As the warm days of Michigan”s spring season make their fashionably-late arrival, it”s hard to walk down South University or State Street without seeing a glitzy, high-revving, two-wheeled hotrod whiz by. Motorcycling has become popular once again, and this time it”s not just for tattooed long-haired machismos anymore.
The impressive technological and stylistic innovations have made motorcycling safer and more comfortable than ever. With companies like BMW standardizing safety and comfort features such as computerized ignition, anti-lock braking systems and heated handgrips, the perception of motorcycling being crude and unsophisticated has faded. Companies have also expanded their marketing efforts to appeal to wider audiences. The Internet has made it possible for thousands of riders to communicate and form clubs, and there is a growing level of support for female riders. “Our clientele includes everyone lawyers, doctors, automotive execs and increasingly, female riders,” said Richard Schneider, sales representative at Nicholson Enterprises, a motorcycle shop in Ann Arbor.
“In an afternoon, you can go anywhere, clear your mind and lift your spirits,” engineering sophomore Charles Vogel said. “Plus you can out-accelerate almost any sports car on the road,”
Vogel meant motorcycles” low power-to-weight ratio. Most new sportbikes have blazing three-second 0-60 mph acceleration times and can make a Corvette seem molasses-like in comparison. Vogel has been riding his bright-yellow 1994 Yamaha Seca II since he attained his motorcycle operator endorsement last summer at the safety course offered by the Motorcycle Safety Foundation. For a mere $25, the course teaches new riders the skills necessary to safely operate a motorcycle in everyday traffic as well as in emergency situations.
“I think it”s also helped me become better and more aware as an automobile driver,” remarked LSA junior Kunjal Dharia, who also took the class. It is offered throughout the summer at Washtenaw Community College.
Because the motorcycling market has expanded so much in the last 30 years, manufacturers offer a tremendous range of different models. Bikes like the Goldwing from Honda, and the ElectraGlide from Harley Davidson offer standard CD players, air suspensions and loads of luggage space. These touring motorcycles are suited primarily for long, cross-country excursions and offer premiums in comfort and highway power. “Comfort and power have been a big issue. In today”s big cruisers, the rider is sitting more “inside” the bike than on top. Large, wrap-around fairings keep you pretty well protected,” Schneider said. “Engine sizes considered big in the 1970s like the 600-750cc models are now considered weak compared to today”s 1800cc engines.” Models like these can cost more than the average automobile, with the most expensive Harley Davidson going for around thirty grand. Other models, such as bikes in the “supersport” category like the popular Honda CBR and Kawasaki Ninja models, are known for their high “bang for the buck” value with their $7,000 $10,000 price ranges, and their neck-snapping acceleration and cornering capabilities.
Experts agree that it”s best to take the course before plunking down the bucks for a new bike. Starting with a solid used bike is also stressed, as the first sixth months are when new riders are most likely to take a fall and damage the bike, as well as their knees. Emergency rooms can attest that most motorcycle injuries could be prevented by proper gear such as leather/Kevlar jackets, jeans, gloves and proper riding boots.
However, these risks don”t seem to limit the thousands of motorcyclists in Michigan alone. “The feeling of flying, the union between man, machine and road, the nature all around you makes it all worth the risk,” Vogel said.