How to overcome FEAR when learning to ride a motorcycle

Many beginner riders experience fear when learning to ride a motorcycle.

motorcycle_mentorHow do I know? Because I frequently receive emails asking about it, and because I experienced it myself.

Learning to ride a motorcycle

Every rider defines it differently. Most say it occurs when they’re riding. Some describe it as an uncomfortable feeling, while others say it’s closer to a panic attic. The most affected riders start doubting everything… including their decision to ride in the first place.

I vividly remember having this FEAR when I was riding. At times I felt anxious, awkward and overwhelmed. I questioned everything – including my abilities and my sanity.

  • What if I dropped it at a busy intersection?
  • What would it feel like if a car hit me?
  • Is this really a good decision?
  • Am I being selfish; my family/friends were against it?
  • Did I purchase the wrong motorcycle?
  • Do I even enjoy riding?

This uncomfortableness was so real that I made this promise to myself:
“David, if this doesn’t get better (fear goes down, enjoyment goes up)… I will stop riding a motorcycle.”

I gave myself two months.

When will this fear when learning to ride a motorcycle go away?

Every rider is different. For me, the fear subsided as my riding skills improved. It wasn’t immediate, but it was steady. After every new riding experience (rain, cold, traffic, interstate, left turns, right turns) I became more comfortable… and confident. As a beginner, I was using most of my cognitive skills to operate the motorcycle. I had no processing margin left to prepare for ‘what if’ scenarios… or to enjoy the ride. As my skills improved I devoted more of my attention to riding defensively and to enjoying the beauty around me.

I felt much better two months later when I reevaluated my feelings. I was prepared to follow through on the promise I made to myself… and you should be too.


Give us your feedback by leaving a Reply below.
Is this real? Did you experience ‘fear’ when you started riding? What are the best ways to work through them? When should a beginning rider quit?

Thanks,
David

34 Responses to How to overcome FEAR when learning to ride a motorcycle

  1. Frank Humpal March 2, 2014 at 1:35 am #

    I don’t remember much fear when I restarted riding (I had rode some as a kid) These are some of the things I did that might of helped.

    I had ridden a bicycle a lot commuting and recreation.
    I started with a used scooter, less damage when it fell, less power to get away from you.
    Next bike was a 440 cc bike. Not enough power to do an unexpected wheele, still harder to get in trouble but great for learning shifting etc.
    Stage I’m at now is a dl650a after a sv650. I still consider riding a life long learning adventure. Even after many years consider first thing in the spring is a visit to a parking lot to get the cobwebs cleared and have the body relearn braking curves etc.

    • MotorcycleMentor March 2, 2014 at 1:41 am #

      @ Frank,
      Thanks for the suggestions. Great advice.
      David

    • Nyree March 21, 2015 at 6:11 pm #

      Hello Frank,

      Thanks for the advice. I failed the MSF course the first time around because of fear and anxiety. I thought the transition from a bicycle to a motorcycle wouldn’t be so bad. Wrong! I love motorcycles and was wondering how to get back on the horse after the embarrassment of being the only one to almost crash in my class. I will take you advice and start out with a scooter first.

    • E. Penn April 2, 2017 at 10:52 pm #

      Thank you for your letter. I’m going from a 150cc/200 lb. scooter (on which I got my MC License after taking MC Basic Course six years ago) to a 700cc/500 lb Honda a month ago. The reason for the jump in engine and weight is it’s the only bike w/ a tried-and-true dual auto-manual transmission.

      My husband’s antsy that I won’t get my investment out of the bike, and is pushing me to take longer practice sessions than I should. On my second springtime practice session after getting the bike, I dropped the bike at a stop sign! Standing still! I’d been out too long and I was just too cold and too tired.

      Tonight I took four mini-sessions on quiet suburban streets, resting long stretches in between each & I’m planning the parking lot practice. I’d been off any kind of bike for two years. I’m realizing my body forgot alot.

