So you want to ride a motorcycle...
My open letter to every FNG. Hope this helps. Zillers, please correct me where I am wrong, or elaborate where I am too light on details. Thanks.
My advice to you, new guy:
Read about motorcycle safety before you get started. Your state probably has a written license test required for drivers seeking a motorcycle endorsement on their license, or seeking a motorcycle learner's permit. There is usually a study guide or pamphlet related to the test. Get a copy. Read it. You'll have to know this stuff before you're licensed anyway. The material in the pamphlet is the bare minimum of information about motorcycle operation and safety. Once you've memorized it, point out to yourself that you now know about 1% of what there is to know about how to ride well. Seek out additional reading material. David Hough's book "Proficient Motorcycling" may be available at your public library. You owe it to yourself to find out if it is. Go look for it. If you read it cover to cover, you will know an additional 10%, but it will be the most important 10%.
When you're starting out, it's far more important to decide what safety gear you're going to buy than what you will ride. At the bare minimum, you should buy a good, brand new, Snell certified helmet before you ever sit on a motorcycle. But don't just walk into a store and buy one - ask for the storekeeper to help you find one that fits. If the storekeeper is not willing, or doesn't give you a detailed explanation of what the fitment criteria are, walk out. Your helmet has to fit right, or it won't work. It should not move when you nod your head up and down, or swivel your head side to side vigorously. You should be able to make yourself good and dizzy without the helmet moving on your head. There's more to it than that - a good shopkeeper will explain the rest. Once you've found something that fits, make sure that it's comfortable before buying. Wear it around the store for at least 20 minutes. This will be just about enough time for you to determine if the helmet presses, or rubs in spots. The helmet you buy should be absolutely comfortable. If anything about it is irritating, you'll regret it later. Additional basic safety gear includes gloves and boots. These are important because you'll need them for your beginning motorcycle training, but for the moment, all you need is over-the-ankle boots with non-slip soles, preferably without laces, and the simplest of thin, leather-palmed gloves with fingers. Motorcycle specific gloves and boots are nice, but not strictly necessary.
When it's time to ride a bike for the first time, make your investment minimal. Motorcycling isn't for everyone. Ask any MSF instructor or range aide - at every BRC (beginning riders' class) there is at least one student who, despite an obvious desire to learn to ride motorcycles, just does not get it, nor are they likely to ever get it. They go home disappointed, and maybe a little mad or embarrassed. But at least they go home alive. This might be you. Resist the temptation to buy a motorcycle before you've completed a rider training course.
Take the Motorcycle Safety Foundation BRC, or an equivalent. These programs provide the motorcycle, direct coaching, and step you through safe motorcycle operation and techniques in a proven and effective way. Frequently, depending on the program and the state, passing such a class gets you your motorcycle endorsement for your drivers license, and may qualify you for lower insurance rates. This is the best investment of your time and money you can make as a beginning motorcyclist.
Once you've taken and passed the training, you can consider motorcycling on your own. Before you buy a motorcycle, it's time to invest in the rest of your gear. You have the helmet. Now is the time to find good fitting, comfortable and functional riding gear that matches the environment you'll be riding in. If it's not comfortable and functional, you won't wear it, and it will be a waste of money, sitting in your closet while you lie bleeding to death in a ditch. Full racing leathers with a speed hump and chrome graphics may make you feel like you look cool, but will you wear them every day on your daily commute? Will you put them on to go five blocks to your girlfriend's house? What will they smell like after two months? Would you wear them to a restaurant? Good gear should be easy and convenient to put on and take off. It should offer protection from light rain and low temperatures. It should be reasonably comfortable at twenty miles an hour on the hottest day of the year. Washable textile gear is a huge plus. Two piece gear that zips together is a big plus. You'll want warm weather gloves and cold weather gloves, motorcycle specific. You'll want protective and waterproof boots. You can get all of this stuff for around $800-$1000 if you look. Premium items may be more comfortable, more protective and more convenient, and will cost more accordingly. Buy this stuff now, so you're not tempted to spend the money on a motorcycle down payment or on silly accessories for the motorcycle you buy. Good gear will do a bunch of things: save your life in a crash, prevent you from getting in some crashes, enhance your comfort on the bike, extend your riding season and the conditions in which you can ride, protect your street clothes from damage or dirt, and make it possible for you to extend motorcycling into far more of your routine activities. After training, there is no better value for your motorcycling dollar than good gear.
Now it's time to find your motorcycle. Consider the used market if you are mechanically competent enough to identify safety issues, avoid buying a bike from a private seller if you're not. This is your first motorcycle. It's your platform for learning. Err on the side of caution here - go for a bike that's easy to ride, and resilient enough to not get badly damaged if it's knocked over or dropped. A small dual sport motorcycle is ideal, but may be far from your idea of stylish. Don't worry too much about stylish, because a crashed custom Harley or Gixxer looks a heck of a lot less stylish than a functioning dual sport. If a dual sport really isn't your cup of tea, look at small capacity standards like the Suzuki GS500E. These bikes will go anywhere a more expensive bike can go, and have more potential than you will have skill to use for a great many months to come, if not years. When you're tired of them, they sell quickly, or can be traded in for your next motorcycle purchase. That's another thing to remember: If motorcycling is for you, if the two wheel fever really grips you, you will own lots of motorcycles in the future. Don't get too hung up on which one you should buy, because your eye will wander in two years, and there will be another machine to take its place.
Next, commit yourself to a life-long routine of skills practice. If you love motorcycles, you'll love any time you spend riding them, including brushing up your skills once a month in your local empty parking lot, or taking a refresher training class every other year. All of that stuff you learned in the BRC can be practiced just about whenever you want on your own. 15-20 minutes a month will keep your skills sharp, and could save your life one day. If you really enjoy the act of motorcycling, you'll love advanced training classes, whether they are street oriented, or track oriented. Every minute you spend taking in real instruction will enhance your love and appreciation of motorcycling. But take it easy - make sure that you find out what kind of instruction is offered and collect references before you sign up for "classes" because there's a tremendous variety of "schools" out there. Some are very attentive to new riders learning new skills, some are aimed at providing self-guided practice opportunity for more experienced riders.
In summary - Read books. Get a good helmet. Get training. Get gear. Pick an easy first bike. Practice and learn for the rest of your life.
Good luck, and have fun.
Last edited by banda; 05-24-2006 at 06:22 PM.
Reason: bigger font for old fogeys