Picture of Riding a Motorcycle
Riding a motorcycle is much more complex than driving a car. A rider must be very attentive to their surroundings and must have a level of physical coordination that is not required by a car. That being said, riding is a very enjoyable experience that I hope more people will discover. You will discover a sense of freedom when riding a motorcycle that a car, even a convertible, cannot offer. If you have ever ridden a jet ski, a motorcycle is almost like a jet ski on land.

This instructable aims to give you a step by step guide on how to ride a motorcycle. While riding a motorcycle is a skill that is continually developed and takes months to years to master, this instructable should have you familiar with a motorcycle in about an hour.
           Note: I recommend all riders take a Motorcycle Safety Foundation (MSF) course before getting their license.

The following tutorial will be demonstrated using a 2007 Kawasaki Ninja 650R motorcycle and a Scorpion EXO-1000 helmet.

In each step I assume you have already completed the previous step.

I also recommend that you learn to ride in a safe and open area such as a parking lot. Don't take to the roads until you are licensed and ready.

Disclaimer: I take no responsibility for any injury or damage caused by following this instructable. You are doing this of your own free will. As stated, I recommend everyone should take a MSF approved course for proper, official training.

What you Need:
A motorcycle

What you Should Have:
Safety Gear
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Step 1: Gear Up

Picture of Gear Up
            Warning: Riding a motorcycle can be extremely dangerous. When on a motorcycle you are completely exposed, you aren't surrounded by a steel cage or air bags. Failure to wear proper safety equipment can result in extreme personal injury and death.

Types of Safety Equipment:

I always ride with a jacket, helmet, and gloves and some states require helmets.

Quality helmets will be Department of Transportation (D.O.T.) and Snell Certified. You can find these certifications by looking at the back of a helmet, towards the bottom. Putting on a helmet can actually be tricky the first time as you may not be familiar with the latching system they use. The pictures above should illustrate these steps.

1. Hold the left strap in your left hand and the right strap in your right hand.
2. Pass the right strap through both of the D-rings on the left strap.
         Note: The D-rings are shown in the second picture above. They are D-shaped metal rings attached to the left strap.
3. Pull the right strap to the right, over one of the D-rings and through the second D-ring.
4. Pull the right strap to the left, over both of the D-rings and snap it.
5. Make sure the helmet is a snug fit on your head. It really shouldn't move much at all and your cheeks should be pressed against the pads.

Motorcycle jackets differ from regular jackets as they are padded to protect against impact and abrasion. A typical leather jacket will provide fair abrasion resistance, but without any pads or cushions your body will feel the full force of the impact should you crash. Motorcycle jackets will have pads (armor) in the back/spine, shoulders, elbows, and forearms. Quality jackets will have CE certified armor.

Motorcycle jackets fall under three categories, leather, textile, and mesh.

Leather jackets offer the most protection from abrasion but are typically the hottest and least comfortable.
Mesh jackets offer the least protection, are the coolest, and often the most comfortable.
Textile jackets fall in between.

What jacket to wear depends on your riding style, personal preference, and the weather conditions of your area. Often times jackets will be a combination, with some textile or leather parts and some mesh or perforated parts.

Step 2: Understand Your Motorcycle

Before you can ride a motorcycle you need to understand the controls.

At a minimum, motorcycles have the following controls:
Clutch Lever - Engages/disengages power from the rear wheel.
Gear Shifter - Shifts between gears, moving 1 gear up or 1 gear down at a time.
High/Low Beam Switch - Toggles the high-beam headlight.
Hazard Lights - Toggles the hazard lights/flashers.
Turn Signals - Toggles the left and right turn signals.
Horn - Sounds the horn.
Front Brake Lever - Controls the front brake.
Rear Brake Pedal - Controls the rear brake.
Throttle - Controls the throttle.
Engine Kill Switch - Cuts the engine off. Useful for emergencies.
Ignition Switch - Starts the motorcycle.
Kick Stand - Holds the bike up when not being ridden.

The left side of the motorcycle is to control gears. The right side of the motorcycle is to control acceleration and braking.

The best way to gain an understanding of the controls is to sit on the motorcycle and try them out. Getting on a motorcycle is easiest if done from the left side as it is then leaning towards you. When you are sitting on a motorcycle you should straddle the low point of the gas tank.

