Going from novice to experienced auto driver has become second-nature in the U.S. - you just take the mandatory courses offered through wherever (in my case through my own high school) and then your parents toss you the keys to their ride until you flip enough burgers to buy your own ‘93 Integra from Craigslist. Motorcycle riding and ownership is much more involved, and many potential riders may simply not know where to start. That’s where this guide comes in - as comprehensive as I can make it to take you through the entire process; to go from not riding to riding, no-holds-barred.
Topshot from ride4ever.org, a great resource for safety and enthusiasts’ information.
For having something that can fit under a tree: Nelson-Rigg SE-2055 Adventure Dry Saddle Bag: $134.99 through Motorcycle-Superstore.com
As I explained in my more casual enthusiast-oriented gift guide, a great “adventure” saddle bag is good for more than just hanging off your bike. It’s a legitimate piece of luggage or carry bag you can haul around with you away from your bike. Great for hitting the road less traveled, your favorite hiking trail, a picnic with the person who gifted it to you in the first place (hint, hint) or even for work or school.
It’s also a great way to have everything wrapped up in a gift bag presentation and slide under the tree. Not everything on this list will be able to fit, so you can simply design your own certificates or cards and print them out for inclusion inside the bag (or a smartphone or Kindle/Nook preloaded with ebooks in that specific case).
For actually learning how to ride: A Motorcycle Safety Foundation-approved riding course: ~$250 depending on local courses and availability
There’s a lot more to keeping a motorcycle on its two wheels than what you might figure worked for that old Huffy you had in your preteen years. Taking a Motorcycle Safety Foundation-approved course will teach you how to perform evasive maneuvers, be cognisant of danger and be able to do every day riding safely. Once you complete the course, you can walk down to the DMV where you may be asked to perform additional written tests and/or pay a small fee (about $25 depending on locale) in order to renew your license with an “M” stamped on it. From there, you can also take more advanced riding courses to help improve your safety and proficiency all the way up to racing courses.
Your Safety Gear
This list is meant to be representative in pricing; it’s highly advised that you visit an actual shop to be properly fitted for safety and riding gear. Safety and riding gear will only properly protect you and provide proper comfort if correctly sized and fitted.
Scorpion EXO-R710 Helmet: $209.95 as priced on Shop.ScorpionUSA.com
Much has been written on the importance of how a helmet functions, and I suggest you catch up on such reading if you haven’t already. Your helmet is your single most important piece of safety gear if for nothing else the fact that it protects the most important thing you have: your head. Although open-face helmets may be tempting for style points, it’s highly recommended you purchase a full-face helmet like the Scorpion EXO-R170. Scorpion-brand helmets are moderately-priced compared to other brands (particularly high-end helmets from Shoei and Arai) while generally offering the same amount of protection (all helmets conform to the same DOT-mandated safety standards). For extra peace of mind make sure your helmet conforms to Snell Safety Foundation standards as explained in the linked article.
Joe Rocket UFO 2.0 Textile/Mesh Motorcycle Jacket with In-Built Pads and Detachable Waterproof Liner: $219.99 MSRP
Just like a helmet protects your head, a proper jacket protects your arms and upper torso. It’s more than just an extra-thick fashion statement - it features hard pads strategically placed to protect your joints and back in the event of a crash, and has a breathable mesh so you don’t sweat to death during summer riding. Proper riding jackets are sometimes called “riding armor” and I don’t think that’s a bad mentality at all. Moreover, it’s also nice to have a removable liner to protect yourself from the rain on those long roadtrips (or even walking around the shopping district, campus or local park as an outside layer). I’ll also readily admit that the Joe Rocket UFO 2.0 is the gear I personally wear, Dunlop/NGK logos and all. It’s a great jacket that’s saved my butt on a few times and comes with decent pockets to protect your gear within your gear.
All motorcycle jacket manufacturers worth anything will offer both textile and leather jackets, depending on your preference (mine just happens to be towards textile given the lightweight and warmer climate I ride in).
Joe Rocket Ballistic 7.0 textile riding pants: $169.99 MSRP
This is why it’s a good idea to wear dedicated, protective riding pants (warning: very graphic imagery inside). If you’d rather not click on the link, protective riding pants provide superior protection against having your legs, knees and butt slide across a very rough asphalt surface. Riding jeans exist, and practically all gear manufacturers will offer them; they provide a barely-noticeable compromise between riding protection and everyday practicality. I myself just prefer the idea of dedicated heavy-duty riding textile pants. Maybe it’s just a personal perception, but whether you go with jeans or something more “hardcore” you’ll be putting your own butt in good hands in more than just a figurative sense.
