Motorcycling For Dummies


by Bill Kresnak





About the Author

Bill Kresnak is a popular motojournalist with more than 35 years of experience riding all types of motorcycles, from dirt bikes and cruisers to some of the fastest sportbikes on the planet. He currently is the government affairs editor for American Motorcyclist magazine, the magazine of the American Motorcyclist Association (AMA), which is the largest motorcycling organization devoted to rights, riding, and racing in the world. Kresnak is intimately familiar with safe motorcycle riding practices through his work at the AMA, but he also has toured many parts of the country by motorcycle and has reported on some of the biggest motorcycling events in the nation. Before becoming a motojournalist, Kresnak worked for almost 20 years as a reporter in Honolulu, where he covered government and politics — first for United Press International and then for The Honolulu Advertiser. He earned his journalism degree from Michigan State University in 1978, and he currently lives in Reynoldsburg, Ohio.



For my young children, Adrian Samantha and Joshua Enoch Keoki, and their mom, Sheryll, who all still find a remarkable wonder in each day; for Cindy Shultz, my muse who convinced me to sit down and write when I really wanted to go out and ride; and for all my friends, who are also my colleagues, at the American Motorcyclist Association; they are the most knowledgeable, dedicated motorcyclists in the world who do a tremendous job of fostering motorcyclists’ rights, riding, and racing.


Author’s Acknowledgments

My heartfelt gratitude goes to the following individuals for their help in making this book possible:

Kevin Foley, Yamaha Motor Corporation, USA

Garrett Kai, American Suzuki Motor Corporation

Jan Pressler, Kawasaki Motors Corporation

Mike Morgan, Harley-Davidson Motor Company

Bruce Mullins, Skunkworx Custom Cycles

Jon Row, American Honda Motor Corporation


Publisher’s Acknowledgments

We’re proud of this book; please send us your comments through our Dummies online registration form located at

Some of the people who helped bring this book to market include the following:

Acquisitions, Editorial, and Media Development

Senior Project Editor: Christina Guthrie

Acquisitions Editor: Mike Baker

Copy Editors: Jessica Smith, Krista Hansing

Editorial Program Coordinator: Erin Calligan Mooney

Technical Editor: Grant Parsons

Editorial Manager: Christine Meloy Beck

Editorial Assistants: Joe Niesen, David Lutton, Leeann Harney

Cover Photos:

Cartoons: Rich Tennant (

Composition Services

Project Coordinator: Katherine Key

Layout and Graphics: Carl Byers, Reuben W. Davis, Alissa D. Ellet, Stephanie D. Jumper, Christine Williams

Proofreaders: Context Editorial Services, John Greenough

Indexer: Christine Spina Karpeles

Special Help: Christy Pingleton, Chad Sievers

Publishing and Editorial for Consumer Dummies

Diane Graves Steele, Vice President and Publisher, Consumer Dummies

Joyce Pepple, Acquisitions Director, Consumer Dummies

Kristin A. Cocks, Product Development Director, Consumer Dummies

Michael Spring, Vice President and Publisher, Travel

Kelly Regan, Editorial Director, Travel

Publishing for Technology Dummies

Andy Cummings, Vice President and Publisher, Dummies Technology/General User

Composition Services

Gerry Fahey, Vice President of Production Services

Debbie Stailey, Director of Composition Services




About This Book

Conventions Used in This Book

What You’re Not to Read

Foolish Assumptions

How This Book Is Organized

Icons Used in This Book

Where to Go from Here

Part I : The Mysterious World of Motorcycling

Chapter 1: The Allure of Motorcycling: Six Million Motorcyclists Can’t Be Wrong

Are Bikes Better Than Cars? You Bet!

The Glamour of Motorcycling

Women in a Man’s World

Even Kids Can Ride

Keys to Riding Safely

Chapter 2: From the First Wooden Horse to Today’s Iron Pony

The Rise and Fall of American Motorcycling

Motorcycling’s Popularity Rises Again

Changing Attitudes Toward Motorcyclists

Chapter 3: You Wouldn’t Fly a Jet Without Training, Would You?

