Generation Why: Two Wheeled Inspiration
Confession time: the motorized vehicle photograph that adorned my high school locker didn’t have four wheels. It had two. I have always had an interest in bikes, one which has slowly grown from drooling over the 2002 Yamaha R6 (which stayed in my locker through all four years of high school) to buying motorcycle magazines to spending more time reading about bikes than cars. But I’ve yet to buy one for the same reason that kept me from buying a car for so long; insurance.
By the time I was 16, I had enough money saved up to buy a car. Except my insurance would have been around $3500 per year for the clapped out Nissan 240SX I had my eye on. This kind of usurious gouging is an accepted part of life in Ontario, where one speeding ticket or accident can make driving literally unaffordable for young people. I am lucky that Miatas are so unpopular with theives and boy-racers, as my insurance, which started out at $2200 per year, is now a more manageable $1644 per year. Did I mention I have never been convicted of any moving violations and have never had an accident? Meanwhile, my friend in Miami pays $75 a month for both his Corvette Z06 and his F-250.
No surprise then that a bike is pretty much a non-starter for me. I could buy myself a pretty nice bike right now, but insurance would likely run many multiples of what I’m paying now for coverage on my car – a figure that, quite honestly, stretches my modest monthly budget, once rent, groceries and my recreational expenses are taken into account. Ok, I could insure an older GS500 or Ninja 250 but I’m not too keen buying such an old bike and dealing with finnicky carbs and frankly, I find most starter bikes to be pretty ugly.
I know, I know, it’s my first bike, not my last, and it’s a tool to learn proper riding technique on rather than a fashion statement. But a few grand is not an inconsequential sum to me, and if I’m going to spend that much on a bike, I want it to tick all the boxes. Frankly, I’m too cautious to hop right on a 600cc supersport, but the next step up from a starter bike, like an SV650, is above 600cc and is therefore in the next insurance class. What to do then?
The answer is wait; I’ll be 25 next year, and privy to a big break on my insurance premiums, but I’m also waiting for the new Honda CBR500. Yes, there’s a CBR250, but it it’s lacking in both looks and performance, despite rave reviews. The CBR500, on the other hand, not only looks the business, but packs a perfectly adequate 47 horsepower from a 470-cc fuel-injected twin. ABS is also available, and the same motor can be spec’d in a standard or adventure bike as well.
It’s been a while since the motorcycle industry has offered anything intermediate for novice riders. Many were content to go down the path of squidom, hoping on whatever sportbike was on sale, with little regard for life or limb. Anyone concerned about taking the proper steps to proficiently ride a motorcycle had to go use or exercise enormous self-control with a bike that may have been too much for them. But the lack of new riders, shut out by inappropriate motorcycle choices, exorbitant insurance premiums and a rapidly aging customer base means that motorcycle companies desperately need to attract young riders, and the new crop of 250-500 cc bikes are just the ticket.
Nearly half a century ago, a small Japanese company told Americas that “ you meet the nicest people on a Honda“. Now they’re trying to re-create that magic, cognizant of the fact that if it can’t play the part of a big boy bike, it better look the part. Kudos to Honda for paying attention to such an ignored demographic.
Now go do this with cars and you’ll be as unstoppable as you were not so long ago.
Disclaimer: I am not facile-minded enough to suggest that there is a direct analogy between Honda’s car and bikes, but here’s an example of how an accessible, entry-level product can be made to look appealing, attractive and even a bit aspirational.
Shaker on Nov 17, 2012
At the risk of sounding like your MOM... :-) Know your TIRES! First: Get a bike that has alloy wheels and is spec'ed for RADIAL tires. Spoked wheels and inner-tube tires might be OK for looks and cruising, but if you run over a nail (especially in a corner), your tire will go flat much faster as the air has an extra path of escape (around the tube, into the wheel, and through the spokes and un-sealed bead). A "touring" or "sport-touring" tire will have less (but more consistent) traction than a "sport" tire at different temperatures, wear more evenly, and last longer, because they use a "harder" compound (some modern tires actually have a harder compound for the center tread area, and a softer one for the outers). I would suggest the "touring" tire for a new rider, because there are fewer "surprises" - you can step-up to a sport tire once you learn the handling and braking limits on a "less-sticky" tire. If you want the most traction and performance in the twisties, then a sport or touring-sport compound will give you the best experience, keeping in mind that they have to be "warmed-up" by a few miles of riding before you can push them. If you go riding in cold weather (less than 40 degrees) sport tires may not reach their maximum traction at all, and you have to recognize this. They also wear much faster - generally, 2000-3000 miles before the rear tire gets thin. If you choose "sport" tires, replace BOTH, even if there's still tread on the front - most riding is spent upright, so tires still tend to wear "flat" in the center; if you replace just the rear, the bike won't handle properly, as the rear tire will have a "rounder" profile, vs. the "flatter" profile of the front - you'll end up riding differently (due to muscle memory), then if you replace the set, the bike will "surprise" you with how easily it "falls" into turns. "Sport" tires are so "cutting edge" that you'll find differences between different manufacturers in wear, temperature, noise, and at-limit adhesion, so recognize this, and learn the differences. Once you find a set that you like, stick (heh) with them. I'm running a set of Pirelli Diablos on my Z750S right now, and they do stick like the "devil", but not when cold - and they're pretty expensive, too. Remember, you have to break-in any set of new tires with 50-100 miles of riding, using the method of "increasing aggressiveness" in your corners, until you've worn off the "rubber nipples" and the slick new rubber to the point where your "chicken strips" (the unworn area on the sidewalls) are at the point where your old tires were (depending on your personal cornering limits). I reiterate the importance of ABS, but that's only while braking - the choice of tires is super-important when you're NOT braking. /MOM
Scott_314 on Nov 17, 2012
Let logic prevail, don't but a motorcycle. I know the mental process your going through: You know that the death rate is 20-200 times higher than cars, but you can put that aside. You'll get the best safety equipment. A lot of the deaths are caused by riders being idiots, and you won't be that idiot. My answer to this is that your wrong, and you should really think about your willingness to die. You will ride aggressively, excessively fast. You will. Yes, you will. Youre 25. A coworker of mine knew a man who was in an accident, and he walked away. His girlfriend died though, she was on the back. Same coworker stopped riding when his safety instructor from the training course lost his head, literally. Look at the riding forums, most have a section dedicated to "RIP Rider". Just do yourself a favor and think about it. It's all anecdotes, but there are truths to anecdotes. None of those arguments worked on me though. What stopped me was a friend who I respect. He said "I know you're a careful guy. Before you go for it, think about the time, the money, and the fact you live in Toronto. It's the time. You won't want to commute with it. In Ontario its cold half the year. Some people can find the time, if that's their thing. But I know you, you like exercise, traveling, cars, your friends, your career, running, cycling, backcountry camping, you family, etc. how much time will you honestly be able to enjoy it?" my .02
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