Rider's Guide - First Motorcycle


Which motorcycle you choose as your first is a critical one and not just for safety reasons.  It will have a big influence on what you learn and how quickly your skills progress.   Given that, I highly recommend you start small.  Here's why...


The slower your first bike, the faster you'll be. Sounds contradictory, but allow me to explain. If your first bike is one of the faster ones on the market (which currently would mean just about any 600cc sportbike or larger), you will rarely be forced to push yourself to get much performance out of the bike. With that much power on tap, you can simply twist the throttle and away you go. Getting a bike to accelerate is about the easiest thing you can do. Braking, shifting, and cornering require more skill, more knowledge, and a lot more practice.


When the inexperienced rider on a big bike goes riding with friends on a twisty back road or even on a racetrack, he will find himself struggling to keep up. The easiest way to go faster is to rely on the bike's power. He's going fast but only on the straights.  In fact, he'll have to ride faster in the straights, potentially putting him at greater risk.  He is using a tiny fraction of the bike's overall performance and he can get away with being a lazy rider. Not good.


Starting on a small bike forces the rider to extract all the performance out of the bike. To do this, a rider must become skilled. Plus, starting small increases your margin for error. The first rider will be going far faster on the straights with his more powerful bike but at the end of that straight is a corner waiting. Some serious braking and a quick transition to hard cornering is required. Just a slight miscalculation can mean an accident and at these speeds accidents are more likely to be serious ones.


The rider of a smaller bike will have to squeeze all the power he can out of his bike. Doing that means knowing how to work the transmission to keep the engine revving where the most power is. Maintaining that speed requires braking as late as is reasonable and as little as possible. It also requires carrying as much speed through the corners as possible. Never allowed to be lazy, the rider of a small bike is forced to learn how to really ride a bike. Once he does decide to move up to something bigger, his mastery of the fundamentals means he will adapt to a faster machine quickly. Those riding skills plus a bigger bike means he will be that much faster than those who started riding on more powerful bike.


So now let's pit a beginner who started out at the same time on a new 600 against the small bike rider who now also owns an identical 600. Neither can out-power the other, but rider #2 can get on the power sooner coming out of turns. He is always in the right gear for the situation and he can carry more speed through the corners. Of course, this oftentimes prompts rider #1 to go get a 750, but the point has already been made.



I speak about small bikes from experience as my first motorcycle was an Aprilia RS50. With the Arrow pipe it put out about 6hp. Kinda silly for an adult, right? Not exactly. Although it lacked power, it was full-sized, had 17 inch wheels, disk brakes, a six speed gearbox, full instrumentation, conventional motorcycle switchgear and it was capable of 67mph (downhill with a tailwind).  Is this the ideal first bike then? No. It really could have used more power. Six hp is just not enough to be practical. I knew this before I bought the bike, but Aprilia's fantastic RS125 is not available in this country. The 50 turned out to be a great choice nonetheless. The fact that it only weighed 190lbs was great. The most common types of mistakes new riders make are some sort of zero mph tipover or low-speed crash. With such a light bike, I could make some mistakes and still keep the bike from falling over. Once a 400+lb bike gets a few degrees past vertical, you will be hard pressed to get it vertical and balanced again.   Best to get these dumb mistakes out of the way on something small.


I won't say which bike would make the perfect first bike for you. There are any number to choose from. Two of the most popular choices in the U.S. are the Kawasaki Ninja 250 and EX500, and I would recommend the RS50 to anyone so inclined. It is a little quick for absolute beginners, but the Suzuki SV650 is a great choice and one that you may not want to sell even after your skills have improved.  Used ones are fairly cheap too.  Whichever bike, the criteria remains the same: inexpensive, low-to-moderate powered, predictable, and relatively light weight.


Another great reason for not buying a beautiful new (insert name of your dream bike here) as your first motorcycle is that you want your pride and joy to remain beautiful. You are very likely to go down at least once in your first year of riding. You will be much happier if you do it on a bike you don't care so much about.  Would you give a 15 year old with a learner's permit a new Ferrari to learn how to drive?


To summarize, starting on a small/used/inexpensive bike means:

* You will be forced to develop your skills, making you a better rider.
* Speeds will be lower, giving you a greater margin for error.
* The typical first year mistakes may be easier to avoid or recover from.
* It won't be a gorgeous MV Agusta F4, but you can drop it and you won't cry.


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