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Which motorcycle would be best for me?
April 26, 2006 4:36 AM   Subscribe

I'm looking for a motorcycle, help me!

With gas prices rising, I'm thinking about buying a motorcycle for the 3/4ths of a year I'll be able to ride it. Well, that is my justification anyways, I just really want a bike.

I'm only really looking for three things in a bike:
1. High MPG. The higher the better.
2. Able to mantain a speed of 75ish for Turnpike traffic
3. Reasonably cheap used (Hopefully I can keep this under $1200. Hopefully.)

Right now I am considering buying an old Honda CMT200T from 1981 from my friend, for about $900. Under 1400 miles on it, great condition, and never laid down. The only thing with this bike I am worried about is taking it on the Turnpike or other 65+ highways. Is that a reasonable worry? Any other bike suggestions? Thanks!
posted by Loto to Travel & Transportation (25 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
 
I did a pre-purchase inspection for a mate on a Honda VTR250 and was very impressed. I hadn't ridden a 250 in over 10 years but got this one up to 160km/h and it managed to cruise pretty easily at 130. No fairings to complicate matters if you lay it over and it's a twin which simplifies things a little as opposed to a four. Nice, relaxed posture and I pillioned him home with it. I was 80Kg and he's just shy of a hundred but it got us home which I was also impressed with. The bike was a year old and well looked after but stock so you can expect the same from a similar bike. The owner claimed the 11L tank + 2L reserve was good for 260km which is also pretty good. I'm not sure about American resale values but a 1 year old stock bike will probably be about $2000
posted by Jenga at 4:51 AM on April 26, 2006


Sorry, I hit submit too early. Anyway, I think the one you're looking at is getting a little long in the tooth despite the fact that it has low ks. I also doubt it will be comfortable at 65+. If you need to go fastish, then it's worthwhile spending a few hundred more and getting something with newer technology and more spare parts around. It'll also be more fun.
posted by Jenga at 4:57 AM on April 26, 2006


I think you'll be hard-pressed to find a bike that doesn't strike you as overkill that doesn't meet the mileage requirement -- motorcycle engines just don't use much gas compared to what we're used to in cars -- but I'd stay away from bikes as old as that one -- it's just too much of a pain to find parts. Mileage is great when it just sits in the garage but it might not meet the rest of your requirements.

I'm not familiar with the CMT200T and neither is Google, but if it's a 200cc 4-stroke it's too small. I had an '81 Suzuki GS250T and it was dangerous outside city streets; you want a max speed higher than the max speed you'll go because you want to maintain decent acceleration up at the top-speed-you'll-go range, just because so much of being safe on a motorcycle involves the ability to get ahead of problem situations.

This doesn't mean you need a liter race replica! If you want a standard -- upright seating position, no fairings -- look at 500-750CC from the past ten or fifteen years or so. The KLR650 is a great commuter. To keep it under $1200, look for a bike that's not in top cosmetic shape, but that's still been maintained well.

Keep in mind that a bike without a windshield might be uncomfortable for long periods over 50mph or so.
posted by mendel at 5:08 AM on April 26, 2006


I thought of this after I'd shut the laptop down to come in to work: don't buy a bike if you're trying to save money. The expensive part of running a car is gas; the expensive part of running a motorcycle is tires, which you'll be replacing yearly or so (and whose old tires you'll be contributing to tire dumps yearly, on the environmental-impact side of things). And motorcycle tires are not cheap compared to car tires. Any savings you'll get in gas will pretty much be balanced out by buying tires.

Also, I had a bunch of bike-buying links bookmarked from last year when I bought my two (the 250cc, which I outgrew in about a month, and my current '85 Shadow 750). Enjoy:

Adam's Used Motorcycle Evaluation Guide, your best bet on avoiding lemons if you're not a motorcycle mechanic already

A remarkably useful epinions post on bike buying

Buying a 2nd-hand Motorcycle

Timberwoof's motorcycle FAQ, including useful sections on picking a bike and buying gear

The Sander Test, a handy evaluation of what level of protective gear is right for you (and the evidence that the sander test is realistic).
posted by mendel at 6:19 AM on April 26, 2006


There are a few bikes I'd recommend: Kawasaki Ninja 250 and 500 and the Suzuki GS500. All are excellent on insurance, basically bulletproof, and because they've been on the market more or less unchanged for more than a decade these are proven designs with a great deal of parts available should something break.

