Bikes and such.
May 21, 2009 4:12 PM   Subscribe

I want a motorcycle, but I don't know where to start.

I've liked the idea of learning how to ride and buying a bike for some time. I have enough cash to at least get me some lessons, and there's a nice place out here that should do the trick (covers MVD driving test, etc.) for a good price that comes well recommended.

But I realized I don't know anything about anything about what bike I might want myself. I want to be comfortable and not look like a complete idiot, but I'm thinking more a Sport that fits would be best.

Here's my thinking thus far:
  • No Harley's or anything chopper-style
  • I'm not insane about going crazy fast or being able to win off the line or anything like that. But I don't want a scooter.
  • What brand/makes/models do you like? What should I avoid?
  • I'm about 240lbs 6'1. (Pic here, on the left.) Not "Commander Fat is looking awfully fat today," but not skinny either. Will a rice rocket make me look horribly oversized? Will it be ridiculously uncomfortable?
  • I don't really like the look of touring bikes, either. My dad has a Goldwing. It's great, for my dad.
  • What price range will I end up pegging for a decent, comfortable bike? (I've been expecting somewhere between $1,500-$3,000... new or used, doesn't matter to me.)
I'm finding that I don't know enough about bikes, performance-wise, to know what features are important, who does what better, etc. I'm not partial to anything, simply because I know basically nothing about this space. (Whereas I have defined impressions of car companies, know what I'm looking for in performance in a regular car, and know what terminology means.)

Is it just a matter of trying different things and seeing what fits best?

Specific makes and models welcome, other advice about comfort for someone a bit bigger on a bike that still looks cool also welcome, etc. (Also, I am fully aware of how ridiculous I look in that photo. Kthx.)
posted by disillusioned to Sports, Hobbies, & Recreation (39 answers total) 16 users marked this as a favorite
 
Also: For a used bike--how many miles is too many? What other maintenance things are there to look for? Et cetera, et cetera.
posted by disillusioned at 4:15 PM on May 21, 2009


A used Honda Nighthawk is a decent handling, not-too-heavy bike that can be found with engine displacements appropriate for riding at highway speeds at your size (650cc, 750cc) but not too scary. It's also going to be very reliable and forgiving for a beginner. Plus, it'll be more comfortable than the CBR or interceptor, well within your price range, and doesn't have a bunch of plastic fairings for you to destroy the first time you inevitably drop it.

And a helmet to match, natch.
posted by M.C. Lo-Carb! at 4:19 PM on May 21, 2009


Look for one with under 30,000 miles on the clock.
posted by M.C. Lo-Carb! at 4:20 PM on May 21, 2009


I personally think the Kawasaki Ninja 250 is the perfect beginner bike. Your not (necessarily) buying the only bike you'll ever buy, but something small (enginewise) is the way to go. You're not so big that size is a huge issue.

The Ninja 250 is a "sport-inspired" bike. It's very forgiving, has a fairly upright riding position, and is powerful enough that you won't feel like you need to upgrade right away.

For a first bike, I'd probably limit myself to something like Honda, Kawasaki, Suzuki, or Yamaha, and I'd get something smallish. (500cc MAX!) (In fact, my Ninja 250, which I'm probably going to get rid of soon, is my first bike). Definitely buy used; you'll probably lay it down.

Take an MSF-approved course first. This will (1) teach you good habits, and (2) help you figure out what you're looking for. And, don't forget to allocate money for proper protection!
posted by JMOZ at 4:21 PM on May 21, 2009


I recommend taking quite a few very different bikes out for a ride. I bought one based on looks and price. After, I learned that I do not like straight handlebars, do want a windshield, and believe that a less powerful (600 cc, for example) bike is more dangerous than a more powerful (1100 cc or more) bike. I also learned where I prefer to ride: Not in the city, but more on long rides outside the city. That makes a difference in the type of bike you choose.

You can only find your preferences for those types of things by riding several bikes.

Please do, however, consider what I said about the size. A small engine means you do not have as fast pickup when entering a road or getting out of someone's way (like, a car driver who just doesn't see you). I think smaller bikes are much more dangerous.
posted by Houstonian at 4:30 PM on May 21, 2009


You're a tall, weighty bloke with long legs and arms. Guess what? You just won the lottery of motorcycle riding, landing square in the space bike designers assume all riders fit!

