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Please recommend a reliable midsize motorcycle.
August 15, 2010 3:01 PM   Subscribe

Will some of Ask's motorcycle gang please being me up to speed on the availability of a particular kind of bike? I'm looking for an around-town middleweight like the Triumph 650 I rode in college but I'm looking first of all for capital-R Reliability. I do want adequate performance, for situations like matching the speed of oncoming traffic in a short merging lane, but I'm not looking for performance of the wheelie pulling, eyeball flattening kind. What I don't want is any more experience sitting in an ever-spreading Triumph/BSA/Norton pool of oil setting valve train tolerances, after having just set them two days ago. Had enough of that to last a lifetime, thanks.

I'll be looking at Craigslist-type bikes with maybe 50K miles already on them. Are there any models which can reasonably be expected to have a decent amount of life left at that age, and which have the rep of being happy with standard owners manual maintenance instead of living in the garage surrounded by an array of dismounted parts and random cycle shrapnel? Thanks very much!

Also, if there are any bikes like this that look like, y'know, motorcycles instead of like Transformers designed by 14 year old guys, that would make me very happy. But it's not a requirement and I'm not holding my breath, considering its been twenty-odd years since I even saw a non-Transformerish road bike that wasn't a Sportster or a restored antique.
posted by jfuller to Travel & Transportation (26 answers total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
 
Honda Hawk GT. It's a 650, it's a Honda, and it will never die. I've got its little brother (the Bros 400), and that's plenty quick enough to merge/etc, and sit at highway speeds. Size-wise, it's a little small for me (6'2) to be 100% comfortable, but it's an awesome commuter.

The 650, I'm told, is a little larger (but we can't get them here in AU). They're also lovely on the twisty-bits.

Otherwise, you're probably hard-pushed to go wrong if you grab a Japanese bike, possibly naked if you want to avoid the Transformers vibe. Something like a Yamaha FZR6 will be PLENTY quick, and about as reliable as a rock. I had one on loan for a week, and adored it.
posted by coriolisdave at 3:15 PM on August 15, 2010


Y'know, I wrote up a response with links to all the standard and dual-sport motorcycles that're out there, then deleted it. You talk about how you want your bike to look. What do you want it to do? How much freeway work? Twisties? Commuting? How far? Any travel or overnight trips? Gonna camp with it? Ride two-up? Track days? Are you interested in riding fire roads or gravel?

Happily there are some great middleweight bikes out there, but I want to know more before I suggest something.
posted by workerant at 3:23 PM on August 15, 2010


Sounds like you need to buy a rice burner. No sex appeal, but plenty of reliability.
posted by Chocolate Pickle at 3:35 PM on August 15, 2010


Like workerant says, more specificity about what you want to do would help. That said, it's hard to go wrong with a SV650. Reliable, good handling, choice of sporty and standard versions, and not that pricey.
posted by Forktine at 3:35 PM on August 15, 2010 [2 favorites]


> What do you want it to do? How much freeway work? Twisties? Commuting? How far? Any
> travel or overnight trips? Gonna camp with it? Ride two-up? Track days? Are you interested
> in riding fire roads or gravel?

#1, commuting to work; #2, weekend pleasure rides (shortish, day-length or single overnighter, baggage limited to a day pack lashed to the seat.) The lovely riding country in the Appalachians is about two hours away so getting there is the longest steady cover-the-distance cruising I expect. After two hours it's all wiggly and scenic with frequent stops. Dirt/gravel roads probably, lots of these in the mountains, but nothing that can't be dealt with by slowing down. No need that I foresee for anything requiring dual-use tires, let alone knobbies. Two-up occasionally, and I more or less know what to expect there; the Triumph I mentioned handled beautifully when it was loaded evenly fore and aft, but any sort of rear loading and you met it at its wobbly worst.
posted by jfuller at 3:39 PM on August 15, 2010


SV650 is the ride of choice from what I understand. MY BSA, for what it's worth, is pretty reliable.

