Sunday, July 15, 2012

A newbie motorcycle buying/riding guide!

I have ridden motorcycles since I was five years old. I would not call myself an expert, but I ride well and have ridden a large number of different kinds and types of bikes, both street and off-road. I thought I might share some of the things I have learned, and pass on some insights and opinions I have gained as the miles have passed by inches below my feet.

  1. This is the most important thing I will ever tell another motorcycle rider…ever. Everyone, and I mean EVERYONE elseScreen-shot-2010-10-13-at-8.39.27-PM on the road woke up with one goal this morning, to kill you. They will try to do it every way they can, they will even trick you by looking you directly in the eyes as they pull out in front of you while you’re going 70 mph. If you don’t believe the above statement, ride like you do anyway.
  2. Every animal, triple fold at night, is out to kill you. Raccoons, opossum400200776_04bdc1c1f3s, cats, dogs, deer, cows, birds, armadillo, you name it. God made it to run out in front of you, especially in corners. Just like cage drivers, they will look you straight in the eye and then run right out there in your way. Best advice is don’t ride at the edge of your ability, if 100% of your skill and traction is already dedicated to making it around the corner, you have none left for avoiding the animal. If it’s small, run it over, if it’s big, try and avoid it. The only sure way to come out on two wheels is make sure your not being stupid to begin with.
  3. Other than cages (cars) and animals, the other common thingsgravel_on_road out to ruin your day are rocks, gravel, sand, mud, dirt, or other loose stuff in corners. These can really make a nice day bad. It’s another reason not to push the edge in corners, the more traction you need, and the more you lose due to these common road hazards, and the greater the chance you’re not going to keep the rubber side down.
  4. Unless you have enough money that money is no worry, and you can afford to always have a brand new bike, or can afford to have it worked on by other people, don’t buy a bike unless you plan on working on it. You need to know how, or be willing to learn how. At the least regular maintenance is a must, unless yshop_tools1ou’re fond of pushing, or worse, crashing. So brakes, oil, cables, leaks, fork seals, electrical work, and what not all need to be within your ability, or ability to learn. Or you need lots of money. You MUST have one, or the other. Regular maintenance on cars is cheaper in general, sometimes easier, parts are easier to find, and cheaper, help is more readily available, and in the end, not nearly as important. Sure, no one likes a blown engine, or a locked up rear end. But in a car, often the worse you get is left beside the road. On a bike, if things go bad the BEST you can hope is just being left beside the road.
  5. Chain vs. shaft vs. belt… There is no real correct answer to these questions. It’s all a matter of opinion. For me it depends on what I 0607_stcp_05_z 1981_harley_davidson_fhl_custom_motorcycle belt_drivewant, and what I’m doing. For crotch rockets or off road I’m partial to chain. For general street use and cruising, I like shaft. I’ve never owned a belt bike, but I’ve heard a bit about them. Mainly from my own experience, chain gives you more wheelie and tire burning low end torque, but requires regular maintenance in the form of wear inspection, oiling, and adjusting for stretching. Belt should be the same except for the oiling.  If your chain or beltChain breaks you have to contend with flying objects, and the chance that the belt/chain could get caught up in the rear wheel causing lockup. With shaft drive in my experience you get less low end “take off” power, (compared to the exact same bike with the shaft/chain being the only difference) but I think they are smoother and more “fluid” than chain. With shaft the only regular maintenance is changing the rear gear oil every few years. And check for leaks. Shafts are known to lock up the rear tire if ignored, but it seems mostly to be from neglect. A shaft rear gets a leak and it’s Shaft drivea slow leak so the fluid is never checked, if the leak is even noticed at all. Over time all the fluid is leaked out, the rear overheats, lockup. Or the fluid is just never changed. They are so maintenance free I think people forget. When I changed my rear fluid for the first time in my 27 year old bike (I got it at 26), I’m pretty sure I was the first. I had NEVER smelled fluid that smelled like that…I can’t even describe it. With all drive types, being aware of a new or strange noise should be high priority.