Joe Rocket Survivor Full Riding Suit: $414.99 MSRP (helmet not included)
Buying a full suit is certainly an option, but not strictly necessary; and as you can see from the raw pricing it’s still a little cheaper to buy a good jacket and pants separately. The main advantage of a full suit ensemble (especially something like the Survivor) is that it offers better protection from inclement weather.
Speed & Strength Speed Strong textile gloves: $49.95 MSRP
You should be getting the picture by now: proper motorcycle riding gloves protect your hands in the same way the rest of your gear protects the rest of your body. If there was one piece of riding gear that I would say is actually more important than the rest aside from your helmet, I would say it’s decent riding gloves. Then again I’m a little biased: while I wasn’t found at fault (the other person blasting through a stop sign pretty much settled that issue), clunky gloves not ideal for riding made being able to maneauver my bike in avoidance and use my horn to try to get the driver’s attention too difficult than what it should’ve been in an accident that ended up totaling my bike. Proper riding gloves provide all the protection you need while still giving all your fingers and wrist complete freedom of movement.
Joe Rocket Meteor FX Mid Boot: $109.99 MSRP
Unless you’re going into motocross or other competitive racing, a decent mid boot should provide all the protection you need while still maintaining enough practicality for everyday wear or at least for extended excursions on foot at those rest stops. Most decent motorcycle footwear will also offer some form of water resistance and better grip on surfaces less perfect than dry pavement, making them decent for trekking through the rain or snow (say, to the mailbox) if nothing better is on-hand.
Moldex Flip-to-Listen ear plugs: $2.11 per pair from NorthernSafety.com
Even if you prefer a quiet sport bike to a Harley, wind noise is enough at 70 MPH to be annoying if not dangerous even underneath a generously padded helmet. The Moldex Flip-to-Listen ear plugs are not only washable and resuable, but the eponymous feature allows the wearer to flip them open to restore full hearing without having to remove them.
Because it’s nice to have practical knowledge in addition to experience.
Proficient Motorcycling: The Ultimate Guide to Riding Well: $13.99 on Amazon Kindle
There’s no replacement for practical teaching and field instruction, but reading up on the theory of safe motorcycle riding is still very helpful. I’ve personally found this particular book to be pretty decent at an equally decent price. Specifically aimed at the novice rider, it’s not going to instruct anyone on how to conquer track times but is great for the basic fundamentals and how to maintain safe riding while in typical urban commuter settings and heavy traffic as well as how to ride with multiple bikes in groups.
Cycle World’s The Total Motorcycling Manual: 291 Skills You Need: $24.97 through Amazon Prime
Another useful guide that’s a hodgepodge of things you need to know for your motorcycle, from riding to repair to general care and maintenance. This guide includes such tips as how to properly cool your bike, how to clean it, how to store it, what makes up your bike, how to break it in and how to become a better and safer rider. Also included are motorcycle gear tips. Again, the tips and techniques may be basic, but that’s the point: a resource for the starting and novice rider who is just getting out into the motorcycling world for the first time.
Maintaining Your Ride
You can’t exactly ride your motorcycle through a car wash. Like it or not, you’re going to have to clean it the hard way. As with a car, you can’t forget basic maintenance needs either. B Reynolds at The Perfect Line has a great list of cleaning gear that doesn’t suck; I highly suggest you check it out, and I’ll duplicate some of the important tips below. The good news is that there’s less to mind on a bike for other maintenance issues than a car - sure, you can do oil changes and other items on it yourself, but as far as I’m concerned taking it to a reputable shop is just as fine. For everything else, there’s what’s listed below.
Two buckets: $0-$30 total depending on what you already have on hand and how much you want to splurge
You need something to hold clean soapy water and something else that’s completely separate to hold dirty or “gray” water when you’re cleaning your bike. Both of these things need to hold a decent amount of water. Beyond that, it doesn’t really matter - it’s a bucket that’s going to sit in your garage or on your driveway. You can splurge to get something from Chemical Guys or Meguire’s or go down to Home Depot and find what works, or even a small or medium indoor garbage can from Walmart (provided that it’s solid) will do just fine. Chances are you already have two suitable buckets on hand anyway. I use two Leaktite 1o-quart multi-use pails that are much cheaper (I actually got both of them for free from a municipal water-saving program) and frankly much more attractive than the branded buckets the big car care companies offer.