Modern Triumphs have no relation other than the recycled brand and model names to the Triumphs of yore. They're nice machines and come in various "types." The Thruxton or Bonneville might be something for you to consider, as they're "normal" looking motorcycles.
posted by maxwelton at 3:49 PM on August 15, 2010


Mileage isn't a super-useful indicator here - I've seen well-kept later model sport-tourers with that kind of mileage on them that wouldn't be all that cheap, and older bikes with far fewer miles that have seen less care available for much less. I'm going to assume that what you really want is something under $2000, better if it's under $1500, bulletproof, and in the UJM style. Here's some bikes to look for:

- Honda CB700S: Shaft drive, bulletproof motor. Older bike, but you can find 'em cheap.
- Honda CB750 Nighthawk: Your standard inline-4 UJM, hasn't changed in forever.
- Suzuki GS500/700/750: Air/oil cooled, a little less cruiser-ey than the Nighthawk, very simple, dead reliable.
- Honda VFR750 (91-up): It's got plastic fantastic bodywork, but the motor defines reliability and it's a very capable sport-tourer. I've seen them going for as little as $2K around here.
- Honda Hawk NT650: Small, naked, very reliable. A bit underpowered for what they are though. They're becoming a bit of a collectors item in the USA now. I have several in boxes if you'd like a build-a-bike, MeMail me for details.

That's a pretty Honda-biased list, but that's what I know and I think that's what will be available in your assumed price range. The SV650 is a great option, but I've never seen one at 50K, and they're new enough that it's hard to find one below $2K.
posted by hackwolf at 4:01 PM on August 15, 2010


These are exactly the kind of pointers I was hoping for.

It may seem to you like stuff any rider would know, but y'all got to understand there's been a slight ...gap... in my riding career, namely the gap between the time my first kid was born (my ride at the time, a BMW R75/5, went as part of a house down payment) and the time my last one grew up and left home (which could happen any day now, heh.)
posted by jfuller at 5:11 PM on August 15, 2010


the gap between ... first kid was born... last one left home

Just a side note, in Australia recently your demographic (rode when young and then not for a decade or two) had the highest casualty rate of motorcyclists on the roads. Please consider doing a refresher or advanced weekend riding course to brush up. There are some riding techniques taught these days you may not be familiar with.

My choice would be the SV650.
posted by Kerasia at 5:45 PM on August 15, 2010 [1 favorite]


The SV650 (and its multi-purpose DL650 VStrom cousin) are nice bikes, but if you want the Bonneville experience without the pain, find a Kawasaki W650. They're reliable, nimble, wonderful. Read about them here. They were only imported for two years, but with patience they can be found on eBay or Craigslist. I love mine.
posted by mojohand at 6:03 PM on August 15, 2010


nthing SV650. I've had one for 4 years, and it's a great bike. Mine now has a little over 30k miles on it, and it's a pretty bulletproof bike. 2nd gen SV's are fuel-injected, which simplifies maintenance as well. There's a well-established SV rider community too, complete with all the notes on what you will likely want to replace/upgrade over time.

Note that any motorcycle manufactured in the last 5-10 years (or more, if you're talking about the Japanese brands) are quite reliable, and don't have the same oil leak issues that your old bikes did.

Just to throw it out there - if you haven't ridden in 20 years, it'd would be very much worth your while to take the MSF Basic Rider course. Rider techniques have changed a lot, and what's considered the "right way" to ride a bike has changed drastically, especially as bikes have gotten much more capable.

To put it in perspective - the SV650, always a fairly entry-level bike, puts out almost 70hp on a 375lb bike. It'll do 0-60mph in 3.5 seconds. That's faster than anything short of a $500,000 Ferrari. It's quite predictable and easy to ride, but the performance is redonkulous.

If the MSF BRC class isn't your speed, I highly recommend the Lee Parks Total Control class. It was a huge step up from what I learned in my BRC class. If you're going to ride, be educated about it - after all, it's your health and safety.

Good luck!
posted by swngnmonk at 6:22 PM on August 15, 2010


Note: to put "bulletproof" in perspective.

I live in NYC. I ride about 6-8 months/year. Bike lives under a tarp when not in use. I change the oil & radiator fluids as needed, and replace the tires as they age/wear out. When wintertime comes around, I fill the gas tank, put a little fuel stabilizer in there, pull the battery & put it on a trickle charger, and secure the tarp. Bike lives outside for the winter.

