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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…
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.
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!
In May 2011 I made what I consider to be one of the worst decisions of my life: I traded my beloved 2008 Triumph America for a bigger bike, a Triumph Rocket III Touring. I had gotten it in my head that I needed a big bike. Not just a big bike, the BIGGEST bike.
Almost from the moment I brought the Rocket III home from the dealership, I realized it wasn’t the right bike for me. I really missed my America. I was sorry I had traded it in. I was disappointed in myself for getting bitten by the ‘bigger is better’ bug and had been kicking myself ever since. I pined to have an America back in my stable again.
Early this season I sold the Rocket and bought a used V-Strom, which has proven to be a very good choice for me. But I had it in the back of my head that if the opportunity presented itself, I would add another America to the stable. For much of this season I had my eye out for another used one.
Then a few weeks ago I took a riding class at a racetrack and had suddenly gotten bit by the track day bug. Now I had it in my mind to get an inexpensive track bike and do more track days – something like a mid 2000’s R6 or CBR-600. So yesterday I made the rounds of local dealerships looking for a candidate to buy.
As I pulled into Martin Motorsports, one of my usual haunts, I noticed a woman standing next to a Pacific Blue and New England White America just like the one I used to own. “Cool,” I thought. “An America like my old one.” I parked my ‘Strom and walked over to say hi.
“Hi there, I used to have a bike just like that,” I said with a smile as I approached her. Then, as I got closer, I noticed something. Not only was this America just like my old one, it WAS my old one. There was a telltale scratch on the tank that had its roots in a camping trip I had taken with some friends in 2010. We had paused to rest and take some pictures near a pretty lake, and as we were gearing up and getting ready to go,I swung my leg over the tank and a rock in the heel of my boot made an ugly scratchmark.
This bike had the same scratch.
“Did you buy this bike at Hermy’s?” I asked.
“Yes, we did,” she replied.
“Last May?” I asked.
“Yes, my husband and I bought this last May,” she replied.
“This used to be my bike.”
I told her the story about how I had traded it and missed it, when she dropped this bombshell: “We just traded it in for a Thunderbird.”
I could not believe it. I had missed this bike for the past year and three months. I had thought about getting an America to replace it. And here it was, about to be placed on the showroom floor of my favorite motorcycle dealership.
Today, my beloved 2008 Triumph America is back in my garage. It was an expensive round trip, as I got trade-in value for the America in May 2011 and paid retail value to buy it back yesterday; and I bought the Rocket at retail value in May 2011 and sold it for something less than retail value this past February. I don’t want to think about how much money this bad decision cost me, really. But I am so grateful that the bike is back in my life.
When I tested it out yesterday, it was like being back with an old friend. When I drove it home, it was like it had never left. When I was signing the papers to buy the bike, the woman who handles transactions at Martin’s remarked, “You just can’t get away from this bike, huh?” I literally started to well up and replied, “No. It’s not that. I have an emotional connection to this bike. I made a mistake and it found its way back to me.”
So many strange coincidences had to happen for this bike to get reunited with me: I went out yesterday shopping for a sport bike and ended up at Martin’s at around 1PM; Frank and Holly, the couple who owned the America, were just out riding, stopped at Martin’s, and fell in love with the Thunderbird they ended up buying at around the same time. I believe that the Pacific Blue and New England White 2008 America that I started my motorcycling career with will now be in my garage forever. Perhaps one day one of my grandchildren-to-be will inherit it…
This is a question that comes up time and time again on the internet: what’s the best bike for a first time rider. And any time someone writes on the subject, it’s like whack-a-mole: you’re gonna get hit in the head by someone who disagrees with your list.
I’m doing it a little different and taking a page out of People Magazine’s formula with my list of the sexiest bikes for first time riders. Let’s face it. Part of the appeal of riding a motorcycle is the massive incremental sex appeal that it gives the rider. Someone who knows how to throw a leg over a two-wheeled beast and launch it is by definition sexier than someone who doesn’t.
I had a few criteria for this list. (1) the bike had to be less than 1000 cc’s, which I think is the upper limit for a first time rider. (2) the bike had to be available in the 2012 model year. And (3) the bike had to cost less than $10,000 out the showroom door (not hard to do considering criteria #1, but I’m putting it out there anyway.)
