Now THIS was cool... got a call from Mr Fixit, asking about bikes and what to get.
Color me flattered all to Hell and gone!
But it got me thinkin'... maybe others out there might be interested in some basic info for starting a life on two wheels. And I guess I have a lil' experience, so I'll give it a shot...
First off, regardless of what you want to ride, there're a couple things you have to accept about riding:
1- there are two kinds of riders in the world: those who HAVE gone down, and those who will. Yes, it's possible that you'll go your whole life riding, and never have a bike go down. It's also possible that you'll win the lottery tonight. Honestly, the lotto is more likely.
2- Those people you see around you, in cars and trucks? We call 'em cagers. Assume that EVERY cager you encounter actively wishes you dead. Not just is inattentive, or distracted, or inexperienced: ride like every single vehicle you share the road with is piloted by someone whose grandmother you just violated. From the way they act towards you, the result is amazingly similar...
3- Road designers also actively wish your demise, as do road crews. The streets of America have been carefully crafted in a manner to provide all sorts of traps, tricks, and pitfalls meant mainly to cause damage to motorcycles and their riders. The only reason they aren't literally minefields is because that would also cause damage to the cars and trucks out there: when they develop a mine trigger that will ONLY detonate under a motorcycle, they'll become standard on American highways...
Still want to ride? Good... you have guts, and a desire to feel the wind!
Your first step should be to locate where the nearest Motorcycle Safety Course is held. They come in a variety of shapes and sizes: when I took it, it was a 2 day course offered through a local tech school. You WANT to take this course: you'll learn more in that couple days than in several years of riding, and encounter lots of possible problems in a controlled environment where instructors teach you to deal with them. Here in Wisconsin, this course is the only way now to get your class M endorsement. Even if it's not necessary, it's money well spent (that course has saved me from more injuries than any piece of safety equipment available on the market today).
NOW we'll get to "what should I ride?". I'll be honest: I am NOT a mechanic, nor do I play one on TV, nor did I stay in a Holiday Inn Express last night. But there are some things I can advise on here:
1- Do NOT, regardless of what you can afford, go out and buy that big Harley Hog right off the bat. Get something in the 500-750cc range, used, that's comfortable to you. And remember the last part of that sentence: comfortable TO YOU. What works for me probably won't be your first choice, and your comfort in this choice is more important than any other factor but one: that being "does it run?"
2- Unless you're a mechanic, have someone check over any private sale bike you find. NOTHING sucks as much as having your new scoot, and within a couple days discovering that Major Mechanical Problem. Trust me here: this is high on the "Bad Things" list! If you're not sure, have a mechanical friend check things out (or even bribe a mechanic from the local shop that services whatever make you're looking at).
Next up (possibly even on the same level as getting the bike itself) is safety gear.
Now, I'll admit: I don't usually wear a helmet. Not going to have that argument: my choice there. Starting off though, WEAR A BUCKET!!! When you've got some experience, and want to take the risk, go ahead: but wear the damn thing while you GET some experience! And I'm not talking about the lil' beanie type thing: if you're gonna wear a helmet, get something that will actually provide some protection (full face is good: when i wear a bucket, I use a full face designed to European standards, which are supposedly higher than American safety specs).
There's other important gear too. The obvious one being the jacket. But let's address all the different garments...
Now, there's been a huge move in safety gear from leather to textile, with several manufacturers offering textile riding garments. Personally, *I* usually don't wear textile: I LIKE leather, and leather still provides good protection. Whichever you choose, get something armored: knees, elbows, shoulders.
You can get separate jacket and pants, or an all-in-one riding suit. Either way works well. Chaps, although they look cool, are NOT the best protection for your lower half: they're meant more for riding a horse through brush, not for saving your ass (or other delicate parts) as you're sliding down the road after your bike goes down! One good company (and where I get much of my gear) is Fast Company: good prices, durable equipment (and they literally put their ass on the line to prove it). And make sure you get the right bloody size: a jacket that's too big, and allows the armoring to shift around too much, does you no good...
Do NOT forget your extremities! Hands and feet need to be taken care of too. Personally, I wear a pair of 70s era motocross boots, but there are several makers that make quality footwear. And don't just grab a pair of SprawlMart cheapy gloves, either! Get something designed for riding, preferably armored across the knuckles.
Starting to feel like a knight going out onto the Field of Honor? There are similarities. The biggest difference is the knight had fewer people trying to kill him.
Last, let's discuss etiquette. Politeness, and such-like. Not only regarding rules of the road, but in dealing with the sub-culture you're at least on the edges of now...
Obviously, follow the rules of the road. And please, PLEASE, don't be one of the assholes that makes the cagers want to run me off the road! Do I REALLY have to say more on this?
Now, the sub-culture. Honestly, the "biker" world is one of America's oldest subcultures. And it has rules and such, which it might be a good idea to follow. Most can be summed up in "be respectful": I have yet to find the 1%er that will cause you trouble if you're respectful. For a good overview, check out this website: good info. Not exhaustive, by any means... but a good primer.
That covers pretty much everything. Now get out there and ride, and remember:
Shiny Side Up, Rubber Side Down!