Monday’s Motorcycle: Learning to Fly

I’ve had a lot of emails from people who have never thrown a leg over a motorcycle, wanting to know where to start.  Some of those emails would have me believe they are actually considering purchasing a new 2012 ZX-14 to “Learn On”.  Uh huh.  Yeah, my Dad taught me how to drive in a Formula 1 car too.

If you are going to start to learn, you need to start out with the basics, because I don’t need idiots like that jacking up my own insurance.  Get real.  Start simple.  My first bike was quite larger, but it wasn’t the first bike I had ridden.  That was a Honda (shocker) 125.  It was fun.  And much faster than my BMX bike or my 10 Speed.  So it was pure thrills on that thing.

Start out with a 250.  But decide if you want to learn on a Sport or a Cruiser.  It’s been reported that a full 1/3 of new 250 bikes are being sold to women.  Which is interesting because that’s about the same ratio of questions I’ve been getting.

If you want a Sport Bike, the Ninja 250 is the Tried and True choice for the fledgling Valentino Rossi. They are fun to ride, plenty fast, yet not so powerful as to get out of control in a hurry and put you into a tree.  It’s a smart choice.  Riding a Ninja 250 well teaches you technique, body position, braking, and everything you need to learn to go fast and ride safe.  Also, they are bulletproof little machines that you are going to want to keep around.  And they look cool.

There is another upshot to the Ninja 250.  60 miles to the gallon.  It sips fuel like a china doll at a tea party.  Really I don’t think there is a more efficient production vehicle out there that costs so little and returns so much enjoyment.

You can have just as much fun blasting through a canyon on a 250 as you can bigger bikes.  You just don’t have the blinding top speed that will get you sent directly to jail if you get caught doing it.

Okay, so flying a Rocket isn’t your thing?  You want to look at scenery in front of you instead of behind you in the rear view mirror?

Here’s is my beloved Sister on her new to her Rebel 250.  Probably the best Learning Bike ever made period.  Nothing about it is intimidating to a Novice Rider, yet it’s still cool looking, gets great fuel economy, and you get pick them up for about a Grand on up depending on Vintage and Miles.  The one thing I’ve learned about these little Johny Rebs is that they tend to have as much attitude as their Riders. Which means they can have a lot.

There is nothing to fear on one of these lean machines save for those people who are chatting on their phones and texting when they should have eyes up and hands at Ten and Two.  When you are riding though, you learn to spot those guys a mile away.

These are my two recommendations for Learning to Ride.  I don’t care if you are Chick or a Dude, these are where you start.

I know a local guy that’s learning, he’s spend some extra bucks to get a new Honda CBR250, and I’ve seen him jetting around town…. he’s doing great.  Another guy I know, he picked up a ZX-6.  Two weeks later his bike was totaled and he is on crutches.  I’m not saying you can’t learn on a bigger bike, but it’s just a better way to start when you start out slow.

Besides… the DMV test is all about Slow Speed and Control in a tight space.  I think the Utah Rider Test is performed in the same space one could park 2 Chevy 2500 Trucks.  It’s very tight.  Now if you can master these bikes, then go take your test on a 600 so you are golden on any size bike… but only if you can pass that test.  To do that, you are going to need a lot of practice, and the 250 is a good place to start.

15 thoughts on “Monday’s Motorcycle: Learning to Fly”

  1. Great post George.
    I am a Man… a Manly Man… I sweat Testosterone and crap Excellence.
    My first “motorcycle” was a 1955 Sears Allstate Motor Scooter.
    A rebranded 50cc Vespa.
    It was slow, not great in the breaking department, and handled like a pregnant cow.
    However, it taught me how to ride. It would run 45 or so, and got me where I wanted to go.
    I learned all of the motorcycle fundamentals… for a low price and in a fairly safe manner.
    I graduated from that to a real motorcycle, a 1978 Honda CM400T Hawk.
    This one did it all, it could run down the interstate and up the backroads.
    I still have a very fond place in my heart for this bike.
    Next was a 1989 Suzuki Katana 750, which later got an 1127cc heart transplant.

    “Back in the day” most people climbed the displacement ladder.
    Current 600cc bikes are faster than the old liter bikes, but people still seem to see them as good learning bikes… because they are light and have smaller engines.
    Would I have loved one of the fire breathing liter bikes when I was a pup? OH HELL YEA!
    But, I would have had a lot less of a chance to be alive and annoying people today.
    I know that, at least in some places, in Europe they have a tiered license system.
    You are restricted on power to weight ratios based on your experience.
    Not saying that we need that here, but some self policing… or better judgement isnt a bad idea.


