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Economical Commuter: What Should They Build?: MD Readers Respond, Part 2

We continue with Part 2 of our series on economical commuters, and what our readers would like to see the manufacturers build. Part 1 of the series can be found here

  • I own a BMW K1200R, my wfe has a Yamaha FZ1. My newest ride is an Aprilia Mojito 150. I just traded my 80 model Vespa P200E for it. Several of us in this area that ride bikes, also own scooters. You can race scooters all day and never get a ticket.

  • I would think a scooter of between 400-600 CC’s would make a nice commuter.But the scooters of that size are way to pricey for what they provide.A Suzuki 400 Burgman lists for 6000 dollars. And the 650 is almost 8000. A Honda Silver Wing is over 8000.You can get a larger/faster motorcycle for those prices.If they could price a 400 at about 4000 and the 600′s at about 5000, they might be able to convince people to ride them. At the current prices, forget it.

  • 1) It needs to be fuel-efficient like none other. This will demand that like a modern automobile, it will need to run effectively on a very lean burn. Liquid-cooling is imperative, lest one have problems like the 96cid Harley mills with pinging and overheating. And because of a lean burn, a lot of attention will need to be paid to fuel mapping, and attempting to eliminate surging.

    2) Low-end thrust is easy enough to make with a big single or twin and is quite desirable in a stop-and-go environment. To maximize balance (a single might be vibey), we’ll go with a twin. A V-twin is more complex and heavier than a comparable parallel twin (which uses a common head and cylinder walls), so a parallel twin would be my personal choice, from an engineering standpoint.

    3) It must be affordable! This can not be stressed enough. A basic steel frame and non-racing forks and rear shock will suffice. No Brembo Monoblock or other racing-grade brakes are needed, as most modern brakes are quite good. Double-discs in front are still desirable, and a single in back will do just fine. Any off-the-shelf braking system from a modern commuter (FZ6, SV650) would suffice. ABS would be a nice option to some people, I could go without.

    4) Maintenance must be kept at a minimum. Either very long (20000+ mile) valve adjustment intervals or automatic adjustments would be very desirable. After all, this can cost an owner a good sum of money over the long run. Chains work well, but some folks tend to neglect them. A belt would be best, as shaft-drive assemblies aren’t as maintenance-free as many folks thing (they need oil changes and splines greased) and if they fail, it’s both catastrophic as well as unholy expensive to get repaired.

    5) Configurable user space. To me, this is paramount. The buyer should have a choice of seats when he/she buys the cycle – tall, medium, or low. The bars should and levers should be adjustable every which way. The pegs should have multiple mounting points, to adjust the riding position, as well. These aren’t hard things to accomplish (aside from the seats requiring additional tooling costs) and would be inexpensive to do.

    6) As I found out when I owned my Seca II, having a tail rack is probably the best thing a commuter can have going. If one can fit a cheap trunk, or just bungee a soft bag, to a tail rack, most of your commuting luggage options will be taken care of right then and there. A $1200 set of matching hard luggage is a bit overkill for a daily commuter. And a tail rack can even save enough space for a passenger.

    7) Keep the clutch pull light and gradual. Most of us that commute find ourselves bound up in traffic quite often, and slipping the clutch is a common practice at very low speeds.

    8) I’m not sure that automatic transmissions would bring more non-motorcyclists into the fold to commute. We’ll leave that option out for the time being. We’ll worry about it if/when gas hits $6+ per gallon. By then, more people would be looking towards cycles, and it wouldn’t be a bad option to have. Even an auto-manual like the FJR1300AE would be a good option to have available. As a current cycle commuter, though, an automatic transmission isn’t something I’d ever be interested in.

    9) Too much motor = too much heat at low speeds in hot weather. Keep the displacement at a reasonable level. Below 700cc would be best for this.

    What I’m proposing here actually doesn’t look too far off from a Kawasaki Ninja 650R or a BMW F800S, actually. Add in some more features and cut out some of the crap (full fairings, wacky electronic gizmos) and we’re almost there. A half-faired 650R that gets 70mpg is more of what I’m working towards…

  • Bring back the 400cc sport bikes! Alternatively, manufacturers are delivering ECUs with multiple maps that determine power levels – these could be utilized for “commute mode” during times of highway droning and then “canyon mode” for times where *ahem* performance is more desirable.

