Spring is almost here, and on SBN that means the off-season is ending, warmer weather is on the way, and there are lots of new members showing up looking to get into the sport. We always have a major influx of new members in the New Riders board this time of year, usually with the same questions and dilemmas, so this write-up is my way of trying to give something back to the community that helped me so much.
So you’re a new member here. You want to get a bike, but you have a few questions first. That’s not unusual, nobody comes into the sport knowing everything and we’ve all had questions at one time or another. Riding is a hobby for some, a lifestyle for others. I’ve met a lot of people and covered a lot of pavement in the last few years, and I don’t regret a moment. In fact, riding is something I’ll never leave behind – I’ve already decided that I’ll be homeless before I’m bikeless! Hopefully your interest in our sport turns into a lifetime addiction that will bring you a lot of great memories, like it has for me.
So grab a cup of coffee and get ready for a long read, because I wrote this introduction so that curious people such as yourself can get a proper start with the obsession.
So where we start?
The first thing you should do
is sign up for a motorcycle safety course. Riding is an inherently risky activity, and the MSF (Motorcycle Safety Foundation) is an excellent resource for new riders. Having a friend or family member teach you how to ride may be an option, but do not rely on it for the proper training. Experienced riders commonly learn a thing or two when taking or re-taking the MSF Basic Rider Course.
The MSF course will teach you proper braking, turning, and evasive maneuvers for street riding, skills that may seem simple but may end up saving your life on the streets. Instructors will watch you throughout the practical part of the course and identify any bad habits before they become a problem. This is valuable instruction that will help immensely when it comes time to throw a leg over the saddle. It will make you a better rider, too.
Cost will vary by state, but it is free in many locations. Upon successful completion of both a written and practical exam, you will either get your M endorsement or a waiver for part of the DMV test. Many insurance companies offer a discount in premiums for completing the MSF, so even if the course is not free in your state, the initial cost is offset by decreased payments over several years. Don’t let the price of instruction sway you from taking the course! You don’t realize how important classroom instruction can be until you realize that you probably need it. Go in with an open mind. A lot of the riding portion may seem elementary, but you’ll only learn if you make an effort to do so. Take it with a family member, it’s a great way to bond.
More Information can be found on the MSF website ( Motorcycle Safety Foundation
or here on Sportbikes.net ( http://www.sportbikes.net/forums/msf...ty-foundation/
Before you can purchase a bike
you have to get the proper safety gear. Again, with riding being such a risky activity, the goal is to minimize the risk so that you can be free of worry when on the road. First thing you’ll need is a helmet. Any brand will do, as long as it’s both DOT and SNELL approved. I currently own all HJC helmets, which meet both standards and can be commonly found for between $70 and $200. More expensive brands like Shoei and Arai meet the same standards, but tend to be lighter, quieter, and more comfortable. Try on many brands before committing to buy, some helmets fit some heads better than others. Your helmet should be snug but not tight, and there should be no discomfort after several minutes. Go to your local bike shop and try a few on, walk around the store with it, give it a good critiquing. You’ll be wearing it for hours on end, so get familiar with it before you decide to drop your credit card on the counter.
But that’s not all when it comes to gear. Your body is soft and spongy, pavement is hard and abrasive. Run a tomato along a cheese grater, and you’ll have an idea of what can happen to your skin when you have an unexpected accident.
Leather will offer the best protection when sliding across pavement and it’s worth every penny. Textile offers slightly less protection but is cooler on hotter days. At the bottom of the protection ladder we have mesh, which I personally don’t own, but I’m sure is cool on a hot day. I’ve seen people go down with both leather and textile without any injuries, so I’ll recommend them. All gear should fit snugly enough that it won’t be ripped from your body or shift much in the event of a get-off.
A quick list of what you’ll need, and what I consider minimal gear:
Gloves should fit like, well, a glove. I keep a warm weather and cold/wet weather pair in my luggage so I’m ready for any weather conditions. I prefer gauntlet-type gloves, which cover the cuff of my jacket. It keeps drafts from running up your sleeve and will provide an extra barrier against skin in case you go down.
Boots should be snug with adequate ankle and toe protection. Aside from that, whatever is comfortable.
