Friday, June 25, 2010

Ask Atgatt Girl - SUPER!

Atgatt:  All The Gear.  All The Time!

Dear Atgatt Girl,

I am a new motorcycle rider, but so far I've just been riding my brother's extra bike.  How should I go about choosing a motorcycle for myself?

Valerie Star
Yamaha, PA

Dear Val,

Congratulations on contemplating taking the plunge into motorcycle ownership!  That's very exciting.  I know it can probably feel a bit daunting at first to consider all of the different motorcycles available.  In my own search for my first bike, I took several things into account.  Over the last 6 years of riding I've tried to keep them in mind as I continue to look at new motorcycles.  You know, because a girl can never have too many motorcycles, right?

There are basically 5 main things I consider when looking for a new motorcycle.  If you just remember that motorcycles are SUPER, you'll be all set.  SUPER stands for Size, Upkeep, Price, Extras and Ride.

Size:  I think one of the most important factors is how a motorcycle fits you ergonomically.  Whether you are short or tall, find a bike that you are comfortable on.  I'm a short girl (5'1" without boots on) and since I was a new rider, I wanted a bike that I could comfortably "flat-foot" when I was stopped.  Motorcycles are heavy (between 500 and 1000+ pounds) and I didn't want to have to worry about the bike tipping over on me because I had to balance the weight on just one leg.  You also want to make sure that you can comfortably reach everything with your arms and legs.  Lots of new motorcycles have the foot pegs placed closer to the front of the bike than the middle.  When that's the case, even if I can touch the ground when I'm stopped, I can't reach the shifter or brake while the bike is in motion.  That makes actually operating the bike extremely difficult, to say the least.  Make sure the distance to the handle bars is long enough or short enough for your arms to comfortably reach for an extended period of time.

So, when you're out looking at motorcycles, {carefully} sit on them!  Make sure that when you sit on the seat, you can reach the foot pegs.  The showrooms generally have enough space between bikes for you to stand the bike up while sitting on it, so do that.  Get a feel for how heavy it is and whether you think you'd be able to lift it off of it's sidestand several times without being exhausted.  Turn the handle bars a bit to make sure your reach is long enough.  Don't worry.  They EXPECT you to do this!

Upkeep:  This is where knowing yourself and how much you like doing your own "wrenching" comes in handy.  Do some research on how much maintenance a bike takes.  Talk to a motorcycle mechanic (or search the web).  Some bikes are built like tanks and you can practically run them into the ground.  Others are a bit more touchy and require a constant eye.  What is the routine maintence schedule for the bike (generally it's either every 3000 miles, 4000 miles or 6000 miles)?  If you like working on the bike yourself, what kinds of skills are required to do that routine maintenance?  If you don't like working on the bike yourself, how much are you going to have to pay someone else to do the maintenance?  (I like to call that the "How much to take away my pain?" test.)

Price:  Speaking of "How much to take away my pain?", let's not forget about the purchase price of the bike!  If this is your first bike, I definitely recommend looking into used bikes.  You can usually find them very reasonably priced with very few miles.  Also  know that, just like with cars, some bikes are just going to be more expensive because of the name on them.  When I bought my first bike, I didn't have the scratch for a Harley Davidson (what my brother drove) or a BMW (what Troy rides).  There were lots of affordable options made by Yamaha and Suzuki though.  I bought a Yamaha for about 1/4 of what a Harley would have cost me and I've been more than pleased with my choice.

As well as the purchase price, take into consideration what the insurance will cost on the bike.  Sport bikes are generally more expensive to insure than cruisers.

Extras:  For some motorcyclists it's all about the extras.  They like to farkle (a combination of "function" and "sparkle") their motorcycle with GPS Systems, auxiliary lights, radar detectors, etc.  If this is something that interests you and a motorcycle that you are considering already has some of these things, great.  If those items are not already on the bike, make sure you check to make sure adding them would be a possibility.  Specifically find out whether you would need an extra power source to power those devices as they can pull quite a bit of juice from the battery.  In addition to all of the electrical gadgets, I also take into consideration things like saddle bag space and pillion (passenger) seat back rest, since those are things that are crucial for me to stow gear on longer rides.

That brings us to the Ride:  Find the bike that fits the type of riding that you will be doing most.

My first bike was a Yamaha V-star 650.  That's a 650 cc engine.  When I got it, the bike seemed big to me, but my brother said I would be unhappy if I got a smaller bike and I would have been.  I routinely took it to the same shop for any maintenance it needed.  If there was a leak of some sort, I got it checked out.  I rode the heck out of that bike.  But that was the problem!  For the long-distance, high-speed riding that we were routinely doing, the 650 was the wrong choice of bike for me.  Unfortunately none of my (FORMER) mechanics clued me into this fact and as a novice rider, I didn't know any better.  I thought it was normal for your hands to go numb and to have a pounding headache at the end of the day from the vibration of the bike.  As an experienced rider, I now see how silly that sounds, but back then I just didn't know any better.

I learned the hard way what an appropriate bike for the job feels like.  After a major tran$mi$$ion failure on a ride to St. Louis a few years ago, I happened upon a Yamaha V-star 1100.  {cue the angelic chorus!}  THIS is the bike I should have had from the beginning.  Although it looks nearly exactly the same to the casual observer, the real difference is shown with the twist of the throttle.  When I take it out on the highway, I have been known to hit 90 and not even realize it.  By comparison, on my old bike, the fillings in my teeth being shaken out of my head told me when I had hit 80.

So figure out what kind of riding you are going to be doing and pick the bike that works best for that job.  If you are just going to be commuting to and from work 10 miles away, maybe that little 250 cc engine will be just what you need.  If you are young and fun (and don't have any back problems), a sport bike may be just the ticket.

Just remember as you go out to look for a motorcycle of your very own just how SUPER fun it can be!


Anonymous said...

OMG, that was so informative! Even though I'm not a rider, I learned a ton.
I am so elfish w/ the legs to match, so I'm afraid that I could only ride a moped. And that, I don't care who you are, is ridiculous.
Which means I think I would look ridiculous riding a motorcycle. Don't you?

Angelia Sims said...

That pink helmet is awesome!

Heather said...

Thanks! I think it's pretty great too!


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