THE OLD BLOKE BUYS A BIKE.
When I began this web-site I intentionally kept everything very general and non-specific. I didn’t use my name, and I didn’t mention what bike I owned – other than to describe it as being a “mid-size sports-tourer”. I figured that the more non-specific the site was, the more objective it would be. But slowly the details came out. Friendships that formed with regular readers was one of the things that prompted a more personal approach. I re-did the “Who Am I” page to be more informative, and also mentioned my name. And, while still not mentioning my own bike by make and model, you’ll have noticed (in the touring article at least) it was a Yamaha; and I’ve mentioned having mostly owned Yamahas. (Although reading the tests, I’m sure you’ll agree that this hasn’t resulted in a bias towards that make in my reports). Then came articles prompted by my search for a bike I would ideally choose to buy. The sports-tourers comparison was titled “My Choice”; so while I did try to be objective within the parameters of the exercise, it was also based on what I would buy myself. More of my personal preferences were revealed in articles like “The Search For The Perfect Bike.” So when it came to actually buying a new bike, I suppose it was only logical that I tell you about it; be specific and do an article on it. So here it is! I have to say right at the start that, yes, it’s quite a long article! And that’s mostly because it was a very long process! This whole saga took place over almost a year! Part of the reason for that was that I still liked my current bike. It was in excellent condition and superbly reliable; so I wasn't in a rush to sell it. And whatever I replaced it with was going to have to be good! My reason for buying a new bike was that I wanted to up-date to something a bit bigger, and in particular, something that would be more comfortable over longer distances. But it was going to be a hard choice. I tend to keep bikes (and cars) for a long time, so the decision on what to buy is always a tough one. Some people take the approach of just buying something they think they’ll like, and if they don’t like it, sell it and buy something else. But I prefer to buy something I know is the right thing for me and keep it for a long time. You’d think my choice of bike would’ve been easy. I’ve stated a preference for sports-tourers as my ideal type of motorcycle. And in that comparison I did, the winner was the Triumph Sprint ST; a bike I’d admired for a few years anyway. So, obviously, a Sprint ST would be my choice. But, sadly, my financial position would have to improve quite a bit before I could afford that. However the Suzuki Bandit, at $4000 less, might be possible. If you’ve read that comparison you’ll know that I was very impressed with the Bandit. In placing it third I was trying to be a bit objective; it went to third place mostly because of it’s out-dated technology. But if it came to actually buying one, I’d have bought it in preference to the second-placed Honda VFR. While the Honda was arguably a better bike, the Suzuki was, to me, less focused and easier to live with. During 2007 the Bandit was up-dated; and it was still selling at the bargain price of $11990. So for a while I started to think about buying one; even if the budget would need to be stretched to afford it! But they’d changed other things. The seat, which I’d said was not quite as comfortable as I’d like, had been changed again, becoming a little less comfortable than the 2006 model; to the extent that it had now reached the stage where I wasn’t totally happy with it. (And you'll read more in that 2008 test I linked above). So it was back to Triumph. Okay, so if a new one was out of the question, a 2nd-hand one would seem the obvious choice. While doing the sports-tourer comparison I was given a 2nd-hand (2003) Sprint to ride; and was very impressed. So impressed that I said I’d actually put it ahead of all the other (new) bikes I’d ridden for the comparison up to that stage. So, it’d be a 2nd-hand Sprint then! In particular, the pre-2005 model. (The 05 and 06 models were the first of the new style, and were too sporty in riding-position; something Triumph fixed with the 2007 one). And initially that’s what I went looking for. But any 2nd-hand bike I bought was going to have to be in excellent condition, with signs of careful ownership, well-maintained, and come with a full-service-history etc. So it was going to be a hard call!
THE SEARCH – AND THE CONFUSION!
