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Let's Talk About Long Term Quality

Discussion in 'Road Warriors' started by mrbreeze, Jun 22, 2020.

  1. mrbreeze

    mrbreeze I keep blowing down the road Supporter

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    Quality. It's somewhat subjective. The Japanese makers typically come out on top of the "fewest problems per 100 sold in the first 5 years" kind of studies, and brands like Harley and BMW do worse - but, it's not uncommon to find BMW's and Harleys out there that are several years old, and have a lot of miles on them. The same is true for the Japanese brands.

    It seems that these days more and more dealers are refusing to work on a bike that is over 10 years old, and the manufacturers no longer make some parts after the bike is out of production for 7 years. I know the Japanese do that, I don't know much about the Euro and American brands.

    I know that when I look at a Harley, or an Indian, or a BMW, they look pretty well made to me. I also know that the Japanese tend to have some problems with paint and pitting once a bike gets older.

    I have owned about 23 or 24 bikes, all Japanese and one BMW, so I can't say I know a lot about the Euro and American brands long term.
    #1
  2. KeithU

    KeithU Been here awhile

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    There are so many variables. Anecdotally I agree that you tend to see many older, high mileage BMWs and Harleys even though they score poorly on initial quality ratings. One factor is probably that they are more expensive to buy in the first place. This means buyers tend to be more mature, more likely to spend time and money on maintenance, and less likely to crash. BMW and Harley have traditionally also had slower development and longer product life cycles, meaning there is long term professional and enthusiast expertise out in the world. With rare exception, the Japanese manufacturers constantly develop new platforms and discontinue the old.

    I think it's also possible that premium brands tend to spend more on things that create the perception of quality, such as paint and detailing, even though that doesn't necessarily mean the mechanicals will last longer. I think of my time with a motorcycle magazine, where in the same year I spent time with a Triumph Thunderbird Sport and a Kawasaki Drifter. The Triumph had some beautiful details like metal fenders, hand-painted pinstripes, and chrome bits that just looked and felt like quality. The Kawasaki had decal pinstripes and lots of plastic bits that looked and felt cheap. Does this mean I would trust the Triumph to last longer than the Kawasaki with similar use? Probably not. Nobody buys a Kawasaki cruiser for brand cache, they buy it because it's cheaper and maybe a little more reliable than a Harley.

    My FJ-09 is another good example. Factory fit and finish is pretty crappy. It looks like it was built to a price, because it was. And yet, many people now have 100k+ miles on this motor with no issues. I have 30k miles on mine and so far it's been considerably more reliable than either BMW I've owned.
    #2
  3. dduelin

    dduelin Prone To Wander, Lord, I Feel It

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    Peter Egan wrote a column in Cycle World appearing in March 1993 titled Beemer Update. It can still be read in his book Leanings 2, Motorbooks, 2005. Egan's Cycle World columns and essays are collected in these books. (He also wrote a column in Road & Track plus occasional pieces for Flying magazine so he hit three of my lifetime touchstones).

    If you get hold of a copy of Leanings and Leaning 2 they are wonderful reads if you rode bikes through the 1970s, 80s, and 90s. Probably if you ride at all and are much younger than my 64 years. This column in particular was specific to the 1984 R100RS he owned (twice, the same one) and was a follow on to a column two years prior on the purchase of a used BMW but the main idea in the quote below is still relevant. OP mrbreeze, am like you, owning about 25 motorcycles mostly Japanese, mostly Honda, and three BMWs. My 2006 Goldwing, 1981 BMW R100 and 2007 BMW R1200RT still elicit the same thoughts as Egan emotes:

    "It's a motorcycle that wears well; the more you ride it, the greater your respect for the thinking that went into its design and evolution. Any number of bikes do one or two things better, louder, or more colorfully, but for all-around, do-everything balance, I would rank the R100RS as one of the best motorcycles I've ever owned. Even at 85,000 miles.

    Any regrets at buying the old RS?
    No, not really. It's always fun to rescue and refurbish a motorcycle in need, even if the costs inevitably exceed the resale value of the bike. But I wouldn't advise anyone to turn down a low-mileage example either. Miles are miles even on a BMW.

