I love photography and taking pictures. There’s a saying in the photography world that goes something like “The best camera is the one you have with you”. This saying is partly advocating the use of equipment that you actually want to use, and therefore carry around with you, because you’re more likely to get the shot if you have your iPhone in your pocket than if you have to lug around a 5×4 field camera and tripod.
But it also speaks to the notion of gear envy, upgrade-itis, that dis-ease experienced by people who live in a perpetual state of AGNI (All the Gear, No Idea). These people see their route to success as one that can be purchased (often quite appropriately with borrowed money. They are quite literally living beyond their means).
“Surely if I pay enough money, then I’ll be able to produce some good work?”
The modern world is responsible for selling us this particular red herring; that greatness will come to me when I: (own this car, house, husband or wife of certain attributes, professional grade at work, business, gadget). Delete as appropriate.
Alas, achieving greatness takes time, dedication, and hours put in.
Beware those who come bearing gifts, who want to sell you the secret formula for weight loss, perfect abs, or how to make millions from your blog. These individuals are almost certainly selling you what you think you want, but unfortunately most of them don’t have it to give you in the first place.
Ask someone who has it all, and they will tell you that they still have the same problems as they had before they acquired everything they thought they wanted. We don’t find joy in getting stuff, we find joy in the process of going towards it.
Your Life’s Work
The process of learning to ride, of becoming a better rider is a life’s work. It can begin when you’re 16 or when your 60. Ask Valentino Rossi if he’s a better rider today than he was 10 or even 20 years ago, and he’ll tell you, Yes. He has to be, to keep up with those young whippersnappers. Most older riders lose their bottle, they don’t lose their skill. Crashing hurts, and eventually you have more important things to do like bringing up a family.
If you’ve just got into the sport of motorcycles, don’t make the mistake of trying to run before you can walk. Enjoy the process, and have fun along the way.
I currently ride a pretty old bike. It cost me £1500, and it’s been in a fair few battles. It is however in pretty good fettle, and the engine is as strong as ever, with 55k and counting on the clock. I bought it so I could use it without worrying about it getting stolen, scratched, used properly.
Every day it carries me to work, blasting down the M5, never missing a beat and still returning 50mpg. The bike existed before I got my licence. It’s old, but it is immensely fun. Would I enjoy having something a bit sportier? As the GOAT would say “For Sure”.
I won’t lie, I miss the delightful tactility of my GSX-R 1000, but the VFR is up for some fun, and when we hack it about as we do on a daily basis, we don’t take ourselves too seriously.
When I started out riding, I remember reading about how you want the bike to be the weak link, and not the rider. I wondered how this might be a good thing, but as I’ve owned lots of different bikes over the years, I’ve come to a much better understanding of what they were on about.
Having owned, and ridden bikes which were far more capable than I (basically any modern super sport bike, but especially 750cc and up), I also appreciate riding bikes which are less capable than a full out supersport missile. Why? Because you can get somewhere near the performance limits. I’m not saying that my current bike can’t do more in more capable, more brave hands. It surely can. But right now, I can ride that thing much closer to its limits on the road than my last bike, and I have a blast doing so.
Is Your Bike Taking You for a Ride?
The thing is, you don’t ride any litre sportsbike hard on the road. You just can’t. Those litre bikes are too powerful, too capable, and the other road users too pedestrian for you to get anywhere near the bike’s operating envelope and stay looking even slightly sensible. I suppose this is a large part of their appeal. Having owned one, I agree, they are awesome.
They are effortless to ride, you only need a couple of whiffs of throttle to thrust you forward like you’ve been fired out of a canon. If you do start to stretch a litrebike’s legs on the road, you will undoubtedly feel a bit naughty, like you’ve misbehaved in church and are about to get a spanking. Old habits die hard.
