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Doing more with what only seems to be less.
June 29, 2010 9:58 AM   Subscribe

"For many riders, a Ninja 250 is the bottom rung of a sport bike ladder, a necessary first step in pursuit of high horsepower race replicas. I can’t begin to recount the myriad times I’ve been asked about getting a bigger bike, generally with the suggestion, express or implied, that I’m ready for a 600cc super sport. With over 17,000 miles behind the bars of my mighty 250, I’ve no apprehensions about moving up." - A blog documenting and occasionally rhapsodizing about day to day living with a bike that is usually looked down on as a underpowered, beginner's bike.
posted by 1f2frfbf (95 comments total) 20 users marked this as a favorite

 
Oh yeah. If I got back into riding, I'd probably go for a smaller engine myself. With a high power/mass ratio, it doesn't take much of an engine for typical highway performance.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 10:19 AM on June 29, 2010 [1 favorite]


Are there any good stats on deaths/injuries on motorcycles broken down by engine size?
posted by Burhanistan at 10:23 AM on June 29, 2010


You know, until I watched the freeway video just now, I really didn't grasp why people wanted to ride motorcycles. Yeah, there's the "it goes fast" feature, but I knew there was something beyond that. Watching the way all the cars looked like stifling little jails on wheels, contrasted with the freedom he had, I finally got it.

Unfortunately, watching that video I am now more scared of riding a motorcycle than ever. (Then again, I refuse to get a driver's license and even taking a bicycle on an open road riddles me with anxiety.)

Great stuff.
posted by griphus at 10:24 AM on June 29, 2010


I've been jonesing after a C-70 for about three years now. Oh, how I wish that Honda would bring them back to North America. The epitome of "more with less" especially since I have zero interest in riding on limited access highways. I saw a lovely, well kept red one just a couple days ago crossing at an intersection, and I had this insane moment of envy. I should probably work on that.
posted by seanmpuckett at 10:25 AM on June 29, 2010


There was a great post on Hell For Leather the other day that was lamenting the dearth of "Hot Entry Level Motorcycles" in the U.S. As a novice rider with a new endorsement on my license but without a ride yet, I have become keenly aware of Motorcycling's Missing Link.
posted by the painkiller at 10:30 AM on June 29, 2010 [1 favorite]


There's a great deal to be said for smaller motorcycles. I'm an experienced motorcyclist (many years, many miles, and a few roadracing podium finishes) and the bike I ride most often is a Yamaha XT225. It's quicker off the line than all but the most zippy cars, it's easy to work on (screw-and-locknut valves!), it goes 75mph and gets 70mpg.

Also, it's more fun to ride a slow bike fast than a fast bike slow.
posted by workerant at 10:35 AM on June 29, 2010 [1 favorite]


Hm. If he likes the bike and it does what he needs it to, more power to him. (Hah.) Personally, I'd feel a bit unsafe at highway speeds on a small bike. I've been riding my Kawasaki 454 for four years now and I'm looking to move up.
posted by lholladay at 10:36 AM on June 29, 2010


Are there any good stats on deaths/injuries on motorcycles broken down by engine size?

See page 27 on this pdf: Analysis of Motorcycle accidents. In the UK.
posted by zarq at 10:36 AM on June 29, 2010 [1 favorite]


The safety course I took when I started riding used a pair of Yamaha 250 on/off-road, in addition to a group of Honda 125s. I ended up picking up a 650 at course's end, but those 250's were fun, and I could see getting a lot of use out of them without the need to upgrade. (in comparison, the 650 felt huge). However, with strong, gusty prairie winds, even the 650 could be light on the highway. When a gust sends you into the next lane before you can correct, you know you have a problem.
posted by Durn Bronzefist at 10:46 AM on June 29, 2010 [1 favorite]


There's a nice beginners' motorcycle site here. Kind of sporadically-updated and mostly product reviews, but there are also some good tips (and, germane to this discussion, a post on why 600 ccs is too much.)
posted by Halloween Jack at 10:50 AM on June 29, 2010 [1 favorite]


That an interesting report, zarq. It seems to conclude that small bikes are over-represented in accident figures, probably due to rider inexperience. Large bikes seem to be under-represented. Looks like skill has a lot more to do with accident-free riding than engine size.
posted by lholladay at 10:52 AM on June 29, 2010


*That's
posted by lholladay at 10:55 AM on June 29, 2010


Also, it's more fun to ride a slow bike fast than a fast bike slow.

This. I've had big bikes, small bikes, and plenty in between, and the small ones are the most fun in real-world riding, for me.

Personally, I'd feel a bit unsafe at highway speeds on a small bike. I've been riding my Kawasaki 454 for four years now and I'm looking to move up.

I'm glad you enjoy it, but the K 454 is, if not exactly a big steaming turd of a bike, perhaps a somewhat uninspired and unexceptional motorcycle. The 250 ninja, on the other hand, is a really superbly balanced and capable bike, with performance far above what you might think from the engine size.

Meaning, there's every reason in the world to buy a more capable (and perhaps bigger) bike than the 454, but not nearly so many reasons to move on from the 250.
posted by Forktine at 11:01 AM on June 29, 2010


lholladay, the data is weird because figure 3 undermines figure 2. Here's an extract of the data presented in figure 3:

CCs ____ % of pop __% of acc.

350–500 ____ 6.7 ____ 7.1
500–600 ____ 6.6 ____ 7.1
600–900 ____24.8____ 26.9
900 + ______ 18.2____ 22.0

To my eye, that shows larger engines being over-represented in crashes.
posted by NortonDC at 11:05 AM on June 29, 2010


Uninspired?! Unexceptional?! Why you- ! How could- !

It's okay baby, he didn't mean it, shhhhhh, don't cry. Don't cry. It'll be okay. I'll go get the special cloth.
posted by lholladay at 11:07 AM on June 29, 2010 [6 favorites]


I used to drive a motorcycle full-time in my early 20s, as did my sister. I had a Yamaha 550 4-banger, and she had a little 250 she'd picked up used from a training facility of some kind. I took it out many times. It was very comfortable and damn fast. By bike standards, it didn't accelerate very quickly, but it was far, far quicker than most cars, which are usually your limiting factor on movement anyway. It rode well, did 70mph easily, and of course got fantastic mileage.

