Learn to Ride Part 2: Mastering the Skills for Steering, Braking and Shifting Gears

Riding a motorcycle is a complicated process since motorcycles topple over when they are not moving.  Gyroscopic forces, unique to two wheeled vehicles, are what affect a motorcycle when it is moving.


With that in mind, a rider must obtain a valid license before they are allowed to drive a motorcycle on public roads.

Before getting on a motorcycle, you should put on a motorcycle safety helmet.  By law, most states require motorcyclists to wear helmets to reduce damage to the head in the event of an accident. Motorcycle helmets are designed to distribute the impact across a wider area and to absorb most of the shock.

Now, to ride a motorcycle you have to develop the necessary skills (e.g. steering, changing gears and braking) to handle this two-wheeled machine. Here are some tips to help you master them.


Steering a motorcycle is different from steering a motor vehicle and involves two distinct actions:

  • A simple and straightforward turn of the handlebar to the left or the right will work perfectly at low speeds (i.e. below 5 miles per hour); and
  • A counter-steering action is required as soon as the motorcycle travels faster than 5 mph by pushing the handlebars to the right when you want to turn left, and vice versa.  This is a skill that may take time to master and may seem to be counter-intuitive to new riders.

When confronted with an unexpected obstacle on the left side of the road, a novice rider may be tempted to push on the left side of the handlebar to avoid crashing, thinking that this will steer to the right, but in reality this will steer the motorcycle to the left, directly into the path of the obstacle.  By doing the counter-intuitive and pushing on the right handlebar, the front wheel will be directed to the left, but the bike will steer to the right, effectively avoiding the obstacle.


Controlling the brakes on a motorcycle requires the rider to use two actions at the same time:

  1. Use the right hand to control the brake located on the front wheel; and
  2. Use the right foot to control the brake located on the rear wheel.

This requires coordination as both brakes should be applied at the same time.  The front brakes provide 70% to 90% more braking power than the rear brakes and should be applied every time the motorcycle is slowed down or brought to a stop.  Novice riders are often afraid to use the front brakes and, according to the California Highway Patrol, many accidents are caused by incorrect braking which could cause the rear brakes to lock up.

Changing Gears

Earlier motorcycles models had clutches that were operated in the same way as an automobile by using a foot pedal.  This action was awkward as well as dangerous because the rider’s foot would be off the ground when the motorcycle came to a stop.  This problem was solved when British designers came up with a clutch that could be operated by hand. That’s why all current standard motorcycle models have hand-operated clutches and foot-operated shifters.

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