This article is for the person who hasn’t got a motorcycle – yet – but who is beginning to think about getting one. You may be leaning toward a type of bike that could be all wrong for you. Which could lead to making the mistake of buying the wrong type of bike before you find out it’s not right for you – which is easy to do, because of two factors:
First – and very much unlike cars – the different types of bikes are really different, and not just in terms of their looks. The difference between, say, a Honda Rebel 250 and a custom chopper is much more extreme than going from a Corvette to a Camry. Anyone who can drive a Camry can at least drive a Corvette – maybe not all out or even adeptly, but they can drive it from point A to point B. But the fact that you can ride a Rebel from A to B does not mean you can ride a chopper – or a 980 pound dresser, either.
Second, bike dealers can be dicky about test rides. When shopping a new car, most dealers will let you drive the car before you buy it – and not just one model, but several. With bikes, you might be able to wrangle a test ride of one bike – maybe, if you’ve already given them a credit card and committed to buy. They rarely will permit you to try several bikes.
To be fair, I have to retract my dicky dealer comment. There is a good reason for their reluctance to toss you the keys: liability. Most car shoppers can drive – perhaps not superbly, but they’re assumed to be at least marginally competent by dint of having a driver’s license. An usually, they are. But bike stores have to sweat your ability to ride the bike you’re looking to try out. The fact that you have a motorcycle endorsement on your license does not necessarily mean you can handle a 180 hp hypersports bike. Or a 980 pound dresser. Dealers are therefore understandably reluctant to let you ride it before you buy it.
Which means, it will be hard to compare – and thus, hard to personally experience the different attributes of each type of bike.
And so, here we are. Having myself owned/ridden all sorts of stuff – from scooters all the way up to a full-boogie Indian Chief with leather tassles and the turning radius of a semi-truck – I will give you my Voice of Experience thoughts as to pros and cons:
These are generally small displacement (250 cc – 650 cc) bikes with not much power and what power they do have being delivered gently – and so, controllably. They’re usually light – and never too heavy. Most are inexpensive, even brand-new. An excellent examples of this type of bike is the Honda Rebel. It’s only about $4k brand new, gets 80-plus MPG and weighs about 330 pounds.
Major pros: Harder to get into trouble with, an important consideration for new/inexperienced riders. A beginner bike won’t throttle wheelie on you – and you’ll have time enough to realize how fast you’re gong before you’re going too fast to slow down in time. Being light (most weigh less than 450 pounds) they are also easier to hold up – which means, not drop. The “ergos” (how you fit the bike) are generally good in terms of keeping you alert and not fatigued – the latter being very dangerous on two wheels. They also tend to be simpler – and so cheaper to maintain and repair. Being small/light bikes, they typically deliver outstanding fuel economy, too.
Major cons: You’ll probably outgrow it. Not necessarily physically (though with these smaller machines, that’s an issue, too) but more in terms of your experience and increasing skill. Low resale value. A function of people outgrowing them. This is not a bike to buy new. Let someone else do that. Then, buy his bike – for 50 percent what it cost him new. So that when you sell/trade-up, you won’t lose 50 percent of your investment. These bikes are also often – though not always – too small and too underpowered to be comfortable on the highway, or for longer trips. Minimal cargo-capacity; minimal protection from the elements. “Girl bike” stigma.
These bikes are single-minded performance machines, built to go very fast very quickly. The upper echelon models – called hypersports bikes – are literally race-ready but nominally street legal rides capable of 9 second quarter-mile runs and have top speeds over 170 MPH. Current bikes in this category have few, if any, design compromises that detract from the absolute maximization of performance, both acceleration and handling. In the hands of someone with experience and skill, they can be very fun. In the hands of someone who’s not experienced and skilled, they can be way too much way too soon. Even in the hands of an expert rider, modern hypersports bikes are arguably too single-minded for regular street use – because if you use even half their capability on the street, you will be risking major problems with the law. An example of a modern hypersports bike is the Suzuki GSXR-1000. This “liter bike” (1000 CCs equals 1 liter) has a 999 cc engine that produces 182 hp and spins to 13,600 RPM – with a top speed approaching 190 MPH. Base price is $13,799.
Major pros: A relatively inexpensive way to experience exotic-level performance. $13,000 or so will buy you an elite high-performance sport bike with a power-to-weight ratio superior to a new (and $50,000) Corvette Stingray that can walk away from the Corvette in a straight line and (in the right hands) keep up with it in the curves, too. And unlike the Corvette – or any high-performance car – even 9 second, 200 MPH-capable bikes typically still deliver 40-45 MPG when not being ridden all-out.
Major cons: Their uncompromising design makes them hard to live with as daily riders, even if you are an experience rider. Their “ergos” (fetal position for the rider) can be tough on your back and their typically minimal wind (and rain) protection exposes you to the elements. Most have little or no storage/cargo capacity, which further limits their practicality. But the big one – even if you have the skill/experience to handle one of these things – is the cost to insure one of these things. Be sure you check out premiums before you check out price tags – or sign a check. It’s easy to be drawn by the (relatively) low, used Corolla MSRPs of brand-new 200 MPH capable sport bikes. But the cost to cover a 200 MPH hypersports bike – even with a “clean” DMV record – can be $2,000 a year. Or more.
These are large – and so, heavy – bikes built for long-haul riding as well as “styling and profiling.” They have (usually) better ergos – a more upright seating position and more natural, legs-forward riding position, which makes them very comfortable for all-day jaunts. Some have backrests, or these can be easily added. Touring bikes will usually have full fairings – plastic or fiberglass semi-enclosures around the front fork area, integrated with the windscreen, to provide the maximum possible protection from wind and rain. Cruisers may only have a windscreen – and some don’t even have those. Both types of bikes usually have bags of some sort – either soft (leather or similar, typical of cruisers) or hard (plastic/fiberglass, typical of touring bikes). Most touring bikes will also have comfortable passenger accommodations, too. Cruisers usually have a passenger seat as well, but it will typically be more basic (without arm-rests and so on). The archetype of a full-on touring bike with all the bells and whistles (including an available air bag as well as ABS and a high-end GPS/audio system) is the Honda Goldwing. A good example of a cruiser bike is the Yamaha Road Star S.
Major pros: These bikes are ideally suited for day-long (week-long) rides because they’re comfortable – soft seats, relaxed riding position – and because they protect the rider from the elements (assuming the bike has fairings or at least a windshield). If they have bags, you can also carry a surprising amount of stuff – which makes them more than just toys. Most have heavy-duty/high-output electrical/charging systems, which means you can hook up pigtails for heated riding suits/gloves – which means you can ride on days when it would be miserable to ride other bikes. And while some are over-big and over-heavy for new/first time riders, there are “middleweights” int he 650 cc or so range that are not too intimidating – but not too small, either.
Major cons: With a few exceptions, these bikes are the heavyweights of the two-wheel-world. Even a “light” cruiser such as the fairly minimalist (no fairings or windscreen) Yamaha Road Star S weighs almost 800 pounds before you throw a leg over. A Goldwing is well over 900 pounds – which is why this bike has a reverse/back-up gear. The weight can be unwieldy – especially at low speeds. If the weight starts to get away from you, the bike will go down – and you’ll need help getting it back upright. The turning radius will also usually by considerably wider and overall these bikes are not as maneuverable as smaller, lighter bikes. The middleweights are more manageable, but can be slow-pokey – and may be too small, physically, to be comfortable if you’re a larger guy.
These are one-offs or custom builds with (typically) extended/raked front ends, modified frames and swingarms (to make them lower and longer) as well as custom gas tanks, “ape hanger” handlebars, custom rims, fat tires – the works. A true chopper is almost necessarily American and Harley Davidson in origin. Bikers – back when that word meant something – ride choppers. Virtually no one else does.
