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Motorcycle insurance tips for beginners and seasoned riders

Insurance can be a bit mysterious. That voice in the back of your head tells you that you should read all the fine print of an insurance contract but actually reading it all or listening to an agent explain all nitty-gritty details can be well - mind numbing to say the least. For these reasons motorcycle insurance isn't greatly understood by a lot of riders.  

A lack of full understanding doesn't stop people from having opinions though. I'll almost guarantee that if you go to just about any motorcycle forum - people have been, or are currently having a heated conversation about insurance. 

It's one of those things that you don't want until you need it.  But if you want to ride a motorcycle in Canada one thing is certain - you've got to have insurance. In light of this and because we've been getting some emails from riders asking about insurance lately we've put together a few basic bits of information that you should know.

Before we get into the tips, realize that different provinces and territories may have different systems so you need to be aware of what the regulations are in your province or territory. 

British Columbia, Saskatchewan, Manitoba and Quebec, for example, all have public insurance systems that are owned and run by the government. Some say that public systems keep costs low, others think it creates a monopoly and higher insurance costs. We'll reserve judgment but having lived in Manitoba (under a public system) and in Nova Scotia (private insurance) - I'm paying a lot less under a private system.

1. First tip, if you take only one piece of advice take this one... Before you choose what bike you're going to buy call around to some insurance companies to get an idea of what the insurance costs will be. This might end up being a BIG factor in your decision of what you'll end up buying. 

Insurance can be very expensive on some bikes, some you wouldn't think would be expensive are and some you thought would, aren't!  Yes - it's confusing. Don't try to make sense of it, just do yourself a favor and make a few phone calls.

Consider that the Société de l'assurance automobile du Québec (SAAQ) have published a list of motorcycles that they consider "high risk." What does this mean? Well - we've not spoken with the SAAQ to ask them but we can only guess that it means that if you want to insure one of these high-risk motorcycles in Quebec that you're going to pay dearly for the privilege.

What's surprising is that if you look at this list, there's plenty of very powerful bikes that aren't on this dreaded "high-risk" list. The Yamaha FZ1 isn't on the list for example. This 1000cc bike packs about 150hp - more than plenty of the bikes on the list. It is a little more upright though and perhaps typically ridden by more mature riders.

There are some bikes on the list you might not expect - a BMW K1200S for example. BMW's sportsbike isn't a typical crotch rocket ridden by somebody that just got their licence. Maybe it's stolen more?

There isn't a universal high-risk list but each insurance company may have their own list of bikes that they don't like to insure.  Find out what bikes are on that list and be informed when making your purchase decision.

2. Consider the type of bike you're going to ride. In general, an expensive sportbike will typically cost more to insure than a sedate entry level bike. There are some possible surprises, as we've noted in tip 1 but in general a very fast and very expensive bike is going to cost more to insure. Claims analysis done by the Highway Loss Data Institute in the US has shown that supersports class motorcycle have the worst overall accident rates and insurance losses among all types of motorcycles, with driver death rates nearly four times higher than rates for motorcyclists who ride all other types of bikes.

3. Call around and get quotes from 'several' companies. Prices can vary a lot! I'm talking several hundred dollars difference. It's worth the effort to call around.  I think most people would agree that saving a few hundred dollars is worth a few minutes of your time.  If it's not please give me a call!

4. If you've taken rider training such as the Canadian Safety Council program or other government approved program, mention it when asking for quotes and ask if they give a discount to riders who take it. Many companies will rate you as having more experience if you've taken this training. I was given 2 years riding experience credit when I indicated to my first insuring company I'd taken it.

5. If you have another policy with an insurance company (such as car, home/tenants insurance, life insurance etc.) ask if they have a multi-policy discount. Typically this gets you a discount in the 5% range.

6. If you are a University graduate or member of some other professional group find out if you qualify for any possible group rate packages offered. For example, Meloche Monnex offers group rates to graduates of many Canadian Universities. You might also find out the insurance company your employer uses to supply insurance benefits to employees (if applicable). Sometimes they'll have group rates for certain employee types. ie: IT workers, health practitioners, etc. There are insurance programs out there for many different groups - it never hurts to ask an insurer if they have any group policies and what groups they insure.

7. Check out a motorcycle forum or club in your area and ask the members what company they use. You might find some local companies that offer motorcyclist friendly rates.

8. Taking a higher deductible for physical damage coverage (collision & comprehensive, specified perils) will generate a lower premium in those categories.

Still haven't had your fill of insurance talk?  Here's a link to a couple articles published by an insurance company that offer some excellent information that's a lot easier on the brain than reading all that fine print!


New motorcyclist guide and bikes to look for under $6k

Just getting started with motorcycling? This best beginner bike guide will offer a plain language guide that is free from motorcycle techo-speak. First we'll look at things you should consider when purchasing your first bike, covering some of the basics, and what to look for. Then we'll move on to a basic discussion of the styles of motorcycles and finally some of the bikes you might want to be riding this summer!

One of the first factors that is going to affect your decision about what bike to buy is your budget. How much do you have to spend?

BUDGET

We’re going to limit the bikes we look at to those that are priced below $6,000. When determining your budget don’t forget to account for riding gear! At a minimum you’re going to need a DOT/Snell approved helmet, a jacket, gloves, and proper footwear with some ankle protection. Many people also ride with protective pants too which certainly isn’t a bad idea. If you end up buying a new bike at a dealership they’ll typically give you a discount and may even work the amount into your financing. Some manufacturers even have promotions that they include some of the necessary safety gear with the purchase.


DOT and Snell are safety standards for motorcycle helmets and in Canada you’ll need at least a DOT approved helmet. Snell helmets go through some more rigorous testing and the helmet manufacturers must submit helmets for testing. Snell standards meet or exceed DOT standards. If you’re interested in exploring the topic of helmets further you may want to check out our helmet article.

Can't decide what color helmet to get and think black may be best... Well, maybe not. You should ride a motorcycle like you're invisible to others on the road. Many accidents involving a vehicle and a motorcyclist are because the driver of the vehicle "didn't see" the motorcyclist. Making yourself highly visible is important - a concept referred to as 'conspicuity.' Some say that brightly colored helmets stand out more to drivers. Yellow and white are supposedly among the best.

Try on lots of helmets before you buy and make sure you do a roll off test. A roll off test is basically when you put the helmet on your head, strap yourself in and try to pull it off from the back by rolling it forward. Failing this test means is doesn't fit. Helmets should be quite snug! They're no good if they don't stay on your head. It may take trying several different brands and sizes to find the right fit.
Full face helmets are generally recommended as the safest type of helmet because they also protect your jaw in the event of a crash.