  • Congratulations for initiating this topic, it was long overdue. I´ve been commuting daily on a cycle for the past 40 years and still do at 60. As you might imagine, I´ve been on every type of cycle that I could afford to buy new or used, from scooters to dirt bikes to road bikes. The list includes: 50cc by Honda and Yamaha, 125cc by Suzuki, Honda, Bultaco and Puch, 150cc by Piaggio, Kymco, and several indistinct Chinese builders, 200cc form Piagio, 250cc by Suzuki, Yamaha, Bultaco, Ossa and Kymco, 350cc by Yamaha, 450cc by Honda, 500cc by Triumph, 600cc by BMW, 650cc by Truimph, Suzuki and Kawasaki, 750cc by Kawasaki, 800cc by BMW and 1000cc by BMW. Sorry for the long list, I got carried away. In terms of pure commuting, my experience tells me that nothing beats a scooter. I say this for several reasons: 1) they offer the greatest protection from the elements with a windshield, the bodywork in front of your legs and you can keep your shoes clean and dry by placing them on the floor board; 2) if it rains and it usually does at times, your rain suit works better because you are sort of in the bike instead of on it; 3) since you always have to carry something with you, a scooter has a tremendous capacity to lug things, under the seat, on a top case, on side cases and on the floor board which is where you carry the heavy things such as cases of wine or beer; 4) moving in traffic is so easy because it is twist and go and also because scooters are narrow for lane splitting and surprisingly fast and responsive, 5) they are low maintenance, reliable, economical to operate and fairly inexpensive to buy, 6) lastly, there is an increasing variety of scooters available for the American market although I have noticed the trend towards ever more displacement and weight which I consider unnecessary, for example any 250cc scooter will give you all the performance that you need for normal commuting with the exception of high speed toll highways . there a 400cc and up would be the way to go. Currently I ride a five year old 150cc Kymco People with 16 in. wheels which is perfectly adapted to inner city and suburban traffic. Let´s see more scooters on the road.

  • It must have “protection” from the elements, i.e. useful windshield and some leg protection so you don’t get to work looking like you rode through a combat zone. Storage is crucial! I need a space for my laptop and briefcase, plus room to store a six-pack on the way home.
    Fairly lightweight (less than 600lb) with some pep so I can cruise at 65 or run with the big dawgs at 85. AND – It needs to look attractive without being sooooooo “space age”.

    My first thought was a redo of the legendary (kind of) Honda Pacific Coast with built in “bags” for storage under the seat and two nice pockets on the “dash”. It was Quirky (as in 16 inch tire quirky) but very fun to ride, fast, quiet, and it drew looks of amazement from everyone.

    Honda already makes another, somewhat similar machine in Europe, the Dueville. Newly upgraded to almost 700cc (the same basic motor as the new Transalp we don’t get), it has the power, the storage, the legroom and ergonomics to go the distance and be very frugal while doing so. Problems – only one… Honda would doubtless want 10k for the thing (the Pacific Coast was over 7k in 1989!) and nobody would buy it, proving to them that it was not worth it to import such a bike.

    Suzuki and Yamaha have shown real stones in their continued push for the Bergman and Majesty lines, but a new Berman 650 or a new Bandit 1250S for the same price??? Bottom line, automatic trannys are nice sometimes, but the important thing is to run at freeway speeds without being at redline all the time and get great mileage at the same time.

  • No to the scooter. Scooters are like fat chicks, they are both fun to ride till your friends catch you doing it :)

    What type of commuter depends on your commute, and location. Are you riding highways, or city streets? Are you living in Buffalo or the Bahamas?

    So I’ll just make the bike for ME. I live in Tucson AZ, so I rarely have to deal with bad weather (unless you consider 110f bad weather), and my commute is about 8 miles of 100% city streets. I commute full time on my current bike, a Suzuki DRZ-400SM, and with a little work (and $$$) I could make it into a GREAT commuter, but would sacrifice some track day/canyon carving/off-road ability. Here’s what I’d want for a pure commuter…

    - a 500cc liquid cooled single, making 45 hp and getting 50+ mpg

    - light weight, under 350lbs

    - long travel suspension for the pot hole riddled streets, but low enough to get both feet down at stop lights

    - narrow enough so I can split lanes

    - a lockable top trunk big enough for my lunch (I said LUNCH, not LAUNCH!), shoes, gym bag etc. No saddle bags, they make lane splitting more difficult

    - a wind screen, and some removable hand guards/wind deflectors

    - a comfy seat

    - up right seating so that I can get a good view, and not cramp my wrists

    - a large gas tank (my chief complaint about my DRZ)

