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A few years ago, when I was shopping for my first motorcycle, I almost bought Billy Joel’s Triumph. Almost. My story about this was published as a letter to the editor in Motorcyclist Magazine in June 2010. Here’s the original email I sent to Motorcyclist so you can see how I avoided this potentially fatally-embarassing gaffe.


From: Joseph Crivelli
Sent: Wednesday, March 17, 2010 4:47 PM
Subject: Billy Joel’s Triumph

A moment of clarity prevented me from buying Billy Joel's Triumph. This is the only Billy Joel CD I own. And I don't know why I own it.

I read with interest your article on Billy Joel’s motorcycle collection. It called to memory my experience in ‘almost’ buying one of his bikes.

In May 2008 I was shopping around for my first motorcycle. After considering several models, I honed in on the Triumph America. It suited me: the right size for a first-time rider, right price point (around $10,000 dressed up and out the dealership door), right marque (my family has a long history with Triumphs) and of all the bikes I looked at it was the one that got my heart racing the most.

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When I bought my first motorcycle in May 2008, I made a lot of mistakes. There was a ton of gear that I needed and shouldn’t have left the dealership without. There was gear I bought ahead of time, before delivery, that was all wrong. So in the interest of serving the first-time rider, here is what I recommend you will need when you finally take the plunge and buy a motorcycle:

On a trip through New England with some friends last summer. Full-face helmet in hand.

A good full-face helmet. For at least the first year, I recommend you wear a full-face helmet every time you ride. Once you have experience, you can switch to an open face or shorty helmet but until then, play it safe. And if you live in a state that lets you go helmetless, for God’s sake don’t. And don’t skimp on the cost of your helmet. I made this mistake and bought a $40 (yes, $40) full face helmet from an online discounter. Ouch. It was excruciating pain every time I wore it. And a massive dent in my forehead where the helmet rubbed against it.

So a few weeks later I had to go to the dealership and pay money for a real helmet. If you do buy online, make sure you try it on in person first because sizes really vary from helmet to helmet. One manufacturer’s XL is another manufacturer’s L. And it’s essential that you get a properly-fitting helmet. A Scorpion EXO 700 can be had for just around $170. It’s a good durable helmet if not the quietest one out there. My current helmet is a Shoei Qwest, which can be had for $300ish. I like it because it’s quiet and super-comfortable (even if it does make me look a bit like Marvin Martian.) Read the rest of this entry »

I mentioned earlier this week that Martin Motorsports in Boyertown, PA is my favorite local dealership. They’ve built enough goodwill with me over the years that I’m willing to overlook a recent administrative error that led to me losing out on a Bandit 1250. That’s pretty good. And I’m not bitter. 🙂

I think all MC dealerships can take a page out of Martin Moto’s book. Here are some of the reasons why they are my favorite:

(1) It’s not a dealership, it’s a community. On any given Saturday, there are RAT Packs meeting for a ride, the local chapter of STAR Touring and Riding having a get together, Boy Scouts cooking hotdogs and hamburgers for the customers, a demo event launching from the parking lot…it’s rare to go to Martin’s on a weekend and find nothing going on. During the prime summer riding season they are open for their “Second Sunday” events when they provide special discounts and take their customers on group rides on local Berks County twisties. This focus on the community of motorcycling makes a trip to Martin’s a happening in its own right. They have evolved into a Destination Dealership. Read the rest of this entry »

As I mentioned in my first post, I spend a lot of time on weekends visiting local motorcycle dealers and testing out new bikes. I’m grateful that most of the dealers in my area support test rides and will let me take a spin. I’ve even been honest with them: “I’m not looking to buy.” They seem to get it. Maybe I’ll take a ride and just have to have the bike. This has happened recently. Twice this season, in fact.

So as the season winds down, I’m going to list the bikes I tested this year and provide a brief blurb on each. When I put this list together, I was pretty shocked. I’ve ridden a lot of different bikes this year.

With my Rocket III Touring on the Blue Ridge Parkway, October 2011. The Rocket was made for trips like this.

1a. Rocket III Touring. Numero Uno on this list is the bike I currently own. I rode the R3T a number of times at a demo day at Eurosports back in May. I liked it so much I ended up shopping for one and bought my current ride from Hermy’s later that month. Since then it’s been a love/hate relationship. In summer, on a 90 degree day, in traffic, I hate this bike. It is like riding a convection oven, it throws off so much heat from that 2300 cc powerplant. When I’m filling it up with gas, I hate it. I’ve averaged 30 miles per gallon this year and more often than not been in the mid 20’s. But when I’m rolling up heavy miles and cruising along on a nice twisty, or passing a tractor trailer on the slab, I absolutely love it. When I’m on a trip with my friends and hauling my camping gear, I love it. When I park it on Main Street in New Hope next to about a dozen ElectraGlides and the peeps walking by stop to look at my bike and ignore the Harleys, I love it. Read the rest of this entry »

Ever since I could remember, I wanted to ride a motorcycle. As a kid, whenever I saw myself as an adult in my minds eye, it was on a motorcycle.I can remember in third grade, looking out the window daydreaming while a guy rode past my school on a Honda CB 750 and thinking, “That’ll be me. When I grow up, that’ll be me.”  But it was a long-lost childhood dream, drowned in a sea of credit card bills from Nordstrom, or Macys, or wherever my now-ex-wife wanted to shop and a litany of disappoving glances whenever I paused in a parking lot to look at some other guy’s bike.

I had a minibike as a kid, a little scrambler with a Briggs & Stratton lawnmower engine, and a Puch moped in high school when mopeds were all the rage, but as a grown up, I never took the action of learning to ride, getting an M-class license, buying a bike. There were always reasons: I didn’t have the money for a bike, my wife wouldn’t support the decision, I didn’t have the time, etc. etc.

But in early 2008 none of those things were true. Now 43 years old and fresh off a divorce, I could call my own shots. If I wanted to ride, there was nobody telling me not to. If I wanted to go into debt to buy a bike, that was my business. And suddenly, I had free time to do the things I wanted to do.

The writer on his first day of motorcycle ownership, with his brand new 2008 Triumph America.

A motorcycle-riding friend explained the process of getting a license, and encouraged me to sign up for a class from the Motorcycle Safety Foundation. Within a few months, in May 2008 on Memorial Day weekend, I got my first bike, a 2008 Triumph America. Pacific Blue and New England White. 865 cc’s (which seemed like a lot at the time.) A couple of tasteful upgrades like saddlebags, a windscreen, a sissy bar and a passenger backrest. Riding that bike made me feel like a million bucks, and every time I threw my leg across the thing, I felt like I was about 7 feet tall. I felt like…a man. Read the rest of this entry »