Depending on how much upper body strength you have, you'll probably find that you'll be able to handle easily a lot of longer, higher bikes with which other riders would struggle. Take the GS500 series of bikes: they're relatively cheap and plentiful, handle like a capable but lazy old friend, are as reliable as bombs, and therefore loved by couriers. A lot of riders find them too long from seat-to-handlebar-to-ground---as I did when I looked at buying one---but not you!

It's definitely a matter of trying bikes out and seeing what fits best. When you go to a bike shop or you look at a second hand bike, insist on sitting on it for as long as you please, and sit on as many bikes as you can. In a car, your comfort is fairly secondary to performance, but on a bike, the relationship of hands to arse to pegs is absolutely critical to your ride.

Don't be ashamed of choosing a bike based on its looks. If you feel you look like a goit, you're not going to enjoy riding as much, and that makes baby riding Jesus cry.

And yes, pay for and take a course first. Budget for as much insurance as you can afford. If you're buying a bike at the bottom end of the market, budget as much again for gear: you'll need a helmet, a jacket, riding pants (not just ordinary Levis) and thick boots. These are not negotiable, even when it's filthy hot.

Have safe fun. When you get down to it, your safety and your fun are the only two things that matter on motorcycles.
posted by Fiasco da Gama at 4:48 PM on May 21, 2009 [1 favorite]


Lacking: I've basically heard the mantra "it's not *if* you'll lay it down, it's *when*", so I'm at least fully aware of the possibility I will turn into vegetable paste. And, in fact, I might find myself terrified by the prospect anyway, and will sell in kind.
posted by disillusioned at 4:52 PM on May 21, 2009


If you want something that's comfortable to ride, looks good, and doesn't need to go too fast, you might look into some older street bikes such as the BMW R75/5, BSA Lightning, Norton Commando, or the Triumph Bonneville. These bikes won't handle like modern bikes or go as fast, but the other side of that coin is that they're easy and fun to work on yourself and there's less to go wrong. I ride a couple of these models regularly and enjoy them much more than newer bikes. YMMV.
posted by harmfulray at 5:06 PM on May 21, 2009 [1 favorite]


Lacking: I've basically heard the mantra "it's not *if* you'll lay it down, it's *when*", so I'm at least fully aware of the possibility I will turn into vegetable paste. And, in fact, I might find myself terrified by the prospect anyway, and will sell in kind.
posted by disillusioned at 4:52 PM on May 21 [+] [!]


Yeah, just throwing it out there. No harm or judgment was meant whatsoever. I wish you good luck and hope you find a good bike. Once again I'm sorry for acting like metafilter's mom.
posted by Lacking Subtlety at 5:13 PM on May 21, 2009


Seconding the MSF course. I think you'll have a better idea of what you're looking for once you get some time riding.
As for a bike, I'd suggest a Suzuki GS500, or a Kawasaki Ninja 500 or 250. These are all nice, somewhat "sporty" starter bikes that you won't grow out of immediately, and enough of them have been sold throughout the years that it shouldn't be hard to find a decent used example in your price range.
And definitely budget some money for helmet/protective gear.
posted by zombiedance at 5:14 PM on May 21, 2009


harmfulray, have you been reading my journal? you just listed my 4 dream bikes, in order of desire. I grew up in a family of riders and it's pretty much a family mantra that you can tool around a mellow part of town (in our case, it was SF) on a classic machine, but distance, performance and norcal road riding required as much power as you could handle.

I know it's been said before, but I cannot stress the importance of gear...spending more on the protective clothing than the bike is not so outrageous when good leathers, etc. have the potential to last you longer than your first bike.

this post made me miss riding, terribly.
posted by squasha at 5:24 PM on May 21, 2009


Have you budgeted for gear? Full face helmet, jacket, really good gloves, boots, most folks don't wear riding pants, but I certainly do. New Enough is a great place to find deals on closeout gear. Buy a helmet locally, where you can try it on and get advice on fit. Helmet fit is CRITICAL.

Have you taken MSF? If not, please drop everything and sign up now. It taught me a bunch of skillls that have saved my ass more than a few times.

