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Thread: What should you look for in a motorcycle?

  1. #1
    Vulture of The Western World Eric's Avatar
    Join Date
    Jul 2006
    The Land of The Edentulites

    What should you look for in a motorcycle?

    $4 gas has goosed interest in motorcycles - the least efficient of which (high-performance sport bikes) can usually deliver at least 40-45 mpg, better economy than any economy car you buy and almost as good as the best performance of any new hybrid you can buy, too.

    But buying the right bike can be a challenge. Whether it's looks, operating characteristics or "ergos" (how the bike physically fits your specific body type) buying a bike is more like buying a custom-tailored suit you plan to wear often - and possibly for hours at a stretch. Buy the wrong "size" and you'll be as unhappy as the guy who took home an off-the-rack tux.

    First, "ergos" -

    If you can't comfortably ride the bike, it's not just uncomfortable - it's unsafe, too. If your feet barely reach the ground when you have to stop the bike at traffic lights, it's likely you'll drop the thing one day. The bike could also be too heavy for you- making turning safely an issue. The bottom line is you want a bike that doesn't beat you up - and which fits your body.

    How to know?

    The very first thing you should do is just sit on the thing and see if your feet reach the ground. Not just the tips of your feet, either. You need full contact to be able to safely stabilize the bike when it's not moving - and also to "reverse" it. Most bikes (excepting the Honda Goldwing) have Fred Flintstone back-up mechanisms. You use your feet. That means you need leverage - and tippy toes won't cut it. It's possible to modify a bike to lower its seat height, but again, this is something that needs to be addressed before you actually agree to buy the bike.

    Next thing to check is how the controls feel - and whether they all fall to hand (and foot) readily and comfortably. It's no good if you find out on the road. If the handlebar is too low, bar risers might fix it - but you need to be sure before you take the bike home.

    If that all checks out you're ready for a test ride. Some stores balk at test rides. If the store you're dealing with does, find another store. No serious buyer should be expected to buy a bike he hasn't done more than sit on. (The two caveats here are you should be a serious buyer - looking to buy, not just try. And two, you should expect them to ask to see your motorcycle endorsement and probably proof of insurance, too. Both are reasonable requests.)

    That brings us to the second line item, operating characteristics -

    Bikes can vary wildly in their power output/delivery, suspension/handling and ride quality - and numerous other ways, too. Some bikes, for example, have weak low end torque and high-RPM power (or the reverse). Some you have to shift a lot to keep in their power band; others you hardly have to downshift or upshift at all once you're rolling because the engine has a super fat torque curve. Bikes can weigh as little as 250 pounds - and as much as 800 or 900 pounds "fully dressed." Big, heavy cruising and touring bikes can be a handful in city-type stop-and-go traffic. Sport bikes will handle superbly, but may be too sharp/aggressive-feeling for some riders.

    But the main things you want to take note of are:

    Is it too heavy for me to steer easily? (Try cutting a low-speed U-turn at an intersection to see how the bike does; also try some windy roads to see whether it takes more strength/weight than you have to easily/comfortable get the bike to lean over enough that you're not doing wide turns - and running over the double yellow line.)

    Is the power/power delivery too much, not enough - or just right? 160 hp sport bikes with 12,000 RPM power bands are not for everyone. Get the bike - and the engine - that fits both your skill/comfort level and is built of the type of riding you usually do. Same goes for the clutch feel, braking - and so on.

    Also check: Vibration (especially through the grips/handlebars; too much can numb your hands after not very long and make a bike a real bear to live with). Noise (if it's too loud for you, you won't enjoy riding it - and your neighbors will despise you, too). Wind cover (if you do a lot of highway riding, good protection is essential; the good news here is most any bike can be modified to accept aftermarket wind screens - so it's not a deal killer if the bike is not so great in this respect in stock/as delivered form).

    Last, there's looks -

    Most of us naturally gravitate toward one type/class of bike - whether it's sport bikes, standards, nakeds, cruisers, touring bikes or dual sports. The heart wants what it wants. But most of these bikes are highly specialized - meaning, they're designed to do one or two things very well but aren't so good at other things. Sport bikes, for example, typically have next to no storage/carrying ability in as -delivered form. That can be a problem if you plan to do long-distance rides - especially if the bike you're thinking about buying can't be equipped with aftermarket bags. Big cruiser/touring bikes have great highway legs - and excellent wind protection and lots of storage - but they often don't handle all that well, at least compared with full-on sport bikes.

    And so on.

    So, while looks are definitely important - a bike should also be looked at like you might size up a potential spouse. Appearances do matter. But substance is the key to a long and happy partnership!


  2. #2
    Senior Member
    Join Date
    Feb 2007

    Re: What should you look for in a motorcycle?

    This article has been posted on the main site with pictures:

  3. #3
    Senior Member Kwozzie1's Avatar
    Join Date
    Jul 2006
    Sunshine Coast, QLD, Australia

    Re: What should you look for in a motorcycle?

    I went for a naked bike, but will say I am definitely looking at an aftermarket screen. My trip out west convinced me of that, as I found speeds over 110kmh made it tiring with the continual wind buffet at the chest
    On the Sunshine Coast, in the Sunshine State Queensland (QLD), Australia

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