I've had the Canadian version of the Kawasaki Ninja 250 for four years now. I used it for an hour-long highway commute for two seasons. If you're over 6' I might consider going with the 500 but I'm 5'11" and though the 250's a bit cramped for longer trips anything under a couple hours is great - longer trips just require a few rest stops. Though not now, I was around 230 lbs. when I bought the bike and it had no trouble pulling me down the highway at 100mph. though that's the speed at which it begins to lose steam.

All 250s are not the same. I think the Ninja 250 is about the only current model with that displacement from any manufacturer that performs well enough to give you a worry-free experience on the highway.

One more consideration is insurance. Some insurers (like State Farm) look only at displacement and you'll pay pocket change for the bike. Others look at other factors. These three are all generally inexpensive to insure.

The GS500, it should be noted, has an air-cooled engine. It's fine but in stop-and-go traffic on a hot day it may get quite warm so figure that into your plans if you expect that sort of a commute.

There's a great community at ninja250.net that would be helpful (though slightly biased) for your decision.
posted by ChuckLeChuck at 6:56 AM on April 26, 2006


I think $900 for a 25-year-old 200cc bike is very steep. I also think a 200cc 4-stroke of that era might be too slow, but I never rode that bike.
posted by Kirth Gerson at 7:44 AM on April 26, 2006


I'm not familiar with the CMT200, but a 200 from that era is most definitely not a freeway ride no matter how well cared-for. While bikes of that vintage are easy to work on and take care of, and I'm of the opinion that the styling of many late 70s/early 80s standards is much nicer than the plastic stuff you get these days, you're going to want a bigger bike. Something with a displacement over 400cc, at least. A 500 twin, like the Honda CX or a four banger like the CB400 are going to give you a lot more of a safety margin on getting up to, maintaining, and maneuvering at freeway speed.

You don't say if this is your first bike -- I'm guessing it is, if you have to ask around -- but a good rule for a first bike is to pay no more than two bucks per cc. Sizing the bike should be part of your decision. If you're tall or heavy you're going to be a lot happier on something with some size to it, say, a 750 and up, than you would with a smaller and less powerful bike. If you're short or of lower than average mass, a lighter, smaller bike is a good way to start out.
posted by majick at 7:55 AM on April 26, 2006


Also: Yeah, $900 for a 200 sounds like a complete rip-off to me for something that's going to be a daily ride and not a collector's piece.
posted by majick at 7:57 AM on April 26, 2006


Thanks for the advice everyone. That is what I was worried about, in regards to the Honda. I won't be an every day rider (I usually drive about once a week and only for 10 minutes or so then), but I need it for the highways to commute from college to home over breaks and long weekends. I'm 5'11' and 180, so it definitely sounds like a bigger bike will be in order.
posted by Loto at 9:11 AM on April 26, 2006


Ok, the bike you're talking about is actually a Honda CM-200-T. It's known as a 'scrambler', and it actually is worth $900 or over if it's in great condition ... to someone who races in the scrambler class at your local raceway.

It will not in any way shape or form maintain 75 mph. That's about max for that class of bike ... in full race trim. It'll also take about 200 years to get there.

The bare minimum of what you want is a Ninja 250. I'd go for an 80's bike that is about 400cc or better. Check your local craigslist or newspaper ads... you should easily find one for $1000.

FYI, to other posters, $1000 is about the minimum you'll get or pay for a running bike, no matter the displacement.

But Loto: You're jumping the gun. If you don't already have your motorcycle license, you need to get that before you need to get a bike. The waiting list for Motorcycle Safety classes right now is about 3-6 months, because you're not the only one with this idea... so you need to get a learner's permit and find an experienced rider to mentor and tutor you.
The police have noticed and are pulling over people riding cheap bikes with minimal gear to check their licenses, so I wouldn't try riding without a license. Saving $50 in gas to get a $500 ticket and license suspension (at least that's what it would've been in the last state I was in...) ain't a great deal.
posted by SpecialK at 9:30 AM on April 26, 2006


FYI, to other posters, $1000 is about the minimum you'll get or pay for a running bike, no matter the displacement.

