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Economical Commuter: What Should They Build?: MD Readers Respond, Part 5

In Part 5 of our series, we share with you the remaining responses from our readers regarding what they would like to see the manufacturers build in an economical commuter. You can find Part 4 here. The photos on our home page and above are of Kawasaki’s redesigned Ninja 250R, which we reviewed here, and readers tell us achieves more than 70 miles per gallon. Here are the final responses in their unedited form.

  • Corbin’s Sparrow was a great idea. Hell, GM’s EV1 was loved by all who drove it. If I want an economical commuter, those are the lines along which I’d choose.

    Scooters suck. They can’t get out of their own way and that’s dangerous in a world of cagers. Leave motorcycles alone. As you stated, motorcycles are plenty efficient and inexpensive when compared to their 4-wheeled counterpart. However, I don’t think motorcycle manufacturers have done enough to keep costs under control.

    $9k for a 600! Granted, 600s today would dismantle anything from the 80s on a track. But how often do most motorcyclists actually see the track? Even the most diehard track junkies spend only 10-20% (that maybe optimistic) of their time/mileage off the streets, if their cycle is sharing duties. Why can’t we have more SVs, Versys’s and the like?

    People buy into marketing and reviews, that’s why. If they didn’t, we wouldn’t have editorials written about liter bikes being bad choices for novices or how much HP is enough? They wrote the same thing in 1990 when the ZX-11 came out. Now people can buy that bike for less than a new 250 Ninja! An interesting side-note comes from an article I read about a blind test of riders who were asked to ride two different R6’s. One R6 was massaged and the other was stock. The testers didn’t know which one was which. The results of the test were riders preferred the massaged R6 that had greater mid-range but less peak HP! What a shocker! Without the influence of marketing hype and media reviews, riders chose what actually felt best, not what they thought people would like to see them riding on.

    So build an electric car for me…I’ll drive it when there is snow on the road or when it’s raining and I don’t feel like constantly cleaning my bike…I like to ride year-round, it’s a pleasure that cannot be replicated in an automobile. But please don’t make me ride on a bike that is a compromise.

  • They shouldn’t build anything like it if they want to have a commercial success. In reference to your 848 article and gas mileage, I have previously compared the real costs of riding versus driving a 20 mpg car, and even then the numbers simply didn’t work out in a feasible way. Any bike remotely heavy or sporty goes through tires far faster than a car (5X faster?), and a pair of sportbike tires costs about as much as four ordinary car tires. Not to mention cars generally require much less maintenance on a per mile basis, and it is generally cheaper per hour and for parts. If you go with a smaller bike with better mpg, it would also have to work harder cruising at 70 mph, which might lead to reduced life and increased maintenance. How long would a 250 Ninja last buzzing on the freeway? 100,000 miles? I seriously doubt it.

    Plus unless you live in a warm climate, with an agreeable job, and without kids, you still need a car for some portion of the year. So the required license and insurance costs for the bike make the balance point even more in favor of the used economy car like a Toyota Echo. In my original bike/car comparison I would have to displace my SUV mileage by 100,000 bike miles to save $5000 or so. But it would take perhaps four years to accumulate that amount of bike miles riding 60% of the time, so it only works out to about $100/month. It simply wasn’t worth the inconvenience of being hot, cold, wet, or otherwise inconvenienced commuting any real distance on a bike.

    So while I may fit the ideal criteria of a person that could commute and save money by motorcycle, running the numbers shows that it simply doesn’t add up compared to an efficient car. I keep the bike for fun, and that is my justification.

  • The answer is – they already did. Just take a look at Honda DN-01.
    That is a commuters perfection in action. Fantastic intelligent auto transmition. Good wind protection, comfy, fantastic consumption and it is a serious bike you can take on the real road.
    It looks really cool and ready for the future. And there is also the proverbial Honda quality so that is a perfect commuter bike IMHO:

  • I am currently on a K1200R and fuel economy is one reason I am looking for a change. Even without the cost of gas considered the range of only 150-160 miles is annoying.

    While I don’t think I am ready for an automatic scooter (unless Suzuki decides to build the G-Strider) I think there are a couple of good choices already out there. The Ninja 250 (I was happy to finally see a review of the new one, and on your site) makes a wonderful commuter bike. My brother has one and is quite happy with it. This will sound hypocritical from someone riding a K1200, but it is a shame the US market just doesn’t support more choices in the small sporty range. The BMW F800 series is also a good choice and likely what I will be going to. From all I have read it gets great mileage and is still plenty powerful for most street use. And I came back from my test ride smiling, so it must work okay. Suzuki’s GS500 is a great bike, but it is dated. I bet a water cooled, fuel injected 500 twin could be even better.

