Best Motorcycle With Data Source
April 12, 2011 10:55 AM   Subscribe

Motorcycle selection question: using data only, how can I find out what is the best motorcycle for a variety of situations?

I am basing my selections on's specs for 2011 bikes. This is a sample of the detailed information that is available.

Question: how do I use this to determine the best bike for a variety of situations? I am a motorcycle novice (completely) and don't know a chromed fender from an adjustable shock. If I wanted to find the best bike for cities, for example, what specs are important and which can be discarded? I'm trying to whittle down my options for the following cases:

best bike for kids vs. older adults
best bike for long distance vs. urban riding
best bike for experienced riders vs. novices
best bike for the price vs. quality

What features are the most important for these particular cases? Is there a resource online that gives details that would help?

Note: brand of bike is irrelevant. I am not looking for answers such as "if you're looking for a bike for your kid, get a Yamaha". I would prefer something like "an engine size between X and Y is optimal for highway riding".

posted by amicamentis to Travel & Transportation (11 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
What will you be using the bike for?

Honda rebels are the model that the motorcycle class at our local tech college uses. They have about a 250 engine and a cruiser-ish body - so, good for novices.

Having said that, my 250cc motorcycle (precursor to the Rebel) is a great commuter bike for me - I get 60 mpg on average and, as long as I don't need to go over 65 mph (60 with a headwind), I have no complaints. But if you weight more than 170 pounds, these 250 Rebels (and comparable models from other makers) will not have very much oomph.

My husband likes to go fast. And he likes to be going fast as quickly as possible. So he has a Suzuki Bandit 400. He loves zipping around town on that thing. But, very uncomfortable for longer than an hour on it and not comfortable for a passenger for very long. Other "crotch rockets" would probably fit in this category - fast, fun, not so comfy. More expensive to insure.

Cruiser bikes and touring bikes are made for comfort for very long distances. Not as good of gas mileage, but much better shocks, seats, driver position, and amenities. More expensive and heavier.

best bike for kids vs. older adults - depends on the kid. crotch rockets are more fun and touring/cruiser bikes are more stable
best bike for long distance vs. urban riding - touring for long distance. crotch rocket or smaller engine size for urban
best bike for experienced riders vs. novices - the heavier they are, the harder to maneuver. So, smaller engine size and older, cheaper bike for the novice.
best bike for the price vs. quality - snowflakes for everyone here.
posted by jillithd at 11:08 AM on April 12, 2011

If you are a novice, buying a new bike is a bad idea. You are going to crash your bike. Everyone crashes their first bike. For most people this is a simple, mostly harmless low-speed tip-over. You'd be amazed how many people simply forget to put their feet down when they come to a stop sign. Another common failure is to put too much pressure on the back brake and lose control as you come up to a stop sign. Whatever it is, practically everyone experiences a low-speed crash or two or three early in their riding career. I dropped my first bike three times in the first week I had it.

When this happens, you do not want to be on a shiny new bike you just paid $10k for, because you are likely to think too much about saving your shiny new bike and not enough about saving your own self. When you are about to crash a bike you need to focus on leaping clear, not getting pinned underneath, and walking away. You need to be able to let the bike go. This is going to be hard to do with a brand new bike.

The second reason it is a bad idea to buy a new bike for your first is that you are almost certainly going to outgrow it within a year or two. You should start out with a small, light bike, something easy to manage, something easy to pick back up after you lay it down. Ride it until you know you want something bigger, then start asking which is the best bike for the kind of riding you want to do.
posted by Mars Saxman at 11:09 AM on April 12, 2011 [1 favorite]

If you're a novice, you should be seeking out a bike that's suited to a novice as the primary deciding factor. It would suck if you didn't take that into account and ended up with way more bike than you're prepared to handle. Were I in your position personally, all I would be looking at is the best bike for a novice. My friends and I are all big proponents of 70s Hondas and Suzukis between 250-500cc as first bikes for any novice. You can scoop them up on craigslist for cheap, parts are readily available, and they're easy to work on if you pick up a service manual - if you really want to learn motorcycles, there's no better way, IMO. Once you feel comfortable with your starter bike, you can start thinking about the things you like/don't like about it, and make a more informed decision about a more permanent addition to your garage.

