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Start parking a motorcycle like a pro: Here are the 6 most common parking mistakes we see and how you can avoid them.
Motorcycles can be extremely useful modes of transportation, but if we're being honest, nobody is running out to buy one because they're practical.
Motorcycles are unsafe, unprotected from the elements, and inconvenient to take through a drive-through, but if there's one thing our bikes do better than anything else on the road, it's parking.
If you've ever parked your two-wheeler at prime time in a busy downtown area, you know exactly what we mean here. No open parking space is needed, simply slide in between any two cars and you're good to go. Chances are you won't even have to feed the meter...
As pleasant as parking a motorcycle can be, those two missing wheels create a few unique challenges, especially for newer riders. That's why we've compiled the 6 most common motorcycle parking mistakes we see out on tour, and how to avoid ever making them again.
1. Parking a Motorcycle Downhill
Unless you've got a Honda Goldwing, a Ural, or a Zero electric, chances are your motorcycle didn't come with a reverse gear. That means it's up to you to back that bad boy out of any parking space you nose into, which is why the first rule of park club is to avoid nosing into a downhill parking spot at all costs.
If you've been riding for a while, we'll wager we don't need to tell you the repercussions of breaking our first rule. Depending on the weight of your bike, you're looking at anything from an awkward 17-point turn on your tiptoes to a bloodvessel-bursting uphill push, both of which can be easily avoided by planning your escape ahead of time.
"The heavier the bike, the harder it is to push uphill. Do your back a favor and back in whenever humanly possible."
The simple solution here is to just swing wide and back 'er on in. This way, your bike is facing up the hill, and getting back on the road is as simple as putting on your helmet and riding off.
2. Parking Off the "Fall Line"
Another common mistake we see riders make is parking a motorcycle at the wrong angle on an uneven or banked surface.
What we want to avoid here is leaving the kickstand either too much or too little distance from the ground, as both can have unpleasant consequences.
We find it useful to look at an uneven parking spot the same way you'd look at putting a golf ball across an uneven green: Find the "fall line" where the ball would want to break downhill, and then park as in-line or parallel to that line as possible.
By parking in-line with the fall line, the bike will be equally balanced from left to right and not too heavy, or too light on either side.
"Some parking lots are more refined than others, but we'll take uneven ground with a view over flat black top all day."
Keep in mind that this often requires parking at either a slightly uphill or downhill angle as well, so make sure you leave your bike in gear before climbing off as a failsafe against slips or roll-aways (more on that below).
3. Parking too Close
This one may sound painfully obvious, but it's an issue we see all the time out on the road, especially on our larger group tours: Riders parking a motorcycle into a tight spot, whether beside another rider, a parked car, or some other fixed object, only to find they don't actually have enough room to lean the bike onto the kickstand.
This one can be avoided with a little strategic planning, much like the downhill parking issue discussed above.
The key here is to leave enough room for your bike to lean all the way over without banging bars/mirrors with another vehicle, plus another foot or so for your body to avoid that awkward one-legged dismount that so clearly identifies a rookie rider.
"Mind your distance when parking in groups: Both you and your buddies should have enough room to step off the bike without banging bars."
The exact amount of space you need depends on what you're riding, but our goal here is to be as courteous as possible to other parked vehicles: Leaving the next guy in a tight spot is a great way to come back to door dings or (god forbid) your bike kicked over on the ground.
4. Parking a Motorcycle Leaning Into Traffic
This is another issue we see all the time, especially on our tours of South America where many of the roads have extremely narrow shoulders. Much like our "parking too close" scenario above, riders pull off parallel to the road, but don't leave enough space on their lefthand side to safely lean the bike onto the stand without leaning into the road.
Parking this way creates two issues: First, it leaves your bike in the "danger zone" of oncoming traffic, where one distracted driver is all it takes to clip your handlebar and bring your trip to an early conclusion.
Second, parking this way also puts your life in danger because you're more or less forced to "dismount" directly into moving traffic. We've all heard horror stories of law enforcement officials, truckers, and broken-down drivers losing their lives to a sideswipe incident on a busy freeway when stepping out of their vehicle, and it can happen to anyone.
"While narrow shoulders with limited space are a common problem, you should always pull as far away from the road as possible."
Again, this is largely an issue of distracted driving, but if bright blue lights, flares, and emergency flashers still fail to keep drivers safe from time to time, what do you think your chances of being noticed are on something as compact as a motorcycle?
This situation is as dangerous as it is avoidable, which is why we often wait to park either on turnarounds or down side roads when out on tour.
Generally speaking, you should wait to pull over and stop until you've got plenty of space between your bike and the road, but if the situation demands an abrupt stop for one reason or another, make sure you park your motorcycle as far off away from traffic as possible and always look twice before stepping off.
5. Don't Park a Motorcycle In Neutral
Truth be told there's really never any good reason to leave a bike in neutral when you shut it off.
Some folks may argue that leaving the transmission in gear puts undue strain on the engine and driveline (especially when parking on an incline) but this concern is negligible at best and we've never seen a single issue caused by parking a motorcycle in gear over the last decade of riding and guiding tours full time.
To put it plainly, you risk so much more by leaving a bike in neutral that this should be a moot point to begin with. Unless your two-wheeler came equipped with a parking brake, leaving the transmission free to roll one way or another while you're away is just a recipe for disaster.
"Incline, decline, or perfectly flat: Regardless of the situation, parking a motorcycle in neutral is always a bad idea."
We've seen bikes roll forward and fold up their own kickstands, roll backward and fall straight down hills, and we've even seen more than our fair share rolled down the street in a strong wind. Speaking of which...
6. Parking "Across" Strong Winds
If you don't live in an area where strong winds are the norm this might sound like an exaggeration, but in Patagonia's infamous "wind at the end of the world," we see parked bikes blown clear off their kickstands all the time.
Luckily most of us riding to 9-5 jobs or carving canyons on the weekends need not lose any sleep over this, but it's a smart skill to have, especially if you're ever caught out in an unexpected storm.
The trick to parking in high wind is simple: Think of your bike like a giant sail. What we mean by this is that you'll want to aim your bike either in the same direction the wind is blowing, or in the direct opposite direction.
"We play around a good bit, but the winds in Patagonia are all business. Parking across strong gusts like these is a mistake you'll only make once."
By doing this, we make our motorcycles as aerodynamic as possible, dramatically reducing the amount of wind they "catch" while sitting on the kickstand.
We've seen bikes of all shapes and sizes blown over when parking across strong winds, so whether you're on a spritely Yamaha XT250 or a land yacht like the BMW R1200GS, know that no motorcycle is safe from mother nature.
Final Thoughts on Parking a Motorcycle
Parking a motorcycle is supposed to be a highlight of the experience, not a pain in the ass.
Sometimes an awkward situation is unavoidable, but between these 6 scenarios, you should be well-equipped to handle 99% of the stops you make out on the road.
As you may have noted yourself, pretty much every difficult parking situation can be easily remedied by simply thinking ahead and "leaving yourself an out." These are just a few of our go-to training points though, so if you've got a favorite motorcycle parking hack of your own, do us a favor and drop it in the comments below!