The Perfect Motorcycle

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In a recent issue of RealClassic magazine, reader Roger Bibbings asked for nominations for the perfect modern motorcycle to suit classic bike riders. And lots of people answered him…

Roger’s Quandary

I am now 58 years old and have been riding motorcycles (over 45 different machines) almost every day since February 1965, covering somewhere towards 1 million miles (I use a motorcycle as daily transport. I commute 75 miles a day and every week I usually undertake a longer distance business trip of about 250 miles). For the last 25 years most of my miles have been covered on BMWs.

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The present stable includes a BMW R1200RT, a BMW R80ST (enlarged to 1000cc), an R75/6 (again, enlarged to 1000cc, with Unit I/link forks, 15 inch wheels coupled to a Hedingham SS chair) and a 1954 Ariel VH (which has just been liberated from ten years service hauling a sidecar and is being readied for the Land’s End).

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The problem with modern motorcycles is that, quite apart from all the electronics and expensive dealer dependency, they just seem to be getting heavier and heavier. Except for long motorway journeys, the 1200 sits in the garage. It’s a fine machine on the open road but a real pig in heavy traffic or up a muddy lane. Heaven help your lower back if it falls over and you have to get it upright again. The ST, which has also been used often in Class 0 because it is lighter and has grunt, is pressed into service most days.

Of course modern machines have bags of performance, but on today’s roads congestion and enforcement rule out high speed. Advancing years mean that wherever possible (but time is usually the enemy) bimbling is now preferred to blasting. It soothes the nerves and is easier on the pocket. You see the countryside. The ride becomes a journey, not just transport from A to B.

At present I am continuing my search for a new, all-round motorcycle built to a specification which will deliver reliable, low cost, enjoyable motorcycling up to a target 125,000 miles in 5 years at less than 10p per mile. I am willing to pay up to £9000. It needs to be relatively light and manoeuvrable, say 450Ibs maximum. It does not have to be super powerful. 60 to 70bhp at 6000rpm would be quite adequate. It needs to be able to cruise easily at 70mph all day and be quick to 100mph. The top speed thereafter is irrelevant. It needs to be able to deliver a fuel consumption of at least 50mpg under normal cruising conditions.

Good brakes are essential, as is excellent handling. Ideally it should have two air-cooled cylinders, be smooth running, have a five speed box (with a high top), enclosed (preferably belt or shaft) drive and adjustable suspension. I require adequate weather protection (a good touring screen will suffice), a comfortable seat and an upright riding position which is compatible with long distance riding. Footrests need to be positioned in a sensible way that is compatible with rider comfort.

Random BMW Stuff on

Other essential features include good integral luggage and a good set of tools. The machine will be used throughout the winter months so a durable finish with good paint and maximum use of stainless steel is essential, as will be reliable and fully sealed electrics. It needs to be designed with long service intervals and maximum rider maintenance in mind so simple technologies are to be preferred (such as carbs and not fuel injection). There also needs to be good spares availability.

Go down to your local dealer and you will find a vast array of machines on offer: trailies, cruisers, big tourers, super-scooters, and sports bikes galore. But the transformation of motorcycling from means of transport to means of recreation has spelled the end of the all-round, all-purpose motorcycle. Even many classics have now become just toys for summer weekends. I was passed on Friday night by a rider heading westward on an Ariel Huntmaster, cutting deftly through the traffic at Worcester. In my twenties I covered many thousands of miles on an A10 and later a Norton Mercury. Yet I’m conscious that I might not find them as comfortable for long distance use today.

Are machines such as these still practical motorcycles for high mileage everyday use? Perhaps there are riders who use classic machines on a daily basis and cover high mileages. If the manufacturers cannot give us the tools we need, then surely we’ll have to use the best that are still available from the past.

