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!

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