By Thomas Day

For a bit of self-entertainment, I created a spreadsheet to collect data about how many miles a typical motorcyclist rides in a year. A few other riders and I grabbed sale ads from Craigslist all over the country and the spreadsheet takes that data and turns it into a look at who rides what how far in the good old US of A. The numbers are enlightening and a little depressing. The gross overwhelming majority of motorcycles get ridden less than 2500 miles a year. My observations and suspicions were confirmed, Americans are not really motorcyclists (Except, possibly, in Mexico; which is, after all Central America).

One point I was trying to make with gathering this data is that justifying a bike larger than 250cc is a pretty specious argument. Even those cheap Chinese bikes sold off of trailers at swap meets can survive a decade of 1000-2500 miles/year use and abuse.

However, I know a lot of you can’t maintain your self-image on a small motorcycle. So, In the interest of providing a public service for those of you who desperately want to imagine that you’re different than the average biker, I’ve decided to come up with a short list of reasons why you might need a faster motorcycle.

  1. It’s the end of the world as we know it. The best reason I know for buying a liter bike (and I don’t mean one of those girlyman big-twin dingleberrys, but a real liter bike, like an R1 or a GSX-R or a CBRR) is that your doc has given you a couple of months to live. There is no better way to splatter yourself all over a wall or launch yourself from a cliff than from a 200mph motorcycle.
  2. An alternative to the above scenario would be that NASA has confirmed that QE2 is going to collide with Momma Earth and we’re all gonna die in a couple of weeks. Or that big Antarctic ice shelf is sliding into the ocean and life as we know it is about to get messy. Might was well grab that bull by the handlebars and let ‘er rip for one great, last high-speed chase. You can do a lot of damage with a 200HP, 200MPH motorcycle while the rest of humanity is trying to tuck it’s head between its legs.
  3. Everybody hates you, nobody loves you. It’s either eat worms or buy a fast bike, put on a wife-beater, some flip-flops, baggy shorts, a snazzy biker mask, and go out and collect some serious road-rash scars.
  4. You’ve been evicted from Mom’s basement and, with no place to go and no possible future, you’ve decided that prison is the only place to spend your “productive years.” Rev up that R1 and take if for a ride down Highway 61. Hope they still do Spanish Rice on Thursdays.
  5. Your girlfriend dumped you, your dog died, your pickup blew a piston, and you lost your job. Like #1 and #2, you have nothing to live for and need a fast, guaranteed way to end it all. Drop the hammer. They’ll be picking up the pieces for years. That ought to teach that old girlfriend a lesson. You’ll notice #3, #4, & #5 are suspiciously similar, but so are the usual justifications for buying more bike than you can ride competently.
  6. You have a beautiful new house with an impeccable 4-car garage and nothing to put in two of the stalls. Like Jay Leno, money is pouring out of your orifices and you need someplace stupid to spend it. Buy a liter-sized crotch rocket. I recommend that you drain the fluids from however many bikes you choose to buy and treat them like artwork. Put them on stands and make the highlight of the garage portion of your house tour, “And this is my race bike collection. I’m waiting for the fuel systems to be remapped and new hand-wrapped race tires.”
  7. You and the wife push the industrial meat scale’s needle toward 650 pounds and no small bike will haul or support all of that pork. A big twin with a pair of chaise lounges perched on top of a low-slung, noisy, underpowered motor will be barely enough to put you and your honey into motion. Stopping is a whole ‘nother problem, but why worry when you’re looking so cool? (Yeah, I realize this “reason” is justifying a “girlyman big-twin dingleberry,” but some of you are going to buy them and not ride them. I might as well concede to reality.)
  8. You are a banker and you need something really heavy to hold down all of that fraudulent paper you’ve been generating since 1981. If the paperweight is big enough, you hope the IRS will never ask to look at it. I recommend a HumVee for this application. They are heavier, harder to move, and cheap as dirt. Next best thing, Kawasaki Voyager XIII, tipping in at 960 pounds wet.
  9. You want to build the world’s fastest ski lift. You don’t really care about the motorcycle for this application, just the power plant and gearbox. With 200hp and the capability of rev’ing to 12k, you can launch skiers into the sky like down-encrusted cannon balls. I say, “Go for it.”
  10. You are a real racer, not a poser. You have graduated from a couple of years on a 250, moved up to a 650 twin or 600 four, and you are ready to race with the big boys. Pull the lights, safety-wire the fasteners, pick a number, and get ready to spend all of that trust fund because you’re going racing! (In case you’re not paying attention, this is the only good reason to own a race-replica motorcycle.)

