Motorcycles I have ridden
by Paul Bissex
Some bought, some borrowed, some just briefly sampled. For no good reason, they are presented in order of displacement. A few of the model years are guesses. These aren't reviews, just notes. This page is mostly to help me record some of what I have learned about bikes, if anything. I no longer ride, but it will always be in my blood.
1974 Honda Z-50Belonged to my friend Matthew. The mini-bike was my first riding experience, at age 12. Three speeds, no clutch, fat tires, easy to ride. Don't let the lofted wheel in the photo fool you; I was surely shitting my pants at that moment. These little monkeys are still around. Recently my friend Darren was seen demonstrating Z-50 wheelie dynamics for an impressionable young nephew.
1986 Honda Spree (50cc scooter)I couldn't stop laughing when I rode this. Feet planted uselessly on the floorboards, glancing at the broken speedometer wondering if I had hit 25mph, weaving inadvertently on the tiny wheels. A good reminder of how important a safety feature acceleration really is. I would love to have something like this in a car-free environment, as a pit bike, etc. It would also be fun to race them on a super-tight little track. Scooting on the open road I leave to braver souls.
1982 Honda XL125Age 15. My first power-wheelie experience followed immediately by my first crashing experience. My first time on the bike, back on our dirt road after a slow ride through the hayfields, I got too happy with the throttle. I slid right off the back, somehow staying on my feet; the bike rolled on its rear wheel for a while and then fell over, doing considerable damage to my puny savings account. This one was Matthew's too. Sorry, man!
1999 Honda Nighthawk 250Last year during an MSF Experienced Rider Course I picked up a nail in my rear tire. A beginner course was running the same day, so I was loaned one of these little parallel twins. It was odd taking the ERC final test on a bike I had just hopped on, but I did fine. Its light weight made it kind of fun, despite crummy brakes and general spindliness.
1988 Honda VTR 250Prospective purchase, Summer 2000. Very fun little paintshaker motor. If I were buying one I'd go for a 1990 with the "normal" disc brake. But all the racers have gobbled them up, so it's moot. The baby blue is butt-ugly, too. "Ken and Barbie Dream Cycle" is the best description I've heard.
1976 Yamaha RD350Another test ride, and my only two-stroke experience. It was a pretty, blue specimen. I can see how the light weight could make it fun, but it didn't give me a thrill. I prefer the cast wheels and pinstripes of the RD400.
1974 Honda CB400FMy friend Adam's ride in 2001 and beyond. Very nice restoration (except for those gauges bouncing around) featuring a fresh, clean NOS motor. Stable chassis, revvy engine, weak brakes. A fine little cafe racer, seen here in pose mode on Main Street in Northampton, Mass.
1990 Honda CB-1Sweet little unfaired 400cc sportbike, Adam's ride 1998-2000. Hot little motor that redlines at 13,500rpm. Great handling, compact, lightweight, looks cool. Neat big-diameter tube frame, like an MZ. The clipons hurt my wrists, but it could be perfect for a smaller person. Embarrass squids on pimped-out literbikes with your superior prowess and 46HP. Collectible.
1982 Kawasaki KZ440LTDFirst real bike, 1996. This bike was a piece of crap, but I had no idea. Kind of buzzy, not much power, rough history, dopey pseudo-cruiser styling. Kept me out of trouble. I shudder to think what awful, hard tires may have been mounted -- I don't recall ever looking at them, or noticing what they were if I did.
1971 Honda CL450 ScramblerI love the high pipe, the complete absence of plastic body panels, the Bridgestone Trailwing tires. The bike just says "fun." Can you hear it saying that over the roaring exhaust? At 28HP this bike was winner of the 2001 SRNE Dyno Day Low Horsepower Prize. About a month later, the engine blew, so I bought a CB500T engine to swap in. I thought lower motorcross-style handlebars would be good too. After the engine died it became my project bike, finally sold in June 2006.
1985 Honda VF500FAnother prospective purchase, Summer 2000. I think it was not firing on all four cylinders, and the brakes were fucked up. Very nice handling, compact layout. I'd like to own one, though I hear they are more difficult to work on than other bikes of their vintage.
1997 BMW F650STMy friend Kate was generous enough to lend this bike to me many times during my bikeless summer of 2001. It's a great real-world streetbike -- nimble, lightweight, well-made, comfortable, versatile. The motor pulls from 3000-8000. While it is stumbly below 3k, and a bit vibey at 5k, overall the counterbalancer setup keeps it smooth. It's amazing how adequate those 48 HP are even when running with bikes more than double the power. The suspension gives a lot of confidence on our frost-heaved, falling-apart New England roads. Nothing's faster on the "Frost Heave TT" section of Vt. Route 232.
