What Motorcycle I Ride and Why

Someone is always asking me what motorcycle I ride and why. I’ve owned only 5 two-wheeled vehicles (1 scooter & 4 motorcycles). My first was a 1963 Cushman Super Silver Eagle motor scooter. I loved that scooter and had a blast riding it and it ignited my love of riding. Later in my late 20’s I bought a Kawasaki 250 and rode it for a few months. I soon wanted something bigger. A friend was riding a Honda 450 and I wanted something like that. I bought a new 1975 Kawasaki KZ400. I rode the wheels off of it. I took two long trips (Dallas, Texas to Denver, Colorado – 1837 miles & Houston, Texas to Bryant, Alabama – 1650 miles) on the KZ400. From those two trips I was hooked on motorcycle touring. But… not long afterward I got married and sold my KZ400 when our first daughter was born (the sale helped with the hospital bill). It wasn’t until 2000 that I was able to renew my passion for riding and touring. I told my wife I would like to get another motorcycle and she said “You should… You never buy anything for yourself”… And the rest is history.

Cushman Super Eagle

Me and my Cushman Super Eagle

What I Ride and Why

What I Ride and Why

Not my Kawasaki 250 but one like it…

What I Ride and Why

My KZ400 ready to go to Alabama…

What I Ride and Why

My 2000 Kawasaki Vulcan Nomad.

Seat Height

It was then I started looking for the perfect touring motorcycle. There were many bikes to choose from but there were a lot of things to consider. As a vertically challenged person (5’ 6”) there are issues. There are advantages to being short but not very many and when it comes to motorcycle riding there aren’t any… So I am jealous of you taller riders… In order to handle the bigger touring bikes you as a rider need to be able to get your feet solidly on the ground.

  1. A must for balance.
  2. A must to pushing the bike backward.
  3. A must for passenger mounting and dismounting.
  4. A must for stopping on uneven ground.

At this time seat height was my main concern and thus a limitation for several of the bikes I looked at. The weight of the bike was not an issue for me as long as I had my feet firmly planted. I decided that a seat height of 29” was a maximum height for me and that was pushing it.

I learned this from riding larger bikes of friends and checking out the different bikes in showrooms. My best friend an old Air Force buddy bought a 2000 Kawasaki Vulcan Nomad. I had ridden his bike and it was a good fit. I had looked at other bikes… mainly the Yamaha’s and the Kawasaki Voyager. I had thought about the Honda Goldwing also but the Nomad had everything I wanted and was reasonably priced. I purchased a 2000 Nomad in July of 2000.

Nice and Necessary

I loved the Nomad and over time found all those things I thought to be “nice but not necessary” were “necessary and not nice to not have them”.

Namely…

  1. A large comfortable seat and backrest for my wife. Nobody’s happy if the wife is not happy… Just kidding… I realized long ago as a rider you need a good seat if you are in the saddle very long. I like having my wife ride with me and I would do anything to insure that she continued riding.
  2. A trunk. Duh, you can never have too much storage space especially when traveling with the love of you life.
  3. An intercom for rider & passenger. It wasn’t long that Janet & I bought an intercom to solve the problem of communicating.
  4. A CB. When riding in a group and everyone but you has a CB radio it doesn’t take long to figure out a CB is essential.
  5. A weather radio. This is a “duh” after riding very long. Not knowing for sure what those dark clouds up ahead have in store for you. With the weather band you can find out and take action if needed.
  6. A GPS. I thought this was stupid even in a car but after Janet got me one for Christmas, it didn’t take long to realize the need. Especially when riding through large cities and towns you aren’t familiar with. It also helps find gas stations, motels… etc.
  7. AM/FM radio & CD player. Sometimes it is just nice to listen to music.  You can also get local weather information. Don’t get me wrong, riding with nothing but the hum of the engine and wind is nice too.
  8. A larger gas tank. When riding in remote areas like West Texas where gas stations are few and far between and sometime not open when you need them, a larger tank for longer cruising range is a must.

Having realize all of the above, I began looking for solutions. I loved the Nomad but it was lacking. My solution was to add after market products. The products I added are…

  1. Radio Caddy Batwing Fairing.
  2. AM/FM/CD Marine radio.
  3. CB radio with intercom and ability to integrate other audio equipment. (AM/FM/CD radio & GPS)
  4. GPS.
  5. Tour Pack Style trunk with Mustang backrest.

