- The Washington Times - Wednesday, December 24, 2003

There are a variety of reasons that people ride motorcycles — probably as many reasons as there are riders. Some of the reasons that motorcycles are appealing include: they provide economic fuel mileage; they take less room to park and store than a car; the purchase price is generally less than that of most cars; they’re an expression of freedom; they’re fun to ride; and they evoke an adventuresome image.

There are huge differences between cars and motorcycles besides size and weight — the most significant differences however, are vulnerability and stability. Motorcycles, for the most part, require a much higher level of skill to operate.

There are a number of differences in the types of motorcycles available. Basically, motorcycles are identified in three major groups by usage: off-road, street, and dual-purpose. Each category offers specialized models.

Off-road bikes consist of motorcross and enduro models, designed primarily for competition and recreational use. Most are not street legal.

The street bike category consists of: the standard base model, intended for all-around street usage; sport bikes that focus on speed and performance as sports cars do with the four-wheeled set; cruisers which are generally personalized or custom machines; and touring bikes which are the RVs of the motorcycle world.

The dual purpose, or hybrid motorcycle category, combines the riding characteristics and capabilities of off-road bikes with the necessary equipment found on street bikes to make them legal for on-road operation, such as lights, signals, horn, etc.

Keep in mind that off-road or dual purpose tires provide less traction on paved surfaces than specifically designed street tires.

Power sources include both two-stroke and four-stroke motors (the latter being the most prevalent) which commonly range in size from 50cc to 1500cc plus. The majority of motorcycle engines are air-cooled, though many upscale models feature liquid cooling. Final drives may be set up in a chain, belt or shaft configuration.

That pretty much covers the basics of available motorcycle types. Now, how do you select what’s right for you? Major issues to be dealt with:

• What type of riding do you want to do?

• Is the motorcycle capable of living up to your expectations?

• Does the motorcycle fit you comfortably?

• Does the motorcycle fit into your budget?

Other important considerations are your personal strength and size. If you’re unable to stand over or sit in the saddle and touch the ground with both feet flat, the bike is too big or too tall for you.

If the bike is too heavy for you to push it in a figure 8 or back it up without exerting yourself or losing your balance, then you need to look for a lighter bike. Your riding experience will determine how much bike you should opt for.

All motorcycles require skill to ride safely — larger, faster models require even more skill. Consider adjustment of controls and set-up to ensure a proper personal fit.

Once you’ve addressed the above points satisfactorily, you need to find a reputable motorcycle dealer who will spend time with you in answering your questions and matching your needs in selecting an appropriate bike.

If a dealer is reluctant to spend time with you before the purchase, imagine how little time or attention you’ll get after the sale.

Every make and model of motorcycle is, at least, just a little different in terms of styling, design, features and controls. An excellent exercise to perform when shopping for a motorcycle is to make a thorough, comparative list of features in terms of pluses and minuses offered by various models available from different manufacturers.

Don’t forget to include insurance, accessories, and riding gear into your motorcycle budget.

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