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Easy Riders
Posted by: Dale Franks on Tuesday, July 01, 2008

Well, I did it last year. Now, it looks like others are joining me.
Long associated with counterculture, risk and rebellion, the motorcycle is being embraced by a growing contingent of Washington area drivers for, of all things, its practical benefits: high gas mileage and a speedier commute courtesy of the region's HOV lanes.

They're such riders as Chris Watson, an information technology worker from Alexandria who commutes by motorcycle to his job at a D.C. nonprofit organization.

"As soon as [gas] hit about $3.50, it was no longer really affordable," said Watson, 27, who recently bought a 2002 Kawasaki KLR650 for $2,600, took a rider training course and started commuting via motorcycle two weeks ago. He gets to work in as little as 15 minutes, compared with the hour it could take in his 17-miles-per-gallon Jeep Liberty, thanks to the HOV lanes on Interstate 395. His bike gets about 50 mpg.

"I love it," Watson said.
He'd love it a lot more if he was commuting on one of these:


By the way, I did the racing stripes myself.

I do expect to see a lot more of this, especially among people who aren't traditional motorcyclists. Even my bike, which is hardly an econo-cruiser like a KLR650, gets more than 40 MPG. (Well, at least it would if I didn't ride it the way I do. I encourage everyone to rode within their limits, of course.)

Motorcycle manufacturers are noticing. There are a number of new scooter models out, such as the Honda Silver Wing models, and the popular Burgman 650 from Suzuki.

They eliminate the tedious clutching and shifting in stop and go traffic with automatic transmissions. They have roomy seats, have fairly copious storage space, allowing you to take tools or whatever to work and back. Plus, with the Burgman, you've got an engine powerful enough to attract tickets, as well as save time and fuel.

A few weeks ago, on the FJR forum, one of the members told about riding into work one morning, and seeing some cat's-eye headlights coming up in his rear-view mirror. Wondering what Sportbike was about to pass he looked over in time to see a guy on a Burgman blow past him, doing 90.

I'm seeing a lot more of them here in Southern California, too. When you see them coming at you, they even give you the wave, just like a real biker.

As prices rise, there's going to be a serious untapped market that is going to start looking for something other than the trucks and SUVs they are no longer willing to drive on a daily basis. These new scooters are great for that, especially for beginners. They're easy to ride, don't require that you learn complicated clutch and foot shifting techniques, and have all-day comfort. Even the brakes work just like a bicycle.

I've also noticed that the dealerships that carry the Can-Am Spyder are literally selling them as fast as they can get them in stock.

In California, as well as a few other states, trikes don't even require a motorcycle license. With a 100HP, 1-liter Rotax engine, the Spyder still gets about 35MPG, is a total blast to ride, and the trunk in front is big enough to hide a body in. And, you don't have to worry about dropping it.

For people like me, who used to ride, getting a bike is a no-brainer. And for people who've always wanted one, fuel costs look like a good excuse to start riding.

And, maybe if there are more of us on the road, passenger car drivers will actually start looking for us.

A friendly work of advice, however. Don't get a bike unless you go to the Motorcycle Safety Foundation's beginner's course first. And don't even think of getting a bike like mine if you haven't ridden before. You stand a very good chance of killing yourself in the first 30 days. A 150hp Sportbike is not a good first choice.

If you are thinking about a motorcycle, don't see yourself on a scooter, even one as powerful as a Burgman, and you won't be doing any highway driving on your commute, think about looking at a Buell Blast first. Otherwise, the Kawasaki Versys is an excellent choice for those who don't live in CA, where it isn't available. In California, you might was to look at a KLR650

For a beginner biker, however, I suggest you stay away from Harley Davidson. Don't let anyone fool you, HD doesn't make a beginner level bike. First, they are all heavy. My Sportster weighed as much as my FJR does. When 600+ pounds of motorcycle starts to go over, your window of stopping it is extremely narrow. And they require that you really, really know how to handle them in curves. They aren't particularly fast, but they aren't forgiving motorcycles at all. Trust me. You'd be far better off on a Buell XB model if you absolutely have to prove you're a real man by getting a 1200cc bike. They're way more maneuverable and forgiving than a Harley, and they won't try nearly as hard to kill you in a curve.

