No less than once every month, a potential new biker says to me “I’m looking to learn how to ride, want to take the (road test) and get a bike – what would you suggest?”
Buying your first bike is not an easy decision – especially when you don’t know much about the pastime in the first place. Elements to consider are:
1. Cost – Your disposable funds
2. The type of cycle that you want- sport bike versus cruiser
3. What your friends ride
4. The specific usage (long hauls versus a bar hopper)
5. Are you handy? Can you fix your sink or do you just let it drip until it magically stops on it’s own
6. Personal elements such as body shape, weight etc
7. Your likelihood to upgrade sooner rather than later
The seven principles outlined above are not in prioritized order except for Cost, It is likely the most important element of all these items and not only for the obvious reason that you are likely not Jay Leno who can afford any motorcycle upgrades under the sun. Rather because a bike that doesn’t fit, coupled with the cost to change is the leading reason why people stop riding altogether! (I have absolutely no data to back this up). When you buy the wrong bike, you realize you made a bad decision, sell it, have to take a loss on it and never want to relive the experience. Don’t make this mistake – look at something between $3k-$5k MAX! I paid $1,000 for my 1986 Honda Nighthawk 750 (picture below). It wasn’t pretty but it was mine.
A $3,000 motorcycle is always a $3,000 motorcycle
This seems ridiculous but it is in fact true to a point. Everybody needs starter bikes and whether it has 10k miles or 25k miles, somebody will buy it as long as it runs and looks mildly attractive.
Don’t get a poser bike. This is a first time rider who needs a brand new Harley, R1 etc.
You don’t deserve a good bike. You will drop it. Let me reiterate, you suck at riding. Just because you can drive a car fast and think you have reflexes like Chuck F’n Norris, you still don’t know how to ride a real motorcycle.Oh, and everybody hates the guy who never rode but buys a new sweet bike.
When you are ready to upgrade, you will be able to get your money back on that starter bike, just make sure you didn’t add a bunch of aftermarket parts as you never get money back on them.
Cruiser versus Sport bike:
This is really coupled with “what do your friends ride”. If you buy a sport bike and your buddies ride cruisers, you’re going to be bored riding their pace. If you buy a cruiser and your friends ride sport bikes (find new friends) you won’t be able to keep up and will not have much fun.
What kind of riding will you be doing?
If you just plan to jump around the city, the type of bike is less important unless you live somewhere with major potholes. Potholes and narrow front wheels is a lousy ride. In general, bar hoppers can be rigid, softail, crusier or sport. It doesn’t much matter.
FYI, I’m using the term “bar hopper” generically but it doesn’t mean you should get banged up and ride. If you pull out of a bar and drunkenly hit somebody’s bike, you will get your ass handed to you and you will deserve it.
If you plan on getting on the bike for a few hours, going to the beach or actually touring, you’ll probably be happier on a cruiser with some storage. If you don’t like baggers, detachable saddle bags are a good option. If you don’t have storage, you too will have a closet full of “destination gear”.
Destination gear is defined by:
The terrible sweatshirts you buy in Newport, Hyannis, Portland or any other day trip because it got dark and you forgot that you would have to ride home in the dark. We have all been there, it’s a rite of passage but know that you never find “cool clothes” at highway rest stops. They will have lobsters or sea shells on them.
Are you handy?
You know if you are or just want to be. The best thing you can do is admit where you fall into this spectrum.
If you are not handy, don’t get that sweet, classic knucklehead that only needs a little work to make it perfect! Old Harleys (and Triumphs for that matter) are beautiful – nothing like them and I hope to have one some day but I’m aware that this is like adopting a three legged dog with cataracts and a bladder control issue. You think that you can make a difference but you will fail… exquisitely!
Personal fit – body shape etc:
Normally I suggest a new rider starts with a 750 or something similar. A 250 (cruiser) is a common mistake because a rider doesn’t want something too big. Realistically you’ll outgrow the 250 within a few months at most. 750 is a good start but will likely be done after a season or two. If you are anything over 175 LBS, you’ll need an 1100 pretty quickly. Jetted/tuned and pipes will make this pretty ridable for a few years.
If you are over 225 LBS, you will be getting out of the 750 within a short period. At this point, it makes sense to explore an 1100 and may even a 1300 depending on your abilities (and number of Twinkies over 225 LBS).
Likelihood to upgrade:
– Do your friends have amazing bikes?
– Do you normally get bored and need to upgrade (cars, apartments, clothes, girlfriends)?
– If this describes you, get a 750. You’ll get rid-of it after the first season, so make sure you don’t put ANY money into it. Spend $3k, ride it for a while and learn about the bike that you really want.
If you are pretty content with something that is ridable and clean, look for something with upgraded pipes and a breather. These are the things that don’t give you money back when selling a bike but are nice if they’re on (and you like the look/sound/performance) when buying a bike. Pipes can go for $500 and up. Add a breather and the labor and you’ll be at $1,500 for the setup. You may be able to take advantage of somebody’s quest for motorcycle perfection or “upgrade-itis”.
How to start:
Go to a few shops. Sit on some bikes and stretch your legs out. Is it comfortable? Can you stand the bike up without grunting? Is it a tolerable look? Can you afford it? Don’t forget, you’ll need boots, a leather jacket, helmet and gloves too so keep $1,000 aside for that stuff. Please don’t buy Harley Everything – you will look like a tool.
Enjoy the search, finding your first bike is an experience but riding it for the first time is one of the greatest feelings you will ever have. Everything changes the moment you fire up the motor and twist the throttle for the first time. Beware – you will get hooked!