Bike Search - Part 1

September 8, 2009

The bike search began before I left Colorado but not soon enough. There was a Honda Goldwing on the side of the road in town, but I did not see it until it was too late to buy it to finish the IronButt rally.

The next search began less than 12 hours after I got home. My first stop was at the BMW/Triumph dealer in town. Hobbling in, I noticed a used Triumph Tiger just itching to be ridden. No interest in the BMWs, I drank that coolaide, and it gave me the runs. At least the HD coolaide only gives me a belly ache.

The Tiger was great, a nice, well behaved engine. Nice seating position. I don't care much for chains and there are not a lot of Triumph dealerships around, but I like the bike. The only real issue for me is that it is a little expensive for what you get.

On the ride I found a 2004 Yamaha FJR for a good price, private sale. A definite possibility.

The next place was the Harley Dealer. I have been riding mostly Harleys for a long time. They have treated me well, but I have issues with them. Every time I think about dumping Harley, they change the color of the Cool-Aide and I end up taking another sip. Really, the only thing Harley has to offer me is their touring lineup, and realistically, I would only get another one of these for my girlfriend. Not that I don't like them, but the cost and other issues makes them not quite what I am looking for at the moment.

So, I talk to the salesperson. He seems to know nothing about the bikes. I ask a bunch of questions that he can't answer. Fortunately the parts guy knows me, knows Harleys and knows mechanics. My questions get answered, but I am not yet convinced. Most of my concerns about the bikes have been corrected except one, belt placement. The belts are put behind the clutch, which means a 3 hour ordeal to replace the belt, with some special tools and a real pain in the butt. Not that I would mind water cooling, or at least oil cooling, but none of these are necessary. The great thing about Harley is that they are cheap and easy to work on. The PITA is that they need to be worked on. When the valves on my bike stuck in Pennsylvania, I was able to find a dealer to fix them cheap and quick. But why should a bike with less than 100K miles have a stuck valve? And why would the other cylinder be at 30% in a leak down check? This particular dealer tends to price things high. In the past, when Harleys were heavily sought after, they would seriously customize them and then price them way over list. Last time I went to this dealer and inquired about a bike, they wanted $4,000 over list for no apparent reason. I was told they *Never sell for list*.

Anyway, they offered me a test ride, but I did not have time. There are not many places that offer test rides, but most Harley dealers do allow it on some models.

I stopped at the local Honda dealer. The questions I asked were answered by the dealer by him getting on-line and getting on the public web site. Frankly, the guy was less than useless. Just to check him out, I asked a question that anyone that knew Goldwings at all would have been able to answer, but the guy did not even know enough to answer that simple question. I also looked at the Suzuki V-Strom 650. They had plenty, and I am sure some kind of wheeling and dealing could have been done.

Understand, I am open to almost ANY bike, for the right price. From a GN125 to a Boss Hoss Big Block Chevy V-8 bike. But the bikes that I am actively looking at are on a short list. For a big touring bike, it falls down to either a Honda Goldwing, or a Harley touring bike. I have issues with each of them, neither suit me completely. For other bikes, well who knows. The Yamaha FJR looks good, as does the Suzuki V-Strom 650. I have fallen in like with anti-lock brakes so that is a big plus on any bike. The Harleys come with it for an extra $800. The Honda Goldwing only comes with it if you get the mid-option model which adds about $4k to the price. Many of the other bikes I am looking at charge a reasonable amount for the option. Other bikes I may be interested in, used, for the right price are the Kawasaki KLR 650, an older Concourse and maybe a Honda ST1300. As I said, a short list.

I have always looked for new bikes, as in the past, I have mostly looked at Harleys. Used Harleys historically have been not much less expensive than new ones. Used Harleys have also always been f*cked with. No one leaves them alone, and they get them modified by people that should never be touching Harleys (HD Mechanics). Now, with other brands, maybe used will be a good idea.

So, day two. Stopped at the Harely dealer that sold me my last Harley. The salesperson knew what he was talking about, and knew how to track down whatever I wanted. Much more energy and smarter than the last place, and the bikes were a couple thousand less.

