I was just a kid when I first started getting into Motorcycles.
Enamored with how they looked and sounded, their rarity, and how they were portrayed in movies and media.
I couldn’t think of anything cooler than having a motorcycle – and being the type of person who rode one.
Over the years it would take me just to get my first motorcycle, I became obsessed with watching YouTube videos and visiting my local dealerships – just to window shop and get the “fix” I needed.
Until one day when I finally did the work, put a plan of action into place, and found out what it would take to start riding.
Although it takes a little more investment than you may initially think, getting your motorcycle license and learning to start riding is surprisingly easy and fun.
In this article, I will give you a step-by-step guide to do just that, along with a few tips and nuances I learned.
My goal is to help you get started on your journey, in the safest, smartest, and fastest way possible.
For a quick synopsis, review each step and some of the information around it. For a more thorough approach, read through each section for some of my personal advice and guidance.
So keep reading and hopefully, you’ll find this guide helpful.
1. Decide if Riding Motorcycles is a Good Fit for You
The first thing you need to consider is if riding a motorcycle really is a good fit for you.
I can’t tell you how many people I’ve run across who were all hyped up to start riding, only to quit a few months after they got their first motorcycle.
And it’s usually for a myriad of reasons but the fact is…
Motorcycles are cool but they also come with some challenges that new riders may struggle with.
That is why it is important to take a quick moment to really think about why you want to ride and if you’re prepared for some of those challenges.
And I’ll get into some of these challenges in a minute but first, let’s go over your Why…
Why You Want to Ride Motorcycles
There are a variety of reasons people get into riding motorcycles…
- …to look cool
- …because one of their friends got a bike
- …to feel the need for speed
- …strictly transportation purposes
- …or to fulfill a lifelong dream
Whatever your reason, make sure it’s a good one. Because this motivation is going to drive you through the struggles of that first year riding.
When you start shopping for a motorcycle and realize you’re going to have to save up a little bit longer, your Why is going to help you buckle down and do what you need to do.
When you’re scared to take your motorcycle in traffic for the first time, your Why is going to motivate you to venture out and conquer your fear.
And ultimately, your Why is going to help you push past your comfort zone when the hobby of motorcycle riding invites you to expand your mind or skillset.
So whatever your motivation is – your Why, make sure it’s a strong one.
Are You Confident You Can Ride a Motorcycle Safely?
The second thing to consider is how confident you are that you can safely ride a motorcycle.
And this is one I think a lot of potential riders miss.
I remember feeling a little overwhelmed in my MSF class when we started doing drills that required some speed. I had plenty of experience on my mountain bike so the slow-speed, balance-based drills were a breeze. But once we started to gain speed, we needed to shift gears – something that required a level of coordination I didn’t have. As I struggled with the clutch, throttle, and shift lever through some of the drills, I started to realize that I may have been in over my head.
I eventually did pass the class and got my license.
But it wouldn’t be long before I would encounter the next big challenge for motorcycle riders – Ego riding.
I had my motorcycle for all of 2 months when I got an invite from a few friends to go ride. It was getting late in the afternoon but I figured I had another few hours before it got dark. I geared up and told them I’d meet them at this nearby gas station. By the time it took for us to get there, have a quick chat, gas up, and leave, it was already getting dark out – and I was immediately feeling nervous. I was less than 2 minutes from home and was already considering heading back – but I chose to ride. It wouldn’t be long before I was on an unfamiliar backroad, riding above my skill level, with the stock lights on a 2017 z650. I was stiff as a board. As you can imagine, things did not go well. Luckily, I was able to ride my bike home that night – after my friend drove it out of the ditch I crashed in. But I learned a lot of humbling lessons that night, mostly about riding responsibly.
Riding a motorcycle takes a certain level of skill, coordination, maturity, and awareness that most people never need to learn.
- Do you feel confident and balanced when you ride a bike at slow speeds?
- Are you coordinated enough to learn to work a clutch and throttle without looking?
- Are you a safe and aware driver on the road?
- Can you trust your gut when it tells you to slow down?
- Are you a bit of a daredevil?
These are some of the questions to ask yourself to really assess how fit you are for riding a motorcycle.
If you don’t feel like you can safely ride a motorcycle, you may need to improve in one of these area
2. Do Research on What You’re Getting Into
Now that you’ve decided to get into motorcycles, it’s time to do your research and see what you’re really getting into.
And while this part isn’t always as fun as window shopping for bikes, it’s still a necessary piece of the puzzle.
It is actually a fairly common misconception that motorcycles are cheaper than cars.
And while this appears to be true at a surface level, any seasoned rider will tell you that motorcycles are an expensive hobby.
