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.
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.
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.
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
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
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
"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.
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
"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
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.