Sunday, November 22, 2009

Guide to Selecting Your First Motorcycle

For the first time rider, choosing your first motorcycle is often a daunting decision. Now, more than ever, the motorcycle industry in North America is making high-quality, smaller displacement motorcycles that make excellent first motorcycles. But what bike is right for you? That really depends on a number of factors. In many jurisdictions, your choice in motorcycles may be limited by a graduated motorcycle licensing scheme. Often these systems limit your engine displacement or power-to-weight ratio rating. Be sure to check these details before purchasing a motorcycle.

The purpose of the bike is your primary consideration. Are you looking solely for a bike just to learn the basics? A 250cc bike or smaller, such as the Honda CBR125, or the Kawasaki Ninja 250, are both modern, high quality bikes that provide reliable mounts while you learn the ropes. The aforementioned Ninja can even manage highway speeds.

If you would like your first motorcycle to carry you past your first riding season, you may want to consider a motorcycle with a slightly larger displacement. Something in the 250-500cc range, such as the Suzuki GS500 or the Kawasaki Ninja 500 will allow for more than one season of riding. Larger displacement also means a larger bike, which may fit a slightly larger rider more comfortably, and also increase the feasibility of long range highway rides.

Should you be looking for a motorcycle that you can learn the basics on and keep for the long term, you have a wide variety of options. There are a number of 600-650cc bikes in the North American market that have ample power, range and size to keep a rider satisfied for many seasons. The key is to stay away from true sport motorcycles, which come along with too much power for the beginner, as well as extremely high insurance rates.

If you are not afraid of a little do-it-yourself maintenance, a Japanese motorcycle from the 1980s can be a good bet. Despite some having larger displacement engines, they also tend to be heavier, thus reducing the power-to-weight ratio into the more manageable range. They are cheap, easy to find and offer long distance comfort and pleasant ergonomics (seating position, reach to the handlebars and leg position). Parts can be harder to find, and the potential of more maintenance is almost a certainty. My first motorcycle was an early 80s Honda 750, which fit my 6'0 frame much better than a small displacement motorcycle. It allowed me to learn the basics, without tempting me with too much power, too early on for my skill set.

As I alluded to before, a bike that fits you properly is a prime consideration. No matter how much you like a bike, if your feet do not touch the ground, you are in trouble. Conversely, if you are a taller rider, a smaller bike may be too cramped. Cramped ergonomics are particularly noticeable on long distance rides and can cause serious discomfort. A bad fit on a motorcycle is a safety hazard that should be avoided.

Next, your budget will dictate many of your choices. If you are unsure whether you will really like motorcycling, reducing your initial investment is a wise idea. Enter older used motorcycles, which are initially inexpensive to purchase, and have gone through all the depreciation previously. Often you can sell such a motorcycle for what you have paid for it initially. Many of the modern, small displacement road motorcycles hold their value well, so for a larger investment initially, you can recover a large percentage of that initial cost. This way, you can avoid some of the higher cost maintenance issues that tend to come along with older motorcycles.

After narrowing down your choice based on purpose, fit and budget, you can then choose what bike resonates with you most. This is a more subjective consideration; however you will often know what the right bike for you is when you "fall in love with it". Once you've chosen your ride, you are now set to start building your skills and experience on a motorcycle. By this time, I hope you have already completed a motorcycle safety training program and have the proper protective gear. A little dose of humility while learning to ride will pay large dividends later in your motorcycle riding life. Learning the basics at slow speeds, how to interact with traffic, avoid collisions and ride in a variety of conditions will make you a better, safer rider.

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