Three Letters Re: Advice on Motorcycles


I just wanted to forward some info re: motorcycle purchase and operation. I’ve been riding since ’85, have owned four motorcycles (two Suzuki and two Harley Davidson), and keep up with current trends/technology of motorcycles. Here are some fast facts to consider prior to buying:
1. The highest statistic for motorcycle fatalities is individuals operating borrowed motorcycles. Do yourself a favor and be familiar with the bike you ride. Completing a motorcycle training course could be a lifesaver.
2. Both my large displacement Harley Davidson get approximately. 45 MPG each. One operates on premium [gasoline]. The other is carbureted and uses 87 [octane regular] grade. If fuel savings is the most significant factor, you can do a lot better than a large Harley. However, 45 MPG isn’t bad. Furthermore, consider the types of errands you can (or are willing) to do with a bike. For example, I can get four bags of groceries inside of my Harley hard bags.
3. Having a larger / heavier bike will not get blown over a lane when riding alongside large trucks. The key here is to pick your route carefully if you are traveling on a route that has lots of traffic and you are on a smaller bike. If the author of that letter knows he has to get onto a busy highway for ‘x’ miles, ask yourself how soon you will get tired of operating a light 400 pound bike on such roads.
4. My personal opinion is to buy a used motorcycle. You will save a bundle. Just look in the ads and you will find dozens of bikes of all sorts with only 5k on the odometer. Why? I guess people like the idea of riding but the bike just sits in the garage.
5. If your budget is tight, factor in your safety gear (helmet, cool/cold weather jacket, gloves warm and cold weather, chaps, goggles/glasses, tank bag), it adds up. The difference between getting up and driving home versus going the hospital some times comes down to your gear.
6. A personal observation of motorcyclists’ is that the more you ride, the more you wish you had some sort of windshield or fairing in front of your face.
7. If you are considering an Enduro (on/off road legal) consider a KTM, especially the Adventure model, if you can afford it.
8. There is an old saying amongst bikers, ‘there are those who have been down and those who are going down’. Obviously, the point is that biking is dangerous and you can’t be too careful. See #5 again if it went in one ear, and out the other.- Flhspete


Posted on your web site, 22 July 2008, a reader was asking about motorcycles. I have recently purchased a 250cc Enduro (street legal dirt bike) from a company in Oklahoma City. This is an air-cooled, wet clutch, 4 stroke, 5-speed motorbike. The down side is that the bike is made in China. They call it the Hi-Bird. They are very similar to the old Honda XL series. Full purchase price was just $1,200 and shipping was free. The bike required some set up at delivery such as installing the bolt that holds the rear monoshock to the lower A-arm, putting on the front wheel and the handle bars and some the trim and the fenders. Pretty simple work if you can read around the errors in the Instruction/Assembly manual.

The bike is electric start but still has a kick starter. It is not a speed demon, probably wouldn’t survive too many back flips but all-in-all it is of good quality. I don’t ride it too fast, hardly ever over 55 MPH but I do ride trails in the hills and it is light and stable with good low RPM torque. My worst complaint is that there is a lot of vibration (buzz) at speeds of 60 and over. So far the economy has out paced my expectations averaging between 73 and 81 MPG depending on speed and usage. You know I thought long and hard before buying a bike made in China, but how many of us absolutely hated SKS rifles before we tried one for fun? If you should choose to share this with your readers they can get more info at Thank you for your time and best wishes to you and yours. – Walt in Idaho

Hi Jim,
About motorcycles. We believe the Honda Trail 90 is a practical choice and will acquire our sixth one in a trade for a spare utility trailer. There are frequent new listings on Craig’s List in the $800 to $1,500 range in our area. The Trail 90 is rugged, reliable, easily repaired and gets about 80 to 100 MPG. Cruising speed is about 45 MPH. These are often low mileage, but one should expect that some work would be required. Usually little goes wrong. A battery and a carburetor rebuild kit are often all that’s needed to bring them back to life. Other spare parts are inexpensive and plentiful. Replacing the decades old tires is a good idea. Choose one that runs and has the hi/low sub-transmission. These bikes comfortably pull a lightweight trailer and several hundred pounds and do well in the woods. Much like the hi/low range of a 4WD, the low range feature is a big advantage. The hefty and large rack on the back allows a large box to be mounted. A [hard plastic] milk crate is ideal. The spare one gallon can latched to side gives one an extra 90 miles of range.

The low cost of ownership means one can justify storing it [just] for fair weather use. It’s overall design seem ideal for the survivalist. There is a reason the Trail 90 remains popular today. These are tough and useful bikes.

BTW, recently ordered your novel “Patriots” and can’t wait for it’s arrival. – E.L.

JWR Replies: There is certainly no “one size fits all” solution when buying a motorcycle. An Enduro type design (trail/street capable) is a compromise, but they are probably best for those of us that can only afford to buy just one motorcycle. There are some that argue that bigger is safer (on pavement), while others assert that dropping a big bike is sure trip to the hospital. But regardless of what you decide on, be sure to get plenty of training, and of course wear a helmet and all the safety gear. (If anything, err on the side of caution!)

On a related note, SF in Hawaii, mentioned two-cycle motorizing kits for bicycles. They get phenomenal mileage, but you will need to carry mixed gasoline. (Just like with a typical chainsaw engine.) And for nearly silent operation, reader Paul D. mentioned a maker of electric motorcycles. These use the new lithium ion battery technology. They have a range of 40 miles with a 2 KWH battery pack.