Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Touring Bike Showdown

This is my first post here so it's fitting that it would be about buying my first touring bike. It was quite a process but it led me to the "perfect" bike (at least the most perfect bike for me).

The contenders:
Ducati ST3
Suzuki VStrom 1000
Triumph Tiger
Yamaha FZ1

Here they are in the order that they were ridden...

Ducati ST3

This was the first bike of the four that I test rode. I logged about 600 miles on this bike over two weekends. The riding position is the only thing that doesn’t work for me. I really like the motor, the gearing, the look, etc. I think it is probably the ideal sport-touring bike. My neck injury just won’t allow for that style of bike. After 150+ miles I am hurting. Of course, this bike is set up for a shorter rider. Not sure how much difference that made. I need to be able to ride 500+. It is a fun bike and I enjoyed riding it.

Yamaha FZ1

Next bike was the Yamaha FZ1. This is a nice looking bike. The riding position is similar to the Ducati. The first thing I noticed is the tank. It feels like you are straddling one of those inflatable exercise balls. It’s very wide. The motor was smooth but the transmission doesn’t fit my riding style. It’s a pure sport bike tranny. Shifts are back to back to back to back unless you really wind it up. I don’t ride like that. I want smooth “tourqey” power across a wide range.

Suzuki VStrom 1000

When I first started eyeballing bikes for touring I thought this was the one. A big bike with touring and mild off road capability. I read so many posts and reviews from people who absolutely love this bike. They said it was the perfect ride for the tall guy. I was sold. Then I went to a dealer and sat on one. It felt like…um, nothing. It felt like blah. Like a big blob of a bike. I felt like I was sitting IN it. A cross between a bike and a car. I was lucky enough to be able to ride one a couple of weeks later. My impressions were confirmed. It just didn’t feel right. I felt separated from the surroundings. Probably a decent bike, just not for me.

Triumph Tiger

Triumph? Not even on my radar screen. Why would I buy a Triumph? First, I know nothing about them. My impression (totally without evidence) is that they are fussy, high maintenance, unreliable, euro bikes. I have never seen a Triumph that I thought I would like to have. But someone kept telling me to check it out. Give it a chance. So I looked at the Tiger on the Triumph website. Ok, it passes the looks test, which is important. It’s a sharp looking bike.

Stage 2: I met a guy who just bought a Tiger. He let me sit on it. It happens that we are both about 6’3” and basically the same build. The first thing he says to me is “I feel like they built this bike just for me.” This guy has been around a few years and owned many bikes. He was excited just talking about how well it fit him. He spoke about it like he was in love. You can’t pay for that kind of endorsement. At that point I knew I had to give it my full attention. I had also ruled out every other bike.

All of my hopes for a bike with upright riding position, touring friendly transmission, smooth power, and good looks rested on this bike. I wasn’t pessimistic, but definitely had a wait and see attitude. It would have to prove itself to me. I was a bit concerned that there would be something about it that I didn’t like and then I would have to settle for one of the others.

I set up a test ride with a local dealer. Before I even got on the bike, which had 250 miles on it, he had the seat off and was fooling with some wiring. The fuel gauge wasn’t working. Nice. Just what I expected. I was about to test ride a money pit. How many other things would break in the first year? How many trips to drop it off and pick it up at the shop? How many times stranded on the roadside? I wouldn’t have to worry about that with a Honda.

Ok, no big deal. I’m here to test ride it so I mount up. Yeah, it’s nice. Very upright. Comfortable. I don’t think I would need to do anything to the bars, pegs, or seat. That’s unusual for being tall. My first few hundred dollars in modifications are always to accommodate my height.

Fire it up. Hello. That sounds nice. It’s purring, but with a hint of jet turbine. Very quick revving. Did I mention the sound? Nice. So I hit the road. All right, it’s not a sport bike transmission. That would have been a deal breaker. So now we have: Ideal riding position, great motor, street oriented transmission, and good looks. And it felt like a bike that wants to be ridden, not a bike to sit in and direct it. At that point I was pretty much sold. No other bike had all of those things. Do you have a black one? It’s on order? When will it be in? End of the week? Can I put a deposit? Great, see you Friday to pick it up. Done deal.

The nitty-gritty:

This bike is not perfect. One of the first things I noticed was a knocking feel and sound from the transmission when cruising a steady speed. It was extremely noticeable and annoying. It felt and sounded like ½” ball bearings being thrown around inside the case. It actually reminded me of my XR650 when I get the RPMs down too low and the transmission starts back lashing. I looked into this on a Tiger forum and found many posts about this. One of the explanations has to do with the fuel mapping. This “theory” is that due to emissions standards they drop the fuel supply when running at steady throttle to produce better results. This creates misses in the firing and therefore backlashes. I realize that this is something I am going to have to deal with. I just hope it doesn’t cause any mechanical failure.

The transmission was also very clunky and hard to shift at times. There were a few times a just could not get it to go into neutral. Is this a break-in issue or a permanent problem? It seems that the transmission may be a weak spot with this bike from all of the other posts I read about the same difficult shifting.

The front suspension was pretty soft and tended to dive a bit under braking. I'm sure that some of this will adjust out. Of course springs can be changed and the forks can be re-valved so I’m not worried about this at all. I might even just get used to it.

Those were the only negatives I could find in my short time on the bike. The suspension is not that big a deal. The transmission may or may not be. But after riding and ruling out the other offerings I think this bike is worth taking a chance on.

Bonus Ride !!!

Ducati 900 SS - Sweet bike. I could probably ride it for 20 or 30 minutes before I needed a morphine injection.

1 comment:

Lucky said...

The gearbox on the Triumph will smooth out as you add miles. It was clunky on my Speed Four when I first got it, but after 12,500 miles it feels perfect.

The Hickley Triumphs are absolutely reliable. They're built like tanks, and the "Triumph Oil Leak" is a think of the past.

The only downside is that they aren't as cheap to maintain as a Japanese bike. If you do your own maintenance, you'll be ok. If you take it in to the shop... just try to keep your mileage down. ;)