Talking to a dealer the other day about a Suzuki GSX750S and he mentioned how it was a great first big bike, which got me thinking. When did a 100bhp, 750cc 130mph motorcycle become a great first bike?
At the risk of sounding like an old duffer, when I started riding most of us passed on a 12bhp 125cc tiddler, then bought something between 250-400cc depending on what we could afford. These bikes (mostly late-70s Japanese bikes making around 35bhp) were long, stable, heavy and slow enough to not be deadly, while being fast enough compared to a 125 to feel like a rocketship to us till we learned what to do with them
It’s easy to forget just how fast your first motorbike feels and a 2017 GSX750 makes considerably more power while weighing much, much less than any of the wizz-bang Million dream bikes we would never have even considered as a first bike back then. Engine capacity is a strange measure though. How do you compare a long, heavy, stable 1200cc Harley Sportster making 50-odd bhp with a light, short, nimble 1988 Yamaha TZR250 that makes about the same power but in a very different manner?
Recently, I’ve started thinking about them like drinks. One pint is 454cc, meaning a typical 1000cc bike is about two pints, a 125cc scooter is a small glass of wine and a Triumph Rocket III is a five-and-a-half-pint session – a great idea at the time, but soon overcome with regret for a lack of self control.
As far as I can remember the only bike to ever be exactly 454cc was a weird and forgettable Kawasaki custom twin from the 1980s, reverse engineered from the GPz900R that was 908cc and so, therefore a proper two-pinter.
Of course, we have to remember in this that it’s not just about volume, but the potency too. So, that Harley Sportster 1200 is three pints of Mild, where Ducati’s 1199 Panigale is three pints of Jack Daniels. Likewise, Suzuzki’s Inazuma 250 might be half a pint of lager where their old RGV was more akin to half a pint of shots.
Once you start thinking like this it becomes much easier to work out what makes a good first bike in the same way you’d consider what makes a good first drink for your teenage kids. A small glass of wine is fine, as would be a pint of low-strength bitter or lager. Super-strength cider might be a bit much, especially if you’re necking down a pint and a half (that GSX750) for your first ever drink and a pint of Vodka (a Yamaha YZF-R6-ish) would definitely be a bad idea.
Next time I’m meeting the industry I’ll have a word and maybe we can get these definitions agreed as part of the official policy.
No need to thank me.