Time to get down to brass tacks. I want a motorcycle, I can afford a motorcycle, but there are some issues with owning a motorcycle that must be addressed. Let’s start with the choice of motorcycle.
I started by looking at all the street bikes between about 599 and 650 CCs. Very early on, I decided I was going to buy a bike with ZERO miles on it – a new bike. So this ruled out dozens of models from the past decade and pretty much limited me to 2005s available in the US. I eliminated bikes that fall into the “large scooter,” “cruiser,” “race replica,” and “dual-sport” categories, as well as limited production models like the Hyosung Comet 650 or the MuZ bikes. I collected my list and got standard-level insurance quotes for most of them. There are five insurance classes represented. After each bike, I list the engine size and type, wet weight, the best price I can get (before tax, setup, licensing, etc.), and the annual full coverage insurance cost.
BMW F650CS – 652 single, 432 lbs, $8700, $850 – this is by far the most expensive bike on the list, and arguably the lowest in engine performance as well. Although I really do like the riding position of this bike, and it has some nice utility features and is probably really fun on the right road, there are also a LOT of strikes against it. I ruled it and its F650GS cousin out easily.
Ducati Monster 620 – 618 L-twin, 428 lbs, $7000, $850 – the Monster is a decent bike, but several things keep it out of the running. Valve adjustments come three to five times as frequently as most other bikes. The riding position is odd, with a straight handlebar and wide footpegs. The power isn’t all that impressive at a little over 55 rwHP. There’s also a “Dark” model for $6500 which has only one front brake disc, matte paint, no rear seat cowl or flyscreen, and no slipper clutch. But overall, I think I can find bikes that do this better, and the Ducati ownership experience is notoriously pricey.
Ducati Multistrada 620 – 618 L-twin, ? lbs, $8000, $850 – I like the funky, functional Multistrada design better, but I can’t understand the price. There’s a Dark Multistrada 620 as well, with similar drawbacks as the Monster, but it’s $7500. I was hoping the pair would come in at $6500/$6000, but instead it’s more expensive than the baby Monsters. Ruled out.
Honda 599 – 599 four, 446 lbs, $6500, $1600 – I had ruled out the 599 for two reasons: it’s not available as a 2005 model, and it listed at $7100. That was until I saw one for $6500 at the Fort Worth dealer last week. It’s not a state of the art machine: it uses carbs (warm up time, fluffy power delivery down low or in the cold, less power, and less fuel economy), has a steel backbone frame (weighs a ton and is prone to flex), has budget damping rod suspension (boingy and harsh), uses very basic front brakes, is shod with yesterdecade’s tires, received very minimal instrumentation (forget about a fuel meter or warning light, a clock, digital speedo, etc.), there’s no wind protection (tiring at over 60 mph for more than 20 minutes), and the paint is a greasy matte grey that’s not even as nice as the “Dark” Ducatis. Even so, it’s an extremely neat little bike to sit on. I LOVE the compactness and the riding position. Any fairing would spoil the fact that when you climb on it, it feels like you’re right there on the road with nothing in front of you – the bike just disappears. Reviews are a mix. Complaints concern the underdamped suspension, sometimes buzzy engine, lack of any wind protection, clunky downshifts, and front wheel chatter under heavy braking. The insurance cost is a lot more than the European bikes, but better than the FZ6 and SV.
Kawasaki EX500 – 498 vertical twin, 443 lbs, $4500, $1600 – MSRP is $5000, but Kawasaki City of Irving is the biggest discounter in the DFW area (too bad they only sell Kawis). AND, this is a 500. Not only that, but it has only one brake disc, an ancient frame, spindly little fork legs, 1980s-vintage carbs, and BIAS-PLY tires! On the other hand, the riding position rocks, there’s some wind protection, and I did once own a bike with nearly the same engine (454LTD, and the engine was a pleasingly coarse little ripper). A dark horse in the running. I think I could have a lot of fun and learn a lot from this bike, even with the flex-o-matic chassis, crummy slippery tires and weak braking – that’s why it is at least on the list.
