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Can everyone ride a motorcycle?

Doug Gordon

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Doug Gordon

David’s “Brother Down” article hit home with me since I have been in this situation at least twice before; that is, being on a group ride when someone went down hard. In both cases, it was someone who I had not ridden with before, and whose riding style and skills were unknown to me. This is nothing personal to do with Chad, who I do not know at all, but I think there are some lessons to be learned here.


First off, it is easy in these situations for someone to start riding over his head and to be reluctant to admit it. This is what happened in one case that I mentioned; the new guy had a bike and riding gear that looked all business, but it turned out that he only had a few months experience. We got into an unexpectedly tight corner, and I saw it all in my mirrors: he panicked, stood the bike up, went straight off the corner, hit the drainage ditch, and endoed into a cornfield. He was knocked cold, but fortunately was not hurt too badly (broken collarbone). He later admitted that we were going too fast for him, but like I said I had no idea that he was uncomfortable with our pace. It still shook me up for a while.


I also believe that there are some people who just don’t belong on a motorcycle. Again, I don’t mean this as a criticism of Chad, but when he mentioned being involved in six car accidents and now two injury motorcycle accidents, a bell went off in my head. I am 55 years old, have been driving cars for almost 40 years and motorcycles for 35, and I have never had an accident (not counting dirt bikes!). I don’t think that this is just chance, either. A friend down the street seems to average about one car accident a year (which he apparently thinks is “normal”), and when I used to ride with him in his car (emphasis on “used to”) I began to understand why. Some people just lack some sort of capability for “situational awareness” or maybe the ability to concentrate properly, and loss of concentration will certainly hurt you on a bike – there are few “minor” accidents.


I have a younger cousin who grew up as what we called “accident prone”, where he was always getting hurt jumping off of things, crashing his bicycle, etc. At 17 he bought a motorcycle and three months later he was T-boned by a car and nearly lost his leg. At least he gave up on bikes.


I’ve had a number of people who know that I ride talk to me about how they’d like to try motorcycling. My conscience usually prevents me from encouraging them (I’d feel terrible if they got hurt), but there are a few that I have just come out and told that I would not recommend it.


Like I said, I can’t quite put my finger on it, but I think I can often tell who is (or would be) a safe motorcyclist and who is not. I do most of my riding solo now, so that the responsibility for a safe trip is on me alone. Let’s be careful out there!


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Good post, Doug. I'm going to move this to Ride Well, since it seems to fit that forum perfectly.


(Can everyone ride a motorcycle? My answer is "no." I feel that way about cars, too.)

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Right on, Doug. I think riding a motorcycle is not something that anyone can do, especially later on in life. If you haven't cut your baby teeth on a dirtbike then you're looking at a very steep learning curve with a concrete bottom. ...and I have never had an accident (not counting dirt bikes!). Exactly!!! Those weren't accidents, those were learning experiences! Dirtbikes are kinda like skiing...you're not pushing yourself unless you fall down. Not the thing to do on the street with a $16K motorcycle. Newbie Old Farts shouldn't get an RT (or Harley!), they should get a dirtbike.



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I took LOTS of riding lessons before I got my license and went out on my own. Along the way, my riding instructor (who was also an MSF-certified instructor) used to tell me of the times that she had to be the unlucky person to present the bad news to a riding student:You should not be riding..


Sometimes the rider was an eager beginner, sometimes it was a rider who actually had been riding for a while. I don't know exactly what she saw, or what her criteria were for telling a rider this, but it couldn't have been easy.


I remember she had me do this drill on a gentle down-slope street (remember, this was a private lesson, not an MSF-exercise): Seated on the bike, feet on the pegs, tranny in neutral, engine off, coasting down the hill at 5mph, coming to a controlled stop at the bottom. She said that this was one of her little tests for balance. Many riders she saw couldn't do it.


She told me of a time that a 2-up couple showed up for lessons, and the pilot simply lacked the balance skills she thought neccesary to ride safely (especially 2-up). She told them that they really should not be riding, and the 2-up rode off in a huff. How do you tell a rider that they shouldn't be riding? These kinds of balance problems are probably pretty easy to spot, but how can you gauge someone's mental/concentration abilites?


