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10 Things They Don’t Teach You At Motorcycle School

If We Were In Charge Of A Motorcycle School, This Is What We’d Teach!

What were the things you wished they taught you on your first day of motorcycle school? Don’t worry, this isn’t a patronizing list that tells you what you already know, it’s just there to point out some of those things we wished we knew when we first got on two wheels. Lists like this are a dime a dozen, but they’re mostly full of useless advice like “you’ll end up buying more motorcycles than you can ride” or “you’ll be part of a wonderful family of two-wheeled enthusiasts” and while in some cases that might be true, it’s not exactly useful information now, is it?

So what are the real things that they don’t teach you at motorcycle school? To be honest, it depends on in what area you’re learning, how good your instructor is, and how advanced the course your taking is. It’s no secret that beginner riding courses in the USA are a lot less intense than in European countries, but that doesn’t mean that they aren’t worth paying attention to. A good instructor will be able to engage students and prep them for life on two-wheels, and hopefully inspire them to pursue more advanced training in the future. But no matter how good your first basic course is, there are still plenty of things that should be on the curriculum.

In an ideal world, every new rider would be taught every aspect of how to ride, how to choose which brake to engage in that situation, or how much throttle to apply in another. It would be even better if we all get taught how to perform a full engine rebuild too. Being advised on how to buy a correct fitting helmet would be handy. Or what about road etiquette? Right of way is one thing, but being able to behave properly and tailor your attitude to every situation is another. But despite their best efforts, your average motorcycle school doesn’t have the time or resources to cover all the essentials, and there are still plenty of important things that slip through the net.

Obviously there are a lot more than “10 things” that they don’t teach you at motorcycle school, but after throwing some ideas around, we’ve settled on 10 things that would really have made our riding life a little easier if we had known how to do these certain things, or how to deal with certain situations, straight from the beginning. Naturally, we’re going to have missed a lot of things, and maybe included more than a couple that you won’t agree with…but when you live a life on two-wheels, you never stop learning so we welcome your advice in the comments section. Be kind though.

10 Things We Wish They Taught At Motorcycle School

#10. How To Bump Start Your Motorcycle

Simply put: batteries die, and because knowing how to push start a motorcycle is an essential skill. Batteries die for a whole number of reasons, like leaving the ignition on, leaving your lights on, a poor maintenance routine, and sometimes they’ve just run their course and need to be replaced. Sometimes, you need to bump start your motorcycle because of other reasons, like a faulty electric starter or loose wiring. Either way, there’s nothing worse than being stuck with a motorcycle that won’t start. It’s not so bad if you know how to remedy the situation though. Bump starting is an easy but important skill to know, and it’s a wonder why they don’t teach it at motorcycle school.

In short, you need to turn the ignition on, turn the kill switch on and put your bike into second gear. Push the bike and get moving to a speed of at least 5 mph. If you’re with friends, this isn’t a problem, just sit on the bike while your buddies push. If you’re alone – and there’s no hill in sight – it’s trickier, but still possible. Once you’re up to speed, running alongside your bike or being pushed, jump into the saddle and let out the clutch, and match it with the appropriate amount of throttle. And you should be good to go. After that, you need to go for a decent length ride to recharge your battery, or get in the garage and sort out whatever problem is causing your electrics to fail.

#09. How To Adjust Your Suspension

Adjusting your suspension may not seem like a massive priority, but the wrong settings can have a negative effect on your ride. If you’re being tossed around in the saddle and wrestling to control your motorcycle, that’s not a good thing. Similarly, if the bike is too twitchy an overly sensitive, your concentration is likely going to be in the wrong place when you’re on the road, and that’s less than ideal. Motorcycles have plenty of things you can adjust and tinker with, but most of them are adjusted to a factory standard from day one. While your brakes, throttle response, and clutch can be adjusted to your personal preferences too, it’s the suspension that actually responds to your physical form rather than just your preferences. Your weight makes a big difference, and that’s why we think you should learn how to adjust your suspension at every motorcycle school.

Armed with a preload adjustment spanner that usually comes in your basic factory toolkit, you simply turn the preload-adjustment collar on your shock absorbers until they fit the setting that suits your body type and riding style properly. It’s not a difficult job, but it’s best explained visually rather than in any kind of text, and the video here is well worth a watch.

#08. How To Be A Polite Car Driver

Not all skills are mechanical though, there are some mental aspects that could be addressed by motorcycle instructors. After learning how to ride a motorcycle, and after spending a bit of time on the road, you’ll become more aware of how dangerous the road is. You’ll perceive hazards where regular road users won’t. You’ll be able to judge the traffic better and assess risks better than other drivers. And because of all of that two-wheeled training and know-how, you’ll be a better car driver when you’re put behind the wheel. And probably a bigger asshole because of it.

