10 Questions To Ask When Choosing A New Motorcycle

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Have you ever typed “choosing a new motorcycle” into Google?

I have.

And I found a tonne of posts from the usual suspects all explaining to new riders what the differences are between a sports bike and an adventure bike.

Or a street bike and a cruiser.

Now, this information is of zero use to the experienced and knowledgable readers of Motorcycle Tourer!

Chances are, you’re not a new rider.

But having experience doesn’t always make it easier when it comes to choosing a new motorcycle.

Most riders don’t know what their perfect bike is. We generally go through life buying bikes that aren’t right, and that then influences our next purchase.

ktm outside disused factory - choosing a new motorcycle
Choosing a new motorcycle is never a simple process

Choosing A New Motorcycle: My History

I started with a 600cc sports bike. And it taught me that I wanted something bigger to tour with.

So I bought a Yamaha Fazer 1000 which gave me all the space and power I could dream of.

But I couldn’t go off-road with it. So I bought a Honda Africa Twin that I could use for both touring and off-roading.

And what has the Africa Twin taught me?

Well, it’s taught me that I don’t like the weight, and it’s too big and heavy for off-roading anyway!

This story is typical of most riders. We go through life buying bikes that aren’t quite right in the hope that one day we will get it right.

If you’re a new rider, you have all this to come. And choosing a new motorcycle for you is way more fun than it is for experienced riders!

Over the next few weeks, I’ll make sure to write a similar post that focuses more on new riders.

yamaha fazer 1000
Choosing a new motorcycle: The FZ1 taught me the importance of range

Meet Kawasaki Fred

I ride in a group which is ran by a guy called Fred.

Fred is nearly 70 and spent his entire career as an architect. He’s always had enough money to buy pretty much whatever bike took his fancy when renewal time rolled around.

So he did. And as result, he’s had everything from Kawasaki Ninjas to Harley-Davidson baggers.

Through trial and error, he realised that Kawasaki’s suited him best.

And when the 1000SX came out all those years ago, Fred bought a brand new one in Kawasaki green.

He loved it!

For the 2 years he had it, he was always smiling.

But then he traded it in for a GTR 1400 – which he ultimately found too big, too heavy, and too much hard work for day-to-day riding.

Over the next decade, he continued to swap and change his bike until he eventually did a full circle and bought another brand new 1000SX (now known as the Ninja 1000 SX.)

And guess what?

He loves it.

This is what I meant above when I said we don’t choose the perfect bike. We simply keep making mistakes until we find the one that suits us best.

kawasaki ninja 1000 sx - choosing a new motorcycle
Kawasaki Fred did a full 360 when choosing a new motorcycle

How Do I Choose The Right Motorcycle?

Well if life experience is anything to go by, you probably can’t!

You’ll keep buying the wrong one, decide what you don’t like, and then buy another one.

And whilst the new one will sort out the problems of the previous bike, it will come with a whole new set of problems of its own.

And so the circle continues!

But it’s so important to look at it logically. Because whilst it’s fun and exciting to make buying decisions with the heart, the input from your head is likely to yield a more practical result.

Buying a bike with the heart is a bit like marrying someone with whom you share only a wild sexual chemistry.

Sure, the honeymoon will be amazing in a borderline-illegal sort of way.

But do you really want to settle down, have kids, and share the rest of your life with this person?

Probably not. And buying a bike is pretty much the same.

Whilst you may love the way a Panigale makes you feel on a half-hour test ride, will your tired and aching body thank you for it 12-months down the line when you’re trying to complete a 3,000-mile tour on it?

I would guess not.

In an attempt to keep you on the straight and narrow, consider these 10 questions next time you find yourself in the fortunate position of choosing a new motorcycle.

ducati panigale v2
Your heart isn’t always right when choosing a new motorcycle

1. Choosing A New Motorcycle: “What Will Be Its Main Purpose?”

The reason this question is at the top of the list is because it’s two-fold.

First of all, what do you need the bike to do? Is it a toy for Sunday morning blasts, or will it be used for touring?

Will it be your daily commute, or is it likely to only come out when the sun shines?

Are you planning to go off-road, or is it strictly for tarmac?

Does it need to carry stuff like camping equipment, luggage, or even your other half?

The second part of this question is “What is the purpose of the bike?”

Look at the literature and understand what its job is.

If it’s a big, heavy bike designed to regularly cover monster distances, then do you really need it for the 4 times a year you take it out in the summer months?

The goal here is to align what you need the bike to do with the main purpose of the bike itself.

ktm 890 off-road - choosing a new motorcycle
Aligning your purpose with the functionality of the bike is important when choosing a new motorcycle (Image: KTM)

2. “Is It Comfortable?”

I once bought a Honda VFR 800 based on the fact that everyone I knew revered in the comfort of this popular sports tourer.

I took it out for a quick test ride and it was fine. So I bought it.

Within an hour of the 300-mile ride home, however, my back started to hurt and my arse was in agony.

It’s a horrible feeling when you’ve just paid £6,500 for a bike and you know you’ve made a mistake before you even get it home.

Take your prospective bike out for an extended test ride. Most dealerships these days will let you take a bike for the day, or even the weekend.

So take advantage of this time and have a proper ride on it before you part with your cash.

honda vfr 800 red
The instrument of torture that is the Honda VFR 800

3. “How Does It Make Me Feel?”

This question doesn’t count if you only go on a ten-minute test ride. Because most bikes put a smile on your face for the first ten minutes!

Try to live with the bike for a day when you test ride it and see how you feel every time you get on it. Does it make you giggle with excitement? Or does it make you a little bit sad when you have to take it back?

You could have the best bike in the world for your needs. But if it doesn’t put a smile on your face, then what’s the point?

