I’ve been working from home going about two months now. In that time I’ve been keeping up with friends on Instagram, messenger, and whatnot, and the same question keeps coming up, “what two-stroke are you looking at buying?” Since I love the sound of my own voice, or typographical monologue as it were, and I love playing this game (as you may recall), along with answering that question, I decided to put a new twist on a common theme: how many motorcycles do you need?
Peter Egan, a far superior author compared to yours truly, once penned an article on this very subject. Peter’s preface was that while most of us mortals insist that N+1 is the correct formula for the number of bikes a given person needs; however, taking into account the necessary maintenance, the minimum amount of miles a given machine needs to move to stay in good running order, and so on, it’s much more practical to have a manageable number of bikes. With that, he also suggested that you should have a bike for a specific purpose or type of riding. If memory serves, Peter suggested that 4 was the magic number; something sporty, a travel bike, something vintage, and something for off-roading. Far be it for me to argue with Mr. Egan… but I’m going to suggest that the magic number is actually 5.
When starting a collection of motorcycles, this is probably the first member of the team. If your goal is five, but you only own one, the only motorcycle you have is obviously the workhorse. This bike is your commuter, your Sunday cruiser, and regardless of model, it’s your do-it-all machine because you have no alternative.
Even after stuffing multiple bikes in the garage, I still think it’s wise to keep a jack-of-all-trades, master-of-none machine in the stable. A machine capable of doing many tasks in all weather conditions. Something you’re not afraid to scratch, leave out in the rain or drop in the parking lot. I will also suggest that over time, the emotional connection between man and machine tends to make it hard to part with a given bike. As miles pile on, this bike becomes the go-to machine for various errands when “better” bikes are preserved for specific tasks (or trophy status); reminds me of a Scrambler I know, but more on that in a moment.
Peter Egan and I agree on this one for sure. While not everyone’s cup of tea, for those that are interested in traveling by way of motorcycle, there are creature comforts most of us want for spending long days in the saddle. Most folks would assume a touring bike is something akin to a Gold Wing, Yamaha FJR, or Harley bagger of some variety. Those would certainly fit the bill, but for someone like myself, a larger displacement adventure bike might align more with my taste in riding (rumor is R1200GSAs are starting to dominate the Iron Butt Rally… so I hear anyway). Ultimately I want a machine that makes it easy to ride from sun up to sundown, just to turn around and do it again the next day. Heated grips, luggage, and wind protection are likely high on the list for many riders. With that, I personally want accommodations for navigation, while others will insist on a 200-mile fuel range before setting out on a long trip.
Per my previous comments, I imagine that the average Joe envisions some sort of luggage shod land yacht when they hear “touring”. On the flip side, some folks pack light, don summerwear under a riding suit, and spend most of their travels off-road. That being the case, I see bikes like the Versys 650, the venerable KLR, or even the Triumph Bonneville in this category for the right riders. Grant Johnson from Horizons Unlimited has said on multiple occasions that the bike you own right now is usually the best bike to ride around the world. There are always better bikes for long trips, but any bike can assume that role when needed (which may require small sacrifices elsewhere). This is obviously a common theme for me, using one tool for many jobs, but as far as touring is concerned, I’m most concerned about all-day comfort, reliability, and ease of maintenance considering this machine is likely to rack up miles a lot faster than the rest of the fleet.
A few years back, my buddy, Andy said he needed a new “scratcher”. A born and raised Midwesterner, still new to the motorcycle scene, I had no idea what he meant. Turns out, he was saying that he was itching to get another sporty machine for the paved twisty bits; a bike that might (unfortunately) end up “scratched” by pavement, hence the British slang.
