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Motorcycles 101: Your Top Motorcycle Questions Answered

Written by Carolyn Jackson

If the feeling of the wind in your hair and the sun on your face as you ride down the winding roads sounds like the best feeling in the world, it may be time to start thinking about buying that motorcycle. There’s something really special about riding a motorcycle. It’s freeing, calming, and adrenaline-pumping all at the same time. 


Whether you’re thinking about your very first motorcycle or your second or third, you probably still have some questions. Motorcycles 101: Your Top Motorcycle Questions Answered covers motorcycle ownership, how much does a motorcycle costs, how to get an M1 license, and how to wash a motorcycle, plus more.  


Key Takeaways:

  • New motorcycles cost an average of $9.7K.
  • Riding a motorcycle takes some practice, but you can get the hang of it quickly with some practice. 
  • Getting a motorcycle license or insurance requires a little upfront research and work and is largely based on the specific state you ride in. 


How Much Does a Motorcycle Cost?

According to Rollick data, the average cost of a new motorcycle is $9.7K. Although this is an average, motorcycles can sell for as low as $1,000 or as high as $40,000+. Like most recreation vehicles, the cost is widely variable based on a few factors: 


  • Brand
  • Type of Motorcycle 
  • Engine Size
  • Year Manufactured 
  • Used or New
  • After-market Upgrades 


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New Motorcycle Pricing Examples: 


2021 Yamaha TT-R50E


motorcycles 101

Price: $1,699

Brand: Yamaha

Engine Size: 49cc

Type: Dirt Bike


2021 Suzuki Boulevard C50T


Price: $9,599

Brand: Suzuki

Engine Size: 805cc

Type: Cruiser


2021 Honda Africa Twin DCT


Honda DCT - motorcycles 101

Price: $15,199

Brand: Honda

Engine Size: 1,0844cc

Type: Dual-Sport 


2021 KTM Super Duke 1290R


Super Duke - Motorcycles 101

Price: $18,699

Brand: KTM

Engine Size: 1,3011cc

Type: Naked Bike 


Overall, the cost of a motorcycle can vary widely. For example, a dirt bike or a cafe racer will almost always cost less than a cruiser or sportbike. The best advice is to do some research upfront about the bike you are interested in before you step foot in a dealership so you can prepare your budget and stick to it. 


For more information, you can check out our article specifically on Dirt Bike Prices. For a more well-rounded perspective, you can read about the cost of motorcycle ownership, which goes into detail about the costs of ownership beyond the initial price tag. 


How to Get a Motorcycle License

If this is your first motorcycle purchase, you’ll want to research how to get a motorcycle license before buying the bike. You don’t want it to sit unused while you are waiting to get that license finalized! 


The DMV considers a motorcycle a motorized vehicle as long as it has an engine size larger than 150cc, three wheels, or less. If your motorcycle meets these requirements, you will need to register it with your state, and the driver will need an (M1) motorcycle license. 


Each state has a slightly different process and requirements to get your M1 license. Some require a safety course, some require a written test, and some require an in-person test. For the most part, you will need to be at least 16, do some studying, pass a test, and pay a minimal fee — usually in the $30-$50 range. Overall, each state will have some requirement related to each of the following: 


  • Age requirements 
  • Motorcycle training requirements 
  • Motorcycle permit test requirements 
  • Motorcycle license test requirements


A good first step is to sign up for a Motorcycle Safety Course to learn the basics of how to ride with safety in mind. You can go here to learn more about the Motorcycle Safety Foundation’s Basic Rider’s Course. 


Pro Tip: Taking a Motorcycle Safety Course can make you eligible for a discount on your motorcycle insurance, so make sure to keep your receipt from the course and let your insurance agent know you took the course. 


How to Ride a Motorcycle

If this is your first motorcycle, one of your first questions might simply be: how do I ride a motorcycle? No worries if this is where you’re at; all riders start here at some point! Although we have a detailed step-by-step tutorial on how to ride a motorcycle, here are some basic steps to keep in mind when it’s your first time on the bike or to prepare before that first ride: 

  1. First, find the ignition on your bike. The key ignition may be in an unexpected place if you’re coming from primarily driving cars, so keep an eye out and commit it to memory.
  2. Mount your motorcycle by swinging one leg over. When not in use, your bike will lean on its kickstand. You can mount the bike from the kickstand side while leaning or from the opposite side if you prefer. Find your balance and get comfortable with your new bike before putting it in gear.
  3. In order, you’ll want to: put the key in the ignition, turn on the kill switch, make sure the bike is in Neutral gear, pull the clutch in, pull the choke (if applicable), and check your mirrors.


For a more detailed explanation of how to ride a motorcycle, take a look at our article on Everything You Need to Know to Ride a Motorcycle for the First Time. 


What is the Clutch?

Crudely put, a clutch allows you to shift gears on a motorcycle. If you are less familiar with gear shifting and manual driving, the clutch on a motorcycle can seem intimidating. Don’t worry, it’s not nearly as scary as it seems. Automatic transmissions are fairly rare for motorcycles, so you will need to learn the different gears and use them when driving. 


A clutch temporarily disconnects the engine from the transmission, allowing the driver to switch gears or get the motorcycle moving. 


The clutch has two major roles: 

  1. Connect an idling engine to the transmission so the motorcycle can go (0-1mph)
  2. Disconnect the engine from the transmission to switch gears (20-60mph)


Learning your clutch and how to use it properly will take time and practice. 


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How to Shift Gears on a Motorcycle

Once you’re on your bike and comfortable, you’ll want to explore shifting gears so that you can hit the open road. Like manual transmission in cars, shifting gears on your motorcycle requires using your clutch, gear shift lever, and throttle. 


