Riding a motorcycle is both the fastest and most convenient way to get around a city, but crossing the line from pedestrian to rider can be a bit daunting. Which bike to buy, which class to take, what gear to wear and how to take care of a bike — not intuitive questions, and as with many things in city life, not always easy. From my years riding around NYC, I learned a bit about riding in the city’s streets — which mechanics to trust, which garages are worth their cost — and there are some ways to make your move to put rubber to pavement a bit smoother. And while this is NYC-specific advice, much of it applies to city life across the country.
1 Ride a bicycle, then book an MSF course. Before going into motos, start practicing by riding a bicycle. This is a good training-wheels experience to get acquainted with the streets, and you can do it with little investment. Then, when you’re ready to dive into moto life, take a course through MSF. These courses only take a day or two and they streamline the process for those who don’t have a license. You can pass your MSF course on a Sunday and get your DM license on a Monday. The only downside to these courses, at least in NYC, is that they fill up fast — so plan ahead. If you already have your license but haven’t ridden in a while, an advanced riders course or a progression course is advised to help get you back on the road. And for those who choose to ride without a license (not wise), know that the NYPD does random checks looking for riders without a DM.
2 Buy a sturdy bike with “reasonable” horsepower. Remember, cities can be dirty, so save the sexy bike for outside the urban area. When buying a bike, choose something you won’t mind getting roughed up, and also note the engine displacement. In the US there is no graduated license requirement, so if you get your DM in the morning, you can legally buy a liter bike in the afternoon. This is a bad idea, though; nobody needs that much horsepower. “Liter bikes aren’t made for NYC,” says MotoAmerica rider and former World Super Bike racer Mark Heckles. “I had a CBR 1000 for a year in the city; it was way too much bike for the small streets of Manhattan. I was either going to get killed by a yellow cab driver or lose my license.” For some good urban bikes, see our guide here.
3 Get gear that works for the bike and bar. You’ll be surprised how much you use your bike — getting to work, going out at night, running an errand that doesn’t demand too much cargo — so gear that allows you to not feel like a “biker” everywhere is key. Shops like Union Garage and Jane Motorcycles, both in Brooklyn, offer a variety of top-quality brands. Rev’it! also offers a number of urban-friendly options, including their Fairfax shoes ($279) which are unassuming, clean, protective riding shoes. Aether Apparel’s Loop Jacket ($450) is a fantastic lightweight, discreet option for city jaunts, and are a handsome addition to any city rider’s kit. For night riding (or, really, anytime), a reflective vest is also advised.
4 Join a garage or get a big lock. Remember, bike thieves don’t care about how your bike looks. They will steal any bike if you don’t keep it locked up. Luckily for NYC, bike-specific garages are growing. Ryders Alley has three locations (two in Manhattan and one in Brooklyn) and also offers community events — maintenance clinics, track days, off-road adventures and more. Another good option is Brooklyn Moto, which has a garage, a lounge and organized rides. If you are chaining up your bike on the street, never loop through the wheel; always try to anchor, and go with the biggest, thickest chain you can muster, along with the most difficult locks. And, get theft insurance.
5 Keep up your investment. Now that you’re set up, you need to keep up. Routine maintenance is important — that means regular oil changes, checking tire pressure, getting brake fluid flushed and keeping an eye on your chain. Anything bigger than that, leave to the pros. Hudson Valley Motorcycles works on any flavor of bike. For more modern Euro bikes, try Aprilia Brooklyn, who just opened a new Tribeca location. For repair and restoration for European vintage bikes, go see Peter Boggia of Moto Borgotaro. Anything BMW, go see Max BMW. And, to get the bike to the shop, ask the shop for a pick-up or call a buddy with a truck for transport. You also might want to invest in a plate puller and sliders for your first crash, and also carry a small set of Alan keys for minor adjustments.