Okay, here they are! My brief impressions of bikes I've ridden, over about 30 years of riding bikes. (Actually they aren't all the bikes I've ridden, just the ones I remember!).
As I mentioned on the previous page, some were only brief rides, while some I spent much more time riding. Some were bikes I owned, so I could have written very detailed reports on those. But I've reserved the more detailed articles for bikes that were new - at least they were new at the time I first published the web-site!
I should also explain that my comments on these bikes are made from my memories of riding them, and are therefore fairly subjective. They are my opinions of them at the time, from my own point-of-view. For example, when I describe an early-model Honda 250 as feeling "big and bulky", that opinion was probably influenced by the fact that my own bike was a 125 trail-bike! In writing these comments here though, I have tried to put some retrospective context to the impressions I remember.
I would also like to acknowledge Bikez.com as a source for technical specifications on these older bikes. (And Yahoo images for some photos).
The bikes are listed by brand-name and model in alphabetical order, and then by engine-size for each model. There are seperate pages for the "big four", while all the other ones are listed on this page below.
BMW R80.Late 1980s. "Be careful of the side-stand!" I was warned by the owner. The side-stand was spring-loaded to flip up as soon as the weight was off it. So if you intended to wheel the bike forward a bit then rest it on the side-stand again, ... well apparently quite a few BMWs fell over when their owners were caught-out with these "instant-return" side-stands!
I didn't have much of a ride on this, and it was a while ago now, but some impressions remain. Firstly, you know you're on a bike from a quality manufacturer. Nothing in particular that I can recall, just a general feeling that this thing came from a manufacturer of quality goods!
I recall it being a comfortable bike; and also a manageable one. By that I mean it was light enough for someone more used to lighter bikes (as I was at the time) to feel confident with pretty quickly. I didn't feel like I was going to drop it wheeling it out the driveway! It seemed very substantial, (there seemed to be a lot of bike there - perhaps because of the visual size of the engine), but it wasn't overly heavy.
It was very different though; BMWs feel quite different to other bikes. It was quite comfortable, as I've said, but "different" - in what is probably a BMW way. The riding-position is set up for touring, but still kind of "different" to other bikes. I'm reliably told that long hours in the saddle aren't a worry on this bike (or other BMWs for that matter!). And I can believe it.
Having that big engine with it's cylinders sticking out sideways underneath you is another "different" aspect of the bike that takes some getting used to. For example, although you know that you're not going to scrape the cylinder-heads on the road in corners, at first you still feel there is a danger that you will! Then there is that different way the engine effects the bike when you open the throttle; kind of rocking the bike sideways slightly. As I said; "different"!
Performance, from what I recall, wasn't overly impressive. Quite adequate for touring, but certainly not quick! A check of the specifications tells why. With 37kw hauling around 210kg of motorcycle, it wasn't exactly going to burn up the bitumen! But it wasn't supposed to. This was an entry-level BMW tourer, not a sports-bike!
So a comfortable bike, and one of high quality. A good touring bike. But also a little "different". If you've ridden BMWs you'll know better than I do what I'm talking about.
BSA Bantam. Mid 1950s. These date from the early 50's; or actually before that, as BSA stole the design from the German DKW (spoils of war!). It started out as a 125cc, was up-graded to 150cc, then in the last model went to 175cc. I bought a 1954 model (in many pieces!) when I was into the classic-bike scene. I restored it to the point of almost running, but I never quite finished it. I kind of lost interest, and also realised that even if I got it finished I wouldn't ride it on the road. (That's it in the photo).
By modern standards they are rough and crude. When idling there is enough vibration from the small 2-stroke single to shake the whole bike. Brakes are tiny little drums.
I remember when there were still a few of these getting about as normal day-to-day transport, and their performance (or lack of it!) was a standing-joke of most motorcyclists. Yet I remember following a well-ridden 175 on a more modern Japanese 250 and having trouble keeping up; so the later ones at least weren't that bad. They were quite comfortable in terms of seat and riding position. If you are interested, remember the brake and gear levers are on opposite sides to what we're used to now.
Montessa 250 Trials. Early 1980s. Back in my dirt-bike days a bunch of us got into trials riding. We started out on 1970s Yamahas; I had a TY250, and a couple of mates had TY175s. One of those subsequently bought a Montessa 250; that's him in the photo. Of course I had a couple of rides on it. Now, I don't remember a lot about it now (it's around 20 years since I rode it!), but I do remember it being a step up from the Yammies! Much lighter and much more capable; this was a serious trials machine!
I remember the suspension being much better - softer and much more compliant - than the Yammies. I also recall it being a little bit finicky; in that typical European way. It could be harder to start and not quite as "bullet-proof" reliable as the Japanese stuff. A good trials weapon back then though!
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Triumph Sprint ST 2003. This was a bike that I'd admired for a long time. I'd sat on one many times and found them very comfortable. I'd also ridden the Triumph Tiger, which had the same engine and gearbox, and been impressed. It was a bike I thought I would like to own. But I hadn't ridden one.
The chance to ride one came up while I was doing my series of tests to decide on my pick of the popular sports-tourers. I was waiting for the 2007 demo model to arrive at the local dealer when this one came in for sale. An immaculate, low-mileage (read "barely run-in"!) 2003 model, complete with Ventura rack and bag. So I gladly accepted the offer of a test-ride!
I had big expectations of this bike. (And before riding the bikes, I expected the current model would come out tops in my search for my pick of the class - either that or the Ducati ST3). So I suppose it would've been easy for the bike to disappoint; to not measure-up to my high expectations of it. But it didn't - disappoint, that is!
