Aug 29
Honda Nighthawk” width=

The 250cc Honda Nighthawk is a sporty little bike. It was a good starter bike
for my wife and me.

When my wife and I bought our first motorcycle, it was a 250 Nighthawk. I hadn’t ridden in decades and we decided to start out with a smaller bike that would, hopefully, be easier to ride. I rode it as much as possible, including to and from work. After a few weeks, we felt confident enough for my wife to start riding behind me. We buzzed around the block for a few days, then started riding it a little farther, going to some of the back roads just outside of town.
Eventually one Sunday, we decided to try our luck at a longer trip. One of the things we hoped to be able to do was go camping on it. We thought a small tent, sleeping bags, and a little cold food would fit into a couple of backpacks that we’d wear. The campground we’d most often use was just 90 miles north, and a couple of hours away. Finding ourselves with nothing to do one Sunday, we decided to just take a test run up there and back.
The local weather called for a 40 percent chance of rain. I felt pretty good about those odds. Unfortunately, I didn’t check the forecast for the campground. That would be the major lesson on this trip.
The trip up was fairly uneventful. I was worried about the strain we were putting on the little bike. We’ve both lost a lot of weight since then, but in those days our combined tonnage would have run right about 420 pounds. Getting out on the highway I found that I would run between 60 and 65 mph with the throttle wide open. The going was slower on upward grades, sometimes dropping to as slow as 45 mph.
The route we took was beautiful with small, but well kept, roads snaking through scenic hills. The weather was cool for late summer, with scattered clouds. As we crossed the last major east-west road on our way north, we were just 4 miles from the camp store as the first big droplets began to spatter against my face plate.
I asked Sharon what she wanted to do.
“We’re too close now to turn back,” she said. So we plowed onward.
The rain got worse with every mile. By the time we pulled into the store parking lot, it was an all out deluge. I pulled the bike  under an awning covering a walkway, and we went into the store to dry out. We bought some snacks and soft drinks. By the time we finished our impromptu lunch, the rain began to slack off. A short time later the precipitation stopped, giving way to overcast skies.
While the sky wasn’t blue, I couldn’t see any storm clouds. I figured the worst had come and gone, and we’d be fine on the trip back home. Though we were still wet, I was sure the wind blowing over us would dry us out by the time we got back to the main highway. But barely a mile down the road, it began to rain again. Every mile south took us into a harder and harder downpour.
The rain wasn’t cold, so the only discomfort was from being wet. Not really all that bad. Somebody had told me that if you ride motorcycles, you were going to get wet eventually. So this was our day. We both laughed about it, imagining what our kids would say when we told them the story. Then came the first great crack of thunder. It was close enough that the boom and the flash came at the same time. I was sure I felt the concussion in my chest. Now it wasn’t funny anymore. With deep, gravely ditches on both sides of the road, we were the highest thing in the area. I thought about getting off the bike and taking shelter in the woods, but I wasn’t sure that was any safer. Additionally, the storm was showing no signs of abating. For all I knew, we might wind up there after dark. That was a prospect I didn’t relish.
There was no place on this little road to take shelter. U.S. Highway 70 was just 10 miles south. If we could just get there, we’d be close to some inhabited areas where we could get out of the rain at a convenience store. We doggedly kept going while I tried to determine if each new clap of thunder was closer. I was trying to decide at what point I would abandon the bike for the woods.
We finally reached the bigger highway. This one would take us west-southwest for the next 30 miles. I was glad to reach it, but in some ways it was worse. It was much wider, with wide shoulders. The land here had been cleared on both sides, and the tree line was now 100 yards or more from the road leaving us much more exposed. I considered just staying there and hiding in the trees.
But looking to the south, I could see blue sky. Just a mile away, or less, was a bright sunny day. Too bad I was now heading west. I hadn’t heard thunder or seen lightning in the last few minutes, and with blue sky in sight and a small town just 10 miles up the road, I decided to make a run for it. But I had barely reached highway speed when the next clap of thunder threatened to knock us off the bike. The rain increased to the point that I couldn’t stand going more that 40 mph. The impact of those fat drops just hurt too bad to go any faster. It seemed that the lightening was getting worse, yet I could still see fleecy clouds and blue sky over my left shoulder.
We eventually reached the small town of Dierks, but to my dismay, there was nothing open on this rainy Sunday afternoon. The lightening was incessant by now. I spotted a little filling station with two pumps covered by a metal top. The store was closed, but there was shelter of sorts up next to the pumps. I wasn’t really sure if that was any safer, but my nerves were completely shattered by now. This was at least different than being out on the open road.
We stayed on the bike under our modest shelter. I watched the line of blue where the sky was clear still to the south and willed it to come our way. But it ignored my psychic urging. Just 15 miles further west, we’d hit U.S. Highway 71 and turn south, toward the peaceful land I could see from our current refuge. But at the moment, that intersection seem as far away as the Pacific Coast.
After 15 minutes, the rain and the thunder slacked off. I could still hear it in the distance, but it wasn’t the spine-jarring reports that had chased us for the last 30 miles. With little hope that the clear weather would move north, and fear that conditions might deteriorate, we hit the road again for that last 15 miles to relative safety.
About halfway there, we got the last close bolt. After that, it was just a moderate shower and distant lightening. With every clap of sound and drop of water, that stubborn line of blue mocked us with safety just out of reach.
In a fine drizzle, I made a left turn heading south now on 71. In less than a mile and barely a minute later, we were riding down a bight, sunlit road that was as dry as a bone. As the temperature climbed, our wet clothes kept us cool as they dried. An hour later, 46 miles to the south, we pulled into our driveway tired, but elated. This had been an adventure, scary but exciting. And we knew that the decision to buy the bike and been a good one.

