WELCOME TO YOUR MID-LIFE CRISIS
“The kids have flown the coop, the mortgage is under control and Father Time marches on. Time to give yourself a little reward. In motoring terms, that usually means something a little spicier with look-at-me styling and performance to match.” Kevin Hepworth was writing the start of a story about a sports car, but it could equally apply to a motorbike. To the bloke involved (and let’s face it, mostly in this scenario it is a bloke!), it is often seen as a “reward”, or perhaps an attempt at re-capturing long-lost youth. Others – usually family and well-meaning friends – see it as a mid-life crisis. Whatever you call it, getting into (or back into) the world of motorcycling has the potential to be one of the most enjoyable lifestyle changes you can make. WHY DO IT? Let’s look briefly at the motivation. If it is a “reward” then it doesn’t really matter if you deserve it or not. The person who sells you your new bike is not going to ask you to show justification for your decision to purchase; they’re just going to ask you for your money! You might consider that you’ve earned it, and if so, then good for you! But you can look at it as any hobby, interest or leisure-time activity. You don’t need to have earned the right to have a hobby. All you need is the desire to do it and the money to afford it. If it is trying to re-capture long-lost youth, then it isn’t going to work! You’re not going to suddenly be 21 again, no matter how much you try to delude yourself! But riding a bike can sure make you feel younger and more alive. So, if it is indeed a “mid-life-crisis” then this is one crisis that can be good to go through! You won’t, as I’ve just said, regain long-lost youth, but it can put some real enjoyment and interest into the stage of life that you are at. A warning though. If you get into motorcycling, do it because you want to get into motorcycling, not because you think owning and riding a bike will make you look cool! If you get a bike to look and feel cool then you probably won’t enjoy it. And worse, you could end up getting hurt! By that I mean that if you ride just to look cool then you probably won’t ride very well. And if you don’t ride well you have a greater potential to end up crashing.
TWO TYPES OF PEOPLE
Okay, first thing to say is that there will be two different types of people involved in this “mid-life-crisis” thing. I’ve kind of mentioned them already. The first type of person is one who is getting into bikes for the first time. If that’s you, then welcome to the wonderful world of motorcycling! It’s great to have you join us. For many first-timers, it’s often a case of fulfilling a long-held desire. And I reckon it’s good to begin doing something you’ve always wanted to do. I think it’s sad when people have a desire to take up a particular hobby or interest but never do it. I remember one occasion getting off the bike and chatting to a middle-aged guy sitting near to where I was parked. He said, “You know, you’re doing something that I’ve always wanted to do! I’ve always wanted to have a bike.” I thought how sad it was that he had never actually fulfilled this desire. Yamaha have a motto: “Don’t dream it, live it!” And it’s probably this kind of motivation that brought you to the point of actually doing something about turning that dream into a reality. The other type of person is one who is getting back into riding after a long absence. If that’s you, then you won’t need me to tell you about the joys of motorcycling! And it will probably be the memory you have of those joys of motorcycling that brought you back. If you still have your licence (which is likely), then you won’t have to go through the hassle of going for your "L"s and then going for your licence. You also won’t have any restriction on what you ride. But there is a real danger here; the bikes around today are vastly different to the bikes you will have ridden in your youth. The danger comes from the fact that they have levels of performance that we could only dream about a few decades ago. And that can get you into trouble. But approach it the right way and you will love it probably even more than you did the first time!
