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I am asking for advice about the purchase of a motorcycle. My reasoning for this is primarily financial. My income is stretched to nearly the breaking point, and I'm wondering if purchasing a motorcycle would be in my best interest.

You MUST have disposable income to own a vehicle. The acquisition costs are high, and the operating and maintenance costs are killers. If you're stretched to the breaking point, you should focus your efforts on increasing your income, reducing your expenses, and using public transportation.

Here's what I'm thinking regarding motorcycles, and don't hesitate to tell me if my thinking is horribly skewed. It is my understanding that I could purchase a reliable used bike for around a couple of thousand dollars. Gas mileage beats nearly ever car on the road, and insurance costs are lower than automobiles.

Yes, you can buy a motorcycle for $1,000. However, a $1,000 motorcycle will need constant attention. Additionally, motorcycles get abused a lot. If you don't know what you're doing, I recommend you stick with new bikes. If you know what you're doing, or you have a trusted friend who knows what he or she is doing, then you can look at used bikes.

I recommend your first bike should be smaller. I think 350 cc is a perfect starter size, but finding good 350 cc bikes is hard to do anymore. I recommend looking for bikes in the 500 to 650 cc range. Do NOT buy a bike bigger than 750 cc for your first bike.

You may want to read the Dummies Guide to Motorcycles. I can't even begin to describe how much I hate the titles of the Dummies and Idiots series of books, but the information in those books usually is pretty good. The Dummies Guide to Motorcycles talks about first bikes. You probably can find a copy at your local library, or you can buy a copy from or

The kind of bike I am looking for would have to replace my car. I don't want a hobby to ride on weekends--this will have to take me to work and back six days a week. I don't intend to ever drive on dirt, nor race with anyone else. In short, I need the boring, safe, reliable type of transportation that I now have with my Civic.

No can do. Not in the U.S. In the U.S., motorcycles are recreational vehicles with some practical applications. You're setting yourself up for trouble if you try to use a motorcycle as primary transporation in the U.S.

Some concerns: Maintenance. I'm fairly certain bikes need more TLC than cars, and for me that would be a problem. I have little mechanical skills--I don't even change the oil on my Civic, and I have never changed the oil on a car. The thought of changing a spark plug intimidates me because of all the warnings about the 'gap' not being exactly right or I'll burn up my engine, and whatnot. I would not want to trade a reliable car with low maintenace costs for a cheaper bike and higher maintenance expenses.

Just like with cars, you can have a motorcycle mechanic do your routine maintenance for you. Changing oil on most bikes is ridiculously easy, but the cost to have a mechanic change your oil is also ridiculously cheap. Cities I've lived in all have some sort of motorcycle club, and club members are always willing to help newbies learn their machines.

Comfort. I live in Texas, so we have warmer-than-average seasons (and blistering summers) but it does rain fairly often and even get cold on occasion in winter. Is a motorcycle reasonable as an all-weather vehicle?

I've lived in North America, Europe, and Asia. I've used bikes in all three continents.

In Europe and Asia, motorcycles are primary forms of transportation. In the U.S. motorcycles are recreational vehicles. You're inviting trouble if you back yourself into a corner where you must use your motorcycle as your primary form of transporation in the U.S. If you can't afford a car, then stick with public transportation.

License. Does my automobile license let me ride a bike? Would I need a special motorcycle operator's license? If so, I assume some driving test is necessary. I'm not sure how I would go about learning to ride a bike in order to pass a driving test when I'm not licensed to ride the bike in the first place.

To the best of my knowledge, all 50 states require a motorcycle-specific license. I think Florida was the last state to allow a one-size-fits-all license, and they got rid of that option in 1995-ish.

You can check the requirements for your state from your state's web site. It will have the form http:/, where XX is the two-letter postal code for your state.

Regardles of your state's specific requirements, I HIGHLY recommend the courses offered by the Motorcycle Safety Foundation. Their instructors are well-trained. They provide the motorcycles for the basic course. Even as an experienced rider, I find their courses valueable. You can get more information from this link:

The best advice I can offer a newbie rider are:

1. NEVER, EVER, EVER mix drinking and riding. Allow at least 12 hours from bottle to throttle. No kidding. No exceptions.

2. Invest in a good, full-face motorcycle helmet, and ALWAYS wear it. You'll get lots of arguments about motorcycle helmets. People will call you "sissy" -- or worse -- when you wear a full-face helmet. Wear one anyhow.

3. Invest in some good motorcycle clothing. There's a raging debate over textiles vs leather. I've worn both. I use both. I think textiles are better for daily, routine riding, and I think leathers are better for touring or racing. Other riders will have other opinions.

The best textile motorcycle clothing I know is available from Aerostich. Logon to their web page and complete the form to get a catalog. Before you order, CALL for fitting instructions. The catalog is fantastic, but the fitting instructions in their catalog are terrible. My daily riding coat is a Darien jacket, and I want Santa Claus to bring me a Roadcrafter, two-piece suit. You can get more information from this link:

The best leather motorcylce clothing I know is BMW. People argue with me, but I still think BMW makes the best leathers. They're expensive. Maybe too expensive. But you get what you pay for. You can get more information from this link:

David Jacobs
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