I ran into a couple of friends at the local BMW dealer the other day (they’re kind of a big deal). We started talking shop when Liz hits me with “What’s your all-time favorite bike and why?”
Me, a guy who doesn’t know when to shut up, totally at a loss for words, simply didn’t have a good answer.
I’m sure I’m not the first to say it, but “I’ve never had a bad time on a motorcycle”. Some motorcycles are certainly better than others, but when you’re riding within the intended design of the bike, it’s tough to have a bad time on two wheels, even if it’s not preferred taste.
Sadly, I’ve owned a whopping three motorcycles (and a scooter). Compared to some moto-journos and a lot of “Sunny and 70” riders, that’s not very many. Fortunately, unsuspecting fools continue to hand me keys, despite my reputation…
Over the weekend I loaded the 250L on the back of the Jeep and headed down to Kentucky for an Off-road “Poker Run” and Sherco Demo event. That meant I spent 6 hours alone in the jeep; plenty of time to contemplate the answer to this question. After riding 4 new dirt bikes, it occurred to me that I’d ridden over 10 different bikes in the last two months. After which I started making a tally of all the bikes I’ve ridden since getting my endorsement (published HERE if you’re curious).
“All-time favorite”, when you love so many bikes and enjoy virtually every variety of riding, how do you choose a single bike as a favorite? Hence my speechless response to the question. Numb from highway monotony (at least the mountains and exposed cliffs were pretty), I felt the best way to answer this question is to evaluate the bikes I have against the other bikes that I really like. Then, Would I be willing to give up said bike to attain the “better” bike?
The first order of business is to choose a favorite between the two bikes living in my stable. The CRF250L has been a real game-changer for me.
The “Too Fatty” day trips to my favorite remote parts of the Bluegrass, it races horribly, but it finishes when others do not. But, when push comes to shove, would I keep it over the Scrambler? Probably not. The 250L is by far better in the dirt than the Scrambler, but the thought of spending more than an hour on the expressway is pretty painful. It’s capable, but it’s just not fun. Riding the 250L means “taking the road less traveled”, by definition. I like the flexibility of riding on-road and off, and if needed, burning 6 hours down the interstate to reach superior riding opportunities. Rosie the Scrambler still rules the roost, so now the question is, have I ridden another bike I like better?
On paper, virtually every motorcycle on that list is “better” than a Triumph Scrambler. By now I’d hope most of us understand that stats are a small part of what we love about a given machine (more for some folks than others). In conversations with Andy, I realized I have a taste, and there are certain things that really grab me; “engine character” chiefly among them, but more on that in a minute. When I look at that list, a couple of great bikes really stand out: the Yamaha FZ-07, the Moto Guzzi V85TT, and the KTM 790 Adventure.
The FZ-07 was a bike that hit me out of nowhere, so much so I wrote about it. I was all about riding the new XSR900 when it came out, but I was totally taken by the Ef-Zed’s peppy twin. Yamaha’s 700 mill is everything the 865 British mill brings to the table, and more. That said, while I suspect the FZ-07 can, and has been modified to Scramble, with a 17” front wheel, I still think the British twin is more up to the task of overlanding. If Rosie were to ever leave the Scrambler farm, she would have to be replaced by a bike that does everything she can, and more.
This spring I ran down to Blue Ash to take a test ride on the new Moto Guzzi V85TT. 853cc V-twin engine with shaft drive, spoked wheels, and over 6 inches of suspension travel, what’s not to like (except perhaps the Ronald McDonald paint)? I like twin-cylinder engines, and the transverse-V on the Guzzi would likely make the valve clearance checks a lot easier. Piling miles on the odometer would probably be a lot less painful with shaft drive, considering how much we all love chain maintenance… The V85TT has that new wiz-bang, programmable TFT display, throttle by wire, and cruise control.
That 850 V-twin has a lot more juice than the air-cooled Trumpet mill. At a stoplight the bike shook and vibrated like a Harley and twisted laterally when you revved the engine like a BMW boxer; that annoys a lot of people, but I love engines with character, that was one of my favorite parts of the bike. However, when you sped away from a stop, that vibration melted away almost instantly, making for a relaxing tour or sporting ride depending on your mood. The V85TT was probably my favorite middleweight adventure bike after I rode it. It certainly felt capable, made me giggle in my helmet with every twist of the throttle, but it felt heavy at low speeds and ultimately carries a pretty hefty price tag. I would LOVE to have one, but I don’t think I’m ready to trade my high-pipe hipster bike to get one.
