Learn to wrench on your bike
Choose your own motorcycle
Make your own mistakes (with reasonable approach)
Educate your moto brain
Ride alone, somewhere you’ve never been
Learning to ride is something that takes more than a few days/weeks/months. It's 15 years later and I'm *still* learning.
Imagine learning to drive a car for the first time and your mom/dad offers you:
- Honda Civic 2 Door
- Chevy Suburban
Yes, you could theoretically learn on both but which one is going to give you more confidence, self esteem and increase your driving skills? Most of the time when I've thrown a leg over a new bike (either mine or borrowed) I've gone in with some self confidence and some actual riding ability. But riding ability alone isn't enough for me to ride something I've never ridden before. I need the confidence too. I need to feel like I can do it because if I don't, I won't even try.
I've been getting a lot of questions lately from new riders or potential new ones and I wanted to repeat what I've been telling them here. I know not everyone's experience is the same, but I can guarantee you that learning to crawl before you walk makes a HUGE difference. But ask anyone who started on a small displacement motorcycle or scooter before moving up to a 600cc-1000cc-1500cc option how much they learned. Too much? Not enough? Why or why not?
Think of learning how to ride this way:
- 200-500cc: man, this is a lot easier than I thought. I kick ass. I'm getting the hang of this.
- 600-1000cc: shit, this is a lot harder than I thought. I suck at this. I never should've bought a motorcycle.
When my husband took this photo of me back in 2004, we just took our new Ninja 250 for a spin (because that was the *only* small sportbike/naked sporty you could buy in the US) and he basically taught me how to shift up to 2nd and 3rd. I rode around the parking lot a bit to see what it was like. My MSF class was the following month. I never took it on the street, I just did a few laps, nothing special.
But before all this motorcycle business, I rode my awesome 50cc 2Stroke Aprilia Scarabeo Scooter.
I rode her A LOT in my first year of riding (Sept 2003 - Sept 2004). 3,599 miles all in San Francisco to be exact.
I loved her for the short time I had her. But as soon as I threw a leg over the Ninja (it was his but I needed something to ride so....) I knew it was meant to be. And I figured out how to ride her to work (across San Francisco) in a couple days.
If you see my pic above on the Ninja, I'm on my toes. Did I care? Nope. Because I was already riding my scooter on my toes.
Contrary to popular belief, scooters can be a lot taller than most motorcycles. The Scarabeo had a 30" seat height. But my learning curve was far far less steep than if I forced myself to throw a leg over something like my next bike, the Kawasaki Z750S for the first time (instead of the Ninja). It was taller, heavier, taller and heavier. Did I mention how much heavier it was? Almost 500lbs wet. Ugh.
The higher center of gravity on this thing would've been ridiculous. If I had to learn on this or even my SV, I doubt I would've had the skill to move up.
When I chose that Z750S, it set me back 3 years in my riding development. Everything was suddenly harder: parking, cornering (imagine driving a tall, heavy truck on a twisty road instead of a convertible), uturns. The only thing that was easier was accelerating on the freeway merging into traffic.
For perspective, this is how much that bike choice affected my riding. This list is in order of when I owned each one and how much I rode them::
- Aprilia 50cc Scooter: 3,599 miles in 1 YEAR. woooo hooo! I'm ready to move up.
- Kawasaki Ninja 250: 12,000 miles in 3 years. I learned so much and did a mix of city and highway riding/touring for the first time.
- Kawasaki Z750S: a little under 8,000 miles in 3 years. Some city riding, and a couple of long distance rides to LA from San Francisco. But riding the twisties? Forget it. It was annoying, hard, not fun and I was miserable.
- Suzuki SV650S: 6,000 miles in the first 8 MONTHS. YESSSSSS. Where were you all my life? Why didn't I buy you sooner? Ahhh, this is how you corner. That's what it feels like to actually lean. You were so much easier to park and maneuver in San Francisco. And you were WAY MORE FUN to ride.