I wouldn’t say pants are essential gear right away, but your butt may say otherwise. I own a pair but I don’t commute to work with them - I do, however, wear them on weekend trips or quick runs up and down the local mountain roads when I’m riding more aggressively and I’m more likely to need them. JEANS ARE NOT GEAR!
Denim will not hold up to pavement. Again, your safest bet when it comes to pants is leather or textile. Get something you can be comfortable in. Swamp-ass is a common occurrence on warm days, so make sure you get something that will remain comfortable after several hours.
Your budget for gear should be anywhere between $500 and $1000, more depending on your taste for the finer things in life. For some good deals on everything from helmets to boots, check:
New Enough Motorcycle Apparel sells motorcycle jackets, pants and suits, boots, gloves, helmets, etc :: New Enough Motorcycle Apparel
I’ve had nothing but an excellent experience with them over the years. Also check the Riders Gear forum here on SBN:
So now you’re ready for a bike
, right? Not yet.
Look to several insurance companies for the best rate on several bikes to see what you can afford. If you’re young and fairly new to the streets, this is where your dreams of a brand new bike off the showroom floor become painfully unrealistic. It is not uncommon to be quoted more annually than the cost of a new bike.
If you plan on financing your first bike, your lender will probably require full coverage. This can be pricey. Shop around and get quotes from several insurance companies. If you get the urge to simply get liability coverage, think about how much fun it will be making payments on a bike that you no longer own after a wreck or theft. There are several members of SBN who fell into this trap, and needless to say, they don’t ride much anymore. Realize that premiums will vary depending on your age, driving history, and location.
Get quotes for a few different bikes as well. A smaller CC standard parallel-twin motorcycle will undoubtedly cost less to insure than a 600cc inline 4 fully-faired sportbike. More than likely, these quotes will determine what bike you end up looking for and ultimately purchasing.
Here is a thread on SBN where you can reference other members’ insurance costs: Post what you pay for insurance
Now you’re ready
to start looking for your first.
Before I get started, here’s some links that should be read:
Statistically, most riders will change bikes an average of every three years. So if you fit into this group, which is more than likely, the first bike you purchase will be just that – your first. This is the first thing to keep in mind when browsing the classifieds. Don’t worry if you don’t find exactly what you want right away, your first bike certainly won’t be your last.
If you’re a brand new rider with zero-to-limited experience, you’ll need something that will provide you with a stable, forgiving learning platform while you build the skills necessary to harness the power of a full-on street bike. Widely acceptable choices come in a range of flavors. At one end of the spectrum, there are the tried-and-true entry-level sportbikes: The Kawasaki Ninja EX250 And the Hyosung GT250.
Either one is a fine choice for a new rider, and will provide you with everything you need to gain experience. If you’re 250lbs or less, they will get you going from 0 to 60 MPH faster than most cars on the street. They get upwards of 50 miles per gallon, cost pennies to insure, and in the end they cost less to maintain.
The Kawasaki has been around since the 80s and was relatively unchanged until 2007, so their reliability is proven. I haven’t met a 250 owner that isn’t batshit crazy over their Ninjette. In 2008 the model received a cosmetic upgrade, as well as some mechanical updates. If you want to look good AND start small, this is the way to go. A used 250 will sell for anywhere between $1000 and $2000 with several thousand miles - even up to 20,000 miles is OK if the bike has been maintained. The good news is that after a season or two, you can sell that same bike for what you paid and get most of your money back. These little Ninjas are in high demand in the new rider market, so don’t be afraid of losing money by buying small.
The Hyosungs are newcomers to the entry-level sportbike scene, but their owners are just as fanatic when it comes to brand loyalty. They are slightly more expensive and their dealer network may be less widespread, but feel free to check them out as well.
SBN’s 250 forum: http://www.sportbikes.net/forums/ninja-250r/
SBN’s Hyosung GT250 forum: http://www.sportbikes.net/forums/hyosung/
If you are above 250lbs, taller, or want something with a little more power, the next tier is what you may be looking for. This is where you’ll find the Suzuki GS500 and Kawasaki Ninja EX500.
The Suzuki GS500 is another one of those tried-and-true “been around the block” entry-level bikes that has proven itself to be reliable, forgiving, and great for a new rider. There are naked and fully-faired versions on the used market. I’ve heard people ask if the GS500 was a GSX-R, and I personally think they look great for being so affordable.
