is the only way. I just wanted to share possible tips for when the questions start coming at you, the experienced rider.

So, there you go. Just one aspect of helping a new rider get up on his or her own wheels. Maybe I’ll revisit this from time to time. After all, motor­cyclists are the minority out on the roads of America. And I look forward to helping more people have fun with bikes. If someone is asking you how, that’s great! Let’s give them respect for wanting to join the riding family and provide some sound, basic advice. After all, you were new at this once upon a time, too. Remember?

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