In addition to buying your motorcycle, you also have to factor in the costs for;
- License and Registration – to drive legally
- Insurance – Can be pricey depending on the age of the rider and the size of the motorcycle
- Gear – Necessary but can be expensive
- Maintenance – Oil changes, tires, chain care and tools
- Courses – Optional but life-saving
- Upgrading – Whether you’re upgrading your existing bike or getting a new one
And these costs can add up quickly, especially for a new rider who has just started to accumulate gear and find a motorcycle.
The next important thing to consider is how well you can maintain a motorcycle if you have one.
This is another thing I overlooked when I first got my bike. I figured I could just take it to the shop for oil changes and call it a day.
It turns out, there is a lot more to maintaining a motorcycle than just taking it in for regular oil changes.
- Do you have a way to store a motorcycle?
- Do you feel comfortable adjusting the chain slack? Oil changes?
- Do you have the space to clean and work on a motorcycle?
- Do you have a way to get it to the shop if it needs serious repair?
These are just some of the questions you should think about beforehand.
Finally, riding a motorcycle does come with its risks.
This really comes down to the fact that…
As a motorcycle rider, you have a lot more responsibility on the road.
You must drive more defensively, maintain better awareness, and think further ahead than the average road user.
3. Decide on Your Budget
The next step in the process is to decide on your budget.
I found myself stuck on this step for a while but eventually found that…
Once you decide on a budget, you can confidently get a plan of action into place to get on the road.
Getting a budget together is where you really start to get an idea of what it will take to get on the road because you will finally have a list of all the things you need to do.
On average, most people will have budgets in two categories – 1) How much they can invest initially and 2) How much they can invest monthly.
And to help you get an idea of how much this will cost you, here is a list of some of the things you may need to budget for:
Budget for Initial Investment
The MSF Course – ($250)
The MSF course is one of the best ways to get started riding motorcycles. On average, you can expect to pay $200-250 for the course. Once you pass the course, you will get a voucher for your motorcycle license.
Motorcycle Gear – ($200+)
Before you buy your motorcycle, you should definitely have the required gear. Your gear is the only protection you have on your motorcycle and you should have;
- Motorcycle Helmet
- Motorcycle Boots
- Motorcycle Gloves
- Motorcycle Jacket
- Motorcycle Jeans
I will go into this further a little later in the article but you should always budget for good gear above all else.
A Motorcycle – (???)
The cost of your motorcycle will vary based upon a lot of factors, including; whether you finance or buy outright, the type of motorcycle you buy, the size of the motorcycle, and where you buy it. Ideally, you want to pay $3,000 to $6,000 for your first motorcycle but this will vary from person to person.
Licensing and Registration – (???)
Whether you take the MSF course or the DMV test, you have to budget for the cost to get your license and register your motorcycle. If you take the MSF course, expect to pay around $250. If you just take the DMV test, expect to pay around $20-50. Finally, registration will vary from state to state but is usually a fraction of the cost of registering a car.
Storage and Security – (???)
Depending on your setup, you may need to budget for some sort of storage or security. If you have a garage, then no sweat. But if you plan to store your motorcycle outside, you may want to invest in a solid cover and some sort of anti-theft device.
Tool and Maintenance Supplies – ($100+)
Finally, you should prepare to buy some of the supplies you’ll need for doing daily maintenance on your bike. You can buy a rear stand for $100 and some basic supplies for cleaning and lubing your chain.
Insurance – (???)
Whether you choose to pay yearly or monthly, Insurance costs will vary wildly based on a range of factors. As a rule of thumb, you can expect Insurance costs to be high; depending on how young the rider is, how large the motorcycle is in engine size, and the driving record of that rider.
“Once you have an idea of what motorcycle you want, you can easily go online and get quotes for insurance.”
Finally, some riders will choose the route of financing their first motorcycle. And while this may be frowned upon in some sense, it can actually make sense for a lot of riders. Just know that when you’re financing a motorcycle, your insurance will require you to have full coverage.
I know I know…. deciding on a budget is the most humbling step in the process – especially if you’ve spent the last few weeks windowshopping for motorcycles.
But deciding on a budget is going to help you find out how soon you can get your motorcycle and start riding.
And don’t worry if you don’t have any money saved up yet, most of us were in those same shoes when we first got into motorcycles – and there’s good news.
You can actually get started riding motorcycles relatively fast – while saving money and learning life-saving skills.
4. Schedule Your MSF Course or DMV Test
As I mentioned before, there are two ways you can get your motorcycle license – by taking the DMV test or by signing up for the MSF course.
A. The MSF Course
Remember when I said there is a way to get started riding motorcycles that is smart from a safety standpoint as well as financially? The MSF Course is that path.