Turtle Wax Zip Wax Car Wash soap: $5.87 through Walmart.com
As I previously explained, there’s no real excuse to not get an actual car wash soap. With a recommended usage of just one ounce per wash, this 128 ounce container should last you, um...128 wash cycles. That should last you a pretty long time for a single paper Honest Abe plus pocket change.
Meguire’s Gold Class Rich Leather Cleaner and Conditioner Wipes: $7.49 through MeguiresDirect.com
The seat of your motorcycle needs something better than just generic interior detail wipes, not so much for their own good as so much as to prevent your own butt from sliding around at 50 MPH. If your bike is going to spend any time outdoors (such as when you actually ride it), a leather cleaning and conditioning product will also help protect it from UV damage and have it looking better than something from a Craigslist ad with the header “ran when parked.”
Meguire’s PlastX Clear Plastic Cleaner and Polish: $8.99 through MeguiresDirect.com + Chemical Guys Premium Dressing, Wax and Conditioner Applicator and Glass and Window Waffle Weave Towel, $11.98 total through ChemicalGuys.com ($20.97 total)
If your motorcycle has a windshield, or you plan on fitting one to yours, this is what you’re going to use to clean it. Regular old household glass cleaners and even automotive-specific glass cleaners can actually damage your motorcycle windshield through prolonged use. Unlike the glass in your home or the safety glass of your car, your motorcycle’s windshield actually has a lot more in common with your car’s headlights, so think along those terms regarding cleaning and care. Along those lines, you can use Meguire’s Headlight Restoration Kit ($19.99 through MeguiresDirect.com) to try to bring a scratched-to-hell windshield back to life. You’ll also need an applicator pad and cleaning cloth for use with Meguire’s PlastX and only Meguire’s PlastX - reusing cloths for multiple cleaners will only result in a smudgy finish.
Oh, and the same thing applies to the clear visor on your helmet too - you can either use the same stuff from here or go with Sean’s suggestion for V2 Sponge Helmet Cleaner.
Mothers Billet Metal Polish: $13.69 through Walmart.com + Chemical Guys Yellow Workhorse Microfiber Applicator Pad Twin-Pack: $6.99 through ChemicalGuys.com ( $20.68 total)
Even the most heavily-faired and powder-coated sportbikes come with at least a few bare metal parts that will need polishing, especially alloy wheels - to say nothing of cruiser or even “standard” bikes that double as motorcycle-shaped vanity mirrors. A metal polish will not only make these parts look blindingly great, but will protect them from oxidation and other corrosion as well. Again, you’ll need separate applicator and cleaning pads in order to do a proper job, and these pads must never touch another product. The Chemical Guys Workhorse Microfiber Applicator Pad Twin-Pack should cover that need nicely.
Chemical Guys Three-Way Premium Wash Mitt: $8.79 through ChemcialGuys.com
A decent microfiber wash mitt is probably the most basic car or motorcycle cleaning tool imaginable. Think of it as the helmet of car washes - you can’t get anywhere without it. A decent mitt as opposed to a traditional chamois gives better control but a microfiber chamois will work too if for some reason that’s all you have. A decent microfiber mitt or chamois will also be machine-washable - a must considering that its whole purpose in life is to clean dirt and gunk by collecting it.
Chemical Guys Ultra-Fine Microfiber Towel Three-Pack: $5.49 through ChemicalGuys.com
You’ll also need microfiber towels to go along with your microfiber mitt, naturally. The more, the merrier in fact. This cheaply priced three-pack should be a great start. A decent microfiber towel will do as much to clean and protect your bike as your actual cleaning mitt or anything else used to clean your bike. At the very least, water spots aren’t very fun to look at and can mar all that hard work you just put in.
Mothers Tire and Wheel Brush Combo: $9.99 at AutoGeek.net
Do you know how embarrassing it is to show up at Cars & Coffee on a bike with a perfectly clean and polished tank, front forks, fenders and even engine yet sitting on dirty and muddy tires because you totally spaced out on cleaning them? Trust me, it’s kind of embarrassing. Make sure your tires match the rest of your bike with this tire and wheel brush combo. The hard bristles of the tire brush will scrub the tough sidewalls of your tires clean, while the soft bristles of the wheel brush will protect your wheel’s finish. Don’t confuse the two.
Chemical Guys Dual-Purpose Double-Ended “Toothbrush-style” Detailing Brush: $3.99 through ChemicalGuys.com
Despite having a distinct lack of interior plastic, there are still numerous areas on your bike where dirt, dust or even an excess of cleaning chemicals such as dried soap or wax can build up and be almost impossible to clean off with a simple chamois or towel. This detailing brush will let you sweep clean those hard to reach corners such as any instrument gauges recessed into your fuel tank and can pull double-duty on your car, around the house and dry-sweep dust from your keyboard or other electronics.
