How long does it take to learn to ride a motorcyle?
May 11, 2012 9:44 AM   Subscribe

I just bought a motorcycle. I have no idea how to ride it, but in three weeks I'm supposed to visit a friend 600 miles away. Can this happen?

The question pretty much says it all. I'm supposed to meet a friend 600 miles away. I have a motorcycle, but no experience riding it--or any other motorcycle for that matter.

I'm considering taking a class before attempting the trip. That seems wise, but is it necessary?

Any other newbie motorcyclist advice? Or is this just a foolhardy thing, in general? (The obvious motorcycle-as-death-trap points aside.)

posted by Karmacane to Travel & Transportation (53 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
Are you in the U.S.? Do you have a motorcycle license?
posted by gauche at 9:47 AM on May 11, 2012

That seems like a stretch. Riding a motorcycle long distance can be hard work and quite exhausting. Three weeks seems like an awfully short time to learn all the subtlies of riding, especially on the highway where you'll be sharing the road with trucks and distracted drivers. Does your state require a separate permit for motorcyclists?

Anyway, yeah. This seems foolhardy.
posted by Burhanistan at 9:48 AM on May 11, 2012 [1 favorite]

Do you even have a license? Those can take longer than three weeks to get. Most states require you to take a motorcycle safety course, and availability is limited. For instance, if today, May 11, 2012, I decided I wanted to get a motorcycle license, the earliest available course for me to take would be in the middle of June.

So, no. Take a car or find some other way of getting there, but don't ride the bike. It almost certainly won't be legal, and it will certainly be a bad idea.
posted by valkyryn at 9:51 AM on May 11, 2012

This is just a foolhardy thing in general. Rent a car.

On actually learning to ride: look for a MSF course in your area. Build up your experience over time with short trips. You're going to drop your bike, so have it happen near home in a situation where you're not going put yourself in trouble.
posted by holgate at 9:52 AM on May 11, 2012 [2 favorites]

One of the things that surprised me when I learned to ride motorcycles a few years back is how tiring it is. You're using your whole body to steer, arms and shoulders get especially sore. You can learn the theory in 3 weeks, but it's not enough time to tone the right muscles.
posted by Tom-B at 9:53 AM on May 11, 2012 [1 favorite]

I second the advice given already given here. Obviously, it depends on the kind of bike you have, bigger bikes with windshields/fairings are easier to ride on the highway but more cumbersome to ride in general and difficult to learn on, and smaller bikes on the highway are not a whole lot of fun in my opinion, more terrifying than anything. I say all of this because I bought a bike about 3 months ago, took it out on the highway about a month after I'd bought it and it was terrifying. I'm more used to it now, but I still wouldn't want to do a 600 mile ride, that is a looooong way to go on a bike.
posted by farce majeure at 9:55 AM on May 11, 2012

Horrible advice upthread. Of course you can make this work. It will take a day to figure out how to ride the thing, then whats the big deal? 600 miles is a comfortable 3 day cruise on a bike with lots of time to hang out.
posted by H. Roark at 9:58 AM on May 11, 2012

Can you ride a bicycle? Then yes, you can learn to drive a motorcycle. That's a long first trip, however. It will be physically and mentally demanding, which make make it unsafe for you.

The MSF class is the gold standard for bike learning - in fact, some states will waive the road test requirement for getting a motorcycle license if you've successfully passed the MSF basic riding skills class.
posted by rmd1023 at 9:59 AM on May 11, 2012

Get a good full-face helmet. Take the MSF class. Get your license. Spend a lot of time riding around in parking lots - starting, stopping, turning, signalling, looking. Get a good jacket, and maybe a spine protector.
posted by the man of twists and turns at 10:01 AM on May 11, 2012

It would be so much fun! Seriously, you'll show up 600 miles away, and everyone who comes over to your friend's house will be like "wow, you rode a motorcycle all the way here? That's insane! You are so awesome!"