I've got some close friends who are just getting into riding. They are all smart, eager learners, but they live in Illinois (no helmet law), and they are definitely into the Easy-Rider 'groovy' aspect of riding. I've spoken to them to many times about bikes, having good discussions about safety etc, and I think I've been able to do it without making them turn a deaf ear. I am a little worried about one of them, though. I won't use his real name here, I'll call him ... uh, Emperor Tiberius, or Tibby for short. The only problem I see with Tibby is his impatience with other drivers on the road. I've seen him in his car, and I'm a little worried that the combination of his impatience and his lower conspicuity on the bike is going to make for some real dangerous situations. Wish me patience and luck in my attempts to teach him that, as a rider, despite what the laws say, essentially you must take responsibility for EVERYTHING that goes on out there on the road ... This will not be easy to do with Tibby ...



Chris (aka Tender Vittles),

Little KZ400 in the Big Apple

Black Boxer RT for Everywhere Else, such as...color=green>


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Bill Poche

Doug, you've really opened up a complex subject here which is a bit frightening to me as a 46-year old newbie with a brand spanking new black RT sporting only 350 break-in miles. I've never had a car accident or dropped a dirt or street bike in my youth, but does that mean I am one of those who can't ride a motorcycle?


Read Chad's posts and call him on the phone. Although he has had a checkered vehicular past, you'll likely agree he reeks of levelheadedness and conservatism. Couple that with a group ride where he is following someone who appears to be one of the most proficient riders to ever post to this board and you may understand why I'm sitting here scratching my head in wonderment. Then BFG adds that old cats like me should get a dirt bike.


Though I've completed the MSF course, I'm almost afraid to get on the thing anymore since reading "Brother Down" last Sunday.


So I'm not going to send to know to whom Doug asks this question. He asks it of me.


Maybe I will just have to apply what I learned in my off-road days....Gear Low, Go Slow, Pay no Tow... until I come up with the answer.

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Marty Hill



Were you comfortable with your bike prior to the accident? If so, keep learning and enjoy it. Don't let it freak you out. God bless him, he got in over his head. I wouldn't even try to keep up with David. It would be fulfilling a death wish. We all have different skill levels. You just have to try to stay within yours and at the same time LIVE. I started older than you are with a big harley. Had my obligitory wreck on a triumph sprint due to not paying attention. Got busted up pretty badly, healed and got back to riding because I love it. I pay more attention now and I enjoy my bmw's. To paraphrase Paul M. you get old because you stop LIVING.

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Doug Gordon

I was really not implying anything about age vs. ability to ride a motorcycle. It was that I think there are other factors or characteristics of some people that make them unsuitable as riders. You can't be a daydreamer or have an attention deficit and survive this sport. I even worry about myself sometimes, as I can feel my reflexes slowing down and am also aware of some decrease in visual perception (not eyesight, but rather being able to quickly interpret what I see). I almost never ride at night anymore, but other than that I still feel safe enough to continue riding for some years to come.

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Bill Poche

Thanks for the clarification Doug. I did understand what you meant, but nevertheless, your post made me take a critical look at myself.


I know I will be a better rider as a result of all the other's experiences I read about here, and when I get a little spooked, the ability to put my feelings out for comment is very comforting and motivating.

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While I've been away for a long time and have only logged 200 on my new bike, I pretty much know my limitations, and an trying to pay particular attention to NOT riding over my head. With an RT is real easy to do. It is so awesome and so forgiving; it gives you a feeling of control you really don't have yet.


I was out with a friend when I only had my permit; we were getting on an interstate. I needed to bump it a little to merge into the traffic - looked down and was doing 85. I backed off that real quick. Like I said the RT can be really deceiving until you get to know her and your own abilities.


Whenever possible (meaning when no one is around) I practice maximum braking, at least once every time out, and obstacle dodging.


I repeat the mantra slow, look, lean, roll ( the MRC mantra ) on every curve. Every ride for me right now is not just a ride, but a practice run.


You comments about not getting over my head are a great reminder. I'm riding in my first group this Sunday to the BMW Tailgate Party. I need to be sure to position myself away from potentially fast riders and not get caught up in the pack.


But, back to you question. I just happened to have someone in my Basic MRC that failed the evaluation. After 10 hours of riding, he couldn't do much right. He didn't just fail a little - he completely blew it away. I was a terrible thing to watch.


Now, the sad part is he already has a bike. He may show up in some group ride and who's going to know. From what I've gathered, being unlicensed in NJ is very commonplace.


Another point, we are certainly all responsible for insuring we ride within our own limits. But others should also support this by insuring in such environments as group rides to group the riders accordingly. Again to repeat though, WE individually are the one solely responsible.