The Kawasaki Ninja EX500 is the EX250’s bigger brother, but it’s another reliable entry-level bike that would be perfect for a new rider. They have the same tame nature, but the 500 has more power and is better suited for commuting and interstate riding.
SBN’s GS500 forum: http://www.sportbikes.net/forums/gs500f/
SBN’s EX500 forum: http://www.sportbikes.net/forums/ninja-500r/
Some people will recommend larger bikes like the SV650, Ninja 650, Katana, GSX650F, or ZZR600, but it’s my opinion that these bikes are a little too powerful for somebody with MSF-only riding experience.
So go out to the dealerships, sit on a few bikes, and decide what’s most comfortable. This is perhaps the most important thing, because you won’t want to spend much time on the saddle if you’re not comfortable for an extended period of time. If you’re curious about a particular model, there’s bound to be current owners on the SBN forums who can answer any question you have.
Keep in mind that you don’t yet know what kind of rider you will be! I got into the sport thinking I’d be ripping around a track within a year or two, instead I found that I like touring. Starting with a beginner bike that is forgiving and versatile gives you room to explore many possibilities and find out what you really enjoy. You may find that you want to explore track riding, touring, adventure touring, or even stunting after a few seasons. After you have the essential riding experience, anything is possible, and if you go with a versatile entry-level bike, you haven’t backed yourself into a corner with your bike purchase (like buying a race-replica only to find that you prefer dualsports, or buying a cruiser then discovering the world of stunting.)
But you want something fast
and sexy, right?
Well, here’s where the debate starts. If you’re a new rider, and you’re asking the most basic of questions, do you really think you’re ready for a race-replica sportbike?
It’s a common argument on Sportbikes.net. Some riders think it’s fine to start on a supersport if you’re responsible, others say it’s not worth the risk.
Personally, I err on the side of caution and recommend the same bikes to every new rider who comes along, because we have no way of knowing if you’re capable of starting safely on a supersport, or if you’d be a danger to everybody on the road. By sticking with the “start small” mantra, I don’t have to worry about validating a death sentence for some meathead who whacks the throttle open on his new Gixxerbusa14 right out of the dealership parking lot.
Driving a fast car is nothing like riding a motorcycle. Geometry, turning, throttle and brake control, all are completely different and being experienced with one has absolutely no bearing on whether or not you’d be good at the other. You can’t come straight from winning an autocross event, hop on a 600cc supersport for the first time, and run laps with the intermediate or advanced riders. You’ll more likely be at the back of the beginner class getting lapped by 2-strokes.
Being responsible does not make you a good rider. It prevents you from doing stupid things and pursuing the proper training, but responsibility doesn’t react in an emergency situation. To me, responsibility means having the sense to start on an appropriate machine and realize that you’re not Nicky Hayden.
Respecting the bike won’t help either. I respected my mother when I was a kid, but she still slapped the hell out of me when I did something stupid. A supersport has the potential to do the same thing.
Riding is a series of inputs that result in desired effects. You twist the throttle, bike moves forward. You apply the brakes, bike slows down. You countersteer, bike turns. These are the simplest of actions that should be instinctive. As a new rider, you probably don’t have the ability to do these things without first giving them some thought.
Do you know exactly what your body would do if you were at full lean in a decreasing radius, left-hand, uphill turn and you suddenly see a patch of loose gravel in front of you? Do you know exactly how your left and right hand would react if you braked hard and your front tire locked? If you’re a new rider and you don’t yet own a bike, you probably don’t know.
That’s where the problem lies. A full-on race-replica bike (GSX-R, CBR, ZX6, R6, etc.) will act on the inputs it’s given, regardless of whether or not the rider in the saddle intended to give it that signal. A new rider may brake hard, telling the bike to “Brake as hard as possible.” Front brake locks, and both bike and rider are now entering a situation where the outcome depends on the experience of the one giving the input. In another scenario, bike and rider are at a good lean in a turn, rider dials in more throttle, unintentionally giving the bike the signal to “Provide more power to the rear wheel.” The rear breaks traction, and again bike and rider are again in a situation where the outcome relies on the ability of the rider to recover from a dangerous situation. Unfortunately, new riders in these situations commonly end up testing the limits of their gear. The problem is that these riders are on bikes they do not have the experience to properly control, while the bikes are simply doing exactly what they are told. With a more experienced rider, these situations are nothing more than pucker moments that remind them of their bike’s limits.