I never tried any road trips with it, and I suspect I'd have preferred mine for any kind of real travel, but that little guy was fantastic.

Motorcyclists seem to have this obsession with size and power, but for routine use, I preferred my sister's bike to mine. If you're not trying to show off, but just want a great cheap solution to getting around quickly and fairly comfortably, a small motorcycle can be a real winner.

Now, a tiny Ninja? I dunno how comfortable one of those would be. But I guarantee it'll have about five times as much power as you actually need, and it has one ENORMOUS advantage over bigger bikes... you can pick it up if you drop it.
posted by Malor at 11:13 AM on June 29, 2010


NortonDC: Ah, I was looking at table 2 on the same page. When they break it down in table 3, it does look like the larger bikes have an above average chance of an accident on bends, and on overtaking/filtering.
posted by lholladay at 11:14 AM on June 29, 2010


Looks like skill has a lot more to do with accident-free riding than engine size.

A driver's adherence to the rules matters to. Somewhere in that report is a line which says that many motorcycle accidents happen when traffic is slowed, and cyclists make their own lanes between cars.
posted by zarq at 11:15 AM on June 29, 2010 [1 favorite]


Got my first riding experience on a Yamaha YSR50- a 50cc mini street bike. It was fun as heck taking that thing to the limits- with a few modifications (intake/exhaust) it could get to 70mph.

After driving a turbo hatchback coming from a car with less than half the power, I definitely concur that it's more fun to drive/ride slow things fast, than to take a fast vehicle slow.

I'd love to get a bike but my balls aren't made of brass unfortunately. California drivers have gone from bad to worse through the years.
posted by liquoredonlife at 11:18 AM on June 29, 2010


many motorcycle accidents happen when traffic is slowed, and cyclists make their own lanes between cars.

People do this all the time in Chicago and I *hate* it.
posted by lholladay at 11:19 AM on June 29, 2010


To my eye, that shows larger engines being over-represented in crashes.

My calculator agrees, with larger bikes being 56.3 percent of the population, while being involved in 63.1 percent of the accidents.

Complicating that, at least in the US, is going to be age -- right now, the big spike in bad motorcycle accidents is coming from older guys who rode when they were young coming back to motorcycling after a long absence. They of course buy large and very powerful bikes, don't tend to retake any training classes (and probably had received no training thirty years ago when they were first riding), and have been killing themselves at an alarming rate. Large bikes aren't automatically deadly, but large bikes plus inexperienced riders plus overconfidence plus slow reflexes is a bad combination; add in alcohol and you have a real recipe for disaster.
posted by Forktine at 11:21 AM on June 29, 2010


it has one ENORMOUS advantage over bigger bikes... you can pick it up if you drop it.

Center of gravity is everything. My V-twin 650 was a beast to lift from flat off the pavement. My 1100 Goldwing (without fairing, about twice the weight) wasn't a problem due to an extremely low centre of gravity (I was extremely relieved to find out).
posted by Durn Bronzefist at 11:22 AM on June 29, 2010


many motorcycle accidents happen when traffic is slowed, and cyclists make their own lanes between cars.

I still can't believe this is legal in some places. It makes no sense at all to me.
posted by seventyfour at 11:31 AM on June 29, 2010


I've never understood the obsession with huge engines.

I owned a Ducati Monster 620 for years - Everyone told me "Oh, you'll be looking to move up" and that it was a "starter" bike. Note that this was an extremely capable bike. Never once was I trying to do anything that the bike was not capable of doing, never once did I feel like I didn't have enough power -- and I rode two-up quite often.

The bike met it's demise in a flood... and I ended up replacing it with the Monster 696. Note that this is a < 400lb 80HP bike. Yet I still hear many people calling it a starter bike. This makes no sense to me at all - but it's constant. Nobody gets what I'm saying when I tell them that they are all the same speed on public roads.

I still feel like it's a blast to get a little 250cc honda and mess around on it - I was close to getting one of those when my bike met the flood.

Coincidentally, I don't ride in large groups...
posted by MysticMCJ at 11:33 AM on June 29, 2010


swarm and destroy, baby, swarm and destroy
posted by infini at 11:34 AM on June 29, 2010 [3 favorites]


I still can't believe this is legal in some places. It makes no sense at all to me.

In California it's euphemistically called "lane sharing". It was on my written driver's test but it took me ages to figure out what the heck it was since there's no safe way to share a lane - right?
posted by GuyZero at 11:34 AM on June 29, 2010


Also, it's more fun to ride a slow bike fast than a fast bike slow.

There are so many fun and interesting ways I could rephrase this without reducing its truth value one whit.

Many of them are quite dirty.
posted by lodurr at 11:37 AM on June 29, 2010


My rule was always to treat my bike like a car... try to take the same spot in the lane that a car driver would be in, signal clearly, and don't go places that cars can't. I'd violate that last rule occasionally, but never much faster than walking speed. I'd drive slowly on the shoulder to get to an exit in a freeway jam, but I don't think I ever once actually shared a lane with a car. I hated lane-sharers as much as the car drivers did, and didn't think it should be legal. If I wasn't getting off at the next exit, I just sat there in traffic jams like everyone else.

Kept me safe, and the extra acceleration and stopping power of the bike got me out of a few jams. But the lack of crash protection and cargo space eventually pushed me into cars.

Center of gravity is everything.

My 550 was difficult to pick up, very top-heavy. I tipped it over once into a ditch when the ground under the kickstand gave way. (I was young and thoughtless, and didn't think to really check the ground before getting off.) It didn't take any damage, but it was a little past horizontal, handlebars down, and I could only pull it with one hand because of the weird angle. That's probably the single hardest lift I've ever had to do, period, not just with bikes. My hand hurt for days afterward.
posted by Malor at 11:39 AM on June 29, 2010


I have a 1000cc sport bike which I like not because it has 145hp (which is fun on occasion) but because it fits my 6-1 185lb frame well. Most smaller sport bikes feel like a scale model to me (a friend had a grey market 250cc Honda that I rode a few times and it felt ridiculous).
posted by maxwelton at 11:40 AM on June 29, 2010


My last bike was a '72 Honda CB500, but it had no exhaust and the engine was old enough that it didn't have much more power than a 250.