Lots of people sell jackets and other gear so keep an eye on classified ads - you can pick up some good deals. Online motorcycle forums in your area are an excellent place to look for used gear and motorcycles. Check out our Regional Resources page for popular forums in your area. A new DOT approved helmet can be fairly inexpensive to purchase so you may want your own new helmet as you never really know how helmet is treated. That being said, people often sell perfectly good helmets because they want something to match their new bike, or their tastes may have changed. Just because a helmet costs more doesn't mean it protects better. Mid-range helmets are a good place to look as they'll have the right blend of safety, comfort, features, and quietness on the road. Quietness is an an important factor to consider especially if you'll be on the highway because over the long term you can suffer hearing damage (just pick up a few cheap pairs of ear plugs to protect yourself from this).

Don’t forget about taking a rider training course! You can learn on their motorcycles and drivers test is typically included in the cost. A very popular training course in Canada is the "Gearing Up" program offered by the Canada Safety Council. Some dealerships offer discounts for those who’ve passed the test and insurance companies too. Not only will it help teach you to ride safely, it’ll often pay for itself in discounts you’ll receive.

NEW vs USED

Are you handy? Is your budget really tight? These factors may influence your decision about whether you want to get a new bike or a used bike. There are certainly some advantages to buying a new bike; you know what you’re getting and it’s going to be under warranty. Most motorcycle manufacturers offer a 12 month, unlimited mileage warranty. Buell is an exception in this price range and offer a standard 2 yr warranty. Extended warranties can usually be purchased if you want. Many bikes need to have their “first” service done at the 1,000 km mark and it’s typically not covered under warranty. Expect this to set you back a couple hundred dollars give or take.

Provided you find a well maintained one, used bikes may have an advantage in terms of affordability. There’s always somebody selling a motorcycle or trading up to something newer/bigger/faster. When buying used you forgo the big depreciation hit once you take it off the lot. Bikes tend to depreciate heavily in the first few years then prices stabilize and depreciation rates slow. Another advantage of buying used is that people often buy costly custom parts for their motorcycles that you can get for a fraction of the new cost. Getting them used is the way to go.

It is a “let the buyer beware” situation and you don’t always know what you’re getting with a used bike. It may be wise to get a used bike that you’re serious about checked out by a mechanic before laying down your cash. Because of our strict insurance regulations many people conducting a private sale will be very hesitant to let you take their bike for a test ride. In a lot of provinces test riders will be covered under the owners insurance or may not be covered at all. Insurance companies typically suggest owners not allow test rides.

Old or rare bikes can seem like good deals but finding and buying parts can sometimes be tricky, not to mention expensive! Rare motorcycles or brands that are not very popular may be more difficult to get service on too. Is there a dealer locally who will be able to service your bike?

Lot’s of people suggest buying used because they say you’ll definitely drop the bike and scratch it up a bit when just starting out. The idea is that you won’t mind those character flaws on a used bike as much as a new one and they won’t cost you as much in terms of resale. I don’t totally buy into the “you’ll definitely drop your bike” suggestions.

Yes, the likelihood of dropping the bike or having an accident is greater when you're learning but I bought my first bike new and I never dropped it. Be contentious and take the proper training and you'll reduce your likelihood of accidents. Riding a motorcycle requires a lot more mental alertness than driving a car – if you’re on a bike you need to be thinking about what you’re doing. That’s part of the attraction of it!

WHAT STYLE?

There are several different styles of motorcycles. The list is long but the basic types can be described as standard, cruiser, sport bike, touring, dual-sport, and off-road. Touring bikes are typically designed with intermediate and experienced riders in mind and are a little more costly. Off-road bikes are designed for strictly off pavement use so we’ll knock those two off the range of bikes we’ll be looking at.

Standard – The foot pegs and shifter are located either below the waist, slightly forward, or slightly rearward in a "natural" stance that creates a very comfortable, ergonomic upright seating position. Handlebars are upright and designed not to put pressure on the wrists or tailbone. Some bikes in this category will have little or no fairings (plastic covers) covering the bodywork of the bike. Fairings help cover up the bike mechanicals and also may provide some protection from the wind and other elements. They're also terribly expensive to replace if you scratch them up.

Cruiser - Foot pegs and shifter are either set forward of the body like so your legs can stretch out. It creates a comfortable, laid back seating position. These bikes generally have very little in the way of wind protection aside from a windscreen in some cases.

Sportbike – The foot pegs and shifter are located rearward from the waist. The rider is in an aggressive riding stance that creates a very streamlined, aerodynamic profile. Handlebars are low and put you in a tucked, aerodynamic position. This riding position can put pressure on the wrists, and can be uncomfortable for long rides.

Dual Sport – The foot pegs and shifter are located below the waist in a "natural" style which creates a very comfortable, ergonomic upright seating position. Handlebars are upright and wide to allow easier slow speed turning and to not put pressure on the wrists. This style has a basic look, exposed engine, long seat, light weight, minimal plastic, higher seat height, long suspensions, and usually no fairing.

WHAT SIZE?

By size we’re referring to a few factors; one being the seat height, the other being the size of the engine. New riders or those who are a little shorter in the leg will want to pay particular attention to the seat height of a motorcycle. Look for something that you’ll comfortably be able to put both feet flatly on the ground when sitting on the bike. Dual sports will tend to have higher seat heights of the different styles.

Check local laws concerning licences. Often licencing is tiered and you may be limited to riding a bike under 550 cc if you take the test on a bike that size or all motorcycles if you test on larger engine motorcycle. Ask the company running the training course you're taking, you are taking one right!, if they offer the rental of larger motorcycles to take your test on if that's something you're interested in.

Engine sizes of motorcycles are normally expressed in cubic centimeters. It’s the volume of gas inside the cylinder(s). The bigger the cc displacement the larger the bike’s engine is generally. As a new rider you should focus your attention on the smaller displacement bikes.

Beginner bikes with engine sizes from 125 cc bike to say a 500 cc bike will offer smooth easy to handle power. Bigger engines are heavier and can be much more powerful, making them difficult to learn on. The power-to-weight ratio of many sport bikes gives them the performance of luxury sports cars costing hundreds of thousands of dollars; incredibly dangerous in the hands of a beginner! Unlike a 600 cc or 1000 cc sportbike that can exceed posted limits on most roads in only first or second gear you'lll get to use all of the gears on your smaller displacement bike. Working though the gears is part of the joy of riding a motorcycle. It'll make you a better rider if you choose to get a bigger bike in the future.

These smaller displacement bikes offer a much more forgiving power output. If you crack the throttle a little too hard or let out the clutch a little too fast you won't end up on your back on the pavement wondering where your bike went!

The amount of power an engine produces isn’t only based on its cc’s. A smaller engine with the ability to cycle faster (higher revolutions per minute) can produce more power than a larger engine that moves slower. Speed is also affected by the gearing of the motorcycle too. Some bikes will have a 5 speed transmission and others a six speed transmission. So despite what you may have heard… bigger is not always better!