This is a great bike! At the time of writing this, I still haven't ridden the 2007 model but I think this bike would go to the top of the list, in terms of the bike that I would buy, of the bikes I've ridden so far (which is all of them in that comparison accept the new Triumph). That's because it does everything well; and it's very easy to ride, whether around town or cruising at high speed on the open road. It's perhaps not an exciting bike to ride, but it's a very enjoyable bike to ride! Let me tell you about it in a bit more detail.
First impression on starting it up is that uniquely Triumph sound. The engine has a "whirring" sound about it. You also notice the instruments are all analogue - no digital panel.
Pull out of the driveway and you notice how high-geared it is - over 10 kph / 1,000rpm in 1st (of 6). That's high, but it doesn't matter, because this engine is brilliantly torquey and flexible! It will pull easily from 2,000rpm or even lower. You can feel the low-rev vibes, but only remotely; and it's never a problem. And pulling away from 2,000rpm - 2,500rpm becomes common-place and very easy. The bike isn't snatchy at all! Triumph have done a wonderful job with the fuel-injection; it's as smooth as a good carby set-up, but still with the response of a good fuel-injection system. Higher up in the rev-range it's still smooth, and of course the power comes on even stronger.
Surprisingly, I found the seat to be a bit narrower and not quite as plush as I remembered it feeling in the showroom; but it's still very comfortable. The ride is excellent! I took this over basically the same route I took the Yamaha TDM900, and when it came to that severely patched road, it handled it superbly. You feel the bumps, but they're always cushioned, never jarring. High speed probably smoothes the ride out even more. In fact smoothness is a characteristic that applies to all aspects of this bike.
It took a few corners to get used to the handling. A road-test I read commented on it feeling "top-heavy" at first. I didn't put it down to that at the time, but that's probably what it was. The first few corners I was taking a couple of bites at. The bike is very easy to ride, but it just took a little while to start to feel confident of just leaning it into a corner and counter-steering it through. But once used to it, the bike handles very well! (I'd place it 2nd, in that comparison, behind the Honda VFR800).
The three-cylinder, 955cc engine produces 88Kw and 100Nm (which is more than any of the others in my comparison - except the Suzuki, which doesn't give output figures), so performance is very good! I'd sampled the performance of this great engine in the Tiger, and it was just as impressive in the Sprint. Great acceleration and effortless high-speed cruising! With the high gearing and smooth power it really is difficult to keep it within legal limits! I cruised it at 140kph for a short period on a smooth back road and it was still effortless and totally stable. (I was getting a fair bit of wind at that speed though).
It was quite a hot day, and I did notice some heat around my legs at town speed. That made me wonder about fully-faired bikes. Perhaps a bikini-style fairing is more practical? The only other real "negative" was that it seemed to have less steering lock than I would have expected; which made it a little harder to manouvere around tight parking places and U-turns etc.
So in summary, a great bike! It's very easy to ride, it's comfortable, goes well, handles well, rides well, and would be very easy to live with. In fact I'll go further (and probably insult it and some who own it in the process!), by saying that it's a great bike for an old-bloke! (In fact if I'd just had a few more pennies in the piggy-bank .....!)
Triumph Sprint ST 1999.Before you read this, read the following, much more extensive, report. (I rode that one before I rode this). Both bikes are essentially the same, although the later models (from 2001) gained a few Kw more power and a couple of other minor improvements. I rode this in 2008, and it had 64,000km up, so it was interesting to see how this model faired after a few more years and a lot more km had passed. The answer? It faired very well! It was an example of just how good a bike could be when properly maintained and cared-for. To ride, in condition etc this was every bit as good as the following example!
Not too long before riding this I'd ridden another late-model Sprint (a 2002 model) and performance - despite being down a couple of Kw - seemed every bit as good as the later ones. True, this one was fitted with an after-market can, but I doubt that would've made too much difference - not at the speeds I was riding anyway!
Handling, brakes etc, also were all virtually the same as the later ones. One of the improvements to later models was in the gear-change mechanism, but even that seemed every bit as good as the later ones.
The 2001 and later models are the preferred models to buy, but these earlier ones are still very good! The fact that they look almost identical can't hurt either!
Aprilia RS125. 2000. My son-in-law got this as a swap for a Kawasaki 125 motocrosser in mid 2008. So, of course, I took it for a brief ride. It's not a bike for an old bloke, let me tell you! You sit, or almost lie, prone across the tank, with your feet tucked up high. Well, it is a race-replica - looks just like the bikes you see buzzing around at the Grand Prix! I had advised him against the swap, but he was anxious to get back into road-riding.
The bike is fairly advanced, running liquid-cooling of course, and some fairly sophisticated stuff. There's an LCD display on the dash panel which switches between temperature and fuel-level, and time.
The little engine is 2-stroke of course, and develops 11Kw. Surprisingly, the tacho red-lines at 11,000rpm (I would've expected higher, for what it is, actually!).
It's very low-geared of course, and taking off it feels better than you expect. I didn't try it at high speed (by the time I rode it, it had developed an electrical fault at high revs), but my son-in-law said he was able to cruise it at 110kph along the highway - with the engine spinning over at 8,000rpm.
In corners it felt about as stable as a shopping-trolley on a tight-rope! A combination of worn tyres, very light weight (it weighs just 117kg) and the riding-position putting a lot of weight on the bars. Perhaps at high speed the gyroscopic effect of the wheel would overcome the ridiculously light steering. But around the suburbs, every time I came to a corner I felt like the thing was going to fall over or throw me off! And maybe it isn't just me. Some heavy scratches down each side of the fairing was a sign that it had been on it's side on the road a few times! I found it quite scary!