A BMW test rider aboard a new 2009 BMW R 1200 R. Sure it’s faster and sleeker than an old Bemmer, but is it better?
Occasionally I prowl about on bike-related “forums” on the web. There are plenty of interesting and clever people out there who are willing to share their expertise on all things motorcycle. As I ride somewhat-venerable BMWs, these are the sites to which I gravitate. I’ve picked up quite a few tips; I have been amused, entertained and occasionally annoyed. The very few times that I have participated, someone out in the etherland has kindly supplied me with the information that I sought. Neat!
Back to BMW’s. The old ones are solid, reliable, clunky, slow, and highly sought after by many. The not-quite-so-old ones, say 1970 thru 1985, are even more reliable, slightly faster, solid, sometimes also clunky, and seemingly bulletproof. They are also very user friendly when they need attention. I can attest to this first-hand as my bikes have survived years of my meddling with their works and still perform without surprises. The modern generation of Bavarian bikes are simply astonishing in their complexity, handling, speed, comfort, and through-the-roof prices. Very few will argue with most of these claims. So why don’t I get a newer ride?
Subconsciously, I have been arguing with myself for some time in an attempt to justify the purchase of a newer machine. After all, my ‘new’ bike is now 25 years old. Neither of my bikes is speedy, and many things need adjusting – frequently. But over and above the budget issue, there has always been the niggling suspicion that newer might not mean better in total. There is no argument that the components are much improved: especially power, electrics, brakes and suspension and handling. In other words, the bikes are leap years ahead of the older models in almost every respect that one could mention.
Does this not mean that the bikes are better? What is missing? Why hesitate if the wallet can cope?
Number one on my list is character. This is hard to define and very personal, but any bike with so much plastic shrouding just doesn’t do it! Styling for the skateboard set just doesn’t grab me. Besides, I’m old fashioned enough to want to see at least some of the motor! Also, I am not convinced that I am rider enough for the horsepower on tap on most big new bikes.
The second factor is attitude. Not mine – but the manufacturer’s! I just couldn’t put my finger on it until I came across a thread on the BMWMOA forum. Most of the machines produced since 1995 were never intended to become members of the family. These bikes have high-tech, computer-driven, complex systems that very few can understand, let alone repair or even maintain. These bikes are not meant to be user friendly if things go wrong. If you buy into the market, you are expected to have every little twitch dealt with by the dealer. Warrantees are good for three years – often five, and then you are encouraged to trade up to the latest and greatest and start all over. The intended market is well heeled and doesn’t wish, – or know, how to do even basic maintenance. After three years, if something goes wrong with the bike it is usually serious, expensive and dealer-service only. ABS and integrated brake systems, fuel injection, computer chip technologies controlling all engine functions: these aren’t for even the talented home mechanic. You are essentially expected to buy into the philosophy of ride and trade up! Don’t try to understand it, don’t tinker with it, just ride it then trade it in. Impress everyone with all of the latest technology and go faster, always faster…
I suspect that this same attitude has crept into all manufacturers who serve the North American motorcycle market. Certainly that is the way of all automobiles on the road. It isn’t wrong, but it definitely isn’t right for me.
I like my bikes to be user friendly, even when they are not behaving properly. Besides, I’ve given up trying to impress anyone else. I can’t – my bike doesn’t go fast enough! — Alison Green