Here are the three questions about motorcycling that I am probably asked most often. What is the best bike? What bike should I buy? What is the quietest helmet?
As it happens, I can’t answer any of them.
The best bike? For what? The answers to that question range from best for learning on, best for impressing the girls, best for riding around the world and right to best (believe it or not) as an investment. Once I know this I can take a stab at it, but the original question is impossible to answer.
What bike should you buy? What do you want it for? How much money, experience, mechanical skill and fortitude do you have? And of course after a long discussion, the person asking me the question goes out and buys a red one.
As for the quietest helmet, there is I suspect no such thing. How quiet a helmet is depends on so many things – does your bike have a fairing, what is the shape of your head and the precise location of your ears, how fast do you ride, what is your chosen riding position and on and on. At least I can answer this as it applies to me. The quietest helmet I have ever worn was a BMW full face Sport from 15 or so years ago. When I asked around, others disagreed and also complained that it made them feel claustrophobic. I don’t care; I would still buy another one if I could, but the current models are different.
So what are the three big questions that I can answer?
“I have bought a new bike but now I find that [for example] the suspension is not very good. If I can buy better aftermarket suspension, why doesn’t the manufacturer fit it already?” This can also apply to tyres (sorry, tires), exhaust systems, lighting, the seat, luggage setups and so on.
The answer is simple, but it can be difficult to get people to accept it. Every motorcycle is built to a price point. Manufacturers do not – ever – build the best bike they can. I know that many readers of this website are fans of Erik Buell, but even Erik designed and built bikes to a price. Why? So that people would buy it. Building the best possible motorcycle creates several problems for a manufacturer. Among other things these include a potentially sky-high price which would be reflected in sales… very limited sales.
There is also the fact, difficult as it may be to accept, that in almost every case the majority of buyers would not know if they had the best suspension or whatever anyway. Building a bike to a price point means that many people will (you hope) buy it, and the ones who can actually use better tires (got it that time) can upgrade at their own cost. You have not had to build in the cost of the better – read more expensive – tires into the price of the motorcycle. The lowest point in this assessment comes when a factory sells bikes with tires that are unsafe.
Think that doesn’t or couldn’t happen? When I bought my Cossack 650 back in the ‘70s, even the salesman suggested that I put better hoops on it straight away, not to mention having the brake drums reground.
So don’t complain. You were able to afford the bike, and if you can afford to upgrade it you can do that. Ducati usually saves you the trouble by releasing cooking and upscale versions of the same bike, but it’s possible to upgrade almost every other motorcycle you can buy.
The next one is “Why are Harley-Davidsons so expensive in Australia compared to the US?” I gather from friends that there is, or used to be, an equivalent question in the US about the price of BMWs, compared to Germany.
Hold onto your hat, but motorcycle manufacturers like every other manufacturer price their goods at the point where they will sell in the quantities they want them to sell.
“But shouldn’t they take the cost of manufacture, add a percentage for profit and maybe an amount for freight and then sell the bikes for that?”
That’s not the way it works. Consider this. You have had a bike for some years and want to sell it. Do you take the original price, depreciate the bike over the time you’ve owned it and put it on the market for the amount remaining? No you don’t. You sell it for what you can get. And motorcycle manufacturers do exactly the same thing.
So if Harley-Davidsons or BMWs or any other bike cost more in your country than in another, it’s because you’re prepared to pay more.
Finally, there’s “Is motorcycling safe?” No, it isn’t. By extension, “How can I convince my parents/wife/partner that it is safe?” By lying.
That may seem a little harsh, but consider relative safety. According to US finance company Titlemax, you are 43 times more likely to die while BASE jumping, 17 times more likely when giving birth and twice as likely playing American football. Even just going for a swim is 20 per cent more dangerous. Interestingly, both skydiving and having a general anesthetic carry the same danger of death as riding a motorcycle.
So when someone asks if motorcycling is safe, the only relevant answer is “Compared to what?”
Photos The Bear except as indicated.