    Nevertheless, the old Beemer passes two of my basic tests for quality and greatness for any piece of machinery, whether it's a motorcycle, an airplane, a drill press, or a toaster: (a) you can repair it, and (b) after you do, you've still got something worth owning, regardless of its age. Or yours."
    #3
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  4. Husky360C

    Husky360C Been here awhile

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    I'd say the Japanese are far and away the best at making a quality product. It's no contest.

    I've never heard of even one final drive failure on a Super Tenéré. BMW final drives, on the other hand, have an inexcusably poor record of reliability.

    Regarding older BMWs : My 1974 R90S had a rear rim which literally self-destructed ( the spoke nipples pulled out of the rim, due to improper manufacturing processes on the rim ) and later on, its transmission failed. I personally believe BMW bikes are over-rated by a huge margin and that many of the people who own them are in the grip of what I'd call a motorcycle version of Stockholm Syndrome, wherein they refuse to admit their BMW bikes have serious problems.

    Newer BMW bikes ? How about the catastrophic fork failures on the BMW 650, in which the front wheel was left to flop around after the forks fractured ( 100% certainty of a crash ) ? Or the crimp arrangement on the newer big GS forks ?
    Are you freaking kidding me ? The fork is retained by a crimp on a $25,000 bike ?
    The failure on the fork of a BMW GS killed Kevin Ash at the BMW press intro of that bike in South Africa. And BMW has made sure all that was "swept under the rug",
    just as they included a gag order as a condition of the settlements they made with people who experienced the 650 fork failure. This is borderline criminal behavior on BMW's part.

    No way I'm ever buying another new BMW bike after seeing how very poorly BMW corporate handled those two above messes ( denial and a lengthy refusal to accept responsibility on BMW's part were part of both scenarios until it became impossible for BMW to refuse culpability ). Shame on BMW. And yet people will still come to BMW's defense despite such awful corporate conduct. Like I said : Stockholm Syndrome, and to an appalling degree.

    I've owned a bunch of KTMs. Most of them have had problems I consider inexcusable, but I keep buying KTMs anyway because they offer performance I really want. My relationships with my KTMs are somewhat like a relationship with a crazy girl friend : She is a huge pain to deal with and then she screws your brains out and all is forgiven.

    But I've never engaged in denial regarding whether KTMs have problems, like some BMW owners do with BMW. It's been my experience that KTMs are just going to have problems of some sort, because the KTM company does not really sort the bikes fully before bringing them to market. But the performance keeps bringing me back despite the hassles. The day the Japanese offer bikes that perform like a KTM, I've bought my last KTM.

    I cannot recommend KTMs to people who don't want to be involved with maintenance and repairs. I will say that once you get a KTM "sorted" the bikes tend to be trouble free after that. You just need to rectify the mistakes the factory made in order to have a reliable KTM. The sorting process on some bikes involves a bit of re-engineering of various bits, for example installing an optical trigger in the fuel pump of a 950 ( the Dr. Bean kit ). KTM should be ashamed of this shit. Most long-time KTM owners are familiar with all this stuff.

    The Honda motorcycles I've owned had ZERO problems. They just worked.

    My next 4-wheeled vehicle won't be European, and this is after a lifetime of owning and driving European cars. The European manufacturing culture simply doesn't result in cars that are trouble free, and I don't care whether it's a Mercedes, BMW, Audi, VW, or Porsche, they are all fraught with problems that should never ever have happened. Toyota or Honda vehicles will typically provide a long life free of hassles, in comparison.
    #4
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  5. Tytan

    Tytan Been here awhile

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    I read an interesting article on automotive warranty statistics a few years ago and I think the same will apply to motorcycles. The article mentioned the more expensive vehicles had a worse warranty rate and some of this could be the price point of the vehicle if you paid $100K for a high end automotive product you expect it to be perfect in every way so any little problem gets a trip to the dealer where if you bought a $20K appliance type vehicle you are not too concerned about it being perfect. The article mentioned Fords ratings dropped noticeably over a few year span and looking at the warranty claims it was mainly complaints about the electronics package, phone and music sync etc so the product was mechanically solid but the owners frustration with a poor electronics package drove the ratings.