If you’re new to bikes then the first step will involve getting your licence. Procedures and requirements vary from one state to another, but are basically similar. I live in NSW and so I’ll describe the basic process that exists in that state. For details on what is involved in your particular neck of the woods, contact your local traffic authority. When I got my bike “Learner’s Permit” in the mid 1970s (I’d had a driver’s licence for quite a few years before that), it involved doing an eye-test. And that was about it. If you could see, then you could ride! These days it’s a bit more involved. You have to do a training course that will involve at least two half-day sessions at a training centre. Here you will be taught how to ride, and you’ll have to achieve a certain level of ability to control a bike. It's a good thing to do! You'll be taught things like efficient acceleration and braking, accurate steering and placement of the machine etc. In other words, before you are allowed to venture onto the roads as a learner, first you have to learn to ride! The only exception to this is if there isn’t a training centre near where you live. In that case the training is exempt, but you will need to do an eye-test and a basic knowledge test. (The photo on the left comes from Fine Line Motorcycles, on the mid-north coast of NSW, who claim to be the only dealership in NSW that carries out RTA rider training and testing on-site). You are restricted to a maximum speed of 80kph; and of course you are restricted as to what type of bike you can ride. (More on that soon). Once you’ve got your Ls you’ve got them for at least 3 months. Your Learner Licence is valid for a year, but you’ve got to wait for at least 3 months before you can go for your full (provisional) licence. And to get your licence it’s a full day course, including a 1-hour on-road riding test. Now, once you’ve got your licence, you’re still not finished. You’ll be on a restricted licence for at least a year. This is a red (or P1) licence. You are restricted to 90kph, and the same type of bike as with the Ls. If you’re over 25 (which you will be, unless you are having your “mid-life crisis” at a very early age!) and have a full driver’s licence, you skip the P2 level which was introduced to bikes in 2009. That runs for a further 2 years and carries a 100kph speed limit.
THE PROPER GEAR
Like probably a lot people of my vintage, when I first started out my riding-gear was very basic. In my case it was heavy-weight cotton pants, a track-suit jacket, and joggers. And gardening gloves I bought from Woolies. I soon up-graded to jeans, a light-weight parka-style jacket (with appropriate motorcycling logos sewn on!) and motocross gloves. Gumboots (the “safety” type with steel-cap toes) for trail-riding, which was the main riding I did, and hard-toe shoes for the road. I did, however, always wear a good quality helmet. It took a long time – until after I gave away trail-riding and got into road bikes – before I finally got into proper protective motorcycle gear. That was pretty silly really; I should've been wearing better gear back then! That's me on the left in more recent times, and as you can see, the riding gear is a lot better now than it was way back then! Don’t do as I did – get the right gear from the start! And if you can’t afford good quality riding gear, then you can’t afford to ride; simple as that! And don’t think you don’t need it because you’re only going slowly. That road is hard, regardless of how fast or slow you’re going or how powerful your bike is or isn’t. Before you go any further, have a read of my article on protective clothing. Along with a lot of general information there are a couple of stories proving just how necessary it is to have good protective gear.
Well, yes, this is something you will definitely want to do! And when it comes to staying alive, I have some good news and some bad news for you. First the bad news. Statistically you have a higher than average chance of being killed when you take up this new interest! Statistics for middle-aged riders – especially returnees or first-timers – show that they have a higher percentage of deaths than almost all other categories of riders. There are reasons for this, which I’ve detailed in an article on the subject of older riders. Which brings me to the good news. There are quite a lot of articles on this site that will help you to avoid the dangers, reduce the risks, and well, stay alive to enjoy more of your new-found recreation. Here are a list of the ones I reckon you should read. “Staying Alive” is, as you’d guess, an article about staying alive while you enjoy this new hobby. There’s lots of good tips here (even if I do say so myself!), and a couple of mnemonics (words with letters that stand for something) that will help you as you ride. I still use these to remind myself to be safe. “How Fast Should You Ride?” is a look at the issue of speed. No, there aren’t any absolute answers of course, but this explains how the appropriate speed changes depending on road conditions and the intention of your ride. “Overtaking – Good And Bad” asks if being good at overtaking is actually being bad at it. Confused? Read it, you won’t be. And it’s a good safety issue to keep in mind. “3 Seconds And Speed-Limits” lays out the old 3-second rule, and explains why obeying that rule – and obeying speed-limits – can make your ride safer and more enjoyable. But don’t stop at this site. Read everything you can – articles in magazines and other web-sites – to help you stay alive out there on the roads. And consider doing a training course. Especially if you’re new to bikes, but also if you’re returning after a long absence, a training course will give you skills and abilities that will save your life. What price can you put it on that? Yes, it’s worth doing!
