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Thinking of Riding?? Start Here...


  • Thinking of Riding?? Start Here...

    Chronicles of a Beginner Biker

    I have always had an interest in motorcycles; the way they look, the way they sound, and the general attention they draw wherever they are ridden. They are all beautiful to look at and are works of art in their own right.

    But, in all honesty, I never really thought about buying one. I’m not sure why, but it may have had something to do with my normal, busy lifestyle. Right out of high school, I joined the Air Force. I was married shortly thereafter and started a family. I left the military after nine years and began my civilian career and started on my educational objectives of completing a college degree. All of these things were more than enough to keep me busy and happy.

    Then, my older brother sent me a picture of his “new toy”. It was a beautiful Harley-Davidson Fat Boy; all black with lots of chrome. I looked at that picture in amazement and had the same thoughts most non-riders do; “Are you crazy! Those things are dangerous! You’ll kill yourself, for sure!”

    But, I also had the other thoughts; “Wow! I’d like to have one of those! I wonder if I could learn to ride one. They sure look complicated to ride.”

    We lived miles apart from one another; he in Florida and me in Pennsylvania. But, on one of his regular trips up to PA to visit with our parents, he brought the Fat Boy along on a trailer. It really was a beautiful sight to behold in person.

    He rode it from my parents place to our house and took my then 10 year-old son for a short ride around the neighborhood. Obviously, my son was delighted. When they returned, my brother began to pull the bike into the garage. As we were once again admiring the bike, he asked if I’d like to go for a ride. Of course, I jumped on the opportunity.

    That ride was amazing. I couldn’t believe how much I actually enjoyed it. It’s hard to explain the feeling you have of cruising along on the back of a motorcycle at 65 miles per hour. It was truly something special and I was hooked.

    After that ride, I decided I had to get a motorcycle. My wife was very supportive of the idea and actually thought it would be exciting to be married to a “biker”. My brother, being the older brother that he is, was very concerned and told me that I had to take the MSF course first. I had no idea what the MSF course was, but he explained about how they teach you all the basics you need to know to ride a motorcycle.

    I did some research and was amazed to find that the State of Pennsylvania offered the MSF course free to all residents. I was even more amazed to find that they provided the bikes and all the gear, as well. All you had to do was show up with your motorcycle learner’s permit and you were good to go.

    So, I called the 800-number provided in the literature to schedule the class. But, alas, the classes were all full. The earliest they could get me in was about 3 months away, but I had to call on a specific date when they opened the classes for registration. They suggested I call sharply at 7 am that morning to schedule the class as they would all fill up very quickly. I did as they suggested and was scheduled for the MSF in August. Unfortunately, that was 3 months away and the riding bug had bitten. I wasn’t sure if I could wait. My brother told me not to even consider riding a motorcycle until I completed the course, but I knew it would be difficult. When I set my mind to something, I want to do it immediately. I’ve never been much for patience.

    So, I began my research. Being a computer person by trade, I naturally started my research on the Internet. It wasn’t long before I stumbled across a web site geared specifically to the beginning biker. I was amazed by the amount of information available on this site and by the number of experienced riders who were there to answer my many questions. I was soon told that my best bet was a small 250cc motorcycle. These bikes are much more forgiving and can be found at very reasonable prices.

    Shortly after obtaining this information, my wife spotted a Honda Rebel for sale in the local paper. Interestingly, it was listed as the perfect “ladies bike”. But, armed with the information I obtained from the Internet, I knew this would be the bike for me. We went and looked at it and bought it that night. The bike was in immaculate condition and would be the perfect starter bike for me. I didn’t test ride it or anything because, quite frankly, I didn’t know how to even start it. The previous owner was very kind and showed me everything I needed to know about the bike. He even delivered it to my house in the back of his truck. It was a wonderful buying experience and my first experience with the great people you meet when you ride a bike.

    I arrived home from work the day it was delivered to find this beautiful bike sitting in my garage. I couldn’t believe it was mine. My wife and I were all smiles admiring the bike. My son was ecstatic. He wanted me to hop on and go right then, but I told him I had no idea how to operate it yet. So, I pulled out the owner’s manual, went to the local book store and bought “Motorcycles for Dummies” and just started reading. I’m a very good book learner. Much of my knowledge has been obtained through reading. So, I read both books and felt confident that I could now, at the very least, start the bike.

    So, I went back into the garage with a full audience consisting of my wife, son and daughter. I proceeded to go through the necessary steps of starting the bike, and had no problem doing so. There I sat, in the garage on my little Rebel, its engine purring below me. My son yelled at me to get going. Take her for a ride, he exclaimed. I had to tell him I wasn’t ready for that yet. Instead, I dropped it into first gear and started to slowly release the clutch to the point of the “friction zone”. Over and over again I did this moving the bike from the front of the garage to the back. I really began to feel confident that I could take the bike around the neighborhood with no problem.

    So, I rolled it down to the street and off I went. It was a little scary at first, but after 2 or 3 times around the block, I felt like a natural. I should mention at this point that I was given a helmet with the bike and was wearing it, along with jeans, boots, a leather jacket, and leather gloves. Never once did I feel uncomfortable or nervous on the bike. I was a natural! It was a great feeling.

