Thou Shalt Not Be a Curmudgeon

Do Not Be a Motorcycle Curmudgeon

As we age we tend to become more rigid in our beliefs. Doesn’t matter if the subject is morality, politics, or even motorcycles. After a myriad of life experiences, we “know what is right,” and assume that any other way of proceeding is “wrong.” Thus forms the foundation of incipient curmudgeonhood.

So here’s your handy dandy guide to avoidance, because who wants to be known as a curmudgeon?

Tenet #1: It is not always about you.

Tenet #2: The market changes even if you don’t.

Despite our tendencies toward denial, we are all aging. This is preferable to the alternative. Aging also applies to the motorcycle market. In the motorcycle business, as in any other, you can adapt to a changing market. Or you can keep on doing what you have always done. And die a slow death.

Currently the market for sport bikes is shrinking, for a few obvious reasons. One is that almost all current sport bikes grotesquely exceed the capabilities of the roads infrastructure they are designed to be ridden on. Even worse, they exceed the capabilities of most of their riders. The best place to experience the design wonders of any large displacement sport motorcycle is at a race track for a day of chasing limits. Probably your own. They can, of course, be ridden on the street, but they are uncomfortable at legal speeds, and also tend to be expensive.

As riders age, and I include me, the cramped posture dictated by the low bars and elevated feet posture of a sports bike becomes more and more uncomfortable, and in many cases, impossible.

This is true of many genres of motorcycles. A BMW R 1200 GS Adventure is a fantastic machine, if you are tall of stature and reasonable strong, and have knees and legs in fine working order. I felt uncomfortable on them when my job necessitated riding one from time to time, and now I’d be completely intimidated. My right knee has been operated on twice, and is not completely to be relied on in a stressful situation. Worst case example: I was asked to ride a new GS 1200 Adventure for an entire day (oh, the horrors of the job) to break it in. The owner was flying in from a foreign country and wanted to have the first oil change done before he took off on a cross the country trip. I was pretty stoked to be asked to ride a new motorcycle on a fine day as part of my job, and didn’t think this through very clearly. It wasn’t so bad at the dealership. The bike was parked at the curb on its side stand, and I could throw a leg over pretty easily and stand it up. Once underway, I became aware of how tall the bike was. And that it was brand new. And that it did not belong to the dealership, but a customer. And it had been paid for.

I had a friend who also needed to ride that day to take some scenic pictures for his business, so I led us on a merry ride to scenic spots for about 250 miles. The problem was that every time I found a good place for a picture, we would be on a steep slope, on uneven dirt, or both. I came close to dumping it once when I put the side stand down in a rut, and only a spurt of panic adrenaline allowed me to haul it upright. Probably my scariest motorcycle ride ever.

Because of situations like this, motorcyclists fond of both sport bikes and adventure bikes have welcomed a slew of new models that are smaller and lighter and more accessible to a wider range of riders. And less expensive.

Many of the old guard sneer in derision at these upstarts that are slower (many of them less so than you might think) and are not “real” sport bikes or adventure bikes.

For manufacturers, the result is greater sales. That trumps all.

Tenet #3: The number of wheels is not etched in stone.

The Can-Am Spyder line is probably the best known of the small trend toward “motorcycles” with three wheels, opening up motorcycle adventures to thousands of people who want the security of a motorcycle that does not fall over left to its own devices, like all two wheeled motorcycles do. Curmudgeons sputter, while Can-Am riders cruise by with big smiles on their faces.

I had a chance to ride one and was very impressed. The engine has such lovely stonk I thought I might be pulling the front wheels off the ground. That was several years ago, and the new ones are presumably even better in every regard.

Yamaha just released a teaser video regarding an about to be offered new model. It’s a fairly sporty mount with – gasp – two front wheels. Oh the hue and cry!

“It’s ugly.”

“I would never be seen on one.”

“What are they thinking?” And on and on.

I think I know what they’re thinking. They’re thinking of profit.

The massive negative response to Yamaha’s video was curious. Surely almost all of the respondents have never ridden a three wheel motorcycle. I have ridden four of them, and they offer a different solution to a problem many people have. And as the riding population ages, more will have. Soon.

