With only a few months of riding with my new motorcycle, I’m still about as green as it gets. Lots of enthusiasm, but no clue. New riders have a million little questions, and zero answers, so I called up the pros to get their hard-won motorcycle wisdom.
1: Streetcar tracks in Toronto. Are they trying to kill me?
Streetcar tracks like the ones that crisscross downtown Toronto make me nervous. In the rain, I avoid them like the plague. How do I tackle them safety?
Stephen Keith, senior instructor, Rider Training Institute: If you can avoid streetcar tracks, if there’s another route available, why not? If you can’t, you just have to slow down, and be more subtle on all the controls. Reduce lean angle. Be more proactive and look further down the road so you see streetcar tracks early and have time to prepare. Ride your own ride; don’t ride the speed of the car behind you. A lot of people panic and look down and try to find a clear path, but there isn’t one. Just slow down, pick a path, and be smooth.
2: How much bike maintenance should I be doing?
I’m pretty sure my motorcycle still has two wheels, but that’s it. For someone who doesn’t ride that far or that often, what maintenance is necessary throughout the season?
Steve Weykamp, owner and instructor, Trail Tours Dirtbike/ATV School: For the most part, beginner-type bikes are designed to be fairly low-maintenance. Off-road bikes require more maintenance; focus on keeping the air filter clean and changing the engine oil. (We change the oil every four rides, which is more even than the manual suggests.) With street-bikes, you should be checking the oil and tire-pressure regularly. Keep an eye on your brake pads, tire wear and chain tension too. Chains need to be cleaned and lubricated. [Every 500-1000 km is a rough guide, or at least every season.] Fork seals are another thing that can go. Look for oil dripping down or excessive oil around where the two parts of the fork meet — that’s a big safety issue; it could drip down onto your brake discs. Your owner’s manual will have a detailed maintenance schedule for your specific bike.
3: Steady throttle over bad roads. How!?
I look like a drunken cowboy bucking back and forth on the bike when the roads get bumpy. How do you keep a steady throttle regardless of what the road is doing? How do the motocross riders do it?
Steve Weykamp, owner and instructor, Trail Tours Dirtbike/ATV School: When people come to dirtbike school, we tell them to get their elbows up at almost a 45-degree angle. They’re more in line with the forks, and can absorb bumps better. We also teach our customers to grip the handlebars like a screwdriver. Think about disengaging your wrist from body movements. It takes practice. It’s a muscle memory you’ll have to develop over time, so you can do it without thinking.
4: Holy sweat-stain Batman. How do I stay cool in summer city riding?
It’s hotter than hades in my pants. It’s humid like a rainforest in my riding jacket. It’s 30-degrees. What gear can I wear that A) keeps me cool B) has protection and C) doesn’t look dorky?
Andrew McCracken, co-owner of Town Moto, motorcycle gear store: Mesh jackets have protection — armour — but also allow air to pass through. A lot of leather motorcycle jackets do also have vents to help with cooling: intakes on front and exhaust on the back. Then there’s really technical stuff like cooling vests, which are more prevalent in places like the southern U.S. Same with gloves; ventilated gloves have lots of mesh on top. Usually in hot weather you’re looking at some kind of textile jacket and a textile glove. We carry a lot of RevIt stuff that’s well-ventilated riding gear for warmer weather.
5: Any bike-parking etiquette I should know about?
What’s the preferred method here? Waddle backwards on the bike or get off and walk the bike back?
Andrew McCracken, co-owner of Town Moto, motorcycle gear store: Do it as safely as possible, whichever way feels most comfortable for you. Just be careful. A lot of people pull forward to adjust the parking position and don’t check to see if there’s a car coming. Keep an eye on traffic; I’ve seen some close calls.
6: Should I leave the front brake on at a stop, or only the rear?
And is this something they’ll be checking for on the final licence test?
Stephen Keith, senior instructor, Rider Training Institute: Use both brakes to come to a stop. Once you’re stopped, because the left foot is coming down, the better posture to have is to leave the right foot on the brake. Since the brake light is illuminated by the back brake, you don’t need your front brake on. So, take that hand off the brake and get it ready on the throttle. On the licence test, having both feet down is not a mark [against you], the mark is not having your brake light on at a stop.
7: How nervous should I be about my final licence test?
In Ontario, the final test is the one which grants a full M licence. Which part of this test do new riders struggle with most often?
Sharron St-Croix, executive director, Rider Training Institute: We find that there are a lot of students, who, for whatever reason, have not purchased a motorcycle or have not had a lot of riding experience since getting their M2. So, don’t go into the [full M-licence] test without having ridden. If you’re the type of rider who understands lane position and has an awareness of what you should be looking out for on the road, and you ride on a regular basis — the test should not be that difficult for you. It’s usually the highway portion that new riders struggle with most often. If they’ve been riding infrequently, they’ve probably not been on any 400-series highways.
8: What’s the one thing new riders do that immediately gives away their new-rider status?
Asking for a friend…
Stephen Keith, senior instructor, Rider Training Institute: It’s probably the tire track. A lot of new riders don’t understand tire track, where they should be in a lane. At right corners or stops, they’ll kind of try to push the motorcycle with their feet to get going, instead of picking their feet up and putting them on the pegs right away.
Steve Weykamp, owner and instructor, Trail Tours Dirtbike/ATV School: As soon as they swing a leg over a bike, we can usually tell how they’re going to ride. I don’t know what it is, but you can just tell. They don’t know where to sit on the bike, they’ll be too far back in the saddle. It’s a pretty accurate predictor.
If you’re a new rider with questions, or a veteran with wisdom to share, please add it in the comments below.