Welcome to Thoughts from the Road. Here’s Mike Taylor on old vs new bikes…
Mike’s seriously knowledgeable on Scotland and has been running tours there for the last 15 years. He also knows his way round Europe, goes on holiday too much, is a beer enthusiast and hordes motorcycles.
Mike runs a motorcycle touring company in Scotland. If you fancy a guided tour or need some help planning the perfect route, get in touch with him at passingplacestours.com
And you can find more of Mike’s articles on Mad or Nomad on the Contributor page.
Old vs New Bikes
I’m in a very lucky position. I’ve managed to buy two brand new bikes in my lifetime and I currently have four bikes in my shed. Getting to ride many different bikes, old and new, has shown me a few things…
Modern bikes are the safest bikes have ever been. Loaded with the safety nets of cornering ABS and traction control, the digital Guardian Angel looks over you on every ride. Modern brakes are phenomenal, even the stuff that is described as below par hauls you up miles before some old cable operated drum. Electronically controlled suspension means you can go from sportsbike stiffness to cruiser comfort in the touch of a button while modern fuel injection sips the fuel regardless of altitude and environment while keeping things as clean as possible.
Bikes got ugly. Honestly, bike designers must take way more drugs than I do to come up with some of the horrendous designs that they do. What’s with all the angles and pipes everywhere? Haven’t they ever seen a Kawasaki Z900 (no, the original one) or a Ducati 916? My 1150GS was an ugly stepsister to some older Beemers, but it now looks like Scarlett Johansson next to the hideous monstrosities roaming the roads.
Build-quality really is not what it used to be. I use a 31 year old BMW K75 as my winter bike. While it won’t set your world on fire as far as outright riding experience goes, the seemingly nuclear heated grips certainly will and it has stood up to the Scottish salty winter roads quite well. Compare this to some of the more modern bikes I have owned and it’s night and day. The paint on my 1200 GSA frame was wearing through before I got rid of it and some of the Africa Twins that I have seen look like they’ve been kept in the sea after a winter’s use. So, mine stays in the shed after the salt goes down in winter.
This may all sound like some old halfwit reminiscing and I suppose it is, but I’m not alone. The second-hand bike market shows that, so you’re going to have to pay if you want a well-made bike that’s full of character and satisfying to ride. If you’ve not ridden an old bike and you get a chance – take it. Just keep in mind, there are no safety nets apart from your right hand on some of the old stuff.
What do you think? Do you agree? Would you only ride a new bike or can you not be tempted away from your old steed?
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4 thoughts on “Old vs New Bikes by Mike Taylor”
I’m with you there Mike. Modern bikes are safer, I don’t disagree, but people get complacent with all their gizmos. And there’s no character in modern machinery. Some may tell me where to go, but I would go as far as to say modern bikes are boring!
I wouldn’t say they’re boring, look at bikes like the BMW S1000XR, KTM Super Adventure or 890 etc… boring?
I would! They all look exactly the same, no character anymore 🙂
I certainly agree that old bikes have a certain je ne sais quoi. My bike is a 1980 Triumph Tiger 750. Air cooled engine, possibly 60 BHP (I have tuned it fairly), and nothing electronic on the whole thing except for the ignition system. I love it. Some people think I’m mad, setting off for the Pyrenees from Norfolk on such an antique but I’ve done it 4 or 5 times now, well over 2000 miles per trip, and it has never let me down.
I don’t ride slowly either. I use the autoroutes until I’m in the deep south (and again on the way back to Dieppe), and keep it singing along at a a steady 4500 RPM which is just over 80 MPH for tankful after tankful, sometimes in 40+ degree heat. Put together really well, these old bikes can be extremely reliable and nothing like the vibrating, oil-spewing, constantly dropping bits on the road and breaking down nightmares many folk imagine.
During my 4 or 5 trips (I think it’s 5 – I’ve done some 15000 miles since building the engine and the vast majority have been on my tour de France travels) from here to the eastern Pyrenees and back, and around some beautiful and way off-route parts of southern France along the way, I’ve had one clutch cable break and one headlight bulb pack up. No oil leaks, nothing fallen off, just 1st kick starting and thoroughly enjoyable riding.
I’m sure modern bikes must have all sorts of safety features that my old thing hasn’t, but I know the bike back to front and I know what it’s capable, and not capable, of. It’s as light as a feather compared to big modern touring bikes and will achieve 55+ miles per gallon easily. The brakes are good, the tyres are good, the handling is superb and it has plenty of grunt for autoroute overtaking or negotiating mountain hairpin roads. I can’t help feeling slightly proud of it, as you can probably tell! I’m very much looking forward to getting across the channel again later this summer, after a 3 year break.