      1. I rode a Yamaha Jog 50cc scooter in Nagoya Japan… which means I’m so hard I chew Harley Davidson’s like bubble gum… but nothing with a manual transmission.

        Sound like the 250 is the way to go.

        1. Depends on your attitude. The ninja 500 has been a great starter for about 20-25 years now. If it “fits” you go for it!

          1. That’s the trick with the Ninjas: there’s twins and there’s I-4’s. I’d only recommend the twins.


  2. I highly recommend a good rider safety course. Here in Texas, it takes the place of the riding portion of the license test. All you do is the written portion at the DPS office. The course I took was sponsored by Honda and used the venerable Nighthawk 250. I then made the perhaps questionable decision to buy a Buell M2 Cyclone as my first real bike. Loved it. No crotch rocket, but quicker than me and plenty fast. Next bike will be more cruiser less sport.

  3. While I think that 250CCs are a great size of bike, I must interject one thing here. It all depends on what your use will be, physical size you are and how aggressive that are naturally.

    I certainly do not condone all out sport bikes (600cc and larger) as first bikes, I do condone larger bikes for some.
    If you are a larger person, get a bigger bike.
    If you plan to do a lot of highway riding, 250 ninja may be fine, but not the cruizers.

    I would recoment a 650cc bike. They (cruisers, standards and sporty bikes) have decent get up and go, better brakes (than the cruiser 250s) and the aggresive types won’t grow out of them in a season.

    My first bike is/was a 750 standard. It was the perfect choice for me, and I only had 2 miles experience on a moto. I just really “grew out of it” last season, which was five years after I bought it. The bike now has 40K miles with plenty of drops (parking lots) but (knock on wood) no crashes.

    The best advise (not that anyone asked) is for a person that wants to get into riding or THINKS that they may in the future is to take the MSF course. Borrow the gear or buy really cheap stuff to get through the course. They tend to ride 125cc, 200cc and 250cc bikes and you should be able to tell if they are right for you.

    The side bonus of the course is that in most states you can just go pick up your M endorsement and then show insurance more years of experience if you delay in making the big purchase.

  4. One thing to consider about the 250cc bikes is that they are cheaper to insure. A used 250cc with the state minimum liability insurance can make nice budget transportation. In some states when you get to 600cc or over your rates start climbing. Also with some insurance companies the MSF training course certificate can get you a discount on your motorcycle insurance.
    The Ninja 250 has a pretty good selection of aftermarket parts available, handle bar risers, taller windscreen, seat options, and other stuff. It also has a somewhat larger gas tank than other 250cc bikes so you aren’t constantly looking for gas stations if you ride to work on it. The Honda Rebel is good around town because of the low seating position make stop and go a bit less tiring. They are used by a lot of training schools. Another nice thing about them is you don’t have to pull fairings off to work on them.

  5. Looking to get back out after 30 years . Last bike was a 72 CL 350 Honda which was to small for my height. 6’3″ Have a 77 GS 750 in waiting but might consider a more current bike. The lowrider types don’t seem to fit well , so any recomendations?

  6. Suzuki DL650 or 1000, Kawi KLR 650, Kawi KLX250, Kawi Versys,

    Dual sports will all have taller seat heights to fit a taller rider.

    When looking for recomendations of motorcycles, it is handy to have:
    past experience
    height (inseam)
    intended use (city, freeway, touring, weekend mountain riding, fire roads, etc)
    prefered styling (ie dirt, dual purpose, cruiser, standard, sporty, sport)
    desired power level (relaxed, decent, fastest bloody thing on the planet!)
    new/used prefered

  7. “Really I don’t think there is a more efficient production vehicle out there that costs so little and returns so much enjoyment.”

    My WR250X is rated at 71MPG and is every bit as much fun!

  8. My wife rides a Rebel 250. with her mild riding habits she was getting 95+ mpg. She was not happy, she wanted a hundred mpg. We changed the wheel bearing grease for sythetic changed the engine/trans lube to sythetic and opend up the air box a little and TADA! 105mpg. She loves her little Rebel. She has never had any problem other than being very cold natured.

  9. I concur with your suggestions and will add one- A 250 dual-sport, will have much lighter weight, lower seat and center of gravity than say a KLR650. – the thing about a dirt capable machine, is that it let’s a person make a host of mistakes, fall down, learn to control front wheel washouts, rear wheel slides under power and brake, all at low speed and consequence away from cars. . And have a ton of fun. dirt riding is one of the very best ways to learn motorcycle control.
    Problem is ego- a lot of folks think it is somehow demeaning to ride a little bike. But better to ride a small bike well, than a tank poorly.

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