New Wheels Without All The New “Features”

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There is a way to get a new vehicle without getting all the new “features” such as an engine that turns itself off every time you stop for a light, brakes that come on when you didn’t apply them and – the very latest feature coming online in new cars – an electronic  seatbelt interlock that keeps the car from moving until you “buckle up.”

Or at least, until you fool the E-nanny, by “buckling up” the seat.

You can avoid all of that by buying  . . . a new motorcycle.

It’s true that bikes are catching up to cars as regards all this nannying but they’re still a good 15-20 years behind where new cars are now. Probably because it’s harder to nanny a rider than a driver, both psychologically and functionally.

Riders do care about “safety” – certainly. But they’re more interested in riding. And they know that knowing how to ride – their own skill and attentiveness – is the most effective safety “feature” there is.

And it’s not something you buy – or a buzzer that beeps.

Riders have less patience for anything that second-guesses their riding. It probably explains while some new bikes do have things like ABS and traction control, as all new cars have, on a bike there is usually an Off switch for both – something no new cars comes with when it comes to ABS and many do not have when it comes to traction control, which in some makes/models insolently turns itself back on above a certain speed or never turns off entirely.

No new bike has an engine that turns itself off – and on – as almost all new car engines do. Probably because riders would never tolerate this and also because even the least fuel-efficient bikes are more fuel-efficient than almost any car. “Saving” 1 MPG – maybe – by constantly cycling the engine off and on seems like a big price to pay (in the form of aggravation, in the form of decreased battery life, in the form of increase cost) in a car that averages 28 MPG. It seems preposterous to afflict a bike that averages 45 MPG in this manner.

More fundamentally, there is no ASS-equipped bike because there is no Corporate Average Fuel Efficiency (CAFE) federal fatwa decreeing how much gas a bike is allowed to use before its manufacturer is punished for it.

For similar reasons, bikes have fewer and less complex emissions controls – because the standards are less severe – having been established when reasonableness rather than punitive-ness was the standard for setting the regs. Bikes have much smaller engines than most cars and burn half the gas the typical car engine does – resulting in half or less the  emissions of gasses than cars.

It is why new bikes only got saddled with catalytic converters in the early 2000s – as opposed to the mid-’70s, as was the case with new cars. It is also why no new bikes have direct injection – yet – while probably two-thirds of new cars do have it. Along with the dual fuel pumps and expense of all of that, including the expense of decreased engine longevity due to carbon fouling caused by the direct-injecting.

Many bikes still had carburetors as recently as 10 years ago and a few still do have them. No new car sold in the United States has had a carburetor feeding it fuel since the late 1980s, almost 40 years ago.

No new bike – no bike, ever – has come with seat belts, much less obnoxious buzzers and lights pestering you to buckle them. This being so because a seatbelt on a bike would be unquestionably unsafe (as is sometimes the case in a car). When a bike goes down, it is usually a good idea for the rider to get off – so as to avoid being run over by his own bike and also to possibly avoid running into the car or tree the bike is headed for. Riders learn how to lay down their bike – and let it go its own way.

Some bikes – a very few – do have air bags. But unlike all new cars, the air bags that are available as options that can be purchased with a few new bikes are not mandatory. You are still free to say – no thanks – to air bags. If you buy two wheels rather than four (or even three; trikes aren’t required to have air bags yet, either).

New bikes are also less disposable than new cars – precisely because they lack many of the latest features new cars come standard with. They are still much more DIY-serviceable, in part because their workings are more accessible as well as comprehensible. And because their primary control interfaces remain mostly mechanical.

While some have drive-by-wire throttle control, most still use cables for many controls and – in a pinch – a cable could likely be made to work. No new bike has a ten speed electronically controlled automatic transmission. Gears and clutch, as always – and probably good to go for the next 30 years or even longer.

Quicker than a Hellcat Challenger, too – and for 20 percent the cost. And three times the mileage.

Without any of the “features” that otherwise come along for the drive.

. . . 

Interested in ways to brighten up your bike at night? See here!

