THE SEARCH FOR THE PERFECT BIKE
It doesn’t exist! The perfect bike that is. But, of course, you know that, don’t you. Or if you don’t, and you think the one you own is it, then you’re probably being delusional! Of course there are bikes that are perfect, or close to it, for particular types of riding. At the time of writing this (late 2007), Yamaha’s R1 is probably close to being the perfect sports-bike. And for long-distance touring, Kawasaki’s just-released 1400GTR is said to be about as good as it gets. But would you buy either of those as your every-day bike? Probably not. I wrote about this sort of thing in my article on Sensible Bikes. There are bikes that are great at particular types of riding, but they are seriously compromised when it comes to more practical use. What got me thinking more about this was considering buying a new bike. Okay, so this is about me, and my choice. But it’s also more general. While choice of bike is a very individual matter, and no one bike will be right for everyone, I think a lot of people reading this will be able to identify with what I’m saying here. (Even if your choice of bike is vastly different to the ones I mention here). If you’ve read the other articles on this web-site, you’ll know I have a preference for sports-tourers. I reckon they go pretty close to the ideal bike for many people. And if you’ve read the comparison of my pick of sports-tourers, you’ll know that I was very impressed by the Triumph Sprint ST. So why didn’t I just go out and buy one of those? Well, a lack of funds was the big reason. I wasn’t in a position to buy at the time, and my finances have, if anything, only gone backwards since then. And that, together with my wife’s mumblings about various parts of the house that needed renovating, meant that a new Sprint was quite a bit more than the budget would allow. But I also started wondering if it actually was the “perfect bike” for me. There were a couple of things that got me wondering about this. First was a regular reader, Paul, who a little while ago traded his Sprint ST on a 2nd-hand Suzuki GSX1400. He liked it so much that he went out and bought a new one! Of course, as I’ve said, choice of bike is a very personal matter, and that in itself doesn’t mean that I would necessarily prefer a GSX1400 over a Sprint. But around the same time I read a road-test of the Yamaha XJ1300. They said this style of bike was particularly relevant today. “In an age of specialisation, it is refreshing to ride a genuine all-rounder once again; a bike equally at home in traffic as on a 1,000km weekend, or a brisk Sunday morning blast”. Doesn’t that sound like the sort of bike we should all be riding? Add in the fact that this was the most comfortable bike I sat on at the 2006 Sydney Motorbike Show, and I was starting to think that my “ideal bike” might indeed be something other than a sports-tourer. At the time of writing I hadn’t been able to find a Suzuki GSX1400 or a Yamaha XJ1300 at any dealers to test-ride, but I did find a 10-year old XJ1200. So I took that for a ride. I’ve said many times that I don’t like an up-right riding position, as it places all the weight and road-shocks directly on your spine. But I’m having second thoughts about that. As I mentioned in my comments on the XJ1200, it all depends on what bike you’re sitting on! As I said above, I’d found the XJ1300 very comfortable to sit on; and when riding this old XJ1200, with it’s twin Ohlins at the rear, everything was fine. My back and bum were quite comfortable during and after the ride. Perhaps the most telling thing though, was that when I got back on my mid-size sports-tourer to ride home, it felt sluggish and the riding-position all wrong. And that doesn’t happen very often! Sometimes it’s because I’ve taken the car to go and do the test-ride, so an immediate back-to-back comparison doesn’t happen. Mostly though, it’s because of familiarity. Your own bike feels so familiar that, (providing it’s a reasonable place to be, which mine is) even when you step off a much-superior bike and back onto your own bike it still feels quite natural – you feel “at home” and familiar with the machine you’re on. At many other times though, there have been things about the bike I’ve ridden that I really didn’t like, and the immediate comparison has me concluding that I’d prefer my own bike over the test-bike I’ve just ridden. So this again got me thinking; would I be better off with a more up-right riding-position? The next day I went for a ride up a favourite winding mountain road. There wasn’t any traffic about, and I was riding just a bit faster than I normally do. (Call it “old-bloke sports-riding” if you like!). And it occurred to me that an upright riding-position wouldn’t suit this type of riding as much. (Maybe that’s why I found the handling of