Kawasaki ZZR600 – 599 four, 435 lbs, $6400, $1300 – one thing out of the way right now: even with carbs, this bike is the best performance machine in the group by a wide margin. The 2005 ZZR is the same as the 2002 ZX-6R. Insurance is miraculously low, and that was WITH the VIN# being tested by the Progressive computers over the phone (what a difference being reclassified as a “sport tourer” makes!). Unbelievable. The suspension, brakes, frame, wind protection, and POWER of the ZZR all beat every other bike here. MSRP is $7300, but the Irving store discounts it by $900, making it an absolute steal. I find the more aggressive riding position to be quite comfortable, but it’s also true that it’s more intimidating and probably more of a handful in low-speed or traffic-laden situations than the 599, because of the riding position and also the power and hyper-sensitive race-bred chassis. In short, this bike has put a lot of inexperienced riders in the hospital or in the morgue. It’s nowhere near as sharp or aggressive as the current 600 racebikes, but it can rip hard on the track in completely stock form. It’s hard to ignore the price and the insurance (the 2005 ZX-6R, by comparison, would cost me over four times as much to insure!) and the level of performance…
Kawasaki Z750S – 748 four, about 472 lbs, $6300, $2200 – a bigger engine than the rest, but the price is right (discounted $800). Suspension is rudimentary, much like the 599 and SV. I’ve only read one review of the bike so far (Motorcycle Online), and they found a lot to like. I sat on it at the dealer but didn’t really soak it in. It’s not as stylish (or high tech) as the Z1000, but it has more wind protection (from a somewhat dopey-looking Bandit-like fairing). I want to read more before I make any decision on this one.
Moto Guzzi Breva 750 – 744 V-twin, 445 lbs, $7800, $850 – too expensive, not much of a performer, even with the “bigger” engine. Better than the BMWs in a lot of ways, though.
Suzuki Katana 600 – 599 four, 507 lbs, $6300, $3000 – not even a contender. Weight, insurance, lack of power, mushy handling, etc. Bandit 600 isn’t made any more, but it’s about the same.
Suzuki SV650 – 645 L-twin, 428 lbs, $5200, $2200 – MSRP is $5950 for 2005, but I found a leftover 2004 for $5200 (0 miles). I’m sure this bike has the nicest engine of anything on my list. I’m sure I’d love its turbine smooth twin torque. I fit on it alright (not as well as on the 599). It’s a light bike, and the frame is much better than the 599’s. It’s got fuel injection, a big plus. Unfortunately, the brakes, fork, and tires are even worse than the 599’s, and I don’t like the looks as well as the 599 (even in “asphalt”) or the old SV. No wind protection, of course. The insurance is disappointingly high, but the actual price of admission is low if I snag the 2004 at the shop (the SV would only be more expensive in total after over two years).
Suzuki SV650S – 645 L-twin, 437 lbs, $6450, $2200 – no deal on this one. Funny that the insurance hit is the same. The riding position on the SVS is more aggressive than the ZZR or Speed Four. It’s not right. I liked the old SVS better. I’d much rather get the unfaired bike and fit a flyscreen fairing.
Suzuki DL650 – 645 L-twin, 471 lbs, $6600, $1600 – I really wanted to like this bike, because the reviews make it sound like a great ride. But then I sit on it, and my feet don’t fully contact the ground. Thus, it gets disqualified.
Triumph Speed Four – 599 four, 446 lbs, $6500, $850 – this bike features about the same riding position as the ZZR (clip-ons and high footpegs), but with just a small “hat” fairing. The bars might be just a tad farther away and a tad higher. It is fuel injected, but not as well as the SV – every review complains some about the idle speed, small throttle opening, on/off, and low speed responses from the computer. They mention it seems to “tune” itself when taking off from a stop, and it surges on the freeway. Besides that, it’s down in power (and “up” in flywheel effect) virtually everywhere compared to the 599 (not to mention the ZZR), although when caning the motor, the fuel injection does fine. The lights are crummy compared to the 599 and ZZR treatments. It buzzes more than some of the bikes, and there’s driveline lash. The shifter is “sticky” when new. On the other hand, suspension is as good as or better than the ZZR’s and much better than the 599’s or the SV’s (especially the bigger, sturdier, fully-adjustable cartridge fork vs. the SV’s cheapola flimsy unadjustable damping rod fork). Same for the front brakes. Cornering clearance is the best. The stock tires are also the best. It’s a lot of bike for not a lot of money. It looks odd, but I like it. The reviews always mention how confidence-inspiring the Speed Four is to ride on the track or on the twisty roads, despite the flaws. Wouldn’t the SV’s engine in the Speed Four’s chassis be sweet?
