Serious Bikes

Jul 05, 2014 View Comments by

Serious BikesI’ve spent the better part of my adult life waiting for that magical time when the kids were raised, the house was paid off, and I could go shopping for a “serious” bike. I loosely defined a serious bike as being something exotic, expensive, or possessing class-leading performance. I’ve always owned at least one bike, and usually two or three, but they’ve always been purchased with the price tag being a major consideration. Used bikes, two year old leftover models, and steeply discounted bikes that nobody else wanted have all called my garage home over the years. Well, the kids have moved out, the house is paid off, and what was my last purchase? A slightly used 2012 KLR 650.

I’ve noticed something interesting the past few years since I’ve begun touring more extensively. The highly traveled riders I’ve been fortunate enough to meet rarely ride expensive, shiny new mounts. They often ride basic models with a history of versatility and reliability like the KLR 650 and V-Strom, both of which I now own. Each of these models have a strong following and are extremely capable, yet both were built with numerous cost-conscious decisions that arguably limit their comfort and overall performance capabilities.

There’s been a shift in my thinking as I’ve realized that what makes a bike “serious” is the rider and not the displacement, manufacturer, or cost of the motorcycle. I’m not trying to discourage anyone from buying his or her dream bike, and I realize there is a level of engineering and manufacturing quality that naturally leads to a more costly motorcycle. What I am saying is that the bike does not the rider make, and the admission ticket for a world-class riding experience need not involve dropping twenty grand.

One of my friends took the tour of a lifetime a few years ago when he traveled to India, rented a Royal Enfield, and toured the Himalayas. He said the bike was so underpowered at high altitudes that it was barely functional, but that the Enfields were the bike of choice locally due to their low cost and reparability. Would riding a different bike have improved his experience? Possibly, but he did something that very few of us will ever do. Viewing the snowy, wind-swept peaks of one of the world’s greatest mountain ranges from two wheels was the basis of his journey, and I doubt that a different bike would significantly change the essence of that experience.

I now feel that any motorcycle the owner attempts to ride the wheels off of qualifies as a bike deserving of admiration. I suspect that someday a single new adventure bike will replace both my KLR and V-Strom, and it may very well fit my previous definition of “serious.” But until that day arrives, if it ever does, I plan on wringing every bit of reliable use out of the two wonderful bikes that I own and to make a lot of precious memories in the process.

The picture with this article is of an older KLR (not mine) with around 70,000 miles on it. Despite its appearance it is extremely well maintained, and is owned by a highly skilled rider. It was later completely overhauled and is quite possibly still being ridden today. I simply can’t think of a more “serious” bike than that.


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