Unlike Will Rogers, I have met plenty of men I don’t like. (Okay, it usually takes a minute or two for me to not like them.) But I’ve never met a motorcycle I didn’t like. Which comes in handy for me, since the biggest sin we motorcycle journalists are accused of is not revealing our honest opinion re: the bikes we review. This month’s column comes to you courtesy of a post by one TC, who commented on our H-D Iron 883 vs. Indian Scout Sixty comparo of a couple weeks ago: “If they only made cruisers, I wouldn’t ride a motorcycle. Too bad the reviewers can’t say what they really think, because they would lose their advertising.”
The flipside of that of course, is that if all you do is fawn, toady and shill, then you also lose your advertising because nobody wants to read a brochure when they’re looking for objective information. No clickee, no money. I think you can still pick brochures up at the dealership for free, same price as MO. God knows, the five years I spent writing glossy pamphlets gave my brain cell such a rest, I’m now back motojournaling better than ever! New and improved! Shut up!!
TC the commenter was expressing himself regarding the Iron 883’s new rear shocks, which provide 1.6-inches of rear-wheel travel. Strangely enough and hard to believe though it may sound, it’s actually a really nice 1.6 inches thanks to them being Harley’s upscale Emulsion items. Together with the new seat they stuck on for 2016 (and new cartridge-type fork too), the result is a Sportster that’s almost, dare we say, reasonably comfortable to ride around on.
God knows I’ve done our fair share of Sportster bashing, beginning in about 1989 when I rode my first one – a four-speed solid-mount number. You couldn’t ride it more than 80 miles at a stretch because it would run out of gas (2.1-gallon tank), which was no problem since you couldn’t ride it for more than an hour anyway before your hands went numb and you needed to let your rattling eyeballs re-focus. Well, it was a problem if you’d set out down a road that didn’t have a gas stop within 80 miles. Good thing everybody else’s bike had a petcock then, so you could drain a beer-can full of gas to dump in the Sportster.
When Harley gave it the five-speed transmission in 1991, it dropped the revs a bit at speed and it was better, but mostly still a punishing and crude conveyance. Somewhere in there, I incurred the ire of the Motor Company by saying, “If the Sportster was all there was to ride, I’d drive a car.” That was half in jest, since if the Sportster had really been all there was to ride, we wouldn’t have known any better and would’ve loved it. And I really have no idea whether the Motor Company was angry or not; if there was blowback it never rolled down to my pay grade. I don’t think they care. We keep bashing on Sportsters and they keep selling them like ice water to tourists in Hell. Maybe Sportster buyers are like what the political pundits call “low information voters”?
There’s seldom been a Sportster story on MO that doesn’t include us whining about the need for more ground clearance, an actual safety issue for people who live where there are curvy roads or intersections. Our own Evans Brasfield went so far as to illustrate the point by crashing one a few months ago when he leveraged its wheels off the pavement by stupidly leaning it over to go around the earth’s curvature.
Even Harley-Davidson, though, is bound to get a thing right eventually. My college-kid son has been telling me the Iron 883 is the coolest bike of them all for a few years now. Of course he’d never ridden one, and I like to mix it up by occasionally withholding my immense wisdom. A lot of things in life we have to learn for ourselves. When an Iron appeared in the garage, I couldn’t wait for his reaction now that he’d finally get to ride one; I expected another Santa-isn’t-real, coming-of-age moment. It’s every dad’s job to grind his children’s dreams against cold reality.
But he actually liked it – a lot. What? Then I rode it and had to agree. With the new suspension and seat (and the rubber engine mounts it got 12 years ago) well, the latest Sporty is like the Space Shuttle compared to that first one I rode, ahhhh, 27 years ago. It’s evolved into a really nice little motorcycle for blatting around at subsonic speeds, and don’t get me started about how I still prefer the Street 750.
I can’t help it, I like a lot of offbeat motorcycles other people don’t. I think it comes down to every bike having its strengths and weaknesses, and while it’s my job to point out the weaknesses, it’s even more important to find the strengths. No matter how weird the machine (Honda Pacific Coast), some feckless mother’s child got the design brief from his supervisor and gave it his best shot (right before the committee and the focus group took over). He deserves a fair hearing. I actually loved the big stupid Honda Pacific Coast, even better than the NM4 we tested two years ago, which I also liked but not as much; for some inscrutable reason the NM has way less storage capacity than the old ’Coast. In the words of the great Nigel Gale, there’s an ass for every seat. And after a few years, a group of them forms an Owners Club (or a forum) and then we call it a cult bike.
Speaking of storage, if they booted me out of here tomorrow the bike I’d buy is a Honda NC700X. (Uh-oh, am I becoming a Honda commercial?) Not only is the NC a supreme around-town commuter, on its website Honda lists the bike in its Adventure category. With some knobbier tires on there and the DCT to do the shifting, I think I could ride that thing anywhere I’d need to go, paved or not, gettting 60-plus happy mpg all the way. I hope that the rest of the world (including my MO compadres) continues to diss the NC, as I’d prefer to pick up a low-miles used one on the cheap.
As far as I remember, the only bikes I’ve ever really bashed are ones that aren’t ready for prime-time viewing. Is it too much to ask that the motorcycle you’re loaning to a major media outlet has no mechanical issues? I liked the Confederate Hellcat I got to test a few years ago okay, but a thing with that much torque and an erratic ignition could be a problem. I was checking the plug wires with my left hand when the power came back in once, and I very nearly fell right off the back. I bagged on the bike a little, but had way more fun with the Confederate Manifesto the company had posted on its website at the time, which railed on in high dudgeon against Harley clones and other like abominations while somehow ignoring the fact that Confederates are also H-D clones. The Manifesto’s not there anymore, though Confederate still is. Maybe they’ll loan us another one soon?
I think it was 1998 when the magazine I worked for got the invite to Willow Springs to ride the super exciting new Bimota Vdue. I did one lap around the Streets course and pulled in, “It needs gas.”
The tech opened the fuel cap. “No, it’s full.”
I did one more lap and parked the thing. Meanwhile, Bimota’s tech kept downloading new maps into the ECU, promising the next one would be an improvement. E-i-C Duke, who was also there that day, kept riding. The basically unrideable Vdue didn’t get any better. I think the Bimota importer gave us all a T-shirt (actually I paid $10 for mine) and a thin excuse: We waited for the one with the right fuel map (or whatever the problem was), which sadly never appeared. When Googling “Vdue review” now, there are lots of post-mortems, but I’m not seeing a single honest review from when the bike was new.
It had already become a stock phrase a decade or two ago, but there really aren’t any bad motorcycles out there anymore – not ones that we get to ride, anyway. There are wrong motorcycles for the intended use, but I haven’t ridden a really bad one in quite some time. If we come across any, I’ll let you know. Hope springs eternal.