the XJ I rode a bit hard to get used to?). So perhaps that quick blast through the twisties wouldn’t be as much fun with a bike like the XJ1300 or GSX1400? Although I reckon a good one would still be good enough for this old bloke! Magazines, when discussing this subject, refer to bikes like the early model Yamaha XJ900 as being “the perfect all-rounder” – or the “perfect UJM”. (A regular reader owns one of those). The Suzuki GS1000G is another one that gets mentioned in a similar way (and another reader owns one of those). In my article on Sensible Bikes, I suggested that “the ultimate sensible bike would be the ultimate all-rounder”. So a big retro naked bike then? Is that the “perfect bike?” Well, I spent a bit of time looking at, and sitting on, the XJR1300 at the latest (2007) Sydney Motorcycle Show; and while I do like the look of it, I questioned whether a big naked muscle-bike is really my ideal bike; and concluded it wasn’t. Nothing wrong with the bike at all, it’s just not me! Perhaps I’ve spent too much time on smaller machinery. And smaller machinery certainly has it's advantages. In the article on Sensible Bikes I mentioned the practicalities of mid-sized bikes. I quoted a mate, who owns a mid-size bike, saying, “I can cruise all day anywhere up-hill and down-dale at the speed-limit, and easily out-accelerate the other traffic. They're big enough to be comfortable to tour on, but light enough to easily wheel around in the shed. Why would you want anything bigger?” He also points out that they’re cheaper to buy and cheaper to maintain. He has a point, doesn’t he! Bigger, more powerful bikes can certainly be more expensive to run. In an article in a recent edition of Road Rider magazine, an owner of a sports-bike was calculating his riding costs. He said he wore out rear tyres at about 6,500km, and front ones in about 10,500km. Doing the maths on this, he calculated that it cost about 7c per kilometre in tyres to run his bike. Think about that; on a 300km day-ride it’d cost you about $20 in tyre-wear! Unless you’re very rich, that’s crazy! So is a mid-sizer the ideal bike? Well, maybe, but that’s what I’ve got now, and I’m looking to up-size a bit. Having ridden quite a lot of bigger bikes, that’s where I’m thinking my ideal is. Part of the reason I like bigger bikes is because of the comfort. I enjoy the “bigger-bike feel”, and the power as well, but comfort is the big issue. A riding friend of mine has a BMW R1150RT, and it is a superbly comfortable machine, allowing him to do big distances quite easily. Another riding friend has a Yamaha FJR1300. That’s another bike that I admire, and the riding comfort is a big plus. When we're out riding together I notice the way the bike handles rough sections of road, and the way the fairing keeps the weather off him. But perhaps they’re getting a bit too big and heavy. Bigger bikes are harder to wheel around the garage (and I have a tight squeeze to get mine in and out beside the car), and harder to manage generally. Heat is another problem. With full fairings, these bikes can be quite hot. The friend with the FJR tells me that in Europe there were problems with the fuel getting too hot; so they fitted a heat-shield under the tank. But heat is still a problem. And with most of the fully-faired sports-tourers I rode (although it was summer when I rode them), I commented on feeling the heat. So maybe a naked, or semi-faired, bike is the way to go? That brought me back to things like the Yamaha TDM900. But when I rode that I said I didn’t particularly like the riding position, and also had issues with the ride. Of course the manufacturers see it differently. Yamaha suggest the bike is “every motorcycle you’ll ever need, wrapped up in one”, and "the best possible choice for riding on roads that really matter - narrow, bumpy, even unsealed here and there”. If only it was that good I’d buy it! Other semi-faired, or naked, bikes, like the Yamaha FZ1S, or the Kawasaki Z750, Honda Hornet 900 etc, are more sports-orientated; they’re not genuine “all-rounders”. Well, are you getting dizzy yet? Does all this seem to be going in circles? That’s how it feels to me! Looking for the perfect bike can be like a dog chasing it’s tail! The bottom line is that whatever bike you choose is going to be a compromise. It’s a compromise in the type of bike it is, and the way you ride. Some demand a greater compromise than others, but all are a compromise to at least some degree. As a mate said, “When choosing a bike you really have to work out what type of bike is going to suit your needs and your riding style best, and choose a bike that best fulfills that roll”. And then work around the compromises. Because the perfect bike really doesn’t exist! But you knew that …. didn’t you?
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