Sunday, 16 February 2014

On First Bikes and Next Bikes

My current bike, a Yamaha YZF-R125
I love my motorcycle. Let me introduce you- it’s a 2008 Yamaha YZF-R125 in the slightly unfortunately named “Impact Yellow” colour scheme. Yamaha saw a gap in the L-plate suitable small-displacement motorcycle market for something that was actually desirable, and promptly filled it with a bike that sold tremendously. The bike combines noob-friendly handling and power output with the look and feel of a proper big-engine motorbike. As a first bike, it comes highly recommended. But! Alas, that little engine isn’t enough to keep a bike fiend entertained forever, no matter how much he thrashes it, and sooner or later I’ll sadly part ways with my beloved little Yammy for something with a bit more grunt. The question is- what?

My lizard brain immediately answers- R1. Small wonder that the atavistic part of the human psyche that wants only to fight, fuck and devour (in that order) everything it sees is attracted to Yamaha’s ferocious 180 mile-per-hour race-bred 1000cc superbike flagship, but the more developed primate brain feels differently. An R1 is far too much for someone with just one year’s riding experience to handle, it says, you’d die and lose your licence (maybe not in that order). Such a fierce machine would be a bit wasted on the fifteen mile commute to university. Plus, once there, such a predatory bastard thing slouched indifferently on its sidestand by the gate might frighten the more sensitive female students.
The widowmaking Yamaha YZF-R1.

So an R1 (or any of its similarly mental litre-class stablemates from the other manufacturers) is not really an option (yet…). Much as I dig the race-bike aesthetic, the less powerful 600cc supersports bikes are probably still a bit much, in their aggressive, track-focused handling setup perhaps more than raw power, and used examples are likely to have been thrashed relentlessly by horny lizard-men. And, let’s face it- they’re compact and uncomfortable and not really for massive fat bastards like me. What's to be done?

Believe it or not, there are some bikes I’m drawn to that aren’t insane, that might even be sensible. The Suzuki SV650 has a very manageable power output from its fruity V-twin engine, and, while on the budget end of the spectrum, can still call itself a proper sportbike with a straight face. Plus, in half-faired “S” form, it’s a jolly handsome bike. This is important because people judge a man based on how good his bike looks. It’s not just, but that’s life. The SV is cheap, though, in more than just list price, and there are more thrilling rides out there.
The playful Suzuki SV650.

A Kawasaki Ninja 250R would be a decent shout. The wee green machine (or black, if the first owner didn’t understand the fucking point of a Kawasaki) is a new-biker favourite in the US and with good reason- it looks good and inspires confidence. With only a little bit more poke than my current bike, the Ninja is available to me right now, unlike more powerful machinery which would really have to wait until the two-year probationary period on my licence had elapsed in December. A 250cc bike would still offer much of the economy and usability I’ve grown used to from the 125cc- good, since my primary use is commuting through town to university. However, it’s only a kind of half-step, and I’d still want to make another upgrade once it was available, and they’re
expensive, too.

A Ninja 250R in the correct lime green.
Perhaps the most promising upgrade prospect comes not from one bike, but a class of them. Prior to the current trend for really hardcore racetrack focused sports bikes, there were 600cc all-rounders that combined comfy seats and road-friendly design with more than enough speed to thoroughly upset the constabulary. These bikes, notably the Yamaha YZF600R Thundercat, the Honda CBR600F and the Kawasaki ZZR600, really fell from fashion once the (admittedly far sexier) race replica bikes came on the scene, and as a consequence can these days be picked up for not really much money at all- I’ve seen roadworthy examples for £800, and shite but redeemable ones for under £500. But there’s nothing wrong with them! They’re quick, reliable, good looking (except maybe the ZZR which is a bit of a land-barge) and less harsh to ride than the bikes that succeeded them. And they’re not complete pussycats either- before the new racier bikes hit, these were what were used for racebikes, and they’ll give you 150mph and 11 second quarter miles. However, one of these would still be a considerable leap up in performance from the R125, with all the bastarding running costs associated with that, and even the final models released are old now, with all the bastarding repair costs associated with that.

Left to right- A CBR600F, ZZR600 and YZF600R Thundercat- each overlooked in favour of their sexier but higher maintenance younger sisters.
Difficult decisions, eh? It’s probably worth remembering that modern Japanese-built motorcycles are basically quite good, and that it’s hard to get one that’s just shite- there’s not really a wrong choice to be made here. But it still weighs heavy on my mind, occupying brain function that really should be devoted to nobler pursuits, like passing my law degree and convincing a nice young lady to go out with me. Fucking motorcycles! Dangerous even when you’re out of the saddle!