I'm a new rider myself, and I have a Ninja 250. It's a great around town and playing in the twisties bike, but it totally blows on the freeway. At your size, you probably ought to look at a 500. Sit on a bunch of bikes. I got my 250 because a friend gave me a smokin' deal on it, but if it hadn't been a comfortable bike to sit on, I wouldn't have gotten it.

What kind of riding do you want to do? Commuter? Playing in the hills on the weekends? Posing outside a bar and looking cool? All weather all the time? Running errands around town? That'll help folks narrow down what might suit you; otherwise people are just going to recommend the kind of bikes they like best.

(Also, FWIW, on a motorcycle forum I frequent, we refer to a huge dude on a tiny bike as "a monkey humping a football.")
posted by mollymayhem at 5:24 PM on May 21, 2009


You'll have no idea what you like until you've taken the RiderCourse and spent some time on a starter bike just learning to ride. Buy used. Do not buy new. You will drop it pushing it around your driveway or stopping unexpectedly hard at a stop sign. Buy something with a fairly 'standard' seating position. My personal recommendation: the mid-80's Kawasaki 450/550LTD bikes. Great bikes, easy to ride, easy to run, and they even have drive shafts so you don't even have to deal with a chain (which you likely will later when you get something you really like) (also, others will tell you "shaft jacking" is a problem, but it isn't really, on bikes with this little snort - at least I didn't think it was). Any of the ones mentioned previously in this thread are great too (250 Ninja, GS500, etc.)

Budget anywhere from $500-1000 for the bike, but no more. Budget at least $300 for gear + helmet, but more like $500. Don't skimp on gear. Bad gear means uncomfortable ride, uncomfortable ride means distraction and more chance of vegetable paste.

Keep your eyes up and LOOKING WHERE YOU WANT TO GO. Wave to other riders when it's safe to do so. Remember to have fun in there somewhere, eventually it becomes the greatest thing EVAR, but getting started is not easy! Good luck!
posted by dragstroke at 5:25 PM on May 21, 2009 [2 favorites]


What JMOZ said: you start at the MSF, which tends to use Ninja 250s or similar. That's your first investment. Then you work out whether you need a bigger bike. Ninjas hold their value pretty well, even with a few dents -- the design was basically unchanged for 20 years -- so if you buy one and outgrow it, you shouldn't have trouble selling it on.
posted by holgate at 5:32 PM on May 21, 2009


I'm 6', 195#, and I got a 2002 Suzuki GS500 as a first bike. I still ride it - in fact last summer I rode it across the US (which was frikkin' amazing, BTW). That bike is pretty much indestructible, easy on the wallet as far as gas and parts/labor are concerned, and powerful enough to keep up with things. As others have said, it's also really common, so it's easy to find parts and equipment for. I can't say enough good things about it (but the stock forks are pretty poor).

Two things: 1) You will drop it, so don't buy a new bike as your first. 2) Quailty safety gear is worth every penny it costs (as the man says, "if you've got a $50 head, buy a $50 helmet".

As a side-note: Everyone and their nervous mother is going to have some half-baked, scary story for you about how their uncle/father/friend got hit/almost hit/killed on a motorcycle. Why they feel compelled to tell you these things just as you're about to get on a bike (even if you politely ask them NOT to) has always been a mystery to me. Bunch of Nancys.
posted by Pecinpah at 5:41 PM on May 21, 2009


Yeah, I know there's not any other way to do this than the MSF course, so I'm already planning on that, and full gear.

Thanks, all! Just the help I'm looking for.

I'm in Phoenix, so all-weather isn't a problem, but a comfortable helmet will DEFINITELY be necessary, esp. in the summer. I expect to mostly use it for commuting; nearly all freeway, no traffic, about 15 miles each way... but we have a place up north that could make for a fun ride once I know how to not kill myself, that's a bit more mountainous etc.

I'll definitely get a feel through the course, it appears, so that'll be fun.

Is it pretty common to just drop your bike doing something stupid, like, at low speed, getting started? (Like described above, moving it into a driveway, etc?)
posted by disillusioned at 5:49 PM on May 21, 2009


Is it pretty common to just drop your bike doing something stupid, like, at low speed, getting started?

