My first season in the saddle

First, to all the doubters — and there were many (hi Shauna!) — I’m happy to report I have survived my first summer of motorcycling.

I realize I’m preaching to the choir here, but have you guys tried this? It’s really good.

Second, to all those who tell me, “You never learn!” I say: Not true. I have, in fact, learned some surprising things these first few months on two wheels.


At the bike show. No, that’s not Matt trying the Yamaha for size.
LESSON 1: Buying a bike is hard

It’s not like buying a car. You can’t just show up to a dealer and expect they’ll have the one you want. And if you’re a total newbie like me, going for a test-ride is out of the question, which is probably a good thing. Buying a bike is more like buying clothes. Size and fit were the most important things for me. A bike show is better than any dealership for trying on a bunch of bikes for size. That’s where I narrowed down my choices. The shows are usually in the spring. Don’t miss ’em.

LESSON 2: The Classifieds

I combed the classifieds for all kinds of bikes. I didn’t (and still really don’t) know what I’m doing. But I was up-front about that with sellers. This was going to be my first bike. They were all more than happy to let me go check out their bikes, try them on for size, talk to me about maintenance. Great experience.

One of the first bikes Matt looked at, a Honda CB550, shown here with its owner Yuri. Matt came thisclose to buying it.
LESSON 3: You really do meet the nicest people

The day I brought my bike home, my neighbor Chris — who’s been riding for a couple of years — offered to ride around the block with me. I’d never ridden on the street before. Ever. He said we’d just go around the block until I felt comfortable, and then we could try two blocks. Every stop sign, I pulled up with this dumb, goofy smile. It’s like flying. I was (am) hooked. Doing those first few kilometres with another rider around was the best. Thanks Chris!

LESSON 4: Go around the block.

I know it’s sounds boring, but it’s not, because you’re on a motorbike. Slowly expand your riding zone as you get comfortable. Great advice from Chris, who got it from a book, which I should read, if only I could remember the title. Any ideas?

In the parking lot, Matt melted and bought this Suzuki DRZ400 from its owner, Mike, see here.
LESSON 5: Supermotos rule!

It’s bright yellow, it’s got tons of rad stickers, it’s like an escapee from the 1990s, and I love it. My first bike: a 2006 Suzuki DRZ400-SM. Bought off the classifieds from Mike, who used it as a street bike when he wasn’t riding motocross. It soaks up Toronto’s garbage roads. It doesn’t matter if I drop it. Can’t even imagine riding anything faster. It’s super quick. Except on Highway 401 or the DVP, where’s it’s terrifying.

LESSON 6: Neighbours

The DRZ is a bit loud though. An elderly man in my neighbourhood waved an actual broom at me as I rode past, even though I was trying to be as quiet as possible. Sorry man. I’d have to re-jet the carbs (right?) if I got a new exhaust, and that’s way beyond my skill level.

LESSON 7: Like riding a bike

Riding a bicycle around the Toronto area ever since I was a kid helped immensely as I learned to ride. It taught me to be afraid of drivers, to always under-estimate them, but also how to be comfortable on the road when you’re on two wheels. But, seriously, ride a bicycle first.

The first moto social Matt attended in Toronto – a great opportunity to talk about bikes, riding and streetcar tracks.
LESSON 8: Streetcar tracks

Everybody I meet who rides in the city has a scary story about crashing or almost crashing because of streetcar tracks. I’m scared of them. Avoid when possible.

LESSON 9: Time

I rode every day when I first got my bike. Finish work, go for a ride. After dinner, go for a ride. Sunday morning, go for a ride. Then, as the weather got colder and I was moving into a new apartment, my life got busier and I rode less. People talk about “carving out time” or “making time.” Planning to ride like that didn’t work for me. Instead, just go now. It takes five minutes to put on all the gear and go out. Even if you’ve only got 15 minutes, it’s worth it. Just do it.

Here it is, Matt’s baby, ready to go for the whole day or just five minutes. The length of time doesn’t matter – just do it.
LESSON 10: Next summer

I am still probably the worst motorcycle rider in the world. I have a lot to learn, and I can’t wait.