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  1. I was driving the other day and pulled up behind a motorcycle at a stop light. I couldn’t help but notice (and smile) that his “license plate” said “RUN THIS” with a middle finger pictured. It was a reminder that getting rid of motorcycles (and riders) won’t be as easy as some government mandate. Unfortunately, Covid exposed that people who are willing to stand up to an overreaching government are becoming rarer and rarer. The good news is that there are still more freedom loving people in America than anywhere else in the world. (And no, that rider didn’t wait for a green light to proceed – he took off as soon as the intersection was clear.)

    • There is an old saying-
      When freedom is outlawed,
      only ‘outlaws are free’

      I think that is pretty much where we are today. Only our Constitution is the actual genuine law, and we are not the ones breaking it. Imho.

  2. I got my motorcycle endorsement on my license almost 10 years ago but have never owned a bike personally and haven’t ridden on the road much. Got the endorsement to see if I liked it enough to fool with buying one. Ten years later I’m still on the fence.

    My biggest hesitation is the poor and declining skill of fellow drivers on the road. Northwest Arkansas is a Mecca for motorcycle riding due to the Ozark mountains and good roads. We have one of the biggest bike rallies in the country every year here (Bikes, Blues, and BBQ), so there’s no shortage of bikes, dealerships, and service/support for them.

    Considering where the price of gas is headed, and seeing what happened with the gas pipeline shutdown a couple weeks back, having something I can easily refuel with a small gas can and get 200+ mile ranges easy on such a small amount of fuel appeals to the prepped in me. I might yet get a simple naked bike just to get accustomed to riding on road and have as a contingency plan.

    • some un-solicited advice from a life-biker. It’s not a matter of if but when, disaster will strike on public roads. and you are correct that it is worse now than ever. your best weapon is how you process, react and your skillset. lessons, lesson, lessons, of all sorts. Many flavors avail. I’ve ridden countless miles in 35+ years but mostly racing of some form, from roadracing to dirt racing. I believe that closed course competition is safer than street riding. It is only recently that I have got back on the street, reluctantly because age is rearing it’s ugly head on the off-road racing thing. I do it with extreme caution and selection of routes to avoid cross traffic, congestion, etc… And in just these past few years of maybe 5K miles I’ve already had a few close calls. It’s always inattentive drivers, but my skillset has saved disaster because I know how to make the bike do things most can’t like brake like a roadracer while still pointing the bike, or making myself very visible to left turners by wiggling my bike to catch their eye, etc…… No amount of lessons, instruction is too much, as I am still learning at an older age. I liken it to golf, it is never mastered.
      But I hope I am still riding into my 70’s and 80’s…………………….

      • I forget where I heard or read this, but the vast majority of racers in MotoGP and Superbikes WON’T RIDE on the street! On the track, even the backmarkers at that level have forgotten more about riding than we’ll ever learn; there’s a baseline competency that simply isn’t there on the street. Combine that with the fact that they’re on a closed course with a smooth surface, I can’t say I blame ’em…

        • Hi Mark,

          I don’t doubt it – for two reasons: Racing is their living; if they wreck – or get wrecked – they may not be able to earn a living again. A broken foot for us is a hassle. For them, it’s the end of the season.

          Two, it’s probably boring. Like flying a Cessna probably is for F/A 18 pilots!

  3. Congratulations to you bikers for still having a vehicle you can operate yourself. I never had any desire to even ride one. In my youth, I was dangerous enough on 4 wheels. In any case, it appears that FUN is on its way to being outlawed. Since bikes don’t suffer the ability to be made NOT FUN, they will most likely be exterminated. In the meantime, happy trails.

    • John,
      My first form of motorized transportation was on two wheels. A 1968 Yamaha DT250 street/dirt bike. My brother gave it to me and and I started riding it to school when I was only 15. My first ride on motorized two wheels was when I was only 8 years old, on a Honda trail 50. Good times!!!

  4. Motorcycles still offer the best bang for the buck for a sense of fun and freedom.Their lag behind cars in being ruined by safety gadgets and gov’t is welcomed by me.

    EV motorcycles for the masses just won’t work IMO. Too expensive, unsafe (lack of sound), with a much less overall visceral experience. Does Harley Davidson really think the Livewire will save them??