1. Face the motorcycle from the left side.
2. Swing your right leg over the seat.
3. Plant both feet firmly on the ground.
4. Pull in the front brake to help stabilize the motorcycle.
5. Pull the motorcycle off its kickstand.
6. Sit down on the seat.
7. Put the key into the ignition and turn it to the on position.
         Note: It is normal for the red oil light to come on.
8. Inspect the handlebars and the foot pegs, make sure everything is within reach.
         Note: Many motorcycles have adjustable levers (clutch, front brake), foot pegs (gear shifter, rear brake), suspensions, and seat heights.
9. Without starting the motorcycle, locate, identify and operate every component in the pictures on your motorcycle until you are comfortable with their location and use.
         Note: While it varies, many motorcycles turn signals are canceled or turned-off by pressing the turn signal switch into the handlebar.
         Note: Some motorcycles are carbureted and will have a choke lever next to the hazard light button on the left handlebar.

Step 3: Find Neutral

Picture of Find Neutral
Switching gears on a motorcycle is much different than a manual transmission car. In a car you could go directly from first gear to fourth gear but in a motorcycle you must go through the gears sequentially. When shifting on a motorcycle you have two choices, shift up or shift down. The vast majority of motorcycles have the one-down, five-up gear setting. This means that the gears are in ascending order and there is one gear below neutral and five gears above neutral. In other words neutral is between the first gear and the second gear. Every time you switch gears on a motorcycle you must let the gear shifter return to its normal position. To shift down, put your foot on top of the gear shifter and press down. To shift up, put your foot under the gear shifter and press up. Remember to either remove your foot from the gear shifter after shifting or move your foot back to the position it was in before you shifted. You will not be able to shift again until the gear shifter returns to its normal position.

Unlike in a manual transmission car, finding neutral can be quite confusing for a new rider. Neutral is almost hidden on motorcycles and simply switching between gears will not get you into neutral.

Before starting your motorcycle, you should ensure that it is in neutral.

1. Pull in the clutch lever.
2. Press down on the gear shifter and release it repeatedly until you are in first gear (it can no longer be pressed down).
              Note: If you cannot press the gear shifter down than you are already in first gear.
              Note: You will hear a click every time you switch a gear.
3. Place your foot underneath the gear shifter.
4. Slowly press the gear shifter up until it clicks. The gear shifter should be about half way raised.
              Note: Neutral is between first and second. It isn't really its own gear which is why the shifter is only halfway raised. Pressing the shifter up all the way will put the motorcycle into second gear.
5. The green neutral (N) indicator light will turn on when you are in neutral. If it did not, repeat from step two.
6. Release the clutch lever.

Step 4: Start It Up

Picture of Start It Up
Now that you've located all the components on your motorcycle and how to find neutral, it is time to start it. I recommend for your and the motorcycle's safety that you always start your motorcycle in neutral and some motorcycles must be in neutral to start. This is so you don't accidentally release the clutch while in gear and accelerate when you don't intend to.

1. Flip the engine kill-switch to the 'on' position.
         Note: The symbol for the 'on' position will be a circle with a small cutout without an X over it.
2. Kick the kickstand up with your left foot.
3. Press and hold the ignition switch.
         Note: If your motorcycle is carbureted, you may need to adjust the choke and give it extra gas when starting.
         Note: Some motorcycles require you to pull in the clutch when starting, even when in neutral.
4. Release the ignition switch once the motorcycle has started.

Step 5: Find the Friction Zone

Since motorcycles have manual transmissions and a clutch, the rider is in direct control of how much of the engine's power is transferred to the rear wheel. Inside a motorcycle there are two spinning gears, one connected to the engine and one connected to the rear wheel. Essentially, when the clutch is pulled in these two gears separate and power is reduced. When the clutch is released, the gears connect and power is increased. The point where these gears start to connect is called the Friction Zone.

Understanding the friction zone is key to riding a motorcycle. Without proper clutch control you may stall the motorcycle (kill the engine inadvertently) or accelerate uncontrollably, both of which are embarrassing and dangerous. A useful exercise in finding the friction zone and practicing clutch control is rolling the motorcycle.

          Note: Try to always keep your head up and forward when riding a motorcycle. It will help you maintain stability and balance much better than looking down. Essentially, the motorcycle is going to try to go where you are looking.

          Tip: If you ever panic and or are concerned, the first thing I'd recommend is to pull in the clutch. This will ensure that you will not accidentally accelerate.

