Monday, August 11, 2008

Your first motorcycle. Factor these factors:

If you are considering a motorcycle as a possible solution to your midlife crisis, and you don't know how to ride, read on:

Let me guess your situation:
Your are not sure where you got the motorcycle bug from but you've got it big. Money is an object but not a big one. You already have two choices in your mind. One is the cool sexy bike and the other is the more practical bike. You secretly watch videos of your cool sexy choice at night on YouTube. You discuss the practical bike with your wife at breakfast and corelate your choice with the rising oil prices. You have been to a few dealers. Your think you are acting weird because you point out different motorcycles on the road and talk about them.

Its not an easy decision:
Its harder than buying your first car or your first camera or your first TV. Its hard because usually there is a conflict between the image you want to project and the motorcycle you can comfortably and consistently ride. Its also hard because you are trying to make the right decision and you know that once you buy your motorcycle, you will be stuck with it until you find a way to unload it.

Recommendation: Take your time. If this riding season is almost over, don't worry there are plenty more to come.

First myth debunked: used bikes:
If you are patient and you can wait for the right time, there is no particular need to immediately buy a used bike. Unless ofcourse, you are getting impatient. Even then, at least read through this post before forking out the money to a stranger on craigslist.

Motorcycle companies arrange for demo rides throughout the year. Get yourself on the mailing list of major dealers. When the demo truck comes to town, you can get to ride cool new models. I personally skipped this step.

Second myth cannot be debunked: The MSF:
The Motorcycle safety school is a good investment in safety. You may have driven cars all your life but few hours of classroom and 2 days of riding can help become a safe rider.

Be warned that the classroom part is boring and taught in a regimental style. You will need plenty of Espresso to stay awake through the classes. A good time to sleep in class is when they darken the room to play videos.

Recommendation: Take the motorcycle safety school. It will lower your insurance and teach you a few things about safety. If you have never been on a motorcycle, then it will also teach you beginner skills.

And now on to critical factors:
Go over this list and see if it makes you think about your choices.

1. Image and Peer Pressure:
If everyone at your workplace rides a Harley (or any one cult brand) and you want to be accepted easily in the group, stop reading this because your decision has been made for you. If you are a newbie rider, it will be hard to ride anything else and be accepted in the group.

Recommendation: Go with the flow or be prepared to earn respect in every way.

2. Where you live:
This factor is bigger than you think. So think twice about it. If you live in New York City, your riding will be different from someone who lives in a sleepy New Hampshire town.

Just go to the local Starbucks on a Sunday and talk to local bikers. If you are in a big city like NYC, try to locate solo riders. Observe them and their gear.

3. The roads more chosen:
Your road choices will agree with the 80/20 principal. 80 percent of your riding will occur on 20 percent of the road types. And the type of road and duration of journey will decide power and comfort factors.

a) Freeway riding.
b) Metro street riding (NYC, LA, LV)
c) Scenic state routes (eg PCH on the west coast)
d) Dirt Roads and Trails

On freeways you want heavier machines. In NYC you need a light machine, which you throw around and maneuver easily. For scenic routes, you can go with big iron.

4. How much you will ride:
If you are going to ride daily, you will want a low maintenance machine which is easy to ride and good on the gas mileage. If you will only wage weekend wars, you can choose exotic machines. Here are additional factors:

a)Will you commute to work?
b)Weekend riding?
c) Long distance riding (Like going on 1000 mile trips)
d) Adventure riding (Like the Long Way Down)
e) All of the above?

The number of hours you ride per week will determine how exotic you can get. More hours mean more upright (dual sport) bikes.

5. Your favorite position:
To be clear, I mean motorcycle riding position. According to my unscientific and non-methodical reasearch, there are four riding positions:

a) Flying Fetal Position: You will observe this position on Japanese sports bikes. Rice Rockets if you will. The riders are suspended on the bike in --what appears to the untrained eye-- a flying fetal position. If there is a passenger, the combination looks like a twin fetal. If you are driving behind such a bike, you can tell by searching for a butterfly tattoo on exposed skin. On high speed roads, the butterfly appears to be fluttering its wings but I assure you that its not the case.

b) Delivery Position: You will observe this position on beautiful and cool looking choppers and other exotic machines. The riders sit on a wide seat with hands above the head tied to the handlebars, legs wide open and elevated. To the untrained eye it almost looks like the rider gave birth to the motorcycle he is riding.

c) Horse Position: You will observe this position on tall motorcyles. The riders are sitting upright as if riding a horse. This is the most boring position --to look at, that is.

b) Cafe Racer Position: You will observe this on motorcylces whose geometry is a cross between Horse-like bikes and Crotch-like bikes. This is the oldest position in the game. The rider is upright but slightly bent forward.

In my opinion position is the biggest factor in choosing your motorcycle. Because guess what, you will always be in that position no matter what. I am guessing one of these positions has inspired you to look into motorcycling.

There is only one position that evolution has bred into bipeds like us: The horse position.

6. Sound:
Do you care about how your motorcycle sounds? Do you like the 13,000 RPM sound of a dentist's drill machine zooming on the freeway? Or do you like the jack-hammering sound of big American muscle breaking sound barriers on small town streets? In my opinion, sound is the second most important factor.

Italian bikes own the franchise on sound.

The final factor:
Now that I have given you the critical factors, I am supposed to give each one of them a prostate exam and tie it to a specific motorcycle choice. But I will skip the analysis and give you some quick choices. But first, let me tell you about the final factor that factors all above factors:

Its good for human relationships but bad for machine marriages. You can never be a one motorcyle man (or woman.) If you ride through your first 10K miles, you will buy other motorcycles. Three is a good number. Two can work well with each other. This also means that you don't have to fret over making your first choice the right choice. There will be other motorcycles in your life. Trust me on this.

I don't know what you want, but here's what you need:
As your first bike, you need something that is comfortable to ride, gives you confidence to learn how to ride, and has the throttle capacity to keep it fun for a few seasons. You need something which has character beyond the manufacturer's brochures.

And here are the choices:
If you live in suburbia and sometimes ride 100 mile runs on all kinds of roads, the right motorcyle for you is the BMW 650 XCountry. Its comfortable (horse position) its practical (mpg) its fun and highly maneuverable.

If you live in the city and mostly ride city streets, the right motorcycle for you is the Ducati Monster. If you are lighter than 180 pounds, go with the new 696. If you are on the heavy side, then definitely the Monster S4R. The Ducati sound will mesmerize even after you've lost your hearing.

I don't know much about motorcycles or motorcycling. I only know a lot about the stress and excitement that goes along the process of buying your first motorcycle. Hopefully these words will help you have less stress and more excitement.

If you like my unscientific thinking, stay in touch for more:
In order to further my understanding of human-motorcycle relationship dynamics, I will be riding from New England to California this October. In the meantime I will be writing about my own motorcycle choices and experiences. Keep in touch and let me know what you think.

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