Whenever a person who doesn’t ride motorcycles finds out what I do for a living, they almost immediately ask me two questions. Inexplicably, the first is “Do you ride motorcycles?” How I could possibly write for a motorcycle publication and not ride motorcycles truly perplexes me, but ask it they do. I guess that my career is so far outside of their frame of existence that it mentally locks them up for a moment or so, and the result is this nonsensical question.

The second question is one that, no matter how many times I’m asked, I have yet to develop a graceful answer. The search for the elusive answer has spun in my mind for years. Like a dog chasing its tail, it’s fun, frustrating, and, ultimately, exhausting. It’s an activity I turn to when I have an extended period of time – like at the beginning of a long flight – that I want to fill with some low-impact mental gymnastics to decouple from the day-to-day before drifting off to sleep or just semi-conscious, eyes half-closed daydreams.

The question is deceptively simple: “What is your favorite motorcycle?”

I usually respond by saying that answering this kind of question is difficult because I’ve ridden so many different kinds of motorcycles, making it impossible for me to choose a single one that accommodates my varied moto-personas. Instead, I suggest that they ask me my favorites in the various categories of motorcycles – my favorite cruiser, sportbike, adventure bike or tourer, a favorite scooter or sport-tourer or muscle bike. But then there’s cruising tourers and touring cruisers, and let’s not forget naked bikes or streetfighters and standards plus the burgeoning field of electric motorcycles – and I only cover street bikes. Eventually, I grind to a halt only to be greeted with a blank stare. Yes, I know that, to most people, motorcycles are just two wheels and an engine, but to me, they’re all past relationships. Former lovers, even.

Motorcycles parked in driveway

This is what my driveway frequently looks like when I need to use my garage for wrenching.

How do I tell the truth without sounding glib? Because the truth about my favorite motorcycle is simple: My favorite motorcycle is the one I’m riding at the moment. As recently as two weeks ago, I had five different bikes from four different manufacturers in my garage. Because of the laws of physics (and my laziness) a couple got buried, requiring that too many others be moved out of the way before I could throw a leg over them (my personal 2003 R6 is all too familiar with this issue). Still, I found myself riding different bikes on different days, and sometimes, I’d ride different bikes in the morning and afternoon.

I’m reminded of a saying my mentor in the moto-biz, Art Friedman, used to recite as we were saddling up for another comparison test or just selecting which bike to ride home after a day in the office. He’d look at me with a twinkle in his eye and say, “All motorcycles are good. We investigate.” And his statement was, at the time, essentially true and is even more true today.

There are no bad – or to put it another way – tragically flawed motorcycles anymore. Time and technological advances have improved the species to the point that we have to critique motorcycles on increasingly narrow criteria which itself is basically an expanding field of narrowly focused machines designed to excel in a particular range of motorcycle tasks.

Although I’m sure many would argue with me, I believe this is the golden age of motorcycling, or perhaps, more accurately, a golden age of motorcycling. Motorcycles have reached, and are continuing to strive for, unprecedented levels of reliability and performance. Traction control and ABS advances enable riders to explore and expand their limits on both pavement and in the dirt. In the area of travel, motorcycles are more comfortable and capable than ever. Advances in communications allow riders to navigate and communicate better more easily. Riding gear is more versatile and protective, and also available in a wide price range, permitting riders with thinner wallets to experience the comfort and protection of decent riding gear unlike ever before.

Following these trails of thoughts is why I have found this puzzle of the favorite motorcycle so compelling, but over this weekend, while pondering the question, as I sat on my back porch breathing in the darkness and the cool summer breeze, a different answer occurred to me. What if I’m missing a key component that many riders know so well? What if, by not settling down to live with one bike for a number of years, I’ve never learned how to really appreciate a motorcycle? Like the perennial bachelor who has enjoyed a lifetime of short-but-passionate relationships and done things that married folk can only barely imagine (and only then with a twinge of jealousy), perhaps I’ve missed out on one of the most fulfilling experiences of life: settling down and participating in the growth associated with a long-term moto-relationship.

Rossi embraces Yamaha

A long-term relationship may need to go through a period of separation before some riders are willing to commit.

Time changes all things – both the soft and fleshy and the forged from metal, plastic, and rubber. My relationship with my wife is certainly different from what it was when we married 19 years ago. My love for her is much deeper, but it’s also mostly devoid of the rainbows and sunbeams that come with youth and naivety. Instead, my love is based in the reality of being intimately acquainted with her strengths and weaknesses (and her with mine) through years of shared experiences. Through it all, I’ve chosen to stay with her rather than switch to a newer, more exciting model, and so far, she with me.

I’ve got friends that have owned a particular motorcycle for decades. Watching one of them prepare for a ride reveals an intimacy between rider and machine, and I’m not anthropomorphizing the motorcycle here. The way s/he lays hands on the motorcycle as s/he performs the ritual of gearing up, while addressing any of the bike’s idiosyncrasies before starting its engine, shows a familiarity that can’t be replicated on a new machine.

The opportunity to ride the latest and greatest machinery is certainly exciting; I wouldn’t be here after 18 years if I weren’t getting something out of the gig. Still, I’m beginning to think that something larger can be gained by spending years racking up the miles – and collecting bug carcasses – with a favorite bike. Perhaps someday, I’ll settle down and find out.

  • Alexander Pityuk

    Motorjournalism simply doesn’t allow to settle down. You probably won’t have any spare time to put some miles on you personal bike. So you will settle down, if ever, only after retirement. Which we can’t allow :)

  • http://www.proteusmusic.com/ MrBlenderson

    This is a fantastic piece. I’ve felt similarly about letting go of old cars and bikes, and go through the same thing with musical instruments. Whenever I’m selling something, my wife says “but you love that {synthesizer, car, motorcycle}!!!” My answer is always the same, “you know what I love more? The next one.”

