Sunday, November 15, 2015

Small Motorcycles

I bought my first motorcycle in the Fall of 1975 when I was weeks away from turning 18. I was in Italy and I had previously passed my British motorcycle test which allowed me to ride a full sized motorcycle at 17 so when a  friend told me this fire engine red MV Agusta was for sale I was ready to buy and ride. Looking back I wonder at myself, because I added some plastic saddle bags and  backpack and took off across Europe on it to see my family in England. Just like that. The bike did fine, and remarkably enough so did my 18 year old spine riding long days on the cafe racer.
So when I read about what  bike do you need to travel I am firmly in the camp that whatever you have will do. Naturally there are some that carry more stuff or have more comfortable seats and as always cost a lot more. But Modern motorcycles are amazing, reliable and requiring little maintenance, well built and well equipped compared to the tractors we rode  40 years ago. And as if to cheer me up a whole bunch of new small motorcycles are coming onto the market to cheer American riders up. BMW  has shocked everyone with this 310 to be shown off at the big motorbike show EICMA in Milan this week:
The BMW is supposedly part of a drive by European and US manufacturers to penetrate the Indian market, which is huge with a burgeoning middle class and a population moving from scooters to motorcycles. They have tons of models as do other south east Asian and Latin American countries that we never see. However in order to generate brand loyalty and create exciting new models foreigners have to get over a massive import tax on foreign machines levied by the Indian Government. So they build their Indian market bikes in India. Triumph had plans to do the same and scrapped their proposed 350 single. KTM from Austria has a joint venture in India building a 200cc single and a 390cc version has made it to the States:
In order to seduce Indian youth the bikes are modern looking with all modern conveniences but for the US market some people think old fashioned looking small bikes will tug at heart strings, like Genuine's new 400 which looks like small Triumph Bonneville single with twin exhausts. I like the looks of it though spoked wheels and tires with tubes are a drag in this day and age when you repair a flat roadside if it's tubeless.
I owned Yamaha's SR500 in 1979 and riode it around West Africa for half a year and had a grand old time. They still make it in Japan where it's restricted to 400cc capacity to allow younger riders to buy it and it is apparently popular. They've sold a few since they re-introduced it last year in the US despite the lack of electric start and a price tag of fully  six thousand dollars.  I want one tubed tires and all!
Goodness there are a lot of smaller motorcycles appearing in the US and now Sym , known for it's scooters is going to be offering a rather attractive 300cc motorcycle. They haven't given any detials but it's supposed to be a more capable motorcycle than their 150cc Wolf. With 300 cc engines motorcycles should be able to get up to around 80 miles per hour and thus make them able to ride comfortably with traffic on freeways. The Sym looks good too with solid wheels and tubeless tires. Extra points for that!
SYM Wolf 300 Classic
Suzuki brought a well built 250 single to the US market a few years ago, rather ahead of the popularity curve and it is still offered for sale here. I liked it a lot when it first appeared as it enjoys all the usual benefits of economy and simplicity but it never generated much after market accessories, not even a luggage rack which I think is a shame.
Suzuki also brought this 250 to the US to not very glowing reviews. Its a water cooled twin with not terribly exciting performance though it does enjoy the robotic looks that are supposedly popular in this day and age. Personally I think its a look only its mother could love but I am old and form another era.
Honda has been having success with a 300cc scooter but their new range of motorcycles between 300cc and 500cc offered as standards like this 300 and as boy racer bikes too are proving popular as well. I look back at my early motorcycles and it seems a shame to me that these bikes will be reserved for short hops and Sunday rides and maybe the odd commute when they could do so much more for so little money. Scooter riders argue that scooters are more practical but  luggage and a windshield can make these motorcycles just as capable of hauling home the groceries. Plus you get a machine that will take you anywhere and offer spirited riding with a gearbox and excellent fuel economy.

If you want a really old bike the modernized Royal Enfield from India is as close as it gets alongside the more reliable Yamaha SR400. I think the Enfields are cute but they suffer from poor reliability and high maintenance requirements. I looked at how long it takes to do an oil change on these beats and they have multiple steps opening various parts of the engine for what should be a simple operation. The old foges that buy these tend to tinker more than ride. But they look and sound pretty for more than six grand.
Last among the new small bikes is the one that has been there forever. The Ninja 300 twin was sold for years and years as  a 250, capable of racing on the track or traveling to Alaska, and commuting at speeds close to a hundred miles an hour. The new 300cc is better than ever they say and still winning converts. Just another splendid choice in a whole new array of motor y les in the US. IT's a good time to be riding.
After I sold the MV Agusta I bought a Moto Morini 350 in 1977 and that year I rode it across North Africa and Spain to England with adapted luggage, no spare parts, no proper riding clothing, tubed tires and not a lot of money. No internet either for advice or to hear from people advising against my hare brained plans. I had a blast camping as I went on my little v-twin cafe racer. It didn't seem so little at the time and I rode it at similar speeds to those I ride today on my 900cc Bonneville.
I can't say I wish I were young again because I like myself at my age. But I hope youngsters will take advantage of these great bikes in this modern age to have adventures and do what they can with what they have and not worry  about size; it really doesn't matter.