Small Displacement Motorcycles - Thinking Small

Tech Matters

Despite my size and penchant for large V-Twin Cruisers I've always had a soft spot for small and medium weight motorcycles. I suspect part of the attraction is because I had so much fun on them as a kid, and the other part because they just feel right to me. My first "real" bike was a Honda Super 90 of indeterminate vintage. I horse traded a lawn mower engine mini-bike for the thing, and then proceeded to ride the wheels off it. I even used it for a trail bike after I'd graduated to larger street bikes. I also owned a raft of 250's and 350's including a 1966 Suzuki X-6 Hustler. Which despite displacing a mere quarter of a liter, was just about the fastest thing under 500cc that you could buy at the time. When you're learning to ride, a pipey, quick handling two stroke, is the deep end of the pool and when I fired up the X-6 for the first time I knew the "No Lifeguard on Duty" sign had just been nailed to the wall. But I survived, in part through sheer luck, but also because the Hustler was fundamentally a great handling, easy to ride bike, with its own strong sense of self preservation.

Like most riders I soon abandoned the 250 for a larger a bike, in this case a W1 650 Kawasaki, a 650cc vertical twin built in the British circa 1960's, tradition, and never stopped to think what I'd traded off-namely light weight, responsive handling and a killer power band, for a bike that in truth was something of a plodder.

That changed when I took my first job in a motorcycle shop. The three senior mechanics, every one of whom were extremely capable riders, with solid racing backgrounds all commuted to work on 250 Ducati's. Not that they didn't own larger bikes, they all had top of the line, large displacement motorcycles, but for the short hop to work, and for after work hijinks on the local back roads they all preferred their easy to manage 250's. As an aside, I'd suggest that even now a ride on a small bore Desmo flavored Ducati is something special.

With their help I began to mature as rider (OK so that's a stretch) and more importantly started to develop some understanding of how motorcycles actually worked, and soon I began to appreciate lightweight bikes for their own virtues; namely that they were easy to handle, fun to ride, and when you had the right power plant under you, they offered surprisingly good performance. Forty years down the road I still find that to be true, although due to circumstances my definition of lightweight has grown to include anything under a 1000cc.

Now that's not to say I don't like big motorcycles, I do. I'm especially fond of the larger baggers, like the Road King and Suzuki C90T and I can't wait to throw a leg over the new Triumph Thunderbird. There's nothing quite like a big, powerful bike, and an open road to get your juices flowing. Especially when you've got nowhere to go and all day to get there. But just because I like a good prime rib, doesn't mean I want it at every meal. For day to day use I find that medium weight bikes are generally a little easier to live with, and provide just as much fun, and since I travel solo something in the 650 and up range generally gets me down the road as quickly as I need to go, so it's nice to see the manufactures again concentrating-to some degree at least-on the light/medium weight class.

Given the current state of the economy and a declining, some might say comatose, large bore motorcycle market that should come as no surprise. Let's be honest, a lot of us have more pressing things to spend our money on than motorcycles these days, and for those of us that can afford a new bike, my guess is that we're thinking long and hard about anything that goes for more than 10 large. That makes something like the V Star 950 ($7890.00) mighty attractive, and by the same token encourages small companies like Moto Guzzi to experiment with bikes like the new V7 Classic ($8490.00). Both of those motorcycles and all the others like them are affordable, fun to ride and make enough power to get you into real trouble if you're bent that way. I'd point out that both old V7-700 and 750 Ambassador Guzzi's were a staple of the touring market for many years, and their V7-750cc Sport bike, was hot as a two-dollar pistol in its day, so by no means should you consider any modern 750 twin powered motorcycle undersized.

At the other end of the scale, displacement wise we have the Suzuki TU250, I'm very attracted to this one, it must be the affect of the seminal X-6 on me, though I suspect it might be a little underpowered for a guy pushing 240lbs, without his riding gear on. Still I'd really like to try it; it looks like it might be as much fun as barrel of sea monkeys.

And that's what it's really all about isn't it? So long as you're having fun it doesn't matter what you ride, or how big it is does it?