    - a really loud horn

    - a good helmet lock

    - good looks, for me a good looking bike is a classic Triumph Bonneville, a Ducati monster, and even that new BMW GS800. A ugly bike is the Suzuki B-King, and anything that looks like it was made by Harley-Davidson

  • Being a former motorcycle dealership owner and having dealt with many, many people thinking about buying a bike, manufacturers should first start off with a bike that cost less than my daughter’s 2008 Toyota Yaris. Second, the bike needs to appeal to the non-riding market because the last thing experienced riders are going to want is a commuter bike. A person buying a motorcycle as a commuter is very different than a person wanting to get into motorcycling. To make a bike apeal to the non-riding market, it should be an automatic, simple, non-intimidating and very easy to handle. What was the biggest problem I had selling bikes to people who wanted commuters? The motorcycle endorsement. Simply raiding the parts bin and creating a commuter bike isn’t enough, especially when you look at the state of the powersports market now and the shrinking disposable income of potential buyers. Manufacturers and dealerships are going to have to educate buyers and somehow sell the idea that dropping $5,000+ on a commuter bike is going to save them money, which as any honest dealer will tell you, isn’t possible when you consider that the buyer now has to maintain two motorvehicles instead of one.

    The other “fly in the ointment” is the incredible incentives that auto dealerships are offering and the high maintenace and accessory costs of motorcycles. This is especially true with the newbies like Kia and Hyundai. A local dealer is offering an Accent for $9000 with a 10 year 300,0000 mile warranty, plus free gas for a year and tires for 5 years. Let’s see… I could buy a commuter bike for $5000, plus a $200 helmet, $200 jacket, $40 gloves, luggage, cold weather gear, rain gear, boots, etc….. and still have to spoon on $200 dollars worth of tires in 15K miles and only get marginally better gas mileage than the Accent to boot. What decision would I make?

    Honestly, scooter/motorcycle hybrids would be a better choice. An automatic Pacific Coast that is a 400cc and has a very low seat height may get some attention.

  • I will continue to commute on my 2003 SV1000N, and get 44 mpg, at least when it is above 40 degrees and the snow melts! Of course that 44 MPG gets offset when I added 40 miles to my ride home because I love riding in Colorado!

    I am not sure Americans will ever really embrace any scooter or motorcycle to commute with. We are just too damn spoiled and affluent. Why don’t more use car pool or use mass transit now, or buy one of the amazing scooters available already? Americans are spoiled! Of course the fact that I have a $5000 performance bike doesn’t make me spoiled at all.

  • The next step for bikes in general I think will be forced induction/turbo of some type. The improvement of such engines on the automotive side in recent years makes them attractive to MC applications. Most of the issues with their application in the past such as turbo lag and steep power curves have been eliminated. Turbos with direct injection are torquey, have no lag and are quite efficient. In theory one could have good power in a lighter more efficient package. Cake and eat it too.

  • I currently commute everyday between west covina to westwood ca. on a 2002 VFR perfect commuter bike as far as I am concerned. Between 45 and 50 mpg and 1/2 tp 1/3 the commute time. It is comfortable with the heli bars added, the seat is extremely comfortable, torque is excellent, zero vibration from the engine , slim enough to cut traffic.

  • How about a sporty standard with an old gsxr 1100 engine or zx9 not retuned to incredible speck but with some built in luggage like the old Honda pacific but with more power and handling. A mini “super” sporty goldwing.

  • My list of requirements would include:

    1. diesel – there’s no internal combustion engine more efficient and the HDT diesel KLR proves they can be frugal and perform well too.

    2. automatic – best for commuting, newbies, etc.

    3. perimeter frame – fuel tank under the seat, big (enough to swallow a full-face helmet) storage space in the traditional tank location

    4. low seat height/adjustable height

    5. integrated saddlebags

    6. single sided suspension on both ends, wheels held on automotive style (lug bolts) – to make wheel removal for tire changes, etc. easier, wheels and tires identical front and rear. Something like the Gilera CX of the 90′s would be perfect.

    7. adjustable footpeg and handlebar position

    8. at least five gallon fuel capacity

    9. light weight

    10. windshield/fairing – adjustable height

    11. excellent lighting – four-way flashers a must.

    12. sufficient wheel travel/suspension compliance to swallow potholes, expansion joints, etc.

