Thursday, May 1

Bikes that talk to me!

Lately, a few bikes have be talking to me. Some I can ignore. The venerable dualsport Suzuki V-Strom, the KTM Enduro and the Kawasaki KLR650 are attractive but not designed for the vertically challenged. I've read about lowering kits and to that I say, there are too many fish in the sea...To varying degrees, these bikes sport that naked, minimalist look I love. Still, I don't do the kind of riding that warrants these type of motorcycles. Hmmm...I could be wrong but it seems a little like owning a fancy sports car that is never taken on the highway.

By far, the motorcycle that has spoken to me the longest and loudest is unequivocally the BMW F800ST. I'm not the only one smitten. Rider magazine named the F800 ST "the best tourer in 2007"! That's huge! Since its inception this middle weight tourer has won a slew of accolades for its performance and comfort excellence.

Since that one memorable ride last summer, I hear the F800ST calling me by a childhood nickname--we've become that close! The ride was exhilarating--pure joy. Lightweight, flickable, and amazingly responsive. The F800ST is heavier than my SV yet feels lighter and sleeker even with the ST's fairing. Compared to Queenie, frisky pony that she is, the ST feels tame and more behaved. By the end of the ride, I discovered that the ST masks it playfulness--it's there--it just doesn't show it all at the gate. Although I don't fancy fairing--the more naked the bike, the better--I think a little lower leg protection might be a good shield against head winds. I love the F800ST's on board info that monitors tire pressure, displays the fuel gauge (which the SV lacks), is fuel injection (although I appreciate a well-carbbed bike like mine), gear indicator and heated grips. ABS? Well, I could live without it, I think. I've read ABS pros and cons and it seems one of those personal preferences that some 'cyclists like to debate. I've learned solid braking skills without ABS. I still practice braking, including emergency braking--as much as one can simulate an emergency. Is ABS an added security or a false sense of security? Will non-ABS be the reminder to keep those braking skills sharp and not rely on technology? Is ABS an industry driven option that we only think we need? Does riding today's faster, more tech savvy bikes make ABS essential? I'm hoping my pal Crusty will lend his expertise/opinion here. I see it this way: It's better to have something and not need it than to need something and not have it. Maybe that philosophy doesn't apply to ABS brakes?

Then there's the F800S, the sportier, more naked sibling of the F800ST. It's a jazzy looking bike and can be made easily into a tourer with some luggage and a taller windscreen. Leaning over the tank, however--even slightly--on a 300 miles day trip would be havoc on my aging sacroiliac. Sitting on the F800ST can't feel more comfortable. My test ride, probably around 10 miles, was sweet, smooth and still the memory of it is sharp. What attracts me --besides the ride--is the handling ease. It feels a lot like Queenie. In fact, I heard someone compare the BMW F800ST to the SV and claims that the F800ST is "like an upgrade to the SV650." Someone else said it's like the SV with the fun factor removed. Hmmm? I'm not sure about that. IMHO, the fun factor on the F800ST is not in your face like the SV650. It's true too that the ST's throttle seems more tame initially. By third gear, the fun factor had kicked in and there three gears still left!

Shortly after the appearance of the two 800 models, rumors filled motorcycle forums with talk of a F 800 GS model. Long before the GS became reality (it's now available in Europe and soon to be available in the USA), drawings of what it might look like could be found all over the Internet and I toyed with the idea of possibly falling in love again. For those who want more than the BMW's F 650GS but less than the behemoth R 1200GS, the F800 GS fits the bill. Early reports are that it too is a winner. I like the looks of the F800GS and appreciate that it can go just about anywhere it's pointed. But didn't motorcycles once go anywhere a long time ago, before all the specialization? What's the difference today? It's not like I actually will do any off road riding. Then again, perhaps I would if I had the right kind of bike. Okay, who am I kidding? I'm leery of backwoods in this country and especially alone.

I just know that the F800ST eats streets for breakfast! I'm listening to it talk to me. Given my passion for long distance touring and my plans to do some major cross country riding, the F800ST meets my demands for high performance, excellent build, light weight, nimble/flickable- fun, comfortability and cuteness. I want a great little sport-tourer that can pile on the miles with as little wear on me as possible. What's that I hear...sounds like a German accent?