Renting a motorbike is often seen as an adventurous activity for travelers visiting new destinations. The freedom and convenience offered by a rented set of two wheels makes it easy to explore places at your own pace. However, for beginners who have never ridden or have limited experience operating a motorbike, the idea can also seem daunting. This is especially true in locations known for chaotic traffic conditions. So are automatic motorbikes actually easy for beginners to handle during a rental? Looking at the available bike styles, safety considerations, rental tips and regulations can help make that determination.
Background on Motorbike Rentals
Motorbike rentals have become extremely popular for tourists looking to discover new places in an immersive way. The ability to stop when and where you want opens many possibilities not offered by group tours with strict schedules. They also tend to be more affordable than renting a car.
Popularity of Motorbike Rentals for Tourists
- Motorbike rentals appeal to adventurous travelers who want freedom to explore independently.
- They provide an authentic transportation experience used by locals in many destinations.
- Mopeds and scooters are common rental options in cities like Paris, Rome and Barcelona.
- Popular tourist destinations in Southeast Asia like Thailand, Vietnam and Bali rely heavily on motorbikes.
- Ideal for reaching remote areas and interacting more closely with the surroundings.
Types of Motorbikes Available for Rent
There are two main types of motorbikes offered for travelers to rent:
- Require manually shifting gears with the foot pedal and hand clutch.
- Give the rider full control over gear changes and speed.
- Necessitate some experience using the clutch friction zone when starting and stopping.
- Can stall easily if clutch and throttle are not balanced properly.
- Feature automatic gear shifting without the need for a manual clutch.
- Start with just the turn of a key or press of a button.
- Offer twist-and-go simplicity for acceleration without gear changes.
- Require no pedaling and less coordinated hand-foot movement.
Benefits of Automatic Motorbikes for Beginners
Automatic motorbikes provide some clear advantages that can make the rental process easier for first time riders:
Easier to Operate
- No need to coordinate between hand clutch, foot shifting and throttle control.
- Less likelihood of stalling from improper clutch use.
- Simple start-up with just an ignition button or key turn.
Less Risk of Stalling
- Automatic shifting prevents stalls from incorrect gear choices.
- Consistent engine power delivery reduces stalls at low speeds or on hills.
- No chance of forgetting to disengage the clutch when stopping.
More Focus on the Road
- Eliminates the distraction of manually shifting gears.
- Allows both hands to remain on the handlebars at all times.
- Lets riders pay full attention to road conditions and navigation.
Challenges of Automatic Motorbikes for Beginners
While automated transmissions simplify operation in many ways, there are still some potential downsides for first time riders:
Getting Used to No Clutch
- Requires a different approach when starting from a stop.
- Can lead to accidental wheelies if throttle is twisted too aggressively.
- May lead to rolls backwards on hills without proper use of brakes.
Limitations on Speed and Power
- May feel underpowered at highway speeds or on steep inclines.
- Often have smaller engines more suited to city use than long distance touring.
- Not ideal if riders want more performance-oriented capabilities.
Higher Rental Costs
- Automatics remain less common so have higher demand for rentals.
- More complex transmission design results in increased maintenance.
- Require riders to get special license endorsements in some areas.
To stay safe on an unfamiliar automatic bike in foreign traffic conditions, beginners should keep these points in mind:
Wearing Proper Gear
- Always wear a quality helmet to protect against head injuries in a crash.
- Choose a jacket, pants, gloves and boots to prevent road rash.
- Consider body armor if planning to ride on highways or rugged terrain.
Obeying Traffic Laws
- Follow all posted speed limits and traffic signs.
- Adhere to local customs for passing slower vehicles.
- Keep right except when passing.
Being Alert on the Road
- Continuously scan ahead, to the sides and behind for hazards.
- Brake early when stopping; don’t rely solely on ABS.
- Get used to using more of the road to increase visibility.
Recommended Automatic Bikes for Beginners
Choosing an automatic bike designed for easy use can further help new riders feel comfortable:
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Lower Engine Displacements
- Look for 50cc to 125cc engines to provide adequate power while limiting speed.
- Smaller bikes are lighter and more nimble in traffic.
- Reduced power output is more manageable for beginners.
Step-Through Body Styles
- Allow both feet to be planted when stopping so bike can’t tip over.
- Enable riders to firmly touch the ground when seated.
- Lower center of gravity improves stability at low speeds.
Brands Known for Ease of Use
- Honda, Vespa and Piaggio have many models geared for beginners.
- Look for built-in features like automatic choke and no kick-start.
- Tourist-friendly rentals prioritize reliability over performance.
Rental Tips for Beginners
First time motorbike renters can also employ these strategies for making the initial experience less stressful:
Take a Practice Ride in a Parking Lot
- Use a large empty parking lot to get a feel for bike controls.
