So you know you want a motorcycle, but how do you get start?
Before you even think about buying a motorcycle, get some experience first. My advice is to take things slowly, and do at least a few of these things first.
1. Take the Motorcycle Safety Foundation course offered by your state.
You can find out all about it here http://www.msf-usa.org/. This course and a test will be all you need to get your motorcycle license. If you haven’t signed up for the class yet, do it immediately. When I took the course in Southern California, the wait was nearly 3 months. The course is great, even if you already have some experience. It includes some classroom training as well as a full 10 hours on a motorcycle. You can check out a 5 minute summary video of the course here http://youtube.com/watch?v=prR20YZtPGU.
2. Practice riding on a friend’s motorcycle.
This may not be possible, but if you have a kind friend who wants to give you some pointers, it can really go a long way to making you feel comfortable before you get your own motorcycle.
Also, remember that your motorcycle is going to have a manual transmission. If you don’t know how a manual transmission works, you might want to learn on a car first to get a feel for how it works. The manual transmission can be intimidating. Several people at my MSF course quit the first day of riding because they couldn’t handle the coordination that is needed to shift the bike while riding.
3. Buy Gear before you start riding your bike.
You will be tempted to ride it even though you don’t have gear. Falling on pavement without proper gear is more painful than it sounds. Believe me, I know.
Choosing your motorcycle
1. Decide what type of riding appeals to you.
I have divided motorcycles into three classes: Sport, Standard, and Cruiser. You will probably already have a feeling for what you want to ride. If you don’t have any idea, I recommend Standard motorcycles as they are the most versatile. After riding your first motorcycle for 6 months to a year, you should definitely have a good idea of what you want.
2. Calculate all the costs associated with riding. Not just the cost of the bike.
Insurance can be high for a motorcycle, especially a fast one. Just buying a helmet, jacket, and gloves will probably cost around $500 or more. If you’re buying used, you need to budget for a professional inspection and probably some repairs.
3. Don’t get too big of an engine… or too small.
Obviously, don’t get too fast of a motorcycle to begin on. You are going to crash and it’s better that you don’t have the ability to crash at 180 mph. Many of today’s 600 cc sport bikes are incredibly fast and should not be ridden by a beginner. The power comes on so quickly that just a slip of the wrist can have the entire bike flip out from underneath you.
You can not completely tell the speed of a motorcycle based on it’s engine size. A 1300 cc cruiser may be slower than a 600 cc sports bike.
Too small an engine can be just as dangerous as a big one. Having power available at any time is essential for getting yourself out of dangerous situations. Also, since you are smaller and harder to see than the cars around you, having some extra power when merging with traffic can be a big help.
4. Check my Buying Tips section for more pointers on how and where to buy your motorcycle.
Once you get your motorcycle.
1. Start by riding in areas with slow speed limits and low rates of traffic.
Get yourself comfortable for the first few days. Slowly build up your confidence and sooner than you think you will be tearing up turns and riding on the open highway.
2. Don’t ride after drinking.
Seriously, even one drink is too much. The one time a took a spill was just after I had one Jack and Coke… Coincidence? Probably not.
3. You are going to drop your bike.
You are going to crash at some point. I know of no one who has lasted more than 6 months without doing some damage to themselves, their bike, and usually both. This is usually a good reason to buy a cheaper bike at first. I recommend that you get a bike with frame sliders and minimal plastic fairing so that you don’t damage it too much.
4. Wear your gear.
It is more of a pain in the ass than you would think to wear all your gear when you ride. Don’t get lazy. Road rash sucks.
5. Keep your head up
This is the one piece of advice that they cram in your brain during the MSF course. Always be looking up, don’t get distracted and start looking at the pavement right in front of you. This is important for two reasons. First, you won’t believe how true this is until you start riding, but the motorcycle will always go where you are looking. Second, if you look down, you are going to lose focus on what is going on around you. With practice, you will get better at using your peripheral vision to see everything around you.