The MSF course is a 2-day class that teaches you how to ride a motorcycle in a variety of situations.
And although it may seem to cost more upfront, it will allow you to save money in the long run – while learning life-saving skills.
Plus, by scheduling the MSF course ahead of time, you will have enough time to accumulate the necessary gear to get started riding.
B. The DMV Test
The DMV test is the other option and is a lot cheaper. The only caveats are that you are not allowed to ride your motorcycle to the facility and you must pass both the written and riding portion of the test without any mistakes.
The DMV test involves taking a knowledge test at the facility and then demonstrating some basic skills on your motorcycle.
I hear that it is relatively easy to pass, depending on the facility and tester, but I still recommend the MSF course.
5. Get the Right Gear and Protection
Once you schedule your MSF course or DMV test, it’s time to start finding some gear.
I will list all the items you need, in the order of importance, along with a few tips about each.
The most important piece of gear you need is a motorcycle helmet.
You have plenty of options when it comes to choosing a helmet, but a full-face helmet will always be the safest option.
Tall Motorcycle Boots
The next important piece of gear is a tall set of motorcycle boots.
And notice how I said, “tall”.
As it turns out, injuries to the lower leg and foot are actually very common, especially for new riders.
And this makes sense, some motorcycles can weigh 600lbs or more and if that falls on your leg, a tall set of boots is the only thing protecting you from some serious damage.
The next piece of gear you need is a set of motorcycle-specific gloves.
If you think about it, your hands are the first thing you throw out in front of you during a fall. And since they’re something that you use all the time, you definitely want something to keep them protected.
But motorcycle-specific gloves come with a few features that make them better and more protective. They are often pre-curved so your fingers don’t get tired, they even have sliders and guards to help prevent fractures in a fall.
Although it’s not as high up on the list, having a motorcycle jacket is a game changer.
Not only will this help protect your upper body, but it will also give you a level of confidence that you’re protected.
Leather is always going to be the best option, but mesh jackets have come a long way and offer great protection for new riders.
Finally, you should invest in a good pair of motorcycle jeans or pants.
Again, leather is always going to be the safest option but you can also find great protection with mesh or kevlar-style jeans.
How to Find and Pick the Right Motorcycle Gear
7. Find the Right Motorcycle
Now comes the fun part, you finally get to start shopping for your first motorcycle.
And there’s a reason this comes after taking your MSF course or driver test, this has allowed you enough time to be sure about your decision before investing the most money.
When it comes to buying a motorcycle, you have a few different options.
- You can either buy new or used
- You can also choose whether you buy from a dealership or a private seller
- Finally, you have the option to finance or buy outright with cash.
There are plenty of opinions on how you go about this but here is what I recommend.
Buying New Versus Used
There is a lot of controversy over whether or not you should buy a new or used motorcycle for your first bike.
On one hand, many riders say you should buy used since it will save you the most money and lighten the blow when you inevitably drop your bike for the first time.
On the other hand, some riders will say it is smart to buy new ones since they are mechanically sound and usually come with a period of warranty support from the dealer.
I think you should consider buying a used motorcycle as your first bike since you will save the most money and avoid some of the markups and depreciation that come with buying new.
Buying from a Dealership or Private Seller
If you decide to go the used route, you still have the option to buy from a private seller or a reputable dealership.
Buying from a private seller involves a certain level of risk, as you are trusting someone to sell you a safe and mechanically sound motorcycle. There is no guarantee of how well they maintained and treated the bike before trying to sell it to you and their motivations are usually to make a little money.
Buying used from a reputable dealership is another option and is typically what I recommend for new riders who don’t feel confident buying from a private seller. Although there is a slight markup, most dealerships go above and beyond to make sure you are riding a safe and mechanically sound motorcycle. After all, they don’t just want to make a sale, they also want to make you a long-term customer.
Financing or Paying Cash
Finally, depending on your situation, you will also have the chance to buy a motorcycle outright or finance the cost over a period of time.
And I’m going to get a lot of flak for this but I think both are great options depending on the rider.
If you are young or still learning to manage your finances, financing a motorcycle is a terrible idea due to how expensive it is and how much of a commitment it is. Motorcycles are viewed as “recreational” vehicles, making the cost to finance, insure, and maintain, slightly higher than you would anticipate.
If you are a mature and financially responsible rider who just passed the MSF course, by all means, feel free to finance that motorcycle. Just remember to stay within a responsible budget for a beginner, don’t go buy a $10,000 motorcycle just because you can afford the downpayment.
What Type of Motorcycle is Best for Beginners?
A common question new riders have is what is the best type of motorcycle for a beginner?
