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Joy Riding

It’s never too late to discover the fun of cycling



Kawasaki Vulcan

The motorcycle itch—almost every red-blooded human has had it. You see a couple of buddies leaning their sport bikes through the twisties on a bright summer day, or a couple out on that big old cruiser. Or maybe you just catch Easy Rider on Netflix. And you think, “yeah, but—”

But nothing. We’re here to tell you from experience that itch is worth scratching—and with today’s friendlier-than-ever bikes, it’s easy to do. With a little training and vigilant riding, it’s pretty safe, too.

We went bike shopping for you this past December at the Progressive International Motorcycle Show, at New York’s Javits Center. We were looking for bikes suited for grownups who were either first-timers or what the industry calls “Chapter Two riders”—midlife empty-nesters who hung up their wheels years ago to raise a family. If that describes you, manufacturers have you in their sights. After years of jockeying to build the biggest, baddest, tire-shreddingest beasts, they realized their future belongs to people like us, who just want to have fun.

So we set out to find bikes you could feel confident riding, even as a newbie. Our three criteria: Under 1,000cc. Comfortable riding position. Available anti-lock brakes (ABS) or traction control. The good news—there are almost too many bikes to choose from, and most of them are reasonably priced.

Let’s start with a toe-dipper: The Honda Rebel (pictured left) Older riders may scowl, recalling the underpowered, underloved 250cc Rebel of the ’80s. But the new 2017 model is a real motorcycle. Bypass the 300cc model for the 500cc—a half-liter bike with real attitude. With its responsive parallel twin engine, upright riding position, light weight (408 pounds wet, i.e., with a full tank) for easy handling, classic styling and available ABS—not to mention low seat height—it is the ideal starter bike. In fact, even for experienced riders, it might be all the bike you need.

Want to dip just your pinky toe? Check out the funky Suzuki Van Van (pictured right.) With its modest 200cc single cylinder, it’s not for the highway. The balloon rear tire and wide, plush seat promise stability and comfort, even on gravel roads or fire trails. They call this lightweight runabout (282 pounds) an “urban commuter,” but it’s also a suburban commuter. It lacks ABS, but are you going to go fast enough for that to matter?

Admittedly, you’re not going to make much of an impression parking your Van Van among the Harleys outside the coffee shop on Sunday. Here are two bikes that are both image- and rider-friendly:

The 1,000cc Indian Scout 60 (pictured left) is a detuned (by 22 HP) version of the acclaimed Indian Scout cruiser. The iconic Indian brand was resuscitated in 2011 by Polaris. Made in Spirit Lake, Iowa, the Scout is real American Iron for those who can’t buy into the whole Harley gestalt. It’s big and moderately heavy (555 pounds wet) and not cheap ($9,999 with ABS)—but think how great you’ll look.

If you’re more Tom Cruise than George Clooney, you’ll want a sport bike (aka “crotch-rocket”). The Kawasaki Z650 ABS (pictured right) has sport-bike attitude (it’s based on Kawasaki’s best-selling Ninja 650), but with a low seat height and more upright riding position. At 410 pounds wet, it’s a nimble carver of country curves.

But who needs roads? The BMW G 310 GS (pictured below) is a great entry-level adventure bike. Its  313cc single provides all the power you need for the single-track. With its higher seat height and ground clearance, you can go anywhere. And standard ABS helps stop anywhere, too.

Which bike is for you?

Ultimately, one that fits, and manufacturers are increasingly adding options that adjust seat height and reach. As Kawasaki spokesman Kevin Allen points out, “Comfort is the shortest route to confidence—which is the key to having fun.” Kawasaki’s innovative Ergo-Fit system lets you build a Vulcan S 650cc cruiser practically to measure.

Today’s rider-friendly bikes are a blast, and there’s no reason to hold back. Get your motorcycle license (see sidebar), find your dream bike, and meet us at Starbucks this Sunday at 9. The road beckons. 


Take it easy, rider

When you announce your intention to gear up, everyone will have a second- or third-hand horror story to tell you. But riding can be a lot safer than many other recreational pursuits, if you:

  • Get anti-lock brakes. ABS reduces fatalities by 37 percent.
  • Wear a helmet. In 2014, helmets saved 1,669 lives.
  • Ride sober. Nearly 30 percent of riders who lost their lives in 2014 were over the 0.08 limit.
  • Slow down. A third of riders involved in fatal crashes in 2014 were speeding.
  • Get a motorcycle endorsement on your license. In 2014, 28 percent of those involved in fatal crashes had no valid motorcycle license.
  • Take a class. You’ll learn not only the rules but everyday bike-handling and safety skills. Connecticut, New York, Massachusetts, and New Jersey all offer multiday state training programs that conclude with an evaluation, and ultimately an endorsement, waiving your road test.
  • To put it simply: How safe is motorcycle riding? That’s up to you. 

—RG & DG

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