We interrupt our regularly scheduled programming to bring you a review of two very fun yet very different motorcycles.
First the Harley Davidson Sportster. Harley makes two versions of this bike, an 883 cc and a 1200 cc. I rode the 883 pictured below.
Now, never having ridden a Harley, I was a little apprehensive about the weight of the machine. The guys I rented it from assured me that I'd be fine because it's got a low centre of gravity. Turned out they were right and it really wasn't an issue. The bike is built so low that the footpegs scrape bottom when leaning into even relatively wide turns.But I can hear you already -- who cares, just tell us about that signature roar! Yes, I have to say I completely understand Harley fever now. This is by no means the loudest, growliest machine in the Harley stable but I certainly loved the sound. And the low-end torque that the engine puts out matches the rumble perfectly. Every time I shifted up a gear, the up-shift would manifest itself in a satisfying THUNK, the bike would spring ahead like a hungry puma pouncing and I just had to hang on. What fun!
That same torque quickly made me feel the absence of a windshield. Finding neutral wasn't always easy but that's not uncommon among bikes I've ridden. It doesn't even come with much storage. All that combined with the lack of an ergonomically comfortable design and fairly tough suspension tells me that this is essentially an engine with wheels and handlebars attached, not a machine built for long rides at high speeds.
The bike I rode was relatively new so it came with an auto-cancel feature for the turn indicators. When you straighten out of a turn, your indicators automatically turn off. Cute. Confusing at first.
The one big negative, again in line with its seeming positioning as a city bike, is that it has a moronically small fuel tank. I found myself refuelling every 100 or so miles.
Final verdict: really fun for occasional rides and a classically beautiful design but I wouldn't buy it.
The other new bike I rode recently is the Triumph Tiger. This whole class of adventure bikes has experienced a lot of popularity in recent years with BMW, Honda, Ducati and several others piling in.
Having ridden a Kawasaki Versys a couple of years ago on a 4,500 mile road trip, I was a little apprehensive about the Tiger's height. The Tiger isn't heavy by Harley standards but it's no pipsqueak. Combine that with the fact that I'm rarely the tallest person in any room and you can imagine my nervousness. Again the rental guys assured me I'd be alright and it turns out I really was. The bike is certainly a tall ride but it's easy to throw around corners and is easily controlled even at walking speed, and the nice upright stance is comfortable for longer rides. The suspension easily eats up the bumps. All perfect for curvy mountainous roads and the engine's power means that it can also easily hold its own on the open road.
The torque profile is really the most fun part of the bike. Superb acceleration when you change gears just like the Harley, but unlike any other bike I've ridden before, the acceleration is silky smooth and the torque profile is consistent all the way from low revs until shifting gears up. The engine sound could be described similarly -- silky smooth, almost too smooth because other road users just don't know you're there!
Gear selection is essentially a non-issue. You could easily get to 50 mph in 1st without even coming close to busting the tachometer yet also do 20 mph in 4th without the engine complaining. All you need to do is twist the throttle and the bike just does what you want it to at whatever speed you want. Maximum fun, minimum fuss and plenty of oomph always in reserve.One side-effect of the consistent torque profile that I didn't anticipate is that you can quite easily lose track of what gear you're in. Which is why I appreciated the inbuilt gear indicator on the electronic dashboard. Another nice touch is that it's really easy to find neutral. No more riding the clutch.
It's a really well made bike that feels solid, compact, and complete with everything you need within easy reach and where you'd expect. There are really only two negatives, one minor, one not-so-minor to point out.
One: the panniers give it a wide-ish profile, which made me a little nervous about splitting lanes. Usually not a problem on the highway in California but certainly something that would nag at you on city roads or in a place like Singapore. I also think -- and this isn't even really a complaint as such -- that the entire adventure bike class isn't really built with beauty in mind, only utility, and this is true of the Tiger too.
The second problem has been mentioned by many others though I didn't realise how much of a problem it would really be: heat. The radiator design blasts heat off the bike onto the rider's legs. Even in relatively cool northern California, the effect wasn't pleasant.
Final verdict: loved the bike but the heat problem is a deal-breaker.