A Motorcycling Guide for Nerds, Newbs, and the Anxious

Walking_dead_Motorcycle

I’ve discovered a new love. Motorcycles. Wait! Hold on! I know this is a geeky nerd site for nerds and something like this doesn’t have a place here… or does it? While not as common as cool cars in nerd culture, motorcycles or motorcycle like vehicles are out there like Daryl’s bike in Walking Dead, the speeder bikes in Return of the Jedi, light cycles in Tron, or the bikes that show up in G.I. Joe. The great thing about motorcycle riding is that it’s not super expensive and you can get as much fun as you see in movies riding these things around.

I realized that there may be fellow nerds out there that may be interested in motorcycling. I know I always was, but didn’t A. Know how to get started. B. Really lacked some of the courage to go out and do it. I want to answer your questions on how you too can become a motorcyclist. Motorcycler. Something like that.

But isn’t it Dangerous?

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Let’s face this one up front. The shadow of danger hangs heavy over motorcycles. Motorcycling can be dangerous, yes. You’re 26 times more likely to die in a crash on a motorcycle than you are in a car. Why do it then? Well, if you diligent about your own safety you can considerably narrow down the risk factor for an accident. You still can’t eliminate all risk and hell, that’s part of the reason why it’s fun, but by cutting down the risk it will keep you safer on the road.

This post isn’t going to get too deep into the safety aspects, however the ways you can mitigate your risk and be a safer rider boil down to: Not drinking, not over estimating your skills, not speeding, being vigilant on the road, and wearing proper safety gear for when an accident happens.

You can get killed on a bike, but you can get killed in a car, walking down the street, riding a bicycle, etc. It’s about how much risk your willing to accept in life and how much you’re willing to manage that risk. If you decide not to ride because you’re not willing to accept the risk, it’s fine. However, you will be missing out on a lot of fun due to fear. Don’t let fear run your life if motorcycling is something you’ll enjoy.

And if you decide not to motorcycle, but then get a moped/scooter because they’re more safe: You can get just as hurt going the same speeds that a bike goes in the city, so don’t be an idiot in shorts and flip flops with no helmet on a scooter.

How do I learn How to Ride?

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If you have a desire to ride a motorcycle the easiest way to learn is to take a class from the Motorcycle Safety Foundation. Not only do they provide a bike for you to ride on, but they teach you valuable skills to be a safe rider. Even better, you can quickly tell if motorcycling is for you. You may find out you hate it and luckily for you, you didn’t buy a bike to find this out. I took a two day course and on day two is when it hit me that I LOVED motorcycle riding.

Another huge bonus to taking the class, at least in my state, was that it bypassed the DMV test. I’ve heard that it’s pretty difficult or at least a pain in the ass. I only had to take a short written test at my DVM (Wisconsin) and I was all set. I had a motorcycle license.

For those who have anxiety or are afraid of failing in front of others: I can’t stress this enough, it isn’t that big of a deal. The bikes are scratched and dinged up from other people failing (at low speeds), so it happens. While I was there, one guy dumped a bike and he had riding experience. Nobody cared, he just got back on and kept riding. And they start you out very slowly and work your way up to bigger things. Hell, the first half hour or so of being on the bike was just walking it with the engine idling.

The big test at the end of the class was pretty nerve wracking for me. I had a ton of anxiety before we took it, but I did all right. And even if you fail the test at the end, some places will let you come back to retake the test. Sometimes they’ll let you practice in their lot if you need more practice.

But Manual Transmissions Scare Me!

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They freaked me out a little too. The only answer for this is to deal with it. It becomes second nature fairly quickly. In a motorcycle class you’ll get a bit used to going from first to about third or so. Then when you’re on your own you can practice going around your block or in a parking lot to get the hang of it. One thing I found really surprising was how quickly I could recover from a stall at a stop light. Stalls will happen a lot at first, but then become less and less of an issue. You’ll find that riding a manual bike is super fun and one of the best parts about motorcycling.

Starting from hills are really NBD (no big deal), since you only have to keep one foot on the ground and the other on a rear brake until you’re ready to go.

There are some automatic bikes, but they’re pretty rare (unless you get an expensive electric one). Don’t be afraid of the manual transmission. It’s amazing and fun.

What Kind of Bike do I Get?

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Many people say this, and I’ll say it again, “Don’t get your dream bike as your first bike.” Unless, your dream bike is a small engine, used bike… you will want to hold off just a bit. Why? Well, if you get a bike that is 600cc or more it’s a lot of bike to handle and your learning curve will be a bit steep compared to someone with a smaller engine. And if you buy something super expensive and brand new, if you do get into an accident and scratch it up you’ll feel pretty bad.

Types of first bikes to look out are sports bike starters like 250 and 300cc Honda CBRs or Kawasaki Ninjas. There’s also of small engine cruiser bikes like Nighthawks out there that are 250cc. One way to go is to get a Dual Sport bike, a bike that functions as a dirt bike and a street bike. You can crash a little easier off road while you practice.

My suggestion would be to go used on a first bike. Personally, I bought a brand new Honda CBR 300R, mostly because it was the first year they had the 300cc engine. If I could do it again, I might have gone used. A bike depreciates a ton as soon as soon as you leave the lot.

A word of warning about starting out with a 250 to 300cc bike: You may grow out of it quickly. They can be great bikes, but they’re the slowest bikes (though they are faster than a lot of cars). You might want something with a bit more power after about a year of riding. Some people go with 500cc bikes for this reason.

Aside from your starter bike being easier to manage, you might find that you want to keep it as you progress simply because small bikes are fun (and have the best gas mileage).

I would stay away from very old bikes as a first bike. Unless you are a mechanical wizard, you might find that you’ll be spending more time wrenching than riding. This is exactly what happened to my girlfriend who still can’t ride her bike after owning it for a year.

Where do I Buy a Bike?

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Any powersports dealer (A dealer in things like motorcycles, ATVs, and personal watercraft) in your area will have a bunch of bikes for sale, both new and used. You can also check out bikes on CycleTrader.com and they’ll show you both dealer and privately for sale bikes… though I have had some issues with that site being a bit buggy.

If you’re worried about getting the bike from the dealership to your house with your very new riding skills, many dealerships will offer to deliver the bike to you for free and some will have a relatively small charge, depending where you live.

Personally, I’d keep away from Craigslist or eBay private owners for your first bike… mostly because you probably don’t know what to look out for as far as danger signs go.

(Pic from YoJoe.com)

What Gear Do I Need?

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The gear I’d recommend at a minimum would be a helmet (preferably full faced), a jacket, and gloves. There’s a lot of debate from people about helmets, because people like to be stupid and not wear them. If you value your brain wear a helmet. If you don’t then don’t wear one (if your region has no helmet laws).

If you really gear up, you can get jackets that have elbow, shoulder, and back armor. You can have protective boots and pants that have hip and knee armor. Your gloves can have hard protection on the knuckles and fingers. You basically are a modern knight on a mechanical horse. It’s one of the few times in life where you have a legitimate reason to wear functional armor. As a nerd I love wearing my gear simply based on the fact that I feel like a sci-fi character or jet pilot.

I Have More Questions…

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If you have more questions or would like for me to expand on anything I’ve said here, please leave a comment. I’d love to hear if any of the Robot’s Pajamas readers are interested in motorcycling.