Wheels24 responds: Buying a bike

2013-02-14 08:06

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.


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.


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...

  • simonfishley - 2013-02-14 08:22

    Honda are bringing out a new CBR500 soon that looks like it is going to be nice and affordable. Might be worth hanging in there to check it out. 500cc is a nice, middle of the road compromise between efficiency and power. I ride a CBR250R to work and home every day and it is just about perfect as a commuter but on the weekends, I wish for a few more cc's so me and the wife could pop up the West Coast for lunch.

  • carl.behrens - 2013-02-14 09:05

    Excellent recommendations. I would add a Triumph street triple and Honda CBF 600 to that shortlist. But if it was my money and I wanted a commuter the NC700X would be my choice. With some of the others bikes on the shortlist, maintenance might just surprise you, a bike is more expensive to run than you might think. Not always a money saver, but the time you save everyday will more than make up for it.

  • tilovonbrandis - 2013-02-14 09:21

    I am riding a Versys 650 and I find it an excellent commuter, the short wheel base helps with turning when moving between cars, with a top speed of over 200 you can cruise easily at 160 - 170 when needed, and it is an exciting bike to ride.

  • joe.muhr.14 - 2013-02-14 09:35

    Good choices indeed. I would maybe add the Triumph Tiger 800 or the BMW F800GS to that list. Good road bikes, plenty fast enough, quite comfortable over longer distances and can tackle a fair bit of dirt tracking if he wishes to return to his roots now and then. Oh and I fully agree: please be aware that riding in traffic is nothing at all like riding off road. Trees tend to stay put and don't (usually) swerve into your path without indicating. Please be careful.

  • jaco.hattingh1 - 2013-02-14 09:55

    A Honda Hornet 600 is brilliant for commuting as well as the occational track day. The returned CBR600RR mill is brilliant.

  • Bantsijang - 2013-02-14 10:41

    Cruisers, like the Harley Sportster, are comfortable over longer distances but unwieldy in traffic and less economical that Japanese twins and fours.... Agree.....

  • richard.buhr - 2013-02-14 11:06

    The BMW F650GS is an excellent commuter. It depends though if you want to ride the bike at other times too, with or without a passenger and whether you want to explore dirt roads too. I personally commute on a BMW R1200GS and found it a bit bulky at first, but quite used to it now. I do touring and sometimes (OK fine, I mean every chance I get) go dirt road riding too. It really is a case of horses for courses. I'd recommend against a superbike for commuting or getting a large capacity bike off the bat. Also remember that a 600cc single cylinder dual purpose bike is a very, very different beast to a 600cc 4 cylinder superbike. Safe riding :-)

  • francoisswart0 - 2013-02-14 11:23

    I would add the KTM 390 Duke (they claim "nowhere will you find more motorcycle per euro.) and the 690 Duke to the list.

  • jarrydks - 2013-02-14 11:24

    Hi everyone. I just wanted to say a HUGE thanks to Dries and the team at Wheels24 for being so incredibly helpful and generous with their advice. And to all that posted, it is incredible to see how willing the biking community is to help out a newbie. Some great suggestions from everyone and at this stage (as i hopefully wrap up the sale of my Fortuner), it looks like i'll be going the KTM Duke 690 R route... opinions and thoughts welcome!

  • wernervanaswegen - 2013-02-14 11:49

    Personally I'd probably go for the NC700X. The bike just makes sense as a commuter. I own a F800ST and though I enjoy and love it the bike has not been without its issues. Maybe I just bought a dud.The F800ST was never very popular though so good luck finding a new one. What I like about it is the heated grips for winter and the ABS. Also, it has a drive belt instead of a chain so there's no maintenance there for at least 40000km. Just don't drop the bike. Even cosmetic damage could cost you a small fortune for what is essentially painted plastic. One side of the front fairing consisting of two pieces will set you back R7500...

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