2000 Valuebike Shootout
Who let the MO out?
Get the Flash Player to see this player.Torrance, California, December 29, 2000 -- "Can I buy you a drink, or do you just want the money?" You, being the avid biker with the suave ghetto-smooth moves that you are, naturally end up with a date for the evening with a pick-up line like this. No doubt the new pair of shoes with the flame motif did their part; another case of money well spent, ey, chap? Not to be the bearer of bad tidings, but if this -- or some equally lame-brained scheme -- is how you spend your weekend nights, you had better forget about that beautiful Ducati 996 you've been lusting over and focus on something more realistic: A Value Bike.And might we suggest a $6,000 limit on how much you should spend? Then, maybe you could stand to spend some money on a new personality with all the money you'll be saving...
Either way, it's the end of the year and things are looking pretty good for you. Your old hooptie is paid off and hasn't gone for a ride on the back of the local towing yard's finest in at least two weeks now. Your credit card bills are under control so you've got a bit of extra cash burning a hole in your pocket. It must be time to invest in some tech stocks, then. Or is it? The market is so volatile right now and nobody is sure what's around the corner.
"Differences aside, any one of these machines would be a welcome addition to a garage. Hey, even the ugly chick in the corner goes home with somebody sometimes."
If you're going to just throw away some money, you might as well get something tangible, other than an invoice from your broker or a phone number and an empty promise from that dame at the end of the bar to show for it. To help you out in your quest for an affordable ride that won't bore you to sleep like an Al Gore speech, MO has resurrected our once-popular Value Bike shootout.
And as the the various specimens rolled into our garage, we acknowledged the wide range of style and purpose of the six bikes that meet our price point.
Sixth Place - Buell Blast: $4,395
MO graphics editor Calvin "HackFu" Kim summed up the Buell Blast nicely by stating it's "our idea of a scooter" just after a fellow tester snickered something about its name which they pronounced, "the be-last." Be nice people.
Sure, the popular definition of a scooter entails small wheels, an even smaller engine, automatic shifting and a little platform for your feeties, however, we have our own definition of what a scooter should be. To us, a scooter offers light, nimble and economical transportation that's great for zipping around town. Oh, and we like to shift, thanks.
The primary intent of the Blast is as a user-friendly platform for new riders. The Blast is amusing to us because it looks like a Cyclone M2... only shrunken (honey, I shrunk the Buell!). Performance is also Buell-like in that it's quirky, even if it works as an effective overall package.
Ergonomically, even the shortest legs can find pavement while straddled over the bike. The wheelbase is relatively short, the seating position (there are two different seat heights available) is comfy, and everything falls right where it should. Friendly touches include an automatic choke function, digital trip meter and a "flash to pass" button that we wish we could transplant from our Blast onto some women we know.
"Aside from a grabby clutch, it would be hard to beat this Buell for learning purposes."
The motor has more torque than some riding mowers that its sound mimics quite closely. It steers lightly and the brakes are progressive and smooth. The only problem with all this is that riders who catch on quick will outgrow the Blast even quicker. The next Ben Bostroms need not apply. Essentially, the Blast is a $4,000-plus learning tool that may only last a summer because it's so easy to outgrow.
Still, if something about the Blast grabs you or you just have a lawn mower fetish, you won't regret your purchase. If you want a beginner's motorcycle, the 883 would probably be a better choice. If you want a scooter that can shift, corner and do rolling burnouts, you might want to check out the Blast. Besides, Vance & Hines has a number of performance products for it already available. You and Tim Allen can have lawn mower races all year long now!
Fifth Place - Kawasaki KLR650:$4,999
This bike is like a Nissan Xterra: Everything you need for the urban jungle with only a small number of overdone accouterments. Of all the bikes in our shootout, this is clearly the most versatile. For commuting, the light weight, slim stance and beau-coup suspension travel is overkill, though it does open up a few "alternate routes."
