I remember cruising down the Virginia back roads headed to the drop zone praying the zipper on my gear bag that was bungeed to the back of my bike stayed shut. I was frankly scared of the zipper on my gear bag creeping open and my parachute deploying while running about 70mph … I just couldn’t imagine any good outcomes. The drop zone was always a lot of fun, I made thousands of skydives, and one day I taught this beautiful girl to skydive. Well the next thing I know, in 2001 that beautiful girl is riding on the back of my 2000 Honda CBR600 F4 leaving our wedding
Life was good, love was young and we started a family. Well, in an all-too-familiar story, I eventually sold the bike along with two others and even hung up the parachute. My focus changed to more important things, like raising my kids. Now that all seems like an eternity ago, my kids are teenagers, working, driving and talking about college and careers.
So now to the start of my most recent journey. Something was broken, or I needed bird seed or maybe a trailer part, it doesn’t really matter but when I was done shopping and walked out of the Tractor Supply I looked across the street at the local used bike shop. Lots of memories starting rolling in and I decided to take a look. This particular shop is great, they sell a good mix of Harleys, Indians and metric bikes. I saw several I wanted to ride.
A couple of weeks later, the wife was with me on the next trip to Tractor Supply. I told her about going in the bike shop and looking at all the bikes. She said, “let’s go take a look.” This was exciting, I missed skydiving with my wife and riding a bike together, so the thought of a little shared adrenalin again was very enticing.
When my wife was younger she rode dirt bikes and four-wheelers but since we had been together, she had always ridden pillion. Once in the shop she started talking about riding and possibly getting her own bike, again I was liking the sound of this conversation. My wife is on the shorter side so finding the “right” bike was gonna be a challenge, but they had a Can Am Ryker and she seemed fairly interested. I had seen and read about these three-wheel contraptions but I had never ridden one, so my curiosity was piqued as well … but it was time to head home.
Like many of you, I’m guessing, I am gear research crazy. Once home I couldn’t let go of the thought of my wife riding the Ryker, so my research began. Two weeks later I found myself test riding a Ryker. You have to realize this was the first time I had been on a motorcycle in several years. After selling my bikes, my wife’s uncle had loaned us his Heritage Soft-tail Classic on a few occasions so I wasn’t a total newbie, but I was pretty cold.
The Ryker sounded good, felt good, and the open air was nice. I had forgotten how much I missed riding until I hit the first curve, counter steered, leaned, leaned more, counter steered more, all in a split second, cause that’s all it took to quickly realize you don’t counter steer a Ryker, you ride it like a four-wheeler … ahh … adrenalin is good. It quickly became apparent to me my wife will probably love this as it was very reminiscent of a four-wheeler, but I was gonna need two wheels. Now I was bitten and my search began.
I learned to ride on dirt bikes. Looking back I’m very thankful for that experience. Dirt and mud are so much more forgiving than asphalt and my first clutch pop wound up in a full-blown face plant. The first street bike I ever rode was a brand new 1982, 25th Anniversary Edition Harley Davidson Sportster. It belonged to a full fledge 1 percenter, so I wasn’t near as worried about the bike as I was worried about what would happen to me if I scratched his bike. At 16 years old sitting on a Harley Davidson, hearing that rumble and feeling that vibration, it’s no wonder all these many years later I’m still hooked. A couple of years later while attending college I bought my first very own bike, a 1980 Honda CM400.
It definitely didn’t have the vibration and rumble of the Harley but it was mine, and I rode it every day to both school and work. The CM400 was followed by a Suzuki Intruder 750, a Honda V45, a Kawasaki Spectre 1100, and a couple I can’t remember, which finally brings us to the CBR 600 F4 mentioned earlier. When my wife and I were dating the F4 made many an early morning trip between Union, S.C., and Brevard, N.C., and let’s just say it’s a good thing I never got stopped. That was a fast bike and I was young and stupid.
All that to say I’ve ridden small cruisers, big cruisers, crotch rockets and Harleys and everyone of them left me with a smile on my face. So now faced with dawning college tuition for two kids and an itch I wanted to scratch, my budget was limited to say the least. The garage previously had 3 bikes to choose from, now I was gonna be lucky to put one in the garage. I had been eyeing my friend’s Street Glide so naturally I started my shopping at the Harley Davidson dealership. And yes, the budget was limited but who doesn’t like a warranty? So of course I figured I needed a new bike (hopefully you see the sarcasm in that statement.). Just $40k, no, a new CVO Harley is easily north of $40k so it quickly became clear my taste needed to change and who needs a warranty anyway (see where I’m going here).
The Harley guys were great. They put me on a newer Street Glide, which was probably north of my budget, and then a slightly used Slim, which was much more in line with my budget. There is nothing like the rumble and vibration of a Harley, like em or not, you gotta admit they are in a class of their own. The Street Glide had been my dream but frankly it just felt too big, but maybe I could get used to it; the Slim was great but just felt a little too small for two, so the search continued.