A 125 cc bike will be suitable for many beginner riders and very capable for city use, secondary roads, and occasional highway jaunts - though you'll likely want to keep it relatively short. Highway speed will be at about the high limit of the 125 cc class. A 250 cc bike will be capable for all roads and will have a little more punch at highway speedsl. A 500 cc bike will be best able to handle longer highway rides. You should have no trouble moving at the speed limits on any Canadian road on a 500 cc. If you’ll eventually want to ride with a friend a 500 cc bike will provide the power you’ll need. If you're large in terms of height or weight the larger end of the scale may suit you best.

On the smaller bikes in the 125-250 range you’ll need to plan your highway passes well in advance and they will require some down-shifting to keep the engine in a usable power range. You’ll need to plan ahead. The dual-sport bikes typically have lower maximum RPM's than you'd have on the sportbike class bikes so you'll need something a little larger than a 125 cc dual-sport if you want to spend some time on the highway.

Another benefit of the smaller engines is that they're typically 'very' fuel efficient. Fuel economy over 40 and substantially more is not uncommon in this category. This makes them popular with commuters, people wanting to reduce their fuel consumption, and people who are getting a little fed up with the rising costs of gas. Switching to commuting in a big SUV to a small displacement bike may well pay for itself in a a few short seasons.

If you'll be spending a lot of time on the highway at high speeds you may want to look for a 500 cc bike or maybe even a mildly tuned 600-650. These bikes will be more difficult to handle initially but if you drive within your ability and you're smooth with your throttle control it's worth considering. A 600 cc sportbike does not fall into the category of beginner bike! These bikes are real powerhouses and require a lot of throttle control. You can get yourself into a lot of trouble really quickly on this type of bike. The Internet is full of stories of people cutting their lives short starting out on bikes designed for experienced riders. Big cruiser category bikes are not for beginners either. Recently I read a tragic story about a man who purchased his first motorcycle (a big powerful cruiser) who died as a result of crash before even leaving the parking lot of the dealership.

A word on riding with passengers - it’s generally not advisable to ride with a passenger right way. It’s best to wait until you get some riding time and experience. Many suggest that after a year of riding you’ll be better equipped to carry a passenger.

There are some 650's on the market that would be suitable for a confident and mature new rider to start on as well. A 650 may be a little more challenging to learn because they are heavier and may have quite a bit more power. Because of that extra power you might be more likely to keep the bike longer as your skills grow and are better able to take advantage of the additional performance offered. Most 600 cc and up bikes cost more than $6000 new though so don't fall into the guidelines of our review. Some models to look for would be the Kawasaki Ninja 650R or Versys, Suzuki GSX650F, most cruisers in the 600-650 range would also be okay.

The engine displacement size may also play a role in the amount you’ll pay for insurance too. Generally the larger and more powerful the engine, the more you’re going to pay. Insurance costs can vary widely so be sure to check with your insurance company 'before' buying something.

No discussion about engines would be complete without a short mention of engine type. Bikes generally have from one to six cylinders. One and two cylinder bikes will be most common in the sub $6k price point.

The two cylinder bikes will likely have the two cylinders in a v-shaped configuration, commonly referred to as a v-twin. V-twin engines are very common on cruiser style bikes. Another common twin engine is a parallel cylinder design. Most bikes in this category have a single cylinder.

HOW DOES IT FEEL?

You never really know if you're going to feel comfortable on a bike until you sit on it. Go to the dealerships and see if you can spend a bit of time sitting on them to get a feel for how it fits you. People come in all shapes and sizes and what's comfortable for one person may not be comfortable for another. Sit on a few bikes so you can feel the difference. If the bike has a 'center stand' ask if it can be put on it so you can sit on the bike in an upright position that will be more like what you'll experience on the road.

Can your feet touch the ground flat footed? Is there pressure on your wrists? Is your neck in a strain position? Are your legs in a comfortable position? Is the seat comfortable? These are all things you won't know unless you sit on the bike. Some dealerships may let you test drive a bike, provided you have your licence already of course. It's been my experience that most don't allow test drives though so spend some time sitting on the bike and checking out print or online reviews of the bikes you're interested in.


* A center stand is simply a stand that supports the motorcycle in an upright position that's located under the motorcycle frame. They're very useful for performing maintenance and even when you're filling your tank with gas! The bike isn't slanted over to one side.

Okay, that hits most of the critical points of what to look for and think about when choosing a bike. Now for the fun! What will my $6k get me? Broken down by category here’s a brief summary of what’s available for 2008. We're not offering a definitive guide here - just an overview and some links to get you started.


CRUISER
:

Honda CMX250C – MSRP $4,999

234 cc, air-cooled four-stroke twin
Five-speed
150 kg (331 lb) including required fluids and full tank of gas - ready to ride
Fuel Capacity: 9.8 litres
Color: Graphite Black
18.5 hp at 8,250 rpm
14 ft/lbs. torque at 4,500 rpm

A user-friendly combination of light weight and comfortable size has made the CMX250C Rebel an enduring favourite among riders looking for an easy-to-handle cruiser. The good stuff begins with a high-output twin-cylinder engine that runs more smoothly than a single, yet is thrifty on gas and easy to maintain. A front disc brake brings you to a halt quickly, and that's when you'll notice how easy it is to put your feet flat on the ground, thanks to a low seat height. This is a bike that instills confidence on every ride

Yamaha V-Star 250 – MSRP $4,899

Air-cooled, SOHC, 2-valve, 60° V-twin, 249 cc engine.
Low 27” seat height
Maximum Torque 2.1 kg-m (15.2 ft-lb) @ 6,000 rpm
5-speed transmission,
Wet Weight 147 kg (323.4 lb)
Fuel Capacity 9.5 litres (2.1 Imp. gal.)
21 hp at 8,000 rpm
15.2 ft/lbs. torque at 6,000 rpm

With an authentic V-twin engine, the Virago will give you the grunt and growl that you don't often find in the lightweight class. It's also got a low 27” seat height for added confidence, perfect for novice riders. It's a nimble, confidence-inspiring cruiser with heavyweight styling and lightweight packaging.

Suzuki Marauder 250 - MSRP $4,699

249 cc, four-stroke, single cylinder, SOHC, 2-valve engine
5-speed transmission,
Dry Weight: 302lbs
14.0 L (3.1 imp gal) fuel tank
Fuel Tank Capacity 14.0 L (3.1 imp gal)
Colour Black, Gray
20 hp at 8,000 rpm
15.3 ft/lbs. torque at 6,000 rpm

The engine features a wide power band, good acceleration and high fuel efficiency, combined with the simplicity of a single cylinder engine.

