7 Things I’ve Learned Riding 50 Thousand Miles on a Motorbike

by jchannell

Triumph Sprint ST -British Racing GreenOver this past weekend I’ve crossed the 50,000 mile threshold riding motorcycles. It’s taken a little over 3 years to hit that mark, so you can say I ride a lot. I commute daily, do weekend fun rides with friends, and have taken longer trips. I usually tell people that riding a motorbike is about the best fun you can have with your clothes on. That’s not to say its all rainbows and fluffy bunnies though. I’d like to think I’ve learned a few things in the past few years, and want to share them.

1. Practice. Practice. Practice.

I unceremoniously got off to a pretty rough start with motorcycling. I did take the MSF course, which I highly recommend to anyone. I guarantee I was the sloppiest in the group. I had literally zero riding experience prior to the course. Absolutely none. Before the course was over, the instructor pulled me to the side and told me I had a lot to work on. He made me absolutely promise to practice a lot before I hit the streets, and to not be silly and go out and buy something like an Harley Ultra Classic straight away. I’m not sure why he passed me that day, but pass I did.

A couple months later, I bought a 2003 Honda Shadow 750 from the coworker of a friend who was getting divorced. The bike was solid, but I wasn’t ready. I practiced by riding around the neighborhood where I lived for about a week, before disaster struck.

It was a beautiful Saturday morning, and I went out to ride around and practice some more. One thing I didnt have the hang of were right turns from a stop. I was going to get gas around the corner, then come back to the safety of my neighborhood. That never happened. I was trying to make a right hand turn at a light, and kept stalling the bike. A couple of cars were behind me and getting impatient. I was feeling stressed. I gave it too much gas and dumped the clutch. What happened next was that I was in the far lane of the intersection with the bike on top of me. When the bike dumped, I could feel my right foot crunch, and knew I was in trouble. I had broken 2 bones in my right foot, and needed surgery. I didn’t get back on the bike for near 7 months after that, even though my foot had healed up within a few months.

The key here in my mind was that I thought I was ready, but I wasn’t. I really needed to practice launches and right turns and a few other things I’d be using daily. I didn’t, and now I had a $16,000 right foot. Sad Panda.

2. Wear The Right Gear. It just May Save Your Tail

It’s a worn out statement on any moto site that wearing the right gear can literally mean the difference between brushing off your pride and walking away, and needing surgery to put yourself back together. If I had been wearing my Gaerne GP-1’s that Saturday morning, I’d have picked myself up and been fine. But I wasnt, and greatly wished I had been.

I’ve slowly put together good riding gear over the past few years, as deals came up and I was able top purchase pieces. These days I normally wear Sidi boots, Bull-It riding jeans with knee armor, a Triumph leather riding jacket, RS Taichi gloves, and an Icon Alliance helmet. These pieces change a bit if it’s really hot, cold or if I’m doing more spirited riding. If it’s 35 outside or 105 here in Dallas, I’m prepared.

One of the things I’ve learned about clothes in general, in addition to riding gear is: Buy the good stuff, and take care of it. One person I learned a ton about gear from is Wes Siler, formerly of RideApart. He used to take a ton of flak on the comments about recommending expensive gear. I’ve worn cheap hand me down stuff I’ve gotten off others on moto forums I frequent. Bottom line is the cheap stuff generally doesnt fit, or wear like the expensive stuff does. This isnt as some suggest, “conspicuous consumption” but gear that can literally save your hide.

3. Always Be Learning

I’m an avid reader, and try to learn a lot. I know the stakes of getting it wrong on a bike, and always tell people that the price for getting it wrong is pretty high. The margin for error is close to zero. To paraphrase Casey Stoner “If you lose the front on a car, you go wide. If you lose the front on a bike you crash.”

I’ve read Proficient Motorcycling, read the usual suspect motorcycle sites, and never stop trying to get better. I’m itching to start doing track days, and do California Superbike School. It will be fun, I’ll learn a lot, and become a much better rider.

4. Ride. A Lot

I associate and ride a lot with a group of friend that call ourselves the Thursday Night Irregulars. We meet every Thursday night..sometimes. Everyone in the group commutes on bikes and does fun rides on weekends also. These guys RIDE. And everyone in the group has close call stories, with a few bang ups on occasion. No one has had a serious wreck in the time we’ve known each other, which is a few years now. That’s a couple hundred thousand miles on bikes combined. I’d say that’s a pretty solid record.

It’s said that we are what we consistently do. If you ride daily, you’ll become a great rider. The people I worry about are not the ones who ride daily, but the ones who ride only on nice Saturdays, and mix it with a few *ahem* beverages, without wearing any gear. Your denim vest, sunglasses, and kevlar bandanna don’t qualify as proper riding gear. Good luck sliding down the road in that.

5. Pick The Right Riding Group(s)

The people you ride with can greatly influence how you ride, and how often you ride. If your group wears gear, rides a lot, and generally acts like adults, chances are you’ll be just fine. If you hang out with guys referred to as “squids” and think doing stunts or going 120 on the freeway is a great ride, best of luck to you.

A lifetime of riding is a marathon, not a sprint. You want to make it to the finish in one piece.

6. You Can Do More Then You Think

On the bucket list are extended tours on South America and Europe on a motorbike. I fully believe that the best way to see the sights is astride a motorbike. This past summer I rode from Dallas to Chicago on my Triumph Sprint ST, and back. A couple friends thought I’d lost my mind to take a trip that’s 1k miles each way by myself. It was a bit of a mini-bucket list idea, or “quest” for me. I wanted to do it, to have done it. I also wanted to see family and explore the city of my birth on my terms. Lake Shore Drive is pretty awesome on a bike, not gonna lie.

The bike was checked over by RPM Cycles here in Dallas before leaving, and everything was fine. Nothing blew up or fell off during the trip. The bum was the limiting factor rather than the bike. Take breaks every 50-75 miles, and you should be fine on long runs. Also stop for BBQ. You’ll have to trust me on this.

7. Choose Your Bike(s) Wisely

The Honda Shadow was a great around town bike. That was about it’s limit though. I took one trip to Austin on it from Dallas, and knew that for longer trips I’d need a different bike. Lots of folks who don’t ride think that bikes are like cars, in that you can get on whatever and go cross country. This is far from the case. I knew I wanted a sport-touring bike that would be faster, smoother, had hard luggage, and could eat miles if desired. Wound up with a Triumph Sprint ST and have put just over 25k miles on her so far. A R1 or RC-51 may be added to the stable. The Triumph likely isn’t going anywhere.

Choose a bike that lets you do what you want to with it. Unless you’re really really good, you should be the limiting factor rather than the bike. This takes different forms for different folks. Figure out what you’ll really be doing with it, and get something suitable you can ride the wheels off of.

See You On The Road!

Motorcycling can be one of the most amazing, spiritual, freeing things you can do. I found it a bit later on than some others, and am glad I found it. It’s transportation, hobby, church, and relaxation all in one. If you don’t ride yet, but have been itching to do so, take the MSF course or similar. Jump on in, the water is fine. I’ll see you on the road.

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