Primer: How To Buy Your First Motorcycle

Spending life on two wheels is attractive for many reasons, from easy parking to low fuel costs, so entertaining the idea of ripping around the city on a motorcycle is novel for many people. After deciding that being a motorcyclist is the right choice for you, what is the next step?

Getting educated about the ins-and-outs of safe riding habits and exploring the shopping list of safety gear necessary is only part of the battle, though looking cool is a top priority. Knowing what type of motorcycle is going to fit best into your life and the financial scope of owning that bike will be necessary to making sure your adoption of the lifestyle sticks. The following guide will show you what to expect when jumping headfirst into the moto way of life.

Before You Ride

Motorcycle Safety Courses

Knowing that riding a motorcycle on public roads and highways is dangerous is the most critical aspect to beginning your life on two wheels. Having respect for the road and those that travel on it is an imperative skill that must be honed before spending time behind a set of handlebars, and there is no better way to sharpen your trafficking abilities than a course from the Motorcycle Safety Foundation.

Though you might feel confident in your ability to safely operate a motorcycle’s mechanical functions, there are still quite a bit of other habits and instincts that need to be improved or eliminated through practice before spending serious time in the saddle. These basic courses are available nationwide and will spend time in the classroom learning safe riding theory before taking you to get actual seat time on a borrowed motorcycle for putting those ideas into practice. Some states will waive the ridden portion of the license test to riders for those passing a MSF course, and even some insurers will offer a discounted rate.

In The Know

Learning About Your Needs

To determine whether moto life is for you, first take a look at the 5 W’s to understand more about your needs. This is an exercise marketers from motorcycle brands will use to segment their potential customers and gain insight into how their products will meet potential needs. Answering these questions will help establish a decision formulation logic while making your way through the motorcycle purchase process.

WHY: What is the driving force that is propelling you towards powered two-wheeled transit? Is it for the practicality of the small footprint of the vehicles? Are you looking to join friends already living the lifestyle? Or are you just looking to cross an item off your bucket list? Figuring out why you want to incorporate a hog into your life will be your starting point in judging how committed you will be to the purchase and lifestyle.

WHO: What is your current experience level with motorcycles? Are you completely green, never having slung your leg over a steel horse? Have you ridden on a motorcycle but never operated one? Are you experienced in twisting the throttle but are new to being an owner? Comprehending your own ability level and familiarity with the machine is integral to sensing how much this purchase will affect your life.

WHEN: What is your timeline for hopping on the saddle? Do you have obligations that will require expediting the purchase process? Or do you have all the time in the world to weigh options and hunt down the perfect sled? Building the timeline for acquiring your new bike will help you to avoid rushing into a situation that could carry serious financial implications.

WHERE: In what environments do you picture yourself riding? Will you be a daily commuter on city streets and highways, or just looking to have some fun on the weekends out in the backcountry? Are you trying to conquer long distances or simply make quick shots across town? Understanding where you plan to ride will be a heavy influencer in the style and size of bike that is right for you.

WHAT: What type of two-wheeler do you have your heart set on? Is it a sleek European style retro rocket? Maybe you have always wanted a classic American hog? Or possibly, you envision a modern utilitarian jungle cruiser? Most styles will be available in various models, so narrowing down what type you are into will help in your search.

Motorcycle Composition

What Makes A Bike

Taking a stroll through your local dealer’s showroom will make it quite apparent that there are many options to consider when selecting the dream cycle. The overall size and shape of bikes will vary drastically, with modern manufacturers offering models specifically tailored to excel in different conditions. Here is some helpful information that will explain what the differences in motorcycles are and how each of these options will alter your ride.

Engine Size

One of the most ubiquitous descriptors for motorcycles historically has been the displacement, or size of the motor on the bike. This figure will commonly be stated in cc’s, cubic centimeters, and describes the total volume inside the engine’s cylinders, with the exception of electric bikes that will be described as watts. Simply designed motors will have one cylinder, more complex models may be twin cylinders, and more elaborate performance machines can commonly be four cylinders. As in automobiles, the larger the size of each cylinder, in conjunction with the total number of cylinders on the engine, will be an adequate indicator of the overall power produced by the motorcycle.

Some of the smallest displacement motors offered for use on the road are usually around 50cc, while the larger bikes out there can be 2000cc or larger. Selecting the optimal displacement will depend on the setting you will most likely be riding in, with urban city rippers not needing as large of an engine as highway hogs. Most experienced riders will consider a 500cc bike to be the tipping point for getting up to highway level speeds, but this does not mean smaller bore bikes will be incapable of sustaining a safe pace. Weigh the options for motor sizes available in the styles of bikes you are interested in by asking yourself these questions:

  1. What will be the average ride length? If you are only making quick trips around town, then a large bike may not be necessary. If you need to trek longer distances, consider a larger motor size as they will carry their pace better at high speeds.

