Articles Posted in Motorcycle Training

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scooters_2Georgia riders likely know that throughout our state we not only have great rides, but also great resources. Motorcycle enthusiasts are a unique community with a strong commitment to riding on the open road and also doing that safely and securely. Georgia’s Department of Driver Services (GDDS) has great programs for rider safety and training. Rider education sites around Georgia are easy to locate on the GDDS website and offer support to both experienced riders and new riders too.

The safety and security of motorcycle riders is important to those of us who support the rider community in different ways. We apply our legal expertise in helping those injured in motorcycle crashes to recover and to maneuver through the legal system. Since many motorcycle accidents occur at intersections and are caused by caged drivers’ failure to see a motorcyclist, we fully support the efforts to teach safest riding best practices. Avoidance may not always be possible, but learning best practices can help riders be more visible and defensive when sharing the road with other motor vehicles.

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burned out bikeAs we noted in our last post, all bikers can benefit from general riding and crash avoidance training. Georgia riders are fortunate to live in a state in which ongoing training is available for all skill levels. In representing many bikers in my law practice as a Gwinnett County motorcycle crash lawyer, I have seen many examples of the dangers out there to bikers when drivers do not see them.

In addition, there are conditions and circumstances that riders encounter that can result in even greater harm if they are not prepared and ready to know what to do in case of an emergency situation. And there are many situations in which there is little a rider can do. An example of this occurred just recently, as a Lawrenceville man lost his life when an elderly driver apparently failed to see him and his passenger in a parking lot. She turned directly into them and killed the man and very seriously injuring his passenger.

As we are all aware, drivers are driving more distracted than ever, and it only takes a momentary lapse for a driver to fail to see a bike. This is particularly an issue at intersections when one vehicle or bike is attempting to make a left turn. It makes sense for all bikers and drivers to hone their skills in driving defensively.

There are three levels of training offered in these training courses. Since scooters have become a very popular mode of transportation these are also now permitted to participate in the beginning and experienced rider courses.

The beginning rider’s course is intended to provide many essential skills for riders that do not have experience. This course spans over two days and includes both a closed course and classroom time. Riders learn several key skills including how to handle difficult and critical traffic situations, the safe operation of a bike, the skills and mental state needed to manage traffic and challenging situations. Participants learn all aspects of basic riding, straight-line, turning, shifting and stopping. In addition, the class focuses on cornering, emergency braking and swerving. Other important areas that are covered include visibility and protection.

There are also an experienced rider and advanced rider courses that involve class discussions about how riders manage difficult situations to keep safe. These have some prerequisites, but if you want to check these out please click here for the experience rider program and here for the advanced program.

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Best of the rest in the entry-level world will cover scooters, Harley and used bike purchases.

We rolled right through the major brands in the last two articles, but there are a few things left to discuss.

scooters_2.jpgScooters are excellent sources of entertainment. They make them from 50cc to the new Aprilia SRV850 Maxi-Sport Scooter. Most people choose 150-250cc scooters for inner-city living and the 500-850cc scooters for highway or mountain travel. There are pros and cons to all and you have to always remember that they are not motorcycles and therefore do not handle or brake like them. The closest thing to motorcycle handling and braking in the scooter market is the Yamaha T-Max 500. There are new competitors all the time so just research it a bit and you will find a scooter that is suitable to your commuting needs.

Harley Davidson was intentionally held toward the last of the manufacturers. Why? The Buell Blast was their only “entry” level bike. Buell, as a Harley product, is gone and that makes it pretty tough to say they have an entry level bike. Since the XL883 models are the smallest displacement motorcycle Harley makes, there is an inherent issue with new ownership. They are top heavy and newbies tend to drop them easily. If you must have a Harley as your first motorcycle then consider the Dyna class. It’s a larger motor, but the center of gravity is lower and therefore easier to handle the weight and turn the motorcycle in tight conditions.

Buy used for your very first bike. Why? Let’s put it this way: You won’t cry nearly as bad dropping a $3,000 bike vs a $12,000 bike. There are excellent choices in used bikes. I spent my first 20 years of motorcycle ownership buying bikes that were 10 years old or older. And it is reasonable to believe that as a new rider mistakes will happen. used zr7.jpgYou’ll be practicing in a parking lot or the front yard when suddenly you are picking your bike up from a u-turn or forgetting to put down your feet when you stop. Don’t laugh. When you go to the Georgia Department of Driver Services to renew or apply for a motorcycle license, ask an examiner how many times a week they see people forgetting to put down their feet when the bike stops.