Hyosung Aquila 250 - MSRP $4,295 (2 yr warranty)

249 cc, four-stroke, oil/air-cooled, DOHC, 8 VALVES, V-twin
Seat height 695 mm (27")
Dry weight: 155 kg
Fuel capacity: 14 litres
5 Speed
26.8 hp (at 9,200 rpm) and 15.7 ft/lbs. torque (at 7,300 rpm)

Hyosung was founded in South Korea in 1978 and started out making motorcycle parts for Suzuki and their own motorcycles in 1987. This bike is a true v-twin that produces class leading horsepower. It'll hit a top speed of about 130 km/hr.

STANDARD:

Buell Blast - MSRP $5,049


492 cc air cooled
Seat Height: Standard (4) 27.5 in. 699 mm Low Profile 25.5 in. 648 mm
Fuel Capacity 2.80 gal. 10.6 L
Torque 30 ft. lbs. @ 3200 RPM
Horsepower 34 HP @ 6500 RPM
Fuel Economy: Urban 69 MPG 3.4 L/100 km, Highway 73 MPG 3.2 L/100 km
5 speed transmission, Kevlar belt (no chain)
Dry Weight 360 lbs. 163 kg
Warranty 24 months
Colors: Arctic White, Midnight Black

Single-cylinder engine, there’s plenty of low- to mid-range torque for everyday ridability. The Buell Motorcycle Company was started by ex-Harley Davidson engineer Eric Buell and became a wholly owned subsidiary by 1998. So technically this is the least expensive Harley you can buy.

Hyosung GT250 - MSRP $4,595 (2 yr warranty)

249 cc, Four-stroke, oil/air cooled, DOHC, 8 VALVES, 75-degree V-twin
Seat height: 780 mm (31")
Dry weight: 155 kg
Fuel capacity: 17 litres
Colors: Blue, Black, Red

A capable bike from a manufacturer you may not be as familiar with. It packs a lot of big bike features into a small, inexpensive package

Another bike that’s a common new-rider bike is the Suzuki GS500. It’s a twin cylinder, air-cooled (no radiator) bike and comes either without a fairing or a fairing. The faired version comes in at an MSRP of $6,799 while the naked version is $6,499. These figures put it above our $6k top price but if you can find a used one it’s well worth the look. The bike has been around for a long time and has a solid reputation for reliability and being beginner friendly.

SPORTBIKE:

Kawasaki Ninja 250R - MSRP $4,249

249 cc, 4-stroke Parallel Twin, DOHC, 8 valves
6-speed, return with positive neutral finder
Maximum Power 31 PS @ 11,000 rpm
Maximum Torque 22 N-m @ 9,500 rpm
Colors: Lime Green, Ebony, Passion Red
Seat Height 775 mm
Dry Weight 152 kg
Fuel Capacity 18 litres
Colors: Lime Green, KTM Ebony (black), KMT Passion Red

All new for 2008 this Ninja is cheaper than the 2007 ZZR250 which was $6,299; a savings of $2,050. The previous 250 was already very successful so this one should be even more so. With rising costs for gasoline this economical and sporty looking bike should bring in some new riders to the dealerships. It looks a lot like its much more expensive bigger brothers in the ZX line.

Honda CBR125R - MSRP $3499

124.7 cc, liquid-cooled single-cylinder, four-stroke
Chain-driven SOHC, 2 valves per cylinder
Six-speed
Seat height: 776 mm (30.5 inches)
Weight: 127.3 kg (280.6 lb) including required fluids and full tank of gas - ready to ride
Fuel capacity: 10 litres
Colors: Fireblade Red, Nighthawk Black, Hurricane White

Features big bike exotic styling - from the sleek fairing with twin cat's-eye headlights to the race-style cast wheels. The narrow tires are the only thing that hint that it's a smaller displacement machine. The CBR125R is a great first bike offering a light and compact package.

Hyosung GT250R - MSRP $5,195 (2 yr warranty)

249 cc, Four-stroke, oil/air cooled, DOHC, 8 VALVES, 75-degree V-twin
Seat height: 780 mm (31")
Dry weight: 168 kg
Fuel capacity: 17 litres
Approximately 28 hp
Colors: Red, Black, 3 two tone variations (2-tone adds $200 to MSRP).

The faired version of the Hyosung GT250. This is a value packed machine. It's not cutting edge technology but it's not cutting edge expensive either. You'll have to be a little more cautious of speeding tickets on this one. It apparently tops out at 170 km/hr if given enough room.

Another bike that’s a common new-rider bike is the Kawasaki Ninja 500R. It’s a twin cylinder, liquid cooled (has a radiator) bike and comes with a fairing. These figures put it above our $6k top price but if you can find a used one it’s well worth the look. The bike has been around for a long time and has a solid reputation for reliability and being beginner friendly.

DUAL PURPOSE (Street and Trail): We'll say up front that dual-sports are pretty versatile machines. They're great for getting around town, cruising around at the cottage, etc. They're capable of hitting the highway but you certainly won't want to spend too much time there. Highway speeds will push the limits of these machines. The 250's would be a bit more able to keep pace. Swapping out sprockets may help give you a bit more top end but you'll sacrifice some low end grunt as a compromise. Do a bit more research on the particular model you're interested in if you'll want to spend time on the highway.

Yamaha XT250 - MSRP $5,499

249 cc, Air-cooled, SOHC 2-valve, single
5-speed
Fuel capacity: 9.8 litres (2.2 imp. gallons)
Colors: White
Wet Weight (ready to ride): 131kg (288.2 lb)

Notes: The all new XT250 is designed for ultimate versatility at an inexpensive price. A new 4-stroke engine revs out predictable power, while a wide-ratio 5-speed transmission and class-leading low seat height gives you both performance and ease of use. The XT250's 4-stroke engine puts out strong, predictable torque across the entire RPM range for great on- and off-road fun. This would make a great bike for getting around the city, trips to the cottage, and maybe a short highway ride too.

Yamaha TW200 - MSRP $4,799

196 cc, 4-stroke, air-cooled, SOHC, 2-valve, single
5-speed
Seat height: 790mm (31.1")
Fuel capacity: 7 litres (1.5 imp. gallons)
Wet weight: 126kg (277.2 lb)
Colors: Purplish white

Notes: 4-stroke single delivers torquey low- and mid-range power perfectly suited to off-road exploring. quiet. It comes with a washable, foam air filter which helps reduce maintenance costs. Wide, 130/80-18 front and 180/80-14 rear tires deliver extra traction and rider comfort over a wide range of terrain, and also help make the TW200 the most distinct-looking dual purpose machine in the industry. You can't mistake the TW200 for any other bike on the roads with its super wide tires. This is a particularly good bike for beginners and gets fantastic fuel economy.

