By Chuck Hawks
For this article, I have limited the discussion to one or two motorcycles from each of the following classifications: Standard, Cruiser, Sport Touring, and Touring. The experienced motorcyclist will have his/her own favorites, but the 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.
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, Evolution V-twin engine, bored to either 883cc or 1200cc. Either provides good performance in its class, and 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.
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, superior control layout, hydraulic self-adjusting overhead valves, electronic ignition, cast alloy wheels with tubeless tires, halogen headlight, vacuum operated fuel tap, and maintenance free belt drive. For more information about the Sportster, return to the Motorcycle page and click on the article "The Harley-Davidson Sportster."
My other choice in the standard class is the brilliant new 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.
61 horsepower and 44 lb/ft of torque (measured at the crankshaft) reside in the Bonneville's counter-balanced, air/oil cooled, 790cc 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 final chain drive. Braking is provided by single hydraulic disc brakes front and rear with two piston calipers. Electronic ignition, halogen headlight, and laced wheels shod with Bridgestone radial sport-touring tires are additional standard features. The seat height is 30.5 inches, and it is easy to reach the ground with both feet from the traditional flat seat of this slender machine. The handlebars and footpegs 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 499 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 striking resemblance to its illustrious predecesser.
The Bonneville is back. Good news indeed for those of us raised on Limey bikes, as well as for a new generation about to discover something special. For more information about the Bonneville, read the review on theMotorcycle Page.
It would be hard to overlook H-D if one is going to discuss cruisers. After all, Harley riders invented the category, and the Super Glide (still in production, and still popular) was the first factory built cruiser. Today the Dyna 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 now powered by a chromed-out version of the 96 cubic inch, 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 motors, more power is easily available from H-D Screaming Eagle parts. Plus you get hydraulic self-adjusting overhead valves, a 6 speed transmission, belt final drive and a long list of high tech features like electronic fuel injection, a 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. The Wide Glide is a big (although not giant) bike recognizable by its wide, raked-out front forks and sleek bob-tail fender.
The sport-touring bike has evolved into what is basically a sport bike with better protection (meaning a more functional frame mounted fairing) and saddlebags (usually detachable). The sport bike's low clip-on handlebars are usually exchanged for a higher pair, or conventional handlebars. The solo saddle is typically replaced by a more comfortable dual seat. The rear-set foot pegs are moved forward. That is about what you get when you buy a sport-touring bike.
As you might imagine, there is a lot of sport left in such a bike. Precise handling, moderate weight, great cornering clearance, very positive brakes, and a high-revving 100hp engine usually complete the package. The downside is often a relatively narrow power band and frequently shifting the 6 speed transmission to stay in the "sweet spot" of power delivery. Fine for Sunday rides, and endurable for weekend trips.
My pick in the Sport-Touring category is the tough one, because there are several bikes I admire. My favorite of these is the beautiful, sporty, 530 pound, 900cc, liquid cooled, DOHC, inline triple, chain drive, Triumph Sprint ST.
The Sprint ST is perhaps the most beautiful (and practical) of all sport-touring bikes. Detailing and finish are impeccable. It is in the mainstream of sport-tourers, emphasizing the sporting aspects of riding, but not at the expense of comfort. Except for its relatively messy and maintainence intensive chain final drive, the Sprint offers excellent features and amenities, including a frame mounted fairing, hard saddlebags, dual seat, fully adjustable rear suspension system, triple disc brakes, six speed transmission, dual halogen headlights, electronic ignition, generous 5.6 gallon fuel tank, and wide cast alloy wheels with tubeless tires. The Triumph Sprint offers long distance capability coupled to a sporting personality. It is one of the worlds great all-around motorcycles. Just add a tank bag and a winding road.
For years I have been partial to touring bikes. My idea of an ideal heavyweight touring bike departs significantly from what has become the quintessential touring bike, the six cylinder Honda Goldwing ("half a car"), and similar bikes from other manufacturers. I want a touring motorcycle that offers protection and comfort, but still looks and sounds and feels like a motorcycle.
The heavyweight touring bike that best fills that description for me is the Harley-Davidson FLTRI Road Glide. This is basically an Electra-Glide without chrome bumpers and other needless trim, but with a modern frame mounted fairing. What a great idea! For years I have thought that if I had an Electra Glide the first thing I would do is remove all the non-functional trim parts and streamline the bike. Then I would dump the handlebar mounted "bat wing" fairing and fit a frame mount type, to improve handling and wind penetration. Now the Motor company has done just that, and the result is the Road Glide, a world class touring bike.
Powered by the fuel injected touring version of the 96 cubic inch Twin Cam V-twin, the 713 lb FLTRI incorporates about every touring feature known to man, plus all of the nice standard features we have come to expect from any Harley-Davidson. EPA mileage is 40 city, 50 highway. Multiply that by 5, the gas tank capacity, and you discover that the Road Glide will go a long way between fuel stops. Seat height is a low 26.2 inches, while ground clearance is a commendable (for such a big bike) 5.12 inches. Lean angles are 31 degrees right and 30 degrees left, so you are not restricted to the interstates.
It would take more space than I have here to list all the standard features of the Road Glide, and there are literally pages of options. A few of the high points include eledctronic fuel injection, self-canceling turn signals, dual halogen headlights, running lights, triple disc brakes, cruise control, CB, AM/FM/Cassette stereo, weather radio, air adjustable front and rear suspension, hard saddlebags, adjustable rider and passenger floorboards and on and on.
But the best thing about the Road Glide is how well it all works, and its biggest selling point may be that it looks, sounds, and feels like a Harley-Davidson.
For those who want a lighter, smaller type of touring bike, while still retaining high levels of comfort and protection from the elements, let me recommend the Honda ST 1300 with traction control and second generation anti-lock brakes.
This sleek touring motorcycle is definately 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, 2012 by Chuck Hawks. All rights reserved.