      Your letter confirmed for me I’m doing the right thing by taking it slow, practicing before going, etc. Your letter also game me a little “ammo” to stand up to the pressure to just hop on there and speed the busy town center (where the car drivers act like maniacs) around for two hours until I’m too exhausted to pull into the driveway.

  2. Jobob March 5, 2014 at 3:50 am #

    I started riding my own bike at 40 years old and the third time I had it on the road I went off the edge on a bad bend. Rode down a ditch came back on the road and the bike flipped end over end with me still on it. Got lots of road rash and stitches in my elbow.

    I tried to ride it again once I got it repaired but realized I was shaky, scared every time I went around a curve. Sold the bike and again rode with my husband. Fast forward seven years and feeling envious when my neighbor got a Harley- sold me her Honda Rebel and THIS time I did the smart thing: took the mc safety class. I realized quickly how much I hadn’t known the first time.

    I failed the class cause still gun shy and instructors said I needed more seat time. I rode around and around the back streets of my neighborhood getting used to using the clutch, starting and stopping. Took the class again and PASSED! My husband bought me a new Sportster for Christmas. That was 13 years ago and I’m on my second Sportster (first one was totaled when a girl t-boned me in a car!)

    I guess I should be scared to ride considering two crashes that should have killed me. But I think the class gave me skills i needed and experience gives me more confidence. I highly recommend a mc course for all new riders.

    • MotorcycleMentor March 5, 2014 at 4:23 am #

      @ Jobob
      Thanks for sharing this.
      David

    • shirley March 29, 2014 at 8:35 pm #

      hello Jobob I was reading your e-mai if something like what you went throght I would have been done I have so much fear it’s a sham when I see my motorcycle fear just come over me I get on it I know how to pick my feet up and turn and all of that but still that fear come over me I want to ride bad I stared late in life I’m 63 I have a 2002 Honda 600 vlx, I went out fell on it didn’t get hurt, broke the mirror now I have to replace that I got back on did well after stoping and parking it and there it was the fear please help me to over come this you and respond to me on my e-mail

      shirley

    • lupe July 25, 2016 at 4:12 pm #

      I just bought a 750 Harley back in May 2016, since then I have been practicing on

      the bike in my apartment complex. It has been two months since I bought the bike, I am comfortable in the apartment complex, but when I thought that I could ride it on the main surface I was scared, and turned around after getting gas for the bike at a gas station. Could you please give me advise on how to overcome that fear. Thank you.

  3. Joyce Cupp March 5, 2014 at 12:09 pm #

    I started riding about 8 years ago and started with a smaller bike, moving up over a couple of years.

    Bought my first Harley, an 883 Sportster this past summer and TOOK THE RIDING COURSE. Wolverine Harley in Clinton Township, Michigan has an excellent class with great instructors. Within a couple of months traded the 883 up to a 1200 Sportster. Love to ride with my brothers and their wives and my cousin. Total of 5 Harleys in the family now.

    • MotorcycleMentor March 5, 2014 at 12:41 pm #

      @ Joyce
      Sounds like a great family adventure. Thanks for the recommendation for a good hands-on training class.
      David

    • Mr. Blue November 9, 2016 at 4:18 pm #

      I’m about to go take BRC and I’m nervous but confident in my willingness to learn. With that said I have been in 3 accidents in my life while some worse then others think of it not as fear but as respect remember why you wanted to and why you still do want to ride. Just like a horse you fall get back on don’t think you or any one else became a pro overnight it’s just like anything else it’s an obstacle or goal chase it down with everything you have.

  4. james August 4, 2014 at 4:35 am #

    I’ve always had friends with bikes and had been riding passenger to and from work for years, so I bought my own. Second day I had it, I dropped it going too slow around a corner (noob mistake). Got back on and rode another few hours easy, but still had nightmares that night. 2 days ago I lost control going 40, hit a curb, hit the sidewalk hard and my bike and I slid about 10 ft together on our sides until I came to a stop when my head hit a concrete planter. All I can say is learn, keep learning and get a good helmet. I’d recommend engine guards as well. They look unwieldy, but are light weight and worth it. If I hadn’t had those I’d be looking at a broken leg from having 500 lbs of hot metal whipped onto me instead of a bruised thigh. I’d also endorse Honda Shadows. My 20 year old bike flooded briefly from being on her side, but after 5 mins of stuttering, she got me home without a single stall or backfire and runs like it never happened.