You know what we mean, right? Remember that time when the guy in front of you didn’t pull out at the junction, even though you could have driven a eighteen wheeler through the gap with ample time to spare? Or how about that long traffic queue that you were crawling in, the one caused by a little old lady who refused to overtake the tractor in front? Let’s not even talk about that driver that dared to drive more than five miles per hour under the speed limit. Motorcyclists do make better drivers…but they also make for angrier drivers. A bit of schooling about that beforehand would’ve been nice.

#07. How To Ignore Bad Advice

While we’re on the subject of all things relating to your head and mental faculties, it would also be nice for your local motorcycle school and its instructors to warn new riders how to ignore bad advice – because we got it, you got, and new riders are going to keep getting it. Your dad might be a rider, and he might want to impart some sage wisdom to you, but just because he’s your dad, a man you trust who also happens to ride a motorcycle, it doesn’t mean his advice is necessarily good advice. What was good advice in the 1970s is probably outdated these days. And it’s nice to know how to filter out the nonsense.

That guy from the bar who loves to brag about how he always puts his bike into a controlled slide whenever he’s found himself in a danger scenario is worth ignoring. Same for that fella who insists that racing tires will make you ride faster. Let’s not even get started on rider who refuses to wear gear on account of his great riding ability, that recommends you just need to ride properly rather than worry about safety gear. There’s bad advice all over the place, from your friends, from your family, from the YouTube comments section…and man, Reddit makes for some interesting reading some times. If your “advice” isn’t supported by a motorcycle school or instructor, then don’t take it at face value just because someone said so.

#06. How To Buy An Appropriate Motorcycle

How to buy an appropriate motorcycle, how to by the right motorcycle for you, and what sort of motorcycle will suit you best is another thing that new riders could benefit from at their motorcycle school. If you were to ask what the out there is, you’ll hear answers ranging from the Kawasaki Ninja 300, the Suzuki SV650, to the likes of the crazy options like the Harley-Davidson Sportster or even Honda CBR1000RR. For some people, they might be the right choices. A new rider with a taste for sports might benefit from the Kawasaki. A competent rider may prefer the utilitarian nature of the Suzuki. Those desperate for the roar of an could be the right fit for the Harley. And the CBR? Well that’s just crazy talk.

It would be great if the instructor at the local motorcycle school could sit down with each of their pupils for ten minutes and talk to them about what kind of bike they’d like to ride, and recommend motorcycles that would suit them better, taking into consideration their physical stature, realistic riding abilities, geographic location, and future plans. So you want to get into sports bikes? The Ninja 300 is a great starter bike for just that. You want to commute on your motorcycle but you’re not sure that a 650 is what you need right now? The KTM Duke 390 might be more manageable if you have the budget. What about a cruiser that’s more learner friendly and more budget conscious than the Sportster? Try the Honda Rebel in either 300cc or 500cc form. As for the liter class sports suggestion…no one needs that as a first bike. Learning what models are out there and what suits you best would be a cool thing to learn at a motorcycle school.

#05. Why Fast Motorcycles Aren’t Always The Best Motorcycles

So you still want that liter class bike? Wouldn’t it be nice if someone could talk you out of making a bad decision before you part with your hard earned cash? When you’re a new rider it’s easy to get talking with other learners and newbies about what they think is the best motorcycle and why they want to ride one. Ultimately, the conversation ends in a result made up of misinformation and more than a dash of ego. Naturally, the biggest and fastest motorcycles are often held in the highest esteem, and new riders covet machines like the Suzuki GSX-R1000, the Kawasaki ZX-10R, the Yamaha YZF-R1, or Honda CBR1000RR. And they’re all good motorcycles, and yes, they’re big and fast, but whether they’re the best is a matter of opinion.

You’ve all heard the expression “size doesn’t matter, it’s what you do with it that counts,” right? And that rings true here. A good rider can beat a 1000cc with a 600cc, a 1000cc sports bike isn’t going to be better than a off road, and just because your buddy is going to buy that GSX-R1000 as a first bike, doesn’t mean they’re a better rider than you because you want something more practical. We prefer to ride smaller bikes to the limit rather than investing in more horsepower than we know what to do with. If motorcycle schools could impart some wisdom along those lines, we might see fewer accidents on the road due to overpowered bikes ridden by unskilled motorcyclists.

#04. How To Crash…Kind Of…

You can learn a lot from a motorcycle crash, but of course, that’s hardly something that you can be taught at motorcycle school. However, there are plenty of things that can be taught instead. Real life roads aren’t like race tracks – there aren’t run-off zones and gravel traps, so you can’t simply slide your way to safety like professional motorcycle racers –  and you certainly can’t practice crashing at high speeds.so what can you learn? In the best case scenario, you’ve just been nudged by a car driver, or you’ve clipped another vehicle and you and your bike are currently laying on the road, but you’re alright and can get up. What now? Surprisingly, a lot of people don’t know the right protocols here. Obviously, if you’ve crashed and you’re not able to get up and walk around this doesn’t concern you.