- Guy Wheatley

Jun 22
Honda Super 90.” width=

Photo: ShareAlike 2.0 Generic (CC BY-SA 2.0)
A little Honda Super 90 motorcycle, similar to the one that hauled my
co-worker and his wife from california to Arkansas.

When I was in college, I worked at the Shoe Factory in DeWitt, Ark., during the summer. There was a guy there who had made the trip from somewhere in California to DeWitt with his wife on a Honda 90. This guy was about 6 feet tall and rail thin, not weighing in at more than 120 pounds. His wife, on the other hand, probably tipped the scales at close to 200. They came from California on that little bike with everything they owned. He always dressed in wide-brimmed cowboy hat and boots. His belt buckle weighed as much as he did. He looked like a 1950s TV cowboy. I’ve kept that mental image in mind for years. While I admire his gumption, it had to have been a comical sight.
That memory was called back for me when I read a post on the Valkyrie board. The person posting had a business trip coming up and was considering making the 570-mile trip on his bike. He only had one day for travel and, would have to be presentable and rational enough for the business meeting the next day. The advice he got was mixed.
One of the people who responded was a lady who told of going from Fort McClellan, Ala., to Detroit sometime in the 1960s on a 50cc scooter. She said it took her three days and 8 gallons of gas. She didn’t give any details about why she made the trip, but I’d imagine they were similar to the guy at the shoe factory. I doubt it was a simple joy ride.
I wouldn’t mind making a long trip on my Valkyrie. We’re talking about a big and comfortable, 1500cc cruiser. Yet I don’t think I’d risk a business meeting on my ability to endure almost 600 miles in a day on it. I might still make an endurance run in the next few years, but it will be something that won’t jeopardize my job. It will be something I try for fun. If it hurts too bad I’ll quit. A little more than a half-century of living has taught me that some things are important and worth suffering for, while other are not. I’ve made the conscious decision that I ride motorcycles for fun. When a ride stops being fun, I’ll shut it down in a heartbeat and save my suffering for other, more important battles.
But there’s a special place in my heart for those heroic little bikes that delivered so much for their owners. In some parts of the world, they are still little bedrocks of dependability that keep some families afloat. So here’s a tip of my hat to the little bikes that could, and the ones that still can.

