A lot of people I’ve spoken to, male and female, have had fantasies to own a motorcycle… or… they used to own one, sold it when they got married and would now like another one. “I wish I’d never sold it”. They obviously don’t know, or have forgotten, about gravel rash, broken bones and a sore backside – yet still want to know how go about it.
If you are coming back to riding, do a rider training course. Bikes are a lot better – and more powerful – than that BSA Bantam you owned when you were younger.
For those who’ve never ridden before, unless you want to ride on private property, you need a licence. In Queensland, one option is the ‘Q-Ride’ licensing system. This comprises a basic course and allows a licensed car driver to obtain a limited motorcycle licence, usually within one or two days. It is a competency based system and assessed by qualified Q-Ride providers.
The other option (in Queensland) is to spend six months on a learner’s permit, trying to glean knowledge from a licensed rider who must accompany you at all times, and then pass a prescribed licence test. If you choose this method, you may have to try and keep up with younger and faster riders to stay within sight. My advice is to do the Q-Ride course. Most people who teach their mates to ride also teach them bad habits.
In some other states, riders have to do a competency test before they are allowed out on the road, but at least they don’t have to be accompanied once they have their learners.
As a learner and novice rider, there are restrictions – although some states vary in their application. In most cases, new riders are limited to a 600cc machine and each state has its own list of learner approved bikes. Some of the small, sportier bikes are excluded from the list – generally because they are too powerful (as in power to weight ratio).
So how do you pick a machine that is right for you?
The first question is ‘What sort of riding do you want to do?’ Are you interested in mainly dirt, bitumen or a combination of both?
How tall are you? This is important in two aspects – seat height and leg length. The seat may be the right height but it may be too wide to get your feet on the ground comfortably. If the road has a steep camber, the last few centimetres can feel like a metre, usually with embarrassing, painful or expensive consequences, or a combination of the above when you can’t get your foot down – don’t ask me how I know. Similarly, gravel or wet grass doesn’t provide a lot of grip if you can only get your toes onto the ground – don’t ask me about that either. Most dirt bikes and adventure tourers are tall.
Do you want to tour for days on end? Two aspects apply in this instance as well. The first one being to develop a rider’s posterior – in other words your bum can get sore quickly so seat comfort is obviously an important factor. The other aspect is size of the fuel tank. If it’s 300 km between service stations and you’ve only got a 250 km range, it’s a long way to push.
Most cruisers have low seats, wide bars and footpegs or footboards forward of the rider’s backside resulting in an upright or leant back position.
‘Naked bikes’ (bikes without fairings) and adventure tourers have footpegs further back and there’s generally a slight lean forward to the handlebars.
Sports bikes have either a racing crouch or a semi-crouch position. The footpegs are mounted much further back, the bars are either low or ‘clip-ons’ and the position is most definitely leant forward.
The riding position on tourers may be a compromise between cruiser and naked bikes.
OK, I’ve decided what type of bike I want, what’s right for me?
How do I choose?
My advice is to go to as many bike shops as you can and sit on the bikes in the showroom. Remember that salesmen are there to sell you one of their bikes and will tell you everything they think you want to hear to ‘assist’ you choose one of theirs (my son was a bike salesman). You’ll be able to check seat height and the seat/bar/peg relationship – essential for comfort. Find the bike that fits – but wait – there’s more! Remember that this is your ‘learner bike’ so don’t be in too much of a hurry to buy a machine with a fairing. Reason? Many people drop their bike in the first few months of ownership and fairings are VERY expensive. Similarly, don’t overlook second hand machines as a learner bike.
Helmets and safety gear are important. All helmets sold in Australia are approved to one or more standards. A jacket and pants are recommended but one thing I think is very important is a good set of gloves. Would you try and stop a 75mm angle grinder with your bare hands? That’s the same as trying to break your fall on bitumen at 60 km/h.
Right. You’ve got your licence and ideal learner bike, what’s next?
Set-up. You won’t have the knowledge or the contacts to set up the suspension to suit you personally but there are some good guides on the ‘net. If you can, try and find someone to help.
Club – You can usually get help by joining a club. Club members have been around for a while, know the ins and outs and can provide good advice. There’s also a social aspect of membership. You can usually find clubs in your area via the ‘net (Motorcycling Australia or the state branches). One of the biggest clubs in Australia is the Ulysses Club. It caters for older riders, so much so that you can only join when you are 40 and are classed as a ‘junior member’ until you turn 50.
Course – As soon as possible, do a rider training course. Some clubs provide courses at no cost. There is a wealth of information to be gained which was not readily available 30 years ago and it could save your life – or at least save a fair bit of gravel rash.
Experience – By far, the best thing you can do is get ‘bum on seat’ time. Ride as much as you can to gain experience. Don’t be afraid to get out of your comfort zone, although some activities I’d recommend you don’t do alone. If you have a road bike, take it on the dirt to experience the different riding style you need to apply. If you have a dirt bike, take it in sand or mud – or both. It’s all experience which could help if you find yourself in a sticky situation.
Once you are on a bike, you quickly realise how vulnerable you are and just how bad the majority of drivers are. Don’t believe me? Wait until you start riding!
After your 12 month probation, you can then carry a pillion – and that is a story all on its own.
Have you ever wanted to ride a motorbike? Or have you already got one? Will you look into it sooner now? Tell us below.