2002 Suzuki SV650
My friend Adam is now responsible for four entries in this list. The SV650 is his latest ride and he likes it a lot. I took it out for a half-hour spin to make the most of the unseasonably warm and dry November 2009 weather. Fun! I just wanted to keep going. I like the SV motor a lot. It's got grunt, but it's smooth. Power is moderate (i.e. not insane) but increases satisfyingly with RPMs. Weight and suspension and riding position make for comfortable maneuvers. (Adam has RaceTech cartridge emulators in there, I believe.) It feels both manageable and capable. Rolling on the throttle produces a satisfying rumble from the stock exhaust. I like that it is unfettered by plastic coverings. I could see owning one of these. (So could Adam!)
1984 Honda CB700SCMy first fast bike. Bought in 1999 for $400, put a $400 engine in it, rode it 17,000 miles. The Pavlovian pleasure link to the sound of a high-revving inline four was successfully forged. Very nice motor except for its habit (1984 model only) of weeping oil at high revs... at worst, onto the exhaust and rear tire. Classic '80s street rod looks, especially the 1986 red/white/blue. The 16" front wheel and lazy rake (30 degrees) combined with the not-so-stiff forks made low-speed handling less than perfect, though some superbike bars and a regular supply of new tires helped somewhat. Mine also had a bad starter that ate brushes for a summer until I figured it out, hence the aerobic activity pictured. Overall it was fun, and the shaft drive and self-adjusting valves made it a very easy bike to own. The photo of me push-starting the bike was featured on the cover of the 2003 RiderWearhouse catalog. Pretty cool!
1983 Suzuki GS750My friend Paul's former bike; took it for a quick spin in 1997 or so when I had my Kawi 440, and couldn't believe the smooth motor. This was the first hint I had that my Kawasaki twin was crap.
1990 Honda VFR750Single-sided swingarm, white wheels, and that special V4 motor. It has a certain chug, not unlike the Triumph triple, which is very gratifying. Still revs to 11.5K though. For some reason, perhaps that syncopated chugging, it feels and sounds more relaxed at midrange rpm (e.g. up to 7500 or so) than comparable inline fours. It's a little buzzy in the grips compared to my Ninja. Handling is quite good, very stable and neutral and stuff like that. You definitely feel the heft at circa 550 pounds wet, but the motor and chassis are up to it. I do wish they had also developed a naked-ish bike with this motor, not like the old Sabre but like the new 919.
1987 Kawasaki ZX750F (Ninja 750R)¶ From one SRNE member to another... A little rattling from the top end, but strong. It's really a sport-tourer (bungee hooks, change compartment, comfy seat, usable mirrors, rubber-topped footpegs, etc.) but with few compromises on the sporting side. It has a sweet motor with no flat spots: smooth from 2000rpm, firm from 4500rpm, wailing at 8000rpm and beyond. It was dyno'd at 85HP peak, bone stock -- about equivalent to a good mid-'90s 600cc supersport, and plenty for almost all kinds of riding. ¶ It handles well. Riding position is a great balance of comfort and control. The 16" front wheel doesn't feel weird, RaceTech cartridge emulators on mine improved damping up front, and cranking up the air-preload on the rear shock helps. ¶ I put over 30,000 miles on the bike and was very pleased: one track day, one 4,000-mile trip, many backroad days, and dozens of weeks of commuting. I removed all the "Ninja" stickers, a big improvement in my book. Sold in 2008 to someone who is likely to keep it going.
1989 Honda Pacific Coast (PC800)
"Body by Tupperware", as the saying goes. You have to see that rear trunk open to really believe it. The whole back end of the seat opens up to reveal two giant cavernous storage spaces, easily enough for a week's shopping, or two full-face helmets and gear. With a sealed exterior, shaft drive, and self-adjusting valves, it's about as close to maintenance-free as they get. My very nice neighbor Richard had one of these for sale and let me take it for a spin. It feels quite light for its size, and is of course very comfortable. Despite all the car-like styling touches, all controls are in their expected spots. The 800cc v-twin gives off a muffled roar that is less aggravating than the whine of an inline four. I'm not power-mad, but its 45hp peak didn't quite feel like enough -- I found myself hunting for more when accelerating hard. Overall, very cool, and I'd recommend it to any commuter or tourer interested in low fuss and high miles.