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Bill, while it is true that you are going to have to learn how to handle the bike well, it is not a given that you have to learn the hard way. You can work on your riding skills relatively safely in an empty parking lot. I think good riders have mastered the following:

1) To be constantly vigil for the dangerous things other vehicles and road hazards present.

2) Familiarity with the way the bike handles such that they know what the bike is likely to do at any given moment or situation.

3) A " sixth sense" of when they are or are approaching a dangerous situation.

Familiarity with the bike can be learned by practicing those manuevers you find hardest. Examples would be a 180 degree turn at slow speed in a space no bigger than a city street, sudden change of direction, panic stops, decreasing radius turns, etc. One of my favorite practice exercises is to do something similar to barrel racing- I do a figure eight between two light poles that are about 40 yards apart. That teaches me to turn tighly at slow speeds in both directions, how to decellerate quickly so as to enter a tight turn at the right speed, how to keep the power on during a turn and how to power out of a turn to get me to the 30-40mph I each before slowing again. Sometimes I practice making oblong circles at low speed staying within 4 parking spaces. One caveat-use the part of the lot not usually used by cars so as to avoid the oil patches that collect in heavilly used spaces. The familiarity and balance you learn in this type of practice can then be easily transferred to higher speed riding.

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Of course you have to have some minimal balance/coordination skills. If you’re pretty good at coordination sports and comfortable on a bicycle that probably says something.


While dirt bike experience certainly has some pluses, riding on pavement is different enough that some may argue that dirt bike experience can work against a newbie on the pavement.


And while riding technique is important, it can safely be learned by taking courses, reading books, exposing yourself gradually to more challenging riding experiences, making each ride a lesson, and all the while stepping back and grading yourself.


To me, the key to judging whether or not you should ride a bike, is how well you drive a car. What is your accident history? How comfortable are you in heavy traffic? In fast traffic? In bad weather? Are you constantly blaming other drivers for their stupidity, or do you take responsibility for your own driving? Do you stay calm when things go wrong, or are you prone to panicking and freezing? Do you have that intuitive sixth sense others talk about regarding traffic and its patterns? Above all, do you love to drive?


If you’ve been driving a car for any number of years you should be relaxed, comfortable and confident behind the wheel. If you aren’t, you probably shouldn’t be riding a bike.



99 1100RT



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I am 29 years and before the MSF course that I took last July I had never ridden a motorcycle. Bicycles,mopeds,four wheelers yes, but a motorcycle never. After the first pass across the parking lot with my elbows and knees flapping to keep the bike balanced I thought Holy Crap I Can't Ride A Motorcycle. As the instructor walked towards me I thought for sure he was going to ask me to leave. He calmly told me to "relax my arms, keep my head up, knees tight against the tank, and ride that motorcycle across the lot." I did exactly as he said and it worked, from then on something just clicked and I did great through the rest of the class. I felt so confident that in November I bought a 2002 R1150RT. It's been about 6 months now and I have just over 9500 miles. I still regularly go to a parking lot and practice many of the things that GJBIKE mentioned above. I wear all of the gear almost all of the time. I feel as though I am doing everything right, but after reading about Chad and Daryll, can't help thinking am I next.

I guess the fear of an accident is good to have, it will keep me sharp and conservative. I work in a trauma unit and get a daily dose of reality regarding motorcycle accidents.

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John Harvey

Recognizing our chosen interest is dangerous, one must always be prepared. Practice, practice, practice! Like an army going into battle or an athlete stepping onto the field, they have spent more time practicing drills or plays to ready themselves for what lies ahead.


Since the start of the motorcycling season, how many of us have gone to a deserted parking lot and worked on emergency braking, slow speed handling, etc? I’m as guilty as the next guy, more interested in the open road, but tonight, after work, I’m heading to the parking lot to work on my skills.


Stepping off the soapbox,


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I think there are several valid, crucial and critical points being made here; Everyone seems to be in agreement, verbalized in thier own words. I've read this whole thread with personal interest since many times asking myself the same question. "What the heck is this !@#$%^& doing riding a MC"? In many instances the answers are: A)Tarnishing the sport by riding like a squid; B)Putting themselves and others in danger as a result of their inabilities or sense of invincability or C)Just don't have the capacity to ride a motorcycle but are doing so actively.


