Bikes Tested

Finding the time to try out new bikes is not always easy. Once of the best times in the past has been whilst my current bike is being serviced - this explains the number of BMWs I've tried. I have also found it difficult sometimes to get hold of an example of a model that I have wanted to test ride, when I was looking to buy a Yamaha XT1200 Super Tenere I found it impossible to find one at a dealer, I even resorted to contacting Yamaha UK but I received no response. Strange since bikes are not often that much cheaper than cars but it is so easy to arrange a test drive in any model of car compared with a motorbike.

Zero S

Zero S

Until Zero brought out the SR/F and SR/S I was always looking for a used SR to come up. Baiscally it's one of these but with a bigger battery - for some strange reason this one is A2 compatible based on having a smaller battery... That's like getting cheaper car insurance on a Ferrari by fitting a smaller fuel tank! This looked quite old fashioned compared to the SR/S and FXS, I was riding it for comparison but in my mind it's time was past. I was plesantly surprised and thought this was the most compelling bike on offer in many ways... It's just not as desirable as the SR/S or as carefree and refreshing as the FXS. My head says this is the bike to get if you were going to have one of them but my heart says either of the others.

I thoroughly enjoyed the three rides BUT I was left impressed with the bikes but not really able to answer the question that I'd hoped to answer - could I live with an electric bike like these?

Zero FXS

Zero FXS

Now this was more like what I was contemplating (actually the FX with larger spoked front wheel). These can sometimes been seen advertised for around £8.5k which is much nearer the cost of a second bike. It has a shorter range than the SR/S (around 60 miles) but if it's just for commuting, running around and local road discovery then that's fine. When I got on the bike I was told this was the only one in the range without traction control. Not something I used to worry about BUT on a bike with this much "instant" torque I was a little nervous. Well that didn't last long! The FXS is probably the most fun bike in their range and the easiest I could see fitting in my garage (and budget). The seat was more comfortable than it has any right to be, the bike is a bit of a hooligan, at one roundabout completely showing up the BMW M5 that then had to drop down a couple of gears and roar after the little FXS in chase that had overtaken him on the roundabout and accelerated away so easily.

Whilst riding this one back I was starting to calculate how much fuel I would need to save to jsutify a second hand £8.5k bike - not so easy with my reduced commuting!

Zero SR/S

Zero SR/S

Whilst there are things about internal combustion engines that I like, the appeal to me of electric power comes from the fact that a motor is a non-serviceable item this brings with it reliability and cheap running costs. When you couple this with instant torque and turbine like continual thrust I find the ideal not as repusive as many. How close is it to being practical? Well when a bike can charge quickly and do 400 miles on a single charge then I'll be ready to tour on an electric bike. So we aren't there yet... but what is it like? I've toyed with the idea of an electric bike to cover commuting and errand type riding. Whilst there are increasing numbers of brands entering the market Zero have been there longer than most and I have been intending to test ride one for some time, but I had ust never got around to it. An opportunity came with a special nationwide travelling event that I jumped at. I rode my RT over to Newport and had the opportunity to ride not one but 3 bikes from their range.

My first the SR/S is the bike I'd like to have, I think it looks nice and modern - sportbike-like but a little more upright seating which suits m!, It's perfectly maneageble weight and size wise and has a better charging options than their others (it's got a nicer dash too). I took this one out first as it was near the end of the day and I didn't want to miss this opportunity. Pulling away in ECO mode was quite an experience, no gears just acceleration. Being sensible didn't last too long though within a mile I had tried ECO, RAIN and STREET and was just about ready for SPORT. This thing was easy to ride but on our accompanied route I found roundabouts were where I noticed the weight leaning the bike over. I'm sure I would get used to it but on a 30 minute test ride you can't get a complete impression of the ride. I was concerned at one point in the ride accelerating down a hill and realising we were turning right I wondered how the brakes would manage with all the weight - it pulled me up but I can't say I was oozing confidence (once again time would help build that confidence). When we got back I was sad to give the bike back, I felt that I'd like to have had a week with it which would have helped the bonding but it's probably just as well I didn't I'm not sure how I would justify the purchase price of around £20k. I feel it's a great bike BUT that much money is for a primary bike NOT you local run-around backup bike.

KTM 790 Adventure

KTM 790 Adventure

So I took the KTM out (my first and to date only ever ride on a KTM) straight after the Africa Twin. Having noticed the sound of the Honda I was sensitive to things on the KTM. From beneath me there eminated, at city speeds, the sound of an old Singer sewing machine: tick-tick-tick-tick, but every now and again I would catch the note of a monster that must have been following me. It was only on exiting the city and opening up the throttle I realised the monster was the bike I was riding - the exhaust note was fantastic. It seems this bike that liked to be USED, honestly it was begging for it! The ride was fantastic - I was enthralled, no matter where I took it it was brilliant, this was the bike for me (though I think it would have to be as well as the BMW because the need to thrash this bike could get tiring on a long journey! Unfortunately I then parked next to the reservoir to admire this amazing machine...

It has the looks that only a mother could love - and I ride an RT which I'm told is hardly a looker of a bike. Everything is fine if only you could have a different headlight and screen - they just ruin the bike for me. Once I'd realised just how hard I would find it to live with the looks (call me shallow) I started to try and find other faults with the bike... To be honest apart from a fear of how fragile a KTM might be the only thing I could come up with was just how small the font used in the otherwise excellent dash display was - perhaps this bike was designed for younger people with better eyesight...