- Guy Wheatley

May 7
Epic journey
icon1 Guy | icon2 Bikes, News | icon4 05 7th, 2012| icon31 Comment »
Ocean going Harley-Davidson.” width=

The Harley-Davidson bike that made an epic journey across the
Pacific Ocean. – Inset shows bike before the tsunami.

Epic journeys always stir the imagination. There was Lewis and Clark, Shackleton, Lindbergh, even Milo and Otis. Some journeys are planned, while others are unexpected. Most of these travels are taken by people, but some have involved animals. There will be a story in the news a couple of times every year about some dog or cat, who made their way back to a family after an unfortunate, and usually unexpected, separation. So far the principals of all of the tales I’ve read or heard about were biological creatures.
But now comes the news of a 4,000-mile journey from Japan to Graham Island, off the coast of British Columbia, taken by a Harley-Davidson motorcycle. The trek was taken over water, unusual for a motorcycle, and sans rider. The bike, owned by Japan’s IkuoYokoyam, was stored in a white container. It was washed out to sea during the March 11, 2011, tsunami. It was found on April 18, 2012, by Canadian Peter Mark. Apparently the bike, inside the container box, had ridden the ocean currents across the Pacific. No epic journey is ever leisurely, leaving the one undertaking it unscathed. And this one is no different. When found, the bike was covered in corrosion. It’s unclear whether it will be salvageable. But also, like all epic tales, this one ends with a trip home. The bike will be shipped back to Japan, and the shop that sold it to Mr. Yokoyama will help with the paperwork and storage. The faithful steed, after being ripped away from home, will return to its owner, somewhat worse for wear but undefeated.
There will be those who will snort and say that a piece of trash just washed up on a beach. Some will insist that this in an inanimate object and that imbuing it with the nobility of cause is nothing but anthropomorphizing.
“It’s a machine for crying out loud,” they’ll say. “It can’t have any affection for an owner.”
But those of us who’ve thrown leg over beloved machines know better. They can be cantankerous and pouty when left setting up too long. But they can bring joy and freedom of spirit too. They can share with you eldritch moments that only speak heart to heart. And when the chips are down they can hang in there for you, continuing to run even as they’re hurting to take you the last miles to home.
They don’t come from the factory like this. The soul of a bike comes from its rider. It absorbs, or maybe merely echoes, the emotions we experience as we ride. But eventually the bike will take on those characteristics, and its rider will feel and respond to them.
The reunion will be bittersweet. Mr. Yokoyama will feel joy at the reunion, and sadness for what his bike has suffered. Hopefully the wounds can be healed and they will share many more moments and miles.

- Guy Wheatley

Jun 17
Darkside Tire

Photo illustration by Guy Wheatley
Come with us to the Dark Side. We have cookies.

I recently joined another motorcycle-related forum. (See Link at bottom) There’s nothing unusual in that. I already belong to several. There are three forums specifically for models of motorcycles I own or have recently owned.
I host another forum for local riders and friends, and have belonged to forums for riders in increasingly large areas, like regions and states. The theme for all of these forums have been either about motorcycle riders, or riders of a specific bike.
Because all members of these forums share a common interest, there is a feeling of fraternity. Our common interest in riding or in a particular type of motorcycle gives us enough common ground to develop a sense of community. Recreational activities and brand loyalty have long been the nucleus around which groups can form.
But this most recent addition to my list of forums has a somewhat different binding force. This forum is about riding on the dark side. The dark side, in motorcycling terms, most often refers to using a car tire. Reading this forum often causes a fleeting sense of vertigo. A member will ask a question about his bike, and I automatically assume he’s on the same type of motorcycle I have. So the references to parts that my bike doesn’t have, or a part that is markedly different from the equivalent part on my bike can cause temporary disorientation. But when we get back to the main issue of car tire safety and durability, it all feels like home.
Not only are there many types of bikes represented on this forum, but myriad brands and styles of tire as well. So the binding force here is not a brand loyalty, or even general riding. It is the use of a car tire. To me that seems odd as a cohesive force.
Reading through some of the posts, I began to realize the motive force may be more external than internal. Most of us dark-siders have been repeatedly warned that we are courting instant, flaming and painful death. And there is actual prejudice out there as many have found when trying to get a car tire mounted. Very few dealerships or tire stores will knowingly mount a car tire on a motorcycle for fear of potential litigation. And most of us have repeatedly been subjected to diatribes about the danger of what we are doing.
So dark-siders come together to list places that will mount their tires, or with advice and instruction on how to do it yourself. We also share information and reviews on tires we use. And as many dark-siders my be geographically isolated, surrounded by nonbelievers, the board can be a place of moral support.
In my own case, it was a pleasure to find so many other who like me have seen the light and gone to the dark side.

