If the record-setting heat is any hint, summer is on its way. And with summer comes motorcycles. I’m entering my 29th year of riding street bikes and couldn’t be happier. I’m always happy to encourage others to jump into this lifestyle that really is like no other.
If you’re a beginner, let’s take first things first: get your license. Getting a motorcycle license is supremely important, as the way a rider learns about street bikes tends to lay a foundation for how they’ll ride. Growing up out in Oyen, my options were limited, but readers of The Pipestone Flyer are luckier. Motorcycle training courses are available for reasonable fees nearby.
I know what some of you are thinking: “I ride dirt bikes, I can ride a street bike.” Dirt biking is not street riding. Yes, I admit you likely have most of the skills necessary to operate the bike, but street or sport biking involves intersections and traffic that couldn’t care less about you. And landing on pavement at 60 km/hr is different than landing on sand at 15 km/hr.
Okay, so now you have your license and a sound skill basis. Now you need a bike. What type do you want? Style is up to you: sport is high-speed and flashy, cruiser is straight and steady, while adventure is a sport bike and dirt bike hybrid. There are also three-wheel options too, meaning you have hundreds of bikes to choose from.
When you’re new to cycling, start small. Smaller bikes tend to be affordable and easy to control. I started on a 1982 Honda CM450a, perfect for beginners. For a sport or adventure bike, a 250 or 300 cubic inch engine is a good starting point while with a cruiser it looks like roughly 500 to 750cc seems to be popular. Plus the smaller the engine, the cheaper your insurance.
Second hand bikes are an option, but from my experience people who own motorcycles tend to value them much more than they’re actually worth. Last summer I was in the market for a bike and looked at a number of used bikes online; brand new bikes were in the same price range. If you buy second-hand, a good indicator of the bike’s condition tends to be how many kilometers it has. A few years ago I bought a 1983 Honda Sabre with 70,000 kms on it. The bike lasted one year and broke down permanently. Generally, a bike with under 20,000 kms should be in excellent shape, above 40,000 may need work.
Remember, pick a style of bike you are physically comfortable with. If you’re on your tippy toes when standing still, the bike may be too tall for you. A final note: before you buy a bike, think about how you’re going to store it next winter. It’s best if the bike can be sheltered from the elements. Garages are always best.
You need protection. Helmet, a jacket and gloves are mandatory for street riding. Wonder why? Do a search on Youtube for “road rash.” Equipment doesn’t need to be expensive; You can find a good helmet, jacket and gloves for $300 if you’re motivated. If you can afford riding pants, buy them too.
Now you’re ready to roll. Where to go? For beginners, it’s probably best to stick close to home on simple roads with less traffic and stay away from gravel. Riding on some of the county paved roads gives valuable experience because secondary highways have lighter traffic, but remember the secondaries also tend to have narrow or no shoulders. When you get a bit of experience, then move up to busier highways. In town, remember to watch your speed, keep an eye on traffic ahead of you, shoulder check and use your signal lights.
Oh, one more thing. Riders, when they see each other on the road, wave at each other. Except the Harley guys. They only wave at other Harley guys.
Whatever. Suit yourself.
Stu Salkeld is the new editor of the Leduc/Wetaskiwin Pipestone Flyer and writes a regular column for the paper.