Yes - very much so. The first time I dropped my bike I was backing into a driveway. The second time I was pulling over to take a photo. A buddy of mine dropped his while waiting for a red light.

Any jack-ass can twist the throttle, but low-speed maneuvering is the difficult bit.
posted by Pecinpah at 6:07 PM on May 21, 2009


Is it pretty common to just drop your bike doing something stupid, like, at low speed, getting started?

Yes. Ever play with any sort of spinner that uses gyroscopic force to stay upright. Same thing. Difference is your spinner is 500-1000 lbs. You may literally drop it at low speed until you gain some respect for what it weighs.

For types of bikes, at the course, you may have the opportunity of trying a few different bikes, but really just go to a bike shop and see which floor models you gravitate to. There's basically slung-back cruisers, upright dual-sports, and bent-forward crotch rockets. I had a Ninja 600, which while fun, the lying on the gas tank part got tiring after a while (slight exaggeration, but it wasn't for everyday commuting.
posted by hungrysquirrels at 6:19 PM on May 21, 2009


On the subject of whether you'll lay the bike down on the ground: yes, obviously it's possible.

You shouldn't make that too much of a factor in what bike you choose to buy, though, any more than you'd buy a $500 flogged-to-hell car instead of a decent one based on the likelihood of scraping the bumper getting in and out of parking lots: Scratches, muffler scrapes and replaced panels/parts are honourable wounds for a daily rider (though obviously the same on your own body are things to be avoided at great cost).

You should buy exactly the motorcycle you want to ride, that will give you pleasure and pride of ownership, and keep you constantly thinking about getting out onto the road. Bikes are made to be ridden, not polished and kept in pristine garage condition.
posted by Fiasco da Gama at 8:47 PM on May 21, 2009


First off, buy used. There are multiple reasons for this. The main ones being that you will probably drop it and dropping a used bike is less stressfull than dropping a new one and you know what interests you but you don't know what you will actually enjoy.

You are a big enough guy that I would recommend against a 250 of any (street) variety. The Ninja 250 is a phenomenal bike, but you will outgrow it very very quickly.

My favorite starter bikes are the Ninja 250 for smaller riders (short inseam and/or under 160-ish) and the Suzuki SV650 for taller/heavier riders. You would obviously fall in the latter category. The selling points for the SV are too many for me to remember off the top of my head, but I'll list them as best I can. Cheap. Reliable. Low maintenance. Comfortable, upright seating position. Light weight. Wonderful spread of power making it easy to ride. Enough power to have fun with but not enough to overwhelm a new rider. The newer version has fuel injection (big plus). Overall performance that can keep you happy for years. Tons of performance upgrades available. One of the best all around bikes on the planet. Phenomenal track bike (racers love them). Extremely newbie friendly.

There are other bikes similar to the SV, but none that are quite as complete a package. It is also relatively unique because it is a v-twin rather than an inline four like most of its competitors. Some of the others that are similar are the Suzuki Bandit 600 & more recent Bandit 650, Honda 599, Honda Nighthawk 550, 650 & 750, Yamaha FZ6, Honda Hawk GT*, Kawasaki KZ550, 650 & 750, Suzuki GS 550, 650 & 750. The ages range from 30+ years old to current production bikes. All are naked, or have minimal fairings (cheaper if/when it falls over) and have relatively neutral seating positions compared to sportbikes or cruisers.

If you are at all mechanically inclined, don't be afraid to get an older bike. I started on a 20 year old KZ550. You can get a decent bike fairly cheap, and the maintenance you will have to do will teach you a lot about your bike and bikes in general. If you want to go that route look into the KZs, GSs & Nighthawks I mentioned. If you want something newer, look into the Bandit, FZ6 & Honda 599 which are all still in production. Stick with a Japanese bike for your first one. They are more reliable & require less maintenance that Italian, British or German bikes.

Once you figure out what bike(s) you are interested in, read up on some of the forums. SVRider is a great forum and the Motorcycle community on on Livejournal is a great resource.

If you have any questions feel free to mefi mail me. I'm always happy to help a new rider. Good luck and have fun!

