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.

We’re shocked that there’s only 1.6 inches of wheel travel back here.

We’re shocked that there’s only 1.6 inches of wheel travel back here.

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.

Harley-Davidson Iron 883
+ Highs

  • Improved suspension
  • Lighter wheels
  • More comfortable seat
– Sighs

  • Limited cornering clearance
  • Unchanged lower body riding position
  • I crashed it
Evans rates the new Iron after his first ride.

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.

Back in the day, I remember this thing being huge in my FZR1000 mirrors on some curvy road, but damned if I could shake Vreeke...

Back in the day, I remember this thing being huge in my FZR1000 mirrors on some curvy road, but damned if I could shake Vreeke…

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.

The Confederate Hellcat is an interesting machine if you’ve got more $$$ than sense. Which is probably a better way to go through life than having more sense than $$$...

The Confederate Hellcat is an interesting machine if you’ve got more $$$ than sense. Which is probably a better way to go through life than having more sense than $$$…

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.

Savor that delicate dichotomy between being glad your children never had to experience your pain but wishing they could just a little...

Savor that delicate dichotomy between being glad your children never had to experience your pain but wishing they could just a little…

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.

  • Goose

    More good writing and common sense from JB. I expect good writing but who knew he would be a source of reasonable, thoughtful prose? Bring back the Flesh Zeppelins!

  • Martin Buck

    Sadly, the shortcomings in most motorcycles take a while to rear their vile heads. A short test ride can convince you that the manufacturer had you solely in mind when they designed this steed, but a few weeks can show up annoyances that continue to grate every time you ride. I’ve learned that lighter bikes are more fun than heavy bikes, that heavy bikes are better for long distances, and that the lightweight that was perfect around town can be an underpowered nuisance on a long ride. Maybe borrow a bike for a week before making that “Buy” decision. Makes bike rentals a good idea.

    • Jon Jones

      Great post.

  • Larry Kahn

    Interesting the start with the Sportster reference. I’ve owned over 70 bikes of all types and worked in five different shops and ride everything I can beg a chance on. But for years I’ve been saying the only mc I ever rode I didn’t like was the Sportster.

    • Goose

      OK, Larry, You should ride my lightly modified XR1200. You may not like it anymore than you liked my V11Sport Guzzi but it has the cool factor of a Harley with actual handling and almost modern power. Harley can build good bikes, they just don’t sell.

      • Larry Kahn

        Be more than ready and open-minded to ride a set-up XR, thank you! Ever in the central cal coastal area (SLO) lemme know. And fwiw, I rode a 1974 V7 Sport for 12 years. I’m in-between Guzzi’s currently.

        • Goose

          Larry, I live in Los Osos. You used to rent a business space in your building in Los Osos to my (now ex) wife.

          • Larry Kahn

            Congrats. See ya later.

          • spiff

            But you guys should go for a ride.

  • sgray44444

    I can mostly like nearly any motorcycle, but there is one in which I could not find any redeeming value; a 90s model superglide. No handling, no power, no brakes… what a pos.

  • Billy Jack

    “Speaking of storage, if they booted me out of here tomorrow the bike I’d buy is a Honda NC700X….”

    They better not boot you out of there; you’re the best writer in the business – period. (Even if you do have terrible taste in motorcycles..)

  • Starmag

    Sorry, not buying the Street 750/NC700DCT screed. You’ve owned a R1 for a long time. You’ve voted with your own money. We’ll see when you actually buy one of those other two sluggos. Or a “Sportster” (a misnomer if there ever was one) with high-end 1.6″ travel shocks.

    Why would losing your job make you want to buy a new bike?

    • john burns

      I bought the R1 years ago after they booted me out of the business the last time. It’s a great bike to have in the garage, maybe collectible even? But I don’t ride it much. Mostly really because that Akrapovic race exhaust gets a little louder every time… also because there is usually some new MO test bike here…

      • Starmag

        I have to say, I really liked the your creativity in transforming it. I think you wrote an article for CW about it that I still remember. Buying it on a deal,cutting what remained of the fairing, the Sapporo overflow, etc. It was a good article.

        • Kenneth

          I try to be judicious with superlatives, but his articles are
          art-icles. I’m missing Peter Egan less, these days, because of it.

          • Old MOron

            Ha ha, and I tend to be rather liberal with my praise. So I’m glad you’ve spoken up.

          • Starmag

            Cameron is still Yoda (and looks the part) and Egan is still Obi-wan. Those are big Jedi boots to fill. Luke is doing a good job.

          • Old MOron

            You seem to be referencing the original Star Wars movie. That was the only one worth watching.

          • c w

            You seem to have “A New Hope” confused with “Empire Strikes Back”.

          • http://www.motorcycle.com/ Sean Alexander

            Luke is in his 50’s and looks like he’s 70.

          • spiff

            Damn Sean, kind of cold. Lol

        • john burns
      • Starmag

        Maybe a helpful article on repacking your own exhaust is in order. Your neighbors might start talking to you again.

        Collectible? I would think so. I would think not many people have had their personal street bike ridden at a track, praised, and signed by Fast Freddie. I hope you got that clear-coated. To say nothing about the 400lbs and 150hp. And the articles that have been written about it. And it’s notoriously colorful owner.