I wanted to take a test ride on a particular style bike, an FLT. This is a little different than what I was riding in the past, but not much. The particular bike they had ready for a ride was not exactly stock. It had Screaming Eagle heads and cylinders to bump the size of the engine a bunch. It had different cams and a set of VERY LOUD mufflers. Taking it out for a ride was a trip. So damned loud it embarrassed me. I was most interested to find out how much wind noise there was on the highway. There was so much exhaust noise, I could not tell. As it turns out, there was less buffeting than my last bike, but was generally so much more wind that it was worse than what I was used to. But the NOISE. That damned exhaust. People pay a lot more money for this kind of modification. In my experience, with Harleys, if you roll on the throttle at 2,000 RPM, the bike gets up and goes. Maybe not quickly, but it goes. With this goofy bike, it would just sit there. I swear, it seemed to slow down. Anywhere below 3,500 RPM it was a dog. Above that, it had a fair amount of get up and go, but it was so short lived and at such a screwy RPM level that it was slower than my older, smaller, stock bike in any real world driving.

So, where to go from here? I don't know. Give me some advice. Which dealers are best? Which are worst? What details should I look for, what should I watch out for.

You can participate in the de-Harley'ing of Bob L What have you got?


September 10, 2009

Not sure if anyone cares, but since I like writing these things and it helps me think, I am going to continue to relate my bike search stories.

Stopping at one of the local Harley Dealers to get a part or two for my Buell, I walked towards the new bikes. The prices on the bikes, those that had prices anyway, were WAY over list. A few of the sales people gave a halfhearted acknowledgment that I was there. No one seemed to want to talk with the guy with a helmet and decent riding gear. Just as well, as the best way to keep me from buying anything is to send a salesperson to talk to me. Unless, by some wild stretch, they have a clue as to what they are talking about.

I stopped at the Manchester Yamaha dealer. They had a used FJR Automatic for a fair price, but I am not really looking for an automatic. There was also a brand new FJR in the color I want for $14,490. I don't know if this is out the door, but the 2010 models will sell for $15,190 and the 2009's are listed at $14,490. If I could get that out the door for that price it would be pretty good. I can get a 2004 model barely used for half that, but the early ones had some small problems and I like new as I don't have to worry about abuses other than my own.. The salesperson did not really know the bike, and said so. Honesty is nice in this business. I don't know how their service department is, but they have been in business forever and the few times I have dealt with them (not sure if they have always been owned by the same people) they have been great. The only scary thing is they are into a lot of brands and a lot of used bikes. Still....

From there I went to Naults Honda. Talked with the sales guy, who used to be a mechanic, and also knew the local LD Riders. He understood IronButt riding and the value of a good bike. We talked about the ST1300, but damned it's expensive for what it is. And it does not fit me especially well while just sitting on it. I don't really know what it is, but it just doesn't feel right. Gonna have to ride one. We also talked about the Gold Wing. As if I don't hear enough great things about them from Sea Dog. This bike feels pretty good sitting there, although there is little room for my toes when down shifting. I suspect this can be solved by a longer toe piece. They have a 2008 leftover Gold Wing that has some potential for reduced price. The only two problems with Gold Wing for me are 1) there is SO MUCH bike there, and 2) they don't offer anti-lock brakes without getting an upgraded bike with navigation. This upgraded bike is almost $4k more. They do have a test bike available. I feel more comfortable taking a dealers bike out rather than a friends bike. This dealer seems pretty good though and comes recommended. Dealer support is a big selling point for a bike sale.

I crossed the road to the Suzuki Dealer. They are getting a load of Wee Stroms in and are selling them for 6,595. Not sure if this out the door price but that is $900 less than list. I can test ride one next week. The only unfortunate part is that it is a non-ABS model. I have slowly come to grips with the fact that ABS is a good thing. My playing with the Triumph the other day pretty much clinched it. Man, can you stop quick AND controlled with that puppy. I realize that in an ideal situation that an experienced rider can out perform ABS. But emergencies to not happen in ideal situations.

By the way, I got my check for my totaled bike and gear. It was $1,000 less than the FJR.

So where do I stand today? Still confused. I don't think the ST1300 is in the picture. It is $2,700 more than the FJR. A nice bike to be sure, but it just does not quite grab me like the FJR. I still have to ride one to be sure, but it's pretty darned expensive.

So, even if I artificially limit my choices to the following bikes, it is a hard choice: FJR, Gold Wing, Wee Strom. Three very different bikes, but I suspect I will get 2 bikes within the next year, and these are currently at the top of the list. Do I get the nice inexpensive Wee Strom for now, then think about either an FJR or a Wing for spring? Maybe an FJR now, then decide between the other two in the spring? I really don't want to get three bikes. What about used? Hard to beat the new price on the Wee Strom. Used FJR's are pretty reasonably priced, but later model years are no great bargain. Used Gold wings can be a pretty good deal, since most riders put few miles on them, and the price goes down after a number of years, even if they are low miles. Still, there is the option of getting an older Concourse for small dollars. I don't want to get back to having a huge stable of bikes. I want to have two reliable bikes in the garage. I will never be able to sell my Buell for much of anything, so that puts one unreliable bike in the garage. I need a bike that Irene and I can take decent trips on. Even the Gold Wing is a bit skimpy on luggage capacity compared to the Harleys I have had. We have grown accustomed to loading a bike up to look like the Clampetts moving to Beverly Hills. Has anyone made a trailer hitch for the FJR? An FJR with a trailer might be good for almost all of our riding. As I have said in the past, renting for some of the bigger trips is not out of the question.

