Archive for the ‘things I want’ Category

I fired up my little Honda and set out westbound to turn in the remainder of my military gear, and then take a detour to Baxter Cycle in Marne, IA. I had only planned on talking to a salesman and drooling on various bikes. But the very nice fellow (Jeremy) let me test ride a 2012 Bonneville and a 2012 Scrambler. In short, they were a blast.

I took the Bonneville out first. It was gloss black and bog-standard. The Bonneville has a 360 degree firing interval, whereas the Scrambler (and Speedmaster and America) has a 270 degree crank. The first thing that struck me was that the Bonneville felt absolutely weightless. I mean it felt like a Huffy more than a Harley. The grips and controls are significantly smaller than my Honda’s, and that struck me second. Then there’s the motor. It revs freely and happily, though I wish they hadn’t put such effective silencers on the exhaust.


I ran the Bonnie down Highway 83 about 3 miles, managing to hit some big sweepers and a number of straights. The bike doesn’t have the rip-your-face-off acceleration of a superbike, but it is very nippy. 0-60 is a two-gear affair that I would guess to be around 5 seconds. The acceleration is very whooshy and smooth. A sort of dignified speed. Speed with class. In fact, I was having such a good time thrashing the motor that I whizzed right by 90mph before slowing a bit since it was a borrowed bike. It handles magnificently. I tipped the Bonnie into a big left and right hand sweeper at significantly above the posted speed limit and it felt like I could have chucked it in even faster. Handling at low speed is utterly easy. Steering is very light, and again, it really feels like you’re steering a bicycle. It’s a hoot. Oh, and while I’m at it, the seat was very comfortable and the position, while unfamiliar to me, was very comfortable as well. The ride was slightly firm, but still very enjoyable.

I came back and Jeremy offered to let me ride the Scrambler, and I couldn’t say no to such hospitality. The Scrambler was anti-social matte black and had Triumph kneepads on the tank. I was a bit unsure of the Scrambler’s semi-knobby tires, but they proved nearly as capable as the Bonneville’s street tires. Riding down the same stretch of IA83, the Scrambler was even more fun. On paper, it has 10hp less than the Bonnie, but I really couldn’t tell. What I could tell was the ride was smoother than the Bonnie, thanks to the chunkier tires and taller suspension. Surprisingly, handling was very close to the Bonnie. Turn-in at speed and it just grips and grips. In town, it’s like a very light dirtbike. The seat was slightly hard, but the riding position was even better. I could honestly see myself taking the Scrambler on some decent road trips. Oh, and the exhaust. That wonderful exhaust. The factory 2 into 2 grunts and grumbles like a beefy dirtbike. It has charm and character, whereas the Bonnie’s exhaust is a gentle hum like a Trappist monk.


But which would I have? Well, gun to my head, I’d say the Scrambler. The Bonneville has so many things going for it, but the Scrambler is a Swiss Army knife to the Bonneville’s stiletto switchblade. The exhaust note on the Scrambler is very pleasing. The seat position is like an off-roader. The engine is nippy and rev-happy. The knobby tires and modestly sized wheels make for an unmatched capability on pavement or gravel. The Chuck Norris flat black paint and blacked out engine look rugged and vaguely anti-social. The Scrambler has all the good genetics of the Bonneville and gives them character. Makes them come alive. Throw in the fact that it gets an estimated 60mpg highway and still has a 4.2 gallon tank (that’s a 240 mile range, for those of you in Rio Linda), and you have the ultimate go-anywhere do-anything road warrior.


So these two bikes cost under $9000. The Bonneville in its lowest-end incarnation is $7600, while the Scrambler adds up to $8500. So if you’re about to drop similar money on a Harley Sportster, please don’t. Go test ride these bikes first. You still get a big name, you still get a good looking bike, and best of all, you get a better value.


Clearly, the cheapest, and probably best way to start riding is to get on Craigslist and buy a used bike. There isn’t a lot to add to that, but there are a few tips I can give the new-to-riding.

First, patience. I missed a GREAT deal on a 2005 Suzuki M50 because I was at a training even with my National Guard unit. I had lined up to give something like $4200 for the Suzuki. But someone else snapped it up. I was pissed. Well, the following Monday, I headed down to the family farm where I work as a migrant laborer(thanks for the bang-up economy, Mr.Prez…). Before I set off on the tractor, I checked Craigslist, and there I found my Honda. I saw the 2007 Honda Shadow Spirit C2 with 5000 miles listed for $3000 and I called right away. The bike had been listed for about two hours when I made arrangements for a test-ride. My local bike shop had two 2005 Shadow 750DCs on the floor with 7000-15000 miles for $4500, so I feel like I got a pretty good deal. I still haven’t found a comparable bike for less than $3500–but the guy selling mine was set to deploy to Kuwait for a year and wanted to buy a Harley on active duty, but his wife said the Honda had to go before he got a new one; so I got a deal.