    Dropping a motorcycle is at best humiliating. The key is to learn from it. I’ll be getting back on once the soreness goes away, and I will be taking it easy for a while. But I won’t quit.

  5. Adam June 10, 2015 at 2:54 am #

    Hi i am 14 and my brother is teaching me to ride and he is getting me a motorcycle i want to learn how to ride it and i learned a little on clutch work but i never learned to ride a bike i dont know how to balance i went a little bit and balanced but i need pointers on riding a motorcycle please

  6. Jill June 26, 2015 at 2:52 am #

    I just started riding 2 months ago. I passed the class on a 250 and bought a 750. Well I skidded out the 2nd week on a curve not pressing and leaning enough, minor damage. 2 weeks ago taking a corner at 10mph I become mismerized by a fire hydrant and crashed right into it and broke my wrist. I immediately thought I had no business thinking I could learn to ride at 59 but I now see both incidents as beginner mistakes. Thank you for the article, no doubt I will have even more fear getting back on now once I heal. I like the idea of keeping on riding through the summer and reevaluate. It’s also comforting to know the fear is fairly common and should subside with practice and honing skills.

  7. adam June 28, 2015 at 4:15 am #

    I am slowly learning to ride. When I see my brother ride it makes me want to ride but when I ride a motorcycle (250cc honda rebel) I can get going; then when I am going I lift my feet but I dont feel comfortable putting my feet on the pegs. It has been hard trying to brake the fear as I put my feet up on the pegs “I am going to drop this bike”

  8. Susan September 20, 2015 at 6:52 pm #

    I took the MSF course twice and passed it the second time on a Street 500. I already had a sportster 883 but I’ve been riding a 250 Rebel. I do fine on the rebel shifting and stopping and starting and I did good on the 500. I don’t understand why I can’t ride the 883. It’s like I’m scared of it, but it’s not that much bigger than the 500 I rode in class. I’ve dropped the 883 several times and I don’t want to give up. My husband says to keep riding the rebel until I am really comfortable with it but I don’t feel like it’s doing me any good to practice on the bike that I won’t ultimately be riding. Also do you ever get over the fear of going fast. When I go over 50 mph I feel like I’m gonna get blown off the bike.

  9. Cy November 23, 2015 at 8:00 am #

    I’m glad to hear I’m not the only one that gets butterflies when starting out on the mean streets on 2 wheels. The msf class was absolutely worth every dime and alot of fun. However… not 2 weeks later I’m with some riders from work on a busy street. Making a wide right turn I got tunnel vision on the median strip and went into it like a moth into a bug zapper. It was more embarrassing then anything but all the talk about keeping your head up and pointed where you want to go suddenly made more sense. I’m just glad it was low speed and not an expensive bike. I’m more determined to ride better but I’m not sure the butterflies will go away anytime soon..

    • Cathryn June 23, 2016 at 7:54 pm #

      I know all about butterflies and bubble guts when learning to ride. I have been practicing on and off for a year in a parking lot…and I must say I am a semi-pro when I don’t have to worry about traffic, pedestrians, road conditions and foreign objects in the road. But now that its time to hit these mean streets I am scared out of my mind. Yesterday I decided to practice earlier in the day instead of at night when most is home in bed and I started off horribly. The bike kept going dead after several attempts at every intersection. People was getting mad, blowing their horns and getting violent. I wanted to get off that bike and walk home, but after a much needed pep talk from my riding partner, I jumped back on and I did much better after that. I think I have stage fright and I know it will get better if I keep trying, but everyday that fear creeps in and I entertain the thought of quitting. I’m taking the class in a couple days, so I pray that helps with my confidence.

      Love to know I’m not alone.

