Getting into motorcycles
I honestly would recommend everyone give motorcycling a try at least once in their life. I haven’t yet encountered anything else that can deliver so many thrills on such small budget. A few thousand euros can get you a motorcycle that will easily outperform almost any car (both on-road and off-road), yet remain reliable and easy to maintain. There’s a reason many pilots are also motorcyclists - it’s the closest thing to flying without actually leaving the ground.
I still consider myself a newbie - I’ve only been riding for 3 seasons. I got into bikes pretty late and had no prior knowledge. I didn’t know anyone with enough experience to guide me, but I wanted to do it properly. This is an article for someone like me.
The first rule of motorcycling is “don’t die” - people even put that on t-shirts :). Riding a motorcycle is inherently more dangerous than driving a car, because there’s not much between you and the outside world, leaving much less room for error. An accident at the intersection going 30 km/h can ruin your day if you’re in a car. The same accident on a motorcycle could ruin your life. You have to understand the risks and accept them before riding - otherwise you’re only fooling yourself.
Good news is that most statistically significant risk factors are really easy to minimize:
- complete a safety course and get a license
- always wear a full-face helmet
- ride within the speed limit
- be sober
Honestly, if you only do these 4 things, your chances to avoid or survive the accident improve massively. But we can do even better.
Make sure vital components of your bike are in decent condition: brakes work, mirrors are well positioned, brake and clutch levers are easy to reach, tires have enough thread and air in them, and were manufactured in the last 5 years (rubber dries up).
Don’t stop at the helmet - get proper motorcycle boots, gloves, pants, and jacket (in that order). Here’s the best explainer I could find on the topic.
Finally, comfort contributes to safety. From the experience, it’s really hard to stay alert when you’re so cold you cannot feel your fingers anymore. Always make sure you have enough clothes to stay dry and warm, especially on longer trips.
Choosing your first motorcycle
The fastest way to build your skills and confidence is to start small - that means 125-500cc and no more than 200 kg of wet curb weight. On your first season you will be the biggest limiting factor, not your motorcycle. Don’t overthink it, just get something cheap, reliable, easy to buy and sell. Don’t choose anything exotic - go with japanese big four (Honda, Yamaha, Suzuki, Kawasaki).
My first bike was Kawasaki ER-6N. It’s on the upper side of “beginner-friendly” category, but it was too much for my first season. I eventually got comfortable on it, but never really outgrew it. I believe I would’ve had more fun and made quicker progress on a lighter and less powerful machine. Trust me, nothing sucks the fun out of riding like being intimidated by your bike.
The common counter-argument is “I wanna grow into the bike” or “I don’t wanna be buying another bike in 6 months”. Guess what, you’re gonna want another bike anyway :). Bikes come in all shapes and sizes, and you’re unlikely to hit a perfect match on the first try. Getting too attached to a specific motorcycle can hinder your progress and fun.
I’m not just saying that - I intend to correct my mistake, so this season I’m getting Kawasaki KLX230. If you have no specific preferences, this is the one I would recommend anyone starting out - that or Honda CRF250L. These dual-sports are the ultimate “jacks of all trades” - they are not great at anything, but they will get you anywhere and put a smile on your face. After a season or two on one of these you should have a pretty good idea what kind of riding you enjoy the most.
If these do nothing for you, here are a few more to consider (older models should be included into your consideration too):
This new generation of small-displacement models are real performers and nothing to sneer at. Search for owner reviews and you’ll see pretty much everyone loves theirs.
There’s really no good reason to start out on anything bigger. Riding a slow bike fast is more fun than riding a fast bike slow. That Ducati or Harley of your dreams isn’t going anywhere, so take your time and enjoy the ride.