What it’s like to start riding.
By: Natalie Bycraft
Fact: motorcycles are awesome. Another fact is if you’re interested in riding for the first time, they can also be incredibly intimidating. Unfortunately, this keeps some people from trying, but I’m going to fill you in on how I got started and hopefully encourage you to give it a shot if you’re considering learning.
I always thought motorcycles were cool. My dad owned one, but since that was before I was born, I never saw it and I never saw him ride. My first ride ever was on the back of my uncle’s bike around the neighborhood when I was a kid. But other than that, I didn’t grow up around bikes. When I was going through high school and college, I indifferently thought, “it would be cool to learn to ride a motorcycle someday.” But after graduating, I realized I was now a real adult and I could actually do it if I wanted. So, I got a 2001 Yamaha V Star, and a very rough one at that. And when I say “rough,” I mean that I spent more time learning to fix it than learning to ride it.
I’m proud of all the knowledge I gained and I had fun working on the V Star (mostly), but riding that thing was stressful! My first piece of advice? Learn on a bike that doesn’t stall on you repeatedly in the street.
When I moved across the country back to my home state of Michigan, I left my V Star behind. It took me a couple years to consider getting another bike, but I did buy a new Harley Iron 883 in 2022. Finally, a bike without preexisting issues. And if you’re familiar with getting a motorcycle from a Harley dealership, you know a road test comes with the bike if you don’t already have your endorsement.
Even though I’d already had some riding under my belt, I was still a little nervous because all my experience up until that point was on a bike I couldn’t trust. And for the first time, I was learning on one I knew would run properly, so I wouldn’t have to, oh you know, kick the fuel pump while riding whenever it stalled to get it to come back to life.
With the help of the two trainers who taught my class, I finally learned properly. Personally, I think I would have benefited from taking my class sooner so I could learn to ride on a reliable test bike. Then I would have had the know-how to be more confident on the V Star. Being a newbie and dealing with functionality problems was a little too much.
Now that I have a bike that rides the way it’s meant to, I can focus on what matters; what’s going on around me and enjoying the ride. Awareness of your surroundings is obviously important, but once you get the hang of it, you’ll get to enjoy the feeling of riding, which is also a very important part because, well, that’s the whole point. The feeling of gliding through curves and the rushing air… Fun fact: I love how on a motorcycle you can tune into your sense of smell more so than you can in a car. When I ride, I’m aware of the smell of the fresh air, certain flowers, cinnamon or bread when I pass bakeries or the smell of food permeating restaurant walls, fresh cut grass, and people grilling or having bonfires.
If you’re looking to get your endorsement, I say go for it! So you know what to expect, I’ll walk you through it. First things first, you’ll sit in a “classroom” for a couple days before you even touch a bike. You’re going to learn your clutch from your throttle and motorcycle safety from your instructor. During the outside portion of your class, you’ll practice riding around in some parking lot with trainers walking you through the process. You’ll get the hang of the basics, you’ll make mistakes, you’ll get advice, you’ll try again, and you’ll get better.
When the time comes for you and your “classmates” to take the final test, you might lose points on certain things, but don’t worry. That’s not an issue as long as you score well in the other areas. Everyone is going to have their strengths and weaknesses. For me, the toughest part was taking the super slow figure-8 turns within the markers without accidentally riding outside the lines or instinctually putting my foot down.
If you’re worried about being the only girl in your riding class, first of all, you might not be! There were two other women in mine. More and more women are learning to ride (cough, cough, as they should), so you could find a buddy. And if you are the only woman there, you’re a total badass.
Even after you pass your test, you still may not feel comfortable behind the handlebars. After all, they teach you how to maneuver your bike in a controlled environment. No one is holding your hand on the actual road with drivers all around you—and now you have to pay even closer attention to them than ever before. If you have a friend with a bike, join them for a few rides to help you get your bearings. And if you don’t have any moto friends yet, you can ease in on smaller, less congested streets or the roads of a neighborhood or apartment complex. Ride up and down the streets you’re most familiar with. Whatever makes you feel comfortable because that’s the first step to confidence on the road.
I really hope that if you were considering becoming a moto babe and didn’t know where to start—or if you weren’t even thinking about it and are now—hearing my experience helped in some way.
One last piece of advice? Make sure you get quality gear to keep you safe. Especially when you’re new to riding a motorcycle, it’s nice to be padded up so you have one less thing to worry about. Wind & Throttle carries high-quality protective (and cool-looking) gear that I use all the time. Plus, you’ll need to come to your class prepared with long sleeves, long pants, boots, and gloves, and Wind & Throttle has you covered on everything you’ll need to bring with you, except for the helmet.
Wind & Throttle has also put together a list of some great motorcycle schools to consider if you’re in those areas.
Ride safe and have fun out there!