Motorcycle Beginner: I Want to Ride

A motorcycle newbie's story

story by Dennis Chung, Photograph by Dennis Chung, Created May. 05, 2011
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My name is Dennis Chung and I am one of the many behind-the-scenes staffers behind Motorcycle.com. And I have a confession to make.

I have never ridden a motorcycle.

Let’s back things up a bit first and explain a few things. Regular Motorcycle.com readers are of course familiar with Editor-in-Chief Kevin Duke, Senior Editor Pete Brissette and the FNG Troy Siahaan living the glamorous life as moto-journalists on the left coast. But what most readers don’t know is our three resident shoot-out kings are backed by a small but dedicated army of people who do all the little things to help Motorcycle.com thrive.

My duties consist mainly of a lot of research and fact-checking, keeping track of the latest industry news, laying out articles and breaking out the crayons to produce the dyno charts for our reviews and shootouts. After nearly four years here at Motorcycle.com and having read and re-read almost every single word we’ve published over that span, I probably know as much about motorcycles as anyone can without ever having ridden one.

Motorcycle street parking

Well it’s about time we changed that, right? And that’s why I’ve been chosen to be the sacrificial virgin for Motorcycle.com’s Beginner Bike Series.

New Blood

A recent report from J.D. Power and Associates confirmed what many in the motorcycle industry have discovered: their customer base is aging. According to the report, the average age of a new motorcycle buyer in 2001 was 40. Fast forward nine years to 2010 and what do we see? The average age of a new motorcycle buyer last year was 49. It doesn’t take a math genius to see what’s going on here. The motorcycle industry needs new blood.

The motorcycle industry was one of the hardest hit by the global economic downturn, and though there have been signs the worst is over (U.S. Motorcycle sales were up 7.2%  in the first quarter) we still have a long way to go to return to the figures we saw just five years ago.

As Troy wrote in our 2011 250cc Beginner Bike Shootout, the entry-level rider segment is the Holy Grail for motorcycle manufacturers. The industry needs to attract new customers with quality beginner-friendly products, and then keep them coming back for more advanced models as they gain more experience.

250cc entry level motorcycles

And the manufacturers have started to take action. Kawasaki has had a near stranglehold on the low-displacement sportbike segment for two decades with its Ninja 250R while Honda is introducing its new CBR250R. In Europe and Asia, KTM is introducing its new 125 Duke while Aprilia has promised a new RS4 125 will arrive in North America by the end of the year.

With that, we here at Motorcycle.com decided to do our part with this new series, illustrating the experiences a typical new rider goes through. We’ll go through getting licensed, receiving proper training, and follow the experience of an entry-level rider on an entry-level motorcycle: our 2011 beginner bike shootout winner, the Honda CBR250R.

2011 Honda CBR250R

Now that we’ve established why we’re doing this series, it’s time to ask an important question …

Why do you want to ride?

Everyone has his or her own reason for wanting to ride a motorcycle. Some people like the feeling of traveling in the open air without being surrounded by two tons of metal. Some like the personal connection between the individual and the machine. Others like the feeling of camaraderie and community shared between all bikers. And some people just like to go really, really fast.

While all of those reasons carry some appeal, for me, the most important reason is practicality. I currently take public transit for the 20-mile commute from my home in the suburbs to the office in downtown Toronto. On a good day, it takes me an hour and a half to get to work. On a bad day, it can take me up to two hours before I arrive. As much of a proponent of public transportation I am, this means three to four hours of my life each day is spent crammed onto a crowded bus or subway train.

motorcycles vs subway

The alternative is to drive to work. In addition to being the possessor of a monthly transit pass, I also happen to be the proud owner of a 1998 Nissan Altima. On the days I choose to drive to work, my one-way commuting time is halved to just 45 minutes.

What I gain in time I pay for in cold, hard cash. A monthly transit pass in Toronto costs $121. With about 22 or 23 work days each month, that translates to roughly $5.50 a day for transportation. By comparison, my ’98 Altima is rated at 23 mpg by the EPA. With a two-way travel distance of 40 miles, I can expect to pay about $8 a day for gasoline, and likely more if oil prices rise as expected this summer. Add parking fees which vary from $10-$12 a day, depending on the lot, and I can wind up spending about $20 each day for my daily commute. As it is, my choices are to pay in either time or money.

