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Buying your first bike – By Mark Zweig

Buying your first motorcycle is a big decision. Sure—it may not be the most expensive thing you have ever purchased. You can buy a high-quality 250 from Janus for less than the price of a good sectional sofa. But it (buying a motorcycle) is a decision that may cause concern for your safety among some of your closest friends and family. At a minimum, if you are an adult, you may surprise some folks. They may immediately wonder if you are going to be wearing leather chaps and looking like the stereotypical “biker” seen in movies and TV shows.

Let’s talk about safety. First and foremost, I always advise all new riders to find an MSF (Motorcycle Safety Foundation) course to go through. They are offered throughout the country, are affordable, and you will learn a lot. And best of all, you will do it on their bikes!

Safety involves all kinds of variables. My experience as a lifelong rider is it is multi-faceted. Riding motorcycles has even made me a better automobile driver. Most important—paranoia keeps you out of trouble. Expect cars to do the wrong thing. Expect cars not to see you. And always be ready for it and know what you will do if they do the wrong thing.

For example, when I start off from a red light, I always wait a few seconds for the light runners who are supposed to stop but don’t get through the intersection in time. And when riding down any street or road, I always watch carefully for cars coming in from side streets. Crucial. I also ride with my headlight on and am not bashful about honking my horn to be sure I am seen.

I don’t ride in the center of a lane where leaking cars could make it slick, or where glass or other road hazards tend to accumulate. I dress appropriately. Even though we don’t have a helmet law in my state I always wear a good helmet. Long pants are a must and can save a lot of skin. You can buy jeans made specifically for motorcycle riding that have removable armor. Ditto for long sleeves. An armored jacket—I have two—can really save a lot of skin. Yes they can be hot but good ones have vents that open.

A couple more points about safety. I have given up my 1000-plus CC bikes and now ride a Janus 250. Two reasons. One, the Janus is far lighter and easier to maneuver. At 260 lbs, it weighs 200-300 pounds less than the sportbikes I had, and 400-700 lbs less than the touring bikes I have owned in the past. Secondly, the Janus has a lot less power. Not having 100-plus horsepower available instantly at the twist of a throttle encourages me to not take stupid chances. One of the two accidents I had on the road in the last 52 years was caused by that. It was my fault, not the other guy’s fault. Not to mention overpowered bikes wheelie (yes, I used to do that) and have a tendency to break the rear tire loose under heavy acceleration. Will never happen with my Janus. My male ego no longer needs bragging rights about how big my engine is or how much horsepower I have. I am much less likely to have an accident as a result.

The last thing I want to say about safety is something you may not have heard before. And that is that I honestly believe a small displacement bike like a Janus is safer than an electric bicycle. No one I know caused their family or friends any concern when they purchased an electric bike. Yet that bike is less visible, has less braking power, and has less predictable handling than a motorcycle. It isn’t as fast, yet people ride them in traffic that they can’t keep up with. And people don’t dress the same on an electric bike—lesser helmets and protective clothing—which is yet another factor. I always find the double standard for safety between electric bicycles and small displacement motorcycles fascinating.

So if you are pondering your first motorcycle I ask you to consider my advice here. Don’t go buy the biggest bike you think you can hold up. You don’t need it. It’s not a good way to start out on this rewarding and life-enhancing activity of motorcycle riding. Low power and light weight are safer. Do be ready to point out the hypocrisy of people’s attitudes toward electric bicycles versus motorcycles to your skeptical friends and family members. And if you are a guy, don’t worry about your macho image. When it comes to style, I would much rather have a cool handmade bike that looks like no one else’s, than to be a conformist dressed in branded black leather on an overweight and overpowered machine that, if it fell off its kickstand I would need help to right it.

Doing these things could save your life, your potential injuries, and your money. Plus you’d seem smarter and cooler to a smarter and cooler group of people who see what you are doing!

-By Mark Zweig