I should probably have broken this down into “Riders Over 50 with a History of Failed Relationships and Bad Decisions Without a Pot to Piss In,” and “Riders Over 50 With Healthy Portfolios and Dazzling Smiles”… but I didn’t. Because motorcycles are still relatively inexpensive, and because all us old guys seem to be drawn to the same ones whatever they cost. Besides, even wealthy motorcycle people mostly seem to be inherently cheap; otherwise they’d be car people, no? Consider this my personal cross-section of the bikes people like me covet most, and/or actually would (theoretically in my case) own.
I’ve never ridden one but I’ve seen a few, and agree with Facebook friend, former Commonwealth Racing factotum and jet-setting vintage F1-racing cool guy Martin Adams, who says his is “the most beautiful m/c I’ve ever owned and admired… nice sound at speed too.” The ’62, of course, is the last year these were produced by the real Norton Motors, Ltd., and so it has all the cutting-edge tech that year could muster, ie., not much. Not just a cool machine for the over-50 crowd, the Manx has a timeless form every Roland Sands-wannabe still tries to hammer every clapped-out CB350 and Sportster into. If you’re lucky enough to find yourself in a position to be able to acquire a Manx (replicas aren’t even that expensive) you know you want one. I’d put lights and a Fatbar on mine and call it a day. Possibly a vintage king/queen seat and sissy bar.
At the opposite end of the Thumper continuum would be the Himalayan, built in India by Indians for Indians, but now available for North Americans for a mere $4,999. It’s a bit crude compared to its Japanese and German counterparts, but then so are most of us over 50. The Royal Enfield also scored top marks in the other area where fogies are most concerned – comfort! – in our recent Baja comparison. If you’re into ADV on the cheap and/or getting most efficiently from Early Bird Special to bingo night to Blanche’s double-wide for a nightcap and home again in time to put the cat out, the Himalayan could be your bike.
The semi-centegenerian MOron cohort nearly burned out the MO mainframe digitally stimulating themselves when the new Kawasaki Z900RS appeared on scene last year, but what most of them are actually willing to pay for (and half already own), is this bike, produced beginning in 2001 (preceded by the ZRX1100 beginning in ’97). Bullet- and mostly idiot-proof, these are right up there at the top of the burly oaf per-dollar/ex-wife hates it ratio with the Suzuki Bandit 1200, but with more beer-gut in a tucked-in John Force t-shirt style.
Hah, you thought I’d go for the fabulously utilitarian Honda NC750X, didn’t you? Instead, here’s the bike Honda shamelessly copied: The heavenly Mana invented the big storage compartment (with drain!) where the gas tank should be. It’s powered by a glorious 839 cc V-twin in a genuine steel trellis frame cranking out over 50 horsepower (plenty). The best part is the 7-speed CVT transmission, which you can put in SPORT mode and shift manually with either your left thumb and forefinger or your left foot – at which point you’re almost equipped with the latest in seamless gearbox MotoGP technology, but getting 50 mpg and going unnoticed past the paparazzi. Basically, the Mana is an Italian V-twin scooter. Tres chic, tres convenient, and tres cheap. Aprilia started production in 2007; $4 or 5 large will get you a low-miles nearly new one, leaving plenty in the IRA even after the 10% early-withdrawal fee for a new pair of Bruno Maglis and to upgrade your Match.com account.
(If you’re happily celibate, ask your doctor if you’re healthy enough to ride a Suzuki Burgman 650.)
Ten years or more ago, I knew about ten ex-motorcycle journalists who all rode Bandit 1200s. Now I know about five who upgraded by downsizing to a Versys 650 for their daily transport, and couldn’t be happier. About their motorcycle, anyway. Heck, our east coast correspondent Chris Kallfelz just bought a new LT with his own actual money, and at least one other MO editor will admit to owning one too. No names. The LT version comes with hard bags, making it just about as convenient as a VW Beetle. On a lot of our favorite riding roads, the little Versys can keep up with almost anything and is usually ahead of most things. You can’t bludgeon one to death with a didgeridoo. It’s the Bilbo Baggins of motorcycles.
(See also: Suzuki V-Strom 650 and 1000.)
The Grom is Honda’s biggest-selling streetbike, and something tells me the generational pull of the all-new Monkey 125 is going to set off a wave of second childhoods bigger than the Housing Bubble of 2007. Who among us won’t find $3,999 in the pornstar slush fund to keep one of these around the house to ride around the corner, goatee in the wind, to impress Tracy Coleman? For every one of us late-bloomer Boomers who had parents gullible enough to buy us one of these, 50 more stood around with our metaphorical shorts around our ankles committing adultery in our 10-year-old hearts. It’s our turn now.
I could insert just about any BMW Boxer here, really, but the GS outsells the rest of them handily and why not? Nothing says rugged outdoorsy mountain man like pulling up to the salon to have your roots touched up on one of these babies in your mud-spattered $1500 Klim suit. I think we all know what those two big jugs jutting from between your legs signify, and there’s a vas deferens between this original adventure bike and all the latecomers. Depending on how the legs are holding up at your age, something in a lighter Triumph 800 triple might be a better choice, but you’ve probably got another ten years before it’s time to think about downsizing. In the meantime, you don’t have to let on that the GS is in fact a nicer place to sit than your Barcalounger.
I was tempted to put the new Honda Gold Wing in here, which I’m definitely attached to, but after I rode this thing back from Portland last month in a day-and-a-third, I’m going to throw the Bad-Decision-Makers Without-a-Pot to-Piss-in crowd a bone. For roughly half what a new ’Wing would cost you, Yamaha’s very tasty 847cc Triple is 90% as comfortable for my 170-pound butt, probably just as fast in a straight line and faster in a squiggly one. It comes with cruise control, quickshifter, a centerstand, heated grips and hard bags… passengers are down with it, too, and it gets 45 mpg. What’s missing are GPS, Infotainment and isinglass curtains you can roll right down in case there’s a change in the weather. Gee, my phone already has that stuff, and there is a socket right there to charge it up. The clincher is this: It weighs less than 500 pounds. Less is more this time. The defense rests, your Honors.
Heed the call of the wild before it calls you to dinner. The CRF250L is a little too soft and unpowerful, the Africa Twin is too damn big, the XR650L is too fat and old, the KTM EXC 500 is too expensive and orange… well, at $10,399, this new Honda is also pricier than I’d hoped it would be, but what the hell. Write it off as exercise equipment, which you need more of. Sounds like this will be a genuine rip-snorter instead of a sanitized playbike, with serious suspension, an electric starter (curse you, my ex XR400), street legality in all 50 states and a wet weight of 289 pounds. Our man Brent will be off to ride it mid-September, but my only question about this one is why it took so long for Honda to build it? Also, can I get the employee discount?
Re: You could use some exercise, see also: Yamaha Ebikes
Who am I to question the biggest-selling big motorcycle in Great American recorded history? The fact that the Street Glide hasn’t won any of our recent comparisons (though it always wins “Cool Factor”) can not detract from the fact that, as many of our brethren achieve the half-century mark and beyond, the soothing rumble of the mighty Milwaukeean V-Twin, the cut of that batwing jib and the jingle of the ride bell calls them home just as surely as the aroma of mom zapping a frozen Costco apple pie in the microwave… ahhhhh. I’ve seen guys I never thought would succumb, some of the best minds of my generation, trade in their KTM 990s and GS1000s, their leather onesies and knee pucks for chaps and skid lids. No one understands it, least of all H-D, which keeps experimenting with the secret formula with little success. No doubt they’ll eventually succeed with the next generation they’re currently incubating. The heart wants what the heart wants.
Get out there and ride, people.