Major pros: Not generic because not factory-made. Each one is the unique result of its owner or builder’s imagination and skill. If you have a chopper, no one else will have a bike like your chopper. They’re also the real deal. If you can ride one, you are a biker.
Major cons: Terrible handling due to the screwy geometry; rigid ride and medieval ergos. Zero weather protection. Forget this bike if you are not a biker.
* Nakeds/”standards” –
These are do-it-all-bikes, or at least, bikes that try to do it all. They’re not too heavy – or too light. Not so powerful they’ll scare you – or get you into trouble – but not underpowered, either. They’re big enough – and strong enough – to be considered “real” bikes – so while they’re suitable as beginner/new rider bikes, many experienced riders ride them, too. The current Suzuki SV650 is a good example of one of these bikes and also the Honda Nighthawk 750 (which unfortunately Honda stopped making a couple of years ago but which they made a lot of before the end came – so it’s easy to find one used at a good price).
Major pros: These are first/beginner bikes that can also be lifetime (and everyday) bikes. They are affordable, even new. (The MSRP of the Suzuki SV650 is under $8k). The ergos are typically somewhere in between the relaxed riding position of a cruiser or touring bike – which may be too relaxed for sport-minded riders – and the tucked in, hunched over ergos of a full-on sport bike, which can be too sporty for rides that last longer than an hour. Gas mileage is usually very good – better than a full-on sport bike – and much better than most large touring/cruiser bikes. 45-50 plus MPG is typical. Insurance is also – usually – affordable. You can add accessories such as bags and a windshield to increase practicality and improve long-haul comfort – and up with a bike that does the things a cruiser/touring bike does, but remains more agile and maneuverable.
Major cons: These bikes don’t excel at any one thing. They are like a Swiss Army knife. The blade can cut – but not like a Marine Ka-bar. The screwdriver works – but not as well as the full-size screwdriver in your tool box. These bikes handle well – but not as well as single-minded sport bikes. They’re quicker than most cruisers, but not nearly as comfortable. Etc.
These are bikes that look like off-road/motocross bikes – and which can be ridden off-road – but which are still legal to ride on the street – and have features designed to make them viable on the street, such as turn signals and headlights and DOT “street legal” tires. The best-known example is probably Kawasaki’s KLR series, which is available in both 250 cc and larger 650 cc versions.
Major pros: With a dual-sport, you can veer off the pavement and onto gravel/grass/dirt – and forge through mud (and water, too). They are the 4x4s of the two-wheeled world. The smaller units (like the KLR 250) get 60-plus MPG while the larger ones (KLR650) have enough power to handle extended highway riding. They’re also tougher – in terms of the damage you’ll do if you drop one. Because – being intended to go off-road – they are made to be dropped. There’s little to no chrome to scratch – and scratches on the frame/plastic don’t show up as much. This – along with their light weight and easygoing natures – is why the Motorcycle Safety Foundation often uses them for its new rider training courses.
Major cons: The smaller cc ones are too light/too underpowered for extended high-speed riding. The larger cc units are too big and too heavy for serious trail use. None of them are especially comfortable. The bigger ones (like the KLR650) may be too high-seated for shorter legged riders. Not very good in the corners.
If anyone out there has a question about a specific bike, please post below and I will try to respond as quickly as possible.
Throw it in the Woods?
I.8’ve always been a car driver yet I wish to ride since I was 9 yrs old. I live in Cairo, Egypt. It’s fairly a hot country with average temp. between 78.8 and 96.8. Since I’ve never been on a bike before I’ve been searching and asking many bikers. I’m more into cruisers yet as a start I was wondering what do you think about honda shadow 400 phoenix 2003. I’m 5’9 and fit 172 lbs. I’ve heard a comment about the heat from the engine and some leg burns from the exhaust.
If you’ve never been on a bike before, I’d suggest starting out on something in the 250 cc range like a Rebel 250. In America, the Motorcycle Safety Foundation (MSF) conducts new rider courses using such bikes; these classes are held in safe areas such as parking lots and are a great place to learn the basics about riding a motorcycle before you venture out onto the roads. If they have anything like that in Cairo, I recommend that as a starting point!
Hello Eric, nice article.
I have a specific question for you and other people on the site.
I currently have a sport bike and have ridden for about 12 yrs, since I was 15. But I am 5’11” and 140 lbs. Wife wants me to get a touring bike so she can bring all her bags 🙂
Which is a good touring bike? I define good as one with few comfort accessories, ability to do basic maintenance at home, reliable and comfortable for 1000 mile days, not too expensive to maintain and has a good gas mileage (~45+ mpg).
I have short listed the GL1800 (not very friendly to work on, too expensive to maintain), Yamaha Royal Venture (carb bike but looks and feels awesome), Voyager and Harley Ultra Classic (too expensive to buy).
Do you have any opinion about this? Should I buy the Royal venture even though it has a carburetor? I am learning to work on the carbs on my current bike now.
Thanks in advance.
This is just my 50 – but:
Modern touring bikes have become pretty damned big (and heavy). They are a handful even for a fairly big guy like me (6ft 3, about 200 pounds).
Do you like older stuff?
I own an ’83 Honda GL650 Silverwing Interstate. It’s a fantastic middleweight touring bike that’s extremely low maintenance, very reliable (it’s a Honda) and also light (for a touring bike) and gets 55-60 MPG all day long. The 500 version is more common and essentially identical.
Or: Have you considered taking something like a recent-vintage SV650 (a very manageable/easy to maintain bike) or even a larger dual sport (KLR650) and adding bags to it? The advantages are the same as above (Silverwing) only the bikes are much newer and easier to find in excellent condition for not much money ($5k should buy you one with low miles that looks and functions as new or very close to that).
Thanks for your reply Eric. That was quick!
I am not very keen about older bikes. I have 02 now and I spend more time fixing it than riding around 🙁 Older bikes might be great but I am not skilled enough to maintain them.
I have liked some sport tourers and wife likes those too, but she can’t drive those as she’s not tall enough. She can ride the Royal Venture and other such cruisers.
I’ll look at the SV650 and KL650 today. Thanks for the suggestions. I saw a VFR750 that was good. How’s that bike?
The only negative point about Royal venture is the carbs. The weight didn’t seem bad to me when I rode it about 10 miles in traffic. I could get better with time.
I wouldn’t sweat the Royal Venture’s carbs at all. My ’03 ZRX1200 (bought new by me) has them and they’ve never given me any trouble at all. Just be sure to keep fresh gas in the tank (ride it!) and you ought to be fine.
I read only good things about FI. Better gas mileage, lower maintenance procedures and quick cold starts and no need to adjust fuel intake during altitude variations and no cleaning carbs yearly due to the ethanol-mixed fuel.
GL1800 has FI, so does Harley. That’s the problem in making a decision here. + I am still a student so I want to keep price and expenses low.
Phoenix, Az has the biggest motorcycle junkyard that I have ever seen. It was primarily Jap bikes originally, but now has all kinds of other bikes. (Bob’s Used Motorcycle Parts 602-243-4241) You may run into a problem with dryed out seals on the engine and trans with a bike that just sat around. Eric’s advice is good to follow.
There’s also very strong aftermarket/reproduction support for most of the well-known bikes of the ’70s and ’80s. Anyone who wants a list of suppliers, just ask and I’ll post ’em!
Actually, yeah, that would be wonderful!
One of the largest, most comprehensive suppliers of NOS/repro parts for old Japanese bikes is SUDCO. See here:
For old Kawasaki stuff, I can personally recommend:
The really good news about Hondas is that – per old man Honda – you can usually get whatever you need at any Honda bike dealer.
Suzukis and Yamahas I have less personal experience with, but my bet is if you connect with people on Suzuki/Yamaha boards, they’ll have scads of leads for you.
Hope this helps get you started!