  6. Size matters! Without a doubt, like with anything in life, it’s best to start out small until you know what you’re doing! I’m not going to say you can’t learn to ride on a 1600, but really if you havHonda_Rebel_CMX_250e a choice, when learning, the smaller the better. A 250 is perfect, a 500-750 is ok when learning to ride depending on your size. The smaller you are the smaller a bike you need for comfort, ease of use, reaching the ground, and safety. A 250 falling on you is an entire word different then a 1200 or 1600 falling on you. I started out on a 50 (when I was 5), then an 80 (when I was 10), then a 600 (16 to 22) then a 250 (free bike), then a 750. I now ride a V-twin 700. A 250 will be a snap to maneuver around, get you where you’re going, will do the speed limit even on the freeway, and they get great gas mileage. However they do get blown around in the wind, and you won’t ever, EVER forget you have a passenger on back. Two average adults and you can tell a difference in take off and acceleration, and big difference in handling in the corners.XV_700 To me the 600-1000 range is the “perfect” sweet spot for an all around town bike. Light enough to be easy to maneuver around in a garage or parking lot, large enough to be decently comfortable, powerful enough to make you take notice, and they are big enough not to mind a passenger. In fact on my 700’s, as far as power I couldn’t tell the difference when someone was on the back  hardly at all, I just noticed in the corners, and then not too bad, just enough to know someone is there. On a mid-size bike you can still get blown around a bit, and on many older bikes they are still too small to be considered comfortable for longer rides. Newer bikes in general have longer, bigger, more comfortable frames. But this is not a steadfast rule. Now the big bikes, 1100+….. these are the true touring bikes. They are heavy, often have tons of options, from heat and A/C to intercom systems, don’t get the greatest gas mileage, often on par with smaller cars. You could add a passenger, or two even, and never notice the extra weight. They don’t blow around near as much as some of their smaller cousins. But don’t ever, EVER lay onetouring-motorcycle-loan down. They are not fun to get back on their wheels, even with help. They can be hard to maneuver, with some of the bikes like Goldwing's having electronic reverse motors to help get them around. But man oh man, if you gotta be in the saddle for any amount of time….SOOOOO worth it!!!!
  7. Saddle bags, sissy bar bags, and backpacks are your friend!! You’ll learn this, but just thought I’d share.
  8. I understand it’s not cool, and I know it’s annoying. And many long term riders will roll their eyes and sigh….but ALWAYS WEAR A HELM1898-1-mdET!!!! Unless your partial to brain damage, or hate your life of being able to feed yourself, and walk. There are lots of situations where having a helmet wouldn’t have made a difference, but there are also many it would have. And in these cases the BEST you can hope for is to die. Suck it up buttercup, grow a pair, screw what others think and strap on a lid…. Please don’t be an idiot, I don’t want to end up paying for your lifetime of health care needs because you were too cool to be smart.






  1. What brand and model is that touring bike?

    1. Kawasaki Vulcan 1700 Voyager.... Never owned a Kawasaki, but I like them. Sharp bikes.

  2. A very detailed post. Thank you very much because I learned a lot of good stuff.After you learn how to ride a motorcycle, you must learn how to take care of your ride.Motorcycle maintenance is very important in order to keep you bike on top condition.Every motorcycle rider should know the importance of having a well-maintained ride.

  3. There are so many useful tips here, Justin! The risk of motorcycle accidents is twice greater than passenger car accidents, so safety should be your number one concern. Accident prevention can be done through proper maintenance and skills training. Always remember that motorcycle riding is a serious responsibility, and that we are accountable for our safety on the road.

  4. Here’s my personal advice or tip to all the riders out there. Always be ready; make sure you have a maintenance kit with you wherever you go, particularly if you will be heading out for a long journey. This is very important, just so you’re always prepared for any kind of trouble you might encounter along the way.