There’s been quite a long period of time between when I got my motorcycle license (8 years ago, at the age of 19), and becoming a motorcycle owner (last month). I suppose a record of the event is in order.
Here’s the bike. It’s a 2012 Kawasaki Versys.
About the bike
It’s very comfortable, which is a good thing as I’m mostly interested in road trips (National Parks, here I come!). At 650CCs, it’s a good compromise between not killing myself, having oomph at highway speeds, and comfort for long trips. The engine is pretty mild and good at low RPMs, unlike most other 600CCs (which are generally geared towards killing oneself with excessive speed). The suspension has so far handled itself very nicely on the highway, and mitigated some potholes pretty well. The seat is also really comfortable, though after the 80 miles down to Santa Cruz, my butt started to voice some complaints.
Also, I really love the design of the headlights. It’s worth noting that they’re also quite bright and effective, especially the high beam (it may be better than my car).
Breaking it in
As a new bike, the engine requires breaking in, which requires me to not exceed 4000 RPMs (about 52 mph in top gear) for the first 500 miles. This has forced my initial weeks with the bike to be… rather slow. This has been a good thing. The bike starts to redline at 10k RPMs, so even with what I have available now, it’s still quite a bit of power. Goosing it up to the 5k range (it’s ok to do this a small amount) and it takes off about as fast as my VW GTI — I can’t imagine what a fully open throttle must be like. Taking it slow is a good thing.
Having spent my college career on a mountain bike in Santa Cruz (I did about 1k miles a year), regularly experiencing rough down hills, 45 mph downhills on steep paved roads, and long distance rides, I thought I’d be amply prepared for motorcycle. My bicycle skills certainly helped me obtain my motorcycle license (I got the highest marks in my MSF course at 19, despite no prior motorcycle experience). Though there definitely has been some cross-over, switching to a real motorcycle has taught me that there is sooo much more to learn.
Some particular lessons (which I’m still working on):
- Target fixation/looking through the turn. On a bicycle, even at high speed, you have an incredible ability to adjust the lean of your turn, and breaking isn’t a horribly scary thing. This allows one to be lazy at times with choosing their lines. On a motorcycle, one must be dramatically more deliberate. I’ve caught myself multiple times choosing an ideal line after I’ve already initiated the turn, which leads to a moment of panic before my brain reflexively kicks in and forces me to focus on the exit of the curve, and the confidence of that focus allows me in setting the lean angle.
- The physics of the thing require respect. Again, the bicycle breeds laziness. One is highly unlikely to be concerned about traction (you generally have a lot of it), or the weight of the vehicle. A motorcycle however requires much stronger control of the vehicle. For instance, a well controlled turn requires a perfect balance of lean angle and opposing centrifugal force (which requires good throttle control).
Add on to this equation concerns about where your traction is coming from–it could be mostly the rear or front tire, depending upon acceleration/breaking–and the equation of properly controlling a motorcycle through maneuvers vs. a bicycle is dramatically more complex.
- U-Turns are scary! The vehicle feels like it’s going to fall over at any second, and it is! However, in a U-turn, the force countering the falling (which is a function of speed and lean angle) requires perfect throttle control. As a newbie, I don’t quite have that yet, hence the scary.
Motorcycles don’t really come with… anything other than being a fantastic piece of machinery that can rocket you forward at ungodly speeds. Still, there’s much to be desired. To date, I’ve installed the following:
Gipro DS Gear indicator. Let’s you know what gear you’re in. I’d rate it as a must-have for beginners. I rode the first two weeks without this, and often found myself in the wrong gear, which can be quite scary. (note, there are a bazillion different models, find the right one for your bike on their website).
Mirror extenders. Before, I had a lovely view of my shoulders and the lanes on either side of me. After, I can see the lanes next to me AND the lane behind me out of either mirror. Again, a must have. Also, much love to the people at Motowerk, who make custom parts for the Versys.
Lowering Kit. The Versys is tall bike. Although I’m able to put both my feet down, I wanted more comfort and control when putting my feet down at stops or moving it around while parking. This lowering kit makes it about 2 inches shorter than stock, which has made a world of difference.
Tank bag. Ok, this isn’t exactly a modification, but it’s still super important. It’s a wonder to me that these don’t come as a freebie with the purchase of a bike.
Bad-ass keychain. It’s the little things that matter.