Question on parts on used bike: How old is it realistic to go on a used bike from the standpoint of getting used parts? Is it possible to find original or aftermarket parts for old bikes, or is there a realistic cut-off point I should look at? E.g., I’m looking at an ad for a 1982 Yamaha Maxim for $2000, supposedly garage-kept and under 400 miles. Sounds like a good deal, but if it’s impossible to find parts it would end up not being a good deal.
It depends on the bike!
Some very old bikes are extremely easy to find parts for because they were built in large numbers and were exceptionally well-built and durable (so that plenty of them are still around today). Obvious examples include the Honda CB750 and its derivatives, the Kaw Z1900 and its descendants – etc.
It’s hard to go wrong with any “universal Japanese motorcycle” – UJM – basically, any inline air-cooled four from the major manufacturers built during the ’70s and ’80s.
That Maxim falls in this category. It sounds like a great deal!
The one thing to check carefully, pre-purchase, is the shaft drive. Usually, these are bulletproof and will last almost forever if cared for decently, which mostly means making sure the gear lube is reasonably fresh and never allowed to run low.
(PS: An example of a bike to steer clear of unless you’re really dedicated – and patient – and rich – would be something along the lines of a Suzuki RE5 rotary . . . or a Vincent anything!)
Can you comment on any difference between V-twin or inline? Does that make any difference on handling? On maintenance?
In general (without knowing more details):
An I-4 will have more power at higher rpms than a V-2. Most of its useable torque is at higher rpms. At lower rpms an I4 will have little torque to move you around.
A V-2 will have more usable torque at lower rpms than an I-4. Its red line will generally be lower than an I-4 engine of similar displacement.
For a daily rider (in general) a V2 will be better than an I4 engine.
I can not speak about the maintenance differences between the two styles.
I think The Lazy Motorbike does a better job discussing the differences between the different engine layouts.
V-twin bike engines are – usually – larger displacement per cylinder and optimized for low and mid-range torque as opposed to high-RPM horsepower. This is why you’ll V-twins more often in cruiser/touring type bikes, while the in-line four configuration is more commonly found in sport-type bikes.
On maintenance: The fours are typically more complex and have more parts – the obvious being four spark plugs and (typically) four carbs or throttle bodies. If it is a DOHC design with an adjustable valvetrain (most are like this) there is also more to do as far as valve clearance checks. The packaging is often tighter, too – meaning, accessing stuff can be more of a challenge.
Twins are often paired with shaft drive or belt-drive final drives, so that eliminates dealing with chain adjustment/cleaning/replacement.
As far as handling: The issue here is more about the bike’s frame/suspension than its engine. Most V-twin engines are in touring/cruising type bikes, which are set up more for touring and cruising. They don’t have the clearance and other design attributes needed for effective high-speed (and leaned over) handling.
All that said, there are exceptions – and other alternatives, such as V4s, parallel twins – even triples!
I am very interested in getting a smaller/light weight bike mainly to get to work which is about 30 miles and for wreaking havoc around the city. I’m 5’9 and 128 lbs. What would you recommend?
Hi Julie. It depends on where you live and if your country/state has a maximum cc (such as Australia – 250cc max for new riders). If not, then make sure it’s something light that you can pick up again if it falls over!
Going by your dimensions and the distance you need to travel, I’d say between 350 to 500cc and something a decent windscreen can be fitted to. If the weather’s ugly and you need to go 30 miles, it can get pretty uncomfy. Anything smaller than 350 tends to be underpowered, so you don’t want to be wringing it’s neck all the way.
Welcome to the site, first of all! Now, some follow-up questions:
Have you ever ridden a bike before?
When you say, “mainly to get to work,” could you tell me whether that means you’ll be riding on highways? Or just “in city”?
If you’ve never ridden before, or don’t have much experience on a bike, I strongly recommend taking the Motorcycle Safety Foundation’s new rider course (see here http://msf-usa.org/index_new.cfm?spl=2&action=display&pagename=RiderCourse%20Info ). They’re held in/near most major cities and there’s probably one very near you. They provide the bike – and the gear – so you don’t have to invest in a bike/gear before you’re sure you want to ride.
I’ll wait to hear back from you before going further, but, for a woman your size, I’d recommend something light, with low seat height (so your legs reach the ground and you can comfortably/safely hold the bike up). You shouldn’t need more than 650 cc – as far as engine size – and a 250 cc bike could be plenty, if you don’t need to do a lot of highway riding.
Thank you for the welcome. I’ve actually been reading your site for a while and as an aside, I really enjoy your work and try to recommend it as often as I can to others.
Onto bikes: Alright, so I’ve ridden a bike before as in I’ve ridden on the back of a Gixxer 600 around Chicago for a bit but never actually tried to ride it myself (obviously that bike is far too big/heavy for me). I read in previous posts to this article about the MSF and I will definitely take your suggestion and sign up. I won’t be going on highways very often at all, just in the city (Birmingham, AL…which has terrible, terrible roads). I’ve decided to look into motorcycles after moving here and realizing the ridiculous cost of living (IN BIRMINGHAM ALABAMA) but I plan to take it very seriously and I do understand that it is completely different from driving.
Thank you so much for all of your help!
You definitely do not want anything like that GSX! Not yet, anyhow – not as a first bike. That bike’s a high-performance sport bike; lots of fun once you’ve got some experience and know how to handle it. But a type of bike that can easily get away from you – and get you into trouble – if you don’t have the experience. Also, sport bikes – though fun – are uncomfortable for more than short rides (especially if you’re taller), have next to no storage/cargo capacity (there’s usually a small under-seat or under-tail storage cubby that can handle a wallet… maybe… and that’s it) and don’t get very good gas mileage (as bikes go; low 40s being typical) and also cost a lot more to insure, especially if you’re under 40. If you’re in your in 20s, forget about it.
“Standards,” dual sports (on and off road bikes) and middleweight (650 cc-ish) cruiser/touring bikes will cost you a lot less to buy and insure. They’ll also cost less to maintain (including tires, since they don’t need expensive high-performance tires that wear out after 3,000 miles or less) and most get very good gas mileage. The smaller CC models (250s, 450s, 500s, etc.) often get 50-60 plus. One of my bikes – a 250 cc Kawasaki dual-sport – gets 70 MPG.
The MSF classes seem to like to use dual-sports like the Suzuki DR series and also smaller cruiser bikes like the Honda Rebel – so you’ll get a chance to ride bikes like that and see how they fit your body type. You’ll get a sense of their weight, how hard (or easy) they are to “walk” (with bikes, you often have to maneuver using your legs/feet) as well as how comfortable – or not – they are. This alone will really help you get a sense of what type of bike you should be looking to buy. Maybe the 250s will be too small. Maybe they’ll be just right. The only way to really know is to sit on the bikes, and ride the bikes.
But, based on your size (especially your weight) I’m thinking a 250 CC bike the Rebel or Nighthawk will be perfect for you. These bikes are very inexpensive, even new – and used, you should have no trouble finding a very nice-looking, low-miles, mechanically excellent example for under $3,000. They’re not rockets – but being light (and with a light rider) they’re absolutely quick enough to comfortably ride in traffic. They’re also very agile and easy to maneuver at low speeds. If you have to put your feet down and “walk” the bike, it’s easy to do. Not so easy to do that with an 900 pound “dresser” (that’s bike speak for a fully-loaded full-size cruising/touring bike) – even if you’re a 200 pound man!
These 250s can also handle short hops on the highway, capability you’ll want even if right now you may not think you’ll ever need it. For example, my little 250 CC Kawasaki can hit 100 MPH – given’ er all she’s got cap’n (cue Scotty from Star Trek) which means it can deal with 65-70, no problem. I would not use that bike for a 100 mile road trip on the highway because it does feel like it’s working hard at 70 and (because it’s so light) it does get buffeted easily by the wind (and passing semis) but it’s definitely safe enough to jump on the highway for the 15 minute hop to the exit down the road I need…
The MSF is worth the money.