- Practice starting, stopping, turning and using the brakes.
- Confirm you know where everything is without the pressure of traffic.
Start on Less Busy Roads
- Gain confidence on quiet neighborhood streets before hitting congested areas.
- Choose routes with wide lanes and slower speed limits when possible.
- Avoid highways, tunnels and other high risk riding environments initially.
Consider a Guided Tour
- Many rental shops offer orientation tours with an instructor leading.
- Provides tips on local road customs and gets you accustomed to the area.
- Group tours can offer camaraderie and reassurance for new riders.
Potential Regulations on Motorbike Rentals
Depending on the destination, there may be laws governing what bikes can legally be rented and operated:
- International Driving Permits may not qualify you to ride all motorbike types.
- A motorcycle license or endorsement from your home country may be needed.
- Some countries require obtaining a local permit to legally drive any motorbike.
- Verify your travel insurance covers medical care for motorbike accidents abroad.
- If renting without a guide, specialized motorcycle insurance may be mandatory.
- Damage deposits, deductibles and liability coverage vary greatly.
Restrictions in Certain Areas
- Large cities may prohibit motorbike access to certain zones or require passing special tests.
- National parks and other protected areas often limit or prohibit motorbikes entirely.
- Use caution and research regulations for places you plan to visit on a rented bike.
Importance of Prior Riding Experience
While an automatic transmission can simplify the mechanics, there are other skills gained from previous riding that remain important:
- Controlling a heavy, unbalanced two-wheeled vehicle requires physical prowess.
- Judging appropriate speeds and leaning angles takes practice.
- Quick reactions and panic braking abilities improve over time.
- Spatial awareness and comfort navigating traffic develop through real world exposure.
- Total beginners lack the muscle memory and intuition built from mileage.
Opinions from Rental Companies
Owner/operators who regularly work with foreign visitors offer unique perspectives on automatic bike rentals:
“We always encourage new riders to spend time getting familiar with clutch operation using our practice bikes before renting an automatic or taking a tour.”
“While automatic shifting is easier at first, learning on a manual bike gives more skills that will pay off down the road for future riding.”
“The key is matching each customer with a bike that fits their skill level after talking through their experience and comfort levels.”
Perspectives from Other Beginner Riders
Travel forums and blogs provide insights into how real tourists managed with automatic rentals:
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- “The automatic bike was super simple to figure out. I just twisted the throttle and it went smooth as could be.”
- “I dropped the bike twice at red lights when I forgot to put my feet down – something to get used to for sure!”
- “The lack of power on small automatic bikes makes it tough to keep up with traffic on hills and highways.”
- “I loved being able to relax and enjoy the scenery without worrying about shifting gears.”
Comparisons to Car Rentals
In many ways, renting and driving an unfamiliar automatic motorbike is similar to renting and driving an unfamiliar car:
- Need to adjust to different vehicle size, seat position and control locations
- Changing between different side of road driving takes conscious effort
- Mirrors, blind spots and visibility require getting used to
- Becoming familiar with different road signs and traffic customs
- Added risk present from not knowing the area well
Role of Travel Agencies
Booking through a reputable travel agent can provide benefits for motorbike rentals:
- Agents often have partnerships with rental shops to provide traveler-friendly bikes
- May include rental costs in packaged tours or excursions
- Can suggest regulated shops or ones catering to foreigners
- Help coordinate suitable bike delivery so rentals are waiting upon arrival
- Assist with licensing, insurance, deposits and other complex requirements
Conclusion and Recommendations
While they simplify the shifting process, automatic bikes still present control challenges for complete beginners with no riding experience. Novice riders lacking fundamental motorcycle skills are likely to find even automatic models quite difficult in the variable conditions of unknown environments. Investing time to learn clutch operation in one’s home country can pay major dividends for comfort level and safety. Hands-on training beforehand develops both the muscle memory and split-second reflexes that are extremely useful when faced with real world traffic situations. Novices able to gain experience on manual bikes will adapt much easier if choosing to subsequently rent automatic models on trips abroad.
Travelers unable to obtain sufficient practice in advance would be wise to consider guided tours on automatic bikes or alternative transportation modes for their first overseas journeys. With some miles behind you, cruise control from an automatic transmission can indeed make motorbike touring more enjoyable. But it is no magic shortcut to suddenly mastering two-wheeled travel as an absolute beginner.
- Motorbike rentals offer flexible transportation but require some skills to handle safely.
- Automatics simplify operation compared to manual but still have a learning curve.
- Practice developing core competencies before relying on rentals overseas.
- Match bike style and location to your experience level if new to riding.
- Focus on building skills, not just the mechanics of shifting versus automatic.
- Travel agents can help newcomers pick rentals to minimize risk and complications.
- With proper preparation, automatics can be a good option to enhance overseas adventures.