A suitable beginner bike will give more margins for error in these situations. A supersport might put you on your ass in a ditch, while an EX500 might get in your face and say, “Are you sure you want to do that?” I’m certainly not saying one can’t begin on a supersport, but riding just well enough to survive is not the ultimate goal, especially if you plan on enjoying the riding lifestyle for many years to come.
So now it’s time to start looking.
There are a few things to look for when buying your first bike. One important thing: mileage is not indicative of how well a bike has been maintained! I’ve seen bikes with 40,000 miles that have been taken care of and run like new, and on the other hand I’ve seen bikes with 5,000 miles that are completely trashed. If you don’t know much about bikes, take a friend or family member who knows what they’re doing.
First of all, a few bumps and dents are to be expected on a bike that has been ridden. I’ve heard people say they won’t buy a bike that’s “been down,” but I challenge you to find a bike that’s been ridden a lot and hasn’t been dropped once or twice. My Katana was down once on each side before I purchased it, and once while I was working on it. No permanent damage done, just some “character” scratches.
But if the bike has been down, make sure the frame and subframe (area over the rear wheel) are straight. Forks should be straight, and the bike should track straight when ridden. Handlebars/clipons should not be crooked, and the shift and rear brake lever should be straight. Brake and clutch handles should not be bent or broken, and clutch and throttle cables should be in good shape. Ask the seller to describe any dings, bumps, scratches, cracks or obvious marks.
Throttle should not have any play, but a little bit is fine. Tires should have good tread, no cuts or slices, no nails/screws, and no cracks from drying. Brake lines should not be cracking or rusting. Brakes should work flawlessly, both front and back, and there should be no wobble under braking. Brake rotors should be straight, and brake fluid level should be at the full mark. Shine a flashlight into the fuel tank, there should be zero rust. All rubber hoses should show no signs of cracking. Ask the seller if maintenance was performed at the recommended intervals.
Chain should have a little bit of play, but not so much that it hangs like a worn-out rubber band. Chain should not be rusted and links should not bind. Chain should be free of dirt, sand, and other debris, and should be properly lubed or waxed. Sprockets should not be hooked. Sprocket wear:
All lights, signals, instrumentation, gagues, and horn should work without question.
Ask the seller to start the bike and let it warm up. It should turn over without a problem. Let the bike run for a few minutes to get up to operating temperature. Carbureted bikes will probably run rough with the choke until they’re warm. This is normal. As long as the bike starts without hesitation, you only need worry about irregularities once everything is running at operating temp.
If the bike has an oil level window, it should show as full. Listen for a rough idle, backfiring, pinging, or irregular noises. Engine should not smoke or sputter. Throttle response should be immediate without any lags or hesitation throughout the rev range. Rear shock should be firm yet compress when you sit on the bike. Forks should compress and rebound immediately when bouncing the front.
If the seller doesn’t have the title, don’t buy. Don’t expect a test ride without cash in hand. If you break it, you probably just bought it.
If the bike you’re looking at fails any of the criteria above, you can either use it as a bargaining chip or walk away. What you choose to do depends on how comfortable you are with purchasing a bike that might need some work before it’s safe for the road. Don’t be afraid of little things like consmetic bruises or a few rusty bolts. Wear and tear is expected if you’re looking at a 10 year-old bike.
Now you own a bike
, so what’s next?
Well, the experience doesn’t stop here. You’re still a new rider. From here on out, it’s your job to keep up with your training.
You can start here, with a list of recommended reading for motorcyclists: http://www.sportbikes.net/forums/new...materials.html
Some tips on how to stay alive: http://www.sportbikes.net/forums/new...tay-alive.html
Wear your gear ALL THE TIME. Sweat wipes off, road rash is painful.
After your first or second season, consider taking the MSF Experienced Rider Course. Find a local group of riders who have their head on straight. Post on the SBN forums, ask questions! There's literally thousands of years of combined experience here waiting to be tapped.
I hope this has been helpful for somebody. Stay safe and I’ll see you on the road.