If you ask a stupid question, you may feel stupid; if you don’t ask a stupid question, you remain stupid.

—Tony Rothman

When I tell the hoi polloi about my alter ego as a moto-journalist, the most frequently asked question besides, “what’s a moto-journalist?” is “so what’s your favorite motorcycle?” I’m usually stumped. Anyone who has owned or ridden more than one motorcycle knows that this question is impossible to answer. Or is it?

After all, here at MO we’ve always been able to determine the champion of a comparison, be it one of our famed dozen-bike cluster-flucks or a simple one-on-one best-of-the-best sort of thing. Editor Duke has us fill out a lengthy form, with subjective and objective scores for everything from power to comfort. So it should be easy to figure out my most-favored personal ride, right? Why my personal ride? Because as MO Founder Ashley Hamilton told me, at the end of the day, the only subjective opinion – maybe even the only opinion of any kind that matters – is what you’d buy with your personal stash of nickels and dimes.

So what do I buy? Like anybody else, I get the bike that fits my needs and budget, but those factors change over the years, so I’ve had a lot of motorcycles. But which was my favorite? To answer that, I made a spreadsheet with all the bikes I could remember owning (I may have missed a few) in the last 30 years and scored them one to five stars because my day job is driving for Uber and think we should rate everything from one to five stars. Interestingly, of the 30-ish bikes I’ve owned, not counting incomplete projects or flippers, five got five stars, about 20 got four stars, and five got ones, twos and threes. Here is what I found, bestest and worstest.

My top five faves:

080217-skidmarks-05-best-2003-derbi-senda-supermoto

This little 49cc two-stroke screamer was cheap, handled like a champ – at 220 pounds or so, how could it not? – and was easy to modify. With about $500 in soup-up parts I punched it out to 72cc and would see 80-plus mph, at least until I seized it on a freeway off-ramp. It really showed its stuff on the racetrack, delivering my only supermoto trophy. But most importantly, it got the attention of Maximum MOron Sean Alexander, leading to my employment here at MO.

Photo by: Gary Rather

Photo by: Gary Rather

Steve McQueen said “racing is life. Anything before or after is just waiting.” And that’s why the Kawasaki Ninja – I think I’ve owned three or four – will someday be in the Gabe Ets-Hokin Motorcycle Museum and Waffle House. Not that fast, not that light, and not that durable, but when I started racing in 1994 this was the best way to do it. Put 65 riders on a grid, all riding Ninjas (except the random weirdos with VTR250s) and you’re going to learn more about yourself and riding than you thought possible.

Photo by: Gary Rather

Photo by: Gary Rather

When I was looking for a faster way to burn my money than the Ninja, a custom-built Single racer seemed as good a way as any. I met my old friend Ivan Thelin, who had done an incredible job building a crusty old Ascot thumper into a pretty cool racer – 300 pounds, 50 hp at the wheel and almost every component replaced or modified. I will never turn lap times like that again, and I won a few trophies. I even learned how to rebuild an engine from the crankshaft up. It died a heroic, smoky death on the starting grid at Sonoma Raceway when the piston skirt bashed itself apart on the case. I never said I learned how to rebuild an engine from the crankshaft up correctly.

080217-skidmarks-02-best-1995-muz-skorpion-sport

I read about the Skorpion on MO, which ignited my love affair with Singles. I found mine pretty cheap and rode the pee out of it. It’s the first bike I touched a knee down with, in Thunderhill Raceway’s long, sweeping Turn 2, and with short gearing I could embarrass just about anybody on the tight, bumpy, twisty road from Mill Valley to Stinson Beach on California’s Highway 1. It survived my ownership, believe it or not.

080217-skidmarks-01-best-1977-bmw-r100-7

We don’t really like the bike, do we? I think what we love is who we were and what we were doing when we owned it. My five years and 80,000 miles on my clunky German ride were action-packed and filled with fun, friends, gin, long trips, money spent, new things tried and ended abruptly when I high-sided the thing up on Mount Hamilton. My girlfriend – now my wife – had her first motorcycle ride on the back and maybe that was the best thing about that banged-up Slash Seven.

And now, the not-so-favorites…

080217-skidmarks-05-worst-1997-ktm-620lc

This bike was pretty fun… when it started. That year, the U.S. models were equipped with Edelbrock carbs for some reason, and it was not a happy relationship, though I did build up my left leg muscles. Not a keeper, and not a bad bike, really, but the most awful thing about it is I bought it from my friend Julius Long, who was killed by a road-rager not long afterwards. Horrible.

After wrecking my ’77 BMW, I bought this one from a friend down the street, but it wasn’t the same, for some reason. It didn’t run as well, or maybe I just realized that 20-year-old tech wasn’t the safe and smooth alternative for hardcore sport riding. Or maybe a little bit of my spirit was broken along with my tibia and fibula.

