Tuesday, February 09, 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.


Anonymous said...

Honda NV700/Deauville. Manageable tourer with all bells and whistles.

Canajun said...

I think you nailed it with "... which bike gives you the biggest, dumbest grin? Get that one."

In North America, motorcycling is about fun. If you want utility, get a Jeep.

Noam Sayin' said...

Thanks, Lucky. I was just about to send you an email on this.

The debate on size started with my interest in the Kawasaki Vulcan LT Classic (still works - I'm kind of an asshole). At the time they were making them in 900, 1300 & 1500, I believe. I wasn't sure if I was going to be happy on a 900, long term. Now the bigger ones are 1700 & 2000 - way too big for me.

Might have to check out the Suzukies you mentioned. In the meantime, I have to keep reminding myself that it's February - we just got 10 inches of snow so there won't be any riding anytime soon.

Thanks for the tips.

Surly said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
bobskoot said...


I agree that for solo riding all you really need is something in the 600cc range. I prefer twins as opposed to 4 cylinder. I just love my V-Strom, not quick but unstoppable. My prev bike was an SV650n it handled like a sports car but has a cramped leg position. The Wee is more upright.

I also like the Triumph Speed Triple, or Street Triple but their style is not suited for hard bags

bobskoot: wet coast scootin

Arizona Harley Dude said...

My stump puller is a dream to ride on the highways and that suits me just fine. I started on a Honda, went to Yamaha for a bit, back to a Hondapotamous (Goldwing), to a Suzuki 1800, and finally to where I belong, on a Harley.

Through all of those bike changes I don't have the anger issues of Surly. Poor fellow must have Big Bike Envy. Some folks forget it is the same wind for everyone. I agree, just ride on whatever makes you smile the biggest.

red said...

After my CB350, I was all excited to get a CB750. Then I went trail riding and got hooked. Going back to the little bikes. Next scoot will be a DR350.

Lucky said...

Anonymous - Thanks for chiming in!

Canajun - I don't think utility and big dumb grins are mutually exclusive. As much as I love my Speed Four, I still drool over KLR650s with ammo can luggage.

Noam - Oh, you want a cruiser. The 900 will be fine, but the joy of a cruiser is in TORQUE. So get the big one.

Surly - I guess it's mainly that KZs are for assholes, but I think it can be expanded to the entire line... (Also, I like Honda just fine.)

bobskoot - The Speed/Street line is definitely not the best if long-distance cruising (with luggage) is your thing. But, jeez, are they fun...

AZ Harley Dude - Exactly. They're all good.

Red - A DR350 would be a heck of a lot of fun.

Battlefield Biker said...

Battlefield Biker's BDG maker is a KTM 950 Adventure. Madder than a March hare, expensive to service, terrible gas mileage, and butt ugly.
Butt ugly is what sold me though. I like things that mirror me.

Battlefield Biker said...

Just noticed my profile picture is my 2003 Triumph Tiger which is a bike I co-own with a buddy in Chicago. Both the KTM and the Tiger are 950-ish. For me, the Tiger is less BDG, but, Wow, what a distance bike. That thing just eats asphalt!

=gc= said...

Lucky, Lucky, Lucky...

I let my attention wander for a coupla years and then I come back to read crap like: "Don't get a Kawasaki because it's generally agreed that they're for assholes."?

Now, it would be downright pedantic to start getting into the specific models, wouldn't it?

Like, say, the KLR 650?

Then again, the local scooterati DID call me an asshole more than once. AND, you met me and sat on my very own Kawasaki BEFORE you published this generally-agreed opinion. AND I tend to feel Existential Gravity more strongly than those around me, which might mean that I generate my own...

Now you've got me worried.

Ride well,

Lucky said...

Battlefield Biker - KTMs do have that certain something, don't they? I like 'em too.

=gc= - Hey, troublemaker! Glad to see you're around!

I think that "KZs are for assholes" might be more of an in-joke than I realized. My bad.

And I think we can all agree that the KLR is for those whom the KLR is for. It kind of stands on its own.

Also, I reserve the right to be inconsistent when it comes to motorcycles I like. Because I pretty much like ALL of them.

Except the Honda Pacific Coast. What were they thinking?

Surly said...

While my comment may have been heavy handed, it's your blog so say what you like. If there is a KZ joke I'd love to hear it. As a kid my Dad and all the local drag racers had KZ's. I know you generally write with a tongue in cheek style. I wasn't offended and neither should anyone else. Perhaps a post where you elaborate on this?

Lucky said...

Surly - I thought your comment was hilarious, actually. :D

I'm going to try and figure out where the KZ bit came from... It might have been an inside joke - in which case it makes sense that no one got it.

aka; LeftLaneGuy said...

Heh! Yeah, the KZ thing is an inside joke... From a specific board..
You left out that CB's are for Fucktards... ;)

Lucky said...

LeftLaneGuy - Both points taken.

And yep, "KZs are for assholes" is not general knowledge, although it was pointed out that if you want proof you just have to look and see who is riding a KZ...

And you definitely gotta watch out for CB riders.

Those HD riders are bad news too.

And BMW and Ducati owners. Rich douchebags.

Don't even get me started on the uptight Triumph riders with their "toodle-pip" and "cheerio" and stiff upper lips. Bastards, the lot of 'em.

Did I miss anyone? >:D

Noam Sayin' said...

So, can I ride a Vulcan 900 LT Classic and still be an asshole, er what?

Also thinking the Suzuki Boulevard C50T - nice curves.

And Lucky, thanks for helping my talk myself down from a big-ass 1300. That's probably a little too much for what I need.

Lucky said...

Noam - You're welcome. And, really, one can be an asshole on any bike. I'm living proof.

dealer131 said...

The Big Dumb Biker did the same ride once. I was with him.