*The Honda Hawk GT is the bike that the SV650 dethroned as the best in this class. I currently own one and love it, but it is probably too small for you physically. The SV is a bit larger.
posted by thekiltedwonder at 8:57 PM on May 21, 2009 [1 favorite]


Ditto all the above. I've had a BMW 750 and it was a lovely ride, and a Honda Nighthawk which was a very decent less-expensive machine. I've been without a bike for a couple of years and want one badly, but now I getting old and want something lighter, so tomorrow I'm going to look at a Ninja 250, though that might be a bit small for you.

The big deal is to get leathers. Nothing saves your skin when you fall off like leather does. And taking a course will greatly increase your chances of survival!
posted by anadem at 9:08 PM on May 21, 2009


Consider your first bike as disposable, and the small hit you'll take on ultimately replacing it as the cost of an education.. Do the research as others have mentioned, and absolutely get good riding gear and take the MSF course.

Small bikes like the Ninja 250, Honda Rebels, Suzuki Savages or S40's, if purchased used and maintained, will cost you little in the grand scheme of things should you decide to sell it a year later and get the bike you'll learn you'd really prefer.

I am not a wrench by any stretch of the imagination. I bought an absolutely lovely and somewhat rare 1982 Yamaha SECA 400 last June after over 30 years out of the saddle. It was a sweet bike fand only had 2600 original, garage kept miles on it.

However, it spent so much of last summer on the shop due to brake issues that I lost confidence in it, and by the time it was finally really fixed, I went ahead an bought a Suzuki S40 brand new, totally because I am incapable of performing what most bikers would consider even trivial maintainence and repairs.

For the same money I spent for my S40, I could have chosen among any number of clean, used HD Sportsters, Japanese V-Twins, or older British or European bikes, but to me the confidence level of riding a new bike was paramount.

I am currently going through somewhat of a crisis of confidence. Not because of any accidents or near misses I've encountered on my bike, but because within the last three weeks I've rolled up on two motorcycle accident scenes in my SUV, I've seen two bikers severely injured (had to be MEDEVAC'ed out) in relatively low speed collisions where somebody pulled out in front of the riders.

Unless I get my intestinal fortitude and mojo back, I might have a pristine Suzuki S40 on the market soon. I've never feared dying in a motorcycle accident, but I sure as hell have always feared being severely injured or disabled.
posted by imjustsaying at 9:12 PM on May 21, 2009


I missed your question about used bike mileage. Mileage isn't super important on bike, and to some degree more is better on older bikes. A 15 year old bike that has only 500 miles on it won't have had the maintenance needed for a bike that old. Hoses and rubber components degrade with time and are typically noticed & done with the regular oil changes and other maintenance.

In general I'd be careful with any bike over 40k miles. Not that I'd avoid them, I've had several bikes well over 40k, but that's where I'd start paying attention. Mostly pay attention to the overall condition of the bike and the mainenance records. Make sure the oil changes & valve adjustments have been done. Check if any of the rubber hoses or carb/throttle body boots are cracking. Make sure the steering turns smoothly and the wheels turn easily & smoothly. Check the chain for kinking & side play and the sprockets for wear. Check the oil. Look for cracked paint on the frame by the headstock indicating an accident. Check brake pads for wear and verify the brakes don't stick when released.
posted by thekiltedwonder at 9:13 PM on May 21, 2009


Get yourself a 125cc+ twist n go scooter, on the cheap (quality used, not chinese new), good protective gear, and a training course. Then ride that for a while. Does your (currently theoretical) love for riding hold up on a little non-manly scooter? If so, proceed to motorcycle-ville with some road miles under your belt. If not, you invested little.
posted by davejay at 9:15 PM on May 21, 2009


To expand on dropping the bike at slow speed, that's one of the primary focuses of taking the course, how to handle the bike at slow speed whilst going around tight pylon patterns. You already know the rules of the road, hopefully, taking the course is to teach the rules of the bike. You'll still drop your first bike, since the course bikes are usually relatively light little things which can be deceiving, but perhaps you may save some scratches later on with your own bike.
posted by hungrysquirrels at 9:30 PM on May 21, 2009




Hiya disillusioned -- you got lots of good advice in here already, I just wanted to pitch in a link for the Used Motorcycle Evaluation Guide which has some good things to look for when checking out a used bike:

http://www.clarity.net/~adam/buying-bike.html

Also, this will be my third summer with a license, and I'm on my second bike. The first bike I got was a 1981 Suzuki GS650G, and as you can see from a bunch of other folks up above, they're well thought-of. I found one on eBay in really good condition for $600, rode it for a year, and then decided I knew enough about what I wanted in a bike... Sold it for the same amount I paid, and now I've got a '99 Triumph Sprint ST.

