Top 8 beginner motorcycle mistakes

If you're looking to take your first steps into the world of biking it can be quite daunting - there's a lot of information to take in and mistakes will happen, but they're not the be all and end all.

We spoke to instructors Andrew McCloud at CamRider motorcycle training centre in Peterborough and Ian Biederman at BMW Motorcycle Road Skills centre Hertfordshire to find out what the most common mistakes were from new riders and how they can be fixed.

Also providing her recent experience is Maria Vallahis, MCN's Online Editor. Maria, 30, completed her CBT in December 2015 and passed her A licence in April 2017. She's currently riding a KTM 125 Duke on the 2017 MCN Fleet.

Not reading The Highway Code

Andrew says:“A lot of new bikers coming and doing their CBT are 16 and 17 years old and the biggest mistake they make is not reading the highway code. It’s written in literature that you should have read the highway code.”

Ian says: "Poor understanding and application of the rules of The Highway Code is common place with many road users and a primary reason people make mistakes on the road."

Maria says: "I'll be completely honest. I had not read The Highway Code before my CBT, but I found I was pretty clued-up on road signs and procedures in general. If you're not a road user already, particularly if you don't have a car licence, make sure you read through The HC beforehand. It will help by miles! You can buy a physical copy of The Highway Code on Amazon for a couple of quid or even download the app and save the environment a little bit. Take note, The Highway Code changes regularly, so make sure you've got the most recent version."

Andrew's solution

We don't need Andrew or Maria's help with this solution, just read The Highway Code!

Poor clutch control

Andrew says:"Clutch control is the biggest thing people struggle with – just being soft and gentle with it and not treating it like a switch."

Ian says:"The usage of the clutch when driving is more about getting the clutch disengaged as quickly as possible as clutch slip in a car is more damaging due to the weight of the machine. With a motorcycle being considerably lighter the damage is negligible comparatively. By slipping the clutch we are able to manage the greater power to weight issue of riding a motorcycle to gain greater balance and reduce the static to dynamic balance issue, thus less wobbling as we pull away."

Maria says: "I agree with Andrew and Ian. Getting the concept of clutch control is so important. The main thing to do, and the most obvious one, is listen to the instructor. Do exactly what they say and you can't go wrong. Don't just assume you know what you're doing, put the actual practices into motion. After that keep practicing. Practice, practice, practice. Especially on a bit of an incline (you'll really be tested on a hill). Once you get it, life is easier on two wheels, not just for hill starts but also for those slow speed manoeuvres."

Andrew's solution

“It can be quite hard to explain but I always say, 'it’s not a switch, it’s like turning a tap on'. If you turn the tap on really quickly all the water will rush out and you’ll get wet. If you gently turn it on you’ve got control of the flow. Or you could liken it to a dimmer switch.”

Following too close to vehicles

Andrew says: "You should be two seconds behind the vehicle in front, and it’s just a bad habit from driving this one. How many cars do you see driving too close to the car in front?"

Maria says: "I was taught that being too close is a bad habit from being a car driver. Iron this out quickly. Riding a bike is all about planning. You are constantly planning and predicting when you're on your two-wheeled pal. If you're too close to the car/van/lorry in front you immediately remove the safety aspect and don't give yourself enough time to plan what to do if the vehicle in front suddenly brakes. Don't put yourself in a sticky situation.

"I was also taught that you leave a two-second gap in dry conditions, but when it's raining or was recently raining, leave a four-second gap." 

Andrew's solution

"I always tell learners they're too close, although most of the time they think they're not. I just get them to count out loud in their helmet how far behind they are and they realise and drop back."

Not making progress

Andrew says:"This is a common problem. Sometimes they’ll get on a dual carriageway and sit behind a vehicle at 60mph when they should be pulling out and overtaking, provided it’s safe to do so. A lot of people are absolutely fine doing this during their training, but when it comes to their test they fail."

Maria says: "Definitely an important one. Be safe, be vigilant and make progress. Where I learnt this the most was during roundabout learnings. You approach a roundabout, make your decision to stop or go, once on the roundabout you do your check before taking your exit and once you're emerging off...you're done. Get on with and keep moving. No need to dwindle at the exit of the roundabout. As adventure rider Elspeth Beard would say, 'roundabouts are the best thing invented'. I also believe so, and when learnt to be used correctly are road users' saviours, especially to riders. Also meaning, that as a motorcyclist you can "make progress" in many situations and it should always be to keep you safe." 

Andrew's solution

"If I've taught you to do something in a certain way, then that's exactly how you should do it on your test. This one's mostly down to nerves."

Emergency stops

Andrew says: "A lot of car drivers can be heavy on the back brake for the emergency stop, because they’re used to braking with their right foot, which locks the rear wheel up. Another thing that people struggle with for the emergency stop, and the avoidance test, is not getting up to speed."

Maria says: "This is a hard one and I honestly think if you plan well enough during every single journey, you'll rarely need to use emergency stops. Practice getting it right for your test and get confident with it. Listen to how your instructor tells you exactly how to do it, ask again if it's not clear and you can't get it wrong. The next step is implementing this on the road. Hopefully you won't need to emergency stop at all, but be prepared and confident in knowing you can perform these correctly.

"During your test you have two chances to do the emergency stop. The examiner will let you know if you were a little too slow or too fast. Pay attention to what the examiner is telling you when you're on test. Don't panic, you've practiced it a million times over with your instructor at this point."

Andrew' solution

"Find out what works for you. You can go around the corner faster on the approach so you don’t have to accelerate too hard to get up to speed or you can take the corner a little slower and then accelerate when you’re upright. That’s personal preference really, there’s no right or wrong way as long as you keep the speed up through the speed trap."

Corner speed

Ian says: "When driving it is easy to correct excessive corner speed by either easing off the throttle or braking. When riding a motorcycle it is important that we enter a bend with a need to add a little bit of speed to allow accurate cornering and confidence in controlling the motorcycle through the bend. It is always easier to add speed through a bend on a motorcycle than it is to lose it."

Maria: "I was actually trained by Ian, who helped me pass my test. He would always say slow down before the bend and ease on the throttle as you go round a bend. Once you hit the straight apply more throttle. So exactly what Ian says above, and always listen to your instructor."

Junction discipline

Ian says: "An effective motorcyclist will plan every junction by being prepared to stop. They will approach the junction with a slower entry speed so that they can manage the opportunity to enter the new road simply and controlled.  This way if the situation changes we are ready to stop and go. Most car drivers ‘land and fix’ the problem when they get there as they are planning to go until someone makes them stop."

Looking down

Ian says: "When starting out one of the most common mistakes people make is looking down at their dashboard as they move away. This causes two big problems; in looking down we take away our natural balance and lose focus of where we are going."


A month after passing her test with BMW Rider Training, Maria test rode Yamaha's MT-07 at the MCN Festival in Peterborough

More recently she also tried out Triumph's Bonneville T100. She felt confident enough to do so, but is still riding her KTM 125 Duke, gaining experience and knowledge before officially switching to more power. 

Good luck to all new riders out there and go steady to all.

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