Spring is in the air, and that means a fresh batch of new motorcyclists will soon be taking to the streets. Like chicks out of the nest, they will be wobbly.
Const. Dave Gray has seen every possible mistake new riders make during his years as an OPP motorcycle patrol officer, where he is now the lead instructor, and as a member of the elite Golden Helmets precision riding team. We asked him to identify the “tells” that immediately give new riders away. And, well, there are many. Here’s how not to ride a motorcycle.
The BMX stop
An 800-pound motorcycle doesn’t stop like a little BMX bicycle. You can’t just put your feet down, but that’s exactly what new riders often do. “Coming to an intersection, you see the feet walking,” says Gray. “The bike hasn’t come to a full stop and their feet are already down.” By contrast, he explains, a professional police rider will pull up, stop and put the feet down in one smooth movement.
New riders will make a similar mistake taking off from an intersection. “You’ll see feet out in a triangle, walking until they’re up to 30, 40 km/h, because they think it’s a safety thing — but it’s absolutely not,” Gray says. Instead, bring your feet up when the bike gets moving.
The Speed Demon
Going faster than is wise in a given situation is another typical new-rider trait. “A new rider sometimes has this over-confidence, or doesn’t understand the capability of their motorcycle or limits of their own skills,” the constable says. Slow down, eh?
The Late Braker
Coming into intersections or especially turns, a new rider will get on the brakes too late and too hard, as if they’re surprised. “We see a lot of that,” says Gray. Avoid this mistake by looking ahead and planning your next moves.
The Wobbly Parker
Anybody can ride a motorcycle fast in a straight line. It’s slow-speed maneuvers that new riders — and even experienced ones — often struggle with. In a parking lot or while doing a U-turn, you’ll see a newbie shaking around, lurching and wobbling. Gray advises finding a safe, empty parking lot in which to practice, and practice, and practice your low-speed riding.
Newer riders get nervous doing lane changes. “They’ll do shoulder checks and shoulder checks — they’ll do seven — and then suddenly veer over,” says Gray. Instead, he advises riders do one good, solid shoulder check making sure it’s clear, and then making a nice smooth movement to change lanes.
“Another tell is braking way too soon,” Gray says. While still on a straight road, you’ll see a new rider slowing right down to 30 km/h because there’s a turn way up ahead. “You’ll see dancing with the brake light: on, off. [New riders can be] very sporadic: slower, faster, slower, faster,” he explains. “You’ll see experienced riders being smoother in their speed and maneuvers.”
Even if you’re an experienced rider ready to roar out of the garage now the weather is warmer, you’d be wise to be mindful of these newbie mistakes. Riding a motorcycle is a “perishable skill,” as Const. Gray says.
“You’re not going to be at the level you were at in September last year when you first get out in March, but people don’t understand that,” he explains. “You need to get that rust off and bring yourself back up to that good level, and continue to learn and develop.”
Even the elite riders of the OPP’s Golden Helmets do a basic skills refresher in the spring. And you’re not better than them.