the perfect bike

But deluded people don’t realize that their own mind is the Buddha. They keep searching outside


The story so far:

Last year, after much thought about what motorcycle I wanted next, I took Burns’ advice and bought me an EBR 1190SX. I have now spent enough time riding it to inform you if I have indeed discovered motorcycling’s Shangri-La.

The short answer: not so much. I am sure you are shocked.

Don’t get me wrong: I like this bike. A lot. Sure, It’s given me some trouble: the rear fender fell off, the gearing was wack, it lacks ABS and I picked up a screw with the back tire at 200 miles, which wasn’t the EBR’s fault per se but was the first flat I’ve gotten for years. Coincidence? I think not. But overall, my white not-quite elephant is, as we say here in California, sweet.

I like it because where an electric motorcycle is basically a giant battery, a gas motorcycle is basically a giant…motor. And the EBR’s motor is flippin’ great, with a caveat. Below 7,000 rpm (where I was exiled during the 620 miles of break in) it’s okay. Torquey, but a little buzzy, Ford V-8 fuel economy, kind of soft right off idle.

Above lucky seven, it’s unbelievable if you’re accustomed to daily life aboard a 650 Twin. There’s a deep bwaarrrrr sound from below you as the front end gets light and you snap forward like Wile E. Coyote on rocket-powered roller skates. The EBR is based on an open-class racebike, designed for triple-digit passing. It’s an easy path to speeding tickets, dismemberment, and frequent rear-tire replacement, but it’s also fun in an edgy sort of way, like having lunch with an ex or juggling chainsaws. How did I get by all these years with a mere 70 horsepower or less? It’s like suddenly discovering melted cheese.

EBR development engineer, the early days.

I also like the EBR’s handling. The way it steers and responds is just right. It’s compact and stable but still feels familiar, like you’ve been riding it a dozen race seasons. The suspension isn’t fancy, but it’s set up right, works well, and responds to small adjustments.

Living with the bike isn’t so bad, either. Liquid Asset Partners, owner of EBR, can still get parts, but I could probably get along a while without them. The oil filters, shims and other engine bits can be had at an Aprilia dealer (and there’s a million of those guys compared to EBR), and the electronics can be serviced by the aftermarket. The wheels, though light, are robust, the chain is easy to clean, service, and replace, and what else do you need to keep a modern bike running besides gas? The seat is better than its half-inch of squashy foam would suggest, though a trip to Corbin is in order; my ass hurts after a couple of hours. Fuel economy is about the same as a late-80s economy car, so I see the low-fuel lamp before 100 miles. Inconvenient, but not the end of the world.

So it’s a good bike, one I think I’ll like more over time, but it’s probably not the bike. The sad truth is that the bike for me is probably a 1999-2003 Suzuki SV650, and I’ve already owned four. That’s the Peter Principle bike for me, the ride that is the ceiling of my personal level of riding (in)competence. And yet, I keep hoping something better is out there.

This is it? Really? This is the best I get? Forever? Photo by Evans Brasfield.

I don’t think I’m alone. We bemoan the death of printed motorcycle media, but why? Mostly, I think, because those magazines remind us of when we were younger, hairier, braver and faster than we are now. We used those magazines to search for the perfect motorcycle, and maybe we found it. Maybe it was an SV, or maybe a CBR600F2, or maybe a Dyna or a Superglide or a Vespa P200E, or even a custom-built street tracker. Whatever it was, it fit you, it worked and you felt faster, smoother, more comfortable, more in control than any other ride. Your riding buddies noticed it, too. “You’re really fast on that thing,” they’d say in amazement. You just thought they were riding unusually slow.

And yet, after a while – maybe a long while – you stopped riding that bike. Maybe you sold it, or crashed it, or it just became too expensive or time-consuming to keep running. Maybe it’s in the back of the shed right now, under a tarp behind some lawn furniture. You moved on to other bikes, and they’re probably better in one or even many other ways, but you’re still missing… something.

“The real cycle you’re working on is a cycle called yourself,” said the late and great Robert M. Pirsig in Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance. So what does it mean when you’re always searching for the next greatest motorcycle? That you’re not finished? Or that you just want to be better? Is this quest the fun of motorcycling, what keeps it interesting decade after decade? Or should I just buy an old SV, sell the EBR and fund my IRA for a year or two?

The EBR isn’t the worst bike I’ve had. It’s not the best. It won’t be the last.

Post your Peter Principle bike in the comments!

Gabe Ets-Hokin is an expert in management theory and invented the “Gabe Principle,” which holds that the worse somebody writes, the more they get paid until somebody figures it out and they get fired.