Anyway, as others have said, the GS bikes are pretty reliable, easy to work on, and still easy to find on eBay and the like. There's also a forum with great info, GSResources:

">http://www.thegsresources.com

Oh! And if you wind up with an older bike as your first bike, it's not the craziest of ideas to pack an extra clutch cable in your toolkit. :)

Happy riding, see you out there!
posted by Jinkeez at 9:37 PM on May 21, 2009


AMA, Total Motorcycle, the Hurt Report, Ride Like a Pro, WebBikeWorld, used bike checklist, and the best leather on Earth (IMHO). Books: Proficient Motorcycling and Motorcycle Maintenance. Once you determine what type of bike you are drawn to and begin to narrow down to a specific machine, look for an Owner's Group forum and lurk a bit. Especially in the tech sections, as this will give you an idea of what the common gripes are and the solutions. Find out if any restaurants nearby have a "Bike Night". Those people are there almost expressly to show off and talk about their bikes.
posted by EnsignLunchmeat at 9:53 PM on May 21, 2009


thekiltedwonder:The Honda Hawk GT is the bike that the SV650 dethroned as the best in this class. I currently own one and love it, but it is probably too small for you physically. The SV is a bit larger.

Seconding tkw here -- I've got the Hawk GT's baby brother, the Bros (same frame, 400CC engine) and I'm 6'2. It's my first bike, I can ride it, and there's enough power to get me into and out of trouble (although over 100kph power is a bit thin). But I definitely wish it was a little (physically) bigger.

I did have a loaner Yamaha FZR600 at one point, and the amount of power in comparison scared the living pants off me. Seriously. The fizzer isn't a "fast" bike, but was WAY outside my skill range. The learn-to-ride courses over here are usually run on Suzuki GS500's -- get one of these. Large enough, enough power to give you a thrill without necessarily killing you as soon as you stop paying attention*. Also bullet-proof, cheap, etc etc ad nauseum.

Like everyone else has said -- you will drop it. I managed to drop mine when it wasn't even moving -- got home after a ride through the twisties, put the stand down, let go, stand folded and bang. I also high-sided on it, when someone cut in front of me, but got away lightly. But that leads me to..

WEAR THE DAMED SAFETY GEAR. Everyone recommends you get it (helmet / leathers / BOOTS / good gloves) but it only helps if. you. wear it. Don't be a squid, it's just not worth the risk, not even if it's 40degreesC outside.

Good luck. And remember -- shiny side up!

*Actually, it will kill you. Any bike will. PAY ATTENTION DAMNIT.
posted by coriolisdave at 9:58 PM on May 21, 2009


The MSF requires safety gear for their bikes, so you might as well buy the stuff you need then. I did. . . . boots, reinforced pants, padded yellow jacket, gloves, helmet.

Is it pretty common to just drop your bike doing something stupid, like, at low speed, getting started?

Most likely, I'd say. You've got hundreds of pounds that wants to fall either left or right, and WILL whenever it gets a chance.

Funny thing though is when the wheels are spinning, the bike will stay up, as demonstrated in this clip.

I've dropped a bike three times, all going slow:

1) Having the rear slide out cuz I was stupidly using the rear brake in a turn (this was before I learned in MSF that braking takes weight -- and thus traction -- off the rear wheel)

2) Emergency stop for a pedestrian cutting in front of me, didn't put my foot down in time

3) Forgot to take the front wheel lock off, down I went. That one sucked. Fairing damage on a new-ish $10,000 bike. :(



$3000 isn't going to get you a new bike, alas.
posted by toroi at 11:35 PM on May 21, 2009


Thanks everyone--this is all really great advice, and I like having that going into things. I guess I'll get my first feel for things during the MSF course, which I'm taking Sunday, so I'll see just what I think of that. I'm not selling my car here, so I don't feel like it's a huge amount of pressure to like this--it's just always been something I've thought was cool.

