Riding Through the Eyes of a Novice Motorcycle Rider

The joys of being a beginner

Riding through the eyes of a beginner
When you swing a leg over a motorcycle for the first time it may be a bit terrifying, but oh so thrilling.Illustration by John Breakey

I remember almost every detail of the day I picked up my first bike: How I waited patiently while the last of the paperwork was finished, how the salesman at Bridgeport Kawa­saki went over all the dos and don'ts of breaking in a new engine. I remember my hands were shaking while I mounted my bike for the first time. As I pulled onto the street I struggled with the little things that are now so familiar. I eased out the clutch with only a bit of a lurch—almost what they taught me in my Motorcycle Safety Foun­dation class. When trying to cancel the turn signal, I tapped the horn.

And then I was on the street. I shifted gears at the rpm the salesman had told me to. I kept my head and eyes up. I only wobbled a little as I came to stops. As I took my circuitous route home, avoiding the interstate, I began to relax and breathe normally. After months of anticipation, I became a motor­cyclist. I parked my bike at my apartment and spent the next hour walking around, admiring it. The following day, on my first long ride, I had to stop because my neck muscles became so fatigued I thought my head would fall off. Again, I stood and stared at the machine from differing angles until I was ready to ride. In three days, I clocked the 700 miles to the first service check. Five weeks later I took a three-month trip to California.

Despite these vivid memories—almost a photo album in my mind—I can’t remember what those days felt like. The sensations have been lost to the familiarity of daily interaction with motor­cycles over the past 11 years. I’ll never again be able to experience the small miracles of learning to ride.

For novice motorcyclists, every­thing is new, nothing is taken for granted. Leaving a stop­­light isn’t automatic; it requires focus. Counter­steering for a turn has yet to become instinctive. Not surprisingly, all conscientious riders rush through their novice days in an effort to learn as much as possible about this new-found sport. While I’m not saying this is a bad thing—the best new riders are those who actively develop their skills—a little something is lost when we cross that threshold, leaving our rookie status behind.

Think of all the firsts you experienced the year you started riding. There's the thrill of your first ride in the rain. What about entering the parking lot at a biker gathering spot on your own wheels? (My first was Marcus Dairy in Connecticut.) Remember your first swerve around an obstacle? How about the first time you hit an unexpected pothole or your tires slipped a little in a corner, just as you were getting cocky and thinking you and your bike were a single unit, only to be reminded that the two of you are very separate entities. My virgin tipover occurred in Meridian, Mississippi, after a pan­fried catfish dinner. Humming a bluegrass song to myself, I took a right turn, only a block from the restaurant, and ended up on the ground. The result was a bruised hip, a broken brake pedal and a reason to look for the town on a map every time I pass through Mississippi.

But all of these are only motorcycle memories. So, novice riders make sure you’re aware of the moment as it happens, enjoy this newness because it won’t last long. You’ll soon move up into the ranks of experienced riders which offers a different set of rewards. If you’re one of those veterans who longs for a bit of newness, take a newbie or two under your wing to get a taste of that old feeling. If you really enjoy this type of contact high, consider becoming an MSF instructor. You’ll be immersed in the excitement of people discovering motorcycling.

I think the edge that novices have over experts is that, when they ride, it consumes them more fully—as they try to manage all the skills required to ride a bike—without the static of unnecessary, everyday thoughts. Perhaps we experienced riders have something to learn from them. Let the moments spent in the act of riding unfold and envelope you. Try to view your time on your motorcycle with the eyes of a beginner.