Honda CRF1100 Africa Twin

Honda CRF1100 Africa Twin DCT

Ever since the "new" Africa Twin (CRF1000) was released I saw this as the benchmark bike for the mix of touring and (for me light) off-road use. I really wanted one having abandoned the idea of another BMW. Then we started getting stories of brand new bikes having corrosion around the spokes and some alluminium parts on the engine - really when you spend this much money on a bike? I ranked Honda up there with Yamaha but this bike looked like it was an exception. When they released the newer 1100cc version I wondered whether they had fixed the issues... I was also keen to try the DCT gearbox I had heard so much about.

I picked the bike up from Fowlers in Bristol and setoff on my test route - I'm sure you'd get used to the DCT gearbox very quickly but it was so awkward for me getting through traffic in a city on such an unfamiliar setup. When I got out into the country I relaxed a bit more but I was finding that no matter which mode (except manual) I had the DCT in it just never "worked" for me. The only way I could get it to shift when I wanted it to was to be really ham-fisted with the throttle, not a good trait to encourage. And then I'd have the opposite problem when I entered a village and would usually use quite a high gear to keep the noise down as I rode through and the DCT system would change down and make me sound/feel like a hooligan. In the last 5 miles of my ride I think I started to gel with teh machine but by then my test ride was over (we don't all get loaned a bike for 48 hours). On the way back, through leafy villages, the sun had peaked out from behind he clouds and I thought everyone had jumped on their ride-on lawn mowers to take advantage of the weather - it turned out that the Africa Twins exhaust note has been tuned to sound like a lawn mower.

Yamaha XT1200Z Super Tenere

Yamaha XT1200Z Super Tenere

I'd never really looked at the Yamaha, on paper it was over priced and under specified compared with much of the competition. However, I'd now traded my R1200RT in for an R1250RT and was again looking as a second, light off-road capable, bike. I'd got to the point of realisation that I was using the electronic gimicks less often and placed more value on reliability and longevity. The Yamaha was now ticking all the boxes.

To ride the bike is nice and lazy, the torque like with the RT allows you to use a range of gears at any given speed and contrary to the MPG quoted I found riding the S10 I was able to blow the quoted figure into the weeds - I think it is around a 300mile range (maybe just under) on a tank. The modes were similar to my rain and dynamic modes on the RT with rain/town being great for a nice progressive smooth throttle in traffic and dynamic/sport being good for more enthusiastic riding once you are past 20mph or so (otherwise a little on/off snatchy I thought). I'm only 5'8" but was comfortable with the height, I wasn't keen on the blue forks of the one I tested but there were plenty around so I decided to shop around. Then Yamaha discontinued the model and now they seem to be somewhat more difficult to find good examples at the right price.

BMW F800GS

BMW F800GS

I was so close to selecting this a s a second bike to own alongside the R1200RT, I'd started the reasoned arguments that this would be more efficient for commuting, would be great when not on the long tours with my wife on the back and giving me the extra dimension of a suitable bike for some light off roading. It sounded nice, rode nice, wasn't too high, I liked everything about the bike - then my RT started developing some corrosion, despite the generous washing and ACF50 regimes. My confidence in BMW was knocked and the dealership just didn't want to address the issues. Second bike was put on hold.

BMW RNineT

BMW RNineT

Another service, another bike. It appeared to me that BMW had a few older engines when they upgraded the RT and GS lying around their factories and someone came up with jumping on the retro band wagon to much critical acclaim. When I took one of these out, after so many miles covered on my upright RT and riding a couple of upright adventure bikes the position on the saddle felt so alien to me. It was as if my head was so far forward that if I were to ride into the back of a white van my head would be the first thing to make contact. In the few miles that I rode the bike I couldn't shake this feeling of having my head so far forward which reminded me of my first time driving a classic VW camper van, you have to drive into a corner before turning otherwise you are in danger of mounting curbs!

I'm not sure if anyone racks up much mileage on their RnineT or whether people buy them to pack outside a cafe drinking cappuccinos admiring their bike.

BMW C650GT

BMW C650GT

Another service on the RT and whilst they often try to palm you off with what they have available I usually try to use the opportunity to try something different. I'd never ridden a scooter before so this was a new, and frightening, experience for me. I just couldn't get used to the sitting position, cornering felt like the thing was going to fall over (even though I have visited Rome and seen how these scooters can be thrown around with abandon). I was constantly terrified that I would pull up to traffic lights, stop and forget to put a foot down. I'm sure you get used to it but for me this signalled my one, and only, forray into the world of scooters. I don't imagine I will ever return!

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BMW R1200GS

I borrowed the legendary GS whilst my RT was being serviced. I have to say I was a little intimidated when I first mounted the bike though once in the saddle most of the controls made me feel at home very quickly. The dash was very old fashioned compared with my beloved RT. Riding the bike was very different from the RT, it felt like my bike had been jacked up and gone a severe crash diet - everything was just that bit faster to respond.

I liked having most of what the RT provided but with the ability to slim down when you didn't need the panniers (the RT is as wide at the front as the back). I liked the performance too. What I wasn't so convinced about was taking a bike this big & heavy off the tarmac and if you're not going to do that the RT comes with so many features built in that are extras on the GS - panniers, adjustable screen (from the saddle), weather protection.

BMW F800GT

BMW F800 GT

This was probably the sensible choice in teh BMW range for me having returned from my trip to the continent on my first tour, I remember pulling out of the dealership on my first ever faired bike, I could feel the confusion in my brain when I turned the handle bars and it just didn't feel right - it took me a while to realise it was because I was used, on a naked bike, to the headlight turning with the handle bars.

I enjoyed the ride and the belt drive was a step away from a chain, I seem to recall it sounded quite nice too and courtesy of an economical engine had good range. However I didn't feel it was enough of a step up from the Suzuki and I would have out grown the bike pretty quickly.