Transition from right turn to left turn in a Lee Parks Total Control clinic



Choosing Your First Motorcycle

In many if not most classes, someone asks about good choices for a first motorcycle. Most of the time, after we discuss it for five minutes, the student reveals that he's already purchased his first motorcycle. I suppose that they're just looking for reassurance that they didn't buy something foolish. Well, if you've already bought the bike, why ask now? Just move on to the next web site or the next topic on mine.

But if you're asking the question with the intention of considering the answer before you buy, here's the advice given by every reputable motorcycle magazine and every reputable dealer I've ever heard of:

Smaller is Better

Nobody wants to hear that, and so the objections start: But my friends all say that I'll outgrow a 600cc Ninja or a 750cc cruiser in the first season. And besides, it'll only be good for short trips, not a cross-country jaunt. I won't even be able to keep up with my friends on 1000cc bikes, let alone the guys on the Triumph Rocket III (at 2300cc).

It's interesting to me that the person making the argument that a smaller bike is good only for short trips is generally the same one who tells me he'll never ride in the rain. So it's clear he's never going to take a long trip, let alone the cross-country trip he believes (incorrectly) the bike won't handle. (Or did you think that you could get from Washington DC to Los Angeles, and back, without any rain?)

Anyway, not one of those objections holds any water. I rode a 600 Ninja in the California Superbike School course and I'm here to tell you that nobody is going to outgrow that motorcycle in a year, or five years. The same will be true of the other 600cc bikes, the R6 (Yamaha), GSXR (Suzuki), or CBR (Honda). In fact, the problem with the 600s isn't that they're too small for a first bike; they're too big. The ONLY good thing about any of the 600cc sportbikes mentioned above is that choosing one for a first motorcycle is not as dumb as choosing one of their 1000cc counterparts.

How about the cruisers? There's no doubt that a cruiser by its nature is a far less highly-strung mount than one of the sportbikes, but they have plenty of bite. A 750cc or smaller cruiser from any of the major Japanese makers would be a fine choice in that category. If you're a Harley fan, the 883 Sportster is the entry machine, and a good choice, especially if you're concerned about height — it has a very low seat height.

If you're concerned about being unable to keep up with an accomplished rider who's on a larger motorcycle, you're right; you won't be able to keep up. But you won't be able to keep up with an accomplished rider who's on a smaller machine either. Face facts: The only way you'll be able to keep up with an accomplished rider is if he's on a bicycle and you're on a motorcycle. And even then, he'll still beat you if you crash in the first corner.

Keep this in mind:

This isn't your last motorcycle; it's your first motorcycle.

At least, it won't be your last motorcycle unless you kill yourself on it. If you want a sportbike, try a Ninja 250 or EX500. Plenty of motorcycle. A 750cc cruiser for the laid-back crowd. A dual-sport in the 250 to 500cc range. A standard around 500cc. (Though all the major motorcycle magazines say the Suzuki SV650 is a terrific choice for the new or returning rider, and won't be outgrown in two or five years.) Buy it used from a local dealer, take care of it, and if you really do outgrow it in a year or two, you can sell it again for 3/4 of what you paid.

There's an internet enthusiasts' group for just about any motorcycle you can imagine. Find one or more, sign up, make a single post introducing yourself and saying that you're new here and thinking about this motorcycle, then keep quiet and read what the riders have to say.

New or used? Dealer or private sale?

Used bikes almost always will have a better price. They also come with the prior owner's problems. I've never had a new motorcycle and have never had any problems with the used ones. I hope you're so lucky.

The best bet might be a used motorcycle from a dealer. The private seller has no expectation of ever seeing you again; the dealer would like to sell you another bike in a few years, and will want to perform service or sell parts and gear as well.

Be careful leaving the dealership!

Be extra careful on that first ride out of the dealership. The stories are legion about riders crashing before they get straightened out on the street. The salesman who sold my first motorcycle to me, at Performance Cycles in Shrewsbury Massachusetts, offered to ride it to my home a few miles away so I wouldn't have to exit onto the busy highway on my very first ride after my MSF class. I accepted with gratitude. I recommend that practice, and if the dealership won't do it, ask an experienced friend. (But remember that the motorcycle will be unfamiliar to that person also, and pick someone who has the proper respect for unfamiliar machinery.)

Are you an idiot??!! No? Then don't buy her first motorcycle for her!

You can't buy shoes for her, or makeup, or books. What makes you think you can buy her first motorcycle? You can't. Read this article by MSF coach Cliff Brown to find out why, in case it isn't obvious. And then let her pick out her own motorcycle and live happily ever after.

Are you going to take my advice?

I have this feeling of futility any time the subject of first bikes comes up, because people are so set on getting the latest, greatest model. So if you actually do take my advice, and that of many many other people who know a lot more about motorcycles than I do, and get a smaller model, then please drop me a line and tell me about it. It would make me feel that this page isn't wasted.