Monday, December 17, 2012
SELECTING A CYCLE
“Don’t trust everything you read on the Internet.”
- Abraham Lincoln
Returning to my old office of employ, my former secretary said, “My son is thinking of getting back into motorcycling.” I cringed a bit. “He doesn’t quite know what he wants, but I told him to log into the Church of the Open Road and see what’s there.” I cringed some more. (See Lincoln’s quote, above.)
Most everybody’s initial foray into the sport of two-wheeled travel is a shot in the dark. So many makes and models to choose from! What to own? My first bike was a 90cc Honda. It was great for putting around town and knocking out some forest service roads up in the hills, but getting to those dirt roads was a bit more problematic. As I raced up (and I do mean “up”) state highway 32 toward Forest Ranch at 27 miles per hour, even at seventeen years of age, I knew the bike wasn’t intended for the demands I was asking.
My daughter’s experience is similar yet different. Her soon-to-be husband had come home on a Triumph Bonneville Black – one of the Hinckley models. Daughter went for a spin on the back and wondered why we hadn’t told her what a blast motorcycle riding could be. She took the course, got her license and some gear and went shopping. She fell in love with what would become her first – and only – bike: a 2007 Ducati Monster S2R. No amount of counsel could convince her that something a bit more mild would be a better selection for the new rider. One first-day spill and the thing was sold.
My secretary told me that her son’s first bike was one of those lean over motorcycles and this time he was looking for something he could sit up straight on. He’ll have a fire-related job up in the mountains this summer and would like something to commute on.
I immediately thought of the KLR 650 I’d owned a while back. The thing could clip along at highway speeds. For sight seeing on back roads and forest service routes, the thing was terrific. But, the handling wasn’t too precise and the brakes were anything but state of the art. Still the upright-ness is good as long as her son’s inseam isn’t as short as my brother-in-law’s. He’d straddled the Kawi once and could barely reach the garage floor using the tips of his toes.
I reverted to son-in-law’s Bonneville Black, recently sold. There’s a bike with some solid engineering, a moderate sit-up position, and cool retro looks - especially the McQueen signature Scrambler derivative. Downsides might include the weight and the fact that in the mountains or far northern California, it might be tough to find a nearby dealership.
My two current rides are a BMW 1200 GSA – probably too big and undoubtedly too expensive for an I-wanna-save-money-on-my-commute livery – and my beloved and thus-far rock solid Guzzi Breva – see issues with dealer networks.
There are a ton of great bikes to choose from now. Honda, Yamaha, Kawasaki and Suzuki are all producing some mid-weight bikes that are reliable and economical. They come in a range of styles and seating positions and dealers are always close by. Triumph has some 800cc Adventure triples and BMW some 800 Adventure twins that set butterflies loose in my tummy. A Ducati Monster would be fabulous on the paved mountain roads where I know the young man will be stationed. Not so hot off the tarmac.
What counsel I would offer this young man?
Substance over style: Determine where you’re going to ride, why, and on what surfaces. Cross out anything on the list that doesn’t match. Those bikes you check off will be there when your riding circumstance changes – and it will.
Dealer network: If he lacks the mechanical skills I lack, having someone within shoutin’ distance who can keep the thing in top condition will only lengthen the life of the machine and greatly increase the enjoyment of ownership.
Fit: Sit on several making sure your feet can rest firmly on terra firma at full stop. Ensure the relationship between the handlebars, seat and pegs don’t cramp your style. (After an hour on my old R65, I routinely had to stop, get off, and reestablish blood flow to my butt and joints associated with my hips.) After you’ve narrowed it down, insist on as lengthy a test ride as the dealer will allow. Sitting on it in the showroom and operating it on the highway are two completely different arenas. Both need to be experienced, with the fit on the road being, by far, more important.
Research: Read reviews from multiple sources and be prepared to eliminate that favorite bike that the press just can’t seem to get its arms around. Look also for user reviews. (I just eliminated the BSA 441 Victor from my wish list because circa 1969 reviews I found on line made the thing – new – seemed like it falling in love with a beautiful woman who had no intention of loving you in return.)
Gear: Get good gear and wear it all the time while riding. (Click the Church’s ATGATT label at the bottom of this post to link to some thoughts.)
Training and skill: This is the most important consideration of all. If you haven’t been riding in a while, take the MSF safety course. Again. The stuff you forget or the stuff you’re rusty on will be the stuff that gets you hurt.
I know the area where my secretary’s son will be summering. I used to live up that way myself. I know the bike I’d want to have if I were blessed with the opportunity to ride those ranges. But I’m not going to share that thought here, because what I’d choose bears no relationship with some other rider’s needs. I hope my secretary’s son finds the perfect bike for him and that it will bring him great pleasure and very little pain. I also hope he looks further than the Church of the Open Road for advice. (See the quote from Abe Lincoln at the top of this piece.)
Church of the Open Road Press