After talking with my Street Glide friend, he offered to let me ride his wife’s Road King. The Road King sits in the middle of a Street Glide and a Slim and for me really felt like the right size bike, good for two and good for a weekend trip. So now dialed into the Road King, I started looking. On the way to an out-of-town Harley shop, just out of curiosity I started looking into Zeros, all electric bikes. As luck would have it, a Zero dealership was on the way, so we decided to stop by and take a look. Zeros are different, no clutch, no gears, no sound, just acceleration and the dealer was offering test rides. I started on a Zero SR.
It was incredible, acceleration like a crotch rocket and no shifting, lots and lots of torque but oddly the front wheel stays on the ground, and no sound. I came back from the test ride grinning, I needed my pillion to experience this, she did and loved it as well.
Without much persuasion I found myself test riding the Zero SR/S. It was like jumping from a 300 to a liter bike, absolutely insane. I had found my baby, but at $25K and roughly a 5-year battery life, requiring another $5K, not to mention the 50-200 mile range before needing at least 4 hours of charging, I just wasn’t sure an electric was for me. A brand new Yamaha MT-09 is less than $9k. I could have two Yamahas and all the gas I needed for the cost of a Zero SR/S, and drive as far as I wanted without having to worry about charging. But wait, what was that bike I caught out of the corner of my eye.
A 2019 BMW 750 GS with Gear Shift Assist Pro and digital dash, looks nice, sits nice, sounds nice. Well yes, I would like to ride it. Can you say torque? Yes the in-line 2 cylinder bike was extremely torquey even after riding the Zero, but once I hit the interstate the top end just left something to be desired … not the speed, the acceleration. From zero to 50 mph was great, but after that I was left wanting more, and what happens when I add my pillion.
Ok, now this is getting difficult, maybe I can’t find one bike that does what I want, so time for some more research. That’s how I wound up at the Indian dealership, test driving a Scout. Following the Scout, they encouraged me to test drive a Chieftain. The Chieftain is very reminiscent of the Street Glide but felt size wise to me to be a lot closer to the Road King. Did I just come full circle?
Indians struck me as Harley’s with the vibration and rumble removed. Don’t get me wrong they are still great, not quite as loud and way less vibration, but cost wise these bikes aren’t cheap. They are, however, beautiful to look at and a very smooth ride, and there is something about a v-twin, but the Indian was just not the bike for me, so now what?
In the back of my mind there was something about that BMW 750 GS, maybe I needed to try a bigger BMW, so back to the BMW dealership. I am very thankful for shops that let you test dive bikes. There was only one shop along the way that wouldn’t let me test dive their bikes and because of this, their bikes never made my final cut list, for example the Yamaha MT-09, but I digress. BMW put me on an F900XR with the digital dash, same as the 750 GS. I have to say the dash is super cool, if you have not experienced one, you should.
The F900XR with its inline 2 was an awesome bike but still lacked a little something in the top end acceleration and, again, what about my pillion. I think my F4 had spoiled me when it comes to top end acceleration. Well BMW pointed me to the S1000XR inline 4. Oh my gosh, 160 hp. Finally something that made my F4 look slow, but there is a problem.
At six feet I never considered myself short, but Germans must be super tall, at least the BMW motorcycle engineers. The S1000XR had lowered suspension and a lowered seat but I was still on my tiptoes. With just me on the bike it was fine, but add my pillion and I was getting nervous that a slow stop on uneven ground was gonna mean a dropped bike, but I really really like the S1000XR, it was hard to walk away from but it didn’t fit the bill, even though it struck me as a perfect weekend getaway bike and dragon slayer.
There was nothing negative I could find about the Road King, was that the bike for me? Well actually there were two negatives, one easy to work around: I couldn’t find one in my price range, at least not yet, but the second negative was much harder to work around — my pillion, better known as my wife, co breadwinner in our household and half owner of the bike, does not like the Road King.
At this point I’m almost too frustrated to buy a bike. I want a Harley, I want an electric, I want a bike the wife likes, and I want a bike that rides like the S1000XR. So what about a Harley Live Wire? Time for more online research.
What, you will give me a T-shirt, a poster and a $100 if I will drive to Charlotte to test drive a Live Wire? OK, I’m in! The cool of a Harley Davidson, the acceleration of the Zero, no clutch, no vibration, no rumble … wait is this really a Harley. Once again I think I just came full circle, I like the electric bikes, they have a cool factor all their own, they are light and nimble, but I can’t afford a $30,000 bike that needs a new set of $5,000 batteries in 5 years … if you think I got that wrong let’s talk. No, the batteries aren’t dead in 5 years but you will be lucky to get 1/2 the range after 5 years. Imagine your gas tank shrinking every year you drive your bike, wouldn’t you want a bigger tank to begin with?
