Does going 0 to 60 in under four seconds while getting 46 mpg and spending less than ten grand sound good? Then it’s time to learn to ride a motorcycle—one of the fastest, most economical, and greenest ways to get your motor running
Three Bikes to Learn On: 1. Ducati Monster 696
A Ducati as a first bike sounds about as practical as taking your toddler to Everest to learn to walk, but the Ferrari of motorcycles somehow made their race-proven engineering accessible without dumbing it down. The 696 is basically a gateway drug for superbikes, and Ducati is serious about appealing to beginners: This year they lowered the seat for a more natural riding position, shaved off a few pounds, and put replaceable polymer covers over the tank, which you’ll appreciate when you accidently drop the bike in a parking lot—something that occurs exclusively in front of gathered crowds and attractive women.
Three Bikes to Learn On: 2. Triumph Bonneville
The Triumph Bonneville has been cool since 1959, putting it in that rarefied league with Ray-Ban aviators, 501’s, and everything else that will never go out of style. Today, Triumph’s Modern Classics bikes are equipped with the kind of smooth, torquey, fuel-injected engines that Steve McQueen could only dream of. The 865cc Bonneville is a lot of bike for a beginner, so take it around the block a few hundred times before hitting the open road. Still, it’s surprisingly nimble through corners, and for the man planning long hours in the saddle, the cushy seat and comfortable handlebar height demand roughly the same posture as your favorite chair.
Three Bikes to Learn On: 3. Kawasaki Ninja 250R
The baby of the legendary Kawasaki Ninja family, the 250R offers the aggressive styling of its race-ready big brothers but comes with a more forgiving riding position, a bargain-basement price tag, and a reputation for being easy and cheap to repair and maintain. Of course, the real joy of a 250cc bike is being able to scream around at 9,000 rpm with the throttle wide open and live to talk about it. And with 336 miles in a full tank, it won’t be long before you forget where your local gas stations are.
Get in Gear—Look Sharp, Live Longer
You want the best gear possible between you and the asphalt. Here are the essentials.
Designer Jérôme Coste didn’t like the look or feel of any headgear on the market, so he reimagined both. His Ruby ($800) is made from feather-light carbon fiber and lined with buttery napa leather—perfect for the man with a lot to spend and not terribly far to go.
Get in Gear: The Helmet, cont.
For full-face protection (and considerably less dough), the Arai Quantum-2 ($535) delivers plenty of ventilation and is tough enough for the fastest racers in the world.
Get in Gear: The Gloves
Windchill and gravel should not be fought bare-handed. The Couga glove from Triumph ($66, see slide 4) has nonslip palms to keep you steady on the throttle and hard knuckle panels that offer lightweight protection where it counts. For a sportier look, these Ducati Corse gloves ($262)—with stainless-steel knuckle guards—go perfectly with that new Monster.
Get in Gear: The Jacket
Those paper-thin washed-leather jackets we recommend for a night out won’t cut it on a bike. But these days, you don’t have to wrap yourself in Day-Glo leathers to be properly equipped. The Lawford jacket from Triumph looks right at home alongside your Barbour or Belstaff, but if you misjudge a turn, you’ll immediately appreciate the amply (but subtly!) padded elbows and shoulders and the double-stitched seams.
The Most Important Skill to Master
Turning a motorcycle is all about feel. You’re not cranking a wheel to change directions—you’re leaning and letting the bike do the rest. “The bike goes where you look,” explains Robert Zurich, who’s been teaching basic rider courses for more than a decade. “So look where you want to go. If you stare at a pothole, you will hit a pothole.” Besides being a potent metaphor for life, it’s the key to becoming a real rider. Click to the next slide to learn how to do it safely.
The Dixie-Cup Driving Course
1. Find a parking lot—the emptier, the better.
2. Using Dixie cups filled with water, set up right- and left-hand turning lanes about twelve-feet wide around an imaginary ninety-degree corner.
3. Approach the turn at a comfortable speed, making sure to do all your braking and downshifting before you press the handlebars in the direction you want to go.
4. Look through the turn at a fixed point where you want to end up, roll gently back on the throttle to keep the bike stable, and turn. Repeat. Most important? Relax. “If you mess up,” says Zurich, “so what? You just killed a Dixie cup.”
Road Tripping? Think Big
There may come a day when you want most of your worldly possessions (and possibly another person) attached to your bike before you hit the road. When that time arrives, consider the Harley. The iconic American brand survived two world wars and a depression because it knows that a plush seat bolted to a 1,584cc engine is the best way to see the country. The Harley Road King ($17,770) is leisure on wheels—you’d almost think you were riding around in your living room if it weren’t for that throaty, popping exhaust note and the 775 pounds of chrome and steel.
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