Still, it was just about perfect for me; fast enough to get away from the cars at a stoplight and enough power to get up to freeway speeds, and from there I could just amble along.

God damn I miss that bike.
posted by quin at 11:42 AM on June 29, 2010


I need to do an FPP on motorcycle modding across teh developing world. ambulances, pick up trucks, 7 seater taxis, food stand and hawker stalls, you name it they've modded it.
posted by infini at 11:45 AM on June 29, 2010 [2 favorites]


In California it's euphemistically called "lane sharing". It was on my written driver's test but it took me ages to figure out what the heck it was since there's no safe way to share a lane - right?

I bicycle commute daily, so I know about this. I don't take up appreciably less room than a small motorbike/scooter, but cars pass me all the time, and I them--all in the same lane. It is arguably less safe than the alternative, but I believe that the risks are reasonable. Most car drivers can hold a straight line. Of the ones that can't, I'm not sure a lane would stop them.

I could "take the lane" and force cars to lane change around me, but on a crowded four lane road I personally don't want to impede traffic that much, for various reasons.

I suppose I am the reductio ad absurdum of shrinking engine sizes. :)
posted by RikiTikiTavi at 11:50 AM on June 29, 2010 [2 favorites]


Honestly why hate on lane splitting? I've heard plenty of drivers talk about how much they hate motorcyclists doing it, but after the mumble something about how unsafe it is, when pressed it almost always comes down to "those motorcyclists are cutting in line!" which is really silly. Lane splitting doesn't slow anyone else down, it actually improves the flow of traffic by getting more vehicles off the road sooner.

As to safety? A decent motorcylists knows more about how the cars around him are driving than they do. The danger (and libility) is all on the motorcyclists side, but keep in it's also dangerous to be a motorcyclist stopped in traffic. (Motorcycles are small and therefore much more likely to be missed, and in slow traffic some drivers are far too aggressive about changing lanes when they think they see a space to change.)
posted by aspo at 12:08 PM on June 29, 2010 [1 favorite]


I've only ever had one bike; my much loved 2002 Suzuki GS 500, named Cricket. People have always told me that I'll want to get a larger bike eventually, but I'm really not feeling compelled to do so. I've commuted on this bike, ridden her across the country, taken both long and short day trips, and she's always performed like a champ.

My girl is wanting to get a bike now, and I am considering selling her my bike. Much to her chagrin, however, I am having a hard time letting go of Cricket, so I keep doing the "I'll sell it to you/I don't want to sell it" shuffle-step. I mean, I want my girl to have a safe, reliable, and mechanically sound bike to ride, but I have grown so fond of Cricket that I find it hard to part with her.

Whether of not I sell it, I don't think I'll be forking out for a Hayabusa any time soon. Kick-ass MPG, plenty of pick-up, mechanical simplicity, cheep parts, lightness and agility weigh too heavily in favor of a smaller bike for me to want something too much heavier.
posted by Pecinpah at 12:10 PM on June 29, 2010


My objection to lane splitting doesn't have to do with envy/jealousy. In my few trips to California, where they apparently allow lane splitting, I found it unnerving and, frankly, scary, as the motorcyclists were going at a speed far higher than the (stopped) traffic and had little possible response time if a car were to change lanes or even shift in its lane. I have no idea what the stats are on accidents resulting from lane splitting, so am unsure if my reaction was baseless.
posted by seventyfour at 12:15 PM on June 29, 2010


Very cool. Learning to ride has been a long time goal of mine but I've never gotten around to it because a. motorcycle classes fill up quickly, b. bad winter climate means owning a motorcycle seems like more of a summer hobby than a cheap, reliable way to commute year round and c. all my friends who own bikes laughed at me when I pointed at the Ninja 250R on the Kawasaki website and said "Hey, this bike looks cool and it's only five grand".

Well, screw them. If this guy can make it work then so can I. Maybe I'll finally take the course/road test next summer. Only five grand, huh...
posted by threetoed at 12:15 PM on June 29, 2010


Honestly why hate on lane splitting?

I think for me, when I'm riding, I expect people around me to follow the rules of the road. At the same time, I am constantly appraising the situation to be ready for the instance when they don't. So I when see somebody sneak down an offramp between two lanes of traffic, it sets off my 'dangerous behavior' detector the same way that a bicyclist blowing a stopsign does. Perhaps my fears are unfounded.
posted by lholladay at 12:16 PM on June 29, 2010


My first bike (which I sold recently) was a Ninja 250, and it was a lot of fun and plenty fast. I find, however, I'm just not a sportbike* kind of guy.... What I really want (style-wise) is the Universal Japanese Motorcycle (think 70s-80s Honda CB styling), but I want a bike made in the past decade, and ideally with fuel-injection. Sadly, the only bike I know of that meets those requirements is the Suzuki TU-250, and I'm thinking I want something just a bit bigger than another 250. (Ideally, 500 or so?) Sadly, no one makes that style of bike anymore...
posted by JMOZ at 12:16 PM on June 29, 2010


Clay Enos left New York over a year ago to head for Vancouver to do the still photography for Zack Snyder's movie, Sucker Punch. The interesting aspect of this is that he left new york on a Vespa 300. After spending a few months in Canada, he headed south, still on the Vespa, to Central America to explore the world of organic coffee...

He's now headed back to New York, his blog is here.

When Clay started this I suggested he consider a larger bike, but he stuck with the Vespa... He's now at 18,600 miles on the Vespa...

Talk about an iron butt on a small bike....

I ride a Harley 886 Sportster Custom now, but enjoyed my old Honda 305 Scrambler just as much.... small bikes are great!
posted by HuronBob at 12:21 PM on June 29, 2010 [1 favorite]


The biggest reason I hated lane sharing is because it startles the fuck out of drivers. Even if it's not actively unsafe, you're scaring a whole lane of people, and I just don't think that's right. So I refused to do it.
posted by Malor at 12:24 PM on June 29, 2010 [1 favorite]


many motorcycle accidents happen when traffic is slowed, and cyclists make their own lanes between cars.