If a Friend Offers to Teach You, Just Say No

Training with the Pros: MSF Courses

Going Through the Process of Getting Licensed

What to Do After You Get Your License

Part II : Welcome to the Club

Chapter 4: Bikes and Biker Culture: You Are What You Ride

Cruiser Cool and Custom Chic

Touring with the Long-Distance Bikes

Sportbikes: 0 to 60 in 2.8 seconds

Naked Machines

Dual-Purpose Bikes and Dirt Machines

Chapter 5: Dress for Success

A Helmet: The Best Protection Next to Your Brain

Motorcycle Jackets: Looking Cool While Staying Protected

Boots Aren’t Just for Cowboys

Covering Your Legs: The Right Pants Are Important

Gloves: Style and Protection in One Neat Package

Chapter 6: Leather and Lace: Women in Motorcycling

Getting the Respect You Deserve

Curves Ahead: Finding Gear That Fits

How Low Can You Go? Making a Bike Fit You

Solidarity, Baby: Resources for Women Riders

Chapter 7: What to Do if Your Kid Wants to Ride Too

Finding a Bike That Fits Your Child’s Needs

Presenting Dirt Bike Safety Training Your Kid Can Understand

Considering Cool and Safe Kid’s Gear

Making Trail Rides Fun

Facing Racing: When Your Youngster Wants to Race

Part III : You and Your Machine

Chapter 8: First Bikes

Determining Your Perfect First Bike

Purely New-Rider Machines

Bikes That Don’t Scream “Rookie!”

Chapter 9: Buying a Bike: What You Must Know

Buying New: Getting on a Bike the Easy Way

Buying Used, Not Abused

Buying Off the Internet: Deal or No Deal?

Chapter 10: Ensuring You’re Insured

Deciphering Your General Coverage Options

Purchasing Motorcycle-Specific Insurance Coverage

Know What Your Medical Insurance Will (and Won’t) Cover

Paying the Price for Insurance

Chapter 11: Keeping Your Bike in Tiptop Shape

Toolin’ Around: Having the Right Tools for the Job

Saving Some Bucks by Maintaining Your Own Bike

Hiring a Pro to Do the Work

Handling Special Maintenance in the Winter and Spring

Chapter 12: Customizing: How to Make Your Bike Your Own

Cosmetic Improvements for the Look You Want

Performance Improvements for Your Machine

Finding Deals on the Parts You Need

Part IV : Let’s Ride!

Chapter 13: Preparing to Hit the Road

Judging Your Mind and Body

Checking Your Riding Gear

Performing a Bike Preride Inspection

Carrying Passengers and Other Stuff

Thinking About Your Ride Before You Leave

Chapter 14: Street Survival: Staying Safe

“Officer, I Never Saw the Motorcycle!”: How Accidents Happen

Developing Your Safety Skills

Skills for Taking Different Turns or Curves

Chapter 15: Advanced Riding Techniques: Staying Safer

Riding Safely in the City

Country Riding: Enjoy the Sights, But . . .

Group Riding: Avoiding Disaster

Think Fast: Dealing with Dangers

Chapter 16: Exploring by Motorcycle

Planning a Trip the Way the Motorcycle Magazine Guys Do

Dream Rides: Some of America’s Best

Riding with an Organized Tour

Motorcycling Happenings: You and Your 500,000 New Best Friends

Special Precautions for Attending Any Event

Chapter 17: Travel Tips: What You Need to Know from Weather to Luggage

Exposed to the Elements: Coping with Weather

Packin’ Up: Carrying Your Gear

Knowing How to Pack Successfully for a Long Trip

Part V : The Part of Tens

Chapter 18: Ten (Plus One) Can’t-Miss Events

Daytona Bike Week


Sturgis Motorcycle Rally

Laconia Motorcycle Week

MotoGP at Laguna Seca

MotoGP at Indianapolis


Honda Hoot

Golden Aspen Rally

The Springfield Mile


Chapter 19: Ten Great Motorcycling Groups

The American Motorcyclist Association

The BlueRibbon Coalition

The BMW Motorcycle Owners of America

The Gold Wing Road Riders Association

The Harley Owners Group

The Honda Sport Touring Association

The National Off-Highway Vehicle Conservation Council

The Riders of Kawasaki Club

The Riders Association of Triumph

The STAR Touring & Riding Association

Chapter 20: Ten Great People in Motorcycling

Giacomo “Ago” Agostini

Erwin “Cannonball” Baker

Erik Buell

William G. Davidson

Dick “Bugsy” Mann

Jeremy “Showtime” McGrath

“King” Kenny Roberts

Malcolm Smith

Bessie Stringfield

Theresa Wallach

Chapter 21: Ten Must-See Motorcycling Movies

The Wild One (1954)