It will give you an opportunity to learn the basics in a relatively safe environment with low cash outlay. In NJ the course was about $300 for 3-day course (1 evening class, 1 day class and 2 days practicing on the closed course) (fall 2012 prices).
Another bonus is that you can have an additional opportunity to see if you really like it. If not, you are just out the course fee.
One caveat based on my reading is that a MC will not necessarily save you money unless you plan on making the MC your only vehicle.
Other things to keep in mind:
°Get quality riding gear — A good idea (do a search on road rash to see a reason why)
If you look for bargains you can find quality gear for under $600 (Boots, jacket, gloves, helmet, pants)
°Tires (wear out quicker than car tires and can be expensive)
°MC maintenance can be costly especially if you a shop do the work. (Although if you can not DIY it is better to pay to have the work done correctly. Eric or others can chime in if maintenance costs are reasonable if you DIY.)
°Other stuff that others more knowledgeable than me can tell you .
I do not know much of the practical stuff since I do not yet have a MC, but after the MSF course, I do think it is fun and worth the added expense.
If you decide to get the MC, do not forget to practice your skills on a regular basis.
Good stuff, Mith –
On maintenance: It very much depends on the bike. Some bikes – like the Honda Nighthawk – require very little in the way of maintenance beyond oil/filter changes and new brake pads every now and then. Their valvetrains are self-adjusting and they don’t have complex electronics. Other bikes do have complex systems, require periodic valve clearance checks – and so on.
The bikes I’m steering Julie toward are simple, air-cooled bikes that can easily be maintained by a person capable of changing the oil in a car. They also are bikes that will have tires that are inexpensive – and which last. Not 40,000 miles, like some car tires do. But 10,000-15,000 or so, sure. And they cost about $75 each to replace when the time comes.
On gear – agreed. Worth the money (and then some). But if you watch sales, you can get stuff at a very good price; look for closeouts and so on. Helmets are important to try on before you buy. This makes it harder to buy online. But it’s better to pay a little more for a helmet that fits your head rather than get a “deal” on a helmet that’s too loose – or too tight!
Eric, I’ll definitely second your opinion of the CB750 Nighthawk as a great motorcycle. The only new bike I ever bought was a 99 model, & I regret selling it.
There is a 250 that can pull off reasonably comfortable interstate travel speeds. My Kawasaki 250 Ninja has a “sweet spot” cruising speed of 75-80 with some power left in reserve. But is does take some getting used to riding around with the tach needle almost always at 9k rpm or higher!
I like the 250, too – I’m just too damn big to ride one….
At 235 lbs I should be too big to ride this one but with a set of Sonic Springs in the front, an air shock from an early 90s ZX7 in the rear. mine is dialed in just right for a middle aged fat guy to play with.
How tall are you? That’s my issue – with a lot of bikes. Especially Japanese sport bikes.
If you’re over 6 ft the ergos of sport bikes are often terrible. You’re fine for 20 minute track time blocks. But two or three hours on the street? Forget about it!
That’s why I a prefer “nakeds” and “standards” – the ergos are usually more acceptable for someone my height.
That is definitely the difference as I am 5’10”. As for the sport bikes they keep getting smaller & less comfortable every year. Todays 1000cc crotch rocket could hide behind my ’93 250. I actually prefer late 80s to mid 90s sportbikes over new ones for street riding because you get 90% of the performance & twice the comfort.
Have you ridden the new Honda CB1100 yet? I reviewed it a couple of weeks ago & loved it. But I am curious to know what other people think.
It’s why I bought my ’03 ZRX. It’s one of the few late-model sport bikes that fits a tall geek like me.
I haven’t ridden the new CB1100 yet; I only get access to new bikes for press rides every once in awhile. I used to attend media launches (which were often held at tracks and lots of fun) but thanks to the TSA police state, I no longer fly. That means I only attend events within a day or so’s drive or ride of my place out here in The Woods!
Eric, I ran into the same thing as you did. At 5’11” most of the 600cc sport bikes are rideable for me, just not comfortable. Worse, I have some issues with a couple of cervical vertebrae nowadays from an ill fated back flip off a Jetski in my younger days. I didn’t pay attention to the tide and was truly blessed that I didn’t break my neck. The pain in the neck is a permanent reminder of my momentary stupidity.
So the forward fetal riding position doesn’t work for me now. I’d be very lucky to ride like that for 20 minutes. The more upright riding position of the stock Zee is almost perfect (I rode it to work today).
But as motopsyco points out, that bike is actually pretty small and light for a litre bike. One of my coworkers and fellow rider commented to me one day about how small the Z-1000 looked with me on it. I’m just average height and build. It really doesn’t seem that much bigger than my ’75 RD-350 was.
I googled SRX600 Yamaha and it was like old times. It was a very easy bike to kick start because it had a sight window on the head for TDC so you didn’t have to guess.
I friend of mine just bought a 93 KZ1000 police bike w/49K miles. It starts up and runs without smoking. Not bad for $1500. It even has floorboards w/heal & toe shifter. I used to sell Kawasaki’s in 1978. It was much more fun than selling new Harleys and trying to figure out what broke on brand new bikes later that year. I still wouldn’t recommend it for a first bike. Stay with something smaller and lighter with less power. I also had a 600cc Yamaha single that was made in the 80’s that was one of the most fun bikes that I ever owned.
49k for a Zed is like the same mileage for a Corolla… hardly broken in!
Seriously: The bottom end is overbuilt, so usually, all that’s necessary to restore the engine to as-new is a top-end job. Fresh rings and maybe (if needed) a slight overbore/new pistons. Then you’re good to go for another 70k-plus.
One tip: If you do a top end job and go for the high CR pistons (stock is 8.5:1) think seriously about adding an accessory oil cooler. If the bike is only for occasional pleasure use and won’t be idling in traffic a lot, you’re probably all right. But if you will be idling in traffic a lot, get that oil cooler, if you go for the high CR pistons!
If anyone out there has a question about a specific bike, please post below and I will try to respond as quickly as possible.
I’m not planning on getting a motorcycle any time soon, but I am curious.
Where would something like a Kawasaki Police 1000 fit in this scheme of bike types? Seems like it would be in yet another category.
When I was living in LA, I considered getting a used CHP model, but decided against it.
My number one fear about riding motorcycles is that someone driving alongside me will not see me and change lanes right into me. That has been enough to discourage me for years.
It just happens that I was actively looking for an ex-cop Kz1000P when I stumbled onto the GL650 Honda I bought instead. Here’s the skinny:
Kawasaki built Kz1000s for police service only until the late 1990s – maybe even early 2000s – even though the civilian version had been out of production since the early 1980s. That means “newer” models are available used – relative to the civilian Kz900/Kz1000.
The “P” versions are very similar, functionally, to the civvy Kz900 and Kz1000 – except for things like the fairing, the cop seat and side bags. The “P” 1000s are also all shaft drive.
I own a Kz900 (1976) which I have had for years – and know these bikes pretty well. It’s why I began to think about an ex-cop Kz1000P. The engine – a DOHC four – is a magnificent piece of work that was overbuilt by Kawasaki and which will go 100k, easily, with regular oil changes. These engines are also powerful – close to 100 hp in stock trim – and the bikes are much quicker (and faster) than a Harley equivalent – yet they’ve got similar capacity (courtesy of the bags) and with the fairings, offer just as much rider protection. To me, this was an ideal blend of sporty – and long-haul riding practical.
I think some departments may still even use these bikes. But I know they’re not hard to find used – at a really good price. Don’t be scared off by mileage. As I mentioned, these bikes are damn near indestructible – and even if tired, the engine can be rebuilt for a not unreasonable amount and you’ll be all set for another 100k. Aftermarket support for Zeds is immense. No trouble finding mechanical parts.
When I was shopping (about two years ago) I was finding solid examples in the $2,000-$3,000 range. I’m betting they’re probably in the same ballpark now.