    In general I find the european stuff is over engineered when it works it works great but when it fails it's expensive to repair. I have mainly two wheeled Honda's and Yamaha's in the garage and four wheeled Honda and Toyota products in the driveway.
    #5
  6. Volfy

    Volfy Fava beans & a nice Chianti

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    Ive read in many circles that Euro mfrs of premium brands like BMW have little incentive to build for long term reliability. They know full well vast majority of the folks who buy their cars/bikes don't keep them past warranty. Those owners can afford to trade in every 3-4 yrs for a brand new ones. Those that buy used... well, they are not "buyers" in the eyes of the mfrs and don't contribute to their bottom line, so whether they have to deal with problems or not isn't the mfrs' top priority.

    That said, it isn't like these premium brand vehicles just fall apart after warranty expires. Many of them are actually quite reliable in the long run. Another reason for their infamous reputation for high $$$$ maintenance stems from the fact that their first owners are usually well to do enough not to care for doing the wrenching themselves. Since I started perusing BMW forums and FB groups, I've been amazed at how many ask about $400 oil changes and $3000 valve checks.... after they've done paid the service bills!

    Me?! So far, upkeep of my K16GT has been no different than any other Japanses or other Euro bikes I've owned. Of course, time will tell if that'll stays true. However, I've looked into parts cost for several of the more common fixes, and none of them are all that high dollar... If you buy just the parts and pay the rest with elbow grease.

    KTM... well, that's a whole nother story. I like my 250 Xcf-w a lot, but I doubt I'd ever own another one.
    #6
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  7. LuciferMutt

    LuciferMutt Rides slow bike slow

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    Interesting post; I have to admit I didn't know about most of the BMW fork issues. I had to laugh though when you said your Hondas were problem free. I've owned one Honda, a VFR750, which I loved. It was indeed incredibly well built, but it's also the only motorcycle I've ever owned that broke down and didn't start -- fried R/R and wiring harness. I had to replace the R/R and associated harness with an R/R from a Yamaha, and an aftermarket wiring harness. There are a large number of Hondas with shitty R/R electrics.

    Name a brand, and people in the know will be able to name the problems they've had. But this discussion is about "long term quality" which I tend to see as "staying power." What bikes can you keep on the road, well maintained, and riding for decades? I see way more old Harleys in excellent condition than I do Japanese bikes, for whatever reason. Probably because of who is buying them though.
    #7
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  8. Husky360C

    Husky360C Been here awhile

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    Obviously, all machines can have problems. I guess I was lucky with the Hondas I owned, that they never had any problems.

    What I found profoundly disturbing about the BMW fork problems was not that the problems occurred, but the manner in which BMW handled the problems, which was pretty much criminally negligent. Of course this seems to be standard corporate practice these days, as anyone who lost loved ones on a Boeing 737 Max will attest.
    #8
  9. 72 Yamaha RD350

    72 Yamaha RD350 Followed the Wrong God Home Supporter

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    I bought a 1998 Jeep Wrangler Sport 4.0L 6sp brand new off the dealer lot. At the time Consumer Reports Auto Reliability Survey results showed the Wrangler to be fairly unreliable but I bought one anyway. It’s not that I didn’t believe their data - they are fairly scientific in their process. I mentally adjusted their data for how people use Wranglers - they beat the sh!t out ‘em and some of that mistreatment results in the poor showing. In ten years of ownership I had two minor warranty repairs and a broken valve spring at 100,000 miles that cost me $300 to have repaired. And my Wrangler spent a lot of time off road. It was one of the best vehicles I ever owned and certainly the most fun.

    I say all that to say this: Perceptions of reliability are inherently flawed. The only objective reliability data is warranty returns and manufacturers don’t share that data because it would scare every buyer. (CR attempts to sample what the manufacturers know already and they do a reasonable job on the quantifiable side of things.)

    A few years ago CR applied their efforts to motorcycles and came up with a reliability ranking of Yamaha first, Honda/Kawasaki/Suzuki tied for second, HD and Triumph ties for third, and BMW & Ducati tied for fourth. IIRC, the problem rates were 1-2% for Yamaha, <5% H/K/S, <9% HD/T, and <15% for B/D.