The Wild Angels (1966)

Hell’s Angels on Wheels (1967)

Hell’s Belles (1969)

Easy Rider (1969)

Little Fauss and Big Halsy (1970)

On Any Sunday (1972)

Take It to the Limit (1980)

Chopper Chicks in Zombietown (1991)

Beyond the Law (1992)

Part VI : Appendixes

Appendix A: A Motorcycling Glossary: Talking the Talk

Appendix B: State Motorcycling Laws

Appendix C: A Motorcyclist’s Resource Guide

: Further Reading


You see motorcyclists everywhere: having a good time navigating city streets, enjoying the ocean air while cruising along the beach, or just having fun riding in the countryside. To the outsider, motorcycling is simple. It’s just motorcyclists out having fun.

And while it’s true that motorcycling is simple, it’s also a lot more complex than just a rider, a bike, and a good time. In fact, there are facets to the sport that even many longtime motorcyclists don’t understand.

It’s easy to have a lot of fun on a motorcycle without knowing a whole lot about motorcycling. But it’s even more fun when you do. And it’s also a lot safer when you know about the proper riding techniques, the safety gear, the items you should take with you on long trips, and the handling characteristics of different types of motorcycles.

Motorcycling really is a mysterious world to the outsider, to the new rider, and even to some experienced riders. But, really, it isn’t that difficult to understand the complexities of motorcycling; it just takes some time to discover them all. In fact, sometimes it takes years — unless, of course, you read this book.

And to be frank, you’ll meet a lot of “know-it-alls” in the motorcycling world. But, unlike those folks, I have a lot of knowledge and facts to back up my statements! I began riding when I was 17, and I have been passionate about motorcycles ever since. I’ve done a little bit of racing, and I’ve covered all aspects of the sport as a motojournalist for almost a decade.

So, it has taken me about 35 years of being heavily involved in motorcycling to learn everything I know. And with all that knowledge, I wrote this book for new riders, serious riders, and even people who don’t ride but want to understand a friend or relative who does.

About This Book

For new riders, this book is full of the useful information that’s needed to confidently get started in the wonderful world of motorcycling. I cover everything you need to know. I explain different types of motorcycles, the various motorcycling cultures, how to fit in with other motorcyclists, how to get your motorcycle license, safe riding techniques, and much, much more.

For the experienced rider, this book is just as useful. It’s chock-full of information and useful tips to make motorcycling a lot more enjoyable and safer, too. I also delve into topics such as how to keep your bike from getting ripped off both at home and on the ride, what essential items you need to take on a week-long trip, and how to plan a rewarding trip when you have a limited amount of time.

All riders can benefit from the strategies in this book, especially those strategies for buying a new or used bike, selecting the proper safety gear, getting your child involved in motorcycling, and understanding the ins and outs of insurance. Plus, I cover fun stuff like motorcycling movies, major motorcycling events, and customizing your motorcycle.

My goal for this book is to help all riders understand the richness of motorcycling, the camaraderie, and why it’s such a passion not only for me but for motorcyclists around the world.

And the greatest thing about this book is that each chapter is written in a simple, understandable way so that even people with zero motorcycling experience (as well as those with many years’ experience on the road) can be entertained and benefit. Motorcycling is fun, and the best way to make this motorcycling book fun to read is to simply jump around to the sections and chapters that interest you the most. In fact, even the sections of the chapters are easy to read and digest. Feel free to jump around to different chapters and different sections any time you want.

Conventions Used in This Book

To help you navigate this book with ease, I include the following few conventions:

bullet Boldfaced words highlight the keywords in bulleted lists and numbered steps.

bullet Italics emphasize keywords and important terms.

bullet Monofont indicates Web addresses.