- Guy Wheatley

Apr 27
A Victory for Indian
icon1 Guy | icon2 Bikes, News | icon4 04 27th, 2011| icon3No Comments »

Indian head figure head on the front fender of a modern Indian motorcycle.

Polaris Industries, which owns the Victory Motorcycle brand, acquired Indian Motorcycle last week.
Indian is America’s first motorcycle manufacturer, beating Harley Davidson into production by two years and producing its first bike in 1901. Two years later, Indian sets the world motorcycle speed record of 56 miles-per-hour. Indian continues to update its designs until it eventually produces the classic, and much sought after, 1935 Indian Chief.
The 1940s see lean times for the company, with it being sold twice during that decade. Indian puts in its final appearance at Daytona in 1948 with a win by a 648 Scout. The company struggles through the post-war years, finally ceasing production in 1953.
Several companies attempt to revive the brand resulting in a 1999 complex merging of trademarks and brands into a company named Indian Motorcycle Company. But the venture proves unsuccessful, and 2003 is the last year it produces a bike.
In 2004, two entrepreneurs acquire the trademark and intellectual property rights. Production begins at a small plant in Kings Mountain, N.C., in 2008. The first model is released in 2009. Producing quality bikes, the company still struggles in a depressed economy with low production numbers, high production cost and barely two dozen dealers nationwide. Small volume keeps the per-unit costs so high that Indians start at $25,000.
Polaris Industries introduces the Victory motorcycle in 1998. It offers Harley Davidson-alternative cruiser-style bikes with V-twin engines. These are not simply Harley knockoffs, though, as the Freedom engine at the heart of Victory eschews style constraints over engineering. Using a 60-degree, overhead cam, dual-valve, oil-cooled, fuel-injected V-twin engine that quickly builds a reputation as “bullet proof,” Victory becomes America’s newest major motorcycle manufacturer.
Most of the articles I find in the motorcycle community are enthusiastic about the acquisition. And I will be too, if it proves to be a true acquisition, and not a merger. Polaris will no doubt be temped to cut production costs by simply branding some of their models with the Indian name. But these would not be Indians.
The Indian bikes use classic air-cooled, push-rod engines. It is a very different looking bike from anything currently in the Victory line, and is not likely to use many interchangeable parts or manufacturing equipment. So Victory must resist the temptation to sacrifice the integrity of the design to cut production costs. But doing so may keep the unit costs to high for a reasonable figure on the price tag.
But Victory’s parent company, Polaris, has very deep pockets. If it is willing to invest for the future, it can build the Indian infrastructure to support and match the Indian brand name. There is a lot of loyalty to the name out there in the motorcycle riding world. The next year will tell whether Polaris/Victory really respects Indian, or whether it simply made a cynical purchase. Time will tell if what it offers is an Indian, or a Victory with an Indian sticker.

- Guy Wheatley

Mar 14

The KMV4 powered MST from Motus takes to the road.