Funny, I paid $400 for an early '80s Yamaha SR250 in 2000 or 2001. The bike ran fine, and a friend of mine is still riding the bike (after having changed the handlebars).

I would be extremely cautious about riding a motorcycle in New Jersey. Drivers are extremely aggressive and road quality can be highly variable. When I drove from Hoboken to Central 'Jersey, there were numerous sections of turnpike and freeway with a car's length of 1/2" to 1" deep pavement missing. On a car, in 80 mph bumper-to-bumper traffic, going over changes in pavement like that is disturbing enough. I wouldn't want to have to do that on a bike.
posted by b1tr0t at 9:41 AM on April 26, 2006


If you don't have much experience with bikes, you have to take a Motorcycle Safety Course before going out to buy a bike. Most of them (that I've seen) provide bikes for the practical portion of the course. It'll give you a much better idea of what you want out of a bike.

I don't recommend buying anything below 500cc's. You're likely to get bored with a 250cc really quickly.

I've owned a succession of three Hondas (an ancient CX Custom, a nearly-new Nighthawk, and a Shadow) and I loved them all. The Custom was shaft-driven, and it was 14 years old when it started having any real trouble. The Nighthawk was great; I treated it like crap, and yet it still loved me and ran well. The Shadow was a 2000, and it was destroyed when I was rear-ended by an SUV on 9/11/02--but it ran great up until its untimely death.
posted by scaryblackdeath at 9:56 AM on April 26, 2006


Oh yeah, I'm getting on the waiting list for the MSF course right away and have a few riders in the family to help me out. I don't plan on riding it illegally. I've seen how people treat bikes on the road, so I would like to be as safe as possible about it.

My time frame on this is about a year, I'm in no rush because I want to make sure I get a bike I am happy with and that I have enough money to get good riding gear, along with the right training.
posted by Loto at 10:20 AM on April 26, 2006


I bought a 1981 Yamaha Seca 750 for $500 two years ago, I've had to put in about $500 since then. Even though it's a 750 it's slow (but fine for highway) and very easy to ride. Check on craigslist, you can often find resonable priced bikes there with nothing more wrong than a dented gas tank. The Seca gets about 35mpg.
posted by vito90 at 10:36 AM on April 26, 2006


The expensive part of running a car is gas; the expensive part of running a motorcycle is tires, which you'll be replacing yearly or so (and whose old tires you'll be contributing to tire dumps yearly, on the environmental-impact side of things). And motorcycle tires are not cheap compared to car tires.

Good point. I recall spending a LOT more money for a set of tires for my 600cc Ninja than I did for a set of four high performance all season tires for my RX7. I did manage to sell the Ninja for close to what I paid for it (~$3k) after riding it around for a few years.

Another consideration is riding gear. You probably don't want to spend less than $500 on a helmet and jacket. Riding pants, or a one-piece suit are highly recommended. It is easy to spend $1000 - $1500 on a good set of gear. A good set of gloves and boots are also a good idea. Now think about what you are going to do with all that gear when you get to your destination.
posted by b1tr0t at 10:58 AM on April 26, 2006


My time frame on this is about a year, I'm in no rush because I want to make sure I get a bike I am happy with and that I have enough money to get good riding gear, along with the right training.

Then buy a bike this winter. ;) Seriously, prices drop by a couple hundred bucks and you can get great bikes cheap. I'm planning on making my next bike purchase over the winter.
posted by SpecialK at 11:34 AM on April 26, 2006


The aforementioned $1000 minimum is purely specious information. For a first bike, you can easily pick up something well under that. In fact, I'd suggest doing so because as a new rider there's a fair chance you are going to drop your ride at least once; there's no reason to spend serious dollars until you get past the new rider's typical under-confidence/overconfidence cycle.

Hell, if you're especially thrifty and shop around for rat bikes, you could spend your $1200 budget and own two motorcycles.
posted by majick at 12:44 PM on April 26, 2006


Don't forget to check out the cost of insurance. Liability insurance is cheap for moto riders, but personal injury insurance is not, and that goes double if you're planning to have passengers on your bike.