At any rate, wrestling the pig down the likes of The Dragon and the Cherohala Skyway each fall, it became apparent that my “Modern Classic” doesn’t exactly have the most impressive lean angle. It will certainly “do the thing”, mounted with the correct pilot, but for me, “maximum lean angle” is most likely a byproduct of the crash. As such, at some point in this life, I want to have lightweight, sportier steed fitted with dual 17-inch hoops and some aggressive rubber. For street fairing riders, especially here on the east coast, I suspect that most would benefit from skipping the full-faired, clip-on fitted bikes and perusing the growing “sport naked” class of bikes that are available today. Different strokes for different folks obviously (especially if you want to do track days with frequency), but I like the versatility (there’s that word again) of the wide handlebar and upright seating on bikes like the 790 Duke, Yamaha MT-07, or even the Ducati Hypermotard. Certainly “sport” riding may be of no interest to some, but in my case, I’d still like to hustle a motorcycle through a long stretch of bendy tarmac with more precision and a little less effort than my daily rider. Considering the popularization of the before mentioned naked bikes, the sea of 90’s era sportbikes, and the lifespan of supermotos like the DR-Z400, the bike of choice for this job is pretty endless. I personally like really tight, technical roads versus high speeds and long sweepers, so a Supermoto or small-displacement naked would likely be my choice. I suspect the answers to this question will be nearly as diverse as the next battle scared category.
The Dirt Bike
Speaking of scratches, buy a dirt bike… and an extra set of plastics while you’re at it. I presently have two multi-tools parked in the shed, neither of which is exceedingly competent at dirt riding. The CRF250L and I are making our best go at aggressive off-road riding, but there’s no question we’re both carrying too many el-bees around the waistline. Considering most plate-less thumpers tip the scale around 250, that means the Too Fatty is outclassed by the average dirt bike by about 70 pounds. Around a foot of suspension travel with matching ground clearance is pretty standard (the Little Red Pig might have ¾ of that), fitted with hardy spoked rims these machines are unquestionably meant to be crashed and keep riding (and racing) with significantly less drama. Like most things, dedicated dirt bikes come at a premium. That “race-ready” suspension and thoroughbred powerplant pedigree means a few dollars more; but at the same time, the premium bits make for an easier ride when you learn the techniques (much like those sportbikes).
Again, not for everyone, but now that I’ve been exposed to dedicated motorcycle singletrack, I’ve been bitten by the bug for a proper off-road machine. I’m sure I’ll miss the flexibility and street manners of a dual-sport, but if we’re stuffing the garage with two-wheeled toys, most folks would benefit from improving their skills in a low traction environment. Moreover, addiction aside, one of the best parts of riding singletrack in the woods is that you don’t have to be riding that fast to experience the same level of focus you might experience riding at speed on pavement. Which also makes for lesser consequences when you make mistake (but I digress).
As I’m learning every day, dirt bikes also come in infinite flavors, including engine architecture. Do you want a 2-stroke or 4-stroke engine? You want a motocross bike, trials, or an enduro? Meanwhile, a lot of these machines can be purchased with DOT light packages and license plates. They still have a racing thoroughbred but have street-legal equipment to connect trails (a welcome addition for us peasants here on the east coast).
As I said, dirt isn’t for everyone, but I’ve published no less than two articles outlining the advantages of off-road riding. Ultimately I think it’s a safer way to teach new riders how to start riding a motorcycle, it’s a great way to keep your balance and low traction skills sharp; along with serious fitness advantages if you’re so inclined.. That and well, power-slides, wheelies, and hill climbs are just fun.
Motorcycles are different things for different people. For me, it’s a means of travel and adventure. “The road is the destination” is a very real thing for me; albeit, they’re often dirt roads. On the flip-side, I’ve met a few people who like to buy a bike, customize it, ride it for a short bit, then find a new project. They enjoy hours in the garage as much, if not more so than time in the saddle. For these folks or anyone else with an emotional attachment to a machine, they need a project bike.
The project bike is the “just because” addition to the garage. For some, it’s some vintage machine they’ve had some love affair with. They may have become the caretaker of a bike that once belonged to a family member who has since passed. For others, it’s the Ducati Panigale or Harley Fat Bob you just wanted to have, even if you had no justification for owning it based on your “normal” lifestyle.
