Motorcycle riders -- what say you?

So, I got my first taste of riding a motorcycle about a month ago while visiting friends in Michigan. I was given a lesson on an old (1980?) Yamaha, and I absolutely loved it. Now I have the itch to take motorcycle lessons. I don’t know yet if I necessarily want to invest in owning one yet, but I certainly want the option to go riding if the opportunity presents itself. It’s possible, but not likely, that I would abandon cars and use a bike as my primary mode of transportation, although it would suit my commute very well.

At any rate, I’m wondering the following:

  1. When you learned to ride a motorcycle, how long did it take you to be comfortable riding in traffic?

  2. How long before you were comfortable on a freeway?

  3. What style of motorcycle do you ride? (Cruiser, dirt bike, etc.)

  4. If you had to choose to use ONLY a motorcyle or a car/truck, which would you choose and why?

  5. What advice would you give to someone in my position, just getting interested in the idea of riding?

Many thanks!

Wear a helmet. :slight_smile:

I’m not a riding expert, but there were some things I made sure to do for safety:

1 Only split lanes when the cars simply can’t change lanes and hit you.
2 Ride in the left lane as much as possible: You only have to check right. Even better is the carpool lane, at least in California, because it’s a moving violation to cross into the lane except in marked areas.
3 Never change lanes quickly behind a car so that you appear out of nowhere even if the driver just checked that lane.
4 Don’t ride in the blind spot.
5 Remember that drivers will look right past you and not notice, so only take gaps that you don’t need their attention for. If the driver needs to slow down to let you have this turn or lane change, it’s probably better not to take it, because he may not do it.
6 If you’re going to do your Superbike racing impression, do it on a track, where you’re pretty sure you won’t hit an oil slick or a patch of sand.
7 Remember that compared to most cars, you’re fast. This means that in some situations, it’s better to hit the gas to avoid the collision that to hit the brakes. Plus, power braking can induce fishtailing.
It took a while for me to be comfortable with traffic. I was thrust into the situation, and I can still remember the miserable first night riding back home. I was too freaked out by the freeway, and it was miserable getting back on the surface streets, in the cold. I hadn’t taken any classes; I was using the knowledge from one short ride years before, and my grandfathered license from having a twist-n-go scooter, which at the time got me a motorcyle license. CA has since split the cycle license so that scooter riders aren’t qualified to ride Harleys, but at the time, they were.

I got tired of not being able to carry even the groceries. I’m getting a Matrix soon, partly so I can actually get something like a bike into the vehicle. I can’t even fit a tv into my little car, except on the front passenger seat.

  1. When you learned to ride a motorcycle, how long did it take you to be comfortable riding in traffic?
    Light traffic - a week.
    Heavy traffic - a couple months
    Heavy traffic on a freeway - never

  2. How long before you were comfortable on a freeway?
    A month or so

  3. What style of motorcycle do you ride? (Cruiser, dirt bike, etc.)
    Touring bike (big)

  4. If you had to choose to use ONLY a motorcyle or a car/truck, which would you choose and why?
    Car, I wouldn’t want to ride a bike in heavy snow. Maybe if this global warming thing speeds up a bit I’d ride year round.

  5. What advice would you give to someone in my position, just getting interested in the idea of riding?
    People are idiots and they are trying to kill you, so ride accordingly.

It’s fun, isn’t it ?

  1. When you learned to ride a motorcycle, how long did it take you to be comfortable riding in traffic?

A few months, I’d say. Depends on the scenario - heavy traffic in rain after dark is never comfortable.

  1. How long before you were comfortable on a freeway?

Light freeway traffic is easy - easier, IMHO, than most surface streets. Heavily congested freeway - that depends. If you split lanes, the stress level goes way up. If you ride like you’re a car (as the law demands in most places, anyway), it’s not any worse than driving a car, once you have the basics of handling the motorcycle down, of course.

You decide how aggressive your riding style is going to be. Never ever let someone else pick that for you.

  1. What style of motorcycle do you ride? (Cruiser, dirt bike, etc.)

Sportstourer (Honda Interceptor) - it’s my commuter. I ride roughly 60 miles a day in LA, mixed freeway and surface streets. It’s powerful enough (>100 HP) to be fun, yet comfortable enough that I don’t get too fatigued, even after many hours of riding. I splurged on the hard bags as well…

  1. If you had to choose to use ONLY a motorcyle or a car/truck, which would you choose and why?

In the absence of good, reliable public transportation: Car, although it chafes. In case of rain, if you have to carry anything larger than a suitcase, if you need to pick up someone.