I read awhile back (and don't remember where, and I'm too lazy to look it up, so it may not even be true) that U.S. states that allow lane sharing have a higher rate of low-speed motorcycle accidents, but a lower rate of motorcycle fatalities.

As a motorcyclist (I didn't even have a car for 15 years, and spent some of them in California), this makes sense to me: The only time I "made my own lanes" was when the cars around me were particularly clueless or driving recklessly. Basically, splitting lanes let me get away from dangerous situations. The most dangerous thing to a motorcyclist (other than his/her own stupidity) is careless car drivers.

Now that I live in a "no lane-sharing" state, I feel much less safe in traffic.
posted by coolguymichael at 12:30 PM on June 29, 2010 [1 favorite]


I considered buying a bike, but ultimately ended up considering less risky activities like skydiving, or smoking.
posted by schmod at 12:32 PM on June 29, 2010 [2 favorites]


My first bike was a vintage Honda CB handed down from my dad, who rode that thing for almost two decades. Unfortunately by the time I got it the electrical system was having problems that were a bit beyond my ability or skill to fix.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 12:32 PM on June 29, 2010


There's lane splitting, and there's lane splitting. It's one thing to be noodling through stopped traffic at 20 klicks, giving yourself plenty of time to notice potential problems and avoid them, and another when it's people belting through slow-moving traffic with a 50 k differential.

And yes, it has obvious risks, the biggest of which is that people aren't expecting someone to be coming between lanes. I don't generally do it for that reason.

(In New Zealand overtaking within the lane is legal, but only if done on the right of the lane; as normal, undertaking on the left is never OK, and the road code specifies that it must be safe; the police officer in charge of traffic enforcement for the country, a number of years ago, wrote a short note for a local riding mag that his officers would take the view that this meant that the onus is on the overtaker to ensure safety, and that a crash would generally be assumed to be the fault of the person lane splitting, since it obviously wasn't safe. QED.)
posted by rodgerd at 12:47 PM on June 29, 2010


For those wondering about accidents and motorcycle types, I offer the 2009 Insurance Motorcycle Collision Report from the Highway Loss Data Institute.

I was researching how dangerous scooters were a month or so ago, and they were nice enough to send me this, which has a wealth of information. Sorry, can't find the original link on their site, so I'm hosting it off mine.

Turns out scooters are about as safe as cruisers. Supersports are the worst.
posted by hanoixan at 12:48 PM on June 29, 2010


(sorry, should have offered a link to The Highway Loss Data Institute/Insurance Institute for Highway Safety)
posted by hanoixan at 12:50 PM on June 29, 2010


bad winter climate means owning a motorcycle seems like more of a summer hobby than a cheap, reliable way to commute year round

Normally I'd agree with you, but this last winter I would frequently get into work at about the same time as a guy riding an older motorcycle with a sidecar. This was remarkable to me, as 1.) it was easily -10°F and 2.) there was significant snow on the ground as we were traveling on the interstate.

I got close enough to see that he was wearing a balaclava under his helmet and some kind of cold weather shields that went over the tops of his gloves and deflected the wind from his fingers.

I don't know if the sidecar helped keep him stable in the snow, but I know I saw him out there at least a dozen times at different points through the season, and clearly it was a system that was working for him. I don't think I'd do it, but it proved to me that it could be done.
posted by quin at 12:55 PM on June 29, 2010 [1 favorite]


A decent motorcylists knows more about how the cars around him are driving than they do.

That's probably true, but there are plenty of incompetents who like to sit in my blind spot too.
posted by i_am_joe's_spleen at 1:02 PM on June 29, 2010


Don't forget the excellent Ninja250.net.

The Ninjette is a great beginner bike, and also a great bike for the shorter rider. But considering I make a VFR750 look like a child's toy, I'll stick with my KLR (til I can afford a GSA [NOT FANBOIST]).
posted by Eideteker at 1:06 PM on June 29, 2010 [1 favorite]


I still can't believe this is legal in some places. It makes no sense at all to me.

Its legal in state that are 'warm'. Bikes are mostly air-cooled. You stop for traffic on a hot day on the I-5 and the engine will over-heat.
posted by MiltonRandKalman at 1:12 PM on June 29, 2010 [2 favorites]


Eideteker: But considering I make a VFR750 look like a child's toy, I'll stick with my KLR (til I can afford a GSA

Man, I can feel the thumper love. I sold my 650 last year, and I regret not being able to fly over potholes, curbs and railroad tracks (!) anymore.
posted by hanoixan at 1:13 PM on June 29, 2010


and I regret not being able to fly over potholes, curbs and railroad tracks (!) anymore.

I don't because the two wheeler went thataway when it happened
posted by infini at 1:16 PM on June 29, 2010


Lane splitting/sharing/filtering is perfectly safe IF drivers are expecting it. In fact, it's safer than sitting in stopped traffic, waiting to be rear-ended. But sadly, the law is not in favor of safety on this issue, and so we have clueless drivers who don't understand why we need to filter and don't expect us to do so, which makes things more dangerous for everyone.

I think Colorado and Texas were working on lane-sharing initiatives last year (due to high gas prices driving more motorists to ride instead, I think), but I don't think anything happened with them. Which is nuts, because in the rest of the world, it's legal. In fact, in the UK, you will get cited if you don't filter on your license exam for "failure to make adequate progress."

We do need tiered licensing in this country, though. It will resolve the chicken-and-egg problem of no-small-bikes. Oh, in addition to limiting squidliness.
posted by Eideteker at 1:17 PM on June 29, 2010


Interestingly enough, there's some statistical evidence that lane splitting/sharing actually reduces accidents.
posted by theclaw at 1:21 PM on June 29, 2010 [3 favorites]


hanoixan: I bought a friend's VFR this weekend so I'd have a bike capable of carrying a passenger in addition to all my bulk. It was fun, but man, did I miss the agility of a nice, tall dual-sport. As I put in on fb:

"KLR - think about leaning, and you're leaning (z-axis, roll)
VFR - think about going faster, and you're going faster (z-axis, displacement)"

I rode it a lot this weekend before I had to leave it at home in Boston. I got comfortable hanging off of it and all, and I'm sure I'll get better at riding it with time, but I seriously wonder if it will ever replace the fun of flinging that dirty, dirty rat-bike around underneath me. ♥
posted by Eideteker at 1:22 PM on June 29, 2010


Speaking of lane-splitting, I have a question; if you are in a car in mostly stopped traffic, and you are attempting to change lanes, does a bike that is lane splitting (where legal) yield to you, or do you yield to it.