When this book was printed, some Web addresses may have needed to break across two lines of text. If that happens, rest assured that I haven’t put in any extra characters (such as hyphens) to indicate the break. So, when using one of these Web addresses, just type in exactly what you see in this book, pretending as though the line break doesn’t exist.

What You’re Not to Read

As you’re going through this book, feel free to skip any text marked with the Technical Stuff icon. This text is interesting, but it isn’t essential to your understanding of the topic. The sidebars, which are the gray shaded boxes you see throughout this book, are also skippable (but I highly suggest you read these fun and interesting tidbits!).

Foolish Assumptions

I assume that you have an interest in motorcycling; otherwise, you wouldn’t be reading this book. Maybe you think motorcycling looks like a lot of fun but you want to learn more about it before shelling out the big bucks for your very own bike. Or maybe you’re an experienced rider looking for good tips to make your riding safer and more fun. Or maybe you just know a motorcyclist and want to find out why he or she is so passionate about motorcycling. No matter why you’ve picked up this book, you’re bound to find the info you need, because I’ve written it with you in mind.

If you’re a new rider or a potential rider, you may have picked up this book to get answers to some of these questions:

bullet How can I possibly fit in with that tough-looking motorcycling crowd?

bullet How much is it going to cost me for a bike and safety gear to get started in motorcycling?

bullet I’m a woman. What special challenges do I face getting into motorcycling?

bullet What riding techniques do I absolutely need to know to be safe on the road?

bullet What’s a good bike for a beginning motorcyclist?

If you’re an experienced rider, you already have a passion for motorcycling and a desire to learn even more. If you fall into this category, you may have questions like this:

bullet What are some advanced riding techniques I need to master so that I’m prepared for any situation on the road?

bullet What are some travel tips that ensure I can have a safe and enjoyable long-distance ride?

bullet Which of the mega-motorcycling rallies around the country is best for me to attend?

bullet Which motorcycling organizations should I belong to in order to get the most out of motorcycling?

If you don’t ride a motorcycle, but have a loved one or friend who does, maybe you have questions like these:

bullet How can anyone in their right mind ride a motorcycle when they’re so dangerous? That is, what’s the allure of riding one?

bullet Why do some motorcyclists wear black jackets that make them look so scary while others have colorful jackets (sometimes even with touches of pink)?

bullet Are motorcyclists lone wolves or social animals?

In Motorcycling For Dummies, you get the answers to all these questions and more. This book isn’t just Motorcycling 101; it’s a fairly complete collection of what every motorcyclist needs to know.

How This Book Is Organized

The six parts of this book are organized so that you can find what you need to know quickly. Each part is centered on a specific topic, so simply determine what it is that you need to know and then check out the corresponding part.

Part I: The Mysterious World of Motorcycling

If you’ve never ridden a motorcycle or hung around with motorcycling types, you’re probably wondering what the attraction is. Why do bankers, lawyers, movie stars, and factory workers all ride motorcycles? Why are there so many different types of motorcycles? After all, isn’t just one style good enough? And why has the media portrayed motorcyclists as thugs? Are they all really bad seeds? Finally, you may wonder how someone learns to ride a motorcycle. In this part, I reveal the answers. If you’re more experienced and know the answers, you’ll still appreciate this part because I reveal some of the little-known history of motorcycling, and some of the knowledge experienced riders can gain by becoming involved in a track school or getting other advanced riding training.

Part II: Welcome to the Club

So you’ve decided to get into motorcycling? Great! Remember that there are a lot of different subcultures in motorcycling. But don’t worry. This part explains all of the subcultures so you can decide which crowd you want to run with. And if you’re in the market for a bike, this is the part for you. Here I reveal the different styles and cultures associated with them. In this part, I also provide some special advice and tips for women, and what everyone needs to know to suit up for the ride. Plus, if your kids want to ride, this part provides the info on how to get them started safely. All in all, this part gives you the information that you need to feel like a veteran rider.