I saw an add for a 2003 Triumph Sprint ST that fitted the budget and met all the criteria on condition etc. If you read the January 2008 entries in my Blog, you’ll read how I went to look at it and was very impressed, until I sat on it and took it for a ride. Somehow a bike that had impressed me so much a year before now felt a bit too sporty in it’s riding-position. No, it’s not a “flat-out-on-the-tank” sports bike by any means, but it felt a bit more lean-forward than I recalled or felt comfortable with. So I didn’t buy it. It still impressed me as a bike, but I just wasn’t sure it was the bike for me. I then discovered that a handlebar riser-kit was available for them; and subsequently found an immaculate 2004 Sprint, that was an even better buy than the first one, with the riser kit fitted. I went to check that out, but, impressive as it was, I still wasn’t sure. So I went away to mull it over. And it was subsequently sold. I probably should’ve bought it! As I said in my Blog, “Procrastination – it’s the curse of the thinking man!” But this issue of riding-position had really got me re-thinking my choice of the Sprint. If you read the “Search For The Perfect Bike” article you’ll get the background behind this, and how I started to consider other bikes; like the Yamaha TDM900 and even the Yamaha XJR1300. For a while I began to think fairly seriously about the TDM; even though I’d eliminated that fairly early in the sports-tourer comparison. Of course I’d need to take one for a good run again, and see if adjustment to the suspension could cure the issues I had with the ride. The suspension is fully adjustable, so in theory, it should; but getting a bike that had a problem in such a critical (for me) area was still a worry. Then a subsequent ride on the latest model (scroll down), brought up other issues that had me ruling it out. The XJR1300 impressed with its riding-position and comfort, and I also like the look of it. But, again as I detailed in that “Perfect Bike” article, somehow a big muscle-bike just isn’t me. I wanted something bigger than what I had, but maybe not that big! And my first test-ride on one initially had me ruling that out too. The early model (2001 – 2005) Yamaha FJR1300 was another bike I considered. It’s a superbly comfortable bike to sit on, and the suspension feels very plush, but it’s really a bit big and heavy for what I want. And then there’s the issue of the heat that comes with a full-fairing. You see, that was another thing I’d been re-thinking. This issue had previously been put into sharp focus when I first tested the Honda VFR800 and Yamaha TDM900. I’d ridden both on the same (hot) day; and on the Honda I nearly melted, while on the semi-faired Yamaha the heat wasn’t a problem. Then testing another, earlier model, 2nd-hand Sprint on a very hot day, and getting back on my own semi-faired bike straight afterwards, had me thinking that a full-fairing was perhaps not the best choice for the sort of riding I do. Adding to all this confusion was a long-held belief that mid-size bikes are really the most practical choice as a bike to own. So I started to think that perhaps I should forget about this whole “big bike” thing and go for a good mid-size bike. So I had a look at a couple of mid-sizers; like the Yamaha FZ6, and Suzuki’s V-Strom 650 and GSX650. Another advantage with these was that I’d be able to afford new. But, for various reasons (which you’ll see if you read the tests) they weren’t what I wanted. As I’ve mentioned, I have a certain affinity for Yamaha, having mostly owned that brand. So I started looking at Yamahas in particular. And one that seemed to fit the requirements was the Yamaha FZ1. I’ve always kind of liked those. I’d tested the latest model and while some aspects (like the engine) were brilliant, I found it too hard in suspension and seat. But the previous (pre-06) model was much better in that regard. So I found one of those (an 03 model), and took that for a ride. That was impressive! It had a more up-right riding-position than the Sprint, and also a semi-fairing. The downsides, to me, were that it ran carbies (that’s old technology now, I’d prefer fuel-injection), and there was just a slight question on handling. As you can read in my test, it was probably more to do with my approach to riding it than any particular shortcoming; because of course they handle very well! I assumed it would be something that you’d get used to if you owned the bike. Then I did my “Extended Test” of the new Yamaha XJR1300, and that had me re-thinking the whole thing