May 20, 2009

Learning to Ride

"How many days will it take me to learn how to ride a motorcycle?"

Wow, there's a question that stumped me. I didn't know the answer, honest. I told the young man that if he meant only the operation of the controls - clutch, brake, throttle - that would take 20 minutes. But learning to ride a motorcycle is a complex thing, no? I told him it depended on him. If he just needed to be proficient enough to get from home to work, that would sort itself in six months. But to evolve beyond that could take years!

I got to thinking about that and it's true. Unlike driving, riding motorcycles is a lot more nuanced. You need to learn a lot more to be good at it. I'm not saying these nuances don't exist for cagers, but the fact of the matter is a nuance that escapes you on a bike could kill you whereas in a car, it might mean little more than awkward looking metal, a tough session with the parents and a few rounds of insurance.

The other thing is that unlike learning to drive, learning to ride invariably depends on someone you know who is willing to teach you. Teach you all the basic points and whatever of those nuances he's figured out. And all the bad habits this person has picked up. There simply isn't a place or person you can go to learn riding from scratch in a structured fashion that aims to build you up into a serious, committed motorcyclist.

I learnt from a cousin brother of sorts, well, neighbour actually and at some level, I owe him my life and livelihood. But I don't even remember his face or name. I only recall his blue KB100, that springy feeling of a stretching throttle cable, the rising note of an urgent, if civil, two-stroke, a warm night flying by in reverse and a young heart throbbing in fascination at the experience. And yeah, I don't remember him telling me where the brakes were. Then I remember flying down a road in the Delhi IIT Campus on a brother-in-law's white Kinetic Honda. The scooter was stunned at the turn of speed - he rode it very gently - and then at the speedbreaker... both brakes pulled in hard-hard-hard and the throttle still on. And my first big air. And the strong apprehension that he will discover something broken later. Shit.

I remember riding my classmate Sachin's Yamaha RX100 down the road and being given all sorts of advice involving the battery running down if the ignition was left on for too long. I know now, that that's hogwash, but I was meticulous in the extreme with that bike's ignition. And I remember wafting about slowly on that bike too.

Then I got my Kinetic Honda and I simply cannot remember a time when the poor thing was ridden gently at all. That's the bike I realised I wanted to ride seriously. That's when the kit fixation started and that's when riding it for the sake of riding it became an obsession.

Point is that I cannot remember receiving riding advice from a serious motorcyclist until much, much later.

My riding 'style' has changed since I began riding. Rustom Patel - the motocrosser - changed my paws on levers riding style to two fingers on each lever. I remember these contributions because they're the only ones I got.

Think it's time to return the favour.
How do I do this? Ideas to rearsetblog [at] gmail. [dot] please.


Deaths Head Roy said...

Damn, come to think of it - how long does it take to learn to ride a motorcycle....

Julian said...

Given the incredibly large number of Indian motorcyclists, it's very surprising that we don't have any (atleast none that I know of) proper motorcycle-riding training institutes. And the sad part about it is that even if someone were to start one, the infamous 'indian mentality' will mean that other than a few bhendi bazaar riders who want to learn to drive even more recklessly down crowded city streets, very few will actually go to such a place to learn. I mean, why when you uncle/brother/neighbour/cat can teach you to ride for free. This lat sentence of mine got me thinking, it is so very true: you get what you pay for ...

Sid said...

After reading your post, I have been trying out the two fingers on the level style. While it works for the brake lever, it is hard to get it right on the clutch. I have to pull in my clutch completely on the ZMA and that would inevitably lead to the other three fingers getting crushed.

Does this mean that I need to adjust the clutch cable..just getting your thoughts

rearset said...

Yes, that does mean you need to adjust your clutch. Ideally, you should be able to have the motorcycle idle perfectly when it is in gear, with the clutch held in with two fingers. The other two fingers should be wrapped around the grip with the lever putting little or no pressure on them

EvolutioN said...

@ Sid

I agree with Rearset. During my formative learning years, I used to engage the clutch, completely disengage the engine and then brake, because in my juvenile way of reasoning, i reasoned that while the engine was rotating in an anticlockwise direction, it is wrong for me to give a clockwise pull while the engine is in motion to avoid the engine wearing roughshod.

In my constant use of the clutch, the cable had worn itself loose (am talking about a HH CD 100 and a Yezdi!). And subsequently, used all four fingers while the thumb used to hook itself onto the bar and provide the leverage.

After I learnt engine braking and had to unlearn and relearn the basics of braking, the use of the clutch reduced considerably, and subsequently, i discovered that the clutch play is only till approximately a 25 - 30 degree angle from its resting point.

Try this, when you are idling in gears, gently start releasing the clutch until you hear the engine start to engage and the minor push in the rear wheel. If the last two fingers can squeeze in comfortably in between the lever and the handlebar, the cable is right enough. Otherwise, you may need to tighten it (or get it tightened).


Good writeup! You have written a sizable amount of literature on braking, acceleration, negotiating traffic and so on. However, I do believe that the theoretical knowledge and the application of the same thereof on roads in the midst of Indian traffic is a different ball game altogether.

Therefore, I seriously think a practical riding school should be an order of the day. There are a few workshops being conducted by TVS, Bajaj etc., but these are more to do with marketing gimmicks rather than actually "teaching" riding. So yes, I agree with Julian when he says a riding school is needed.

However, your anonymity is a premium that you shall have to dispense with if you do start such a school (apart from finances, the cost of getting people together etc.) Are you willing to give it a shot? Count me in as a volunteer!

Warm regards,


Sid said...

Evo & Rearset,

So I have been practicing the two fingers on the lever thing for about a week now and it actually works!

Evo, what you mentioned is actually true, I didn't need to pull the cluth in completely. It took some time to get used to but I think I am getting the hang of it.

Rearset, would really appreciate more and more such tips. Like you said there is no official riding school anywhere in the country. I hadn't driven a motorcycle till I was 21! I learnt it from a mechanic in my neighbourhood on a shogun. I knew how to drive a car though and that cluth-accelarator balance came naturally.

Anyways, looking forward to more tips if not a full-blown driving school!

Arpan said...

how about a post on "learn how to ride again post a crash "

sriku said...

If you're a generous guy, willing to spend hours holding a newbie's hands and letting him make mistakes and correcting them, then you can think of this venture. I've been approached many times to teach people to ride. I've even successfully taught a 17 yr old cousin to ride a bullet 350, he is 21 now and rides the 500 LB. My "course" involves no bike at all at first. I simply ask the chap to visualise the bike's control levers and throttle. Virtually he then shifts into 1st, slowly lets the clutch out while twisting the throttle, overcomes standing inertia before switching to 2nd, and so on. Initially, I ask them to brake with the clutch pulled in to avoid stalling. After a few weeks, I introduce engine braking, and then safe turning without any throttle or clutch slip. All this is very rider dependant and patience is truly a virtue.

BikerHiway said...

@sriku - that was very kind and patient of you to teach, and that's my advice. The very best way to become comfortable on a motorcycle is to spend time with an experienced rider. They can teach by example, critique, and offer all the little details that make good riders great. Those little things are hard to come by in books or videos. However, there can be a great deal of information gained from instructional dvd's put out by professionals. We stock them at our store and the customers are always coming back with good reviews.

Good topic, good post.