Check eBay and Walnecks Classic Cycle (and so on).
I think this bike would be a very good choice for someone interested in a touring-type bike that’s got the power of a sport bike – and the price tag of a used dual sport.
Thanks for the detailed reply!
Highly informative indeed, and confirms what I, a bike noob, suspected about the form factor and niche of the bike.
I sensed that it was somewhere in between — in a good sense. And sure enough, you have confirmed it.
I’m not in the US currently, so I can’t really indulge, but I often want to know things just for knowledge’s sake.
Dom’s looking at a fully faired (but not cop) Kz1100 as his second bike… I am egging him on.
On another topic, I assume you’ve already seen this just posted LRC article by one Charles Burris, blasting “fuuuhtbaaaaall.”
I have always viewed the modern State’s promotion of competitive sports (such as football, tennis, cricket, baseball, basketball, or soccer) as an insidious reintroduction of the ancient Roman concept of “bread and circuses,” a diversionary endeavor to manipulate the masses by enhancing their primal aggressive instincts with false loyalties or allegiances to manufactured idols and tribal teams.
Fits right in with what you and many of us have been saying for years.
At my gym, literally almost no conversation is about anything other than “the game.” I furtively listen in to these often animated, very serious-sounding, conversations. You’d think it was a couple of detectives discussing a murder scene. But it’s not detectives and there’s no murder. Just a couple of 30-40 something guys belaboring a child’s game.
It certainly puts a different spin on all those “Triumph of the Human Spirit” football movies, doesn’t it?
Talk about making a mountain out of a molehill!
One bunch of sweaty guys manages to move a ball 100 yards down a grassy field a few more times than another.
And we are supposed to perceive this as “history making” in importance?
At least gladiatorial combat actually left one of the two opponents dead.
Jock worship has also warped the college/university experience. Faux “student” athletes are often (commonly) admitted partially or entirely based upon their ability to run or throw or catch a ball – things a chimp could do. They are not there for an education. They are there to play a game (and make money for the school) yet everyone pretends they are “student” athletes. Not infrequently, they are literally illiterate street thugs who haven’t got the brainpower to pass a GED exam. They have no business at a university – except perhaps as janitorial staff. A coach is paid millions each year – while an associate professor of literature is paid $45k. Everything takes a back seat to … the gaaaaaaame. The school itself becomes known to a great extent for its “program” …. its fuuuuuuhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhtttttball (or bassssssebaaaaaaaall) program. Less and less for its academic program.
Buddy emailed me this.
After a great deal of discussion, section 155b subpart 6 of the Biker Handbook is hereby amended as follows:
D. Waving to People on Scooters.
1. No, do not wave:
2. Yes, wave.
I agree with the amendment of section 155b subpart 6. The second scooter appears to be from the 70s.
It would be a shame if she falls off while riding. She might end up looking like the dude above. 😉
Well I told my buddy F that, I’d be stopping to get those digits. This was his reply:
“I never thought of you as the Klingon type but, hey, if that’s what you’re into it’s better than furrys I guess.”
““I never thought of you as the Klingon type but, hey, if that’s what you’re into it’s better than furrys I guess.””
Dom, your friend’s bigotry against those of us – I mean those people – who are furrys is despicable.
Hate is not the answer!
That was not a dude, Mith.
That was a Klingon, or Romulan.
Not sure which. Guess I’m not a real Trekkie.
Definitely a Klingon, but from the picture I assumed it was a male of the species. (hence the “dude” label)
Regardless of whether a Klingon can be called a dude, Sonya Olson is definitely wave worthy.
Unless of course she’s a dude.
Are you implying that she could be a transformer? 😉
That would definitely be “more than meets the eye”
I was thinking Anne Coulter.
But no Adam’s Apple.
So she’s probably okay!
I do not “wave” to Klingons on scooters; I speak to them using Klingon sign language of which I am fluent in.
And, OMG, I have that same poster of Sonya Olson on my Mom’s basement wall!
For what it is worth I would like to add my two cents. Been riding for thirty years – all Harleys – (my dad was an original biker from right after WWII). Long story short, I bought my first import bike last fall.
I got the Honda NC700X and have to say I am very pleased with it. I got it for commuting purposes (25 miles one way commute to work) and it has turned out to be perfect for me. I am getting 60 mpg doing 70 for 98% of my commute. I am a thickly built guy (5’11”, 235#) and it pulls me along with a quick throttle twist. The ergos were completely different from a Harley (sitting high vs low and no forward controls) but I was able to adapt to it. And it has a super cool helmet storage compartment. Truth be told, this bike fits my personality better than any HD I ever had. (Forgive me, dad.)
I would highly recommend this bike for a first timer but keep in mind that I do so as a somewhat newbie myself (non Harleys, that is).
Hey, did you get the dual-clutch automatic version? I’ve not ridden one of those yet and am very curious… .
On Harleys: They are the NASCAR stockers of the two-wheeled world. Eternally the same. Sure, the new ones are more civilized and have FI instead of carbs … but at heart, these big, heavy bikes with their big twins are the same now as they were 20 or 30 years ago. That’s what people – Harley people – want. It’s cool with me. Hell, I wish a car company were making intermediate-sized RWD coupes with carbureted V-8s, too!
Eric, no I didn’t get the automatic. One, it jacks the price up another two grand(and btw that was another key point in buying the NC700X – less than $7grr). And two, shifting is part of the fun of motorcycling.
But I would love to test ride one outta curiosity too.
I wanted to get a true Adventure Bike but the choices were bad. I looked at the BMW’s and loved the 650 but the price and the maintenance costs were just too much. On the other end, I looked at the Kawasaki KLR650. Great bike with a suitable price tag but no sixth gear which means it is not good for long commutes. I do not know why Kaw doesn’t put in a sixth gear; it would make it a more versatile and desirable bike.
Rumor has it that Honda is coming out with two true Adventure Bikes (way behind the curve there Big Red!) but I couldn’t wait. I will definitely check them out if they ever show up.
Harleys: they are what they are and have been. Most people buy them for the image. Weekend pirates and such. But conformity consumption ain’t rebellion, man…
Now if I fell into some money I would be at the Victory dealership so fast! The Victory Vegas Eightball makes me drool. What is your opinion on the Victorys , Eric?
Yeah, me too! (On the desirability of doing your own shifting/clutch work.) But I’d still like to try one out… I get new bikes every once in awhile, but the press fleets are nothing like what the car companies maintain. You pretty much have to be willing to attend the “ride and drive” events they host, but since I no longer fly (thanks, Heimat Sicherheitsdeinst) that’s out.
On the KLR: It is an ancient design. IIRC, the current model is literally the same bike as the ’90s-era KLR650 (and maybe older than that). I wonder whether one could add a six-speed gearbox from another bike as a bolt-in?
On Victorys: I like the looks and the ‘tude, but I’m just partial to Japanese bikes – probably because I had very positive experiences with them coming up (almost never have any major mechanical problems; last almost forever; great buys, etc.) and also because I prefer lighter, more agile, sportier bikes. My GL650 Interstate is an exception – but even then, for a touring bike, it is extremely light (around 500 pounds even with full fairing and bags) and not a beast to ride as far as turning radius, cornering clearance and all the rest of it.
I like the handling on my Honda much better than Harleys too. I like to be nimble.
Two gripes about my Honda though: hand grip diameter is too small and no throttle grip tension adjuster (standard on Harleys).
Since it is a brand new model I have to wait for Kuyrikan (or however the hell you spell it) to make an aftermarket solution to these two issues.
I hope you and others are right about the dependability of Japanese bikes. Loved to work on my Harleys when I was younger but now that I am getting old I just want to ride and not have to worry about breaking down.
And thanks for the feedback, Eric. I value experienced opinions.
