So, you’re thinking about becoming a motorcyclist. Welcome! Naturally, with a name like Motorcycle.com, you’d expect us to be pro motorcycle, but even more than that, we’ve devoted our lives to motorcycling. You might say that we are motorcycling evangelicals. We understand that the decision to move from moto-curious into the ranks of riders has many obstacles. From the jargon to the alphabet soup of model names, it can sound to the uninitiated like we are speaking a foreign language. If you’ve got friends who already ride, they can help initiate you to the fold. Unfortunately, many prospective riders don’t have that resource to call upon, which is why we wrote this guide.
This step can be easy or really hard. It all depends on you. What kind of bikes attract you? Are cruisers your favorite, or are you more the adventure/dual-purpose type? Have the neo-retro bikes been turning your head? Or do sportbikes in all their plastic-wrapped coolness make you drool? Maybe you want a do-it-all standard motorcycle. It’s nice to have a kind of bike to help you focus your search for a first motorcycle as you learn to translate all the manufacturer and model names.
Fear not, if you can’t decide, you’ll get a better idea as you work your way through this list. When I started riding, several bikes of different categories attracted me, and my final decision was made by the size of the gas tank because I knew I would be doing an extended tour a couple months after my planned purchase. (You can read about it here.)
Once you have a style (or styles) of bike you’re interested in, visit us here at Motorcycle.com and use your favorite search engine to learn what the models in that class of bikes are. Take notes of the ones that interest you.
Riding motorcycles is as much about community as it is about riding. If you’re like us, once you start riding, you’ll find yourself talking to motorcyclists you meet – even if you’re not on your bike at the time. Good dealerships and shops build community as a part of their business plan. They understand that educating new/prospective riders will help bring more people into the sport and possibly gain them long-term customers.
The way to utilize dealerships is to visit the ones that sell the models that you’ve found in the previous step. Talk to the salespeople. Don’t be afraid to ask even the most basic questions. Also, listen to them. They’ll probably steer you away from buying your dream bike as your first one – or at least they should if you’re set on a liter-bike to start. Motorcycling is an activity with a fairly steep learning curve, and you don’t want to bite off more than you can chew. This is where we’ll recommend that you buy a bike on the smaller end of the displacement spectrum. In recent years, the sub-500cc class of motorcycles has grown significantly. There’s something to be said about working your way up through displacement levels as your skills progress.
After a while, you’ll probably have your list of prospective bikes whittled down to just two or three models. Don’t be afraid to consider used bikes. You can save a ton of money, but as a new rider, you may not know how to tell a good bike from a money pit. So, you could benefit from buying used from a dealer which would have, presumably, checked the bike over to certify its roadworthiness. You could also ask a dealership’s service department if they would be willing to check over a used bike (for a fee) before you purchased it.
Since I grew up in the print age, I still have the magazine reviews that lead me to buy my first motorcycle. Read everything you can about your potential motorcycle, not just here, but all over the internet. Even try forums dedicated to the bikes. Almost every well-populated forum has a member or two who love to help new riders. The other thing you will learn on forums that you won’t necessarily get from the online magazines is if there are any common problems with the bike you’re planning on buying. Reviews are good for learning how well a motorcycle works, but motojournalists usually only have the bikes for a short time before they need to return them to the manufacturers. The owners of the bikes know them inside and out with the intimacy that only comes from daily use.
Yes, you should get a motorcycle license. Unlicensed riders are overrepresented in crash data, so do it to decrease your odds of a mishap. Every state has slightly different rules for obtaining a motorcycle license. You can find out what your state requires by visiting the DMV website. Here, you’ll learn everything you need. You’ll also find out any motorcycle-specific laws that you should be aware of in your state.
Let’s be clear, motorcycling is a dangerous sport. You can die doing it. With the stakes as high as they are, don’t you want to arm yourself with the basic riding skills and accident avoidance techniques before you’re out there running with the bulls? Since the class organizer supplies all of the training bikes, taking a motorcycle safety class is also a good way to actually do some riding before you make an expensive purchase. When I was a motorcycle safety instructor, about ten percent of my students decided that riding wasn’t for them after taking the class.
To be honest, operating a motorcycle isn’t for everyone. At its most basic level, a rider has four appendages to operate five controls. While the increasing use of ABS brakes in new motorcycles has reduced some of the risk of panic stops, it takes years of riding to become fully proficient in all of the skills necessary to ride a motorcycle. This isn’t doom and gloom but rather a statement of fact. So, attending a motorcycle safety class and practicing the skills you learned will go a long way towards lessening your chance of crashing.
The Motorcycle Safety Foundation is a good place to start looking for a class in your area. However, MSF-run courses are not offered in every state. For example, the California Motorcyclist Safety Program offers its own training program. If you can’t find a training program on the MSF’s site, we suggest either checking your state’s DVM website or use your favorite search engine.
The good news about taking a motorcycle safety class is that in some states, successfully completing the course will waive the riding test requirement for your motorcycle endorsement. Also, some insurance companies give discounts to riders who can prove they’ve taken a safety class. If you still have to take the riding test, you will want to get your learner’s permit before you buy your motorcycle and then, once you’re familiar with your new bike, return to the DMV to take the riding test.
While your gear purchase can happen at the same time that you buy your first motorcycle, enough people neglect to do this because they claim they don’t have the additional funds after laying money down on a bike. Let’s be honest here, you are at your highest risk for an accident in your first year of riding. (Remember, you’ve got a ton of skills to learn.) A minor tip-over without gear can get really expensive really quickly. For example, a little tumble at 35mph can go from a minor bruise-up to a much bigger deal if you’re not wearing gloves. The same goes for other gear, too.
Here are two guides for buying inexpensive-but-protective motorcycle gear:
Most people think they’ve become a motorcyclist when they buy their first motorcycle, and it is an important step. However, there’s more to becoming a motorcyclist than just owning a bike, but that’s just around the next corner.
Right now, enjoy the moment of the motorcycle purchase. Savor that initial turn of the ignition key on your first motorcycle. It’ll never be the same way again. There’s nothing like the exquisite mixture of terror and excitement and pride and hope that washes over you as you ride home for the first time.
Congratulations, you’ve truly begun your journey.
Riding a motorcycle is fun. Riding motorcycles and hanging out and sharing stories with fellow enthusiasts is 10…no…100 times more fun. Go to your local bike night or find where the motorcyclists ride in your area. Not only is it a gas to hang out with fellow motorcyclists, but you also will learn more about riding and all the potential trips you can take (there are endless possibilities) by hanging out with more experienced riders.
If you’ve made it this far in this article, you’re already on your way to becoming a motorcyclist. All you need is miles in the saddle – time on your personal odometer. Remember to ride as much as you can to keep your skills fresh. Maintain your study of motorcycling technique. The initial learning curve for motorcycling is steep, but the payoffs are real. Also, riding can provide you with a lifetime of learning in addition to all the adventures you’ll have.
Go have fun, and keep the shiny side up.