logowill england :: motorcycles : getting started



How To Get Started Riding A Motorcycle

So, you've always wanted a bike, for all the various reasons. Fine. I wrote this a while back for some older friends who wanted to get their very first motorcycle.

Jack asked "I want a safe and easy to use bike"

Safety? Not on a motorcycle. Maybe in a HumVee. You have to accept some level of risk when riding a motorcycle. Training, practice and protective gear reduce the risk. You will *never* be safe on a motorcycle.

Ease of Operation? Well, a scooter with an auto tranny is about the easiest to use. Modern fuel injected bikes are pretty much fool proof. Anything made in the last 10 years or so really is quite simple to use - turn key, set choke, push starter. Lube chain once a week, wash when dirty, change oil every 6K or yearly. Adjust the valves by the book. Adjust the chain if it needs it. Nothing that can't be done in a parking lot with little additional expense.

Alright, I can't really be safe. How much is this going to cost?

Anywhere from $1500 to $9k, starting. Depends. You can drop $16K on a Goldwing. You can buy a $400 rat bike and fix it up and ride cross country.

Before you buy your bike, you must have appropriate gear.

Start out with $200 to $400 for a helmet. HJC makes good budget brands. Shoei and Arai are the premium brands. You can actually find good deals on the HJC CL-12 helmet for about $140 or so, and Snell 2000 rated helmets are starting to come in from overseas for less than that. The more money you spend, the more features and more comfortable it gets. Try the helmets on in the store. They should fit snugly without any serious pressure anywhere. If it doesn't fit right, try another brand. Different brands fit differently.

Me? I love my HJC CL-12. My next helmet will be the HJC SyMax.

Add in $200 to $400 for a protective coat with 500+ denier cordura and some kind of armor, or a leather (1.2mm or more thick) coat with armor. Add in $20 to $120 each for good gloves. Additionally, overpants are a good option - your knees and hips take a beating when (not if) you fall off the bike. Chaps just won't do - think of what they do not cover, and if you would like those parts sliding along the asphalt at 30 MPH. I wear First Gear stuff - mid priced at $500 or so for a suit, but fully waterproof and nicely protective. http://www.intersportfashions.com/

Add in $100 to $300 each for protective pants as above. Armored pants are a good option - your knees and hips take a beating when (not if) you fall off the bike. Chaps just won't do - think of what they do not cover, and if you would like those parts sliding along the asphalt at 30 MPH.

Used is fine - all my stuff is second hand from NewEnough.com

Ideally, get an Aerostich suit. The gold standard in touring and commuting suits. http://www.aerostich.com/

Add in $100 to $300 for over the ankle velcro or buckle closed boots with armor. No laces - they get caught on stuff. No slip-ons - they provide no ankle support. I *love* Sidi boots http://www.motonation.com/

Ok, so I've got about a grand worth of gear now. I still don't have a motorcycle. Can I go get that new YamaZuki RXGY1199?

NO.

First things first. You need to learn how to handle a motorcycle first. It is a whole lot different from driving a car or riding a bicycle.

Find a MSF basic rider course. Take it. Do not buy a bike until you do. Period. Don't be a luser. It may take a year before you find one open. They are very popular. Also, try showing up the day of the class and asking if they have any openings. Sometimes folks don't show up for the class. Or, find one of the instructors who will give you private lessons. They provide the motorcycles. http://www.msf-usa.org/

Buy David Hough's book, Proficient Motorcycling. Read it. Read it again. Memorize it. Understand what it says. Ask questions. Get answers. Understand the answers.

Search the web - there are a ton of resources for riding safely. There's also a ton of ways to kill yourself 'stunting' or 'posing'. You figure out which you want to do.

Alright, I'm getting my head wrapped around this riding thing. What bike should I get?

Buy a starter bike with minimal plastic that will last you for a year or so. Good choices include the Kawasaki EX500 or Ninja 250. Concerned about the reliability and roadworthyness of a dinky little 250? In the 2003 Ironbutt, Leon Begeman rode his Ninja 250 for 11,000+ miles in 11 days. Also Honda Nighthawk 750 (ideal for 2 up), Suzuki Savage 650, SV650, and Bandit.

Avoid 'race replica' sportbikes or full out cruisers to start. The sportbikes have a lot of expensive plastic to replace when (not if) you drop it. I've been riding 3 years and still managed to drop my VFR on a curb. ($1,500 damage!) Damn crowned roadways. The cruiser riding position may look comfortable and 'cool', but has some drawbacks for longer term riding and initial control of the bike. Stick with a 'standard' motorcycle for now.

All of those are available for less than $4,000 used. Don't buy a very old bike unless you are inclined to do some neglected work on it - carb cleaning, replacing brakes, tires, hoses, brake fluid, drive shaft gear oil, or chain & sprockets, etc.

Do not ride 2-up until you have a darn good idea of what you are doing. 2-up is a whole 'nother world on a bike. The passenger adds a lot to handling and lean issues.

Encourage your signifgant other, if they plan on riding with you, to take the MSF basic course as well. Even if they never plan to drive the bike, they'll know the basics of what is going on.

Make sure your life and AD&D insurance is up to snuff. 'Nuff said.

Search the usenet newsgroups rec.motocycles and alt.motorcycles for threads about starter bikes. You'll find a couple of hundred posts.

If you are in .ca.us also check out ba.motorcycles. If you are in the South Central US, check out tx.motorcycles.

Lots to understand and lots to do, but don't let it discourage you. I've found that riding a motorcycle is the single best form of de-stressing there is. You will enjoy it, and being properly prepared helps you to enjoy it.

Will England
June 18, 2002


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Created June 18, 2002     ::     Updated Tuesday, February 28 2006 @ 01:29pm