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I was rooting around in some old photo albums recently, and came across this picture, which is me on my very first motorcycle ride…

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The picture was taken around 1970, most likely on a family trip to the Sandy Hook boardwalk (the same one that was destroyed in Hurricane Sandy last fall.) As far as I can tell, this was my first experience riding a motorcycle. The haircut is unfortunate (a DIY bowl cut courtesy of my mom). The sweater isn’t the most stylin’ one out there, but it was lovingly hand-knitted by my nonna, who was ALWAYS knitting.

I was fascinated with motorcycles from the beginning. I remember gazing out the window of my grade school in third grade and seeing a rider go by on a Honda CB 750. I remember thinking, “When I’m a grownup, that’ll be me.”

Several years later my father bought me a mini bike with a Tecumseh pull-start engine. I had a blast running that thing through the woods behind my house. That was my first real experience on a two-wheeled machine with a real engine.

My next ride was a Puch Magnum moped that I bought from a classmate in high school for $300. That machine gave me my freedom. I rode it all over northern New Jersey, visiting friends who lived in towns like Teaneck and Nutley, I found a way to the Willowbrook Mall from my home in Clifton without using any highways. I logged thousands of miles on it.

Until the day that a 1980’s version of a soccer mom made a left turn in front of me on Grove Street in Montclair. I smashed into the front right quarterpanel of her car, went face first into her windshield, flew through the air somersault-style and landed on my back in the grass beside the road. I immediately jumped up and shouted, “MY MOPED!!!” and tried to run over to it until some others who were on the scene convinced me to lie back down. The rest was a blur. My guardian angel must have been watching over me that day, because my only injuries were a gash on my shin where my leg hit the kickstand, and a popped zit on my forehead right at the point of impact between my forehead and the windshield. No joke. I walked out of the hospital that night, was sore for a few days, and generally got back to life without incident. But also without my moped.

It would be almost 30 years before my next bike, when at age 42 I got a divorce, my M-class license, and a 2008 Triumph America.

Me and my daughter. Just posing. No, we did not go riding without protective gear!

Me and my daughter. Just posing on the first weekend I owned my America. No, we did not go riding without protective gear!

Since that time, riding has been my passion.I can’t imagine life without motorcycles and I can’t remember how I went from age 16 to age 42 without one in my life.  I’m currently struggling to get through a cold winter with motorcycles wintering in my foyer. But March is just a few weeks away, and I know very soon on a warmish Saturday next month I’ll be pushing them back outside and firing them up. Hope to see you on the road then!

The America and the V-Strom, keepin' it classy and cooling their heels in the foyer until that first warm weekend in March.

The America and the V-Strom, keepin’ it classy and cooling their heels in the foyer until that first warm weekend in March.

Kawasaki had a fantastic demo day at the Granite Run Mall in Media, PA today. I got a chance to ride three bikes I really wanted to experience: the Ninja 650, the KLR 650, and the Concours. Some observations:

Kawasaki demo day in Media, PA

Kawi makes a lot of great bikes. Those were just the three I wanted to ride most – and they are all great in their own way. If I had unlimited time and the ability to take as many demo rides as I wanted, I would have also liked to try out the Vulcan Nomad, the Ninja 1000, the Z1000, and the ridiculous (in a good way) ZX-14. I honestly don’t think there is a bad bike in the Kawasaki lineup – every one is a quality machine.

It was the fastest demo day I’ve ever experienced. Kawasaki makes fast bikes – the ZX-14 is the fastest production bike on the planet today- and the guides at the demo day wanted to show that off. I was at the very edge of my comfort zone riding with the sportbike crew on the Ninja 650.

Sweet Ninja 650

Ninja 650 is fun. I really enjoyed the engine on the Ninja 650. High revving and torquey, whatever gear I was in just required a twist of the throttle to accelerate. I didn’t have to downshift once. It handled like a dream too. My only complaint was that it was a tad small for my 6’2″ frame. I stand by my belief that it’s one of the sexiest bikes for first time riders.