If you watch Craigslist, or for that matter, the inventory at your local bike shop, deals come and go every day. Just because you miss one doesn’t mean another one won’t come along soon. The best time to buy is probably late in the riding season when everyone’s looking to trade for a bigger/better ride. The best time to sell is around the first couple of nice days in spring, and folks will pay ridiculous cash just to get out and enjoy the weather.

Second, do your homework. Ride a bunch of different kinds of bikes if at all possible. If you’re like me and have had some previous riding experience, then get a bigger bike right away so you don’t outgrow it as I have done with my 750C2. Also, make sure to ride different types of bikes. You might find, as I did, that a “standard” like the Triumph Bonneville is a better fit than a cruiser or a supersport. Or you might find you like being scared half to death and riding in an uncomfortable position and buy a supersport. You never know!

That’s about it. Go in with as much information as possible, pay cash (going in debt on a bike is dumb. sorry, it just is), and get the bike you want–not the bike your friends want you to get.


Ride The Fat One

Posted: May 19, 2012 in little Honda, things I want

Last night a couple of friends came up to visit from a local bike night. One has a Victory V92 and the other has a 2012 Harley Fatboy Low with all the matte black extras–and in fact had a higher sticker price than my 2011 Subaru Impreza WRX. I got to go around the block on it, but it was very late and I couldn’t goose it at all without waking the dead. But I did form a couple of impressions.

First, The Fatboy Low is a large machine, and feels large. However, it really wasn’t unwieldy around the narrow town square streets. The motor was very nicely balanced, and made huge, enormous, incredible amounts of power. My friend’s bike has been tweaked and tuned so when it was last dyno’d, it hit 125hp and nearly the same number of ft/lbs. So it was quite nippy for an 800lb gorilla. Cruising the city streets at 25mph was dealt with at idle, as was launching from STOP signs–but it never felt like it was going to run away with me.

Additionally, the saddle is soft and very wide. The brakes were very good, and coordinating clutch/throttle/rear brake to perform low-speed maneuvers was pretty easy. I was initially intimidated by the size and incredible noise, but it really wasn’t any harder to drive around the town square than my Honda 750. One day I would like to make a run down the highway on it and observe its obviously muscular acceleration.

If you have $27,000 lying around, this isn’t a bad way to go. And if you have $54,000 lying around, get one for me too.

As I previously posted, I’m starting to look outside the realm of cruisers and see if there’s another bike out there that might suit me better. My biggest complaint about my bike, and most small cruisers, is a total lack of roll-on power. I don’t want to race or do anything stupid. I do, however, want to pass cars as quickly as possible. And that requires power–something my 44hp Honda lacks.

I also don’t want a crotch rocket. I had one for a couple of months when I was in high school. I took my lunch money and bought a 1986 Fz600R with about 35,000 miles on it, and it was UGLY. But it was fast. Mind-bendingly, frighteningly fast. My mom made me sell it, and a friend of mine wrecked it on his test-ride, making it only a couple hundred feet before the high revving 4 cylinder engine shot him into a tree. He was fine and paid for the bike. I didn’t ride again until the fall of 2011.

But there is a third way. Suzuki very stupidly killed its fantastic SV650 and SV1000, but you can occasionally find one used under $4000 in good condition. The motors from both bikes have gone on to the V-strom, so you can still get them serviced. Just don’t drop the bike because body parts are in short supply. I actually VERY nearly bought an SV650 before I found my Honda. The SV has a riding position between the full lay-down style of the crotch rocket and the upright cruiser. It was pretty comfortable, but I imagine your wrists would hurt after a couple of hours.  That said, the SV’s v-twin motor produced enough low-end grunt to never feel doggy, and could run fast enough to get your blood pumping. I really like this bike and kind of wish I had just gone for it instead of obsessively seeking out online reviews.

Next, there’s the Yamaha FZ6. It has a fully upright ride position while retaining the racing looks of the R6, and in fact having a re-tuned motor from the R6. The FZ’s mill is tuned to give more power in the middle of the rev range, and by most accounts, it hasn’t worked, leaving the bike feeling lost from 5k-7k, then it turns into Mr Hyde. I really want to ride one and see how distracting this power delivery is. My old Yamaha FZ60oR felt very doggy in town, but when the revs built up, it was scary-fast. The FZ6 looks awesome, and seems to have potential. As a bonus, you can find them used for around $4000, sometimes less.

I really just want a solution to the roll-on power problem, and it’s hard to solve in the cruiser class. The only option is really to go bigger, and eventually you end up with a bike that is excellent on the highway and kind of a pig in town. I would like to preserve the in-town ability of my bike and just give it some more power to make passing quicker. I guess the lesson to be learned here is to think about what your bike will be used for before you buy. And don’t get hung up on a single class of bike just because all of your friends have one.


Posted: May 16, 2012 in things I want

As much as I love my little Honda, I have decided that it probably will not be with me forever. And all the mega-cruisers and pumped-up middleweights I’ve talked about here are not exactly what I want. Lately, I’ve started to look outside the realm of cruisers and I think I have found a new contender.

That’s right. The Triumph Bonneville. Steve McQueen had one. So did the Fonz. So might I. And here’s why.

