From Rising Sun to Union Jack – Adventures in finding the right motorcycle

Posted: August 4, 2014 in Moto
Tags: , , , ,

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It wasn’t my fault. Really. I had no intentions whatsoever. I swear. I had just bought the Ninja last year, but there I was, taking pictures and posting it for sale on Craigslist… You know, just too see if someone would want it. Sure, because no one is going to want an immaculate white 2013 Ninja 300, which has been said time and again to be one of the best entry level motorcycles ever made. Nah, It’ll probably just sit there in the list for weeks, and I’ll feel better.

Not so much. I posted my much loved Ninja on a Monday, and by Tuesday night, it was gone. Wow.. What? It sold, for my craigslist negotiated price in about 24 hours. I shouldn’t have been surprised. I mean, I kept it clean, you seriously could have eaten off the chain (but you know, don’t), had kept it up with fresh oil, and new tires and some other little cosmetic mods; why wouldn’t it have sold? So what the hell was I thinking?

Enabler, thy name is Johnny.

Ugh. F’ing Johnny. One of my oldest and closest friends, and of course the chief enabler of my motorcycling addiction. To be fair, when I’ve gone to him with crackpot ideas on spending stupid money on mods or gear I don’t really need, he has kept me on the straight and narrow. Keeping that in mind, I try not to blame him too much, but it’s not always easy when I get an email titled: Your Next Bike. And with that, the seed was planted.

A little history:

A few years ago, my wife and I took the Motorcycle Safety Foundation’s beginner riding class. They stressed in the class that if you didn’t have a bike yet, you should get one sooner rather than later so you don’t forget the skills you learned in class. It seemed like good advice, but since we were kinda homeless, spending huge money on a motorcycle didn’t really seem like a great idea. We did a little number crunching and decided that we could free up a couple grand for an older used bike for me, and a month later a scooter for my wife. So I found a low mileage 2004 Hyosung GT250, and a Honda Elite 110 for Beth and we were on the road. The Hyo was the very picture of a perfect starter bike. It was old, a little ugly, but in good working order. The Elite was a little more banged up but for our purposes, perfect. The rest of that year we rode as much as the temporary plates would allow (and maybe a little more). We finally moved into our new house in December and the bikes were put to bed for winter.

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2004 Hyosung GT250

As 2012 turned to 2013, we started looking towards spring and a new full season of riding. New protective gear was acquired, and we waited not so patiently for spring. During that period, I spent a great deal of time reading and watching reviews for the Ninja 300. I write more about that here:

Stormtrooper?
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2013 Kawasaki Ninja 300

I quickly traded the GT250 and took a small step up to a newer slightly more powerful entry level bike. I rode every chance I got during that season and this year, when the winter finally released its ever persistent, polar-vortexed grip on New England, I parked the truck in the driveway and got the Ninja ready for the new riding season. I had new tires put on, shorty levers, and a fresh oil change, and it was ready to go. I was a solid 600 miles into the riding season when the wandering eye of the gear nerd started looking around. Just a little. I had somewhere around 3000 miles of riding time between my two entry level bikes, and I was starting to get that nagging feeling that maybe I was ready to step up to a larger displacement bike, with a little more of… Well everything: torque, power, weight, comfort etc. Yes, I did say comfort. After an hour on the 300 my butt would start complaining, and my fingers would numb from the handlebar buzz. Sure, they were fixable problems, but at some expense.

I will admit, there was also a little peer pressure involved as well. It had been recently brought to my attention that while the Ninja was cool and everything, maybe I was ready to find something a little more.. Ahem.. My own age.

Ouch. Ok, I get it, I’m not 20 anymore. But what the hell does “my own age” mean? I was never interested in Harley Davidson land yacht type cruisers, and as much as I love looking at race bikes, the riding position was too agressive, and I knew that wasn’t going to be for me either. I wanted something that could get around in corners and tread that fine line between comfort, sport and utility. Ruling out things like the Electra/Dyna Couch and the Panagale 1099 I knew I had to find something in the middle. So I went to Johnny. He’s seen me ride, he’s been through his own journey of buying and selling bikes, I knew he’d have something to say. His answer was the 2015 Yamaha FZ07. His current ride is the FZ09, and it was his opinion that Yamaha’s new 689cc twin would be a perfect step up from the Ninja 300. Ok, let’s go have a look.

Right… They’re not out yet. Not only are they not out yet, but the only Yamaha dealer I found had only a few sport bikes, and while they could order one for me, it would probably be a while. Also, forget about any negotiation. Coming up empty there, I remembered that there was a Ducati dealer in the next town over. So my ever patient wife and I trekked over in the rain to look at the Monster. I have long drooled over the styling of Ducati’s naked sport bikes, and it was starting to look like I might be in a position to buy one. Awesome.

And then, again, not so much. I sat on the 696 and 796, and while they were pretty comfortable I was wondering about spending long rides in the seat. I was further disillusioned when I looked at the price tag. Just under and just over ten grand respectively. I just couldn’t. I knew even with selling my Ninja I couldn’t spend that much money on a bike I could only ride half the year, and also one that might still have been limited in the kind of riding I wanted to do.

I am disappoint.

Ooh adventure bikes. It worked for Ewan and Charley on the Road of Bones, right? Totally..

Nope. Forget the cost, I’m too short. Motherf…..

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“The more you tighten your grip, the more motorcycles will slip through your fingers.”

Wait a minute. Have I become the Grand Moff Tarkin of motorcycle shopping?? Let’s just take a step back here.

“What about Triumph?” She says in the car as I am dejectedly driving us home.

“What, like the Speed Triple?”