I agree that the predominant mentality that produces safe, defensive, survivable riders is the ability to understand what it means to "ride within yourself". I see everyone making that same observation. It's logical that a person with no experience can safely and successfully become a "quality" rider in a short period if they retain this same mantra through out thier learning curve and beyond.


I feel lucky somehow, having been granted a life filled with dirt & street bikes as a result of my father's desire to be a good provider for his family. And at 41, I can look back and see the difference it's made in my approach to riding on the street. Many aren't as fortunate. That does NOT preclude them from becoming safe, proficient riders that eventually become an asset to the motorcycling community, regardless of age.


It's sad to witness those that really shouldn't be riding; put yourself in that position(I always wanted to be a world-class jazz bassist; much safer than riding mind you, but after playing for 30 years I've accepted that I'm only moderately good and that's THAT). What if it was you being told "You shouldn't be riding a motorcycle". It would be heartbreaking.


The direct answer IMHO: No, everyone shouldn't be riding a MC, but I would qualify with this; Everyone should be given the opportunity to try. The ones that are proficient will endure. Hopefully, the select few that are not either have enough sense of self-preservation to avoid the sport or sadly, perish as a result of thier ignorance.


My 2cents

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When I took the MSF basic course there was a young lady who enrolled after dropping her motor scooter while driving unlicensed. She had previously failed the course twice, so this was her third go. There were additional private lessons from MSF instructors as well.


During the course it was apparent that she was one of the people who should not be riding a motorcycle or scooter.


While the school bikes used were quite light (Honda 250’s) compared to RT’s, she was constantly wobbling, dropped the bike once or twice during the day, and kept asking people what "tricks" they use to keep the bike balanced. She also did not seem to have very good aptitude at clutch-throttle control, stalling the bike on almost every start.


By the end of the first day, five of the original 15 people were "counseled out" by the instructors, but she was still in – despite the fact that her skills were the lowest in the group. The instructors all seemed to be rooting for her, and it was obvious that she was being given slack due to the fact that this was her third time taking the course.


As much as I admired her desire and tenacity, I was concerned that should she pass and get a license, it would put both herself and others at risk.


During the final test, her performance was no better, but they refused to drop her. It came down to the final exercise. The group as a whole was told that based on the previous two exercises, everyone would pass unless we dropped the bike on the third exercise. Dropping the bike is a mandatory disqualification.


One person dropped their bike. Fortunately it was her. Unfortunately, I overheard her telling the instructors she would be back for the fourth time.


Chris NYC mentioned his MSF-certified riding instructor " used to tell me of the times that (his instructor) had to be the unlucky person to present the bad news to a riding student: You should not be riding."


I wish Chris’ instructor was running the class that day. I wish I had the courage to go up to her myself and deliver the message.



99 1100RT



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Great post Doug -

I'm a firm believer that some people don't belong on a bike (or driving a car for that matter), but each individual has to take a very hard, cold sober look at themselves and make their own decision. Many people unfortunately don't do that. In my own case, I know that I'm very aware of the road and environment around me when I ride - but I also know that I have definite skill limitations (I'm one of those who didn't start riding till I was 45) - so I adjust my ride to where I'm comfortable and ALWAYS ride my own ride even if I lose the group I'm with. So far so good.

As another example, about 5 years ago, my wife decided she wanted to start riding. She was about 45 and had never ridden but is pretty athletic. I hired someone to teach her one on one. After about 4 lessons we went for a short ride - her on a rented small Honda and me on my Road King. Bottom line was I rode behind her for about 2 hours, watched her moves, her turns and braking, and her sense of what was around her and got very uncomfortable. She just seemed out of touch - you know that sixth sense that we hope we all have. I talked her out of riding (it wasn't very hard - she wasn't thrilled with the reality of solo riding) and I'm very glad I did. I hate to think of what could have happened if she kept at it when she just didn't have what it takes.

By the way, this is a great addition to the BBS - Thanks David.


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John Ranalletta

oneday wrote: but each individual has to take a very hard, cold sober look at themselves and make their own decision.


Were it only so. There are people who are reactive by nature and must be led. They can be led into danger or away from it. There are others who can not and will not confront or conflict with others...even when they know it's necessary. Like the supervisor who won't tell an employee to put on his safety glasses because the employee won't like it and will disagree. Tell me it doesn't happen.


MSF instructors should be tested for personality traits. They should have the capability and the inclination to tell the truth...even when somebody doesn't want it and doesn't handle it well.

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