In the local adventure rider circle, I suspect I have a reputation for giving KTM (and owners) a hard time. Needless to say, the orange marque has a reputation for a reason, yet I’m helpless from stirring the pot. A few months ago a buddy of mine traded his Tiger 800 XRx (which I had just ridden a few months earlier) for the new KTM 790 Adventure S. I was on the porch wrenching when he stopped by with his new ride and offered me the keys. I accepted the offer but insisted that he ride along on the 250L (to prove the seat height is VERY approachable). The having ridden the 990 (in 2 flavors) and swung a leg over the 1290, the 790 is easily the runt of the litter. No beef with me, I like being “on” the motorcycle, more so than “in” it. Not everyone’s cup of tea, especially in the adventure community (some folks like to be encapsulated), but the 790 is an appropriately sized adventure bike, not a water buffalo. On the street the suspension was spot on, the engine was peppy, but the balance of that bike is easily what stood out to me the most. After no more than 1 mile on the bike,
I was completely comfortable standing up on the pegs, letting go of the handlebars, and steering with my feet. The center of gravity on the 790 is literally in the basement; it’s incredible. When we got back from the ride, I was very blatant when I told my buddy, “If you ever decide to sell that bike, I want right of first refusal”. I unabashedly say that 790 is the best “scrambler” on the market. It’s light, feels even lighter, the suspension is spot on (ideally off-road too), it picks up the front wheel with little effort; for the riding I like to do, it’s the best adventure bike I’ve ridden to date. Alas, I don’t find the engine particularly endearing. KTMs LC8 engines have always felt “pingy” to me; like riding around in George Jetson’s space car with a box of wrenches clamoring around in the valve train (and people say the Triumph sewing machine is noisy). KTM’s new parallel twin feels and sounds the exact same way. Don’t get me wrong, this IS NOT an insult to KTM; it’s merely the fact that their twin-cylinder power plants just don’t make my socks go up and down. They make incredible power, they unquestionably “do the thing”, but it was simply not love at first sight for me.
My All-Time Favorite
Sentimental attachment is a crazy thing. Go browse some Craig’s List ads and you’ll see it immediately; someone’s 1996 XR650L is apparently made of solid gold. The V85TT and the 790 Adventure could both replace the Scrambler in every category (except perhaps ease of maintenance… maybe), but there’s still something about the stone ax parked out front that turns my gears. My buddy Rick said motorcycles “are like beer and guns, the next one is my favorite”. Having lusted after the Tiger 800 for so long, I would tend to agree with him. I felt the Scrambler was a stepping stone or a sister bike to the eventual acquisition of a “big boy” adventure bike. On the flip side, I’ve heard a few podcasters say “The best motorcycle is the one you own now”. As of this moment, that’s definitely the case for me.
I really love the way the FZ07 and the V85TT make me feel, and I also love the 790 Adventure because I know what I am capable of with a tool like that at my disposal. That said, I’m not (yet) willing to let go of the history I have with my beloved Scrambler. It’s still the best bike for the type of riding I like to do (most of the time).
It’s all about the engine. The engine is the soul of the machine. You can swap out shocks, wheels, bars; you can weld a frame, and despite having the ability to “swap” an engine, that engine is the most lifelike appendage of all of the other components that make up a motorcycle. I love mid-range power with a table-top flat torque curve. I love how the scrambler pulls from idle, steady to the red line.
I also love its unremarkable nature. With 60 horsepower (on paper), I’m not winning any Grand Prix races. At 500 pounds, I’m certainly not winning and hare scrambles. That unremarkable engine, however, keeps ticking; despite the abuse thrown at it. Certainly not infallible, but that British mill is still damn reliable; and despite dual overhead cams, it’s easy to work on (I mean, if an Army Enlisted Mechanical Engineer can do it…). The engine, the sweet sound of its 270-degree firing order, its vanilla reputation, and its ability to do almost anything makes me love that bike. Getting on about 4 years of ownership, it’s still about smiles per mile; all those digits on the Odometer making up the memories of the places we’ve been and the obstacles we’ve overcome.
What about you?
N+1 is real. I’ve spent the last couple of months doing a lot of homework on acquiring a dedicated dirt machine for racing and trail riding. There’s no doubt my eyes have been on “the next bike”, despite my passion for the ones I have. Is “the next bike” or the “the bike you own” your all-time favorite motorcycle? Or is it a bike you let slip away years ago and wish you could have back today?