April 2014 — Bike Review — Four Motorcycles That Deserve A Closer Look
1997 Suzuki Bandit
By B.P. Goebel
Since the middle 1980s, we have enjoyed the development of motorcycle technology in specific niches: cruisers, adventure bikes, sport bikes, touring bikes, etc. Because consumers wanted bikes for specific focused tasks, this is how things have evolved. But what if you want a bike to do many things – like those do-all standards of yore?
If that’s the case, check out the Suzuki Bandit GSF 1200 (B-12), a very widely focused bike that really does everything – highway riding, loaded touring, sport touring, track days, curves, commuting, gravel roads, two-up riding, etc. The best part is that it does it all really well. Well enough that if you are exceeding its capabilities in any arena, you’re likely already considering a niche-engineered motorcycle anyway. The magic in the Bandit, thought, is that if you need it to be better, it can easily be modified specifically for the riding you do most.
Although big by today’s standards, it’s not too massive a bike for everyday riding or diminutive riders. It’s actually lightweight and narrow for a liter-sized bike and not physically bloated. The upright, comfortable and alert riding position makes long-haul, dawn to dusk trips effortless for days on end.
At close to 100 hp stock, it also has more than enough get-up-and-go to squeeze you through most situations. Based on the legendary GSX-R motor, it can be reliably built to 140-150 hp without much trouble. In lightly modded form (115 hp) it gets 40 mpg day in and day out. The growling inline four doesn’t need to be wound up to deliver. In stock form the bike will do roll-on wheelies, and at speed its power makes shifting highly optional. That’s good and bad, though, since the Bandit has one of the slickest gearboxes I’ve ever shifted on a motorcycle.
My B-12 has to be one of last user-serviceable bikes, and has been largely bulletproof. No computers necessary. And, as an internationally offered machine, it has a massive worldwide online user community. By now, all known faults/issues have been well published and already dealt with.
After putting more than 70,000 miles on my example, I have never had the need to do more than regular maintenance. I put it away wet and replace lots and lots of wear items – innumerable sets of tires, chains/sprockets and brake parts. Parts are available on eBay for nothing and can be sourced from many of the bikes from the period. By now dealers want out of this old stock and good deals abound.
Because of its age and the fact that the bike is a parts bin bike, clean low mileage examples can be purchased for very little scratch. And, even though it is a big-bore bike, sans bodywork, insurance on it is cheap.
Ultimately, the B-12 is a do-all bike with very little compromise or sacrifice necessary. What more could you want?
2004 Ninja 250
By Kevin Kocur
Don’t be put off by its size, nor it’s meager one-quarter of a liter power-plant. When you’re leaned into a corner and the engine is screaming towards its 13 grand redline, I dare you – I double-dog dare you – to not just start giggling. Moments like these are when the Kawasaki Ninja 250 is at its finest. At that’s just the starting point. This under appreciated two-wheeler is actually a Swiss Army knife of a motorcycle. I should know, I’ve put plenty of miles on one.
The first-generation EX250-C was first sold in its native Japan, as the GPZ 250, in 1983. By 1986. The bike arrived in North America in 1986 with the Ninja 250R moniker and chain final-drive (vs. Japan-only belt). In ‘88, the model (EX250-F) received upgrades to both the drive train and the bodywork. This model would continue with very little changes (apart from graphics and color schemes) until the next generation of Ninjette, the EX250-J, arrived in 2008.
This particular bike is an ‘04, purchased through the MMM classifieds with only 750 miles. The owner had decided that she preferred being a passenger and the decision was made to put it on the block. I went to look at it as my then-girlfriend’s first bike. It ran poorly, but the price was right, so we pulled the trigger. I retrieved it with Publisher Wanchena’s pickup and, before I even had a chance to dive into it, Victor had pulled and cleaned the carbs and the wee beastie was running like a million bucks.
Susan ultimately decided on a different bike, so I just sort of started commuting on the angry little yellow hornet. With decent gas mileage and an ample tank, the bike has a range of easily 250 miles. The 250s can get a little thirsty for oil, if you run them continuously at highway speed, so I always carry a quart with me.
The more miles I was putting on this little cutie, the more I was enjoying her. Early on, I signed up on the Ninja 250 forum (ninja250.org) which is, arguably, the best source in the internet to find out anything that you want to know about these bikes. There, I found someone making taller windshields. I bought one and it works perfectly with the bar risers. I also found some excellent soft saddlebags, plus I was already using my tailpack and magnetic tank bag. I then added a RAM mount for the GPS, changed the handgrips and added a couple power sources. When the original tires wore out, I replaced them with Kenda 671s. I also upgraded the front tire to a 90-series (stock is an 80) which made a huge improvement in stability, yet the bike still remains very flickable. I now have a Sport Touring, quarter-liter weekend warrior.
It’s hard to go wrong with one of these. There’s tons of them out there, parts availability and aftermarket support is pretty good, and you have Japanese quality and reliability. For me, a lot of it is just the grin factor and listening to the shriek of the motor as it climbs toward redline. Under appreciated? Yes. Incapable? Abso-freaking-lutely NOT. Even though it has a modest seat height, please don’t think of it as a beginner’s bike. It’s much, much more than that.
