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Husband, father, grandfather, friend...a few of the roles acquired in 62 years of living.  I keep an upbeat attitude, loving humor and the singular freedom of a perfect laugh.  I don't let curmudgeons ruin my day; that only gives them power over me.  Having experienced death once, I no longer fear it, although I am still frightened by the process of dying.  I love to write because it allows me the freedom to vent those complex feelings that bounce restlessly off the walls of my mind; and express the beauty that can only be found within the human heart.

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Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Motorcycles: Choosing Wisely**

*Chicago Tribune
April 8, 2011
as "Word of caution to potential riders"

*Somerset, PA Daily American
April 9, 2011
as "Word of caution to potential riders"
Copyright © 2011 by Ralph Couey

Gas prices have soared once again, and show no signs of abating.  This latest spike has driven cost of operating a car or truck for personal use high enough to be of real concern to household and business budgets.  As you search for ways to cut those costs, you may be considering a motorcycle or scooter.
But is it really that much cheaper?
For those of you considering two-wheel transportation, there are some things you need to seriously think about as you make this decision.
First of all, why are you buying the bike?
Odd question, but stay with me, here.  There are nine different types, or classes of street-legal motorcycles.  Scooters, standards, cruisers, dual sports, sport bikes, sport-tourers, tourers, trikes, and customs.  If you’re commuting a short distance and you don’t intend to ride to Glacier National Park this summer, you don’t need a $30,000 Harley full-dresser.  You can do just as well with a large scooter, or a medium-sized standard.  Also, while you’re in learning mode, those less-expensive bikes are cheaper to repair.
How will you use it?
Motorcycles, like any motorized transport, work better and last longer the more often they’re used.  You should think about not just using the bike for commuting, but for running some of the errands for which you now use the car, within reason.  Obviously, you’re not going to pack $100 in groceries home, but if you’re just going for a loaf of bread and jug of milk, a bike might be just the ticket. 
How much can you spend?
The riding season around here is much shorter than other places, so you need to balance purchase price against desired gas savings.  If economy is your goal, you shouldn’t spend more than about 5 or 6 grand.  The higher the price, the longer it will take you to recoup the savings in gas.  I ride about 10-12,000 miles per year, but most commuters will be doing good to log half that amount.  You can assume an mpg in the mid-40s for most bikes, so sit down and do the math before you start shopping.
How detail-oriented are you?
This seems like a strange question, but motorcycles require a lot of attention.  Air pressure has to be checked regularly. A low or flat tire is an annoyance in a car.  On a bike, it can kill you.  The long winter layoff means required maintenance before riding in the spring.  You must track fluid levels (especially oil).  Unlike a car, it’s not “turn the key and go.”  Not if you want to stay alive.
Have you ever ridden before, or how many years has it been?
Riding requires a different skill set than driving, which is why separate licensure is required.  Seek out and take a rider safety course.  They’ll provide the bike, and in most cases, if you pass the course, you earn the license.  These courses are taught by certified instructors who are committed to teaching safe street skills.  You will learn things that straight road experience would take years to teach.  If you’ve been away from bikes for 10 or 15 years, you should take the course anyway, if for no other reason than the break you get on insurance premiums. 
Start out on something smaller and cheaper and work up to your dream bike.  It will likely save you a lot of heartache.  Every new rider will drop their bike at least three times. Count on it.  It may be a sharp maneuver or panic stop; an uphill right turn from a dead stop, or just forgetting to put your foot or side stand down when you stop.  Sounds silly?  Happens far more than you think. 
Every one of my four accidents taught me valuable lessons about riding habits and the value of good gear.  I don’t ride without an armored jacket, gloves, and chaps, and yes, I wear a helmet.  If you’re a new rider, you should too.  You can recover from broken arms and legs, but a broken brain never heals.  I saw a guy suffer a concussion when his kickstand folded up while sitting still in his garage, causing the bike to fall over.  You don’t have to be moving to get hurt
Costs, risks, and rewards are the fundamentals of any decision you will ever make.  But they are absolutely vital considerations in the purchase of a motorcycle.  Think it over carefully.  Ask a lot of questions.  Choose wisely.
And, of course, have a great ride!
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