“No, the Bonneville. Those are cool looking bikes.”

Hmm. There’s an idea. I hadn’t thought of them before. We bought her Vespa at a Triumph/Ducati/Vespa dealer on the seacoast, and I remember thinking the retro look was pretty cool. Maybe a little reinvention is just the thing I’m looking for. Just as we were steeling ourselves for the drive out, Beth’s ever powerful google-fu found a Triumph dealer 15 minutes from our house. It was on the way home, so we decided it was worth doing a drive by. They were closed by the time we got there, but my curiousity piqued, we decided to come back the next day to take a look around.

It was the first sunny Saturday after a rainy week in June, and everyone was out. You could just sense that anyone with two wheels and an engine in their garage breathed out a sigh of relief as the clouds parted, and, as valves and cylinders rumbled to life, inhaled the smell of summer: motorcycle exhaust. On a sunny weekend afternoon there are few things in the world that smell better.

We returned that afternoon to take a look around. After looking over the bikes lined up outside, we made our way in to the room in back where the Triumphs were kept. Pretty much every model from the Tiger to the Rocket Roadster were neatly lined up in this room that seemed incapable of holding so many motorcycles. We zeroed in on the Bonnevilles and after a few minutes of poking around, a sales rep came in to check on us. He answered the basic questions, most of which we already knew the answers to, and then I asked him if they did test rides. It’s a pretty rare thing in our area, so I was shocked when he said they did. The demo ride was going to be a left over 2013 Bonne in the purple/white paint. He talked up the some of the features and promotions on that particular bike while he got the key and got me set up to take it out. As a leftover, it was going to be cheaper than a new 2014.

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After a quick walk around and briefing on the Bonne, I started the engine and set off. I immediately noticed the increase in torque. Not surprisingly, the 865cc air cooled twin delivered far more power than my Ninja, and in much smarter fashion. Downshifting was a little jerky at first and I did notice a little throttle snatch in the low gears, but attributed most of that to user error: different bike, different clutch, different feel etc. After a few minutes I got settled in, and those issues mostly worked themselves out. I didn’t have a route in mind when I left the parking lot, but as I made my way through the mid afternoon traffic I knew exactly where to go. There’s a really nice corner not far from the dealership, and I was pretty sure I’d have a good idea of what the Bonneville was about after putting it through a few turns.

I got off the main, multi lane road and onto the the winding back roads, and it clicked. I found my corner and with little effort tossed the Bonne into a good lean. As I throttled out of the turn, under my ill fitted loaner helmet, a smile crept across my face. Holy crap, I just found my next bike. On the straight aways, the engine pulls along effortlessly, and when I want power to pass or accelerate, there is more than enough in reserve. The riding position, is upright and comfortable, and even on long rides, I was sure there would be plenty of room.

After about 25 minutes I pulled back into the dealership. As I dropped the sidestand and killed the engine, Beth first told me that I was gone so long they thought I had stolen it, and then asked me what I thought of the test ride. I was sold. I knew there were other bikes that might have been sportier, or more comfortable for long distance riding, or that could carry more stuff, but my impression of the Bonne, was that for being a standard bike, it was pretty sporty, and had the capabilities to do almost anything. The important question was, which one?

I have this problem. I can be cheap. It’s a disorder whereby I try to get a better deal by not buying the thing that I want, and settle for something sub standard. This condition usually results in spending more money to fix the errors wrought from previous cheapness. It’s a drag. In this case, it would have meant buying the 2013 purple Bonneville. However, despite my propensity for cheapness, it occurred to me that saving a grand on a bike I intend to keep a long time, was probably short sighted. It also doesn’t help that you don’t get a lot of love from other bikers when you’re a dude riding a purple bike. Just sayin. So, after a whole bunch of research into the Triumph Bonneville, input from Beth, and of course, Johnny, I decided on the 2014 mag wheel Bonneville in black. My Ninja 300 sold a few days later, and we went back and made the deal.

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2014 Triumph Bonneville

After about a month and a half and almost 1500 miles, I can say with confidence that the Bonneville does everything the Ninja did, only far better. It took only a couple weeks to get through the first 500 miles, and once I got the oil changed out, I started setting out on longer rides. At the beginning of the season, I decided that I really wanted to ride up to the north shore. There are some nice seaside towns up there and the combination of twisty roads and the ocean view put it at the top of my list. The reason I hadn’t done it before was because the ride up is about 90 minutes and I wasn’t filled with confidence in the Ninja handling the freeway for over an hour. Not that it technically couldn’t do it, I just didn’t love the thought of being high in the revs for so long, not to mention the Ninja’s seat was less than optimal for extended periods of time. The Bonne, on the other hand, handled the freeway brilliantly. I got tossed around a little, mostly around large trucks, but for the long ride to the coast, I was plenty comfortable. Cruising at freeway speeds was effortless, and I found I had plenty of power for overtaking slower traffic. Once I got into town, I stopped at coffee shop for a few minutes to stretch, and then set out on route 127 through Gloucester and Rockport. It was a beautiful sunny afternoon and the perfect day for riding along the coast. The whole trip was about three and a half hours, and 150 miles aboard my new Bonneville. Something I couldn’t have done before.

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When I got home later that day, having checked something off my list, I simply could not have been happier. While I thoroughly enjoyed my Ninja, I was glad to have taken the leap and traded up to this outstanding all around motorcycle. The only real downside is that unless Beth wants to move on from her Vespa, we’re all done motorcycle shopping for a while. That’s ok, riding is more fun anyway.

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Comments
  1. Mark says:

    Very happy you are back posting on the Blog. I enjoy every one of the stories and adventures.

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