2012 Triumph Street Triple R
By Dave Soderholm
The Triumph Street Triple R serves as my entry into the class of underappreciated bikes. It’s a naked version of the Daytona 675 supersport bike, which BTW just won the Daytona 200 and beat up on the Japanese middleweight racer reps! The difference is the Street Triple R is as useful and practical on the street as it is fast and fun on the track.
Let’s start the conversation with the engine. In this case a ripping flexible 675cc trademark triple. The music this thing belts out is addictive. Its metallic, semi-nasally angelic battle cry keeps me shifting and throttle-blipping just to hear it run through the rpms. Power is around 100 horses at the rear tire and is delivered in a nice flat torque curve. You can really lug it in the upper gears and roll back on without any shuddering or bad behavior. Revving it out brings great top-end thrust as well and lets the engine sing its beautiful unique song, yet perfectly metered fuel injection and gas mileage in the low 40 mpg range are just icing on the cake.
The triple is stuffed into a chassis that is a copy of the Daytona 675. In the case of the R model, that means you get the same fully adjustable Kayaba suspension front and rear. The chassis is really at home in both racetrack and daily grind environments, and with a few clicks of the adjusters, the suspension can go from racetrack competent and controlled to comfortably sucking up bumps on pot holed ridden streets. As for brakes, radially mounted front calipers connected with steel braided lines have no problem pulling you down from speed on the track without fade but also provide great feel and progression at the lever for street riding.
Contributing to the versatility is a riding position that straddles the line between sport and standard. It’s a slightly aggressive but comfortable standard riding position that tilts you ever so gently forward into the wind. This allows you to cruise comfortably at higher speeds. It’s perhaps not quite aggressive enough for pole position runs on the track, but it’s really good for the majority of riding and still allows for some serious knee down scratching.
So, then, why is it underappreciated? In my humble opinion, there are a couple of factors. First, the street triple is a ”distinctively” styled motorcycle. While it’s a nice looking naked from the back, the unique hexagonal twin headlights stick out from the front in an insect-like sort of way. This can be somewhat remedied by adding the accessory bodywork, but it’s still … ”unique”. Secondly, it’s an exposure thing. Although Triumph is still making great strides in gaining market share every year, it’s still not nearly as well known as Japanese manufacturers or even a bigger European brand like BMW.
That’s all fine with me. I’m not vain enough to dismiss something or someone because of looks or popularity. And it’s hard to see the headlights from the saddle, especially when they are pointing skyward in a power wheelie. The Street Triple R is a blast and yet eminently practical – which is a why I have mine at the ready.
Suzuki DR 650 SE
By Victor Wanchena
The Suzuki DR 650 SE has always lived in the shadows of its rivals. Honda’s XL is considered better in the dirt, and the KLR is more comfortable on pavement. This leaves the DR somewhere in the middle. So why hasn’t it been better appreciated?
For one thing, Suzuki has been building the DR in its current form for 18 years. People like new, even if it’s just bold new graphics. Even the KLR got a facelift in recent years. For better or worse, Suzuki found a recipe in the DR that works, and they’re sticking with it.
Now, in those 18 years, the DR has proven to be fairly bulletproof. There aren’t many tales on the Internet of DR engines exploding or doohickeys that must be replaced. It’s fast enough to keep up with freeway traffic and its off-road manners are perfect for light trail riding or even adventure touring. It really is an all-around machine for a solo rider. Commuting, light touring, trail riding, off-pavement adventure touring, city bike, the list goes on.
There’s nothing exotic about the DR either. The simple steel frame holds an air-oil cooled motor. The bike is carbureted and uses conventional forks. This mean the price of the DR stays low. The MSRP for a new machine is $6499 and clean used examples are easily found for half that.
The motor is simple and reliable. It measures out to 644cc, and uses an over square bore (100mm x 82mm) which equals good top-end power and a long life for a single. No 50-hour top end rebuilds here. It has a 5-speed gearbox and chain final drive. The torque is reasonable at low rpms, but it really likes you to get it spinning for good power delivery.
The DR works great out of the box, but there’s some room for improvement. The chief criticisms of are the suspension, the carburetor, and the seat, and all are easily fixed. The suspension benefits from stiffer springs (if you weigh more than 150 lbs.), the carb just needs a couple of adjustments, and the seat is fine if you never ride more than 50 miles at a time. None of these are show stoppers, just tweaks for the rider looking to get the most out of their DR.
The low price and basic architecture of the DR make it a perfect canvas for riders looking to modify their machine. Between suspension, ergonomics, and engine there are hundreds of accessories readily available. Those parts and accessories are plentiful and cheap thanks to such a long unchanged model run. The bike even comes with a lowering kit built-in if needed. The only drawback is that a shortened side stand is needed to lower the bike.
In the interest of full disclosure, I am biased about the DR, because I have owned one for the better part of ten years now. I used mine to ride the Trans-America Trail, for commuting, and it’s my go to bike when I just want to get lost on gravel roads. I have racked up over 30,000 miles on it with little more than routine maintenance.
The DR is under-appreciated, but it’s obvious from its do-anything attitude and long life that Suzuki has found a winning recipe.