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Getting started/Selecting a bike. The last of the kids have left the house and you're going to buy that sweet cruiser with lots of chrome that you've always wanted. Or, every time you see one of the new sport bikes you think they're the sexiest, swoopy looking things you've ever seen. Maybe you rode dirt bikes back when you were a kid and would really like to get a nice motorcycle now that you can afford it. Individual reasons for wanting to get into motorcycling vary as much as the individuals themselves. We all have one thing in common, though; a need to stay alive in order to continue riding.
Toward that end, here are four tips that will make your riding career last a lot longer:
1. Always wear a helmet. Your chances of walking away from a motorcycle crash improve 400 % when you wear a DOT approved helmet. I don't care how you feel about personal rights or freedoms. I'm big on personal rights and freedoms myself, but you cannot argue with a number like 400%.
2. Never drink alcohol and ride a motorcycle. The first things affected by alcohol (even one drink) are your vision and good judgment. Guess what just happen to be the two most important things you need in order to ride a motorcycle? Yep, vision & good judgment. Half of all motorcycle crashes involve the rider having had an 'adult beverage'.
3. Get professional instruction. Go to a motorcycle school and learn how to do things properly. You'd never make a parachute jump without taking a lesson or three, motorcycling is no less dangerous. The skills most likely to save your life are maximum braking, and swerving to avoid an obstacle. Neither is the kind of skill that you'll teach yourself to do properly.
4. Ride the same motorcycle more than 6 months. A majority of motorcycle collisions occur within 6 months of a rider getting a new bike. This is true whether you've been riding 30 days or 30 years. You have to know your limitations and capabilities, and get to know your bike's limitations and capabilities. It's like a dance partner; it takes practice to get good together.
So, if we're going to keep this bike for a while, we should be careful in its selection. Don't let your emotions get carried away in romantic visions with the sound track from "Easy Rider" playing in the back ground. Decide, realistically, what kind of riding you're going to be doing. Cruisers are perfectly suited for fair-weather, weekend riding and short commutes. Longer commuting or any regular rides of more than an hour or so and you may want to consider a standard type bike. Multi-hour rides are more enjoyable on a sport-tourer. If you're the type who wants to see lots of this beautiful country, you'll be most at home on a touring bike. If someone says "Deals Gap" and your face lights-up and you say the words, "318 curves in 11 miles" as though in a trance, you're probably either hopeless or a sport bike type. Maybe both.
Most any bike in the medium size category (500 to 850 cc) will do fine for a rider without lots of saddle time. Stay with 600/650cc bikes or larger if you plan to do any highway riding of more than an hour. Ducati, Kawasaki, Yamaha, Suzuki, Triumph, Moto-Guzzi, Harley, KTM and Honda all make bikes in this size range; all are good reliable bikes and I'd suggest that you look into all, or at least most, of them before deciding. (The Big-Four Japanese manufacturers, in particular, make a dizzying array of bikes in the medium category). Type the manufacturers name into a good search engine like www.Google.com and do the homework. If you plan to carry a passenger, Most bikes smaller than 600cc will tend to be a bit underpowered for two-up riding. Take your passenger along and let them sit behind you for 'fit & feel' tests, you'll be surprised at how much passenger accommodations will vary in comfort level. Any motorcycle of 250cc or more will have enough power for a single rider; it's really more a matter of comfort and tolerance for vibration than power. Generally speaking, the larger and heavier the bike, the smoother it will be at sustained highway speeds. A windshield is a welcome addition if you ride at speeds of more than 50 mph for any length of time, or in the rain.
You'll know the right bike by the grin on your face. You should be able to reach the ground comfortably with both feet, while grinning. (Maybe not flat-footed but close). Leaning the bike over a bit should not be a strain on your grin, and all the important controls should feel as though they are exactly where the grin says they're supposed to be. Oh, and it should make you grin. Did I mention that the grin is important?
Buying a bike. We've been realistic about how much and what kind of riding we'll be doing; now we have to choose a bike that goes with that assessment. The adrenaline surge of raw acceleration on a serious sport bike can be offset by the harsh ride, high insurance costs and uncomfortable ergonomics. Cruisers are very cool and they look and sound good but the feet-forward, arms-spread-wide riding position can stretch you out like a sail and the constant wind resistance can be extremely tiring on rides longer than an hour or so. Dual sport bikes are adventuresome and allow you to go places other bikes can't go, but they can be prone to vibration. Touring bikes are cushy and ride extremely well but they're very heavy motorcycles. Any bike will have positive and negative traits. Pick a bike that fits you and your riding style. The grin test above is a good indicator.