  • Manny Barqueiro

    I completely agree and have never, ever, ridden a vehicle with a motor, gas or electric, I didn’t like on some level. Even the bad ones are so much fun.

  • JMDonald

    I was beginning to think there wasn’t a bike I didn’t like. There are bikes I don’t like. It’s OK perhaps even good to not like them.

  • John B.

    Handsome kid JB, and great writing as usual.

    “It’s every dad’s job to grind his children’s dreams against cold reality.”

    No doubt that’s how things worked when we were kids, but times have changed…. for the better I hope.

  • Deryl Clark

    Clearly you never meet this square head lighted abomination.

    • Campisi

      Embrace the Dream!

    • Starmag

      Back when all I had was a 72 Harley 350 Sprint, I would have gladly traded it even up to Live The Dream. (if it was a 305). Sure, scooterish styling, but as least you could go somewhere reliably, which I could not on the Aeromacchi Abomination.

      Lots of bikes have had squarish headlights, This may be the only bike ever to have square shocks. ( did they have square springs? )

    • Steve C

      A lot better looking then some of the Salvador Dali melting head lamps on a lot of new bikes. I think dreams are pretty cool looking now.

  • kenneth_moore

    I’ve met a couple of bikes I didn’t like. One was my uncle’s Suzuki Savage. He bought it “from a guy” in Melbourne FL for a ridiculously high price. After a few breakdowns we found out it had been assembled from at least 3 different bikes. We renamed it the “Salvage.” I had to rescue him from the side of the road a dozen times before he finally gave up on it.

    The other was a Sportster I borrowed for a few months that had been converted into a chopper. The “conversion” consisted of replacing the shocks with iron bars, putting 8″ over tubes in the front forks, and the most ridiculous King ‘n Queen seat with a 5’ sissy bar ever seen. It had a right-foot shifter and no front brake, and I had to ride it 15 miles to work every day after school. I’m sure I died at least twice on it, but God decided it would be more entertaining to send me back to ride it again instead of packing me off to Hell.

    • http://www.motorcycle.com/ Sean Alexander

      You actually did die on that first ride. The rest were Hell.

  • Vrooom

    There are motorcycles I wouldn’t buy again, a bad motorcycle sort of implies something bad about being on two wheels. I once had a Harley that steered me away from Harleys. I’ve had a few other bikes that simply aren’t reliable enough to qualify for long term ownership. Pretty much everything from Japan and Europe these days would qualify for my garage though, not withstanding the great Northwest weather that keeps me from considering naked bikes much.

  • TheMarvelous1310

    How can you NOT like the Hellcat? It’s not a Harley-Davidson clone, it’s a Victory killer! It outruns, outmoves and outlooks whatever HD can throw at it, cares nothing for style conventions and applies modern technology as crudely as possible. Yeah, there probably shouldn’t be fueling problems at that price, but I would be able to fix this easily.

    Maybe try the Fighter or the Wraith? Those two are known for having moves like Jackson(who wants moves like Jagger?), and look like somebody gave WW2 plane builders a bunch of modern tech and told them to have fun.

    • Ser Samsquamsh

      You know the confederate P51 is $125000 a tad pricey. Also it looks like the undercarriage of an actual P51.

      • TheMarvelous1310

        It’s worth the price. Also how is looking like the p51 undercarriage a bad thing?

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

    I solda used PC800 to a customer, but before I did I used it to go to Powell’s Place in Hayes Valley (SF) to pick up lunch. I put my fried chicken in the trunk, so when I delivered it to the customer, it smelled like Emmit Powell’s famous fried chicken. I think it may have been the best aftermarket upgrade possible for that bike.

    • Jon Jones

      We made many a beer run on PC800’s. A fine machine, indeed.

  • Craig Hoffman

    Strange as it sounds, when, where and who I am riding with is probably more important than the actual motorcycle I am on. If I am riding with good friends on awesome scenic roads, all the bike really has to do is not bust my ass in half or break down on the side of the road. If it can manage that, I am good. On the other hand, despite being on a great bike, I can get bored pretty easily if riding alone or on uninteresting roads.

    Back in the late 80s, I had an ’83 Honda XL600. Rode that thing everywhere, on road and off, with a guy who remains my best friend to this day. Met him in a parking lot as I was on my XL and he had one just like it.

    We proceeded to terrorize Southern CA on those thumpers. Wheelies, backing it in during right turns at intersections, impromptu weekend business park races, off road adventures in the desert, fleeing and never getting caught by the cops for seemingly constant traffic transgressions, we did it all. Was young, strong, dumb, fearless back then. Given that backdrop, the ’83 Honda XL600 was the best motorcycle I have ever owned :)

  • TC

    Confession time. I dislike the Sportster because I owned two bikes that showed what the Sportster could be, a Buell Thunderbolt and Ulysses. That Uly had the plushest suspension of any bike I ever rode. Soaked up the small bumps, and had plenty of travel for the unexpected potholes. I’m riding a Moto Guzzi Stelvio these days, one of the best bikes I’ve ever owned. Love that silky 6 speed.

  • Jon Jones

    I’m a career motorcycle mechanic. And I have to agree. I tend to like every bike I ride.

  • Jeff

    John. You are the only guy left in the game. Every time I pick up a cycle world I cry a bit inside and I am the 25yr old millennial they think they are marketing too. We might be inept but we aren’t totally retarded. I promise.