Of Minds and Motorcycles

"Patience is not simply the ability to wait - it's how we behave while we're waiting." - Joyce Meyer


Yes, I'm back into blogging, back at it after a summer of doing lots of things. It seems to have gone by so quickly I'm having trouble recalling what I've actually done. I know for one I haven't been blogging, and that I seem to have accumulated more motorcycles. I've also been waiting for parts to arrive, and thinking a lot about wiring. But for my triumphant return to blogging for the end of the summer, let's talk about my new bike, and let's finally answer the question: "Cruiser or Sportbike?"

But first, meet the Fireblade, the newest addition to my fleet. That's it over there at the top of the page with bags on it.

I wish I could say that I came up with a name like Fireblade, but sadly I did not. With all the other cool names I've heard people give their bikes recently, I feel like this one needs one with some sass. And it's got to be female of course. But Honda seems to have a reputation for cool Top-Gun-like names for their bikes. There's Blackbird, Hurricane, Gold Wing, Nighthawk, Silver Wing, Hornet, Firestorm and of course Fireblade (Trolls, please add to the list, or correct me for my ignorance on any of these Honda models). Kawasaki just has a bunch of ninjas sitting around, Yamaha has some letters next to numbers with the word "special" added, and Harley has... well, actually I'm not sure what Harley has. Alls I knows about Harleys is that they have words like "fat" or "lowrider" in their names.

"That's my new Fatty LowSport"

I bought this 1999 Honda CBR900RR because I was getting sick of driving a Honda Shadow. Sick not because I was constantly ridiculed for driving it (which I was), but mainly because there was very little I enjoyed about the bike. I bought the Shadow at the beginning of the season in order to tour, realizing that my XS1100 wasn't going to be finished for a while. I've also been curious about cruisers since I learned how to ride motorcycles, and since driving a Harley in Hawaii a few years ago. But before all the insanity of owning five bikes occurred, I'd always been a sportbike rider. It just made sense to me; they're fast, nimble, relatively uncomfortable, and usually end up heating up your crotch a bit too much. Or maybe that was always just my regulator/rectifier malfunctioning.

"Honda Shadows are for girls!" - Some cool guy.

Answering the age old question of cruiser vs sportbike:

So you just got your license and you want to buy your first sportbike. But your friends are all into vintage bikes these days because they're all the rage, and you like the look of Yamaha's new Bolt. Which bike do you go for?

For this comparison I'll be using a 2001 Honda Shadow Spirit 750 vs a 1999 Honda CBR900RR. This probably isn't fair because the Spirit has a lot less power than the CBR, but since I spent the summer riding these bikes, they will have to do. Let's look at how they fared in different categories:

1st Contender: 2001 Honda Shadow Spirit 750

1st Contender: 2001 Honda Shadow Spirit 750

2nd Contender: 1999 Honda CBR900RR Fireblade

2nd Contender: 1999 Honda CBR900RR Fireblade

1. Looks

This is pretty subjective. I personally don't like the stock look of the Shadow, and for some reason I'm actually into the look of the Fireblade even though I've been against fairings for a while now.

I never understood the whole cruiser image, with chrome everything and "custom" accessories. Call me crazy, but leather tassels and skull bolts have never been particularly appealing to me. But to each their own, and I kind of understand what the cruiser style represents. It's big, loud, and laid back. What else is there to say? What I do know is that there are few bikes that look better to me than a stripped down bobber with minimalist exposed metal work. So it's not that I don't like cruisers in general, it's just that I don't like anything too flashy or overstated. To me, motorcycles are about function defining form. Naked bikes and cruisers can look good because you get to see all the exposed machinery. Engines are for the most part just plain cool. Even better if there's an exposed belt or chain so you get a glimpse at the function of the machine.

Sportbikes have the same problem. A chromed-out skull-plated Harley has about as much class and taste to me as an extended swingarm airbrushed sportbike does. But for some reason I don't mind some sportbikes even with fairings. If the function is to be aerodynamic, then fairings have a function. The Honda fireblade then has its own look that I somehow don't mind. Even though it's big and bulbous, it kind of just fits for the era that it came from. I'm not a huge fan of the decals and the large "RR" writing on the side, but it kind of just is what it is. I actually am considering leaving this bike completely stock, and just keeping it as a nice example of what will become the new vintage. What I do love about the bike is the cage in front to hold the windscreen in place. It kind of makes you feel like you're piloting a jet. All it needs is a few red safety toggle switches, and I'd be flying to the moon.