Thanks again. You guys have really contributed exactly what I was looking for!
posted by disillusioned at 2:59 AM on May 22, 2009


Get yourself a 125cc+ twist n go scooter, on the cheap (quality used, not chinese new), good protective gear, and a training course. Then ride that for a while. Does your (currently theoretical) love for riding hold up on a little non-manly scooter? If so, proceed to motorcycle-ville with some road miles under your belt. If not, you invested little.
I'd like to speak directly against this advice from up-thread. It is my opinion that scooters are more dangerous than motorcycles. Reasons for this are 1) the riding position of a scooter - legs placed forward like you are sitting on a seat - gives you much less control of the bike as opposed to a motorcycle which you sit astride like a horse and can steer with your legs as well as the handlebars, 2) the small wheels on a scooter give less gyroscopic stability and are more affected by holes in the road and 3) lack of acceleration to get out of dangerous situations.

I know you said in your original question that you weren't interested in a scooter, but I just wanted to reinforce your choice of going straight to a motorcycle which I think is a good one. The route of going to a motorcycle via a scooter first is misguided I think. Of course for all those who just want to ride a scooter, good luck to them (they'll need it).
posted by Sitegeist at 4:26 AM on May 22, 2009


"can steer with your legs as well as the handlebars" Not really... the only way to steer a motorcycle is with the handlebars, no matter what you believe or what people have told you.

There's a lot of good advice up there... my two cents worth: Don't rule out Harley's, with your size and weight you don't want a small bike, you'll outgrow it quickly. A Harley Sportster 883 is a reasonable ride for you.

I hear you say you don't want to "go fast", but you will want to be able to easily keep up with traffic at 60 to 70 miles per hour without stressing the bike, my opinion is that anything much less than 500cc is going to be too small for that on a regular basis.

This is a great time to buy a used bike, lots on the market, often with low mileage. be safe and keep the rubber side down...

and, make sure you learn the "wave" correctly, very important!
posted by HuronBob at 6:49 AM on May 22, 2009


A word on vintage bikes (if that's even remotely what you're thinking about): Old bikes (especially old British bikes) are funky, different and as cool as the other side of the pillow, but do not, DO NOT, DO NOT get one unless you really enjoy working on them. A BSA will impress the living daylights out of anyone who works on bikes, but be prepared to spent at least one weekend a month working on it. Older German and Japanese bikes are more reliable, but I just spent a month tightening up my '79 XS650, which I did because it's a great bike and I enjoy working on it, but I have no illusions as to its being a reliable daily runner after 30 years on the road. It needs care and attention constantly. On any bike built before 1985, anything over 30,000 miles is approaching worn out status.

Well, now. Since I've vented my spleen about that, here's answers to questions you actually asked:

Do get a used bike and ride it. You may ding it up, but you won't get better unless, you know, you're actually on it. Unfortunately you're not going to score any deals this time of year as everyone is looking for a bike for the summer.

Learn to do basic maintenance (battery change, oil change, fluid checks, etc) yourself, this will impress your friends and keep you from getting taken for an expensive ride at the dealer.

Some of my favorite gear came from Aerostich, it's expensive, but tough.

Another good site to check out is ADVRider.com. Quite a mix of different riders hang out there and will give you very different perspectives on things.

Also, always wave at other motorcyclists. This marks you as a person who is worthy of being acknowledged as a motorcyclist (as opposed to just another poser on a motorcycle).
posted by 1f2frfbf at 7:32 AM on May 22, 2009



Is it pretty common to just drop your bike doing something stupid, like, at low speed, getting started?


Yes. Which is why making sure you can physically pick the damned bike back up off the ground, and get it out of the middle of the road when you've forgotten to put your foot down when stopping at the red light is important.
posted by QIbHom at 8:28 AM on May 22, 2009


Used is probably the way to go. In 2002 I bought a new Triumph Bonneville America, the cruiser version of the standard Bonneville (but not at all "chopper-like"). Luckily I've never dropped it, but I've come really close a few times. Once I just simply forgot to put the side stand down. Yes, it happens. Practically spranged (sprung?) my left wrist wrestling it back upright.

After 42,500 miles, traveling all over the western US and Canada as well as commuting to work, it's been virtually trouble free. The only problems came from things I've done, either crappy aftermarket accessories or me botching a maintenance task.