What I Ride and Why, 2000 Kawasaki Vulcan Nomad

My customized Nomad

What I Ride and Why, 2000 Kawasaki Vulcan Nomad

My customized Nomad in Big Bend

These addition served us well but what I really wanted was something more like a Honda Goldwing. These additions were invaluable but only delayed me buying a new bike with “all of the above”.

Center of Gravity

Over time I realized another consideration was the bike’s center of gravity. When stopped a high center of gravity means the point where you lean and drop the bike is slight. Dropping a bike is no fun… 1) You have to pick it up and… 2) IT IS EMBARRASSING! The center of gravity also affects how the bike handles at slow speeds. Like when maneuvering through parking lots and tight places. The lower the center of gravity the better it handles…

The Solution

My search for a solution, to all of the above issues, kept bringing me back to the Honda Goldwing. It had everything. All the “Nice and necessary” things mentioned above plus heated seats and grips and a reverse ( no more issues with pushing the bike backwards out of a parking spot)! My biggest issue with the Wing was the seat height of 29.1”. Before buying a wing, I looked at ways of lowering the bike or reducing the seat height. I could stand straddle of the bike flat-footed with my boots on but there wasn’t a lot of room for error. Lowering the seat or bike seemed the solution. The other issue was the price vs. some of the other bike offerings. On returning from one of our trips we stopped a the local Honda dealer here. My friends from Alabama and Georgia told me I could get a good deal from the Honda dealer (Southern Honda) in Chattanooga, Tennessee. Later I check their prices online and they were a lot cheaper. Thousands cheaper. Thus the wheels were turning and I looked at ways to make it happen. In October 2009 I bought a new 2008 Honda Goldwing from the dealer in Chattanooga. I will probably never own a better bike.

After I bought the Wing, I found the seat height hasn’t been that big of a problem. The seat height is still stock. It would be nice if the seat was lower but I am fine with the way it is. The Wing has a very low center of gravity that translates into amazing handling. The “horizontal six” is the smoothest ever and it has lots of power for mountain riding. My wife loves her seat and we both love the heated seats. I thought I would miss the floorboards or the heel/toe shifter but I don’t. I did raise and bring back the handlebars a bit which fits me better. I added the CB and a MP3 player and other things for touring. The Wing is one great bike for traveling and we look forward to making many long trips on it.

What I Ride and Why

My baby…

We have done many long rides on the Nomad and Wing. You can read about them here. Ride safe… I hope we see you somewhere on the road…

12 responses to “What Motorcycle I Ride and Why

  1. I’m nearly convinced! A Goldwing seems so huge to me. I still think a Voyager might be a better choice in my case.

    • I though the Goldwing to be huge too. I was looking at the Voyager before I bought the Wing. Actually the Wing is less top heavy that the Voyager. I really do like the styling of the Voyager. The only thing I did not like about the Voyager was the saddle bags seemed flimsy . If I hadn’t bought the Wing I would have bought a Voyager. Two of my friends were trying to get me to buy a Venture but it was way to top heavy. And the seat height was a problem. I couldn’t get the Venture off the side stand if it was on a slope to the left. Plus one of those friends (my size) was always dropping his and it was a pain to pick up with two people. I have dropped the Wing when I didn’t get the kick stand down good but I could pick it up… not easy but I did it.

  2. Love the “Wing”. My accountant rides one and every time I see him he says “are you still riding that BMW? Why don’t you get a decent bike?”. Unfortunately the money always seems to be going to the taxman, never coming back.

  3. not ready yet for the Gold..nice bike though

  4. I too am 5’6″ and about 165 lbs fully dressed for the road so a big bike is a challenge for me too, especially fully loaded saddlebags and trunk and and my better half on back. Our 1st touring bike was a 1985 GL 1200 Limited and while it was a good bike for trips, it was a bit tall for me and I managed to drop it with wife on board more than once! Never any damage but my pride, however when it broke down on the road we demoed a 2 yr old ’09 and I was impressed by how less top heavy it seemed to be and handled better. So away went the ’85 (for 120,000 miles it had a lot of life left in it) and now 30,000 miles later the ’09 is trouble free. It still can be dropped if I’m not careful where I chose to stop but at least now I have a fighting chance with the lower seat height. I visit the gym too that helps.

