Copyright © 2011 by Ralph Couey
Scooters: Small to medium engines (80 to 650 cc), excellent mpg, comfortable to ride, step through frames, smaller wheels, some luggage space. But, they are smaller in size, harder for other motorists to see. The smaller scooters may not be powerful enough for the highway, particularly when carrying heavy loads. Because of their small size and light weight, they are also prone to high crosswinds and gusts by passing semis and dump trucks. Honda Elite, Suzuki Burgman.
Standards: Also called “naked bikes” because they have no fairings or body panels. Small to very large displacement (250 to 2300 cc), good to excellent mpg, mostly comfortable, no luggage space, although some may have cargo racks. The smaller types of this class are good for all-around general duty. They are relatively inexpensive and cheap to maintain. The larger types are heavy, fast, and can be a real handful for the novice rider. Honda Rebel and Nighthawk, Suzuki GS550, Ducati Monster, Suzuki SV650, Triumph Rocket III.
Cruisers: The most popular class, characterized by V-twin engines, deep rumbly sounds, big tires, dished seats, lots of chrome, and a feet-forward seating position, and reasonable mpg. Again, displacement can vary from 250 cc up to 2000 cc. Some have fairings and small saddle bags, but not much else. Cruisers can feel top-heavy in comparison to other bikes, but they have large frames, big head and tail lights, and are more visible. They do tend to be heavier, but not prohibitively so. They don’t handle as precise as others, but tend to be reliable commuter bikes. Honda Shadow, most of the Harley line, Kawasaki Vulcan, Suzuki Boulevard, Yamaha Star, Victory.
Dual Sports: Also called adventure tourers, these bikes can be ridden off- or on-road. Medium to large engines, high seats, good ground clearance, tall fenders, reasonable mpg, and a more utilitarian look. There are some handling compromises because the suspension for an off-road bike is much different than a street machine. But they are tough and reliable, if relatively pricey. Triumph Tiger, BMW R1200GS, Kawasaki KLR650.
Sport Bikes: Low, sleek, fast, powerful, nimble, faired and paneled. Will be a dangerous choice for a novice rider. Be careful when looking at a used one, as it is more than likely to have been ridden hard and put away wet. Displacements run the gamut from 250cc up to 1400cc, so mpg will vary. You ride these in a hunched over position, which limits visibility to the rear and sides. Their low profile makes them harder for other motorists to see. But their power and speed makes them exhilarating to ride. Honda CBR, Kawasaki Ninja, Suzuki Hayabusa, Yamaha R1, Ducati 1198.
Sport Tourers: Not as fast as sport bikes, but still a hot ride; mpg good. Seating position is more upright and comfortable and they come with hard-case luggage. Large fairings and windshields make for a sheltered ride. Large fuel tanks give you range. Very nimble and maneuverable, but comfortable enough for several long days in a row; a blast to ride. Bags or not, insurance companies still consider these sport bikes and will rate them accordingly. Can be pricey. Kawasaki Concours, Honda ST1300, Yamaha FJR1300, BMW R1200RT.
Tourers: Also known as “baggers” because of the luggage. Big, powerful, all the comforts of home, lots of luggage space. Very comfortable seating, built for long days and far journeys. Mpg is good to fair, and the larger ones may only get you slightly better economy than a Corolla. These are also very expensive, running from the upper teens to as much as 35 large. Not a good choice for commuting, as their size and weight make tight maneuvering difficult. Very easy to dump at parking lot speeds. The good news is that their size and abundant lighting make them far easier for motorists to spot. Honda Gold Wing, BMW K1200LT, Kawasaki Voyager, Yamaha Royal Star.
Trikes: These are three-wheeled bikes, naturally. For a long time, they were rebuilds of existing cruisers and tourers, and can run as much as $35,000. But now you can purchase from Bombardier a model called the Spyder. This is a different trike, in that the two wheels are in the front instead of the back, which, added to their low center of gravity, improves handling. They steer like a car, so these may be a much easier transition for someone completely new to the sport. Spyders run usually in the upper teens, as far as price goes. There are others, like the T-Rex that can be as much as $50,000.
Customs: If you’ve ever watched “American Chopper,” you know all about these. They are really show bikes, not intended for heavy street use. Their design makes them very uncomfortable to ride for more than an hour or two, especially if you are an aging Boomer. Also, there is another type that needs its own category. A company called “Boss Hoss” builds bikes that carry an actual automobile engine in a huge and heavy frame. They look like cruisers, but ride and sound like an earthquake. I’ve never ridden one, but my experience on bikes makes me think that the heat generated by such an engine would be very hard to take for any length of time. I guess that’s why I see them around town, but rarely on the open road.