And I will answer this in two parts – first addressing the type and second addressing the size you should look for.
Best Types of Motorcycles for Beginners
There are a myriad of different types of motorcycles, from huge baggers to small pit bikes, ADV-style tourers to supersport track weapons.
As a general rule, cruisers, dual-sports, naked, and standard motorcycles are the best types of motorcycles for beginners due to their comfortable ergonomics and approachable maneuverability. These types of motorcycles give new riders the confidence to learn how to handle a motorcycle without being fatigued from an uncomfortable riding position.
I knew I wanted a supersport from the time I was a kid all the way up until I took my MSF course. Taking the course on a dual-sport made me realize how important comfort and maneuverability really are – especially for a new rider.
Best Motorcycle Sizes for Beginners
You can’t talk about type without mentioning size.
So what is the best size motorcycle for a beginner?
250cc to 500cc motorcycles are great for beginners due to their manageable power, easy maneuverability, and cheaper overall cost to own. Some 650cc motorcycles can also be a good option for more mature riders who have a little more experience or control. 250cc motorcycles are plenty powerful but you may want more power if you weigh more or ride longer distances.
As a slightly larger rider who took the MSF course and had plenty of experience on a mountain bike, I decided to go with a 650cc motorcycle as my first bike.
8. Start Riding
Congratulations! If you made it this far that means you have your license, gear, and motorcycle and are ready to get out on the road to start riding.
For a lot of us, this is the most nerve-wracking time on the bike as you build up your confidence and skill to start riding on the road around other traffic.
And don’t be worried if you’re a little nervous to get out and ride. This happens to all riders and there is an easy way to build up your confidence bit by bit.
If you just got your motorcycle or are getting it soon, here are a few steps you can use to slowly build up your confidence on the motorcycle and on the road.
1. Ride around your neighborhood or local street
The first place you should ride your motorcycle is around your neighborhood or on the roads closest to your house.
These are the streets you’re most familiar and you can spend more time getting comfortable on the motorcycle as opposed to worrying about traffic, speeds, or all the other distractions out on the road.
Once you’ve spent a couple of hours riding around your neighborhood, it’s time to take it up a notch.
2. Ride to your nearest park or parking lot
The next place you should ride is to your local park or another nearby parking lot with plenty of clear space to ride.
As new riders, it can feel a little overwhelming riding around aimlessly as you start to ride further and further.
By riding to your nearest park or parking lot, not only does this give you a close destination to ride to, but it also gives you a place to practice some skills that will shoot your confidence through the roof.
3. Practice Braking Drills
As I mentioned, once you find a clear parking lot to do some practice, you should immediately make a habit of going there and practicing some braking drills.
As a new rider still afraid to lean, practicing braking drills is where I really started to accelerate my confidence on the motorcycle – and you can too!
In fact, if you want to gain immediate confidence and control over your motorcycle, go practice braking drills for 20 minutes. I can guarantee you will feel like you are riding a new bike home – one you feel a lot more confident handling.
4. Take early morning rides to get comfortable venturing further
Once you practice emergency braking a few times, it is time to start venturing out further and further.
And to do that, I recommend that new riders head out early in the morning for their rides. In the morning, there is a lot less traffic on the road and even fewer distractions.
This will allow you to focus on your riding without feeling self-conscious or watching out for other drivers.
If you stay out long enough, traffic will slowly start to pick up and you can get the hang of riding when it’s busy AFTER you have already spent time getting comfortable riding around.
5. Find riding buddies who will show you the ropes
Finally, it’s time to start looking for riding buddies.
Not only will these guys show you the best roads in the area, but they can also give you a slew of pointers and tips to survive your first year of riding.
And just from hanging with other riders with more experience, your skills will slowly start to improve over time.
Here are a few tips that don’t really make the cut for “steps” but are just as helpful as some of the others on the list.
They are by no means necessary but can only enhance your riding experience.
Join the Motorcycle Community
Once you start getting comfortable on your motorcycle, it’s time to reach out and join the motorcycle community in some way.
You can easily join the community by asking your local dealership about upcoming BIke Nights or by reaching out to all the groups on Facebook.
By joining the community and participating in motorcycle events, you can dramatically enhance your enjoyment and longevity on the bike.
Seek out Further Learning
Finally, riding a motorcycle is a life-long journey of learning.
There are plenty of classes, courses, and workshops you can take after you get your motorcycle. Not only will these classes improve your skills on the bike, they can also help you fall in love that much more with motorcycles.
I know there is a lot to this article but it is actually really easy to get your motorcycle license and start riding.
By making sure you have the right gear, education, and mentality, you can become a life-long rider.
Good luck and have fun starting your journey of riding motorcycles.