Remember, riding is supposed to be FUN! Not stressful, not frustrating and not miserable. When you get off that bike you might be in a little pain from the seat time but you should be HAPPPPPPPY. Ask yourself these questions:
How do you feel when you look at your bike, or think about riding it? How do you feel after? Confident? Excited?
As soon as I bought the SV, my learning curve flattened and it was so much easier to ride. So much so that I rode it everywhere/everyday/constantly. I learned so much in that first year and felt like it should've been my second motorcycle. This is a photo of the first "curve" I ever took on the SV when my seller delivered it to my house (from 300 miles away, there are still GOOD people left in this world!). It doesn't look like much but just taking this little bend, I felt a huge difference in what I had been missing for the last 3 years. I felt confident, happy, excited, and most of all HAPPY!
All I learned on my Z750S was how to manage a taller, heavier bike. But it didn't teach me anything about advanced cornering techniques. Improper cornering is an extremely common factor in solo motorcycle accidents aside from DUI. I firmly believe that It doesn't matter how long you've been riding, it matters how well you can ride.
Your bike choice will greatly impact how well, how much, how confidently you ride for the next 6-12 months. So make the EASY choice that benefits you in the long run.
Because are you planning to ride the same bike for 50 years? Not me..... I'm 3 years in and will probably get itchy in a couple :D
A quick caveat to this post. Learning to ride isn't easy like taking a bite out of a freshly baked chocolate chip cookie. But you can lighten the load a bit and bring down the level of difficulty down from a 10 to a 5. Struggling is definitely part of the experience and you will learn through your mistakes because you have to in order to learn. But when it's so hard that it starts to make you question your ability to ride or the decision to ride in the first place, then it's time to rethink some things. I hope this post does just that, helping you rethink some things. Please post a comment or two below....
Last summer, I was asked to consider applying for a Brammo Enertia Electric Motorcycle to ride in and around San Francisco. I'd never ridden one and I had no idea what I was in for. Let's just say, it's been one of the greatest two wheel loves of my life.
Don't get me wrong, I'm still wholly devoted to my Suzuki SV650S. When it comes to touring, hitting the twisties or long weekend rides she's still my girl.
But, there's something so easy, so fun and so carefree about taking Betty around the city. If you live in a big metropolitan, urban playground then taking a lightweight (324lbs) bike like Betty is a no brainer. Every 5 seconds is another stop sign or traffic light. Average speeds are 25-35mph, maybe 45 on major thoroughfares. 90 degree angles meet you at every turn and traffic backs up within seconds when you least expect it.
I've always ridden in a more forward riding position. My SV definitely has a pretty aggressive one. It's been 9 years since I rode a scooter almost every day, and a fully upright riding position. Between my hip / groin aches from my last accident and my worn out rotator cuff, it feels great to sit up straight with my pegs a little lower than what I'm used to. It's also convinced me that a small street legal dirtbike or supermoto are the best options for riding around the city. It's also fully convinced me that these style of motorcycles are the Best Beginner Bikes! They dramatically increase your self confidence level with their ease of maneuverability, lightweight-ness and familiar riding position. I strongly urge you to consider something with a fully upright riding position as your first bike. Your self confidence will skyrocket and your learning curve will diminish with every corner that you ride ever so perfectly.
In the beginning I was worried about the usual thoughts that run through one's mind when considering an electric motorcycle or scooter. What about the silence? Won't it be more dangerous? And one of the most difficult issues a motorcyclist may contend with when it comes to a scooter. Fully automatic?! No clutch? No shifting? Won't it be less fun? What about the hills? I live in San Francisco! Well, needless to say, I got over it in a day or two, and I simply don't give a sh*t about the rest because it's IT'S SO DAMN FUN.
You don't care that you don't need to pull in your clutch to stop (especially in traffic). I can't tell you how awesome it is to use one hand and barely touch the throttle as I creep through traffic one foot at a time. If you've ever ridden a scooter, you know there's a delay with the throttle and micro managing your speed without putting your feet down can be difficult and annoying through traffic.