Suzuki DR200SE - MSRP $4,699.00

Four stroke, single cylinder, 199 cc, air-cooled engine,
5-speed
Fuel capacity: 13.0 L (2.8 imp gal)
Dry weight: 113 kg (249 lbs)
Seat height: 810 mm (31.9 in)
Color: Black, Blue

Notes: Engine produces strong, low-rpm torque perfect for the entry level rider to effortlessly zip you around town or forest trails. Nice light weight package. It can drive at highway speed but you won't want to spend too much time there. You're going to get plenty of miles from home when you put a few bucks in the tank of this one; its 199 cc engine sips miserly amounts of fuel.

Kawasaki KLX250S - MSRP $5,799

Liquid-cooled, 4-stroke, single cylinder, 249 cc engine.
Seat height: 885 mm
Dry Weight: 119 kg
Fuel capacity 7 litres

Notes: Most bikes in this category get amazing fuel economy, and the KLX250S is no exception. 70+ MPG would not be uncommon. It's a great bike straight from the factory but many people seem to like making some adjustments to get a few easy extra horsepower out of this one. Emissions standards have it running lean (a little too much air and too little fuel). You might want to look at a new exhaust and what's referred to as a jet kit (which will add a little more fuel to the mix).

Honda CRF230L - MSRP $5,499

223 cc single-cylinder air-cooled four-stroke engine
SOHC, two-valve
Six-speed with manual clutch
Seat height: 810 mm (31.9 inches)
121 kg (267 lb) including required fluids and full tank of gas - ready to ride
Fuel capacity: 8.7 litres
Color: Red

Notes: Dependable engine offers plenty of user-friendly power and lots of torque spread over a wide rpm-range. As with the other dual-sports it's not the best tool for highway excursions. Top speed for the CRF230L is right around the highway speed limit.


A Review of "To Dakar and Back - 21 Days Across North Africa By Motorcycle”

Written by: Dan M

A Bit of Background

I got a copy of Lawrence Hacking’s new book, “To Dakar and Back – 21 Days Across North Africa By Motorcycle” a little over a week ago and couldn’t put it down until it was done. If you have even a passing interest in the Dakar you should take a look at this book!

Now, you don’t need to know who Lawrence Hacking is to truly enjoy this book but once you’ve read it it’s hard not to talk about the man behind the book when talking about his Dakar story. He’s what you might call the “Wayne Gretzky” of the sport of off-road bikes in Canada. His resume is impressive to say the least.




A Short List of some of Lawrence’s Achievements:

- Competed for the Canadian National Team in the International Six Days Enduro (ISDE) World Championship in 1985 (Spain), ’86 (Italy), ‘90 (Sweden), ’91 (Czechoslovakia), ‘92 (Australia) and 2002 (Czech Republic). He finished each time, earning Silver and Bronze medals from the FIM.
- Worked for Yamaha Motor Canada and Yamaha Motor Europe between 1980 and 1990 in their marketing and racing departments. Since then, he has worked as a consultant to other manufacturers including Honda, Kawasaki and Triumph, and to the Parts Canada Superbike Championship.
- In January 2001, became the first Canadian to complete the Paris to Dakar rally. He finished 58th overall and 13th place overall in the first-timer classification.
- In 2005 and 2007 he entered the Beijing to Ulan Bataar International Rally across the Chinese Gobi desert and won the 250-cc class.
Was one of the key organizers of the 2007 FIM World Enduro Championship, held in Canada for the first time.
- His motorcycle exploits have been featured in various media outlets such as CBC, CNN International, CityTV, Moto Verde (Spain), Moto Vert (France), The National Post, Speed Channel, TSN, TV5 (France) and The Toronto Star.
- Participated in the Targa Newfoundland.

On To Dakar!

Hacking competed in the Paris-Dakar Rally in 2001 and, on his first attempt, he finished it, thus securing his place in the history books as being the first Canadian to ever finish the event. I might add he did it at the age of 46 too and as a privateer without a support crew to help him out along the way. Sponsors supported him partly but they weren’t there in a truck following along with the rally like the professional teams. He didn’t have a mechanic waiting for him at each bivouac to fix his bike at the end of the day so he could relax and prepare for the next grueling day. He had to fix any damage to his bike each night after travelling distances of up to 900 km in a single day.

He spent a year preparing for Dakar, nine months of which was full time work dedicated to working out, travelling to Europe, researching the race, securing sponsorship, and bike preparation among a myriad of other things. His bike of choice was a custom prepared Honda XR650. He thought the bike was a great product, and it was. He could have chosen several other bikes but was impressed with the Honda. The bike was new at the time and had just won at Baja. It also had a kick start in addition to the electric start, a feature lacking on the KTM’s. He worried about an electrical problem in the desert and getting stuck, so having a kick start as a backup was a logical thing to have. He kept the swingarm, frame, and engine stock but changed most of the other pieces to meet his requirements and the Dakar specifications. The big main fuel tank and rear auxiliary tank were key requirements of the Rally. His XR was fitted with a 54 litre tank, which when full held about a hundred lbs of fuel. That much weight in those types of conditions would have to be a real handful to say the least but essential because of the huge distances covered.

In 2001 the Dakar covered nearly 10,000 km’s of mostly off-road riding. It travelled through six countries in some of the most challenging terrain in the world in its 21 days. Approximately 6,000 of the kilometers were special stages (otherwise known as competition stages). Given these facts it's no surprise that it is billed by some to be one of the world’s top five adventures; right up there with climbing Mt. Everest. It’s a race where as many as half the competitors don’t make it to the finish line. The race has even claimed the lives of 48 of its competitors and some spectators as well.

Getting to the Nitty-Gritty

I may be a little biased as I’ve admittedly been fascinated by the Paris Dakar Rally since I learned about its existence in the early 80’s when the ferociously fast Group B rally cars had their short lived heyday. They were just too fast and dangerous and were only around for four years. Sadly I do not have the skills or abilities that Lawrence Hacking has. But I jumped at the chance to pick up the book and read about a Canadian’s experience with the Dakar.

If you look at the list of competitors and their placement in rally's gone by on ASO’s website (TSO was the organizing body at the time of Hacking's 2001 race) you’ll see where everybody finished but that by itself is a little dull. The list of who won and their times doesn’t tell all the stories about the preparation, trials and tribulations, near disasters, sleepless nights, sand and grit, the desert, dunes, rocks, and all the amazing sights you pass though in the 21 days of the Dakar and the days leading up to it. To Dakar and Back tells that story from one man’s perspective. For 274 pages you’re with him on the bike throughout it all; experiencing in some small way, all the highs and the lows.

The first thing I noticed when I got the book and thumbed through it was the little symbols that appear alongside the page numbers. While not explained in the book these are very important symbols in the Dakar; they are a piece of information that appears on the road-book that participants get and remain secret until given to the riders. If you don’t follow the road book and stop at the checkpoints you’ll be given penalties up to an including exclusion from the race. The symbol is one piece of the information that appears and indicates the trail, terrain, and landmarks for a particular section. These little hieroglyphics are called tulips and they’re something that every rally participant needs to become very familiar with. Why are they called tulips you may ask? It dates back to the Tulip Rally (Tulpen rally) of the 1950’s.

