THE GUIDE TO YOUR FIRST MOTORCYCLE Everything You Need To Know To Get Riding
There is a lot of romance and passion surrounding the world of motorcycles, but it always seems to leave one question unanswered: where do you begin? It does seem like a chicken and egg problem from the start since you need a license to ride—but to get a license you need experience riding a bike. Then what type of bike should you get? What equipment do you want or need? Oh, and what if you don’t even like riding? Don’t worry, there is a right way to get through all this.
Let me clear up the last question right away; if you liked riding your pedal bike when you were a kid, then you will be just fine on a motorcycle. It is an overused comparison, but that’s because it is completely true. The road rushes by in the same way, the bike still feels like it’s helping you lean when you turn, add in a few more controls and it is just like going downhill when you were 10. Yes, there is more fear because you weren’t going 50mph when you were 10 (I assume) and you should always expect that soccer mom to pull out in front of you, but those annoyances are nothing compared to how much fun riding is.
Ok, so before we get to that license, let’s talk bikes. You probably already have a good idea what you want, but in case you don’t, here are a few options:
1. The Middle Option
Cruiser Bikes have to be the best option if you can’t decide on any one style, because—well—they are just awesome bikes. They have more than enough power and it is all smooth and tamable, making Cruisers great for riding around town or around the country. Of course, Harley’s dominate this genre and their Sportster is perfect for a first bike. Honda Shadows put up a good fight and if you are a Yamaha man, go with a V Star. Good used Cruisers can be found as cheap as $2.5k.
2. Steve McQueen Is My Spirit Animal
Scrambler is a term that is getting thrown around too often. A true scrambler is as follows: off-road tires, check; wide handlebars, check; a little too much suspension, check; and of course, side pipes, double check. I started with a Honda CL175 and it was perfect. Sure, it was down on power, but none of my mistakes ended in a crash (even when I slid on an icy corner, I was easily able to right myself). Scramblers all have a unique style that can really stand out in a crowd, while not breaking the bank. I got my Honda CL for $1.3k but if you want to go big then Triumph Steet Scramblers and Ducati Desert Sleds are perfect.
3. Bad Weather? Who Cares
I cannot think of a safer option than Adventure Bikes. All weather tires, smooth suspension, a well-balanced riding position and it’s easy to find one with ABS. They might not be the flashiest bike (unless you count the reflective stickers), but the minute it starts raining you won’t care. Plus, as the name says, it’s for adventures! With all its storage, you can ride out to the middle of nowhere and stay there for days. If the bike bears the letters KTM or BMW you know it’s good, but if cash is weighing you down then the Suzuki V Storm is your best bet.
4. Dual Sport (And No Roads? Seriously, Who Cares)
Scramblers and Adventure bikes are great on trails—well, until the trail runs out or there is a 15-foot jump in the way. Ok, maybe you won’t be doing huge jumps as a beginner, but we gotta think big picture! Dual Sport bikes are light, agile and are built to take on literally everything nature throws at it. You are spoiled for choice here as KTM, Yamaha, Suzuki, Honda and Kawasaki all make great models. I would guide you more, but if you buy used, I found that it really depends on its past life (buyer seriously beware).
5. Racing in Style
Up to now, I’ve been focusing on being safe during your first year of riding, but let’s face it, if safety was all we cared about we wouldn’t be riding motorcycles in the first place. That being said, Café Racers are a ton of fun. There is a large range of power from 350cc to well over 1000cc, though as a beginner I recommend staying lower for the first year (350cc is still more than enough). Honda, Yamaha, Triumph, BMW and Moto Guzzi are all fighting for the crown, but for a starter bike, go with Honda’s CBs or Yamaha’s XSs as they are highly customizable and parts are easy to find.
6. Speed Speed, and Some More Speed
Finally, we have Sports Bikes. Honestly, I nearly took this off the list because this is a risky choice for a beginner, but I kept it for two reasons. 1: they are so popular that probably more than half of you are going to get one and 2: they can be safer than they seem. Like Café Racers, I recommend going easy on the power, but if you just said, “Screw you DAD, I do what I want!” then Sports Bikes are perfect for you. The adrenaline rush I got when I rode a Yamaha R6 was euphoric; it’s a rollercoaster where you are in control of the steering and throttle. Even better is how cheap you can get a Sports Bike; spending just over $1k can get you started.
Make sure you keep at least $200 handy because gear is going to set you back a bit. I will spare you the whole “get a neon jacket that basically blinds anyone thinking about getting near you” because I know you won’t listen…I didn’t. However, after riding for a few years you do need to listen up now. -When riding, dress for weather 20 degrees colder. If you don’t, your body and hands can go numb which does put a damper on riding, mainly when you shake so much you nearly fall over.
-Even with the cooling effect, you can still sweat so gloves are great for keeping a grip and preventing frostbite. Plus, they look badass.
-During the peak of summer, you might be tempted to wear shorts while riding…don’t. Suntan lotion can prevent sunburns, but your engine will give you one hell of a tan line.
-Lastly, GET A DAMN HELMET. You get to be one step closer to The Stig, or Iron Man, or Boba Fett, plus it keeps you from being killed to death. While all types of DOT helmets are good, I got a full-face helmet since I’m not pretty enough to sand down my face with asphalt.
GO GET YOUR LICENSE!
Ok, now you have a bike and some cool new gear, but sitting stationary on your bike in the driveway is not that thrilling. You should probably learn to ride. If you have a trailer, go to a large, empty parking lot and start slow. Become familiar with the throttle, clutch and how it turns. Bring a friend or two to be safe, as lifting a 600lb bike off of your leg is a group activity. Another option for learning to ride (and lowering your future insurance rate) is taking a safety class. Illinois offers free classes ($20 suggested donation) and they provide the motorcycles and helmets—all you have to do is show up in jeans and boots and be willing to spend a weekend listening to all the ways you can crash. Then GO GET YOUR LICENSE. I went 6 months without one until a very angry cop took me to the station and convinced me I should get mine. Don’t make that mistake.
I know it is a lot to get started, but I do not for one second regret spending all that time and money. You are going to get plenty of complements from strangers, envious looks from kids on bikes, an overwhelming sense of freedom and of course, a ton of fun.