All that said, I'd second or third or whatever both the MSF course and a used Triumph Bonneville. I've ridden the standard Bonneville and it's a sweet bike. My running gear has been virtually bullet proof and should easily take me to well over 100k miles before any major maintenance work or engine overhaul is necessary. I wouldn't buy an older 60s-70s Bonneville unless I had a local shop specializing in parts and service for bikes that old. A late 90s, early 2000s Triumph Thunderbird or Legend would be a nice ride, too.
posted by friarjohn at 9:36 AM on May 22, 2009


Used bike first, like everyone else has said. Japanese brands (Honda or Suzuki) should be cheap and hold resale value well, even with a few chips and scratches. When you do go to buy a new bike, I cannot recommend highly enough Triumphs. They're a solid brand with exceptional customer service. And price? Damn. You can get a brand spankin' new bike for eight or nine grand. The Bonneville is a good standard riding position. If you like a bit more forward riding position (leaning forward, head into the wind) then you might try a Scrambler or a Thruxton, though Thruxtons are not quite as comfortable for in-town riding.

Since you're in a hot area, make sure to get a good helmet that has VENTS. Vents will save your skull from spontaneous combustion from the heat while still protecting your head. Arai helmets are good quality. Just be careful, it's recommended that if you drop a motorcycle helmet or if it gets into one crash, it needs to be replaced. Even if there isn't much external damage, there are internal safety components that can be compromised.

You won't want to wear leathers in the hot summer sun, so you need to be looking at armored textile jackets. You can get mesh jackets that are pretty breathable and still offer decent protection. You can also buy jeans that have leather padding, which can be good riding jeans. Definitely get some motorcycle boots. Ankle protection is more important than you might think.

Congratulations on taking the plunge. Motorcycles are as fun as you think they are, and more. Yes, there are dangers, but they are surmountable.

There is nothing like riding down a long, winding, empty road with beautiful scenery and the sound of wind whooshing past your body.
posted by Night_owl at 10:04 AM on May 22, 2009


>A word on vintage bikes (if that's even remotely what you're thinking about): Old bikes (especially old British bikes) are funky, different and as cool as the other side of the pillow, but do not, DO NOT, DO NOT get one unless you really enjoy working on them. A BSA will impress the living daylights out of anyone who works on bikes, but be prepared to spent at least one weekend a month working on it. Older German and Japanese bikes are more reliable, but I just spent a month tightening up my '79 XS650, which I did because it's a great bike and I enjoy working on it, but I have no illusions as to its being a reliable daily runner after 30 years on the road. It needs care and attention constantly. On any bike built before 1985, anything over 30,000 miles is approaching worn out status.

As a data point, I've put over 80k miles on my /5 in the 19 years since I bought it, and it was 20 years old then. I've done a handful of major repairs in that time, as is to be expected, but for the most part it's just routine maintenance these days. It's a reliable daily runner after almost 40 years on the road. I agree that British bikes are more temperamental than German (I have no experience with Japanese), but your "at least one weekend a month" and "On any bike built before 1985, anything over 30,000 miles is approaching worn out status" don't match my experience at all. My experience is that older bikes do demand a moderately higher level of attention and care to be reliable than new machines, but not to the degree you described. I agree with you that the OP shouldn't consider an older bike unless taking that care is something he would enjoy.
posted by harmfulray at 12:34 PM on May 22, 2009


Getting a used bike is great. Just don't be like me and get an uber-cheap bike that turns out to be a death trap. There's nothing like cruising down the freeway at 80mph and suddenly having your back tire start to fishtail because your engine is leaking oil all over it.
posted by mullingitover at 2:57 PM on May 22, 2009


You'll probably want 400-750ccs. Less than 400 makes highway riding scary and more than that is just asking to run into trees faster. I was going to suggest either the Suzuki GS500 or a Kawasaki Ninja 500 which many have already suggested for many reasons: decent power, plentiful parts, widespread service centers, light enough to right if you lay it down, comfortable, reliable, cheap, well behaved... Older bikes tend to be heavier and might not be so easy to pick up if you lay it down and might require more service to keep running.

Have a good time!
posted by chairface at 12:09 AM on May 23, 2009


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