OTHER RESOURCES ON THIS SITE
Okay, here are a couple of other articles that you might find helpful. “4AM Tuesday” This is a bit of a light-hearted look at statistics, but it also mentions a particular safety issue that’s good to be aware of. “Riding On Air” is an article on the AirHawk seat-pad. It’s a strap-on pad that gives a soft ride for those aging back-sides. “Buying A Helmet” is what you probably think it is – a few tips and things to watch for when buying a lid. “Buying On Line” gives you a whole bunch of information about buying a bike over the internet. And with the internet being the first place many people look when buying something, this could be a very useful resource for you. “Oldies Can Be Goldies” takes a look at the advantages of older bikes. It could be that buying an older bike will not only save you money, it could also provide a bike that better suits your needs than more modern kit. As well as these, on the Links page you’ll find links to the Motorcycle Council and Survive The Ride. (You can click the links here, of course, but for future reference they’re on the Links page too).
WHAT TYPE OF BIKE?
If you are a returnee with a current licence, then of course you can buy any bike you want to. But if you’re new to bikes there are restrictions on what they’ll let you ride. So that’s what I’ll focus on here. Although let me say that even if you have ridden before, this isn’t a bad place to start getting back into bikes. As I said, bikes today are vastly different to the machines you would’ve ridden twenty or thirty years ago, so it’s a good idea to ease yourself back into it with something more user-friendly. The 250cc limit that used to apply was phased out in NSW quite a few years ago. Most other states have phased it out too. In its place is what is known as the Learner Approved Motorcycle Scheme; or LAMS for short. This allows you to ride bikes up to a maximum of 660cc provided they fall below a predefined power-to-weight ratio. It’s a good system! You can check what bikes come into this category by looking up the list available on the web-site of your state’s traffic authority. Be certain to do this, and not just take someone’s word for a bike being approved. Some are fairly obvious, but there are some real surprises amongst bikes that are and aren’t approved. So if you are considering buying a particular bike, first check to make sure you can legally ride it. Now that we’re talking about bikes, let’s have a look at what bikes you can ride. I’ll take a look at the various categories of bikes and give you a few comments and suggestions on bikes from each category. Just before we do look at these categories, it’s worth pointing out that there are, in fact, many different and quite separate categories of bikes. This is something that has developed over the past couple of decades or so. Until then there weren’t as many different categories of bikes. There were road-bikes and dirt-bikes, but that was about it. The many different categories we have today, like cruiser, sportstourer, sports, super-sports, dual-purpose, etc just didn’t exist. Divisions were made on engine-capacity of course, but that’s about as far as it went. Now there’s a lot more to the decision you have to make! Okay, so let’s have a look at some different categories and some bikes therein. Now, I should emphasise at this point that I’m not giving you a complete list of what’s available in each category. I’m just picking out a few I think are good and that I reckon you should consider if you’re shopping in that category.