yet again! The issue I’d had on the first test with the handlebars turned out to be mostly a matter of set-up; simply how they were mounted. And the general comfort, the ease of riding it, and the confidence-inspiring handling, had me thinking that perhaps this type of bike was better suited to my style of riding than those that required some “getting used to”. At the end of that test I said that I could’ve happily ridden it home! Part of the problem (if you can call it that) with the XJR was it’s image. In their brochure, Yamaha describe it as “outrageously bulging with muscle for all to see, and itching to go push and shove”. That’s just so not me! But that’s not necessarily what the bike is either! In the test I talked about “perception” and “reality;” and suggested that the reality shows when you compare it to other bikes. In terms of outright power it’s a lot less powerful than the FZ1 of course, but also less powerful than the Triumph Sprint. (That's a fact that surprises a lot of people!). A more telling comparison comes when you line it up with the Suzuki Bandit. The Bandit is actually a couple of kg heavier than the XJR, and it’s engine is (despite the names!) also bigger by a couple of cc. The main difference between them, in that power / size sense, is image, not reality. I’d prefer a semi-fairing, which the XJR doesn’t have, but as I said in the test, a screen would go a long way to making up for that. So, finally, some degree of decision began to form in my mind. The heart still said “Triumph”, (and if I could afford a new one I would probably still buy that!), but the riding, together with a dose of the afore-mentioned brand-alliance, said either the FZ1 or the XJR; with a preference beginning to form for the XJR. But if it was to be an XJR, it had to be the current model. That’s because in 2007 it gained a few significant up-dates, the most important of which was fuel-injection. It might be an old-style bike, but as I’ve already indicated, I didn’t want old-style technology! But that put it in a price-bracket that was mostly out of my budget. The FZ1 fitted the budget a bit more comfortably, so I went looking more seriously for one of those. But good ones can be hard to find; partly because, due to the nature of the bike, a lot of them are owned by people who ride them hard and fast. But I did get pretty serious about a couple. I had two that were interstate checked out by a local inspection service. One was immediately ruled out, but the other one had possibilities; although there were a couple of issues I was concerned about, so eventually I decided to pass it up. Another one I had checked out by my mate Steve (of Around Australia fame) who is just as fussy as I am with regard to condition and maintenance etc. That one didn’t measure up either. But I was still keeping an eye on XJRs. And, as you can read in my Blog entry of June 2008, I just missed out on buying the demo model I first test-rode, which was being sold at a bargain price! Then, as you can read in my Blog entries for July and August 2008, I found another one; a private-sale 2007 model with just over 1,100km on the dial, and at a bargain price. It was owned by a middle-aged guy who was selling it because he (obviously!) wasn't riding it much. He bought the XJR after his wife gave up riding as pillion following an accident they had on his previous bike, a BMW tourer. He'd previously owned an XJR1200, and liked it, so after selling the big BM he went back to that model (or the up-dated version of) again. It was even in my preferred colour for that model, blue. Only problem was that it was in Victoria and I live in NSW! But I decided it was worth pursuing, so I had a local bike shop do a pre-purchase inspection; and it got a perfect report, being described as "just like new!” But I still had lingering doubts about the XJR. Perhaps it was a bit “big and heavy?” Was it really the bike I’d be happy with? Then I had an opportunity to ride an FZ1 and an XJR back-to-back for a direct comparison. I rode the FZ1 first. That handling trait was still there. The engine again impressed, including from low revs. But the light slowly began to dawn; this is a high-powered sports-bike! It’s a very user-friendly one, but it’s still a bike that gives it’s best, in terms of handling and performance, when ridden fast. And that’s not generally my style of riding. Next I rode the XJR. And in the first 100 metres or so I actually said out loud, “Yes! Much better!” By a lengthy process of elimination, I was down to just one!
THE DECISION HAD BEEN MADE!