Part III: You and Your Machine

This part is the real nuts-and-bolts part of the book. It explains what makes a good beginner machine, and it shows you what’s available out there. I spell out what to look for when buying a new or used motorcycle, and I show you how to maintain your machine to keep it running properly. Plus, because motorcycling is about individuality, I discuss how to customize your bike to make it your own. And, of course, you need insurance for your machine, so I include all the important info. Motorcycle insurance, in some aspects, is different from that which you buy for your car, so don’t feel like you can skip this chapter.

Part IV: Let’s Ride!

This part has all the really fun stuff that’s important for both novice riders and long-time veterans. For instance, what ritual should you follow before taking off on a ride? What are some of the proven techniques for handling obstacles and other dangers while on the road? And how do you deal with potential disasters such as a stuck throttle. How do you ride safely in a large group? Where are some great places to ride, and how does someone plan a dream motorcycle trip? All this, and more, is explored in this part.

Part V: The Part of Tens

Do you need a quick hit to take care of your motorcycling jones? This is the place to look. Here, you find some quick hits in bite-sized morsels that give you a little taste of motorcycling. In these chapters, you get a quick look at some of the best motorcycling events on the planet, some of the greatest motorcycling organizations in the United States, and some of the greatest men and women ever involved in the sport. Plus, there’s a rundown of motorcycling movies, from the great to the, well, not-so-great.

Part VI: Appendixes

Motorcyclists have their own vocabulary, and there are some key words that all motorcyclists must know. What are they? You’ll find them in this part. But wait, there’s more! If you want to make a cross-country trip — and what motorcyclist doesn’t? — there are key motorcycling laws you need to know for every state. Finally, you can never have too much information when it comes to motorcycling, so in the last appendix, I provide a sampling of great motorcyling resources that provide everything from places to buy gear to trip-planning tips.

Icons Used in This Book

In this book, you find icons — little symbols in the margins of the pages — to point out different types of information. The information highlighted by these icons is easy to understand and gives you important time- or money-saving tips. It can also warn you of dangers. Here’s a list of the icons I use in this book:


This icon highlights the technical stuff that motorheads know but that isn’t critical for you to know. However, feel free to read these tidbits and then throw them out at biker gatherings. Your riding buddies will be impressed.


This icon points out pieces of information that are — you guessed it — important to remember.


When you see this icon you know you’re looking at information that will save you time, money, or effort.


Beware! Read this info carefully because it will keep you from losing money, getting hurt, or being a danger to others.

Where to Go from Here

This book isn’t meant to be read from front to back and from cover to cover. However, because you have an interest in motorcycling, you’ll probably read the entire book eventually anyway. Just remember that the book is designed so that you can jump around to the parts and chapters that interest you most when you want.

For example, if you’re a woman, you may want to read the chapter about women in motorcycling first. If you’re an experienced rider, maybe you’ll start with the chapter on what to be sure to pack for a long trip. And if you’re a new rider undecided about what kind of motorcycle you may want to buy, maybe you’ll start by reading the chapters involving different motorcycling cultures or different beginner bikes.

Who knows, maybe you just get bored one Saturday night and want to rent a bunch of motorcycle movies for the evening but don’t know which ones. In that case, just turn to Chapter 21 and take your pick. On the other hand, if it’s time to get or renew your motorcycle insurance, flip to Chapter 10 to be sure you understand what kind of insurance you need so you don’t spend more money than you should.

And if you need to, simply take a look at the table of contents and the index to pick a topic and dive in. After you start down the road of motorcycling, you’ll never turn back because motorcycling is all about having fun. And so is this book.

Part I

The Mysterious World of Motorcycling

In this part . . .

If you take a look around you see motorcycles everywhere. Doctors ride them, and so do lawyers, movie stars, and factory workers. But why? After all, if you want to get from Point A to Point B safely and surrounded by luxury wouldn’t you just drive a car? Well, I suppose, but riding a motorcycle isn’t just about getting from Point A to Point B. In this part, I explain the allure of motorcycling for so many people.

I also reveal why motorcyclists believe, correctly, that they’re part of a special club, not only because of the skills involved in riding but also because of the rich history of the sport. Plus, I give you a heads-up on how to get proper motorcycle safety training, what to expect in class, and what you need to do to get your motorcycle endorsement on your car driver’s license. Armed with this knowledge, you’re ready to get started in the wonderful world of motorcycling.