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Wheels24 responds: Buying a bike

2013-02-14 08:06

WHICH BIKE SHOULD I BUY? We hope resident bike guru Dries Van der Walt has helped you Jarryd and other Wheels24 readers in choosing the perfect bike.

DRIES VAN DER WALT

As motoring journos we're often (read - on a daily basis) asked to weigh in on bike and car purchases. The question often posed to us, is usually along the lines of "Hey which car/bike do you think I should buy? I mean what's the best one..."

Ultimately the decision lies with personal choice but that doesn't mean we can't list a few suggestions.

Wheels24 reader Jarryd Smith is having a tough time deciding on a new ride, specifically of the two-wheeled variety.

Smith, an amateur motocross rider who has never ridden on the open road, wrote to us seeking advice.

Here's what he had to say: Somewhat shortened...

"I am a regular reader of Wheels24 and subscribe to the newsletter. As a motoring fan of all forms, I find myself 'stuck' as i potentially face a fork in the road in my transport-making decisions.

I have decided to sell my Fortuner and replace it for a bike (to commute to work and back). Yes, the ever-increasing petrol price as well as the general cost of living has lead me to this decision. Having said that, i have always wanted to own a street bike as i have raced in amateur motocross and completed numerous enduros.

I don’t want something large like a 1000cc super bike (even though I am not worried about speed - I regularly raced a 450 off-road) but I DO want something different. I want something that would give me enjoyment as well as being somewhat practical I suppose.

I love the idea of a super motard (aka KTM) or perhaps Honda's NC700x (too boring maybe?) or perhaps a bobber-styled bike (a bit like Harley Davidson's 883 Iron range).

My confusion? what on earth should i buy? I am competent on a bike (granted, only off-road and have only driven a scooter on tarmac) travel a measly distance of 14kms to work and home each day and don’t really want to spend more than R80 000-R100 000 on a bike..."

We passed Smith's request to our other motorcycling guru Dries van der Walt who enthusiastically leapt at the chance to offer advice.

Here's what he had to say:


“There are so many different bikes on the market that it boils down to personal preference more than anything else. That being said, your price range narrows things down a little.

The bike market is divided roughly into three engine-size categories: small capacity (125-300cc), mid-size (600-900cc) and big capacity (1 000cc and bigger). Since you state that you don't necessarily want a big-capacity bike, and I assume from your previous experience that you might not be interested in small-capacity bikes, I'll limit the discussion to mid-size bikes.

Before I do that, let's just talk about the ones you have mentioned.

A super motard is not a bad choice if you are going to use the bike for commuting and occasional runs to the shops, but it might prove to be uncomfortable over out-of-town distances. Cruisers, like the Harley Sportster, are comfortable over longer distances but unwieldy in traffic and less economical that Japanese twins and fours.

MANY BIKES, ONE CHOICE TO MAKE

Since you mentioned the Honda NC700X, I'll start with that. My opinion is that it is fantastic value for money and not as boring as you may think. Unless you are regularly going to exceed 160 km/h, the NC700X will do just fine. And it is just about the most economical mid-size bike I have tested.

The luggage space where the fuel tank is on other bikes is extremely practical, especially if you don't want to mar the bike's lines with a top box.

Yamaha's FZ-6R is also a good choice. Much sportier and more powerful than the Honda, it is also unfortunately more expensive. That being said, the FZ-6 motor is bulletproof. I own an FZ-6 S2 which has done 105 000 km without a single problem, excluding wear-and-tear items like clutch cables, disk pads and tyres.

Kawasaki's ER-6 is another good choice. Being quite torquey, it feels much quicker than the specs would let you believe. It is also compact and nimble, which makes great in traffic. It not too bad in the looks department.

Another Kawasaki that makes a good commuter is the Versys 650. It has the same engine as the ER-6, but it is quite a bit taller. Be advised that if you are shorter than around 1.7m, the Versys might be difficult to keep upright when you stop.
 
The Suzuki DL650 V-Strom impressed me tremendously. Like the Kawa it has good mid-range torque, which means that (unlike the FZ-6) you don't have to rev it to the limits to get usable power. The Strom's handling is also much better that one might think – I had fun throwing one at the curves over Long Tom Pass some months ago.

Suzuki's GSR750 is a pleasant bike, and it has looks going for it. It has a mean, purposeful appearance that attracts attention every time you stop. The GSR has inherited a lot of the sporty character of the GSX-R750 supersport machine (with which it shares an engine). On the downside, as a naked bike it offers very little in the way of wind protection at speed.

Slightly more upmarket is BMW's F800ST (and since recently, F800GT). It is a mini-tourer that is equally at home on the open road and in traffic. When I tested the F800ST I had expected to like it, but the bike impressed me much more than I thought. It is nimble and powerful, and comfortable enough to do serious long-distance riding with.

BMW's have a reputation for keeping their market value, so this might be the better investment.

OVERALL

That's just a quick, off-the-top-of-my-head roundup, so forgive me if I left anything out. The point is that there are a number of great bikes out there and ultimately the choice will depend on which one you like most. The best advice I have been given about buying a bike is to let the bike choose you, not the other way around.

Compile a shortlist of potential bikes and take each for a test ride – the right bike will let you know straight away.

A final word - please remember that riding in traffic is nothing like riding off-road. It requires a whole different skill set and brings unique challenges. Consider getting professional training before you take on the rush-hour madness.

Good luck with your decision, and do let us know what you have chosen. Also, feel free to ask if you want more advice.”

Do you have queries on car or bike purchases? Are you looking driving/riding advice? Email us and we'll publish your thoughts or use the Readers' Comments section below...

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