Friday, October 31, 2008

The Harley 883

Since the last style of bike we talked about was the cruiser, I thought it appropriate to talk about riding one of the most well known names out there. I had the opportunity about a month ago to ride Harley-Davidson's Sportster 883 (actually, just hours before I crashed my Ninja.) For the 2009 production, Harley has two versions of the bike with their smallest engine. The 883 Low and the 883 Custom. The main differences are the seat height and foot control position, the Low has mid controls and a lower seat than the Custom with forward controls. I would have preferred the Low since I didn't like the idea of kicking my feet out in front of me, but it is pretty easy to get used to.

According to HD, the Sportster has a 28 inch seat height, 4.5 gallons in the tank, 55 ft lbs of torque, and weighs in at 590 lbs wet. It has a brutally simple instrument panel, speedometer and indicator lights only, and Harley's classic turn signal controls on both handlebars (rather than controlling them both with one thumb.) It also has the look that hasn't changed much in the fifty years that this model has been in production.

But, how does it ride, you eagerly ask. It's heavier than any production sportbike and it makes that fact known, but it also has a low center of gravity in comparison so it is still easy to stand up and hold. Twisting the throttle yields gobs of low end power, but even though it doesn't have the eyeball popping acceleration I found on Buell's 1125, it feels like you could use it to pull tree stumps out of the ground. The high handle bars and kicked out feet made for a very relaxed feeling on the straights but were less than confidence inspiring in turns. I suspect some one more used to the cruiser style would feel the same way if they got on a sportbike though.

Overall, the fit and finish of the motorcycle was impeccable and it was very comfortable, the throttle response was predictable and the clutch pull light and smooth. It would make a very nice second bike for someone interested in that style, but the weight and torque put it a little beyond what I would typically recommend that a new rider start on, even though I know several people who have gone this route.

Thursday, October 2, 2008

Motorcycle types: The Cruiser

Perhaps one of the most thought of styles of motorcycles is the cruiser. What makes it a "cruiser" is the frame geometry. They typically have lower seats, longer front forks, a more pronounced rake, and a longer trail (wikipedia has a decent article about frame geometry here.) All of that adds up to greater stability at high speed and a greater resistance to turning. Also, many cruisers have foot pegs farther forward than on a standard motorcycle, leaving your legs much straighter and in a more relaxed, reclining position. There are many cruisers to choose from, it is one of the most prolific classes of motorcycle, but few of them are suitable for riders new to the sport. Matt's rule of thumb about "under 50 hp" is easy to follow, but it is more difficult to find bikes under 3 times your body weight.

One such bike is the Honda Rebel.

The Rebel is a very common motorcycle and extremely inexpensive. If this is the style that appeals to you, start your search with looking at the Rebel or Suzuki's GZ250 or even the Kawasaki Eliminator 125 or Virago 250 (which has the more "traditional" V-twin look.)