    Another consideration for a commuter bike is maintenance. I know I don’t pay as much attention as I should when getting ready to go to work. The chain in particular is something which requires too much attention. It would be nice to see more small bikes with belt drive or some other low maintenance final drive system.

  • I think a small displacement full VVT multi fuel hybrid. if use a motor that can Handel a 25k- 3k watt. elect. motor. And use a lith-ion $ fast discharge capacitors. on a newer three wheel style bike or scouter. and If you can brake the 150-200 mpg. you might have something.

  • I currently commute on a V-Strom 650 nearly year round – driving one of my cars only when the roads are snowy or icy (maybe 20 days per year). My commute is about 15 miles each way (more or less depending on the particular routes). The bike averages 50MPG over the long term and I find that pretty acceptable. The modest MPG increase that would be available from a scooter or other smaller displacement bike is just not compelling. That said, what I’d really like for my commuter bike is a plug in electric with at least 50 miles range and capable of running comfortably at 65 MPH. I’m aware that a couple of these are just coming to market from ‘niche’ companies, but the prices are currently well over $10K. One of the major manufacturers should be able to mass produce a good model at a $7K price point and really lock up a leadership position in this market (Think Toyota and Hybrid here…). I would happily pay that price for a “gas free” commuter bike that could also take (short) fun trips. I’d keep my current bike for longer tours.

  • Here in Michigan, motorcycles are seasonal vehicles. Even on clear days in the winter when the pavement has been salted and dried, there are no motorcycles to be seen. Mainly due to temperature and also do to motorcycle eating potholes. There are potholes here that you don’t want to hit in an SUV much less a motorcycle. And a scooter? ….please, it would rip the front suspension right off and send you flying.

    If they were going to build economical transportation for use in Michigan all year round, it would have to be an enclosed three-wheel vehicle with 1 or two person seating. Add to that a hybrid system to improve on mileage and that will sell.

    I think it’s already being made….check here – http://www.aptera.com/

  • My wife actually commutes on a Yamaha Vino 125, weather permitting. We live about 3 ½ miles from her office, and she wears scrubs (not much of a wrinkle-on-the-way-to-work issue), under her jacket. She averages around 85 MPG. I don’t kid myself though; we got it as a toy, not a conveyance. She takes the Honda Element most days. It will take five years to pay for itself through gas savings, and she is Jonesin’ for a Vespa. We got the Yamaha at my insistence, because of price (I didn’t know if she would really even ride it), and availability of repair facilities.

    I’m in the market for the 2008 Ninja 250R. At around 70 MPG, I will commute every other Saturday (my work schedule) that the weather is good. I am concerned with fuel economy and reliability primarily.

    I wish there were a publication that empirically measured motorcycle/scooter reliability like a Consumer Reports.

    It’s impractical (weather and space) to ride everyday. It’s also rather dangerous. Since she bought her scooter, I ride it on Sunday mornings, and notice just how little respect any two-wheelers get on the road.

    My preference for a commuter would be great gas-mileage, reliability (and ease of maintenance), good looks, an up-right seating position for comfort, large fuel tank, and some aero’s for deflecting wind at speed. The 2008 Ninja 250 fits the bill nicely, though I would like to lose the front-lower fairing ‘a la’ Yamaha FZ6. That would make it easier to work on and less prone to tip-over fairing damage. It’s too bad most American’s are into “Super-sizing” their motorcycles as much as their Happy Meals. We could use a few more bikes in the 250-500cc class, as they would make excellent commuters.

  • I live it Southern California Desert and commute to work about 30 miles each way. My commuter is Yamaha FZ6. Very manageable at all speeds and has quick turning. That center stand comes in very handy for weekly maintenance. Wish most standard bikes had that.

  • I use a 650 vstrom, and it works very well. I borrowed a friend’s 650 Burgman for a few weeks, and it was excellent – great wind protection, great luggage space, super easy transmission. The Burgman problem is that it is so expensive. Also, with the Burgman it is easy to forget that you are on a bike, which tempted me to ride in shirtsleeves and running shoes – dangerous.

    Since I ride in California, I lane-split. Lane-spliting (and cheap & easy parking) is the big plus of commuting by bike. Dual sports tend to make the best lane-splitters. They also deal with potholes and curbs. So, my vote? Any good dual sport will serve you well.

