Love/Hate. Currently Love.

I’ve written a bit about my love/hate relationship with my current ride, the Triumph Rocket III Touring. On a positive note, it’s a fantastic long-distance cruiser that eats up long mileage days with nary a complaint from my posterior. I love the cool factor of the bike and the fact that it can kick in the teeth of any old Harley on the road. And as my friend Art says, “You get the classic American bagger look, but with that 2300 CC engine…”

 

On a negative note, it’s big and doesn’t maneuver really well at low speeds (think parking lots and gas stations), it is a bitch to get on and off my porch where I stow it when I’m not riding it, and in traffic on a summer day it’s not a lot of fun. Kind of like straddling a convection oven. It’s not great on gas (I averaged in the mid 30s MPG last summer. Pretty low for a motorcycle). A friend of mine who doesn’t ride at all – in fact she refuses to ride – mentioned as much a few weeks back. “I was suprised when I saw that you bought that bike. It looks great for cross-country trips but I’d imagine not a lot of fun for zipping through traffic on the Schuylkill.” Precisely.

At times last season I thought about selling it or trading it and getting something else. I even had it listed on Ebay and a couple of motorcycle forums at different times. But the season ended on a high note with the Rocket, and my love/hate relationship turned into just plain love. First, my fall riding/camping trip was fantastic, and the Rocket ran like a dream the whole time. On a trip like that, it’s just perfect. I can load it up with gear (my tent and camping gear and clothes etc.) and not even know all the gear is back there. It gets good mileage on long trips like that. (The stop and go of city driving is what kills the mileage on that 800-900 lb. beast). And I can twist the throttle and zoom past Al on his Fatboy and Ernie on his Vulcan in a heartbeat. So fun.  Secondly, I changed the look of the Rocket a bit. I removed the massive touring screen and I removed the luggage rack/sissy bar combo, which made the bike look so much cooler and reduced the weight by 20 pounds. It made a noticeable difference in handling etc.

I also took the exhaust back to stock. I had tried a couple different configurations of pipes and EFI tunes throughout the season and could never get it quite right. I tried the Triumph TORS pipes and the Jardine Rumblers. The TORS sounded weird – kind of like a biplane taking off – and the Jardines were way too loud for my liking. I also couldn’t get rid of the popping on decel with the Jars and have learned it would have taken a Power Commander, dyno tune, and several more hundred dollar bills to get right. The stock exhaust might be quiet, and it might be heavier than the Jars, but the bike just seems to like it better.

So at the moment, my solution is to keep the Rocket for my trips and for long weekend rides, and pick up a used bike that’s smaller, lighter, and more economical as my daily commuter. I’ve been keeping an eye on the forums and Ebay and Craigslist and waiting for the right bike to pounce on. Here are the bikes I’m thinking about:

This one just sold on Stromtrooper.com. Congrats, Ken!

Suzuki Vstrom 650. I’ve had an obsession with the Weestrom for several years now. In 2008 Al, Ernie and I and a few other guys were on our spring trip on the Blue Ridge Parkway and we stayed at Willville Motorcycle Campground (Great place. If you are on the BRP definitely plan to stay there. And don’t forget to order your breakfast biscuits before you turn in for the night.) Anyway, we were talking to the owner (Will) and one of the guys asked what he rides. When he told us it was a Vstrom 650, you could see the confusion and disappointment on the Harley guys’ faces. But to me the message was clear: this guy could probably ride whatever he wanted. And he picked a Strom. It must be a fantastic bike.

I’ve since learned that it is a fantastic bike. The 650 powerplant has a reputation for being mechanically bulletproof. I spend a lot of time on the Stromtrooper forum and the general consensus is fill ‘er up, change the oil every 5,000 miles, change the tires when they’re bare, and ride it. That’s it.

I also like the fact that the Strom can go offroad. When we were on our fall trip in Virginia, there were lots and lots of dirt roads that led up into the Shenandoah mountains. But we couldn’t take ’em. A Strom gives me the option to leave pavement if I’m so inclined.

The knock on the Strom is that it lacks character. It’s an appliance-like bike that just runs and does everything well but no one thing great. That’s fine. My Rocket has enough character for both bikes.

Triumph Tiger 1050. I know. A few weeks ago I wrote that I didn’t really care for the Tiger after a test tide. But I still think it’s one of the coolest looking bikes on the road. And I am deeply attached to the Triumph marque. So it’s still on the list. If I could find a white or orange one with a top box and ABS, I’d pounce.

Tempting...

Triumph Bonneville. I love the Bonnie’s 60’s retro sensibilities. And I had one for two days as a service loaner last summer and it was just plain incredible to ride. Quick and light and fun. I can pick one up for $4k or so, throw on a top box, and call it a day. There’s a nice white 2011 on Ebay right now, but the seller is asking $6k which seems a bit much to me. It’s on my watch list.

Suzuki Bandit 1250. I should have one of these in my stable already. But I don’t. I keep looking…

There are some other dark horses on my radar screen: the naked Triumph Triples (Street Triple and Speed Triple), Ducati Multistrada (Martin’s has a nice used 2004 for $7k which has been tempting me). The Kawasaki Ninja 1000 too.

Then there’s the Triumph Exporer 1200, which looks fantastic. And if I look at the Explorer I owe it to myself to look at the Yamaha Super Ténéré, which is fantastic in its own right and will likely be several grand less expensive than the Triumph. Either of those bikes would require a trade-in of the Rocket. At least I have all winter to figure it out.

And this is one of the biggest warnings I have for the soon-to-be-rider, new rider, first time rider: you’re never done. I naively thought when I rode my Triumph America off the lot in May 2008 that I had found my dream machine and wouldn’t need anything else, ever. I was wrong. Within 30 days I wanted louder pipes. Then bigger saddlebags. Then a set of dresser bars and highway pegs. Then more power. Auxiliary headlights. Then…a bigger bike (which led me to the Rocket last May.) Then I started thinking about a second bike, which is where I am now.

When I was shopping for my first bike a salesman a local Harley dealer tried to warn me about this phenomenon. “Chrome is like a fungus,” he said. “You think, ‘Maybe this bit here would look good in chrome.’ Then you need to chrome the one next to it. Then you need steel braided brake lines. It goes on and on.”

It’s true. I’ve never been bitten by the chrome bug, but I enjoy tinkering with my bike, the look, the performance, the sound. I justify it all by the fact that motorcycling has become my number one hobby over the past four years, and in fact much more than a hobby. It’s become an essential part of my lifestyle and my identity. It’s enraptured me.

On another note, I see that the Euro has been pummeled lately, what with the debt crisis and all. Maybe those Raask pipes for my Rocket, which are made in Sweden, are more affordable now. I think I’ll send Mr. Raask and email and aask…