It's Normal to Be Nervous When Learning to Ride
"Got a bike, rode in driveway twice, fell last time. Now scared to get back on. Scared of shifting but want to ride," Laura B. said recently on a group for new motorcycle riders. Her post has more than 320 comments, most of which are offering encouragement from people who experienced something similar.
"I PASSED my test," crowed Ryan M. But his excitement quickly transitions to concern. "Needless to say, it wasn't as good as I wanted it to be. My nerves got the best of me. I stalled it a few times trying to get going. Finally got moving and panicked in my first corner cause I thought I was going to hit the dumpsters. Stopped too fast and just fell over, forgot my foot needed to go down. I was to afraid to look at my motorcycle so I literally just laid there for 5 mins. Until my kids dad told me to get up and try again. Thankfully it didn't have any damage to my Motorcycle. I would have cried! Any advice?? I need some serious help!"
"Each and every time I get on the bike I am sooooo nervous until time has passed," says K.P. "Could be 10 minutes or 15 minutes before I feel somewhat comfortable. I'm always thinking what if I do something wrong. When does the nervousness go away? When do you know when to pack it in?"
Almost everyone who rides can identify. We grow up watching people ride motorcycles and it looks effortless. We learned to ride a bicycle in childhood, so how much harder could it be to manage a motorcycle? The reality is, learning takes time and the progression isn't always linear. Sometimes there are setbacks.
Maybe, like the first new rider quoted above, you dropped your bike the first time out. Or maybe your muscle memory is making your body do things that cause you problems. Perhaps you're just ready to get past the fear and start enjoying the ride. Here's what seasoned riders advise to help you get there.
Take a Class
Sometimes people jump on a bike thinking they'll figure things out on their own, then they'll work toward getting their motorcycle license. It's especially common among people who rode dirt bikes at an earlier point in life. There are similarities, and some skills that will transfer, but there are also some major differences.
Experts recommend taking a motorcycle safety course early. As you learn, you're going to develop habits. Some could be bad ones that are flat-out dangerous, or that will keep you from becoming a skilled motorcyclist down the road. If you take a class at the beginning, you'll start with healthy habits, and there won't be anything to try and un-learn.
For example, in one of the quotes above, Ryan said he crashed because he was afraid he was going to run into the dumpsters. One of the things a good motorcycle safety course instructor emphasizes is keeping your eyes on where you want to go. Your head turns your torso, which is connected to your arms, which direct the handlebars. If your eyes are on the ground, that's where you're going to end up.
When you learn from an expert, you become aware of things like target fixation in the beginning stages. Plus, taking a motorcycle safety course usually gets you discounts on your motorcycle insurance.
Start With the Right Bike
Fit is everything whether you're a beginner or you've been riding for decades. Most people, even when they're new riders, have an idea of the type of bike they see themselves on. It's a big part of why they want to learn to ride in the first place. Some people saw a specific motorcycle, fell in love with it, and knew in an instant they needed to learn to ride just so they could own that particular bike. It's like love at first sight.
Others have had a picture in their heads of how they would look and feel riding a certain way. They see themselves taking weekend road trips on a touring bike or whipping through urban streets on a sportbike. They aren't in love with one specific model, but they definitely have a "type."
So they decide to start riding and they buy based on looks and image. Sometimes they start out with a motorcycle that doesn't fit their body type, and that creates problems.
If you're in the exhilarating position of buying your first motorcycle, we're here to help you evaluate your options. We're not going to try to talk you into buying if you don't find what you're looking for within your budget, and we love nothing better than helping people new to motorcycling. Even if you don't ultimately purchase your motorcycle here, you'll benefit from the time you spent sitting on bikes and talking with our staff about the pros and cons of each type.
Listen to Voices of Experience
You will make mistakes, everybody does. The best way to keep moving forward is to surround yourself with people who can encourage you and offer advice. No one understands learning to ride a motorcycle like someone who has done it.
Our Panther Creek H.O.G. chapter is a great place to start. They offer rides, events and group activities throughout the year. You'll also find riders from every walk of life at Black Gold Harley-Davidson® events, and many of them love nothing better than to talk about their riding experiences with new riders. Here's advice from some of the best of them.
"Learn from your mistakes. It is not so important that you dropped your bike. We have all done that, but you need to learn from it and try not to make the same mistakes. The most important thing is you didn't get hurt. Get over the part that you might have hurt the bike, they can be replaced." - P. Darnel
"A class will be a big help. I had never ridden in my life. I won a 2020 Softail Slim. Took the class and got on my Harley® and never looked back! This was at 56 years old. You can do this!" - S. Smith
"You should be able to straddle your bike and stand flat-footed. If not, get that sucker lowered...short shocks will make a huge difference." - F. Cramer"
"You need to go to a parking lot...practice your friction zone, stopping, putting your feet down, making those turns...look where you want the bike to go..it's a miracle, but it will follow your eyes...practice, practice, practice.. and every day, you will learn new motor skills and raise your confidence..and most of all...ride at your own comfort level...WE ALL HAD TO LEARN...and we all dropped our bike...usually more than once." - M. Sloan"
"Two things are most important... Not that you dropped the bike. Not what you fail at. So get that out of your mind." E. Herbert
"Two things. Knowing how a motorcycle works. Knowing how to start, stop, shift, turn and balance. The second is confidence. When you know how a motorcycle works….the friction zone, weight and balance, you can ride any motorcycle because they operate the same. Weight and power are the main differences. When you know how to operate a motorcycle, it will enable you to concentrate on completing the maneuvers successfully, instead of being hyper-focused on how to make the bike go and stop. With that part behind you, you should do really well. In the meantime build up your confidence by practicing the little things in a wide-open parking lot. You got this!" - J. Roe
Consider Certified Pre-Owned
New riders understandably worry about damaging their bike in the learning stages. They also often receive advice against starting out on a bike that's too big or too powerful. They buy their first bike with the idea they'll "trade up" later.
The H-D® Certified program takes some of the uncertainty out of motorcycle buying for new riders who want to get a bike that looks good and is mechanically sound and also fits in their budget. Search our Certified Pre-Owned inventory when you click here.