I blew up (don’t ask) my MINI Cooper in August of 2015 and had been looking around to replace it with something that was small and light and fuel-economical again, and started thinking that maybe a little scooter would be fine for commuting the 9 miles and back to work. But as I started to look into those I realized that the price of a scooter gets you almost all the way into the price of a motorcycle, and scooters are just too slow.
So I started thinking maybe I need to be a motorcycle owner for the first time in my life. The problem was, I didn’t know anything about motorcycles and the idea of even riding around without a seat belt seemed terrifying to me.
So I did what every red blooded American male does – I got on YouTube and started watching videos about how to ride a motorcycle. I bet you’ve seen some of the same ones I saw. Some of them were terrible, and some of them were actually very good with experienced riders taking time to show exactly what is involved in even the basics, like starting a bike and just moving slowly around the parking lot. I started to get the idea that maybe I could do this.
I started listening to motorcycle podcasts and following popular YouTubers and bugging my rider-friends about everything I can think of.
I watched Long Way Round and Long Way Down, watched Charlie Boorman’s Dakar Rally movie, and started learning everything I could about motorcycles in general.
I bought a copy of Precision Motorcycling by David Hough for three dollars online at a Goodwill, and started reading through that and realized that there’s a lot more to motorcycling then hitting the gas. Several of my coworkers ride, and when I brought up this topic they immediately told me I needed to take the MSF class before they would even discuss it with me.
So I used some Christmas money to sign up for the class and took it two rainy weekdays in early January 2016. It was pouring rain for that class but maybe that’s a good thing. I’m not afraid to ride in the rain, that’s for sure, and Florida gets more rain then anyone in the US – except Washington state. Those people get drenched.
Over the protestations of my friends, I decided I wanted to start on a very small displacement motorcycle since the class had basically qualified me to drive around in a parking lot. That’s not a bad reflection on the class, it does a great job of teaching you everything you need to know about a motorcycle from the beginning. Before I went to the class I didn’t even know how to start one, I didn’t know how to shift, I didn’t know how the clutch responded, I didn’t know a friction zone from a freak show. The class is an excellent beginning introduction and confidence builder. It does a good job of warning you of the dangers enough so that you can take them seriously when you do get out on the road.
But nothing is a substitute for actual traffic experience. I think it would have been foolish to leave that class and go out and buy a 1000cc bike.
A funny thing happens when you tell your friends you’re shopping for a motorcycle – they start shopping vicariously through you. I had guys recommending 1200cc Harleys, an FZ9, and all kinds of crazy stuff that I really don’t think would be appropriate for someone who had never driven over 20 miles an hour or above second gear.
I ended up settling on a 250cc Suzuki – The exact same bike I was using in the class – and have been having a good time driving around town, gently staying out of peoples’ way and watching out for left-turners of all types. I’ve owned it right at two weeks now and have about 250 miles under my belt right now, less than 1% of most of the people I know who ride bikes.
But I’m going on an adventure!