But.......have you ridden this bike on the highway yet? My motorcycle feels completely different at 70mph than it does at 35mph. It does not handle cross winds very well. I've ridden 600+ miles in a day on it, and my ass is killing me at the end. My neck and shoulders are pretty sore as well.

Have you loaded your bike down with gear? Mine doesn't feel all that differently when I put 60 extra pounds of luggage on it, but some do.

Have you ever ridden out a full tank of gas? Do you know how sore your hand/wrist was? My bike can get about 260 miles to a tank. On my first long trip my right wrist/hand was cramping like crazy. Now, I don't even use a cramp buster anymore (get a cramp buster, they're $15 and completely worth it).

Have you ridden in the rain? Have you ridden at 60mph in the rain? Have you ridden at 60mph in the rain and in crazy crosswinds?

It would be a ton of fun if everything goes according to plan. If you just got this bike, chances are you aren't too familiar with working on it yet. Do you want to put 1200 miles on the bike as a shakedown run? Does it have a chain? Most chains want to be lubed every 300-500 miles. I'll admit that I've gone a lot farther than that, but it's not good. How are your tires? You seriously don't want a blowout. You don't even want a flat.

Pass. I know it seems cool. It would be cool. You're probably not ready for it. Maybe everything would be fine. The weather is warming up and you just got those sweet noise isolating ear buds so you could listen to tunes the whole way there. But.......really really consider how skilled you are on a bike.
posted by spikeleemajortomdickandharryconnickjrmints at 10:03 AM on May 11, 2012 [9 favorites]

I'm getting this a bad idea. Some more information anyway:

- Nope, don't have a license, but I was planning on getting one tomorrow if Metafilter approved the plan.

- In my state, licenses don't require a class. But I can book a class next week.

- Just checked, the trip is actually 465 miles on flat land. If that matters...

- What about taking back roads, that sort of thing?

- The bike 750 cc. Decent sized but not huge?

Also, I love Metafilter.
posted by Karmacane at 10:03 AM on May 11, 2012

Totally doable, and enjoyable if you do two things:

1.Take the MSF course.
2. Do not underestimate how exhausting riding can be, compared to driving. Stop before you are tired.

posted by gofargogo at 10:04 AM on May 11, 2012 [1 favorite]

Also, 750cc is BIG for a beginner. Lots of power to manage.
posted by gofargogo at 10:05 AM on May 11, 2012 [4 favorites]

Plan the ride, ride the plan. Flat and (mostly) straight, under 500 miles - you could do it in a day, but I wouldn't.

Back roads tend to be more scenic, twistier, less-maintained, lower speed limits. It depends. 750cc is a good size, about maximum for a beginner (my first was 1400! not recommended, but I'm a pretty big guy)

Totally take the course.
posted by the man of twists and turns at 10:06 AM on May 11, 2012

Oh, yeah. 750cc is a lot of power for a beginner.
posted by Burhanistan at 10:07 AM on May 11, 2012 [1 favorite]

Definitely take a MSF class even though you don't need one to get a license. It's worth it just for the emergency braking drills alone.

Back roads? Honestly, I feel safer on the highway than on back roads, but that's just because on the highway everyone is moving in the same direction and at relatively the same speed. On back roads, I've had to do a lot of emergency braking and evasive maneuvering because people aren't looking for a motorcycle and they pull out in front of me from driveways/side streets.
posted by spikeleemajortomdickandharryconnickjrmints at 10:07 AM on May 11, 2012

Take your time please...
I would do NOTHING before getting your paperwork perfect and taking the MSF course. It will save your life. There are sooooooooo many ways to get hurt out there, you want to know something about them all.
I assume this idea is a wrap, concentrate on the MSF course first and you will be fine.
Get a couple post MSF books/videos as well.

Be that crazily prepared newbie that lives long and well......

Good Luck
posted by StUdIoGeEk at 10:09 AM on May 11, 2012 [1 favorite]

It will take a day to figure out how to ride the thing, then whats the big deal?