Come spring, I pop the battery back in, and she starts right up. No hesitation whatsoever.

That's about the extent of the work it needs. It is due for a valve inspection & possible adjustment, but the mileage continues to be great (50mpg highway), and so I'm not rushing it.
posted by swngnmonk at 6:26 PM on August 15, 2010


> Sounds like you need to buy a rice burner. No sex appeal, but plenty of reliability.
> posted by Chocolate Pickle at 6:35 PM on August 15 [mark as best answer] [+] [!]

Aha, there's some vocabulary I don't know. I've heard the term but not enough so that it calls up any specific bikes to my mind. Could you please mention some that qualify? Obviously it must be more specific than just "bike from Asian manufacturer" because some of 'em are sexy as hell. (Also it must be different from the same term in the car world, where it means "A Honda Civic with no performance mods but lots of "powered by vtec" stickers and a spoiler.")


> Just a side note, in Australia recently your demographic (rode when young and then not for
> a decade or two) had the highest casualty rate of motorcyclists on the roads. Please
> consider doing a refresher or advanced weekend riding course to brush up. There are some
> riding techniques taught these days you may not be familiar with.

It hasn't been a week since I saw similar stats about US riders. I absolutely believe it. In addition to just plain not having a young man's reactions, you think you remember everything you used to know, but you don't. It's all in your mind, maybe, but it's not in your muscles any more if you don't practice (Artur Rubenstein: "If I don't practice for a day I can tell. If I don't practice for two days my wife can tell. If I don't practive for three days audiences can tell.") And beyond that, someone with a job and a house and kids and all that has a f*** of a lot more stuff competing for limited attention than he used to. (Just while I've been watching this thread my younger son called and asked can I come fix the window he and his GF broke so they can get their deposit back when they move? Oh yeah, and can I help them move? That's right, St. Peter, that's what I was thinking about when I got flattened, instead of the 18-wheeler I ought to have noticed.) I promise you the refresher is on the list to be done before I think I'm ready for the road again.

OTOH, as I understand it, one of the things in the older-riders-more-casualties mix is that they do tend to have the money for that monster superbike they've wanted for years, which turns out to be more bike than they can handle. I don't think what I'm shopping for is too much bike in that sense.

Thanks for the warning, consider it heeded.
posted by jfuller at 7:10 PM on August 15, 2010


What I don't want is any more experience sitting in an ever-spreading Triumph/BSA/Norton pool of oil setting valve train tolerances, after having just set them two days ago

You *have* been out of riding for a long time. This is a solved problem these days (unless you do something silly like buying a water-cooled Ducati). That said, there's a reason everyone's suggesting the SV650.
posted by asterix at 7:40 PM on August 15, 2010


SV650(S), 2nd gen. I commute on mine, track it every month or two, and I just got back from a few hundred miles in the canyons today. There's a billion of them out there, the twin is indestructible, and it does it all.

If you want a little more pop from it, replace the rear shock; for a bit more, do the front shock oil and perhaps some emulator cartridges.
posted by kcm at 7:53 PM on August 15, 2010


Nthing the Honda HawkGT. I've been riding for.. *starts counting... runs out of fingers and gives up*... a long time now. I've owned bikes ranging from a KZ550ltd to CBR600s to a YZF600 to a streetfightered R1 to a BMW R1100S to a Honda HawkGT (plus other less relevant ones). Guess which one is my primary bike right now? The Hawk.

The Hawk is just a blast to ride and they are very reliable. They also look like what you seem to be looking for. Plus there is a great group that frequents the Hawk Forum. Lots of knowledge there. If you like tinkering there are huge numbers of mods you can do that vary from 5 minute no skill required jobs to easy bolt up jobs that last a few hours to as deep as you might be interested in going.

The SV is a great bike as well, but had more issues during certain years (some years are just as bullet proof though) and is worse about corrosion. On the plus side it is more powerful and, if you get a new enough one, has fuel injection.
posted by thekiltedwonder at 8:12 PM on August 15, 2010


> This is a solved problem these days

Then too, pretty much (my R75 didn't drip.) The Triumph I remember (very fondly, in spite of the oil) was already very well used when I got it. At the time I could have afforded a brand spanking new Honda 250. But I didn't want a Honda 250, brand new or otherwise.


