Friday, 24 August 2007

For the newbies

I wrote this for another forum a wee while back as advice for new bikers.

Here's my hot tips for new riders from someone who learnt the hard way!

Got a £10 head, get a £10 helmet. (saw this on an advert once) Never buy a second hand helmet, as you don't know whether it has been dropped. Not all damage is visible, so can you really trust the seller? And helmets have a date stamp inside. If it is more than 5 years from date of manufacture then you should get a replacement.

The same goes for safety clothing. Tarmac hurts, and everyone falls off at some time. Your clothing will dictate whether you swear, limp and hobble away from an accident or get carried away in an ambulance. You needn't spend a fortune, but make sure you have a jacket, trousers, boots and gloves, as well as a good helmet. And even though it is a lovely day, don't even think of going out without your safety gear. Denim offers no protection in an accident.

If you don't know where to go for bike advice, most motorcycle magazines contain advice for new riders, and the web has loads of information. But why not ask a biker? Try visiting your local motorcycle club, or if there is a motorbike show near to you, go along, and seek out the stands that belong to the motorbike clubs. For most bikers it doen't take a lot of effort to get them to start talking bike - in fact the hardest part can be getting them to stop! Ask them what got them into biking, what gear they advise, what bikes are best for a novice, and what dealerships near to you are the most trustworthy.

You will need to complete some sort of basic training. In the UK this is called your Compulsory Basic Training (CBT) and you will need a CBT certificate before going out on the road with "L" (learner) plates. The motorbike school will supply the bike and protective gear, and you will start off riding around traffic cones while getting to grips with the basics of using a motorcycle. The school will also be able to provide lessons to get you ready for sitting your full bike test. Whether or not you can already drive a car, I would advise you to take some lessons.

If you are going to buy a bike, I would advise against buying a brand new bike while you learn. If you buy a bike that is not too old, someone else has already paid the depreciation. If the bike school that you did your CBT with gave you use of one particular brand of bike, and you were comfortable with it, then you would do a lot worse than looking at that particular model. Take along a biking friend (perhaps one of your new bike club buddies!) to give you advice, and when it comes to the point that you actually purchase, please remember that half the fun is in the haggling. If you can't get the seller to move on the price, at least make sure that they fill it up with petrol, and if it is a main dealer, see if they will chuck in free servicing. But remember that you should always have money left ofer for your safety gear.

Invest in the Haynes or similar servicing manual for your bike. You really need to know how to adjust and lubricate your chain, but for the more technically competent, the basic servicing such as oil changes can be done by the home mechanic. However if your bike makes nasty clunking, grinding or coughing noises, then you really need to speak to a real mechanic.

Never answer a call of nature at the roadside. While you are attempting to do what comes naturally behind the bushes, thirty passing bikers will assumme that your bike has broken down and offer to pass spanners, go for a gallon of petrol, or make sympathetic noises about your broken bike. Just smile, wave, and be grateful that they thought to stop to help!

You will get wet. Very wet. You will go out when the sun is out, but the rain will come on when you are at distance D. D= the nearest point to your destination that still ensures that you get absolutely saturated. Some form of waterproof outer layer or a well waterproofed bike jacket will prevent most of the water getting in. If you are riding to work, and carrying a change of clothes in your backpack, make sure that your clothes are wrapped in a plastic bag, and always carry a spare set of socks. (Hitchhikers Guide fans will know about not forgetting your towel.)

Most importantly, get out there, enjoy riding, be safe.

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