Wednesday, July 15, 2009

For a prospective rider...

I have a friend here at work, who seems to be wrestling with the demons of riding. He has professed an interest in the two-wheeled fraternity, it's true. Has even gone down the road to at least one Montreal Motorcycle Exhibition (Le Salon de la Moto). He seems to be showing all the classic signs of early murder-sickle affliction syndrome, or EMAS. Hey, why not? Everyone else has some lame-ass acronym for their completely made up and make-believe affliction...

But I digress here. This is no mere fabrication of which I speak. This here 'call of the wild' can become a true, debilitating disease, if not treated early and appropriately. The call to ride itself, is a wonderful thing. That haunting, siren song of The Road. It's all the unanswered questions and uncertainties that come along with it, that can drive a person to madness. "What course should I take?" "What's the difference between them?" "How big a bike should I get for my first one?" "What type of bike should I look at?" "What kind of accessories should I consider?" "Can I even really learn how to ride?" "What type of gear should I wear?" "What type is best? Most comfortable? Safest? Less expensive?" Really... the questions can be endless.

I suppose over the years, I have been responsible for a good many people 'discovering the rider in themselves'. It's not something I actually try to do, but it just seems that if I'm amongst a group of people and the talk turns to bikes and riding, it's easy for me to relate the genuine pleasure that this unique activity brings me. To describe the thrill of discovering new roads and living new adventures. To me, talking in glowing terms about riding in general or a favorite road in particular, is something that just occurs naturally. It's not something that you have to sell very hard either. And in so doing, I have introduced many people to the world of riding. In these conversations, it always seems to be the same questions which surface.

So what are some answers to these questions?

- "What course should I take?"

There are many, many individuals who have gotten into the motorcycle training business. I am not going to question their motivation or their passion for riding. All I will say that "good intentions do not necessarily make good instructors". It is unfortunate to say, but my better half found this out the hard way and has since been pretty much turned off learning how to ride.

My personal suggestion would be a certified training establishment, such as the Ottawa Safety Council, who offer the definitive Motorcycle Rider Course. This course is certified by the Canada Safety Council and is modeled on the American MSF (Motorcycle Safety Foundation) course.

Their instructors are top notch, as are their instructional techniques. These are the people we had in mind, when we spent years lobbying to have these courses made mandatory across the country.

- "What's the difference between them?"

You can go with the lowest priced course, but in return you can expect some sheep-shagger training techniques, complete with having someone push you around on an unpowered motorcycle. As with any other course out there, the choice is yours. Just remember that this training is designed to teach you what you need to help you survive the first couple of years as a new rider. It's serious stuff...

- "How big a bike should I get for my first one?"

This is a very good question. Many people will advise you to go small at first, until you've mastered the mechanics of riding. Then, when you feel a little more comfortable and confident with your abilities, you can think of going to a larger displacement bike. The one thing to keep in mind, is that first and foremost, you bike should fit you. By this I mean if you happen to measure 6 feet and weigh in at 200lbs, a Honda 250 Rebel is probably not the ideal first bike for you.

Let's face it, you don't want kids pointing their fingers at you as they pass by in their parents' car, yelling: "Look Mom... a circus bear!!" Conversely, if you happen to measure 4 feet 5 inches, a 2300cc Triumph Rocket Three is probably NOT the ideal first bike for you.

A Suzuki Hayabusa or any other bike that is capable of attaining Mach speed, is not an ideal first bike for ANY rider. These are serious, serious machines which are capable of some high performance envelopes. A stock 'Busa right out of the crate, with no massaging, will turn out an honest 200MPH.

They are meant for more experienced riders, though all too often end up in the hands of wide-eyed neophytes, thanks to some unscrupulous dealer. Soon thereafter, far too many of these youngsters end up making the headlines of their local papers.

As an individual begins making the rounds of dealers, he/she should sit on any bike which catches their fancy. Sit on bikes that don't even interest you. Just to get a feel for what fits and what doesn't. Notice the ergonomics of the bike's design. Can you reach and operate all of the controls easily? Are they well laid-out? How do your feet and legs feel on the footpegs or floorboards? Will they cramp up after a couple of hours? Do you have to reach forward to grasp the handlebars? What kind of strain does that put on your back? Your shoulders? How does the seat feel? Does it offer the proper amount of comfort and support? Most importantly, do you feel comfortable sitting there? Can you see yourself hurtling down the road on that critter?

