The Perfect Cruiser
Why a bike?
I have always been what you might call a rocker. Sure, I have made some modifications to the image during my life, most embarrassingly, going head first into New Romanticism during the early to mid eighties. Nevertheless, the long hair and leather bike jacket always seems to return and that’s how you’ll find me today.
Don’t get me wrong, I haven’t always been a bikeless “greaser”. I’ve owned a number of motorbikes and ridden even more, but for the last thirteen years, I have been a car owner… or should I say, I have owned cars – as in many of them.
Believe me it’s not comfortable in a car with a biker jacket on and no matter how comfortable the cars may be, I now find myself hitting what I fear might be termed as a mid-life crisis, with what can best be described as an almost uncontrollable urge to get another bike.
Am I afraid of losing my youth? Not really. That disappeared a long time ago and as young as I feel, I certainly don’t look it. I may not look my age… well so some have said anyway, but sadly I’m definitely no spring chicken.
No I’m comfortable with getting older – sort of anyway.
So what is it that has caused me to suddenly have this ‘almost uncontrollable’ urge to reacquaint myself with the ‘joys’ of two-wheeled motoring?
Buggered if I know.
I don’t understand it myself. I’ve had several BMW’s, a four wheel drive jeep, an MX5 (Eunos or Miata, for the non-English readers) and several non-descript old bangers finishing with what I currently run around in: A Ford Probe V6 24 valve in metallic purple.
Could that be the reason I want a bike? Could it be disillusionment with my current car?
Perhaps, but even though spares for my Probe are no longer being held by Ford, who may well be embarrassed that their replacement for the hugely successful Capri was an almost unmitigated disaster, it is still extremely practical with a boot the size of your average cathedral.
It’s true that my car will probably not pass another MoT (Ministry of Transport test to ensure the car is roadworthy… Excuse me while I nearly choke to death laughing here – what a joke that is), since the speedo doesn’t work and Ford won’t tell me which Mazda part it is, while Mazda tell me it could be one of three. Mazda will sell me one, but won’t allow it to be returned or exchanged if it turns out not to be the one I need, because it’s not going on a Mazda, which is ridiculous as I have the same engine and running gear in my car as the MX6. Anyway, at over £120 each, it could well end up costing more than the car’s worth to replace – and it still might not solve the problem. Nevertheless, it is still eminently practical, warm in winter and has nice comfortable leather seats.
I just don’t know, but recently, I got it into my head that a bike was what I wanted and I really can’t get the thought of owning one out of my head now and let’s face it, as much fun as cars can be, they are not nearly as much fun as a bike. My MX5 came close with the roof down, but there’s something almost primal about sitting astride a big bike.
So what do I choose?
I can’t afford a brand new machine and will have to buy something second hand, but the choices out there are many and very varied.
Those of you that have read my profile, you will know that I have been hankering after a Honda 1100 Shadow. This is a Harley-a-like, although is vastly more reliable, cheaper and quicker, but comes at a price.
On average, these are about £4,000 - £5,000 for a halfway decent one and that might be a little out of my price range – even though it’s still far less expensive than a genuine Harley.
I could go for something with a smaller engine, but research has told me that if I want something that is not going to embarrass me on the motorway, I have to have the 1100.
Is top speed that important?
Not really, but my first BMW was a 518. Aside from the engine, it was the same size as the bigger sisters; renowned for being quick off the mark, but mine was a gutless wonder. I got overtaken by a tiny Ford Ka once and left in his dust. I do have an image to uphold, however grey it may have become.
I’ve looked at the Hondas, Yamahas, Suzukis and Kawasakis that all have similar style models and anything under 1100cc’s are considered oversized and underpowered, struggling to keep up with a seventy mile an hour speed limit. I want to cruise, not rip the arse out of my trousers every time I pull away, but at the same time, I don’t want to be overtaken by old Mr. Braithwaite walking his Zimmer frame.
Is the style a major factor?
I don’t want to be riding around on something that turns heads because the people watching can’t believe I would be stupid enough to be seen in public on the thing.
That basically cuts out anything below 500cc’s. Anyway, I’ve been there, done that and got the road-rash.
The reason is that I want something chunky. At six feet three inches and heading for over 200lbs (or sixteen stone in English), a small bike looks even smaller when I’m on top of it. Plus, Pen’s not exactly petite, so whack both of us on the back and you’ve got something that really needs to do the business or I’m not interested. Right, so not to be deterred by the fact that I want to do this on a budget, I started searching for anything at least 750cc’s and I don’t want a plastic pig.
These are the things that look like they should really be haring round Brands Hatch or Thruxton and usually have some skinny bugger on the back who’s dressed in full leather race trim with a crash hat that needs a mortgage of its own.
