In this installment of Riding Right, MSF instructor Susan Rzepka Orion answers a common reader question: What should you consider when buying your first motorcycle?
WRN Reader Vanja's Question:
Can you recommend a good motorcycle for a beginner? I have ridden on the back of bikes before, but I don't know what type of bike I should be looking into. I am 20 years old and have been absolutely dreaming about learning how to ride. I want to take lessons and own my own bike, but my family has many concerns and stereotypical opinions. As a young woman in love with riding, I'd like to get some advice. I weigh 132 pounds, and I am 5-foot-8. I assume the weight of the bike is very important, too, but I don't know what to consider, so any advice is appreciated.
I'm glad you sent in this question. This is one of the most commonly asked questions because selecting your first motorcycle is a big deal. There are a lot of factors to consider, and the decision-making process can seem especially confusing when you've never ridden a motorcycle before. However, if you're armed with the right information, you can make a selection and purchase with confidence.
The Suzuki GZ250, an entry-level motorcycle.
Once you decide to buy a motorcycle, you'll probably ask for advice from a friend or relative, or rely on the expertise of a salesperson. All the advice you get is fine—and you'll probably learn a thing or two—but the opinions of others are no match for your own personal needs. Buying a motorcycle is a lot like buying footwear. You have to consider fit, form and function—not to mention your finances! Boots, clogs and sandals may all serve the foot, but they do so in very distinct ways.
The Kawasaki Vulcan 500, an entry-level or middleweight bike.Fit
Size does matter—yours and the bike's. What's more important than your height and weight, however, is the length of your arms and legs. When you go to purchase a bike, make sure you know your inseam measurement, which is the length from your crotch to the ground. You should also be sure to try out different seat heights. Even with boots on, a rider with a 30-inch inseam will not fit comfortably on a bike with a 33-inch seat height.
The Harley-Davidson Sportster 1200 Low, a step up in power from the Sportster 883, Harley's entry-level motorcycle.
Sit on as many bikes as you can to get a feel for the controls. With someone spotting you, check the fit of the bike. Can you place both feet flat on the ground without straining? Can you reach all the controls without overextending yourself? Or are you too restricted, too cramped in the riding position? Can you turn the handlebars in both directions? Reach the brake pedal? Operate the levers? While some seats and controls can be adjusted somewhat, you should feel comfortable with the way your bike feels. Like footwear, a motorcycle needs to fit your body in order to work for you.
You should also consider the weight of the bike and the size of the engine. Engines are commonly referred to by their cubic centimeter (cc) displacement—the more cc's an engine has, the more power. When you handle a bike, pay attention to how heavy it feels. Can you pull the bike off the sidestand without a struggle? If it feels too heavy for you, it probably is too heavy for you, and you don't need a whole lot of bike when you're first learning how to ride. My first bike was a Suzuki Savage 650, a single-cylinder machine that weighed only 350 pounds. It was a great bike to learn on, fit my small frame beautifully, and I rode it for five years before I felt I needed anything bigger. Larger, heavier bikes are not the best choice for beginners. Neither are high-performance sportbikes. I think it's best to learn on something small and manageable, which you can build your skills and confidence on, before moving to a larger bike.
The Suzuki Boulevard S40. At 650cc, this is an easy to handle beginner bike boasting decent power. Form and Function
Know the different types of motorcycles—and by "types," I don't mean brands. There are cruisers, sportbikes, standards, dirtbikes and dual-sports, just to name a few. Each has a different purpose and look, and while this is where style and preference come into play, the key here is function.
What do you plan to do with the bike? Will you be puttering around the neighborhood? Commuting 50 miles a day on the highway? Taking long trips on the weekends? Do you need cargo room? Are you going to be riding on paved roads, dirt roads, or both? I'm about to trade my Yamaha V Star 1100, a great and comfortable cruiser (also available in an entry-level 650), for a BMW F 650 GS, a light, nimble dual-sport that also happens to be a great beginner bike. Why? I'm riding more on unpaved highways, and the V Star wasn't built for that function. You wouldn't wear sandals in the snow!
The F 650 GS is considered BMW's entry-level motorcycle. This is a dual-sport bike, meaning it does well on gravel and rocky roads as well as on pavement.Finances
As with any large purchase, money is an important factor when it comes to buying a motorcycle. What can you afford to invest in a first bike? Remember, your first motorcycle does not have to be the bike of your dreams. If you take the time to learn to ride right, you'll probably move up to a different bike later on. And because it's likely that your first bike will end up on the ground at least once (usually due to improper handling at very low speeds), you might want to consider buying a late-model used motorcycle. The first scratch won't hurt as much that way, and you won't beat yourself up over a drop if one occurs.
You wouldn't buy an expensive pair of hiking boots just to walk in the park. As far as motorcycles are concerned, if you buy a bike that's too big or too powerful for your beginner skill level, not only could you be wasting your money, you could also be risking your life.
Choose wisely and ride right!
Susan Rzepka Orion is a certified MSF
RiderCoach and Rider's Edge Instructor who loves to ride, write, and
help others who want to do the same. You can find her on the road on her
Yamaha V Star 1100 Custom (for now) or on the Web at WritingWays.com.
Looking for more information about picking a starter motorcycles? Return to the Choosing Your First Motorcycle section of the WRN Beginner's Guide.