Perspective changes

It’s funny how your perspectives change over time. I’ve noticed those changes taking place in the motorcycles I regard as desirable. That’s not an inconsequential thing for me, since I ride a motorcycle as my primary means of transportation.  Whatever I get is not something that I’m going to take out on an occasional Saturday, then put in the garage for the rest of the week.  I have to live with it constantly.

Sometimes my perspective changes fast. For instance, 4 months after I got a Harley-Davidson, I just wanted to get something different.  The cruiser side just didn’t appeal to me like I thought it would. I wanted something more than I could get from a Harley, or, for that matter a V-Star or VTX.  I toyed with the idea of a Triumph Rocket III for a bit, but ultimately I moved towards a sport-touring bike, and got a fantastic deal on my ’07 FJR1300AE.

For a long while, the FJR seemed like the best bike for me, and I still have no complaints about it at all–except that it’s in the shop right now.  If I were to have a complaint, it would be the electronic clutch. It’s certainly convenient, so it has its pluses, but there are drawbacks to it as well, especially in terms of low-speed handling. Other than that, the sport-tourers seemed to offer the best combination of performance, comfort, and luggage space. I also liked the maintenance-free shaft drive a lot.

2011 BMW K1600GT
2011 BMW K1600GT

Three years into owning it, however, my mind has started to turn towards what my next bike would be.

One of the big candidates has been the BMW R1200RT, a fantastic bike in many respects, except for the lack of top-end speed.  Everything else about it is really top-notch, and it has fantastic handling compared to the FJR.

I tried the K1200GT, and I felt it was kind of “Meh” in the excitement department, and it had a surprisingly uncomfortable seat. So I kind of crossed any of the K-bikes off my shortlist…until the K1600GT was announced last year.

That bike has really interested me.  Enormous torque, and that 6-banger engine will no doubt have a top end that I’ll never reach. Like the R-bike, it will have all the creature comforts you can imagine, too.  I fully intend to test it out as soon as the GTs make over to this side of the pond.

Still, in looking over the specs, I see that it weighs even more than my FJR, tipping the scales at 703lbs soaking wet. And, of course, as always with BMW, there the little issue of price…actually, not little at all.

So, I wonder…

Ducati Multistrada 1200 S
2010 Ducati Multistrada 1200 S

What happened, you see, is that I took a test ride on that bike you see to the left: the Ducati Multistrada 1200S. What a fantastic motorcycle that is!

It wasn’t just the sweet engine, or the stable yet responsive handling.  It was sophisticated technologically, seemed to do everything well, and had an unbelievable hooligan factor along with the great comfort.  It also weighs 487 lbs. wet, and seemed light as a feather compared to my FJR.

Sadly, like the BMW, price is problematic on the Ducati, too.  And, the chain drive didn’t excite me.  What is this, the 1970s?  Chain drive? Pshaw, I say!  Pshaw!

Oh, and the MTS is, not to put too fine a point on it…ugly.

But the thing is, the much lighter weight of the MTS, started me thinking.  The bike was so much easier to handle, and performed so much better than my FJR.

Leave aside all the impressive electronics on the BMW, the MTS, or even the Kawasaki Concours14, I find I don’t miss their absence on the FJR. What I use on the FJR is the heated handgrips, and the electrical socket that I use to power my little XM unit and Magellan GPS. The thing I really liked about the Ducati was the performance and the light weight–which are, of course, not entirely unrelated.

When I got the FJR, the plan was that my chick would have a nice pillion seat to take rides with me.  But she is…uncomfortable on the back of a motorcycle. Street riding as a passenger just terrifies her, especially with the madness that goes on on California streets on a minute-by-minute basis. She used to be a rider, and has been looking at scoots herself occasionally, but passenger riding is right out.

I also had these visions of actually doing some real touring, which also never came to fruition.  When we go somewhere, it turns out that we take along an 18′ Nomad travel trailer, so there’s no long-distance motorcycling involved on our trips.