  • Diesels have come a VERY long way and technology now exists to produce 100mpg bike that has more than adequate performance. But will people buy it when you can get a 50mpg 848.

  • The best approach in the present economic environment would be a bike of about 500cc probably a twin, V or parallel would have enough power and return good fuel economy. The transmission should be a sequential auto (like a paddle shifter) . This would make for easy around town or traffic but direct link within each gear. Wheels of about 15 inch would have some gyro but make for easy handling . Aerodynamic plastic would be very useful and of course storage / luggage capability. This would return 65-70 mpg and have no problem dealing with traffic.

  • – Aerodynamic bodywork to reduce drag to a minimum
    – Bodywork shaped to maximize storage room for laptop, groceries, helmet and clothing storage
    – Lightweight frame using engine as stressed member
    – Carefully ducted intake and cooling air to maintain aerodynamics
    – Slow-turning, direct-injected 800-cc 180-degree or 90-degree twin with variable-volume intake and exhaust tracts; about 50 hp and 50 ft-lb torque

    Some current scooters are leaning in this direction.

  • Right now, I ride all year here in Jersey except for: rain on departure, heavy/steady rain predicted, snow/ice conditions and sub 20 degree days. Lets see…

    1. It’d have to get great gas mileage as you discussed. Fifty plus MPG.

    2. No scooters (for me anyway).

    3. It would need great lighting. I have been commuting on my R1150RT and the stock lighting on it is pretty good though I’d like to do better on MPG than the 42-45 I currently get.

    4. I go 47 miles each way through 800 feet of elevation change so it needs bags to carry a wide range of gear plus incidentals (I have the RT top case but don’t use it much).

    5. It needs decent wind protection (and rock protection on I-287) so I can ride more than 8 months a year though I’d like to be able to duct air into the cockpit on hot days. Adjustable windscreens are nice but it doesn’t need to be powered and I never want to look through it.

    6. It needs outlets for connecting electrics, heated handgrips and wind/rock protection for the hands (handguards, fairing extensions, ??). Basically, the bike has to be able to cope with whatever Mother Nature throws at you.

    7. It needs enough power and braking to allow the kinds of maneuvers that traffic demands, sometimes on the gas, powering out of harms way, sometimes on the brakes. How much is enough? Depends on the weight I suppose, rider and bike weight. 100 HP give or take is enough for me and should allow the 50+ MPG. Heck, the Buell 1200s run about 100HP and they get 50+ MPG so it’s not impossible.

    8. This bike would need to place a bit more of the rider’s weight on the arms than the RT does, so a *slightly* aggressive riding position for instantaneous directional inputs. For me, the old man riding position of the RT – very upright, almost no weight on the arms – is probably my largest single RT dislike (and maybe the crappy BMW switchgear :) ).

    9. Maintenance must be at 7500+ mile intervals and sub $500. Dealers must service the bike in one day. Belt final drive is the way to go.

    10. Did I mention that it has to look good (subjective, I know).

    11. Rocket launcher for dealing with lit cigarette tossing cagers (does that only happen in NJ? I get that all the time. Sheeesh).

    That’s all I can think of right now. I buy that bike tomorrow.

  • In the US I believe there is no real market for mopeds or even full size (400cc plus) mopeds. Nothing personal, but they just look gay. I personally believe that a bike along Suzuki’s DL-650, or even a 400cc version of that bike, would be more likely to succeed. And with selectable ignition and fuel maps available now, having the option to pick economy over performance when that’s what interests you would be welcome option. And possibly a deciding factor in my next purchase (if it was offered).

  • Why on earth won’t they release that diesel powered KLR 650 the military has been using for years.90mpg with a 6 gal tank I’d buy it.

  • I’m sorry Dirck, but the ideal commuter bike is already being built, and it’s in your garage!
    Bikes shouldn’t be built for, or bought for commuting! They should be bought for pure, insane moto lust! Being an excellent choice for commuting is just a secondary benefit!
    As you mention , almost ANY bike gets better mileage than most cars, is easier to maneuver, park, and store, and cheaper buy, own, and operate.
    So why have special requirements for a “commuter-bike” alone?