Oh, I dunno: maybe all the other traffic and knowing how to react to it? Or the weather and knowing how the bike responds to that?

The bike 750 cc. Decent sized but not huge?

That's a big bike for a new rider. The MSF courses puts beginners on a 250cc because it won't overwhelm them.
posted by holgate at 10:09 AM on May 11, 2012 [2 favorites]

Just checked, the trip is actually 465 miles on flat land. If that matters...

Sounds like time is your biggest factor. Assuming round trip, can you afford 4 days of commute? I'm sure you can get up to speed in 3 weeks if you practice, and worst case you can change your mind at the last minute and use a car.
posted by furtive at 10:11 AM on May 11, 2012

  • Absolutely take the class! MSF, if possible
  • Stay off the back roads. They are fun, but require more skill and present more danger. Freeways are much easier.
  • 750cc is big, but it may be manageable if you shift early and keep the RPMs down

posted by b1tr0t at 10:11 AM on May 11, 2012

I think you should take a class and get your license before you start riding, and I think you're going to find a 600 mile trip exhausting, but I don't see any particular reason *not* to do it. You're going to get your first 600 miles of motorcycle-riding experience *somewhere*. It might as well be on this trip.
posted by tylerkaraszewski at 10:18 AM on May 11, 2012

I rode a bike for much of my 20s, and was gifted a very nice car at the age of 27. It took me about a year to get comfortable on the road, particularly learning to anticipate what other drivers were going to do.

You should not ride your motorcycle to visit your friend.
posted by KokuRyu at 10:21 AM on May 11, 2012 [2 favorites]

Nthing the most important things here: Yes, this trip is a bad idea, and take the MSF anyway because it's really good for you.

Also, buy a crash jacket. Wear it, even on warm and sunny days when you won't be on the freeway. Mine saved me many broken bones and a lot of suffering. Best $300 I ever spent. (Granted, there was also the $200 for the helmet, which may have saved my life, but that was legally required anyway...)

600 miles is... even for an experienced rider, that's a serious haul. Plenty of people do it, but you will get sore, you will get tired, and you will get complacent, particularly if you don't have much experience.
posted by scaryblackdeath at 10:21 AM on May 11, 2012 [1 favorite]

Tips for getting ready.

Get to a big empty parking lot.
Set up some pylons or similar.
Practice emergency hard breaking with turns avoiding the obstacles.

This shows us ALL how unprepared we are until you master that.

Google "countersteering".

Dont trust water, wet leaves, painted asphalt, the center of a wet lane, accelerating hard out of turns, anyone in a vehicle to do what is sane, your skill until you have it.

posted by StUdIoGeEk at 10:24 AM on May 11, 2012 [1 favorite]

Nope, don't have a license, but I was planning on getting one tomorrow if Metafilter approved the plan.

If you haven't already taken an MSF course this will almost certainly involve a road test with some tricky low-speed maneuvers. You would also need someone else (with a license) to bring the bike to the testing facility. I've heard of people getting ticketed for riding without a license for riding to their test. The MSF course takes a full weekend with lots of classroom time and lots of time to practice on the bike. It would be difficult and foolhardy to take the driving test without proper safety instruction, especially without prior experience (e.g. some people in my MSF class had grown up riding on a farm).

If you put in the practice time, 3 weeks isn't out of the question for building up to a long trip, though it can take a while to fully internalize how vigilant you have to be when riding. It can be mentally exhausting to identify and prepare for all the potential dangers while you are riding.
posted by stopgap at 10:24 AM on May 11, 2012

It's totally doable (I did something similar, but considerably stupider, when I first bought a bike, and lived to laugh about it now) but it is definitely not what you'd consider an ideal or smart approach. Yes, take a class if one is available. Get your license (and insurance, etc); being legal is good. You do have decent gear, right? (Helmet, gloves, boots, weather-appropriate and motorcycle-specific jacket and pants.) And you'll want ear plugs, because ten hours of having your ears buffeted can damage your hearing.

