New rider tips, guides, and reviews on great starter bikes.

What do YOU like about your type of bike?

eternal05's picture
Sun, 08/30/2009 - 18:16 -- eternal05

Munch had a cool idea. He thought it'd be interesting for people to discuss the pros and cons of the types of bikes they like to ride. The idea is not to start a flame war, but to give other people with different tastes a glimpse into your world...or more specifically, to give all those asshole cruiser guys an idea of what they're missing out on ;)

I'll start off with a review of Sport Bikes. I'm not talking Ninja 500R sportbikes here. I'm talking about race-bred supersports:

Kawi ZX-[number]Rs
Yamaha YZF-R[number]s
Suzuki GSX-R[number]s
Honda CBR[number]RRs
Ducati 848, 1098, 1198
Aprilia RSV, RSV-4
Triumph Daytona 675
BMW S1000RR
etc.

Pros

Aesthetics: Alright, let's point out the obvious. Sportbikes just look sweet. At least I think they do. So sleek. So fast looking. So aggressive. To me, they look like birds of prey. I dig. Don't forget the appeal of their sound....*gets goosebumps*...freakin' terrific. Instead of what I perceive as the series of eardrum-shattering nuclear farts coming out of a Harley's exhaust pipes (I'm sorry, I'm sorry, just allow me ONE little jab?), a tuned sportbike exhaust sounds like a feral roar.

Speed: This one's easy. They're fast. Sphincter-tightenningly fast. You have not experienced acceleration until you've let it wide open on a supersport. You know, that or been an Air Force pilot.

Handling

Precise and easy-to-ride: A good sportbike is very easy to control precisely. It's funny, given that we spend so much time convincing nublets to avoid the big-bore sportbikes as their first bikes, that I should claim they're easy to ride. But they are...for experienced riders. That becomes apparent when you take the bike past the comfortable threshold that most other bikes live below. Braking hard at high speed for instance, though normally something that would upset a "normal" bike, doesn't shake a sportbike at all. Quickly throwing the bike from one side to the other between turns feels natural rather than frightening.

Practicality: I'm just sayin', the next time you get chased by evil government double-agents on the interstate, there's no better vehicle to be in/on for under $15,000.

Cons

Practicality: Ok, so maybe I lied. Sportbikes are not terribly practical for everyday use. People who love them use them anyway sometimes, but anybody who pretends that an R1 makes a good 'round-town commuter is full of @#$%.

Long-ride/slow-speed ergonomics: This is probably the most-raised problem with sportbikes. They're just not comfortable for the long term, or at slow-speeds. The riding position on a true sportbike is very aggressively slanted downwards: relatively high seat and low bars. Check out the difference between my GSX-R and Elwood's Sportster:

  

Since you can't put weight on the bars and continue to have control over steering inputs, you need to keep your upper body up using your lower back and butt muscles. This is certainly possible during a 20 minute trackday session or a 45-minute grand prix, but even an athletic person will start to feel discomfort in their back after a long ride. The seats are also generally firm to provide good feel and keep you in place, and don't really feel great after an hour in the saddle. If you ever have to wear a backpack or messenger bag, that added weight on your back will just make everything worse.

Boring in the city: Sportbikes are good for one thing: zipping through corners. Going in a straight line on a sportbike is boring as hell, and uncomfortable. Cities are grids of straight lines. Boo. Worse than that, gears are so tall that you'll never ever shift. I sometimes get into 3rd gear on higher-speed arterials, but for the most part, I'm in 1st or 2nd around town.

They're touchy: It's strange that I'd say this just after saying they're easy to ride and precise, so let me clarify. I'm talking about two different things. Before I was referring to the fact that the bike will make it easier to ride at a higher level (faster, cornering harder, braking harder). That assumes, however, that you've mastered smooth motorcycle operation.