Sorry for all the sincerity here. Hopefully, this will help those on the fence about learning to ride. But I’m also curious to hear what the rest of you diehard CMGers remember from your first summer. What did you ride? What did you learn? How have things changed since then?

13 thoughts on “My first season in the saddle”

  1. Wow – well, I was going to comment on everyone’s post here but I have another editor breathing down my neck for a story, so: just wanted to say thank you all for the memories and advice. Loved reading it. (Not something I can usually say about the comment sections!) CMG has the best commentariat on the www. Pretty sure I learn more from you lot than you learn from my rambling. Bring on summer….

  2. I remeber the first time I hit 100kph on my EX500. I held that thing tight between my legs and remember cars passing me and I’d be thinking they’re all lunatics. The best advice I can give is never get too used to anything. There’s always something you learn on every ride. Like the first time you come to a hard stop with cold tires on an even colder road. Ugh!

  3. Nice read, welcome Matt! I started riding friends bikes before I had a license (young people do stoopid stuff!), so you’re already one up on me. But offroad, then the track made me a better rider on the street. I suggest that new riders try something like, then maybe a track school like FAST once they feel confident enough. The enjoyment actually goes up as your proficiency improves.

    I also have a DRZ400SM with the 17’s but also 21/18 dirts. Great bike with endless and meaningful mods available. First one is the seat (I got a corbin)! Should be a keeper (until they come out with a 6 speed and FI). I’d get axle guards first if I was you.

    1. Hi Rui! Great advice. Thanks. I really want to do some trail riding next season. I think there are some schools that use the Ganaraska forest, which isn’t too far. Will add axle guards and a seat to my shopping list – the seat is pretty terrible for anything more than 30 minutes.

  4. A small first bike is a good start. If you can swing it you might like to take the motorcycle safety course. You will get a chance to explore some of the finer details of riding with the assistance of a good instructor. Since the courses didn’t exist when I started riding, I didn’t take the course until I had been riding for at least a decade. It was a blast and helped improve my riding skills. There are some good books out there which can be useful. Learn from the mistakes of others, you won’t live long enough to make them all yourself. Experienced riders can supply a lot advice based on experience. Some good, some bad, just consider the source and evaluate as best you can on whether to follow it. We are all different and so are the bikes we ride. What works for someone else may not apply to you or it may be the reverse; You are riding what can be the safest vehicle on the road. However, if you make contact with another vehicle or object that no longer applies. A healthy dose of paranoia doesn’t hurt once the bike is in gear. Be safe and enjoy yourself.

  5. That’s awesome! I also am a new rider as of this year. 🙂 I am 5′ 5″ and REALLY wanted an adventure bike. The best advise I got was “Buy the bike you want or you’ll always wish you had”. I jumped right in and bought a new 2016 DL650 V Strom that came out of the showroom with all the bells and whistles I wanted! I hit almost 14,000kms, including a solo 5600kms camping trip down East. Hooked does not even begin to describe my summer! I have this “permagrin” I can’t get rid of and now crave to live in a country where I can ride year round. I know some Canadians stretch the season like crazy but I don’t know anyone else who dislikes the cold as much as I do so I tucked it in early November… LOL! I also get your city scares. I live smack downtown Ottawa and although it’s on a much smaller scale than you, I still avoid the HWY whenever I can. Happy riding to you!

  6. I put 46km on my 82 Yamaha Vision 550 in an abandoned parking lot before ever going out on the street. That was 34 years ago. I’m still alive today because I learned to respect the bike, my ability, (or lack thereof), and that other drivers are not to be trusted to do what they are supposed to do. Ever.

  7. My first street bike in 1982 was also a Suzuki, but a 78 SP370. It was murder to kick over with no e start. I especially loved riding it at night and pulling long wheelies. I also have a DRZ400 now and love it for all the aftermarket parts available. I’ve made mine an Adventure touring bike as well as an off road bike. ProCycle and ADVrider are your friends. Have fun, ride safe. I’m sure you can make the bike quieter but it will cost or find a used stock exhaust.

  8. You did the best thing, you started with a small bike. I saw many riders start with a big bike and never get that confidence you need to win over cagers.

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