Between now and then, you'd want to put as many hours in the seat riding it as you possibly can. (And figure out your packing, and pack light; I always see people overloading their bikes, which makes them handle like crap.) Five hundred miles is kind of tiring, but nothing outrageous; you can do that in one longish day, or better, in two very pleasant days with lots of breaks. Your ass will hurt, your hands might cramp, and you might start talking to yourself in about the fifth hour, but it's not really all that big a deal. Highways are safer, because there is no cross-traffic, which is where motorcycles tend to get whacked.
posted by Forktine at 10:25 AM on May 11, 2012

Along with the rest of the safety gear, don't forget a good pair of (ideally polarized) sunglasses that you can wear comfortably with your helmet on.
posted by b1tr0t at 10:28 AM on May 11, 2012

I got my license last year, so relatively new rider. I found the Safety Council (Cdn equivalent of MSF) course invaluable. Not sure I would have stuck with it and passed the test (which is fairly intensive at least in my province: you need to demontrate hill starts, tight turns, highway driving and slow speed control, etc) without it. If you can get into a course, you may be able to get be ready for that trip.

If you bought the bike used, you'll also want to check the engine, etc before you do a trip of that length. Breaking down will add a lot of time to your trip.
posted by Kurichina at 10:33 AM on May 11, 2012

Nope, don't have a license, but I was planning on getting one tomorrow if Metafilter approved the plan.

I don't know where you live, but I doubt it's that simple. I don't think it's just a matter of walking in and paying a fee. In British Columbia anyway, I had to write a theory test first, then do a low-speed obstacle course test (weaving through pylons, tight u-turn, straight-line at walking speed, up- and downshifting, emergency brake, etc.), then do an hour long road test where you're examined in city traffic and on highways. There were long waiting lists for the road test at every examination center I called.

I really think it's a bad idea. Motorcycles are not like cars or bicycles, they behave in very different ways, especially in panic situations where your intuitive reflexes may actually be the opposite thing you should do. The MSF course will cover the very basics in terms of retraining your reflexes and teaching good riding habits, but it takes time for these things to really become part of your muscle memory.

What kind of bike do you have? A cruiser? A crotchrocket? 750cc's on a cruiser is not so bad. It's big, heavy, and no doubt it's powerful, but the center of gravity is low and cruiser engines develop power fairly gradually. 750cc's on a sportbike will kill you if you don't know what you're doing. 465 miles on a cruiser will be okay comfortable, might be windy, but wear good gear and avoid dehydration and you'll be fine. 465 miles on a sportbike would be very painful for a brand new rider. Your neck, shoulders, and wrists will be on fire and your nuts will be numb. I really wouldn't recommend it.

I don't think it's worth it in any case. Learn proper riding skills and you'll better your chances of riding for decades to come. Rush into it, and you may find it a short-lived hobby. If it's not crucial that you make this trip by bike, I would take a car. Buy good quality gear and take the MSF course when you get back, and take it slow.
posted by keep it under cover at 10:34 AM on May 11, 2012 [5 favorites]

You're riding a machine you can't handle, on a route that's probably not familiar to you, for a distance that would be respectable for an experienced rider. There's quite a bit that can go wrong, from fatigue to weather to being cut-off and not knowing how to ride.


A deer hops out in front of you while you're doing 80 or 90 on the interstate - you squeeze the front brake lever and step on the back brake, but you have no idea what you're doing, so you go light on the front but stomp rear brake pedal, and the back wheel locks and you begin fishtailing, and you're done.

Go by car. Learn to ride by taking a class, and then gaining experience on roads familiar to you during times of light traffic.