> unless you do something silly like buying a water-cooled Ducati

Can you complete this famous quotation? "There's No F__l Like An Old F__l." If I were to bring home way more bike than I need it would be a Ducati. Drool, the twenty-something supermodel girlfriend of bikes. And I expect I would last just about as long in the hands of either.
posted by jfuller at 8:19 PM on August 15, 2010



> unless you do something silly like buying a water-cooled Ducati

Can you complete this famous quotation? "There's No F__l Like An Old F__l." If I were to bring home way more bike than I need it would be a Ducati. Drool, the twenty-something supermodel girlfriend of bikes. And I expect I would last just about as long in the hands of either.


Psst: Ducati GT 1000

Needless to say, I've been drooling over this one for a few years. It's also a serious handfull of a bike. I'm planning on it being my second wife.. err.. bike.
posted by swngnmonk at 8:25 PM on August 15, 2010


Suzuki SV 650
or
Suzuki V-Strom 650


Same bullet proof engine but a different geometry. I have the V-Strom 1000 and I can tell you that I'd be just as happy, if not happier, with the 650 (the 650 is smoother than the 1000 and also runs a bit more reliably, not that I've had any problems with mine, also better fuel economy).

Both bikes have world class support from their user base.
posted by spikeleemajortomdickandharryconnickjrmints at 9:10 PM on August 15, 2010


its been twenty-odd years since I even saw a non-Transformerish road bike that wasn't a Sportster or a restored antique.

so is a Sportster out of the question? I took mine on a 2300 mile trip this summer. The current version of the Sportster engine (the Evolution, starting around model year 1989) is pretty reliable and maintenance free (especially compared to the older Ironhead version). there are people on the Sportster forum I frequent that have more than 100,000 miles on theirs. there is also lots of room for tinkering, if you felt like it.

Also if you want the sport-touring thing, the recently discontinued Buell Ulysses uses the same engine, but is tuned a little hotter (but looks a little more 'transformery').

of course If you went that way, you'd be paying for the HD on your bike.
posted by ArgentCorvid at 9:20 PM on August 15, 2010


You might enjoy some of the smaller modern-era Triumphs. They ride well, strike me as having more character, feeling less like a two-wheeled appliance than the Japanese bikes.
posted by ambient2 at 9:44 PM on August 15, 2010


While the Honda Hawk GT (650) is a great bike (and I've owned one) they are very hard to find in good condition because most of them have had a racing history because of the popularity of the 650 twins racing category.

I too would recommend a Suzuki SV650. Excellent bike. Vast aftermarket. Clearly the best bike for what you describe you want to do.

I too would strongly recommend some rider training and safety gear.
posted by gen at 10:13 PM on August 15, 2010


I'm surprised to see no mention of a Beamer upthread - perhaps it's because BMW isn't so well plugged into the US market as it is here in Europe? I've been through two Moto Guzzis and 7 years ago my wife talked me into buying my dream bike (we compromised by buying it third-hand), and I've never looked back. My pattern of use seems to conform closely to yours, and I'm totally satisfied with the R850R. Looks like a little sister of the R1200, has all the power I need (not a lot at my age), simple and satisfying for pretty much all home-based maintenance (oil, brakes, etc. - even adding extra lights to the electrical circuits because I like to look like a Christmas tree in the mirror of the cars in front of me). Was just about affordable when bought used (YMMV). Replacement parts cost an arm and a leg, but it's so reliable I've very rarely needed any. Am about to do the 100K-km. service and don't anticipate any major costs. Daily commute (50-km round trip) in heavy traffic was a dream. Longer runs most weekends, much longer runs for summer holidays with two up and exploring some unpaved side roads, both of us comfortable and relaxed after a whole day on the road. Only warning: I have the early (2000), 5-gear model and miss a 6th gear for highway cruising. They later (?2002) introduced a 6-gear version, but you can't just buy a new gearbox and swap it out, it won't fit.
posted by aqsakal at 12:13 AM on August 16, 2010


I went back to riding last summer, in the city (Baltimore) with some cruising out in the sticks for fun. Got a used Buell Blast. Mine was a school bike. They aren't made any more, but can be had inexpensively and were designed to be low maintenance. They do eat a little oil. Upright sitting position.