    I hope gov’t won’t try and cancel them like their effort to do so with the combustion automobile. With the older generation (Hog riders) aging out, and the younger generation hardly ever even ridden or know how to operate a clutch and gears, maybe they’ll leave the two wheels alone.

    • Hi Tim,

      Bikes are being left more or less alone – for now – but I suspect attention will be focused on them (saaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaafety; the “environment”) after cars have been turned into electric Johnny Cars. I give it five years or so. Perhaps less.

      As regards Harley: The real problem in my opinion is their bikes are much too expensive and complicated to attract many younger riders, who cannot afford a $25k bike and can’t afford to pay a Harley tech $100/hour to do maintenance on it.

      I’d like to see HD return to its roots by offering a big, basic bike designed to be owner-fixed and customized. Not a small cc starter bike, either. I mean a full-size bike, just minimalist – with available a la cart add-ons. And without the proprietary software/electronics.

      • Eric,

        Some years ago, H-D, had the Street 500 and 750. They were targeted at the younger crowd. I just checked H-D’s website, and they no longer carry them.

          • I wouldn’t call a 500 or 750 a beginner bike. Back when I was a kid, the original Honda 750 was a big bike, and the Kawsaki KZ1000 was GINORMOUS! Depending on the rider’s size, a 125 is approrpiate, while a 250 would be a good beginner bike for a bigger guy. Personally, I LIKED the Street 750, and I thought about buying one…

            • Treu, Mark!

              Back in the day… but not so much, today. A 750-900 cc bike in the ’70s was a superbike. Today, my ’76 Kz900 – which was, when new, the quickest/fastest new bike available – is only mid-tier, if that. A 12 second quarter mile was hot, then. Today? 9 seconds from 1,000 cc liter bikes…

              • I wasn’t even talking about performance, but even your 900 Z1 would be too hot to handle for a rookie rider fresh out of the MSF course. It would also be too heavy. When a pilot starts training, he starts out on a small Cessna or Piper, then works his way up to heavier, faster, more complex aircraft. That makes sense. So why do guys start on a bigger, heavier, faster bike? That doesn’t make sense. Chuck Hawks has a good article here about first bikes, and I agree with it:

      • “Full-sized” Harleys? Like the venerable 72 cubic inch (1,200 cc) of our youth? When the Honda 750 Four was a “big bike” that was too much for all but experienced riders?

        RUBbers laugh at those as “girl’s bikes”, because nothing less than 1,800 will do when you’re projecting an image.

        • Hi Kevin,

          In re HD: Something with a full-size frame and a big cc V-twin designed to be owner-configurable. With a price around $10k new. That was what Harley was once all about.

  5. Hey guys,
    Been able to avoid ABS on all my bikes up unitl this’18 Ninja. The first time I needed to stop ‘NOW’ – was a little unnerving.. It didn’t let me. No switch to deactivate it on my model, so just going to try to be prepared for next time. Short of that, some of the bikes today are absolutely amazing compared to when I started riding in the 1970s. Fantastic fuel milage, poweful bullet proof motors/transmissions, super low maintenance and many are very light weight! Most small bikes today well out perform the larger bikes of yesteryear.
    My wife has a Z125. converted to an enduro and we have so much on that little bike its not even funny. We feel like teenagers on it, and we can pass you doing 70! 😎
    Eric is right, it is a great era for motorcycles.. For now.

  6. I would consider it if not for the generally pathetic attentiveness and abilities of the average driver.

    Plus my wife won’t let me.

    • Dan……My spouse and I genuinely feel bad for those such as yourself who want to enjoy motorcycling, but their partner put the kibosh on the idea. We have traveled the country together since 1984; and in those decades of two-wheeling, the top reason heard for not riding a motorcycle has been ” My wife won’t let me.”

      • You just reminder she’s a guest in a man’s world – settles ‘em right down.

        (Coworkers comment: “Sparkey, can’t believe your still alive”)

    • Hi Dan,

      That’s unfortunate re the wife not letting you. I was in the same position, more or less, when I was married. My ex didn’t forbid it, but she didn’t like it – which made it less fun. She rarely rode with me. I didn’t resent it; how could I? She just felt uncomfortable on a bike and my job was not to make her feel uncomfortable. But it’s much more fun now, because my girlfriend likes bikes – a lot – and so we ride together, a lot!