  • As oil prices continue to increase, the motorcycle world in the USA is going to change from recreation to transportation. I believe manufacturers are addressing this problem developing new motorcycles/scooters to have the best of both worlds.
    The new prototypes, look like motorcycles but have some of the scooters characteristics, good wind protection, auto transmissions, incredible amount of storage and a large selection of engines.
    Any of these new “bikes” with an engine between 250 cc to 600cc will be my ideal transportation vehicle for a daily commute

  • How about a bike that is 500-600cc’s that costs somewhere between $5000.00 to $7000.00, with sane ergonomics, an ability to use saddlebags, has a metal tank for a magnetic tank bag, easy on the insurance costs and gets 40 to 50 miles per gallon. Plus, I would want something that doesn’t look like a “traditional” cruiser. Oh yeah, Kawasaki already makes the EX500 or the newer style EX650.

  • I really think 250cc to 500cc, four-cycle, single cylinder, scooter is the future. One day we may see then parked, by the hundreds, like some of the streets on Europe.

    I saw a ton of Scooters in Italy, last May (none at the Ducati factory, LOL). I would prefer a 400cc Super Moto as a commuter, but the wife and I commute to downtown Sacramento, in the Volvo, so she might not ride on the back of something smaller than, say, a Monster SR1000(LOL). She said she would ride a 250cc Vespa, if we each had one. She is pushing me to get the Multistrada 1100DS or a BMW K 1200 R Sport.

    I have thought about the cost of gas, my 98 Volvo and the 95 Ford F150. It would take 11 years to pay for $6500 in fuel for one of those “paid-off” vehicles. That’s why I might spend $2,000 fixing up the stock 1976 KZ900 sitting under a tarp, for 10 years, in my garage. We are driving these to vehicles until the engines fall out the bottom…then a new bike.

    FYI – we did a week in Croatia, after Italy. The Honda 919, KTM Super Duke and the Versys were very popular.

  • I think single cylinder bikes fit that mold in general. They are economical and still provide good sensations around town. A DRZ with a top case would be ideal to go to work and have some weekend fun to boot.

  • The U.S. should give tax credits to drivers who use motorcycles. We save on gas and decongest the highway system that’s so overloaded in major cities.

    I would choose a motorcycle that has some pick up and go to get out of a jamb, anti-lock brakes for situations like debris, oil and anti-freeze on the street. Also some capacity to carry a change of clothes for work.

    I would like a DL650 or Bandit 1250S with a top trunk and ABS.

  • Hi There, regarding a saleable commuter bike for North America,,,I like the idea of 400cc triple, twin or V. Fuel injection,maybe variable valve timing. I think 5 or six gears semi auto, comfortable ergo’s and better than average wind protection ! How about abs as standard equip.?Think Vstrom for the masses with sexy styling and colours for the young crowd and build it closer to the ground (seat height). I bet Triumph or Suzuki could do a great job. Oh right the target should be $4999.00 !

    We can always hope !

  • An automatic, hybrid engined 3 wheeled scooter like the update planned for the Piaggio MP3 is the way to go for efficient commuting. An even better solution would be a cheaper version of the Vectrix electric scooter. Active safety features including front and side impact airbags with radar or laser based deployment need to make their way onto 2 wheeled vehicles as well to insure maximum acceptability.

  • What they should build is trikes with one wheel in back and two in front for stability and cornering.

    Advantages:

    1. Far superior aerodynamics to motorcycles (much lower coefficient of drag as well as smaller frontal cross-section). That would give a huge boost for highway mileage.

    2. Because they would corner flat like a car, they could be shod with longer-lasting, narrow (for economy) automobile tires.

    3. They could have an enclosed cockpit (hopefully with a retractable top). This would allow for more comfortable wet and cold weather operation. It could also allow the installation of a heater and AC (tiny, low-power due to cockpit size). The enclosed cockpit would also allow for the use of a radio and/or cell phone (hands-free, of course).

    4. No need for commuters to learn how to lean a motorcycle into a turn with one of these trikes. Again, that’s something that scares off many non-motorcyclists.

    These could be built with a range of engines from an ultra-economical small diesel that could exceed the magic 100mpg number to a high-torque engine out of a cruiser or naked bike to an all-out performance engine. Low-revving V-twins, such as the ones used in Buells, would be ideal as they have the torque, extremely good economy (over 50mpg highway on a conventional bike), and horsepower (100+) to make a small trike fly. If an automatic transmission was desired, they could go with the Aprilia Shiver 750 or a version of the Yamaha paddle shifting from their FJR1300. Final drive should be lifetime belt (like the Buells) or shaft drive to minimize maintenance.