*Up until a few months ago, this WAS the bike I was going to buy. Then they just didn’t come in. No 2005s? I waited and waited. I read on the net that Triumph was only importing a very limited number for 2005. Maybe the Speed Four is being reworked? The bike its chassis and engine are based on now displaces 650 CCs and has its fuel injection sorted out; the bike its looks are based on has been thoroughly updated in the looks department for 2005. But now Eurosport Cycles says they can get me a black 2005 model for MSRP. Hallelujah. But now I’m not 100% sure…
Yamaha FZ6 – 599 four, 460 lbs, $6500, $2200 – the FZ6 was supposed to be a lot better than it is; from every review every written on it, it’s clear the engine is the letdown – it’s horribly buzzy, gutless in the low-end and midrange, extremely lashy, and shifts clunkily up or down. The fuel injection is flawed as well, although not in the same way as the Speed Four’s – it’s way too abrupt. And they complain about the clutch’s too narrow engagement range. After reading reviews from seven different sources (Cycle World, Sport Rider, Motorcyclist, Motorcycle Consumer News, Motorcycle Online, Rider, and MC Daily), I can recite its flaws by heart. Too bad. It’s a good value and has a lot of other things going for it.
Yamaha YZF600R – 599 four, 491 lbs, $7000, $3300 – I’ve always liked the “Thundercat” (by looks, reviews, and owner impressions on the Web), but the Kawi ZZR600 simply does everything it does better (with arguably identical wind protection and riding position), and due to the idiotic insurance company tables, costs $2000 less per year to insure. Easily ruled out.
There. 18 bikes. The SV650 ($5200 + $2200/year), Speed Four ($6500 + $850/year), ZZR ($6400 + $1300/year), and 599 ($6500 + $1600/year) are the finalists, with the Ninja 500 ($4500 + $1600/year) and the Z750S ($6300 + $2200/year) having an outside shot. I can’t decide. The SV has that gem of a motor and a low low price, but high insurance and awful stock suspension. The Speed Four has excellent chassis parts and a respectable price and insurance cost, but some definite engine problems (and it’s not Japanese). The ZZR was the best 600 in the world just a few years ago (when it cost $8000) and has no real weaknesses – there’s nothing to complain about (not even the carbs), and the insurance cost is great, but it’s a much better bike than I am a rider, and it won’t suffer hamfisted inputs as lightly as the others. The 599 seems to get a lot of praise as a whole despite its wholly unremarkable parts, and I like the way it feels (at least in the shop with no wind trying to tear me off the bike or strain my neck muscles), but its cost of ownership is highest of these four (even with the price cut from MSRP) and it might just deliver less “stuff” than the other three do. The SV won’t be there forever at that price, and the 599 might be gone completely soon, while all I have from the Triumph guy is his word that he can “get” me a bike. I need to know more about the Z750S, while the Ninja 500 might not be a bike I’d want to keep for two or three years (better as a used bike?).
Test rides would likely clear this whole thing up very quickly. I bet I’d know within one minute of riding the last bike which one I wanted. But test rides are not an option.
What kind of riding would I like to do? Don’t tell Progressive, but I’d like to commute to work and back a few days a month. I’d like to take it out after work, at 1:00 in the morning, for long exploration rides in the summer. I’d like to wake up early Sunday morning and meet other riders for a ride in the country (the “twisties,” such as they are around here). I’d like to take a couple of track days per year with Lone Star Track Days. I may run light errands on the bike. I may visit the folks or friends on the bike. I may do relatively light “sport-touring,” usually for only a day or maybe with one overnight stay. I’d like to use it to work on my technique in the large parking lots. I will learn how to ride again, on modern machinery.
There are more expensive bikes that tickle my fancy – Z1000, SV1000, Tuono, Rockster, Speed Triple, Buell XB12S, Thruxton, FZ1, ZRX, bigger Monsters, Boxer Cup, Superhawk, Interceptor, Harley Street Rod, 919, Bandit 12, new KTM, T-Bird Sport, and others. But these are bigger, burlier, more serious machines (not what I want or need right now), and the price of admission is in many cases MUCH higher, so they’re not really in the running.