1992 Yamaha TDM 850I'd like to own one of these, one of the great all-around bikes. In many ways it's an oversized, sportier F650 -- the 360-degree firing makes it feel very thumper-like. If you like thumpers, that's great; for me it's a mixed bag, because I like the locomotive feeling but am not so hot on the vibration (especially when it rattles the fairing, as it did on the one I rode). I'm sure I'd get used to it. It only needs flatter bars and some DP tires to be really hot. The bug-eye lights are great. If I had one I could learn to be a junior hooligan; enough grunt for power wheelies (or so I'm told), FZR brakes for stoppies.
2000 Triumph Sprint RSThe Triumph triple seems like the perfect compromise between the smoothness and top-end rush of four-cylinder bikes and the low-end grunt of twins. That's what this bike is about for me, though the rest of it is great too. Cornering is "on rails"; somewhat slower-turning than the R1 I think. The purists may call it a "sport-tourer" but it feels like a sportbike to me, and I mean that in a good way. Thanks for the demo ride, Ken. This experience made me sit up and take notice when Triumph came out with the 675.
1983 BMW R100RT
I had wanted to ride a classic BMW twin for a long time when, generously, my co-worker Pete invited me to try his sweet red de-faired R100RT. My ride was short and slow, but the bike felt good in the ways I expected -- nice controls and balance, satisfying chugga-chugga from the big nonthreatening twin. After 60K miles and 26 years, it's in very fine shape. And there is a long list of specific things to like about this bike, too: shaft drive, triple disc brakes, centerstand, hard bags, etc.
2001 Yamaha FZ-1Al let me take his mantis for a spin -- my first literbike experience. I had, and still have, no idea how to use this much power. Nice handling, not at all twitchy. Astoundingly smooth power curve. Great brakes, of course. The bike felt perfect except for the tall first gear and the slightly too-high bars. Put some flat bars on it and put me on the track and I could learn something. On the street I was risking arrest just trying to get it over 7000rpm. ("But that's where the fun starts!" says Al.)
2001 Yamaha YZF1000-R1Thanks to my friend Chris I have now ridden what many people more experienced than me call the best open-class sportbike ever made. I liked the R1 better than the FZ-1 as a conduit for all that mind-bogglingly strong, smooth, and linear power. The riding position was fine, for my 20 minutes at least. The whole thing felt very solid -- heavier than it is, in a good way -- and confidence-inspiring. Fantastic in the corners, and great grunt for quick passes. Still, it was all I could do to get the tach above 8500 rpm. (Nitpickers will note that the photo is of the rare blue '99 model, not the red 2001 I rode.)
1992 Kawasaki ZR1100Also known as the "Zephyr," this forgotten big retro roadster is the real ancestor of the current ZRX1100/1200. The air/oil cooled DOHC motor is smooth and strong, not peaky. It pulls very well from 4K right up to 8 or 9k, not giving much more from there to redline. Butt-dyno says it's about 80hp peak. Handling is fine. The 18" front wheel with lots of trail makes low-speed maneuvers smooth, but throwing the bike around at higher speed requires extra muscle. The bike is comfortable, nicely narrow at the rear of the tank, but the stock bars make for a riding position that is too upright. This thing is just crying out for superbike bars.
1995 Honda Goldwing
The mighty Wing! Thanks to my co-worker Dave I got my chance to ride one. Dave has a 1995 "20th Anniversary Edition" Honda GL1500 — a Goldwing. It's a big bike, there's no mistaking that. You climb into it more than getting on it. Riding posture is extremely upright and the seat is so supportive you kind of forget it's there. Perhaps because it carries its weight relatively low, it doesn't feel humungous even at low speed. Wind protection is so complete that I was wishing for less — I started to get a little warm in the Aerostich there in the dead-air zone. I imagine the quiet is nice for two-up conversation, though. You can see how guys end up riding these things in shorts and a t-shirt, smoking a cigar. ¶ The front brakes didn't stop me as rapidly as I would have expected, though of course it's a lot more bike (about 800 pounds) than I'm used to. The 6-cylinder, 1500cc engine felt great. Quiet and smooth, with a broad power band. Its output is almost exactly what I want in a bike. ¶ I didn't exactly go scratching with it, but I did enough figure-eights in the back lot to tell that it can lean over decently. I don't know what hard parts touch down first when the lean angles get extreme, but I don't think I want to know first-hand.
Closing thoughtsGood riding gear (head-to-toe coverage, not poser-wear), rider training, and a sensible approach to street riding are excellent ideas.