Motus revealed the MST at Daytona Bike week. Video posted on youtube includes scenes of the bike on the road. The sound coming through my speakers is hardly high fidelity, but I can hear enough to start getting excited by the sound. This is clearly no V-twin. Idling or decelerating, there is a familiar, small engine, motorcycle sound. But when the rider gets on the throttle, things get interesting. The music emanating from the pipes brings back mental images of those great car chase scenes from the ’70s. If there is language in that sound, it’s saying, “Get out of the way!”
The bike itself is quite utilitarian in appearance. It sports a silver gray front faring with matching gas tank nicely integrated with the frame and faring. But the body is exposed revealing an unimaginatively painted gray engine block with black valve covers. An industrial looking truss frame follows a line from the triple tree toward the back axel. Unadorned pipes exit the exhaust manifold and make their way to a round, depressingly effective muffler. And despite the saddle bags attached almost as an afterthought to the rear fender, this is a sport bike. The design looks to me like something that will be popular in Europe and Japan. Wouldn’t it be a kick to have the latest euro-fad be an American bike.
Time will tell whether this machine lives up to it’s potential. I’m hoping for success on Motus’ part. I’d like the next great V-4 to be an American product. I’d like an Ameriucan company to succeed. And I’d like that motor to go into high production so that Motus will start looking for other things to stick it in.
Unlike Motus, I’m more excited about the KMV-4 engine than the bike as a whole. I can’t get myself to believe that somebody isn’t going to chrome that thing out, with cherry red valve covers, then stick it in a retro-style heavy cruiser with four into four pipes. Lose the chain and give it a drive shaft. Call it a new class of motorcycle, a muscle bike or muscle cruiser. Give it a name reminiscent of the muscle cars of the ’70s, like the Daytona SS.
Just picture yourself cruising America on your cherry red Daytona SS. And when you need to put a little more asphalt in your rearview mirror, you’ll do it with a distinctly American sound. Those pipes will be singing, “Born in the USA” while you enjoy “America the Beautiful.”
I can’t wait.

- Guy Wheatley


The KMV4 powered MST from Motus.

Jan 20

FGR 2500 V6 motorcycle engine running on a test platform

A new V6 motorcycle is coming from the Czech Republic. Faster and Faster reports on the FGR Midalu 2500 motorcycle as weighing roughly 600 pounds and producing 240 hp. While the bike is not for sale yet, it seems to be past the concept stage. Youtube video shows the engine mounted to a frame, with gearbox and rear wheel attached. The Faster and Faster article has images of a completed bike, but these may be CGI or a mockup.
As with the V4 from Motus, this bike is primarily a sport bike. While I’m fascinated by the engine, I just can’t get my head around putting it in a 600- pound frame. One guy on a biking board commented that they’d need a special back tire to keep from shredding to pieces when the rider opened the throttle. With the chain used in the engine test and in the mockups, I don’t think the tire would have time to disintegrate because there would be chain links splattered all over the place.
Let’s do a little comparison here. The Bugatti Veyron also requires special tires. They can only be mounted at a special place in France and will cost you a sweet $70,000 per set. That is because the Veyron pours such punishing energy into the tires that they were purpose built to aircraft standards specifically for the Veyron. At roughly 4,477 pounds, and producing right at 1000 hp, the car has a power to weight ratio of approximately 447 bhp per ton. That horsepower is transferred to the ground by two 14.5-inch wide tires creating a contact patch 29 inches wide.
The roughly 600 -pound FGR producing 240 hp will have an insane 800 bhp per ton. Assuming a commercially available tire, it will pour that power into a contact patch that is less than 7 inches wide. I just don’t understand that much power in a light sport bike. I don’t see how physics will allow all of it to be converted into acceleration. And at top speed, you’ll probably have to take relativity and the possibility of time travel into consideration.
Maybe the test pilot can go back to the start of the project and suggest putting that monster power plant into a heavy cruiser. I know some Valkyrie riders who would take a serious look at a bike like that. We love our Valkyries and Rocket IIIs, but we don’t expect them to hang with Hayabusas. With 240 horses, they might.

- Guy Wheatley

Jan 14
Instant classic
icon1 Guy | icon2 Bikes | icon4 01 14th, 2011| icon33 Comments »

The famous 1997 “Slider” commercial from Honda that
introduced the Valkyrie.