Simple Solutions RGB800 Grunge Brush: $10.99 through Amazon Prime
The cooling fins on your motorcycle’s engine are a magnet for dirt and smashed bugs, so you’ll need something that can get in and clean those annoying little crevices too. This double-ended brush will not only let you reach between the cooling fins but also has a specialized head for cleaning your bike chain (if so equipped) while being tough enough to scrub even the most stubborn dirt, grease and bug carcass buildup.
MotionPro Sealmate Fork Seal Cleaner: $5.65 through MotionPro.com
Imagine if you could repair your car’s suspension just by cleaning it (and not needing a lift or having to crawl under it either). That’s the basic idea of the Sealmate. After enough miles or years your bike’s fork seals will start to wear and degrade from dirt and grime alone - that is, unless you clean them regularly. The Sealmate is one of the most basic tools every rider should have in his or her under-seat toolkit.
Nelson Rigg Econo Motorcycle Cover: $29.95 through NelsonRigg.com
Protect the time you just spent cleaning your bike with a bike cover. This Nelson Rigg “Econo” cover promises a universal fit and should work on whatever small or medium-sized starter bike you first purchase.
Deltran Battery Tender Junior: $39.95 through BatteryTender.com
If you leave your bike sitting alone all winter, it will completely drain its battery to the point where it will no longer work. Ask me how I know. A plug-in battery tender - like the Battery Tender - will keep your bike fully charged during those long periods of not-riding.
Sta-bil 32oz. fuel stabilizer: $11.71 through Walmart.com
Likewise, your fuel tank needs protectant during those long winters, too. 32 ounces should last a pretty decent number of winters.
And finally, your actual ride: 2016 Honda CB300F: $3,999 MSRP + $320 destination charge ($4,319 total) or 2016 Suzuki Tu250x: $4,399 MSRP + $350 destination charge ($4,749 total)
The Honda CB300F is a 286cc single-cylinder fuel-injected(!) motorcycle that is forgiving enough for the novice rider while providing a little more power than 250cc-class “starter” bikes and the type of guaranteed factory support and 1-year warranty you won’t find on vintage bikes from Craigslist. Moreover, it’s within even modest budgets even when looking at new inventory, being not too far from half the price of a Ducati Scrambler Sixty2. It features a comfortable, upright seating position and plain-jane naked looks. It might not look very exciting, but think of it this way - at just under $4,500 you’ll likely still have enough coin left in the bank to save up for something that looks and performs better while you practice your skills. If you’re looking for a starter bike you can later either sell or keep, it’s hard to go wrong with the CB300F.
But if you insist on something that looks a little flashier, particularly one that looks like a retro “standard” bike of the 60s or 70s, the Suzuki Tu250x is still a great starter bike. With only a 249cc, single-cylinder (but still fuel injected!) engine, it lacks a little horsepower compared to the Honda but not enough to be problematic in traffic riding, and besides horsepower shouldn’t be your main concern as a novice rider. And again, it has a particular advantage over the similar-looking cafe racers on Craigslist: guaranteed factory support. Combine that with an accessible, upright riding position, a front disk brake and electric start, and the Tu250x represents a good starter buy with a little more style.
Needless to say a complete motorcycle is going to have a lot of trouble fitting into a piece of luggage designed to go on said motorcycle; one gift presentation idea is to find a high-resolution photo of an SR400, print it out using high-quality paper and ink, and frame it for insertion into the gift bag and later desk use. That way your gift recipient can stare at it while he or she isn’t riding it.
Author’s Note: An earlier version of this draft had listed the Yamaha SR400 as the recommended starter bike buy; while still a forgiving bike for the casual rider, the SR400’s manual engine kick-start does not make it an appropriate first buy for a beginning rider. Furthermore the CB300F offers similar performance at a cheaper price (you pay for those vintage looks!)
Total Cost of the “Ultimate Zero-to-Riding” Gift Basket: Approx. $6,000
Yes, that’s a lot of money. But put that into perspective: how easy is it to find even a used Hyundai Accent or Mitsubishi Mirage still on factory warranty for that price? Keep in mind that this price includes all of the necessary protective riding gear and the gear necessary to keep your bike clean. Hell, the total price is still cheaper than that Ducati Scrambler Sixty2 “entry-level” bike mentioned above by almost two grand and this price even includes a brand-new bike plus all the stuff you need with it. I’d say that’s something worth thinking over. At the very least, for the price of a cheap cruise you can cruise America’s roads instead.