What kind of bike is right for you?! The old saw in motorcycling is that the ideal bike has a balance of power and handling ability. Too much power usually means too heavy a bike; a light bike generally will be underpowered.
You want a motorcycle that corners well, that's heavy enough to hold the road, that's got the power to keep up with the Detroit behemoths on the highway.
Traditionally, that means you want a 500.
Motorcycles are measured in engine size; 500 is a 500 cc engine. To my mind that's the bike that can give you the perfect balance of weight and power, whether you weigh in at 100 pounds or 220.
The 500 that appeals to me, and has for four or five years though I've never owned one, is the Suzuki Titan, the so-called iron horse.
It's the cheapest big bike on the market today. List price is around $1,395 and they often go for about $1,200.
The Titan weighs a little over 400 pounds, which makes it maneuverable in town, and it puts out 45 horsepower, which means it can get up and go, even with two aboard.
But best of all about the Titan is that it's designed to endure. It has a low-compression, two-stroke engine and even if you abuse it, it won't abuse you. Carl Chatzky of Baltimore had one for years; maybe he still does. He never did 30 where he could do 80, he never checked the oil, he never washed it, he never did any maintenance. It wouldn't quit.
Which is not to say there are no other good bikes. And one nice thing about motorcycles is that it's not impossible to get a good used one.
People are forever selling bikes before they're even broken in. They get married, they don't like the cold, the bike gets a flat and they don't know how to fix it, so they sell.
That means you can pick up a low-mileage bike with nothing really wrong with it for a substantial discount.
I have never bought a new bike. The last two I bought were extreme bargains. I drove each for a couple of months, decided they weren't for me and sold them at a profit.
Getting a bike that suits your needs is largely a function of delineating your needs. If you want to commute, have no intentions of ever cruising and don't use major highways to and from work, you can get along with a slightly smaller model. If you want to travel, think big.
The Honda 350 is a good commuting bike, so is the Suzuki 380. Neither one, new or used, should break your pocketbook. Even a 250 will do for in-town travel, but going any smaller severely restricts your options and, in my view, your safety.
If you're into highway travel, think about the Suzuki Titan, the Honda 550 or 750, the big, raodholding Ducatis.If money means nothing, there are the King of the Road, the smooth, powerful and inordinately expensive BMW and the Sultan of the Universe, the top-of-line Harley-Davidson.
None of these bikes is perfect and if you're buying one used there are things to look out for.
First is mileage. Any bike with over 10,000 miles on it, except perhaps BMW and Harley, has had substantial use. If that use has been careful, it might not mean trouble. If the bike is banged up, dented, has wires loose, is leaking oil, if the clutch slips or the brakes don't grab, it's an indication the owner hasn't taken care of it. It's probably a basket of trouble.
So look for a bike with under 10,000 miles. The price won't be that different. And I'd ask the owner if he worked on it himself. If he changed his own oil, did his own tuneups, knew how to change a tire, I'd consider those encouraging signs.
Some of the most butchered bikes are ambushed in the shops by under-paid, inexperienced mechanics. And when you buy, think about parts availability. If you're buying a used bike, make sure the model is still being produced andthat there's an outlet near you that seems reasonably healthy.
Some of the finest bikes ever made are the British twins - Norton, BSA, Triumph. But the manufacturers are in trouble and no one knows whether they'll be solvent from year to year. It makes buying risky.
The big sellers - Honda, Yamaha, BMW, Harley, Suzuki, Kawasaki - have numerous outlets. The Italian Moto Guzzi and Ducati are harder to find.
Once you get your bike and start buying parts you're going to have to know how to put them on. That's the subject of our next installment: Working on your own bike.