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“Who said size doesn’t matter?”

by Mark Zweig

The big motorcycle makers have most riders these days thinking they should want the biggest bike with the biggest engine they make. Those are also typically the most expensive motorcycles these manufacturers sell.

No doubt, some of those monsters have some impressive stats in terms of horsepower and torque. Along with that are some equally impressive statistics on their size and weight. These bikes tend to be enormous and can weigh up to a half ton each, and that’s before putting a rider on them.

A good example was the new Honda GL1800 I bought back in 2002. Not only did it have a reverse gear because you couldn’t get it out of a parking spot without one, it had a trunk with a key fob power release and a 6-CD changer just like the BMW 7-series I owned at that time. Insanity!

Back when I was a young man in the early 70s, my friends and I each had a series of motorcycles—starting out with 50 cc and 60 cc models, then progressing to 90s, 100s, and 125s. Then we got 160s and 175s and 185s. When we moved up to a bigger bike still, we got a 250 or a 350, and a 450 or a 500 was considered a REALLY big motorcycle!

The problem with the 1200, 1600, 1800, and 2000 cc bikes is that practically no one needs that much power and heft. Most riders use their bikes for short errands, or to commute to work on good weather days, or for Sunday joy rides on country two-lanes. And if you don’t need it a huge bike with a massive engine, it’s not a plus, it’s a liability.

Not only do these big bikes cost more to buy and more to insure, they also cost more to operate. They get about the same fuel economy as a small automobile, and they cost more to maintain than the typical car because you can’t take them to Jiffy Lube or the local Walmart for an oil change or to fix a minor problem. They will have to go back to the dealer.

But back on the weight problem. This weight makes these monster bikes much harder to maneuver, more difficult to park, and impossible to pick up if they ever fall over. A couple years ago, my wife and I were at our favorite local restaurant having dinner, when one of our friends whom we ran into coming into the place, came back in to find me. He needed me to help him pick up his behemoth Indian that he dropped in the parking lot. It took all we had between us to get that monster back on its side stand. And he probably did $8000 in damage to the thing from that one fall.

Another friend of mine, a 50-something CEO of an engineering firm in New England—an experienced rider by any standard—was moving one of his two big Harleys in his garage when he tore his Achilles tendon. It took him months to recover!

So who says doesn’t matter? It clearly DOES matter. Most bikes have grown too big. I had more fun on my old Honda CB160 and my Bridgestone GTR 350 than I ever did on that Gold Wing or any of the big Harley-Davidsons I have owned later in life. And it’s why today I own and ride a Janus Halcyon 250. It’s as light as a feather and feels like a big bicycle. It’s easy to balance at any speed and it’s easy to park. I rarely have to put gas in it. It cost less than a third of what I paid for some of the bigger bikes I owned. And my Janus is so simple that I could have done anything it would ever need in the way of maintenance when I was a 14 year-old.

I can hop on my Janus in an instant, ride down to the store for something my wife needs for our dinner, ride to campus to teach my evening classes and park right next to the building instead of a parking lot a quarter mile away, take my 12 year old on the passenger pillion for a fun sunset ride around town, or go on a 30-mile jaunt on to my favorite country breakfast restaurant.

Yes—size definitely DOES matter, no question about it!