Monday, August 9, 2010


This is a companion piece to the post Cars below.

So I haven't been quite so profligate with my motorcycles as with cars, but the same principles apply. Bikes are different in that they're purely emotional things--there is no practical component. My relationship to cars may be more emotional than most, but there's always a huge practical element since a car is essential for the life I live. But since the bikes are more toy than tool, they haven't historically taken the top priority. I've gone without a bike now and then, but riding is something that gets under one's skin, and I typically get an itch if I've been without a bike for more than a single season.

Prior to my first bike listed here the family had two Suzuki 50 mini-bikes, blue and white with, I think, 3-speed transmissions and automatic clutches. And my sister had a little Honda 2-speed mini-bike, green with automatic clutch (this was the family's first motorbike, I think). We got these after riding a relative's 70cc Honda trail bikes up at the cabin, one with an automatic clutch, one with a manual clutch.

Once again, these pics are almost none of them from my actual bikes (except the two at the end). So the colors are mostly wrong.

  1. 1975 (?) Suzuki 50 "Gaucho." Blue-green. Had a long-travel suspension and 5-speed transmission with manual clutch. These things separated it from the mini-bikes we'd ridden hitherto (though it was still, of course, a mini-bike). Bought new from "Sports Craft" in Brainerd to use on my paper route (first job). My first motor vehicle.

  2. 1976 (?) Yamaha 125cc enduro. Red and white. My dad had a 125cc Suzuki at this time, and my older brother a 125cc Honda. All three were on- / off-road bikes, so we could make direct comparisons of the handiwork of three big Japanese manufacturers. The Honda was 4-stroke, the other two 2-stroke. All had 5 speeds and manual transmissions / clutches.

  3. 1976 (?) Yamaha RD125 road bike, 2 cylinder. A neighbor had this in his garage and I decided I wanted a road bike instead of the enduro. I arranged an even trade, enduro for road bike, and I've had road bikes ever since.

  4. 1978 Honda Hawk 400. Their new twin (with counter-balanced engine and "pentroof" heads), red w/ 5-speeds. Bought new and crashed on the far side of Round Lake with a girlfriend on the back in the summer of '78. This is the bike I rode for motorcycle license training (they didn't have enough Honda 100s for everyone to ride, and I was in the habit of riding mine in and out of town regularly, despite being too young to have ANY license). Traded the bike post-crash on my first car.

  5. 1982 Honda V45 Sabre, red. Bought new for $3,200. A very advanced bike for its time, with double discs up front, fully adjustable suspension with anti-dive, integrated fiber-optic anti-theft cable, LCD panels on the instrument panel, shaft drive, and their new 90° liquid-cooled V4 with 4-valve heads and DOHC. Rode this bike out to the West coast and back and sold it when I was working as a motorcycle salesman in Hopkins in 1984.

  6. 1977 BMW R75/7. Bought used from Leo's Kawasaki South down in Lakeville in about 1985, I think. Decided the previous Honda Sabre had not aged very well and wanted something renowned for longevity and reliability. Bike was gutless but light and maneuverable and quirky (at least compared to the Japanese machines I knew). Engine was very distinctive, with clattering valve gear and a unique cadence. Very clunky transmission. Had single-disc front brake with a cable going from brake lever to a master cylinder under the gas tank (for aesthetics, I guess). An unusual mechanical faux pas from BMW--the Brakes were laughably inadequate. Traded after a year on BMW's first K bike, the K75C.

  7. 1986 BMW K75C. Blue. Bought new, also from Leo's. The C was the base model. This had the virtues of the previous BMW but the technical advancement of the Sabre (not really, but much closer). Dual-disc Brembos up front, shaft drive (on a single-sided swingarm, liquid-cooling, DOHC but 2-valve heads. Great, honest bike. Paid about $5000 for it, and eventually bought the hard cases for traveling. Kept for four years, selling in the summer of 1990 for $3000 to pay for my private pilot's license. I was then without a bike for five years or so, thanks, first, to my barely-five-figure salary as a junior regional airline pilot and second, to living in a single room for several years apr├ęs divorce.

  8. 1991 Honda VFR750F. Red. Bought used from the dealer in Monticello in, I think, the summer of 1996 or 1997. Had an aftermarket Corbin seat. A great bike. Sold to a fellow Great Lakes pilot who as of last year (2009) still had it. (Ironically, the nomenclature--VFR--is also pilot-speak for Visual Flight Rules. I always joked that one day I would graduate up to the IFR model. haha.)

  9. 1998 Honda VTR1000 Superhawk. Bought two years old but new in summer of 2000 after our wedding. The highest performance of any bike I had owned. Traded a couple years later on my Buick Riviera. Was again without a bike for a year or so.

  10. 2004 BMW R1200RCK Rockster. Black and orange. Bought new from Nick's BMW in Green Bay in the late summer of '03. Back to another BMW. A great bike with a fun, urban aesthetic and reasonable but sedate performance. Great brakes and innovative suspension, and very nicely made. Traded on first Buell.

  11. 2006 Buell XB12X Ulysses. Not easy for me to look towards a Harley product, but this one got rave reviews and I was eagerly offered a substantial test drive and fell in love. Distinctly better than my BMW in most every way (posts about this bike are here and here and here.) Sold to UPS roommate in summer of 2009 for another Buell.

  12. 2009 Buell XB12XT. The all-road version of the previous Buell (even if the off-road cred of the Ulysses was always a bit thin). Had slightly lower suspension and road tires and fenders. Shortly after this purchase Buell was killed by Harley. I honestly think this is the best bike of the lot for my purposes, the best do-everything motorcycle I've owned. It's comfortable and fast enough, has excellent brakes and suspension components and great bags. It's very nicely made, the product of evolution at the hands of innovative and competent engineering and R&D departments. These two Buells make the death of the company especially poignant for me, since I think they were on to a very good thing. (My obituary for Buell is here.)

  13. (From a trip last year. My old and new Buells side-by-side.)

  14. (Addendum 9/12) 2012 BMW K-1300S. Had my eye on this bike for a decade. Sold the Buell on eBay and used BMW's "3asy Pay" loan program to lower my payments (despite the higher list price). The K-Bike comes very well-equipped in any trim with ABS and good instrumentation, and mine has the "Dynamic Package" which includes traction control and the Electronic Shift Assist (ESA) and electronically adjustable suspension. 175 hp! 

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