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What it's Like to Crash a Motorcycle

“Damn it. John Burns thinks I’m a dick.”
That was one of the predominant thoughts going through my head as I slid down a Florida highway at 60 mph back in March.
It’s weird how the mind works. Time slows in a crash. Every tiny image burns into memory, so your brain can replay it over and over and over at night for the next who knows how many weeks.
In the moments before I crashed, I was riding the Harley-Davidson Street Rod along County Road 34 in central Florida. I’m not sure which county. The accident report simply records it as “County Code 61,” but the internet can’t agree on which county that is. Maybe I was in Indian River County; maybe I was in Suwannee County; maybe I was in Flagler County; I don’t know. I guess it doesn’t matter; I was somewhere. The road passing through that somewhere was long and straight – not the sort of place where one usually crashes – and the weather was perfect.

“My God, I am so happy,” I was thinking. “I am so incredibly lucky to be here – to live t…

Weighing the options: Middleweight sport tourers

Technically, the Honda CBF600SA is a sport tourer.
Not too long ago I started the process of thinking seriously about my next bike, which, at this stage, consists of little more than saving money (a) and daydreaming constantly about what that next bike will be.

Because I'm an American, my default setting, it seems, is to daydream about cruisers; the post linked to above focuses on the Triumph Speedmaster, Harley-Davidson 72, and Victory Judge. But as happened before I got Aliona, the more I think about it, the more practical concerns like safety and performance and comfort start to creep into my thoughts.

The other day, fellow moto-blogger Sash offhandedly mentioned in a Google+ conversation that she is likely to return to a sportbike for her next machine. And I found myself thinking: "Yeah, I'll probably end up choosing something non-cruiser as well."

Because the thing is: although cruisers definitely have the benefit of long-term aesthetics –– you can take a picture of yourself on your cruiser and 50 years from now your grandkids will say: "Look how cool Grandad was!" as opposed to taking a picture of yourself on a sportbike and having those same grandchildren say: "Tee-hee! I'll bet Grandad thought he was cool!" –– they tend to fall short when it comes to overall riding experience. And although my experience with cruisers is admittedly quite limited, I found that when I rode the Harley-Davidson XL883 and the XL1200 my back hurt, and I hated the excessive windblast.

So, I have been looking at my beloved CBF600SA and thinking: "Actually, you're a damned good bike."

Especially since reading an article on RideApart (I know; I can't stay away) that noted: "If you’re unable to make a 600 go fast, you need riding lessons, not a bigger, more difficult bike to ride." Additionally, the article made the point that the overwhelming majority of riders will never put the capabilities of their bike to full use. If I'm honest with myself, I fall into that group.

With the exception of accidentally learning anti-lock brakes are really useful, I've never ridden anywhere close to the way my bike could be ridden. And even in the ultra-safe and precious way I have ridden, the bike has proven up to the task in all cases. It handles tiny lanes and motorways and everything in between with ease –– even when carrying both Jenn, myself and luggage.

As such, when thinking about the sport-like machine I'd like as my next bike, it occurs to me that the engine need not be excessively large. Which brings me, finally, to the point of this post: middleweight sport tourers.

For the sake of argument, let's define "middleweight" as being 600cc-1100cc. And we'll define a "sport tourer" as being like a sportbike –– agile and quick –– but with a more relaxed, upright riding position. Additionally, we'll say a sport tourer must have fairing. Thus we can save discussion of bikes like the Suzuki V-Strom and Honda NC750X for another day.

I've been looking at all kinds of offerings –– some seriously and some not so seriously –– and here's what I've found, going from smallest engine to largest:

Yamaha XJ6 Diversion F
Yamaha XJ6 Diversion F
Price: £6,699
Basic stats: 600cc, 77bhp
About: The XJ6 Diversion is essentially Yamaha's variant of the Honda CBF600, the bike I have presently. It is part of a class frequently awarded backhanded compliments like "reliable" and "nonthreatening." Though it has fairing and ABS, it does not come with much else. It has no features, technological or aesthetic, to make it really stand out and make me think: "Ooooh! Me want."
Would I seriously consider buying one? No. Having seen this bike in a showroom I know that it is tiny and wouldn't accommodate my 6-foot-1 frame. To that end, the passenger seat is virtually non-existent. And, overall, it looks cheap. I'm sure it's a fine all-rounder but I think it would actually be a step down from my present bike.

Price: £6,685
Basic stats: 600cc, 83bhp
About: More powerful and less expensive than the aforementioned Yamaha, the GSX650F is another bike that has one and a half feet solidly placed in the durable all-rounder category. Apart from its particularly agreeable price, it has little to make it stand out enough that I'd want it more than my existing machine. Though, in fairness, its seat is more accommodating of a passenger than the Yamaha's.
Would I buy one? No. I know Suzukis have a great reputation for reliability and so on, but I really don't like the look of this bike. It looks like two different bikes that have been sloppily glued together.

