The Moto that Got Away

After getting a motorcycle license, a new moto-er still has to find their first moto. This entails doing some research, knowing what you want, and buying a motorcycle that is appropriate for your wallet and skill level.

I could spend all my time and turn this post into one of those “top 10 beginner motorcycles” kind of bullshit post, but I won’t. I’ll instead, share some musings from my early moto (and also now moto) days that will hopefully organize your moto purchasing process. You’re going to ask yourself three questions.

At this moment in time, given your life circumstances, what kind of moto does your gut tell you that you want?

Your gut, for the most part, factors in the “how cool is the moto you want” sort of feeling. That’s basically a catch-all phrase to describe personal preference (e.g “your moto is fugly, but mine is awesome.”). The rest is a bunch of general specifications that vary in the degree of compromise you’re willing to give or take. Some of these include:

  1. the weight
  2. the comfort and fit
  3. gas mileage
  4. exhaust noise
  5. reliability
  6. parts availability (yes, shit breaks)
  7. how much it costs.

I’d like to emphasize that regardless, you better at least LIKE your moto, and that it’s COMFORTABLE for what you’re going do with it. Establish YOUR ideal moto situation, and it minimizes the awkwardness of a new moto experience.

The moto is only as dangerous as you are … so, how responsible and respectful are you?

Don’t deny it. You just started moto-ing. You are a LEARNER (I am too, and forever will be). Even after 5 years of moto-ing, digesting a ton of cornering resources, practicing randomly on Muholland Drive in Los Angeles, and commuting to and from work in the Bay Area, I know I can be better.

I want the smoothest upshifts and downshifts. I want to rev-match perfectly. I want to understand trail-braking on the track and use every last bit of traction. I want to be superb at emergency stops, swerves, and reading the traffic ahead of me. I want to understand my body position so I don’t low/high side. I want to be loose and relaxed. No joke, moto-ing well takes time.

I am not saying you must start on a 250. You can start on whatever you want to start on because I cannot tell you what to do. But, if I were in your position, the 250cc class of motos are light, forgiving, and have coarser throttle response. When you’re a learner, your senses, reactions, and abilities are not fine-tuned yet. It only makes sense that you start off with a moto that can compensate for those abilities, no?

Think of it on this spectrum - you can…

I understand that there is an element of bias (because I started on a 250) and that I’m instilling horrific images of people crashing supersports. However, I’m not totally wrong. Large motos and supersports are no joke. They have ALOT of power. The friction zone on clutching out is smaller. The brakes are sensitive as shit. For every fraction of an inch of throttle, you get more torque than what you know what to do with. Because of this, moto-ing requires precise movements. Learners have a low probability of having those precise movements.

That being said, get what you want - with the understanding that you must be brutally-fucking-honest with yourself. I would put my money on a responsible, level-headed learner on a 675cc moto than a reckless hooligan on a 250cc moto. It’s about not over-estimating your abilities, having a certain humbleness about yourself, practicing safely, and respecting the power that you’re sitting on. The minute you forget or lose that respect, you will get injured, regardless of how any CCs you’re on.

Is the moto and the cost of decent gear in your budget?

Obviously, unless you want a crap ton of debt, you shouldn’t spend money you don’t have. Make sure the moto you want isn’t the next hovercraft from 2050. If you don’t have any money for any gear except the helmet, I highly recommend that you not moto in the streets (i.e, stick to parking lot practice) until you can afford additional gear.

Most learners are solely focused on the moto. They forget that the person operating the moto is far more valuable. And because you’re valuable (yes, you), you need to protect yourself - this is more important than “looking cool” or “getting that girl” - trust me.

I recommend being armored and covered from head to toe (although I was not when I first started - DO NOT take this as evidence that you can too). I’ll give you a rundown of the gear I wore back then, and what I wear today as examples.

Back then:

  1. Shoei Qwest Helmet ($330)
  2. Alpinestars Royal Drystar Jacket ($250)
  3. Alpinestars SP-8 Gloves ($90)
  4. Earplugs - pack of 200 ($15)
  5. My brain (priceless)

Now:

  1. Shoei RF-1200 Helmet + Photochromic Visor ($600)
  2. Alpinestars Royal Drystar Jacket ($250)
  3. Alpinestars BioArmor - chest, shoulders, elbows ($80)
  4. Forcefield Back Protector L2K Evo ($200)
  5. Helimot HI5 Gloves - ($300)
  6. Tourmaster Overpants - ($150)
  7. Forcefield Armor - hips, knees ($80)
  8. Alpinestars SMX Plus Goretex boots ($350)
  9. Olympia Rain Jacket & Pants ($150) for rainy days
  10. Reflective vest ($6)
  11. Earplugs - pack of 200 ($15)
  12. My brain (more experienced, more priceless)

Right now, all my gear combined is worth ~$2,000 (and/or priceless, if you factor in that pretty brain). And not to frighten you, but if you want to do trackdays, feel free to add another $2,000 or so for tracksuits, track gear, and miscellaneous costs. As you can see, protection adds up. It sucks, I know, but it is important.

Think of it this way. You can build your moto-ing skills. You can be a super-proficient moto-er in traffic. You can speed up, quick stop, swerve, dodge, corner, and identify potent road hazards. You can be the best damn moto-er in your local area. But you can’t prevent the texting drivers, the clueless lane switchers, and red-light running assholes that can mess your shit up. That is why I gear the fuck up. That money spent is essentially life insurance, the only buffer zone from a costly hospital visit or death.

You’re probably thinking to yourself, “how much can I get away with?” I cannot with a clear conscience tell you what you can get away with. I cannot predict if you’ll smash your head, slide on your butt, have your ankle pinned under a sliding motorcycle, have your shins slam into a pole, lose your hearing over time, or tumble head over heels on the freeway while grabbing at pavement. No one piece of gear will protect you in any specific situation, and you can’t predict when you will need a particular piece of gear. So wear it all.

Above all, your brain is the biggest piece of gear. You are the risk-taker. You decide how responsible or careless you will be on a moto. You can wear the best gear available to mankind, but nothing will save you from poor decisions. Wearing gear doesn’t mean you can let the throttle rip and lane split at 150 mph. Gear is to protect you, not a substitute for using good judgment.

There are ways to find great deals and still get a good amount of protection. You can buy used gear (just not used helmets, please), but it’s up to you to be smart about how that gear was treated and cared for, and if it was ever crashed in. Read reviews, ask good questions from sellers, and look out for yourself. Quality and honesty first.