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Discussion Starter #1
Hey all!

I'm planning on buying my 06 Vulcan 500 next week but unfortunately there isn't going to be an MSF basic riders course near me until sometime in May. What kind of things can I practice on nice days to teach myself how to safely ride in the mean time? I have very little experience on a motorcycle but I used to ride a mountain bike as my regular mode of transportation several years ago.

I've got a full set of gear ready and waiting to be worn on a motorcycle, modular helmet, jacket, gloves, Kevlar reinforced jeans, and boots.

Any input is much appreciated.
Thanks,
~Chaos
 

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Hi Chaos. Congrats on the 500. Great bike, with a virtually unbreakable engine. This bike has quite a long wheelbase and slow speed maneuvers take some getting used to. I would suggest practicing slow speed maneuvers on an empty parking lot or similar location. Try and set out some obstacles, if you can, and weave. Get into the habit of using both brakes together, applying the front just before the rear. Avoid using just the front brake at slow speed. Plenty of good advice here on this forum and also on the net in general.

This is quite a powerful machine for a 500. The engine is derived from the Ninja 500 sports bike. Plenty of torque, which is a good thing, as long as you are aware of your own capabilities and don't try and run before you can walk.

Hope this helps. Good luck and keep us posted.
 

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Discussion Starter #3
Thanks Fawlty. Everything I've read on this site (and others) sold me on this bike being a great one for me to get as my first. Not too big, but not too small either. I was thinking to take it to the high school parking lot near by and play around... I mean practice those slower speed maneuvers until I'm comfortable enough to hit the roads. Speaking of the roads, they often end up getting a significant amount of gravel on them primarily at the intersections. How do I deal with that, very carefully? Haha.
 

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Allthough you can never really prepare for gravel you can learn the area and know where it usually ends up so you know where in the lane you need to be to advoid it when possible. Gravel and sand can suck but if you know its there slow down and be alert. even more so on a turn. a pile of sand can be like ice sometimes
 

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You are right there desertrider. Another skill to work on is relaxing when riding. If you tense and stiffen up when dealing with hazards you dramatically reduce your chances of negotiating them successfully.

Oh and Chaos, check out countersteering. This is a good video to watch:

 

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Those videos are helpful! Some guy on a Vulcan with a name like mine supposedly has a countersteering video out there too :p

Countsteering is an essential skill; period!
 

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+1 on all this. I think my best advice (and I don't really have any GOOD advice, so take it as you will) is to get out and do it. Ya just gotta go. It might be scary or intimidating the first time, but if you don't make it past that first time...well, what's that mean?

My wife's friend recently bought a Vulcan 500 (on my advice :D) and has had it for 3 months and never seen highway speed. There's no shame in being intimidated early on, but you gotta make the effort to get past it. That's what I keep telling her.
 

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Hey Chaos... welcome to the club! I think the 500 is a great bike to start on. I was actually looking for one last year when I got back into riding but settled on a Yamaha 250. Within 6 weeks I was shopping for a bigger bike. I actually rode a 500 then and liked it but the price was too high. I later found a 900 classic which I'm really happy with now.

Regarding practice, I'd recommend first spending time in an empty parking lot just getting use to using the friction zone on the clutch, proper braking, some quick stops, etc. Get comfortable so you don't have to think about how to use the controls and can focus more on traffic, etc, when you get on the road. Also, probably the most important thing I learned early on was to keep my head up and always look where you want to go, not down at the ground, and not at something you are trying not to hit, like a curb. The bike will go where you are looking so get use to swinging your head around and look ahead to where you want to be. Also, take it slow. Learn how the bike handles, etc, before pushing it. Don't want your first season to be a short one! Lot's of good videos and advice on all this online. Enjoy!
 

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Discussion Starter #9
Thanks guys for all the tips! I'm a firm believer of learning by experience, and I can't wait to hop on my bike and ride. But at the same time, going into something with a mind full of knowledge helps a lot. Again, thank you all! I'll let you all know how I do on my first ride and I'll post some photos too.
 

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look up a lot of the drills they do in MSF class or your state DMV and set up their courses in an open parking lot. Every time you successfully complete an exercise, make it a little bit smaller and more difficult. That is what I done to pass the DMV road course in Virginia. Use things that wont hurt to run over or cause you to go down, but can still feel or hear. I used empty skoal cans, you can hear those plastic cans crack good and loud.

What made it all click for me what the first time I entered a turn I thought I was going too fast for (now I know i was no where NEAR too fast) had a small panic moment and just let my instincts take over. That was when I realized it was not that bad.
 