Is this a sport-bike? There's no way you'll make 450miles on a sport bike without having some hours under your belt.
posted by everythings_interrelated at 10:39 AM on May 11, 2012 [2 favorites]

This, 100%:
I really think it's a bad idea. Motorcycles are not like cars or bicycles, they behave in very different ways, especially in panic situations where your intuitive reflexes may actually be the opposite thing you should do. The MSF course will cover the very basics in terms of retraining your reflexes and teaching good riding habits, but it takes time for these things to really become part of your muscle memory.
posted by amb at 11:01 AM on May 11, 2012 [3 favorites]

Driving a car is very different and far easier than driving a motorcycle but if you asked this question: "I just bought a car. I have no idea how to drive it, but in three weeks I'm supposed to visit a friend 600 miles away. Can this happen?" you would see many of the same responses.

Without training and practice, there is a high chance you will make a mistake when driving. When you make a mistake on a motorcycle, you crash, damaging the bike and you may be injured or killed as well.

As a multi-bike owner with ~100k miles on two wheels, don't do this.
posted by anti social order at 11:02 AM on May 11, 2012 [5 favorites]

This is fascinating. Now I'm torn. I'm calling around about classes. The state classes are booked but there are private classes. Thanks for all the details, especially the little notes like earbuds.

It's a 1992 Honda nighthawk, by the way.

Oh, and I'm in Chicago, if anybody has any place specific advice. (I have saddle bags, but no gear yet.)
posted by Karmacane at 11:03 AM on May 11, 2012

Take the class first thing. Then think about all the rest of this. Presuming you have some natural talent for riding, this is doable. VERY challenging, but doable. If you do decide to go through with this, you should intend to spend every spare minute between now and leaving for your trip riding. Set up alternate plans if riding between now and your departure time doesn’t leave you feeling confident about the trip.

GET GOOD GEAR!!! Helmet, jacket, pants, gloves, boots. generally has some good deals. I would advise buying AT LEAST the helmet in person--heads are different shapes, and different helmet manufacturers have different shapes. Trying helmets on really helps to get a good fit. Fit is vital to protection. Gear that’s too small will ride up or down or rotate or otherwise not protect you in a crash.

Riding long days is challenging. I do a lot of it, and it’s still hard for me. I’d break this trip up into at least 2 days each direction. Stop once an hour to have a drink of water, stretch, get off the bike, etc. Things can get VERY tunnel vision-y when you spend a long day on the road. Be aware of this. Stay hydrated, make sure you take meal breaks. Riding is significantly more physically and mentally taxing than driving a car.

As a rider, my thought is that this could be a terrible idea or a grand adventure. Look into roadside assistance programs. Standard AAA doesn’t cover motorcycles. How’s your health insurance? I would not ride without health insurance, though I have plenty of friends who do.
posted by mollymayhem at 11:22 AM on May 11, 2012

Make that "Gear that's TOO BIG" not too small.

Also, earbuds NO, earplugs YES. At your level you don't need any additional distraction from music. Earplugs will protect your hearing. I've been told that motorcycle riding is the number one cause of preventable hearing loss in the US. Earplugs really help with fatigue, too.
posted by mollymayhem at 11:26 AM on May 11, 2012 [1 favorite]

I've had a motorcycle for about 11 years now, and there was a time when I rode ~700 miles round trip over holidays when I was traveling back and forth from college. There's some solid advice up-thread, but I have some ideas for what I remember when I was first starting:

You should be able to jump on, get moving, and look/feel pretty competent in fairly short order. First day you'll have a handle on the basics (remembering to put your feet down when you stop was a problem for my first ride), and you'll probably begin to feel comfortable within the 3 weeks that you have to practice.

I'd recommend not being fooled about your skill though. Driving the bike around is the easy part. Knowing what to look out for and how your bike/you will react to road conditions, fatigue, animals, other cars (they're all trying to kill you at all times, and they will be tricky about it - watch for people turning left), and just the edge-case mechanical limits of your bike will still be missing. What's your plan if your bike breaks down in the middle of nowhere, or if you fall? Do you have the equipment that you need?