  2. Will freeway speeds be necessary? If you are never going to be getting on an interstate, there may be no need for anything larger than 500-600cc. If you will be spending the majority of your time trippin’ down the fast lane then a 1000cc might be the right fit.

  3. How long do you intended to own the bike? If you are thinking of grabbing a starter bike, then making upgrade later, a small-displacement bike will be great to learn the ropes on. If you are wanting to make a single purchase on a bike that you will cherish for years to come, it will be a good idea to go big.

Bike Styling

From Aprilia to Zundapp, there are more options for bike styling and specific application then one can shake a stick at. Over the history of motorcycle manufacturing, brands have altered their offerings to change their form for intended function, creating a number of categories for the modern shopper to choose from:


Standards are the most classic look for a motorcycle. Usually low to mid rise handlebars fostering an upright seating position, easy to use controls with feet below the rider’s hips, and typically dressed in a flat saddle with seating for a passenger. The Triumph Bonneville Street Twin is an example of a standard that blends modern reliability with vintage styling for the best of both worlds.


Cruisers are designed in the heritage of American motorcycles of the 1930’s-50’s that heavily feature form over function. Typically wider handlebars, slack fork angle, and a seat that is lower than the fuel tank, giving the rider a relaxed posture with their feet in front of their hips. Harley-Davidson is thought of as quintessential cruiser brand, though they produce a large range of other varieties, with their Softail Deluxe embodying the classic cruiser look.


Sportbikes are high performance, race-inspired machines. An aggressive riding posture is fostered by higher seating position with lower hand controls and foot pegs tucked up high, causing the rider to cradle the bike. Go-fast engines, powerful brakes, nimble suspension, and low-drag body panels are standard equipment for the category. The YZF-R6 is one of the top tier mid-sized sport bikes from Japanese manufacturer Yamaha that brings race track level characteristics to the street.


Touring bikes are the limousines of motorcycle world, centered around making the ride as comfortable as possible. With posture somewhere between the upright stance of a standard and the slouched seating of a cruiser, a touring bike also adds accoutrements like full windshields and leg fairings, backrests for the driver and passenger, and a UPS truck worth of cargo carrying capacity. Honda’s Goldwing is a fully loaded example of a cross-country ready touring bike loaded to the gills with every option necessary for long distance riding.

Adventure/Dual Sport

Adventure bikes and dual sports attempt to split their duties equally between the tarmac and trail. High seat heights and upright posture are a result of the long travel suspension required for off-highway exploration allowing for dual sports and adventurers to tread deep into the backcountry. Semi-knobby style tires and larger diameter wheels than their road specific cousins give dual sports a utilitarian, Mad Max-style appeal. The KTM 1090 Adventure R rolls off the lot packed with features that keep it poised to hop off the road and onto the dirt at a moments notice.


Each of these categories have been caused by evolutions of the sport, with the desire to maximize the fun of a particular discipline driving innovation. This has caused a wide variance of sub-categories and niche followings to be established in each type of motorcycle listed above, along with a large culture of custom builders bending the rules of conventional bike design. As you begin to explore the rabbit holes of the internet researching a particular style, know the possibilities are endless for blurring the lines of classifying a motorcycle. Super Motards, for example, are a blend of off-road motocrossers with track ready sport bikes built to excel on courses of tight turns mixed with short dirt sections.

All About The Benjamins

The Cost To Ride

As you know from purchasing anything in your life before, the motorcycle you are going to shop for is limited by your own personal finances. Sure there are going to be cost savings down the road if you are planning on replacing an automobile as your main mode of transportation, but there are some outlying costs that should be kept in mind that will be part of the expense to own a motorcycle. You will also want to consider balancing the various costs involved to make sure you don’t end up shelling out so much for the bike that you can’t afford the gas to ride it.

Price Of Bike

The most obvious figure is the bike itself, so starting with a budget here is an easy place to begin. Think of overall finances and how a payment plan will fit into your monthly expenditures. Budgeting a motorcycle can be difficult if you already have a load of previous obligations commanding your income, and lenders are well aware of this. If you have been saving to make a cash deal on a purchase, remember that there will be some additional start up costs required that will be covered below.