Once you find a model or type that fits you, you will know instinctively. It'll feel like putting on your favorite jeans, after they've just come out of the dryer. From that point on, you can begin thinking about the displacement of the engine.

- "What type of bike should I look at?"

Unless you have a specific type in mind right off the bat, look at everything there is out there. You will probably be surprised at the number of brands, makes and models that are available. There are sportbikes, cafe racers, cruisers, tourers, sport-touring models, naked bikes and "maybe-you-oughtta-keep-that-on-a-track" bikes. One factor that will inevitably end up influencing your choice, is the simple question: "What type of riding do you intend to do?" Sound silly? "How many types of riding can there be?", you might ask. Okay... Let's have a look.

- Are you going to be riding on weekends only?

- Are you all about the speed?

- Do you prefer a more laid-back type of cruising?

- Are you going to use your bike for commuting to and from work?

- Are you going to use your bike for long-distance touring?

- Are you going to be riding strictly solo, or are you planning eventually to ride 2-up?

- Are you going to be doing more city riding than open road?

- Are you just going to take your bike down to a local hang-out and then back home? ***

All these different riding styles cannot help but influence your final decision. It is possible to find a bike that will do all of these relatively well, but there are trade-offs. City riding is best accomplished with a smaller, lighter bike. Large cruisers and touring bikes can handle city riding, but tend to be heavier and a little more unwieldy for slow speed manoeuvres. Heavy city riding (beaucoup idling and stop-and-go traffic) would also make you lean towards a liquid-cooled bike, rather than an air-cooled model. For better fuel conservation and smoothness of operation, a fuel-injected model would get the nod over a carburetted model. Carbs are also affected by high elevations (Blue Ridge Parkway, Denver, CO), temperatures and humidity levels, whereas fuel-injected models are not.

If you're a fair-sized lad and want to go on a one-week tour with your GF in tow, that little 750cc will be screaming enough to make your ears bleed, as you go on a long uphill grade. You're gonna need something with a little more 'oomph' to it. If you're looking at touring, you're going to be looking at a larger bike. A cruiser, a full-on touring bike or perhaps a sport-tourer. These provide more comfort and adequate power for 2-up touring. Ask the dealer about such items as saddlebags, windshields and luggage racks, to see what is inclusive with a particular model. Suzuki and Kawasaki do very well in this department.

*** If you're simply looking to buy a bike so you can hang with your buddies at the local tavern or doughnut shop, they'll tell you what type of bike to get so you can fit in... Better still, I say save your money, don't buy a bike. Just keep buying the Harley t-shirts and when you go down there, you can tell 'em that your Harley's still in the shop. They'll understand...

- "What kind of accessories should I consider?"

Again, this depends on many things. Myself I had a backrest and saddlebags added before I even picked the bike up from the dealer. Then again, I pretty much know that for the type of riding that I like doing, I couldn't live without them. Even if I'm not riding 2-up, that backrest serves as a great anchoring point for all kinds of extra storage pieces. A must-have for long rides. If you're going to be carrying anything more than just your wallet when you're riding, you'll probably want some type of storage system on your bike. I see a lot of young fellows riding around with backpacks on (ICON makes some very good models...) and if that works for you, so much the better.

Me? I'd rather have no load on my back. I find it interferes with my freedom of motion and if it's hot? Who needs that... There are also tank bags which are available in a cornucopia of sizes, colours and styles.

There are those who may want to appear 'hardcore' (whatever their definition of that might happen to be...), or who have never stopped a junebug with their forehead (it feels about the same as being shot with a .32), who will insist that a windshield is 'un-manly'. These are also the types who normally never leave the confines of the city. See the reference to the doughnut-tavern crowd... A windshield not only offers protection from road debris and the elements (yes, for those of us who ride when it's not sunny outside...), it can also prevent you from ingesting a stinging insect. Laugh if you will, but there are legions of riders who have died from swallowing a bee or a wasp. One sting can lead to your throat (trachea) swelling shut. If there is nobody on the scene that can perform an emergency tracheotomy in time, you're pretty much done. That ain't how I plan to go out...