We live in a land where the motto could be: "If a little is good, a lot is better, so too much is just right". Be careful of the 'bigger is better' mentality. A medium-sized cruiser type motorcycle has acceleration capabilities equal to a sports car. Any of the new crop of 600 cc sport bikes will go zero to 100mph and back to zero in 15 seconds or less, something only a handful of cars can accomplish. You will not "outgrow" a bike in this size range, and any salesman who says you will is full of fertilizer. Pick one that fits and makes you smile. Also, beware any shop owner or salesman who just wants to sell you something, anything, just so he can then sell you chrome and accessories for it and make some real money. Although it's becoming increasingly rare, some dealerships routinely sell bikes to people who have no idea how to ride them and then offer no help or advice whatsoever. This is a sure-fire recipe for getting people killed. Be wary of unscrupulous dealers. An ethical salesperson will want to know that you either already know how to ride or are planning to learn.
Just to give you a head start in negotiations, dealer cost on any given bike is usually about 85% of Manufacturers Suggested Retail Price (MSRP) plus freight charges (another $200 to 300). Tax, Tags and Title fees are also normally added on top of that. Also, be aware that many dealers will mark a bike up above MSRP and then negotiate from there. You can get the real MSRP from the manufacturers' web site. Almost all dealerships add freight charges to the listed price, that's normal but does not mean that you can't negotiate with them.
As part of your negotiations when buying a new bike, try to work some 'throw-ins' into the deal. Maybe a windshield, some saddlebags or a bike cover, a rain suit is always good, and definitely a helmet should be part of the deal. Most dealers will do the helmet (maybe two) as a matter of course but on a lower priced medium-or- smaller sized bike, the windshield or any other goodies can be a test of your negotiating skills. Even if they won't throw in all the extra gear & goodies, maybe you can get them to install it for you at no charge. Many dealerships play hardball when it comes to price negotiations and will try to make you feel like they're doing you a favor by letting you have a bike at MSRP plus tax. Like cars, some highly desirable/fast selling bikes will sell for MSRP + and they won't negotiate at all. This is classic Supply and Demand and there's nothing you can do but pay it. Or Not. Get a price you can live with, remember to factor insurance costs into the amount you can afford to pay each month. The State of Florida requires that all motor vehicles carry liability insurance. In spite of what you may have heard, motorcycles are not exempt from this requirement. And if you're financing the bike, full coverage insurance will not be optional either.
Motorcycle specific insurance companies are usually cheaper than regular household and car insurers. www.bike-line.com is a specialty insurer that has good prices. Other companies that insure bikes are: Geico Insurance at http://geico.com/cycle/ Progressive Insurance at http://motorcycle.progressive.com & Dairyland insurance which has merged with Sentry at www.sentry.com The last one usually has the best overall rates but it can vary considerably by bike and/or driving record. Shop around! You'll be amazed at how much the quotes vary.
Buying a used bike can be a good idea, too. Shop carefully and have it checked out by someone who knows what they're doing. Many banks and lending institutions are reluctant to loan money for used bikes, so you may need to shop around for this service. Look up the bikes approximate value in one of the pricing guidebooks like www.nada.com to get an idea of what it's worth. Use the internet to find out if the particular model you're looking at has any known problems. Do your homework and a used bike can be an even better deal than a new one. Be Careful.
Gear & Goodies. Start with a good helmet ($75 to 200) and gloves ($15 to 50). Buy the best motorcycle specific gear you can afford, good products work better and last longer. Get a jacket that fits the current season, for example in hot weather look for a light summer weight mesh jacket, ($75 to 150). Next, buy good boots ($75 to 175), preferably waterproof if you're ever gonna ride in the rain (and you will). Few things are more annoyingly uncomfortable than spending an afternoon with soggy feet. Then get yourself a "Touring" jacket ($150 to 300), best bet is waterproof Cordura with armor. Get a good one with a removable liner for the cool or cold weather temperatures of late fall, winter and early spring. These two jackets, with the addition of a warm scarf or cool damp bandana, will cover you (sorry, bad pun) for year round riding in most of the South and Southwest. If the budget doesn't allow for two jackets, get the 'Touring Jacket' and make sure you get one that's well vented. With the removable liner out and all the vents open, this type of jacket can be used year-round.
Over time, most motorcyclists wind up with three pairs of gloves: one for cold weather, a waterproof pair to wear with your rain suit and a 'favorite' pair that you wear the rest of the time. Eventually, you'll want to add a pair of 'Touring" pants if you do much cold or foul weather riding. These pants are constructed just like the Cordura jacket mentioned above and provide superior protection against the nastiness of both the elements and sliding on pavement. Serious winter riding is made much nicer by electrically heated vests and/or handgrips.
Rather than look for cheaper gear, shop around and look for better quality merchandise when it's on sale or clearance. Spread these purchases over six months to a year or so and they won't knock your wallet for a loop. Somewhere in there, throw in a motorcycle specific rain suit ($20 to 75). All the above prices are approximate retail prices and can probably be bettered by judicious shopping around at close out/clearance sales. You can certainly spend more, too if you choose. For Harleys, add $100 to all the above prices 'cause we all know "H-D" is just an abbreviation for 'Hundred Dollars'. ;>)
One more thing: Get a small flat tire repair kit, carry it on your bike at all times and learn how to use it. Like waterproof boots and a rain suit, the question is not if you'll need it, but when.
