Wednesday, 8 August 2007

What I want from a motorcycle.

I think I have now been riding long enough to start putting down some experience-based reasons to prefer certain features in a motorbike, rather than "sexy", "X likes it" or "hey, that sounds cool!"

Therefore, this post is pretty much me thinking out loud, and for as much for my own future benefit as for any sharing of opinions.

Therefore, when I replace my 14yo 600cc Yamaha with a brand new bike, it will:

Have two cylinders. I don't like four-cylinder bikes. The way they produce their power is just wrong. I have ridden Yamaha's TDM900, and the engine makes me a little bit weak at the knees. I like my engine, but at any speed it has to be revved to 6,000 to do anything, which means gear changes, and I'd prefer an engine for the road to be much more flexible, not to mention the better feel, sound and engineering elegance of a twin. A few weeks ago I rode the TDM into town to try and find a bulb for the XJ. I don't think I got out of 3rd gear - 2nd would do everything except trickling along at walking pace - cruising comfortably at 60km/h and getting to 120 before redline. Now that I like. I would be prepared to consider: I would talk to Triumph about a triple.

Heated grips. I'm not going to argue about this. My hands are my weak point for winter riding. I would quite happily risk frost-bitten cheeks and wrap a scarf around my neck if only my fingers would keep working. I have winter gloves plastered with very sophisticated brand-names, and they're not enough. I need heated grips, dammit. I would be prepared to consider: No, I wouldn't. This is not negotiable!

More power. Do I really have to explain this one? It doesn't even have to be bigger: A brand new 650 V-twin from Suzuki or Hyosung (engine designed by Suzuki) gets 160% of the power of my 600c four. That'd be enough. For about a year (evil laugh). I would be prepared to consider: Why bother compromising?

A comfortable riding position. My current bike has an old and cheap frame, old and cheap engine, old and cheap brakes and suspension that showed its limitations even when it was new, and yet is quite capable of getting me in serious legal trouble even with my inexperience and fear of pain. Therefore, riding around town in a racer crouch is a pointless exercise in pathetic penile-insecurity promotion. I want to be able to spend two hours on the bike and not be crippled by cramp. I'd like to be able to spend four hours and be comfortable, but that's got more to do with my physical fitness than the bike. This basically translates into what I've got now: A little bit sporty, but still easy. Which basically means a sports tourer, which is what I'm leaning towards anyway. I would be prepared to consider: A dual-sport with an upright position. I know full well how dynamically capable they are, but the position would take me a while to adjust to, particularly the height and the pendulum feeling you get leaning into corners.

A good range. At the moment, you can buy a hoon bike that has a range of 90km. What the fuck is the point? I ride that to and from work each day. The TDM can go for more than 500km, which is very nice, the XJ for 260km at least, which is comfortable. A big tank makes life easier. I would be prepared to consider: Compromise only if it was really worth it.

Flexibility. Must be able to go hard. Must be able to go far. Must be comfortable. Must be easy at slow speeds and stop-start traffic. Why compromise? I would be prepared to consider: No, not necessary. Bikes nowadays are so good that unless you want to race regularly, there is no point in not getting a jack-of-all-trades. The capabilities of the cheap TDM are so far out of my league that splitting hairs is an exercise in wanking, not usefulness.

Rough road ability. I don't mean a Long Way Round BMW or KTM, I just mean happy dealing with dirt. I'm in Australia, ferchristsakes. This is where TDM/Tiger/V-Strom comes good, even on road tyres. I would be prepared to consider: This is one area where I'm not fussed, but it could be the casting vote.

Adjustable suspension. Come on. If I can buy fully-adjustable-everything suspension on a $1,000 mountain bike, why am I stuck with not even being able to adjust preload on the front forks of a $13,000 motorbike? Even the best chassis will be let down by the factory specifying suspension that isn't suited to the rider, or the rider and their pillion and their long weekend luggage. I will be prepared to consider: Realistically, I'll probably get small amounts of adjustability only at whatever price I'll be prepared to pay.

Luggage. If it came with factory luggage, great! Right now, Suzuki are giving away a three-piece set of hard, lockable Givi luggage with most of their touring bikes, the bastards. Right when I'm not in a position to take advantage of this! Hyosung give away soft luggage with their GT650S, which happens to be my favourite of their bikes anyway, and all Triumph tourers, including the rather interesting
used-to-be-a-dual-sport Tiger, come with hard panniers standard. I would be prepared to consider: Buying it separately, of course I would, but why put yourself out of pocket needlessly?

A bit of design flair or passion. Why the hell else do you buy a bike? Unless you're weird and go only on utility (and the BMW dealership will be happy to meet you), you buy a bike on emotion as much as anything else. The final decision will never be fully justifiable on logic alone. Logic would have told me to buy a Honda because they're always the most reliable when I was looking for a first bike, but I refused to do this because Hondas are unattractive, sound bad and are built by Honda (I'm sorry if you have one - remember, these are my opinions only). So instead I got a merely very reliable bike. I like the alien look of the TDM, but not the clunky proportions of the V-Strom, as good as the Suzuki is. No, I still won't get a Honda. The Ducati Multistrada, while it may have been designed in Pierre Terblanche's "weird" phase, has solid amounts of highly entertaining character. The BMW F800 is covered with clever features, as well as looking rather nice. Even the butt-ugly R-series BMWs are distinctive instead of bland. And when Hyosung can sell a very sexy 650 for $9,000 there really is no excuse for putting up with bland. I would be prepared to consider: No. I won't. (Incidentally, I will also put "sounds really good" in here, and a V-twin means it will. Even the Japanese are building fantastic sounding twins now, and they took a long time to understand).

Clever. See above - without a bit of engineering cleverness, I'll find it difficult to be impressed by a bike. I would be prepared to consider: No, not here either. This is one major reason I like the BMW F800, actually, even if the forks are conventional.

It works really well. I mean, seriously. I don't mean "can't pick a fault", I mean "don't have to swear at it". Ducatis still have a lingering aura of unreliability, so I'd be cautious about getting one (and the wankers who own and sell them don't help, either). Moto Guzzi have fixed their gearbox problems and now work perfectly, but, frankly, they're no longer as interesting as they used to be. Who changed the styling? Where is the true passion of the Daytona, one of the sexiest bikes ever built? Traditionally, this requirement was hard to reconcile with the above two - BMWs didn't have much passion, Japanese bikes didn't have any, and Italian or British bikes kept breaking. Luckily, none of that is true any more, and the field is wide and glorious. I would be prepared to consider: Don't even think about asking on this one. The answer is no.

Semi-faired. I don't actually like fully-faired bikes, and having dropped one I don't want to have to worry about putting a big crack in an expensive piece of plastic, not to mention having to remove anything just to clean the engine or check the fuel filter. I don't like naked bikes - uncomfortable, ugly and inefficient. I like semi-faired bikes, bikini fairings and the like. See TDM and TRX, F800, GT650S or (ooohhh, I feel a bit light-headed) the Guzzi Daytona. I would be prepared to consider: This is a flexible requirement: It has to make me happy to look at it. The touring version of the F800 is less attractive, but if it worked better for me I'd get it.

A power outlet. Yes, bikes can come with a cigarette-lighter outlet for accessories like CD players, fridges (not joking - actually, I wonder if you can get refrigerated panniers yet?) electrically heated riding suits (again, not joking) or bike-to-bike or rider-to-pillion intercoms (damn nice idea). May as well! I would consider: Not really relevant, this is a wish, not a demand.

Picky bastard, aren't I? Luckily, I still have two years to see what the market does.

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