Motorcycle buying guide: What to know before buying your first bike

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New bike, or used?

Motorcycle buying guide

If you have your heart set on that shiny new machine down at the showroom, we totally understand. You get all those new-bike perks: It’s going to run perfect, comes with a warranty, and has that new bike smell.

But don’t cross a used bike off your list just yet. Many new riders will suffer some sort of mishap as they’re getting up to speed and improving their skills. That’s why a used bike can be a great first bike. It hurts a lot less to ding up that $1,500 machine than the $15,000 one. But before you hand over your cash, take that bike to a trustworthy bike mechanic and pay (if need be) to have it checked out. Funny noise? Oil drip? Weak brakes? Those could all point to dangerous and expensive problems down the road, so ask the owner if he has service records and so forth.

If you have a friend who is an experienced rider, see if they’ll go bike hunting with you. But in the end, a solid review by a bike shop is the best way to see if that used machine is good to go -– or a disaster waiting to happen.

Stay safe, go to school

Ready to pull the trigger on your first ride? Slow down. Before you make that purchase, take a Motorcycle Safety Foundation rider education class. MSF classes are required by a number of U.S. states, and many countries now have similar rider programs and pre-license riding class requirements.

Riding a motorcycle (or scooter) is not like riding a bigger bicycle. You need to understand how to make it go, stop, and turn, and how to deal with traffic while riding (dirt bikes excepted). Doing it wrong can have lasting — and permanent — consequences. MSF courses range from instruction for first-time riders, to advanced classes for honing your skills as you get more experience. Best of all, they supply the bike for beginning rider classes, usually 250cc cruiser types that are easy to learn on. It’s a great chance to ride in a protected environment with professional instruction before you venture out into traffic on your own bike. Trust us, you will learn plenty, including the fact that motorcycles turn in exactly the opposite way you think they do. You’ll need to set aside a weekend and a few hundred dollars for the class, but it’s time and money well spent when it comes to your safety.

Be smart: Gear up

skully motorcycle helmet front
Bill Roberson/Digital Trends

There is an old saying in motorcycling: all the gear, all the time (also known as “AT-GATT“). Riding a motorcycle, obviously, is much different than driving a car. You need to gear up which, at a minimum, means a full-face helmet, a purpose-made motorcycle jacket with pads, gloves, boots, and protective pants. That sounds like a lot of gear, but that is required to avoid most injuries in case you crash, something beginning riders tend to do with predictable regularity as they learn to master their new machines.

Modern motorcycle gear is effective, comfortable, and looks as badass or as plain-Jane as you want it to. Trust us, road rash, which takes place as your bare skin is scraped away while sliding down the pavement, really hurts, and leaves unattractive scars. “If only I’d worn my gear,” many a rider has said from a hospital bed. Had they worn their gear, they probably could have popped up from the mishap with some bumps and bruises and walked away, having only to shell out a few hundred bucks for some new gear rather than a small (or very large) fortune for hospital bills.

And while an open-face helmet can be tempting, we always recommend a full-coverage lid to protect your precious noggin and that winning smile. It also keeps the bugs, rain, and road debris off your face. So gear up and have fun doing it; modern motorcycle gear looks great and tells everyone you’re smart about riding safe — and it works.

Bill Roberson is Digital Trends’ resident motorcycle expert and has been riding for decades. For more information, check out his motorcycle guide at our sibling publication, The Manual.

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