In the the early ’80s, folks were snagging the Mustangs built through the early ’70s. They were after the models made before the style change in ’74.
In 1980, a 1971 Mustang had virtually no value according to Kelly Blue book. But in the Little Rock, Ark., and Memphis, Tenn., markets they started being hard to find. I had customers traveling to California to pick them up at 3 times blue-book value. (Maybe this was a regional issue. I’m not an antique car buff, so can’t say with any authority.) I’m only familiar with it because when they came in to insure them, they wanted to be sure they were protected for a real value, not blue-book value. If I remember right, a car had to be 13 years old to qualify as an antique at that time. Most of the Mustangs didn’t
Within a few months, the insurance companies I worked with recognized these cars were something different. (Travelers and Commercial Union were two of the largest.) I was able to insure then as “Cars of Particular Interest,” for more than blue-book value.
When I bought my Valk, it was the best price I’d seen in two years. The bank insisted I was paying more than its listed value, even though I couldn’t find a Valk valued for any less outside of Kelly Bluebook. It just brought back memories. Is the Honda Valkyrie headed down the same road as the Mustang? Probably not.
The Mustang represented a paradigm shift. A muscle car for the masses. That made it standout and stick in people’s memories. They were the first in the line of V8 muscle cars that would live in the imaginations of young drivers, and on the streets for the next 3 decades. I don’t think the Valkyrie is hitting as broad a market as the Mustang did. The only other bike with the flat-6 power plant is Honda’s Goldwing. There were no follow-up models to the Valkyrie. I’m counting the Rune as a Valkyrie.
Most bikers are going for the Harley V-twin look. Valkyrie riders are growing increasingly rare, but few seem to notice. Honda made these power cruisers from 1997 to 2003. The Valkyrie Genealogy board lists production figures of 29,390 Standards, 9,420 Tourers, 9,610 Interstates, and 3,940 Runes. So we’re looking at a total of 52,360 Valkyries ever built. That is just more than half of the 100,000 Mustangs sold during the first four months it was offered. There just aren’t that many Valkyries in existence, and that alone should help them hold and even build value. But the demand for this line of bikes is too rarefied for it to become an “instant” classic. The Mustang of motorcycles will be something with a V-twin in it’s heart. Still, I look for the Valkyrie to become a true classic in the next couple of decades. There is no other production bike like it. The fact that it was produced by a major manufacturer will set it apart from other machines like the V8 powered Boss Hoss.
I hope to be still riding mine when that day comes.

- Guy Wheatley

Dec 7
The Fat Lady Sings

The fat lady sings for the last Valkyrie.

Being the owner of a sail boat named Rose, I never though twice about naming my bikes. It just seemed the natural thing to do. I recently came across a conversation on a bulletin board that made me realize not everybody names their motorcycles. Not everybody thinks of their bikes as a friend or lover.
I frequent two motorcycle forums each focusing on one of the two bikes that I have. It’s interesting to see the difference in the way the two groups identify with their machines. Many people on the Valkyrie board refer to their bikes by name. “Old blue isn’t feeling well,” or “Traveler and I took a ride yesterday.” Most of the names are feminine, but not all.
Someone on the Valkyrie forum asked if everybody named their fat lady. Link to VRCC thread. Even the way he phrased the question says a lot about the relationship between these riders and their bikes. Valkyries are commonly referred to as “Fat Ladies.” on the board. There are a couple of intertwining reasons for this. First of all, that flat-six power plant gives the bike a girth rivaled by only a few other production bikes like the Goldwing and Boss Hoss. Then, with a name like Valkyrie, there is the inevitable association to opera. This convolution of references gets summed up in the remark made by a guy racing his bike against another brand. He said no other cruiser could keep up with him, the sound of his exhaust was like music and the race was over when his fat lady sang.
The other board is for a similar, but smaller bike. Both the Valkyrie and the Magna have been discontinued. They are both multicylinder high revving muscle cruisers. As most of the world turns to Harley knock-off V-twins, Valkyrie and Magna riders become increasingly rare and select groups. Yet for all of their similarities the Magna owners rarely name their bikes. And almost all of the Magnas named are named Maggie. That’s almost not a proper name, being more of a moniker for the model. Magna owners are just as enthusiastic about their bikes as Valkyrie owners, but are more likely to see their rides as machines, lacking an organic personality.
I know several folks who ride Harleys, but I don’t know of any Harley owner who has named his bike. I do know some who have called their bikes names, but that’s another blog. I think this tendency to name your motorcycle is more common among Valkyrie owners. Most of these riders really seem to feel that their bikes have distinct personalities. The Valkyrie is a unique machine. Unfortunately, no more are being made. It will be a sad day when the last one stops running and the last fat lady sings.