All of this only comes with time and practice, so I'm inclined to recommend waiting on any longer trips until you have several months of experience behind you. Be safe - bikes are fun, but you have to respect the added challenges and limitations that they bring.
posted by owls at 11:30 AM on May 11, 2012

It's a 1992 Honda nighthawk, by the way.
That's probably a good first bike. 750cc still seems big to me, but at least you have a fairly standard riding position.
posted by b1tr0t at 11:30 AM on May 11, 2012 [1 favorite]

If you didn't ride your bike to visit this friend, would you be visiting them in 3 weeks anyway? How would that happen?
If you don't drive a car, I'd recommend against the road-trip plan, in part because you've not spent much time on highways at all. Parts of doing a bike road-trip are the same as doing a car road-trip, and being an experienced highway-using map-using focusing-on-road-for-hours car driver would be helpful for making the trip.
If you do drive a car, and have one available, I'd recommend against making the trip on the bike. You don't need to do such a stress-test of your motorcycle capabilities, you could just take the car. Not as cool, but much more sensible. But no reason not to start prepping yourself, and make the decision a few days beforehand as to whether you want to bike it or drive.

If you are a driver, but don't have a car, I'd go ahead with the plan to do the bike road-trip. BUT definitely make a backup plan.
Do a sizeable day trip on the weekend before your planned 450-mile trip, as a practice run, and to make sure you feel ready. (say 100 miles to someplace, spend a few hours off the bike, and 100 miles home, then consider whether you want to do that 2 days in a row each way.)
Figure out where you'd rent a car from if you decide at the last minute you can't do this. Or, check the train and Greyhound schedules. If you're on the fence, you don't want to be pushed into doing this ride because you said you'd do the visit.
In fact, figure out if there's a place you could catch a bus at to take you the second half of the way to your friend's place if you run into problems along the way.
How well do you know motor vehicles in general? If this 1992 Honda starts making funny noises at mile 200, do you have a plan? How will you know if they're important funny noises? Do some web searches and plot out a few likely mechanics along the way.

Later on, when you've done a bunch more riding and many more long trips, all this will seem like really nit-picky details, but as a beginner, you need to have a big safety net in place to keep this trip from turning into the worst week of your life.
posted by aimedwander at 11:31 AM on May 11, 2012

You've received some excellent advice about the physical and intellectual toll a newbie biker is facing. I completely agree that you will need to learn from episodic memory more than semantic memory (ass-learning versus book-learning.) Traveling 600 miles immediately after getting your license is not the same as riding 600 miles 5 years from now, or even the first 600 miles you'll put in over the next few months of learning how to ride in all conditions.

But the emotional load of riding on two wheels among cars and trucks, the ways in which your temperament shapes your initial responses to danger and discourtesy, and the ways in which you can mold your emotional response to more effective and safer choices, are also very important.

I'm a cyclist, not a biker, but we probably face similar emotional challenges when riding in traffic. I started off with a lousy combination of traits for a cyclist -- timid, easily distracted, and quick-tempered. Over the past 5 years, I've become much more confident, focused, courteous and calm, but along the way, I was sometimes too polite, too aggressive, downright reckless and this close to making a smear of dog food out of myself.

Right now, you may learn intellectually what to do if a car passes you too closely, but you probably won't get the scare and the adrenaline rush until you're a few miles into your first 600 miles. How will you react the first time? Will you get angry and aggressive with that driver (chasing them down) or any other drivers that remind you of them? Will you be so scared that you over-correct and get too timid from then on?

You can learn bit by bit from shorter rides as you're getting started. You have time to learn in the moment and to think it through afterwards. But if you're putting a lot of your learning into a single intense stretch, where you're going to be pressuring yourself not to leave the road even if riding is starting to freak you out, you are going to be a much more dangerous rider.
posted by maudlin at 11:35 AM on May 11, 2012 [1 favorite]

I just want to emphasize that if you decide to do this, you will not enjoy this ride. Your bike does not have fairings and a large windscreen, so you will be buffeted by wind the entire time. Your neck will hurt, your hands will cramp, your ass will go numb, your arms will hurt, your ears will ring, your crotch will be a swamp, and you will be tired, miserable and distracted.