  10. Jennifer February 8, 2016 at 2:24 am #

    It is comforting to know that it is normal! I have been learning to ride for the past 3 months which has been mostly winter. I feel like I am getting it and then today, after 60 miles of good riding, I fixate on some road kill and nearly veer right off the road. It scared me so badly that the rest of the 50 mile ride home felt like the first time again. So frustrating but I will keep at it. One thing I have noticed is that when I am sleep deprived (like today) I should probably stay home.

  11. Beth Langhorst May 17, 2016 at 1:09 pm #

    I was just 20 something when I started riding..I bought a bike..a Honda 175… because my brother and his friends were all riding and having fun…we had no training or protective gear back then…just learned by ourselves and hit the dirt trails and the road…I eventually gave it up because of the fear I felt in traffic. Now, about 45 years later I got the bug again at 67, signed up for an MSF class and passed with the help of an amazing teacher, Chis Carr of Two Wheel Adventures in Conyers Ga. The training showed me how to practice the skills of maneuvering the bike and the mental skills needed for decision making on the road. Without this class I know that the fear would have completely taken over again…but now I feel I have some knowledge…especially what my limits are as a beginner, and how to pace my learning.
    With my license in a backpack and a leather jacket that was from my old riding days, I rode my 2008 Rebel around the neighborhood to start off with, and the 5th time out took a 40 mile trip.
    I did this, but not wthout some amount of fear being with me at almost every step of the way. I think it is worse just getting prepared for the ride/practice…but when you are moving…you are totally engaged with the task ahead. Slow and steady wins the race right? I plot every excursion out so there are as few surprises as possible, and early Sunday morning is a great time to venture out …bit by bit…that’s how I’m eating my elephant!

    • Joy June 10, 2016 at 1:04 am #

      Hi Beth. Your story gave me a boost. After a 30 year wait, I finally took an MSF course to fulfill my dream. Going into the class I had zero experience on motorcycles. Unfortunately I fell the second day of class and broke my elbow. Undaunted, I signed up for the class again a month later. It wasn’t enough time and I regretted it just a few hours in as my arm was aching badly and I didn’t have the strength to do some of the maneuvers well. I failed to pass the class and have a lot more healing to do now – mentally as well as physically. I should mention that I am 61 years young. Now I’m starting to feel a fear creep over me, especially since I won’t be able to try again for at least a month or more. I wish I had a mentor to guide me through my trepidation. Any suggestions?

      Joy

  12. Christopher May 26, 2016 at 12:43 pm #

    I want to thank everyone for the support n help .. I hope everyone is doing great on thur bikes !!!
    I rode bikes off-road as a kid and my dad always rode a harley ! Unfortunately a drunk driver murdered my father while he was on his bike … I bought myself a new harley that same year to join him n ride together like he always wanted ..

    Long story short … I’m 44 now n it’s been 10 years n I still have my 2003 harley n try n go out riding every week.
    Once I get it started n I’m ready to go .. I find some reason or “sign” for me not to ride ! The nerves have driven me crazy

    Last season I decided to take the msf course n refresh all and it went well …. But once I was back home with my harley the nerves come back out

    It’s tough

    But I will not give up. It was such a passion for me …
    I’m hoping to be back up ASAP
    Peace n respect

  13. Christy June 18, 2016 at 4:55 pm #

    I feel so much better! Good beginner info is so hard to find. I took a safety course 2 summers ago and finally bought a bike last August when I could afford it. I rode around with my dad in the country for a few weeks last fall and then parked it before a new job in a new town. This spring, I’ve brought my bike to town and I sometimes feel like I’m getting worse instead of better. I don’t have anyone to ride with here and I’m learning from forums and online articles that don’t really “get” what it is to truly be new at this! I would really love to know if there are any good books or sites that break skills down and give beginner level tips and tricks.

  14. Kimberly Harker August 6, 2016 at 9:46 pm #

    I took the msf safety course passed easily and took to riding my Heritage soft tail. I can operate pretty well but I am so slow on it. People dred Riding with me cause it’s like miss Daisy on a harley. I start to pick up speed but all I can think of is what if I fall. I end up Riding about 10 miles an hour under the speed limit.