Okay, let’s be honest; if you’re going to have a mid-life crisis, you’re probably not going to have it on a scooter! Remember that opening paragraph where the writer suggested you’d be looking for “something a little spicier with look-at-me styling and performance to match”? Well that’s not exactly what you think of when it comes to scooters. Despite that though, scooters can be a very practical means of two-wheeling. So if you think practically and objectively in the middle of your mid-life crisis (which is a contradiction in terms really!), then you might find that a scooter is high on your shopping-list. There are a couple of articles on scooters on the site here. One looks at scooters in general, and the other one looks a bit more closely at what sort of things are out there in scooter-land. Just about everything in the scooter market is learner-legal, so you can ride pretty much anything that’s available. But in general terms, I’d recommend staying away from the tiddlers – they’re not going to satisfy your mid-life longings! And I’d recommend against the maxis too. I’ll probably get a bit of argument on this, but they are fairly heavy and I reckon you’d be better off starting out on something a bit lighter. Suggestions? Well, Suzuki’s Burgman 400, Yamaha’s Majesty 400 (pictured left), and Honda’s Silver Wing 400 are all good ‘uns here. They offer excellent comfort, plenty of carrying capacity (the Yamaha claims 60 litres of storage – and that’s before you add any extra luggage, like a top-box!), good performance, and suspension that owes more to motorcycle design than traditional scooter design. And with big screens, and bodywork, they provide good protection from the weather. Can you see why these things can be a very practical way of enjoying your life on two wheels? They might not have the same impress-the-neighbours image as a Harley, but you’ll know that you made a wise choice of function over image. Weight for these machines is around the 200kg mark, and it’s all carried pretty low, so they are very manageable. If you do go for one of the maxis, you get things like Yamaha’s TMAX 500 and the Suzuki Burgman 650, pictured here. Both of these offer more performance (and more of everything else) than their smaller counter-parts. Honda used to have a 600cc version of their Silver Wing, but apparently that isn’t made any more. (If you’re buying 2nd-hand though it’s well worth considering). I said you get more of everything, and that includes weight. When you get to the Burgman 650, you’ve got a machine weighing around 250kg with the tank filled and ready to go. If you’re okay with this though (and remember I said that it is all carried low, so they’re easier to manage than a similar-weight bike), the big Suzi will last you forever. You won’t want anything bigger or better after a year or two; well, not if you’re still into scooters anyway!
SMALL CAPACITY ROAD BIKES
Just because you aren’t restricted to 250cc doesn’t mean you should dismiss the smaller-capacity machines. In 2009, and continuing into 2010, the biggest-selling road-bike in Australia was a 250cc model; the Kawasaki 250, now carrying the Ninja name-badge. If your riding is going to be mostly around the suburbs with an occasional trip along the highway, this will serve you well. It's light and easy to ride, cheap to run, and has impressive performance for this size bike. And it also looks good in that impress-the-neighbours way. You’ll like riding it and feel like you’re on a bigger machine. There are other machines available in this segment, including an increasing number of Chinese bikes, but really, why would you bother? All those buyers who made it the most popular bike on the road must have good reasons for buying it! I rode an earlier version, and while there have been up-dates, the basics are pretty much the same; so the same comments I made then still apply. But if you want a choice, check out the Honda VTR250. It looks like a Ducati Monster and makes a good naked-bike alternative to the Kawasaki.
I have a real soft-spot for these, because this was how I got into riding bikes. I’d still like to have one in the shed. You’d probably only buy one of these if you intended getting out in the dirt and riding some fire-trails though. They aren’t great road-bikes. This is because they have a high centre-of-gravity, soft wallowy suspension, and these days, seats that assume you’ll be standing up a lot – so they aren’t very comfortable. Despite this though, some people actually prefer them for road use because they are light, easy to steer, and with that soft suspension I mentioned making for a comfortable ride over our pot-holed roads. Starting at the bottom end of the capacity scale, there is the Yamaha XT250. These have been around forever and if you buy a new one it’ll probably last forever. Again, there are other models around (including some very cheap Chinese brands), but this is the one I’d go for. In fact this is the one I wish I had in the shed! Moving up in engine-capacity, there is the Suzuki DR-Z400. These come in a couple of different models. If it’s any recommendation, in NSW the police trail-bike squad use them. So they must be pretty good. Moving up further, there is a wide choice in the 650cc range; and most of these will be LAMS-approved. The Suzuki DR650 is another bike that, like the Yammie I mentioned above, has been around forever. It’s good value, and if you doubt its capability at road-riding, a mate of mine, Steve, rode his around Australia. (Click here if you want to read the story of his trip). I reckon it's the one to pick here. The Kawasaki KLR650 is a bit dearer, but I reckon is probably worth the few extra bucks if you’re going to spend a lot of time on-road. It’s got a more comfortable seat and bigger fuel-tank.
