You’ve done your research. You’ve test-ridden all sorts of motorcycles. You know what you want. So now you’re checking your credit score and seeing what kind of interest rate you can start making payments on your first bike. Great idea, right? Not at all, actually.
We’ve posted a lot of stories here aimed at new and aspiring riders, and while they contain valuable advice about bike selection, riding gear, and training courses, I’d like to add one more bit of wisdom to the collection: Never finance your first motorcycle.
Yeah, I know, financing is soooo easy, and sometimes it’s the only way you can buy the bike of your dreams. I’ve financed bikes myself, and there’s something very satisfying about walking into a dealer, pointing to that one, signing the papers, and riding home.
But if you’re buying your very first motorcycle, resist the temptation to take out a loan on it, if only for one reason: You might not like motorcycling after all. Here’s why that might happen.
Speaking as an advocate of the two-wheeled life, even I’ll admit riding a bike is a dangerous and occasionally terrifying way to get around (often thanks to the cager crowd, but because of many other factors, too).
I’ve been riding for almost 50 years and there are still days when I look around me at cars driven by blind assholes, at homicidal deer and other wildlife leaping out of the roadside brush, and at potholes big enough to lose a goat in, and think, “Fuck me, I’m too old for this shit.” It might take only a single close call in traffic to convince you that the joy of the wind in your face isn’t worth the risk of a bumper up your ass.
The hand and foot controls on a motorcycle are nothing like those in a car. On a bike you operate the clutch with your hand and the shifter with your foot, the front and rear wheels have separate brakes, and the throttle is hand-operated. That—along with counter-steering, cornering, and braking—is a lot to adapt to and coordinate, and some people just never get the hang of it.
If you decide to step away from riding, you still have to sell your bike. When you finance a bike, the lender gets the title; only after you pay off the loan does the lender sign off on it and send it to you. This complicates a private-party sale because the buyer has to trust that you’ll take his money, pay off the loan, and send him the title at some unspecified point in the future. But if you bought the bike cash, you already have the title in your name and can sign it off in the buyer’s presence and hand it over with the keys.
Buying cash has another tangential benefit if you’re a new rider because you’ll probably only be able to afford a cheaper used bike instead of a pricier new one. You shouldn’t buy a smoking wreck barely able to make it around the block under its own power, but don’t shy away from something with a few scratches or dents.
The fact is, your area’s Craigslist or classified ads are full of great potential first motorcycles that won’t be too expensive—a few grand can get you into something that will start this passion off right, and you’ll own it outright for however long you want. You don’t need to start with something fancy and new and amazing. And if you really want to do this correctly, your best bet is to focus on having the best gear from the outset, not the fastest and newest motorcycle.
Part of learning to ride involves familiarization with the mixed blessings of gravity, and many used beginner bikes—and some beginning riders—have the scars to prove it. You’ll probably add your own before you’re ready to move up to a better ride.
Jerry Smith has been a motojournalist for… well, a very long time. When he’s not writing about motorcycles, he makes up stories about people who don’t exist. His latest novel, Dents, is about some of those people, and the awful and funny things he makes happen to them.