And, of course, for a beginner, under no circumstances should you buy a motorcycle whose model name starts with CBR, YZF, ZX, or GSX-R. 0-100 in three seconds sounds really cool, until you actually do it for the first time. Wheelies look fun, too, until that front wheel comes of the ground without your even trying when you pull away from a red light.

Stay with a standard bike or cruiser in the 500-650cc range as a first bike. You've got plenty of time to get a Harley or Hayabusa later, when you know what you're doing. The starter bikes are relatively inexpensive, and once you've outgrown them, you can usually get a decent price for them.

Finally, there's the gear. Now, look, I'm not your mom. You wanna wear a t-shirt and fingerless gloves with a half-helmet, you go right ahead. It's your skin, after all. If you want to leave great swathes of it on the pavement, be my guest. I recommend the following, however:

A full-face or modular helmet: Remember two things: 1) 20% of motorcycle accidents incur an impact to the area of the lower face. 2) Chicks dig guys with chins. Also, remember this: When you're crusing down the highway at 80 MPH, and the truck in front of you throws a 1/2-inch rock into your face...that's gonna hurt.

An armored jacket: Leather is best, but it's expensive and hot as fire in the summer. There are some very good armored jackets in both textile and mesh. Armor is important. Hard armor for shoulders and elbows is good. A good summer mesh jacket is the Pilot Air Mesh. It has soft back armor, and combo hard/soft armor for shoulders, elbows, and forearms. For leather or textile, Tourmaster/Cortech have a fantastic line of products for very reasonable prices.

Riding pants: Assless leather chaps are OK I guess, but Tourmaster/Cortech make really good armored riding pants with hard knee armor and soft hip armor, either as outerpants in textile, leather or mesh, or actual riding denim pants with built-in armor.

Over the ankle boots: No tennis shoes, or low shoes. Protect those feet and legs. Your feet are right next to the engine, and the engine and exhaust are very hot.

Gloves: Hands down, Triumph Roadster gloves. They're all leather, with vented Keprotech armor for the knuckles.

That having been said, I see a guy every day on my ride home, who toodles around on his Ninja in shorts, sandals, and a t-shirt, wearing an open-face 3/4 helmet.

That's one confident SOB.
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Previous Comments to this Post 

I’ve been agitating for a bike for as long as I can remember, but the wife is dead-set against the idea. I’m pretty sure if I can get her on one — just once — she’ll change her mind. Maybe the price of gas will be the tipping point.

It’s going to make dropping the kids off at school a bit more difficult though ...
Written By: MichaelW
I bought my first and only bike decades ago: a slightly used Kawasaki 650 SR.

I still have it because my wife refuses to let me upgrade. She actually tries to get me to sell it, but there’s no way I’m getting rid of it. I love looking at the Buells, but there’s no way I’ll ever be able to get another bike while my wife is alive (and yes I prefer my wife remain alive — even if it means no Buell).

I don’t usually brag about it because it’s not "manly" in a big-bike sense, but it’s great to ride through the countryside. I was pleased to see that Dale is a Kawasaki fan for the less manly among us!
Written By: JWG
URL: http://
Actually, I’m not that big a fan of Kawasaki in general. They just happen to have two models that are very good beginner bikes. The Versys especially is, by all accounts, a home run from Team Green.

Unfortunately, Kawi has...ahem...some quality control issues with several models, including the Big Ninja and the new Connie.

For the KLR and Versys, it’s really a process of elimination. Triumph, and HD don’t even have any beginner bikes, except maybe the Triumph America. Honda has the VLX, but I don’t like it. And the Suzuki SV650s have uncomfortable ergos. And they’re ugly. Yamaha motorcycles are all sportbikes, and the of the Star Bikes—which Yami is pushing as a separate brand, only the V-Star and V-Star classic are beginner suitable. And they’re cruisers, so they’re a bit heavy and unwieldy at parking lot speeds.