These are what you might call “ROAD/trail” bikes – the emphasis being on the “Road” bit. Mostly for road use, but they’ll handle some dirt roads and well-made tracks too. They really are an excellent choice for an all-round bike, and deserve to be more popular than they are. That’s because they have some of the attributes of the road-trail brigade – like soft long-travel suspension that is good for soaking up the bumps and lumps that litter our Aussie roads – and put this in a package that is primarily designed for road use. They handle okay, they go well and are quite capable of cruising the open highways. Now for the bad news; unfortunately, most of these are outside LAMS approval. But approvals are constantly changing and being added to, so it could be worth checking to see what is available in your state, and / or at the time you are reading this. If you’re shopping for 2nd-hand the BMW F650 gives you a European badge and works well as a dual-purpose mount. I remember chatting to a guy on one of these who had just done a long ride along some very rough dirt roads. He told me he also used it for interstate touring in preference to his other bike, a Yamaha R1. The little “Funduro” as they were once called, was more comfortable for that than the super-sports Yammie. Oh, and you need to be careful here, after 2008 the F650GS is actually not a 650 at all, it’s an 800; so it’s not LAMS approved. The current equivalent is the G650GS; but, curiously, it doesn’t appear on the LAMS list in NSW as at late-2010; but check, because it could / should be there at the time you are reading this.
“Cruisers,” a wise man (actually it was one of our readers) once said, “are a lifestyle.” And that’s why you buy them; for the lifestyle, for the image, and for the style of riding they encourage. Engines are usually low-stressed, low-revving units designed for relaxed cruising. The bigger-engined ones will still propel you along at a fast rate, but they are really intended for a more laid-back style of riding. And the image. If you want to impress the neighbours, you’ll do it more with these than any other type of bike; because your neighbours probably think the ultimate bike is a Harley, and your bike will probably look just like one of those. They look particularly good parked outside a country pub! A warning here though. The style dictates certain design features that may not suit you. First thing is the riding-position. The ultra-upright position (some feel almost like you’re leaning backwards!) encourages a slumped position, which is not good for aging backs. It also results in all road-shocks from bumps impacting directly on your spine. And, in most cases, you’re going to get plenty of road-shocks because the rear suspension will most likely be twin-units with short travel and relatively poor ride comfort. They’re the facts! However, I’ve also heard people say they find these bikes more comfortable than any other style; so it depends on the individual. And, for whatever reason, be it image or preferred riding style, they are a very popular category of bike. Starting at the littlest end of the category, I reckon there’s really only one to consider, the Yamaha 250. These come in a couple of different styles, and the basic bike (the “Virago”) has been around for years. They look good, go pretty well, and are ultra-reliable. (That's the slightly more up-market V-Star in the picture at left). Okay, if you want to check out something else, have a look at the Suzuki Intruder 250; arguably tougher-looking than the Yamaha and also a good reliable bike. There were some 400cc models once (like the Honda VT400), but they seem to have disappeared off the new-bike lists now, so the next step up brings you to the 650cc range. In this category we again look at Yamaha, with its XVS650 pictured here. There are a couple of different models of this too, and they're very popular. Rear suspension is mono-shock, although it still doesn’t have much travel. They’re a great-looking bike, and for me it’d be the Classic I’d choose. One of the most popular bikes in this category is the Honda CB400. And with good reason too, because it’s a great bike! If you like retro-type bikes you’ll love this. It harks back to the good old mid-size Hondas of the bygone days. I reckon it looks great; and as I indicated, it’s also great to ride. The only down-side is the cost. Like quite a few Hondas, it’s a bit more expensive than other bikes in the same sort of category. Kawasaki won my mid-size comparison with its ER6, and you can now get a LAMS version of this. The styling (up-dated from the model I rode) is kind of “out-there”, but if you’re okay with the looks, then it’d be a great bike. And also the Versys, which uses the same motor, but in a slightly more versatile (hence the name) form. Suzuki have a plethora of models to choose from. Firstly, there is the venerable GS500. It’s been around in basically the same form for over 20 years. It’s basic, but ultra reliable, and has been a very popular choice for learner-riders. Like most Suzukis, it’s