So, I’ve been thinking, what is it that I want to live with with as a commuter and pleasure bike? The more I think about it, the more I think that what I don’t want is a 700lb behemoth with a 61-inch+ wheelbase, even if it has every electronic bell and whistle you can imagine. What I really want is a bike with sporty performance, decent luggage capacity for short trips and errands, a decent amount of wind protection, and comfy ergonomics.

That’s not to say I’d thumb my nose at a really good deal on a Connie or K-bike, but they aren’t at the top of my shortlist any more.

But, looking at the sporting side of things is depressing.  The bikes with decent ergos for my 46 year-old body–your Bandits and V-Stroms–seem slow and boring, or are unfaired and, hence, windy.  The exciting bikes stretch you over the tank, with your knees tucked into your armpits. Neither appeals.

2011 Kawasaki Ninja 1000
2011 Kawasaki Ninja 1000

But now there may be an alternative that’s starting to attract me. Kawasaki has the new Ninja 1000 available now, and everyone that’s ridden it says it’s a great bike, with many of the features I’m looking for.

It’s got a 58″ wheelbase, weighs 503 lbs at the curb, has heated grips and OEM hard bags (made by Givi, actually), and puts a stompin’ 74 ft-lbs of torque and 123HP on the rear wheel. And it produces them at far lower RPMs than the ZX-10 or R1. My FJR, by comparison, weighs 687 lbs wet, has a 61″ wheelbase, and puts out 127HP and 89 ft-lbs of torque. The tale of the tape in comparing the 2 shows up in 1/4-mile times, with the Ninja coming in at 10.55 secs @ 130.71MPH, and the FJR1300AE at 11.86 secs @ 118.8MPH. Apparently 184 lbs of extra weight slows the FJR down a bit.

I’ve gone into the dealership and looked at the new Ninja, and sat on it.  The ergos are right.  Not sure how comfy the seat would be–reviewers say it’s average, but better than a pure sportbike’s–but there’s aftermarket solutions available from all the usual suspects.

But what about that chain drive? Well, the thing is, that shaft adds about 100 lbs to the weight of the bike. So that’s really a difficult decision for me.  I guess I could get a chain oiler installed…no, let me rephrase that: I would definitely have a chain oiler installed. I’d just have to spend the regular $300 to replace the chain and sprocket set.

There are other issues, too.  I’d have to have the wiring installed for my Magellan and XM unit, and spring for new Ram mounts, too, since they’d have to be mounted differently. I don’t know if that’s even possible.  Oh, and that strangely shaped windshield–manually, not electrically adjustable, sadly–would have to be replaced by a Cal-Sci shield first thing, too.  Also, it doesn’t have a gear indicator on the dash. I kind of like that. Finally, those mufflers would be gone before I took it home from the shop, too.  I like the look of the CS One Urban Brawler Dual Slip-ons from Vance & Hines.

Another big sticking point is that the American version of the Ninja 1000, unlike the European-spec model, doesn’t come with ABS brakes.  I like ABS systems a lot, and not having one on the Ninja is disappointing.

But, even with all those negatives, with a base price of under $11k, some farkling would overcome most of them, and the bike would still be more affordable that a Connie or even a Triumph Sprint GT.

So, the Ninja 1000 is worming its way onto my shortlist of possible FJR replacements. No doubt a test ride would help me make a more informed decision, but that’s not gonna happen.

Unless someone at Kawasaki USA is interested in offering me a test opportunity, in return for a test report.

Hello? Anyone? Hello? Is this thing on?