1. Downshift into first gear.
2. Push backwards with your feet until your heels are the only thing on the ground.
3. Release the clutch VERY slowly until the motorcycle begins to roll.
         Note: Use little to no throttle during this exercise. You can get the motorcycle to roll without using any throttle.
4. Roll until your toes are the only thing touching the ground.
5. Pull in the clutch.
6. Pull in the front brake to stop.
7. Repeat from step two.

Practice this several times until you are comfortable with where the friction zone is.

It may not be a bad idea to stall the bike once or twice on purpose, so you know what the bike feels and sounds like when this happens. To do this simply dump the clutch (let go of the clutch very quickly, basically just take your hand off of it). Do NOT give the bike any throttle when doing this or you may accelerate uncontrollably.

Step 6: Turn the Motorcycle

Now that you are comfortable with where the motorcycle starts to move you should now practice turning. Motorcycles turn much differently when they are moving slowly than when they are moving quickly. Under 10 miles per hour (or so) motorcycles use conventional turning. If you want to go right you turn the handlebars right, if you want to go left you turn the handlebars left. A trick to turning with motorcycles is to always look through your turn. That means that you are looking at where you want to go the entire time you are turning, not in front of you. Again, the motorcycle wants to go where your head is looking.

       Tip: Do not pull the front brake whenever the handlebars aren't square, especially at low speed. This can cause the wheel to lock up and the bike to fall, taking you with it.

1. Release the clutch to the friction zone and begin to accelerate.
2. Add a small amount of throttle.
3. Continue releasing the clutch and adding throttle until you are moving at 8-10 MPH.
3. Look at where you want to go.
4. Turn the handlebars in that direction.
5. Even out the handlebars as you finish your turn.
6. Ride around in any pattern you like, practicing your turns. Remember, turn left - go left, turn right - go right. Be sure to stay under 10 MPH.
        Tip: A weaving pattern or a figure-8 are both great.

Step 7: Lean the Motorcycle

Counter-steering is something that baffles many people. They know that motorcycles turn by leaning at higher speeds but they often don't understand what is actually happening. When a motorcycle moves above 10 MPH (or so) conventional steering fades into counter steering. This is where the motorcycle begins to turn by leaning. This means that everything reverses. Instead of turning the handlebars in the direction you want to go, you turn them in the opposite direction. The way to remember this is push left - go left, push right - go right. In a right turn, for example, when you push the right handlebar away from you and cause the bike to lean to the right, and as such it turns to the right, but in the act of pushing the right handlebar away from you, the handlebars are turning left. So the handlebars are turned left, and the motorcycle turns right, thus - counter steering. This is something that might not make sense to you until you try it.

      Note: Be sure to have plenty of free space for this as you need to be moving faster.

1. Accelerate to around 15-20 MPH.
2. Look at where you want to turn to.
3. Push the handlebar that is closest to where you are turning to away from you.
      Note: Right turn means push the right handlebar away, left turn means push the left handlebar away. Be sure to start gently and work up as you get more comfortable.
4. Even out the handlebars as you finish your turn.
5. Make larger and larger turns and try doing them at faster speeds. Don't attempt something that is not within your comfort level.

Step 8: Accelerating and Decelerating

Picture of Accelerating and Decelerating
You've taught yourself to start the bike, get it moving, and to turn. Unfortunately, you aren't going to do to well on public roads if you're stuck in first gear. Next you need to work on accelerating, decelerating, and shifting gears.

One of the joys of a motorcycle is that the only difficult gear is first. Once the bike is moving shifting is much easier. When to shift is entirely dependent on your motorcycle, your riding situation, and your riding style. Generally speaking, a sportier riding style favors shifting later, while a fuel efficient style favors shifting earlier.

A rough idea of the gear to be in is:
0-15 MPH - 1st
15 - 30 MPH - 2nd
30 - 45 MPH - 3rd
45 - 55 MPH - 4th
55 - 65 MPH - 5th
65+ MPH - 6th

Emphasis on rough idea. A 1000cc sport bike could go 70 MPH in 2nd gear if you wanted to (not that I'd recommend that).

While accelerating, when you feel like you want to up shift there is a procedure:
1. Pull in the clutch and release the throttle.
2. Kick the gear shifter up and return to the original position.
3. Roll on the throttle as you release the clutch.