The "birdcage" holding the windscreen to the frame

The "birdcage" holding the windscreen to the frame

So I guess looks wise I'm basically saying that everyone has their own taste. Both cruisers and sportbikes can look great.

Ok, on to the next category.

2. Ride & Feel

First let's talk about the Honda Shadow. I find it pretty comfortable for the most part, except for on long trips. It takes about an hour before my tailbone is killing me, and my ears are ringing. Of course the former is due to the well documented budget stock seat, and the latter is due to the ridiculous exhaust the previous owner installed on the bike. But I digress. The problem here is I bought this bike thinking cruisers were great for long trips. In reality this particular cruiser is great around the city, and awful for long trips. It's similar to sitting in church (not that I've been to church much being an Atheist-Jew and all) for too long, or sitting uncomfortably in a field listening to a concert. It's nice at first, but it just feels wrong in a short amount of time.

Comfort aside, the Shadow actually handles quite well. It's a bit awkward at slow speeds due to its size and weight, but at speed it turns effortlessly. With some practice, the bike can be thrown around town like you're riding a little Ninja 250. I was even able to scrape the pegs a few times on turns; something I've heard about but only recently experienced. The front forks are crap, as is the rear suspension, but it doesn't really matter. All you need to do is feel the wind in your face and relax. In fact, my enjoyment on this bike was dependent on having an open face helmet just so that I could feel the wind.

The Fireblade is a completely different animal in almost every regard; as you would expect from a sportbike. It's not necessarily comfortable - especially in the city - but the aggressive stance makes you feel connected with the bike; you feel much more in control. The suspension is stiff but functional. What surprised me most was the smoothness at high speed. Besides the insane acceleration of a near litre bike, it's hard to notice how fast you're actually going. One minute you're going the speed limit, and the next you're pushing 150 km/h, all within a very slight wrist adjustment. But the smoothness at speed is the reason I decided to buy the bike; I wanted something that would feel ultra stable for long highway trips. The downside is that the bike is awful to ride in the city. Hitting any amount of traffic instantly strains your wrists, and gives you a headache. As I described to my friend the first day of riding:

"Is everyone an asshole in this city, or am I suddenly the asshole because I'm riding a Fireblade?"

In a way, it turns you into a lane weaving speed freak. The bike transforms you into what it wants you to be. But with some meditation and good willpower, you can definitely ride the bike at slower speeds. I suppose this is why litre bikes have earned a poor reputation; because few people possess the personality to ride one cautiously.

So as far as ride and feel go, I prefer the Honda Shadow in the city, and the Fireblade for any highway or spirited riding.

But you already knew that...

3. Acceleration

Is this category really necessary? I mean common, you know what I'm going to say here right?

The Shadow? Well yeah, it has low end torque as they say. So it pulls pretty hard I suppose.

The Fireblade? If I were to describe it a few weeks ago I would say something like: "pure insanity!" But today I'd say it's: "kinda fast." That's the thing about supersport bikes; they makes you forget that you're going faster than everyone else, and that you can accelerate at the pace of a supercar. You get bored, and you think everyone else can do it too... that is until you get back in your car and attempt to accelerate; or god forbid, you get back on the Honda Shadow.

Supersport bikes are fast as shit. They're faster than you'll ever need a vehicle to be. I've come to appreciate the insanity of a supersport not just for the thrill, but for the ability to pass cars and escape unwanted situations. You can use the acceleration to your advantage to react quickly when necessary. So for that I think they're exceptional machines.

The Shadow is no slouch either; it's just a slouch when compared to the other types of bikes out there.

4. Usefulness

If you look on youtube, there are tons of videos and discussions on why litre bikes are useless or not. People get really worked up about this for some reason.

I'd say the Fireblade is very useable, as long as you realize it's limitations. I'd say it excels as a touring bike and as a racebike. Just as long as you aren't buying one of these to cruise around the city with.

The Honda Shadow is great for city commuting, and awful for everything else. It doesn't tour well due to the uncomfortable seat, strained engine at high speed, and poor suspension. Basically, this bike is for someone who is planning to ride around at 60 - 80 km/h most of the time.

Both types of bikes are bad for adventure and dirt riding, something I'm becoming more and more curious about.


So there you have it. I basically just confirmed what everyone else says about these two styles of bikes. It's probably an unfair comparison since I only looked at one bike from each category, but it'll have to do.

Stay tuned for more updates on Big Bertha, which should be finished soon... hopefully.

Leave a Reply

%d bloggers like this: