Thursday, October 25, 2007

What Motorcycle Should Women Ride?

This is probably the most commonly-asked question about women and motorcycles on the web. What is the best motorcycle for a woman? Especially a woman who is just starting to ride. What is, hands down, the best beginner bike?

The answer isn't as simple as most people would believe. Many people would automatically plop you down on either a Honda Rebel or something similar, and tell you that this is it. Others would suggest the standard XL 883 Low (Harley-Davidson Sportster). The truth is: it depends on your riding style.

Well, if you've never ridden a motorcycle before, how are you supposed to know what your riding style is? The answer is that you have to sit down on several bikes, try out the feel of each one, and use the process of elimination. That said, I can supply you with some basic guidance, warnings, and questions to ask yourself while going through your bike-finding process.

The first thing to consider is that you should probably get your M-class first by taking a motorcycle class. This opens up your possibilities for experimenting exponentially. Lots of dealerships allow you to take bikes for a test ride - as long as you have your M-class.

So, you have your M-class in-hand. What next? Most people will tell you that how tall you are and how generally "big" you are will dictate what kind of motorcycle you should start looking for. My response is: phooey. Anyone can ride any bike. I've seen 5'4", 90 lb women ride baggers without any problems. Also keep in mind that ANY bike can be tailored to you specifically - lowering, new seat, etc - and what you should look for is a bike that has the right feel for you and that you think you can customize for your own personal enjoyment.

Let's look at some common "beginners bikes." The afore-mentioned XL 883 L. Many women decide to go with this bike as their first bike. Really, Sportsters are common ladies' bikes. But do you want to know a little secret? Sportsters are two things:

1) Top heavy
2) A larger engine strapped onto a smaller frame.

What does this mean? When you go to take a curve or a turn, you may not feel as comfortable on a Sportster as you'd feel on a bike with a lower center of gravity, because of that top heavy design. Also, with the weight-to-engine ratio being what it is... when you open up the throttle, that Sportster MOVES. It lurches forward, if you're not prepared for it, and if you're not ready for it or comfortable on a bike, it can be startling and a little dangerous. Now... if this is your riding style, and you like to go fast and can get comfortable with the top-heaviness, then I say go for it. But keep in mind your riding style. If you are more into cruising, maybe you'll want to consider a bike with a lower center of gravity.

That leads us to the Honda Rebel. The main thing I have to say about this bike is that, unless you are very short, you will probably outgrow this bike quickly. If you buy it new, you'll definitely suffer the depreciation in value associated with trading it up or selling it for a bigger bike. If you just so happen to be tall, like me, you also will not find this a comfortable ride. The handlebars will be forever hitting your knees when you're turning slow-speed, and you'll sort of feel like a clown on one of those miniature tricycles. My suggestion? If you must have a smaller bike with less power in order to get comfortable, get one used. Ride it until you're comfortable on it. Then sell it for however much you paid for it.

So what else is there?

I'm personally a fan of bikes with a lower center of gravity, and larger frames. Most people will tell you not to consider larger bikes for your first bike, but the truth is, larger bikes are more stable, and less jumpy. Take a look at the Dyna line from Harley or the Shadow line from Honda, just as two examples. All of these are mid-level cruiser bikes that you can not only be comfortable learning on, but also grow into and have the bike grow with you. They are easily customizable as you get more advanced in your riding skills. The bikes may be larger than Sportsters and Rebels, but ultimately, the lower centers of gravity and expandability of these bikes will make them much more valuable in the long-run and extremely easy to handle when you are just starting out. The size of the bike doesn't matter once you get out on the road and just ride.

Once you get comfortable, you should be able to ride just about any bike you want. If you discover you love zipping around the back roads as fast as you can go, then definitely take a look at the Sportster models. More into cruising and touring? That Dyna will grow with you, or prepare you for the larger Softails. But keep in mind that as a beginner, your main goal should be comfort and safety as you let your skills grow, and finding the best starter bike for you is going to take time and lots of test rides to discover your personal riding style. Enjoy the ride!

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Women Only Events

Harley has recently come out with a new program known as the Garage Party. It is encouraging all of its dealerships to participate, in the hopes of further educating women about motorcycles and the motorcycle industry.

This week, I wanted to know if any of you have participated in any of these events! You can reply using the "comment" feature and share your experience - did you enjoy it? Would you recommend it to others? What was the best part? Was there anything that could be improved? Does anyone know if any metric dealerships have the same sorts of programs, like Honda or Kawasaki? Do you feel encouraged at the thought of going to an event just for women, or do you find it unappealing to segregate by gender?