    All of these numbers are relatively low and anyone has a fair chance of getting a reliable unit of any make. But similar to my Jeep, the numbers likely don’t account for GS or RT riders who ride big miles, GS riders who live at Starbucks, Ducati riders who do track days, or HD guys scooting from bar to bar (couldn’t resist).

    Similar to the Jeep, I bought a HD anyway. At some point good enough is good enough. I don’t need a 0.01% problem rate bike. 8-9% is good enough if parts are affordable and readily available. But more than anything, I have to really like something about the bike or the car. Reliability is a virtue up to a point - and then it becomes: What can this vehicle do for me? It’s why I’ve never owned a Civic or a Camry - both are reliable vehicles but boring as hell.

    I was a Reliability Engineer for my first professional job. There’s a lot to it but ultimately, only in rare instances is it The most important feature (like my best friend Ural who is a Rel Eng for an implantable medical device company). The rest of the time it is an important feature - just one of many to choose from and value according to your own disposition.

    The trend lately is to not value reliability at all. There’s this nobody guy who owns a company that is putting up 64 small satellites at a time so everyone around the world has equal access to kittens and porn on the internet. He doesn’t f_cking care whether some of them are DOA or shortly thereafter. He knows that reliability costs money and he’s trying to get away with not having any. We’ll see how that turns out. I’d be more optimistic if he wasn’t the same guy planning to go to Mars without a radiation mitigation plan.
    #9
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  10. Husky360C

    Husky360C Been here awhile

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  11. 72 Yamaha RD350

    72 Yamaha RD350 Followed the Wrong God Home Supporter

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    I should not be the pedantic prick, but here goes:

    Quality over the long term (or any defined period of time) is Reliability.

    Problems, issues, or failures at an instantaneous point in time, typically prior to use, is Quality.

    Or something like that. YMMV.
    #11
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  12. fecundity

    fecundity Been here awhile

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    The first 20 years or so of riding for me was on very used Japanese bikes and as beat up as those things were they were all reliable. My ‘07 Honda interceptor was purchased new and rides like new to this day. Just always feels like a well finished machine with a comfortable sporty plush ride. Had a ground issue, the 4 way flasher switch went south and because I kept ignoring the the frayed and corroded looking wiring around the battery eventually she just stopped running while on the freeway splitting lanes.

    So three problems since I brought her home in June 2009 which is not bad, 11 years of mostly trouble free riding, and it hasn’t lost that tight buttoned down refined feeling. No cracked plastic, paint is great, no leaks literally no issues with the bike.

    2008 Suzuki Bking bought new in 2011 is a soldier, never a problem, fires up like new and all the paint & plastics are in great shape.

    Japanese vehicles have worked out very well for me.
    #12
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  13. DC2wheels

    DC2wheels Castle Anthrax troll Supporter

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    I've had Yamahas, Kawasakis, Hondas, Triumphs, Ducatis and BMWs. In each case I always do all my own work (exception- Ducati valve adjustment).
    That way I am looking over every aspect of the machine. Like during an oil change, I'll be looking the bike over while the old oil is draining and be checking fittings, other fluids, lights, etc. I have found potential problems doing that.

    In the nearly 40 years of riding, I have had just one breakdown when the rear u-joint gave out on my 80k mile '92K100RS.

    Luck or good quality or good prep?
    #13
  14. ddavidv

    ddavidv The reason we can't have nice things

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    I've worked in the automotive repair industry for over 30 years.
    While I do agree owners of premium brands tend to be more particular (technical term: "pain in the ass") the person who drops $20k in a Hyundai Accent still feels like they spent as much as the person who bought the S class Mercedes. Neither is happy when their product doesn't work properly.

    I never purchase new vehicles. I like how depreciation can work in my favor too much. One advantage to this is I can research typical problems on a model that has been out for a few years and make the educated decision if buying something is a risk worth taking. Subaru head gaskets were one I struggled with when we shopped for a Forester but I decided the risk was worth taking if I could buy one cheap enough. No surprise that my 'cheap' used Forester developed a weeping HG a year later. You roll your dice and you take your chances. Lesser problems like stepper motors on Triumph Tigers or doohickeys on KLRs are easier to stomach. I'll take those risks vs BMW final drive failures that can leave me hopelessly stranded with a massive repair bill staring me in the face. I may consider a chain driven BMW product but I'll take a pass on shaft drive models, thank you.

