How to Ride a Harley: A Beginner’s Guide

How to Ride a Harley: A Beginner's Guide

There’s nothing more American than heading out for a ride down the open road atop a Harley Davidson motorcycle. These iconic bikes have long been associated with the finer aspects of American culture. Plus, they’re incredibly fun to ride.

Step One: Choosing the Right Bike

For novice riders who want to ride a Harley Davidson, finding the right bike is key. Riders will want to find a new or used bike that’s comfortable and comparatively easy to handle. Buying a bike from a dealership can help people who don’t know what to look for to avoid scams, lemons, and motorcycles that are inappropriate for their skill levels.

It’s wise for new riders to wait until after they get the basics down to upgrade to a giant Touring bike. Start out with a slightly smaller bike, like the Street 500. It will make learning the basics both safer and easier.

Step Two: Get Some Gear

Motorcycle gear does more than just make its wearers look cool. It protects them from the elements and, more importantly, provides a safety net in the event of a crash. At a minimum, novice riders should buy:

  • A well-fitted, full-face helmet
  • A leather or abrasion-resistant jacket
  • Motorcycle boots with non-slip soles and ankle support
  • Riding gloves that cover the whole hand

The right gear is important for any rider. For new riders, it’s absolutely essential. It’s not uncommon for novices to take at least one or two minor tumbles before they get a feel for their bikes’ weight, controls, and handling. Riders should also read up on motorcycle etiquette before hitting the pavement in earnest.

Step Three: Get Familiar with the Bike

Every Harley has a different personality. Take some time to get to know the bike before heading out for a real ride. To mount it, get on from the left side. Mounting from the left makes it easier to get a grip on the handlebars and the brakes. Plus, the kickstand is on the left side.


After mounting the bike, start it and take some time to let it warm up. Listen to the engine, get a feel for the bike, and spend some time becoming comfortable before taking it out for a ride.

Step Four: Learn How to Control the Bike

Every Harley is a little different, but all motorcycles follow the same basic design principles. Before that first ride, get familiar with the control systems.

The Dash: Every bike’s dashboard is a little different. However, Harley will always find a speedometer and an RPM meter. Keeping the RPMs out of the red zone is important since it helps to protect the bike’s engine.

The Mirrors: Riders should check the side mirrors to make sure they offer a good view of the road. Don’t set the mirrors once and forget about them. Check them before every ride.

The Turn Signals: Any motorcycle manufactured after 1973 will feature turn signals. Most Harley Davidson motorcycles have one turn signal on each handlebar switch pack. They can be activated with the thumbs. Keep in mind that, unlike cars, not all bikes have automatic self-cancels that kick in after the turn has been completed.

The Kill Switch: A motorcycle’s kill switch is an emergency shut-off. It’s usually found on the right handlebar. The switch will need to be set to the run position before the bike can be started.

The Starter: Most Harleys feature starter buttons located right beneath their kill switches. They’re easy to identify since they usually feature distinctive circular arrows and a lightning bolt.

The Throttle: A motorcycle’s throttle controls its speed. The throttle is found on the right end of the handlebar. Riders can increase how much gas their engines are getting by turning the throttle toward them and decrease it by turning it away.

The Brake Levers: Each bike will have two brake controls. The front brake should be on the handlebar’s right side. The rear brake is foot operated. Don’t try to use the front brake without engaging the rear brake first.

The Clutch: The clutch lever is usually found on the left handlebar. As with a manual transmission car, it must be used to disengage power while shifting gears. The shift lever is usually located near the rider’s left foot. It can only be engaged in conjunction with the clutch lever.

Step Five: Find a Good Road

The best road for a first ride is one that is in good condition, straight, and relatively traffic-free. It’s also fine to take a motorcycle to a parking lot to try it out for the first time. Most safety-conscious riders don’t jump on their bikes in public places until after they’ve taken and passed motorcycle training courses, but they’re optional in most states.

Step Six: Try It Out

Now that riders are familiar with their bikes and have found a good place to test their abilities, it’s time to jump on and get started. Once the engine warms up, shift the bike into first gear to get it moving. Start out with straight lines and downshift until the bike comes to a slow stop. Most riders prefer to use their left foot to stabilize the bike as it stops.

Getting used to the steering can take some time. It’s more intuitive than many people think, though. Just lean slightly in one direction or another while pushing the corresponding handgrip. Start out with turns at 10 mph before taking them at full speed.

Step Seven: Practice, Practice, Practice

The great thing about riding any kind of motorcycle is that there’s never a shortage of reasons to head out and practice. Use the bike to commute, head out for long rides, or even plan a motorcycle camping trip. Once riders have their feet under them, the horizon’s the limit.

There’s Never a Wrong Time to Buy a Harley

Ready to get started? As long as riders buy their bikes from a reputable dealership, there’s never a wrong time to buy a new Harley. Head to a showroom to check out options, browse available bikes online, and start making plans to hit the open road.

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