Google+ Two-Wheeled Tourist: Why You Can Ride a Large Engine Displacement Motorcycle

7.30.2010

Why You Can Ride a Large Engine Displacement Motorcycle

There comes a time in a motorcycle rider's career when he/she begins to consider moving up to a larger displacement motorcycle. In this case, this would involve transitioning from entry level bikes (250cc to 500cc) to intermediate or advanced bikes (600cc and up). Often times, I would hear the following statement from a fellow rider.

"That bike is too big for me." or "I can't handle a motorcycle like that."

If you're a new rider or one that hasn't had much exposure to other motorcycles out there, the thought of changing to another bike can sound daunting or even scary. However, if you've spent lots of time on the road with your current machine and felt confident in controlling it, trying a new motorcycle is actually a confidence booster. Simply put, handling a larger machine confidently is a demonstration of the skills you have learned and mastered on your smaller bike.

Why move to a larger displacement bike? Here are some popular reasons for doing so.

1. Personal Goals: What are your goals as a motorcyclist? Are you planning to use your bike to commute more often? Are all-day trips commonplace for you? Is a cross-country or statewide trip somewhere in your future? Will you/are you taking passengers on your bike?

2. Challenge: Does your motorcycle meet your needs in terms of utility, features, power, and speed? Are you satisfied with the motorcycle's performance in many of your riding situations? Do you feel that you've "mastered" your motorcycle and taken it to its limits?

3. Long-term Comfort: A larger engine works a lot less to maintain highway speeds. Additionally, it is smoother at lower gears and doesn't need to be revved as high to zip around. A heavier bike is more stable on the highway and through curves. Thinking about carrying cargo with you? Larger bikes have more seat room and some come with hard luggage. Some bikes even have the ability to tow trailers!

My reason to upgrade to my 2007 Yamaha FJR1300A came from a combination of those three factors. My last bike, a 2005 Suzuki SV650N, was my primary mode of transportation during college. During that time, I found myself going on weekend trips that easily topped 400 miles in a single day, sometimes taking rides from Los Angeles to San Francisco on a whim. I enjoyed the nimbleness of my v-twin standard bike (it taught me the fine art of taming the twisties) but the vibration of the engine at prolonged highway speeds was doing a number on my wrists and hands, not to mention that the lightweight nature of the bike made it easy for passing big rigs to toss me around. Lastly, my future goals as a motorcyclist involved traveling coast to coast and visiting every state in the United States. As this would be very possible on this bike, it wouldn't be the most comfortable ride to accomplish this task. After much research in finding a bike that was more powerful yet still fulfilled my needs for agility and speed, I went for the FJR1300, a touring motorcycle with the spirit of a sport bike and the ample luggage space to carry everything I needed to go anywhere I wanted. So far, I’m well on my way to accomplishing those state-crossing, mileage-racking goals.

Me and my 2005 SV650N in early 2007

Going for the bigger motorcycle is an ambitious task and does take a bit of courage to step up and try something new. Before I took the jump, I went out to several test ride events hosted by dealers and motorcycle programs and popped around on as many different bikes as I could. This way I learned the peculiarities of various models and also tuned in on what I needed and wanted as a rider. In the last seven years I have tested over two dozen motorcycles and, although I have been very happy with my current ride, still look for opportunities to stay abreast with the latest trends and technology. (I also find it funny to tell the burly male bikers that I've ridden motorcycles with engines larger than theirs.)

Still a little worried? You are not "re-learning" to ride when you jump on a new bike. Here are several fears that I've heard from riders, and many of them are unwarranted. Don't doubt your skills as a motorcyclist; you didn't come this far to stop now.

1. "I'm going to pop the clutch, ram the throttle too hard, etc...it's going to wheelie/flip/throw me off/go out of control." There is nothing different about the way a large motorcycle operates mechanically from a smaller bike. When trying a new bike, feather the clutch to find that particular bike's "friction zone" (when the bike starts to move forward). It varies from bike to bike and can respond immediately or have some play to it. Take it easy on the throttle. Once you've found the right combination of throttle and clutch, you can make any bike controllable regardless of size and power.

2. "The bike is too heavy." Yes, there may be a little bit more mass to push up straight from the kickstand, but once it's upright you're ready to take off. As you've learned in basic motorcycle training, the bike becomes more upright as you decelerate. A motorcycle that is straight and upright feels more weightless, and the role of your feet is to keep it that way as it slows to a complete stop. Focus more on smooth stops and understanding the weight balancing of the bike and you’ll do just fine.

3. “The brakes will be too sensitive on a new/different/unfamiliar bike.” In some cases, this is true. However, you wouldn’t grab a ‘handful’ of brake on your small bike, so why would you do it to a larger one? Braking systems have become more responsive and all it takes is one or two fingers to fully activate a front brake. This is mostly the case on the larger bikes, so take it easy on the test ride by increasing your stopping distance until you’ve accustomed yourself to the brakes.

4. "The bike is too tall." Although having both feet flat on the ground helps new riders gain confidence, you do not have to have both feet on the ground to control a bike when stopped. The belief that this is necessary has limited many riders from trying potentially awesome bikes. Not too sure of what you can handle? Go to a dealership and sit on several taller motorcycles. You will find that keeping the bike upright is easier than you think. One popular method is scooting your butt over on the seat so that the left foot is perfectly flat on the ground. It's the same way shorter people ride dirtbikes. In this position, your right foot is always near the rear brake to control the bike's movement or to stop the bike completely. Some riders have even gone to modifying their riding boots (i.e. elevator soles) to get on the motorcycle of their dreams or lowering the bike itself. Depending on the motorcycle, physically lowering it can adversely affect its handling physics and performance so this option is often used as a last resort.

All props go to the small, mistake-forgiving displacement bikes to get you to where you are today. They're stepping stones to your improvement as a rider. So what are you waiting for? Go to a test ride at your local dealership or motorcycle event. Even if it's a brand that you're not even considering it's worth the experience. The bikes you'll have the chance to ride are only limited by your ambition. Ride safe!