Wednesday, February 16

Mid Sized People, Mid Sized Bikes - 2 Wheels 2 Everywhere!

As a child I can recall that my parents regularly drummed into me the idea that I could be “anything that I wanted to be” when I grew up. That pretty much turned out to be true. Up to a point. Bumbling my way through school, a nice home, wonderful wife, a career. All that stuff worked out mostly as advertised. There is, however, one tiny little thing that I’ve wanted to be for many years but that I’m quite sure isn’t gonna happen any time soon. The adventure rider in me really would like to be about 6 feet 2 inches tall, weigh maybe a bit over 200 pounds and have a 34 inch inseam. Especially the inseam thing. Because if that could somehow become true then a whole lot of the motorcycles that I dream of (especially the adventure bikes) might actually be viable candidates for purchase. The truth of it is, however, that I’m stuck being a mid-sized guy.

Last weekend I dragged my 5’8” 150 pound self around the Progressive Insurance International Motorcycle Show in New York City. My little 29 inch long legs (ok, maybe 30 on a good day) were kept plenty busy pounding around the floor at the Javits Center for a whole day, searching out the new 2011 objects of my motor-lust. Upon first entering the show floor I found myself face to face with the Ducati display. I love Ducatis for what they represent (racing, style!) as much as for how they sound and ride. The previous generation Multistrada was a bike that never really talked to me, mostly because of the (in my mind) “quirky” styling. However, when the “new” 1200 Multistrada 1200 was announced over a year ago I was tremendously excited. Right up until the moment I sat on one at this very show a year ago. The published seat height of 33.5 inches seemed “optimistic” to me as my short little appendages swung freely in the breeze. Just to be sure I checked again this year. Same result. Yeah I can semi comfortably fit Monsters and the sport bikes for street riding but really…….I don’t think an 1198 or a Diavel is a bike that anyone would choose when headed for the Trans Lab or the Dawson Highway.

Then it was off to the BMW platz. In recent years I’ve been a little ambivalent about BMW. On the one hand , I’ve long had the impression that BMW was really just not interested in acommodating riders who did not represent some teutonic vision of how large a human male ought to be. (“Ja, ve vill make no engineering compromise for you tiny peoples”) I literally need a stepladder to climb on a R1200GS Adventure – no joke! Conversely, it seems that, maybe 4-5 years ago, BMW began to “get” the idea that perhaps not everyone was as big as Paul Bunyan (or his Doppelganger.) Maybe somewhere deep in the bowels of the world headquarters someone actually looked at the statistics which show the average height of a US or Canadian male as about 5 feet, 8 or 9 inches. For whatever reason, the gates were subsequently opened on a whole series of “low seat” and “low chassis” models. Now a person of, ahem, “modest” stature such as myself can be perfectly happy on a F650GS, G650GS, or (miracle of miracles) a “low chassis” R1200GS. OK, maybe not “perfectly” happy on an R12. But I can be reasonably happy on a “low” R1200GS while recognizing that pushing backwards on a gravelly surface or riding in sand/mud or anywhere that frequent foot “dabs” are required is still pretty dicey. On the other hand I’ve been 12,000 miles to Alaska and back on a fully loaded F650GS with no drama whatsoever.

Triumph is another manufacturer that might actually be starting to “get” it. Because I’ve loved the looks of Triumph’s current generation Tiger 1050 (but it’s way too tall, way too heavy) I have anxiously awaited the first chance to see and touch their new Tiger 800 and 800XC. The New York Show was that chance. First reaction? The Tiger 800 (the “streetier” base one with alloy wheels and such) sits very much like the BMW F650GS, though it does feel heavier (and is, if you believe the manufacturers specs.) Height would be near the upper limits of manageability for me (with the low seat) but probably OK – just about the same as a V Strom. Close enough, in any case, that I plan to get an extended demo ride on one when I can. What about even taller, even more capable Tiger 800 XC? Just like the BMW F800GS – probably too tall for it’s intended use by the likes of me!

One other bike that I specifically wanted to take a look at was Yamaha’s Super Tenere. Another “full figured” adventurer with 1200cc power, the Super Tenere has been available in Europe for several years but is new to the US market. I had a chance to sit on one with the seat in the fully lowered position. My first reaction? I was surprised to find that the bike sat much like a lowered BMW R1200GS. As with the GS I suspect it would be very rideable by someone my size but a handful in the rougher stuff due to the weight (a substantial 575 lbs wet according to Yamaha.) By the way, one real beauty to the Super Tenere is that, since it’s been on the market in Europe for a while, a full menu of accessories and after market stuff already exists! Sweet. Farkles readily available!

There are still other alternatives that have been carried over by the bike builders for “middleweight” adventurers (Suzuki's V Strom 650 and DR 650 come to mind). However, it truly does seem that while the manufacturers still move toward bigger, taller, heavier with their flagships (Multistrada, R1200GS Adventure, Super Tenere) some are also interjecting well thought out newer models (F650GS, Tiger 800) that are better suited to “mid-sized” folks like myself. Perhaps they recognize that we want to ride to Costa Rica every bit as much as our bigger brothers. Hopefully this trend can continue as I still have a lot of long trips to take! Of course not every manufacturer is on board. KTM didn't exhibit at the show this year. Probably just as well for folks my size. Ever try to swing a leg over a KTM 990 Adventure?

Jack Broomall is a lifelong motorcyclist and a friend of RevZilla. His motorcycle adventures have taken him across the North American continent several times, to Alaska, the Alps, the United Kingdom and the Isle of Man. He is a member of the Iron Butt Association and also owns a number of Land Speed Records set on motorcycles at the Bonneville Salt Flats where he is a member of the Bonneville 200 MPH Club. He has been known to do occasional restorations of his favorite bikes from the 1970s and enjoys track days as well. Jack writes his “2 Wheels 2..Everywhere!” stories about the motorcycling life on a monthly basis or whenever the mood strikes.
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