With Japanese bikes, a lot of things interchange. I would bet you a beer that grips from another Honda (or made for another Honda by the aftermarket) would work on your Honda. Have you got a dealership nearby with a big selection of aftermarket stuff available to paw? If so, I’d go down there and see what might fit. Ask the guys.
The dependability of Japanese bikes is legendary. To make an impression on the market, brands like Honda and Kaw brought out SOHC and DOHC engines in the ’70s that were literally 20 years ahead of their time in terms of the technology – and overbuilt to such a standard that it was almost impossible, short of deliberate abuse, to hurt one. Today, you can buy a new one that will spin to 16,000-plus RPM reliably. It’s an incredible thing.
The only thing about the new ones that’s a little aggravating is the packaging. They cram a lot of stuff into a not-big space. Valve clearance checks can be a treat, especially if you have to replace a shim (on the ones that have them). They are the size of baby aspirins and rotsa fun to take in and out!
Very nice overview, Eric. Thanks!
I picked up my Fiat Abarth convertible last Wednesday. What a fun car! And, I got 31-32 MPG going 70-75 MPH with the top and windows down on a 750 mile road trip this weekend. So, at least for a while, my lust for a motorcycle (modern Triumph Bonneville) is slacked.
Thanks – and, congrats! I like the 500 a lot – as you know. It’s a neat little car that’s in many ways got the charm of an old Beetle – but with the advantages of a modern car.
Just thinking out loud here, no need to answer all my questions, or even any of them:
Is a 30 mile hyway trip at 55mph too much for a 250 dual-sport? I.e. would it be too uncomfortable and too underpowered if it was an every other day trip? Or even just a monthly trip?
Between the 250 dual-sport and the 650 dual-sport, if all the driving were on slow streets at 30-45mph in traffic (my city’s traffic is certainly not the same as big city traffic) how much would you lean either way as the better choice? Especially regarding maintenance and break downs.
What do you think of the 1980’s Kawasaki KL600 compared to a KLR 650?
I’ve seen some KL’s in real nice condition for $1400 and some that need work for under $900. How much would you lean either way as the better choice?
And what about KLX’s? They seem like nothing more than a dirt version of the KLR, but I’ve seen some with turn signals. Is the difference just cosmetic?
One KL 600 I saw had a “new rebuilt engine that runs excellent. The rest of the bike just needs some work to get back into riding condition. We do not have a title for this so it is being sold for off road only.”
It looked like the gas tank had rust on the outside, has 1200 miles (what is too many miles for a dual-sport?) and I wonder about the electrical components and wiring. Would the electrical challenges likely be too great? Do the electrical components hold up fairly well over time, or much worse than cars?
If a gas tank is dented, how big of a deal is that?
The muffler is rusted, but it does not look like it’s rusted through, should I run away from it? Or just look closer at where it meets the cylinder and make sure the nuts on the bolts are still there?
It does not have a chain and the sprocket is rusty. Is that a big red flag? Does the sprocket need rust killer and paint, or much more, or nothing at all?
If the front forks were bad, and if a person didn’t get all wild on it or go faster than 45mph, would it be a big deal if the forks didn’t get fixed?
It has no title, I was contemplating not licensing it, not insuring it, and when they ticket it, just walk away. Just contemplating the idea though, that’s one reason for looking at cheap bikes.
Is it really crazy to drive with knobby tires on the street or just a little crazy?
It certainly seems like if the tires needed replaced and it needed a new gas tank it would be much better to go with a $1400 bike in better shape that didn’t need all that, but I’m no expert here.
If it only needed a chain and new tires, would a new engine make it worthwhile and, as they say, slightly bullet-proof?
How easy is it to patch torn seats?
What’s the cheapest most durable route?
Do you recommend any particular type of tie down straps while transporting it in the back of a pickup truck or trailer?
Any straps to stay away from?
Do you recommend any particular type of ramps? Are 2×12’s ok? Maybe glue on some non-skid pads?
For a time, I used a bottle jack to hold up my bikes and placed a block of wood under it when I worked on it.
Are those fancy motorcycle jacks worthwhile to get?
Are the cheaper fancy motorcycle jacks something to stay away from?
I want a bike, but gold has glitter. Tough choices.
I’m glad I didn’t get the KZ1100 I saw last year, the ability to go off road seems like a bigger plus everyday. That’s also why I like my 4×4.
I have not ridden in many years. I used to ride enduros and dual-sports a lot. I’m sure it will be like it was with the experience I had going from an automatic transmission to a manual transmission. I used to drive manual transmissions all the time, that ability fades. At first it was a challenge getting back into the groove, now it’s just making driving a slight bit pleasurable. I guess I’m like a new rider in both examples.
It was really embarrassing the first time I killed the standard transmission while shifting. I don’t recall ever doing that with a motorcycle. Is a motorcycle that much easier to shift, or was it just me?
What with all the people losing jobs and getting their hours cut lately, and going forward, I imagine there will be even better deals down the line, maybe:
… Or perhaps I should just buy some extra tires for my 4×4 while I can still afford them?
Some of it comes down to what you’re comfortable with. A 250 cc dual sport can handle 55 MPH for 30 minutes. I’ve done that myself many times. 55 MPH is still within the margin of comfort – or rather, you still have a margin. What I mean is, the bike’s not completely wound out, within a few MPH of its top speed. A modern dual sport 250 is usually capable of about 100 MPH all out, so 55-60 or so isn’t taxing it too much. But 75 or so is beginning to. Tires (and sprockets) are a big factor, too. If you have aggressive knobbies on it, 55 or so is probably about as fast as you’d want to go anyhow.
If you are going to be using the bike for mostly 30-40 MPH riding, no question, the 250 is the way to go. These bikes are very peppy in that range – and you ought to be getting around 70 MPG out of the thing.
Older dual sports can be great – for example, the Honda XL250 of the ’80s is arguably one of the most unkillable dual sports ever made. But if this is your first bike I’d lean toward newer – something like the KLR Kaw or a Suzuki DR series. They’re all very rugged machines, easy and cheap to keep up. But it will probably be easier to find a newer model in “needs nothing” (mechanical) condition. Don’t sweat paint scrapes and even minor dents to the tank (if it’s a metal tank; some are plastic). Main thing is the condition of the engine/transmission.
Tank rust is a problem – and not just because of the tank. If the tank is rusty, the carb(s) probably have crap in them, too. Unless you’re prepared for a project, skip a bike with a rusty fuel tank.
Mufflers: These are replaceable, with either factory (expensive) or aftermarket (less so) or used (cheap) parts. Simple to do. If the price of the bike is right, and the bike itself runs well/is in good condition, don’t sweat the loud/damaged muffler. Use that point to haggle down the price. If you intend to ride on the street, you’ll need to get the muffler fixed – for state inspection as well as to avoid being hassled by The Man (assuming the system on the bike right now is obnoxiously loud).
Title: This is tricky and varies by state. But – generally – it is better to buy a bike with a transferable clean title (one that the seller can sign over to you) otherwise you may have trouble registering the bike and getting plates, etc. Ask your state DMV what the deal is in your state as far as bikes sold without titles whether they will issue a new one to you based on a bill of sale, etc.
I would not risk riding without a titled/plated – and insured – bike. The bust for doing so can be severe.
Tires: Dual sports come from the factory with (yup) dual-purpose tires. These are in between (in varying ratios) a street tire and an off-road knobby. Some being more (or less) aggressive than others. The tire you want depends on the riding you expect to do. You might be fine with an 80 percent street tire. Or, you could buy a set of 100 percent street tires. The rims of the bike don’t care. The only relevant consideration is whether you plan to ride off road at all. If you do, get tires that can deal with it. If not, don’t. The more street-oriented the tire, the less rolling resistance – and the higher your mileage (and the better your handling) will be. Just be sure the tires are DOT “street legal” (read the sidewall) if you are going to ride on pavement. A used dual sport may have been fitted with off-road-only knobbies – not legal (or smart) to ride at higher/sustained speeds on pavement and which also will wear out fast if you do.