I won’t wreck it for those who decide to get the book, but Hacking’s 21 days weren’t without drama. The book is full of unexpected events and challenges that need to be faced - all under the pressure of sticking to the rules and keeping within the allowable time. There were several incidents that threatened to end his rally before the finish line. His perseverance, preparation, and perhaps a little bit of luck all combined to get him to the finish line.

Final Thoughts:

I’ve already said that I enjoyed the book. I really did, it’s a great read in my opinion and very reasonably priced at $17.95. The writing is clear and easy to follow, no doubt aided by the efforts of Wil De Clercq whom Hacking credits with turning his pile of notes into a story that "accurately conveys the message." The writing includes a fairly detailed account of each days race events; who won in each category, what their times were, and some of the major events of the day. Some readers may not find that element quite as interesting as Hacking's personal story in the race. He has an eye for detail and recalls the types of vehicles, names of riders he has conversations with, dates, and places. Something I really appreciated.

Even the typesetting of the book adds to its personality and enjoyment. If you have an interest in the Dakar rally this book gives a real perspective of what it’s like to be there. In terms of things I didn’t like about the book there are really only a couple of minor things that would have increased my personal enjoyment of the book. would have liked to have seen a more detailed account of what Hacking brought along with him. Chapter 3 reviews some of his preparations including what he did to prepare the bike. This was really interesting material that I would have liked expanded to include details on all the items he took. Maybe it could have been included in an appendix? And, though noted in some cases, I would have appreciated knowing each day’s start time throughout the 21 days. Those are minor points though and you may not even miss them.

On a side note – Hacking, who’s 53 years old, is planning on doing the Dakar again and was going to follow the 2008 race from Lisbon in a rented car as part of his preparation. Hmm, I wonder if the rental company knew about that plan? But as you may know, the 2008 running of the Dakar - which was its 30th anniversary, was cancelled for the first time in its history because of terrorist threats. I’ll certainly be watching closely to see how that story unfolds. With the Dakar being held in South America in 2009 and the 2010 running through Mauritania still questionable it'll be interesting to see what Hacking does. He was hoping to use the 2008 race as part of his methodical pre-planning. The event in South America will be a whole new challenge and with a relatively shortened time to prepare and plan.



Where Can I Get a Copy and How Much is It?

To Dakar and Back is published by ECW Press and can be purchased at major booksellers everywhere. Price as indicated on the back cover is $17.95

You can get it via Amazon Canada here:

Some other interesting links:

Official Dakar website.
Robby Gordon - Dakar Dictionary site.

This Little Scoot’s Not Just For College Kids

Yamaha’s cool little BW scooter can be found in many city’s and towns across Canada being driven by drivers whose idea of a fancy dinner might be adding some hotdogs to their KD, yup that’s right, college kids!

The BW has been around for a number of years and has been a top seller. It’s a really popular model owing to its sporty looks, two big headlights, and big wheels which give it aggressive go anywhere styling. It looks a bit like a scooter/dirt bike hybrid which raises its cool factor. Scooters are no longer the sole domain of college kids. The rising costs of operating a car, even the most efficient compact, have risen to a level where scooters have come back into focus as a viable transportation option for many Canadians.

A growing number of people are falling in love with the 49cc air cooled reed-value 2-stroke engined BW. They have become very popular amongst scooter commuters. People with RV’s just love these things too! They’re the perfect way for zipping around town, not to mention the fact that they burn practically no fuel. Yamaha claims a figure of over 120 mpg. That’s 120 mpg + based on 40km/hr speed on level ground. Chances are you won’t be driving in these perfect conditions but you’re still going to get better fuel economy than just about everything else on the road. With a fuel capacity of 5.7 litres that’s a theoretical range in perfect conditions of about 250 km. So if you’re doing the math, even with Montreal’s high gas price right now of $1.20/litre that’s less than $7 for a fill up. Those kinds of numbers ought to make any stares and laughter you might be the brunt of when you pull up to work on one of these quite a bit easier to take. But hey, if they knew how fun these were to drive they’d have one too!

Sales of scooters have risen dramatically in the last few years, a 400% increase since 1999 in fact. They’re particularly popular in the province of Quebec. As many as six out of 10 scooters sold in Canada are sold in Quebec. This is partly because driving laws there allow 14-year olds to drive under 50cc sized scooters.

Limited (and expensive!) parking and downtown congestion also add heavily to the appeal of the BW. The under 50cc requirement allowing 14 year old riders to drive scooters is a big reason that the small displacement scooters are 49cc and not 50. Laws covering the age requirement do vary across the country so better check your local area before laying down your cash. Alberta and New Brunswick feature similar age requirements when it comes to scooters. Yamaha Canada love scooters, that’s for sure – they’ve seen sales growth of a whopping 25% between 2005 and 2006. During this same period their motorcycle line sales grew at less than one percent.

This kind of growth hasn’t gone unnoticed and there’s now a bevy of companies manufacturing scooters for the Canadian market. The familiar names are there, Yamaha, Honda, Vespa, and Piaggio but punch in “scooter sales in Canada” in any search engine and you’ll find a quite a few other Asian manufacturers with models available in Canada. Many of these are offered at very competitive prices too.

The BW has a fully automatic transmission and push button start and even has a back up kick start so you won't get stranded if your battery runs low. The 2-stroke engine ensures peppy performance that’s delivered a little quicker than the 4-stroke Yamaha C-Cubed. The C-Cubed is another 49cc scooter in the Yamaha stable. The C-Cubed is a bit quieter and has a lower and larger seat so if you’re looking for something a little less “hooligan” the C Cubed is certainly worth a look.

The BW has also been equipped with a new catalyzer in the exhaust which helps reduce emissions. You don't have to worry about mixing the oil and gas like your old lawnmower either; the Yamaha is equipped with an autolube oil injection system that mixes the precise amounts of oil and gas you need automatically. You just add the gas and you’re ready to go! Need to pick up some groceries on your way home? There’s a storage compartment under the seat that you can use to stow small packages. If you’re not using it for storage it’s a great spot to lock away your helmet. There’s also a rear carrier if you need to haul something a little larger around too.



Front 180mm disc brakes and a drum brake in the rear provide plenty of stopping power. You get a telescopic fork in the front and single shock unit swingarm in the rear. Tires are 120/90-10’s in the front and an even fatter 130/90-10 in the rear. BW means “Big Wheel” and these ones are nice and wide for a scooter so they’re great for soaking up bumps and crossing streetcar tracks. You’ll need those big wheels to put all 5.1 ft-lbs of torque at 6,000 RPM to the ground! Okay – maybe that’s a bit of an exaggeration but this thing is so small and light (207 lbs wet) that’s plenty for getting around town. Reviews say that they’ll do just about 70km/hr. You won’t want to hit the highway on this one.