These are the bikes that zip past you on the wrong side of the road round those tiny little country lanes, with little or no regard for what’s coming. Riding one of these requires a shed-load of new underwear (for those close moments) and a fair-sized dab of superglue on the seat of one’s pants to stay on the back.
Not for me.
I don’t like all that bodywork anyway. It gets damaged easily, is very expensive to repair or replace and if this is going to be a machine that will be used daily, not just when the sun deigns to make an appearance, it needs to be fairly practical.
Not everyone’s cup of tea, I’ll grant you and you can count me in amongst them. However, in order to get a good appreciation of all the bikes that are out there and their costs, it’s only fair that I include these.
I won’t be getting one as I did all the trials riding when I was between fifteen and seventeen and rode some pretty nifty machines I can tell you, but I think the likelihood that I will be going off road at my age is pretty remote. I don’t mind the cold or the wet – although I am pretty anti ice and snow, but I have to draw the line at trundling over fields and things.
These are the bikes that look like bikes used to look before someone thought it would be a good idea to dress them like a Hollywood madam’s Chihuahua and are only missing the cute pink bow between its ears.
No, these are biker’s bikes – when biker meant those greasy ‘Hell’s Angel’ types, whose bikes were no-nonsense beasts with nothing on them but the bare essentials – sometimes less.
These bikes are unpretentious in my eyes and tell people that they do just what they say on the tin. They’re not trying to be the Jap’s answer to the Harley, nor are they like the plastic pigs that are trying to tell you that by getting on their backs, you’re going to be able to ride it like a complete maniac and still look cool.
Yeah… Like that’s going to happen.
Most people I know fall into one of three categories where bikes are concerned;
- They don’t like them, or are at least ambivalent about them.
- They like them, but have little or no regard for those idiots on the racing machines with their death wishes.
- They ride like complete wankers and end up like one of our mates did, shattering his wrists when he hit a combine harvester – or worse.
It’s true that what you ride is much like what you wear: it kind of puts you into a category. Harley riders tend to be one type of person, plastic pig riders another and then there are the non-descript people that ride pure bikes. They could be anyone.
I like that thought.
These are the Harley style bikes, but they need to be big – well, with the exception of the Suzuki, which will happily pootle along at 110 mph at 800cc’s, but there’s a price to pay with that.
It doesn’t like the British weather and the chrome isn’t nearly as good as it looks.
I like the idea of these bikes because they’re not quick – by the standards of other bikes. Other bikes seem to be able to do 0-60 in “holy crap…” yet these are nippy enough, but not neck-breakingly so.
They will keep up with most traffic in most situations, which means that they are not all look and no go, but have real limitations. This means the rider is not tempted to burn someone off at the traffic lights or outstrip that moron in the Porsche. They are bikes that are designed to get the rider from ‘A’ to ‘B’ in style, but not at the speed of sound.
This is the appeal of a cruiser.
The issue I see with all bikes is the vulnerability factor.
I also see this factor exacerbated by people who fail to understand that most people on the road are not paying attention, are not going to give way to you and half the time aren’t even or the right side of the road.
On the way into town last week, I met three other vehicles at separate times, all of whom were rounding bends across the centre line, which in the case of the oil tanker, caused me to brake suddenly and almost skid into the grass verge at the side of the road.
On a bike the outcome could well be worse.
That said, the risks are there every time we venture outside, whether on pushbikes, motorbikes, cars or even walking. In most cases, awareness is the key. Trying to plan for something around the bend or at the next junction is something we should all do, but is a must on a bike.
So which is it to be?
I can see me having to give this considerable thought – something which, in my youth wasn’t even on the horizon. Then it was just a case of it sounding like a good idea that was quickly put into practice.
In the intervening years between my last bike and the planned one of the future, the traffic has go heavier and if anything, less aware of bikes than hitherto.
But that’s not something that will deter me in the slightest.
I know the risks and will try and drive my new (well, used) bike accordingly and as such, will purchase my motorcycle carefully.
I want something big, but not that will wrench my neck every time I pull away and also, I want one that Pen will not be afraid to get on. The less it looks like something that has just had an accident in a paint and fibre-glass factory, the better.
I have a feeling that I will have to take the purchase of my cruiser in stages.
Being fairly sure that after December, my car will not be fit for the road, I shall probably try and get something like the Kawasaki Z750. It’s stylish without being a plastic pig. It’s more than capable of changing the colour of my underwear without giving it a second thought, but is also reasonable – as far as bikes are concerned.
It’s also reasonably priced at around £2,200 and would give me a reasonable trade-in value to put towards my cruiser when I can afford it.
Time to start saving the pennies…