Chain (and sprockets – don’t forget those): No big deal; routine maintenance items and very DIY-doable. Expect to spend about $150 for a set – the chain, front and rear sprockets. Remember to keep the new chain clean and well lubricated!
Seats: Some dual sports have one-piece seats aren’t really re-coverable (like a standard bike seat). You replace the whole unit when it starts to deteriorate. No big deal – purely cosmetic. If the seat can be recovered, this is also no biggie. You can do it yourself with decent results. If you want a professional appearance, the cost is about $100 in labor (I just got the seat of one of my antique bikes recovered). The cover itself is typically about $50.
For transport: Use at least two “come along” ratcheting tie-downs (one on each side of the handlebars) to cinch the bike firmly in place in the bed of a pick-up truck. You want to compress the front suspension using the tie-downs so that the bike is immobile/upright and will not tip over. As far as getting the bike into the truck, ramps are great, but if you haven’t got ’em, here’s a redneck alternative: Back the truck up to a small rise on the lawn/wherever so that the lip of the bed is roughly even with the ground. Now you can just walk the bike onto the bed.
For maintenance: A motorcycle jack is nice to have, but far from essential. A dual sport 250 is light and very easy to raise up using a jack with a block of wood (to cushion) and then 2x4s or jack stands or whatever you have at hand to support it for tire changes and so on.
Clutches/working them: The main issue isn’t the clutch so much as the engine – and its power curve. Some bikes have very little bottom end so are easier to stall out. Others can get away from you – throttle wheelie – if you’re not experienced/ready for it. But a 250 dual sport is a very tractable, easy to ride bike. You will not have any trouble at all. After 10 minutes, it’ll all come back to you.
Keep us posted!
Thanks for the reply.
I’m leaning towards a 250. This was a pretty good write up:
At the same time though, there’s this older comment:
… “Two strokes are fun but much less reliable and more maintenance intensive than four-strokes; plus you have to think about two stroke oil in addition to gas…” eric.
I have to remind myself, there is no perfect bike.
The choice between a 250 vs. a 650 will probably come down to what kind of deal I come across.
I doubt I’ll get a Honda, those things always go for top dollar around my neck of the woods. But who knows.
I’m not very interested in two wheelers. Nevertheless, it is nice to see you finally do an article about motor vehicles again. 😉
Well, uh… thanks – I guess!
What about a Buell Blast as a starter/learner? Seems fairly cheap and medium powered @ 500cc. Yes/No/Throw it in the woods?
Buells are pretty cool – I’ve ridden the Blast and a few others – they’re good for the purpose you seem to have in mind. The big difference between them and Japanese bikes is their engines, being Harley-sourced, are all about low-end grunt, not high RPM power. But for a knocking-around bike, I think that’s a plus – not a minus.
Have you had a chance to try one out yet?
Haven’t had the opportunity to learn yet, as I’ve been away from home for extended periods of time. Maybe after the next consulting gig is over.
Thanks for the response and for the original post… good information.
You bet – happy to!
Pseudofetus, keep in mind that Harley has discontinued the Buell line. Even though they continue to support them for now, that may not be the case in the future. As an aside, I am very pleased with my ’08 Kawasaki KLR-650. The seat is a bit tall for some folks, but lowering links are available. It is very reliable, fuel efficient and even powerful enough for negotiating highway traffic around Kansas City. If you intend to ride it primarily on the street, Michelin makes a great set of adventrue sport tires (Anakee 2) that carve canyons very well and still allow dirt road / mild offroad riding. I’m more aggressive on dirt roads and run Heidenau K60 Scouts on mine, but even these still carve paved corners very well. Dirt Rider did a write up on the post ’08 KLRs last year and deemed it the best all around bike for surviving a zombie apocalypse (Ha!). With a good pipe, a foam filter and some jetting this big single is my first choice if I couldn’t own anything else. Just some food for thought: If Officer Friendly comes collecting revenue and there’s a single track available nearby, it won’t matter how fast his Charger will go once you’re in the woods.
Thanks for the feedback. It always helps to have input from the experienced riders out there.
Nobody needs a visit from Officer Friendly, even if he pretends to be… “friendly” and just wants some of my revenue (for the public good, of course!)
I would vote to stay away from Buell, with two caveats:
1. Never rode one – heard good stuff – but it looks like Buell closed its doors a few years ago – 2010, I think.
2. Because of #1 – check your parts supply first. If it’s got good after-market support and broad base, then it’s back to what works for you. Otherwise, look elsewhere, no matter how good the bike is. If you need Part X and have to wait for a crash to get Part X from someone else’s wreckage…? Ewww. 😛
I went looking at Buell last summer, I wanted a new bike myself – was in the “looking” stage and pulled up the webpage … and got a “sorry” message instead of the company’s homepage. 🙁
IIRC, Buells are (mechanically) Harleys, so (if that’s true) the engine parts should be readily available.
Unless a bike’s really oddball (like a Suzuki rotary) usually, finding mechanical parts is not that tough, at least in my experience.
Now, trim bits and pieces… that’s something else!
Blech! I couldn’t imagine a worse self-torture. Pass the sick bag and more tissues for cry-factor.
I don’t know how your motorcycle licensing works in the USSA, but in Oz we need to ride 250cc max for at least 2 years before we can get anything bigger.
It’s a reason used 250’s here are relatively cheap but also hold their value, because every prospective rider WILL need one. They tend to circulate for years if looked after.
With the dual sport (known as the road-trail), I rode a Honda XL250 ’85 for a few years. These bikes are hugely maneuverable in the scrub. Most times I managed to scrape the relatively high footpegs on corners. I found Dunlop tyres offered best grip.
It ran on the smell of an oily rag but engines of this era although capable are relatively gutless. Opt for greater CC’s or a newer model to offset this.
In the US there isn’t – yet – a requirement (or limit) as far as what new riders may ride. This is good (from a liberty point-of-view) as well as bad (from a getting-in-over-your-head point of view). I had a buddy who worked at a multi-brand store selling new bikes. He got really uncomfortable being involved in sales of new 1000 cc sport bikes to idiot 17-year-olds with even more idiotic parents. Went over to parts – and left the sales to other guys.
Have to agree with you there – BUT (all applicable freedoms here), if the rider is supposedly an adult capable and responsible for their own decisions, let their conduct be on their own shoulders.
As for your buddy, I can’t for a second ignore his position on this. My experience on more powerful bikes than I was ready for can provide an example. I’ve only had a few close calls, but they serve as valuable lessons.
I’ll second the idiot-teenager-in-over-his-head point, Eric…having been there.
I was 21, actually; last year in college, and bought a hotted-up Yamaha 750R. The full deal, too; race cams, carbs, Mahle pistons. It didn’t even begin to really breath until 8,000RPM–and it was like strapping on a solid-rocket booster pack.
One day to impress my girlfriend, I came down the long driveway of her condo complex; a line of garages about 200 yards long, with a 90-degree turn at the end.
Just as it was time to brake, it came on-cam for the first time. It pulled so hard I didn’t have time to brake–and went straight through a wood garage door!
Fantastic bike, that; sold it to my brother-in-law before he started dating my sister. At least I kept it in the family.
I had a 600 a few years later, but it never had the sheer ferocity of that race-engined 750.
Eric have you ridden the BMW 1000RR? If I went back today, it would have to be a liter-class sport bike; the BMW, or the Yamaha R1. GSXR’s are too fussy with their semi-monthly valve-clearance jobs and what not.
Looking back, I am grateful to the gods that my first two bikes were appropriate: ’82 XL250 dual sport, followed by a CB550 Nighthawk. Thank the fates I was too po’ to afford a new RZ350 or even a used H2750. And of course, back then – mid-late 1980s – there was nothing comparable to current hypersports bikes. The most aggressive bikes of the Reagan era would be considered middling powerful today. And, the most aggressive bikes of the Reagan era were overtly scary. The new stuff – even hypersports stuff – seems fairly docile. Hey, I can ride that!
