So, you want to ride?

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.

The Process:

  • 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.

The Bike:

  • 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.

Good luck!


Excerpt from Email from Dave’s friend George

Subject: RE: help
Dave Hello,

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

  1. Ducati Multistrada 620,
  2. Buell Lightning CityX,
  3. Suzuki VStrom 650,
  4. Honda CB600,
  5. BMW F650,
  6. 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.

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2 Responses to So, you want to ride?

  1. Bostonrob says:

    Another great beginning bike is the Buell Blast. Cheap, bulletproof, it will do 70 mph as easily as it will do 7 mph.

    It is the bike used in HD’s Rider’s Edge Basic Riding Course and there are so many in circulation that entry prices are cheap. It is not only easy to ride but very forgiving as well.

    I agree with Steve’s picks with one exception: the Multistrada has a very heavy clutch for a beginner to operate.

    The V-Strom or the F650 are more money than the Buell, but more likely to remain in one’s stable – both are great selections.

  2. Rob Gowans says:

    Steve’s friend Dave in Oregon copied me and asked for my perspective on getting going.

    My comments:

    Start on dirt. I did. Larsen is bang on. His 30 x1 vs. 1 x 30 analogy says it all. On the street or the track, I can tell almost instantly who learned on dirt. Understanding and FEELING how a bike works, responds, behaves, internalizing the feedback and knowing what to do about it, or, more importantly WITH it keeps the rubber side down. Dirt will teach you what a bike feels like when it gets out of shape, about gas vs. brake, front vs. rear and when. Muscle memory, driven by experience, kicks in when things get weird, and as George points out they will eventually. Always.

    Take the course early and often. I do it almost every year and always have. Honda offers several “learn to ride” dirt camps from one to three days. The State of Oregon has some phenomenal facilities, Browns Camp and others that are within an hour.

    Honestly, you already have access to perhaps the VERY BEST in the world, You turned me on to them a couple of years ago and if and when I can afford it my family will start there. Spend the time, take a three day at least. Fabulous multi star hotel and spa is local so easy on the family if you want to make an expedition of it.

    When it comes to what bike, again Larsen has a good point. Look at the first one as just that. If you “get it”, or worse, “it gets you” and I know it will, you want something that you can get past easily and quickly. By quickly I mean by putting in the time.

    Personally never a fan of V-Twins. I grew up riding 125 and 250 cc two stroke dirt, high revving, narrow, BANG power bands then moved to a two stroke Suzuki RG 500 Gamma, available in Canada. scariest bike I ever road, then to big bore four stoke sport, 750cc then liter bikes (FJ1100) in the early 80’s and have never been able to kick it. Twins do have usable torque all over the place making gear selection and proper throttle application much more forgiving. In my opinion a bad thing. In my 35 years of experience learning to maintain the right rpm, in the right gear so that you have “past ya” power on demand has saved my life more than once. I believe that, on the street, gas is a far greater asset than brakes. A sport motorcycle will leave anything, it will also out brake anything making you very vulnerable to the SUV behind you.

    Not a fan of cruisers for all the reasons above and Larsen’s below. They are way too heavy, read power to weight ratio, they scrape way too early and they don’t stop as quickly. Double edged sword. See above.. I know you. I much prefer the forward body position, low and forward c of g of sport bikes. You have the added advantage of you physical size allowing you to fit much more comfortably on mid range sport bikes. You will scrape pegs in time.

    So, in short I suggest dirt first. Take the course, ride it often, at least until next spring. (Winter in Oregon will teach much about the wet and the ground is softerJ ) Fall down often. I would suggest the following:

    Yamaha TT-R230. 4 stroke dirt. MSRP $3500. Great bike to learn on, will last well beyond your migration to street. It will always be in the garage ready to go on the trailer again to Browns Camp.

    If you want dual purpose, street and off road the BMW 650 is a great choice. I rode one in Baja last Spring and its nice but a bit large to learn on in my opinion.

    Look hard at KTM Supermoto 450 SMR

    The Ducati is also a great choice but you already have my twin opinion with the exception of the Suzuki SV which I have ridden a ton and like.

    Eventually you land on a 600 class sport bike. If you really toggle into this it looks like the Triumph 676, or the Yamaha R6. Light weight, gobs of power, stops on a dime. Way too much fun.

    In all cases buy and wear the gear. All of it. Always.

    I hope this helps.