Thinking about a motorcycle - tips for newbies?

I’ve long considered getting a motorcycle, and what with gasoline prices these days, I’m starting to consider it more and more. The trouble is, I’m not sure what kind (make/model) to consider. I’m pretty open to suggestions, so are there any riders out there with some tips for a newbie would-be rider? Specifically, suggestions about what bike (or kind of bike) to consider would be great. Here are my general guidelines:

A) Quiet. I know loud pipes save lives, and I’m one of the most OCD-safety conscious people out there, but still. I’m not a big brash personality, and I’d rather ride a bike that is a little less cacophonous.

B) Not a chopper, not a heavy cruiser, and not a strict racing bike. Style-wise, anything in the middle would be fine. Strictly as an example, anything from Yamaha’s 2006 lineup would be fine. I know this is very much a personal opinion category, so there’s no need to put too much thought into this one.

C) I’m guessing that 600lbs is probably the upper end of the weight scale that I’d want to wrestle with. My buddy’s bike is 600lbs, and I can handle it, but if it ever tipped over I’d hate to have to flag down a passing football team to help me get back on my wheels. (I’m 6’1", in my 30’s, and healthy.)
I’m love to read any helpful thoughts or ideas from any experienced riders. I am looking for specific information about what type of bike to consider, but I’d welcome any other comments (safety, gear, etc). Thanks, everybody…

  • Old Peculiar.

I like your reasoning. Not loud and obnoxious, and not so big you can’t handel

I just have one piece of advice about riding that my friend who taught me
gave me.

When you are in a car and you see another driver and they look you in the
eyes, you have seen eachother. THIS IS NOT TRUE WHEN YOU ARE ON A MOTORCYCLE

Car drivers tend to look through you. Their brain is in scan mode for a big four
wheeled or bigger object. They “never see” the motorcycle. Many car drivers are
looking right past and through you. This is why many places have the headlight
always on law for motorcycles.

So when riding, always take this into account!

Bike wise, try one of the streetfighter types - e.g the Suzuki Bandit/SV650, Honda Nornet, Yamaha Fazer, etc. as they’re all around 600cc, just under 200kg (I think that’s about 450lbs), plenty quick enough and most can return 40mpg+.

Take a safety/driving course first!

You can always tell the newbies on bikes who have not taken a safety course first.
Their driving habits suck and they are apt to get themselves killed. I spot them everywhere each spring.

Like EnderWay says, you pretty much have to drive like your invisible. Thinking you have the right-of-way just because you legally do may win you a legal battle but it ain’t gonna save your life.

Oh, and please wear a helmet.

Make sure you carry an organ donor card.

Yeah, like I said, I am very safety-conscious. Helmets and other gear are definitely a must. Same goes for the training course. Another buddy of mine took that class, and he was afraid it was going to be some ridiculous lecture thing, like a reply of high school driver’s ed class. But he had to admit that it was very informative, pretty fun, and generally - a really good idea. So I’m sold on that.

I haven’t looked at those bikes yet, Tuco, but I will…

Good for you. Your neighbors will thank you.

Again, good. Choppers are to motorcycles what professional wrestlers are to athletes. Fans find plenty of reasons I can’t fathom to admire either.

Easy target to meet. Actually, you could lower that to 450 lbs, and not exclude too much. The ONLY time you’ll wish for a heavier bike is in high winds…they do get tossed around a bit less. HOWEVER, picking up a heavy dropped bike is just a matter of technique.
I’ll second the SV-650 recommendation. Also look into BMW F-650s.

Lastly, understand you’ll spend on tires every penny and more that you save on gasoline. There are plenty of great reasons to ride, but if you try to justify it on economics alone, your kidding yourself.

Kevbo - interesting point about the cost of tires. Nobody has ever mentioned that to me before. Are bike tires so much more fragile than auto tires? Or are they just blisteringly expensive, so when I do go to replace them I’ll lose any gas savings? I routinely get 100,000 miles out of the Firestones on my car - what’s the dope on bike tires?

You will get maybe a tenth of that out of bike tyres. They have a harder job to do, at varying angles of lean, and there are only two of them to share it. They’re usually grippier but far worse wearing. Because they’re a much lower-volume seller than car tyres, they’re more expensive.