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Experience vs. Book Knowledge

Thanks guys for all the tips! I'm a firm believer of learning by experience, and I can't wait to hop on my bike and ride. But at the same time, going into something with a mind full of knowledge helps a lot. Again, thank you all! I'll let you all know how I do on my first ride and I'll post some photos too.
I've got to comment on the number of comments saying to just get out and ride, that the only way to really learn is experience. I agree that you can't learn to handle a bike from a book BUT... let's compare this to learning other less lethal sports. For example, if I want to learn to golf there is a world of book knowledge about golfing and learning it well and then applying what you learn can go a long way to becoming really proficient golfer vs. a hack. (I'm a golf hack btw...) But, it's perfectly safe to go out on to the golf course with absolutely no knowledge of golfing, swing clubs, have a ball.

We really can't say the same thing for motorcycling. While it's probably true that most people learn to ride primarily through experience, and often only through experience on the road, you are also mostly likely to get killed during the first six months of the learning process. (Actually, I think there is a window in the 24-36 month period where folks get over confident that may actually have a higher fatality rate.) Thus all the calls to take the MSF course BEFORE you take it out on the road. And even then you never get the bike over 30 mph or so so you really should still find a parking lot to practice controlling the bike until it becomes second nature so when you do take it out on the road you can concentrate on traffic and potential hazards.

So, if you want to ride before you take the MFS course at least do it somewhere relatively safe. BTW... don't you have to take the course to get a license in most states? I wouldn't advise anyone start riding, especially on the road, without a valid motorcycle endorsement. OK.... I'll get off my soap box. :)
 

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Hey all..... sorry for the lecture. I've been reading "Proficient Motorcycling" and I'm getting overly saturated with the dangers of motorcycling. It's a good book with a lot of good advise but it can make you a bit paranoid. So, I'll rephrase. Be careful, have fun!
 

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I've got to comment on the number of comments saying to just get out and ride, that the only way to really learn is experience. I agree that you can't learn to handle a bike from a book BUT... let's compare this to learning other less lethal sports. For example, if I want to learn to golf there is a world of book knowledge about golfing and learning it well and then applying what you learn can go a long way to becoming really proficient golfer vs. a hack. (I'm a golf hack btw...) But, it's perfectly safe to go out on to the golf course with absolutely no knowledge of golfing, swing clubs, have a ball.

We really can't say the same thing for motorcycling. While it's probably true that most people learn to ride primarily through experience, and often only through experience on the road, you are also mostly likely to get killed during the first six months of the learning process. (Actually, I think there is a window in the 24-36 month period where folks get over confident that may actually have a higher fatality rate.) Thus all the calls to take the MSF course BEFORE you take it out on the road. And even then you never get the bike over 30 mph or so so you really should still find a parking lot to practice controlling the bike until it becomes second nature so when you do take it out on the road you can concentrate on traffic and potential hazards.

So, if you want to ride before you take the MFS course at least do it somewhere relatively safe. BTW... don't you have to take the course to get a license in most states? I wouldn't advise anyone start riding, especially on the road, without a valid motorcycle endorsement. OK.... I'll get off my soap box. :)
I don't think anyone here is advising any new rider to hop out on the road unprepared. I certainly wasn't. My point was, I suppose, that you practice and study all you want--and it's a good thing to do, don't mistake me--but if you keep practicing and studying and never apply what you've learned, it does you no good. The difference between theory and practice, and all that.

Parking lot practice: great, do it till you feel at home on that bike. My wife was a much more experienced operator of motorcycles than I was, but she had exclusively ridden dirt and trail bikes as a kid. When we first got her Shadow, we did parking lot practice daily for a week so she could become familiar with the weight, balance, clutch engagement, power, etc. I advise it for all new riders, including obstacle dodging and practicing sudden stops.

Low-traffic roads practice: great. Gives you a feel for road conditions and real-world application. This is how I started, just riding around my neighborhood. Knowing what I know now, I'd have started in the parking lot at the Mormon church up the street like Lacy did. After about of week of daily putting around in an ever-expanding area, I started going on much longer rides with my friends, some of them upwards of 100 miles.

I practiced. My wife practiced. All new riders should practice.

But what I preach is that a new rider keeps pushing further out of the comfort zone. You have to, or you will never grow. Each first step is scary, was scary for most of us. Was scary for me. Take it anyway. That's what I'm saying.

As for endorsements, I can't say in other states, but in ID you can take the written exam and get your learner's permit for $10 without ever having sat on a bike and schedule a riding test with a DMV tester the next day if you feel froggy. I personally rode for over a year before actually getting my endorsement, and I did end up taking the MSF course in the end...but I didn't have to.
 

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The DMV here is closed on Sun & Mon. The lot they use for testing has the lines permanently painted, so when there is no one there! I will stop by there and run the course on Sun & Mon, when I'm in the area. It makes for decent practices
 

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Well, I apologize if I came on a bit too strong. I didn't mean to accuse anyone of intentionally advising a new rider to start riding the streets before they are ready. I guess it's just the way I interpreted some of the posts here, mine included.

