Hindsight is a wonderful thing and if you have been a biker for a few years what would you recommend as your first big bike now that you have real world motorcycling experience behind you?
Best first motorbike after passing test
Some of our lawyers pass their test just before they join us. Of our current trainees Gavin Grewal had passed his CBT before he came for interview and passed his 33bhp test. Mandy Sahib and Natalie Vickers passed the full DAS test and have been teasing Gav that they are proper bikers and he isn’t.
Gav is doing his DAS but they all keep coming up with different answers as to what their first big bike should be. All of them have good quality protective kit. Doing our job means you wear the right kit. So what should they be looking for in their bikes. Here is what I have suggested.
1. How to find your first motorbike?
My first advice to all our newbie bikers is sit on lots of bikes and work out what fits you. Rule out anything that does not fit you. A bike should be light enough for a novice rider to easily control, the ability to get your feet down confidently (taking into account road camber) is essential and riding in a comfortable position which is natural for you are prerequisites for a first bike. Smooth and reliable power coming through the throttle, progressive brakes and a clutch which isn’t at all snappy will all help instil confidence in your early days.
Gav stands at a bit over 6 feet tall and is a solidly built man. Mandy and Natalie are both much smaller and are quite petite. Both the girls felt very at ease on a Kawasaki ER6. Gav wants something sportier. Riding a bike is a much more personal thing than driving a car. My little camper van broke down in France and I was given a diesel Kia. Perfectly good little car, but I had no emotions to it at all.
My bikes have names, they are always female. My BMW R1200GS was the big German girl when I liked her, the Panzer Tractor when I didn’t. The Ducati was the Mutley, and I spoke cod Italian to her. My Triumph is Dora (the Explorer) and when I sold the Panzer Tractor I described myself as “falling out of love with the big German girl” – so bikes have for me an emotional resonance that cars do not have. So you have got to like the bike.
Picking a bike for its spec sheet just doesn’t work so if all my boxes are ticked, say an NTV 700 Deauville, but the bike doesn’t fit me or I don’t like it, it won’t work. Jo Readman made that mistake with a Suzuki 500GS. On paper it worked for her, small, light and unfaired. She hated it. She loves her Hornet, so she rides it.
2. What motorbike styles are there?
Back in the 1980’s when I started riding there was a glut of 250 bikes, which had suddenly stopped being learner legal. We had all sorts of silly two stroke screamers, sensible 250 four strokes and a range of small bikes, the VT250, the 350 Powervalve and so on. For the last few years this class of bike has been utterly neglected by the manufacturers but there are now a lot of brand new, light weight but full size bikes around. I have been around bikes for 25 years and bikes go through phases.
Now people are riding because it is cheaper than a car, waterproofs work and tyres don’t give out at the first hint of rain. A bike is a practical and economic proposition as a form of transport. Kawasaki, Honda and Suzuki all have 250/300cc small, attractive, light sports styled bikes. They look and brake like big bikes and they are a hoot to ride. They are quick enough to obliterate cars, but to get to the performance you don’t have to scare yourself. Personally I think these bikes are perfect to do your riding apprenticeship on. I passed my test back in the day when once you passed you could ride what you liked/ could afford/get insurance on.
My first big bike was a 2 stroke, air cooled triple Kawasaki KH250. It rarely fired on all three cylinders but I loved that bike. Its performance was frankly rubbish compared to its 250 Ninja descendent. KTM produce a supermoto style 200 and Honda and Kawasaki produce well built 250 enduro style machines. If I was starting riding now, that’s what I’d be looking at. Cheap to drop is a real plus point.
3. Do I choose a faired or naked motorcycle?
I dropped my first few bikes. Silly things, all low speed but back in the 1980’s no modest capacity bike had expensive body work. All of the old sweat bikers here say the same thing to the newbies. Make sure it is cheap to drop. Because you will drop it. I first dropped mine as an 18 year old showing off to sixth form girls at Aylesbury’s girls’ grammar school. Being light enough to pick up on your own is an advantage!
4. What are you using a motorcycle for?
Most of our lawyers ride into work. Some of us use our bikes for pretty well everything. Having a bit of luggage capacity for a commuter makes a lot of sense. Chef and I adopt the “Can you go down the shops on it?” test. Whilst you may plan to use the bike for adventure touring or track days, most of a bikes mileage is spent on errands or commuting unless it is a toy. For me a working bike needs sat nav and loads of carrying capacity. I have had bikes as toys – but they seem to stick in the garage until my wife points out that they never move. Then I have to agree and sell the bike. So I have one working bike that will be the first vehicle that I pick if I am travelling alone.
5. What motorcycle jacket & helmet should I buy?
Your first motorcycle jacket, helmet and kit has got to protect you but also be easy to get on and off. If it is a 15 minute struggle including the help of your significant other/mum etc to get dressed, your bike won’t move, you won’t get the road miles and whilst you may have your licence you are gaining no experience and no road skills.
The one piece Aerostich suit means I can pull on a protective suit in about 10 seconds. Lid on, gloves and I am off. If travelling to court or meeting with a client who is expecting me in a suit, then the Aerostich is brilliant. Likewise in the winter, what the Aerostich lacks in style it makes up for in solid crash resistance and ease of use. Held and Alpinestar do a similar and cheaper one piece “City Overall” – again, if I were starting out in biking now, as a motorcycle commuter who needs to wear a suit at times, I’d have a city overall, and ride a KLX250 or a CRF 250.
If I have to get into one piece leathers, I’ll take the VW camper. Our regular commuters all wear comfortable protective kit. In the summer I’ll wear Kevlar “dad” jeans, armoured but fairly soft city boots and an Alpinestar textile or leather jacket. Once I get into work, off comes the lid and jacket and I am presentable.
As a pleasure rider I reckon the sportier 250’s would take my fancy with a leather jean/textile armoured jacket zip together combination would be my starting point. Some of our lawyers have bought non waterproof boots. All have regretted it. Also, my experience is motocross boots are not a good regular boot. They are clumsy, really hard to walk in and in the event of a crash tend to break the leg through or just below the knee. Short boots can be worn more discreetly and whilst a broken leg is never a fun thing breaking the leg in the middle of a long bone is much better than breaking a joint, if you want a full recovery.
6. What would be the most ideal motorbike for a newbie motorcyclist?
So here is my advice to my 3 newbie biker trainee solicitors. Get a bike that fits you, that you like, that does not overwhelm you with weight or height and gets you into work every morning, reliably.
If you can drop it cheaply then that is a major positive factor. They all have good bike kit already, so if they do drop the bike they are all well protected. Gav a combination of Alpinestar and Hein Gericke, Mandy is an HG girl – hopefully that brand will resurface, and Natalie’s other half works for Triumph so Natalie’s gear is all branded Triumph and it is really good quality gear.
What do you think? What kit would you recommend to buy for those tentative initial outings on the road? Tell us in the comments section below.