Sportbikes will absolutely punish mistakes like nothing else. Which is going to be easier to ride smoothly: a DR-Z400SM or a GSX-R? Surprise! The DR of course. The GSX-R requires incredibly subtle control of the throttle to avoid jerking around or shooting off like a missle. The engine braking is much stronger on the gixxer. Get off the gas abruptly and you might as well have mashed the rear brake. The brakes need to be applied very smoothly so as to avoid a faceplant. The bike is very top-heavy and as small handlebar turning range, lock-to-lock. This makes it very easy to drop the bike to either side when doing tight low-speed maneuvers, as you have to lean it MUCH more to make up for reduced turning range.

Why people ride them; why squids love them

The pros I listed above are all reasons I ride a sportbike, but more than anything, it's because I love cornering. I take my sportbike to the track as often as I can, and I swoop through corners all day long. I don't ride it in the rain, I don't get groceries with it, I don't tour with it, and I sure as hell don't take passengers around. I would therefore never recommend one to somebody who needs, more than anything, a constant mode of transportation. Sportbikes are just impractical for that.

The real question is, if that's the case, why do you see so many on the road? Here are a few reasons:

1) Aesthetics
2) People are obsessed with their image
3) Many men need a fast bike to feel like their penis can be seen without a microscope
4) A lot of people like going fast

From my limited sampling of random riders on the road, my perception is that MOST people on sportbikes on the street fit the following criteria:

1) Speeding (yeah yeah, we all speed; I'm talking lane splitting at 95 mph)
2) Quite young
3) Under-protected (not wearing nearly enough gear)

4) Incredibly enough, always male

5) Demonstrating many signs of poor riding technique

Hmm....

In particular, there are a bunch of really common and easy-to-spot signs of squiddly sportbike behavior. Here's a summary:

Supporting body on hands: This is one of the biggest mistakes on a sportbike. On a cruiser, you can get away with it to some degree because so much of your weight is on the seat. On a sportbike you can't. You won't be able to steer if you're putting all your weight on the bars. Sign #1 that a rider has his/her weight on the bars is that his/her arms are straight/locked. While I do this sometimes while stopping at a light to rest my back a bit, you should NEVER be straight-armed in a turn:

Afraid to lean: The foremost manifestation of lean-fear is that the rider is "crossed up," pushing their bodyweight AWAY from the turn. In doing so, they force the bike to compensate by leaning in further, putting them at greater risk and reducing traction. Here's what that looks like:

On the street, I usually try to keep a pretty neutral riding position to minimize the profile of the bike (hanging off makes you+bike wider). Here's a correct neutral position:

The most comical are the riders who really want to hang off, but are also afraid to really do so. They end up really crossed up and looking almost like a baby monkey clinging to its mother or something. Ironically, Mick Doohan, one of the "greats" of MotoGP professional motorcycle racing, was extraordinarily guilty of this. Note how his upper body is actually turned away from the turn, spine twisted:


The bottom line

I'm pretty sure that most people on sportbikes are terrible riders. They want to look the part, but haven't done the work to get there. They're afraid of their bikes, as much as they flaunt them, and are being ridden, rather than doing the riding. Don't let these guys color the way you look at those bikes. The bikes are incredible machines and can be used safely, responsibly, and to great effect. Just as not every Harley Rider is one of these:

...no every sportbike rider is one of these:

Some of them look like this:

Forums: 
Munch's picture

Submitted by Munch on

My PoV from a cruiser perspective:
Speed.... yea we can be called sleepers. We don't look fast and it's assumed therefore we are not. However get the right monkey on the wrench and the bad boy will move!
Looks.... well same as for eternal, I love it! Some would say that cruisers are damn sexy and that is one of many reasons why they have it. Ever hear the saying " I learned to ride slow, it's one thing to have something sexy, but who knows if your blowing off their doors before they can see it?"
Some have it for the "rebel without a cause" stereotype that comes with it, some, well, need that ego boost that Eternal eluded to.
Pros:
-Near infinite customizing and personalizing options
-Storage...from Saddle bags, hard case bags, to trunks, sissy bar bag stacks options are numerous.
- Comfortable, unless your riding a "chopper" your feet really are in a more standard position. Most riders of cruisers tend to move them forward to take the stress off the knees for long hauls though.
-Proven design and reliability.... cruisers have been around a very long time and have improved and gotten better over the years. A century worth of lessons learned and improved upon.
-Comfortably ride 2 up (most mid sized on up). For those beautiful autumn days where the foliage is just exploding with colors you can ride through the country side with your significant other and enjoy the moments together
-A lot more to list.... but you'll get tired of reading
Cons:
- Persona, you will oft get branded as being a bad boy, rebel, wild child, hellion etc. and what was once a friendly area can quickly become swarmed with glances of mis trust.
- Customizing...lol it's a double edged thing. The more you find the more you find you just gotta have.
-Comfortably ride 2 up- yup double edged thing. Some people ride to get away from troubles and to be able to breathe, sometimes the one thing that irritates you in the moment may decide that they want to ride with you.