I would imagine that because of the speed differential and the fact that the bike can see what is going on easier, having it yield would make the most sense. But sense doesn't always factor into the way rules of the road are implemented.

As this is the only really dangerous thing I can see about lane-splitting, I'm curious if there is a defined legal road-rule.
posted by quin at 1:32 PM on June 29, 2010


The bike should yeild to the car, mostly because the rider should assume that the driver is clueless and hasn't seen them and will happilly turn into his lane.
posted by aspo at 1:37 PM on June 29, 2010 [2 favorites]


"if you are in a car in mostly stopped traffic, and you are attempting to change lanes..."

Don't. People who change lanes in traffic don't do anything but make the traffic worse. Besides, you know the minute you get into that lane, it's going to start moving slower than the one you're in.

The exception is a lane closure, in which case, that's no longer an active lane, and the motorcyclist shouldn't be splitting along it. Move to the far side of the closure/accident and filter from there.
posted by Eideteker at 1:38 PM on June 29, 2010 [1 favorite]


seanmpuckett, you could always get a SYMba which is both cute and retro, but tough enough to go from San Jose, CA to Fairbanks, AK!


I am obviously (see user name) biased towards small displacement vehicles so I've got a lot of respect for lovers of small motorcycles! (If you're in Denver and like small vintage motorcycles, there's a museum packed with all sorts of interesting tiny machines
posted by vespabelle at 1:44 PM on June 29, 2010


limiting squidliness always a good idea. A friends' cousin died one hour after getting his liscence. 18 yrs old, 600cc sportbike, too much throttle, car wandering into his lane.

I used to ride in NYC a fair amount and on my way to work I frequently met up with a guy on a BMW 650FS. I had a R1100R then and we would always say hi at whatever light we met up at. And then he would disappear into traffic as I made my way into town.
posted by From Bklyn at 1:47 PM on June 29, 2010


A decent motorcylists knows more about how the cars around him are driving than they do.

Cyclists say the same thing, and you know what? A disturbing amount of the time it seems to come from people who are riding like idiots; I certainly don't mean that as a dig against you personally, but just as the cyclists who tell me about how they are "more aware" than motorists and so it's OK to run reds and whatnot also seem to be the guys who are having these mysterious crashes tht are the fault of everyone else, it seems like a lot of the motorcyclists I've ridden with or around who make these sorts of claims are the ones who keep dropping their bikes on mysterious oil patches that no-one else on the ride encounters, you know?

Anyway, I have a GSF250V (laid up with a cracked engine case). 250cc, variable valve timing, breaks the open road speed limit in the third of its 6 gears. I have verified it runs out to 140 in fourth gear; I have not verified that it can crack 170 in sixth. For road riding, what do I need more for? Maybe a little more bottom-end torque for hauling my fat arse would be nice, but honestly, what would I need a litre for?
posted by rodgerd at 1:50 PM on June 29, 2010


Don't. People who change lanes in traffic don't do anything but make the traffic worse.

So, when you're in a car and the traffic comes to a standstill, you just...creep right by your exit?

"Lane sharing" is irritating as hell, and it's stupid. Blaming it on "clueless drives" is insane: You're basically saying that the drivers of the vastly more common vehicle have to accommodate the drivers of the vastly less common vehicle, and you're not making any allowance for the fact that the vast majority of "lane sharing" motorcyclists (at least as far as I can see) are testosterone-drenched assholes in flip-flops, running shorts and tank tops passing between other cars at full highway speed.

Oh, what, I'm generalizing?
posted by lodurr at 2:04 PM on June 29, 2010


I used to commute on a 100cc bike and have toured on a 250. Anything over 500cc is some kind of compensation for other, less obvious, size limits.
posted by ahimsakid at 2:21 PM on June 29, 2010 [1 favorite]


I lane split a lot here in LA, and I feel MUCH safer in stop and go traffic just Going and not in between two cars with drivers that are barely paying attention because they're barely moving.

And yeah, most people's objection seems to boil down to "but it's not FAIIRRRRRRR"
posted by flaterik at 2:27 PM on June 29, 2010


I lane split a lot here in LA, and I feel MUCH safer in stop and go traffic just Going and not in between two cars with drivers that are barely paying attention because they're barely moving.

It's not even "barely moving". I commute over the (SF) Bay Bridge every morning; even when traffic is moving at 25-35 MPH, average following distance is very small. In that situation, it makes sense to trade the risk of getting rear-ended for the risk of getting sideswiped, particularly since it's easier to avoid getting sideswiped than getting rear-ended.

(And FWIW, I've been knocked down while lanesplitting by a driver changing lanes. I told the CHP officer who showed up that I'd been splitting. The driver was assigned full fault for the accident.)
posted by asterix at 2:33 PM on June 29, 2010


I drive 75 miles on the CA 101 every day, and when motorcyclists stay near my car for too long I get nervous. I am fully adapted to seeing lane splitting and I expect them to keep moving past me, so when one stays right next to me in my blind spot I find myself wishing they would continue up the road. Like, "please do some lane splitting and get away from mine and the others' big dumb cars." Weird, huh?
posted by hellphish at 2:36 PM on June 29, 2010


Anything over 500cc is some kind of compensation for other, less obvious, size limits.

Really? My '50s classic is a 650 and "only" has about 35hp. A 350 from that period is pretty unusable on the highway. Hell, the 650 is just barely adequate for modern highways, with nothing much in reserve at the speed limit.

My modern 1000cc bike has lots of the thing I value most, which is torque. There is always more juice in reserve in any gear.
posted by maxwelton at 2:51 PM on June 29, 2010 [1 favorite]


Cyclists say the same thing, and you know what? A disturbing amount of the time it seems to come from people who are riding like idiots

It just means you are paying attention to the road, and have learned to see what cars are more likely to do crazy shit. That dude with the turn signal on for 4 blocks? Make sure you pass him on the far side of the lane from him. Notice that that car over there is being driven by someone who keeps takeing her eyes off the road to talk to the person next to her. That car behind you has been changing lanes like mad trying to get a few cars ahead. Caution! That guy is trying to change lanes and seems a bit flustered in traffic, be careful.

