Motorcycle Driver’s Handbook

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Know your motorcycle controls

The beauty of motorcycle design is that all controls and other important devices are within quick reach of the rider's hands and feet. All drivers should know where the controls are and will be tested on their knowledge in the exam. For example, 18 key controls and devices are visible from the saddle of a typical motorcycle:

  1. Speedometer and odometer 
  2. Tripmeter 
  3. Tachometer 
  4. Light switches 
  5. Ignition switch 
  6. Turn signal switch(es) 
  7. Horn button 
  8. Fuel supply valve 
  9. Choke control 
  1. Throttle 
  2. Clutch lever 
  3. Front brake lever 
  4. Rear brake pedal 
  5. Gear selector pedal 
  6. Starter 
  7. Engine kill switch 
  8. Stand 
  9. Oil level window or dip stick 

It is important to become familiar with the motorcycle’s controls, whether you’re learning to ride or you’re an experienced rider driving an unfamiliar motorcycle.

In fact, you should first check that the motorcycle isn’t too heavy or too large for you to operate comfortably. When sitting on the seat, you should be able to place your feet flat on the ground.

The same controls may not be found in the same places on all motorcycles. Check your owner’s manual for the exact location and precise way to operate all controls and devices. The first step in learning to ride a motorcycle is to learn the controls used to operate the machine. You must be able to reach any control without looking for it. With practice, you will be able to operate all controls by reflex. Automatic response is required before you can venture out into traffic.


The following instruments are grouped in the centre of the handle bars on most motorcycles:

  • The speedometer indicates riding speed in kilometres per hour or miles per hour.
  • The odometer indicates total kilometres or miles accumulated on the motorcycle.
  • The tripmeter indicates kilometres or miles accumulated since the last time it was set at zero.
  • The tachometer indicates engine speed in revolutions per minute (rpm) and shows with a red line the maximum rpm the engine can safely attain.
  • The high beam indicator light appears red or blue when the headlight is on high beam.
  • The neutral indicator light appears green when the transmission is in neutral.
  • The turn signal indicator light flashes amber when either left or right signals are operating.

Ignition switch

The ignition key goes into the ignition switch located near the centre of the handlebars or below one side of the fuel tank. ON and OFF positions are standard. Some switches also have LIGHTS and PARK positions. When the ignition is on, the engine can be started in either the ON or LIGHTS position. The LIGHTS position turns on the headlight and the tail light. The PARK position turns on only the tail light. The key can be removed only in the OFF or PARK position.

Light switches

If the ignition switch does not have a LIGHTS position, your motorcycle will have a separate switch with which to turn on the headlight and tail light. On all newer motorcycles, the headlight and tail light come on automatically when the ignition is switched on and the engine is running.

A dimmer switch, generally located on the left handlebar and operated by the left thumb, can be used to set the headlight on low or high beam.

Turn signal switch

The switch to control turn signals is usually located on the left handlebar and is controlled with the left thumb. Move the switch right to ‘R’ to flash the right turn signal lights. Move it left to ‘L’ to flash the left signal lights.

Most motorcycle turn signals do not self-cancel after a turn, as an automobile’s do. You must cancel the signal after each turn or lane change. Failure to cancel a turn signal is as dangerous as not signalling in the first place.

Brake light

The brake light is located on the rear fender and is activated when either the front or rear brake is applied.

Horn button

Sound the horn by pushing the horn button located on the left handlebar with your left thumb.

Fuel supply valve

The fuel supply valve is a petcock located below the fuel tank. It controls the flow of gasoline to the engine. When the motorcycle is not in use, the valve should always be turned to the OFF position to eliminate the possibility of fuel leaking into the crankcases or creating a fire hazard.

The valve must be turned to the ON position on many bikes for fuel to flow to the engine and for it to start and run. The fuel tank has a reserve section in case the main section runs dry. To release the reserve supply, you must turn the valve to RESERVE or RES, something you should be able to do while riding your motorcycle.

Choke control

The choke adjusts the mixture of gasoline and air supplied to the engine and usually is used only when starting a cold engine. The choke control is located on the engine or at the handlebars. To start a cold engine, move the choke control to the ON position and start the motorcycle. When the engine is warm, return the choke control to the OFF position.


The right handle grip is the throttle that controls the flow of gasoline to the engine and thus the speed of the engine and, ultimately, the speed of the motorcycle. To increase speed, rotate the throttle toward you with your right hand. To reduce speed, twist the throttle away from you. The throttle must spring back to the idle position if you remove your hand.

Clutch lever

The clutch lever is located in front of the left handlebar and is operated when squeezed toward the handle grip with the fingers of the left hand. Squeezing the lever disengages the clutch and disconnects the engine power from the rear wheel. Releasing the lever engages the clutch and provides power to the rear wheel. Whenever you change gears, either up or down, you must first disengage the clutch.

Front brake lever

Apply the front wheel brake by squeezing the lever on the right handlebar toward the handle grip with the fingers of your right hand.

Rear brake pedal

Activate the rear wheel brake by pressing your right foot on the pedal located in front of the right footrest (on most bikes). Remember that the right hand controls the front brake while the right foot controls the rear brake. They should be used together. The engine of your motorcycle will also act as a brake when you gear down or reduce throttle.

Gear shift

The gear selector pedal is located on the left side on most motorcycles just ahead of the footrest. You shift gears by lifting or depressing the pedal with your left toe.

Most motorcycles have four or five gears and a neutral position. In neutral, the transmission is out of gear and power will not reach the rear wheel.

The gear selector pedal should only be operated while the clutch is disengaged. After you have squeezed the clutch lever with your left hand, you can select the gear you need by lifting or depressing the gear selector pedal with your left toe.


Most motorcycles have an electric starter operated by pushing the starter button on the right handlebar.

Many bikes still have a kick starter, usually located above the right footrest. It must be unfolded before it can be used to start the motorcycle with a vigorous kick.

Engine-kill switch

The engine-kill switch is located on the right handlebar and is usually red. It is used in an emergency to stop the engine quickly. It may also be used to turn off the engine after a normal stop, but be sure to turn off the ignition switch as well after using the kill switch.

The engine will not start when the kill switch is in the OFF position.


When motorcycles are parked, they are supported by either a side stand or a centre stand. Some models may have both.

A side stand extends downward from its position underneath the motorcycle to support the motorcycle in a leaned position.

A centre stand is a sturdy, two-legged stand attached underneath the centre of the motorcycle frame. It can support the motorcycle in an upright position.

Stands are held in their retracted position by spring mechanisms and lowered for use by the rider’s foot.

Make sure your stand is retracted before you start off.


Rev: 2015