When you turn off the freeway and onto the road less-traveled, launching over medians, plowing through pot holes and other acts of urban assault come as naturally as a Sunday football and beer-drinking binge with the boys. Out in the country, the KLR has adequate off-road prowess to handle some fairly rough terrain, let alone the occasional forest service road or gravel road.
And for you aspiring hooligans out there, our own Minime quickly discovered the KLR's ability to muster block-long wheelies and catch air off practically any rise in sight. It's like a top-heavy Kawasaki 'Motard bike in many ways. And if you ride it as such, it can be a lot of fun.
The behind-the-seat platform offers generous space to bungee down a few night's worth of gear while the hand guards protect fingers from the cold as well as incoming foreign objects.
The economical windshield keeps the blast off your chest, but doesn't impair your vision unless you're doing your own dirt-tracker impressions up and down the roads, tucked in with your left hand holding onto the upper left fork leg. Not surprisingly, some of these things that enable the KLR to tackle dirt roads so well have a negative effect on it's on-road effectiveness.
The wide bars hamper lane-splitting ability and the motor buzzes along at highway speeds, constantly reminding you that the 651 cc single below you would rather be churning up a gravel-infested incline than maintaining pace with that Peterbilt behind you. People travel the world on a KLR for thousands less than a BMW R1150GS, or an F650GS for that matter.
"This Kawasaki can do it all, you just have to decide how much you value versatility over day-to-day practicality."
If you want a well-designed bike that can accomplish any task needed of a two-wheeler, the KLR easily offers up mucho bang for the buck and makes this a very attractive choice for those who tend to be a little bit schitzo in their riding preferences.
Fourth Place - Honda Nighthawk 750: $5,799
This bike has remained essentially unchanged since its introduction a decade ago. It made this year's roundup largely because it emerged victorious in our "Frugal Flyers" Shootout held five years back and is still regarded as the all-time standard standard. It's a staple like bread and water, really. The 750 is incredibly easy to ride.
The clutch action is smooth, shifts are swift and sure and the power delivery is the smoothest we've seen this side of a Jamba Juice blender. The no-nonsense seating position, long wheelbase and tall top gear give the Nighthawk impressive highway legs. Unfortunately, the lack of a windshield as standard equipment hinder any attempt at joining the Iron Butt clan on their yearly sojourn.
Still, soft saddlebags (Marsee makes a great set) and a tank bag enhance the touring abilities of the Hawk, but we've even seen Givi hardshell panniers and a top case along with a large wind screen mounted on the beast for extended jaunts. Other sundry attributes of the Nighthawk include, a 200-mile cruising range and the ability to put up with 87 octane fuel.
"The Nighthawk also has a decent suspension. But, the spongy feel, combined with the bias-ply tires are not exactly confidence-inspiring in the twisties."
Put aside your fears, however, and the Nighthawk is fully capable of foot peg-scraping lean angles and the ability to keep up with a race-replica as ridden by far too many Sunday Anonymous Squids. So, why doesn't the Nighthawk 750 earn a repeat win in our shootout? Well, it's sort of dull. Sure, it has plenty of juice to smoke practically any new Corvette or Mustang and it easily pulls to more than 120 mph.
But we're not talking gut-wrenching, arm-stretching thrust. Just the type of family-friendly oomph that's good for everybody. Unfortunately, some of us prefer a bit of spice in our dish and this bike just never red-lined our excitement meter.
In a nutshell, if you want a motorcycle in the homogenized-yet-effective sense, the Nighthawk has got to be one of the best choices of all time. Lube the chain, change the oil if you have some extra time and a few spare beers one Saturday, occasionally have a mechanic inspect the thing and it should last forever. Heck, the valves even adjust themselves. If you want a bike to cater to your emotions, though, look elsewhere.
Third Place - Yamaha V Star Custom: $5,599
The big surprise of the shootout is the V Star Custom. We knew the 650 cc cruiser could deliver classic American looks, loads of chrome, legendary Yamaha build quality and adequate performance. What we didn't expect was how fun the bike was to ride. Though not offering the boatloads of torque, the V Star's engine is plenty strong for real-world riding. Especially surprising is that this little twin had enough cojones to inspire its share of hooliganism.