  • Old MOron

    I guess I don’t mind selling my current bike and buying a new one – except for parting with my money, of course. But I’ve found that I don’t particularly enjoy owning more than one bike. I have two now, and I can’t seem to bond with both of them.

  • Buzz

    I almost always have two. I get too nerve-wracked when I have three because I feel like I’m not doing them enough justice. I typically have a cruiser and a sport-touring or big touring rig and a sporty bike. Current garage contains a BMW K1600GTL and a Moto Guzzi California Custom. There’s a Yamaha Vino in there somewhere but that’s just a grocery getter.

    • Will

      This article really hit home with me as I am a moto-infidel always with a lustful eye on the latest/greatest. I’ve divorced some really great bikes to wed the new (upgraded) hottie. My Touno V4 excites me every time I fire it up … but that 2016 model with the seductive midrange power bump sure looks tempting. As the Eagles’ song says, I may be “headed for the cheatin’ part of town.”

  • http://www.motou.info Gabe Ets-Hokin

    Nice writing, Evans! I’ve also been with my spouse for decades, yet change my regular ride every 2 years. It’s cheaper than the other way around!

    • http://www.mymotorrad.com/ james lagnese

      That’s true Gabe. I’ve been married for almost 21 years and I’ve been through a few bikes in that time, may be more, but it’s been a serial thing. I haven’t owned more than one at once.

  • JMDonald

    You are right about this being the golden age of motorcycling. Modern machines benefit from new technologies,materials and the competition between the many manufacturers in a global market. It just keeps getting better.

    • pcontiman

      Is that 04 Roadster from HD ? If so, I’ve got the same problem with an 05 and with no room for a 2nd bike I can’t see sending it off…just yet…

      • JMDonald

        It’s a R1150ra BMW. When I bought it I was tired of my two previous sport bikes and wanted a more standard type machine. I was also tired of chain maintenance. The Beemer hit all the right buttons for me at the time. I still love riding it.

        • Old MOron

          My R1150R has been my favorite bike. Kind of wish I still had it.

          • http://www.mymotorrad.com/ james lagnese

            The R1200R is a better bike and I mean the 2011-2014. The new water cooled one looks smaller. For some that is a plus, to me the RT is a small bike.

    • http://www.mymotorrad.com/ james lagnese

      The new RT is a lovely bike. I made the mistake of looking at one and a K1600GT when I went in for a recall repair on my 2009 RT. The new RT makes my 2009 look like an airhead. If I had the dough, I’d get the KGT, but even the RT is a bit rich. I paid 19K OTD for my 2009 with a 49L topcase. Can’t come close to that now.

      • JMDonald

        I hadn’t bought a new bike since 2004. The thought of owning a RT was always on the radar. It was time. A friend has a K1600GT and was kind enough to to let me ride it. For a big bike it was very nimble and took off like a rocket even at speed. I loved it. I just thought it was too big.

  • BadRobot

    I have two bikes for this reason my shinny and new and my CB
    125 which I’ve put 300,000 on.

  • azi

    Most of what you’ve said would still apply if you replace “motorcycle” with any other McGuffin that has an enthusiast following. Hardcore cyclists have their “n+1” rule (“the correct number of bicycles to own is n+1”), whilst photographers have GAS (Gear Acquisition Syndrome). Guitarists are shockingly bad.

    • Ser Samsquamsh

      Ha! Guitarists are the worst!

  • John B.

    There’s a decreasing marginal utility in owning things, in part, because things require time, attention, and money, and we have these resources in finite quantities. When I read bike reviews, I briefly feel the urge to fill my garage with motorcycles, but that desire quickly fades when I think about insurance premiums, maintenance, annual inspections and registration, tire pressure checking, battery chargers, and accessories. In short, to buy additional bikes would give me less rather than more time to ride, and my current bike takes me anywhere I want to go.

    That said, this is a golden age of motorcycling and I would like to experience riding the great new bikes in each category. Maybe one more bike wouldn’t hurt….

    I enjoy Evan’s writing style and interesting observations.

    • pcontiman

      well said

    • Paragon Lost

      “In short, to buy additional bikes would give me less rather than more time to ride, and my current bike takes me anywhere I want to go.”

      Right there, that sums it up. Well stated John B.

  • pcontiman

    Interesting take on an old familiar question. “The one I’m riding” seems to be a good answer. That being said I’ve had my current ride for 10yrs and although it’s getting long in the tooth, it’s hard to visualize a better bike without coughing up $15-20k. And that’s a coughing spell I don’t wanna have.

  • Alexander Pityuk

    Overall i think it makes most sense to have only one bike, probably used, and change it quite often. That way you don’t spend too much money and time on maintaining your vast stable and on depreciation. And you don’t get bored too much, cause always have something “new”. But to do it this way you will probably need а permanent cheap and simple back-up bike to make a selling-buying transition of the main one easier for you.

  • Lemmy

    This was a fantastic article.

  • hunkyleepickle

    i’ve never had room for more than one, and that deeply saddens me often:( It means i can’t help but change bikes every couple years, but also that i’m always in break up mode! Currently have an S1000r, its amazing. Just had a grom on loan for for a couple days, maybe the most fun i’ve ever had on a bike. Now that would be quite a change woo!

  • http://www.themotorcycleobsession.com/ Chris Cope

    Perhaps your answer to that second question should be a bike that is blatantly not great, like a Zing Mirage. People who know nothing of bikes will assume it’s some wonderfully exotic beast; people who do know about bikes will realise that you’ve given a silly answer to a silly question.