Top motorbike and scooter road testing tips

 

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.

 

What to Look for When Test Riding a 125cc
Watch our best tips for test riding a 125cc motorbike, featuring the Honda PCX125. Michael Mann from BikeSocial and Laura Maliphant from Honda UK will walk you through test riding a PCX scooter which is quite suitable for beginners.

 

125 SCOOTER – The Advantages

 

  • For a new rider, primarily it’s about becoming comfortable on the machine and getting familiar with the feeling of being able move under power while not peddling, as well as getting used to the throttle response. It hasn’t got a great deal of power but when you’re in a town situation or it’s your first time on a powered two-wheeler, it can feel like a lot so the idea is to understand the balance and throttle connection - where you can roll on and how much you can use because a 125cc scooter will happily, safely and legally cruise on a dual-carriageway.
  • With a potential 133 miles per gallon on offer on this particular model it’s very economical but in terms of other safety benefits then, if you’re riding at night, especially if you’re doing the commute to and from the train station or to work daily during the winter months when it’s dark in the morning and at night, this has LED lights so it’s important to be seen and to do the seeing too – check this type of feature on your test ride if they are going to be essential to your type of regular ride.
  • Make sure you’re comfortable with the controls and make sure it’s easy enough to get on and off. If you’re going to be swinging a leg over this twice a day, everyday then you need to be happy and you’re familiar with the weight, perhaps if you’re going to park it on the centre stand then you’re happy with the technique and managing that weight.
  • A scooter really is a versatile vehicle and so entertaining to ride. It’s light and easy to manoeuvre if you’re riding slowly or moving it around your garage or car park. Whether you’re coming into motorcycling at a young age with a CBT and you’re looking for something to get you around; to school and back, to work and back. Whether you’re commuting, going to the train station, or maybe as a second or even third bike, and you just need to dash to the shops for a pint of milk and a loaf of bread – with the massive under seat storage you can put your shopping in there.
  • If you’re off camping with a big motorhome, just take a scooter on the back or inside, and you can dart around the place on that. They’re incredibly easy to ride.

 

125 SCOOTER – The Ride

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.

 

What to Look for When Test Riding an A2 Licence Bike
Watch our best tips for test riding an A2 licence bike featuring the Honda CB650R. Michael Mann from BikeSocial and Laura Maliphant from Honda UK will walk you through test riding this Honda motorcycle.

 

650 MIDDLEWEIGHT – The Advantages

 

  • An A2-licence ready middleweight such as a Honda CB650R, comes equipped with features to enhance any ride such as ABS, torque control options and slipper clutch. Of course, it’s clearly very different to a scooter because you’re introducing a gearbox, a clutch and of course the switch of position of the rear brake lever, so something like a 650 with its inline four, it has a great deal of character through the engine so it’s important to get used to that when you’re moving away from a scooter and onto a bigger machine.
  • In this example, the Honda has 94bhp – which is plenty for such a lightweight machine – and is a whole lot more than you’d have been used to if you’ve switched from a scooter. If you’re stepping down from a larger capacity machine then while you might be used to a similar amount of power, the bike may have been heavier offering a different ride and distribution of weight. So, if you’re certainly if you’re going to test ride it, just make sure you’re comfortable with the amount of power.
  • Being so minimalist, it’s still got the agility with its dynamic chassis plus a great sound and big revs so there’s a lot going for it as an entertaining motorcycle whether you’re blasting through the twisties on a Sunday or going through town, there’s a lot of practicality with a 650.
  • Coming away from a scooter and onto a bigger bike is about becoming familiar with the riding position and making sure you’re comfortable with it. It’s all very well looking at a seat height on a spec panel and thinking ‘oh yeah, I can fit on that, no problem’ but that comfort depends on how your legs are splayed, where the foot pegs are, if you have any problems with your knees, or legs. Then there’s the reach to the ‘bars and making sure all the controls are comfortable to access.
  • It might be a naked bike with little weather protection but the pillion seat is big for either a pillion or a piece of luggage, and the exhaust is low which helps if you’d like to add panniers for a bit of touring.
  • It’s also relevant for those who have been on a bigger bike and are looking to downsize although the test ride is important to get familiar with handling and how the weight affects braking and acceleration reactions. With it being lighter in weight than most larger capacity bikes, you can brake later and accelerate quicker. So, it’s important to understand the mechanical differences as well as the chassis dynamics such as your field of vision because you’re sitting taller than on a scooter. Plus, think about where the centre of gravity is for manoeuvrability and how the bike reacts to your inputs.

 

650 MIDDLEWEIGHT – The Ride

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!

 

What to Look for When Test Riding an A Licence Motorbike
Watch our best tips for test riding an A licence bike featuring the Honda Africa Twin. Michael Mann from BikeSocial and Laura Maliphant from Honda UK will walk you through test riding this Honda motorcycle.

 

1000CC ADVENTURE BIKE

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.

 

ON THE BIKE – AFRICA TWIN

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.

 

Top Test Riding Tips
Watch our 5 Tips for test riding a motorbike, featuring the full range of Honda motorbikes. From the PCX Scooter (that doesn't require a licence) and the CB650R to the Africa Twin. Michael Mann from BikeSocial and Laura Maliphant from Honda will walk you through test riding a motorbike with a Honda motorcycle.

 

TOP TEN TIPS FOR TEST RIDING

  1. Try not to get caught-up in the romance of a shiny new model - it’s important to know what you’re looking for, go with a check list of what any new bike must do or have
  2. Is it practical to suit your needs? Know what’s important to you - what do you want from the bike. If you’re going to use the bike for touring, does it have enough wind protection? Is it likely to be comfortable for 200 miles at a time? Can you mount a sat nav and attach it to the battery?
  3. Is it riding position comfortable? Check for handlebar reach, seat support, foot peg position and leg room
  4. How heavy is the bike? Can you move it around with ease?
  5. Read the press reviews and forums - the mix of professional and customer opinion should give you a decent idea of what the bike is like - it’ll also offer an idea of rivals. Don’t be afraid to test them too. Do the research.
  6. Make the most of your test ride - use as much time as you can on as many different types of roads as you can but also on the roads you already know to offer comparison. Don’t be afraid to ask for longer or another appointment.
  7. Try not to compare a brand-new bike with its brand-new tyres, brakes, suspension and so on, with your old machine. Every brand-new bike is likely to feel good.
  8. Know what’s changeable: if a bike is too tall, too heavy or too wide for the garage, it’s not going to change but components like brakes or suspension can be altered.
  9. Be realistic with your expectations – a £7k naked middleweight is unlikely to have semi-active suspension, riding modes, heated grips and cruise control
  10. It’s not forever - you can always sell/trade it

 

With thanks to Honda Motorcycles UK for asking us to get involved with this feature.

 

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