How to Choose Your First Bike: Episode 1

The idea of this article came after two friends of mine have repeatedly asked me to help them decide on what motorcycle they should buy first.
The following lines are not meant to be taken as some sort of bike-choosing bible, but are rather intended to help the future riders get a better picture of what the two-wheeled fun is about. There is no way one should ever be able to categorize bikes and riders well enough and thus create some sort of matching chart; as people are different and bikes also come in innumerable sizes, shapes, purposes and whatnot, choosing is just a matter of choice, if you allow me such a redundancy.

There are a lot of experienced riders out there who agree that bikes are meant to be driven with the mind, and not with the hands, if you get the subtlety. Nevertheless, choosing a bike that doesn't fit the rider's skills or style overwhelms the simple pleasure of owning such a machine; even more, failing to master the beast can end bad, for both bike and pilot... and that's not what biking is about.

Why do I need a bike?

I guess this is the first and most important question to be answered. It's not about deciding which bike you're going to buy, but do you really need it? Most people don't buy motorcycles out of pure need − it's more often a matter of strong passion. Of course, there are those who buy a bike because they feel it's a status booster, but for these people the matter of choice is of lesser importance.

I happen to know people who are crazy about how the bikes look and the sounds they make, but would rather die than get on a motorcycle and ride it, even as a pillion passenger. In their case, it's also about passion, but with a different twist; and one would possibly even meet a bike collector who does not ride; that would be little wonder, though.

Either because you feel like you must have a bike or believe it will make your everyday life easier (easy commuting and stuff), you should thoroughly consider your needs. Knowing at least a bit what you really want will make choosing a bike a lot easier; and this is because there is an enormous difference between the busy traffic downtown and riding to Alaska or Nordkapp, let alone the sunny track days or striving to get across a 1 meter-deep pond full of mud.

Before deciding to buy a bike you should also consider some long-term factors: the financial issue is of great importance, not only because of the money you have to fork out as you get your wheels, but because some bikes might be terribly expensive to own and keep running. Gas, spare parts, taxes, periodic maintenance and so on can sum up to hefty sums in some cases.
Your long-term happiness is directly linked to whether you really afford a certain bike or not; it's little comfort in looking at your bike in the garage and sighing as you count the dimes in your pocket, knowing you can only ride it once a month, or even worse, not affording to buy the spare parts needed.

If you've analyzed this part and decided you both need/ want to ride and afford the machine and the adjacent costs, let us go one step further.

What do I want to do with my bike?

Back in the day when I bought my first bike, I went to a good friend of mine (that's what friends are for, isn't that so?) and told him: “Hey, I want a chopper.” “Why a chopper?” he asked. “Well, because it looks nice and I like it. Is anything wrong with choppers?” “Nothing is wrong with any bike... but what kind of a biker do you really want to be? Where would you go on a bike?”

These questions have made me go back to the drawing board, as I had never really thought about what kind of two-wheeled fun I was after. Funny thing that the final choice was radically different from every option to have crossed my mind until then; and still my bike provides me with endless fun after all these years.

Now it's time to pass his questions to others; before actually spending your cash on a bike, you should consider well enough what you want from it. Think about your work hours and possibly family duties; think about how weather is in the area you live in; think about whether you want to take your girlfriend with you on a ride often; and think about what do you really like to do.

All these factors sum up to directing your choice to a specific class of motorcycle. If you're fond of mountains or trekking and enjoy long walks in the nature more than anything, maybe you should choose an enduro or a dual-sport bike. If you rejoice with the adrenalin rush of a high-speed track day, than it's sportbikes you should go for.

Do you feel like taking your wife and lots of luggage and spend a 3-week vacation around the continent in style and comfort? Maybe the super tourer is your bike. Or perhaps you prefer the open road and care-free rides, just like in the movies − get yourself a chopper and enjoy it as much as possible. If you're just looking for some light fun on two wheels, with little expenses and fuel consumption, you might get on a scooter or a small 125cc bike.