You’ll want to start by shifting out of neutral and into first gear by pulling the clutch towards you and using your left foot to click the gear shift lever down. You should feel the bike lurch forward without needing to throttle once you’ve shifted, and you’ll want to keep the clutch closed after moving to first. Then, slowly release the clutch while gently rolling the throttle to get the bike moving. As you keep opening the throttle with your right hand and start picking up speed, continue to release the clutch with your left hand, and you’ll be well on your way.


To shift gears while moving, you’ll want to follow the same steps and upshift or downshift with your left foot on the gear shift and your left and right hands on the clutch and throttle, respectively. At first, shifting in and out of gear may feel clumsy, but with practice and muscle memory, you’ll start to feel like a natural. 


Gear shifts on motorcycles are a learned skill that takes some practice. For more information on motorcycle gear shifting and how to ride a motorcycle, peruse our article on How to Ride a Motorcycle. 


How Much is Motorcycle Insurance?

Before you hit the road, you’ll need to talk to your insurance agent and discuss adding your motorcycle to your policy. Fortunately, if you already have automotive, homeowners, or insurance on any other items you own, you can likely bundle the motorcycle insurance with those and get a deal. The cost of the insurance will depend on a few factors: 


  • Make and Model of Motorcycle
  • Driving Record
  • Payment History
  • Bundling Options 
  • Type of Coverage 


One thing to keep in mind is that if you are planning on financing your bike, you will need to provide proof of insurance at the time of purchase. So, you’ll want to buy at least your minimum insurance before you make the purchase. 


Insurance Coverage Options

There are quite a few options for what kind of coverage you want from your insurance provider. Some states do have required insurance minimums for motorcyclists (except for Florida and New Hampshire). Every other state requires at least liability insurance to ride a motorcycle on a public road legally. Take a look at your state’s specific requirements and guidelines for motorcycle insurance so you can confidently ride without worrying about getting in trouble. 


Even if your state does not require insurance or only requires liability insurance, we still highly recommend considering some additional coverages. Liability insurance does not provide coverage for special equipment or specific part replacement costs. Comprehensive coverage can help with costs related to theft or natural disasters. But overall, you should select additional insurance coverage based on your lifestyle and how you use your bike. Ask yourself questions like: 


  • How often you’ll ride your bike
  • Where you’ll store it
  • How you might customize it
  • How far you’ll typically travel
  • What states you’ll be riding in


For more answers to questions about motorcycle insurance, read our article on What to Consider Before Purchasing Motorcycle Insurance. 


How to Wash a Motorcycle

Although washing your motorcycle is fairly straightforward, quite a few components go into doing it “right.” As a rule of thumb, professionals usually recommend washing your motorcycle once every two weeks, but washing more frequently is fine, too. When and how often you wash your motorcycle depends largely on usage. If you ride your motorcycle daily, you might want to wash more often to get rid of the daily dirt, rain, bug guts, etc., that comes with frequent use. On the other hand, even if you do not ride as frequently, but if you ride in more abrasive surfaces like gravel, dirt, rain, or mud, you might want to wash more frequently as well. 


Washing your motorcycle has benefits far greater than just making it look great. A dirty motorcycle can lead to erosion, rust, and other damaging occurrences that will cost time and money in repairs. 


Fortunately, washing your motorcycle is pretty easy and cost-effective. You can purchase all the recommended materials for less than $100 total, and they can be used over and over again. 


When you think of cleaning your motorcycle, you might just think of washing the exterior (which is super important!), but other areas require specific attention for cleaning. Here are some of the other parts of your motorcycle to put on your regular cleaning schedule: 


  • Chain
  • Carburetor
  • Gas Tank
  • Rusty Surfaces/Areas
  • Air Filter
  • Any Motorcycle Accessories


Each of the motorcycle sections requires mentioned above requires some special care to keep in top shape for years to come. You can pay for a professional to perform these tasks, but once you learn how to do it and make it a habit, you will save hundreds by doing it yourself. We promise it’s easier than you think! 


What Does CC Mean for Motorcycles?

CC stands for Cubic Capacity. You’ll notice we used it as a data point in the above section on Motorcycle Costs. Cubic capacity relates to your motorcycle’s engine capacity, which directly relates to the level of power your bike can produce. Typically, motorcycles range from 50cc on the low end for smaller bikes and children’s bikes up to 1,500cc for long-range two-person cruiser bikes. 


A higher cubic capacity is not necessarily better, though they offer some pros you won’t find in a lower CC bike. You can expect a bike in the 800+cc range to have more torque, more pick-up-and-go, more comfort while riding, and better stability for a two-person ride. Bikes in the 800+cc range are heavier, which also comes with some pros and cons. A heavier bike has more stability but also takes longer to break. 


Smaller cc motorcycles are not recommended for long trips or use on the highway. They are much too lightweight to maneuver at those speeds. A 100cc bike’s maximum speed is only about 50mph, faster than most people get machines with that engine capacity. These smaller machines are great for other things like off-roading, dirt trails, navigating city streets and short commutes, etc. 


Keep Asking Questions About Motorcycles

Asking questions is a good thing! Motorcycles cost an average of $10,000, which is not a small investment — not to mention the cost of upkeep and maintenance. No matter your budget or how much you spend on a motorcycle, you want to make a good decision. The best way to ensure you feel happy and confident with your motorcycle purchase is to think through what you want, what you can afford, and ask all the questions you can think of. 


A motorcycle might seem like a simple machine, but some learning is involved with becoming a motorcycle owner/rider. To ensure your safety and that you have a beautiful, working machine for years to come — always ask the question on your mind. Hopefully, the information in this article gave you some answers and probably even more questions. Here are some more articles on motorcycles that might help with that: 


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