Are you ready to change lanes in your bike preference?

Well, spring is here. The weather is getting nicer and many folks are looking to get their first motorcycle, or replace an aging steed.

If you attended the International Motorcycle Show here last month you saw hundreds of motorcycles, and choosing one is difficult. I'm glad I'm not in the market for a new bike because there are a least a dozen bikes I'd love to have in my garage.

Space constraints prevent me from walking you through the entire buying process, but I hope to at least help you through the initial phase, so as to narrow down your shopping focus.

Phase I consists of choosing the correct category of motorcycle, based on many factors. Your current priorities may have changed since you bought your last bike, so you need to re-evaluate. Is most of your riding local day trips, or long cross-country tours? Will you be riding with a passenger often, or not at all? Do you wish to reach your destination the fastest way possible, or do you prefer to take in the sights, sounds and aromas of the road at a leisurely pace?

Do your riding skills allow you to safely handle the monster performance that some of the current motorcycles offer? Has time crept up on you, and you don't feel as comfortable holding up a 900-pound motorcycle the way you did when you bought your last one?

Examining all of these factors is essential in choosing the correct type of bike that will serve your needs properly. Below is a brief description of each category to help you decide what's best for you. Or, you can use my wife's method of selecting a bike: “Oh, honey, get this one. It's the exact color of a skirt I had in the 11th grade!” (I now tend to leave her at home when shopping for bikes.)

Sport bikes — also known as crotch rockets. These lightweight motorcycles, with cutting-edge styling and carbon fiber bodywork, are designed for searing performance and razor sharp handling in the twisties, or at track days. If most of your riding is done on our flat and straight local roads, however, you don't get much of a chance to test their handling capabilities — except on expressway on and off ramps. Since testing the handling capabilities are limited in these parts, much of a sport bike rider's time is spent seeing how long they can preserve the tread on the front tire by keeping it off the ground as much as possible. This type of riding style often results in a free bonus ride in an ambulance.

Intended for shorter day rides, sport bikes feature an aggressive riding position that forces you into a low aerodynamic tuck, putting a strain on one's back, neck, wrists, knees, and most parts in between. That's why you see mostly 20- or 30-somethings on sport bikes. They are still supple enough to put their young bodies into contortioned positions and then be able to dismount and walk around after they reach their destination. These are the same people who have six-pack abs and are still slim enough to slip into those brightly colored, skintight leather riding suits. That's also why everybody hates them. I'm kidding! Only 75 percent of the people hate them.

But, if you are over 50 and, like me, you haven't seen an ab muscle since the Reagan Administration, you may want to take a pass on this type of bike. If, however, a close member of your family is a chiropractor, and he owes you money, you may still consider this category.

Standards — These bikes can also be called Naked Bikes, because they strip off the sleek bodywork that sport bikes have, but they have similar engines and chassis. Also, they usually include handlebars that sit up more than the sport bike clip-on hand grips. That means a more upright riding position and more comfort. So you get similar performance, but can ride all day.

Sport Tourers — This is a hybrid category that more and more manufacturers are exploring. They take a sport bike, detune the engine and suspension a bit, and change the radical ergonomics so you won't be crippled by an all-day ride. Then they add a comfortable dual seat for a passenger, hard saddlebags, maybe even a trunk, and a small fairing. A fairing is a windshield piece on the front of the bike to block wind and improve aerodynamics.

The luggage is designed to allow a rider to pack a weeks' worth of clothing and necessities for a road trip. Or if you are traveling with a spouse, the luggage will hold enough for an overnighter in Lake Geneva, provided you pack most of your stuff in your pockets.

But while luggage gives you the ability to travel, taught handling is still the lure of this type of motorcycle. Once you reach that beautiful ribbon of tight, narrow, twisting pavement through a mountain pass, it's nice to know your bike will allow you an aggressive, sporting chance to tear it up. At least if the luggage wasn't overstuffed with all your junk, and your passenger wasn't gripping some body part hard enough to cut off the circulation. But if wanderlust is your thing, consider a Sport Tourer.

Adventure Tourers — Some people would have you believe this is a separate subset of the Sport Touring bike. They define Adventure Tourers as motorcycles that have longer suspension travel, higher ground clearance, as well as knobby tires that allow one to take the bike off-pavement.

I, however, define ANY bike as an Adventure Tourer that has ever been ridden in the city of Chicago or on the Dan Ryan Expressway. Trust me, that's an adventure!

Cruisers — This is the largest segment of the motorcycle market. These motorcycles are designed for a plush ride with a more comfortable, upright seating position. Their styling is reminiscent of the open road American motorcycles of the late 1940s and '50s.

Cruisers are uniquely designed so the owner can remove nearly every part on the bike, and replace it with a nearly identical and outrageously priced chromed or billet piece. The main purpose of all these chrome pieces is to enable your local dealer to set up trust fund accounts for his children and grandchildren.

And all that chrome is not just for eye candy (because as we all know, chicks dig chrome), but it is also a safety feature as your motorcycle can be tracked by spy satellites in space, in case you get lost. And all the hours you spend on polishing the chrome means less time you have to actually ride the motorcycle on the street, which according to the National Highway Safety and Transportation Department is more dangerous than spending your monthlong vacation in the Chernobyl Nuclear Reactor.

And of course, cruiser owners must also abide by the law that states within three weeks of purchase, the owner must remove the stock exhaust system and replace it with straight pipes loud enough to set off your neighbor's car alarms, thus allowing people in the next county to hear you coming.

If the allure of all the above features doesn't get you running out to buy a new cruiser, keep in mind you get to wear a variety of really cool leather clothes, also, in any color, as long as it's black.

So, here's a start on choosing wisely. Remember, most folks keep a motorcycle for several years, so be prepared to live with your choice for a long time.

• Email Glassman at

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