Buying a Motorcycle for the Compulsive or Impulsive- Part I
Step Two: What's the Bike for Me?
Remember that motorcycling is a minimalist experience, so try to keep your list short.
That's the one question motorcycle neophytes ask the most. More accurately, they ask, "What's the best bike?", as if there is one motorcycle universally regarded as the best bike to buy. I then refer them to Soviet-era Russia, where there was only one motorcycle available, in which case the answer was easy.
However, here in the Land of the Free, we are blessed (or cursed) with a ridiculous number of choices. The 2005 Cycle World Motorcycle Buyer's Guide lists over 300 models! And that's just the new stuff. Add in used and you have a dizzying array of bad decisions you can make.
But don't fret. Picking the right bike for you is as simple as figuring out what kind of features you want (or need). So sit down and write out a list of things you feel the perfect motorcycle should have. Please try to keep the list limited to things that actually exist. Automatic transmissions, cupholders, anti-tailgater lasers and soda machines would add too much expense and complexity to a vehicle. Remember that motorcycling is a minimalist experience, so try to keep your list short.
If I was an 18 year old college student thinking about getting a first bike, I would figure what my average useage would be and jot it down. I might need the bike to get from my swinging bachelor digs to the campus 3 miles away on city streets, and then to get to the train station on the other side of town so I can get home to see my folks on weekends. There's nothing worth seeing for 100 miles around the college town where I live, so I don't need to get on the freeway. I can park a motorcycle on campus for free, but a car costs $6 a day so I can't afford that. The speed limit in town is 45 mph.
Most importantly, I have $2000 to spend, and I won't have much income for maintenance. I don't have a girlfriend, but I'm one of these groovy guys with a guitar and I play in a band sometimes, so you know I'm going to need something that can take a chick on the back.
So here's what my purchase should have:Be able to go at least 45 - 50 mph; Be very reliable and cheap to maintain; can carry a passenger; have a luggage rack for my guitar; Be inexpensive for an 18 year old to insure; Look cool enough so I can get laid.
Notice what it doesn't need to have:
-160 mph top speed
-cutting edge styling
-Touring luggage capacity
-Full Ohlins racing suspension
You should consider not just features like price, reliability, performance, etc., but also things like availability, dealer support, and maintenance costs.
A clever guy with a pocket protector could set up a database-style software program that could easily compare features like weight, price, top speed, insurance cost, looks (on a subjective 1-10 scale)etc and match them up to what a buyer wanted. Dating services probably use something like that. But we have to trust our friends, family, internet chat buddies and (shudder) salesmen to help us make the right choice.
So once you know what features you want, you can start looking around in various media to see what's out there that matches your needs and desires. The internet is always a great place to start. There aren't a lot of websites out there with comprehensive databases, but luckily you're a MO subscriber (or should be), so use our search page to look for the motorcycle that interests you. If you live in a large city, your library might keep back issues of motorcycle magazines in their periodicals section. Just ask the librarian to see the periodicals index and look up the make and model you're interested in by year. Keep in mind that most motorcycles are introduced and written about in the year before the year they are introduced.
It's actually much easier than it sounds. Most categories in motorcycling have a few obvious best choices in them. And when I say "best", you should consider not just features like price, reliability, performance, etc., but also things like availability, dealer support, and maintenance costs. The Royal Enfield might be a very good basic standard motorcycle indeed, but there are no California dealers, so if you live in Bakersfield you might want to consider a different bike. The Ducati 999R is a winning sportbike and the fastest thing at a lot of racetracks, but the engine is a high-revving, peaky bundle of nerves, so it might not be the thing for your daily 30 mile commute to the gravel pit.
By this time, you should have an idea of the model you want. You really should have a few different ones in mind. The happiest buyers I've dealt with are the flexible ones. Why are they happy? Because they wind up buying a motorcycle! They don't shop and shop and shop for season after season, looking for something they'll never find.
I worked in a shop that sold vintage Italian scooters. I could always spot these guys. They were in their 40's or 50's, and they always had a Vespa or Lambretta as teenagers. They would say they were looking for a scooter. I'd ask how long they'd been thinking about buying one, and they would usually say they'd been looking since they sold their last scooter when they were kids! They want another 1956 Lambretta for $150. As soon as they find it they'll get it. Maybe they can be buried with it.
Compile a list of bikes you could live with. Be flexible about color and other features, and then put on your shopping boots, because this is where the hard work starts!
Next: Gabe will talk about looking for a used bike, checking it out mechanically, and negotiating the best price.