1998 Nissan Altima

A fuel-efficient small-displacement motorcycle such as the Honda CBR250R can offer the best of both worlds. The fuel-injected CBR250R will get about 60 mpg, possibly more, translating to almost a third the fuel costs of my Nissan. Even better, street parking for motorcycles in Toronto is free. Factor in insurance and the start-up cost of buying a motorcycle and riding gear and I'll still come out ahead compared to commuting in the car. Public transit will still cost less, but the time savings will be more than worth it.

Next Page... MO Editors Tell Their Stories

MO Editors Tell Their Stories

Why We Ride

The motorcycle bug has many ways of biting budding riders. What follows here are the stories of how the Motorcycle.com staff found their way into the two-wheeled club.

Troy Siahaan, Associate Editor

I was into two things as a kid: cars and BMX bicycles. If I wasn’t at a car show or watching a F1 race on TV, I was pedaling my hand-me-down BMX bike from my brother. Usually down a hill. As fast as I could. Yep, I was a speed junkie. But it wasn’t until my neighbor wheeled out his dirtbike one weekend that my focus really started to shift – all I saw was a bigger version of my BMX bike ... with an engine! I don’t even remember what kind it was anymore, but hearing the ring-ding of the two-stroke and watching him blast up and down the street was enough to get me excited. I wanted a motorcycle.

The parental units forbade it, so I temporarily made due with cars. Around the year 2000 I really started following motorcycle road racing, especially the 500cc championship (now MotoGP) and World Superbike. The bikes were so fast and the lean angles blew my mind. That was it. I was getting a motorcycle.

2011 Triumph Speed Triple 1050

I faced some heavy opposition from my parents, but at 19, after completing the MSF course and getting my license, I finally saved enough to make my first adult purchase: a 1990 Yamaha FZR600. From there I soaked up as much information as I could. I was also fortunate enough to be taken in by excellent mentors who steered my down the right path. Eventually I was taken to my first trackday which solidified my love for this sport. And the rest, as they say, is history.

- Troy Siahaan

Pete Brissette, Senior Editor

I've always had a strong interest in motorcycles, even as a wee lad (what little boy doesn't?), but didn't start riding until I was about 23 years old. At that time, riding for me was more about covering the necessity to acquire affordable transportation as much as it was about savoring the joys of two wheeling.
 
I'd grown up riding snowmobiles and ATVs, but learning to ride a motorcycle was the quintessential out-of-the-frying-pan-and-into-the-fire experience. I had limited prior experience and basically cut my riding teeth on the clogged freeways and streets of L.A. I had to learn fast if I was to survive. A little bit of ignorance may have helped me in some ways, but I learned many lessons the hard way, too, and have the scars to prove it.

2011 Ducati Monster 1100 EVO

During my early riding years my love of bikes continued, and although still riding primarily for transport, I had soon put my two-wheeled transportation to profitable use as a legal courier/motorcycle messenger in Los Angeles. L.A. traffic is a P.I.T.A., but I credit my nearly 10 years as a messenger darting around greater Los Angeles as invaluable training ground. Reflexes were rapid, and I developed a heightened sense for anticipating what other drivers would and wouldn't do.

While I don't think I'd trade my messenger days, I do, however, wish that nearly 18 years ago when I started someone would've mentored me into an MSF-style riding course. I don't have a crystal ball, but I'd guess I might've learned some things about riding the smart way rather than the hard way.

- Pete Brissette

Kevin Duke, Editor-in-Chief

My love for motorcycling began with a fascination of everything with wheels. I still remember laying rubber patches with the front wheel of my tricycle, and the introduction of a bicycle profoundly opened up my world – it became my exploration vehicle and taught me the unique and thrilling dynamic qualities of riding on two wheels.

