Standing in front of a sleek, well-appointed motorcycle, it's very easy to be seduced by the shine of glistening chrome and the promise of adventure. But the relationship a rider develops with his or her bike changes - not only with the rev of the tachometer but also with the steady increase of miles.
Learning how to assess a motorcycle actually means learning how to assess whether a motorcycle is right for you. Determining whether you and your motorcycle are a good match requires that you ask the right questions about what you expect, what kind of riding you do and what level of motorcycle your current riding skills can handle. When you consider specific key qualities you will make better decisions about which make and model best suits you. This is invaluable when trying to determine if you've outgrown your current motorcycle or whether or not a different type of bike would be a better match for your riding style.
The four components for evaluating a motorcycle are: handling, comfort, dependability and, last but not least, overall sexiness.
A fine handling motorcycle turns power into grace. Handling is the ability to transfer engine output into an exhilarating sweep of forward momentum. However, no single motorcycle handles perfectly for every rider. Getting the most out of any bike is a matter of matching the rider's experience and ability with the motorcycle's technical capabilities.
There has been a trend toward bigger motorcycles. While large displacement motorcycles certainly have their place, this trend can be deceptive. Many accomplished riders still prefer the personality and nimbleness of lighter bikes. And novice riders should always start with smaller displacement motorcycles - 250cc or less. Besides what's the point of owning the latest bike with the largest power plant if you're only comfortable riding it slowly in a straight line?
Obviously an off-road rider will be looking for something different than someone who routinely chews up hundreds of highway miles. But a good indication of handling characteristics can be found in how well a motorcycle maneuvers at very low speed and how stable it feels at high speed. Solid, accurate shifting should be considered, as well as efficiency and sure-footedness in a hard breaking situation.
All it takes to get a sense of a motorcycle's comfort factor is to spend a day on it. Greater physical demands and exposure to the elements are part of the allure of motorcycling. But if you perpetually want to end your ride at the chiropractor's office there may be a problem.
Basic comfort is mostly a matter of suspension and ergonomics. These factors are designed into the motorcycle's intended purpose. A steeply angled sport bike, with its aggressive rider position is intended to offer speed and agility - not long distance comfort. Cruisers and touring bikes have a more upright riding position, longer wheelbase and more compliant suspension.
A motorcycle's seat height can greatly affect comfort as well. The same low-saddled cruiser that easily accommodates a diminutive rider may severely cramp a taller individual. Again, it's all about finding the right match. Fairings and windshields help avoid fatigue caused by wind buffeting. Perks like heated grips can also give a motorcycle's comfort factor a boost.
In motorcycling the trust between rider and machine is everything. Beyond the simple mechanics of starting, moving forward and stopping - an undependable motorcycle creates worry in the rider's mind. It's difficult to fully enjoy a ride if you are constantly concerned about whether or not you're going to stall at the next red light. Preoccupation with your motorcycle's performance is at the very least a nagging distraction and at most a safety hazard.
Motorcycle technology and machining tolerances have improved dramatically over the years. Still, engines leak and electronics fail. Some motorcycles are better than others at keeping their riders on the road. But if you have to cross your fingers and throw salt over your shoulder before starting your motorcycle perhaps you ought to think about finding a bike you can trust.
It's no secret there is more to motorcycling than getting from point A to point B. Sexiness is that hard-to-define purely emotional part of motorcycling. How it makes you feel while standing still as well as in motion. Remember how I said it's very easy to be seduced by the shine of glistening chrome and the promise of adventure on the open road? Well if you have honestly assessed your motorcycle for handling, comfort and dependability and your motorcycle still makes you swoon... well... then you have found your match.