Let us all know so your fellow Lady Riders can decide if it's something they'd like to do, too! If you haven't gone, let us know your impressions of these kinds of events - would you want to go to one? Share your opinions with us!

Thursday, October 11, 2007

Winterizing Your Motorcycle

It's starting to get chilly out, but that doesn't mean you can't still spend some quality time with your ride! Fall and Winter are great times to do modifications and general maintenance on your motorcycle that you don't want to do during the summer because you'd rather be out riding it!

Before going into that, however, you want to make sure that your bike is ready for winter storage. It will not be on very much during the winter, and you want to make sure it doesn't suffer any damage from stagnant fluids or lack of use during those cold months.

First of all, make sure your bike is in a safe corner of your garage. This may seem obvious, but keep in mind that if you live in a cold climate, chances are you're going to have salt on the roads, and that can be harmful to your paint job if it comes in contact with your motorcycle. Keeping your bike away from airborne transfers can help keep its appearance up longer and keep you from having to replace cosmetic parts later. If you have a cluttered garage, consider getting a bike cover.

Second of all, always store your bike with clean fluids, especially gas and oil. Give your bike an oil change before it goes into storage - I will post a how-to on this in a future article. Get a stabilizer for your gas tank. You can find a bottle of stabilizer fluid at any dealership and at many hardware stores. This will keep the gas fresh and keep it from gunking up while it's not being used.

Finally, make sure you don't drain your battery. If your bike has a security system or computerized monitoring system, look in your manual for how to disable it so that it is not draining the battery all winter while your bike isn't in use. If you can afford it, purchasing a battery tender is not a bad idea - you can hook it up to your battery periodically during the winter to make sure your battery is fresh when you start out next season.

As a little side note, it also is not a bad idea to give your bike a pre-storage detailing, something I will also cover in a future article. Detailing your bike removes substances that may otherwise stay on all winter and corrode your paint and chrome. While you'll just end up having to clean your bike again in the spring, storing a clean bike is much better than storing a dirty one.

Anyone else have any pre-winter rituals they go through with their motorcycles? Feel free to share!

Thursday, October 4, 2007

Optional Riding Gear

Before getting into this week's topic, I just wanted to mention for anyone interested and living in the Chicagoland area, Woodstock Harley-Davidson is having a special event called "Ladies... So You Want to Ride?" on October 20th starting at 12 PM, CST. It's an opportunity for any woman who is interested in riding but is just now starting out or wants more information before giving it a try to come in, ask questions in a casual environment, and learn a bit more about finding a motorcycle, taking a class, etc. If you're interested, check out their website, which is listed to the right!

If you're looking for some little extras to add to your riding wardrobe, there are lots of neat things that can add some style and functionality for special situations. One thing most riders learn never to leave home without is the all-important rain gear. Let's face it: you head out on a long trip, and no matter what the weather man says, chances are you will run into some inclement weather. Stuffing a set of rain gear in your saddlebags as an extra precaution never hurt anyone. Good rain gear does not really have to be expensive. It should consist of rain-proof material and can be worn OVER your leathers! So if you go and try some one, and it seems a bit big, keep in mind that the extra room is so you can wear something warm underneath it.

Good rain gear will also have leather sewn into the inner legs of the pants. This is to prevent melting if you have to put your foot down and your leg is close to your exhaust pipes. Remember to add a set of rain-resistant gloves to top off the outfit! I purchased mine at a Farm & Fleet for just over $80 - I haven't really had to use it yet, thank goodness!

A step up from the rain gear would be heated riding gear. Yes, it does come with special heating technology! You can get everything from heated gloves and boots, to pants and jackets! The pants and jackets I have seen actually connect to your motorcycle's battery through special wiring - read the instructions before attempting use. Boots and gloves are typically battery operated and need to be recharged regularly. If you plan on heading out when there's snow on the ground, you DEFINITELY don't want to leave home without this stuff!

Another item you may want to consider is a skullcap, especially if you ride without a helmet. Wind can be damaging to hair, and even the most adventurous of us would like to keep ours around for as long as possible! Skullcaps come in both cloth and leather varieties. They can also be worn under your helmet - if you had a hard time finding a helmet to fit your head, you can often wear a skullcap underneath to help fit it more snugly to your skull.

These are just a few functional items to supplement your riding gear. Does anyone else have any useful suggestions? Leave a comment and share with the rest of us!