Frank Westworth’s Suggestion: a Harley-Davidson

That’s an impressive list of requirements. Apart from the weight (it was pretty beefy) I did run just such a machine for a couple years. It had a huge lazy air-cooled engine, belt drive and a 5-speed transmission, built-in luggage and fitted fairing, fine brakes, simple servicing, hardly any chrome, a C of G somewhere near the ground, was effortless to ride, and was built in the USA. It’s model designation was FXDX-T…

Vian Curtis’s Suggestion: an Airhead BMW Boxer

My recommendation is a BMW R100R, the last of the old style boxers with fitted panniers etc. In 1995 and at the age of 60, I bought a secondhand one at approx 4000 miles from our local dealer. It was such a superb bike that I decided to ride to Scotland on it. My passion other than motorcycling is golf so I decided to go to St Andrews and then go on to John 0′ Groats. The bike was superb, like a two wheeled Rolls Royce, and it never missed a beat. My greatest memory was on a single track road from Reay to Helmsdale, when two large stags leaped a fence in front of me and across the road – luckily I was cruising and enjoying the views!

The BMW was very comfortable and averaged just over 50mpg – so good that I went to several more golf championships after that on it including re-visiting Scotland (a wonderful place for motorcycling). I still have a BMW R90/6 but unfortunately not the R100R – I had an offer that I could not refuse, but wish now that I had refused it.

Ian Soady Says: It Doesn’t Exist!

Although it would theoretically be possible to use an older classic in the way Roger describes, the level of maintenance would preclude it for many. I used my Commando 850 for an annual continental trip, generally covering 2000 or more miles in a week. I never actually broke down, but had several unwanted sessions of roadside maintenance.

There are modern bikes which do much of what Roger wants, the Bandit and Hornet, or perhaps the Deauville. But they’re not very charismatic and I’m not sure I’d fancy one myself. My own Hinckley Tiger is a wonderful machine, and I enjoy riding it very much, but I have to confess it’s too heavy and tall.

Dave Dingley Suggests: Two Bikes

What Roger Bibbings is looking for in a bike doesn’t exist in one machine, and it never did, at least, not to satisfy his very demanding criteria. And it’s no good looking for it in the classics either – in fact, there’s very much less chance there.

He basically demands high speed capability from a low-tech engine, at low running costs, with good all-round corrosion-resistance. All I can say is that’s he’s already picked the best marque for his requirements, though he’s also himself already arrived at the obvious conclusion: two machines are needed to satisfy his needs.

The answer to your prayer, Roger, lies in the future – your future. Only when you’ve retired, or ceased to need rapid main road travel, will you have a chance of the bike of your dreams; and only then if you’re mentally ready for it – that latter is the key prerequisite.

For the way forward lies in reaching an age or a lifestyle that makes bimbling the only way of motorcycling for you. You can then go and buy a ‘sensible’ modern machine on which to cruise the byways (though you could do it on a classic if you really want to get thoroughly involved in your two-wheel transport, but you’d need two machines if you wanted a decent chance of being road-ready at all times). The new Bonneville is a modern option, if you’ve a pretty high boredom level; or perhaps a Harley if you can take it warts ‘n all. Whatever, it needs to be a bike that’s can’t be used for speeding because its torque is developed at low revs: that’s a bimbling essential.

My message here is that you do need to be mentally ready to bimble all of the time; no good buying a classic, or a Harley as your sole bike and then discovering you still want to ride fast quite a lot of the time. So perhaps it’d be best to give yourself another 10 years, Roger. Or keep your R1200RT, refer to RC28, then buy an Enfield now!

Royal Enfield Sixty-Five, Army Style

Gordon Johnstone Suggests: a Honda Deauville

Back in 2002 I faced a similar problem. My wife insisted I go out and buy something modern as I was knocking nine bells out of the classics in the shed with daily, all year round use. My daily commute was 30 glorious miles each way (A70 into Edinburgh – a fabulous bike road) and longer business trips. The poor old Dominator at 200,000 miles was doing pretty well but I suppose I was being a bit unfair on it.

So the search was on for my first bike chosen by logic rather than impulse. It had to have excellent weather protection for these Scottish winters, good handling and braking, ‘adequate’ performance and shaft drive. And not too many cylinders. I bought a Deauville. And it’s great. Much lighter than a Pan European or K1200, excellent handling, fearsomely good brakes and more horsepower to play with than a Manx Norton. The weather protection is excellent, as proved by a December business trip to Eskdale by way of the Hardknott and Wrynose passes. The temperature was -3 and I hardly noticed. A seriously under-rated motorcycle.