Kawasaki Concours. A dream machine.

Concours is like an extension of my body. I swear – I would think about turning left and the bike would start to go left. It was like the bike was anticipating my next move. It was the fastest bike I’ve ever experienced, and comfortable as a living room loveseat. Heated grips are a nice luxury – never experienced ’em before and on a cold day like today they were great to have. The wind screen that adjusts on the fly with a press of a button was pretty cool technology, too. A dream machine.

My favorite Kawi of the day was the KLR-650

The KLR-650 rocks. As nice as it was to ride a dream machine like the Concours, I’m a meat and potatoes guy. I like basic, hard working, functional bikes. So the KLR-650 was in my wheelhouse. It’s a great bike for taller first time riders (I think shorter riders might have trouble with it) It was my second favorite ride of the day. Which brings me to…

The best bike I rode today is the one I own. I just love the V-Strom 650. It fits me perfectly, it’s quick and twitchy, it handles like a dream, it’s versatile, it’s economical…it’s everything I want in a bike. As nice as it is to fantasize about a work of art like the Concours, I’ll never pay $16,000+ for a motorcycle. I’d buy three good used bikes before buying a new bike for that much money. So the fact that I paid only $4,000 for my used V-Strom makes it all that much more fun.

Here are some other pictures from the demo day.

Versys 650. Another good bike for first time riders.

The Z1000 just looks badass.

ZX-14. The fastest production bike on the planet. Lookin' good in blue.

Good looking orange Vulcan 900 Custom.

This 'Busa and ZX-14 look like they're getting ready to throw down in the parking lot.

A relic from Triumph's first year back in the USA - 1996 Triumph Adventurer in mint condition.

Unfortunately, no demo rides allowed on this 2002 ZRX1200R.

This weekend I fulfilled one of my motorcycle-related New Years resolutions. I invested in the gear I needed to go ATGATT (All The Gear, All The Time.) I took a trip to the Revzilla store in Philadelphia on Saturday and left with armored riding pants and jacket, gloves, and boots.

All The Gear.

My goal was to find a jacket and pants that covered as many possible combinations of temperature and weather as possible. I was willing to pay up for this versatility. Its clearly hard to find one do-everything jack-of-all-trades motorcycle outfit but when all was said and done I got pretty close.

I tried to buy this stuff online but it was just too confusing. Some of the products are offered in Euro sizes and others in American sizes. Even with the helpful videos on the Revzilla website it was hard to figure which items would work for me. And some stuff runs big, others small so it was hard to know what would fit me.

I had also tried to buy this stuff in a bricks-and-mortar store but there was just not enough selection available to make an informed decision. Two of the biggest motorcycle dealers near me have zero motorcycling pants in stock and only a few jackets. Driving the hour to the Revzilla store in South Philly was a good use of time.

Tito at the Philly Revzilla store was extremely helpful and invested a lot of time with me to make the sale.

First of all, a big shout out to my salesperson Tito. He literally spent two hours with me, educating me on my options and the pros and cons of each item. Once I made my selections he tried a number of different sizes of each item until I found the perfect fit. I ended up with:

The Olympia AST 2 Jacket. This is a 3/4 length adventure jacket with armor everywhere you’d want it, lots of pockets, a removable liner, and flow-through vents. It’s nice looking and seemingly has the versatility I want. While its billed as a 4-season jacket I think 90 degree summer days might be a bit much, but I still have a lightweight armored Triumph jacket for those days.

Olympia Airglide 3 Pants. These pants have a removable liner and can be worn as overpants. Or they can be worn alone or with shorts underneath in various combinations of with liner/without liner. So they’re pretty darn flexible. I wore them to work this morning over my corduroys without the liners and I was plenty warm. The temp was abut 40 degrees at the time.