My boyfriend has been riding for well over a decade, and he would not take this trip on the bike you described - because it would be a miserable slog unless spaced out over multiple days.

I love riding motorcycles, but trying this trip as a newbie rider, seems like a really great way to make sure you hate them.
posted by psycheslamp at 11:37 AM on May 11, 2012 [4 favorites]

I would seriously recommend against making this trip on the motorcycle. Why? You said it yourself. You have no idea how to ride it. As someone said above, a motorcycle is not a bicycle. If you teach yourself to ride it, you will be missing out on certain vital pieces of information that you need to be a safe and confident rider.

Secondly: psycheslamp is right about the comfort factor. I once took a 600 mile ride on my bike, with no windscreen and no fairings. It was exhausting and unpleasant. I would never do it again without the proper equipment.

On a practical note: In Chicago, you must take a riding test in order to get your license. One part of this test is accelerating to about 25 miles per hour, then coming to a complete and sudden stop on a certain part of the course. Another part of this test is swerving around an obstacle at approximately the same speed. If you are not trained in how to do these things, your lovely Nighthawk will end up on the concrete, and you will have some unpleasant bruises.

Here is what you do.

- Take the on-paper test to get your permit.
- Take a class with Ride Chicago, the best motorcycle school in the city. You will learn on small 250cc bikes that will not overpower you.
- At the end of this class, take the license test on the Ride Chicago course, using the Ride Chicago motorcycle. You will be familiar with both.
- Start riding your Nighthawk and enjoy your new life as a badass.

I live in Chicago, as you might have guessed. Please contact me with any questions.
posted by lholladay at 11:51 AM on May 11, 2012 [4 favorites]

Technically, you can probably do it. Should you do it. No.

Just as I would tell someone who has just learned to drive not to go on a 500 mile car trip, I'd triple that advice for a donor-cycle, uh, motor-cycle.

For grins, before you go, take the bike out for a longish drive on the highway. Was it fun, was it hard, was it tiring, do you have bugs in your teeth?

How about Megabus?
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 11:54 AM on May 11, 2012

- In my state, licenses don't require a class. But I can book a class next week.

According to both Google and lholladay above, you will need to pass a practical test to get your license. The smart way to do this is to take the class, and if you pass the class it counts for the practical test for the license. You get your license, and you learn enough to get started safely.
posted by Forktine at 11:56 AM on May 11, 2012

Thanks for the Ride Chicago link, lholladay. There's a class on Tuesday and Wednesday. Seems like the best place to start. See how I fare on the little bike and go from there.

I have to say, I'm blown away by the encouragement and seriousness with which you all have responded. If it happens, or hell even if it doesn't, I'll check in.

Thank you, thank you!
posted by Karmacane at 12:20 PM on May 11, 2012

Don't decide right now, if you don't have to. Take the classes, get the license, practice, see how you feel, then decide.

Also, can you break up the travel into a couple or three days? That way you won't feel rushed.
posted by Vaike at 12:49 PM on May 11, 2012 [1 favorite]

If you do this, please let us know how it goes. And even if you don't.

Even after riding for 20 years, I'm still learning and refining my skill. I think riding a motorcycle is more akin to flying a plane than driving a car, in that it's more complex than it looks and a small, simple mistake could easily kill you.

You say you just got this bike so there's no reason to rush out and do this trip now. If you take your time, and spend a year on the bike, you could do this next summer, with a lot less risk. Better to take your time concentrate on your skills and have a lifetime of great rides and long trips than rush into it, have a miserable time or get yourself hurt/killed and never ride again.
posted by gofargogo at 12:49 PM on May 11, 2012 [1 favorite]

One more thing to think about with a bike you just got (that's that old, too): my brother-in-law bought another bike about three months ago. It was used, but less than ten years old, from a reputable dealer. He's been taking it out every weekend, and also doing work on it every weekend as he discovers various little problems. This bike you just got is untested, you'd hate for one of those little problems you haven't found out about yet turn into a big problem in the middle of your trip.
posted by catatethebird at 12:51 PM on May 11, 2012

