Zen and the Art of Buying a Motorcycle

I am an occasional user of Facebook. I first got an account just to keep an eye on my kids. Over time, however, I “ran into” a lot of old friends and it was great making connections with them. Although I probably look at my page every day or so, I rarely post anything new to it. I’m annoyed by people who constantly twitter whatever they’re doing at the time, no matter how uninteresting it may be to others. Too often, their twitters are simple subtle (or not so subtle) crowing.

I don’t think I was guilty of this myself, but, perhaps so, when I set my status a couple of weeks to indicate that “Manny is looking for the ideal motorcycle.” For sure, it indicates that I can economically and psychologically afford spending money on a dangerous toy. Someday, I’ll write a post summarizing the idea of “biological handicaps and mating rituals”. The idea (not mine) is that the same way that some animals have ridiculous physical handicaps (e.g. peacock plumes), humans exhibit “handicaps” (long fingernails, expensive cars, anorexic bodies) that similarly say, “you should have sex with me because I’m so cool that I can handle the burden of this stupidity.”

What surprised me about the post was the number of responses that I got from my friends. No, not a single woman offered to have sex with me (not even my wife who is very hesistant to support or discourage my plan in any way). Rather, a bunch of guys all chimed in with advice about what motorcycle to buy.

What a great conversation opener! Several people whom I didn’t know rode motorcyles, gave me valuable insights and offered up pictures of their own bikes. I got so much traffic, I had to “clear” my Facebook status.

In addition to talking to friends, I’ve also been visiting a lot of motorcycle dealerships. There’s actually not that many of them in the Seattle area. I think our weather has a lot to do with this (riding is mostly a summer event around here), but the economy is playing a role, too. A Honda dealership in Seattle closed down recently.

Each dealer, of course, tries to steer you to whatever they think they can sell you. If you go in asking for a sport bike, they’ll tell you that a 100hp+ bike with a ton of torque is just fine for beginners. Ditto if you ask for a 250cc off-roader or a 2000cc touring bike.

My favorite approach, however, was the one taken by the BMW dealer. He asked, “what is your fantasy?”. He clearly understood that, when people are buying motorcycles, they’re buying more than transportation. True, people who buy Porsche’s or Prius’ are driven by fantasies, too, but those who buy Toyota Camrys are just looking at getting from point A to point B.

My motorcycle fantasy involves several things:

  • A bike that’s comfortable to ride (not easy being 6’6″)
  • One that will be easy to handle (I am a newbie rider)
  • A bike that’s underpowered enough to keep me out of trouble (while I learn) but powerful enough to take me on short (<500 mile) tours without rattling my bones too much
  • A bike that fits my personality

The first 3 points are mostly one’s of geometry and engineering. The last point, however, is much more difficult to quantify. Certain bikes are associated with certain personalities. Here are some personal observations/stereotypes:

  • Harley Davidson – someone who buys an HD would probably buy a Hummer. 20 years ago, an HD rider would work as a bouncer at a dive bar. Today, an HD rider is probably upper-middle class, 50 years old, and rides less than 1000 miles a year.
  • Ducati – this person would probably buy a Land Rover or Jaguar in spite of their terrible quality records. Probably a 40-year old, overpaid, middle-manager or lawyer.
  • BMW – drives a Lexus LS460 sedan and buys $100 Bordeaux’s. A 40-year old successful executive.
  • Anything Japanese – a baby boomer who’s never bought an American car. Shops at Whole Foods.
  • Triumph/Indian/Beull/Moto Guzzi – anyone who doesn’t fit into the above categories

Personally, I love the looks of the retro bikes (Triumph, Indian), do not fit on a Ducati, and can’t quite bring myself to pay BMW prices. Ultimately, I’ll want a touring bike (maybe HD, maybe not), but will probably start out Japanese (Suzuki V-Strom 650).

In spite of the grueling personal self-examination that’s involved, I’m having fun looking at motorcycles. I take my safety class at the end of February and hope to be on the road by mid-March!