And, with a motorcycle, your clutch hand gets tired pretty quickly trying to manage how far out you can let it go before you need to give it more gas and back and forth and back and forth. It's just one less thing to worry about. It's so freeing to just accelerate and brake, especially with so many stop signs, pedestrians, bicycles and more to think about going from point A to point B. I still think riding a fuel based motorcycle around SF is also the way to go (vs. cars/buses/bicycles) but it's really nice to ride something so light and easy.
And what about these hills anyway? Not a problem. Betty can run up the hills just as easily as my motorcycle. No, not every block in San Francisco is like this one (California @ Powell). Actually, most hills are fairly tame, but even with hills like these, it hasn't changed my ability to ride up and down them as quickly as I please. And if you live in SF, you rarely ride these routes anyway. It's just not my route of choice, even in a car when it comes to going downtown.
I've never struggled going up a hill in my beautiful city. If anything, she's really punchy halfway up. The only hard part is starting off. There is a slight delay but not long enough to matter. Pretty soon I'm almost at the top of the next one to care. Staying ahead of traffic is easy, especially at 30-40 mph. And it's far easier to stop at the top of a really really steep hill like Gough Street between Jackson and Washington.
Since there's no 4 gallon gas tank to balance when coming to a stop, you don't have to worry about braking to hard or leaning forward to counter gravity pulling you backwards.
I've also never had a bike with such great braking power. The Enertia is equipped with hydraulic front and rear brakes by Brembo. They stop on a dime and I barely have to squeeze the front to give me what I need. I feel like I can stop instantly and with very little effort.
So what's the downside then?
Well, the one question everyone asks most often is about the range. Is 42 miles enough? Is it really 42? The answers are Yes and No. If you don't live in San Francisco or another large urban city where everything you need is within 50 square miles, then you don't know how close everything is and how much range you really do need.
I live in a neighborhood where everything I need is within a 4-5 block radius. However, riding to another neighborhood, even across town is within 7 square miles. So realistically speaking, the range is more like 27-28. As we are a hilly city, even cars lose about 10mpg from their listed mileage. Too many hills and too much stopping and starting. It's also a little more fun to open the throttle a bit more than you need to, know what I mean? :) It also depends on the route I take. If I start my house in the Outer Sunset to the Mission, I could take the fun route with more hills and twisties. But that uses up about 30% of my juice one way. But if I take the commuter, less hilly route I only use 15% one way. So it totally depends on you.
As far as recharging, I plug in to recharge as soon as I get home from work for the most part. But I've been experimenting lately with range so I only plug in every couple of days. I still have plenty of juice for another round trip to and from work. But just to make sure I have all the power I need I plug in.
The one thing that does make things easier but does slow down the charge time (4 hours til full) is that you only need a standard 3 prong house outlet to recharge. The cord stashes easily under the seat and as long as you can find a 3 prong outlet (which exists pretty much everywhere), you can recharge if you run out.
I take Betty pretty much everywhere I can. I am lucky enough to have a car and motorcycle so if I do need to haul a lot of groceries or supplies I can use one of those if need be. I usually wear a Timbuk2 with me but it would be nice if I could add a top box or tailbag. Unfortunately since it's a one person vehicle there's no rear seat or option to add a tailbag.
Givi does offer hard side cases which are mounted low, beneath the seat. Certainly adding those would remove the need to wear a messenger bag for storage. The stock seat is pretty comfy but you can add a plush, suede seat for $200
As of 1/1/3013, all electric motorcycles and cars are subject to a 10% Federal Tax Credit, as well as a CA Tax Rebate (up to $2500). These two incentives make the Brammo a little easier to handle in terms of price. http://www.brammo.com/incentives/
As of 2/1/2013, the 2012 Enertia is on sale at Scuderia for $5400 before rebates.