Of course, buying a smaller, easier-and-more-fun-to-ride, more fuel-efficient motorcycle would make a lot more sense under most conditions and for the majority of U.S. riders, but when has recommending practicality been an American marketing tactic? I realize that most of my ten “reasons” are suicidal. With a firm grasp on 14% of total road fatalities, for a good number of us riding a motorcycle of any sort appears to be self-destructive.

At the core, I’m serious about this. If you are one of the majority of riders, you have no need, business, or fashion justification for a race bike wannabe. It doesn’t make you look cool, younger, skinnier, smarter, or richer. The riding and general public just assumes you’re on the monthly installment plan and will probably turn the bike back to the loan company the first time you drop in your driveway and skin up your unprotected knees. The best you can hope for is to be ignored until you go away.

MMM

7 Comments

  1. In response to Thomas Day’s article from last month (MMM #165) I would like to offer the following rebuttal. Thomas has missed the point completely. While focusing on the point that only a small handful of riders can use a liter-class sportbike to its fullest potential, he misses the salient point. The beauty of freedom of choice is just that, you can choose. If I wish to buy an epically fast sportbike and wobble around corners like a noob that’s my prerogative.
    We are free to ride what we want. No one should dictate what to buy as long as you aren’t riding in such a way that endangers others or impinges on their freedom. There is an inherent beauty in the freedom to make choices (good or bad) on your own. We, as riders, don’t need to be saved from ourselves.
    Does anyone need a fast sport bike? No, but that’s not the point. I resist any attempt to tell me what I do or don’t need. If motorcycles were restricted to what someone else thinks we “need” then we’d all be trundling around on 49cc mopeds.
    I support Thomas’s decision to not own one as much as I support anyone who decides to buy one. Vive la difference. I now plan to go ride laps around Thomas’s house on my loud piped 950cc dirt bike.
    Concerned reader (and publisher)
    Victor Wanchena

  2. Victor I think you missed my point completely. Teaching MSF classes a few dozen times a year I constantly hear new riders repeating the awful advice they get from dweebs and dealers, “If you don’t get a big bike, you’re just going to replace it in a few months when you outgrow it.” New riders, and the rest of us, apparently do “need to be saved from ourselves” because we get killed a few thousand times more often per mile than any other form of transportation. I suspect part of that comes from riders buying bikes they will never develop the skills to ride competently or safely.

    1. Apparently we’re missing each others points. While I understand that some motorcyclists make unwise decisions with their purchasing decisions, that isn’t the point either. I also don’t care if people make poor purchasing decisions based on bad advice. I’m simply want people to have the freedom to make that decision. We are trying very hard as a society to save ourselves from ourselves. We don’t need it.

      I now plan to ride helmetless while I ride laps around Thomas’s house on my loud piped 950cc dirt bike.

      Concerned reader (and publisher)
      Victor Wanchena

  3. Dude,

    Your “freedom” position would indicate that you lead a very conflicted life: Victimless Crime Constitutes 86% of the American Prison Population. (An inside joke.)

    Honestly, I don’t care what people buy either. I do disagree that poor motorcycling choices “don’t hurt anyone” other than the buyer, since our completely out-of-proportion contribution to highway fatalities, injuries, medical costs caused by vehicle crashes, etc will soon drive motorcycles from public roads. At 67, I don’t really care. I won’t live or ride long enough to suffer much from the changes that are racing toward us. Even a 5 year window won’t affect me. Nobody in my family, other than my 65 year-old younger brother rides or will ride. Our demographic is rapidly approaching terminal age limits.

