By Chuck Hawks
For this article, I have limited the discussion to one or two motorcycles from each of the following three classifications: Standard, Cruiser, Sport Touring and Touring. The experienced motorcyclist will have his or her favorites, but the average person looking for a new bike has to start somewhere. I respectfully suggest that such a person take a look at the following models before deciding.
Standards are my favorite class of motorcycle and the Harley-Davidson Sportster is my first choice in this class. The Sportster looks like a motorcycle should look, sounds like a motorcycle should sound and feels like a motorcycle should feel. It is a very visceral experience. In fact, the 1958 XLCH Sportster was the motorcycle for which the term "super bike" was originally coined.
All Sportsters come with Harley-Davidson's unit construction, air cooled, fuel injected, Evolution V-twin engine, bored to either 883cc or 1200cc. Either provides good performance for the price. Since Harley introduced the rubber mounted engine in 2004, vibration is no longer a concern and the new, more rigid frame is a definite handling plus. ABS brakes are optional.
Any Sportster is the most basic of motorcycles, a work in progress, a beautiful painting waiting for you to add the final details. That is why you will probably never see two Sportsters exactly alike; everyone adds the finishing touches they personally desire.
Features that make any Sportster a top choice in its class include the best paint and chrome work in the industry, self canceling turn signals, ergonomic controls, superior control layout, hydraulic self-adjusting overhead valves, electronic ignition, optional cast alloy or laced wheels, halogen headlight, vacuum operated fuel tap and maintenance free belt drive. For more information about the Sportster, return to the Motorcycles and Riding home page and click on the Sportster articles you will find there.
My other choice in the standard class is the Triumph Bonneville. Like the Sportster, the Bonneville is a classic standard. It retains much of the old T120 Bonneville's good looks, but it is a completely new, modern motorcycle.
68 horsepower and 50 lb. ft. of torque (measured at the crankshaft) reside in the Bonneville's counter-balanced, air/oil cooled, fuel injected, 865cc, DOHC, vertical twin engine. Power increases in a very linear manner as the throttle is rolled on, which makes it easy to ride this motorcycle smoothly. That power reaches the road through a slick 5 speed transmission and chain final drive. Braking is provided by single hydraulic disc brakes front and rear with two piston calipers.
Electronic ignition, halogen headlight and cast aluminum or laced wheels (depending on the specific Bonneville model) are additional standard features. The seat height is around 29 inches and it is easy to reach the ground with both feet from the traditional flat seat of this slender machine. The handlebars and foot pegs provide a comfortable, standard riding position. The steering is predictable and back road handling is excellent, thanks to a rigid double cradle frame, firm suspension and generous ground clearance. Wet weight is about 495 pounds.
The Bonneville's styling is based on the long gone (and lamented) Triumph T120 Bonneville of 1969. Finish is excellent on the new bike. Unfortunately, given the intrusion of government regulation since 1969, it is not possible to produce an exact replica of a T120 Bonneville. In any case, today's rider demands a higher level of comfort, convenience and reliability. Nevertheless, the new Bonneville looks like the genuine Triumph it is and clearly bears a resemblance to its illustrious predecessor. For more information about the Bonneville and its variations, return to the Motorcycles and Riding home page and click on the articles you will find there.
It would be hard to overlook Harley-Davidson if one is going to discuss cruisers. After all, Harley riders invented the category and the Dyna Super Glide (still in production and still popular) was the first factory built cruiser.
Today, the Dyna Glide line includes several models. The prototypical cruiser is the Harley-Davidson Dyna Wide Glide and my first choice in the category. The Wide Glide is a big (although not giant) bike recognizable by its wide, raked-out front forks and sleek bob-tail fender.
The Wide Glide is powered by a chromed-out version of the air cooled, rubber mounted, Twin Cam V-twin. This provides plenty of torque plus the sound and feel of Harley-Davidson, the oldest motorcycle company in the world.
Like all Harley motorcycles, more power is easily available from H-D Screaming Eagle parts. Plus you get hydraulic self-adjusting overhead valves, six speed transmission, belt final drive and a long list of high tech features like electronic fuel injection, gel-cell battery, self-canceling turn signals, electronic ignition, halogen headlight, disc brakes with 4-piston calipers, vacuum operated fuel tap, super comfortable clutch and brake levers, flawless paint and chrome and the highest re-sale value in the industry.
SPORT TOURING AND TOURING
The quintessential sport-touring bike is basically a sport bike with better protection (meaning a more functional frame mounted fairing and taller windshield) and small saddlebags (often detachable). The sport bike's low clip-on handlebars are usually exchanged for taller, conventional bars. The solo saddle is typically replaced by a more comfortable dual seat. The rear-set foot pegs are moved forward. As you might imagine, there is a lot of sport left in such a bike. Precise handling, substantial cornering clearance, very positive brakes and a high-revving engine usually complete the package.
The quintessential, heavyweight touring bike seems to have evolved into something along the lines of the six cylinder Honda Goldwing ("half a car") and similar bikes from other manufacturers. Personally, I want a touring motorcycle that offers protection and comfort, but still looks and sounds and feels like a motorcycle.
My pick in the Sport Touring and Touring category is a tough one, because there are several motorcycles I admire. However, my current choice among these is the Honda ST 1300, which is supplied with traction control and powerful anti-lock brakes.
This sleek touring motorcycle is on the heavy side for a sport touring bike, but fairly light for a touring bike. I would call it a nice compromise, a sporty touring bike. If you want to travel a long distance fast I can think of no better bike to be riding.
Its 100+ horsepower V-4 DOHC engine and superior handling are coupled with excellent weather protection, fine ergonomics for long distance riding and really neat detachable hard saddlebags. It also comes with all of the modern features any rider could ask for, including shaft drive, electronic ignition, triple disc brakes, halogen headlight, full instrumentation and a decent array of Hondaline accessories for the touring rider who wants to personalize his or her mount.
Copyright 1998, 2014 by Chuck Hawks. All rights reserved.