If you are ever planning on riding your motorcycle on the street, you are going to need to be covered by insurance. Motorcycles are inherently dangerous because of the lack of protection for the rider, which means a higher likelihood of injury, and thus higher insurance rates. As with all auto insurance there will be a host of factors that influence your premium, including the type of motorcycle, the location at which it is garaged, and how experienced you are as a rider. Most providers give a discount for riders that have completed a MSF training course as these riders are proven to be safer.


Just like any machine, a motorcycle is going to wear itself out as you use it, and there is going to be a cost associated with this upkeep for the perpetuity of the bike’s existence. There are a host of obviously wearable parts like tires, brake pads, and hand grips that will need to be replaced periodically depending on ride intervals, with these parts wearing faster on higher performance machines. Additionally there are unseen parts that will need to be maintained and replaced to keep the bike working properly, and depending on your mechanical inclination, could end up in the thousands of dollars for labor alone. If you need a reliable form of transportation consider the amount of upkeep that will be necessary on a used or older model bike and weigh that value against purchasing a more expensive, newer model. But remember that even a brand new bike will need a thorough inspection and its oil changed within the first couple-hundred miles, so there is no getting around this cost.


Chances are if you don’t own a motorcycle, you probably do not have the necessary gear to ride. Safety equipment is not required by law, except in those states with mandatory helmet rules, but it is pretty careless to ride exposed. There are a few basic riding essentials that you should never get on the bike without and will want to add to your purchase budget:


Though not required by law in every state, you’d have to have a pretty empty head to not value it enough to protect it with a helmet. There are a wide variety of helmet styles to match your personal fashion or the look of the bike, from short, lightweight half helmets to sleek full face models. Make sure anything you are shopping for is at least DOT certified, with independent safety certifications from companies like Snell being a major plus. Always try on a potential helmet before purchasing, as finding the appropriate fit is crucial to the helmet providing protection when you need it, and a poor fitting helmet will always lead to an displeasurable riding experience. A correctly fitting helmet will apply pressure around the head evenly, while not being overly tight, with the rider’s cheek skin moving with the helmet when shook. When considering a budget for a helmet, think about how much use the helmet will see over the course of a year; the more times you take a helmet on and off, the more wear the padding will see and the quicker the deterioration of that foam. If you only intend to ride occasionally, then a less expensive unit in the $100-200 range should be the right choice. For those looking to incorporate riding into their daily routine, high end quality helmets will go for $250-500 and will provide years of comfortable protection.

Biltwell Lane Splitter Helmet

Helmets are offered in various shapes, sizes, colors, and features to match any bike or rider’s style. The Lane Splitter from Biltwell is a great all around option that provides great crash protection when needed, has a removable liner for cleaning, and a large face shield that allows for a wide field of vision. Plus it looks totally badass.($250)


Motorcycle jackets not only serve the part of a perfect badass accessory to your new macho persona, but more importantly they serve as protection for your vital organs in the event of kissing the pavement. Riding-focused motorcycle jackets will be cut a bit different than street clothes to provide more comfort when seated on the motorcycle, with short torsos, structured arm profiles, and a very snug fit. Leather is a favorite material selection for its pliable nature while providing excellent abrasion resistance, blending comfort and protection nicely. There are also many textile options available for more cost efficient options, which also utilize highly durable and form-fitting materials for maximum performance. Almost all motorcycle specific garments will also feature pockets in high impact zones for holding extra padding or protection, known in the industry as armor, giving your elbows, shoulders, and spine an extra layer between them and the asphalt.


In the event that you do hit the eject button, your bodies natural reaction is going to be to put your arms out to protect your body, meaning your hands are likely to be the first contact point with the road. A nice pair of motorcycle riding gloves will be made from leather or textile and will almost always have a leather palm. Glove lengths will range from short styles that end at the base of the wrist to gauntlet variants that cover much of the forearm. There will also be many options for matching the weather you will be riding in, from vented to fully insulated choices. Many manufacturers incorporate extra padding onto the knuckles or palm to add extra layers of materials between soft skin and cheese grater like road surfaces.

Alpinestars Oscar Robinson Leather Glove

Keeping your mittens safe and warm while riding is a top priority. Alpinestars offers a huge range of gloves specific for racing, cruising, and everything between. The Oscar Robinson Leather Gloves provide ample protection for both the palm and knuckles, and feature a perforated leather top side for warmer weather rides.($100)


Bare knees are never a good look on a motorcycle, and anyone with time around a hot exhaust pipe knows an exposed calf is just asking to get burned. Legs should be covered by a sturdy pair of denim jeans at the least, though this thin layer of material will only provide a small amount of protection in a serious event. There are many options for leg coverings available, like the traditional dungaree look with additional Kevlar reinforcement to full leather skin tight options, with most having integrated pockets for armor. Similar to the jackets offerings, various textile and leather options will be available in a range of prices depending on the list of features you will be looking for.