I'm the over protective type, a "hover parent", and overly cautious most of the time. I realize motorcycling is inherently dangerous and sometimes question whether it's really right for me. I love to ride, but I love to play guitar too and wonder if one day I'll slip up and lose my ability to play. Then again, I do woodworking and have a table saw, chop saw, jointer, etc... anyone of which could remove a finger much faster than a spill! Life has risks. Just the way it is. :)
 

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Well, I apologize if I came on a bit too strong. I didn't mean to accuse anyone of intentionally advising a new rider to start riding the streets before they are ready. I guess it's just the way I interpreted some of the posts here, mine included.

I'm the over protective type, a "hover parent", and overly cautious most of the time. I realize motorcycling is inherently dangerous and sometimes question whether it's really right for me. I love to ride, but I love to play guitar too and wonder if one day I'll slip up and lose my ability to play. Then again, I do woodworking and have a table saw, chop saw, jointer, etc... anyone of which could remove a finger much faster than a spill! Life has risks. Just the way it is. :)
No need to apologize. You offered good advice! And caution should always be advised.

I play guitar too! And bass. Or I did play guitar till cancer treatments left my fingertips too numb to detect strings or frets. I can still play stuff I've known for years thanks to muscle memory (unless you give me a guitar with a different scale length, then I sound like the guy on Role Models during the camping trip trying to play Kumbaya), but it's frustratingly difficult to learn anything new. Can still play bass tho...those big ol' nickel-wrapped cables are a lot easier to detect.

Sorry, didn't mean to hijack :p
 

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Well, I apologize if I came on a bit too strong. I didn't mean to accuse anyone of intentionally advising a new rider to start riding the streets before they are ready. I guess it's just the way I interpreted some of the posts here, mine included.

I'm the over protective type, a "hover parent", and overly cautious most of the time. I realize motorcycling is inherently dangerous and sometimes question whether it's really right for me. I love to ride, but I love to play guitar too and wonder if one day I'll slip up and lose my ability to play. Then again, I do woodworking and have a table saw, chop saw, jointer, etc... anyone of which could remove a finger much faster than a spill! Life has risks. Just the way it is. :)
Dave, you sound a lot like me. LOL. I certainly didn't let my kids on the public roads without a lot of parking lot practice either. (and I love my guitars).. I don't think you came on too strong, I think it's a mixed bag of nuts, so-to-speak with the practicing. You've got to eventually do BOTH. As many years as I have on the road, and on two wheels, I'm STILL taking my 2k out to the stadium lot for little circles and hard stop practice when I get it back. There's a point where you have to leave the lot, and I think that's what most everyone's getting at when they're telling the OP to "get out there".. I think tempering that with some practice advice is wise. Perhaps more important to me is the concept that we should NEVER STOP practicing. We don't need to execute emergency maneuvers often (I sure hope) so brushing up on skills, and going back to the empty lot when you find a maneuver while on the road that you're not comfortable with can be a life saver. It helps you know your equipment as well. Years back I bought a slick new MC jacket that was awesome... One gust of wind on a tightly curved overpass tried to blow my bike upright, (Pacific Coast 800) and I discovered all too quickly that I really needed to put that COAT through it's paces. The shoulders looked great, but with arms extended, were binding. So ya, practice, ride in traffic, practice again.. and keep the shiny side UP!
 

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With all of this talk about new riders practicing, and mentioned above about never quit practicing, I still like to hit the parking lots especially ones the snow melts and we are a bit rusty. Need to keep the skills and reflexes polished.
 

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Luciferiad, so sorry to hear about your battle with cancer. I hope you can slay that dragon and get back to normal soon. I had a scare a while back but it was benign. It's got to be hard to deal with it mentally. Stay strong. And don't give up that guitar! Even a few chords can be food for the soul!

BigT, I think you hit the nail... I keep thinking about how to handle emergency situations and everything I read says you really don't decide what to do at the time. Rather you just react based on habits. So, the only defense to practice good defensive habits so when the time comes you will react that way. Makes sense. As much as I would like to think I could analyze what to do in an emergency and make a decision, I know in my heart of hearts I will just react. There will be no time to think. Now that I think about it, it's a lot like playing guitar. When you practice you think. But when you get up to play, you just play. No time to think. (Hmmm.... getting very yoda-like...)
 

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Discussion Starter #20
Thanks for the discussion guys. As far as learning from experience, I think baby steps are important. Trial by fire so to speak, is dangerous and I really don't want to put myself in a bad spot by starting off cruising the interstate without first just learning how the bike handles in a more or less controlled environment like a ln empty parking lot.

The MSF course isn't required in Nevada, but it's strongly recommended and a couple guys I've talked to have taken it here and say its pretty good. One guy I talked to said it was about $200 bucks but another place I thought it was only $120, but either way it will be well worth it.
 
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