Choosing my first motorcycle was not easy but it was exciting.
My only experience until then was riding a 250cc cruiser type bike in the safety course I attended prior to getting a license. It was nothing like the Honda Valkyrie pictured to the left. That is the kind of bike most riders grow into after gaining some experience on something smaller and lighter. I understand why they start you off on a small bike, its easier to balance because it’s lighter, and they are a little more forgiving if you tend to be a bit quick with the throttle.
Doing The Homework
I did a lot of research, reading magazines, talking on the boards online, talking to my instructors, sales people and anyone that would listen that had an opinion. I was pleasantly surprised by how friendly and helpful most people were with their advice. Even the sales staff, who are obviously interested in making a sale. Fortunately, the ones I came across probably knew I would be back in a few years for something bigger and wanted me to be safe and have a good fit so they steered me in the right direction most of the time.
The very first bike I sat on that I was interested in purchasing was a Yamaha Vstar 650 Custom Cruiser. I liked how it looked and liked how it felt sitting on it in the show room. My feet touched the ground flat footed and I was able to bring it off the kickstand into riding position without too much effort. I had someone hold the front of the bike so I could put both feet up and feel how the riding position would be, how close the handlebars are to my body, if it was easy to shift and brake etc. I could do a full turn on the handlebars without having to lean forward. It felt good.
Try As Many As You Can
For the next week I sat on every other bike for sale in a 100 mile radius—or so it seemed. Because I have small hands I was particularly concerned with brake and clutch levers. Some clutch levers are really a stretch for me to grasp. Some bikes I would get on and immediately know it was not for me. Usually the reason was that it was too tall and wide and too heavy. With some the seat would dig into my thigh and even in riding position it just was not comfortable.
If I found a bike I liked but was not quite right for me I discussed ways I could adjust it to suit me. Some offered very little or no adjustment options and others were designed more in favor of some tweaking.
The first few days I had eliminated the 125 and 250 cruiser types. I think they would have been ok for a few weeks but I felt I would out grow it very fast and it just plain wasn’t what I wanted. I felt it was too small. I am not a very big person, 5’5” and 135 lbs with a 32” inseam. Most cruiser type bikes are low enough but some are much wider then others and are a bit uncomfortable.
My concerns about power were not that I would get something too powerful for me to handle, but rather not enough for hills and highways. From my years of riding horses I have very soft hands and I am not likely to twist the throttle too hard but it is a consideration. My thoughts are that if I am a beginner my brain and body need to learn things and I am likely to make mistakes, so make them on something that might be a bit more forgiving. The power offered by the 650cc v twin seemed about right to me, so anything in that range I felt would meet my needs for several years to come.
Another thing to consider is how easy is the bike to maneuver in tight parking places, how wide a path do I need to turn, can I push it easily if I have to etc. It seemed to fit the bill in that area fairly well. Not as easy as the 250 but everything is a compromise.
Cruiser or Sport?
I even tried a few sport bikes but did not seriously consider it as a possible first bike. I liked how light they were, but the riding position intimidated me a bit and most were a tad too tall for me. I could put my toes on the ground but I wanted flat feet to feel more confident. I am now looking for sport bike after 4 years but that’s another story for another article.
I pretty much knew from day one I wanted a cruiser so that helped a bit, I could walk past the sport tours, the big touring Goldwing types, the Hayabusas, dirt bikes and naked bikes. I did sit on them though and I am glad I did. Even back then I can say I loved motorcycles, all of them, I just realize that not all of them will make me happy. The picture to the left is me on a Hayabusa and I am getting closer to riding one of these all the time, but I have to be patient and I am not quite there yet.
So now that I narrowed it down to a cruiser type bike in the 650 class, somewhere around 550 lbs, give or take, I could start researching brands, reliability etc. I never planned on taking a passenger unless and until I had a lot more experience so I did not worry about passenger comfort at all. I think many manufacturers put a passenger seat on as an afterthought anyway and unless you really want to torture your riding companion you won’t take them farther then a block.
Patience Pays Off – Narrow Your Choices
So back I go on my rounds of the local dealers. At least now I know the type and size I want. Price was not the biggest thing for me but certainly important and of course I take that into consideration. But dealing and making the sale was the last step in my plan. Now I started sitting on the potential bikes without as much distraction and with a more critical eye. Some bikes seemed much better balanced then others just because of the way they are designed. Today as I have progressed to larger bikes I notice this even more and the heavier the bike is the more important it is to me that it be balanced the way I like.
All of the bikes I was considering were similar and I narrowed it down to a Honda Shadow or a Yamaha VStar. The dealer made the difference for me and I got a bit of a better deal on the Yamaha and went with it. Coincidentally it was the very first bike I ever sat on, I was drawn to the look of it and when I sat on it, well it felt “right”. My instincts were right on and in hindsight I can see I made the best choice for me at the time. I have ridden that bike for four seasons now and although I am looking for something bigger in the cruiser class and something totally different in a sport bike, I cannot imagine selling the 650. I simply love her.
Trust Your Instincts
A word of caution about well intentioned friends. A quick story about a woman I knew that was shopping for her first bike. She had narrowed her choices to two and was about to make a decision on a new bike. A friend saw a bike for sale that he thought was perfect for her and excitedly told her all about it. It was obvious this was HIS dream bike, not hers and HE could not afford to buy it for himself. She thought it was nice but way too big for her first bike. He told her it was twice the bike she was considering buying for just a bit more. It was used and her choice was new. He told her how cool would it be for a girl to come riding up on this beautiful bike. She was very very skeptical. Yes he was right, it was twice as big and probably a good deal. But he ignored the fact that it was not the right bike for HER. Long story short, she bought it, dropped it twice, it terrified her and she was so put off and financially drained that she did not ride at all that season. Last I heard she sold it, at a loss and has not decided if she will even buy a bike now. What a shame! Just remember that some big gorgeous custom might make you look good in your fantasy but when you fall over at bike night and see your dream scraped and dented its not so pretty. Always ride within your means. Be sensible and you will gain experience, have fun and who knows you may be on that dream bike sooner then you think. And do what is right for you. I listened to everyone that offered advice and appreciated it, but in the end I had to decide what was best for me. Trust your gut, it is usually right.