When you need to decelerate on a motorcycle there is one key thing to remember, the vast majority (70% or more) of your stopping power comes from your front brake. When you want to decelerate there are two main ways, engine braking and conventional braking. 

Engine braking is using the natural resistance of the engine to slow the motorcycle. This is done by releasing the clutch and allowing the engine's RPM to drop and by potentially downshifting. Be sure not to stall the motorcycle when doing this.

Conventional braking is simply using the disc brakes like on a car. Simply pull the front brake and press the rear brake simultaneously.

If you feel that you have slowed down enough that you should downshift, the procedure is very similar to up shifting.
1. Pull in the clutch and release the throttle.
2. Kick the gear shifter down and return it to its original position.
3. Roll on the throttle as you release the clutch.

If you are coming to a complete stop, be sure to pull the clutch in so you do not stall the bike. When you are about to stop moving, place your left foot on the ground (the right foot should still be braking). Once you come to a stop, place your right foot on the ground as well.

If while braking you lock up a tire and it starts skidding, what you do depends on the tire. If it is the rear tire, your best bet is to keep the tire locked until you are moving in a straight line again or stopped. If you release the rear brake while skidding or drifting it can cause the rear of the bike to essentially snap back into place which can cause you to fly off the bike. If you lock the front brake immediately release it and slowly reapply it. Locking the front brake can be dangerous as you can be sent over the handlebars or the front wheel my cut (sharply turn to one side).

Step 9: Park the Motorcycle

Picture of Park the Motorcycle
When you are done riding and you are ready to turn off the engine there are a few things to do.

1. Bring the motorcycle to a complete stop.
2. Plant both your feet firmly on the ground.
3. Put the motorcycle in first gear. This is to prevent it from rolling while parked.
4. Flip the engine kill switch to the off position.
             Note: The off position is a circle with a small cutout with an X over it.
5. Turn the key to the off position.
6. Kick the kickstand down with your left foot. Be sure it is fully down.
7. Lean the bike onto its kickstand.
8. Swing your right foot over the motorcycle and get off the motorcycle.

Many motorcycles have a fork lock anti-theft feature. This means the handlebars are locked in a turned position when the bike is parked so someone can't walk off with it, they'd be stuck walking in circles. If your motorcycle has this you can take advantage of it by:
1. Turn your handlebars fully to the left.
2. Push the key into the ignition.
3. Turn the key to the locked position (likely to the left). 
4. Remove the key.

You should not be able to turn the handlebars.

You should know be familiar with a motorcycle and its operation. Again, I highly encourage everyone to take a MSF approved safety course before learning to ride. Remember that before you can legally ride a motorcycle on the streets, you must have your motorcycle license. Hopefully you've found this instructable informative and helpful and are going to or already have started riding.
Amnesia Wes9 months ago

Although this 'scructable provides great advice, when taking a certified course, upon completion, a certificate eliminates the need to take a road test at the DMV to get a Motorcycle Endorsement on your Driver's License. A road test in front of a DMV employee is a very stressful event for most new riders.

The MSF Basic Rider course only grants an excemption for the raod test in certain states, check your local laws.

jklub made it!5 months ago
I got my license, yay!
myr19 months ago

Just take a class, most community colleges have a one for cheap and lowers your insurance when you finish. Most have their own bikes too.

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guy255903 years ago
it's too dangerous to learn it yourself. you should take a teacher, it's better not to ride on a motorcycle at all.
I taught myself on my dads 1500cc Vulcan. Started in the driveway. Ended up riding it for a year then bought my 440LTD, someone hit me, now have a Rebel. Just like riding a bicycle.
eeverett (author)  guy255903 years ago
Yeah, well, you know, that's just, like, your opinion, man.
it's really dangerous
just letting you know i taught myself to ride on a 50cc dirt bike when i was 12 i am now 21 and my only accident was caused by somebody that ran a red light, there was nothing any class or instructor could have taught me that would have stopped the other driver from hitting me. this being said the est thing you can do is be alert and wear your safety gear
just letting you know i taught myself to ride on a 50cc dirt bike when i was 12 i am now 21 and my only accident was caused by somebody that ran a red light, there was nothing any class or instructor could have taught me that would have stopped the other driver from hitting me. this being said the est thing you can do is be alert and wear your safety gear
dkfa guy255902 years ago
So is driving a car. Or walking down the street. Or smoking. Or cooking.

