Sunday, May 11, 2014 | 2 a.m.
Close your eyes. Can you feel it? The sun warming your face; the breeze washing over your skin. It’s just you, the road and your motorcycle.
Las Vegas, with its warm temperatures and infrequent rainfall, is a place where a motorcycle can be ridden most of the year. Although riding safely requires concentration and skill, a motorcycle can be an effective and far cheaper alternative to a car.
Whether it’s for fun or necessity, motorcycles are just as different as the people who ride them. Intrigued? Here’s a quick rundown of information that will keep your knees in the breeze and a smile on your face.
Plenty of people can operate a motorcycle. Doing it safely is the trick. The Motorcycle Safety Foundation trains thousands of students each year based on a 15-hour curriculum of classroom and riding time; it even provides the motorcycles. These courses not only teach the step-by-step process of how to operate the mechanics, they offer defensive riding tips under various weather and traffic conditions.
While you can take the tests at the DMV, the MSF instructors certify you right on site, so you can bypass standing in line. In Nevada, a motorcycle endorsement is designated with an “M” on the back of your license. Get caught riding without it, and you’ll pay a $295 fine, which is more than it costs to enroll in the program. Courses also are offered at Harley-Davidson dealerships and CSN locations throughout the valley.
Base price: $4,950
There’s no room for vanity on a bike that wears scrapes like a badge of honor. The “dual” in dual sport means these motorcycles are designed to be ridden both on pavement and off-road, where Nevada’s wide-open spaces provide plenty of opportunities for riders to play in the dirt. Though generally not built for long-range comfort on the road, dual sports offer enough comfort for commuting and getting between off-road sites.
Where to go:Eighty miles northwest of Las Vegas lie the Amargosa Valley sand dunes. Towering more than 300 feet, the top is a great place to take in sprawling desert vistas before shredding down the hillside. The terrain is rugged, the hills are steep, and the sand is packed well enough to tear around without adding special tires to your bike.
Base price: $7,699
As the road-legal cousins of road-racing motorcycles, sport bikes have a wide range of horsepower and sleek aerodynamic body panels. Designed for performance and agility, the bikes carry relatively high insurance and maintenance costs. With sharp handling and powerful brakes, sport bikes can be among the safest on the road in the right hands. But with explosive acceleration, they can be too much for inexperienced riders to handle.
Where to go: Mount Charleston’s crisp air is a refreshing escape from the Vegas heat. Lee Canyon and Kyle Canyon roads are straight-aways out of a drag racer’s dream — or the nightmare of someone caught speeding. As the elevation increases, the mountain roads become increasingly twisty, a joy to navigate on a bike built for sharp handling.
Base price: $7,999
It’s tradition to heavily customize cruisers with special mirrors, handlebars, wheels and other add-ons, which may help explain why they’re the most popular type of bike in the United States, accounting for 58 percent of sales. Another attraction is the bike’s design, which offers a low center of gravity and places the rider in a comfortable upright position. But weighing an average of 600 pounds, slow speeds and U-turns can be tough to negotiate for beginners.
Where to go:The scenic route at Red Rock Canyon boasts 13 miles of fiery limestone jutting out of the bedrock. Well-paved roads twist and turn over protected landscapes that are home to many native plant and animal species. The one-way route can get a little backed up with traffic, so remember: It’s about the journey, not the destination. Head north 20 miles for a cold drink at the local watering hole, the World Famous Mountain Springs Saloon.
Base price: $18,230
Built with the road warrior in mind, tourers are equipped with storage compartments and heated gears to enable the rider to travel far in unpredictable weather. But the premium price for all those bells and whistles is only part of the battle; drop it and you’re going to need a couple of buddies to raise these 900-pound beasts.
Where to go: What do bikers and geologists have in common? Their love for the Valley of Fire. This natural wonder is a haven for motorcycle enthusiasts. Dotted with unusual sandstone formations, the rich copper rock houses ancient Indian petroglyphs dating back 3,000 years. More than just your saddle will be blazing after this nearly four-hour ride. If you still haven’t had your fill, take the back way home on NV-167 and enjoy views of Lake Mead National Park.
Base price: $18,230
The fear of tipping over is a distant memory when you’re on three wheels. “Trimobiles” are praised for stability and may even have a reverse gear, something not generally found on two-wheelers. Although some manufacturers build prefabricated trikes, nearly any cruiser or touring model can be converted with an aftermarket kit. Trikes lack the edge and attitude of their two-wheel counterparts, appealing to an older crowd that retired their “Rebel Without A Cause” personas. And as long as there is a two-wheel drivetrain propelling the motorcycle in the rear, riders are not required to wear helmets or obtain an M classification on their licenses.
Where to go:Every April, thousands descend on the typically quiet town of Laughlin for the annual River Run, one of the largest motorcycle rallies in the country. Days are spent on sponsored rides, attending bike shows or wandering through rows of merchants, selling trinkets and tattoos. The nightlife offers concert headliners and as much or as little mischief as you’d like to get into at the old-time casinos lining the Colorado River.
Base price: $2,600
Scooters come in many sizes, some powerful and large enough to ride on a highway. But a common type is small and lightweight, with an engine of less than 50 cubic centimeters. They’re lightweight, economical and designed for urban transportation. Small-engine scooters also are the only type of two-wheeled motorbikes that don’t require wearing a helmet or getting a motorcycle endorsement on your driver’s license. A potential concern, though, is that the top speed of a small scooter is 40 mph, while the speed limit on many Las Vegas connector roads is 45 mph.
Where to go:Small scooters are great for quick spins on residential roads, around parks or on urban streets with low speed limits. For those who can get there safely without venturing onto a connector road, the Container Park and other Fremont Street attractions offer a great scooter destination.