    Salespeople “tell people what they need” all the time. The big money is in the big bikes and that’s where the pressure comes from. Goofy semi-riders tell their newbie buddies what kind of bike conveys mythical rider status so often I suspect way too many people are taking Sons of Anarchy seriously. We train people to be almost-competent riders on 125-250cc bikes in the MSF classes and they move quickly to a bike that will prevent them from ever riding half-well again on exactly that kind of advice. Motorcycle magazines promote the wrong bikes (including MMM) because that’s where the advertisers aim us for profit reasons. There is no shortage of voices saying “500cc and below bikes are starter bikes” and “you’ll quickly outgrow a 600cc bike, so you might as well start with a liter or better.” Maybe you don’t hear that, but if you taught a season or two of MSF classes you’d know better. (Take as many of my classes as you want, I’m old and heading for retirement of everything.)

    I’m not making rules, though. I’m just giving advice and ridiculing the end result of the “you need a faster bike” argument. Personally, I think motorcyclists are doing themselves such a disservice by riding poorly, crashing alone on empty roads, making unnecessary noise (to compensate for an unhappy childhood?), riding in their underwear and leaving miles of skin on the highways, looking ridiculous, and behaving childishly that the “Start Seeing Motorcycles” campaign should be changed to “Stop Laughing at Motorcyclists.” I mean, we’re such cartoon characters, on the average, when a typical biker passes through a neighborhood or downtown area, at least half of the folks on the street are laughing at the South Park’ness of the clowns on two wheels.

    If a motorcycles is nothing more than a lifestyle announcement, there is no point in allowing the damn things anywhere outside of a downtown parade, Shriner-style, or on private parks. They are either a vehicle or a toy and toys do not deserve special rights and, normally, they are discouraged from killing kiddies and mentally-handicapped adults.

    As for that 950cc loud-piped dirt bike, you better bring your trials bike to our new place. And mess with my wife’s gardens at your own risk. I will not be responsible for what happens when you get stuck on the side of our hill tipped over in a patch of freshly transplanted lilies, perennials, and landscape sculpture. You’ll wish it was me you’ll be hearing from. Our deer-hunting across-the-street neighbor is so protective of my wife’s new gardens that I’m afraid to step on to the edge to refill the birdfeeders when he’s home. Look both ways before vandalizing. I can’t remember you visiting our Little Canada place, with the trials course in the backyard. With 35E across the lake, your loud-piped anything would have to compete with 90dB of neighborhood background noise. Unless you came up to the bedroom window, you probably wouldn’t even have woke us up there.

  4. We need faster bikes because we already own slower ones and variety is the spice of life.

    We need faster bikes because you can go slower on a faster bike, but you can’t go faster on a slower bike.

    We need faster bikes because we can’t afford faster cars.

    We need faster bikes because we can’t get enough of the sensation of speed and power that a motorcycle uniquely provides.

    We need faster bikes because our lives are dull and sex lives less than satisfying and putting something fast between our legs offsets the malaise.

    We need faster bikes because without them, the trickle down technology that benefits slower bikes would be trickling down from the Ural factory.

    We need faster bikes because warp speed is not yet commercially available.

    We need faster bikes because people like you are cornering the market on the slower ones and someone has to buy the faster ones.

    We need faster bikes, because some of us really like speed and life is too short to deny one’s true nature and desires.

    We need faster bikes so we can invite friends named Tom over to ride something different than he typically rides.

    1. All good “want” reasons, but I didn’t see anything on the list that qualified as a “need.”

      want
      wänt,wônt/Submit
      verb
      1.
      have a desire to possess or do (something); wish for.
      “I want an apple”
      synonyms: desire, wish for, hope for, aspire to, fancy, care for, like;

      need
      nēd/Submit
      verb
      1.
      require (something) because it is essential or very important.
      synonyms: require, be in need of, have need of, want; More
      2. expressing necessity or obligation.

      Being a Windows guy, I can’t relate to the “I want an Apple” thing either.

    2. A better place to get to ride something (especially something fast) that I don’t normally consider riding is at the track. I’m particularly fond of riding quick stuff at DCTC. I know the track, I don’t have to worry about cages or cops, and even dangerous interactions with other riders are minimized. I’ve had a lot of fun on KTM stuff over the years there, thanks to John and Starr Cycle.

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