17 Checks for the Right Motorcycle for Me

by Liz Jansen

Much to both my chagrin and delight, I find myself in the market for a motorcycle. I can have only one, and with so many choices, it’s hard to come up with the one that’s best for me.

I shopped for two years before purchasing my last bike, but when I finally found my Yamaha Super Ténéré, I knew we were right for each other. Now circumstances have changed and it’s time for something different.

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BMW F700GS

It’s important to make a rational purchasing decision rather than one based on emotion. Otherwise you end up trading in that beautiful purple bike because it’s uncomfortable to ride for more than an hour.

Here’s the criteria I use to make my decision. They can be used for riders of any skill level and any discipline of riding.

  1. Skill level. Buy the bike that suits your skill level, NOT one you can grow into. This is a recipe for disaster. At best it’s stressful and uncomfortable because you’re not ready to handle it.
  2. Seat height. A skilled rider in control of his or her motorcycle places only one foot on the ground when coming to a stop. Nonetheless I don’t want to have to lean over too far to do that. The seat height specified by the manufacturer is a good guideline, but not definitive. You can sit on two bikes with the same seat height, but varying widths and shapes will make one comfortable and with the ground in easy reach, and the other seem too high. I’m not a fan of altering the suspension, unless it’s factory lowered, but I would reduce seat height by swapping in a customized seat, or carving out padding—a less preferred alternative.

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    BMW F650GS

  3. Weight. More importantly, weight distribution. A heavy bike with a low centre of gravity can be easier to manage than a lighter bike with the weight up high. In any case, think about how you’ll manage moving a loaded bike around in a parking spot, your garage, or a camping site.
  4. Body position. I travel long distances and enjoy back roads and gravel. Consequently I want a more upright riding position and pegs I can stand up on. I like to have both elbows slightly flexed when my hands are on the bars. Given my shoulder injury, I may have to reduce the reach or change the position. Usually this is easily done by pivoting the bars in their position, adding risers, or changing bars.
  5. Riding style. Do you want a bike for commuting, touring, off-roading, or cruising? Do you carry a passenger regularly? Generally it’s a mix, although one will predominate. Pick the one that will work for you most of the time.
  6. Luggage capacity. There’s not much difference between the amount of gear you need for a week or a year. I still want to be able to work from the road and live comfortably, even if it is from a tent, so I’m going to make sure my bike can carry electronics, tools, gear and clothes for three seasons—and keep everything dry.
  7. Maintenance costs. I want to know what I can do myself, how frequently I have to take it in, and how long I have to wait for routine parts. Two years ago I had my bike apart to check valve clearances and then discovered that the valve cover seals were backordered for three weeks (across North America). You can’t ride without them so I was sidelined in prime riding season.
  8. Complexity. Most new bikes are highly technical, which can make them harder to work on yourself. Other than a few essentials which improve safety, like ABS, I want as them as simple as possible. I don’t want to have to dismantle a bike to get at the oil filter.
  9. Dealerships. I do as much ofmy own work as possible, but my bike still needs to go in for warranty work and more complex maintenance. Proximity to a dealer is important, especially if I need to leave it there.

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    Yamaha FJ09

  10. Rider reviews. Unless it’s a new model, talk to others who’ve had that bike and ask them about their experience, preferably for a long period of time. Bear in mind you may have to filter out bias from riding styles, care practices, and knowledge level, but that feedback will give you a good barometer.
  11. Media reviews. These are another excellent resource, but generally they cover only new models tested in controlled settings over a short period of time. Still it’s another data point to help make an informed decision.
  12. Fuel economy and range. Important to know for any riding, it’s even more crucial for remote travel. It can also affect group riding if everyone else has to stop for you to fill up.
  13. Accessories. Most bikes have a plethora of after-market accessories to customize the bike according to your preferences, although it can take time for parts for new models to reach the market.
  14. Price. Sticker value is certainly a consideration, but look at the whole picture. Think about anything you’ll want to make it right for you—replacing stock items, modifications, and accessories. Also consider how your riding interests may change, maintenance costs, storage, insurance, fuel requirements, and maintenance schedules.

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    Triumph Tiger

  15. Resale value. This isn’t a big consideration for me because I generally keep my bikes for many years. If you’re someone who likes to change things up regularly, this will be a factor.
  16. Test ride it. Most manufacturers offer demo days through local dealerships or a variety of events around the country. Watch for them and go for a ride. It’s not always possible to test used bikes, which makes rider and media reviews that much more important.
  17. Gut check. Perhaps my most important criteria, I always check in with my intuition. One of the bikes I’m considering (not pictured) is logically a good choice, but it just doesn’t feel right when I sit on it. I have to do more research, but even if it looks right on paper I won’t get it if it doesn’t feel right.