So, Kawi tops the list for beginner bikes. The two models are light, very maneuverable, easy to ride, and forgiving. I think the Buell Blast beats them both for ease and inspiring confidence, but it’s very difficult to convince the average man to start off on a thumper.
Written By: Dale Franks
and the trunk in front is big enough to hide a body in.
That’s what I like about you, Dale...

Always so practical... :)
Written By: Scott Jacobs
URL: http://
You can also check out the Suzuki V-Strom 650. At 6’4" I found sitting on it comfortable, although that’s only in the dealership since they don’t give out test rides.

The Triumph Bonneville and T100 would be their "low end" offering, although they all have the same engine with small variations in tuning. It may be 865cc but it only has 50-66 HP. Also a comfortable bike for me. And you can’t beat the classic looks.

There are more small-midsized bikes out there, don’t let one persons opinion of looks hang you up on it.

There’s also a big used bike market out there, but I’d stay away from anything that needs work, or looks abused.
Written By: Keith_Indy
Actually, I’m not that big a fan of Kawasaki in general. They just happen to have two models that are very good beginner bikes.
They have more than that. The 250 Ninja is the classic beginners bike and the new 250 is even better than the old one. The 500 and 650 Ninjas are also fairly well behaved and have been recommended for new riders. Just don’t buy any of the supersport bikes (or the ZZR) without prior experience. If you do then they’ll be cleaning bits of you off the asphalt shortly.
That having been said, I see a guy every day on my ride home, who toodles around on his Ninja in shorts, sandals, and a t-shirt, wearing an open-face 3/4 helmet.

That’s one confident SOB.
Confident is not the word I’d use. Perhaps arrogant or foolish. Half of all multi-vehicle motorcycle accidents are caused by the other guy. Even if you’re confident you won’t screw up, you can’t be confident that everyone around you won’t screw up badly enough to cause you problems. Either he didn’t think of that or he thinks his skills are such that he can handle anything.

But those folks are everywhere. I saw a pack of middle-aged RUBs over the weekend wearing jean-shorts, t-shirts or tanks, low cut sneakers, and skid lids. Husbands and wives on the pillion were dressed like this. If you’ve got the money for an expensive bike, you’ve got the money for proper warm weather gear.
Written By: Jeff the Baptist
One of the things I have noticed as a rider is that the majority of scooter riding folks havent grasped that despite it being a scooter, it is still a motorcycle-like. And by that I mean riding in flip-flops, shorts and a t-shirt without a helmet. I guess the money they are saving on gas can go to skin grafts.

I wear a Vanson perforated jacket, and like you said, it is hot as blazes, particularly when stopped. And with Kansas humidity it get a little, well, gooey as well.

The Suzuki Bandit is not a bad little starter bike. I stared out on one baaaaack in the day and it was a nice little bike.
Written By: JamesT
URL: http://
I need to a) move someplace where I can ride year-round and b) get a bike.

Well, I should get my liscence back first, but details details...
Written By: Scott Jacobs
URL: http://
Half of all multi-vehicle motorcycle accidents are caused by the other guy.
Shortly after getting his 2003 Harley soft-tail (such a lovely bike, but heavy as blazes), my father was riding around northern Illinois (he grew up there, was visiting family, and was just taking the bike for a spin), and almost got hit head-on by a 4-door sedan.

His options were a) hit the guy or b) lay it down.

Now while my dad hadn’t riden in a while (first bike in at least 20+ years), he was a rider back in his youth, and was quite good. He laid it down easily enough, and rolled exactly like you should.

Problem was, he was wearing khaki shorts, tennis shoes, and a t-shirt (plus a full helmet). On a country road.

The road rash was, shall we say, impressive. He had a limp for at least a couple of weeks, and scabs for longer...

It actually tore his back pocket to the point his wallet came out.

