The first time you get on a bike (and don’t stall right away, at least) is an unforgettable experience, and once you’re moving, you’re hooked. But! There are steps that you need to take to make sure you’re having the right kind of fun on a bike, and that you’re doing it safely. From the type of bike that’s suited to your riding style to safety gear, this list covers the basics of motorcycle ownership. If you’re buying your first motorcycle, here’s what you need to know. Let’s dive in.
The Bike Itself
We have no doubt you’re already thinking about what kind of bike you want to buy, but there are some important things to ask yourself. What kind of riding are you into? Do you want to go on long, steady road trips? Or do you want to find some canyon roads and dive into turns? Is comfort or performance a priority?
It’s vital to your experience to find a bike that’s suited to your riding style – there’s nothing worse than ending up on a bike that doesn’t fit your definition of fun. Here are different categories of bikes, maybe one will resonate with you. This is step one when buying your first motorcycle: figuring out what kind of bike you want in the first place.
A sport bike is the way to go if you want to zip around super fast (on a track only, ahem). Really though, performance often outweighs comfort in this category. They have a much more aggressive riding position that’s designed to maximize maneuverability. While not necessarily uncomfortable, the ergonomics are suited for really leaning into turns and throwing the bike around rather than riding in a straight line for a long period of time. Careful, with some of these, if you as much as sneeze: you’ll pop a wheelie. A sport bike can be a pretty intimidating choice for a new rider, but there are options. Check out Honda’s smaller versions of their CBR.
Sport touring bikes have a more upright seating position and are bigger and more comfortable overall, but still have motors capable of some serious get-up-and-go. They’re just a little more ergonomically friendly and not designed for performance to the degree of a pure sportbike. They’re better for longer trips, and often have more accessories and luggage options that make longer rides more comfortable. Although they have pretty big engines, they’re manageable for beginners: check out Yamaha FJRs.
Standard bikes fall slightly in-between the two categories above. Often with similar engines as their sport bike counterparts (like the Yamaha FZ-1 and R-1, standard and sport respectively), standards are just as capable as sport bikes in most aspects, particularly when riding street as opposed to track. The seating position is more upright and comfortable, and you won’t be able to get quite as far down into turns as a sport bike, but they’re still fast and fun. And: cheaper to insure than a sport bike. Triumph Bonnevilles and Thruxtons are beautiful examples of standard motorcycles.
Touring bikes are big, powerful, and comfy as all heck. They aren’t as nimble or maneuverable as sport, sport touring, or standard bikes, but they aren’t built for the same purpose. If you’re riding across a country, for thousands of miles, you’ll be comfortable the whole time. They come with huge windscreens, are often equipped with stereos, and occasionally: equipped with a cup holder.
A motorcycle. With a cup holder.
The Honda Goldwing is an excellent example of a touring bike.
Cruisers are comfortable, but still powerful bikes. Lower to the ground, they’re not as sporty as sport, standard, or sport touring bikes, but have a very different dynamic and feel than touring bikes overall. Some are relatively nimble and maneuverable, certainly more so than a touring bike. If you can’t picture one, think Harley-Davidson, an iconic American motorcycle company that has been spotlighted in film and tv as an outlaw’s bike.
If you want to go everywhere and do everything, dual sports are for you. These are excellent bikes for a little rough-n-tumble riding, going from paved roads to back roads on the same route. Ride up and down stairs, whatever. The bike is built for it. The Kawasaki KLR-650 is a classic example of a phenomenal dual sport.
Get the Right Tires
Just like the type of bike, this is heavily dependent on what kind of riding you’re into. Different tires serve different purposes, and motorcycle tires are often made up of multiple compounds. Good quality tires will often have a high-mileage compound in the middle of the tire that’s designed specifically for longevity: if you’re riding in a straight line on this tire, you’re riding for thousands of miles. The further you creep towards the edge of the tire, however, the softer the compound becomes. These parts of the tire wear down significantly faster than the middle part, but offer much better grip when cornering. Performance tires are often made of a stickier, but less durable, compound for peak performance rather than longevity.
If you’re spending most of your time commuting on surface roads without any intense turns, you can get a tire that is built to last without emphasizing performance, because you simply won’t need it. If you’re spending a lot of time in the hills, it’s worth getting a tire that may not last as long but provide the best grip when cornering.
Get the Right Gear
There’s a saying in the motorcycle world. ATTGATT: all the gear, all the time. There is little protecting you from an accident aside from what you’re wearing, and a t-shirt and jeans isn’t going to cut it. Wearing the proper safety gear when riding a motorcycle ensure that, in case of an accident, you’ll be able to keep riding a motorcycle. When you’re buying your first motorcycle, factor gear into your budget.
Obviously, the critical piece is your helmet. Making sure you have a DOT approved helmet can make or break a situation (and you) should something bad happen. DOT standards are federally mandated, but it’s also a good idea to find a helmet that’s Snell approved. The Snell Memorial Foundation, a non-profit, is a leader in helmet safety worldwide and is dedicated exclusively to head protection through scientific and medical research. The combination of DOT and Snell approval on a helmet means that it has gone through a series of rigorous tests to ensure that, in case of an accident, your head will be protected. Don’t skip out on getting a good helmet. Seriously.
And beyond that, if you live in a state that doesn’t have helmet laws, ignore them and wear a helmet.
Aside from a helmet, you’ll need other protective gear. The aesthetic changes depending on what kind of bike you have, your riding style, and personal preference. Any combination of such, though, will include a jacket, gloves, pants, and boots. The less of you that’s exposed, the less of a chance you have of getting road rash. Or worse. Riding gear not only protects you in an accident, but also shields you from the elements. It helps keep you warm when you’re riding in inclement weather, and conversely, with numerous ventilation options, can keep you cool while keeping you safe when it’s too hot out.
Obviously, we suggest getting full coverage. What kind of insurance you get is really up to you, but it’s important to protect yourself, your bike, and your passenger in case of an accident.
There are ways to save on insurance costs, though. A training course – which is also necessary to obtain your license in certain states – will reduce insurance costs. If you already have car insurance, placing a motorcycle on the same policy may be less expensive than getting an individual policy elsewhere.
The longer you ride without an accident, the less your insurance will be. Don’t push your limits, especially if you’re a new rider.
It’s also important to note that there are things out of your control. Your demographic, for example. If you’re a young male, you’re statistically more likely to do something dumb. So you’re gonna pay more.
The kind of motorcycle you’re insuring also makes a huge difference. A Suzuki GZ-250 is going to cost nothing in premiums compared to, for example, a Yamaha R1. Sport bikes are typically the most expensive to insure. They’re associated (statistically) with fast and reckless behavior, so even if you’re the safest rider on the planet, you’re affected by the actions of every motorcyclist preceding you.
Engine displacement plays a role as well. A 600cc motorcycle will cost less to insure than a 1200cc motorcycle in the same category.
Buying Your First Motorcycle
Here’s the thing: taking care of your bike’s maintenance and knowing how to wrench on it yourself is a badge of honor. Knowing the ins and outs of your bike can save you in a pinch, particularly when you need to identify an issue in the garage, or if you’re stranded elsewhere. Buying your first motorcycle from a dealership has its benefits, such as a factory warranty, but buying a used or salvage motorcycle offers you an interesting opportunity: the chance to learn how to fix your bike on your own without breaking the bank. Not only do salvage bikes sell for a fraction of the price of a new bike, but often they need minor or merely cosmetic repairs to get them looking brand spankin’ new.
We have a variety of bikes to choose from, both clean title and salvage. Head over to our vehicle finder to see what’s available.