Equally, there’s no point in having a bike that makes you feel like a rock star if it’s thoroughly impractical.

Striking a balance here is key.

aprilia rs 660 - choosing a new motorcycle
Choosing a new motorcycle that puts a smile on your face is a priority! Such as this Aprilia *swoon* (Image via Cycletrader)

4. “Am I Experienced Enough To Handle This Bike?”

If you’re a new rider, don’t be tempted to go for that big, 250kg adventure bike.

Yes, I know it looks cool and rugged and manly.

But I guarantee that it will be too big, too expensive, too powerful, too fast, too tall, and too heavy for you.

You will drop it and/or be unable to control the power.

Comparatively, if you’ve been riding small-capacity bikes for decades, you’re going to struggle to take on 350kg Goldwing!

yamaha fjr1300
Ask yourself if you can handle to weight, height, and power when choosing a new motorcycle (Image: Yamaha)

5. Choosing A New Motorcycle: “Am I Going To Struggle With The Weight?”

A BMW 1250 RT might offer all the comfort, gadgets, and styling that you could ever need. But if you don’t intend to tour, is it really worth lugging around 280kg?

Every time you need to put it on the centre stand, you’ll shit yourself. And every time you need to paddle it backwards out of a parking spot, you’ll shit yourself.

Every time you have to put your foot down on a camber, you’ll shit yourself. And you’ll spend the entire time of your ownership bitching about how heavy it is.

In the long run, a 280kg machine won’t make you happy if you’re comfortable with a bike that is 100kg lighter.

Choose lighter over heavier if your intended use is simple everyday riding.

bmw r 1250 rt and rider - choosing a new motorcycle
Consider whether you really need to live with the weight when choosing a new motorcycle

6. “Will I Need To Buy My Bike On Finance?”

One of the biggest mistakes I made was buying an adventure bike on a PCP deal. Because the bike was never truly mine. So I was liable to pay for any damage upon its return.

If you buy an adventure bike on PCP with the sole purpose of taking it off-road, you might be making a costly mistake.

You’ll probably drop it and have to pay a fortune to get it repaired.

Or you’ll never take it off-road because you’re scared of the inevitable penalty costs when you return it.

If you want to go off-road, buy a used knacker for a few grand.

It’ll be way cheaper to fix, and you’ll be less bothered about wrecking it – which means you’ll have way more fun when you ride it.

ktm 890 blurred mountains
Purchasing an off-road bike on PCP is pretty much useless (Image: KTM)

7. “Will I Get Enough Range?”

When I had the Fazer 1000 mentioned above, I used to ride it hard. With such an engine, I found it difficult to ride it any other way!

But the fuel light would come on every 90 miles.

I could probably get 120 miles out of it. But it seemed like I was constantly worried about running out of fuel.

And this can be a real pain in the arse if you’re planning to tour.

I’m not saying you need a bike that has a tank range of 350 miles. But you certainly don’t want to be re-fuelling every 90 miles.

bmw s1000rr - choosing a new motorcycle
It’s a fun 100 miles. But it’s still only 100 miles! (Image: VNEconomy)

8. “How Many Have I Test Rode?”

Okay, so let’s say you’ve done a lot of thinking and you’ve come to the decision that you want a sports tourer.

Don’t only test ride the one you think will suit you best and then buy it – even if you love it. Test ride four or five different sports tourers before making your decision.

Go to Yamaha and check out their new Tracer 9 GT.

Then go to Kawasaki and try a Ninja 100SX.

Go to KTM and test ride a 1290 GT.

You might find that the one you initially wanted isn’t so great when compared to its rivals. Or, it might cement your decision that it is perfect after all.

yamaha tracer 9 gt
When choosing a new motorcycle, test ride as many as you can (Image: Alf England)

9. Choosing A New Motorcycle: “Is My Ego Buying This Bike, Or Am I?”

It’s so easy these days to get caught up in sexy videos on social media and YouTube.

Yes, I know you’ve seen big GS’s and Africa Twin’s on RTW trips.

And I know you revel in the thought of owning 1290cc’s of KTM.

But when you allow yourself to become consumed by it, you start thinking that anything less than a litre isn’t a ‘proper’ bike.

And that’s nonsense!

Most people probably don’t need a 1000cc+ bike.

For the majority, a smaller bike is likely to be the better option.

And if a 600cc bike or less is right for you, then that’s what you should choose.

suzuki v-strom 650 xt - choosing a new motorcycle
Don’t listen to your ego when choosing a new bike. This 650 V-Strom is plenty capable

10. “How Do I Get On With The Ergonomics?”

Have you ever ridden a bike where the left indicator was on the left side, and the right indicator was on the right side (instead of having both on the left?)

Annoying as hell, yes?

I fully appreciate that most people do, over time, get used to the little nuances of individual bikes.

But it’s worth bearing in mind that over-complicated switch gears, cack-handed indicators, shit mirrors, or poor lights, can grate on your nerves.

If you can never find something in the menu system, or if you can never make the cruise control work, then why bother buying it?

You’ll spend the next two years ranting and raving that it’s too complicated.

bmw r 1250 gs tft dash
Consider ergonomics and functionality when choosing a new motorcycle (Image: Smoaks vlogs)

Choosing A New Motorcycle: Conclusion

I’m not saying for one minute that buying a motorcycle has to be a serious and solemn occasion. Far from it!

But have you ever asked someone how their new bike is and their mouth says “it’s fantastic” but their body language says “I fucking hate it”?

You don’t need to be that person!

By all means, go out and have fun. Test ride bikes you had no intention of buying and even test ride dream bikes you know deep down you can’t afford.

But when the time comes to part with your hard-earned cash, spend a little time doing some soul searching.

Or risk being the rider than has to lie about just how ‘wonderful’ their bike is for the next two years.

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