However, at UK petrol prices, I’d be saving about £200 over the lifetime of the tyres, which would more or less replace them. High-performance bikes with worse mileage and tyre lifetimes of 2000 - 5000 miles, not so good. (Mine’s one of the BMW F650s mentioned above. It’s a good all-rounder. Keep an eye on the chain though, a 650cc single is quite brutal.)

Yeah, what everyone else said. Take a basic rider safety course first, it’s the best way to learn to ride a bike. I don’t know what the laws are like where you live, but in many states it’s the fastest way to get your motorcycle license, too.

I’d also recommend checking out the Motorcycle USA forums. They’re a great gang that’s willing to help out newbies, and a good resource for riders all around. I post over there myself sometimes.

As far as bikes go, I’d stay away from sportbikes. They are the worst first bikes because they are very sensitive and the slightest twitch can get you into trouble in a hurry. A newbie just doesn’t have the skill necessary to handle them. Plus, you are going to drop your first bike (it’s inevitable) and they have an awful lot of expensive bodywork. They make great second or third bikes, but not first.

Cruisers actually are all right, they are very docile and aren’t going to surprise you. Though as you noted they are on the heavy side. However, the weight is usually distributed down low so they don’t feel that heavy when ridden. The only time you really feel the weight is at low speeds, which is actually the trickiest part of riding for a newbie. But if you like the style, a smaller cruiser in the 600cc range (such as the Honda Shadow VLX) wouldn’t be bad. Oh, and “loud pipes save lives” is a bit of a myth. As you will learn in the rider course, most of your hazards come at you from the front (the biggest being cars turning left in front of you), and they aren’t going to hear your pipes until it’s too late anyway. Also, there’s a trick to picking up a heavy bike: stand with your back to the bike and lift with your legs. I’ve seen a clip online of this demo’ed by a lady who couldn’t have been more than 5’4", 110 lbs., righting a 900 lb+ Gold Wing.

The type of bike you sound like you’re looking for would be called a “standard”. This is the best type of bike for starting out. They are very neutral, so there is not much adjustment needed on your part if you want to move to a sportbike or cruiser later on. I too recommend looking at the Suzuki SV650 (or SV650s, if you want something a little more sporty).

You may also look into a dual sport bike. These bikes are part street bike, part dirt bike, and make great commuters. Very rugged and versatile. Some are more dirt oriented, like the Kawasaki KLR. I ride a Suzuki DL650 V-Strom, a street oriented dual sport. The BMW F650 is somewhere in the middle, though maybe a tick more towards street over dirt. The only downside to a dual sport is they tend to be very tall, so shorter riders may not be comfortable on them. But if you fit (at 6’1", you probably do), they are another good option.

I’m 5’ 10" and short-legged for my height, and I can get both feet down on an F650. It spends 99.9% of its time on-road including 25 miles each way to and from work every day and is just fine with that, despite its clear off-road styling. You can’t push it through turns the way you can a sports bike, but with due allowance for its soft springs it handles them well enough, and it’s light enough to change direction quickly. Although it can be hustled up to about 105mph, it gets there in a fairly civilised fashion and is unlikely to bite a cautious newbie.

There’s a few of these threads floating around from this summer alone. I always say the helmet/boots/gloves/jacket every time you ride spiel. It’s why I have all my skin happily unmarred and walked away from two 30 mph incidents without professional medical attention.

Get what looks fun, bikes are a lot of peoples’ secondary mode of transportation so enjoy what you ride, what’s comfortable to sit on and manage.

Start with a used bike. It will save you money at the beginning and see if that’s the style of bike you really want before comitting to payments or a huge pile of cash up front. After a year maybe try out a different used one.

I’m 5’9", 32" inseam. I can get both feet down and can almost, but not quite, flat-foot my V-Strom. I’ve been riding for a while so I’m fine with it, but new riders often aren’t unless they can easily get both feet down flat. I like the height, puts me at eye-level with SUV drivers, and I tower over cars. The concept of the V-Strom is 90% street, 10% dirt, and that’s about the breakdown of my riding. I commute on it daily and get 45-48 mpg. It’s actually a very neutral, versatile bike. With the right upgrades it can be made very trail-worthy, or if you want to go the other way, it can be made into a very competent sport-tourer.