Good luck, have fun, and RIDE SAFE!!!
posted by brand-gnu at 11:10 AM on April 12, 2011

Kids: Stay off motorcycles. 18 and older, and take an MSF Basic course. Now that that's out of they way-

Dirty College Students: UJMs. They're cheap, Japanese, 4-cylinder motorcycles made between about 1975 and 1995. Can't go wrong. Example: Suzuki GS650, Honda CB550, Kawasaki KZ550.

Older Adults:
Sportish preference is for an inline four or V-4 with a comfortable seating position, you'll see these classified as sport-touring. Examples: Honda Interceptor, Suzuki Bandit 1200.

Cruisers are a mixed bag, any recent Japanese, American, or British cruiser-style motorcycle is amply powerful and comfortable. Caveats about returning to riding apply. Examples: Yamaha Roadliner, Harley-Davidson Dyna Wide Glide, Honda VTX1800 or Shadow 750.

Long Distance:
Two factors, weight and engine size. A heavier motorcycle is easier to keep tracking straight in win and conditions. Think >= 600 lbs wet weight. Engines should be larger than 800cc for transverse fours or parallel twins, and larger than 1100cc in a V-Twin configuration. Provisions for luggage and a comfortable seat are nice, too. Examples: Honda Goldwing, Harley-Davidson Road King, Yamaha Venture.

Urban Riding:
Tall, Narrow, Light. Twins 400-800cc, V-Twins to 1100cc, Fours between 400 and 900cc. Perfect example is the Kawasaki Versys 800, or the Suzuki V-Strom in 600 or 1000cc. Kawasaki KLR650 is a nice on-off road option, too.

Experienced Riders:
Anything at the end of the power spectrum (Large-displacement >= 1000cc Fours, 1400cc V-Twins) will require experience and some training. Too much available power makes people overconfident in their abilities.

Novice Riders:
The undisputed king is a small-displacement 250cc Twin. Sport: Kawasaki Ninja 250. Standard: Honda Nighthawk 250. Cruiser: Honda Rebel 250, or similar. The Suzuki SV650 line is well-regarded, but maybe a bit much power.

Any other categories you can think of?
posted by joedanger at 11:11 AM on April 12, 2011 [2 favorites]

I don't think you can meaningfully select a bike based on "data only," particularly if you're a novice rider. It'd be like selecting someone to marry based on their answers to an OK-Cupid questionnaire, before you'd gone on a date with anyone. Your best bet (after taking the MSF class!) is to ride as much as you can, and talk to other riders who do the same sort of riding you're interested in.

As everyone else has said, your first bike should be a used beater, with an engine-size appropriate for your own size and intended use. If you're an average-sized person who wants to commute (with perhaps some freeway travel), you'll probably want something between 400 and 650cc. If you're small and timid, you could start with a 250, but you're unlikely to be happy with it for long. (Even if it's the right size and power, 250s usually lack many features and component quality that make for a "keeper" bike.)

Once you get some miles under your belt, you'll figure out what matters to you, and then you can start looking at data on new bikes.

FWIW, I've been riding for 30 years. I commute daily in the Pacific Northwet (after a decade on the freeways of LA), and I go for longer rides (3-10 days, 400-800 miles/day) whenever I can. Most of my bikes are 1000cc, partly- or fully-faired. I'll ride them anywhere paved, and many places on dirt or gravel. 650cc is about the smallest I'd consider for long distance, but it's perfect for commuting and day rides.
posted by spacewrench at 11:33 AM on April 12, 2011

Agreeing with everything that's been said, and will add:
The question is unanswerable. My perfect bike will be different than yours, even if we use it for exactly the same purpose.

Here's what you should do:

1) Learn to ride. Any motorcycle class will provide you with at least one style of bike, and possibly more than one. Here you can learn what feels comfortable for you (personally, I HATE sport bikes -- I like to lounge and take long rides, so I ride cruisers. But I know guys who hate the feel of cruisers and are much more comfortable in a more forward riding position.)