Normally I wouldn’t recommend anyone – let alone a first time rider – buy a brand-new bike. You end up paying dealer setup fees and shipping which can add another grand to your purchase price. There are so many bikes available used that if you don’t have your heart set on a bike that was just introduced, you can find low mileage late model year options on Craigslist or Ebay or the motorcycle forums and save thousands. But for the sake of setting a line in the sand, these are all 2012 models.
Here’s my list:
10. Honda NC700X. This bike is set to hit showrooms later this spring. I saw it’s debut at the New York Motorcycle Show and it’s very cool. Just please please please – if you buy one – don’t get automatic transmission, OK? It automatically eliminates the sexy quotient.
9. Triumph America. Cruisers are sexy, and the Triumph marque adds a little something-something. I rode this bike for three years and if you’re a new rider in the market for a cruiser, I can’t say enough about it. In a sea of homogeneous middleweight cruisers (take the badges off a Vulcan, Shadow, Boulevard, or Star and you’d have a hard time telling them apart), the America stands out.
8. Kawasaki Ninja 250. Many fellow riders think that a first time rider should consider only 250 cc and below motorcycles. I think this approach really limits choices. Nevertheless, the Ninja 250 is just a great looking bike that owners love. On the motorcycles subreddit (fantastic motorcycle forum – go there if you haven’t already) a Ninja 250 owner crossed the 30,000 mile mark this week, so it’s NOT a bike you’ll outgrow.
7. Suzuki V-Strom 650. The 2007 edition of the V-Strom is my current ride and I’m thrilled with it. It’s comfortable, versatile, nimble, easy to ride and easy to love. The 2012 version is less versatile (it’s off-road capabilities have been stripped away) but it’s still a great-looking machine and in fact is sexier than the 04-11 Weestroms.
6. Honda CBR250R. I saw this bike sitting on the floor at the NYC moto show and it definitely qualifies as sexy. It also tends to win all of the 250 cc shootouts that the motorcycle pubs do every year.
5. Harley Davidson Sportster Iron 883. So many people who get a M class license want to ride Harleys, and this is the only one that really qualifies as a bike for first-time riders. And my brother-in-law recently let me take his Dyna for a spin and I have to admit there is definitely something intoxicatingly sexy about riding a Harley.
4. BMW F650GS. Nice bike, looks great, goes off road, has that BMW logo on the tank that just gives it that extra boost of sex appeal. Plus riding a BMW Adventure-Sport bike automatically links you to Ewan and Charley, even if the tires never see dirt and you never eat The Stew of 100 Testicles. I tried out a 650GS last year and found it a bit small for my 6’2″ frame but still…gotta be on this list.
3. Kawasaki Ninja 650. Drop-dead gorgeous. Looks fast standing still. Getting great reviews from the motorcycling press. Comfortable to straddle with a neutral upright riding position. A flat-out winner.
2. Triumph Bonneville. Just one of the coolest bikes on two wheels. 60’s retro sensibilities and all of the modern technology, fun to ride, turns heads everywhere it goes, moddable to your heart’s content. A fantastic, fantastic machine.
1. Ducati Monster 696. The Monster is a work of art. There is some debate as to whether it’s really for first time riders (in fact there was some discussion about this very point last night on Reddit) but I vote yes. And it simply defines sexy. At Fast by Ferracci here in the Philadelphia area, you can get a Monster for $9,947.70 out the door ($8,795 MSRP plus 6% sales tax, $525 dealer prep and freight, and $100 documentation fee) so it just qualifies for the list.
Honorable mention: Husqvarna Concept Baja. C’mon, Kris Odwarka. Pull some strings and make this beauty a reality! If it were available today, it would be #3 on my list. And there would be one in my garage.
What do you think? Any contenders I overlooked? Fire away!
It’s the last day of November and it’s getting cold in Philly. I had a fantastic ride on Sunday with a group of guys I meet up with a couple times a year, came home, and stowed the bike for the winter.I know some die hard riders who never put their bikes away and ride year long, but I’m not one of them. For one thing, I’m a ski patroller at a local mountain and so that’s my focus during the winter months. For another thing, I’m getting shoulder surgery on Friday which will put me out of commission for a month anyway.
I was going to write a blog post on how to winterize a bike – something I had to learn by trial and error the first season I owned my bike – but then yesterday I found a great article on the subject. So no need to duplicate the effort.
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
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.
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.
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.
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 »