Dec 13, 2010

My Test Riding

How I ended up being a test rider is probably the most convoluted story I could tell. "Purely by accident," would probably be the best answer. In my decade with Minnesota Motorcycle Monthly, I've been allowed to write about two Kawasaki KLR 650s, Suzuki's SV and DL 650, the Kawasaki Versys, and Hyosung's 650 cruiser. Now that I look at the list, I realize that the editors only put me on 650s and never anything expensive. Sort of an interesting trend, don't you think? I'm the mid-sized, budget bike guy.

With that in mind, last spring I had a Suzuki SLV 650 Gladius for a week. Yep, another 650 and another budget bike. I guess I wouldn't trust me with anything expensive either, so the tactic is fair and reasonable. Irritating, but fair and reasonable.

I've been on my Suzuki V-Strom for almost 4 years and it's a long ways from a sport bike. When I sold my SV, I sort of thought I was finished with that genre of motorcycle. Mostly, that's because I'm old and my knees don't like being tucked into a sporting crouch for any period of time. I had a good time on the Gladius, though. It's quick, light, and handles so much better on good roads than my bike that I had second thoughts about giving up on that sort of motorcycle. The Gladius is probably close to 200 pounds lighter than my V-Strom all loaded for a trip. It's smaller in length and height, too. In fact, if I needed a 3rd bike, the Gladius might be that bike.

After that test ride, the whole season went by without another bike riding/reviewing offer. I suspect my days as a test rider are limited. I'm not inclined to look at a new motorcycle as a prospective purchase, which alters or perverts my opinion on the value of that motorcycle. In fact, at best I review motorcycles from the perspective of a guy who might be interested in the bike as a 2nd or 3rd owner; after the majority of the depreciation has done its economic damage.

On top of that, I am clinically unable to hype any motorcycle as a "good buy." Motorcycles, mostly, are a poor transportation investment for most owners. In the north, a motorcycle serves as a vehicle for no more than 9 months out of the year and, often, for less than 6 months. The rest of the time, motorcycles are garage ballast or decoration. While riding a motorcycle can save on direct fuel costs, the higher maintenance costs (especially tires) negates those savings pretty quickly. The kinds of motorcycles I love the most, 250s and under, don't suffer as much from those disadvantages but Americans generally don't buy small motorcycles so magazines don't review them. Which means, I don't get paid to write about riding them.

After and before the Gladius review, which oddly hasn't even made it into the Minnesota Motorcycle Monthly archives, the magazine reviewed the Honda NT700V, Royal Enfield G5, Suzuki TU250X, Ducati Monster 696, and the KTM 990 Super Duke. Of that lot, the Honda and the Suzuki are the only bikes I'd have been interested in or, most likely, would have said anything good about. The Suzuki was reviewed by that bike's brand new owner, so that wasn't even an option.

Test riding is a risky business. Sometimes it's fun, sometimes it's painful. Hurt found that most crashes occur to new riders or riders on borrowed motorcycles. A test bike is a borrowed bike with a big price tag. Nothing makes me more nervous that borrowing someone else's brand new stuff. Usually, test riding is break-even economically. At MMM, we aren't compensated for our expenses (fuel, food, etc.) and the pay is pretty much the rate writers expected in 1955 for pulp science fiction. If you're not having as much fun as you would on your own motorcycle and you aren't making money, what are you doing? Showing off? Exchanging your time for microscopic bits of fame or infamy? Personally, I've always favored wealth over fame and I manage to acquire infamy without even trying.

An odd thing about getting old is that stuff doesn't mean as much to me as it once did. I don't care at all about your stuff and I'm only loosely attached to my own stuff. When I go to the CW Motorcycle Show, I mostly look for friends and interesting people to talk to. The new bikes look suspiciously like the previous years' bikes and styles and colors are all that change much (and I don't care about colors). The V-Strom was the last motorcycle that really tripped some of my triggers and the only thing I see on the manufacturers' 2011 import list that even looks interesting is the 2011 Yamaha Super Ténéré Adventure-tourer. It's a good thing I don't have a job that requires me to pretend to be excited about the 29th coming of the Honda VFR or the Suzuki GXR. No wonder marketing morons make so much money. That's the only way you could get anyone to do that job. Mostly, each year's new releases are just minor variations on the last decade's stuff and I already have enough stuff.

So, as my test riding career withers away, I find myself caring less and less. If I'm going to go somewhere, it will be on my own motorcycle. If I'm test riding, the ride is usually limited to something local, something safe, and someplace with which I'm familiar to minimize the crash risk. I'd never go anywhere like that on my own dime. Those places are the places I go through on my way to somewhere interesting. With a reduced interest in new stuff and an increased interest in new places, I don't even sign up for many of the magazine's offered test rides. Where would I go on a Polaris Victory? How would I get off and on a BMW (any model)?

The one bike I really want to test ride, the Yamaha WR250X, is the only current model motorcycle that I have an interest in owning. It could be dangerous to put one of those dudes in my hands because I'd take it somewhere that would put the test to the bike's abilities. It might not be pretty when I bring it back.

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