• My Favorite Beginner Bikes

    reprinted from BB.com , January 2004
    copyright owned by author

    My Favorite Beginner Bikes

    I was perusing the BB Buyers Guide and felt compelled to make a list of my fave bikes that are listed among the mighty links of our homepage. Some I've ridden, some I own, and others I'd love to sample for a day. Bear in mind that not all of the bikes appearing on this article make a wise choice for beginners, and these models are based on my personal styling and riding preferences. Let's slip our DOT approved eye protection on and take a good look at what I like about which models.

    First off we'll start with Harley Davidson's entry level model, the 883 Sportster. To date I've only ridden one Sportster, a 73 model with a modified frame featuring 45 rake and 10" over forks. Far from any beginner bike, not to mention the "backwards" foot controls on the early sportster's (shifter is on the right, rear brake pedal on the left...makes you really pay attention!). Despite all the awkwardness of that bike in a new rider's eyes (I had barely logged over a year's worth of riding when my friend let me take the bike for a spin), needless to say I was hooked on the chopper bug afterwards. So the Sportster really catches my eye whenever one rumbles by, and now with the 04 rubber mounted engines my fancy has once again been tickled. Why, I often ask myself, since the bike is basically not much of an eye catcher stock out of the crate. But then there's that aftermarket support that Harley carries in its wake, you can do anything you want limited solely by your pocketbook. I think the Sporty makes an awesome chopper, it's slim, lightweight, and zippy just like the old school chops, all it needs is some stretch and you have your basic chopper. Just to be different, in addition to longer forks I'd give mine a Lehman Trikes Bandit conversion. Customizing aside, it still begs the question: 883 or 1200? Since the weight is nearly identical between the two you have to ask yourself how much oomph you need, the 1200 is Harley's zippiest air-cooled bike but for beginner roles the 883 is a better choice. I loved the now discontinued 1200S Sport with adjustable front and rear suspension and dual spark plugs per cylinder, as far as looks go the C model (Custom) gets my nod in either size with the 21" front wheel and forward controls, especially with the larger tank and rubber mounted motors they recieved for this model year. But as far as beginner bikes go, the Sportster nearly falls outside the grasp of some. Which brings us to the only true American made entry level motorcycle, the magnificent Buell Blast. The style alone is hypnotic, they look like an open cockpit Tron Light Cycle (yeah I know, but twenty-something years later I still think those were cool). And like their namesake they truly are a Blast to ride.

    Next up is the Hondas. I won't bore you with my biased views on the VLX. Okay, scratch that. I'll give you the short version: it's a fair place to start one's riding career assuming that person has had some basic introduction to the motorcycling world, be that offroad experience or at least a MSF graduate certification. The bike is no rocket ship but makes up for mind numbing speed with plenty of style. If you want a great all around cruiser that makes a scene on the boulevard you can't go wrong with the VLX, and dang it they're a hoot to customize. Then there's the 250 Rebel, the ultimate learning machine and all around fantastic city street commuter. Yep, I want to turn mine into a chopper as well, as soon as I can feasibly make it happen I'll have the most nifty 250 in a five state radius. But in stock form the bike is the friendliest to learn on, although you have to be of shorter stature to ride it (I'm just a tad too long in the legs for the Reb). The two 750 Shadows (ACE and Spirit) were visually appealing to me as well, and while I'm no fan of the retro look the ACE reminds me of the former 1100 Aeros which were simply breath taking to the eyes. Sadly neither will be available again for 04, replaced by the new VTX-styled shaft driven 750 Aero, a bike I haven't decided on yet as I'm just trying to like it but visually it fails me as yet another VTX cloned style.

    Kawasaki has a plethora of great bikes, starting with the 500 Vulcan and its sibling 500 Ninja (and the 250 Ninja is no slouch either). I came so close so many times to getting a 500 Ninja I lost track of how many times I opened up some credit but backed out at the last moment. In the end it was the comfort zone that kept me away. But I still hanker for a 250 Ninja for S curve duty...Which brings me back to Vulcan-ville. I dig the 500 Vulcan, visually it looks as good as any other V2 cruiser but it lacks the V-Twin. For some reason I think Kawasaki accidentally swapped out engine configurations with the 750 Vulcan, the 500 begs for a V-twin but that went to the 750 Vulcan, which visually demands a UJM-ish inline two or four cylinder mill. But then if they did that the 750 Vulcan wouldn't be a Vulcan, it would have become just another KZ-750. Which brings me around to the 800 Vulcans. Once again I have to go against my retro styling tastes and pick the Drifter. Man if Kawi offered a springer front end it would seal it for me, those bikes captured the Indian styling better than the new Indian company ever did.