It's really just defensive driving to the extreme. It's not an excuse to ride like an idiot. It's also exhausting as hell and is why riding when tired is a really dumb idea.
posted by aspo at 2:52 PM on June 29, 2010


When my wife and I bought our Vespa GTS250, the bike shop people were all like, "Yeah, you'll want to move up soon once you get the taste for it."

My wife and I glanced at each other, looked back to the sales person, and continued loading our arms with copious safety gear. (The shop folks actually had to talk us down from buying the protective gear intended for high-risk stunt biking when we intended to drive for commuting purposes at 55 MPH tops.)

We're quite happy with a small bike, thank you.
posted by Scattercat at 2:52 PM on June 29, 2010


I started with a used 1970's CB350, later went to 800 cc and 1000 cc bikes and have now settled on a 600cc thumper (KTM LC4 Supermoto). I think a 250 Ninja is a great way to learn how to ride a motorcycle and new riders who start on a 600 cc super sport or worse, a 1000 cc bike are asking for the Darwin award.

Here in Japan there is stepped licensing:
* car licenses holders can also ride a 50cc scooter.
* up to 399 cc is for first-time license holders
* above 399 cc requires experience at the below 399 cc level; passengers are not allowed on the first year of this license

Stepped licensing makes so much sense, it is a shame the US probably won't ever implement such a scheme.
posted by gen at 3:21 PM on June 29, 2010


Anything over 500cc is some kind of compensation for other, less obvious, size limits.

This is a fairly ridiculous assertion. CC is not the end all of performance - I have a 650, but it's considerably slower than most 600s, because it's a single cylinder instead of an inline 4.

And I'm pretty sure no one with a KLR650 has ever been accused of having a Status Bike.
posted by flaterik at 3:54 PM on June 29, 2010 [2 favorites]


The scariest thing I've seen while lane-sharing in California is "pissed off" drivers who deliberately swerve at me, block my way or change lanes directly in front of me while I'm toodling along between them.
posted by bendy at 4:03 PM on June 29, 2010


The one bike I WILL NOT SELL is my 1970 CD90Z Honda. It's so much fun leaving the tin-tops behind at the lights in a fine fog of methanol and Castrol R30.
When I'm on here I often find myself laughing aloud in my helmet. For good reason.
posted by Duke999R at 4:23 PM on June 29, 2010 [1 favorite]


In California it's euphemistically called "lane sharing". It was on my written driver's test but it took me ages to figure out what the heck it was since there's no safe way to share a lane - right?

Technically, in California, if you could fit your car in the same lane as another car (entirely, as in nothing over the lines), you too could "lane split".

Also "filtering" (moving to the head of the line at red lights) is governed by a different set of laws and is illegal in most places.

[1] "lane splitting" is a misnomer actually, since driving _on_ the lines is against the law. You need to be in an actual lane and, crucially, you need to signal when you change from one lane to another.
This is how the CHP usually gets unsafe riders, on "improper lane change"

posted by madajb at 4:26 PM on June 29, 2010 [1 favorite]


I once had a CHP motorcycle office flash his lights at me while I was splitting. I was going maybe 10 over traffic speed, so I was a little annoyed that he was pulling me over for that.

When I got out of that lane, he and his partner passed me. I just wasn't splitting fast enough for them.
posted by flaterik at 4:30 PM on June 29, 2010 [1 favorite]


I know my biker-enthusiast friend, who's ridden all kinds of bikes was eager to tell me that, if I want to get a bike, I should get a suitably powered one - that there wasn't much point, in his opinion, on learning on a really small bike and then moving to a larger bike (he didn't mean huge... we're in a country with 75 to 150 cc bikes all over - and then a few people with 250+ bikes.).

His point was that riding a tiny bike and riding a bigger, powerful bike were very different experiences, and learning one really doesn't do much in the way of preparing you for the other (other than perhaps one day or so of basics.) . His advice was simply, if you want a big bike (not rediculously, dangerously big for hte roads here) then get one, be careful and cautious, and learn it.
posted by TravellingDen at 4:47 PM on June 29, 2010


What I really want (style-wise) is the Universal Japanese Motorcycle (think 70s-80s Honda CB styling), but I want a bike made in the past decade, and ideally with fuel-injection. Sadly, the only bike I know of that meets those requirements is the Suzuki TU-250, and I'm thinking I want something just a bit bigger than another 250. (Ideally, 500 or so?) Sadly, no one makes that style of bike anymore..

You sound like an ideal candidate for an SV650 or similar modern standard. Yes, yes, they aren't as beautiful as a 70's CB550F, but you get the same riding position and plastic-free design, combined with modern reliability and handling (and most importantly, modern brakes).
posted by Forktine at 4:51 PM on June 29, 2010


His point was that riding a tiny bike and riding a bigger, powerful bike were very different experiences, and learning one really doesn't do much in the way of preparing you for the other (other than perhaps one day or so of basics.)

I couldn't disagree more. I really wish the US had graduated licensing, forcing people to spend significant time on small bikes before riding off into the sunset on big ones.
posted by Forktine at 4:53 PM on June 29, 2010


Victoria (Australia) had engine capacity restrictions on learners that lasted for four years. However, recent improvements in bike technology rendered the restrictions increasingly absurd - an Aprilia 250 has far more power than a big single cylinder thumper. So they've brought in power restrictions instead, a far better system. manufacturers have responded well, with the SV650 for example being sold with a modifying chip so that it doesn't exceed the limit, and without the chip where it's over. And there are lots of 350s and the like that are good learner bikes, more bottom end but not so crazy up top.