It's probably not the best idea, but it will probably also be pretty fun. I'd do it. As a data point, when I bought my first bike, I had just completed the MSF course but never ridden anything bigger than the 250cc bike in the weekend course. I found a really good deal on craigslist and I didn't want to let it slip away so I got my girlfriend to drive me down, bought it, and rode it back:
25 miles
In the dark
600cc, bike I'd never ridden before.
on a 5 lane freeway
After paying a bridge toll , I gleefully accelerated so much I lifted the front wheel off the ground.

I shouldn't be alive, right? It was a blast.

The one thing I would absolutely say is do not go without first purchasing full protective gear.
posted by spatula at 1:08 PM on May 11, 2012

I have gone to Mexico City and across and back the U.S. 7 times and across Canada on my motorcycle. The first year is the worst. 90% of all motorcycle fatalities happen the first year of riding. The Honda Night Hawk is a bad motorcycle. It has a high center of gravity, which means it doesn't corner well. My advise is to get a mentor who is experienced rider to select a new bike and give yourself 2 weeks around town after your lessons and then every so often plan a little day trip to get some accidents under your belt. You WILL have accidents. The rider who survives has small ones and his/her awareness is brought to a higher level. Taking the trip you suggest would not be wise. (Don't ask me about riding my bike on acid) Others have mentioned maintenance and it is important. Check air pressure every day.
posted by JohnR at 2:07 PM on May 11, 2012

I'm not as young as I used to be (odd how that works) and I anticipate about half an hour of R&R for every two to four hours in the saddle. On a 450 mile trip, I'd be anticipating stops every 90 miles or so just to get some feeling back in parts that shouldn't go to sleep. Worst and most dangerous part of any ride is the last hour or so, if it's been a long one. You can feel the hot shower or hot burger calling you and you let your awareness and what-not slip.

I probably would take the ride, but it wouldn't be smart. My advice is to skip it this time 'round. But take the class, get your license, and most importantly, get as much riding in between now and then as you can...then decide.
posted by maxwelton at 10:31 PM on May 11, 2012

Yeah, aside from the rider, my big concern is whether or not the bike can do it.

A twenty-year-old biggish but still popular beginner's bike has probably changed owners a few times so might have a spotty maintenance history, and if you don't have a license yet I'm assuming you haven't put many miles on it yourself. Can you rely on it getting you there and home without any mechanical problems?

I wouldn't recommend 800 (both ways, right?) on a strange-to-me used bike without a bunch of shorter trips to make sure I can count on that bike, especially if I didn't know anything about side-of-the-road repairs, regardless of the abilities of the rider.

Also: It might rain. Do you own weather gear? Are you sure it's actually waterproof? Is your bike happy in the rain electrically?

Finally, if you do this, make sure you can take a day or two after the trip off work, school, or whatever it is you do, so that if you find yourself fatigued or having mechanical problems or hitting bad weather on the ride home, you have the freedom to stop early for the day and get home a day later.
posted by mendel at 6:15 PM on May 12, 2012

I had this bike. I bought it used with an aftermarket fairing. Long rides were miserable until I took OFF the fairing. It created wierd, unstable drafts. I was using more energy and balance keeping my upper body in position. Taking the fairing off made the ride so much easier. I'd not recommend adding one.

On my first long ride, I severely underestimated the weather. It was summer, but my schedule required riding very early in the morning. Shorts and T-shirt weather otherwise, I wound up putting on every stich of clothing I had with me and still froze. Get some good (though not necessarily expensive) gear appropriate for the ride.
posted by GPF at 5:18 AM on May 13, 2012

Thanks all. For anyone who was kind enough to post something and happened to check in again, I wanted to say that I survived. I ended up not taking the ride. It seemed to early. Thanks to everyone for the sound advice.
posted by Karmacane at 9:55 AM on June 27, 2012 [4 favorites]

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