There Are No Bad Motorcycles - Shop Talk

Like pizza and beer there's no such thing as a bad motorcycle.

There are no bad motorcyclesLike pizza and beer there's no such thing as a bad motorcycle.Here's what I mean. There's no disputing that some pizza is better than others, and the same can be said for beer, but how many times have you refused either one when the alternative was to go hungry and dry? I can tell you right up front that I've had more than one frozen microwaved pie and washed it down with a semi-warm Bud, and thought that under the circumstances it was damn good.

So it is with motorcycles. Some may not suit your taste, and for sure, some are way better than others in any measurable sense, but in the main there are none that I can think off, at least none that are currently made by mainstream manufactures, that are downright bad. Even the Royal Enfield-which in my book barely qualifies as a modern effort-is a pretty solid bike. Had the present incarnation been available in my youth, it would have been right near the top of the heap, and the same might be said for many of the bikes now coming from Korea and Taiwan.

In my formative years there were some truly flawed motorcycles around. I know 'cause I owned a few of them and worked on most of the others. Probably the worst street bike I ever owned was a 450 Ducati. While the bike has since become somewhat collectible, at least amongst the bevel-drive singles Ducati-cognoscenti, at the time it was just another oddball single cylinder motorcycle that no one wanted. As I recall, it came into our shop with a broken crankshaft. One of my cohorts snapped it up for a song, rebuilt it, then passed it along to me. It ran well enough, but needed at least an hour's maintenance for every two that it was ridden. I dumped it shortly after a critical electrical connection failed and left me by the side of the road, forcing me to miss a hot date. Two other doozys were my 1972 AJS 410 Stormer, a motocross bike that was tricky to start, difficult to keep running, and had a penchant for breaking frames that still boggles my mind. My 1967 BSA 250 Starfire was a pretty bike and truthfully, despite an insanely high level of vibration, reasonably reliable, but it gave new meaning to the word "underpowered" and leaked oil like Captain Hazelwood was at the helm.

Those bikes may have been bad by contemporary standards, but two that really stand out as being junk were the Lilac (a 250cc copy of the Moto Guzzi V twin) and the Marusho Magnum, a facsimile of the R50 BMW, albeit one fitted with an electric starter, which was made in the Lilac factory after the former bit the dust. I recall that we had one of each in the shop when I started. Both had low mileage, were suffering from terminal internal failures and spent their remaining years languishing in the backyard waiting for parts that never arrived. Don't think for a moment that it was only the cheap or oddball bikes that had problems. I vividly remember going on service calls in the late 60's through early 70's to fix brand new bikes that had broken down on the way home from the dealership, and many of those were expensive bikes built by the industry leaders.

Fortunately motorcycles like those are long gone and have been for at least thirty years. In fact I can't remember the last time I saw something, at least something new and mainstream, that I'd consider a bad motorcycle-they simply don't exist these days. I'm sure we'd all agree that's a wonderful thing because if nothing else it makes riding motorcycles something that anyone one can do, regardless of their level of mechanical aptitude.

For a motorcycle to be truly bad it'd have to be one that you just didn't want to ride, and if there's something like that out there I've yet to run across it. Even those weird third world motorcycles look interesting to me, though I'm not sure how far I'd like to travel on something like the Chang Jiang 750, a BMW R71 replica made in China or one of those 150cc Honda knock offs I see running around.

For the most part, bad these days is in the eye of the beholder. Lot's of guys knock a particular bike because of some perceived or imagined fault, but frankly, the majority of them talk like they've got cardboard hind quarters. Trust me on this one guys, just because a bike has a rear drum brake, or an engine displaces less than 1500cc, doesn't make it bad.

New riders are fortunate in that the bikes they get to choose from are all good. Their decision on what to buy can be based on things other than how reliable the bike is or how easy it is to find parts, which leaves them a lot more time to discuss the fine points of motorcycling over pizza and beer.