Foot and ankle protection is another must-have for anyone taking a trip by motorcycle. There are many options for motorcycle specific riding boots that are designed to resist the extra wear and tear caused by foot controls, with most popular fashion styles being imitated for the look you want. Make sure your boot choice laces up past the ankle and cinch down tightly, you don’t want to lose these during a crash.

Icon 1000 Truant 2 Boots

Boots specific for motorcycle riding will come in various lengths and finishes, but at their core they serve to protect your feet when on the bike. Stiff soles give solid footing and sturdy uppers provide protection against rolling your ankle. The Icon 1000 Truant 2 Boots have a clean, urban look while supplying extra materials on wear points for extended life.($150)

Remember that trends will change, technologies will improve, and your gear will wear out with regular use, even if you never go down in it. Buy the stuff you like and can afford, but don’t be too disappointed if you have to make some compromises on your selections to get the gear you need, you’re inevitably going to replace it in a few years anyways.

Sealing The Deal

Buying Either New Or Used

After deciding what will be the right bike for you and finding what your budget constraints for the purchase will be, one of your final choices will be to either purchase a brand new unit or a moto that has already accumulated some mileage. Depending on what specific make and model you are searching for, you might be forced into purchasing either new or used without option; some models have not been around for long enough to be found previously owned. Conversely, some models have been discontinued and are only offered through second hand sale. Either way you end up shelling out your greenbacks, here are a couple pointers to keep in mind when sealing the deal:


Buying anything brand new from a dealership is going to incur additional costs that are avoidable otherwise. Delivery, set up, and other in-house services all get passed along from the dealer to the purchaser, so don’t be shocked to see fuel itemized on a final invoice. This will be true for a used bike purchased from a dealership, as the cost to rehabilitate a used bike will likely be added back into the purchase price. At any time, there can be dealer or manufacturer incentives that can help trim some fat from the sale, so being flexible as a purchaser will help set you up for a better deal. Financing options can be an enticing allure for those without large sums of cash to drop outright, but remember that introductory finance rates will change after time and interest adds up fast. You will also need to consider additional insurance measures if financing to cover the difference between the bike’s value and what is owed, known as gap coverage. Lastly, never sign any agreement or purchasing contract without reading it thoroughly and understanding each outlined stipulation – ‘nuff said.

Private Sale

When dealing in the private market remember these are ‘no-take-backs’ types of transactions, where your warranty is going to last as long the seller’s driveway. No doubting that there is a wealth of excellent examples for sale through classified ads, there are also a large number of dilapidated bikes that could be on their last leg. If you are mechanically savvy and have the confidence to tackle projects, use your acute sense of spotting possible failures to give your potential bikes a good going over before dropping any dimes. Having a buddy that is up to speed on motorcycle mechanics tag along with you to eye the bike for obvious red flags is a great idea if possible. Warning signs for a possible dud will be visual cues like bent levers, scuffed bar ends, broken turn signals, or damage to the foot pegs. Another tip-off of foul play is if the engine has been warmed up before you arrive, which can hide some of the starting or running hiccups. It is also a good idea to inspect VIN inscriptions on the frame and engine to examine for deviant activity, matching everything on the bike to the vehicle’s pink slip. Overall, give the seller an ocular pat down to assess their trustworthiness and try to form a judgement of how attentive they might have been to the maintenance of the bike. You will almost never get a chance to test ride a motorcycle, so you will have to do your best to sniff out any treacherous actions before rolling the dice and throwing down cash.

Enjoy The Ride

Get Out There And Have Fun!

As you can see, there is a lot more to owning a motorcycle than picking out a bike and hitting the road. Taking the entire lifestyle into consideration before embarking on the journey of purchasing will pay off in the long run, because there is nothing worse than owning a motorcycle that you cannot afford to ride. If you can, enlist the help of friends that are already living the two-wheeled life to guide you through your purchase, as these will probably be the people you start to ride with anyways. Most of all, be safe out on the highway, keep the rubber on the road, and have a blast!

The Best Motorcycle Gear For Every Rider

You’re only as cool as you look, which is going to be pretty hot on your new bike. If you are trying to hone your flair to match your bike and lifestyle check out our round-up of the best motorcycle gear for every rider.