Also check to be sure your health plan covers you for moto-related injuries. And consider taking out life insurance if you have dependents; your risk of fatal accident per mile traveled is about to go up 1800%.
posted by ikkyu2 at 1:49 PM on April 26, 2006


Majick - My apologies if it's supecious; I think it varies by area. I bought my first two bikes for $1000 on the west coast. I also think that recent gas price jumps have had an effect.

Here in Texas, you're *lucky* to find anything in riding condition for under $1500, and it goes right away. I've seen 1979-1985 UJMs in poor running condition sell for $1500. All you can get for $600 here is a project bike in parts with a branded or salvage title.
posted by SpecialK at 2:45 PM on April 26, 2006


A 500 is probably the minimum, I took my old '76 xs500 yamaha cross country, 75 mph all day. But, wide open it would only do about 95, so 2 people and a 30 mph headwind and you're stuck down at 60 or slower. Even on a small bike you can burn through a rear tire in about 5000 mi. at $100 to replace it, but if you don't go full throttle from every stop it will last alot longer.
posted by 445supermag at 4:41 PM on April 26, 2006


Don't forget to check out the cost of insurance. Liability insurance is cheap for moto riders, but personal injury insurance is not, and that goes double if you're planning to have passengers on your bike. Also check to be sure your health plan covers you for moto-related injuries. And consider taking out life insurance if you have dependents; your risk of fatal accident per mile traveled is about to go up 1800%.

It's the comprehensive/collision insurance which is so bloody expensive. Ninjas, even the 250s, are going to cost more than a Nighthawk 750 to insure.

And speaking of the Nighthawk 750...

I've ridden dozens and dozens of bikes in my life, and owned a dozen more. For your needs, there is nothing as dependable, as inexpensive (to own and to insure), as easy to ride and control, to repair, and to accessorize as a Nighthawk 750.

The motor is utterly bulletproof. Parts are cheap. It's a standard instead of a crotch-rocket. You absolutely, positively cannot go wrong with this bike for commuter duty.
posted by Thistledown at 5:22 PM on April 26, 2006


It's the comprehensive/collision insurance which is so bloody expensive. Ninjas, even the 250s, are going to cost more than a Nighthawk 750 to insure.

I don't think that's true. The Ninjas above the 500 will be classed as sportbikes and will have inflated premiums, but I don't know of any North American insurance company that doesn't consider the 250 and 500 to be standards. On the other hand, that Nighthawk will be over the 699cc "big bike" limit which will come with a penalty -- a smaller one than a sportbike but still a bit of one.

I also think that comprehensive is unnecessary on a sub-$1000 bike. If it gets stolen or burns up (or if you drop it, etc.) then just drop another $500-1000 on another bike, if you plan on continuing to ride anyhow. For insurance on a ratbike, take care of your medical bills, the vehicle and medical bills of the person you run into, and the legal requirements of your area, nothing more.
posted by mendel at 6:00 PM on April 26, 2006


The original bike under discussion is this one. That site says the top speed is 74 mph. Definitely underpowered. (They also classify it as a "Scooter" for some reason.) I could not find the original 1981 selling price, but I'd be surprised if it was much over $900.
posted by Kirth Gerson at 7:12 AM on April 27, 2006


That site says the top speed is 74 mph. Definitely underpowered. (They also classify it as a "Scooter" for some reason.)

A bigger problem is that it made 17 HP when new and has front and rear drum brakes. Drum brakes will get you killed when the guy in a lowered civic slows down suddenly in front of you. If the bike made 17 HP 20 years ago, it is unlikely to still make 17 HP. When the guy who is talking on his cell phone and drinking a latte in his BMW changes into your lane, you will really wish you had enough power to accelerate out of his way.

The displacement is 194cc, which is probably what makes it a scooter-class vehicle.
posted by b1tr0t at 10:42 AM on April 27, 2006


Drum brakes will get you killed when the guy in a lowered civic slows down suddenly in front of you.

Well, there's drum brakes, and then there's drum brakes. The advantage disk brakes have is not stopping power; it's fade resistance. The twin-leading-shoe front brake on my Bultaco Metralla was massive, and it stopped so fast that I always had to be aware of what was behind me. Your lowered Civic wouldn't scare that bike.

Every definition of motor scooter I've seen uses wheel size, not engine size, as the determinant. There are 50cc motorcycles, and 250cc scooters.
posted by Kirth Gerson at 1:56 PM on April 27, 2006


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