Motorcycle Basics

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Motorcycles

Motorcycles: modes of transportation, personal statements, or ways of life? Most likely, they are a little bit of each. The motorcyclist is long entrenched in American mythology, but just what are motorcycles—and motorcyclists—all about? There are resources on the Web to shed light on all of this and help out any rider or aspiring rider looking for motorcycle advice, places to buy, or other riders to commune with.

Motorcycle Basics

Everyone knows how being cool works: you get on a motorcycle, and it just happens. But how does that motorcycle work? Largely immune to the computerization of modern cars, motorcycles are still extremely mechanically accessible. Use these sites to learn about the nuts and bolts of these beautiful machines and everything else you need to know before you ride.

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  • The motorcycle world is inundated with the do-it-yourself philosophy. As such, many of the sites and resources you’ll find are provided not by a big organization or company but by ordinary riders with lots of experience and goodwill. These sites are the heart of the motorcycle world, so don’t be put off by the simple design of some sites. Basic—even unattractive—design can belie great insight.
  • Tutorials and Web guides can get you started with an understanding of motorcycles, but nothing replaces some hands-on experience. If you have a friend who has a bike, ask if you can help the next time he (or she) is servicing it. Experience is always the fastest way to learn.

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Learning to Ride a Motorcycle

Most states require bikers to get a special motorcycle license (often referred to as an “endorsement”). And unless you grew up riding them, you’ll also most likely need some training before you can get a bike going without falling down or stalling. Don’t embarrass yourself trying to make it happen all alone—there’s a vast array of courses that can get you and your bike up and running gracefully. Find these and many other resources for advice and information in this section.

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  • We know, you’ve heard it before, but it bears repeating: motorcycle riding is very, very dangerous. Safety is something that demands a rider’s constant attention. The Motorcycle Safety Foundation rider course, discussed in the first site below, is universally necessary for any rider.
  • Even if you have been riding for years, it’s always smart to take a refresher course—laws change, and so do the rules of the road. Don’t get left behind.
  • Motorcycle laws, including lane-sharing laws, helmet laws, insurance and licensing laws, and even upkeep laws differ from state to state. Make sure you know what your state requires. This chart of equipment laws for each state comes courtesy of the Motorcycle Safety Foundation.

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Buying a Motorcycle

You’ve taken the MSF rider course. You’ve perfected your leaning, your clutch skills, and your braking. You can lift the heaviest bike that’s dropped, and your thumb knows exactly where the kill switch is. Let’s get you a bike already! But, wait … which bike is best? And where should you get it? Don’t panic: there are numerous sites to help you go from a wannabe-biker to a wannabe-biking-more.

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  • Most of the major Web sites for buying a car are also useful for buying a motorcycle. If you want more information on buying a motorcycle, the findingDulcinea Car Shopping guide has loads of tips and Web sites for buying a vehicle, whether it has four wheels or two.
  • If you know what brand of motorcycle you want, then you may want to explore that company’s Web site. Honda’s Web site, for example, allows you to customize your own bike with colors and accessories. These sites also let you browse through their selection of models easily, and point you to any dealers nearby.
  • Remember, you’ll be spending a lot of time on this machine, and you’re putting your life in its hands (or handlebars, as it were). Shop around and get pricing online, but make sure to get a feel for the machine in person before you buy.
  • You’ve bought your bike and are raring to go. All set? Not quite. A motorcycle purchase isn’t complete without a DOT-approved helmet. Most states have laws requiring that motorcyclists wear them, and study after study shows they are the most effective piece of safety gear available to a rider. At Motorcycle Cruiser magazine’s site, you’ll find a good guide on how to choose and buy a safe helmet, as well as useful links for further information on helmets below the article.
  • Although you can shop online for a motorcycle through classifieds sites like Craigslist, major motorcycle or helmet purchases are not ones you should make quickly or haphazardly.

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Motorcycle Repair

Bikes need a lot of TLC: they break down, need new parts, new fluids, and lots of general, ongoing care. But you don’t necessarily need to go running to a mechanic. By and large, motorcycles have remained basic in their design. With a little commitment, a little education, and a lot of elbow grease, you can build up the experience and knowledge you need to maintain your own bike. The peace of mind you get from servicing your own motorcycle—your lifeline on the road—is worth all of the effort.

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  • Nothing beats experience when it comes to motorcycle repair. But you don’t want to destroy your brand-new, $20,000 sports bike while learning the basics. Think about starting with an older, used bike for learning repairs. Or help out a friend who’s doing some repairs. A mentor can be invaluable for such hands-on work.
  • Quality repair requires the right tools and materials. Using the wrong tool can destroy bolts, strip threading, and wreak havoc on your bike’s parts. Invest some money in decent tools to do the job right.
  • There are countless repair manuals out there for the do-it-yourself motorcyclist. Check them out at your local shop or at most online motorcycle stores. As an introductory manual to fixing motorcycles, The Motorcycle Basics Manual received great reviews.

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Motorcycle Accessories

You can’t ride without your gear. The links below will lead you to some gear and apparel sites. And if you live and breathe motorcycles, you’re going to need some memorabilia too, so we’ve rounded up the best online sources for collectibles as well.

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  • The Web site for your bike’s manufacturer is a great place to check for gear, apparel, and memorabilia. Most makers’ sites have a section where you can search by branded products and accessories. If you have a BMW bike, for example, visit the “Gear” section of BMW’s site for a selection of clothing, accessories, gifts, and equipment.
  • You are going to find a lot of Harley stuff when searching for motorcycle memorabilia. If you are looking for something other than Harley, the memorabilia Web sites below should help; but if not, try any store that sells collectibles. And when all else fails, eBay is always a great option for finding that unique item.

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Biker Communities

Maybe you want to trade tips and advice with other bikers. Or maybe you want to find some biker companionship; who wants to go on that long journey alone? Below are some sites that highlight the necessities of any cyclist, and connect you with a vast biker community.

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  • As with any situation where you post a profile on a Web site, don’t provide too much personal information. All information you post could potentially be viewed by anyone with a subscription to the site (and in some cases anyone at all). Even sites that “screen” users can’t guarantee that unsavory types won’t slip by and use your personal data unscrupulously.
  • Social networking sites like MySpace and Facebook can be a useful venue to meet other bikers. If you’re a member, look for motorcycle-related groups you can join.

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Motorcycle Blogs

Most motorcyclists would rather be riding than doing anything else. Unfortunately, logistics require that we all spend at least a few hours a day off our bikes. But that does leave time for the one thing bikers like to do almost as much as riding: talking about riding. There are many blogs to satisfy this need. Have a look at these sites to learn about riding info, get advice, or to share your own insight.

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  • There are many types of motorcyclists, including the diehard biker bohemian, the sporty racer, the take-it-easy tourer, the weekend cruiser, and even the commuter. Don’t think you have to fit a mold: many blogs espouse a certain philosophy of riding, but it doesn’t have to be your own. Ride safely, and ride your own way, but be open to learning something new in unexpected places.
  • Many motorcycle blogs can be pretty specialized in terms of location and type of bike. 

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