      • That was the situation.
        Years ago I was thinking about getting a bike for a commuter.
        She was afraid I was going to get killed riding to work.

    • My wife and I were just talking about this to our young adults and their friends last night, as they are all in that pre-marriage stage, trying to figure out their relationships and if this or that person is-the-one. I guess they seek our advice since we have a successful marriage, which we all know is rare today.
      One of the things I say is ‘if they point the finger at you (you can’t do that), then it’s probably smart to move on as hard as that can be’
      My wife uses the stories of our early years when I wanted to go dirt-bike-racing (at 30yrs old), and everyone, friends, including my and her parents said to say NO, he cannot be allowed to go racing, again. “you both just quit your jobs, started a new biz, built a new house, and just had your first kid”. And we all understood why, after my racing career ending crash 4-5 years prior, into a wall at a raceway that left me not walking for 9 months and came very close to killing me. She was reluctant as well, but did not say no. I explained it was a lot safer than roadracing, and she wanted to learn more, we did together. I’ve been off-road racing for 20+ years and the whole family and lots of friends are involved in a fun/demanding/rewarding/teaching sport. It has become one of the joys of my life to line up on the line, the old man next to his son, with all the youth in that class wondering what the hell is that old man doing on our line? haha….. makes me happy.
      Her message was ‘why would I try and stop my husband from one of his deep passions? He would regret me. It’s who he is/was and I can not change it, nor do I want to, because it makes him part of who I love’.
      The youth we are mentoring seem to get it, but it’s still very difficult choosing a life partner.

      • Any time a woman expresses a tendency to ownership of your person, RUN! If they are expressing it now, it will become a fact in short order. Been there, done that, did it for 35 years. I ignored it, and did what I do. She didn’t, and eventually, though not soon enough, left over it. Of course I recognized this in hindsight.

      • Chris,
        I get it. I’ve had two friends crash this last year on bikes.
        The first one is a lady friend that rides off road with her son. She also rides a dual sport bike on the street. She got nailed at a red light running, left turn, uninsured asshole. She almost lost a leg, and she’s still healing.
        My other friend was just riding down the street one night when a 60 something old crackhead on a bicycle came out from behind a tree in the medium right in front of him. Fucked up his knee, and his bike. The guy he ran over eventually died a couple of weeks later.
        The problem now is his medical bills. Dead crackhead has no money.

        All these things happened in the Silicon Valley. I would NEVER ride in this area, the average driver around here is retarded. These are not the only friends that have been fucked up, I’ve also had friends that have died. I’m sure it ain’t so bad where Eric lives, but, I would NEVER ride around here. When I rode it was back in the ’70’s, early ’80’s, much more safe back then, not as many Asian and Indian drivers.

        • Hi William,

          I used to live in the DC area (Northern Virginia) and it was bad then; I can only imagine how bad it is now, 17 years later. Riding in my area, the chief worry is deer though there are also more and more Northern Virginia-type transplants here, too. I’ve been lucky so far. Emphasis on “so far.” I understand it’s an odd games and probably only a matter of time. But I really enjoy riding and so continue to do it. The added practical perks are persuasive to me as well!

          • Agree William and Eric. Too me it’s all about geography and numbers.
            I’ve avoided riding on the street for 30 years near a metro area. I roadraced and felt that was safer believe it or not.
            Where I also reside, in a very rural area, I never see any traffic, no cross streets, etc… and I’ve been riding on the street there and feel much safer and more free. My wife caught the bug a little and wanted to also ride in our metro area so we are trying it cautiously. I almost don’t enjoy it, I am so anal with other cars around. We at least made a pledge, that if we want to ride in the metro area, we can only go north or west, never south or east which gets into crazy metro area. So far it’s been ok.

  7. “It is why new bikes only got saddled with catalytic converters in the early 2000s…”

    Well, not entirely true. The Yamaha RZ-350 came with a pair of cat equipped pipes in 1984

    The article says 1985, but I had a 1984 non-California RZ that was made with cats, so…

    Of course, the cat pipes were the first things to go, and usually were replaced with Toomey pipes. Really, really nice 2 stroke pocket rockets they were.