So, the journey to buy a bigger bike had led me to a bike that previously I wouldn’t have even considered! A bike that, as I described above, less than a year before I had ruled out as being “just not me.” And now I was going to buy one! The next stage in the saga got a bit messy. I was very keen on the XJR in Victoria, but I was having a tight time with finances, so had to hold off for a while. The XJR was still there though, and as the owner was going overseas on holidays, he wasn’t going to re-advertise it until he came back. Then, in the middle of all this, acting on a sudden whim, I put my bike up for sale. And sold it; the day before the owner of the XJR went on his holidays! So for the first time in about 16 years, I was without a bike! Four weeks later, the owner returned from his holidays, and phoned to see if I was still interested in buying it. I said I was and would definitely take it. So arrangements to buy the bike began. Buying interstate, especially privately, is a bit more difficult than just going down to your local bike-shop; but only a bit. It’s done so often now, mainly due to the increase in on-line-sales, that facilities and businesses have been established to make it easier. (Click here to read an article on buying on-line). The first thing was getting it here. I’d already checked out transport companies. Not all do secure hand-over of the cheque to the buyer; which is something you would want to do. I ended up going with a Sydney-based company, Allwest Motorcycle Transport. They do a lot of work for Yamaha and Harley Davidson, so I figured they should be okay. Arranging insurance and swapping registration etc is always a hassle, regardless of where you buy; but buying interstate makes all those processes more involved. (To see just how involved – especially in this case – read the article about on-line buying, and also the story of what happened after I bought the bike). Insurance, of course, I arranged before taking delivery of the bike. I phoned around for quotes and was going to go with my previous insurer (QBE) until they said they wouldn’t insure the bike until it was registered in my name. That meant it would be uninsured from the time I received it until I got it re-registered. I didn’t like that, so I looked further. Shannons came up with an excellent price and insurance that began from the moment I took it out – before the bike had even left Victoria! So I went with them. So, finally, at the end of September 2008, a truck headed off to Victoria to pick up my new bike. Not just mine though, of course. The truck held about a dozen bikes. They move a lot of bikes around! The owner of the XJR was impressed with their service, saying they were very professional. They handed over the cheque and had the owner sign a receipt etc. As part of the deal they also inspect the bike, noting any cosmetic damage (of which there was none). That protects them if either the buyer or seller were to accuse them of causing damage that was already there; but it also protects the seller from being blamed for damage that was actually incurred in transit. The truck arrived in Sydney and then the bikes were dispatched in smaller trucks to their final destination. On September 26, a large van pulled up outside my house and my new bike was wheeled off. They did another inspection – or rather they had me do it – to confirm the bike was being delivered in the same condition it was in when picked up. The driver even wheeled it down my driveway for me! Very impressive; and I would recommend them to anyone needing to move a bike interstate. The bike looked beautiful; just as immaculate as described by the owner, and the dealer who inspected it. There literally wasn’t a mark or scratch anywhere on it! With just 1,220km it wasn’t even run-in! It started easily and ran fine. Also impressive was the obvious care and attention the previous had given it. There were, as I already knew, a couple of extras; including a Radgaurd for the oil-cooler (something I would’ve bought myself if it didn’t have one), and pin-striping around the wheels, which really sets it off nicely. He also threw in a bike-cover. He kept it in his garage, but also covered it up after each ride! I didn’t have time to do much with it the day it arrived, but of course I did take it for a short ride. Firstly, it felt lighter than I remembered when moving it around at standstill. On starting it up again, I was reminded of the engine vibes. These engines aren’t really smooth; but as I said in the test, the vibes are always there, but they’re never intrusive. As expected, the bars felt wrong – too high and straight at the ends for my preference. (I assumed it’d be an easy fix!). The seat is comfortable. The ride is good too. I took it over the “rough-road-test” section I’ve mentioned in several tests (most recently the Suzuki Bandit), and it handled it well. Performance is impressive! There’s plenty of