I can now.
But at 16 or 17?
I doubt I would have made 18.
The 250 Rebel will wear you out yanking on the throttle trying to wring some power out of it. I did that on my first 175cc bike that was too small for all-purpose riding and blew the engine. Get a single or twin cylinder that is at least capable of 100MPH.
I wish Honda still made the CB750 Nighthawk. It is – in my opinion – an excellent beginner bike that’s not merely a beginner’s bike. I know guys with 20-plus years of riding experience who ride them. They are superb all-arounders.
I’ve seen a couple of nice used CB750 Nighthawk’s for sale while looking for a dual-sport. They are very tempting, especially the ones that look like they have been babied and well taken care of all their lives and the seller says “I don’t want to sell, I just need the money for…”.
The CB750 looks to be about 100 lbs. heavier than a KLR650. That’s one of the biggest reasons I’m leaning towards a KLR. But if I intended to stay on the street all the time, well…
I certainly understand why you guys have more than one bike.
I’ve owned two of the Nighthawk series, which ranges from the 250 to the 750. The ones to look at are the four-cylinder ones. I had a CB550SC (like this http://www.motorcyclespecs.co.za/Gallery/Honda%20CB550SC%2082.jpg ) which was a kind of smaller-scale V65 Magna in terms of its looks and ‘tude. Also a 700S (like this http://1.bp.blogspot.com/-FXMLFaU1-tw/T6NcBJq3bfI/AAAAAAAAHzA/fDyFvlGaTQg/s1600/michael_700s%28small%29.jpg ) which was a sport bike.
The 750 is more of a “standard” – but it can be fitted with a windshield/fairings and turned into a touring bike, or modded for more performance.. or left as is.
Great bikes, all of them!
I’m thinking of getting something like the Rebel for the 40 mile one way commute to work. I’ve bicycled since I was 4 but have never driven a motorcycle. I’m now in my mid-40s and I’m not sure how competent a motorcyclist I’d be, but I’ve got space to learn (very rural). Used Rebel? How old? I’m a competent mechanic, i.e. I can read a manual, tear things down and put them back together. Or just stay away and save a limb? 🙂
I recommend taking a MSF course to get a good idea of whether a MC is a good fit for you.
The course should be about $300 and one weekend of time.
I enjoyed taking the course and thought it was good for me.
For sure on the MSF. What’s your height/weight? You don’t want to get something too small!
5’2″ and 350lbs soaking wet. 😉 Just kidding.
I’m was ~270lbs and ~5’11” when I took the msf course. The Suzuki gn125’s used during my msf course were fun and not too difficult for me to use.
Looking @ a CBR250R forum it seems that the bikes are more than able to get someone w/about 300lbs (gear & rider) upto about 75mph. I am not sure how much time for this to happen. I think that the more weight one has the more it will affect 0-60 times. If I recall correctly, the CBR250R in top gear is about (10mph /1000 rpm) so 70mph is about 7000rpm.
I always tell people don’t get a bike that’s too small. The odds are you’ll out grow it and feel remorse almost immediately. Personally, I like a bike high enough that I’m just able to flat foot the ground at stop lights. Also, when sitting underway I’m able to 90 degree angle my knees/hips/back.
Those bikes will get to 75 (and more)… the problem is, they’re really screaming and have zero reserve on tap. A 250 or less is too small – in my opinion/experience – for sustained highway riding. They’re sufficient for short hops – one exit to the next one down, etc. – and urban/suburban commuting – but for anything much more, I’d recommend at least a 450-500 cc bike.
Eric is dead on with this. The current crop of 250 standards is too small. My dad bought a Rebel after I advised him not to. It’s a miserable turd. 71 MPH WFO with me on it trying to crawl under the paint. No way I’d ride that on the highway where I may need a burst of speed to avoid a moron in a car. The 250 sport bikes are better, but fairly cramped ergos for larger folks. Another thing I recommend to folks buying a first bike for the street is to stick with singles or twins. They make linear consistent power without having to rev it to the stratosphere.
I’m 5’11” and 170 lbs. I don’t plan on using it for anything but work, unless it causes me to give up another one of my toys 🙂
I’ll agree with the other guys on the MSF course. Excellent investment if you want to ride. It’s also a decent way to confirm if you have the skills. Some people want to, but just can’t manage it.
I think a good, long term starter bike is around the 500-800cc range. The Rebel or another 250cc is nice, but like Eric said, you outgrow it pretty quick if you find you like riding. If you can get one in your area, look for a Honda Magna; 90’s models. It’s a 750cc V-4. It’s fairly light, with enough heft to not feel like a toy. Enough power to move when you need it, but not too much to scare the sh!te out of you. And it has good ergo’s, so you don’t feel cramped.
I’ll “amen” the others who have suggested as a first step that you take the MSF rider course – they have these in/near most cities (see here http://msf-usa.org/index_new.cfm?spl=2&action=display&pagename=RiderCourse%20Info )and are well worth the small expense. You do not have to bring your own bike/gear – these will be provided for you. In other words, you can try it out – learn the basics/see whether you like riding – without a major commitment. If you do like it, then start looking for a bike to buy.
I’ll make a recommendation, too: Honda Nighthawk. I’ve owned two (a CB550 and a 600 “S”). The 750 is newer – though not available new now. But it’s a great bike – and one you will not outgrow.
Thanks Eric and Mithrandir for the class recommendation. Looks like lots of available classes in the Austin area if I can just find one free weekend.
SERIOUSLY miss my (POS) Honda Nighthawk. It was an under-powered 750 cc Hippopotamous.
And it was fun, provided one didn’t have to get it back up on two wheels. (At the time, I tried lifting it – given time and effort – something weird about me, I get stronger as I work out – so I warm up, then lift, then do some WEIGHT on the lifts, etc. Now I know to lift in reverse, using my back and scotting INTO the bike while lifting, instead of trying to push it up from the side, facing towards the bike. I was able to do it, mind, but it would take TIME…. And then there was the whole part of stabilizing it so it didn’t go over the other way…. Eh, when the world and I were young – just yesterday… Or, about 7 years ago…)
Great for getting around, could add on some cargo capacity, could get moving, not good on the highway – strained at 80 MPH, and it could fall over – and did often – and still get up and go. Also was built so it became harder to sheer off the clutch or brake, somehow. The GF’s 06 Vulcan 750 became a beast when that handle – usually the clutch, mind – got sheared off. She tended to drop the poor SOB… Dropped it more in about 3 months than I’d dropped my Honday in 3 years. We finally bought a collection of brake and cluth levers and carried them with us – after which point, she dropped the bike only once. Let me tell you, there’s NOTHING like driving a bike up a cargo ramp into a U-Haul with all of 1 inch of throttle lever to hold on to – and no alternative means of transport….
ANYWAY – Thanks for the memories, eric! (BTW, I reply using the name as I’ve seen – including capitalization. So if you’d prefer a capital E, please say so – and there’s a Reason I don’t reply to Revolution by name, I don’t know the fancy keystrokes, and not sure it’s a font. 😛 Some computer engineer I am!)
Currently, I would lean towards a standard style bike.
Since I would be interested in using the MC for commuting a 250cc (something like a Honda CBR250R or Suzuki Inazuma 250) seems to be a good fit (especially if I keep speeds under 70mph).
If the price/quality is right a 500cc or 650cc standard would be good for extended rides on the highways. (Although the newer 250cc MC seem good enough for riding a steady 70mph with ability to get up to 80 [although a 250cc will not necessarily get to 80mph quickly] )
A dual sport is a nice general purpose bike, but I do not see me doing much off road riding and I would prefer a larger fuel tank than ~2gallons.