The Piaggio three wheel scooter was a concept new to scooters that looked odd and performed very well. I rode one home in a pouring rain. As happens at times, someone did something stupid right in front of me and an emergency stop was required. The Piaggio stopped, right now, with no fuss or drama at all. On a standard scooter with a small wheel I’m sure I would have been on the ground.

The reason the Piaggio was traded in with few miles for a standard scooter was also related to the two front wheels. Because the two wheels are close together, and because roads are not perfectly flat, as you rode along each wheel would find small bumps or dents in the pavement. This created sort of a mild rocking sensation. The first owner hated it and it scared her, perhaps not understanding what was really going on. I thought it was kind of fun in a mildly quirky way.

In Snohomish, Washington, near my home, resides Tilting Wheel Motor Works. They create conversions for Harleys and Gold Wings and other motorcycles that place two wheels on the front. I had the good fortune to ride the prototype about ten years ago. The proof of concept bike was made from a little Honda Rebel, and the prototype that followed was made from a Yamaha V-Max. The astonishing thing about the Tilting Wheel V-Max was that from the saddle you could not see or tell that it had three wheels. It felt and handled exactly like the normal V-Max. The only thing I noticed on my short ride was that in slow and very tight turns, like turning around in a parking lot, it felt like it was about to fall over, which the logic side of my brain knew was not possible. The creator explained that he was still messing with the geometry to cure that.

That same bike later set a speed record at the Bonneville Salt Flats. Twice. The first year it went in the form I had experienced, and the second year it returned with the largest nitrous oxide bottle I have ever seen attached! That must have been amazing.

With their creations you get nearly twice as much front end grip. A clever device locks the wheels in place at a stop, so you don’t need to put a foot down. There are all sorts of advantages for people who have balance or strength issues. If you are not one of those people, just wait a few years. You will be.

The last time I visited they were putting the finishing touches on a Harley V-Rod conversion, and this looked like a wonderful idea to me. The V-Rod engine is a fantastic design developed with input from Porsche, and it has never gotten the credit it deserves. Partly because many of the people who purchased V-Rods rode them as they would a Harley. In other words, they shifted at about 3,000rpm. A V-Rod engine will run like that until the last cockroach rolls over, but if you let the engine sing to 5,000rpm and up, wow – serious power and a wonderful sound! The only disadvantage to it as a sport bike engine was that Harley priced it far too high to attract sport bike enthusiasts who could get the same or better performance from Japan for about 50% of the cost.

It was also a heavy engine, but that would be less of a problem for a Tilting Wheel conversion. I loved it, and I could see one in my future – but not yet.

And of course, Harleys and Gold Wings and some others have been around for years as trike conversions. One of the legitimate complaints about them is that they use a solid rear axle which can be prone to flipping the bike into a ditch if cornered with verve. Which most of them aren’t.

Funny story. About ten years ago the state of Washington decided to add a motorcycle license category “7,” which would include all motorcycles as well as three wheel vehicles. There would be a new test for this, of course, but they offered a couple of months where you could take your current license in and have it upgraded to the “7” without any paperwork or testing – or knowledge. I took advantage of this and had my license changed.

Later a customer came to me and asked for a test ride on a Honda trike we had for sale. He did not have a license for it, and neither did any of the sales staff, but they had told him I did, so would I take him for a ride? Gulp. “Sure!” So my first ever ride on a trike was with a customer as passenger.

This particular Gold Wing trike had been fitted with a true independent rear suspension, which would work much better than the solid axle versions that were common. The disadvantage was that it was very wide. The back end had tail lights similar to a Corvette, and the trike was almost as wide as a Corvette. This proved a problem for one customer, who kept hitting the side of the garage door when she returned home, forgetting that the bike behind was about two feet wider than what she could see in front of her.

And then there are “standard” side cars, the most plentiful of which are Urals. I have no experience of any of them other than as a passenger, but the tales of woe from friends who purchased Urals and have been on a slalom of mechanical woes ever since does give one pause.