    Does it get better ? I try to push myself a little every time like here comes a curve at least ride speed limit to it. I am getting upset that I can not get over going faster. To many things go through my mind and I can’t block them.

  15. Florence D. Avila August 22, 2016 at 10:25 am #

    This helped me so much. I will give it time. You wrote everything I was thinking, afloat like you were in my brain. This probably helped many people, you didn’t even need a video; none of them helped.you helped. Thank you

  16. eilene August 28, 2016 at 2:34 am #

    My biggest fear is oncoming traffic, drivers not stopping at stop signs and red lights, and not being seen because drivers are texting, drinking coffee and smoking, and checking their Facebook status while rolling out of their subdivisions. I’ve decided to go for it, always looking for an escape route while approaching intersections, turn lanes, and oblivious drivers. Been told to go out with confidence, along with my healthy fear which may save my life. I also practice figure 8’s, riding in S figurations, break and swerve, and turning in both directions in empty parking lots. I’m leaning better on turns and focusing my head in the direction I want to go. I’ve only been at this for a week or so and a local scooter club worked with me for a few hours last Sunday. The more I practice, the more confident I feel. I wear all the right protective gear, but I’m aware that alone may not save my life if the wrong situation arises. I let aggressive driver pass on by and make sure diverts that are turning see me with eye contact. Was told to slow down if in doubt. I’m not on highways, only local streets and roads. If someone is tailgating, I wave them forward and avoid confrontation.

  17. Matt October 17, 2016 at 6:16 am #

    So happy to read this forum..I’m not scared of the bike so to speak but find I’m not learning as fast as I’d like..I took a safety course and found it rushed and overwhelming..I felt I never really learned the basics that are needed as a brand new rider and lack confidence .failed the final test..twice..but did gain some knowledge by default seat time

    ..I’m starting to think that newbs like us feel the need or are told to rush out of the comfort zone in the most important learning faze..broad base builds high towers..I’m decided to grab my own bike and learn what I felt were my weakness until I, not anyone else felt ready …there’s a great book( DVD as wellalso on youtube) twist of the wrist 2..says ride within 85 percent of your comfort level what ever that is at the time..I think alot try to keep up with friends , instructors with no patience or general thoughts that if we’re not pulling wheelies day 1 we suck…as someone who has investigate alot of MC crashes (if it is their fault) it’s pushing out of that 85 zone..there’s also an interesting part in twist if the wrist 2 on SR (survival reactions ) that actually make us worse off in a bad situation..that’s sounds like alot of us on here including me (blowing corners fixation on where I am not going)

    Safe riding

  18. Michael Brunner November 7, 2016 at 3:16 pm #

    All good stuff —– My story is probably like some of yours, but here goes :

    Male, age 57, married, 4 kids, athletic, healthy, business professional. Never grew up around bikes, nobody in my family every had one. My saintly mother told me as a kid that if I even touched one with my finger I would die. However, for whatever reason, the itch has always been there. Acted on it about 9-10 years ago. Went and took the MSF class. Passed it , but did not feel comfortable or confident about it . All my kids were young at that time and I basically told myself it just wasn’t meant to be, too much risk, and to forget about it. But 2 years ago, the itch hits hard AGAIN. Go and take ANOTHER MSF course. Passed it, it was easier, and bottom line, 2 of my kids are out, other 2 obviously older, and I am thinking REAL HARD about making this happen. So, after a year of looking, thinking, reading, and sitting on bikes, my sense (today) is to get a Kawasaki Vulcan S, bring the thing home, and maybe actually begin the journey of learning how to ride. To be honest, part of me wonders if I get the thing, will all I do is look at it in the garage. I mean, going from a parking lot on a Honda 250 doing no more than 22mph while being supervised by MSF instructors is a far cry from going out on the streets of my neighborhood and trying to practice. It’s like I feel the need to get a motorcycle personal trainer to help me get started. Rather embarrassing, but true. I’m 6’2″, 195 lbs, good hand/eye, ridden a bicycle for years, coordinated, former Marine, all of it, but getting started is just tough !!! Any thoughts on what to do once the beast gets in the garage, I’m most appreciative. Have a great November !