Considering my own affinity for high-piped British twins, Rosie will likely take up residence in this category at some point. I assume no one would offer me a dime for that machine (considering its history), so I suspect I’ll be nursing that bike into old age where she’ll no longer be the daily rider. However, considering the infinite combinations Bonnevilles come in, she’s the perfect platform for a project, if she’s not that already.
What’s In Your Dream Garage?
A few days ago I caught an Instagram post from @OfficialTriumph asking people to fill out their top 5 Triumphs to put in their dream garage. I’ve been wanting to revisit this topic for some time, but there’s no doubt that post is what spurred inspiration to put words to paper for this article. I’m a nerd and like to have “tools” for certain jobs, so I have “classes” of bikes I want to fill, similar to Mr. Egan. That said, sometimes you just want toys, and those toys are kind of the flavor of the month. I obviously made a list like this one way back when, and at the time the Triumph Tiger 800 was on the top of that list. While it’s still a contender today, tastes change, and it’s probably not the breadwinner here (that new 900 is a solid contender though). If money were no object, and I could walk into dealerships tomorrow, I’ve listed the bikes I’d bring home to fill these categories below.
So, what’s in your dream garage?
My picks as of right this minute:
The Workhorse: Yamaha Tenere 700 (Runner Up: KTM 790 Adventure R)
The Tourer: Moto Guzzi V85TT (RU: Honda Africa Twin)
The Scratcher: KTM 500 EXC [2 sets of wheels #SumoIsLife] (RU: Yamaha MT-07)
Dirtbike: KTM 300 XC-w (TPI) (RU: KTM 500 EXC)
The Project: Triumph Scrambler “Rosie”
(post publishing edit: I stand corrected. Thanks to some homework from my buddy Tom, Peter Egan’s article suggested 5 bikes, A sport bike, a sport touring bike, a dirt bike, a hog of some kind, and an old crock)
Damn good article and now you have me thinking.
My picks would be: The Workhorse: My current Triumph Tiger (Runner Up: BMW 850 GS The Tourer: Triumph Tiger 900 (RU: Suzuki VStrom 1000) The Scratcher: Suzuki DRZ400S (RU: Ducati Desert Sled) Dirtbike: Yamaha WR250 (RU: Honda XR400…if I could find one) The Project: Honda CRF 250 Rally…I’m sure theirs a way we can shoehorn a XR400 engine in there some how
Solid choices. I fussed over my list for several days, and changed it moments before publishing this article.
The Desert Sled and Tiger 900 were both heavy contenders on my list as well.
XR400s are available here in SW Ohio. Also, the Cb500x engine fits on the 250L frame… let that stew for a bit LOL!
Always fun to read your (and others’) musings. I do recall the Peter Egan article to which you referred, and understand that a part of the background to that article transpired way South of the Border back when MotoDiscovery was still called Pancho Villa Moto Tours. Operated from the inception by owners Skip and Nancy Mascorro, their tours have united adventurous motorcyclists from all over the world. Rumor has it that somewhere in the Copper Canyon area, the topic of “how many bikes…” was discussed at length one evening over a cerveza or three between Egan and the other participants on that tour. I staffed a tour or two for Skip during that period, and would have donated my left gonad to have had the privilege of working that one. IIRC, one of Egan’s selections was a bagger for crossing those impossible states like Nebraska, which lie in the way of more tasty destinations from Egan’s Wisconsin. …and a classic Brit bike, too, of course.
Having managed to downsize last summer from an all-time high of 12 bikes running and insured in the same garage (still scratching my head on that one) to just a single bike, the do-everything bike remaining for me was a current Suzuki V-Strom 650. With suspension/seat/windshield upgrades, it’s adequate to carry my lady and me pretty much as far as we ever want to go travelling most road surfaces over a several-week on-road tour, dependable and simple enough that most maintenance gets done at home, and not some up-on-a-pedestal prize I’m worried sick it will get scratched or stolen.
If we get beyond these shelter inside days anytime soon, Ill add either a “scratcher” (Z400 Kawasaki comes to mind) or a retro bike (Royal Enfield 650 Interceptor). Plenty enough.