  1. What advice would you give to someone in my position, just getting interested in the idea of riding?

First: Take the MSF class or the local equivalent. If you decide to take the plunge, try to start out on a secondhand Japanese “standard” bike of 600 cc or less - stay away from sportsbikes until you have some experience. Secondhand bikes are affordable, yet maintain their value rather well - unless you drop them, of course. I started out on a 45 HP bike, and that was plenty.

Having spent a little less on the bike, you can now spend a little more on personal protective gear. Do that.

After a season of riding, you have a qualified idea of what you want from a bike and can start chasing the dream, be it a twitchy sportsbike or a robust cruiser or a mile-eating tourer or something else entirely.

1 & 2. I learned to ride (on a minibike) when I was five. I rode my first proper motorcycle at 10. Six years of dirt riding before I was legal to ride on the freeway. Since I was used to riding, and I still had my Enduro, I took to freeway riding right away. I also rode on the street to get to the dirt before I had a license, so I was comfortable on the street from the beginning.

  1. Currently I’m riding a Yamaha YZF-R1 sportbike. I also have a Yamaha XJ600 Seca II standard.

  2. Since I’m currently in SoCal I ride the motorcycle almost exclusively. Shopping for groceries and food is no problem. But there are times when you just have to drive a cage. If I had to choose one or the other I’d have to choose a car for practicality’s sake. but I wouldn’t like it.

Really, motorcycles are cheap enough there’s no reason not to have one.

Realistically speaking, if you’re splitting lanes cagers can change lanes at any time. If they can’t change lanes, then it’s unlikely you can lane-split. For example: Today I was riding between the HOV and No. 1 lanes. A girl in an SUV moved illegally into the HOV lane right in front of me. I gave her a look as I passed her. (Probably menacing, since I wear a black jacket and the helmet covers my face and shades cover my eyes.) Her eyes were as big as saucers and her hand was up to her mouth. A perfect vision of horror as she realised that she could have killed someone. (In truth, she wasn’t as close as the old guy in the land yacht yesterday. He got a look too. But it was still close enough to scare here; I hope enough so that she’ll wait for the HOV entry lane from now on.)

Unlike motorcyclists, cagers are completely unpredictable. There’s no place they can’t change lanes.

In my experience, it’s better to go a little faster than surrounding traffic. Your helmet will limit your peripheral vision a little, as well as reduce your ability to hear. It’s better to deal with the cars ahead of you instead of the ones you might not see (though you should check your six constantly) coming up behind you.


Thanks for the responses so far…I am enjoying these.

I should point out that I currently ride a 125cc twist-n-go from time to time and really enjoy it. I’ve been doing that comfortably for about three years now. But riding that motorcycle (it was a 650cc, by the way) for the first time was a world of difference. It just felt right. The most unnatural thing to me was the shifting, and in particular, trying to find neutral after riding around in gear. But I probably spent less than half an hour riding it, so I’m sure that would get easier with time.

I’m definitely more interested in a touring/cruising style bike; the idea of leaning forward over the handlebar just doesn’t appeal to me.

Spiny Norman: since you’re also in the LA area, can you tell me in what area/chapter you took your MSF course? I don’t know that it matters a whole lot, but I’d be happy to know that someone I “knew” also went to the same place.

I’m hoping to take a course by Christmas, quite possibly with my wife and a friend of ours.

Oh, and Johnny – I watch people jump in and out of the carpool lanes all the time in exactly the careless manner you described. Despite friends telling me that riding a motorcycle on the freeway is safer than on the streets, that’s precisely the kind of scenario that scares me most.

I have 125,000 miles or so on a motorcycle in L.A. traffic. I wouldn’t say lane splitting scares me (else I wouldn’t do it), but there are stretches where it can be nerve-wracking. (e.g., there’s usually plenty of room on the 405. The lanes seem narrower on the 5, and the trucks have destroyed the right two lanes making riding there unpredictable.)

You don’t have to split lanes. (Sort of defeats one of the great advantages of riding in California though, and it can get pretty uncomfortably hot sitting in traffic – not to mention people who ‘don’t see you’ and hit you from behind while you’re stopped or moving slowly.) When you do though, take it slow.

When they’re stopped side by side, or creeping at 5mph so that even an idiot wouldn’t think there’s room enough to fit in, because everyone is still literallyabout 6 feet from the bumper in front.

And yet, they try…

I rode for many years, and the most important thing I learned, and that you must remember in order to have a long life, is that many people in cars cannot see motorcyclists. You can be right in front of them, or right behind them, or right next to them, and they **will not see you ** as, for instance, they make the left-hand turn right in front of you that causes you to smack face-first into their passenger door.