MIA: Dozens of cool little bikes from Europe, Great Britain and Asia. There are dozens of European websites that do road test on these little riots. A couple bikes that will not be coming to America are the KTM Duke 125 and 200. Sadly, KTM believes that there will not be enough sales to import them, but they should because both these bikes would cause miles of smiles for any seasoned rider. They were designed to be entry level bikes but they look like their big brother the Duke 690. I didn’t mention the KTM Duke 690 earlier because it’s not an entry level bike.

Wrapping up this four-part series, remember that purchasing a first bike used is always better than new, cheap is always better than expensive and find riders to discuss their opinions on small displacement motorcycles. Ask service managers about maintaining bikes you are interested in. Ask friends if they have ridden bikes you are interested in and if possible take a seasoned rider that has a history of owning many bikes. These riders will be helpful in assisting you if you make a private party purchase. Since there is typically no warranty available on a used motorcycle, taking a veteran motorcyclist will help you to decide if the bike’s value is correct.

In the end, the entry level bike is a great choice because it gives the rider time to learn the basics on a bike that is not so powerful that it will scare the heck out of a new rider if a mistake is made. I have introduced people to riding smaller bikes and instead of listening to three decades of experience they trade out of their bikes much too soon. Then, when an accident occurs due solely to lack of experience, they become too shaken to ride again. That’s not the way it’s supposed to be. Good training on a motorcycle takes years and many miles. Then you step up to the next level. People get this notion that they want only one bike. In 30 years of riding I have owned more than 20 motorcycles. You NEVER keep one bike. Your mood changes, your style changes, your bike changes. It happens to every rider. In the riding world nothing is permanent. Think of bikes as expensive toys. You love them until you don’t — then you get a new one. Happy trails Georgia riders!!

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Continuing your search for an entry or re-entry-level motorcycle.

In the previous post we made our way from Aprilia to Honda. Up next are the rest of the ready-for-primetime-players in the U.S. motorcycle market.

Kawasaki make the Vulcan models and ANY of the 900cc (not truly a beginner bike, but if you are level-headed it’s acceptable) or under bikes are good for beginners. The “baby” Ninjas (my term- not Kawi’s) are next. The Ninja 250R looks like its big brother the ZX600R and it’s so mechanically sound that they even have their own race series in many different racing sanctioning bodies. They don’t put out tons of power, but they handle very good, stop as well as they handle and they are CHEAP to buy. The Ninja 650 and Versys 650 are the same motor and frame but the Versys is more like sitting on a cross between a standard motorcycle of the 80s and an adventure tour bike from this decade. The Ninja 650 was revised for 2012 and if you scan the internet you will hardly find a negative word on them. The KLR 650 and KLX250’s are great dual sport bikes. If you grew up on the dirt then you will be happy with these.

Moto Guzzi is an Italian brand and they don’t have a very large dealer network. What you get with Moto Guzzi is exclusivity. They make a couple of bikes worth noting. The Breva 750 which they do not import any longer but you can still find as a left-over new bike (Moto Guzzi no longer post this bike on their site. Please check the internet for photos and specs) and the V7. The V7 is a “retro” model. Modern technology with old school looks. Those seeking to be outside the box of Harley or Triumph would be well served to look into a V7 as a worthy alternative. Moto Guzzi’s are delivered to the USA with 2 year Factory Warranty and sometimes they run specials where you get free roadside assistance- a handy feature if you get a flat tire. Ask the finance manager at your dealership about that when you begin your research.

Suzuki Boulevard cruiser C & M 50 bikes are awesome little cruisers. The C is the “touring” model with saddle bags and windshield. The M is the “muscle” bikel low and lean looking. They put out the exact same power and sit on the same frame. They just serve different styles. Follow those up with the S40 (formally known as the Savage) The GZ250 is a tiny cruiser and is excellent if you have a teen that wants to learn and commute to school. It’s also an excellent bike for the mechanically inclined student. The TU250x is a great alternative if your legs are too long for the GZ. It’s a modern interpretation of a bike they made decades ago. Suzuki didn’t bring any Gladius or SV models over but there are left-overs. They are 650 cc bikes and although I don’t consider them “entry” bikes Suzuki does and they market them that way. The DRZ400S (it’s brother the DRZ400SM) are great starter bikes. The SM is no longer available as a 2012 version but new ones are out there- the SM is for supermoto (street tires on a dirt bike) and the DR650SE is a little more dirt oriented than the KLR. The DL650 V-Strom has two models and ABS is available. It’s Suzuki’s “adventure” bike, but it’s mostly street oriented and can roll long miles in total comfort. It has quite the cult following and an excellent choice when you want to ride two up.