How can the same model be on both lists? Easy – after a four-year hiatus from road racing, I bought another Ninja, expecting to relive my glory days. Nope. After getting beaten by just about everybody my first few races, I decided racing was just not a thing I could do anymore. Plus, my credit cards were maxed out.

080217-skidmarks-0-worst-2-1990-ducati-750-sport

I have had happy relationships with Ducatis, but it’s always hit-or-miss with those things. My first one was no different. She looked so beautiful, gleaming immaculately in the seller’s SOMA loft. But the badly-repaired aluminum swingarm (that the dude didn’t tell me about) and various other niggles coaxed me into selling it after numerous strandings and trips to welders and other professionals. With its Ferracci exhaust and gleaming red-and-silver paint it got attention – but not my love.

Photo by: Midlife Cycles

Photo by: Midlife Cycles

Can a man hate an inanimate object? Maybe it wasn’t hate, but my CB350 filled me with self-loathing, angst and misery for years, like a spiteful spouse who refuses to get divorced. I was going to build the ultimate café-racer project, an AHRMA racebike for the street, but what was I thinking? My builder didn’t do a good job delivering a rideable machine, I didn’t do a good job keeping it running, and though it looked great, was almost as reliable as an Italian cyclotron. A much more committed hipster bought it from me, and hopefully a more capable person than me is riding it now. Better yet, maybe a sensible person who will keep it in a living room where it belongs.

Our favorite rides tell our stories with gas and rubber, punctuating our lives’ successes and failures. That BMW may not have been my favorite bike, but I rode it in my favorite motorcycling years, when even crashing was fun, I had so much to learn, and my friends were all riding with me.


Gabe Ets-Hokin’s a real nowhere man, living in his nowhere land, making all his nowhere plans for nobody. He thinks Instagram is a commie plot.

  • 12er

    Get our hopes up and pull an octaine on us…

    • Old MOron

      Of course we hope this project will beget a production model. Such a thing hasn’t even been announced yet, but if and when it is, I won’t get excited. Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me.

  • Auphliam

    Proprietary engine in a specialty chassis. Different chapter of the same book. “We’re going racing with something we aren’t going to build for anybody”

    Prepare yourselves for a new “Race Proven” cruiser next model year.

  • Old MOron

    Nice one, Gabe. I can’t pick a favorite bike, but I can pick a least favorite: the R1150R Rockster that replaced my beloved, stolen R1150R.

    • Lol! How can the same bike be most and least favorite?

      • Old MOron

        The Roadster and the Rockster were not the same bike. The Rockster was a parts-bin job. BMW basically took the Roadster and diminished it by adding a flat handlebar, a wider rear tire, and a different paralever arrangement that they borrowed from the R1100S. (IIRC) I didn’t like it as much. And coming after my dearly departed R, it was doomed.

  • Starmag

    Fav- 1982 CB900F-beautiful, smooth, revvy, comfortable, reliable, sounds great, not so fast you’ll lose your license when you whip on it.

    Least fav- 1973 HD Sprint 350- opposite of above except I’d lose races to snails.

    • Xenu Teegeeack

      Wow – my very first motorcycle was a 73 HD Sprint 350!
      It had two broken spokes on one side of the back wheel, but a single horizontal cylinder with ultra low CG. When you had it leaned it over in a turn and those 2 broken spokes came up, the rear end shifted 2 inches over all of a sudden – a little surprise in mid turn. Years later I realize that riding on broken spokes was ‘sort of’ dangerous but was still a lot of fun. Instead of accelerating, it gradually gained momentum, up to about 50MPH, where the clutch would start slipping, so you were safely never going too fast.
      But it was an honest-to-God HD Motorcycle, black, loud (rusted out 1-into-2 mufflers) and anyway, safer than my friend’s 1974 Pinto…

      Least Fav – 1979 Triumph Bonneville, a classic, said to handle great but mostly remember constantly wrenching on it, and when riding it mostly on the look out for parts falling off so can’t really recall how it rides. Lots of memorable time spent stranded on side of road, don’t remember ever returning under its own power. Requires two people to ride it, one on the bike to ride to the undetermined break down point and one following in the pick up truck with the ramps to get you home, for more wrenching. After this bike, I got married, had 2 kids, was divorced, single dad, and didn’t ride for 18 years but I contend it was because of this bike.

      OK, I guess – 1984 Honda GL1200 naked – damn thing won’t die – still runs!

      Current Fav – 2017 Victory Octane – runs great, no worries about buying next year’s new & improved model because Victory is gone!

      • Starmag

        “But it was an honest-to-God HD Motorcycle, black, loud (rusted out
        1-into-2 mufflers) and anyway, safer than my friend’s 1974 Pinto…”

        Sorry to be the one to break it to you but that “honest-to-God HD Motorcycle” was a re-badged Italian Aeromacchi 350.