Yamaha Fazer8
Price: £7,999
Basic stats: 800cc, 104bhp
About: Yamaha's own spin on this bike is to say: "If you could only ever own one bike, the Fazer8 would be top of the list." Certainly it's got a hell of a lot more power than Aliona, but really it's a vehicle that still tends to fall a little too heavily into the aforementioned "durable all-rounder" category, which is generally motorcycle code for "dull." I suppose, though, with some extensive aftermarket work you could turn it into a solid sport tourer. And, in fairness, with all but one of the bikes on this list (the Triumph), a certain amount of extra money would be required to ensure the "tourer" bit of "sport tourer."
Would I buy one? Probably not. If memory serves me, this bike is shorter than the XJ6 Diversion and, again, the passenger accommodations are wanting. Also, I'm not hot on the half fairing. There are aftermarket kits that can turn the Fazer8 into a fully-faired machine, but at that point you are running too far away from the Fazer's attractive price.

BMW F800GT
BMW F800GT
Price: £8,175
Basic stats: 800cc, 90bhp
About: You can see where Motus got their inspiration, can't you? Looking at this bike is what got me started on this post in the first place. I find it a strange bike in the sense that the more I look at it the more I like the way it looks. The bike has the whole BMW legacy thing going for it, it's belt-driven, and there are a number of extras (for a price, of course), like traction control, which make it a top choice amongst the reviews I've read. Motorcycle USA editor Adam Waheed is 6 feet tall and has a similar lankiness to myself; his long-term review of the F800GT makes no mention of being cramped, so I'm assuming I'd get along alright. There appears to be plenty of space for Jenn, too, and I'm certain the engine would deliver plenty of power to haul us both around with ease. A reviewer for Motorcycle News rode the F800GT from Petersborough, England to Germany and mentioned at one point that he was "cruising comfortably" on the Autobahn at just over 100 mph.
Would I buy one? Yes. OK, I will admit that to a certain extent I am falling for the aura of BMW here. It's a bit like the Harley-Davidson thing, where you're not just buying a motorcycle but also an idea of a motorcycle, and with it some sort of contorted, market-tested reflection of the motorcyclist you'd like to be. Admittedly, I may not want to associate myself with that idea; I can't help but notice that BMW guys don't tend to nod/wave when I pass. But there is also the simple fact that BMWs have a strong reputation for quality, reliability and rider experience.

Honda VFR800F
Honda VFR800F
Price: ??
Basic stats: 800cc, 105bhp
About: Having just said I'd fork out money for the "reliability" of a BMW, it's worth noting that Honda and other Japanese OEMs actually have a better track record than BMW, according to an article in Consumer Reports last year. And I'll admit that the very first name that comes to my mind when I think of reliable machines is Honda. In my (limited) experience, Hondas are solid. Even the ones that were used by my training school, bikes I had seen dropped multiple times, were durable motherhuggers. Which is exactly the sort of thing you want in a bike when you plan to go awander. The VFR, of course, is the bike for which the sport tourer term was coined and it has consistently won almost religious praise from its owners for nigh 30 years. The 800cc version was dropped from the roster not too long ago to make room for the larger VFR1200, but is now set to return with a new look and, presumably, a new set of bells and whistles. The bike is not out yet, so there are still a lot of unknowns –– one of the biggest ones being the price –– but traction control will apparently come standard.
Would I buy one? Yes. This bike has a hell of an engine and a tank that looks like an aroused clitoris. How can you not want that? Overall, it has a look that grows on you, a hell of a good reputation, and appears to have plenty of space for a passenger. In my eyes, the whole thing is a win. My only sticking point would be the price, which has not yet been announced. If it goes above the £10,000 mark that will pretty much remove it from my list.

Price: £9,499
Basic stats: 1000cc, 106bhp
About: This is the modern, 1000cc-version of the bike I ride at the moment. So, I know it is comfortable, reliable, and suited to pretty much every task I put to it. I know there's plenty of room for Jenn. And I know that with heated grips, a taller windscreen, and some panniers, it could serve as a solid sport tourer. Meanwhile, the CBF1000F's engine obviously delivers a fair bit more kick than my 600, as well as newer technology (Aliona is 9 years old). It also has just a tiny bit more fairing, though it is still technically half-faired.
Would I buy one? Probably not. I'm very happy to be monogamous with Jenn but I feel life is too short to stick faithfully to the same motorcycle model. Plus, that price seems just a little too high, considering more money would need to be invested for touring accoutrements.

Yamaha FZ1 Fazer
Price: £9,799
Basic stats: 1000cc, 150bhp
About:  Exactly like the Fazer8, but with a bigger engine and a shedload more power.
Would I buy one? No. Considering that I would never use all that power, and am already quite lukewarm on the Fazer8, why would I pay even more money for such a bike?