    I spent the next couple weeks tooling around the neighborhood on the bike. I practiced my shifting techniques, stopping at stop signs, turning, using the turn signals, the high beam switch, etc until I was very comfortable with all of it. I purchased some new gear to ensure I was well protected for the inevitable drop I would experience. I knew, at some point, I would need to leave the safety of my neighborhood to get gas for the bike so I prepared myself for that eventuality. For the first refuel, I used a gas can and did it at home. But, when it was due again, I felt ready to head down the road to the gas station. It was only about 1 mile from the house on a straightaway stretch.

    So, out of the neighborhood I went. It was exhilarating to finally shift the bike into the higher gears. I arrived at the gas station with no problem, refueled the bike, and went back home. On the return ride home, I managed to push the little Rebel up to 50 miles per hour. It was very exciting, but a little scary as well.

    At this point, I now felt confident enough to take the bike to a local school parking lot and begin practicing slow speed maneuvers. I had a small book of MSF exercises that came with the bike that I used as a reference guide. I took along a small set of cones from my son’s soccer set and began practicing everything outlined in the book including slaloms, quick stops, cornering, and the dreaded u-turn/figure-8. It was during one of these practice sessions that I finally experience my first drop.

    I was practicing u-turns within the confines of two parking lot spaces. Everything seemed to be going well, when I suddenly found myself lying on the ground next to the bike. I really had no idea what happened. I managed to pick the bike up and dust myself off and was lucky to find very little damage to the bike itself; just a couple minor scratches here and there.

    But my ego was damaged more than the bike. I wanted to know what happened to prevent it from happening again. So, I went back to the beginner bikers’ web site and posted the event that occurred. Almost immediately, the more knowledgeable riders asked me to think about the situation and what I was doing at the time. More specifically, they wanted to know where I was looking. I remembered looking down during the turn and they immediately knew this to be the problem.

    One of the most important fundamentals when riding a motorcycle is to always look where you want to go. In this case, I had looked down at the ground and the bike followed. This is a very common beginner mistake. This will be heavily emphasized by the instructors during the MSF training course. But, since I had yet to have the course, I wasn’t aware of this important fundamental element. I returned to the scene of the crime and practiced the same maneuver. This time, I looked over my shoulder to the opposite end of the parking lot and completed the u-turn without a problem.

    I logged nearly 500 miles on the bike by the time the MSF class arrived in August. I was very comfortable on the MSF bikes due to my Rebel experience and completed the course without a problem. I did lose points for going outside the box on the u-turn, but many of the students, including experienced riders, had the same problem. It was nice to finally have the MSF completed and be a licensed motorcycle rider.

    I began to venture on longer and longer rides as my experience increased and soon realized that I was outgrowing the Rebel. While the 250 bikes are great to learn on, they lack the necessary power to make them a good highway cruiser. The bike was really working hard at the 60-65 mph range and I found myself avoiding the highways as much as possible. So, it was time to shop for my second bike.

    I really wanted to get a Harley, but after looking over the bikes and the costs involved, it really wasn’t an option. The only one I would consider was a Sportster, but the style of the bike didn’t appeal to me.

    So, again, I went back to the Internet to research good second bike options for cruiser-style bikes. I found several articles on the middle weight cruiser line and soon narrowed my decision to two bikes; the Honda Aero and the Suzuki Volusia. Both bikes were similar in size and weight, but the Volusia had a slightly larger engine. I posted my thoughts on various biker newsgroups and was steered towards the Volusia. I then found a magazine article specifically comparing the two bikes (among others) with the Volusia being given the nod. So, I had made my decision.

    I was able to find a buyer for the Rebel fairly quickly. Again, this is one of the benefits of starting out on a 250-class bike. They are inexpensive to buy, great to learn on, and sell very quickly when you outgrow them.

    I purchased the Volusia from a local dealer at a very good, year-end clearance price. I’ll admit I was very nervous the day I picked it up. The Volusia is a large bike in comparison to many 750-800 cc cruisers. In comparison to my Rebel, it was a behemoth. But, this was one of the reasons I bought it. I needed something with some power to handle the highway and with the ability to handle 2-up riding without a problem. The articles I read gave the Volusia high marks in all these categories. And, the price was excellent.

    The dealer went through all the details of the bike, showed me how to operate everything, handed me the key and wished me luck. I hopped on, fired it up, and hit the highway. I was amazed at how well it handled. After about 10 miles, it felt like second nature to me. The miles put on the Rebel had definitely been well worth the time. I was amazed at the power the Volusia had. I was cruising at 70 mph without a problem and had plenty more power to call on should the need arise. I knew I had made the right decision in upgrading to the Volusia and had done it at the right time.

    I now have over 2000 miles on my Suzuki Volusia and have been riding a grand total of approximately 6 months. I have never experienced anything quite like this in my life and always look forward to my next ride. I have yet to experience group riding and have yet to get my wife on the back of the bike, but those are things I look forward to in the coming seasons. I still consider myself a “beginner” and still respect the bike and never try to push it beyond my own personal limits.

    If you are thinking about riding, I highly suggest you give it a try. But, schedule the MSF class first and ride the bike in the controlled environment they provide. This will allow you to decide if riding is right for you before you go through the expense of buying the bike and all the required gear.

    As others have said before me, “If I have to explain, you wouldn’t understand.”
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