The finish has stood up to the salt and rain pretty well, although the silencer rotted very quickly. A stainless one soon replaced it. Of course it doesn’t see much fair weather use as when the weather is anything better than horrid one of the old bikes is used instead. But now I no longer have to trudge off to the daily grind the poor Deauville has no use. So if anyone is interested in a slightly scruffy but well maintained example, give me a call (07740 987 932)

Andrew Smith Says: How About A Scooter? Or Maybe a Jawa?

I think the ideal all-round motorbike is a figment of our vivid imaginations (no, not touched a drop, yet). I have used various bikes for my commuting. Some I would recommend, like the big Beemers. but I think for me now they are too heavy for heaving through traffic (I commute 40 miles one way on the A12).

I'd much rather have a big scooter than a Dullville

2006 Honda Silverwing

I did have a 2000 Honda Deauville for two years and clocked up 28,000 miles. It was very good but I found the luggage capacity was limiting. Since 2002 I have had a Honda Silverwing scooter. Now this is FUN, pull back the throttle and AWWAAAYYYYYY it goes (not full back until I hit 30mph as it has limiter) all the way up to very dangerous (for your licence) speeds. It also handles very well; it takes two full face crash hats under the seat and, if you fancy it, feet forward.

The Deauville and the Silverwing both have service intervals of 4000 miles, and all the servicing is done by the local Honda dealer. Neither bike has missed a beat. The fuel consumption of the Silverwing is about 55 to 60mpg at motorway speeds but this can drop to 45mpg when going at the top end of the throttle opening (110 – 115mph).

Looking pretty good.... until you get to that exhaust.

2006 Jawa 650

Another option might be the new 650 Jawa. I think Roger should go and have a test ride on one of these, he might be pleasantly surprised, it could suit his ideals. I would like one of these as my commuting machine but I’m still having too much fun on the Silverwing to change it yet.

Derek Sloan Says: It’s A Zeigeist Thing

On Roger Bibbings’ search for the Holy Grail, it seems that the replies given don’t really hit the mark. I have a phrase I use while driving on the motorway and it is that I drive in a ‘Speed Space Time Zone’. This can just as easily be loosely applied to the ideal bike. It is what fulfils the need, desire and physical wellbeing of your current circumstances as well as the current fashion trends.

I don’t think I have ever owned a bike for more than a maximum of about three years. My tastes, aspirations and enthusiasm have altered as I wend and ride my way through this one-off life of mine. I have had the cafe racer, the all rounder, even the American style chopper and semi-custom cruiser, off roader, trials, trail, enduro, classic, vintage, road racer, moped racer etc etc.

My reasons to justify changing have been: lost interest, too fast, too expensive to keep, can’t kick start it, fancied a go at a different form of sport, more recently discomfort (clip on styles)… and again the list goes on. I have only once retraced my steps to a Suzuki SP370, a brilliant lightweight with masses of torque and — oh yes I remember — too loud!

I always preferred the SPs to the DRs...

1978 Suzuki SP370

I believe that ‘the ideal bike’ is a short term phenomenon. Fads and designs change, our thoughts and physique change along with everything else, so why shouldn’t our bike or bikes? I know there are people who have owned particular bikes or marques for a long time but I think if you did a survey you would find that most of us have had quite a variety of bikes.

We each have our own ideal bike, interest or preferences and it’s most unlikely to be the same one for us all. Mine just happens to be a different one for each piece of my life, loves, desire and aspiration.

Rowena Suggests: another kind of BMW

One of the F800 twins should fit the bill: not too heavy, not too sporty, plenty sensible enough. 85bhp; 460lb fuelled and ready to roll; 50mpg if you are careful with the throttle; parallel twin; full fairing, and so on. It’s the right weight, offers the right balance of performance and frugality, and only falls down because it’s liquid-cooled and Roger wanted a new bike which is air-cooled (a rapidly shrinking short-list!).

The ST version costs around £6000 brand new, and I’d like a blue one please.

Got everything on paper, but it just doesn't.... move me.

2007 BMW F800ST

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