One of the best sites for motorcycle stuff of any kind is www.aerostich.com . They have all kinds of top-quality gear, and manufacture what may be the best riding suits in the world. This company will tell you the truth about whatever it is you want to know, and are a fountain of valuable knowledge. Their catalog and website are full of helpful hints, good advice and humor. They are also the sponsor of the annual "National Ride To Work Day" when all motorcyclists are supposed to ride to work on the third Wednesday in July. A surprisingly sizable portion of this company's profits are put back into promoting motorcycling and you'll never hear about it from them. I can wander around this site for long periods of time and I buy a lot of stuff from them. They are a great company and I recommend them strongly. Type HORN into the search engine. You'll find one of the loudest electric horns you can put on a motorcycle. Installation takes 3 to 5 minutes (on most bikes it's a direct one-bolt replacement for the stock horn) and it costs $15 plus shipping. It is, literally, a lifesaver. They also carry my favorite gloves. A pair of "Elkskin Roper" gloves that hold up better and last longer than any leather gloves I've ever owned. I'm on my second pair after getting 4 years and about 40,000 miles out of the first pair. They're $37 and have been worth every penny. This site is worth spending a lot of time on, if nothing else, just to learn more about what to look for (or look out for) at other sites.
This company originated in Germany over 40 years ago and pretty much invented the "Hypertex" (High Performance Textile) type of clothing. It's waterproof, armored, abrasion resistant Cordura Nylon, vented for coolness, while having a removable liner so that it's also good for anything from 'comfortable' temperatures, to cool, to cold weather riding. (Remember, cold is relative on a bike. On a sunny 63 degree day at 55 MPH the wind-chill feels like 39 degrees to bare skin). This site has a lot of good information about the different kinds of gear, fabrics, chemical treatments, etc. They tell the truth with no B.S. www.motoport.com
These three sites are "Wal-Mart" kinds of websites. They have a little of everything and the prices are good. Motorcycle Accessory Warehouse carries a number of different helmets; HJC brand helmets are probably one of the least expensive brands that meet both DOT And Snell standards. They are very good helmets and are a good choice, particularly if you're looking for a full coverage type of helmet. Be careful, you can spend a lot of money at some of these places. ;>) www.mawonline.com All three of these sites carry a huge inventory of everything you might want, a lot of stuff you don't, plus a few things you didn't know that you couldn't live without. Between these three sites, you'll find some of the lowest prices on most name-brand gear. www.motorcycle-superstore.com & www.ridegear.com
'FirstGear' is another company that originally began in Germany (still there under the name Hein-Gericke) now in California, too. They make their own stuff (much of it still made in Germany). It is top quality and is priced accordingly. Still, the things I've bought from them are the kind that seemingly last forever. I have a Kilimanjaro jacket from this company and even after 5 years of regular wear, it still looks, wears, and works like new. You might call these 'investment' pieces. www.intersportfashions.com
There is a place that sells used gear (& new stuff, too) that is a very good site called www.newenough.com
This site is not motorcycle specific but it is a great place to find surplus and overstock goods of all kinds. I've bought several pairs of boots, and most of my motorcycle traveling camping gear here. Their on-site search engine is a very good one; just type in 'Motorcycle' or 'Tent' and you'll get loads of goodies. www.sportsmansguide.com
Motorcycle Info. If you're the type who gets information well from books and you have a spare $19.95 lying around after buying all that gear AND a motorcycle, there is a book called "Proficient Motorcycling" written by David Hough (pronounced "huff") Any book store can get it, many have it in stock and www.Amazon.com always has it. It is an over-sized 'coffee table' sized soft cover book (81/2" x 11"x about 1 thick).This book carries more good general motorcycle info than any other I've encountered. It begins with basics, progresses through advanced techniques (with diagrams and pictures) then goes on to tell neat little things like how to ride well in groups, on trikes, and even a section on handling a sidecar rig. It is a superior book and I highly recommend it. Another excellent web-site for motorcycle related books, videos and reference materials is www.whitehorsepress.com . They also carry all of David Houghs books.
I have done business with all the companies named in this article and know them to be reputable and trustworthy. My recommendation of these sites/dealers reflects my personal opinion & experiences.
Take a Motorcycle Safety Foundation Basic or Experienced rider course and learn to ride well and properly.
My thanks to Laura, Joejoe and George for their help and advice in putting together this article.
Ride safe, ride well, ride a lot.
(This story copyright © 2004 by Michael McMillan all rights reserved)
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Last revised: September 10, 2004