July 31, 2016
Mastering Motorcycles; a Guide to Getting in Gear, from “Maybe” to Moto-Maven
My whole life I was drawn to motorcycles. Everything about them appealed to me; the freedom and maneuverability, the speed and coordination, even the little hand signs you see bikers signal to each other as they ride by one another… It got to a point a few years ago when I would get anxious and jealous whenever I would just hear one start up or ride past me. Despite my then-limited motorcycle experience, and a lifetime of hearing others complain about the dangers of it, I knew learning to ride was something I had to do.
The motorcycle experience has, without a doubt, been one of the best decisions I’ve ever made.
I knew it was going to cost me a few grand for everything if I was starting from scratch-the course, bike, gear, registration, etc., but it turned out I didn’t quite need everything I was told I was going to need and found ways to save on the few items that I did need. If I would have done my research, I’m sure I could have saved more or planned it out better, but I tend to get caught up in this “now or never” attitude. I could have waited a few years until I got a real job and the newest and best equipment, but things might not have turned out as well as they did. I knew I’d love riding, but I didn’t know how many other lessons and skills I would gain from riding.
Taking on Motorcycle riding can be intimidating and rather inconvenient. Unlike any other sport or hobby, it isn’t something you can just try out. Most people aren’t willing to let you practice on their bikes (and if you ever own one, you’ll understand why, they are as precious as children to us!). It can be dangerous depending on where you live and your local weather conditions. Luckily Florida has one of the best climates and you can ride year-round as long as you’re careful about other drivers (as with any where else).
I started by taking the Motorcycle Safety Course, along with the license/ endorsement, and then spent almost 5 months saving up and researching bikes. This was a challenge to pick out a size, style, and weight that fit me, but I finally ended up with a Honda CBR250r I bought from a friend at school. It took me a few months to get used to and now, two and a half years later, I still get a rush every time I pull out of the driveway, and head down A-1-A, zipping through the salty beach-side morning air.
The entire biking experience taught me how to take on something without much help. It really empowered me to know I was one of a few people to actually going out and taking on something I had always dreamed of and stuck with it. I have a new appreciation for the road and vehicles; it helped me pick up driving a manual quickly and gave me an entire new set of senses on the road, including new ways of thinking and planning ahead.
Riding a motorcycle is possibly one of the single most exhilarating ways to live in the moment and clear your mind.
Plus, the biker nights and new friends make trips and weekends a lot more fun!
Getting Your License: Motorcycle safety courses can be arranged through your local DMV. For me, the course included a bike to borrow and took a weekend to complete-a Friday afternoon of bookwork, and half of Saturday and Sunday on the course and in the classroom.
Gear: If there’s one thing I never get on my bike without, it’s a full-faced DOT and SNELL approved helmet. These labels indicate approval by both the Department of Transportation and Snell Memorial Foundation, both of which are dedicated to testing helmet safety. I have a Scorpion helmet and like it, but it was really just a basic necessity. There are countless styles and price ranges for helmets, but you can look up their safety features and certifications on Helmet Check, which I’ve found to be a great resource for first-timers.
As far as clothing goes, I made the mistake of going out and buying a new hard-shell jacket I never wore. For me it was too hot and bulky and I usually ended up wearing one of my normal jackets (thick enough to prevent road rash). It might be a good idea to get one if you plan on riding with friends, racing, or going to be on the highway or on rough roads.
I found that riding with boots made a big difference for me as well. You don’t really need a pair of the typical moto-boots, just something thick, with a small heel and good grip. They make it a lot easier braking, switching gears, and balancing the bike (especially if you’re smaller).
Long pants are always a good idea, and (although I don’t ride with them personally) gloves are definitely worth getting for longer trips or winter rides. Even here in Florida, cold days make me wish I had some!
Insurance: Even for those who live life in the fast lane- great insurance is a must, especially with such a dangerous hobby as this. Thanks to my other policies, I did not need one specifically for motorcycles, so be sure to do plenty of research in your state to determine whether or not you need an additional policy, or if you can simply use what you already have for your car. most of the mainstream auto insurance providers offer great moto coverage as do some of the boutique / local companies.
Have Fun with It: Owning a bike or simply having the license and skills to ride opens you up to a new world of opportunities. Road trips aren’t nearly as expensive as with a regular vehicle, and you can still take what you need. I plan on buying some saddlebags and touring around the US sometime in the near future, but many other countries offer rentals to do the same. One of my goals is to check out some of the rentals in South America and tour some other nearby countries, like riding through Chile.