Latest Reader Question (October 19, 2017)

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Here’s the latest reader question, along with my reply!

Steve asks: First off, I have really enjoyed my time here on your site. You (and the other readers/commenters) provide a lot of outstanding insight about the state of affairs today regarding two very important and related topics – personal liberty and transportation.  Thanks for all you do!

Here’s my situation: I own a 2009 Ford F-150 with about 125,000 miles on it. It has a 4.6 V8 and XL trim package (manual windows, cloth seats, AC, radio/CD player) with precious few bells and whistles – which is how I like it.  After spending a lot of time reading your material, I see the handwriting on the wall and have concerns about the availability, affordability, reliability, and fix-ability of vehicles in the future.  I want to make my truck last as long as I possibly can in order to prolong having to buy a newer techno-car piece of crap in the future. In light of this, I am considering purchasing an economical second vehicle for my daily commute to and from work in order to save money on fuel, but primarily wear and tear and miles on my truck. I recently moved to the country, and my daily commute is about 12 miles/20 minutes one-way. The roads are rural and aren’t heavily congested, and I only encounter two stops signs on the entire route.

I have been casually looking at older, smaller economy cars for this purpose. Lately, however, I have given more thought to buying a used motorcycle instead. It seems like a decent used bike fits more in line with my current budget. I’d like an inexpensive, simple, and reliable older bike with readily available parts that I could work on myself if I had to.  I don’t really have any practical motorcycle operating experience, but I feel like I could pick it up with some practice and training. I have experience operating and towing a variety of vehicles and boats/airboats, including those with manual transmissions. I only say that to point out that I’m used to learning the handling and driving characteristics of different vehicles in different environments, and that could translate over to learning a motorcycle as well.  Additionally, I’m bigger than the average person (6’4”, 205 lbs, with long arms and legs), so I’d want a bike with the proper amount of power and a reasonably comfortable fit.

I don’t need or want a bike with a crazy amount of power or gadgetry. Can you offer any words of wisdom on what to look for in a used motorcycle for commuting purposes?  Specific makes/models/years/styles/sizes?  Things to look for or issues to look out for?  Potential considerations I might not see?Thanks, and keep up the good work!

My Reply: Thanks for the kind words, Steve! And, I have several bikes myself – including an on Honda GL650 that is marvelously versatile for the purposes you have in mind. It is, however, more than 30 years old and while reliable, some parts are becoming harder to find.

I recommend something a bit newer – circa 1990s through the early 2000s, which is just before most larger bikes switched from carburetors and no computers to fuel injection run by a computer. Most new bikes also have catalytic converters and many have ABS and other electronics weirdoes like us don’t want!

I think you would be very happy with a 750 cc “naked” (or “standard”) bike like the Honda Nighthawk or Suzuki SV1000. Or a dual-sport in the 650 CC range such as the Kawasaki KL650. These are “on road/off-road” bikes with knobby (but street legal) tires and so great in a rural area because you can easily tackle dirt roads and gravel roads and grass, too.

They also have – or you can get – accessories such as hard bags to carry stuff, such as groceries.

For the “naked/standard” bikes, you may want to add a a windscreen for weather protection. These are easy to install – and cheap to buy from accessory suppliers such as Dennis Kirk.

The bikes mentioned above are very simple and designed to be low maintenance. They tend to require very little beyond oil/filter changes and periodic adjustment/cleaning of the chain.

You should be able to find a nice one – low miles, in excellent mechanical condition – for $4,000 or less. Solid ones – maybe not cosmetically perfect and with some miles on them but mechanically sound and reliable – for much less.

Any of these bikes will average 40 MPG or more. They also have plenty of power for a guy your size (I am about your size and have ridden – and owned – several of these).

With a used bike, the main potential issue to look out for is that the valve clearance checks have been done – and if you are in any doubt, do it yourself or have someone you trust do it. This is really important!

If the bike is water cooled, that the radiator is not gunked up.

And – that the bike’s frame has not been bent as the result of an accident. Look the bike over carefully for any signs it was down, such as scrapes on the engine cases, fins broken off the engine, scratches on the handlebar ends, etc. Test ride the bike and watch out for any weird vibrations, wobbles or tendency of the bike to track left or right. If it does, it could be something minor and easily adjusted. But it might be something worse.

Be sure!

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