    • Texas Rambler

      Been there doing that. yes, if you ride much you will drop them no matter what. Janet and I just got back from riding the Blue Ridge Parkway. Round trip Texas and back it was 3000+ miles. I dropped my bike on the first day with Janet. Always a hit on the pride and I get really mad at myself because I did something stupid…

      Thanks for stopping by and sharing your world with the rest of us…

  5. I am currently a Harley Heritage rider and looking to upgrade to a “bagger”. I don’t like the Ultra Classic and thought the Gold Wing would be nice until I test rode one. I didn’t like the way that I sit so upright and it felt that I was sitting on top of the gas tank. I also didn’t like that my legs were cramped because the controls were right below me instead of below and forward. I sat on a Victory Vision and Cross country tour and really like they way I feel sitting on them. It’s winter here in Indiana so test riding is not an option right now, in your photos I noticed one of you guys rides a Victory Vision. Anything on the Victory you like or don’t like? My Harley buddies keep telling me that I’ll be sorry if I break down on a trip because the closest place that will work on a Victory is miles and miles away especially out West. I retire in May and am planning an out west trip, your National Park blog is going to serve as a template for the ride. Thanks again

    • If I hadn’t bought the Goldwing I would have probably gone with the Vision for many of the reason I mentioned. My buddy loves his and is always singing it’s praises to our Harley buddies. If not the Vision I would look at the Cross Country.

      On the Goldwing you are literally sitting on the gas tank because it is under the seat. On the Vision it is fairing!

      Whatever you do, take your time and get a bike that fits you that you like. I my case the Wing fit me the best.

      There are more Victory dealers out west than you might think… Harley probably has everyone beat there. On our NP ride I actually check into that and there were quite a few.

      We love riding the western part of the US. We are headed out that way in June. Our NP ride was our best so far. Let me know how your ride went.

      Thanks for stopping by and commenting.

      Ride safe… Maybe we will see you on the road somewhere…

  6. Lots of familiar issues. What’s worse is when you drop the bike and you can’t even pick it up on your own! Safe riding

  7. I went the other way. I bought a 1990 Glide in ’92, but after a few years started to remove stuff and up the power a bit…. well, a lot really!
    I still ride that same bike but now, without all the extraneous crap, and with uprated suspension, better brakes, and an S&S motor, she goes a lot better, handles better and is much more fun.
    I don’t need a stereo… the BSA Gold Star ‘silencers’ make their own music, and shifting the gears and taking the bends provide the rest of the entertainment.

    Each to their own, I suppose, but the Wing and its ilk remind me too much of a Winnebago – as do the fully equipped Harley Glides. To me, that’s not pure enough as ‘motorcycling’. I enjoy driving cars, but prefer them to have four wheels on the ground. (or three at a pinch!)
    One bike I’ve done a fair few miles on is the Triumph Rocket 111 – my brother lives in the South of France and it’s a lot cheaper to fly down and borrow his bike, than ride my own (In Europe, fuel is a lot more expensive. The journey there and back would use £300 + in fuel as well as a hotel stop, but I can get a cheap flight for £50 return.)
    Perhaps you should forego all the toys and try one. With a screen and panniers (my brother’s has Corbin Beetle Bags) it makes an excellent tourer that handles superbly….. and is low in the saddle with a low CofG too. It’s the only ‘new’ bike that would tempt me away from my old, now naked, hot rodded Glide.

    As for the seat height problems, surely your local upholsterer could re-model your bike’s saddle. That’s what I did, it cost me fifty quid to have the foam re-shaped and the seat recovered by an old time traditional upholsterer. (I too am a shortarse). I was amazed at how different…. and lighter… the bike felt.

    Stay safe, my friend…. but remember….. HAVE FUN. (The secret of eternal youth, is to refuse to act your age until you’re too old to change your ways).

    • Ya, gotta find and ride what fits you best otherwise why do it… Ride safe, hope I see ya down the road somewhere…

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