Motorcycles, Travel & Adventure


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About On The Mark

Having piloted a motorcycle for many years, Mark has many thoughts floating in his helmet and he's ready to share them with us.

Name: Mark Byers

Current Rides: 'BMW R65 and R1200RT, Honda Reflex Trials, XR-200 and CRF-230, Suzuki SV650 and V-Strom 650 ADV, Yamaha TTR-230, Beta EVO 250 2T Trials, Kawasaki Ninja 650 and (2)Triumph Street Triple R…

Favorite quote:

If you have ten thousand regulations you destroy all respect for the law.

- Winston Churchill


Have you ever seen a little elderly person driving a gigantic car? You know of whom I speak: all you can see is two hands with a death grip on the wheel and a hat. It’s not really an age thing: what about the little person in the Yukon SUV who practically needs a stepladder to get in? I know a guy whose wife just LOVED their Suburban because it sat up high, she could see, and it made her feel “powerful.” There appears to be an inverse relationship between vehicle size and the size of the person operating them.

Some motorcyclists share that issue – they ride bikes that are way too big, powerful, and heavy for their stature or physical ability. Some are new riders who make questionable choices in physical size and engine power because of poor training, ego, or peer pressure; however, a lot of riders of mismatched bikes are older, more experienced folks who have been seduced by the size monster. Very large machines, like the 1,833 cc Gold Wing, come with lots of amenities that older riders enjoy; consequently, they purchase those 835 lb, two-wheeled Escalades irrespective of their ability to handle them.

OTMI’m pretty cautious about what I ride, especially when I will be hauling Betsy. Back in 2003, the only bike Edelweiss had for their Montana tour was a BMW K1200LT, the so-called “light truck.” I didn’t want to ride off the side of Going to the Sun Road in Glacier National Park, so I immediately made a point of going to a dealer to make sure I could handle one. I could – barely - with my biggest trepidations being the high center of gravity and handling at low speeds. The K1200LT had rubber bumpers on the body and bags for a reason. Fortunately, I didn’t have to use them. On our recent trip to Ecuador, before we left I “tried on” a V-Strom 1000 like I knew we’d have down there.

In “Magnum Force,” Inspector Callahan tells Lieutenant Briggs, “A man’s got to know his limitations” and motorcycles are no different. If you buy a K-TwoMillion-GTL because you want to have everything from shift assist to a Bluetooth radio and you have to lower the suspension, then perhaps you’re not making a wise choice. I seriously doubt there is anyplace you are going to go on 1,600 to 1,800 cc’s that you could not go on far, far less. In fact, thanks to our speed limit structure, there’s a LOT of power in those bikes that you’re never going to use. And, in the unfortunate event of a tipover, be prepared to pick up all 800-plus pounds by yourself, if you aren’t injured in the fall.

It’s not a sign of weakness to downsize, or “rightsize:” plenty of folks have chosen smaller, more appropriate bikes on which to ride. I’ve gone from Maryland to Madison, Wisconsin and Louisville, Kentucky on a 650 and never felt at a loss for power, even at 75-85 MPH on the slabs. If you are an older rider, perhaps it’s time to choose a bike that is more suited to your ability to ride. I observed a person earlier this year on a BMW R1200RT who could scarcely walk, much less handle that large bike. As for modifications, the consequences of lowering a bike can result in poor handling due to geometry changes and early dragging of parts, potentially leading to a crash. I saw that happen recently.

Unlike cars, whose adjustments for operator size amount to moving a seat, motorcycles offer a unique ability to choose a model whose size (both physical and horsepower) are commensurate with the age, ability, and strength of the rider. A friend of mine just downsized from a 1,200 cc bike to a 750 cc because he realized that he was getting older and that there wasn’t anything he couldn’t do on the 750, including long-distance miles with full luggage. My general-purpose mount these days is a V-Strom 650 and I only bring the R1200RT out for long-distance journeys with the wife and certain bicycle race jobs. Based on riding the big V-Strom in Ecuador, I could see us doing two-up trips on the 650.

Self-discovery is hard. Admitting that the big Stratocruiser or skyscraper-tall ADV bike is more than you can handle takes some serious, honest introspection that a lot of people just don’t want to do. If we want to maintain and continue our riding careers well into our “golden years” however, that self-examination must be done. Don’t think of it as “downsizing,” think of it as “rightsizing.”