    Every brand makes turds. Even Honda and Toyota. Honda couldn't make automatic transmissions for awhile that didn't fail. Ask Toyota V6 owners about their head gaskets from a few years back. And let's not even mention Toyota pickup frames...

    My Tiger 800 had a clutch cable break last year. A short time later the front sprocket nut came off and disappeared. Both breakdowns left me immobile. At 38,000 miles is this thing a POS? If those are the only two things I ever had to fix does it make it unreliable? Some would say yes. Me, I'm not quite as bothered...though it does make me rub my chin a bit about trusting it to take me across the country. My KLR refused to start one day after I stopped to do an apparel adjustment. One of the battery cables had come loose. Does that make it unreliable?

    Reliability is subjective. Tolerance for problems is also subjective. I will always risk a few problems with a better bike (Tiger) than cede to bulletproof dependability (?) with a dull machine (NC700X). The number of problems and seriousness of them are what I have to constantly weigh.
    #14
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  15. mrbreeze

    mrbreeze I keep blowing down the road Supporter

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    I agree with the whole buying used, let the other guy take the depreciation philosophy. That has mostly been my MO for the last few decades - however I have not had particularly good luck buying used motorcycles. It seems too many owners get swept up in the whole farkle game. they hack into the electronics, or install non OEM parts that simply don't work as well or cause other problems down the road...

    I am in my sixties now, and I am thinking of buying what may be my last motorcycle. I told Mrs. B that I would like to buy a NEW, premium motorcycle.... Don't get me wrong, I love my Goldwing, but let's face it - it's 20 year old technology. I would like to have improved suspension, ABS brakes, power windshield, bluetooth connectivity, GPS, and yes, DCT. I know the only place I can get the DCT is Honda, but these are the bikes I am currently considering, in no particular order:

    Honda Goldwing DCT
    BMW K1600B
    BMW R1200RT
    Harley Road King
    Indian Springfield

    or just keep my old paid for GL1800.
    #15
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  16. markk53

    markk53 jack of all trades... Super Supporter

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    As often as not the reason for that policy is because of the "you last touched the bike, so it must be your fault" syndrome. Seems someone brings in an older bike to have something worked on. Then after they pick it up they have some other issue, like the cam belts were changed then the rear left turn signal quit working. It must be the fault of the shop that did the cam belts...

    Another is the compounding of problems. The shop works on the bike fixing one problem, another crops up, repeat - the snowball effect.

    So to avoid the issue they use the general time of 10 years. Even with Gold Wings, the bike from 2009 may be the same as the one from 2012, but they won't work on it because they have "drawn the line" and are sticking to it.



    First off - Indian? They've only been around a short time, 7 years, since 2013. I'm betting there are a lot of clean Gold Wings and Shadows, Viragos and Vulcans out there older than that and in good condition.

    Second, in all the cases with those three makers, you are paying for a higher quality of finish, much as is done with the Gold Wing and some other higher line Hondas as well as that of the other companies.

    You will find the lower cost Japanese bikes will usually be treated with a bit less care. You may find an old Honda Shadow or Yamaha Virago leaning against a garage somewhere, but not as likely to find a Sportster and definitely not a big twin suffering the same fate. Remember, those Japanese bikes were anywhere from 1/2 to 1/4 the price of that Harley. Makes them more expendable for some. Poor storage and the like. Plus the sheer numbers sold puts a lot of them in those dank moist sheds or garages.

    I drive/ride by a house with I think a 1984 Honda GL1100A Aspencade - blue - sitting in grass overgrowth pretty much year around abandoned there several yards away from a garage. Might be good for parts now, but I'm betting it would cost far more to bring it back than it is worth now. I'm betting no other brand would survive that kind of treatment much better. But I will say a Harley sitting there wouldn't last long, someone would "rescue" it. Rust and corrosion isn't very selective when it comes to the brand. Maybe some chrome might be better due to heavier plating, but not fork legs and alloy engine bits. Same with bikes near the ocean where salt is in the air.