    Being a trike, it would be licensed as a motorcycle in almost all states, would qualify for use in HOV lanes, and would be exempt from regulations which make cars so heavy (side impact protection, bumpers, tighter emissions limits that require catalytic converters to meet, collapsible steering columns, etc.).

    You simply won’t get most commuters on a traditional motorcycle or scooter. They think about winter cold, summer heat, rain, snow, cargo-carrying capability, wind noise, how they will listen to the radio, and how they will be able to use their cell phones (cell phone operation is going to happen and a driver in a tiny trike is more likely to be careful than one who feels invincible in his/her giant SUV). There have been economical motorcycles for years, as you note, but the general public simply does not buy them. I think that we all know why, so why not build a vehicle that addresses the public’s objections to commuter motorcycles?

    P.S. Yes, I know that there have been specialty, limited production enclosed trikes, but they were expensive, crude, and had no nationwide dealership network to support them. You’re not going to get a commuter to pay $50K for a crude vehicle for which parts and service are all-but-impossible to obtain (“Hi, it’s Bob. My trike has died and I won’t be in until, at the earliest, mid-March when the backordered parts come in. Tell everyone at the office Christmas party that I said ‘hi’…”).

  • First off I wouldn’t be caught dead on a scooter. I had a PC800 a few years back and that was close enough to the scooter world.

    Seriously though the PC800 had a lot going for it, some luggage capacity, shaft drive decent weather protection and comfort . What it didn’t have was enough power. Right now I commute on an FZ1, with a full set of Givi Luggage. Pretty close to perfect except for a few flies in the ointment: First is the chain, coming home late at night after work, making the gas stop, milk stop and then oiling the chain is a bit much. Second Givi bags are great but sometimes a bit wide for comfortable lane splitting. Third I ride year around and wouldn’t mind an adjustable windshield to hide behind now and then. So yes it sounds like I want and FJR, ST1300 or Concours, right? Well not exactly those bikes seem heavy and big for the day to day grind of steep driveways, lane splitting, uphill parking, downhill parking well you get my drift.

    So my perfect bike would be a Concours 1000, detune the 10R, build on some sleek frame hugging luggage (30L minimum each side please), a solid luggage rack that will support a top box, a 6 gallon tank, that cool new tetra lever, an electric screen, a handlebar you can change (no thanks on the cast ones) and about 550lbs ready to roll. Now that will rock my world.

  • I’d like to see a lightweight, single-cylinder, 600cc streetbike.
    Good mpg, clean simple classic lines, great handling, 17″ wheels ready for spooning on sticky sportbike tires, six-speed gearbox with a high 6th gear for freeway flying. Screw-type valve adjusters, good rebound and compression adjustable forks and rear suspension. A good sized gas tank with more than a 75 mile range. Sign me up.

  • After reflecting on what’s come and gone (BMW C1 for example), I’d love to see a mostly-enclosed Piaggio MP3 or equivalent. Something you can get on and go without regard for rain or slick roads… just a truly utilitarian year-round scoot. I commuted on an 86 interceptor for years, but frankly when the weather turned bad I reached for my car keys. A three-wheel weather-protected scooter would work for me rain or shine (well… except that I bicycle on sunny days!)

  • What to build for commuters of today? Start with the Honda Griffon and go from there. But for cheap and good the “Dream” was fine. The more you look for the less you find. Trying to build for cheap, fast, fun, powerful, cool, sexy, reliable, and economical etc. just points to that it is a delusion that you can have it all. Pick out what you value most and start from there. There are plenty of all rounders, custom cruisers etc., but in the morning when I ride to work there’s that same guy on his beemer K series, a couple of fellows on their st1300s, the guy going the other way on his 600RR and me on my R1. There are a lot of scooters of all descriptions out there but the difference is as the late great Bruce Lee put it: “emotional content”.

  • I commute on the LA freeways on my Suzuki V-Strom 650. I particularly like that you are eye level with drivers in the large SUV’s and trucks – you have a good view of traffic ahead. The Vee is very maneuverable and has plenty of power. With a 46 liter top case to leave my helmet and other gear, and room for what I need for work, it makes a good commuter. I average 55 – 58 mpg.

    All riders stand to benefit if we are in substantially greater numbers on the roads – even if as a result of high gas prices. The more of us, the more noticeable we will become. But, of course, always have an escape ready!