- Guy Wheatley

Oct 12
A 250cc starter bike and a 1500cc cruiser.

My wife and son’s 250cc Diamo starter bike parked in front of my
1500cc Victory Deluxe Touring Cruiser.

I recently reconnected with a friend of the family I haven’t seen in more years than either of us care to total up. She mentioned she and her husband were thinking of buying a motorcycle and asked me if I had any advice. As I said, it’s been a few years, so her naïve question about whether I have advice is understandable.
The first piece of advice I will give is that if you’re a boomer who hasn’t been riding since you were in high school, think of yourself as a beginner. Both motorcycles and your body have changed considerably in the intervening decades. If you’re a beginner, don’t run out and buy that monster cruiser that caught your eye and made you decide you wanted to ride motorcycles. You want a starter bike to learn on for several reasons.
The least important of those reasons is that there is a good likelihood that you’ll drop your bike, or run into something. A small bike will cause less damage to other things it hits. But you also will prefer those scratches to go on a smaller, less expensive bike. More importantly those big expensive cruisers are harder to ride, especially for a new rider.
My next advice flies a little bit in opposition to conventional wisdom. Most bikers will direct a new rider toward 250cc or smaller bike. That is what I started with four years ago when I got back on a motorcycle after several decades. It was an inline twin that was fairly sporty for a 250. It was goosey and demanded careful clutch work. In retrospect, not an ideal bike to learn on. Fortunately I grew up with manual transmissions and was able to quickly come to terms with the demands this little machine made.
Since then I’ve helped my wife and son learn to ride. The bike we selected for them was a 250 V-twin. It was geared a little lower and handles more like a mini cruiser. The clutch was more forgiving than the inline bike I’d used, but it still demanded careful clutch and throttle coordination. Neither my wife nor son had driven vehicles with manual transmissions, and they both had more difficulty learning to use a clutch.
The little 250s were adequate for buzzing around town, but they didn’t belong out on the highway for extended rides at speed. They really couldn’t keep up with the cruisers on an all-day run of 200 or more miles. So the question then is, do you jump from the 250 directly to the full-size cruiser you really want, or do you take an intermediate step first?
That’s a rhetorical question actually. Nobody is ready for a Goldwing, Vision or Ultra Classic based on the experience they got from a 250. So now you’re looking for something in the 600cc range. Two bikes just to learn to ride. Surely there must be a better way. I think there is.
The first motorcycle my son bought after learning to ride on my wife’s 250 was a one-cylinder 650. It was a small bike, about the same size and weight as the 250. Of course it had more power so one might reasonably expect it to be more demanding than the 250. But it wasn’t. It was actually much easier to ride than the 250. It was less prone to simply jump and die if you didn’t coordinate the throttle with the clutch. In fact, you didn’t really have to worry about the throttle. Just ease off the clutch until you started gently rolling, then give it a little gas to pick up speed. The one-cylinder design gives this engine a lot of torque at low rpm so that you don’t have to rev the engine to get moving. It results in a much smother start, and makes the bike even less likely to jump out from under a new rider.
Once you develop a little more confidence, you can head out on the highway with the big dogs and keep up without straining your engine. Finally, when you decide to move up to the big cruiser, you’re already accustomed to a bike with more power than a 250.
So what you have with a one-cylinder bike in the 500 to 700 cc range is a machine that is easier to learn to ride, serves your needs longer being able to cruise and better prepares you for a larger machine if you want it. If you’re looking in the used market, and you should be for a starter bike, the additional cost will probably be less than $1,000. Possibly much less.
My advice, get a thumper.

- Guy Wheatley

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