Cars are expensive – to buy and to operate. But bikes (and scooters) are inexpensive to buy and keep up. Most of them get much better gas mileage (50-plus MPGs) than the best hybrid or diesel-powered cars, too. And you can park them almost anywhere a bicycle would fit – so they’re ideal for city dwellers or people who don’t have garage space to spare.
But there are some things you should be aware of before you buy a bike (or scooter):
* Motorcycles (and scooters) take more skill and involvement to operate than a car. You need to be able to balance and (in the case of motorcycles) shift gears and work a clutch.
* A two-wheeled (single track) vehicle like a motorcycle or a scooter turns by a combination of steering and leaning. A car turns by steering only. It takes time and experience to master the different handling techniques necessary to safely operate a bike or scooter.
* In all modern cars, depressing the brake pedal automatically engages the front and rear brakes simultaneously and in the appropriate proportion. On most bikes, the front and rear brakes are not linked; they’re controlled individually – and separately. The rider must learn to apply the front and rear brakes in the right proportion via manual control of the levers, one for the front brake, the other for the rear. Like learning to lean to steer and maintain balance, this is a new skill to learn that’s essential to master in order to be a safe rider.
* In most states, a separate “M” endorsement on your driver’s license is necessary to legally operate a motorcycle on public roads. as a general rule, you must pass a separate knowledge and skills test that’s different from the test you have to pass to get a driver’s license. New riders usually must also first obtain a Learner’s Permit that limits their riding to daytime hours for a set period of time, typically a couple of months. You may or may not need to get an “M” endorsement if you plan to ride a scooter or moped only; it depends on the laws in your state and on such things as the size (and top speed capability) of the scooter or moped. As a rule, if it can go faster than about 35 mph, you will probably need to get the “M” endorsement. Check with your state DMV to be sure.
Most beginner motorcycles are in the 250 CC range because that’s enough power to deal with normal street driving (even limited highway use) without being too powerful for a novice.
However, a problem with these bikes is that most riders will very quickly outgrow them, which means they’re stuck with a bike they no longer want just a matter of months after having bought it.
I recommend new riders start with a dual-sport (street/off-road) motorcycle in the 250 CC range, or a dirt bike in the 200-250 cc range. I think they’re even better to learn on – because you can learn on grass/dirt rather than pavement (better for your body; better for the bike if you drop it) and also because you won’t outgrow it. Dual-sport/dirt bikes are lots of fun and it’s always nice to have one around. You can get yourself a bigger bike for street riding, but when you want to explore trails and so on, you’ve still got a bike for that.
Plus, the dirt/dual-sport won’t lose most of its value a year after you bought it, as a beginner street bike will.
Look for a used one; you should have no trouble finding a good one for under $2,000.
But, before you buy a bike, sign up for the Motorcycle Safety Foundation’s rider course. These are excellent, cost very little – and you get to use their bikes (usually a bike such as the ones I’ve mentioned above). MSF courses are held in every major city; here’s a link to the MSF web site, where you can find details about classes in your area: http://nm.msf-usa.org/msf/ridercourses.aspx
The class will get you up and running; teach you all the basics of operation/safety – and usually (most states) qualify you for your motorcycle learner’s permit. Then, you’ll be ready to start riding your own bike!
Things to consider –
* Motorcycles and scooters are inherently more dangerous than cars as far as being able to protect you in the event of a crash. Safe riding practices can lower the chances you’ll be the cause of a wreck, but you can’t control other drivers (who are often oblivious to motorcycles and scooters) or random things like an animal suddenly running in front of you (or into you).
* If you ride a motorcycle or scooter, you should invest in protective riding gear, including a jacket (ideally, with with armored inserts) gloves and boots – in addition to a helmet (which is mandatory in most states). Don’t ride a bike – or even a scooter – while wearing just shorts and a T-shirt.
* Motorcycles and scooters are more vulnerable to (and less adept in) bad weather than cars. They are especially vulnerable to dangerous skids/loss of control on wet/slick roads. A car has four contact patches and if it hits some ice, it may slide. But a bike has only two (and much smaller) contact patches and if it hits some ice, it is much more likely to skid right off the road or “drop” suddenly onto the pavement. Sand and gravel on the road during the winter months are also unique threats to bikes and scooters that cars generally don’t have to worry about.
* Bikes and scooters generally don’t last as long as today’s cars – which with decent care can easily go 200,000-plus miles before needing major work. A bike will typically be tired by 100,000 miles. And certain items often require more frequent maintenance (such as valve adjustments, which may be be necessary as often as once every 10,000 miles or so). Tires almost always wear out much faster (on some types of bikes, such as sport bikes, in as little as three or four thousand miles or even less) because they have to work much harder than car tires.
On the upside, riding a motorcycle or scooter is fun – and with gas mileage that’s typically between 45 and 60 mpg (depending on the type of bike/scooter) it’s inexpensive fun, too.
Probably the smartest option, if saving money is the goal, is to buy the bike or scooter and use it when the weather’s nice and you don’t need to carry either people or stuff – keeping your car as back-up for rainy days, winter driving and when you do need to carry people or stuff.
This way, you cut down the mileage you put on your car, extending its useful life and decreasing your maintenance while also lowering your annual fuel costs.
Now, to tell the wife!