Home for the summer with way too much free time on my hands after a long and miserable year at Chico State in Northern California, I quickly discovered that pretty much everyone I knew in Orange County had either moved away or moved on. I needed a hobby I could do by myself in my free time that isn't associated with hairy palms or blindness. After considering all the summer recreation standards--becoming a beach bum, working out, starting a meth lab, drinking myself into oblivion, founding a pirate radio station--the best new hobby when you're 22, male and bored is obviously motorcycle riding. Having already done the stereotypical, restore-a-classic-car routine, this seemed like the next logical step to live out a premature midlife crisis.
Getting into motorcycle riding can be somewhat confusing if you're new to everything. From picking out the right insurance to dealing with 405 traffic, it's a completely different experience from driving a car. So, as a new rider in Orange County, this blog series is aimed at helping fellow newbies who are curious about getting into motorcycling and calloused vets who feel nostalgic (or just want someone to laugh at).
Step one is picking out the right bike to learn on. Unlike cars, a bike that is too big or too powerful for an inexperienced rider will more than likely get them hurt, because there isn't a lot of leeway for a learning curve. In an accident in a car, what is a fender-bender or relatively minor body damage equates to getting thrown from the vehicle on a motorcycle. And that could mean getting tossed into moving traffic. Just because you can find a good deal on a used 1200cc sport bike or a Harley Road King doesn't mean you should even consider getting one until it's within your ability range. And if you're new to riding, it's not. Motorcycles are divided up into about five general categories:
-Sport bikes ("crotch rockets"), which are ideal for speed and maneuverability. Top choice for 20-somethings who are trying to kill themselves.
-Cruisers--think Harley Davidson; they're big and heavy and are good for, well, cruising and longer rides. Top choice for 40-and 50-somethings who think they're 20-somethings.
-Standard bikes, which are kind of a reduced cruiser.
-Dirt bikes, which aren't street legal and should only be used off-road, but are great for riding dirt trails, jumps, and wearing Metal Mulisha or No Fear T-shirts to pick up on chicks who wear over-sized shades.
-Dual-sport/enduro bikes, which are sort of street-legal dirt bikes, equipped with signal lights and headlights, and can be used on or off-road. This is a great option for those who enjoy trail riding, but don't want to buy a truck to transport a dirt bike.
There are others, such as touring, sport touring, naked, scooters (HA!), choppers, rat bikes, and more, but we'll keep things general.
Sites such as craiglist.org or cycletrader.com offer some good deals on used bikes. But highly recommended is getting some pointers from anyone you may know who rides, or at least read as many online forums as possible before you commit. If you don't have your license yet, or if you don't know your ass from a clutch lever, then have a buddy test ride your potential starter bike to see how it handles, accelerates, stops, etc. It's just like shopping for a new or used car.
For a first bike, used is best. They're cheaper, they've usually been broken in already, and they are very easy to find with low miles on them (usually due to threat of divorce or just apathy). There's also no need to spend $4,000+ on a starter bike, because there's a very good chance you're going to drop it at least a couple of times, and resale value plummets the second the chrome, fairings (a.k.a. expensive plastic body pieces), gas tank, handlebars, etc. hit the pavement.
Here's a good list of things to look for when getting a used bike: http://www.clarity.net/%7Eadam/buying-bike.html
Get something light that you can move around easily. The concept of worrying about what your mode of transportation weighs may seem strange, but keep in mind that a car does its balancing on its own. It's your job to keep a motorcycle upright at a stoplight, and you don't want an 800-pound Harley coming down on top of you when you accidentally stall out during takeoff.
Power is also something to be wary of at first. Again, unlike a car, where more ponies is always a good thing, bikes can get you in trouble real fast if you ride out of your ability range. Also, since a motorcycle is thousands of pounds lighter and much smaller than a car, the horsepower is substantially scaled back. You're not going to need anything higher than about 50 horsepower for a first bike; but as little as 15 horsepower is enough for surface-street speeds. Engine sizes about 500cc and below will suit beginner needs.
Here's a review of some popular entry-level bikes: http://www.motorcyclecruiser.com/roadtests/beginner_motorcycles_comparison/index.html
I thought about getting a 250cc bike, such as a Yamaha Virago or Honda Rebel--something very small and mostly designed for street riding, but not really recommended for extended freeway travel. But I didn't want to have to trade up after only a couple of months from outgrowing it, if you will. So, I decided on a 1992 Suzuki GS500E. It only had about 10,000 miles on it; It's light and maneuverable, which is ideal when you're only 5'9"; it has plenty of power for freeway riding, but not a scary amount--about 45 horsepower; it gets somewhere in the neighborhood of 55 to 60 mpg when tuned properly (suck it, Prius); and it's easy on the eyes.
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Oh yeah, most importantly, there's this: I got it for free from a family member. . . . But you can find a good, used GS500 for around $1,300-$2,000.
Yes, motorcycle riding is very cool, but you forfeit all awesomeness points if you can't handle your bike and end up doing an accidental wheelie and fall on your ass in the middle of Jeronimo, or if you take on a winding road too fast and end up in roadside foliage--if you're lucky. There is no amount of armor in the world that can protect an ego from injury, so be smart when picking out a bike.