IMAGE BY JON NEWELL
A few weeks ago, a new rider reached out to me for advice. She had dropped her Harley in her garage, and was worried — if she couldn’t handle her bike at a stand-still, what was going to happen when she got out on the road?
Her concern made me want to reach through the screen and give her a big hug. “Oh, honey,” I wanted to say, “we’ve all been there.”
Personally, during my training course I dropped the Suzuki 250 five times, and stalled out too many times to count. I dropped my scooter only once — when I had to make a sudden stop on an incline — and that’s when I learned how to “manhandle” a motorcycle to keep it from falling over.
But even after I learned, “newbie” mistakes still happened. Before my KZ was rebuilt, I attempted to reach across my motorcycle with my right hand, to adjust the choke on the left side, while holding in the clutch with my left hand. Anyone who’s ever sat on a motorcycle can guess what happened next.
Now that I’ve been riding for a few years, I’ve learned that every rider has a list of a million dumb mistakes they’ve made on a motorcycle.
But if you’re a new rider — especially if you don’t have any other riders to talk to — you don’t always realize that even experienced riders can make the very same “rookie” mistakes you’re making now.
So, I reached out to my motorcycle friends to gather up some stories of their riding mistakes. Some are silly, even entertaining — while others make my heart ache in sympathy.
A lot of them, though, like the new rider who got in touch with me, had to do with dropping (or nearly dropping) their bikes. Some of them happened at a stand-still…
I have ridden almost every day for 2 years and I pulled in my garage the other day and swung my leg off the bike and thank God was leaning against it a little with one hand on the bars … I had not put my kickstand down and but for the grace didn’t drop my baby!
– Elizabeth WizLiz
This summer I was moving my bike around in the garage and took it back too far. There is about a half inch drop into the street and instead of turning it on and clutching in I tried to push it. Over we toppled! Had to replace the shifter. Again.”
– Angie Smith
And several dropped bikes happened while riders were trying to turn around on hills:
So, what happened a couple of times is that I parked my bike at a spot slightly downhill and then was not able to back out of the parking spot and had to get someone dragging me out… when I finally learned that, I thought I am being smart parking backwards, overlooked the curb in all proudness, got stuck and dropped my almost brand new bike….
– Sara Dainese
I made the mistake of trying to slowly do a u-turn on a steep hill. I quickly reached the ‘no return’ tipping point. But I was determined not to get a scratch on my bike so I very carefully laid on the ground and set it on top of me. My friend came running to pick it up off me. Terribly embarrassing to do right in front of experienced riders. But, I was successful in not getting a single scratch on my baby!
– Stefani Murray
A little backstory… even with a lowering kit on my motorcycle ⎯ I cannot flat foot both sides at one time… because, well… I am short!
Anyway – second day I had [my new Ninja 650], I was at a friend’s house. The street he lived on was a hill – but it wasn’t that bad. I was to follow him to our destination – and as he turned around, I tried to turn around on the hill also, not thinking it would even be a thing to get off the bike and walk it. As I crested the hill, I could no longer touch the ground with the ‘downhill foot’ and my bike dumped, rocking up onto its upper fairing and breaking the mirror in half.
I was a mess, and certain I had bit off more than I could chew. Day two and I had already caused so much damage to my bike. Through this and a few other experiences … I have learned how to better predict places I should not get myself into – and how to handle situations where I have.
It takes time and mistakes to be more one with your bike… If you grew a new arm tomorrow, it would take time to learn to use it. Remember these experiences and grow from them. We all do.
– Nova Beckwith
And other dropped bikes… just happen.
I dropped my bike in a parking lot. And at a red light. And in my driveway. I keep relearning that you can’t successfully stop upright with your front wheel skewed.
– Marissa Rose
Cold tires and sharp turns don’t mix. Take it easy at first when temps are low! Dropped 2 bikes this way.
– Joseph Guerra
As an experienced rider told me, there are only two types of motorcyclists: “those who have dropped their bike and those who are going to drop their bike.”
Another common theme in these “newbie stories” was running out of gas ⎯ let’s hear it for old bikes without gas gauges!
Totally ran out of gas a couple times, or plain forgot to turn the petcock to the on position. Each time I was fully convinced something was actually wrong… until someone points out the petcock or looks in my tank.
– Stefani Murray
I pushed my bike home half a mile because I thought I was having electrical issues. Turns out I was out of gas.
– Emily Baumker
Petcock. How many of us have forgotten to turn the dang thing to the ON position before taking off? And then wonder why the bike has mysteriously stalled out only a few moments into the ride.
– Robyn Kocienski
Omg [I ran out of gas] on the freeway and a super hot guy stopped to help, and I was too embarrassed to tell him that it was just out of gas. Thankfully the gas station was just around the corner so I pushed it. Lol
– Danielle Puterbaugh
A couple of them were downright silly… 😉
[After I bought my first bike] I went over to my friend’s house two blocks away to show off my new purchase… (Maybe I went to practice in a parking lot before I went there. Anyway, I didn’t have an idea of exhausts getting hot.) My friend came outside and sat on the passenger seat for fun. We weren’t planning on riding. We were excited and she hopped on… with shorts and flip flops…. burnt her leg! Still has a scar from it.