  • I think that it should be in the form of a roofed two-wheeler….in other
    words, like that bike already in production in Europe. It is a scooter
    that gets 100 mpg and has an arched “canopy” for some protection. Must have the ability to travel at 70 mph, has disk brakes on both ends, and a big trunk capable of holding a riding suit and briefcase. This would be a great commuter vehicle. I have used my Goldwing to commute but the mileage
    is a ridiculous 38 mpg.

  • They already make it. Honda just will not bring it here. The Honda SH300.

  • well after using a dl650 for 37000mi, then a dl1000 12000 mi..im on an 08 klr650.I ride 34 miles a work day one way.Trying know to find good tires threw trial and error.the gas milage on the dl650 was 44 avr. on the dl1000 was 36 avrage and on the klr its 51 avr.I did gear it up to 16 counter. and it takes the freeway better , but still lacks in the top end. Oh theres a super trapp on now and jetting changes,air box mod. but i would like to see a perallel twin in the klr chasis,,maybee alittle more front wind protection, but that would be the ultimite commuter. Tall enough to see,suspended to take on a short cut or two, then enough power to escape the cages that are eating and talking on the phone while changing lanes. And priced right

  • I rode a maxi-scooter for a couple of years, an Aprilia Scarabeo 500.
    It got 60+ MPG.
    It had a large top box and color matched hard side bags were available.
    I would have been the perfect commuter except for the harshness of the ride and the vibration of the motor at low speeds.
    The problem was the engine swinging up and down with the swing arm and it’s single cylinder motor.
    The Honda Silverwing and Suzuki Bergman have solved those problems but their looks are ghastly.
    The Scarabeo was gorgeous.
    My idea of the perfect commuter would be the Scarabeo with the engine, transmission, and suspension of the Aprilia Mana.

  • I would definitely commute on a well designed, reliable, automatic scooter. It makes so much sense. BTW – I live in the Philadelphia suburbs.

  • Something along the lines of the old Honda PC800 would be nice.

  • The ideal commuter?
    Has to be a motorcycle, cool looking, comfortable standard seating, torquey engine (peak horsepower is not as important as flexibility), a good ride. My commute is 10 miles on surface streets so I rarely get over 60. Good mileage is of course a plus, 50 mpg regular gas should be doable. I have no trouble with shifting so don’t need an auto trans, but sometimes I dream of a rekluse clutch like the dirt bikes have now. Another must is good heat control so you don’t roast in stop and go traffic.

  • I think the time has come for automatic motorcycles. The new Aprilia Mana looks very interesting,sporty,nice sized vee twin. I also like the large storage compatments. I am still waiting for Victory to come out with an automatic since their parent company Polaris did very well with there automatic ATVs. The large sales of their ATV’s prompted other manufactures to come out with their own auto models. When my niece’s went from their auto clutched honda 50 and 70 to manual clutched XR 100 and Yamaha TTR 125 they asked how come larger motorcycle aren’t automatic or auto clutched. We answered, we don’t know! I see the company Revloc does very well with their unique auto clutch system. I know I’m showing my age but I remember when Terry Cunningham won a few enduro championships on Husqvarna’s automatic enduro bikes. I know of a lot of guys that can’t drive standard transmission cars or trucks and that are afraid to tell any one that they can’t ride a motorcycle! So there are a lot of potential cutomers out there and I hate when somebody says Honda and Suzuki along with some others tried to sell automatic motorcycles before and did not do very well . That was THIRTY years ago,in case they didn’t notice a lot has changed since then!!

  • I commute nine months each year 13 miles each way. I ride a Suzuki GS500F. So it is fair to say that my bike is my primary source of transportation.

    My ideal bike would have fuel-injection and belt or shaft drive. I would also like to get more than 40 mpg. The bike also needs to weigh as little as possible. To keep up with traffic, I think you need at least 35hp.

    I change my mind all the time about which bike to purchase next. Some of my favorites include the Harley Sportster, the Kawasaki Vulcan 800, and the Honda 919.

    Nowadays any manufacturers produce high-powered scooters for commuters. However, machines with automatic transmissions do not appeal to me emotionally.

    It would be great if guys like me could get a tax break. My bike gets better mileage than many hybrids automobiles.

  • It would be hard to beat the Ninja 250 for sure. I bet a “naked” standard bike would fare better with entry level riders though. I think manufacturers need to capitalize on their existing trail bike motors.
    Have you ever seen Honda’s CB400SS? It uses the
    (25hp) XR400 motor in a basic street package. I’d wager it would be closer to $4000 than 6. Suzuki has their excellent DRZ400 motor but not many people like the looks of a dirt bike. If it were a DRZ400 Cafe Racer I’d be all over it. The 250-500 range is definitely under served in the US. My GB500 gets 55-60mpg.