There’s room for a passenger on back too but you might want to avoid hills and quick moving traffic if you do though. Big hills will slow down the scooter a bit with one rider so adding a friend might make you a bit slower than fast moving traffic or on some hills. Colors available for 2008 are Yamaha Blue, Metallic Black, Vivid Yellow.

Need financing for your new beast? Yamaha recommends applying for their Credit Card Program for Yamaha products that cost less than $3,000. According to Yamaha you can have your approval within minutes of applying. The BW comes in at an MSRP of $2,899 so provided you’ve got a few hundred bucks kicking around you should be able to take one of these home without too much fuss.

If you think 49cc won’t suit your needs – maybe you need something to keep up with traffic on secondary roads or maybe you need something that will keep up with traffic on the highway. Fear not, there are plenty of options. Scooters are available in many different sizes and you can get everything from 49cc on up to 650cc models. Not sure if riding on two wheels is for you? Piaggio even offers a three wheeled scooter called the MP3. You won't even have to put your feet down at stop signs with this thing.

Some of the competing machines from major brands include:

Yamaha XF50 “C Cubed”. MSRP $2,599. 49cc liquid-cooled, 4-stroke single
Honda NPS50 “Ruckus”. MSRP $2,849. 49cc liquid-cooled , 4 stroke single
Hyosung Prima/Rally. MSRP $2,295. 49cc Air-cooled, two-stroke, single-cylinder

The Lowdown On Helmets:

UPDATE (Jan 20th/08): Motorcyclist magazine has recently (Jan or Feb/08 issue) published another article on helmet safety and indicate Snell has a new standard coming out that accounts for the size of the head of the person wearing it. They believe that their article had a lot to do with Snell coming out with the Snell M 2010 standard. Motorcyclist goes further to say that many helmets that pass the current Snell M 2005 standard won't pass the M 2010 because they're too still. Manufacturers can still make helmets to the M 2005 standard until March 31, 2012 and Snell 2010 helmets won't be available until October 1, 2009.

Most people realize the importance of a wearing a helmet on a bike and if they don’t, for the most part it’s legislated here in Canada that they wear one anyway! There are cases in some provinces that will permit you to not have to wear a helmet. For example in Manitoba you don’t have to wear one if you’re in a legally authorized parade, if you’re a bona fide member of the Sikh religion, or you’ve got a medical condition that would prevent you from doing so and have a signed certificate from a qualified medical practitioner.

For the rest of us, that brings about the inevitable question. What helmet should I buy? That’s a decision you’ll have to make for yourself in the end because there isn’t a simple answer. Hopefully ou’ll be able to make a more informed decision after this article though. What you should know before you make that decision is that a helmet must conform to standards; which standards the helmet must meet can vary by province but in general, two standards that typically appear on helmets produced for the Canadian market; Snell and DOT. In some provinces you can also use helmets that meet the Canadian Standards Association Standard D230, the American Standard Institute label, or the British Standards Institute respecting motorcycle helmets. I’d say the majority of riders in Canada have either a DOT approved helmet, or a Snell approved helmet. Snell helmets meet or exceed DOT requirements. Since these two standards are the most common here in Canada we’ll focus on those two.

There are some differences between the two standards that motorcyclists should be aware of when purchasing a helmet. DOT has been around since 1974 and was based on standards developed before that time. The Snell Memorial Foundation (SMF) was formed in 1957 after William “Pete” Snell died from massive head trauma sustained in an auto race. The SMF is a non-profit organization that developed a standard for testing motorcycle helmets that they continually test and update every five years.

The testing standards are different and the verification required of the results are different as well. DOT standards are not as stringent as Snell’s and Snell tests for a greater variety of impact types and severity. In order for a company to claim to meet Snell requirements the manufacturer must submit several helmets to Snell for testing. If the helmet passes the test they enter into a contract with SMF which allows SMF to buy and test the helmets on an ongoing basis to ensure they continue to meet the requirements. DOT allows manufacturers to perform their own tests to determine if their helmets are DOT approved. The government may on occasion run some tests to check on manufacturer claims.

How does a helmet protect?

Helmets are composed of two parts: the outer shell and an energy absorbing inner liner. The inner liner is made from expanded polystyrene (EPS) and the outer shells are made from resin/fiber composites or molded thermoplastics. The shell does a few things; it protects against sharp objects from puncturing the helmet and skewering your head and protects against abrasion. The EPS does a lot of work too though; it’s the liners job to slow your head down over a great as distance as possible when you hit something solid with your noggin. The goal is to reduce the G-loads on your brain in a crash.

Snell helmets are a bit firmer because they must meet higher energy impacts to meet the Snell standard. A tough part of the test is a two strike test on the same spot of the helmet that isn’t allowed to transmit more than 300G’s to the head form in either hit. This might sound like what you want but some argue that the harder helmets are unnecessarily hard and transmit more G-forces to your head rather than using up the EPS liner.

Motorcyclist magazine came out with a very controversial article a few years back that analyzed several helmets and compared the DOT helmets to the Snell helmets. I won’t get into the findings of the article because it is lengthy and very detailed. The article does say that helmet safety has come a long way and helmets you buy today are very good at their intended purpose. More expensive doesn’t necessarily mean better though. In addition to the standards a helmet meets there’s also the “fit” of a helmet that is very important. Helmets come in different shapes and sizes so what’s comfortable to one person can feel very uncomfortable to another. It’s essential to try on a helmet and keep it on for a while to truly test it. A helmet can feel great when you initially put it on but after ten minutes it may feel like a torture device.


Also consider the color; conspicuity is critical on a bike and many say that white or yellow helmets are among the most visible. Another very important test when getting a new helmet is a roll off test: fasten the helmet up snugly, grab the rear of the helmet, and try to lift up and forward to roll it off your head. To protect you a helmet has to stay on your head. If you can roll it off – it doesn’t fit properly.

So be careful to get a helmet that fits and you may also want to read up about safety standards.

Here’s a couple of links that you may find helpful when you’re in the market for a new lid:

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- Link to the Motorcyclist Magazine article that created a firestorm of controversy when it was first published. It’s a long one! It’s got some really interesting information in it though you may want to skim through it at least.
- Link to the Snell Memorial Foundation (SMF) website. This website has a lot of helpful information on helmet safety and in particular the Helmet FAQ section has some interesting reading.
- Link to an article on Motorcycle Cruiser about helmets (it’s an old one but still surprisingly relevant!)


