An the Winner Is….

After a lot of thought, and a lot of research–overcoming my innate tendency to love something about every motorcycle currently made–I think I’ve settled on the bike I am looking to move up to.

This reflects my current reasoning, and assumes that current bikes will still be current when I sell the Sporty. If I still have it when the 2009’s come out, well, then, all bets are off. Who knows what wonderfulness the 2009 models will bring?

Absent that, however, here’s my thinking.

There is much about the Honda ST1300 to love. Great reliability, comfort, fuel range, manufacturer’s warranty, weather protection, and built-in tip-over bars.

The three things against it are the higher price, the size and weight, and, this troubling “high-speed weave” problem. That last one is the most critical.

I’ve spent a lot of time over the last few days looking into that high-speed weave problem. It’s elusive. For everyone that claims to have run into it, ten other people claim they’ve had their ST up to 140 MPH with no problem at all. There are conjectures about the aerodynamic affect of having a top box and no passenger, or improper tire pressure, or bad preload/rebound settings on the suspension. But no one has a definitive answer that I’ve found. Although, one notes, curiously, that Honda doesn’t sell the top box in the US.

In fact, the ST’s weave issue is a lot like the BMW final driveline failure issue. It’s apparently there. It affects a minority of bikes. There are “fixes” or workarounds, but no firm answer on whether there’s a fundamental design or manufacturing problem. At the end of the day, it probably won’t be something you ever encounter, unless you’re unlucky.

The difference between the BMW and Honda problems, though, are that final driveline failure is annoying and expensive. High speed weave can–and has–killed some people. Well, I’m not too big on joining groups in general, and I’m really not keen on joining the “killed by high-speed weave” group.

So, despite the fact that there’s much to love about the Honda, at the end of the day…it scares me not knowing if I will get a good bike or one of the bad ones. If there is any such thing. Which we don’t know. But what I do know, is that I don’t want to have a tank-slapper at 100 MPH to find out.

So, regretfully, the Honda ST1300 has to be crossed off the list.

The Kawasaki Concourse™14 has an engine you just have to love. Unfortunately, everything else about the Connie is–I hate to say it–second rate. Kawi has never been my favorite brand, though, so that may color my perceptions here. The number one strike against the C14 is the seat height. It’s just a bit too much for me, especially in a bike that weighs in at about 675 pounds wet. I don’t want to be tippy-toeing that through a parking lot.

It also strikes me as a relatively rough-looking bike, with lots of stuff haphazardly thrown on it, including a godawful ugly exhaust can. The riding position is too sporty, too, now that I’ve gone back and sat on one again. Too much of a stretch to the handlebars. It also, by all accounts, handles like a pig at slow speed maneuvering.

Finally, it’s a first-year production model. Problems always pop up in the first year or two of a new model. There are things we already know are wrong with it, such as heat management. But more worrisome are the things we don’t know are wrong with it yet, because it hasn’t been in service long enough to know them.

So, the Concours™14 gets a pass, too.

I have a soft spot for the Buell Ulysses, especially the new touring version, the XB12XT. There’s a lot going on at Buell, in terms of frame design, maneuverability, and light weight. I wish everyone was signing on to the Buell “trilogy of tech”: mass centralization, low unsprung weight, and frame rigidity with the same dedication.

Ultimately, though, the XT is too much of a naked bike. I want a bit more weather protection than the Buell can give. And, I already have a bike with an Evo engine. You can cam it up, race-tweak it, and suck 103HP out of it, but ultimately, it’s the same shaky V-Twin technology that I already have. And the 4.4 gallon fuel tank isn’t really all that hot, either. I already fill up every 130 miles. Been there. Done that. I want to stay on the road a bit longer than that.

I’m sure it’s a fun bike, but I don’t really want it at my primary ride.

Either of the two BMWs are very nice bikes. Heated grips and seat, electronic suspension control, automatic stability control. You can get a BMW with everything on the side.

If you’re willing to pay for it. Which I’m not. While they’re nice bikes, a $7,000 premium to own one is unnecessary, as far as I’m concerned. I can spend that seven grand way better than BMW Motorrad can.

That, plus the troubling history of final driveline failures, makes the BMW a no-go.

And that brings us to…
The Yamaha FJR1300.

The Buell will carve corners way better. The BMW has every farkle you could want already built onto the bike. The ST1300 is more comfortable. The Concours™14 has a more powerful engine. In fact, there’s no category in which the FJR comes in first place.

But the FJR comes in as a close second in all of those categories.

It’s not the lightest bike, with a curb weight of about 615 pounds, but considering I already have a 589-pound bike, I doubt I’ll notice much difference in weight.

I expect I will, however, notice the difference between my current 75HP and 70 ft-lb of torque and the FJR’s 145HP and 99FT-lb of torque. I expect my SO will notice the difference in seating size and comfort as well.

At less than $14k, the FJR seems like the best compromise between what I think would be ideal, and what is actually available in the real world.

Yesterday, my opinion was that, if someone held a gun to my head and forced me to choose, it would be the ST13000. Today, I choose the FJR, no gun required. And I think that’s my final answer.

However, I hear rumors–just rumors, mind you–that Honda may be updating the ST for 2009 with an all-new, 200HP plus V4 powerplant.

I’m just saying…