Big enough to take a passenger (500cc), small enough to be very nimble, turns very tightly. Can feel a little shaky doing 80 mph on the expressway past semis. There are some upgrades you can do to improve performance if you want to. Gets about 60 mpg (more sometimes) and is a lot of fun to ride.

As a bonus, because it is uncool (and a bit ugly, to my eye), insurance is cheap and when the Harleys and BWMs in my neighbourhood get stolen, my Buell is untouched.
posted by QIbHom at 8:37 AM on August 16, 2010


> so is a Sportster out of the question?

> I'm surprised to see no mention of a Beamer upthread

I mentioned that I've owned a BMW, and enjoyed the L out of it, and lost it due to my slight preference (and my then bride's very marked preference) for having a house instead. Never had a Harley of any kind but I think Sportsters are way cool, especially the ones they've done over the years that look like cafe racers without fairings. But Sportsters and BMWs are above my price range, except for ones that are so old or high-mileage they would make me nervous in the reliability department. They're also on the heavy side for me. My R75/5 was listed at 465 lb dry and while you could still toss it around a bit in a stately sort of way it was about the heaviest bike I'd ever want to pick up off my foot. My Triumph was a hundred pounds lighter and just about ideal for me as far as weight is concerned.


> To put it in perspective - the SV650, always a fairly entry-level bike, puts out almost 70hp on a 375lb bike.
> It'll do 0-60mph in 3.5 seconds. That's faster than anything short of a $500,000 Ferrari. It's quite predictable
> and easy to ride, but the performance is redonkulous.

Lessee...
 BMW R75/5:   465 lb, 50 hp =  9.3 lb per hp
 Triumph TR6: 365 lb, 40 hp =  9.1 lb per hp
 SV650:       375 lb, 70 hp =  5 lb per hp
OK, call me convinced. Training/checkout rides with competent pro first, open road after that. Can anyone tell me whether you have to have a bike already, or are there outfits in my area (southeastern US) that provide, um, training wheels in the price of admission?


After the retraining, with the help of y'all's very valuable advice, it just comes down to what's available. Checking the Atlanta craigslist (which collects ads from all of N.E. GA) among the entries for August I see many makes and some exact models that were mentioned in this thread. (Saw no Hawks)
BMW K75S             1987  usd2890
BMW R80              1985  usd2800
Sportster 883        1998  usd3200
Kawasaki ZR-7        2000  usd2900
Suzuki SV650         2008  usd5000
Suzuki SV650S        2003  usd2500
Suzuki SV650S        2005  usd3200
Suzuki SV650S        2006  usd3900
Triumph Daytona 955i 2003  usd3500
Except for the Suzukis the ones that caught my eye are a bit more bike than I actually had in mind in my rare more rational moments. Well, the super-prime riding weather in this area which I really hope not to miss (not too hot at noon, not too cold at night; in the nearest mountains no sleet or snow yet but the leaves are turning and the bugs have thinned out a lot) runs from mid-September to Halloween. So I don't have to rocket out and buy something right now today. I expect I'll watch and hope to see a an affordable vanilla SV650, or a Hawk if one pops up. And talk to the training places.

Oh yeah, and checking the Athens GA craigslist I see (drum roll, please...)

Ducati Monster 695 2007 usd5500

OMG, it's too expensive and too much bike but it's ten minutes from where I am. Please Ghod, I didn't see that....

Thanks very much to everyone who responded and shared your experience!
posted by jfuller at 12:48 PM on August 16, 2010


Can anyone tell me whether you have to have a bike already, or are there outfits in my area (southeastern US) that provide, um, training wheels in the price of admission?

An MSF course is probably what you want; they'll have bikes and helmets, you'll be expected to show up with long sleeves, heavy pants, gloves, and boots that cover your ankles. You can find a course near you on their website.

And that Monster 695 would actually be a great bike for you. It's air-cooled, not water-, so the maintenance won't kill you, and it only makes marginally more power than the SV650.
posted by asterix at 8:15 PM on August 16, 2010


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