My motorcycling fate was sealed just seconds after my first twist of the throttle on my friend’s Honda Z50, and we rode the little funster until its tank was dry. I had to have a dirt bike. Dad told me he’d pay for half if I saved up my paper route money, and a shiny, new 1978 Suzuki DS80 became my favorite possession. I’m forever grateful for the long afternoons my dad spent waiting patiently in the car while I rode the crap out of that tough little trailbike. A 1985 Honda CR125 MXer was the next step – what a thrill it was to take the holeshot in my first motocross race!

2012 BMW K1600GTL

My parents were reluctantly okay with my dirt riding, but they were strictly against the potential dangers of streetbikes, telling me in no uncertain terms that I couldn’t have one while living under their roof. But the pull of street riding eventually became too much. I kept the two-stroke theme going by purchasing a used Yamaha RZ500, a frenetic grand prix replica sportbike that taught me a whole lot in a short time – a split second after learning the limits of a tire’s edge grip, I found out that tennis shoes are insufficient footwear for motorcycle riding.

Motorcycle magazines fueled my attraction and taught me countless things about riding. As I soaked up this info, I imagined myself one day writing for one. A journalism degree and indefatigable persistence led me to Motorcyclist magazine in 1997, and I couldn’t be happier to report that I’ve lost track of the bikes I’ve ridden after surpassing 400. My only issue with riding is that I don’t have enough time to do it!

- Kevin Duke

Getting Your Motorcycle License

California Motorcycle HandbookMotorcycle license regulations vary from jurisdiction to jurisdiction with each state establishing its own requirements for minimum age, rider education, entry-level restrictions and, of course, fees.

Invariably, most jurisdictions require a vision test and a knowledge test. The test usually consists of multiple choice questions and is separated into two parts: traffic sign and general road knowledge, and motorcycle-specific knowledge.

Each state publishes its own motorcycle operator manual or handbook. While they all cover the same general information, each state has its own particular laws and variations, so it’s important to pick up a copy of your state’s manual. It contains all the information you will need for the motorcycle knowledge test. It may also be a good idea to study any other driver manuals available to brush up on general road knowledge such as right-of-way rules and road sign identification. Even if you have an automobile license and drive often, you may have unknowingly developed some bad habits or forgotten what some rarely-seen road signs indicate.

I arrived at my local licensing office early in the morning, figuring it would get busier through the day. Sure enough, there were only a handful of people in the waiting room ahead of me. I quickly filled out the application form and waited for my turn. When my number was called, I approached the designated kiosk to submit my documents and receive a vision test.

After confirming my 20/20 vision, I proceeded to the testing room for a written examination. The test itself may vary from state to state, and if you study the manual, you should be okay. I found some of the questions challenging, especially when they are worded differently from how you remember studying from the manuals. You should have plenty of time to answer all the questions and check your answers.

After finishing my test, I submitted it to the evaluator and waited nervously for the results. I think this was the worst part of the entire exercise: waiting and thinking to yourself “should I have answered B instead of C on that last question about the front wheel wobble?” The wait seemed longer than the five minutes it took before my results were in. I had passed.

I left the examination center with a temporary motorcycle license in hand, elated and excited. But I knew I wasn't ready to hop on to a motorcycle right away. Legally, passing the knowledge test is all that is required to ride a motorcycle, with many states adding some restrictions such as only riding within daylight hours or not being able to carry a passenger. But passing a multiple-choice test will not make you a good, safe rider.

Rider training

A good riding school with experienced instructors will provide valuable training towards becoming a safe motorcyclist. So check back here in a couple of weeks for part 2 of the Motorcycle.com Beginner Bike Series where yours truly goes through a rider training program.

Let us know about what you think. Whether you're a beginner like me, an experienced motorcyclist with advice to share, or if you have a good story about starting out as a new rider, drop us a message on our forum or send me an email at dchung@verticalcope.com.

Related Reading
2011 250cc Beginner Bike Shootout
Choosing Your First Motorcycle - A Beginner's Guide
2011 Honda CBR250R
2011 Honda CBR250R Tech Review
2011 Honda CBR250R Review
2010 Kawasaki Ninja 250R Review
Motorcycle Beginner: Buying Riding Gear
Motorcycle Beginner: Rider Training
Motorcycle Beginner: Buying Your First Motorcycle
Motorcycle Beginner: 2011 Honda CBR250R Newbie Review

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