CBT, A2 or A, whichever motorcycle licence you have there are plenty of motorbikes or scooters out there just waiting to be ridden. Whether they’re brand new or second-hand, in dealerships, via the classifieds or private sales – the options can seem almost endless but how do you make the most of your test ride?
There’s stacks of information available on the internet with recommendations and reviews aplenty but how do you know what to look for, what questions to ask? It’s exciting isn’t it, riding a brand-new bike for the first time? How do you stop the romantic notion of the occasion taking over? How do you get the most out of the ride? It’s surely just a simple case of hopping on for a 10-minute blast down the road then deciding if it’s fast and comfortable enough, right?
We’ve taken three main licence categories and offered a little advice on a sample machine from each.
Something like the Honda PCX125 (£2929) is a great twist and go machine that’s easy to get on with and to build confidence but first you need to make sure you fit. Is there enough space for your knees? Are the handlebars close enough? Are you restricted getting on and off the bike? The last thing you want to do is regret your purchase if you’re not comfortable getting on or riding.
The practical side needs exploring – if part of the attraction to a twist and go machine is the under-seat storage then make sure your helmet and bag fits. And, if you’re planning on riding through the winter months then do find out how optional extras like hand muffs or a skirt to keep you warm and dry fit, and if you can include them in any deal.
Worthy of note too, is the financial benefits of a scooter vs public transport. Even though the initial outlay including the safety gear, insurance and security might hurt the pocket, over two years the commuting would save plenty of money and you’d have the bonus of being able to ride whenever to suit your schedule. The fuel efficiency of a scooter would be kind on your wallet while taxing and insuring a sub-125cc PTW would also be beneficial over a larger machine.
Beating traffic on such a light, nimble and stable scooter will become a daily challenge as you nip around towns or cities and the 12bhp is more than enough for the 130kg (kerb weight). With this particular scooter being very light, the range of turning circle will be valuable when negotiating traffic jams, car parks or town centres.
There’s plenty going on during a test ride so our advice is to head to roads you’re already familiar with so there’s nothing too abnormal. If you know the roads already then you don’t have to worry about what’s ahead and you can then concentrate on learning about the bike. When you’re first on the bike you should be able to judge how it feels. For example, if you’re going to use this bike for the weekend blasts then has it got the leg room? Has it got the ground clearance? Is it comfortable? Are you wearing the same clothes that you would normally on a ride – are your jeans flapping about, do you have enough weather protection? If you’re going to be spending the money then you need to make sure that every time you open that garage door you want to be thinking “yes!” and feeling proud.
If the motorway is where you’ll be spending most of the time then test the lack of weather protection on your test ride – you’ll instantly regret buying it if all you did on the test ride was spend 30 mins at 30mph yet on the first dual carriageway you feel like your head’s going to fall off.
There are plenty of other considerations during a test ride. Always try and get the most out of it as you can, negotiate with your dealer because I’m sure they’ll let you out for a little bit longer if you need it. Or, if you’ve not got everything you need out of one ride then you can always go back again – perhaps it was too hot, cold, wet, or you forgot to ride it on a motorway which is where you’ll do most of your miles. Don’t make it a rushed decision.
That said, it’s worth taking into consideration the financial commitment and while it’s not like you’re laying out for a ‘forever home’, because you can always p/ex it or sell the bike, double check the bike isn’t hoovering through fuel. For example, if your commute is 50 miles each way and the tank will only hold 100 miles worth of fuel then filling up daily will be annoying and expensive. So, before that test ride re-set the gauges so you can see the mpg according to your type and style of riding. It’ll also help to see how the instrument panel works.
You’ve always got to go to your dealership with the mind-set of ‘how am I going to use this bike?’ What am I going to be using it for and how do I maximise that during a test ride? If its short, low speed journey’s through towns with a bit of filtering then how is that low-speed rpm and throttle connection up through the rev range? How does the gearbox feel? Is it a light enough clutch? Are all these things going to make you happy? You don’t ever want to be in a position where you regret riding or are too busy concentrating on the things that you’re not comfortable with and not on the road ahead.