    A scooter is ok. I’ve only ever enjoyed blasting around town on them, not long distance trips though.
    A scooter has to become way too heavy and expensive to be a decent freeway commuter. What I really miss on scooters is a manual transmission. There’s nothing better than winding through the gears and racing a scooter. Automatics are boring but I find I’m more comfortable letting non-riders ride them. I guess that’s where their appeal lies; less intimidating.

  • What we need is a vehicle with:

    1. Dummy tank, for full-face helmet storage.

    2. Proper weather protection, sufficient to keep the water lying on the roads from splattering our boots, and also designed to keep the cold wind off our hands.

    3. If chain-drive is employed, this should be enclosed so as to avoid the extremely irritating lubricant “fling”.

    4. An engine designed for torque and fuel-economy, not out-and-out power. Too much high-end power kills.

    5. ABS, as standard.

    6. Rear carrier as standard, as per the Suzuki V-strom. After-market carriers always look naff.

    7. Good tank size, again as per the V-strom.

    8. Two headlamps on at a time, not just one. We need to see, aswell as be seen.

    9. Mirrors that actually allow a good view of road behind. Surely a mirror could be designed that allows good rear-view + some peripheral view, just as cars have.

    That`s about it really.

    By the time we see a bike like this, motorcycles will have become totally banned in Europe and any pleasurable activities will be punishable by firing squad.

  • Kawasaki ex250 is already perfect commuter bike. Recent revamp makes it even more so.
    I would commute on one myself were it not illegal to do so in Boston, where motorcycles are banned from virtually all parking facilities.

  • I don’t own one, but a friend does, and it seems to me that the ideal 2 wheeled commuter is already avialable, the Suzuki Bergman 650.

  • I like the Can-Am 3 wheeled motorcycle. A commuter needs luggage space so the trunk up front helps that. Should be easy to ride in different seasons and the 2-wheeler isn’t working for me when there could still be ice on the roads, and the leftover sand is also bad news. Up north you never know what you will get, I would like more than a 3 month commuter.

    Also should be easy to maneuver, ride, and park. Tall heavy bikes take some fun out of riding, like at stoplights on hills or with sand on the road. If all you can get is a toe down, which is pretty much what I can do on most all bikes, and you hit a wet paint stripe or whatever, you could fall into moving traffic or another vehicle. Its always on my mind and this is not so good for fun or commuting. Reverse should be great for parking. Like I can stay on the seat use my legs to back up, not going to happen.

    I hope these things catch on in a huge way. Kawasaki Versys 650 looked good on paper but it ended up tall like the rest, so I didn’t buy it. I don’t know why they always make new concept vehicles so expensive with all the options in the book. I don’t like the anti lock brakes on my truck, I don’t think I need them on a motorcycle ether. If they could get the price down I would buy the Can-Am.

    I would say a 650-750 twin would be a good commuter engine size to balance power and fuel mileage.

  • Check your web site each day, Thanks for the news…
    My wintertime commuter is a VW Jetta Diesel that gives me 48 – 50 mpg all the time. My summertime commuters (Triumph Sprint ST and V Strom 650)give about the same.
    Why not a diesel motorcycle that returns over 100 mpg, but has enough power to outrun the cage commuters… I’m ready to buy one!!!

  • I understand the ( old ) 250 ninga gets 75 to 85 mpg
    and will do 100 mph . It doesn’t take a scooter to save
    gas . I rode a SRX 250 and thought it was a blast but
    needs MORE gears …. I bet that bike could of made
    use of an 8 speed !

  • I commute about 70% of the time via motorcycle. I commute on a 95 VFR 750 with over 100,000 mile most of the time. I also commute on a GL1500 when I have to carry a lot of stuff or when the weather is expected to turn bad. My basic rules for commuting are temps above 27 degrees F and not raining between home and the office.

    I also have a Honda Accord I use to commute frequently, 20% of the time. The Accord gets about 30 mpg around town, with a 5 speed four cylinder. I have computed a break even point for the price of gas about $2.25 per gallon between the VFR and Accord. The Goldwing is break even around $2.75 per gallon. Of course the fun factor is much higher via Motorcycle.