    • BigMoe January 24, 2017 at 8:08 am #

      Hey Mike,
      Same here.
      50 years old. 6.1 220 lbs. in great shape.
      Father of 3. One in the Navy, one in the army. Third still a teenager.
      My mother freaked me out as a kid.
      Was bad enough I got a tattoo at 16.
      But bought a bike without telling her also at 16
      She threatened me that she wouldn’t pay for me to go to college. Kept it secretly for another 2 years. I decided I want to ride again. Starting lessons today, woke up last night in a panic. I’ve been in some scary situations in my life. Under enemy fire, been in terrorist attacks, when that shit happens I get an adrenaline rush and respond accordingly…. but this motorcycle thing… I think for both of us it stems from our mothers.

      Thanks Mom,
      Would love be to know how goes it with u.

      Best,
      Big Moe

  19. Deedee Lewis December 22, 2016 at 12:21 am #

    A lot of people have legitimate fears about riding a motorcycle for the first time so I appreciated the honesty in this article. I like that you gave yourself some time to come to terms with the fears of riding instead of completely giving up right away. My brother is looking into getting a motorcycle and although he’s a tough guy, he has expressed some of his fears. One of the thing things that helped my brother is taking lessons for motorcycling to ease him into it.

  20. Bard December 24, 2016 at 3:59 pm #

    I am still trying to come to terms with my riding anxiety. From OH and I’m 30.

    I rode an electric moped for over a year and I had a lot confidence on it, being on the spectrum I have realized that I don’t like driving cars. I lack the spacial awareness in a car to feel comfortable and I have more of it on a two wheeled vehicle. So when my Jetson finally bit the dust I bough a Jonway from a local, its a scooter and I was excited to ride it when I slid a few times on the snow and slush. After that POOF its all gone and I don’t know how to get it back.

    I don’t drive cars. This is my transportation and I feel I am back to square one.

  21. Michelle Burdsal January 7, 2017 at 4:32 pm #

    Hi everyone, I got my first bike, a Honda 400 about 17 years ago and did great, don’t remember being scared too much really. After riding for about a year, and I would ride it almost daily, I had serious motor issues and since we had just bought a house, that wasn’t in the budget. I also had not really ” been in love” with the bike, couldn’t touch the ground flat footed and the seat that was on it made me feel perched. Bottom line, we sold it. From them until two months ago, I’ve ridden on the back of my husband’s. But…two months back I got a 1200 Nightster and I was so excited!! I can touch the ground flat footed and it makes such a difference, the seats great, should be no problem, right. Wrong, got on it and to the end of the driveway and even though I didn’t realize I was scared, I couldn’t make a decent turn to save my life! I’m obviously frightened of something, my husband thinks it the much louder pipes and the vibration which I didn’t have before. Any ideas or suggestions? I really want to ride and am not giving up. My husband has ordered baffles for the pipes, they are straight and very very loud. Any ideas would be appreciated. Thanks, Michelle

  22. Kath March 19, 2017 at 12:55 pm #

    I have terrible anxiety before I ride. I’ve been riding now for 9 yrs. Not often in the past 2 yrs. Each and every time I get anxious before I get on my bike. Once on and riding I’m usually okay after a few minutes but at times I’m so anxious it’s silly. I love riding! The freedom , the wind it’s something I’ve wanted to do all my life. I didn’t get a bike or learn until I was 38 after a work accident left me disabled. I decided life is too short and started doing all the things I’ve been too scared to try. Sky diving, hang gliding, riding. One thing I can’t seem to overcome is the anxiety. I literally get the shakes. I’ve even tried hypnosis, don’t bother lol, nothing seems to help. I have 2 bikes and won’t stop riding but geesh I’d love the anxiety to pee off…

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