        Literally anything is safer than a Pinto.

        Thanks anyway, it’s good to know I wasn’t the only one who suffered a Sprint. “Misery loves company”.

  • john burns

    this seals it, you’ve got the worst taste of any motorcycle nut I know. I think the Bay Area makes people cray-cray. It’s not your fault.

    • DickRuble

      Not only that, but he ranked a superb 97, race framed MZ Cup with a great 5 valve liquid cooled engine second to a prehistoric 77 beemer.. He better stick with his Uber day job.

      • What can I say? I just looked better on the beemer.

        • DickRuble

          Rumors are narcissism also runs high in the Bay Area.

          • LOL so true.

            I do miss that Skorpion. I wish KTM would make a 350-pound, 70-hp RC690.

  • Donnie

    I’m truly sorry that you are a nowhere man.
    I had a Dick Mann framed Yamaha TT500 that was pretty cool.

  • John B.

    We’re ‘down to’ four cars, five drivers, and one motorcycle in my family, so I’ve become well-acquainted with Uber. I don’t want a car all to myself ever again!

    I do errands at night and during weekends when I can ‘borrow’ a car from my wife or children, walk/run everywhere less than two miles away, ride my motorcycle whenever it’s convenient (and less than 98 degrees out), have Amazon Prime deliver various commodities to my front door, and take Uber the rest of the time. Uber is awesome! Car ownership is officially passe, which leaves more time and money for motorcycles and motorcycling!

    Great article Gabe. When I read articles like this one I regret not becoming a motorcyclist earlier in life. I’ll experience only a fraction of the experiences motorcycling offers, but on the bright side, I worked lots of nights, weekends, and holidays. So, I’ll always have those memories.

    • Old MOron

      I’ve been thinking that for banging out quick errands, something like a Vespa would be really cool.

      Our MOronic editors are supposed to declare their picks for Best Scooter today. They’ll prolly make the announcement just before midnight :-/

  • My 2014 fz09 was probably my least favorite. The throttles and suspension sucked and I worried to much about the bike (only new vehicle I’ve ever bought) but it did teach me a lot about working on bikes because I had to change so much to make it rideable.

    In the middle is my ’89 softail springer. First bike i ever bought. Didn’t do anything amazing but it was a joy to ride and the only bike ive had that my fiancee could ride on with me. I spent a lot of time modifying it on my own and with my dad. Sold it to him after I laid it down and he still has it.

    My favorite is my current bike, a 1998 suzuki bandit 1200 rat bike. Cheap as hell, easy to work on, and super fun to ride. Can’t think of a reason to get anything else right now so it will be around for a while.

    • DickRuble

      The way the motojourno’s were fawning upon the Fz-09 when it came out you would’ve thought that they had discovered the lost Ark. Turns out it was pretty much garbage. 2015.. yeah, there were some issues, but they’re all fixed, said they.. Fast forward 2017, “it wasn’t really any good but now it’s perfect”.. 2019.. what do you think they’ll say? Right now they’re in an excited delirium over the FZ10.. Just wait for 2019…

      • True. The one i bought had the original ECU tuning which was terrible. Yamaha did reflash it for free but I still had to pay to have it reflashed by another company because it sucked. Then I put a PC5 on it hoping that would help but it was still jerky.

        Ended up respringing and revalveing the forks and put a hayabusa rear shock in it to.

        I’m glad I got to do so much work to the bike because I learned a lot but id have rather been riding the thing…

        • DickRuble

          There’s got to be a cheaper way to learn suspension and engine tuning than buying a brand new bike and trying to sort it out 🙂

          • I agree. I really just bought the wrong bike, to be honest. I had only rode dirt bikes and my Harley before trying my friends fz8 and loving it. I happened to try it right when the fz09 was being hyped up and then I laid the Harley down. Decided “fuck it, I’m buying an fz09” and just went with it. Should have test rode it but the dealer didn’t allow test rides (should have found a different dealer). It’s all good though. I had fun on it, learned a lot and sold it without losing to much money.

          • DickRuble

            With what you got back you can buy a lightly used fz8; there are many available at bargain bin prices.

          • I’m quite happy with the suzuki bandit I’ve got now. It’s the most fun bike I’ve had so far and it was by far the cheapest.

  • Bill Gore

    Making a CB-350 unreliable takes real skill. I didn’t think it was possible. If I was a builder who managed it I sure as hell wouldn’t admit it.

  • Old MOron

    Heh-heh-heh, hey Gabe, heh-heh-heh…
    Did you know that when you typed “GOATs” you were just one vowel away from “goatse”?
    Heh-heh-heh!

  • Born to Ride

    Once I get around to having owned 10 bikes I’ll give my list haha.