The point – not all motorcycles have two wheels. And for many, three wheels in any one of a number of combinations is a good solution to a situation they did not bother to share with you. Get over it.

Tenet #4: Wave. Or Don’t. Some people (like me) wave at all other motorcycle riders. And scooters. And trikes. Some don’t. Either is fine with me. What you must not do is discriminate, as is “I only wave at other sport bikes,” or “I only wave at other Harleys.” If you do, you are a curmudgeon.

Tenet #5: There is a butt for every seat. I know, not a new thought. But really, people have different tastes and choose to express their taste with their own wallets.

I was not impressed with the Harley Ultra-Classic. I found it hard to understand how anyone could pay such a considerable sum for a bike that was heavy, slow, and did not handle very well. I rode one in a parade and gave myself second degree burns on the inside of my right thigh. Note: an Ultra Classic is not the best choice for 5mph for an hour on an 85 degree day.

Then a couple came in to take delivery of their new Ultra Classic in pearl white. I don’t like white either. As the bike was wheeled outside the sun hit the white pearl and it was spectacular. Talking with the couple, I learned that they were long haul truckers, and they’d been saving for this bike and dreaming about it and talking endlessly about it… for years. As they saw it resplendent in the sun there were tears in their eyes, and I learned a lesson. Your dream is not everyone elses.

The same dealership also sold “Thunder Mountain” choppers. I took the demo home one night and my wife was appalled. Riding it gave me impressions to reinforce her opinion. The bike was so off-center to the left, necessary to clear the monster rear tire, that it went down the road with a permanent lean. Going left was easy, except there was no ground clearance. Arcing to the right while accelerating on a freeway entrance ramp was a wrestling match I was not sure I would win.

But then I talked to a customer who loved his. The next weekend he passed me on the freeway with a large bag strapped to the back. He was on his way from Seattle to Reno. In a pouring rain. Respect.

So if someone has a different look to their motorcycle, or a different purpose, or brand, or style of gear, or whatever – celebrate diversity!

How boring would it be if everyone rode the same brand and model of motorcycle you do!

Tenet #1: It’s not about you.

Copyright 2017 David Preston

About david

I am a 73 year old motorsports nut who lives in Snohomish, Washington. After a 31 year career as an English teacher, I segued into a self-created job in the motorsports business. Now retired, I was involved in customer relations for Ride West BMW in Seattle, after almost 10 years of similar work for the Cycle Barn MotorSports Group. I own, at the current time, a Triumph Rocket 3 (2020) and a 2016 Ford Focus ST. What else would you like to know?
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3 Responses to Thou Shalt Not Be a Curmudgeon

  1. Patrick Doran says:

    Your commentary is a preamble to a discussion about the future of the motorcycle…

    We are at the cusp of a social transition regarding transportation, and the ‘motorcycle’ as we know it, has become an anachronism… Yamaha is at the forefront of this evolution, in the application of gyroscopic dynamics to mitigate accidents related to the fundamental shortcomings of a two-wheeled motorcycle… However, this is just a harbinger of the future for the motorcycle… Lit Motors has been developing technology in a two-wheeled design that will transform our perceptions of two-wheeled transportation on pavement while providing the physics of riding a motorcycle as is common today, while providing the safety of a protected operator and passenger environment… The motorcycle road-racing arena will follow suit and evolve to address the progression… The riderless Yamaha ‘robo-cycle’ was only 30 seconds slower than Valentino Rossi in a competitive race experiment…

    The reality is that we are all riding anachronisms… Motorcycle manufactures are faced with the dilemma and the fickleness of a marketplace incumbent on them to create… Imagine stepping into your motorcycle, rather than straddling it and imagine how this will facilitate riding into advanced age with more confidence…

  2. Robert Okrie says:

    Yeah, the “scooter” mindset is one that screams curmudgeon! I jumped at the chance to try the BMW and man was it a kick! The new electric bikes are also something every curmudgeon should try. It is the future and once you taste the torque, you’re hooked. It’s funny how the dirt bike guys say how it’s weird to “hear” the tires in the dirt now that the engine is silent…. I can’t wait!!!!

    Thanks for your insight and observations. Curmudgeonly suits you!

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