Author: Dale Franks

Dale Franks is the former host of The Business Day, ”a daily, four-hour business and financial news program on KMNY Radio in Los Angeles. From 2002-2004, he was a contributor on military and international affairs for Currently, he a publisher and editor of the monthly political journal The New Libertarian, as well as an editor of the popular web log, Q and O. Dale served as a military police officer in the United States Air Force from 1984 to 1993, in variety of assignments both in the United States and Europe, where he also was assigned to the staff of the Headquarters of Allied Forces Central Europe. In addition to broadcasting, writing, and speaking on various topics, Dale has also been a long-time technical training instructor on a variety of computer software and technology subjects. Dale has also long been involved with information technology as an accomplished web designer, programmer, and technologist, serving as the corporate knowledge specialist for Microsoft Outlook at SAIC, the nation's largest employee-owned corporation. Additionally, he is the author of a number of software user guides used for classroom training by one of Southern California’'s premier computer training and consulting firms. His book, SLACKERNOMICS: Basic Economics for People Who Find Economics Boring, is available from Barnes & Noble.

7 thoughts on “Perspective changes”

  1. Dale, have you thought of the Multistrada’s competition? Like the big BMW GS, the Triumph Tiger 1050, the Yamaha Super Tenere? If you liked the MTS’s ergonomics, these bikes may provide something close to it.

    You have a good point in looking for light weight bikes, but I don’t think the shaft drive is the sole big problem – the GS in non-adventure trim is around 230kg wet. That’s 25 or so more than the MTS, however it’s a comparison between what was basically designed from scratch as a hooligan tool and what came from a long line of bikes that were never specifically designed to be light weight.

    If weight is key, I think getting away from the big tourers is a good move. Look for less cylinders, look for less plastic, look for less high tech. You just may be happy with an F800S (belt drive), or with one of Triumph Triples or similar.

    I am looking to move up from my 650 Kawasaki Versys, maybe to a GS, or (if I can motivate myself to pay for it) a Multistrada  for the main reason that I started as a single rider with a commute, but have by now aquired a pillion, a desire to tour, and have lost my commute. If it weren’t for the two-up touring, I’d stay with the Versys.

    1. Look for less cylinders, look for less plastic, look for less high tech. You just may be happy with an F800S (belt drive), or with one of Triumph Triples or similar.

      Not. Gonna. Happen.

      If it’s not putting 70+ ft-lbs of torque and 120+ HP at the rear wheel, I’m not interested.  The Ninja 1000 interests me.  The F800 doesn’t even register on my meter.

      1. To each their own – but looking at raw power instead of power to weight ratio seems somewhat missing the point.
        By my book having roughly 2.5hp/kg is ‘fun power’. More power’s always good, but once at that point, less weight equaling more flickability just seems the better deal.
        Low weight with very high power seems to come out to relatively expensive Ducatis, or to superbikes – weight/power parity has been achieved in the last few years.
        Jonathan: the Bandit’s a torque monster, but I was less than impressed. For one, the delivery’s too linear for me – but that’s a matter of taste. And then, its suspension seems somewhat lacking. What good is the torque if I don’t dare turning the grip while leaned over?

        1. How am I missing power-to-weight ratio?  The whole point of the post was to get the most powerful engine at the least bike weight.  That’s the direction I’m thinking about heading in.

          What I don’t want is some ugly “adventure” bike, or less of a fairing and the lack of wind protection that goes with it.

          What I want is a modern ZZR1200, but it seems that Ninja 1000 aside, nobody’s making that bike any more.  It’s all lightly-faired adventure bikes, repli-racer torture racks, naked standards, or portly tourers.

  2. Dale-

    Two things:

    1. Bandit?  The original torque monster?  Slow?????  You’re kidding, right??

    2. Chains.  Yes, you have to lubricate them.  You also have to check air pressure periodically and put gas in the bike.  Do you want the extra 100 lbs, or could you possibly get a little dirt under your finger nails once in a while?  Re: $300 for chain and sprockets.  Yes.  Every 25,000 miles, like clockwork.  Or you could get a BMW and just have the final drive grenade itself at 50,000 miles; that’s MUCH cheaper.  🙂

    (BTW, I enjoy the blog very much.  But lose the chain phobia….. please??)

    1. I’m already looking at the Ninja 1000, and I made an offer on a used ZZR1200 this morning.  I prefer the easier maintenance of the shaft, but I hardly have a chain phobia. Although, I may exaggerate for comic effect.

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