Bonni.jpgTriumph makes the Bonneville line of bikes and all are excellent starting points for the money. They make them in different configurations. That said, go sit on all of them and see what fits you best. The one thing you should note is that Triumphs are delivered with a two-year factory warranty. Additionally, they hold their value well.

Yamaha has the V Star 950 and 250 cruisers. They are updated version of a bike they have made for 25yrs. The 950 models may seem out of line with the “entry level” designation but they are within reason for those that are re-entering riding after a long hiatus or the type of person that has reasonable control over their right hand (throttle hand). The 250 is a bike you will see on a lot of motorcycle training courses. They are very easy to learn on and for those that live in the inner city or are going to college they are great little bikes to tool around town. The WR, XT & TW are all versions of dual sport bikes and are all a blast to play with on and off road. Investigate carefully as they all do things slightly different from one another. So, it truly depends of the “type” of dual sporting you will do as to what will fit you best.

The last installment will cover the scooter craze, an obvious omission of the largest American motorcycle manufacturer’s line-up and why you should buy used as your first bike.

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Entry level bikes are not all boring little machines.

Our biggest hurdle in the entry-level motorcycle market is the sales person. In my view many care too much about the commissions they make off the sale and less about making sure the bike fits the rider. Less expensive bikes (talkin’ new bike sales here) have a lower profit margin; in turn, they have lower commissions. That’s why you only see a few bikes in show rooms that are under 500cc and 3 to 4 times that in 600cc or larger sizes. There are variables in displacement and horsepower ratings that could be considered but, by in large, the larger the displacement the higher the horsepower. Let’s target specific new models and give you an informative and interesting take that you should consider if you are looking for an entry level bike for you, your significant other or your licensed teen.

Aprilia makes a bike called the Mana 850/Mana 850GT. It’s an 850 cc bike and it’s the largest displacement of any other “entry” bike on the market, but this is what sets it apart: It’s essentially a scooter motor in a motorcycle frame. No joke. The Mana is a fully automatic motorcycle with some of the cleverest features found on any current model from any of the competition. It’s deceptively quick, but because it’s an automatic, scooter-based motor the power is a linear progression that does not overwhelm. If you are in your middle 20s or older and entering the riding world this is something you should be able to wrap your brain around. If you are near retirement age and don’t want anything heavy to ride it’s also an excellent bike to investigate. The Mana pictured is from RIder’s Hill/European Motorsports in Dahlonega, GA. They currently are selling new 2009 Mana’s for $5999 with 2 year factory warranties. Remember that ALL motorcycles, regardless of year model, that are previously untitled are sold as new and eligible for full factory warranties.

BMW makes a couple bikes that are fine examples. The G650 models and the F650 models are great bikes. The F bikes are a little more powerful because they are twin cylinder bikes and the G bike is more of a dual sport, but both come with ABS options and are BMW reliable. They cost a bit more than the competition but if you have the funds they are certainly capable of years of entertainment. Both the F & G models offer on-road and dual sport variations but you will hardly find a negative review of these models.

Ducati‘s Monster 696 is an excellent ride for those that love the “roadster” style of riding. That’s described as a slight bend in the knees toward the rear of the bike. Not sportbike cramped, but canted rearward. “Sporting” is the best word. It’s an air-cooled twin cylinder motor and it has awesome brakes and suspension for a bike they market as entry level. The trade off is that it’s not really a bike you want to tour long distances on.

Honda makes the Shadow 750 series and Rebel 2502012-Honda-Rebel-Profile-Right.jpg. Both are great beginner bikes for those that love the cruiser look. Reliable doesn’t even come close to describing them. Additionally, the resale is solid. You can look at a 10yo model of the Shadow 750; it will still fetch $3500 if it’s clean. The picture provided and an excellent review on the Rebel was just published by my friends at Motorcycle.com. Then there’s the new CBR250R. This bike is new to the American market and it, too, is Honda reliable. It’s a ¼ liter sized sportbike and you have to understand that from the on-set. The seating position is a little tighter than the Ducati would be, but it’s not an uncomfortable bike. Tall riders may find it a bit cramped if your inseam extends past 32 inches but I’m inseam challenged allowing my knees to be comfortable. The CRF230M (supermoto- 17″ street tires on a dual sport bike) and it’s dual sport brother CRF230L are excellent bikes that can easily transition from street to dirt and are surely worth consideration. These two models are great for the teen and early 20’s rider that need cheap transport and great mileage.

In the next installment we will cover Kawasaki, Moto Guzzi, Suzuki, Triumph and Yamaha.

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Why is the American idea of entry-level motorcycles so much different than the rest of the world?

