Life on bikes

First Time Biker: Part 1 – Starting out

Christoph Pleitgen has just started out on his journey as a biker and he’s graciously agreed to share everything he’s learning. Here’s hoping he passes his test in a few weeks time. Keep checking in.

Hooked before I’d even finished my CBT

Having been riding a bicycle for longer than I can remember, I was somewhat surprised when my considerably better half gifted me a voucher for a CBT course – initially so I could join her for scooter rides.

Within minutes of showing up at the training centre I felt in my element. I cannot remember having had this much fun for a long time.

I very quickly decided that I wouldn’t stop at scooters but instead progress to ‘proper’ motorbikes.

Where to start?

This is where things started to get complicated. What kind of bike would be right for me? What kind of gear did I need? How could I become a better rider? What kind of insurance made sense for me and where could I get the best deal possible?

I had a million questions and luckily I approached a chap in the office I had seen strutting around in leathers. It was a stroke of luck because he turned out to be knowledgeable on just about any topic I could throw at him (and there were quite a few).

Which brings me to my first point:

Speak to experienced riders!

There will surely be at least a few in your network of friends, family & colleagues. It has been my experience that most riders are happy to talk about their hobby and equally happy to pass on their knowledge to beginners.

With my colleague’s help, I very quickly narrowed down the list of possible first bikes.

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In my case, this turned out to be rather easy. At 6’4’’ the choice of 125s that don’t make me look as if I am on a clown bike are rather limited.

I quickly fell in love with the Yamaha WR125x, which in terms of dimensions, styling, reliability and price point suited me just fine.

Should you buy from a dealer or go private?

The advantages/disadvantages of either option are pretty obvious. Buying from a dealer will buy you some peace of mind but is considerably more expensive.

Nevertheless, it is something I would suggest you consider unless you are either somewhat experienced yourself or have an experienced rider in your corner, who is happy to advise.

In my case, my colleague’s experience was priceless and despite the fact that I struggle to tie my own shoes, with his advice I felt well equipped to do all the necessary background checks like the HPI and ask all the right questions.

Ed: Sounds like we need to do a guide to buying a used bike privately…

Funnily, while the seller had taken good care of the bike, he was pretty much as clueless as I am resulting in two fumbling idiots trying to have a sensible conversation about some of the finer points of motorcycle technology and maintenance.

Eventually, all questions were answered to my satisfaction. I am happy that things worked out well and I now own a great little bike.

What kind of insurance is right for me?

Insurance is expensive and anything you can do to reduce the price of premiums is well worthwhile. In my case, it was pretty clear that given the relatively low value of my bike and the frequency with which bikes get nicked in London that I would opt for Third Party, Fire & Theft.

It definitely pays off to check out at least two to three price comparison sites and possibly to have a chat an insurance broker. Also, make sure you remember to shop for a better deal at the end of the insurance term.

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Security

It is a sad fact that a lot of motorcycles are stolen. I know of very few riders who have not lost at least one bike to theft. A few weeks ago, a couple of kids tried to steal my wife’s wheels right in front of our house.

While it is a major pain in the butt, I secure my bike with a XENA alarm disc lock and a 19 mm Pragmasis chain at home and a 13 mm chain when I am in town.

Motorcycle with security chain
Pragmasis motorcycle chain

Pragmasis offer a noose version for most of their chains, which ingeniously allows you to opt for a shorter chain and still secure your motorcycle to an anchor or a pole. I highly recommend watching the video on important advice on how to use their chains on their website. The one tip, which stuck with me, is to keep the chain off the ground by shortening it. If this sounds cryptic to you, just watch the video.

All the gear…

I had fully expected to have to swap out most of my protective clothing within a few months simply because it would only be then that I’d better understand what I really needed.

Luckily, that hasn’t been the case. Here’s is some of the stuff I wear during my daily commute. It is a highly subjective list and I am sure that there is plenty of other great stuff out there.

Arai Axces II helmet. I wear glasses and broke a pair trying to wedge them into a helmet that was supposedly made especially for riders with glasses. The Arai is definitely not an entry-level option but the feeling of effortlessly fitting my glasses makes is very worthwhile. Needless to say it also simply a great piece of kit. My next helmet will, however, not be black but for reasons of staying visible either white or some hi-viz color scheme.

Dainese Tempest D-Dry jacket & trousers. Again, not a cheap but more a mid-range option but given that I wear these every single day, very much worthwhile. It took me a while to discover that Dainese, like most other manufacturers, provide tall and short sizes for those riders who fall slightly outside the norm. Most shops won’t stock these but are happy to order them on request. Also, I cannot stress enough how practical it is to have plenty of pockets on a jacket that you use for commuting.

Dainese Street Biker D-WP. Not your average motorcycle boot but a great option for daily commuting with an adequate degree of protection.

Becoming a better rider

The whole process of learning to ride is easy once you’ve found the right trainer, which in my case turned out to be Phoenix Motorcycle Training (Hi, Steve, if you’re reading this).

They operate 16 franchises all across the country and have done a sterling job teaching both my wife & I how to stay upright on a bike. The instructors and support staff are courteous, knowledgeable & super professional and their motorcycles and gear are in great condition. We have both done our CBT, automatic-to-manual conversion courses & big-bike taster sessions with Phoenix and will start with the DAS in a few weeks’ time. They certainly get a very enthusiastic “thumbs up” from us.

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What’s next?

I am smitten. Just last week I opted to show up at an important business meeting rather underdressed simply because I could not bear the thought of opting for public transport rather than riding my bike into town.

After hopefully completing the DAS, the real fun will start. My wife I have already been spending an extraordinary amount of time drooling over bigger bikes.

In a sane moment I am very much veering towards a sensible option for a first bike, such as the Honda NC750S or the slightly less sane but still reasonable CB650F.

When I allow myself to dream, I see myself riding a Triumph Tiger 800 XCA, which right now seems like the only bike just right for this tall & lanky rider. More on that in my next post.

One thing is for certain, though. It took me 47 years to realize just how insanely fun it is to ride a motorcycle and I fully intend to make up for the lost time.

Coming soon, how Christoph faired in his first year on bikes (you won’t believe his next steps…)

Get yourself sorted:

If you are very new to motorbikes latch onto someone who has at least a bit of knowledge who can point you in the right direction for bike and gear choices.

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Are multi bike insurance policies cheaper?

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Green lane rules for motorbikes

The Author

Christoph Pleitgen

Christoph Pleitgen

Christoph is a brand new biker and already COMPLETELY addicted... We'll be following his progress as he takes his full test, buys his first 'big bike' and hopefully joins us for a few Biker Bucket List adventures.