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     The first thing a person should do BEFORE getting on a motorcycle is familiarize themselves with the bike's controls. Many of the functions will be the same as one would find on a car but their form might be a little different from what automobile drivers are used to. Cars are cluttered up with a lot of bells and whistles from climate control to radio knobs. Motorcycles are no-nonsense. Basically, every switch, button or lever is essential to safe operation and everything has to be in close proximity to a rider's fingers and toes. A motorcycle rider must be able to work any given control at a split second's notice without hesitation or having to look around to find it. The exact layout of the motorbike's controls can vary among models or manufacturers so it is important to familiarize yourself with the vehicle you will be operating before getting on that seat.

Primary Controls
The motorcycle's primary controls are used through the ride to accelerate and decelerate the vehicle. They include the throttle, clutch, gearshift and both brakes. From a rider's perspective, the right hand will control the throttle and front brake; the right foot controls the rear brake; the left hand operates the clutch and the left foot is used to shift gears. All these controls will be operated together to make your ride smooth and safe.
  • Throttle: A motorcycle's throttle is the right handgrip and it is the equivalent of the gas pedal on a car. Rolling the throttle toward you increases the motorcycle's engine speed and rolling the throttle away from you will obviously decrease its speed. If released, the handgrip should return to the idle position. The MSF course will teach you to keep your wrist positioned low on the throttle. This can help prevent accidental or excessive acceleration.
  • Clutch: A motorcycle's clutch is a lever located in front of the left handgrip. Squeezing the lever will disengage the clutch and remove all engine power from the rear wheel. Slowly easing out this lever will connect power from the engine to the drive train again.
  • Gear Shift Lever: This lever is found in front of the left foot peg on the motorcycle. The gearshift in most standard transmission cars follows an H-pattern with the center of the H always being neutral. Most motorcycles rely on a ratchet shift device (suicide shifters are an exception). Neutral is actually in between first gear and second gear (a half shift up from 1st gear or a half shift down from 2nd gear). The standard gear pattern is 1 - N - 2 - 3 - 4 - 5. To shift up one gear, the motorcycle rider will lift the lever with his toe. To shift down one gear, the rider will press down. Because of the ratcheting mechanism it is only possible to shift one gear at a time before returning to center. When the lever is allowed to return to its natural position, it resets and is ready to shift up or down again. Finding neutral can be tricky for first time riders until their left toe develops the feeling and control to accurately make a half shift. Often, a light on the control panel will indicate when the motorcycle's transmission is in neutral.
  • Front Brake Lever: The front brake lever is located in front of the motorcycle's right handgrip. It is engaged by squeezing the lever smoothly and progressively (with increasing firmness). Abruptly grabbing of the motorcycle's front brake can result in a front tire skid. If the front tire skids, release the brake immediately and reapply smoothly.
  • Rear Brake Pedal: The rear brake pedal is located in front of the right footrest. Pressing down on the pedal engages the brake. This also should be applied smoothly and progressively. Abruptly engaging the motorcycle's rear brake can induce a rear tire skid. If the rear tire skids, DO NOT release the brake but keep firm pressure until the motorcycle stops moving. Releasing the brake during a rear wheel skid can result in a high-side crash, which has been known to throw riders off their vehicles.
Secondary Controls
The secondary controls are focused less on controlling the motorcycle but are important nevertheless. Again, there are variations on the look and location of these controls among different models of motorcycles but most bikes will have them.
  • Electric Starter: Most modern motorcycles have electric starters (instead of kick starters). It is a simple button that is located on the right handgrip that you push and hold until the engine turns over. Make sure that the fuel valve is in the ON or RES position, the ignition switch is ON and the engine cutoff switch is set to run before attempting to start. Do not hold the start switch for more than five seconds at a time or the starter motor could overheat. Wait fifteen seconds before using the starter again. In cold conditions, using the choke to help start the motorcycle will usually make it turn over easier. Usually, the motorcycle will have to be in neutral or have the clutch lever in to start. Often a switch in the side stand will not allow the motorcycle to be started if the transmission is in gear and the stand is down.
  • Engine Cut-Off Switch: This is a switch located next to the right handgrip, near the starter button. The switch, operated with the thumb of the right hand, will immediately shut off the motorcycle's engine. Many have the RUN position in the center and throwing the switch either way will kill the engine. This is designed to give the rider the ability to stop the engine without removing either hand from the handlebar.
  • Speedometer: A motorcycle's speedometer functions pretty much the same as a car's and is designed to show the road speed.
  • Tachometer: A motorcycle's tachometer indicates the engine's speed in RPM (Revolutions Per Minute). It helps the motorcycle rider know when to shift gears. The tachometer will have a red line that is not to be exceeded without risking damage to the engine.
  • Temperature Gauge: Most, though not all, motorcycles will have a temperature gauge. Once the engine has reached its operating temperature, it should remain fairly stable. If the motorcycle is running very hot, it may be an indication of cooling system problems. If an engine overheats, it can damage and warp internal parts.
  • Odometer: The odometer keeps track of the miles a motorcycle has traveled. The main odometer monitors the lifetime miles of the motorbike. The trip odometer can be reset and is designed for short-term use (usually only tracks up to 999 miles before rolling over to zero). The trip odometer can be used to monitor the number of miles between filling the gas tank so the rider can anticipate fuel needs without being forced to run on the reserve tank.
  • Turn Signal Switch: On most motorcycles, the rider must manually cancel the turn signal (since there is no steering wheel to identify once the turn is complete). This control is near the left handgrip operated with the left thumb.
  • High/Low Beam Switch: Normally, motorcycle headlights will run whenever the motorcycle is on. This helps to improve visibility in any conditions. The rider can change from low beam to high beam with this switch, located near the left handgrip.
  • Horn: The motorcycle's horn is also located near the left handgrip and is used to alert other vehicles of your presence.
  • Fuel Supply Valve: Most motorcycles have a valve between the gas tank and the carburetor. It usually will have three positions. The ON position is selected while riding the motorcycle under normal conditions. The OFF position is used if the bike will be unattended for a length of time. The RES position switches from the normal gas tank to the reserve portion of the tank. The gas tank reserve is designed to save enough fuel for the rider make it to a refueling station. This is important because many motorcycles do not have fuel gauges.
  • Choke: Located either near the left handgrip or near the engine, the choke feeds additional fuel to the carburetor to make it easier to start the motorcycle, especially in cold conditions. Once the engine has warmed up, it is important to remember to turn off the choke. Running with the choke open unnecessarily can cause the engine to run rich or prematurely wear engine components.
  • Ignition Switch: The motorcycle ignition switch is usually located near the instrument panel. The keyed switch will often have three or four positions. These include ON, OFF, LOCK and sometimes PARK. The ON position should be selected while riding (and will immediately turn on the headlight). The OFF position disables the engine and lights but the front forks of the motorcycle will still move freely. If the motorcycle is to be left unattended, the front forks should be turned all the way to the left and either the LOCK or PARK position selected. Both LOCK and PARK will prevent the straightening of the handlebars so a passerby cannot just walk off with your bike. The PARK position locks the handlebars and lights the rear taillight for better visibility at night. Care should be used when selecting the PARK position since it can wear the battery down. Some motorcycles (but certainly the minority) also have an accessory position but it should be used judiciously as well for the same reason.


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