Teaching A Young Man How To Ride A Motorcycle

A few months ago, I was introduced to a young man who I will call Dan (not his real name). He is the son of a mutual friend. His uncle was killed in action in Afghanistan last year. Dan was given his uncle’s Honda Shadow motorcycle by his uncle’s wife. Dan loved that bike and often admired his uncle riding it. While he did not want to get a motorcycle the way that he got it, there it was. He wanted to learn how to ride it, both in memory of his uncle as well as to pursue his interest in motorcycling. He couldn’t afford a car and his Mom only had one, so he seldom had his own wheels. He was so tired of bumming rides from friends and using the bus.

Dan is much like me at his age — 20. He is a rising junior at our state’s university, my alma mater. Unlike most students, he declined on-campus housing and remained living at home. He has four younger siblings and a mother who works two jobs to provide for the family. His father died ten years ago and his Mom has not remarried. He felt an obligation to continue helping out at home, paying rent in-kind by mowing the lawn and doing household chores and maintenance. He also works full-time during the summer at a tough maintenance job that is physically demanding and exhausting.

But, he has weekends off… and he wanted to learn to ride that motorcycle. So he asked me for help and guidance. I recommended…

… first, that he enroll in a Motorcycle Safety Foundation Basic RiderCourse offered at our local community college. Space finally opened in a class. He completed it successfully three weeks ago. But even with that training which earned him his motorcycle endorsement on his driver’s license, he did not feel confident enough to ride by himself quite yet. He is a cautious, serious young man. (I cannot call him a kid — he is responsible and quite mature.)

I suggested that we meet and ride together. What built my confidence when I was learning how to ride was riding with an experienced rider. Just get out there… ride… listen to pointers when we stop… ride some more.

The first time we rode together, I arrived at Dan’s house and he came bounding out the door with a big smile on his face… and sneakers on his feet. I asked, “do you intend to ride wearing those things?” pointing toward his feet. He didn’t think a thing about it. He said, “sure, they have rubber soles!”

You can imagine my reaction, which I will significantly shorten for this post, but let me say that he got a real quick education about the difference in safety and control of a motorcycle when a guy wears appropriate motorcycle boots with good tread rather than silly sneakers that do not have oil-resistant soles.

At least he was wearing long pants and had a good quality full-face helmet.

I began by asking him to show me the T-CLOCS routine for self-inspection of a motorcycle. He said, “I thought they just did that in class,” but he showed me that he knew what to do. His bike was fine, but it is imperative to check each and every time before hopping on the saddle.

I reviewed motorcycle gear, including leathers, reflective clothing, and “mesh gear” for warm weather riding. Then we both mounted our respective rides and took off slowly and carefully. I made him follow me to my house. When we arrived, I said, “wait here a minute.” Then I went inside and found a pair of black Double H Harness Boots that I cannot wear (shafts too narrow) and brought the boots to him. I said, “put these on. Be a biker!”

He took off his sneakers and pulled on the boots. Then I saw him do a little shift… he stood taller, and had a confident smile on his face. He loved how the boots looked with his jeans and on his own motorcycle. I put his sneakers in a bag and stuck them in my Harley’s TourPak. But then I thought, “Dan needs to learn how to pack stuff that he has to carry on a bike.” So I asked him if he had any training during his course about how to pack and carry stuff, to which he replied, “no, they didn’t go over that.”

I then suggested that he follow me to a local variety store. We bought a package of “the biker’s friends” — bungee cords. Long elastic cords with hooks on the end. Man, back in the day when I had Kawasaki with no storage, I found bungee cords to be my best friends. I taught him how to use these great inventions to hold his sneakers on his own bike, and how to ensure the cords and stuff being carried do not interfere with the rider.

During the last three weeks, I met Dan several times and we rode together. I had him practice driving in traffic, because if he intends to commute to school, he has to learn how to manage driving when traffic is thick and slow.

I also had him practice parking — it is amazing to me that safety courses teach you all about how to ride, but never about how to park. Parking a motorcycle is not as intuitive as it looks — especially when a parking space is on a downhill incline, or in a crowded lot where the space with a bike in it can look empty and have a car pull in and whammo–knock over your bike. Lesson: park at the end of the space facing out, so people hunting for parking can see your ride and you can exit by looking where you are going rather than backing out by foot into driving lanes.

Each time we rode, Dan wore those Double H boots. He says that he has noticed others looking at him and the boots. He especially seems happy that girls are noticing him and his biker attire. He thinks the boots look cool and that girls notice that.

Dan is commuting to work via motorcycle now, and is happy to be more independent. He looks forward to riding to school when his classes start in August.

He has asked me, “can I wear boots to school?” His question was more along the lines about being concerned about comfort because he has to walk a lot between classes on that huge campus. I gently suggested two things: 1) get better quality boots like Chippewa harness boots and insert a gel insole. Then he will find boots to be as comfortable as sneakers. 2) make arrangements with a friend who has space on campus (like a dorm or office) where he can store a pair of sneakers to switch into when he arrives on campus — and also store his jacket and helmet during the day. I did that (that is, as a student leader, I had an office on campus where I stored my helmet and jacket while I was going to classes so I would not have to lug those things around all day.)

I am happy to see the smile on Dan’s face as he is quickly becoming a confident motorcyclist. His mother is pleased that he is so responsible about it.

Life is short: pass the torch — and wear motorcycle boots when operating a motorcycle!