Need or Greed?

Text: Steve Mauk • Photography: Steve Mauk

To the non-rider, owning more than one bike probably seems analogous to having several electric can openers lined up on the kitchen counter. But to the motorcycle enthusiast who likes to explore the many facets of motorcycling, one bike simply isn’t enough to cover all the bases. But what is the magic “right” number of bikes? The answer to that question, of course, is as varied as the individuals and types of riding that they enjoy.

As good as some of the current “do everything” bikes are, there are always compromises as to a bike’s suitability for any given purpose. Some of the better dual-purpose motorcycles are nearly as competent in the woods as true dirt bikes, but you wouldn’t want to log a 500-mile, two-up day on one. Conversely, by the time you get something big enough for touring duty, it’s too heavy to be of much use on rougher off-road terrain. The obvious solution is to buy a bike for each end of the spectrum, but that leaves the space in the middle vacant, doesn’t it? The truth is, you can slice the bike-ownership pie into as many pieces as you want and still figure a way to justify it to yourself.

I currently own four bikes and, frankly, would like to cut back to three. Maybe next year I’ll be able to figure out which one I don’t need. Starting with the smallest, I have an older Honda XR250R dirt bike for the small woods behind my house and occasional day rides at off-road areas. I justify keeping it because dirt riding is a great stress-reliever (unless you crash), as well as being a fantastic skill-builder for all types of riding. The next horse in the stable is the versatile Kawasaki KLR 650. Like the Honda, it is an older model, so I don’t have much money invested in it. One of my favorite activities involves strafing the dirt roads in southeastern Ohio, and the KLR is the perfect tool for the job. Whether riding one or two up, it devours miles of rough county roads effortlessly and can tote enough gear for adventure touring as well. Next comes another master of versatility, the Suzuki V-Strom 650. Although there is some overlap in function between the KLR and V-Strom, the Suzuki is more street-oriented and better suited for touring, especially two up, than the KLR. This brings us to door number four, behind which lurks a Ducati Monster S2R 1000. Being a bastion of practicality, I spent two weeks trying to talk myself out of buying this bike, but I ended up chasing after it like a hobo trying to catch the last car of a passing train. I’m not even going to attempt to justify this one; you either understand it or you don’t. Motorcycles are meant to stir the emotions, and the Ducati doesn’t just stir them; it purees them and hands them back in a bright red espresso cup.

So what are the benefits of having more than one bike? There are several, beginning with the ability to traverse nearly any type of terrain. Riding such varied topography ensures that you’ll never get bored doing the same type of riding over and over. And when one bike starts getting a bit too familiar, you can hop on another for a somewhat diluted, but still refreshing, “new bike” experience. When maintenance issues sideline one of the bikes, simply ride another one until the problem is taken care of.

There are drawbacks to multiple bike ownership, of course, and the subject of maintenance seems like a fitting spot to ease into the topic. At least one bike is always in need of tires, and batteries require constant attention during winter storage as I rotate a maintenance charger between bikes. Oil changes, cable lubrication and adjustment, chains and sprockets, spark plugs, air filters, and valve adjustments round out the list of items that need regular attention. Don’t forget that each bike demands its own ensemble of accessories and gear as well. Insurance and licensing costs can also be burdensome, although some insurers correctly assume that additional bikes do not necessarily translate into more miles ridden and drop the premium on each bike as more are insured. If only the license bureau would adopt a similar policy!

So do the benefits outweigh the drawbacks? In my case they do, at least most of the time. Occasionally the stress of maintaining four bikes is more than I’d like to bear. Then again, I can always hop on the dirt bike and work it off. Or perhaps I should visit Dr. Ducati for today’s stress-relief therapy.