At this point you’re probably thinking this guy is crazy, he has no idea what kind of bike he wants, and in part you would be right. I just can’t seem to find the one bike that does it all, so time to go back to square one. I go back to the bike shop near Tractor Supply and just look, they have a little of everything so you can see it all side by side. What if I bought an older bike, could I buy two bikes instead of one? They had a used KTM Duke 390 and a Harley Electra Glide that could both be had for less than $10,000, not each, both bikes. Had I solved my issue?
Time for more test rides. The single cylinder KTM 390 was a super nimble nice ride for quick jaunts but just not enough to move you down the interstate, at least not for long. The Electra Glide was a dream highway bike, full dresser, lots of options but again full circle to the Street Glide it was just too big a bike, but my friend at the bike shop encouraged me to look at something else. He knew I liked the S1000XR and he knew I wanted a weekend bike so he suggested I try a Yamaha FJR 1300 inline 4 they had in stock. OK, test ride complete, I can’t find anything negative to say. This bike is built with a pillion in mind and makes for a perfect weekend getaway. It’s an in-line 4 with lots of acceleration, time to bring the wife back for a test fit. Done, she fit, she liked it, but for some reason neither of us loved it, liked it a lot but just not quite right, time for more research.
OK do a quick search of FJRs and you soon find yourself looking at the Kawasaki Concourse that I can’t test ride. This is very confusing to me. I can test ride a brand new $40,000 Harley or a $25,000 BMW or Zero, but I can’t test ride an $8,000 used Kawasaki Concourse? Sorry, it’s off the list, especially at this point. I’ve ridden too many bikes and learned you never know what they’re like until you ride them.
The only bike I can’t stop thinking about is the BMW S1000XR, so I decide to go back to BMW. But I haven’t gotten any taller. I’ve never been much of a fan of the BMW boxer engine, the look of the engine that is, but after multiple trips to the dealership it has started to grow on me.
So I decided to sit on a R1200RS very reminiscent of the FJR but loaded with a lot more options, and at just a few years old it is barely out of my price range. The BMW boxer engine is classic, sounds classic, feels classic, lots of torque, lots of acceleration. However, I think you hear every valve sound possible, but the engine shape and location make for a shorter bike, and one with a much lower CG (center of gravity). The R1200RS seems to fit the bill, built for pillions and weekends or longer, very much a sport touring bike which seems to fit the bill of multiple bikes I’ve been torn between, lots of torque, lots of acceleration, I’m smiling. What, it sold, just now it sold? A new one cost how much?
At least I’ve found the type of bike I want, I just need to find one for sale, time for research. I’m just not having any luck, then one night my pillion (my wife, and by the way she has made it clear, she is to be my only pillion) says what about this bike for sale on Craigslist? It’s in Knoxville, it’s not a R1200RS but you might like it. She was right, the price was right, the ride was right, the acceleration was right and the owner delivered the bike to me from Knoxville.
I am now the proud owner of a 2017 BMW R1200R. I’m still not sure that I’m completely in love with the look of the boxer engine, but it has so many benefits. The bike sits low to the ground, this is one of the few BMWs I can sit on and both feet are flat on the ground. The bulk of the engine weight being low, as mentioned previously, keeps the CG low. The low CG means with my pillion on the back, I am a lot more sure-footed when we stop, somewhat unexpectedly, on a hill and the pavement is uneven (ever been there). On top of all that the bike is stupid fast and frankly in Dynamic Mode it is a bit of challenge to keep the front wheel on the ground going from first to second gear.
The bike is loaded: cruise control, GPS mount with BMW’s rotary multi controller, ABS brakes, traction control, lean angle monitoring, electronically adjustable suspension (single passenger, single with luggage, two passenger, two passenger with Luggage), multiple riding modes (rain, road, dynamic, and a customizable user mode), heated grips, steering dampening, linked brakes (70 percent front, 30 percent rear), shift indicator, tire pressure monitoring, temperature indicator, engine temperature indicator, range, customizable digital dash board and multiple trip recorders.
This sport touring bike hides as a naked street fighter. In my case I have up-fitted the bike with GIVI Monkey top box and side cases. The GIVI system attaches and removes quickly including the side case racks giving the bike the ability to go from naked street bike to sport tourer in a matter of a few minutes. My preferred setup is naked but with the top box only, this still leaves the sleek lines, gives my pillion a back rest and is a great place to leave your helmets before going into a restaurant. Remember those days, they will be back. I also added the Machine Art Moto front engine guard and mud sling. The engine block is really sitting out there and takes a beating from road debris and the mud sling adds a layer of protection to the electronic suspension.
You know on second thought, maybe I am falling in lover with this boxer.
David Todd of Fletcher, North Carolina, is the Associate Vice Chancellor of Campus Operations at the University of North Carolina at Asheville.