Regarding lane sharing - rodgerd had it right, it can be done well or poorly. When done well it's safer for the rider, you're away from the traffic quickly and into clear space.
posted by wilful at 5:22 PM on June 29, 2010


I desperately want a SYMba like vespabella linked to. I rode what was basically the same bike (but older and sold under a different name) all over Malaysia and it was super fun (but I do wish it had a manual clutch). Nice thing about Malaysia is that traffic is about split evenly between small bikes and cars, so the car drivers know how to act around bikes. Makes lane sharing much safer, and over there was the expected way to ride. I originally learned to ride in India on a 100cc Suzuki and then got a 550cc Yamaha when I came back to Canada, but ended up not using it much because, basically, riding motorcycles in North America sucks -- too many cars, and you often have little alternative but to use the freeway where speeds are way too high and you need a more powerful bike and piles of protective gear. At least now there's a 100cc bike commercially available, which I'm glad about.
posted by Emanuel at 5:25 PM on June 29, 2010


I wouldn't call a 250 underpowered.
A lot of them are high-revving buzzy engines though, which can be quite fatiguing on a long ride.

For zipping around town, quick commutes and short rides in the country, there's not much that can beat one for fun, though.
posted by madajb at 6:04 PM on June 29, 2010


For first bikes, I picked up a Suzuki GS500 and my wife got a Ninja 250 (too short for the GS500). I happily rode the GS for years, but her bike was way more fun than mine. Yes, it had less power but it was much more flickable and much harder to get into trouble with. I moved up and she sold her bike, but I really miss the little Ninja. Now we're both really looking forward to a lovely (short) Ducati Monster 696, which despite the high displacement doesn't really have a lot of power. After riding a more powerful sportbike for several years, I'm reconverted to the joys of lesser-powered standards.
posted by jwest at 7:36 PM on June 29, 2010


I've ridden a Ninja 250, it was nice, very quick with good brakes and suspension.
posted by nervousfritz at 7:48 PM on June 29, 2010


>A decent motorcylists knows more about how the cars around him are driving than they do.

Cyclists say the same thing, and you know what? A disturbing amount of the time it seems to come from people who are riding like idiots and somehow surviving!!!!


FTFY :)
Well, that comes off as snarky, I honestly don't mean it that way. I read the paper every day, and it's often mentioned when a cyclist is killed - and how it happened. From this non-scientific and local sample, it does seem that the ways that cyclists get killed don't ever seem to result from the crazy stuff some cyclists do, (or conversely, cyclists can do that crazy stuff safely, or at least not much more dangerously than the danger inherent in riding responsibly), and neither of those things invalidates the claim that many cyclists and motorcyclists are far more alert (by necessity) than most car operators.

I know from my own experience that achieving the same level of safety in a car requires vastly less alertness than when you're anything smaller and less common. Being in a car is like being surrounded by a magic bubble - people who would normally not see you and inadvertently attempt to drive through you, can now magically see you miles away and not drive through you. So much so that it's almost safe to talk on the phone while putting on makeup while having a burger while shaving while fiddling with the nav system :)
posted by -harlequin- at 8:30 PM on June 29, 2010


What I really want (style-wise) is the Universal Japanese Motorcycle (think 70s-80s Honda CB styling), but I want a bike made in the past decade, and ideally with fuel-injection.

The Yamaha Fazer (FZ1) has had fuel injection for the last three or four years but it is, sadly, becoming more of a budget R1 and less of a "real" bike.

On the actual topic, the highway video shows the guy to be a very good rider. He (?) has good situational awareness, keeps the proper distance behind other vehicles, makes the right observations, and positions himself (?) in the lane really well. I also like that right turn against the lights. California FTW!
posted by GeckoDundee at 4:41 AM on June 30, 2010


...but just as the cyclists who tell me about how they are "more aware" than motorists and so it's OK to run reds and whatnot also seem to be the guys who are having these mysterious crashes that are the fault of everyone else, it seems like a lot of the motorcyclists I've ridden with or around who make these sorts of claims are the ones who keep dropping their bikes on mysterious oil patches that no-one else on the ride encounters, you know?

That's because those guys are idiots. As a (motor)cyclist you do tend to be more aware, because there's not an additional layer of insulation between you and the traffic, and you definitely don't have to worry about fiddling with the radio, answering phone calls or texting, or yelling at kids or pets in the back seat, but if you run red lights and go around corners like a fool, you'll get busted up just like any other fool. Additional awareness doesn't give you the right to break traffic laws any more than having a racing license gives you the right to speed.
posted by 1f2frfbf at 8:50 AM on June 30, 2010


> and you definitely don't have to worry about fiddling with the radio, answering phone calls or texting

Au contraire!
posted by Burhanistan at 8:59 AM on June 30, 2010


I can answer some of the questions re. lane sharing and the bike. I can only comment on California law and practice, since it's where I currently live and what I'm most familiar with. I ride a Ninja 250 myself, and lane-share regularly.

My usage is very practical; I am not interested in riding for "sport" or showing off. It's my primary mode of transportation other than public transit; I sold my car a couple years ago. I have ridden in all weather from blazing heat to pouring midnight rain in the mountains.

I'm 5'5", 135lb, male, late 20s.


Lane sharing:

First off, go read this (by the police subsection of a San Francisco Bay Area motorcycle riders' forum): http://www.bayarearidersforum.com/forums/showthread.php?t=154980

1. It was made legal in CA because the CA Highway Patrol lobbied for it. Partially because at the time they had air-cooled engines (which if sitting in traffic would overheat), partially because it reduced the risk of rear-end collision.

2. Legally speaking, the person making a lane change that crosses your path MUST yield - failure to do so is an "unsafe lane change":

"CA Vehicle Code 22107: No person shall turn a vehicle from a direct course or move right or left upon a roadway until such movement can be made with reasonable safety and then only after the giving of an appropriate signal in the manner provided in this chapter in the event any other vehicle may be affected by the movement."

3. Practically speaking, the rider must yield at even the slightest HINT of any behavior other than straight-ahead driving.

This includes monitoring for cars merging in from a couple lanes off, any wobbling of movement (which often precedes a merge), change of front tire angle, etc.

It also means controlling one's relative position to make sure that passing is as safe as possible and that one has an exit strategy in case somebody does something stupid.

I stop lane sharing at ~45 mph and keep a delta of ~10-15mph. I prefer to pass when there are cars on both sides of me. The main enemy is ignorance; cars notice other cars more than they notice bikes. If a car is on only one side, you risk that car turning into you.