also very good value for money. For example, you can buy one of these and save $3,000 on what you’d pay for the Honda 400. But if you want something a bit more modern, then there are LAMS versions of the SV650 and the Gladius. The SV has been a very popular model for Suzuki, so the LAMS version just widens the bike’s appeal. However, it is fairly sporty in its riding-position, so for this reason I’d be looking at the Gladius, which has basically the same motor but different styling. It’s probably trying to pretend it’s a Ducati (look at the iconic trellis frame and the shape of the tank), but it’s not just image, this is a good bike to ride too. (The Gladius at left is a reader’s bike). Of course if value-for-money is a top priority, you can’t go past Hyosung. The Hyosung brand has been around for ages, and they make some good bikes. I reckon they are under-rated by most people; they’re a quality product. The GT650 I reckon tries a bit to “do a Ducati” too; especially with the optional sportier exhaust as fitted to the GTS version I rode. Over at Yamaha, there is a LAMS version of the XJ6. This is a more user-friendly version of the FZ range, and for my money is a more practical bike than the FZ. It’s easy to ride, goes well, and has been designed especially to suit the beginner or less demanding rider. It’s a 4-cylinder, where most of the others I’ve mentioned here are twins; so it has a different feel and character. Fours are generally a bit smoother than twins, and often have a bit more power. A down-side, to my way of thinking anyway, is that most 4-cylinder mid-size bikes run what I consider to be fairly low gearing. Although I suppose that isn’t going to matter much if you’re limited to 100kph. In any case, the XJ6 is a good bike. Ride the twins and ride the XJ6 and see which type of bike you prefer.
SPORTS / SPORTSTOURERS
Okay, let’s get one thing straight; you aren’t going to get a real sports-bike; they won’t let you ride one of those! You’ll see some bikes referred to as “sports-bikes” by the manufacturers, but they’re talking about bikes with a sporting nature, not the “super-sports” type you’ll see racing around the track. A Yamaha R6, for example, might have the same capacity as many learner-legal bikes, but the authorities aren’t going to let you pilot something like that! And with good reason; the performance of these things would simply astound you – or probably kill you if you tried to use it! So I suppose what we’ve got here are really sportstourers. There are a couple of bikes that you might refer to as "neutered sports-bikes," but mostly we’ve got sportstourers. But you know what? I reckon sportstourers are one of the most practical all-round bikes you can buy! Let’s start at the value end. Hyosung. Did I mention Hyosung before? Yep, and they’re just as good value here. The GTS is the sportstourer model, with typical half-fairing, while the GT650R gets a full fairing and sportier ride-position. I mentioned the Suzuki GS500 above, and a few years ago they bolted on a fairing and it became the GS500F. I reckon it’s a great looking bike, with all the advantages I mentioned of the naked version above. Another Suzuki well worth a look is the GSX650, pictured on the left here. This is a very good bike. The specifications say it is quite heavy (the figure quoted is 216kg), but it feels way lighter than this! In my test I suggested that there might have been a Japanese bloke leaning on the scales when they weighed it! In any case, what you get is an excellent bike with great performance and excellent handling. This section is full of models I’ve mentioned in the Naked section above, but with the addition of fairings. Another example is the Kawasaki ER6. And yep, it’s just as good as a sportstourer as it is a naked. The Yamaha XJ6, pictured left, gets a fairing and is called Diversion, a name that has appeared on several Yamaha models over the years, especially overseas. I reckon it’s a good-looking bike and it would make a great choice in this mid-size sportstourer market. For something sportier, you can get a LAMS version of the Yamaha FZ6. This comes with a full sports-bike style fairing. While, with the LAMS restrictions, it doesn’t quite go as well as it looks, it does look good! And it’s a good choice if you want something with a more sporty nature.
THE LAST WORD
There are lots of others to choose from – in all the categories I’ve listed above – with more models being released all the time, of course. So being restricted to a LAMS bike isn’t really all that restrictive at all! I've road-tested many of the bikes listed here. I didn't bother with links in the article here, but if you want to read a test, then just go to the Bikes section and see if it's there. So there it is, how to have your mid-life crisis and really enjoy it! I hope this article has helped you know what’s involved in getting into (or back into) the wonderful world of motorcycling. Whatever you do, take care, ride safely and enjoy the lifestyle!
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