It is possibly the most important step in your motorcycling career, but what should you be thinking of when looking to buy your first motorcycle?
By Mathieu Day-Gillett
New Zealand is one of the best countries in the world to be a motorcyclist. Not only do you have the incredible scenery that created Middle Earth for The Lord of the Rings films at your back door, we are lucky to have a well thought out system in place to help develop motorcyclists in the form of the Learner Approved Motorcycle Scheme and easily accessible coaching in the form of Ride Forever coaching.
But before you twist the throttle and head out on your next journey you need a bike to call your own, and this is one area where new riders can come into difficulty. Just where do you start and what makes a good learner motorcycle?
This article is based on both my experience learning to ride in NZ, but also my experience in the New Zealand motorcycle industry as a motoring writer for the past half-decade or so. The goal is to pass on some useful insight to hopefully help you narrow down your search for your first motorcycle to something that you'll not only love but also will help you grow as a rider.
Before You Start Your Search
Before you head out to the local dealerships to peruse the bikes on offer I feel it is important that first you actually have that coveted Class 6 (L) – Motorcycle Learner –endorsement on your licence. This will mean that not only will you be able to actually test ride bikes before you buy them, but you'll also have the basic skills necessary to do so safely.
In order to get your Class 6 licence in New Zealand, you must first pass a Basic Handling Skills Test (BHS) in front of a qualified instructor BEFORE you will be allowed to sit the theory test for your licence. Once the instructor is satisfied they will award you with a certificate which you must present at the time you book your theory exam.
The BHS test often involves riding around an area – usually a car park – through a series of obstacles at a variety of speeds in front of the instructor to prove you are ready to ride on the road. Think of it as a practical test before the theory exam at the local VTNZ or AA.
Even if you have never ridden a motorcycle before, BHS providers often give you options to suit your level of riding and how much coaching you will need.
For example: When I sat my BHS course in 2007 I spent two one-hour-long sessions with my trainer Doug to first learn the basics of clutch control and motorcycle gearbox shifting before working up to taking the test officially and passing it with relatively flying colours. Okay, I did knock the taillight off his GN250 with my foot while dismounting, but other than that I passed the test without incident...
For me, this came with another bonus other than being able to test ride prospective bikes. I also learned that I wanted a bike with more cool factor than Doug's old GN.
Sizing Up Your Prospects
One of the first things that undoubtedly attracts us to motorcycling is a certain image associated with the sport. Whether this image comes in the form of dreams of a screaming superbike straight out of MotoGP, a laid back cruiser like a Harley-Davidson, or a go-anywhere travel bike like a BMW R 1250 GS there is usually one thing all these examples have in common – they're not suitable for learner riders.
As the old adage goes "Sex Sells" and while the fantasy of jumping on your prospective fantasy bike and setting out on a ride sounds great in theory, the reality is these halo products are often targetted to experienced riders. Add to this the fact that in New Zealand you are restricted to a bike not exceeding 660cc and a power-to-weight ratio of 150kW/tonne and these bikes are quickly snatched out of the incoming rider's reach.
Thankfully, most manufacturers have a thorough range of motorcycles for you to choose from with more learner appropriate machines often sharing some of the key aspects of those halo products without the high price tag, while also fitting neatly within the rules of the LAMS scheme.
While your instinct may be to buy the most powerful and largest bike within your favoured sub-set of motorcycling, I would urge you to look beyond the spec-sheets at a wider range of engine sizes and styles.
Larger bikes are both more powerful and physically larger, which comes with as many downsides as up for learner riders.
Try Before You Buy
I never thought this would actually be something that needed saying, but before you hand over your hard-earned moolah, ride the bike you think you want as well as a variety of others that catch your fancy too.
This will allow you to not only size up the bike that has captured your heart, but you'll also be able to compare important characteristics such as comfort, power and ease of use to help you make your final decision.
Stay Within Your Budget
One thing to be wary of is overspending on your first motorcycle. While there are plenty of bikes available under $10,000 you can get learner machines in excess of $15,000. While some of these bikes will last you for many years, others can leave you wanting more after you achieve your full licence.
With easy to access finance available all over the country, it really is quite easy to spend a lot of money on your first bike. If you even suspect you may be looking at upgrading as soon as you can then we strongly recommend keeping to a tight budget and avoid large loans as much as possible. Save them for when you are ready to buy your dream bike instead.
So that's our guide on buying your first motorcycle. Is there anything you think we missed? Let us know your tips for buying your first bike via social media, or drop us an email. We'd love to hear your feedback.