In that vein, when I do have a car on only one side of me, I give it a very generous leeway - sometimes taking the full adjoining lane.

It's really not 100% fixed; you have to make situational calls.

4. Benefits of lanesharing: less traffic overall; faster drive time personally in heavy traffic; ability to get out of tight herds of cars into the pockets of nice safe open space between them; better gas mileage and less wear from less acceleration/deceleration; reduced risk of rear-end collision.

Risks: being cut off or sideswiped.


On the bike itself:

I've made some mods to the bike:
* 24 gallon Action Packer luggage: http://forums.ninja250.org/viewtopic.php?p=482241
* extra tail lights (stock has 3 pods but no lights in the side two)
* daytime front running lights (so the front turn signals are at constant half brightness - helps prevent it being perceived as a car with one light out)
* grip heaters
* louder horn
* relay-switched power block (for DRLs, grips, horn): http://www.canyonchasers.net/shop/generic/relay.php

The 24g luggage in particular is probably the most useful addition. I can carry about 6 full paper bags of groceries - i.e. about a month's shopping trip for me. Or I can carry a full complement of camping gear, plus food and motorcycle maintenance equipment & supplies. Or just a spare visor (eg clear vs dark), my laptop bag, cold-weather clothes, and some snacks.

It's perfectly stable. I have (rarely) done full peg-scraping turns with the luggage on and loaded normally. Under very heavy load (eg full grocery run), it's a bit wobbly at low speed - basically the same as having a passenger.

It's capable of going up to ~110mph (at which point wind resistance stops you), out-accelerating almost all cars, ~70mpg, and long distance trips (I've taken mine from SF to LA and back and Yosemite and back).

I've never felt a need for more power, and I like having it be something I can actually move around, back up, pick up, and flat-foot reasonably easily despite my being a relatively small guy.

It's a good bike. I'm actually on my second Ninja 250. The first one's engine died when I foolishly failed to heed the low oil light (I thought it was a starting problem... turns out it wasn't). Very reliable, easy to maintain, cheap (~$1500 used), readily available parts.

In short, I like it.


On clothing: I wear a helmet, gloves, leathers w/ slipin back protector, and boots at all times. After dark or in rain, I wear GoLite Reed Pants (camping-style ultra thin rainpants) and a rainshirt under my leathers. If it's particularly cold I also wear a neck gaiter (a Buff), sweater, long underwear, and/or rain jacket under the leathers.

Dressed appropriately I have had no issues whatsoever with any weather conditions I've encountered.

I've only ridden in CA, so I've not yet dealt with sleet or snow.


If y'all have any further questions, feel free to ask (please address me so I notice).
posted by saizai at 9:39 PM on July 4, 2010 [1 favorite]


I know from my own experience that achieving the same level of safety in a car requires vastly less alertness than when you're anything smaller and less common.

My own experience is a bit different. In a car I tend to pay less attention, with distractions of passengers, the radio, or my own head. On a bicycle I'm totally focused on what's going around around me and how not to die. I'm certain most people pay better attention while driving than I do, though.

One of the reasons I'm hesitant about getting a motorcycle is that I don't know if my attention while on it will be as if I'm riding a bicycle or a car.
posted by RikiTikiTavi at 10:49 AM on July 7, 2010


I learnt to ride a moped in Bangalore city traffic. I cried my first day on the way to college ( i was a freshman) because i couldn't cross traffic at a particularly nasty spot of road with 4 entry ways and no lights. But after a point, its like riding a bicycle, you just aren't aware of the high speed data processing and analysis you're doing and soon riding feels like fun. I don't do cars well because there's more going on inside it than outside to manage teh car itself rather than the road and traffic.
posted by infini at 12:40 PM on July 7, 2010


RikiTikiTavi, I can assure you your concentration will be either the same as on a bicycle, or higher.
posted by wilful at 5:15 PM on July 7, 2010


I love the idea of motorcycles, but I have this weird phobia about changing the gears. You mean, I have to use my foot?
posted by malaprohibita at 10:32 AM on July 8, 2010


Yeah, it seems odd to think about. For me it became second-nature fairly quickly, though. I had the advantage of having ridden an ATV earlier in life, which also uses the foot-shifting mechanism. The one thing I was confused about was how to let the clutch out when switching gears. In a car, you make a gradual switch between clutch and gas, like a set of balances. But on a bike (at least on my bike), you only do that in first gear. Every other shift is fairly instantaneous. Took me a while to get used to that.
posted by lholladay at 11:09 AM on July 8, 2010


lholladay: In lower gears, or when starting from a stop, you very definitely have to ease it in. Even on a Ninja 250 it is entirely possible to pull a wheelie by dumping the clutch at high RPM from a stop. (I've done it, when I was a n00b - fortunately there were no cops around and I brought it down gently... and have never made the same mistake again. o.o)

Even on normal gear changes, one has to rev the gas a bit to ensure a smooth gear change, and easing in the clutch makes that smoother especially when one is starting and doesn't have the timing exactly down.

malaprohibita: Can't do much if it's actually a phobia. (What's the trigger - do you think eg you'll touch your toes to the pavement? That doesn't really happen and anyway good boots would make even that relatively safe, at least from abrasion perspective.)

But if you're overstating and it's just "gah will I get used to it", the answer is yes you will. It's not all that different from car stick shift; you're just swapping hand-shift/foot-clutch for foot-shift/hand-clutch.

There also exist modified fully-hand-driven systems (mainly for people with leg paralysis) if you really want, and there are automatic-transmission motorcycles (albeit very few that aren't classified as scooters).
posted by saizai at 12:21 AM on July 9, 2010


I have this weird phobia about changing the gears. You mean, I have to use my foot?

Oh dude, gear changing on a motorcycle is the best. If you've ever driven a manual transmission car, and hated it, you won't look at it the same way again post-bike. Something about the way it is set up on a bike just makes it all mentally click into place. And moving from foot-on-the-ground to pavement whizzing by with little movement on your part is one of the joys I still haven't gotten quite used to taking for granted.
posted by Durn Bronzefist at 9:08 AM on July 9, 2010 [1 favorite]


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