One thing that surprised me a lot is that there are very few waterproof pants. The waterproof qualities are by and large built into the liner. This is complicated. Let’s say its a summer day and I’m using the Airglides as overpants. Now it starts to rain. I have to pull over, take off the Airglides , put in the liners, and put the whole shebang back on. I’m still not sure how this will work. And mind you I have to do this on the side of the road, braced against the bike, while rain is pouring down and tractor trailers are zooming by 80 miles per hour. So it may be that I just continue to use my rain pants and if it starts raining, throw them over the Airglides. I’ll update this later when I’ve experienced this a couple of times and make some conclusions about how to handle rain.

Alpinestars Ridge boots. This was a simple decision because they were the least expensive pair in the store (I paid more than I intended for the Olympia stuff) and they were decent looking, could be worn at work if necessary, and were waterproof (a mandatory feature since I wear my boots on week-long motorcycle camping trips on which at least one rain day is a guarantee.) I really wanted to check out the new Icon 1000 Elsinore boots which look badass but they aren’t in stock yet.

REV’IT! Dirt Gloves. I already have a good pair of waterproof Olympia gloves so I went with a set of vented armored gloves. These were comfortable and relatively inexpensive. This was the biggest shock of the day: that SOME GLOVES ARE AS EXPENSIVE AS PANTS!!!! But I guess when you think about how important it is to protect your hands – and the fact that the hands are probably one of the first body parts to make contact in a crash – it makes sense.

On Sunday I went for my first ATGATT ride with  my friend Amanda.  It is going to take some getting used to. All of the items are bulkier than the leather jacket and chaps I used to wear when riding. But I felt extremely safe. I was warm too on a chilly day in the 40s as we rode from 11:00 AM to about 5:00 PM.

And after all, my main motivation for converting to ATGATT was seeing a fellow rider walk away from a crash unscathed last summer because he was wearing the right gear. I hopefully will never have to experience this first hand but with all of those crazy cagers out there talking on their cell phones and texting, you can never be too safe.

Especially for first time riders, I would recommend making a real investment in safe gear and making a commitment to wearing it. I’m late to the party on this front and I’ve been lucky.

Yesterday I picked up the Rocket’s replacement at Ferracci’s. I considered a lot of different bikes – too many – and ultimately decided on the bike I’ve wanted in my stable and pined after since last summer, the venerable Suzuki V-Strom 650.

This is a big departure for me in a lot of ways:

  • My first non-Triumph. Both bikes I’ve owned since getting my license in 2008 were Triumphs, first the America then the Rocket III Touring. As a result, I’ve got dozens of items of Triumph garb and all my motorcycle helmets have Triumph stickers. My name on at least a dozen online motorcycle forums is PersonalTriumph (a reference to both my allegiance to the Triumph marque as well as some personal accomplishments.) When I decided on the ‘Strom it was hard to face the fact that I would not have a Triumph in my garage. I suspect at some point in the future I may have another though.
  • My first non-cruiser. Both bikes I’ve owned since getting my license were cruisers. The ‘Strom is my first sport bike.
  • My first dual sport. The ‘Strom is designed for light-duty off-roading. I’m going to do some research and find some fire roads up in the Poconos to give this a shot. I’ve already experimented with a lap around my yard. (Don’t tell my landlord though!)

My first impressions after about 24 hours of owning the ‘Strom are extremely favorable:

  • Twitchy. This bike handles like a dream. I think about turning, and it seems to turn. I’m sure other sport bikes handle better, but coming as I do from the land of cruisers this is a really welcome change.
  • Fast. I was worried that going from the 2300cc Rocket to the 650cc ‘Strom would leave me longing for the days of plentiful roll-on power. It’s a non-issue. In fact, the ‘Strom feels faster than the Rocket. I was on the highway this morning, cruising along at what seemed like a comfortable and reasonable pace. I looked down at my speedometer and I was going…well…way too fast. I need to be careful.
  • Light. After ‘rassling with the 900+ pound Rocket for the better part of the past year, it’s such a nice change to have a lightweight machine that I can easily roll around.
  • A bargain. I bought my V-Strom used. It’s a 2007 with around 10k miles on it that I got for less than $4,000. (Bonus: I was able to bank several grand after liquidating the Rocket.) But a brand new leftover 2011 with ABS and a warranty can be had at your local Suzuki dealer for around $7 grand. Even a brand new 2012 is just over $8 grand. It’s a fantastic machine for the money.
  • Its good to be in love again. After spending the past year falling in and out of love with the Rocket (and even feeling vague trepidation about it during the good times) it’s wonderful to once again have a bike that gets my heart pounding and my pulse racing every time I look at it.

There are a lot of folks who love the Rocket III, so don’t let my bad experience color you if you’re considering the bike. In fact, I think my friend Art will ditch me when I tell him the swap-out that I made, because he is so enamored with the Rocket. One of my fellow Rideitors on the Reddit motorcycle forum stated it best: “although you did enjoy it for a while I think you have eliminated a lot of the things you don’t want in a bike because they don’t fit your riding style. Its a little like dating the hot girl who turns out to be a superficial, high maintenance pain in the ass.  Well said, my friend. Well said.

If you’re a new rider, definitely put the V-Strom on your list of bikes to consider. I’ll keep you all updated as I get more experience with this bike.There is also a lot of help online at Stromtrooper, the V-Strom owners forum, which I have found to be one of the most comprehensive, active, and friendly motorcycle forums on the internet since I started lurking there last August.

Today on Yahoo Autos there’s an article called Someday You’ll Wish You Owned These Cars. It’s about 10 cars that are most likely to become collectors items in the future, such as the Ford Mustang Boss 302 Laguna Seca and the Nissan GT-R Black Edition.

It’s timely because just last week on Reddit there was a thread asking, “If money was no object, what would be your dream bike?” One of the Redditors responded “Ducati Sport Classic. Hands down.”

This is the color scheme of the 2008 Ducati Sport Classic I 'almost' bought at Eurosport. Image linked http://www.motorcycle-online.info.

I was curious about this, because when I was shopping for my first bike, one of the bikes I saw in a local dealership and seriously considered was the Ducati Sport Classic. It was in my price range (under $10,000) and was stunningly gorgeous. Ultimately I decided against it because I was nervous about owning a Ducati (I had heard stuff about them being expensive to maintain and there are only two dealerships near me – neither terribly convenient to my home or work). I ended up buying my Triumph America instead. It ended up being a good decision because the next year I got into touring on my motorcycle – something that wouldn’t have been particularly comfortable on the Duc.

Turns out that the Sport Classic was discontinued for the 2011 model year and have become extremely sought after and hard to find. I searched a number of websites including Ebay, Cycletrader, and Craigslist and found only two for sale this morning – one of them was at an asking price pretty close to the original sticker price. The other was highly modded and had an asking price over $16,000.

So that Sport Classic I threw a leg over and fell in love with at Eurosports back in the spring of 2008 is now a collectors item. Coulda, shoulda, woulda…

From a first time rider’s standpoint, I think I would have done all right on the Ducati. Granted, a Ducati isn’t a marque that’s typically thought of as making bikes for new motorcycle riders, but the Sport Classic was powered by a 1000 cc engine, which is about the upper limit I would recommend for a new rider. And I do think the current Ducati Monster 696 is a good bike for a first time rider – others who own it like it because it’s light, handles well, and has a peppy but not overpowering engine. And it is a sexy bike that turns heads everywhere it goes.

There are some in the motorcycling world who insist that a new rider shouldn’t buy a first bike with more displacement than 250 cc’s but I’m not one of them. I think I would have been quickly bored by a 250. I did just fine with my 865 cc America; it was nice and tame off the factory floor but modifiable to get more power as my riding skills grew.