  • Honda dealer in Goleta had a beautiful red used Honda Reflex 250 scooter for sale for the past five months,…..started out at $4600 in November, came down in December to $3600……..went out to look at it last Saturday and it was marked down to $3000 so it’s now in my garage……..in the US town with the best weather for commuting, what’s this tell you? AMERICAS AIN’T GETTIN’ OUT’A THEIR CARS ‘TIL GAS PASSES $6.00/GALLON!

  • Need

    - simple DIY maintenance – eliminate frequent valve adjustments etc, make oil/filter changes simple

    - diesel?

    - tire sizes that allow fitment of long lasting tires

    Something like the diesel KLR would be ideal!!!

    I DON”T want an auto tranny :)

    BTW – I already commute happily on my Wee Strom :)

  • Well I’ve been riding for 30 years and have always been surprised that nothing with outstanding mpg targeted at commuting has been produced. I’m guessing that’s because there are existing bikes with very good mpg as well as power but the fact of the matter is they could do better if that were the goal. The important thing to remember is not to produce something that’s going to be boring. Imagine if you will a bike about 800cc, a twin about 80 hp with a selectable transmission, auto or push button 6 gear. This bike would need a full fairing and should be offered with an electronic system that could handle full heated gear. I personally would go as far as making a bike that has removable skin so that it could be ridden in the rain and heated internally. On good days you just remove the skin. Of course you would need knee height water proof boots. A bike like this could be ridden in any weather with the exception of snow. I am amazed that it has never been produced. I am usually a two bike owner and would undoubtedly buy such a thing because it means riding year round with the exception of snow. The mpg advantage would just be a second plus. That’s a lot more riding and really killing two birds with one stone. I imagine it would look something like an old salt flats bike but less of a crouch. To bad we will not see this bike but instead they will make one of the race replicas a second faster and that’s a good thing but it shouldn’t dominate our sport. Hey it’s February 21st as I write this and 24 degrees I sure would like to be riding. A bike like this could literally transform motorcycling into a new age, from just recreation to a main stream element of our culture.

    With the current level of development in plastics this could absolutely be done. If you look at innovation in automotive design and motorcycle design the automotive people are light years ahead because the motorcycle engineers have been held back buy the focus on recreation. They could build a fun year round commuter the question really is why don’t they?

  • I commuted to work on a Suzuki Burgman 650 cc scooter for about 6 months back in 2006. While gas mileage was good, about 50-55 MPG the overall cost of ownership was excessive and I suspect I could have driven a car for less.

    Dealer services at 600, 4000, 8000 and 12000 miles were ridiculous, totaling over $1000; tires were expensive too at over $275 every 8000 miles or so. Until motorcycles and scooters have less maintenance costs they will NOT be a viable alternative cost wise.

    Hydraulic valve adjustment and longer wearing tires are two major cost saving features that should be high on the designer’s list of priorities and right NOW! Easily accomplished oil changes are important too. On my Burgman plastic had to come off to fill the transmission, a couple of hour task.


    In the past motorcyclists did their own maintenance, but that’s not as common these days. Design features seem to preclude that which was easier in the past.

  • I personally think this is a non-issue. How many ‘economy bikes’ are top sellers in the US? These days it’s more cost effective, especially from an insurance stand-point, to buy a used car.

    Face it – people buy motorcycles they want to be seen on. Whether it’s a chromed out cruiser or a liter bike being ridden by a guy in a baseball cap and shorts, economy has very little to do with what buyers will purchase from the manufacturers.

    Unless the various US government agencies start changing traffic and parking regulations to favor people on two wheels I don’t see a big consumer demand for any sort of ‘economy’ motorcycle. And given how strong the IIHS’s hold on government policy seems to be, that won’t be any time soon.

  • I ride an 03 Bandit 1200. Has good power and handling, gets between 36 and 44 mpg. It’s reliable and I use it year round as a commuter. Something like that for about 6 to $7,000. would work well. Nothing fancy, just basic.

  • Bring back the Honda PC800. It is the perfect commuter bike. I ride a Suzuki DR650 around town, it’s light, nimble, and gets great mileage, but the luggage capacity is lacking.

  • Personally, I can’t wait for a test ride on the new Aprilia Mana 850. I think the combined benefits of sportgear transmission, storage compartment with non-scratch lining, optional saddle bags and sport windshield with a conventional V twin motorcycle that has an upright riding position is very appealing. This could be the perfect “Urban Assault Vehicle”