I've ridden since as long as I can remember - Honda's and Kow's as a kid. And been big enough to give a grizzly a decent fight for almost as long. So goin from the sabbatical that many of us take to have a family and kids to riding a big Harley eight years ago was pretty easy for me.
This year, I learned that it doesn't come as easy for some. I took a course to learn what I was doing, and to get my license. My friend JG, who learned with me took the course as well. My brother Aron got run through the course exercises by me, and then took the course with my friend Chris.
There are a lot of factors that need to be taken into account when you judge how fast you move up from learning to a big bike. JG bought his uncles Heritage Softail and did fine - he's a natural and 6'1 and 260. Even when the Heritage gave him a hard time, and the Screamin Eagle Ultra's that followed got tough to handle, his combination of experience, natural ability, training and the ability to muscle it got him through.
Brother Aron learned to ride for the first time ever on his Dyna. I rode it home for him. More than a few people pick up a bike from Lombardi Harley Davidson, on Staten Island in New York City and have a hard time learning to ride AND negotiate New York City traffic all at the same time. They tell stories about VRods that have gone out with an inexperienced rider aboard and come back a couple hours later on a flatbed. Aron listened, he took to it well, he's 6'3" and 220 and between strength, ability and the class, got through a couple of learning years and now is an excellent rider, and still on the same trusty Dyna. Maybe one of the important things is that he never really made a move without listening to what I had to say, or one of our other experienced friends. For example, I told him that the class was not optional, it was required, particularly if he were not gonna get on a pretty big bike right from the start.
This year however, I've learned that I think that someone always need to have an experience rider to ask, and listen to, before makin big moves.
Let's take Ed. Ed's a big guy, about 45 and he saw all of us riding and went up and bought a Road King. There's about 20 of us now - everyone typically has a good combination of skill, experience or a "Rabbi". This was Ed's first bike. Ever. No class. No listening to better bikers. So far, I've been out with Ed twice. He yells at me and JG for riding too fast when we're riding on a nice country road 5 or 7 mph over the limit. It's so bad that mini-vans get between us. At a SI HOG meeting, he put the bike down during a 5 MPH altercation with a bus. He's full of excuses. The bike has a shake at 50-55 mph. He thinks SI HOG and all the rest of us ride too fast. I rode the bike - it's fine. This guy, new to riding should never have learned to ride on a 700+lb bike. He had size - but doesn't have the natural ability to get on a big bike - he needed to learn skills on something easier to handle, and build up his confidence as well. Of course, he should take the motorcycle course. Two probably. He needs to listen to people rather than once he made it to the corner, think he had it all covered. I believe he's gonna get hurt. Hopefully, it won't be bad and he'll get better and learn. By the way, he passed his NY State license test which will show you how useless the tests are at judging real ability!
Similarly, my friend, lets call her Claire, I got great respect for. She is over 60 and has ridden bitch for years. She's great - when she rode on back with me, you never even knew she was there, except for the arm around you somewhere. She decided, with some push from friends, that she was going to learn to ride. She bought a Rebel, took the course, and she's been out doing some pretty serious mileage for someone just starting. She's doin great. So we were talking about a new bike. She's not the most mechanically or bike inclined. For example, she likes the way the Victory's feel but thought that 100 CI would be too much power - she was going to buy a Victory and pay someone to put a smaller motor in.
The problem is, Claire made it to the corner on her Rebel and now thinks "I'm a Pro." Anyone who's been riding for some time knows she has joined the great fraternity of people who ride, but is just beginning to really learn. She's much better than she was when she started so she thinks she has it mastered. No more need to speak to anyone else - she rides, now. But there is a tremendous amount of learning that goes on in the first four or five years of riding, that can only be accomplished by putting miles under your belt. I recommended she look at Dyna's or go to a custom guy (she's got a few bucks) and buy a bobber, like a Sucker Punch
Sally. She decided she was going to surprise us all and went to the local custom builder I recommended on her own, and told him how well she's doing. I've spoken to him since and it's not his issue - she told him she could hand the Custom Fat Boy he sold her. Why not she reasoned, she can put her feed down on the floor. Now god bless, I hope she can handle it, but I think the first time this 62 year old, 130lb grandma has to walk this 650 lb bike (post post edit - my bro is correct a FB is at least 700lbs) across an intersection or a parking lot at 4 mph, or has to stop quickly, or has to muscle it around someone, she is going to put the bike down. If she has to stop quickly, I'm nervous she's gonna lock up the rear on this heavy bike and high side it. I don't think there is any way she is going to walk this bike backwards up any kind of hill to park it.
Riding is a combination of a few things. You gotta have a bit of cohones to ride. You can't be afraid, which I think is Ed's big problem. You need to have some natural ability. My mom could never learn to drive a stick and a motorcycle would be a no sell. And you might not ever know who'll get it and who won't. I think the best example of this is that my middle brother bought a Honda cruiser, a 650lb Road King clone, about the same time Ed got his Road King. He also didn't get training, but he had way more natural ability and has been cracking many of the real good learn to ride books. While Ed is still struggling, and dropping the bike next to NYC Transit Authority Buses, my brother Jeff is riding two up with his wife, his daughter and his son and in my eyes doing quite well. He seems to always have control of the bike and can keep up with a pack quite well.
You need to get training, and be willing to learn. And you have to account for your size. A big person, that has some motorcycle in their blood can handle learning on a bigger bike because if you stop suddenly and put your foot down on gravel, or a slippery white line, you can grab the bike if its leaned over a bit, even if its starting on its way down. And you can stay in control of the bike through an emergency better.
I realize that the trend is for folks to want to ride big fancy bikes. But I think that people need to pay attention to friends with experience, what's the saying, "You Don't Know What You Don't Know". And as a rule of thumb, I think if you can't back the bike you are riding up a medium sized hill, the bike is too big for you. If you're riding an Ultra and can't get it to budge without the motor rockin - you should be riding a Dyna with bags on it. If you're riding a Deluxe and can't get it to move well forward or backward, then you should be riding a bobber or a FatBob. Just because big fancy bikes are out there and you fancy them doesn't mean that you should. The down side is not 'oops, did I scratch that', it could be serious injury. The same way if a small person can't see out to find all the sides of a Ford Expedition, maybe a Explorer is a better choice - just because Harley makes a Fat Boy and an Ultra Classic doesn't mean it's the safe bike for everyone to ride or to ride. Or to ride right now, with your present level of experience..