Last December, when the snow was starting to fly and most people were pulling out their skis, Nick Mackovski was visiting motorcycle dealers shopping for his dream bike.

While the winter is a bad time to go riding, it is a great time to shop for bikes because dealers are trying to make space for new stock at a time when sales are slow.

Mackovski, a 32-year-old computer consultant in Markham, Ont., settled on a Harley Davidson V-Rod, a stylish cruiser with a Porsche-designed engine and the first new model Harley Davidson has produced in 50 years.

Mackovski was attracted by the V-Rod’s sleek styling. “I liked the way the frame flowed. It looked different. It was very attractive to me,” he says.

After adding some chrome accessories and tinkering with the bike’s look — by adding braided steel fluid lines instead of rubber ones, for example — Mackovski plunked down $36,000 for the ride of his life, and the first bike he’s had since he was 17.

While most people buy cars for practical purposes, such as toting their family around, people buy a motorbike for the sheer joy of riding, in the same way some people buy sports cars. Because it can be a major financial consideration, it’s important to look through the range of styles and prices available to find the one that suits you best.

Bikes for all interests and price ranges
Motorcycling has grown to a $1 billion industry in Canada, according to the
Motorcycle & Moped Industry Council (MMIC), a not-for-profit trade association that promotes biking.

This past year, Canadians bought 72,049 new motorbikes, spending a total of $931,230, almost double what was spent in 1999. Currently, there are more than 360,000 motorbikes registered for on-road use in Canada.

When it comes to bikes, consumers face a wide selection of manufacturers and styles. There are three main categories of bikes and most manufacturers make models in each category.

Touring bikes
These are the motor homes of bikes, designed for long distance traveling. They have big engines — usually 1,200 cc or better — and lots of bells and whistles such as radios, saddlebags, cruise control, wrap-around windjammers and even anti-lock braking systems.

They are also one of the more expensive classes of motorcycles — they start at $20,000 and can surpass $35,000, depending on the options you add. But if you want comfort, you’ll find it here. Examples of touring bikes include the Harley-Davidson Ultra Classic Electra Glide, the Honda Gold Wing and the BMW K1200LT.

Cruisers are the bad boys of bikes, but they’ve come a long way since Peter Fonda and Dennis Hopper made them popular in Easy Rider. They come in a broad range of engine sizes and can accommodate long- or short-haul trips. The price range also varies broadly, from $10,000 to $30,000.

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If you want to go fast, this is the category for you — some sportbikes can hit speeds of 200 km/h or better. They combine performance and handling with racing looks. They’re designed for active people and can be hard on the body to drive, since the sitting position has you lying out over the tank, compared to the upright position of cruisers and touring bikes.

As such, they’re good for short-haul trips and aren’t something you’d want to drive around the continent. Sportbike engine sizes range from 600cc to 1200cc. Prices start at less than $10,000 and can reach $30,000 for high-end European bikes. Some examples include the Suzuki Bandit, the Honda Interceptor and the Kawasaki Ninja.

Research is important since test drives are rare
Adam Szczepanik, a 40-year-old network consultant in Toronto who used to race a Yamaha RZ350 in Montreal during the 1980s, says riders need to consider their road experience when selecting an appropriate bike.

Some sportbikes, for example, have a lot of power and aren’t advisable for novice riders. “Ask yourself how much power you can handle,” he says.

As well, you want to sit on the bike and test its comfort. Can you reach the ground? Can you balance it easily?

You’ll also want to do as much research as you can. Unlike cars, you normally can’t test-drive a bike before buying it, though sometimes dealers have a day when they’ll let customers try different bikes. So, it’s in your best interest to read up on the bike you want as much as you can and search out other owners for their impressions of it.

Of course, price is also a consideration. But it’s not just sticker price you need to think about. Insurance costs can be staggering depending on the size of the bike, your driving record, your age and riding experience. So check out quotes before buying the bike, or you could be in for a rude awakening.

The bike is only part of the equation. Be prepared to spring for leathers, a helmet, riding boots and apparel, which Mackovski says set him back another $2,000.

You might also want to spring for riding courses to improve your skills and help cut your insurance costs. A motorcycle safety course at a local college can set you back a few hundred dollars.

Part of the fun of owning a bike is customizing it over time to suite your taste. That can mean adding high-performance engine parts or accessories such as fancy mirrors, handle grips and exhaust systems to give it an added roar. Customizing can add hundreds of dollars to the tab.

Szczepanik has big plans for his Yamaha YZF-R1, expecting to drop another $25,000 to $30,000 customizing it on top of the $15,000 retail price tag. “It will be my last bike. I don’t think I’ll buy another one,” he says.

As for Mackovski, he, too, has high hopes for his bike and plans to chrome his forks, the portion that connects the front wheel to the bike. He says it’s the ability to customize his bike that is most appealing.

“You actually have control of making the bike look a certain way. You can make your bike unique compared to other bikes.”

Jim Middlemiss is a freelance writer and lawyer based in Toronto. He’s a frequent contributor to the National Post, Investment Executive and Wall Street & Technology.

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