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Motorcycles 101 - Getting a Head Start


The BRC (our Beginner RiderCourse) is a course designed by the Motorcycle Safety Foundation for novices.  While people with some riding experience will still get a lot out of the course, it assumes no prior knowledge of motorcycles, just a desire to learn!


Many times people ask what they can do to get a head start for the course.  We certainly do not suggest you go out and try to ride a motorcycle without any training!   Research has shown that 90% of riders involved in accidents taught themselves how to ride or learned from family or friends.

You could do some reading.  Many of our students turned us on to a book called The Complete Idiot's Guide to Motorcycles by Alpha Books, likely available at your local bookstore. 


Highly recommended is Motorcycling Excellence: Skills, Knowledge, and Strategies for Riding Right.   (A definite must have for after the course, too.)


Also recommended, take the MSF's Interactive Tour of the Basic RiderCourse and get an idea of what to expect.  Then take the MSF's multiple choice test on the material covered in the RiderCourse.  Don't worry if you don't know the answers. You will be provided with the correct answer and information to help your understanding.


Basic RiderCourseÆ Interactive Tour
Preview the Basic RiderCourseÆ by taking an interactive tour.



Basic RiderCourseÆ Review
Test your knowledge on motorcycle basics by taking the Review.

Motorcycle Challenge
Practice important simulations that put you on your motorcycle and on the road in various situations.

If you're unfamiliar with motorcycles, you could also become familiar with the location of the major controls on the motorcycle. 

Here we go:

Motorcycle Controls

This diagram shows the major controls on the motorcycle as well as some other controls and equipment.

Primary Controls

You use both hands and both feet to operate the five major controls on the motorcycle.

  • Throttle
  • Clutch Lever
  • Gear Shift Lever
  • Front Brake Lever
  • Rear Brake Lever
  1. Throttle - Located on the right handlebar, it is the right handgrip itself.  Control engine speed by rolling (or twisting) "on" toward the rider (lowering your right wrist) and rolling "off" or away from the rider (raising your right wrist).  Springs back to the idle position when released.
  2. Clutch - Located on the left handlebar, it is a lever in front of the left hand grip.  Connects power from the engine to the rear wheel.  Squeeze to disengage power.  Ease out slowly to engage power to the rear wheel.
  3. Gear Shift - Located ahead of the left footpeg.  Lift the lever up all the way to shift one gear at a time.  Press down to downshift one gear at a time.   Typical shift pattern: 1-N-2-3-4-5-6.
  4. Front Brake - Located on the right handlebar, it is a lever in front of the right hand grip.  Squeeze to apply the front brake.
  5. Rear Brake - Located ahead of the right footpeg.  Press down to operate.

Other Controls and Equipment

  1. Fuel Supply Valve - Controls fuel supply  to the engine.   Turn to Off, On, Reserve, or Prime.
  2. Ignition - Key selects ON, OFF, PARK, or LOCK.
  3. Choke - On for cold starts.
  4. Engine cut-off switch - Shuts off engine. (Know where this switch is.)
  5. Electric starter - Push to start engine.
  6. Kick starter - Thrust down with foot to start engine.
  7. Headlight beam - Selects low or high beam.
  8. Turn Signals - Usually do not cancel automatically.
  9. Horn - Press to operate.
  10. Speedometer - Includes an odometer to show total miles ridden.
  11. Tachometer - Indicates engine speed.  Never run the engine at an RPM indicated by the red zone.
  12. Indicator lights - Indicate neutral, high beam, turn signals, and other conditions such as: engine oil pressure, sidestand down, etc.
  13. Side & center stands - Support the motorcycle when parked.

Always refer to your owners manual for a detailed description of your specific motorcycle.