Kawasaki Z1000SX Tourer
Price: £10,499
Basic stats: 1000cc, 140bhp
About: The touring version of the best-selling Kawasaki in the United Kingdom, it's just a Z1000SX with panniers. Other touring items remain pay-extra options. Here in blighty, where balding, leather-onesie-wearing, bacon-sandwich-loving males dominate the riding scene with endless talk about the sportbike they rode in the 1980s, the Z1000SX has gone down a storm. Journalists from MCN, VisorDown and the Telegraph have all sung its praises. Despite the love from old men, however, it offers all the modern amenities, including traction control.
Would I buy one? No. Look, I'm not entirely sure why, but I am so against this bike that I feel tired. Perhaps it's Kawasaki's website that puts me off, the way all the models are in that kryptonite green and every goddamned photo has been run through the extreme HDR filter. Whatever it is, there's just something I outright hate about these bikes. Motorcycling is an emotional thing at times, so I can't really explain. In terms of rational criticism, however, the Z1000SX seems a little more sportbike than sport tourer, reviews have said there is almost no room for a passenger, and it looks tiny (check out how huge the rider appears to be in this promotional photo).

Triumph Sprint GT SE
Triumph Sprint GT SE
Price: £8,999
Basic stats: 1050cc, 130bhp
About: The only bike on this list with a load of touring gear (panniers, top box, heated grips, touring screen and gel seat) as standard, more affordable than the other litre bikes, and it's a Triumph. Though Britons aren't nearly so patriotic as their American cousins, the Triumph name still means something on this island of rain. Roll up on one and it will earn you an automatic modicum of respect from all the leather boys. Indeed, I've noticed that, in Southwest England particularly, it is common for said blokes to place themselves in a highly visible area –– in front of a supermarket, for example –– and just sit on their Triumphs for inexplicably long periods of time. The only triple engine bike on the list, the Sprint has gotten all kinds of love from reviewers and riders over the years. And the suspension is said to be designed for substandard British roads.
Would I buy one? Yes. Though, a quick glance at the ever-useful motorcycle ergonomics simulator shows quite a lot of forward lean and bent legs. I watched a review of the Sprint GT on YouTube recently and the 6-foot-3 test rider had to splay his knees on either side of the fairing. However, in the comments another person claimed to be 6-foot-2 and said he had no complaints, so (as with all the bikes, I suppose) a rather extensive test ride would be needed before I handed over my money.

A few other things to ponder:
  • The Suzuki GSX1250FA has a middleweight price –– just £7,865. So, I'd probably check that one out, as well. A quick Google search delivers some positive reviews.
  • At present, Honda seems to have dropped the ultra-reliable Honda Deauville. It's possible that bike is gone for good, or perhaps there are plans to give it a makeover and reintroduce it in the not-too-distant future, as was done with the VFR. If so, it would be a serious contender, despite its fugly looks.
  • Though, admittedly, none of these bikes really rock my world aesthetically. I showed some of these bikes to Jenn and she said: "Hmm" 
  • I really didn't need to run through every possible bike, did I? I could have saved everyone a lot of time and simply reduced the list to three, as I did when discussing cruisers. Sorry.
__________

(a) Present savings: £70.18.

Comments

  1. Chris, great review! I'm a cruiser fan but have been wondering about a sport-tourer as well. Unlike yourself, I'm vertically challenged at 5'7" and am not sure about seat height...I like the feeling of being flat footed at a stop. Only time will tell...right now I'm happy with my Sportster XL1200C.

    Best of luck in your hunt for your next bike. BTW, do you think you'll ever move back t the states? ~Curt

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Honestly, Curt, I daydream about moving back every day. Literally, every single day. The challenge is making it work in such a way that it doesn't create in my wife the same sort of homesickness that I deal with. I know how bad it is and it would be cruel for me to put that on someone else. So, I need financial conditions to be right, to make sure we can get back here to see her family often.

      In terms of sport tourers, I think you'll find a number of bikes that would suit your frame. Especially if you go with a middleweight. And there's no need to worry about power –– my 600cc bike delivers 76 bhp, whereas your 1200 Sportster delivers 67 bhp. The trade-off, of course, is torque. My bike doesn't really launch off the line the way a Sportster does. But it holds up better at high speeds.

      Delete
  2. Oh to be tall enough to ride ANY of these!
    Smooches,
    Sash
    www.Sashmouth.com

    ReplyDelete
  3. Quite a list of bikes.

    As much as I love Triumphs I can give you a bit of insight on the Sprint ST. Troubadour had a 2001 he bought in about 2005. He sold it after a year as it was so uncomfortable. He is only 5'9" and after 20 miles his knees would hurt so bad he didn't want to go further. And as for pillion, the seat was tipped a bit forward so I used to ride with my arms behind me gripping the back end to keep the weight off him when he'd brake. It was a great machine and he loved the motor. He did put thousands of miles on it before selling it, but we were always sore after.

    Sometimes half the fun is in the researching and looking. It sounds as though you are enjoying looking at all the bikes and thinking - what if.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. That is really useful to know. I think the seating on the GT is supposed to be a little more relaxed than with the ST, but it may still not be enough for an inflexible guy like me. Thanks!

      Delete
  4. hye there, have you tried kawa versys 650?

    ReplyDelete

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