They're All Good Bikes!

Main Jet

A decade ago at Daytona Bike Week, I got the chance to ride an early Titan. It was my first "extreme" bike, chopperish (but less so than the Fury) with a "wide" tire out back (180mm, I think), and gobs of chrome and billet stuff on it. My colleague, Rick Diaz, and I were taking it a few short miles from the Titan compound to a spot on the Intracoastal Waterway to take some pictures. At first it was all good, the semi-ridiculous ergonomics added to its mystique, and the grumble from the pipes was potent. Opening it up a little going over the Mason Bridge it sputtered some but hit its stride and accellerated up the steep incline of the high arching bridge well. On the other side of the arc is where it all went to hell.

Coming up on the stoplight at the bottom of the bridge, I figured I should start slowing down well in advance of where I really needed to...which is probably what saved my life. I squeezed the front brake, nothing happened. I stepped on the rear brake, next to nothing happened. Panic flooded my soul as adrenaline kicked in hard. I kept my head, and downshifted a couple of times to scrub speed. It turns out that if you're designing a bike based on what the controls look like more than proper leverage ratios the result is a rock hard lever that does little to squeeze the brake rotor. Let me be clear, when I say "nothing happened," I say this as a guy who'd spent his life on stock or near stock bikes from reputable factories in Japan, Europe and Milwaukee. I'm not saying that they forgot to fill the fluid reservoir and bleed the system.

But wait, the story's not over. Having scrubbed what I thought was enough speed to make the turn at the bottom I attempted to bank it into the turn so I countersteer and lean, and nothing happens. Okay, I think you know by now that when I say nothing, I don't mean nothing nothing, but just very very little. Trying again, I violently yank on the bars...and promptly run out of ground clearance. Look, I am not trying to ride this bike like a sportbike, I'm just trying to make a freekin left. So, one more downshift into first (followed by lots of angry noises from the powertrain), then using the frame, kickstand and various other hard parts to get the bike down to a speed appropriate to rounding a corner on this thing, which I think was somewhere near 7 mph. I made Rick ride it back.

When we say in a story in this magazine that the "brakes didn't impress" or "it needs more ground clearance" or "heavy steering" this is not what we're talking about. I have one thing to say about the bikes we've got here: They're all good bikes.

It's a tired refrain to be sure, but these days its just basically true. I'm sure there are some clunkers out there from, say, developing countries, but I haven't ridden any of those recently to find out. Well, here's a secret: we're nitpicking nitpickers. We've become spoiled brats when it comes to what we expect from a bike because of how good they tend to be.

Most of our nitpicking is for ergonomics, which are usually fixable with a new seat, bars, etc. In the case of most of the bikes we test it comes down to what works for what sized rider. Here's another secret: if you like your local dealer, and he's got a bike you love (that fits you) and its thousands off of retail, chances are you're not going to go wrong. Not to be a mouthpiece for the guys who make these bikes for you, but, really, there have been few disappointments around here of late.

Never was this more obvious than in this month's big test, with the choppers. As is typical of an emerging class, the bikes are very different. The skinny bikes offer stark choices to the rider, and we're simply trying to match up the best bike for you with you. Even the microfacturer bikes from Big Bear Choppers and Big Dog were far more than what I'd come to expect from "Aftermarket V-Twins" and I don't just mean they turned and braked without initiating heart palpitations.

Look, if the bikes we test in shootouts were junk, we'd call them junk. Usually, we're just comparing traits of the various bikes to each other. So if we say it's slow in the muscle bike test, it's still probably faster than a "fast" bike in a bargain bike comparo. If the transmission is clunky, that's compared to bikes in its test and at its pricepoint.

So to the owners of the bikes we "slam" (and to potential owners): There is very little wrong with your bike. We're going to point out when it doesn't fit people tall and short, when fast riders can't go fast and if slow riders don't like that it's not a relaxing ride, or if you just don't get your money's worth at MSRP. But if you love it on the showroom, or in a brochure, or in your garage, rest assured, we still love you.Billy BartelsContact Billy at cruiser@sorc.com