****Life's journey is not to arrive at the grave safely in a well preserved body, but, rather to skid in sideways, totally worn out, shouting "Holy Shit....What a ride!!!"****

WeaponZero's picture

Submitted by WeaponZero on

All of the points stated are valid and 100% true. But you don't have to go in the complete opposite direction either if you don't want to. This is why I own a Suzuki SV650. It's comfortable, has a neutral/upright seating position with only a very slight forward lean to it. It takes off like a sportbike and handles like one. Basically it offers all of the benefits of a purebred sportbike without giving up any of the impracticalities that make it bad for around-town riding or distance riding. The perfect type of bike IMO.

JackTrade's picture

Submitted by JackTrade on

For a somewhat contrarian bike choice...standards! Adding to WeaponZero's more concise post...

The Big Pro
The jack-of-all-trades bikes. You can carve corners, cruise around comfortably, or commute or tour. They're like the Ford Mustangs of motorcycles...not the tops in any one area, but perhaps the best overall balance of abilities in a single package. They offer performance for the real world situations most of us find ourselves in most of the time.

Other Pros
Slow feels fast. A usual lack of fairings means speeds feel a lot faster than they really are.

Convertibility. Due to the more or less neutral riding position, a rider can adapt his/her position for the riding at hand. I usually sit upright while motoring around town, but can easily tuck in for more aggressive riding. Sitting upright usually more comfortable than crouching on a sportbike, and being able to easily tuck can minimize the wind that nails crusier riders full on.

Aesthetics. Somewhat subjective I know, but there's something to be said for a minimalist design that lets you see the different parts of the bike, not covered up with plastic or diverted by chrome.

Insurance. Tends to be more reasonable, as there are fewer things to break, and they don't signal hooligan behavior, statistically speaking.

Cons
Jack of all trades means master of none. You'll never have the biggest, baddest bike out there.

Reputation. In the U.S., most people see standards as beginner bikes...something you start on before moving to a cruiser or sportbike. Ducati and others are changing that perception, but it still dogs standards in this country. It's a different story in Europe though.

Limted Choices. Given the sportbike/cruiser dichotomy in the U.S., most manufacturers don't really focus on standards, so there's not tons of choices if you're into them...especially in the middle-weight area (i.e. if you want a beginner, learn-to-ride standard or a badass high-powered one, you've got a bunch of options, but otherwise...)

megaspaz's picture

Submitted by megaspaz on

i like my sport bikes because they're sleek, sexy, and fast... and to me they're perfectly fine commuting around town. did i mention fast? :-)

I especially like passing bigger displacement bikes with more HP in the corners and sometimes even on the straights. Takes some work, but once you start hitting "A" paced times, there's no better feeling than hitting an outside pass or taking a corner faster than the majority of other riders can/would take it or just the fact you start perceiving 120+ MPH as not fast. Get a sports bike, go to the track, and you'll begin to understand. ;-)


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eternal05's picture

Submitted by eternal05 on

I don't get the sense that I'm anywhere near as accomplished as you on the track, but all the same I've definitely had my share of similar experiences. For my first 2 track days on the Suzuki I ran in "C" mode: about 65% horsepower. All kinds of guys on literbikes and non-throttled 600s, big nakeds, etc. would blow by me on the straights, only to fall behind on corner entry. It's an amazing feeling. A strange sort of humor. Just makes you grin to the point of cheek/jaw pain all through the corner.

That video says it all :)

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