I’m able to buy a bike because I have a relatively new, fully paid for, Japanese car, I’m funding my Roth with $4000 this year, I’m putting 6% of every paycheck into my 401K (and my company is adding another 5% for each paycheck PLUS 10% of my base income for this year for profit-sharing), I have very good health insurance, I’ve got my school debt well in hand, and I’m free of consumer debt. I have $7000 in discretionary funds to purchase a bike and can budget in $250/month for insurance and bike payments (in addition to gas and other requirements). My insurance quotes are lower now because of my age, because I’m using “pleasure” instead of “commuting” as my goal (go figure, pleasure to me seems much riskier and extra-legal than just commuting), and because I’m omitting the Medical Payments, Uninsured Motorist Bodily Damage, and Uninsured Motorist Bike Damage options, and going for full $1000 deductibles for collision and comprehensive.
But there are obstacles. My shoulder was one big one, but it has gotten much better. I only feel the pain and lack of mobility after extended exertion now, and it fades quicker. I can’t be reckless with it, but I think it’s okay for now. A much bigger problem is my crappy apartment. The kids and teenagers (who vandalized my car) would make short work of a motorcycle parked in the lot, even under a bike cover, so I have to pay for one of the garages, which are a football field away from where I park the car. I’m on the waiting list. There’s absolutely no room in either my mother’s garage or my father’s garage to temporarily house a bike, and storing it 30 miles away when I want to ride while the carbs or throttle bodies get gummed up and the tires flat-spot would just plain suck anyway.
The biggest problem is the moronic gate which blocks exit from the apartment site. To be blunt, it’s calibrated to only respond to cars. It’s the same problem any non-Harley or non-cruiser bike will face at stoplights, but at least in that case you have options. The landlord doesn’t seem particularly concerned with the fact that I wouldn’t be able to leave on my bike, or that I might need to move out. He did laugh about the fact that “crotch rockets” can’t get out of the apartment site. I don’t know what purpose the gate serves anyway. I’ve been locked out three times (around midnight) because there was a computer error and my card wouldn’t activate the gate to enter. I can jump the fence. During daylight hours, it’s not too hard to wait until someone is coming or going and get in that way. I still have Mormons and magazine saleskids harassing me. We still have vandals – in fact, they LIVE here. The gate has trouble about once a month where they make us bring our cards in for “reprogramming.” During that period, they often leave the gates open for a day or two (oddly, this hasn’t corresponded with the times when MY card doesn’t work). I always suggest that things would be a whole lot easier if they just disabled the gate permanently. But NO! Apartment dwellers DEMAND the illusion of safety/privacy these days. Little brains…
Well, at least I’ve made a little progress. The biggest (only) obstacle USED to be that I had no money or health insurance and had not even begun to fund my retirement. Honestly, it appears that the gate and its lack of opening pretty while obviates all this talk, because I just wouldn’t be able to leave when I wanted to (except during morning or evening rush hour when the gate is opening every few minutes).
I also would need a cover, a swingarm stand (for storage, oil changes, suspension changes, cleaning, chain adjustments and lubes, etc.), a couple boxes of oil and filters plus tools, a couple different kinds of locks, luggage, and I might just need to modify the bike in some way (seat, wind protection, etc.). For myself I have enough gloves. I’d need a new helmet, a second jacket, possibly a second pair of boots, and I like the ICON kevlar jeans (khakis available for weekday commuting?). Total bill for all this would be near $1000.
Perhaps I should forget the bike for a while. I’d be happier not wanting one – this almost goes without saying. Maybe I could spend the money on other things. I have no furniture (not that I miss it). I have no internet access (the only available service at this apartment is absurdly priced). I could probably use a new PC and new clothes. Maybe in 2006? When I’m out of this apartment and in to something smaller, cheaper, and gate-free? I don’t know how much longer the whole thing will last – internal combustion engines and the ability to control your own speed, I mean. A few more years, I suppose.
Anyway, that’s where I stand on this March 18th, 2005.