The step-by-step process of dealing with the aftermath of motorcycle accident is a popular topic for motorcycle magazines and websites…but it shouldn’t be something that needs talking about so regularly. In summary: this should be basic stuff. After an accident, you need to make sure that everyone, including yourself is okay, and that there is no risk of further danger – turn off ignitions, make sure other traffic is aware that an accident has happened. Call an ambulance and the police*. Photograph the scene with your phone, take more pictures than you think you need, from all possible angles. Exchange details with the other party, and make sure there details are legitimate. Once that’s all done, only then can you think of the next step, which involves insurance, lawyers and all that nastiness. Why this isn’t covered from day one is a huge surprise.

*There are differing laws on when the police need to be called, especially if we’re talking about a minor accident. But what’s a minor accident on the road? We’d say there’s no such thing as a minor accident, but here are a few general rules to follow. Call the police if someone is injured, it was a hit and run, if public property was damaged, or if someone is under the influence.

#03. How To Lift A Fallen Motorcycle

But not all accidents are major. Pretty much every motorcycle school or basic riding course covers manual handling, like wheeling your bike from here to there and how to put it on a side and center stand…but what about when you drop it? It’s a real pain in the ass. You can mount the curb slightly wrong and find yourself falling sideways pretty soon, or you might have put your side stand on something less than stable – you might even have forgotten to put it down completely, because these things happen. You might have taken a ride across a loose road surface and underestimate you and your bike’s abilities. There are hundreds of reasons why you might have dropped your motorcycle, but very few motorcycle courses actually teach how to pick one up properly. And we don’t know why that is.

It’s actually quite easy to lift even the heaviest of motorcycles, and it’s not about strength, it’s about technique. Like all real life (not gym-based) lifting really. Using brute force and ignorance isn’t the best method here, as it’s easy to put your back out or strain yourself. The best method is to adopt a strong stance, with your lower back near the saddle, and push with your legs. Again, this is one of those things that’s better explained in a visual medium, so take a look at video to see what we mean. Dropping your bike isn’t a pleasurable experience, but dropping it and not being able to lift it is just the worst. Especially is people are watching.

#02. Why It Might Have Been Your Fault After All

And then there’s this one: we think it should be on the syllabus of every motorcycle school to teach students that actually: it might have been your fault after all. It’s true that motorcycles are more vulnerable than cars, we’re taught to ride with the mentality that everything is out to get us, how we should pretend that we’re invisible to all other traffic, and about how car drivers do dumb and unpredictable things all the time. We’re reminded of stories where car drivers pull out without looking, and say things like the immortal acronym “Sorry Mate I Didn’t See You,” or the fan favorite “you just came out of nowhere” – but still we get into accidents. Why is that?

Those statements mentioned above about how car drivers are the worst is an over-prescribed excuse, and mot accidents would probably have been avoided if riders rode with a little extra caution, rather than having the crash and using the old “car drivers don’t look out for motorcyclists” as a defense after the event. Sure, you can have some moral high ground for a bit, but you’ll have to enjoy it with a few fractures at the same time. It’s better to acknowledge that yes, the car driver may have pulled out on you without due care and attention, but since you were approaching that junction, it might have been wiser to slow down and prepare for it rather than take a chance – your right of way or not. Now, that sounds preachy and condescending, and it is, but if you have an accident, just assess what you could’ve done better to avoid it rather than placing 100% of the blame on the other party. It’ll make you a better rider.

#01. How To Be…Social

Talking of being preachy and condescending, man, the instructor at our local motorcycle school could’ve given us a heads up early on in our riding career that we’d have to put up with a load of nonsense purely because we ride motorcycles. Now, I like riding my motorcycle because I can live without talking to other people while I’m on the road. But when you stop somewhere…oh, then it begins. “So you ride a motorcycle, right?” says the guy who can quite clearly see you sitting on a motorcycle. “I think I might get a hog,” continues mister middle manager, because you’ve got a helmet in your hands. “I used to have a Triumph Bonneville back in the day,” gramps adds. It can be annoying, but you put up with it. You just wish you were warned about this before you got involved.

Now that’s the manageable side. It’s accompanied by the classic bad advice type of rider chat mentioned above, with that guy chewing your ear off about why ABS is for losers, or how they’ve never crashed their bike because they’re just too good a rider, and that’s why they don’t wear a helmet. And even worse than that, you get people who automatically assume that you’re a menace to society by pulling stunts on highways or because you ride to fast, or you might have a tattoo. It’s tough having to have these conversations with people and smile and nod at the same time. You get used to it, but boy, we wish we were warned about this in advance.

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Joe Appleton
About Joe Appleton

I’ve done a bit of work here and there in the industry – I’ve even ridden a few bikes for actual money but what it comes down to is this: I ride bikes, build bikes and occasionally crash ‘em too. I like what I like but that certainly doesn’t make my opinion any more valid than yours…

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