    Suzuki offers a wide range of beginner bikes, ranging from the mini Fat Boy-esque GZ-250 to the midi Fat Boy-esque Volusia (the "big bike that isn't"), with the 650 Savage, 800 Intruder, and Marauder in the middle. My personal fave of that pack is the 800 Intruder. It's crisp and lightweight, two pounds less than the Shadow VLX in fact; and sporting an extra 200cc under the tank. But I'm also no fan of shaft drive, despite their low maintenance qualities and cleanliness on the rear wheel, visually they leave a big empty gap on the port side of the swingarm. Which leads me to the chain driven Marauder. Great looker, it sports that power cruiser style that appeared long before any of the "big inch" power cruisers of today. Sadly though the inverted forks belies that it should perform well too, but the Intruder just does it better for me in the twisties. On the bottom of the middle end is the 650 Savage, a great alternative to the 250cc cruisers for a newbie rider. Styled similarly to the Rebels in both shape and ergonomics (yes, again you have to be of shorter stature), it packs a mere 50 pounds more than the 250cc bikes and 100 pounds less than 600/650cc cruisers. And let's not forget about the GS-500 which recieved some full fairing for 04, making it even more appealing to the eye as well as its fine beginner bike status.

    Finally we have the Yamaha offerings, the 250 Virago is my favorite of the quarter-liter crowd. That mini V-Twin really packs some character in the exhaust note that simply slaughters any other 250cc out there including the V2 powered Alpha. If I had my way I'd have bought a Virago for the wife to learn on, but she liked the Rebel the best and I already made the costly mistake of buying her one bike she wasn't 100% comfy with. Looking up to the Stars, the 650 V-Stars are great lookers, even with their cleverly concealed shaft drives in their mono-shock swingarms. The V-Star is the only shaft driven bike that grabs me visually at the swingarm, as mentioned before those empty gaps just tweaked me the wrong way on every other bike. Yamaha cleverly concealed their shaft within the Star's triangular swingarm so it looks appealing. I'd be hard pressed to choose between the Custom and Classic though, I've seen what can be done and with the generous aftermarket availability that is rivaled only by Harley's, either bike can be taken in multiple directions. Just like my VLXes, I'd have to own more than one.

    I could dream on with European and Asian models that aren't offered here. Honda has a VTR250 and the sibling 250 Magna (the bike that Kymco cloned in the form of their new Venox), VT125 Shadow resembling the 750 ACE visually, the liquid cooled CB 500 and CB500S (with headlight fairing), not to mention the various Asian 400cc counterparts of their Shadow models that are virtually identical to their larger bore cousins. The Steed (Japanese VLX) is also available with a springer front end, I'd give vital parts of my anatomy for one of those. And there's also the XV650 TransAlp and sport/tourer NST650V DeauVille, and TransAlp inspired XRV750 Africa Twin. Kawi offers a naked version of their 500 Ninja in the form of the ER-5, something to fill the gap between the Ninja and Vulcan here in the States. Another company called Sachs has some nifty machines, such as the 125, 650, and 800cc Roadsters. Suzuki has a 125cc Intruder, and Yamaha has 125 and 250cc renditions of the V-Star that quite simply wipes the floor in looks compared to our 250 Viragos, and speaking of Viragos they also still make the 535 on the other side of the globe. Let's not overlook their XT600E dual sport along with the air cooled inline four powered XJ600N naked and 600S "Diversion" (aka SECA II) with headlight fairing. Man oh man would I like to sample a handful of these machines.

