Education is vital before taking off on two wheels

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Riding a bike isn't like riding a bike.

Gas prices have pushed two-wheel transportation on the hot list, so much so that motorcycles considered to be starter bikes -- even the used ones -- flew off the showroom floors of motorcycle dealers in the metro area.

Riding a motorcycle to save on gas isn't as simple as buying one and driving it home.

The first piece of advice for first-time bike buyers is the same from any of the retailers: take the Motorcycle Safety Foundation course. In South Carolina, the course is conducted at Aiken Technical College. In Georgia, the closest course is given on Tobacco Road.

"We encourage the first-time riders to stay with the lighter weight, small displacement," said Marsha Hopkins, the sales manager for Aiken Motorcycle Sales & Service.

Those are the kinds of bikes available for practice at the foundation courses.

For those who don't want to go through the class, the South Carolina highway department offers DVDs for new motorcycle riders. Ms. Hopkins said her store has some of those on hand to help people who want to jump on a bike and self-teach.

"You have to be a lot more aware when riding on two wheels as opposed to driving a car," Ms. Hopkins said.

After the weekend-long course, fitting a bike to a newcomer should have little to do with the engine's cylinder capacity.

"We try to fit the bike. It is more a function of weight and height," said Tom Clancy, the owner of Augusta Triumph Ducati on Wheeler Road. "You have engines that are 900cc, but only put out 60 horsepower."

Mr. Clancy said the demand for motorcycles prompted him to begin selling Vespa scooters, which are lighter and have less powerful engines than the motorcycles.

Mr. Clancy said most motorcycles are made with people 5 foot, 7 inches and taller in mind.

"Most women don't have a lot of upper body strength, so bike weight is an issue," Mr. Clancy said.

A car driver's license isn't good enough to become a motorcycle rider. Each state has a special license for any two-wheeled bike above a moped. Ms. Hopkins said there are licenses for the moped.

Reach Tim Rausch at (706) 823-3352 or timothy.rausch@augustachronicle.com.

FIRST-TIME BUYER TIPS

LICENSE: Motorcyclists require a special license. Check with your local motor vehicles department for laws and license requirements. A car driver's license does not permit motorcycle driving.


INSURANCE: You need insurance to drive a motorcycle or scooter. It will be less expensive than insuring a car. You can start by checking with your current vehicle insurer to see whether it offers insurance.


Keep in mind, you must also register the bike or scooter with the DMV.


HELMET: A helmet is required by law for on-road riding in Georgia. In South Carolina, the law requires a helmet and eye protection for those under age 21. There are no helmet restrictions for off-road riding.


Though not every state requires a helmet, it is recommended for safety reasons. Head injury is the leading cause of death in motorcycle crashes


When purchasing a helmet, look for ones that are compliant with the Department of Transportation standards (Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standard 218).


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 might also get a ticket if you try to park in between designated spaces.


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 might be the same as passenger cars.


SOURCE: Consumer Reports



LEARNING TO RIDE

The Motorcycle Safety Foundation conducts more than 1,500 basic motorcycle riding courses nationally.


GEORGIA: There are 36 courses offered; classes are conducted at Fort Gordon and Tobacco Road Elementary School.

For more information, call (800) 245-4410


Classes are Friday evening, lasting into Saturday and Sunday, all day


SOUTH CAROLINA: There are 13 courses offered; the closest is in Aiken at Aiken Technical College, offering a basic, intermediate and experienced rider course.


To register, call (803) 593-9231 ext. 1230 or visit www.scridered.org/locations/aiken.htm


Classes are Friday evening, lasting into Saturday and Sunday, all day.


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