Still, my heart warms to the recollections of opening the garage and at one time seeing a nice example of each of Honda’s market failures of the early ’90s — Transalp, GB500, CB750, Pacific Coast, NX250 and NX650, and a HawkGT — each an incredibly wonderful bike in its own way. Glad I had them; glad they’re gone. The Ducatis and neo-Triumps, too.
I think a big part of the answer to “How Many?” is simply “How many batteries do you want to tend and how many carbs do you want to clean?”
It’s funny, you were desribing that article and more was coming back to me. Just as I was crafting a response to your comment, my buddy Tom sent me a copy of the original article (I edited my original post).
You’re dead on, I used to think adding a second bike meant cutting the maintenance frequency in half. Some of that is true, but it’s still more like doubling it than halfing it.
While we all dream of a garage full of toys. I suspect the reality, after years of experience, may prove 2 or 3 is a more logical number… despite the fact you can only ride 1 bike at a time.
PS, I want to take a TransAlp for a spin at some point.
Careful: Taking a Transalp for a spin can be habit forming. John Powell, previous owner of Ironhorse M/C Lodge in Stecoah, NC (where you gave that informative seminar one night about changing tube tires using zip ties) has one. If you’re ever back there for a Triumph Raid or such, I’m sure he would be pleased to let you hop on it. He took over the tradition of Transalps in the Blue Ridge after I had had my fun with it, and held the rally each fall at Ironhorse. Don’t know his future plans now that he and Charlene have sold.
The Transalp is one of those cult bikes whose followers love them for being a bike that does nothing exceptionally well but many things reasonably well. Ten years ahead of its time, Honda gave the American market credit for being smarter than they looked.
If you can’t cop a spin on John’s bike, I can probably talk the purchaser of my last Transalp into letting you try it. John’s is stock; mine was really well-sorted, and a pleasure to ride. Cleveland, GA area for a geographic reference.
When you mentioned the TransAlp I immediately thought of John’s. Hosting the Scramble, it’s probably a matter of time before someone throws a set of keys at me.
Ello mate well written and very thought provoking thanks!!
Personally I have 4 bikes and this is near to my ideal:
Touring Yamaha FJR1300. We have been around alot of Europe and for a 1000km day in the saddle this for me the go to bike. In Spain I got off the ferry in Barcelona and headed down to the south of Spain and this bike simply came back for more!! Ran great even when the ambient temp hit 40 degrees!!!
Scratching Yamaha MT10SP. NOT good for 2 up and indeed the insurance will not cover me to carry a passenger!! But smiles per mile is amazing…..
Every day bike TMax 530. Sooooooo effortless and comfortable and lazy, just gets on with it. I even rode her down from the Midlands to Roma in 2 days, easy as pie.
Offroader: Raptor 700R Quad. Fun fun fun and fairly safe fun too. Mmmmmm.
As I’ve given up on getting bikes services, each one of my bikes is a project now. I’ve only screwed up in small ways, so I’ll have to strike that from my list.
The Workhorse: GSA (Runner up: current bike a Versys 1000)
The Tourer: K1600GTL with GT seat ( Runner up: Honda Goldwing maybe )
The Scratcher: Pan America (Runner up: Guzzi V85)
Dirtbike: Versys 300 is about as close I’m gonna get (Runner Up: CB500X)
Given I would not want four bikes, I’d probably end up selling most of these.
My problem is, that I can´t categorize like this and constantly fall in love with bikes that “speak” to me and unfortunately they these are either ADV bikes or those with a very special engine sound. So my ADV bike is a Triumph Tiger Explorer. The engine-drug is my T120 black and another one which to me combines both is the MG V85TT. So I´d be save with the three bikes rule, but I have a really hard argument with myself “Do I really need three bikes and do two ADV bikes make any sense?”. No conclusion as of yet.
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My current garage:
Workhorse: BMW 1200GS
Tourer: Triumph Bonneville T100
Scratcher: Ducati Monster EVO 1100
Dirtbike: KTM 690