As for any other accessories which might improve the performance or comfort of your bike, a good rule of thumb is to ride it for a year first. At the very least, a couple of months. By then you will have a pretty good idea of what, if anything, you would like to see changed on your ride. Remember that grips and pegs can be changed. Extensions are available for your footpeg positions, your handlebars can be raised or lowered by adding custom risers and your seat as well as your suspension, can be changed to alter your riding position or the feel of the ride itself. As for the aesthetics of your bike, those changes that render your bike your own and separate it from the rest of the herd, that is between you and your bike. But be forewarned... once you start, it's pretty hard to know when to put a halt to it... :) That's all part of the wonderful disease that is riding.

- "Can I even really learn how to ride?"

This single question has probably held back more would-be riders than any other. Notably when we're talking about women. If you ever owned or rode a bicycle when you were a kid, you can no doubt remember how cool it felt whe you mastered the mechanics of remaining upright. How surprised you were to discover that as long as the bike was moving forward, it would remain upright of it's own accord. Well, riding a motorcycle is exactly the same. It is just that easy. The only difference here, is that there is no pedaling. Instead, you simply twist the throttle. How friggin' hard is that? Remember what it was like to lean a bicycle into a corner? Well, it's exactly the same on a motorcycle.

For those who might never have ridden a bicycle at any time in their lives, first of all, welcome to Canada. Secondly, it is so easy that children can (and do...) do it. Trust me, you'll be fine. The biggest stumbling block to learning how to ride, is the refusal to believe how easy it actually is.

- "What type of gear should I wear?"

That question was seldom heard back when I was learning to ride. Truth was, there were only so many choices. You had leather, you had denim, or you had a combination of either. The leather was black and the denim was blue. Every now and then some individual would show up wearing a buckskin jacket (just like Billy - Denis Hopper in the cult-favorite "Easy Rider"...), but that was pretty much what you had to choose from. I vividly remember how Brian Powers ('Snoopy') of the Montreal chapter of Satan's Choice, wore his colours on a buckskin vest, complete with fringes and conchos. He always was a class act... may he rest in peace.

Nowadays, there is leather, faux-leather, ballistic nylon, kevlar and Gawd only knows what else. The colours available span every known hue of the rainbow. But basically, there are 2 well established camps. The Traditionalists and the Progressives, for lack of any better terms. The traditionalists believe in the wearing of dead cows exclusively. They have their own reasons for this and I'm not about to embark on any explanation. I will admit to wearing leather for a good number of years. I will also qualify that by stating that there was nothing better available at the time.

The Progressives are those riders (and not always young folks...) who are up to speed on the advances in riding apparel. They have discovered a wide range of light, comfortable and weatherproof clothes to make their riding experience more enjoyable. The synthetics are very big with those who prefer long-distance touring, due to all the benefits they provide. They come complete with CE armor at critical areas and provide superlative protection while still allowing comfort and mobility.

Leather is strong, has good abrasion resistance, it's comfy, it smells good, it has style and it creaks. It is also heavy, heavier still and cold when it's wet and hotter than Hell when the sun is beating down. In ideal weather, I have no qualms about wearing a leather jacket and/or a good set of chaps. Notably when riding a highway or interstate. Many citizens look at those wearing leather, as an outward sign of being 'tough'. If only they knew. We wear leather as a sign of admission that we're not really that tough, compared to that asphalt we might find ourselves sliding along. The leather has never been there to intimidate, it's always been there to protect us. But of course, non-riders wouldn't get that...

In extreme weather (hot or cold) conditions and rain, I would not consider wearing anything other than synthetics. Period.

Reasons: Synthetics are lighter, stronger, have a stronger abrasion resistance factor, are weatherproof, vented and offer excellent insulating properties. And yet, they are priced for the most part, cheaper than leather. Still, there are many, many people out there who are convinced that riding has become more about fashion, than actually riding. I fortunately am not one of these folks. Whatever you decide to wear, is your own prerogative. You'll also find a complete array of heated garments. Pants, jackets, gloves, socks, vests, whatever you want kept toasty warm, there's something that'll do that for you.

So what is the 'best'? That's simple... whatever works for you. Whatever your budget can afford, whatever your ego needs, whatever you deem fit to use, it's all out there for you. Here again, it's a matter of exercising your own judgement, of suiting your own tastes. There is no 'uniform' that you have to wear to fit in. Well... unless you happen to ride a certain Milwaukee-built motorcycle... :)

No comments: