How Do You Choose a Motorcycle?

Ahh, riding. There’s nothing in the world that comes close to the experience. It truly is a hard-earned accomplishment to be licensed and on two wheels. It takes patience and skill to learn to ride, and every time you get on the road, you’re making decisions. Some of those decisions may be life and death; some are more fun, like what accessories to add. But how do you go about making that first decision, which is what motorcycle to buy? How do you choose the best fit for you, especially as a new rider?

I was stubborn when it came to my first bike. I always wanted a Harley, and that’s what my heart was set on. I bought a 2004 1200R Custom Sportster off of a friend’s co-worker. The same day I completed the rider safety course, I took my first spin on that Sporty, and dropped it after my first turn around an empty parking lot. I spent some time trying to convince myself that I would get used to it, but constantly found it awkward and difficult to handle. I went to a dealer to try out the new Street 750, and found myself in a big of an argument when the salesman tried convincing me to get an 883 SuperLow. He insisted that all Sportsters were “perfect for women and beginning riders” and I just had to “get used to it”; he further tried to tell me the 750 would be harder to handle. Turns out, he was wrong. Sitting on that 750, I felt my confidence soar. It was smaller, it was better weighted for me, and I was immediately confident enough to try a spin on the road.

How many of us have found ourselves in that position? Someone may insist that their model is “the best” for beginners, or a salesperson may try to convince a new rider that a certain size is better than another. Truthfully, everyone is different, and everyone is going to have their own individual set of goals, needs, and expectations of a motorcycle. So how do you choose?

Opinions, Everyone’s Got One!

Everyone is going to have their opinion of what it best and what should be avoided. The best way to handle opinions on choosing a bike is like dealing with opinions on anything else: take it all with a grain of salt! Listen and ask questions. Consider the experience that the speaker has with riding (time invested, skill level). Try to compare opinions as well- are some similar, or wildly ranging from good to bad? Remember, one day you’ll be able to give someone your opinion on a starter bike!

How Much Can I Afford?

Just as you would do with any vehicle, pricing should factor in to your decision. You don’t want to skimp on care and quality, but you also don’t want your wallet to suffer! (Personally, I love the look of the Indians, but at this point in my riding life, I can neither afford nor justify that type of expense.) Remember, a great thing about motorcycles is that they can be customized with after- market parts and accessories, and these too are available in a wide range of prices.

Also, here is where New vs. Used comes into play. How much are you willing and able to invest in your first bike? I spent more than I should have on that used Sporty, and quite a bit on that 750 as well. In retrospect, I wish I had bought something used and saved the money for an upgrade!

What Type or Rider Am I Going to Be?

Are you interested in hopping on the bike and waving “Farewell!” to your home, ready to spend days at a time on the road, or are you more interested in zipping around town on a sport bike? Will most of your riding be done in congested stop-and-go urban traffic, or are you going to be riding along country backroads with nary a stop sign in sight? Are you going to be more comfortable on a trike? Will you need bags or storage space? You may find that these needs and goals will change as you find your riding groove. It is quite common to upgrade to a larger bike as your skills are sharpened, and equally so to find that maybe your cruiser is more bike than you need to ride around town.

Size Does Matter

I can easily sit on the 750 and the Sporty with my feet flat. On the man’s Victory Kingpin, I find myself straddling it with one foot waving around in the air. My legs are simply too short. So what to look for to be sure you fit?

  • -Both feet should be able to be flat on the ground without straining yourself. Remember, you will need to maneuver this bike in and out of parking spots and around obstacles.
  • -Reach for the handlebars. You shouldn’t have to overreach. (Remember, handlebars are something that can be adjusted!) Try to turn. Are you able to turn comfortably?
  • -How does reaching for the brakes and gears work for you? Are you able to move your feet comfortably? (Tip: When trying on bikes for size, wear the shoes you are most likely to be riding in. Footwear makes a difference!)
  • -Is the seat comfortable? You don’t want to be shifting around as you ride. Is it comfortable? Do you feel secure? Again, seats can be changed and customized, but the position of the seat on the bike itself is important.


The Weight of it All

Handling the weight of a bike can be challenging. We engage the muscles in our legs and our core with every motion our bike makes. Being able to handle the weight is essential to safe riding. I think my mistake the day I dropped the Sporty was underestimating the weight. I have quite a bit of strength and confidence in my legs, but I simply didn’t expect to have to ‘catch’ that much weight as I stopped. I spent a bit of time in dealers with sales staff holding the bike, allowing me to rock it back and forth.

Engine Size

The general consensus of instructors of motorcycle safety programs is that the smaller the engine, the easier it is to handle. A smaller engine can provide a beginner the opportunity to learn how to maneuver, how to handle curves and turns, how to shift, and how to move your body with the bike while leaving less room for accidental “throttle errors”.

Choosing a motorcycle can seem like an overwhelming task, but it doesn’t have to be! Listen to your own intuition and not get distracted by the opinions of others. If it doesn’t feel “right” to you, try to pinpoint what the issue is and move on to another model or size. The better the fit, the safer you’ll be; the more secure you feel, the more confidence you will have. Remember that your needs and goals will change as your riding skills develop- you may find that your dream bike wasn’t as unattainable as you though it was!

Ride on, sisters!