When I moved to Los Angeles, I struck up a conversation with a motorcycle cop, 'cause I liked that Kawasaki 1000 he was riding, and I asked him how reliable it was. Instead of telling me about the bike, he proceeded to try to talk me out of riding a bike in L.A. I’ll spare you the gory details of that conversation - suffice to say that motorcycling is dangerous. Statistics show that you are roughly 32 times more likely to die on a bike than in a car, per mile driven.

So you have to be vigilant. You have to constantly be aware of where the cars are in relation to you, you have to stay out of their blind spots, and you need to have a plan of evasive action in place at all times for when drivers do something stupid to endanger your life. In moderate to heavy traffic, this will happen once an hour or so (that’s from my experience, echoed by others on this board in a thread from 2002). You’ll want to invest in a LOUD horn.

That’s the bad news. The good news is that when you’re on your bike on the open road, coming back, say, from a day trip to Ventura, and you bail off the 101 onto Las Virgenes road, floating effortlessly through the hills descending toward Malibu, the gorgeous vistas before and behind you, the sun warming your skin from a clear blue sky, the warm wind rushing noisily past your face, you’ll feel as free and alive as you’ve ever felt.

Shifting becomes second nature in a day. (You’ll probably botch it every once in a while while starting out. No biggie.) Finding neutral can be a bugger on a bike you’re unfamiliar with, but with a bit of practice, you’ll not even need the light. (My old Ducati had a neutral light that was the Italian equivalent of a practical joke. Sometimes on, sometimes off, but as far as I could tell, no relation to the state of the gearbox half of the time.)

650 cc - did it happen to be an SV650 ? Good bike.

I must shamefacedly admit that I never took the US course - I arrived on these shores with a few years of Yurpean riding experience (and the requisite training), so I just mentioned the local training equivalent, so to speak. A couple of my colleagues just took the course (and praised it, incidentally), I’ll ask around.

I have a friend who RAVES about the SV650. You can read what he has to say about his here. It sounds like a nice bike, although I haven’t yet had the chance to try his out.

I learned the mechanics of riding a motorcycle at 19. I learned how to actually operate (as opposed to “ride”) a bike in a standard safety course at 28. I’m 31, and the last three years of riding have been far more enjoyable than the 9 years before them. Take the course, seriously.

Right now, I ride a Kawasaki Vulcan 800. Before that, I owned a Honda Shodow 650 and a Suzuki GC 750L. They’re all what you might call standard bikes - they’re not “lie down on a cushion of air” sport bikes, but they’re not quite cruisers. I love them. If I could get away with having just a bike instead of a bike and a car, I’d do it in a second. It’s cheaper, more fun, and it gets me where I need to go. A little less flexible, but I’m ok with that.

Well, not in my limited experience.

A few days. Actually, I found it to be a gradual process. After about a couple of weeks, the mechanics of it became pretty automatic, making it easier to focus on the traffic.

This surprised me. I felt comfortable on the freeway almost immediately. I think it was because the traffic is all parallel rather then perpendicular. It’s the perpendicular stuff that you really have to watch out for. Also, I had enough power to move away from any threats.

Cruiser. 1999 Yamaha Virago 1100.

Unforunately, I still have occasion to carry tools and tow trailers. So it would have to be a truck. I would miss the bike dearly, though.

Take the MSF class. Around here, it’s only $180.00 and that gets you a day and a half on a 250cc bike with some pretty good instruction. If you feel comfortable after the class, shop around for a used bike. You will drop it and it won’t hurt your pride as much with a used bike. You can get a good low-mileage, used cruiser for around $4000 as long as you don’t insist on a HD label on it. Wear a helmet.

By all means, try it.

  1. When you learned to ride a motorcycle, how long did it take you to be comfortable riding in traffic?

Don’t remember really. I took three weeks or so of riding around in the parking lot before I got my license. I don’t remember it being too bad once I got out, but then I was riding every day. The worst for me is when there’s just a little bit of rain, some people slow down to nothing and others go just as fast, not fun.

  1. How long before you were comfortable on a freeway?

Not long at all. Lets just put it this way, I was riding from the DC area to New Jersey a month after I got my license.

  1. What style of motorcycle do you ride? (Cruiser, dirt bike, etc.)

I ride a Kawasaki Concours, it’s a sport touring bike. Before that I had a Honda Shadow 600, good first bike, only just sold it a couple of weeks ago.

  1. If you had to choose to use ONLY a motorcyle or a car/truck, which would you choose and why?

I’d have to go with a car I guess, unless you can count the wife’s car as well, then I could stay with just a bike. Or I’d hide the bike around back where you couldn’t see it.