– Ai Reeves
Caveat – I am a happily married man; but a man nonetheless. I was stopped at a red light in a busy intersection in Washington D.C. when one of the prettiest women (don’t judge me) I have seen started crossing the street. I was so enthralled by her looks I began to sit back in my seat, taking my hands off the handlebars (forgetting I was in 1st gear); and then my bike shutoff ⎯ leaping, and throwing me, forward.
As I was bucked off my bike, it was only divine intervention (and too many kung fu movies) that enabled me to get my hands back on my bike and just barely stop it, and me, from going all the way down.
Of course nothing prevented EVERYONE, including the woman I was inappropriately gawking at, from laughing at my folly and immediate forfeiture of thousands of cool points.
– Ohene Gyapong
I’d been riding for 12 years before I got my first ‘big’ bike ⎯ a 1994 BMW R1100RS. Everything else prior to that had been no bigger than a 650. That RS both frightened and excited me. I rode it home after purchasing it from a guy on Craigslist, not realizing the seat was adjustable. I tip-toed at every stoplight, wondering when I was going to slip on gravel and drop it in rush hour traffic.
Fortunately that didn’t happen, but the height so intimidated me that I didn’t get back on it again for another two months. Until I read the service manual and realized I could lower the seat by another two inches, which was exactly what I needed to be able to flat foot that beast. That was my favorite ride for the next 8 years.
Most of the stories I heard were harmless errors, only bruising the rider’s pride or scuffing their fairings. But, of course, a few of the stories I recieved had much more disastrous, and sometimes painful, consequences.
I was approaching a familiar intersect with a major street while planning to make a right turn from a minor street. It was 10:30 pm on a Sunday night and as I approached the intersection, and could partially see the main road to my left, I thought (obviously I wasn’t really thinking at that point) about just proceeding with the turn without stopping to truly look for oncoming traffic.
Then my brain at least partially engaged and I decided I should stop and really check for oncoming vehicles. By that time I had slowed almost to a stop, so as I started to put my right foot down on the road the bike fell over on me.
I was pinned to the pavement by the motorcycle and required help from a kind motorist in order to extract my broken foot from under the bike. At least when the fairing is laying on top of you it doesn’t receive much damage from the pavement. TREAT EVERY INTERSECTION WITH THE RESPECT, OR FEAR, IT DESERVES!
– James Baker, “motorcyclist with several-ty years of experience”
[On our way back from Babes Ride Out last year], when we were 2 miles from home (I know – cliché) I took a curve waaaay too fast and flew off the road. Time stood still and went too fast all at the same time. Instinct kicked in and I was able to slow and go with the crash ⎯ landing in a somewhat softer grassy patch. (Even grass and dirt hurts at 40 MPH!)
The bike was barely scratched, but my ego and confidence were shaken. I got back on her, and made it home, a bit bruised but relieved a little. Everyone says it isn’t a matter of IF it is a matter of WHEN you crash or dump your bike. Now that I have, there is a small part of me that feels relieved.
– Konnie May
More than once, I didn’t scan far enough ahead and failed to see upcoming patches of gravel, painted lines, or manhole covers, often resulting in lowside crashes. Once, I broke the clutch lever this way and had to ride home holding the fractured lever in place. Another time, I wasn’t more than 10 seconds into my departure before I slid in a curve of the freshly damp parking lot and promptly wrecked into the back of a neighbor’s parked car.
– My boyfriend, J
I was following too closely, and even though I was ready and prepared for the corner, the people in front of me were not, and I didn’t give them enough space to adjust… when the person in front of me slowed down to almost a complete stop, I locked up my back break, hit the salt and gravel, regained control, applied my breaks again, only for it to be too late.
My front tire hit the dirt, flipped into the air, and landed on my chest. Watching [the video] over and over again, I’ve realized how lucky and fortunate I am to be alive and basically uninjured. …
After having had a really bad past two weeks, I was ecstatic to get on my motorcycle and forget all of the trouble I have encountered… [But] I let my emotions overpower my intelligence, and it could have cost me my life.
– Jenn Proseus (watch her accident here)
In a way, I think it’s a good thing that it’s so easy to make “dumb” mistakes on a motorcycle. Each time we drop a bike, stall out, or ride with our blinkers on too long reminds us that there are much bigger mistakes we could have made, and that riding demands our attention, always.
So, the next time you make a “rookie” mistake on your motorcycle, don’t beat yourself up, just take it as a gentle wake up call. These mistakes happen, and, to steal a line from Laura Smith, “I’m sure the next silly thing is right around the corner.”
Thank you so very much to everyone who contributed to this post ⎯ especially the ladies of the Torque Wenches here in Portland. I’m so glad to be part of such an open, supportive riding community!
Much love to you all, and keep the rubber side down <3