power – and heaps of torque – right from idle. That, and its ease of handling, makes it quite agile and easy to ride around town. A run down the highway had me looking for another gear; not because it’s under-geared, but mostly because around town I was changing up to the next gear at around 3,000rpm! It’s quite happy to be ridden like that. So by the time it got to about 90kph on the highway I was ready to change up again. It also has one less gear (5) than my previous bike. But of course it cruises easily at high speed. The wind was pretty ferocious at 160kph though! (Well you’ve got to give it a bit of a blast haven’t you!). Speaking of gears, the service-manager who’d done the inspection said that the gearbox was still stiff from being new. I found it to be silky smooth! Only when dropping into gear from neutral was there a stiff clunk. Once on the move it was great! Brakes were very impressive! They felt better than I recall on any of the previous ones I’d ridden. I came home and took a couple of photos (well, okay, six or seven photos!) and wheeled it into the garage. It had always been a tight squeeze getting my bike in and out beside the car; and now with a bigger bike it was an even tighter squeeze! Then once it got there it looked, well, certainly different! It’s a very different thing to my previous bike, and is going to take a bit of getting used to – not the riding of it so much as the physical size and the type of bike it is. Because it is big! The engine, being air-cooled and sitting there naked across the bike, looks big! Even the gearbox behind it looks massive! The headlight looks like it could be used to search for enemy aircraft. Oh, its all in proportion, its just that it is a big bike! But it’s mine! Finally I had my new bike! It’d been almost a year from the time I first started thinking seriously about buying a new bike until the day the XJR rolled down the driveway. It’d been a long journey, but an interesting one. And there were many memories along the way. One of the most enduring memories is of test-riding the 2003 Triumph Sprint I first mentioned. Riding along a highway at 120kph in pouring rain, water streaming back from the screen, passing trucks. The bike felt great! A good bike to blast interstate on! The next Triumph, the 2004 model, I actually rode the same day as I did the first road-test of the Yamaha XJR1300. That was confusing, because I found the XJR easier to ride around town. With the Triumph I was feeling my way, getting used to it, for the first few km; but with the big Yammie I felt confident with it from the moment I pulled out of the driveway. I said above that I probably should’ve bought that Triumph, but it was the ease of riding the Yamaha (plus the superb low-down performance) that prompted the indecision. Although at the end of the day I decided I preferred the Triumph – mainly because of the issue I had with the bars on the Yamaha. The earlier model Triumph I mentioned (it was a 1999 model) sticks in the memory. It had 64,000km up, and I rode it mainly to see what a Triumph was like with that sort of distance under it’s wheels. It was very impressive! In fact, it seemed every bit as good as the 2003 model. Lovely engine; smooth impressive performance! (An after-market pipe might’ve helped with that!). On the downside though, was the issue with heat I mentioned. It was about then that I decided that a full-fairing just wasn’t the best choice for the sort of riding I do. The first FZ1 I rode, the 2003 model, was, as I said, very impressive. I remember thinking, “Yep, I could live with one of these!” Test-riding the Yamaha FZ6N and the Suzuki GSX650 were memorable in that, while they’re both very good bikes, they reaffirmed my decision as to what I wanted – or more specifically didn’t want! I should give an honourable mention to the Suzuki V-Strom 650 though. It wasn’t what I wanted, but I could probably live with one if I had to! A defining (and therefore memorable!) ride was the “Extended Test” I did of the Yamaha XJR; for the reasons mentioned above. With my main objection now overcome, I just had to come to terms with the style of bike and it’s “image”. And lastly, that back-to-back comparison ride on the FZ1 and the XJR that was the final clincher! The memory of being “uncomfortable” on the FZ1; in the sense of thinking this wasn’t the bike I wanted to live with. And then, as I said above, making the decision for the XJR within the first hundred metres or so of riding it. Memories again that will always remain! Well, this has been a real marathon hasn’t it; but then you should have felt it from my side! It might’ve taken you a while to read it, but it took me nearly a year to live it! If you want to know what happened next – immediately after the purchase, and after I’d lived with it for a while – then click here. (Or come back another day and have a read!).
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