  1. What advice would you give to someone in my position, just getting interested in the idea of riding?

Don’t believe half the crap you hear, especially from people who don’t ride. Yes motorcycle deaths have gone up, but then so have the number of riders, and so has the ease of getting a much to powerful sport bike. There’s no need for all this power they are putting out, I know guys on Ninja 250s that could spank guys on larger bikes.

Also find a good book, I like David Hough’s books. I actually gave my copy to the person I sold the Shadow to I like them that much. Plus don’t forget the good gear, make sure it fits right, and even if it’s hot you’re better off sweating then losing skin.

  1. When you learned to ride a motorcycle, how long did it take you to be comfortable riding in traffic?

Well, I grew up riding minibikes and scooters, so when I started on my first “real” street motorcycle I was ready immediately.

  1. How long before you were comfortable on a freeway?

It was probably a few months of freeway riding after that before I would say I was truly comfortable cruising at those speeds.

  1. What style of motorcycle do you ride? (Cruiser, dirt bike, etc.)

I ride a Suzuki DL650 V-Strom, which is a type of bike called a “dual sport”. Dual sports are bikes capable of riding both on the street and dirt. This category covers a wide spectrum, from essentially motocross bikes with turn signals to street bikes that can handle occasional off-road excursions. The 'Strom leans towards the latter: it’s about a 90/10 street/dirt split. Their ruggedness makes them great commuters, too.

  1. If you had to choose to use ONLY a motorcyle or a car/truck, which would you choose and why?

If the spouse’s car doesn’ t count, then I already have only a motorcycle. Otherwise, I have a 5 month old daughter, so I’d have to pick a car because they don’t make infant seats for motorcycles. :slight_smile: If I were single, I could get by without a car. I commute daily by motorcycle, rain or shine, and I put a GIVI top box on the tail rack so I can run errands with it. Really, 99% of the trips I make don’t need anything bigger. I also live in Florida, where I can ride year-round. It’s easier and more fun to get around by bike. I also get 50 mpg and it only costs me $14 every other week to fill up.

  1. What advice would you give to someone in my position, just getting interested in the idea of riding?

Start learning about riding and motorcycles in general. Pick up a couple issues of Cycle World and lurk at message boards such as Motorcycle USA. You’ll find lots of good tips and advice, and learn that not every bike is either a sportbike or cruiser.

Take the MSF basic rider course. Besides teaching you some basic skills, your shakiest time as a rider will be the first twenty miles and it’s good to get those out of the way in a closed parking lot on someone else’s bike.

Buy a used bike, and one without a lot of expensive bodywork. You’re going to drop your first bike, best to do that on one that’s already scratched. Don’t buy a bike until after you pass the class, it may change your idea of what you want to get.

A beginner should stay away from sportbikes as a first bike. Not so much for the speeds they’re capable of (any bike can go fast enough to get you hurt), but because they are very sensitive and unforgiving. A little twitch or accidental blip of the throttle can send you into the bushes. They’re great second bikes, after you have some miles under your belt, but you should start on something a little more forgiving at first. There are sporty bikes suitable for beginners though (the S version of the aforementioned SV650 being one). Not all sport bikes have the extreme riding position either (Yamaha FZ-1, for example).

The big cruisers and touring bikes also aren’t so good because they tend to be very heavy. You feel the weight the most during low-speed maneuvering, which is also the trickiest part of riding. It may seem counter-intuitive, but a u-turn in a parking lot at a walking pace requires more skill than taking a bend on the freeway. Smaller cuisers in the 600-800 cc range are more suitable for a beginner.

You say you might want to use the bike for commuting, so I would recommend getting a type of bike known as a “standard” such as the SV650 or maybe a Triumph Bonneville if you want something with more of a classic, old-school style. Standards are good all-round bikes with a neutral seating position. Dual sports are also good commuters, but they tend to be very tall so aren’t so good a first bike for shorter riders. I enjoy the height of my bike, I tower over cars and I’m at eye-level with SUV drivers.

A clean, shiny bike is nice, but do not use Armor All on your bike’s seat or tires. Makes them about as slippery as if you wiped them down with WD-40. Learned that one the hard way. :smack:

No, I don’t think it was. From what I’ve looked at online, I’m guessing it was either an XJ650 or a Maxim 650 (this picture looks almost identical to what I rode).

A guy at work rides an SV650. He really wants an R6, but he’s only been riding for three months. He’s going to wait a while before getting a sportbike.

