What are we riding for?
by Thomas Day
After reading the last two issues of M.M.M., it struck me how difficult it must be to write about motorcycling in 1999. First, the majority of riders are geezers (over 47, according to the last poll I read), rich ($80k average income), and girly-man geeks (claim “Allie McBeal” and another soap opera as their favorite TV show). Second, as one of your writers discussed last month, damn few of us appear to be actually riding the motorcycles we buy. When bikes are the minority vehicle at a motorcycle event (not occurring at the Metrodome in January), you gotta know something is wrong in two-wheeled America. Third, the U.S. of A’s motorcycling tastes have become so unimaginative that it’s not even fun to visit the local bike shops and drool on the bikes that I’d buy if I won the lottery. The two main street bike choices are 1) Harley clones with dumbed-down motors and enough overweight chromed potmetal to build a John Deere farm implement or 2) 180 hp crotch rockets with 3/4″ of suspension and a riding position that would cause a proctologist’s finger to twitch uncontrollably.
If I wanted to ride something that had just left state-of-the-art when I was born, in 1948, I’d be in hog heaven (pun intended). When I was an active off-road racer, the Harley crowd ruined a collection of my favorite events (including Sturgis) and I still hold a grudge. Fortunately, I had an active, motorcycling, childhood so I don’t need to relive my “Wild One” self-image at the same time I try to ignore calls from burial plot salesmen. If I was willing to hand over my driver’s license and, probably, my freedom for 90 days or more, the spine-pounding, more-power-than-Tim-Allen-can-imagine imitation racer bikes might trip my trigger. I really do love the concept behind these bikes, but I like to do 400-700 mile days and take off on the occasional dirt road. Off of the race track, this is a 75 mph-max world, so all that power is just trouble looking for a billfold to empty. The concept appears to be without purpose, to me. I bike commute to work most weekdays and there just isn’t any place to safely wind out to 170 mph between Roseville and Shoreview. But I do admire the technology.
I know, I’m ignoring Goldwings (and their clones) and dirt bikes. Any bike that’s so cumbersome that it needs a reverse gear is not going to do it for me. I’m not knocking them, though. I have nothing but admiration for a 70-year-old who can tote his trophy wife, pull a trailer, and crank his Wing through Montana backroads at 80 mph+. I’ve seen it and it is scary. With a 29″ inseam, Japan hasn’t made a dirt bike that’s a practical ride for me since 1984. Finding a place to ride a dirtbike is harder than finding honest politicians. While rocketing around places where goats need a hand up is as much fun as anything you can do on two wheels, hauling a trailer for four hours to get there isn’t.
That leaves the Suzuki SV650, a couple of decent mid-sized “standards” that have been around as long as me, three or four equally mature dual-purpose bikes, and the Ninja 250 as the sum total of “novelty” bikes imported into the US. How many times can a magazine write “this year’s model is seventeen pounds heavier, 3 hp weaker, and more than forty-seven square feet of polished chrome?” The alternative is “200 mph is no problem, assuming you can support your family from prison.”
I think the pages of praise written about the Suzuki SV tells the story. You guys can’t stop raving about how much fun it is to “ride” this bike. More than half of the reviews I’ve seen talk about going places and seeing things while the reviewer is having a great time riding this bike. I know you guys know that there are at least two dozen equally cool bikes that aren’t imported into the U.S. because the manufacturers don’t believe Americans will buy bikes that are fun to ride. We’re, on average, a freakin’ nation of posers and squids and we aren’t worth the effort it takes to run an EPA test.