I know I’m biased, but I actually think a dual sport is the best bike a newbie can get. They’re practically bullet-proof, can handle any road conditions you might find, and have a comfortable upright seating position. Great for every day, real-world commuting. Besides, who wouldn’t want a bike that can go anywhere? Your ride doesn’t have to end when the pavement does. If it gets scratched, who cares? It’s supposed to be a little scuffed up. :slight_smile:

That would be Skert from the above link most likely. I’ve meet her a few times, even done a ride or two with her.

I will tell you what I’ve told most other people. Pick up the Idiots Guide to Motorcycles. The last time I checked they had a big list of bikes in the back with pictures. He basically said what types of bikes were good for beginners and the ones to look out for. I’d second the Honda VLX, I’ve got one that I’ve put 20,000 miles on and really liked it.

Haha, yes! I won’t retell the stories my ex (who happened to be a doctor. No seriously, I dumped a doctor. Heh.) had about bikers in the ER. Instead, are you sure about the whole not loud thing? I know, loud motorcycles might be the most annoying thing in the universe, second only to people who talk loudly on the cell phones in restaurants, but that’s the way people know bikes are coming half the time. I changed lanes last week and damn near killing a motorcyclists who I didn’t see. I caught him just in time, and he caught me, so we avoided an accident, but there are people who won’t catch you. Even if an accident is the other person’s fault, they’re in a 3000 lb steel cage, and you are on a bike. You lose.

Sorry if I sound preachy, but my brother was in a biking accident (survived and escaped serious injury, thank the gods!), and so I’m like a nagging mother who worries about this kind of thing.

I wish I could edit my posts here. Maybe I’ll just start proofreading. Anyway, that should have read “and damn near killed a motorcyclist.” I know my point was clear, I’m just anal about that sort of thing.

Definitely take an Motorcycle Safety Foundation course. Correct riding form is not intuitive and you can waive your DMV road test if you pass. They’re were people in my class who had been riding for years and said they don’t know how they survived not knowing the stuff they learned (steer with your eyes, etc…)

The Suzuki SV650 is the ideal beginners bike.

You’re apparently up on safety gear so no recs there.

Find a good forum. I just looked for my favorite beginner forum and apparently it’s gone so check out the forums. Forums are the best resource around.

After the MSF course, spend a lot of time in a parking lot. The biggest kick I get out of riding is the feeling of expertise in shifting, braking, cornering etc…

Maybe I’ll see ya on my '03 Silver Speed Triple. :slight_smile:

Wow. Great stuff - thanks all.

Jet - the Honda Shadow VLX is more my style, aesthetically speaking. More so than the Susuki SV650, which has been recommended many times so far! But people are right - the feel of the bike should be a bit more important than the look - although bikes are all about attitude, right? Hah. The BMW has a really nice look, too. Again, I like it better than the Susuki. The high, hanging seat pan over the rear wheel of the Susuki just looks a little - odd. But that’s just me.

Jumpsuit - don’t worry about sounding preachy (you didn’t, by the way). My older brother used to ride until hit hit sand on the curve of a back road, about 15 years ago. It was a very disturbing thing to see my big, strong, weight-lifting brother lying in a hospital bed with LOTS of repair work all over his body - including where they put the plate in his skull. So, while I’m very aware of the things riders face out there, I certainly can’t blame anybody for possibly sounding preachy - I know where you’re coming from.

Ed the Head - Idiot’s Guide to Motorcycles! I like that, I’ll have to check it out. Thanks.

Thanks again to all - I’m not abandoning this post, so keep writing if you’re feeling inspired!

Don’t overlook the Suzuki LS 650, which went by the name “Savage” for many, many years, but in 2005 was re-named the Boulevard S40.

Single cylinder 650cc engine, belt drive, air-cooled, has a carb (not fuel injected) – which all adds up to very simple maintenance! (You’ll appreciate this, trust me!)

Also, weighs just 350 pounds, which means the 650cc engine is more than powerful enough to move it along.

The only drawback I’ve found (did you guess that I own one yet? :slight_smile: ) is that it’s too light for long-distance highway trips.

Oh, and “Loud pipes save lives” is pure BS spouted by riders who are too stupid to wear helmets.

Heh. :slight_smile:

Sounds like the Susuki is getting a lot of praise. I’ll have to look into that…