Tips on buying and driving a motorcycle or scooter

Consumer Reports News: July 03, 2008 08:29 AM

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Anxious to reduce your fuel costs and looking to a motorcycle or scooter? If you can accept the significant safety risks, but are not sure where to start, here are some tips to aid your purchase and use.

  • Do I need a license? Motorcyclists usually require a special license. Check with your local DMV to determine operator age or engine size restrictions.  In some states, a scooter that displaces less than 50cc requires only a vehicle license to operate, not a motorcycle license. New York State for example, requires a special license when the top speed of the scooter or motorcycle goes above 30 mph. Below that, you don’t need a special license, but there are limitations on where it can be operated. Vehicles that go below 30 mph need to stay in the right lane or shoulder. Other states require completion of a motorcycle training course. Check with your local DMV as the laws vary based on the state in which you live.

  • How to learn to ride? A training class for motorcycles or scooters is highly recommended, especially for first-time riders. Beyond learning balance, the use of throttle, brakes, and cornering are all very different from driving an automobile. Professional instructors can teach proper, safe riding techniques, explaining such things as how to ride in a lane and how to remain visible to other vehicles.

  • What about insurance? You need insurance to drive a motorcycle or scooter, and it’s less expensive than insuring a car. You can start by checking with your current vehicle insurer to see if they offer insurance. You must register the vehicle with the DMV, as well.

  • Is a helmet required? Helmet laws vary in each state. Currently, only 20 states require one for everyone, but other states require them by age. Your local DMV will be able to help. Consumer Reports recommends full-face helmet use for everyone. Head injury is the leading cause of death in motorcycle crashes. In 2006, 41 percent of motorcycle deaths were from those not wearing a helmet. When purchasing a helmet, look for ones that are compliant with the Department of Transportation standards (Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standard 218).

  • What gear is important? In addition to buying the bike/scooter, you need to determine what gear is necessary. Besides a helmet, a face shield will help protect you against the elements (which can include dust, wind, rain, pebbles, and bugs). Glasses or goggles are not as effective as a full-face shield. Motorcycle-specific jackets, pants, boots, and gloves are also necessary to protect you in the event of a crash and from the heat, cold, debris, or mechanical elements on the bike. Bright colors can help make you more visible. Investing in proper motorcycle gear can provide significant protection, particularly from road rash, over regular street clothes.

  • Consider parking. Before you purchase that motor bike for your commute, consider where you will park. In most cities, you can park on the street like cars, but there is the risk of the vehicle being knocked over or vandalized. You may also get a ticket if you try to park in between designated spaces. In the city of Chicago, for example, motorcycles and scooters must be parked perpendicular to the street. Check with your local town/city for the guidelines. If you decide you want to be safe and park at a garage or lot, make sure that the garage allows them and check the fees—they may be the same as passenger cars.

  • If you have any other tips to share on motorcycles and scooters, please post in the comments below or visit our forum to discuss two-wheelers with other consumers.

    Liza Barth

    Read: "Motorists move to scooters and motorcycles to save" and see our full report and tests of scooters and motorcycles.

    To learn more about motorcycle riding from the American Motorcyclist Association.

    Liza Barth

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