Well, some people are always going to be opposed to it aren’t they? Progress that is. No matter what motorcycle you’re writing about, you can count on there being at least one guy who’ll pop up with: How is this thing any better than my ’84 Sabre (Nighthawk, Vulcan, Magna, Midnight Maxim, et al), which cost half as much (in 1984 dollars) and is twice as fast and has never let me down in 86 years of ad nauseum …
There’s no answer, really. I can totally relate, as a matter of fact, because I’m the same way with cars (mostly because I can’t afford new ones). The psychologists call it “sweet lemons.” But I can try to put myself in the shoes of a bright-eyed 20-something with a 25% chance of being female who might be attracted to a bike like the new Harley-Davidson Street 750 (which I’ll use as an example). That’s who H-D is building the Street for. They know better than to try to talk you down from your Scott Flying Squirrel.
To get a look at the bike after seeing it here on MO and elsewhere, our hypothetical bushy-tailed customer might transport herself to her local H-D dealership, where if she’s the least bit physically presentable, the sales staff will be tripping all over each others’ tattoos to provide her with coffee and a nice cruller. (If you’re a dude, you can usually browse unspoken to for hours.) I admit I haven’t been to an H-D dealer to look for a Street, but if it’s anything like the Buells were, there might be one shoved in the darkest alcove of the showroom, the red-haired stepchild (which phrase I hereby move we officially change to Governor Schwarzenegger’s blue-eyed-domestic love child). Our shopper will have to make her way past all the Sportsters the sales staff wants her to buy to get to the Street.
If she sits on both bikes, she’ll be immediately impressed with how much lighter the Street feels compared to the Sportster: 70 pounds difference is a lot, and the Street’s seat is lower too. (So is the price tag. Way.)
If she overcomes the salespeople’s objections and is able to persuade them to let her buy a Street, H-D’s website says she could roll out for about $130 a month, zero down, 7.49% for six years on H-D’s only slightly usurious (by current standards) plan. There she’d be on a brand-new shiny fuel-injected bike likely to fire up every morning without fail for probably all six of the years it will take to pay it off, with a 24-month warranty in case it doesn’t for the first two. And our hypothetical rider will have a fun, zippy little motorcycle to ride all over the place.
Discuss this at our HD Street Forum.
Plan B is your ’84 Sabre. Hmmm. If our hypothetical buyer knows anything about 1984, it’s the name of George Orwell’s romance novel she was forced to read in high school, since she wasn’t born yet. Actually, you’re right, there are some smoking deals out there, like this 22,000-mile ’85 Sabre in Chicago for $1,500, freshly tuned up. To see it, she’ll have to contact Alex, probably also in Chicago, and possibly the guy who writes in to diss all motorcycles built after Clinton’s first term (as well as Clinton). If she drives Alex down to $1,400 and buys the Sabre sight unseen, she’ll probably borrow it from a credit agency, then she’ll only need another $700 to have it shipped to her. Getting such a great deal will encourage her to buy more shoes (motorcycle boots!), and will make it necessary to pay the minimum on the credit card every month, bringing the total cost of the Sabre eventually to about the same as an F-22 Stealth fighter.
That will be as nothing compared to the cost of having everything repaired at the local dealer, since our first-time buyer has no motorcycle knowledge, no tools, and neither does her boyfriend. And, critically, neither do any of the kids at the Honda dealer when it comes to this Honda. And any V-Four Honda, with its 30-year-old carburetors wedged down in the V on 30-year-old cracked manifolds, is not going to be the ideal model to learn how to do a nice carb-sync on, with your trusty old Motion Pro vacuum gauges.
Its brakes might not be any worse than the stinkers the Street 750 comes with as original equipment, but it will be a great candidate for learning more than she wanted to know about fork seals, steering head bearings, also swingarm and swingarm-linkage ones. Then the stator will go out, and everything else electrical will be in a constant state of unease thanks to 30 years of crud on every connection.
Overcoming those kinds of old-bike breakdowns can be really satisfying if you’re a gearhead with a cozy little workshop and back-up transportation. If you’re getting started and just want to ride your new motorcycle, all those minor problems will drive you right back into the Yaris. So will the the fact that even on the rare days when everything on the Sabre is working perfectly, it’ll still be a heavy old pig compared to the svelte little, admittedly way less powerful, Street.
All of which completely overlooks the reason she wanted a bike in the first place: because bikes are cool. Kids only think that lately because they haven’t been exposed much to the horrors of Japanese cruisers from the era when people wore leisure suits and emulated Goulet. Burt Reynolds and the Trans-Am will never go out of style, but many vehicles of that era did for motorcycling what the Plague did for Europe. A darkness settled upon the land …
Thanks to the Snake and Mongoose and Shirley “Cha-Cha” Muldowney, the big Magna’s crazy straightline speed made it appealing in spite of its looks. Its performance was eclipsed, of course, only a few years later, leaving it one more overweight ex-jock with a lot of plaque build-up in its pilot jets and thin paint on top. Just what every young woman wants to struggle to get started in the mornings. And drag racing ain’t exactly a “green” activity today’s kids are all into.
All I’m saying is: if you have a 30-year-old bike you love, more power to you; we’re all happy for you. We understand you’re going to tell us why it’s the greatest motorcycle ever every time you have half a beer, and that’s okay, because then you’re going to have to listen to us tell you in turn, in great detail, all about our hip dysplasia, our grandmother’s fried chicken recipe, why Rush is the greatest band of all time. It’s all part of the social contract. I’ve learned to nap with my eyes open.
But please. Let’s not clip lead weights of doubt to the leading edges of our little birds’ wings before they even have a chance to launch themselves out of the nest. Not that they’re listening to us any more than we listened to the old guys who told us the Japanese would never make a decent motorcycle, much less the Italians, that Ronald Reagan was a genius. Hmmm. Come to think of it, keep doing exactly what you do, Mr. Negative Old Guy. Barely suppressed laughter is one of the things that keeps me going. Laughter and cheap Petite Syrah and my ’97 Jaguar XJ6, probably the best car Jaguar ever built.