Buy the bike you know is right for you, not the bike someone else tells you is right for you. There’s too much at stake to make anything other than the best choice for YOU.

One of these bikes may be the best motorcycle for me. They’re the top contenders right now. As I heal, I’ll have a better idea of my riding needs and in a position to make the best decision. In the mean time, I’ll be researching, going for test rides, and making that tough choice!

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14 comments on “17 Checks for the Right Motorcycle for Me
  1. Bill Airsman says:

    You’re looking good on those bikes, great that you have several choices. Good Luck choosing the ‘right’ one.

  2. Mary McGee says:

    Liz, you certainly have all the right data for a bike buyer to consider, have not read such a concise list before. Hope many bike buyers are paying attention to this.
    Thanks Mary

  3. k hickok says:

    I hate having to choose a bike – or a car, for that matter. It took me sooo long to pick my bike I hope I NEVER have to replace it!

    Bill’s right, you do look good on all of them.

  4. Keri Melfi says:

    Last year when trying to decide on a bike (I hadn’t had one for a few years) I had someone take pics of me on them also and that helped me decide….being short, I decided on the Honda Shadow Aero 750
    I love being back on my own … My hubby thought it looked too big for me but said when I’m on it that it looks just right!
    Good luck… It’s so exciting getting back out there!

    • lizjansen says:

      Hi Keri – Just goes to show – you’ve got to try things on!! 🙂 Glad you found you’re moto match and are having such a great time being back out on your own bike. I’m SO looking forward to it too.

      Thank you!

  5. Brent Miller says:

    Good tips, Liz, and I want to emphasize your tip on riding style. I don’t think most buyers think about how they are going to ride or where–especially the first time buyers. I have owned a V-Strom 650 for six years and have put 66,000+ miles on it. It’s fantastic. But, I wanted a different kind of ride, and so I bought a KLR 650. On paper they look a lot alike, but in the saddle, they are quite different. I thought I would ride the KLR on rougher, back roads–dirt and gravel. It is a blast to ride. But in hindsight, I am riding the KLR on the same roads to the same destinations as the V-Strom. So, matching riding style to the proper motorcycle is really important and deserves some serious attention when purchasing a motorcycle, especially if there’s room for only one bike in your garage. –Brent

  6. David says:

    Hi Liz,

    Useful posting of decision criteria. A few comments based on my experiences.

    1. Skill Level – I think not buying a bike you can grow into is good advice for a new rider but if a person has ridden in the past, as I had, then I think there are other things to consider as well. A new or returning rider will benefit from a two day rider safety class and be better positioned to make a judgment as to skill. In my case, after a safety class, I purchased a Ninja 650 ABS based on other criteria and although it took me a few days to be comfortable, it is a bike I will not grow out of. A new rider should seriously consider a used bike since it is, well, less expensive and already probably has a few dings.
    5. Riding Style – This is something that needs serious thought. For me, it took some time for me to think through since I had in the past both ridden hard in the dirt and done many multi-hour day trips. Also where I live now in the Sierra is very different than the SF bay area where I once rode.
    8. and 9. It depends. For me, I am no longer interested in doing my own work. Not fun, at least IMHO. But, knowing your goals, right on.

    All the rest, well thought out, as you know. If I were to do a long trip, perhaps somewhere with limited access to support, dead reliable and simple would be top of my list. After a lot of reading two that top my list are Kawasaki KLR 650 and the BMW F650GS (or 700).

    Have fun, David

    • lizjansen says:

      Hi David, Thanks for reading and offering great food for thought. Agree completely that a new rider purchase used – for a whole lot of reasons which I’ve written about separately. The main point I was trying to make was that it’s not wise to purchase something beyond your skill level. I’m also an instructor and you wouldn’t believe how many new students have been told by partners/friends to buy something they can “grow into”.

      As for your other comments…….if only we didn’t have to choose one. 🙂

      Safe trails.
      Liz

      • David says:

        I agree on not beyond your skill level. But how to know what that might be? IMO a motorcycle safety class would be very helpful. New or returning rider. More than one returning rider in my class and watching the performances was interesting.

        I have a good friend with four m (from Portland OR). His bike was a Kawasaki KLR 650 which he claimed was bullet proof.

        • lizjansen says:

          It can be hard for a novice to know, but they usually have a pretty good idea. That’s where intuition and not letting someone talk you into something you’re not comfortable with comes in.

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