Even our prim and proper CEO was coaxed into a spontaneous burnout -- though he later lamented his lack of restraint (typical). The V Star does a good job of playing the nasty boulevard cruiser role, even if it hails from Japan and displaces only 650 cubes.
Suspension is expectedly soft, but it's just what you need for around town. It never feels harsh and rarely feels like a wet sponge, striking good balance for a cruiser. The brakes are pretty good and only get edged out by the likes of the SV650 and CB750. Even the ergos were regarded as some of the most comfortable of the group. This is an especially amazing feat since the Yammie is also the most capable of accommodating riders of smaller stature.
"For riders desiring real cruiser vibe in over-the-counter strength, the V Star Custom offers a lot of bike for just a little dough."
Minor niggles include a clutch that catches too late and has a very narrow range of engagement. The bike doesn't feel all that planted at superslab speeds, either, though that's most likely traced to the tread design of the front tire and the oh-so-necessary rain grooved freeways out here in notoriously, torrentially stormy Los Angeles. Sigh.
But, this bike isn't meant to connect straight lines that are state lines apart. It is meant to connect key points on a local map while exuding style and flare. And, it does this better than you'd expect from an inexpensive cruiser.
The Yamaha was constantly lauded as the best looking bike of the bunch.
For our cruiser-earmarked money, we'd likely opt for the 883 because, to this day, nothing emulates Harley feel like a Harley. But we believe the V Star is certainly worth a look-see should you be in the market for a lightweight cruiser that will entertain you for years to come. There's even a rather impressive array of accessories for this bike already, should you choose to make it turn even more heads.
Second Place - Harley-Davidson 883 Sportster: $5,595
When there was an errand to run, we MO-ites found ourselves reaching for the 883 key more than any other.
Why? It's hard to say since the bike isn't particularly quick, the handling is nothing special and the brakes would benefit from an additional front disk. What the 883 does offer is style and character - and lots of it. But unfortunately, certain Harley-Davidson riders with Freudian issues deem the Sportster a "girls bike" or a "beginner's bike." Real men ride Fat Boyz or Road Kingz. We tend to disagree. We're into the sportier side of cruiser-dom. We're into light weight and, get this - we like to turn! Though not a big-inch cruiser like the majority of the H-D line-up, add a few Screaming Eagle parts over time and you can turn this mild performer into a serious street rod.
Our 883, right out of the box, offers classic good looks and a feel that, to date, only The Motor Company has been able to provide. In fact, we believe the base model is the best looking, most understated Sportster in Harley's line-up. Better yet, the narrow drag-style bars improve lane-splitting prowess, an act hampered by big-ass handle bars, hard bags and beer-fed bubble-butts commonly found on larger bikes and their riders.
"We could easily see a newbie rider purchasing an 883 right out of the MSF course. The modestly-powered bike should not intimidate new riders but will still offer plenty-o-juice to cruise on the interstate."
As for comfort and ergos, the stiff springs and short travel transmit the thud of every freeway expansion joint right through your spine. On the other hand, the super low seat height and upright riding position make the Sporty a joy around town. And for those short of stature, the 883 is tremendously easy to maneuver.
Best of all, the Sporty offers H-D hallmarks like the clunky-but-sure shifting, solid overall feel and that trademark rumble (the very same rumble they tried to patent)... all for a third of the price of a Road King. As the rider's skills improve, he or she could bump up displacement (a common mod), and then in another year or two, start adding those Screaming Eagle parts and hopefully an additional front disk brake. Or, the owner could customize the bike with bags and a windshield, a larger gas tank and other tour-worthy modifications.
In other words, a rider conceivably could spend an entire career on a Sportster without ever outgrowing it. And, niggles aside, that's the very definition of value.