On a bike like this you don’t have too much to worry about in terms of riding modes, traction control or, heated grips. None of those buttons exist on this particular model which makes it a lot easier to understand the controls and become familiar with the layout of the handlebars. It’s not necessarily about the seating position in terms of where your weight is on the bike, or whether you sit up tall on the bike, how’s your lower back? Are your legs cramped? How about reaching forwards – are the handlebars too far forward, or are the grips too far apart? If you’re planning to put the miles in then you need to make sure you’re fully comfortable on a relatively short test journey.
And if you’re after performance on a bike like this then again, make sure you test it, but build it up slowly, let the tyres warm up. Don’t be aiming to get your knee down at the first corner out of the dealership!
The Africa Twin is aimed at the A-class licence holder but what should somebody be looking for when taking it on a test ride?
I think it’s easy to categorise with the three P’s – Power, Presence and Practicality.
Obviously if you’re looking at an Africa Twin then you know what type and style of bike you’re going to ride. Power-wise, you have 94bhp which is enough to get out of mischief, getting away from the traffic if you’re going for an overtake or into a junction quickly, or even off-road.
Presence; it’s big, buxom, bold and tall. You’ll have a great vantage point over the traffic and it’s important to be seen too which is difficult enough for us motorcyclists. If you’re coming through the traffic on one of these then other vehicles drivers are going to be getting out of your way.
Practicality; think about the type of riding you’re going to be doing with this bike. If it’s touring then make sure the windshield deflects the wind and rain away from you’re the visor of your helmet, there’s not a much worse than being buffeted around when putting big miles in when touring. The big 21” spoked front wheel might add a little extra cushioning for your ride but does it turn quickly enough? There’s plenty of room for a pillion with a lovely big seat and top box support – but if you’re going to do most of your riding solo then is your seat comfortable and spacious enough?
Overall, the key to any test ride is to tick all the boxes of things you want to get out of the bike.
The DCT (Dual Clutch Transmission) option on the Africa Twin may seem a little alien when you first get on the bike and there’s no clutch or gear lever but it’s a simple system to get used to. There’s a Drive mode and three different Sport modes depending on when in the rev range you’d like the bike to change gear for you. It’s still a regular six-speed gearbox but the DCT does the changing for you both up and down in a clever and automated manner. It takes the manual labour away from riding, making things a little easier. On top of the DCT modes, you’ve also got three engine modes which adjust torque control, engine braking and power plus, if you’re going to go off-roading or do a bit of greenlining, there’s G mode which adjusts traction control and ABS settings. If you’re going to lay out the kind of money this model commands you need to be comfortable with the controls, so do your research before. It’s a tall, big and heavy motorbike but can you flat foot when sat on it? There’s an adjustable seat, so ask the dealer if they can adjust it if needs be.
Getting on it is the first issue to combat. It’s not necessarily about the seat height, which is adjustable, but consider how wide your legs are splayed when on the bike, particularly with the foot pegs in the positions that they are. You need to be confident in being able to handle the weight, when riding but also when moving the bike at low or no speed in a car park, at work in your garage.
The DCT is an incredibly complex advancement in motorcycle technology but it doesn’t take long to get used to using it and I’d encourage everyone to try it instead of knocking it without giving it a chance. A mile or two down the road and it’ll become obvious how simple it is to use but make sure it’s not just the novelty that’s provoking your decision. Flick between the modes on the test and get a sense of how the gearbox and engine work together, wherein the rev range the bike changes up or down plus how the engine braking affects your deceleration and the differences in the torque control options via the engine mode settings too. You’ll end up going for a ghost clutch or gear lever when you come to a standstill but we’ve all been there! There’s even the manual over-ride option, so you can use the + and – buttons on the left side of the handlebar just like in a sequential gearboxed car.
Despite its weight the bike is very stable on the road and with a good spread of torque across the rev range plus 94bhp, you can ride those back roads with plenty of spirit. Other advantages with an adventure style bike is the wide protection from the screen and fairings plus the visual advantage you get from sitting taller than most cars and, with the width and engine bars there’s an extra safety aspect to be considered with the bike’s road presence.
The front forks and rear shock are adjustable to suit riding styles and locations, rider height, pillions and luggage so, if you’re confident to adjust them, give it a go before your test ride or just ask the dealer to find out how and what would suit you.
If you’ve seen an Africa Twin with the fog lights, heated grips or top box accessory then speak to the dealer about the type of riding you’ll be doing and don’t be afraid to negotiate a few extras into the package.
With thanks to Honda Motorcycles UK for asking us to get involved with this feature.