But a sports tourer, or a 600cc bike? Well, you’ve got to work a bit harder for your kicks on those. There’s not the same effortless wave of torque and power in any gear, you have to rev them. You can rev them to the redline. On a thousand, hitting the redline in first gear will have you heading rapidly into triple figures, but on a smaller capacity bike, you can explore more of the bike’s performance on the road. With smaller machine, you feel like you are riding the wheels off your bike rather than being taken for a ride on a fire breathing monster like a 1000cc Superbike.
The same applies to suspension. All those exotic sports bikes may have trick suspension, but if they are set up for racing, and have rock hard suspension suitable for the heavy acceleration, braking and cornering normally expected on the track, they aren’t going to work so well at lower speeds, and lower loadings. When you are on the road, at those lower road speeds, comfort and compliance is preferable to outright control. You can feel the wheels moving around beneath, the tyres squirming, you have the natural compliance in the suspension to soak up the lumps and bumps of UK road conditions without throwing you off course, and your wrists and arms won’t suffer in the process.
So what? Your think your current bike is a bit soft? It moves around a bit and doesn t quite give you the level of attack you’re looking for? Rather than looking at your machine as some kind of hindrance, try to work with what you’ve got. Every ride is a learning process, and if your bike is easy to ride, and ride hard then you’re learning much more than someone who is frightened of his machine.
Some of the most fun rides can come on the least inspiring machinery. I have had some epic rides on bikes which weren’t anywhere near the top of the tree. HONDA CBR600F with road tyres in Wales, Suzuki SV650S with BT010 on Brands Hatch Indy, KTM 950 Supermoto (anywhere you ride it), Honda VFR800 are all great road oriented bikes. They are a bit heavier, a bit less exciting and less racy than top level race bikes (KTM 950SM aside), but when you wind the throttle to the stop, they will all put a grin on your face.
What’s more, you can ride these kind of bikes daily, and ride them hard, even in through the winter. You will find yourself on full throttle more of the time, riding them with more confidence in the rain, and fitting a pair of tyres which allows you to test the limits of traction in a more realistic setting. They don’t have feel-robbing steering dampers so the steering is light and communicative, if a little twitchy at elevated speeds, but this is all part of your biking experience.
There’s also something to be said for not being on the latest-greatest machinery. I remember doing a track day on my SV, overtaking all manner of sportsbikes, Fireblades, GSX-R, Ducatis, and knowing that I was the difference, and not the bike. A ex-GP rider on a 125cc will beat a novice on a Superbike.
Fancy a Chinese?
SO what is the best motorbike? The one you’re riding. There is one exception to the rule, in my world at least. I took my KTM990SM for a service at Bracken on the Old Kent Road (now sadly gone out of business). I was given a courtesy bike in the shape of a Superbyke (sic) RMR125. This is a Chinese motorcycle exuding all the quality and heritage of the Chinese motorcycle industry.
While undoubtedly cheap, this thing was just about acceptable to get from a to b, and only very slightly preferable to walking. I think I could have made a better go of producing a motorcycle than the brave folks at Superbyke.
Its engine was gutless, changing gear was a bit like kicking a toolbox and hoping something would happen, and the throttle and brakes were made of wood. Even though it was only 125cc, it wasn’t exactly light, it wasn’t good looking either and had the most ridiculous name. Worst of all, I felt like a prick riding it. Fortunately things have come a long way in the 125cc camp. When confronted with my first extortionate first service bill for £350, I couldn’t wait to pay it and get back in my own bike.
So, Chinese “motorcycles” aside, rung what ya brung. Get out there and ride, whatever it is you’ve got, and enjoy stretching you and your bike’s limits. As time passes you will certainly progress, and will buy yourself more powerful, sportier bikes along the way.
But when you get to where you thought you wanted to go, you may find yourself hankering after something less serious, something more fun, like you had in the early days of your biking career, when fun had a lower speed attached to it, and you didn’t mind chucking your bike about a bit or winding the throttle to the stop.
I bet you a 2004 R1 is still far better than you are, and with a decent set of new road tyres fitted would make an excellent year round ride for very little cash. That’s my plan anyway.