If you have ever considered the idea of owning and riding a motorcycle, let’s make one thing clear: you need to stop thinking about it, and get yourself in the saddle.
Owning a motorcycle is one of the greatest things any man can do. It turns any errand into pure joy, the trip becoming more enjoyable than just about any destination. You can get around quickly, avoid traffic congestion, and never have to stop on a highway ever again.
But most importantly: it will make you feel more confident, more manly, and more… cool.
That being said, not all bikes are built the same. This guide will go through what you need to know to get yourself on a bike, stay safe, and make sure it’s the best bike for your needs.
Just How Dangerous Are Motorcycles
If you do get a motorcycle, half the people you mention this to will respond with something like “Well I hope you’re an organ donor.” The widespread opinion of motorcycles is they are death-machines, widowmakers, an accident waiting to happen.
The truth is, motorcycles are more dangerous than a car, but not nearly the death-machines they are made out to be. The biggest danger in riding a motorcycle are the low-speed ‘fender benders’. This is where motorcycles are truly more dangerous than a car. In a low speed collision, like getting bumped in a parking lot, a car will sustain a scratch and dent, while you may be left with a badly broken leg.
But when it comes to high-speed death crashes, the truth is motorcycles are only marginally more dangerous than a car. If you remove the crashes caused by rider stupidity: drugs, drunk, speeding, or not paying attention, the statistics calm down to a point of not being all that alarming.
And if you take it one step further, you can get those risks down to an acceptable level quickly.
Take a Safety Course
A motorcycle safety course is the best investment you will ever make if you want to ride. Most new riders want to avoid this to save the money (they can be as much as $800), but you need to think of it differently: If this course saves you from dropping your bike once, it will have paid for itself.
And that doesn’t even take into account any time the course will save your life on the road. The way to stay safe on a bike is to assume everyone out there is actively trying to hit you. A safety course will teach you how to handle a bike, and what mistakes to avoid. But best of all it will give you practice and training on emergency stopping and maneuvering. Doing this on your own bike puts you at risk of laying it down. Much better to drop one of their rides than your own.
Depending on where you live and what the laws are like, these courses can also be the quickest and easiest way to get your motorcycle license. Take a course, it’s worth it.
All the Gear all the Time
The acronym ATGAT is used to remind you to wear your gear. It doesn’t matter what the local laws are, or if you’re just heading down the street. Wear gear. You don’t need full racing leathers, but you should never get on a bike without, at a minimum:
- Boots. You want your ankles covered by boots heavy enough to provide protection.
- Pants. Thick denim, leather, or kevlar pants will save you some skin.
- A jacket. Thick denim, leather, or some armored motorcycle jacket.
- Helmet. I don’t care if you live in Hawaii or Colorado wear a lid.
- Eye cover. If you have an open-face helmet, throw on some shades or goggles. You can't ride if you can't see.
When it’s a hot, sunny, day, all this gear can be sweltering. It’s tempting to give in to the glory of riding in shorts and a tee shirt, but it’s just not worth the risk. At the very least you’re going to end up burning yourself on your exhaust or clutch at some point. If it’s too hot to wear a leather jacket, buy yourself a mesh armored jacket for the summer.
Now that we have the safety information out of the way, let’s move on to the fun stuff: the bikes.
What kind of Bike should you get?
There are three main categories of bikes out there:
All bikes will either fit firmly into one category or bridge into two or all three. Think of it like this:
A 1957 Chevrolet Bel Air is entirely about style.
A 2000 Nissan Skyline GT-R is entirely about performance.
A 1996 Ford Ranger Pickup is entirely about function.
Now don’t get me wrong, you can love the look and style of a GT-R or Ford Ranger above anything else, but that doesn’t really change the purpose of the vehicle. When it comes to bridging two categories we get into things like a 2016 Jaguar F-Type. This car has full marks for performance, and has a decent amount of style to boot.
Motorcycles are no different. So your first choice needs to be on what you want to get out of your bike.
Should you buy a Function Bike?
This is going to depend on the reason you want to get a bike in the first place. For the most part, there is almost no reason to get a function bike as your only bike. If you only ever want to go on long highway rides, then you’re going to want to get something comfortable. If you don’t mind looking like a loser, grab a couch on wheels (like a Goldwing), but for this I would still look for style, probably in Harley Davidson’s direction.
A bike like this is a great tool, but it won’t make you look or feel cool. It won’t inspire confidence, and it won’t have people running across the street to talk to you about how sweet your bike is. Unless you don’t care about anything other than function, ignore anything in this category. A rule of thumb: if it looks like a couch and luggage rack on wheels, you don’t want it.
The biggest exception for the function category is if you plan on riding your bike off road as well as on the road and highway. If you need something universal, then a KTM Duke (or Super Duke, if you want to get nuts) is basically a super-powered street dirt bike. It wins zero points for good looks, but is about the most functional and “fun dirt bike” style riding you can find.
Performance or Style?
This is where you need to decide what you want most out of your bike. Personally, I think plastic covered performance bikes look stupid. But at the same time, riding a rocket of a race bike is undeniably exhilarating, and half the world think they look wicked cool. If you want speed, crazy acceleration, and the ability to break every speed law in your county, then this is the choice for you.
To name a few you have Honda CBR’s, Yamaha R6 and R1’s, Kawasaki Ninja’s and one of the only performance bike brands to grab a foothold in style: Ducati.
If your style aligns with crotch rockets, you have a lot of great bikes to choose from.
But if going 160mph isn’t your goal, then you get to step into my wheelhouse and pick a bike based on style.
The Key for Style: Uniqueness
If style is important to you, the last thing you want is the same bike as 1,000 other assholes in your town. This means you’re going to want to find something a little more rare, or a little more custom. It’s fairly simple to change the looks of most bikes with a few changes, and I suggest you do just that.
Here’s a little list of different styles of bikes.
Personally I like the cafe/scrambler/tracker look. Taking something like this:
And turning it into something like this:
While I will never win a race against a street bike, even one with half the CC’s of mine, people stop take a look and talk to me about my bike. It’s comfortable for a passenger, and most importantly: I look and feel good on it.
For me, feeling great is the entire purpose I started riding a motorbike. It’s not about the rush you can get when your front tire comes off the ground at 100, it’s about feeling the wind, feeling free, and I’ll admit: looking good.
Where to Get a Bike
If you buy a bike new from the lot, you’re going to be confident it’s in top working condition, but that luxury is going to cost you.
Buying second hand will save you a lot of money, but you need to be reasonably capable at spotting issues. For the most part you want to buy a bike as stock as possible. If it has a lot of work done to it, it has a lot more potential for problems. Having a bike in the garage for a couple weeks of the riding season sucks.
Figure out what you want, put up some CraigsList alerts, and wait until something wicked falls into your lap. Looking for your dream bike is far more fun than owning a lemon, full of troubles and stress.
Once you have a bike then it’s time to customize it. The simplest things to do are the visual changes. Clip on or Clubman bars, headlights, fender removals, seats. Once you get into performance changes things get a little more tricky. Most stock bikes will benefit from a better exhaust system, but changing that will require re-mapping the ECU or re-jetting the carbs if it’s carbureted. If you’ve never tried to tune carbs heed this warning: it’s a rabbit hole of despair.
Unless you absolutely need vintage, try to get something fuel injected.
Where to get your mods will depend on the kind of bike you grab, but the following links will be a great place to start:
So go out, get your license, put on the gear, and get out there!