By Egle Gerulaityte.
Choosing a bike is a very individual decision; choosing an adventure bike, even more so. And what happens when you outgrow your first motorcycle?
We spoke to three female riders with different levels of experience and expectations, and tried to figure out how their motorcycling needs and preferences have changed as they accumulated more mileage and perfected their off – road skills.
The general rule of thumb for your first bike is go small, and upgrade later: a smaller, lighter motorcycle is easier to handle and usually, cheaper to fix.
‘My first motorcycle was a 1982 Honda CM250 Custom. It was the perfect machine to test whether or not I actually enjoyed riding: cheap, light enough for me to pick up, and ugly enough to not worry about dropping it. I bought a bigger motorcycle when I realized I was going to murder the CM250 if I kept taking it on the highway, and sold the CM250 to another beginner motorcyclist’, – says Robyn Kocienski.
She first tried motorcycling as a pillion rider but soon realized she preferred to be in control and, after taking her test, bought her own bike.
‘My first bike ever was a custom Yamaha YBR 125. I’d learned to ride about ten years back, and I was nervous that I’d forgotten everything, so I needed something small’, – says Agata Wysocka. She’s sold the YBR and bought a BMW F650GS a year after, when she decided she wanted to do longer trips.
Kris Fant claims she’s never felt comfortable on two wheels before, but when she tried a small off – road bike it was love at first sight. ‘I’d always wanted to learn to ride a motorcycle, and when I met my now husband, he recommended learning off road before learning on the street. He sold his quad and bought me a CRF 80! The first time I rode off road, I felt pretty overwhelmed. I’d barely spent any time on a bicycle, and still remember when I borrowed a friend’s bike with hand brakes; I forgot they existed, and wiped out pretty badly.
I had not really learned to drive a manual either, as the concept of the clutch and grab spot were foreign. Getting on a dirt bike, the controls were confusing and the bike felt unstable, and I forgot about the existence of the rear brake, so over the handlebars I went. Strangely, that was the moment I fell in love with the sport. Protected by my gear, I laughed, dusted myself off, hopped back on, and have been hooked ever since.’
Getting into adventure
Learning to ride is the first step to the world of motorcycling. As your confidence grows and your skills get sharper, you might find yourself wondering about the next challenge. But what’s it like to ride off – road for the first time? ‘When I found myself off the road for the first time, I was completely unprepared. My first off-pavement adventure was on my second motorcycle: a 1981 Honda GL500 Silverwing with inexpensive street tires. Some friends and I went motorcycle camping for the first time together.
I didn’t have motorcycle luggage yet, so I packed my stuff into a duffel bag and strapped it to the sissy bar. When the road to our campsite turned from packed dirt to gravel and fine sand hills, it got real messy. I dumped the bike twice: once on each side and eventually needed a friend to help me get it through the soft sand.
The janky after-market fairing (which was already in awful condition) was losing bits and pieces along the trail. The good news came when the Bureau of Land Management employee dropped by and let us know that there’s an easier way to get back to the road. We still refer to this trip as The Dumb Way Round’, – remembers Robyn.
Agata says she first tried riding off road on her Europe tour. She was heading to Spain, and as she stopped in Cracow, Poland, to visit some friends they invited her to ride in the countryside together. ‘I was very nervous at first, but I was in a good company and by the time we got back, I knew I wanted to ride off – road more’, – says Agata.
Kris advises to learn at your own pace and set achievable goals. ‘Learn and practice off road basics, then learn to understand your comfort level, your challenge level, and your overwhelmed level. I try to keep my day to 75% or less of my challenge level, and no more than 5-10% of my overwhelmed level. Riding too long overwhelmed causes me to make mistakes, ride too slow, fall a lot, wear myself out, and get discouraged.’
As your riding skills and preferences evolve, so does your relationship with motorcycles. And it’s ok to experiment: finding the right one can take a while! ‘I started off just wanting to learn how to ride because I hated being a passenger. Turned out I really enjoyed the Team Oregon course. I built basic riding skills with the first bike (CM250) riding with friends and commuting to and from work. With my second motorcycle (GL500), riding became my preferred mode of transportation. Living in Portland meant I had to invest in decent rain gear. I started getting involved with the local motorcyclist community. Multi-day trips became an obsession and didn’t want to feel hindered by a lack of pavement, so I bought a more capable bike (NC700X) and took a dirt riding class.
It became challenging to rally friends into going on long rides with me, but I really enjoyed motorcycle camping, so I decided to do some solo touring… starting with a three month, 10,000 mile trip around the United States. I wasn’t even home before I started daydreaming about a trip to Baja. A friend was selling his 2006 Suzuki DR650 which was perfectly farkled for this sort of trip: upgraded seat, larger fuel tank, racks and luggage, etc. Along the way, I’ve been introduced to more motorcycle enthusiasts and professionals in the industry which has lead to a few trade show gigs, then a seasonal position with MotoQuest (a global motorcycle tour and west coast rental company) in Anchorage, Alaska, and now I’m working full-time with them. In the future, I want to buy a smaller dual sport bike to ride and camp along US Backcountry Discovery Routes. Maybe a Yamaha WR250R or something similar. Although if Honda released a modern TransAlp in the US, I would surely snatch one up. I also want to travel globally, so there’s my internal conflict. We only get so much time on this planet. I wish there were two of me so one could be waking up in Laos while the other was riding in Utah,’ – says Robyn.
For Kris, it’s been not just about riding, either. ‘I am a bit of a bike princess, and have had three dirt bikes and three street bikes in 5 years. I have gone from someone who knew nothing about engines, carburetors, tires, or brakes, to truly understanding what makes vehicles move. I think when I had my lifelong dream of riding, I was in love with the image of a motorcyclist, and I fell in love with understanding my machine, and learning to work with it rather than against it. I heard someone say once that bicycles are more man than machine, and cars are more machine than man, but motorcycles are the perfect balance.’
Agata says she’s still happy with her trusty GS: ‘I’ve had it for two years now, and I think the relationship is just right! When I first bought it, I felt a little intimidated by the size and weight of the bike, but bit by bit, I think we learned to cooperate. The bike is just perfect for me’.
The Key Factor is You!
So what’s the bottom line? Once you feel confident enough, just go with what feels right! ‘I think the first question is always “What do I want to do with the bike?” If I want to race, a little dual sport wouldn’t be the right bike, but if I want to ride off road, a GSXR 1000 probably isn’t my best option. My criteria for choosing a bike are 1) I want to ride street and trails, 2) I need to go highway speeds with power left to spare, and 3) I like to be able to touch the ground’, – explains Kris.
Robyn says it’s all about practicality. ‘I will sacrifice style and speed for a motorcycle that will start easily and won’t break down constantly. Maintenance and worn-out part replacement also has to be simple, even better if the motorcycle is globally popular so I can find parts as I need them. Great fuel economy might not make for the most rapid acceleration, but that doesn’t bother me.’
Agata prefers comfort and reliability: ‘When I was looking for that perfect bike, it was very important for me to find one low enough for me to reach the ground, but also powerful enough to carry me on all sorts of terrains for long distances. The GS proved to be ideal’.
All of them agree on one thing, though: the most important criteria is…you. Choose what feels best, and go explore!
Agata: BMW F650GS
Kris: Suzuki DR650
Robyn: Honda NC700