Matt Bubbers is CMG’s resident newbie. An experienced auto writer but new to motorcycling, he’ll be chiming in over the coming months to give us some insight on his experience as a new rider. – Ed
While others learned to feed a sourdough starter or sing sea shanties, I learned to ride a motorcycle during the pandemic. Thankfully, I managed to schedule and pass my final test in the fall in between lockdown waves. With the victorious results in my pocket, I whooped and hollered, shouting for joy inside my helmet as I rode home as a fully licensed motorcycle rider.
Thanks to graduated licensing, it took me four years to get to this point. Now I’m here and able to look back on my experience, I feel like I am able to impart my knowledge on those looking to do the same. I’ve compiled all the tips and notes I wish I’d known before taking my motorcycle license test in hopes that it will demystify the process and help others to follow.
Ontario has a graduated motorcycle license system, so I actually took three tests to earn my full M license. Most provinces and territories have similar arrangements, so these tips should apply to everyone.
You can do iiiiit
The very first thing to know is that, if I could learn to ride a motorcycle, apropos of nothing, you can too. You may lack confidence in your abilities, but there’s only one way to find out if riding a motorcycle is meant for you – by doing it. Taking a motorcycle course will provide you with the skills to become a safe, capable rider. Instructors are motorcyclists too! They are enthusiastic and encouraging. They want to see you succeed.
Bring a friend
The licensing process isn’t all glitz and glam. It can be a bit of a slog with lots of waiting, especially in the early days. So, beg, bribe – do whatever it takes – to convince a friend to get their license with you. Standing in line at government offices to fill out the initial paperwork, sitting in a classroom and waiting around between sessions – it’s good to have a buddy. If not, well, I did the whole process alone since none of my cheapskate friends could be convinced. It can be done and you’ll make new friends.
Take the class
It’s been said a million times, but sign up for one of the government-approved motorcycle safety courses. They’re only a few hundred bucks, but you’ll get experienced, qualified instructors who coach you through the whole process step by step. I took classes for both my intermediate license (M2) and my full license (M). I’d hazard a wild guess that the pass rates are higher for people who take the courses too, because the whole point is to teach you what you need to know to successfully perform the skills needed. It will also increase the likelihood of starting off with good riding habits.
Chill out and have fun
Easier said than done of course, but try to remember: motorcycles are fun! Licensing tests aren’t like tests in school. You’re choosing to take these ones, and it’ll be worth it. You’ll be nervous and anxious, but instructors are there to teach not trick you. Soak in the experience. Enjoy the camaraderie and the fact that you’re learning new applied skills.
Don’t rush it
This is the most important advice I can impart here: don’t rush. In Ontario, you’ve got up to five years to practice riding on your intermediate M2 license before taking the final M test. Enjoy it! Use those summers to ride, to meet other riders, to take short road trips, then longer ones. Try an off-road riding school or maybe even flat-track racing. Go to a Moto Social in your city; they’re always super welcoming for new riders. Every mile you put on your motorcycle during these in-between years will make your final test so much easier because you’ll be that much more confident.
But don’t wait too long
Don’t wait until the last month of year five to take your second and final road test. Give yourself a cushion in case you fail, in which case: no big deal. Just learn from your mistakes and take the test again.
Practice makes perfect
Now, some tips for taking the final license test, which is called the M2X course, or M2 Exit, or M license test in Ontario. U-turns might not be something you regularly do as a new rider, so make a point to practice on a quiet street. Pulling a safe u-turn was on the test when I took it in summer of 2021. Practice getting on the highway at one entrance, merging into traffic, and then off at the next exit. On the test, they don’t grade your ability to cruise for hours in the fast lane.
Know the buttons
Does your bike have four-way flashers? Where’s the switch? Modern bikes have a mess of functions with lots of buttons on the handlebars. Learn what each of them do on your bike and be able to find them quickly – ideally without looking down. On the test, they could ask you do to do an emergency stop by the side of the road and you’ll need to switch on the four-ways for full marks.
Move your head
I can’t stress this point enough: Exaggerate your movements. On the test, they’ll dock points for not scanning intersections for potential hazards or for not checking your mirrors. The thing is: the person grading you needs to see you do those things, so it’s not enough to glance with your eyes. Consciously turn your head to check your mirrors, to look left and right, to look at that driveway, to look at everything. Think ABL: Always Be Looking.
Brave new world
I also successfully learned how to bake bread during lockdowns, but I’m way prouder of getting my full motorcycle license. If you’re at all on the fence about getting into riding – take a course and see if it’s for you. Learning to ride will change your life. It sounds like hyperbole, but it isn’t. It changed mine. Perhaps not in any profound Zen sense – jury’s still out on that – but at the very least riding has given me more moments of pure, blissed-out joy during these last two brutal years. You’ll see things differently and meet interesting, new people.
If you’ve got any other tips to pass along to test-takers, we’d love to hear them in the comments below.