Also, if we're not here to learn something by ourselves, why are we on instructables in the first place?
Solid instructable. I had taken a MSF class a couple years ago and read up using your guide it was helpful getting the mental check list back in you head. Once you know how it feels / how to counter steer it stays with you forever.
abadfart2 years ago
thank you for going in to detail on the safety gear, i would not be hear today if i wasn't wearing mine. i live in a tropic climate where every day is ridding weather and i see guys ridding their motorcycles in shorts a t shirt and flip flops and it drives my crazy when i see somebody being that dumb
dreamberry3 years ago
I learned to ride on a big pile of sand near Corona. Sand is a good thing to fall on, better than grass or asphalt, if you're gonna fall, and you will likely fall. Then take a class or three. When you do get out on the road, ride like you are invisible, because you are, simply because you are not a car, and that's all most folks are looking out for.
robertmw3 years ago
Hey! I'm super glad you are promoting safe riding, and for the most part you are putting verbatim from your MSF class. But there needs to be a change to how you talk about high speed steering.

The way you put it, the wheel is actually going to turn the opposite way from where you want to turn. Someone back in my MSF class actually tried this at 20 mph. Leaning right, and FORCING his wheel left, instant high side. This is not what you do.

The push right, turn right is just that. By putting pressure on the inside handle bar, the gyroscopic forces of the front wheel will initiate the lean and turn. The more pressure you put, the harder your bike will lean. But if you pay close attention to your hands, as you push, the bars will push back, and your hands will move in the opposite direction you push.

My reccomendation, before you try and conciosly create counter steer, get to 15-20 and let your instincts take over. Look and lean into your turn, and the bike will follow. Once you're comfortable, then figure out exactly what is going on with the bars.
eeverett (author)  robertmw3 years ago
That is a good recommendation but counter-steering and leaning is initiated by the handlebars briefly turning in the opposite direction of the turn. It's a subtle turn of the handle-bars, nothing nearly as pronounced as in a low speed turn.

You are definitely right by saying the handlebars aren't completely turning like in a low speed turn though as that could lead to a nasty high side.
Twitcheth3 years ago
This is a good walkthrough. As a fellow rider I started only 6 months ago and have fallen in love with riding. My uncle taught me to ride around the back lane before taking me out on the open roads. But I will say many motorcycles handle differently i.e. A chopper or sled has a much wider turning circle compared to a sportsbike or dirt bike. Just take it slow and ease into it.
I learned on a cruiser and dirtbike, then bought a sportbike. The sportbike is a sail in the wind unless you get right down on the tank, the cruisers feel very top heavy and the dirtbikes have really twitchy throttles. Practice practice practice until you're comfortable!
Very good and detailed instructable! Wish I had this when I started out.
triumphman3 years ago
I have been riding since 1964 ! Many moons ago! Over the years, I have owned many motorcycles. I still ride and own four. It is the most free and rewarding thing to do on two wheels. But lately, due to the increase in driver distracting toys (GPS, Cell Phones, Cameras, video players, DVD players, TEXTING, etc...) in autos, there has been a great number of accidents (many deaths) with motorcycles getting run down! A few of my riding buddies have been victims ! I now get very cautious and concerned when I ride and see people that are not paying attention to the road and ME!! So now I ride less and worry more about my next ride! Will I live to see another day, because of someone being stupid? Think about this! Call and or email your state politicians, especially NEW YORK, to get them to pass the law that says: NO TALKING OR TEXTING ON PHONES! It will save your life,maybe! Thanks, Live to ride, ride to live! Triumphman
We've had those laws here for several years now, really anything that can distract a driver can earn you a ticket here. It doesn't help because there just aren't enough police to enforce it. I have a Kawi Ninja 636 and every single ride I go on I'm dodging people in cages not paying attention. Just yesterday a car packed with teenagers came 2 or 3 feet over the mustard at me and laughed their arses off as they passed me. Hours before that, going through an intersection someone who was paying attention didn't see me, then when he did see me he panicked and stopped dead right in front of me as I was leaning, it was close. Getting cut off and dumping your pretty new bike is not fun folks, you really have to watch for EVERYONE! Including the cop who suicidally ran out into the middle of the road to stop me...
RSV263 years ago
insted of ''gear up '' why not ''armor up''?
This is an awesome walkthrough! Lots of good tips.