After that, he was in good, sturdy jeans, boots, and a leather jacket every single time.
Written By: Scott Jacobs
URL: http://
One of the things I have noticed as a rider is that the majority of scooter riding folks haven’t grasped that despite it being a scooter, it is still a motorcycle-like.
Scooters sometimes fit into weird legislative loopholes as well. Where I work, bicycle and motorcycle helmets are mandatory. However scooters below a given displacement are neither and have no law of their own. You see people on scooters wearing ballcaps passing bicyclists with helmets and gloves all the time.
Written By: Jeff the Baptist
"That’s one confident SOB."

That’s one foolish SOB. I cringe to see those kids in t-shirts and flip flops on the bikes.
I bought my first bike last April. My BMW F650GS gets 65 mpg!!
Written By: Tim M
URL: http://
You can also check out the Suzuki V-Strom 650.
The only thing about the Stroms, which have a fanatical following, is thier height. I think most beginners want to be able to flat-foot easily, and the Stroms are tall. That affects confidence. It might be a very good choice for a taller rider, though.

I can’t think of a single bad thing to say about them. People who have them, absolutely love them.
Written By: Dale Franks
Tim... Link to the bike?
Written By: Scott Jacobs
URL: http://
Written By: Keith_Indy
Ooo... Me likey...
Written By: Scott Jacobs
URL: http://
Bit pricey for a thumper, though. A KLR650 is half the price.

A buell blast costs $3,000 less. And the Buell is probably a better street bike than either the GS or the KLR, unless you really need the dual-sport capability.
Written By: Dale Franks
Damn, you people are serious pussies! I’ve been riding most of my life starting in the early 60’s. 1 broken bone and some very serious roadrash. Armour and helmets to ride. You might as well get a car, or what the hell, ride the train. Why not just walk, I hear that is fairly safe. Your advise for beginners is great. As far as I am concerned, you are a beginner until the first time you go down. After that we will see who you really are. There is a difference between bikers and motorcycle enthusiasts. Being a biker is a lifestyle, everyone else is an enthusiast. More riders on the road won’t make you any safer. Paying attention will. Learn to read the drivers of the cars around you in traffic. After 3 or 4 car drivers have run you out of a lane, just because they wanted to be where you are, you get better at reading who will and who won’t. For anyone interested in a classic bike (fast cruiser) I ride a Honda V45 Magna. Again, not a beginner bike, but a hell of a bike. If your primary interest is in saving money on fuel costs, buy a hybrid. You’ll be safer and you wife and kids will be happier.
Written By: Paden Cash
URL: http://
Few years back, deciding I needed a bigger bike, picked up a Kawasaki Vulcan 750 used. It’s been a great bike. Big enough to cruise comfortably at 75 mile after mile(I did replace the seat: the factory one was designed by some bastard who hated the customers), small/light enough(compared to a lot of ’cruisers’) to be easy to handle in traffic and parking, and very reliable.

If Honda still makes it, their Rebel 250 is a good one, too. I had one for years, son worked for it when I upgraded, he rode it until he sold it a couple of years later.

Here in Oklahoma City, we’ve got scooters all over the place; at times you wonder if we could spray for them.
Written By: Firehand
I bought my first bike in Oct. 06, a 2004 Kawasaki Vulcan 800 Classic, for $3500. Some people told me it was too big for a first-timer bike, but I haven’t had any problems handling it and absolutely love it. My neighbors probably don’t like it so much when I go to work at 6am, though...

Firehand, you are right on the money as to the seat. I don’t usually ride it for more than 40 miles or so at a time so I have yet to replace the factory seat, but after those 40 miles the rear is not feeling so well. Right now my bike money has been going toward buying tools needed to split the case and replace second gear. It is fairly intimidating, but I’m looking forward to tearing the engine apart. No second gear around town can be a real pain.

Written By: Nathan
URL: http://
Paden Cash:

As long as my taxes don’t have to pay for your hospital stay or long term care, ride however you like. And I will ride however I like, armor and all.
Written By: JamesT
URL: http://

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