2) Buy used; buy cheap. As mentioned above, you will drop it at least once. Consider your first bike disposable. Honda Rebels -- as far back as the '80s -- are a GREAT first bike. Talk to 10 hardcore Harley guys, and 8 of them will tell you to start on an old Rebel. You can also get them very cheaply.

3) After riding for a year, you'll be familiar enough with your tastes to know what you prefer and what your needs are. THEN you can choose the bike for you.
posted by coolguymichael at 11:33 AM on April 12, 2011

Seat height and distance from seat to footpeg. If you are short you won't be happy on a bike with a high seat; if you are tall you won't like a bike where the footpegs are close to the seat.

But the real answer is to become less of a novice, which is less about data and more about experience. Take an MSF class. Let me repeat: take an MSF class. Then, buy a used bike to learn on. Maybe you'll drop it (though not everyone does), but mostly because until you've owned it and ridden for a while you won't really be sure of what works for you.

And wear safety gear. A lot of people ride in shorts and flip-flops. Don't imitate them, because falling off hurts like a bitch even with good protective gear. Without it is just bad news.
posted by Forktine at 11:38 AM on April 12, 2011 [1 favorite]

Update: I apologize for the poorly-written question. This bike is not for me. I am trying to figure out how to manipulate the data at hand (see links) for a variety of situations.

I am looking for concrete, data-based reasons why X bike is better for (cities, hills, kids, etc) than Y bike. When is an electric starter better than a kick starter? What are the important data pieces that real motorcyclists look for, and which are unimportant?
posted by amicamentis at 12:03 PM on April 12, 2011

Every spec is important to somebody, and almost none of them are important to everyone. Any given "real motorcyclist" might have one overriding pet concern, like price, fuel economy, horsepower or top speed, or they might be infatuated with the latest whiz-bang feature that somebody came up with because it promises to solve the annoying problem their last bike had. Beyond that it's a matter of test rides and subjective reviews.

That said, lightweight bikes are good in the city because they are more nimble at lower speeds, are easier to maneuver out of parking spaces (most bikes lack reverse gears) and are also easier to hold up at intersections (especially for novice riders). Small scooter-sized wheels don't play well with potholes. An electric starter is always nicer to use (unless your battery is dead), but is an unnecessary luxury on very small engines and a weight hindrance on some competition bikes. Dimensionally smaller bikes are easier to find a place for in your crowded garage.
posted by jon1270 at 12:52 PM on April 12, 2011 [1 favorite]

We can't just give you a list of guidelines about why X is better than Y that you can just spout with no prior knowledge of riding. All the reading in the world isn't comparable to real world riding experience. Riding style makes a world of difference, as well. Ask a dozen riders what the best bike for thing X is, and you'll get 2 dozen answers. My answers would skew towards older bikes, and towards dual sports and smaller bikes. My friend Mickey (a road racer) would skew towards sport bikes. Turk (a Ducati fanatic) would find a Ducati to fit your criteria. Poll (a brokeass mechanic and lover of cheap dirtbag choppers) would steer you towards whatever the fuck is lying around, modified to suit exactly what you need. The Harley execs I worked with last year are convinced that there is a Harley for everyone.

What exactly are you trying to do? Write an article or a series of articles? This is such a huge, vague and nebulous question.

Every spec is important to somebody, and almost none of them are important to everyone.
1000x this.
posted by mollymayhem at 12:56 PM on April 12, 2011

Echoing mollymayhem. This question would be easier to answer if it were about cars, because at least then you'd have a huge variety of body styles, passenger/cargo capacities, options, etc. to choose from. There IS a lot of variation among motorcycles, but the difference between a Harley and a Honda Metropolitan is much smaller than say, a Smart Fortwo and a Ford F-150. At least in North America motorcycle riders ride what they ride because it speaks to them in some way or another - that is to say, the image is more important. Very very few people ride bikes because they're practical. In places where bikes are still more affordable or practical than cars, say Vietnam, most people ride variants of the Honda Supercub, which is about as basic as you can get, but even a tiny bike like that will still satisfy pretty much any of your conditions. It just depends on who's riding.
posted by azuresunday at 8:34 AM on April 13, 2011

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