First Motorcycle Buyer’s Guide
Strategy and Hardware Overview
Motorcycle University is independent of the motorcycle industry. We don’t sell products. We sell skills and knowledge in our classes, but we give some of it away for free online, and this is part of our free section.
Our whole agenda revolves around helping others navigate the path that we have already traveled, and to do it better than we did by collecting the knowledge that beginners lack, and presenting it in a way that tries to be helpful and educational, not driven by profit motives or hear-say.
Here is the biggest, most frequently missed fact about riding in beginning motorcycling minds:
It’s not about the machine.
It’s about YOU.
Bless your heart, but if you are about to get your licence, or have just gotten a licence, you are presently a giant noob regarding this topic. You have the motorcycling skills and experience of a teenager who is just getting a car and license for the first time, even if you feel like you’ve been around.
If you’ve been driving as an adult for a while and feel confident, stop for a moment and remember just how excited and uncertain you were when you got your drivers licence, and then consider whether there are any parallels to your present situation.
Make any mistakes in the first 6 months of driving? Just because you were inexperienced? Uh-huh.
Would you give yourself a Ferarri or Lamborghini as your first car? Why or why not?
A 600cc sportbike that costs $8000 new can outperform most high-end sports-cars. Yep. And those are the “small” sportbikes.
What to get for your first motorcycle?
Our strongest suggestion is that your first bike be 500cc’s or less, and that it be relatively plain and inexpensive in comparison to some of the glittery toys that you’ll see at any motorcycle dealership.
A 500cc motorcycle will out-perform most cars on the road. Faster acceleration, better handling, better braking. Better everything EXCEPT it will leave you like a jilted lover the minute things go bad. No metal cage, no airbags, and no allegiance. If you get too much bike, and get into a corner too hot and can’t stop because YOU don’t know what to do and make a poor decision in a split second, you’re going to crash, and could die or get seriously hurt, which is bad.
Trust us: a 500cc or smaller bike offers plenty of excitement if you want to go looking for it, but it also offers a better margin of error - there’s less bike there to get you into trouble before you’ve developed the reflexes and experience to avoid bigger problems that come with bigger bikes.
Strategy 1: Buy New
- Financing: nothing beats instant gratification, and if you’ve got a good credit score and room in your paycheck, you can have new. New is new, after all.
- Aesthetics: New is new, after all.
- Mechanical condition: New is new, after all.
- Financial Depreciation: Bike’s value after it’s been titled and ridden drops like a rock.
- Appreciation Depreciation: You’re giddy and excited today. Jaded in 6 months and maybe getting done with the pretty steep learning curve that you were on. Maybe a small bike isn’t your ultimate choice as a more experienced rider. See Financial Depreciation on this regarding resale and losing a modest stack of money on your first bike.
Go ahead and buy new. New vehicles are great. They solve a lot of problems neatly, they’re easy and fast to get, and you’ll look like $5000 or whatever rolling down the road. There are some genuinely brilliant machines on sale now, and it’s hard to go wrong with ANY new 500cc or less machine these days.
Strategy 2: Buy used
- Financial Depreciation: Let someone else take the hit. You will probably resell, and if you can get close to what you paid for the bike, it’s like you just stored your money instead of losing it. Right? There is a whole fleet of bikes out there that rotate through the hands of beginner after beginner, because that’s how it works - you go in green and come out with experience, ready for something else.
- Less Risky: Smaller is better when you’re a new rider. The faster you go, the smaller the window is to make the right moves and execute complicated or emergency maneuvers. Get a bike that doesn’t take itself too seriously, and you’ll be able to concentrate on YOUR skills, and not exercising restraint over “too much beast”.
- FUN: Why get into motorcycles? Small displacement bikes are simpler, and are simply funner under the right circumstances. Enjoy your “LearnerTime” - the time that you’re experiencing motorcycling in the most intense way. Less complicated machinery really will give you a stronger base to build on later.
- Money: Less needed. If you pay cash, you’ll skip paying interest. If you buy something inexpensive, consider skipping insurance that covers damage to the bike itself. The insurance companies HATE to pay money out, and guess who’s statistically most likely to wad up a bike? You, the beginner. Get a quote for just replacement coverage and think about how many years it will take to equal what you’re paying for the bike. Save that money for good protective clothing - something that new riders normally cut corners on.
- Used bikes are used: Service needs and expenses can surprise you if you don’t spot them going in.
- Aesthetics: Maybe not as shiny. First scratch(es) already on it?
- Not as cool: New IS new, after all.
Buying New: If you’re going to buy new, you have your reasons. Understand that new bikes are a commodity. The SuperFly1000 at the dealership in Bolinas is probably a few serial numbers away from the SuperFly1000 at the dealership in Salinas. The only difference is the dealership.
People know the value of money, and are convinced that if they’re spending a lot, that the dealership is making a lot. The motorcycle industry is NOT where one goes to get rich. The prices on new bikes generally vary by less than 5%, and that frequently translates into several hundred dollars on the bottom half of the market. Call around, and spend a little energy on price to satisfy yourself if you’re a shopper, but it probably matters less than most people think.
The place to really be vigilant is the “F&I”. It’s so important that car dealerships and some giant bike shops actually have an employee that they refer to as “the F&I guy”. He’s the one that arranges your Financing and Insurance. Do you think that people are generally better at shopping for a bike, or for a loan and insurance? If you’re going to get taken to the cleaners, that’s the place.
Shop for a loan and insurance BEFORE you go in, so that you can tell if the whole package is a good deal for you or not.
Buying Dealer Used: Many dealers carry used bikes, and a few do only used bikes. They generally stock bikes that are clean, in good mechanical condition, and are a super alternative to new, because the depreciation has dropped a bit, but they’re late-model, good bikes. Same rules about F&I awareness apply here if you’re financing or insuring the bike through the dealership.
Buying Private Party Used: If you have more time than money and think that you are a cunning hunter of deals, you will finance the bike yourself, and
you’ll insure it yourself.
How to begin? Which bike to get out of all of those ones that are online?
You must do your homework. Identify which MODEL you want FIRST, and then get the best example of that model that you can. This way you're comparing bikes that should be the same, and not three different types. See our FIRST TIME MOTORCYCLE BUYERS GUIDE and try to identify no more than two that you'd like to purchase. Cross reference this by doing some research on the one or two models (wikipedia is incredible, and so is Google). Then start looking. We offer a free CLASSIFIEDS section here on our website to make buying and later selling your first "beginner" bike easier. Why not buy from or sell to another beginner or one of the local shops that are pre-approved by Moto U?