I just might end up having 4 bikes again. One Buell, one used Wing and two new other bikes. Or, maybe I should forget the Strom and just get an FJR, then later pick up a used Wing.

Oh hell, I don't know yet what I want to do.


September 18, 2009

Still looking, still trying to decide what to get. I am still looking for just about any age, any type, but concentrating on only a few newer models.

Right now, there are three categories of bikes that I am really interested in: Touring, sport touring and dual sport.

For the dual sport, the only one really on my list is the Suzuki V-Strom 650 with or without ABS.

For touring it is the Yamaha FJR or the Honda ST1300. Both great bikes, but realistically, the FJR is a SPORT-touring bike and the ST1300 is a sport-TOURING bike. If I get a full up touring bike, the FJR would be the choice. If not probably the ST. If I only get one bike, then I really don't know what is best. The ST is almost like a mini GoldWing. It is 70 pounds heavier than the FJR and carries it's weight high, as apposed to the Harley FLHT that is another 100 pounds heavier than the ST but carries it's weight low. The ST should have a little bit better passenger comfort. Most of my decisions are taking into account how best to make my girlfriend happy as well as me. Any bike will be a compromise, they always will be unless your uses are very narrowly defined.

Back to the touring bikes. One of my first stops had been the local Harley dealer. They had offered me a test ride on a bike that I was somewhat interested in. They don't have THE bike that I might be interested in, a 2009 FLT. They only have a 2010 FLT Custom. This has a short windshield and a lot of custom crap I would have to remove, and is missing a bunch of things that I want. I got back to them and said I wanted to take the bike for a ride. The guy says he can do that, but we have to talk prices and I have to agree to buy the bike if I like it. Huh????? WTF????? He says his boss doesn't want people to just go taking joy rides and wants to make sure I am ready to buy. I WAS ready to buy, now?????

I went to the local Honda dealer to test ride a new Goldwing. They did not have an ABS model, but the one they had included a GPS system. Not something I want, but it showed me that it was not that anoying. The ride of this bike was great. There are things I like about the Harleys better, but as a total bike, the Goldwing is hard to beat. It handles well, was quick and smooth, handled crappy roads well. The sound system, which I really don't want, sounded like it was speakers in my helmet. Weird. I could definitely get used to this. The bags and trunk don't hold any where near as much as the Harley. The Harley with a rack on the trunk can hold a TON of crap. If I got the Goldwing, I would either have to find a way to reduce what we bring on camping trips, or get a trailer.

Basically, the Harley, for the moment is out of the picture. If I get a full up touring bike, it will be a Goldwing.

There are still some pretty good deals on new FJR's. The ST's are pretty good deals used. New, leftover Goldwings are available, as are used ones for decent prices. Wee-Stroms are available new without ABS for chump change.

I have a date to ride an ST for a decent distance next week. What I really need is a chance to ride an FJR.

Maybe I will just go for that $1,200 old concourse.....

BIKE SEARCH 4 – I got one

October 13, 2009

September 19, 2009

Went to a Harley Dealer’s open house and tried some of their test bikes. The first was a Sportster XR1200. This bike looks interesting and should have been a heck of a sporty bike. It wasn’t. Hard suspension, crappy bars, hard to grip the tank with your knees, tricky fuel injection. This bike had been pretty near the bottom of my list, but ended up falling completely off after this ride.

The other bike I rode was the FLT I had been considering. The last one I tried had been modified horribly and sounded and handled like crap. This one was stock and handled nice. Big improvements over my 2004 model. Unfortunately, the suspension and other quirks made this bike stay fairly low on my short list. I could probably fix almost every complaint I have with some aftermarket parts, so it is still on the list. But right now, I really don’t think so.