It’s an interesting question really. We do have entry-level motorcycles that sell relatively well in this country. The biggest issue is we don’t encourage a system that makes that portion of the motorcycle industry profitable in the USA. The net effect is that we are left out in our selection of available motorcycles compared to the rest of the entry-level motorcycle world. Given the enthusiasm of Georgia riders to bring our friends and relatives to ride with us and even to get their own bikes, we need to consider the entry-level options.

In Great Britain and most of the EU the entry-level bike is classified by horsepower rating. That bike will not be over 33bhp (brake horsepower). It may sound underpowered, but the top speed of a near 500 lbs bike is still near 100 mph. When considering the fact that we are talking new riders, that’s still fast enough to get most in real trouble.

Speed almost always is what gets new riders in trouble first. They tend to ride too fast, oblivious to the speed, because the adrenaline rush tends to distract them from the pace they are keeping. Then suddenly, as the rider, you figure out that you are running too hot for the corner that is coming up on you.

This is the point where most riders make mistakes. Laying down a bike because you have entered the corner too fast is always bad and even on low cc bikes this is possible, but it is less likely because there is a “forgiveness” factor in a bike that has less horsepower. The power doesn’t tend to “come on” too fast.

In a self-awareness aspect, you realize that the motorcycle mechanically is working hard to keep its pace. You hear or “feel” the bike laboring. You know how fast you are going even if you never looked down at the speedo. This “feel” is your brain telling you the motorcycle is going fast enough.

On larger displacement bikes this “feel” is different. It takes your brain awhile to adjust to it. I’ll give you an example of this with myself. I once owned a 1987 BMW K100RS. This was BMW’s idea of a sport bike in the late 80s. Since the bike I came off of was an old 69 Triumph the BMW felt like a Superbike in comparison. I had been riding motorcycles for 23 yrs at this point of the game. The BMW was seamlessly fast and comfortable. It took me weeks to get used to the sound of the motor and the feel of the bike before I could tell by the sound of the bike how fast I was going without looking at the gauges.
Three years ago I bought a Kawasaki ZRX after I sold the BMW. WOW! This was absolutely Superbike territory compared to the BMW. It was scorching fast.Thumbnail image for Thumbnail image for zrex in motion.jpg It had insanely good brakes compared to anything I have ever owned and it was not easy to ride it under 80mph for the first two weeks because it so quiet compared to the Supertrapp exhaust that was on the BMW. I sold that bike because it was too easy to ride it fast and since I love riding with my daughter as a passenger I was thinking safety for her more than dumbing down the speed for me.

That’s where the Kawasaki KLR comes in. The “big trailie” is awesome. I stepped back to enjoy the ride and do something I’ve never done- trail ride. It took me nearly 30 years to realize that I didn’t need to go faster to have fun. I just had to change to a different style of bike. Small cc size is fun if you look at it properly. That KLR puts out roughly 40 hp. It’s a hoot. Most people that are seasoned riders forget the joy of going slower and the “newbies” (new riders for the uninitiated) are always thinking they need to go faster.
In Part 2, we will discuss how and why entry level bikes benefit you and start talking about the types of bikes that seem like a reasonable start for a newbie or returning rider.

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Thumbnail image for motorcycleriderleg.jpegAs noted in part one of this post, in my view, we need better licensing for safe riding. One key to better licensing would be an “on road” skills test. Europeans use a series of procedures that include an actual on-road test with a test examiner following the prospect motorcyclist on a set route. Through a communication device in the helmets, the examiner instructs the prospect on what to do.

Compared to our current “skills” test, this is much more comprehensive because it puts the rider in actual traffic or at the very least on real streets. In Europe, the procedures are so tough that over 50% of applicants fail a “module” of the test the first time. “Module” is the breakdown of the skills test from various displacement sizes of the motors as you advance in experience. This procedure weeds out those that are serious about licensing and those that just want to play on two wheels.

I believe that licensing must be that tough in the United States. Without this, the fatality and injury numbers will only increase.

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How do you convince millions of motorcyclists that change is necessary? And what needs to change? Let’s get started.

First, the numbers. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), there are over 7 million motorcycles registered for road use in the United States. NHTSA data states that between 1997 and 2006 registered motorcycles jumped from 3.8 million to 6.2 million. A staggering 63% increase in motorcycles in less than a decade.

Although there was a significant drop in new bike sales from 2007 to 2010 (likely due to economic conditions), the trend is finally reversing and European and American motorcycle sales are now increasing steadily. The reason for the decline of bike sales during this period was most likely due to people shifting their lifestyle during the recession.

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