Dakar Rally - One of the World's Greatest Adventures

Mark your calendars folks, the Dakar rally, a grueling (approximately 5,700 mile race) starts on January 5th and runs until January 20th. There’s only one rest day scheduled during that time. 2008 marks the 30th running of the Dakar. It is billed by some to be one of the world’s top five adventures; right up there with climbing Mt Everest! It has been challenged by some 3,000 people! Only about 40% of the participants get to the finish line, the other 60% don’t make it for many reasons – many get lost or can’t finish the race because of exhaustion, mechanical failure, injury, or even death. The race has claimed the lives of upwards of 48 participants and several spectators during its history.



Quick facts:
- Over 570 teams with people from 50+ countries.
- Over 5700 miles (9273 km's) of racing through 5 countries.
- Fewer than half of the participants are expected to get to the finish line.
- Organized by the Amaury Sport Organization.
- Riders are required to post their blood type on their bike and helmet!

In 2008 the race will start in Lisbon (Portugal) and run through Spain, Morocco, Mauritania, and finally end in Dakar, the capital of Senegal. It's open to amateurs and professionals; with amateur's making up the majority of participants (~80%). You need some deep pockets though because entry isn't cheap! There are three major competitive groups who take part in the Dakar; those being, the bike class, the car class, and the truck class. I’ll focus in on the bike class but all the racers are pretty exciting to watch. There are approximately 245 motorcycle participants scheduled for 2008.

Canada made its mark in the history books in 2001 when Lawrence Hacking (a motorcycle racer, journalist, and author) became the first Canadian to finish the Dakar – incidentally a book is scheduled to be released on the adventure in February 2008.

There are speed limits in place for motorcyclists this year and they cannot exceed 95 mph and 30 mph through villages. The route this year will involve skillful navigation and dealing with a lot of sand.

The motorcycle brand of choice for the majority of the top placing riders in recent years has been KTM. They’ve recorded 7 victories so far. Yamaha still leads the way with 9. BMW has 6, Honda 5, and Caviga 2.

Our neighbors to the south may be wondering about Chris Blais who appears to be absent from the list of participants this year. Chris is an American born racer, who finished 3rd place overall in 2007. There has been a serious and unfortunate turn of events in 2007 for Blais. It's not a mistake that he's not on the participant list this year as he won't be able to compete this year because of a series crash and resulting injuries he experienced pre- running the Vegas to Reno race on Sunday August 5, 2007. He crushed his T-7 vertebra (middle of back) and a broken collar bone and has been in recovery since that time. You can check his progress on his website. It’s another somber reminder of the dangers of this sport and the risks these guys take every time they ride.

Don’t forget to tune in the Dakar in January!

Here's a couple more interesting links you may want to take a look at:

- Official Dakar Rally Website
- Here’s a video of the route – runs approximately 1 min


Learning to Ride - Safely!

So you want to learn to ride a motorcycle do you? Whether you're doing it because it's cool, it's something you've always wanted to do, or for practical reasons such as providing economical transportation there are some basics that you'll want to consider.

Licensing - Driver's license are issued by the province of residence and many of them have specific regulations when it comes to getting your license. So you should check the regulations in your province to determine what your situation will be. Some common early restrictions are related to bike motorcycle engine size, traveling at night, on certain roadways and the blood alcohol allowed.

Gear - You're going to need a certain amount of protective clothing if you're going to ride. If you're not sure about whether you're going to get into it at the minimum you're still going to need some proper footwear with some ankle protection - don't bring your running shoes! Steel toe boots aren't the greatest either because you can't feel the clutch very well. Ask the folks running the course and they'll be able to provide some suggestions on this. You'll need a pair of gloves, a proper jacket, and most importantly a helmet. Make sure it's a DOT approved helmet and that it fits properly. If you're going to buy a bike, most dealers will offer a discount on gear when you buy your bike. Don't forget to factor the cost of these very important extras when determining your budget. Your gear might just save your life!

Training - This is important! It may even be mandatory in your province that you take one of these courses. Motorcycles take a certain amount of skill to ride safely - do yourself a favor and take a course on how to ride one. It's not necessarily the best idea to learn from a friend because chances are they are not trained in the latest safety techniques and even if they are safe riders they may have picked up some bad habits over the years. I personally took the Canada Safety Council course and have nothing but positive to say about it. In the program I took they even brought the examiners from Motor Vehicle on the final day to conduct a driving test which we could do on the bikes provided in the course. This was great, especially if you don't already have a motorcycle! You can take the course, and see if you like it.

Insurance: Motorcycle insurance rates vary widely and its something you should look into before making a purchase. Motorcycles are much smaller than cars so they can be easier to steal. When involved in an accident, particularly with another vehicle, they also typically sustain high dollar value damage because of the smaller size and weight of the vehicle. Another reason to make sure you're wearing the proper gear. Pretend you're invisible to motorists!

Your first bike - Some people think that bigger is better when it comes to bike size. This is simply not the case! Think about the type of riding you're going to be doing and remember that when you're learning you're more likely to drop the bike or have accidents. Consider getting a smaller, perhaps used bike that you can upgrade after you've past this initial stage. Sport bikes in particular are extremely powerful machines and they're not meant for novice riders. Some dealers won't even sell these machines to riders who don't have experience but these tend to be the exception. Hayabusa is not japanese for "beginner"!

Everybody has an opinion on this it seems - a bike is only as safe as it's driver but large displacement sport bikes have a power-to-weight ratio comparable to or superior to high end sports cars so you can get yourself in a lot of trouble very quickly. My first bike was a Suzuki GS500 and I loved it! I rode it for four years and the bike got more and more fun to me. It is fairly forgiving if you make some little mistakes. It's powerful enough to ride the highway comfortably (even with two people) and small enough to make it a pleasure to drive around town. You get to use all the gears unlike some large displacement - high power bikes that can break most speed limits in first or second gear. At this point I've driven a lot of different bikes and can say that there is a HUGE difference between a 500 cc bike and a 600 cc sport bike. They are designed with racing in mind and they perform like it - you need to be very smooth, which is something you're not likely to be right away.

If you're a fan of cruisers you could probably safely ride something a little larger displacement and not worry about it too much. These types of bikes have a low center of gravity and produce more torque. They can be a little tricky to drive slow and around the city where you'll encounter a lot of stop and go traffic and turning. If you drop them they can be really tough to pick back up too. Something you might have to do on occasion as a new rider.

Honda is one company that seems to believe in the bigger is not better motto. They've got a 125 cc small displacement sport bike called the CBR125R that they were reportedly selling at a small loss. It looks a lot like the bigger sports bikes but is a lot easier for a beginner to handle and could make a great commuter bike.

Check out local resources such as a local newsgroups of motorcycle enthusiasts. They'll often be able to offer advice on where to get a good new or used bike. Lots of them have a forum with buy and sell area. Check out our Regional Resources section for sites in your area.

Link(s):

Canada Safety Council's - Gearing Up Program (Canada's National Motorcycle rider training program)