Earlier today a friend in Oregon emailed me on some business stuff. At the end he said, “I really want to learn and then get a motorcycle. If you were advising someone, what would you suggest for the learning process + the bike to get? He’d ask another motorcyclist the same question, and forwarded that response to me. I thought I’d share with you my answer as well as the comments from the other rider, Geroge.
If you have additional suggestions for Dave, please feel free to add them to the comments section.
Dave, With regards to your question on “what is the process” and “what bike,” here are my thoughts.
- Go take the MSF beginner’s course or Basic Riding Course — same thing. They will supply the bike. You will learn a lot. I took it ten years ago after riding for 20 years (in fact, I took the beginner’s course AFTER taking the advanced rider’s course) and learned a lot.
- Buy your first bike with the idea it will be a “starter” bike, not your ultimate ride. You’ll want time to think about the different bike categories (see George’s note below) then what bike within the category. Take your time on this.
- If you were willing to spend the time, I think the best way to learn is by going the dirt bike route first. While it takes longer and most people want to get right to riding on the street, the skills learned off-road (balance, terrain reading, anticipation, bike control, braking, etc.) really help once you get to the street. Plus, you are learning these things in a far less risky environment. Riders rarely (if ever) get killed riding off road — some bruises or maybe a broken bone on occasion, but that is about it.
- George’s suggestion of looking at the Suzuki V-Strom (DL-650) is a great idea. Although not a dirt bike per se, it can be ridden off road. (Plus you can buy a brand new one, out the door, for about $6500, which makes one of the best deals anywhere.) Disclosure: I own one and its been reviewed very positively by both magazines I write for (Rider and MCN).
- Once you have your bike, get you and it to some advanced training. Then plan on taking at least one training class per year. I’ve met many people who’ve ridden for 30 years and think they have 30 years of experience. After watching them ride, it’s clear they’ve had one year of experience, repeated 30 times.
- As above, the first bike is something you want to be comfortable on and that will be good to learn with. I’d probably not totally discount cruisers the way George does, as they do have a low seat height which makes them easier to learn on; you are more likely to catch them when they start tipping over. I don’t ride cruisers myself and don’t think you’d end up there, but they are popular, and used ones can be had for a song. If you go this route, avoid Harleys to get a good buy. Also, the idea of 600cc is right on. You won’t need more.
- Of George’s suggestions, I like the Ducati (620), BMW (F650) and Suzuki DL-650 (V-Strom). These are all V-Twins, have a broad torque curve so less picky about what gear you are in and all are fairly light. I just rode the BMW 650 DAKAR in Brazil for a few days and came away impressed. Although in a value for the $$, the Ducati and Suzuki models above are better deals.
- Jumping into a litre class sport bike is pure insanity, so don’t even think about it.
Excerpt from Email from Dave’s friend George
Subject: RE: help
Ah a motorcycle rider. Good choice.
Where to start. There are so many great bikes nowadays. But to start off, its wise to keep them light, and mid-range. Riding is non-intuitive and takes learning to master. It is too easy to get hurt needlessly and yet most problems are easily avoided if only you start with a riding course and learn the methods. But back to bikes.
There are 4 major categories of bikes, the cruisers, the touring bikes, the street bikes, and the sport bikes. They range from riding position and power/torque. This ranges from the cruisers that are sit-back, feet forward style, to the sports bikes’ lean forward feet back style. Also the cruisers have high torgue/low RPM big bore twins to the sport’s bikes’ high horsepower, high RPM motors. The cruisers are also heavier, longer wheel base, not as manuverable as the sport bikes which are lighter, faster, meant for much more abuse with fast cornering and stopping power. So, pick you pleasure.
I would strongly recommend a good naked street bike or an entry sport-touring bike. You want a light, mid-range bike that is comfortable but allows you to learn as you need. Cruisers will keep you from advancing and sports bikes will push you beyond your ability before you are ready.
My suggestions would be
- Ducati Multistrada 620,
- Buell Lightning CityX,
- Suzuki VStrom 650,
- Honda CB600,
- BMW F650,
- KAWASAKI Z750,
Stay around 600cc, ABS if possible, get a small fairing, and see and sit on them all before you choose one. Most importantly, allways wear a full face helmet. Its not a question if you will ever fall, but when. While accidents do happen they happen much more to those who are not prepared. If you have the right gear, you can walk away from most of them. Otherwise you are an organ donor. Sorry, I just had to throw that in.