September 25, 2009

Andy K. loaned me his Honda ST1300 for the day. This bike has over 100,000 miles and has been driven in a number of rallies, including the most recent IronButt rally. I loaned him my Buell. I got the better part of that exchange, that is for sure. I had high expectations for the Honda, as well as some serious concerns, after researching this bike. There was more vibration than I expected, but I was expecting none. It is very minor, and not annoying in the slightest. The ride was not quite as smooth as expected, nor was the transmission. That is not to say it was bad. As I said, my expectations were not based on reality. The bike was very nice to ride. The engine was smooth, and the brakes were very good. There was plenty of power, but the delivery was near perfect. Irene enjoyed it, saying it was very comfortable. I was a little concerned about engine heat annoying the rider and passenger, but I did not find this to be an issue. There was just a little heat, but not intrusive. I was also concerned about high speed stability and stability while around trucks, as that mis-information net talked a lot about that. Yes, you can feel the bike move around some when in the turbulent air around big trucks, but it is not a concern. I attribute this as much to the sense of feel that the bike gives as much as to aerodynamics.

Irene was a little concerned when she saw the small trunk, and lack of arm rests. Andy has about the biggest trunk that could be put on this bike, but compared to the Harley trunks, everything is small. This trunk has more room than a Goldwing trunk. Irene and I will just have to learn to pack light. The lack of tools that are required should help with that. The real problem is when we camped with the Harley, we could pack the trunk and the luggage rack sky high and not have a problem. I know we way overloaded that bike. This bike will not allow that. Realistically, no matter which bike I get, I really need a trailer. I should have been using a trailer on the Harley also.

All in all I really like this bike, and Irene does too. Is this the one? Probably. Still have to do some shopping.

September 26, 2009

Jim F. let me take his Suzuki V-Strom out for a ride. I came back with a smile from ear to ear. This is a fun little bike. Enough power, nice handling, good riding position. Not the best highway bike, not the best two-up bike, but this would be a great bike for just me, with an occasional short two-up ride.

October 10, 2009

Went to look at a 2006 ST1300 that was advertised. It turns out I know the guy, he is another MSF Rider Coach. The bike was not a bad deal at all. I wanted to think on it, as there are so many other great deals out there. There was a bike down on the Cape, but it was blue. I don’t remember ever seeing a blue ST, but the pictures looked like crap. Then, within ten minutes of seeing the 2006 bike, I saw a blue ST. Then, it seams like every third bike was a blue ST. They look great in person, crappy in pics.

October 12, 2009 Monday, Columbus Day

Way up in the white mountains, I stopped for coffee and found I miraculously had cell phone service. I called the guy with the bike on Cape Cod. He said come on down. This was peak leaf peaper season. That means, any major road will be blocked with goofies. That meant, to get to the Cape, I had to take back roads at least to Manchester NH. From the phone call, it took me 8 hours to get to the bike. I got stuck in traffic, due to an accident, that ate an hour of time. Mostly I was pushing the bike, as traffic was not moving fast enough to warrant running my bike.

The ST was in good shape, well taken care of, only ridden in good weather. The only odd thing I found was some kind of sediment in one of the saddle bags. I scraped it off, smelled it and thought…. The guy has dogs and runs a doggy exercise program. I looked at him. He looked at me. I said “Doggie Treats?” He said, “Probably”.

After a test ride, we settled on a price and worked on when to pick up and all that paperwork stuff. The bike is 6 years old, and has 14,000 miles on it. I will be picking up the bike on Thursday and plan on doubling it’s miles in the first six months. Maybe the first 3 months.

I’m now a Honda owner. Irene said the bike sounded like her electric toothbrush, only quieter. Irene was concerned about the packing space on this bike. I told her: “This bike is $20,000 cheaper than the desired Harley. For $20,000, when her cloths got dirty, she can throw them away and we can buy new ones. We won’t need any camping gear, because for $20K we can afford a lot of nights in the half star hotels that I prefer.

Stay tuned for the continuing saga. This bike brings me down to only two operating motorcycles. My dream is to have two reliable bikes in the garage and nothing else. The Buell is not exactly reliable. Considering that I was once at the point of having six bikes and only 2 of them were functioning, my dream is unlikely. As much as people try to pretend that these bikes are completely reliable, they are mechanical/electrical nightmares. Things go wrong. For the short time that I owned a BMW, I expected magic. I expected perfection. I got a pile of Scheiss. OK, the problem may not have been the reliability of the bike, but the expectations due to the flawless reputation of the bike. I won’t drink that Koolaide on this one. It is mechanical, it is electrical, it is both cheap and high tech. If that ain’t an recipe for disaster, I don’t know what is. But, it is not air cooled, it is not trying to adhere to some tradition. It is designed to do what it is supposed to do. I will be happy, I think, with this bike.

Bob L

Last Edit 2009-10-13 ~11pm