Most people who buy a motorcycle already own another vehicle and ride more for fun than out of necessity. In my opinion, being able to ride a motorcycle when you want to and not because you have to is the best way to enjoy riding, but not everybody rides specifically for enjoyment. A lot of people are realizing motorcycles make incredibly practical transportation, especially in crowded cities.
I was in college at Georgia Tech when I had that same realization. At the time, I was riding a bicycle, which was awesome in a lot of ways, but it was also pretty terrible. Living nearly more than three miles off campus, riding got me in great shape, but even in the fall and spring, I would show up to most places sweaty and out of breath. Not being able to keep up with traffic also put me in a lot of dangerous situations as cars regularly blew past me, paid no attention to my safety, and often would pull out in front of me at the last second.
I didn’t have the money to buy a car, but I quickly realized a motorcycle would be safer. After spending $650 on a used Kawasaki KZ305, I was hooked, and it wasn’t until five years later that I finally ended up buying a car.
If you’re interested in buying a motorcycle to use as your primary form of transportation, too, the first thing you need to know is that motorcycles are astronomically cheaper than cars. You don’t even have to buy a sub-$1,000 motorcycle to see those savings either. You can get all kinds of excellent used bikes for less than $5,000. Insurance is also laughably cheaper, too. Your motorcycle insurance will probably cost the same per year as your car insurance does per month.
You’ll also probably get better gas mileage than you would in a Toyota Prius while looking cooler than you would in a Ford Mustang. The savings on parking are also incredible. Instead of paying for a yearly parking pass, I found all kinds of places to park for free. You can’t pull up on the sidewalk like 50cc scooters do, but motorcycle parking is almost always available close by.
When deciding which motorcycle to buy, your priorities are also going to have to be different than they would be if you were buying it for pleasure. Seat comfort, maneuverability, gas mileage, and size are all more important than powerful acceleration or awesome looks. Sure, the Yamaha R1 and the Triumph Rocket III Roadster are cooler, but you’ll probably enjoy a Honda Grom way more than either of those bikes in a city.
You will also have to decide how much gear to ride with and what to do with it when you’re off the bike. Riding in full gear is the safest choice, and I always recommend it, but part of riding is knowing yourself and assessing the risks you’re willing to take. I recommend a full-face helmet and a leather jacket designed specifically for motorcycle use. A leather jacket from Armani might be more stylish, but it won’t do much to protect you if you go down. Gloves are also something easy to wear all the time.
Even in the summer, it’s a bad idea to wear shorts. There are plenty of people who ride around on scooters in three-quarter helmets and not much else, but those people are taking far more risks than I would be willing to take in a city. Instead, invest in a pair or two of motorcycle jeans like these Rev’It Campo Jeans. They’ll look more normal than real motorcycle pants, but they’ll provide significantly more protection than any regular pants will provide.
There are two other issues to consider as well. The first is what you’ll do in inclement weather, and the second is what you’ll do with the things you’ll inevitably have to transport. Equipping your bike with storage helps solve the issue of transporting some things, but I doubt you’ll ever be able to safely fit two weeks worth of groceries onto a motorcycle. That will mean going to the grocery store much more regularly, as well as doing a lot more of your other shopping on Amazon. Then again, who doesn’t like shopping on Amazon?
As for figuring out how to handle inclement weather, winter is much easier to handle than rain. If you live in New England or an area with similar levels of snowfall and ice, you’re going to have to seriously consider storing your bike until spring and relying on public transportation. It’s possible to ride in the winter, but it’s much more difficult and dangerous. If you live in an area like Atlanta without much snowfall, just wear a few layers and buy some good winter riding gloves. You’ll be fine.
Rain, on the other hand, is a challenge you have to deal with no matter what season it is. It can also come out of nowhere, and if you’re not wearing rain gear, it can quickly get miserable. Have you ever been shot with a machine gun firing needles? That’s what it rain feels like on bare skin. You can buy rain gear, but having to deal with rain on a regular basis gets old quickly. Then again, if your only other option is walking, it’s not the end of the world.
Ultimately, the secret to riding a motorcycle as basic transportation is to not cheap out on good equipment. If you’re looking to spend only $5,000, for example, a $3,000 bike and $2,000 worth of equipment will make your experience much more tolerable than a $4,500 bike and $500 worth of equipment.
Riding a motorcycle as basic transportation is a completely different experience than riding a cruiser or a sport bike for pleasure, but if you go into it with the right mindset, it can be an enjoyable experience 90% of the time. Just make sure you also take a safety course from the Motorcycle Safety Foundation. Even around town, the skills you learn will be invaluable.
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