Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Ask Lucky: How Big Should My Next Bike Be?

In the comments, Noam Sayin' asked a question with an answer too big to be left buried in the comments of some other post. So, I figured I'd bring it out in the open.

Noam says: I'm thinking of buying a motorcycle this year. One question I need to answer is whether or not I'll be happy on something around 900cc or should I jump to something in the 1100 - 1300 range. I'm thinking for a touring or sport-touring bike; something on which I can kick around Northern MN & WI and eventually maybe a trip out to the PCH.

Ah, the old dilemma: how much bike is enough?

The first part of this question is: Are you getting a Harley? If so, get the big motor. A Harley is still essentially a tractor from the early 1900's, so you might as well get one that can pull stumps and tow a hay baler..

Assuming you're not getting a Harley, it doesn't take much bike at all to do what you want. Dealers will tell you you need a liter bike. This is because they make more money if you buy a bigger bike.

In reality, though, most of the modern motorcycle manufacturers can make 100 horsepower with a rubber band and two paperclips. The Triumph Speed Four, for example, has a 600cc motor making 98 horsepower. I can cruise at 90mph for 6 hours carrying enough gear for a couple days. So don't let anyone tell you that you "need" a bigger motor.

A smaller bike is lighter, which means it will be easier to maneuver and handle. Coming from a scooter you're going to be kind of shocked at how much work it is to handle a bigger bike.

Smaller bikes get better gas mileage and cheaper insurance too.

So, why get a liter bike? Because you want to go really fast in a straight line. If you're going to carry a passenger every single time you get on the bike you might also want a liter bike for the extra room. Otherwise, you're never even going to touch the capabilities of the machine during normal use.

Now, I am a little biased towards small bikes, because I think it's far more fun to push a machine to it's limits than to never really dig in to a bigger machine.

OK. So, what do I think you should look at?

Well, first off, BMW is right out because of their tendency to break in expensive ways at 12,000 miles.

The Suzuki SV-650 is a very capable and friendly machine. It's also cheap. There is a big aftermarket full of performance and touring bits for this bike. I'd totally add one to my garage.

The Suzuki V-Strom is the fire-road-capable version of the SV. Totally decent from what I hear.

The Yamaha FZ6 is comfy and capable.

Don't get a Honda. You'll meet nice people on it.

Don't get a Kawasaki because it's generally agreed that they're for assholes.

You can't go wrong with a Triumph, though I'm very biased.

A few more things to consider:

How are you going to ride 90% of the time? I want to ride the PCH too, but most of the time I'm here in Phoenix battling traffic. My stripped-down machine suits me perfectly 90% of the time. The three hours of nothing between here and California does kind of suck, but I don't do that ride very often.

What's your budget? European bikes are more expensive to own than Japanese bikes. Of course, when you get the Euro bug, you don't care.

Finally, which bike gives you the biggest, dumbest grin? Get that one. Motorcycles are not appliances like, ugh, cars. Reason has very very little to do with what bike you get.* The Big Dumb Grin is reason enough. So if a 1300cc Sport-Touring bike makes you jump up and down clapping your hands and giggling, then you've got your answer already.

So, that wraps up this edition of Ask Lucky. You keep sending me questions, and I'll keep providing responses which might or might not actually answer your question.

*A note to newbie riders: You really ought to get something small and used for your first bike. We want you to survive long enough to get your dream bike.