By Mark DesCartes
I have always been envious of people who exhibit certainty. Some riders find a style of bike and are solid in riding that the rest of their days. Not me. At last count, I have owned 22 different machines from eight different manufacturers.
By the time I met Chet, I had abandoned lumbering V-twins for stodgy, European touring twins. I still like the power delivery of big Vees, but my old group did more stopping and BSing than riding. I was on my second BMW when Chet and I were introduced. We circled each other for a few weeks, like two roosters in the barnyard, until we both felt we could try a ride together.
On our first extended trip, we headed south and east to sample the curvy, paved bliss of the north Georgia mountains. That ride was excellent. Chet and I were delighted to discover that we rode at the same pace, liked to hit the road at the same time in the morning, ate at the same restaurants and needed to stop to pee at the same time. If you have never had the joy of a perfect riding partner, then you are missing one of the best things in motorcycling. We quickly became a riding team, taking day trips whenever possible and scheduling a longer trip or two each season.
That winter, Chet traded his ride in for a new-fangled “sport-tourer”. I was suspicious. While I had owned my share of Japanese inline-4s, I had been a 2-cylinder man for several years. Plus, Chet’s bike was covered in plastic. And it had big, fugly aftermarket saddlebags on it.
Some guys never swap bikes and that is fine, but Chet and I always offer each other rides on whatever bike we own. One morning on his liter rocket and I was hooked. Power? Check. Acceleration? Check. Centerstand? Check. Carrying capacity? Check. Best of all, I discovered that the mild forward lean of a sport-tourer was w-a-y more comfortable than either the “La-Z Boy” position of cruisers or the upright position of my BMWs.
That ride escalated our moto-arms race and I was off to the motorcycle magazines to pick the perfect sport tourer. The logical bet would have been either a BMW R100-RT or Moto-Guzzi SP. I like both motors and both are excellent sport-tourers. Neither platform could generate the stupid 100-hp hit of Chet’s Kawasaki. I settled on a Honda ST-1100. It made nearly the same power of Chet’s liter bike but the V-4 felt more refined and integrated to me. Plus, the clean, shaft final drive on the ST allowed me to needle Chet when he would have to clean and lube his drive chain.
That spring was a gas. We discovered the hidden magic of sport-tourers. Their excellent wind management and mild forward lean permitted long days in the saddle. We did many 700-mile days searching for hidden diners while we planned our summer trip.
That July, the roles were reversed. Chet tried the smooth, integrated sophistication of the ST-1100 and was smitten. Overnight, his sweet liter tourer felt like the Sanford & Son truck. Not one to be outdone, he set his sights on the then-new Yamaha FJR-1300. This bike had the refinement, integrated hard bags and shaft final drive of the ST-1100 but was lighter and made more power. We rode out the rest of that season, each content with our choices.
The following season, our annual trip was to Beartooth Pass and southern Montana. We bounded around like two fox kits for ten days before we circled back east. On a deserted, arrow-straight, two-lane highway, we looked at each other and pulled off. Chet silently offered up his FJR and took my Honda. We rode a couple miles at pace, so I could get used to his machine. We looked at each other, dropped down a gear and rolled it on.
I had opened up the ST many times but the FJR was magic. Lighter and faster, it made my beloved ST-1100 feel like a Memphis river barge. We switched off hyper drive and returned to law-abiding rates of travel. At the next gas station, we stopped to take a break and trade back. Chet was waiting for a comment and I didn’t hesitate. “It feels like a ZX-9 with bags”
That was many bikes ago and Chet and I continue to ride together and to trade bikes. We have both since returned to big V-twins. My favorite bike? The one I currently own and ride. Until you offer me a ride on your bike.