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Which Bike? Comments and Questions on what is the best bike for YOU, for YOUR trip. Note that we believe that ANY bike will do, so please remember that it's all down to PERSONAL OPINION. Technical Questions for all brands go in their own forum.
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Old 4 Apr 2006
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Homage to the Universal Japanese motorcycle

Here's a tip of the helmet to a species of motorcycle that gets paltry respect during dreamy discussions of long distance travel. I happen to own one which took me from Vancouver to the Yukon / Alaska last year and very recently to Baja; all smoothly, comfortably and utterly reliably. I refer to what has been sneeringly referred to as the Universal Japanese motorcyle (UJM).

The concept was successfully initiated by Honda in 1969 with the venerable CB750 and since them hundreds of thousands have likely been collectively built in multiple engine sizes (350 to 1200 cc.) by the various Japanese manufacturers. For those too young or simply not among the cognoscenti the defining characteristics of the UJM are:

1) Four transverse cylinders
2) Air cooled
3) Four carburetors
4) Standardish seating postion
5) A tendency to look blandly alike, hence the mildly derogatory "universal" label.

Whoa, say many. Isn't simplicity want you want and isn't four of anything asking for trouble. Well, as with most things in life, its all relative. A Toyota Camry is a hell of a lot more complicated piece of machinery than your typical motorcycle but I'd venture to say that its more reliable than most. Are four air cooled, carburated cylinders more likely to cause grief that one liquid cooled, radiator equipped, fan assisted, electronic fuel injected single? Who knows? The multi at least has a certain amount of built in redundancy.

At one time my example was a Yamaha Maxim 650, certainly the silkiest motorcycle I've ever owned. The one that recently took me voyaging is an 03 Kawasaki ZR7-S, a modern expression of the UJM manufactured until 2004. It cheats a bit by having an oil cooler to help the engine fins but in other respects it is very basic, with a two valve per cylinder motor that's been around for 25 years, and a 5 speed transmission. Not that happy off the tarmac to be sure but mine has cautiously suffered its share of gravel and washboard and returned to the pavement humming.

In Canada two sizes of Suzuki Bandit are still sold and, I believe, the Honda Nighthawk was available until recently. Used examples abound. I'd speculate that the average third world mechanic would be far more comfortable with one of these than the latest and greatest dual purpose machine. A disappearing breed and food for thought.


[This message has been edited by normw (edited 06 April 2006).]
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Old 4 Apr 2006
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Last year I bought a new Yamaha FZ-1 to share the garage with the GS, and after seven months I've put the Yam up for sale ; it is totally devoid of persomality and character.
It has a great engine, slick gearbox and dynamite brakes. It's comfortable, quiet and quick, well assembled, fairly light and even has a centre stand !

It's bloody boring, though.

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Old 4 Apr 2006
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The first bike I put many miles on was a Yamaha Seca 400. It only had two cylinders, but if you look at one, it is definitely a UJM. It was simple, bulletproof (I had about 3 gallons of gas drain down through the oil because of a dried out seal in the petcock, and hydraulic locking every start until the new parts came in, but it never missed a beat and I never bent a rod). It may not have had a lot of character, but you could expect the same thing out of it every time you got on it, and it never had any problems (other than the petcock). The motor was used in several other bikes as well and was quite noted for reliability. It had a 5.5 US gallon tank (21 liter) and good fuel economy. If it in the garage and you use it for fun and to go to work and such, character is great. But if the adventure is in the ride and not the machinery, a machine so consistent and effective that you never really even think about it at all is actually pretty good.

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Old 4 Apr 2006
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But surely a bike can be consistent and effective without the exclusion of character, Matt ? The GS has been the first two as well as having character. I find the IL4 to be too "clinical" ; perhaps I just prefer torque to horsepower (not that the FZ-1 doesn't have torque, of course).
It's simply too smooth. Give me some vibrations, a (minimal) bit of noise, and some engine braking, and I'll be happy.
Whatever floats your boat, eh ?

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Old 4 Apr 2006
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Lots of people in the US buy Harleys because they are interesting, vibrate a bit, have character etc. A great many of those harley riders only put a few miles on going from bar to bar. Give me no vibration and redundant reliability any time. UJM to Inuvik and back 5 different times on 5 different bikes.
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Old 4 Apr 2006
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I think you have to keep swapping and riding as many different bikes as you can to keep the spark. I revel at the thought of throwing my leg over a loaner or friends bike that I would never have considered owning myself. They all provide a unique feel and have to be treated differently, similar to the fairer sex I suppose!

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Old 5 Apr 2006
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I do also prefer twins to fours. The Seca was a twin and I liked its type of power so much better than a later four (Honda 650 Nighthawk) that I have since switched back to a twin (Suzuki SV650, which vibrates less than the Honda four but with a riding position identical to the Seca).

I won't say I don't like character. One of the cars I own is a 1970 Honda N600 that has been converted to rear wheel drive with about three times the stock horsepower. It's fun. Every where you drive it, people smile and wave. It is like having a street legal go-cart (It has a 4 point harness, and even belted snuggly in, I can still stick my hand out the passenger window). I wouldn't try to drive it around the world, though. I'd spend too much time dealing with its particular flavor of "character." For me, it is easier to head out into the great unknown with equipment I know will never surprise me (in a bad way) and that I can trust it will always work. Then again, I freely admit to being a sissy in that regard.

I certainly don't expect everyone else to be happy with what makes me happy, either, though. Most people think I'm pretty weird. Then again, most people probably think everyone in this forum is pretty weird, so I never worry about what most people think.

I guess it isn't that I think UJMs have no character, they just have a bland character. They don't say, "I like this," or "I don't like that." They just unenthusiastically say, "Yeah, sure, whatever." You don't remember them from the party, but they often make good no fuss travelling companions.

Whatever floats your boat.

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