    Give equal care to the Japanese bike as the BMW, Indian, or Harley and that bike will look good for a long time too. I think you know that owning as many Japanese bikes as you mention.
    #16
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  17. Lead Wrist

    Lead Wrist Mehr Gelände Weniger Straße

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    If you remove BMW as being the biggest pos, per one of the previous elaborate posts, the list gets rather short... :deal

    At the end, you may end up keeping your paid-for GL1800 as "devil you know is better then the one you don't"... :D
    #17
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  18. 72 Yamaha RD350

    72 Yamaha RD350 Followed the Wrong God Home Supporter

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    I don't know how big you are, whether Mrs. B rides pillion, or how many miles you typically ride in a year, but if I was in my sixties (I'm only four laps away) I'd be considering slightly smaller, lighter weight bikes than those on that list. I love my 17 Road King a little bit more each day (13 months and 15,000 miles of riding) but I know that if I'm still riding in my sixties it will likely be on a slightly smaller bike. But I'm a 5'11" 165 lbs guy - not exactly Hulk Hogan. The Road King and Springfield are nearly identical. All motorcycles require balance skills but I tend to believe the heavier ones require much finer balance skills at low speed - something that might start degrading as I age (Parkinson's is in my future).

    [For example, yesterday I came to an empty intersection that was somewhat blind. I had downshifted to what I thought was second gear but had actually slid into Neutral (certainly not common on the Harley which has a bit of an agricultural transmission but you can finesse the shifts). On the RK (or Springfield) the display is not in your field of view and you have to be comfortable riding by sound and feel - which I am. I didn't look down at the gear display. As soon as I verified the intersection was clear... at which point the bike is no longer rolling but my feet are still up on the boards... I rolled on the throttle and let out the clutch - Nothing! So I'm on an 800 lbs bike sitting still with my feet up on the boards. I'm no Trials rider! This is no Trials bike! At the first sensation of no movement I realized I needed First gear, pulled back in on the clutch and dropped it into First... all with my feet still on the boards. I have that degree of balance now... but will I five years from now? Will I be smart enough to put my feet down... maybe.]

    If I look into the distant future I can see a Softail Heritage Special (100 lbs lighter than the RK) and then an Indian Scout if I'm still above ground and capable of riding. I've got nothing against the BMWs although I am barely strong enough to get a K1600B off the stand at my present age. (The RT seating position isn't for me.) One of my co-workers just bought the new Wing. He's over 60 but his wife still tours with him. He moved up from the prior generation Wing. Its weight down low certainly helps. Whatever you choose - enjoy it.
    #18
  19. mrbreeze

    mrbreeze I keep blowing down the road Supporter

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    That reminds me of some sad cases. I used to drive by an old Honda V65 Magna that was sitting in a fence row at the end of someone's driveway. It obviously was forgotten. I stopped one day to ask if they would be interested in selling it. I figured if they GAVE me the bike AND $500, I would still lose money on it. I felt like I was offering to do them a favor. They just got offended... cultural difference I guess.

    I also used to drive by an old Suzuki GS850G. It must have just sat out in that yard for 3 years. Then one day it was gone...

    Another time I drove by an old Honda sitting at the end of a driveway. They were having a yard sale. I stopped to look at it, mainly just because I once had a bike just like it. It was in pretty rough shape. Another case of I would lose money even if they paid me to take it. I offered $300 for it anyway. They wanted $1200. They kept it.
    #19
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  20. mrbreeze

    mrbreeze I keep blowing down the road Supporter

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    The Goldwing (my 2012) can be a bear at low/no speeds, especially if there is loose gravel in the equation. That's one reason I am very interested in the DCT. Never in the wrong gear. No such thing as a false neutral. Walking speed assist. Reverse. I love my reverse! If this was a race, the Goldwing would be ahead by a couple of lengths. Now that you mention it, I sat on a K1600GT recently, and it was a bit of a struggle to get it off the sidestand. I have not sat on a recent RT, but I always felt like the older ones were perfect ergonomically, at least for me.
    #20
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