In short, the numbers talk. Four hundred and ninety-five pounds of wet weight combined with 67 HP and 50 ft/lbs of torque. Yes, it is limited to 110mph, so it won’t be burning up a drag strip any time soon, but it is quite nippy from 0-60 and still reportedly has some roll-on power, which is what I’m interested in. Combine that with an upright riding position and generous saddle, and you come up with a very good all-arounder. And even though it is metric, the Triumph name will still earn you some points with Harley guys. At least Harley guys who aren’t in 1% clubs.

The new Bonnie has well-sorted EFI, an air-cooled parallel twin motor that is reliable as an anvil, and a very old school chain drive. New Triumphs are reasonably priced and known for reliability, though earlier new-production bonnies were prone to leaky forks.

The wide seat will provide plenty of room for myself and my wife to cruise around town, or for me to tie down an overnight bag and visit my heterosexual lifepartner who lives on the opposite side of the state.

The downside of the Triumph is of course, the price tag. The MSRP on a new one is just shy of $8000 for the basic Bonneville, and just under $9000 for the Bonneville SE (which adds two-tone paint and threaded wheels). Used…well, they aren’t much less than a new one thanks to their relative scarcity and legendary name.

I’m still pondering other bikes as well, but the Triumph has to be near the top of the heap for its combination of power, reliability, comfort, and handling. It’s an excellent all-arounder, and that’s perhaps the best thing a bike can be.

I’ve been taking a harder look at my beloved little Honda lately. Part of me wants to upgrade next year, and part of me says put short-shots and a stage-1 jet kit on and hope for the best. I’m afraid that if I spend around a thousand dollars on pipes, jetting, and a new seat, I’m still going to be left with an anemic but fun little ride.

The gunfighter seat isn’t suited for two-up, and a Mustang touring seat is about $500, and I have serious doubts about performance with two people and a light load of luggage. Even if I gain 3-5hp with pipes and a jet kit, I will still have power-to-weight issues, as well as underwhelming roll-on power. A brand new Shadow Phantom 750 put down a meager 36hp at the rear wheel in a recent article I linked. I wonder how many horses are in my five-year-old Shadow?

My Little Honda

But part of me is still having an emotional affair with the pretty blue Honda. It handles perfectly in town, and on the big sweepers just outside of town, I can hurl the bike in at well over the posted speed limit. It feels like it should have power to match maneuverability. But it doesn’t. Nor does it have impressive brakes, which also gives me pause when I think about adding a passenger and bags to the mix. And that was a big reason why I wanted a cruiser instead of a rocket (I was positively drooling over a Suzuki SV1000 back in January) was that I could take my wife places on little day trips over the weekend.

There are two ways to go from here: go big, like a Vulcan 1500 or Honda VTX1800, or get a newer middleweight like a Suzuki M50 or Vulcan 900 Custom. I’m leaning toward another middleweight, namely the Vulcan 900 because of the power-to-weight ratio. The Vulcan 900 Custom put down 50hp at the rear wheel, and while far from fast, it has enough guts to haul two plus luggage and still have some roll-on power. The middleweights are more handy around town, but can still complete a highway haul in comfort. The two bigger buses have tons of power, and are made to haul two in relative comfort, but can be pigs in town. It’s a really tough question though because 2000-2008ish bikes of all four types mentioned can be bought for the $5000-$7000 range, which is exactly my budget.


I’m getting ready to own my first home, and it has a badass garage, complete with wrap-around workbench and pegboard wall. The following is a list of shit I plan to put in there over the next year or so. The list is by no means comprehensive, but rather a starting point for a beginning motorcyclist who wants to do some basic maintenance on their own.

First, you’ll want a a set of metric wrenches. I have a set of regular old wrenches, and a set of fancy-schmancy ratcheting box-end wrenches. If you’ve got a metric bike, better have some metric tools, eh? If you don’t buy anything else, a set of regular wrenches should be enough to change your oil. I specify wrenches here because you can’t get to the oil drain plug with a socket on my VT750C2 You can use sockets on a Vulcan, and maybe a V-Star. I don’t know about Suzuki, so ask Google.

Second, at some point you’ll want a lift so you can work on the bike easier. I don’t have one yet, but Sears sells a few models that are under $200 and seem to be well built. Get the ones with better reviews. Duh. The other thing you can do with a lift is check your forks and wheels for damage and straightness.

You may also want an air compressor. It isn’t totally necessary but damn is it nice to have an air compressor with a bunch of attachments. Decent ones are around $100-$150. Again, Sears has some reasonably priced models.Then you’ll need some tunes. A good ghetto-blaster is the cornerstone of any garage. The one pictured below is for sale at Amazon, among other places, and even has a subwoofer. Not that SoundGarden or Genesis requires a lot of bass. Or talk radio for that matter. In any case, you need a stereo in your garage.

If you have some budget left over, nothing is as cool as old metal signs. Particularly old metal motorcycle signs. Again, Amazon can hook you up. I want some Triumph signs, and maybe some gas signs.