Since there are a heap of classes and subclasses of bikes, with different architecture and features, engine types and all, you should spend some time with as many of them as possible before making judgments.
Now, it's quite obvious that if you're after a sportsbike, you should leave the cross motorcycles alone; but you do have of course a lot of other bikes to choose from. You could look into a classic speeder such as the GSX-R600 or a classy Ducati. Or if you want a machine built for speed but boasting exquisite looks, there's always MV Agustas, Benellis, and so many more waiting for you.

Choosing the bike class for your two-wheeler right and in agreement with your life style can be the first step to serious fun. Failing to do so will lose you some money as you change bikes. Failing to notice that a certain type of motorcycle is not your game by a long shot can end in a bad crash or even worse, so pick wisely.

How about engine capacity?

The question of whether newbies should ride big engine bikes or not is a really tricky one, at least as far as its supporters and opponents are concerned. The most widely-met opinion is that new, inexperienced riders should never get on powerful motorcycles, regardless of their type and class.

Bikes are dangerous and can set even the experienced pilots in very nasty scenarios. Unlike cars, you can fall off the bike to bad or even fatal consequences. Further on, a car's throttle (even if we're thinking of a sport car) is almost like a toy when compared to the brutal, almost instant acceleration of a big-engine motorcycle. Rev a bit the gas on a Ninja or R1 and see yourself speeding at 100 mph (~160 kph) in just moments; fail to control the bike and your friends will call the coroner. Big bikes are no toys for inexperienced riders, and that's a fact.

In fact, most countries have regulations which state that “greenhorn” motorcycle riders are not allowed to drive bikes whose engines exceed some fixed specs. In some cases the laws forbid completely riding an overspecced bike, while in others this is more like an advice or recommendation.

These legal limits vary from country to country and they're addressing both the engine capacity and power, but the idea behind such laws is that beginners are statistically known to be prone to accidents caused directly by maneuvering failures. Some states enforce these laws for cars as well, for the same reasons.

There is much debate in the biking communities whether this law is just or not, and you'll find a lot of people disregarding it, even with the tacit complicity of state institutions such as registration services or police.

While most people heed the advice of not picking a big, powerful bike as their first, you'll find a lot of guys with less than 500 miles (roughly 800 km) on a GSX-R1000. Taking a look at statistics will also show that beginners tend to crash a lot more with big bikes than when riding smaller, less powerful ones.

Motorcycle retailers and trainers should probably be the first ones to attempt and control this matter. I happen to know a Yamaha dealer who refused to sell an R1 to a newbie. Despite the young guy's protests and his not-so-wise friend encouraging him to get the R1, the dealer denied the sale.

This honest and caring man kept on stressing that a newbie had no place on an R1, since it was both illegal and frightfully dangerous. In the end he added: “I'm not at all keen to see the looks on your relatives' faces at your funeral, young boy. Learn how to ride and buy the R1 in a couple of years.” I don't know if the newbie has finally understood what the Yamaha dealer wanted him to see, or if he got a supersport bike from another guy, but I hope he's still OK.
When talking about the powerful, big-engine bikes as the first motorcycle, there are a lot of people who claim there's is nothing wrong with choosing such a machine as a first. They'll add in their own example I’m sure we've all heard at least once: “Look at me, the Busa was my first bike and I'm fine, still alive and well.”

It's really good for them, the less accidents the happier state, riders' community and families are, but unfortunately such examples are the exception to the rule. Thousands of accidents resulting in totaled bikes, severe injuries or deaths, and costly health programs are recorded each year. Most of the crashes involving fresh pilots involve a rider error combined with lack of traffic expertise and guess what? A bike often much too powerful for its rider.

Of course, that's not the absolute rule; one might rightfully add that a rider doesn't necessarily have to rev the bike all the way up. But both me and you know we've all tried the limits of our bikes more than once or twice in our early days; unfortunately, not everybody is lucky enough to make it safe.

The discussion is still open, and please feel free to add in your opinions in a polite and respectful manner. And of course, check back with us next week for a new list of tips for choosing the first bike. Ride safe!
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