    Moving on, there are some second tier machines that I really find appealing. First off from the Harley camp is Harley's flagship model and touring rig, the Electra Glide. It's going to take some serious convincing from the other manufacturers to dissuade me from this one, it fits me perfectly and rides like a Cadillac. The V-Rod accomplished what all the imported big inch power cruisers haven't: big performance without the big block, the miniscule-by-comparison 1130cc motor and lighter overall weight simply spanks the entire V2 power cruiser pack all around. I've not yet sampled the newer XB Buells, but their former steel-tubed predecessors really impressed me so I can only stand in awe at the new handling improvements that have been made lately. Honda's 1300 VTX is a nice all around machine and packs a decent punch to boot, if they would slip away from the retro and power cruiser look and go back to the chopper roots I'd want one. Two more dicontinued-for-2004 750cc Hondas really gave me goose bumps, the Magna and Nighthawk. The Magna in all essence could have been the perfect bike, but the limited range kept it from being so. Four hungry carbs gulping gas from a 3.5 gallon tank and spewing it out of four pipes, 100 miles before flipping the reserve is almost a fantasy. And while I dislike the riding stance of any sport or sport standard, if I were ever to own a inline four powered bike the 750 Nighthawk was it for me. It won't achieve warp speed like most four bangers but it'll out accelerate just about anything with four wheels, so it's fast enough if you're not careful. And it's not at all uncomfortable either, it's the only sport or sport/standard that didn't give me aches from ten minute sittings in the showroom (Thankfully I have a lower back condition that prevents me from ever owning a sportbike, honestly I couldn't trust myself to own one!). I'd love to take one out for a day and see what it's really all about. And the overlooked VTR1000, all I can say is "wowie zowie" to that. Finally, Honda's 1100 Shadow Spirit is the "almost beginner bike" of the batch, an over-a-liter displacement bike that tips the scales at a few pound more than the 800 Drifter. And the big Spirit sports ergonomics that allow just about anyone to fit it comfortably. Despite my former lemon of a dual carbed 1500A Vulcan, I really like the latest "post Y2K" FI Vulcans. Suzuki really grabs me with their SV-650, I'm hoping that the model will re-emerge outside the realm of the 650 V-Strom. And personally I find the Katanas more stylish than their race replica Gixxer counterparts. One more noteworthy bike is their 1400 Intruder, only the trained eye can tell the difference between it and its 800cc sibling (from a distance further away than you can read the numerical designations on the sidecovers anyway, no radiator and a different tail light being the tell tale signs). Weighing in at less than a 800 Drifter and a few pounds over their own Volusia, like the 1100 Shadow Spirit it almost makes the grade for a beginner bike. And finally from Yamaha there's that never-a-beginner-bike, the ultimate bad azz "cruise missile" dubbed the V-Max. In straight line acceleration these monsters are untouchable in cruiserdom, and even by a few sportbikes as well. But they are sloppy in the turns thanks to weaker stanchions up front: the bike utilizes 39mm fork tubes, the very same diameter that appears on bikes half its size (like the Shadow VLX). Beef up that front end and swap out a chain drive, and you might be having "Gixxer Hors Duerves". Until then think of it as the Hemi of the 1960's to the motorcycle world. But getting back to reality, and speaking of V-fours, I really miss the Royal Star line up. The Venture touring rig is the last of that breed, but the original Royal Star cruisers simply looked great and were comfy rides, making for an excellent second tier machine.

    My all time pick for the ultimate bike? Well I haven't sampled one yet but visually I would select the Victory Vegas. For a street custom, I really can't see anything on it I would want to alter, and before I discovered the work of Jesse James I was (and still am) a big admirer of the Ness camp who had a hand in the bike's look. My personal pick for a wet behind the ears beginner bike would be a toss up among the 250 Virago and Rebel, 500 Vulcan, 250/500 Ninja, 650 Savage, and the Buell Blast. Or a VLX...okay I'm being biased again.

    Keep the rubber on the road and your tin in the wind.

    Email your biased views to Shadow Shack via his profile

    "Customarily Minded Machine of the Month"

    This month's Customarily Minded Machine is a pic I gleeped off the Seeger Cycle Accessories website. Gleep, now there's an old school phrase that predates choppers...and I'm not old enough to have ever used it! For the younger audience, which I also don't fit into either, synonymous terms would include pinched, lifted, borrowed (with little intention of returning), appropriated, okay...enough with the hidden language, I stole it!

    So now that we know what that word from yesteryear is, the beckoning question on everyone's mind has to be "What the heck is that thing?" It looks sorta like a naked sport bike. It looks sorta like a Buell. It looks sorta like anything other than what it really started off as. Look closely and you'll see the motor is a Suzuki Intruder V2. Which one? Well since there's no radiator (re: 800cc Intruder) and the bike appears as anything but hefty (re: LC1500), that narrows it down to the 1400 mill. Yes, this wicked naked sporty machine is none other than a formerly mild 1400 Intruder with a complete makeover, with little more than the frame and motor remaining in stock guise. The bike has been stripped down via replacement bodywork and shelving the OEM rear fender/seat components and other OEM parts, thereby making it even lighter and more crispy than it was in stock form (the stock 1400 is lighter than some 800cc cruisers!). And that picture, to me, officially redefines the term "power cruiser": more power and less weight. After all, who wants to break land speed records while lugging the weight of a lumber truck?
    This article was originally published in forum thread: My Favorite Beginner Bikes started by Shadow Shack View original post
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