As I said, I started out on Enduros. (Well, dad’s ancient '64 Yamaha 80; but it was set up as a dirt bike.) Back then, they were two-strokes. They could be quick, as my sister found out (on my 250! :mad: ), but they’re not all that fast and they’re light. After the Enduros I rode a '79 Honda CX500 I bought for a dollar. It was a small tourer, and kind of reminded me of Honda’s answer to the Moto Guzzi with its cylinders sticking out the sides. Then I got the Seca II, 60cc standard. Lighter, faster and quicker than the Honda. Different riding experience.

The Seca II would be an excellent ‘first bike’, IMO. The biggest problem with it was that it took forever to warm up. But it was perfect for the kind of riding I did. Comfortable enough to ride for hundreds of miles in a day, 50+ mpg, nice looking, and just the right size. Not especially fast (125 mph, maximum), but you don’t need it to be when you’re starting out. Used ones can be had cheaply. Mine has 80,000 miles on it. Needs a tune-up, but it’s still going.

I’ve never ridden a Suzuki 600 Bandit, but I’ve heard it’s a better bike than the Seca II. I remember how the bike magazines gushed about the Seca II. When the Bandit was introduced, suddenly the Seca II was crap. (Oh, those advertising dollars!) Anyway, all reports say it’s a good bike. Being a Yamaha Man, I haven’t followed Suzuki’s product line. It seems to me (and I could be wrong) that the SV650 is the Bandit’s successor.

Speaking of Suzukis, the’s the GS500. I rode a coworker’s around 1991. I was on the Honda at the time, and I found the GS500E to be a sprightly bike with good brakes. In retrospect, I’d say it’s comparable to the Seca II but with a slightly more aggressive riding position. I think a used one would make a reasonable choice for a first bike. Sporty, but not overpowered. I wouldn’t mind having one in my stable just for fun.

Just to review the types:
[ul][li]Standards. Upright riding position, inexpensive, easy to ride, adequate power for most situations, usually great fuel efficiency. Generally tubular frames, though this has been changing for several years. Good choice for a beginner.[/li][li]Sportbikes. Aggressive crouch riding position, high power-to-weight ratio, excellent handling, gobs of fun. But they tend to be more expensive than standards and they are not as easy to ride. These bikes are designed for people who have some experience. You can get into trouble very, very quickly on them. A poor choice for a beginner.[/li][li]Cruisers. Rather upright to laid-back riding position. A variety of sizes and prices ranging from, say, a Honda 250 Rebel to a full-dress Harley. Not as maneuverable as a sportbike or a standard. They tend to be fairly wide, making them (IMO) less useful in traffic. These are meant for relaxed riding rather than general riding (though plenty of people do use them for such). Smaller Japanese types would be good introductions for the beginner, but they’re not really my style.[/li][li]Tourers. These are Mileage Disposal Units. They’re designed for easy riding over long distances on nice roads. They’re comfortable and easy to ride; but heavy, not especially maneuverable, and I don’t know of any particularly small ones. The Honda CX500 I mentioned was sort of a ‘mini tourer’ that had a bit in common with a standard. A typical touring machine is probably too big for a beginner, though a small one like the CX500 can serve if you can get one cheaply enough.[/li][li]Sport-tourers. These combine much of the comfort of a tourer with much of the performance of a sportbike. You can probably find an older ('80s or '90s) Yamaha FJ1200 fairly cheaply. Probably not the best choice for the beginner, but not something that will be outgrown quickly.[/li][li]Dual-sport. Back in the '70s we called these Enduros. Basically dirt bikes with lights. I haven’t looked at any for years, but the last time I did they seemed to be more of a compromise between trail bikes and street bikes than the Enduros I rode back in the day. Based on the street riding I did on my Enduros, I wouldn’t recommend them for riding in L.A. (I do see several on the freeways though.) Their narrow, often knobby tires make them look a little bit unstable, and IME the grooves on the freeway make them feel a little bit squirrelly. A decent choice though if you live in an area where you will often ride on dirt trails and not so much on the freeway.[/li]Scooters. Most people think of scooters as the typical Vespa-type. Japanese models are cheap and reliable. Excellent fuel efficiency. The 50cc models are great for city riding, but absoultely unsuited for freeways. Larger models (physically larger, and also larger displacement) may be used on the freeway. I’m attracted to the Aprilia Scarabeo 50, which has larger wheels than the stereotypical scooter. Scooters are a good choice if you never get off of surface streets and don’t ride very far. But I question their overall stability (except for the Scarabeo, which looks more stable to me) and their small size may give you the willies in L.A.-type traffic. Since they are different from motorcycles, I’d consider them poor choices if you want to ride a motorcycle.[/ul]