  8. My only gripe with bikes as general transportation is the lack of harder compound tires for commuting. It really blows having to replace tires under 10k miles especially when you’re not dragging your knees through curves. If it’s not one thing its another *shrugg*

    • Although, that can be a pain in the neck, I would remind myself that the tires are the only thing keeping you on the road.

      Better grip would be worth loosing some miles of tire life.

      On the Plus side you only need to replace 2 tires at a time. 🙂

      • I hear ya. I understand the reasoning behind sticky tires but it seems like everything is geared toward an overabundance of caution and, more importantly, the manufacturers bottom line. I ride a dual sport so going with darkside tires isn’t even an option even though i ride 90% paved roads. The only saving grace is I mount them myself to save the trip and expense of an mc shop. It just seems wasteful when you ride to save on gas and maintenance knowing those savings go out the window with replacement and disposal fees. Seems like another nudge to me.

        • Hi Anon,

          “Dark side” – i.e., car – tires on a motorcycle strikes me as a bad idea. As you know, bikes lean in curves and bike tires are designed to roll in a way that car tires aren’t. The contact patch of a motorcycle tire is not flat but curved and extends into what would be the sidewall on a car tire. There are probably also other significant construction/load/design characteristics between a tire designed for a 3,500 pound car and one designed for a 500 pound bike.

          • Hi Eric!
            It’s not the profile or construction I’m questioning, it’s the extremely low tread life due to ultra soft compounds. Surely darksiders would prefer a proper MC tire but they’re forced to be unconventional when the captured market will not provide. Imagine being on a cross country road trip and on the way back to home base you have to make arrangements to get yet another new set of tires on your goldwing at an unfamiliar shop. I haven’t been able to achieve more than 5k miles on a set of tires on a drz400. I don’t ride like a maniac. I ride for economy since the bike gets triple the gas mileage of my truck. It just doesn’t seem like the truck should get 50k miles on a set of tires hauling around 4500 lbs and the bike only gets 5k hauling maybe 500 lbs. Manufacturers claims about using “hard” compounds in the center tread also seem dubious as even in my sport touring days my tires would be kaput with a bald strip down the middle and tons of tread towards the sidewalls. Theres just something “off” about that and it acts as yet another reason bikes are relegated to toy status rather than being serious competitors to the bloated abominations that modern cars have become.

            Thanks for your engaging articles and talk radio sessions. It’s always a hoot.

            -A fellow dissident

            • I remember riding close to 10000 miles on my tires back in the 70s and 80s, but admit I would really wear them out back then. Today like you said they seem to be shot at 3500 mi or even earlier. The tires that came new on my ’18 Ninja seemed more like riding on heavy innertubes (not kidding). Super spungy and unstable unless the air pressure was very high. Rear went flat for no desernable reason just sitting in the trailer, then later it picked up the first piece of wire it ran over.. went right in like butter. Changed those tires at 1700 mi and installed a set of Pirelli Angel ST heavy touring tires. The difference in the weight and construction between the stock tires and Pirelli’s is night and day.
              Have about 3300 miles on these and they both still look new.
              In other words, I totally agree with you that many modern cycle tires seem to be very light duty today.

            • You might see if you can get stock tires for 1960s-1970s British bikes. The stuff lasted. Even the Dunlop TT100 were very good, they lasted pretty well. Sizes? I don’t know.

  9. After 14 years with the carburetor Harley I bought a 2018, the good: four valve heads, fuel injection and a bigger motor lots of zip bone stock. Six speed transmission, larger gas tank, true cruise control.

    The not so good: anti lock brakes requires a trip to the dealer every two years for a brake fluid flush, their service computer needed to activate the ABS to ensure fresh fluid in the whole system. Even here in semi desert Eastern WA the brake fluid moisture content was above allowable.
    The thing is about as computerized as a modern car, including CANBUS. Harley does not have an off button for ABS.

    • Hey Sparkey,
      No, you don’t have to go to the dealer to flush the brake fluid, nor do you need a scan tool to do the job.
      Open the reservoir and suck the fluid out with a turkey baster. Add new fluid and bleed as you would any old brake system. Two or three pumps should clear out any old fluid out of the calipers and abs controller.


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