04 August 2007

Motorcycles for beginers

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!


Mr. Fixit said...

Thanks for the help. And great talking to ya!

Mr Fixit

bedlamite said...

The 500-750cc suggestion works for older cruisers, not sport bikes. Any of the modern 600cc sport bikes will do a quarter mile in the 10 second range and can break just about any speed limit in 1st gear. This is definitely not a good first bike. Look for a used Kawasaki 500EX or Suzuki GS500, ride that for a year or two then sell it for the same amount you paid for it.

"Here in Wisconsin, this course is the only way now to get your class M endorsement"

Not quite. You can schedule a road test through the WI DMV and get your license without the MSF course.

Leather provides better protection than textile. Most cordura jackets are only good for one trip across the asphalt without major repair. With leather you can get up and do it again. Ever seen a pro racer in textile? I didn't think so. One piece leather suits are mandatory in racing.

A note on Denim. It provides absolutely no protection whatsoever in a crash. Seriously, your skin will last longer.

For helmets, the DOT sticker is required to be legal in many states in the US. In terms of safety, the DOT sticker is meaningless. A helmet doesn't have to actually pass the DOT tests to get the sticker, it only has to be submitted for testing to get the sticker. A euro, UK, or Snell helmet will have better protection than a DOT bucket, but it will get you a ticket in some states if it doesn't have the DOT sticker. Most helmets available in the US have both Snell and DOT stickers.

If you need gear, these guys are excellent:

RobC said...

That was a damn good Post!
Nice to see a fellow Knight of the Road posting some good advice to all the prospective bikers out there.

Sevesteen said...

I've got nearly zero experience with 1%ers. A lot of the protocol stuff seems to go beyond respect and well into butt kissing, but it also seems to assume you are a Harley and leather type biker, and are fairly involved. Does a non-leather-wearing Japanese-bike rider need to go that far in casual contact to stay out of trouble, or is a less involved definition of respect adequate?

MauserMedic said...

My wife insisted on starting with no less than 1100cc. Back in the day, I started on a Puch moped, then moved up on a 350, then 650, before my current 1600. She found out why that's better when her bike got away from her, rocketing straight out of our driveway across the street. Went right over the curb, missed a mature tree by less than a foot, and did a hell of burnout in the neighbor's front yard before the engine died. Didn't have you use any persuasion after that for her to take the ABATE bike course.

She's much better now.

Re: 1%s; I treat them like rattlesnakes. If you see one ahead, give it a wide berth; if you unfortunately stumble onto one, slowly and quietly back away without drawing any unnecessarry attention to yourself. If someone is dumb enough to aggravate one, I believe the general rule is still "picking a fight with a brother is picking a fight with the club".

Strings said...

sevesteen: Some expect butt-kissing. Personally, I simply treat them with the same basic politeness I would anyone else. That's worked quite well for me...

Mausermedic: yep.... picking a fight with one is picking a fight with 'em all.

RobC said...

I am a "friend" of one of the local bike clubs in my town and at one of their "functions" I was defending a lady's honour, got a beer in my face for doing so, but the strapping lad got taught some manners by my friends I hear... so yeah, "picking a fight with a brother is picking a fight with the club" and don't mess with our friends either! :-)
I got a few dates out of that episode... and a scar on my chin... but the inflicter had more...