    I think the perfect commuter bike may be a V-Strom 650 with a travel trunk and/or hard bags. I have read reports of Wee-Stroms averaging 60 mpg plus. That is much better than my VFR at 40 mpg and my Goldwing at 35 mpg. I also have a Triumph Sprint ST 995 that averages 45+ mpg but it is generally used for weekend trips and sport riding.

    As for a scooter, forget it!! Half the fun of commuting via motorcycle is the performance advantage over cars. Automatic transmissions are for whimps, we have four manual transmission cars and one automatic in our fleet currently. I do agree luggage capacity is a major consideration.

  • A few years ago, Kawasaki downsized the 1,000 cc inline 4 motor to 750cc and put it in a small modern looking bike called the K750S as I recall. It was almost as fast amy 2001 VMax but got 64MPH instead of 30MPH.
    I don’t see why a somewhat smaller version of the new Kawasaki 650 dual sport could not be made light enough to get close to 80 MPH. Thanks for all your good info.

  • I think good commuters a already here. I to work 30 highway miles each way on a Suzuki GS-500 getting 55-60 mpg. It’s an F model with full fairing I found used for under $2000. I also had a DR-650 that made the same run a few times but the lack of wind and weather protection makes the GS a bit better.

    I used to have a ZRX-1200 and got a respectable 50 mpg on the same route.
    But this seemed like a waste of power on a road limited by traffic to less than 65 mph. Anyway, the lighter and more nimble GS is really a pleasure to ride even with less than 50 hp.

    I’m sure the Kawasaki Ninja 500 would be as good a commuter as would their 250 for smaller riders. With soft bags across the saddle and maybe a tank bag carrying capacity is good enough to stop for a few groceries. And these bikes have a real motorcycle look that gets respect from other riders and maybe a bit more than a scooter would from the four-wheel crowd.

  • The list of features I’d like to see in a commuter. Note: I commute roughly 60% of the time on a Honda Rebel 250 – 70 mpg.
    - High mpg
    - Large, high quality tubeless tires
    - Fuel injection
    - Shaft or belt drive
    - Extremely low maintenance (i.e. cams, valves, etc.)
    - Low to mid weight range
    - Low seat height
    - Windshield
    - Passenger backrest

  • I think like the Piaggio MP3, Can-Am Spyder and Peugeot Quark, we need to see more designs that combine the thrill and fun-factor of a motorcycle with the stability offered by added wheels. 99 days out of 100 I don’t need anything more than a messenger bag for storage, so a vehicle that offers a bit of a joyride while maintaining decent MPG and added stability would be great by me.

  • What I’d like to see mass-produced is simple: turbo diesel powered motorcycles.
    Diesel for the high mpg’s and turbo for the power. When I say “power”, I don’t mean all out, racing type, power. Just enough to get up to highway speed with enough passing power.
    Imagine a 500cc diesel motorcycle with a turbo? Boggles the mind, doesn’t it?

  • I have a 1993 CBR 900 RR. I get 53 mpg on my commute to work (9 miles, 50% hwy, 4 stop signs), 55 – 58 mpg is normal for hwy travel, my low mileage on a trip was 46 mpg loaded down with lots of weight, my best hwy mileage was 61 mph with a light touring load.

    I find magazines tests that show 30 – 35 mpg an unacceptable performance number. Our Prius gets up to 52 mpg on the highway that takes some of my justification for bike travel (not that it will stop me). How about manufacturers offer a commuter model that gets 100 – 120 mpg?

  • I would like to see an emphasis on low maintenance, mid-displacement machines. The Kawasaki Versys is already a great bike but if they made it with shaft drive and self-adjusting valves that would be perfect.

  • Since the major motorcycle manufacturers seem to enjoy going after every narrow sub-set of a market niche with often overly-specialized products, it has always baffled me as to why they have mostly abandoned the middle ground. Every new model intro now features something larger, faster, and more highly stylized than the previous generation. The end results are bikes that do one thing really well, and little else. That might be handling, accelerating, comforting, or just sitting pretty in front of a tavern.

    A prime example is the Gold Wing. Why is the best answer to long haul capability 1800cc pushing 900+ pounds? If Honda dusted off the GL 1200 drivetrain tooling, they could easily fill a now ‘mid-size’ hole in the touring market. Give that product a style and equipment update geared towards lighter weight and less luxo-boat bling, tune it towards high fuel efficiency and low maintenance including high mileage tires, make it tip-over tuff (lose the insurance-claim-eating Tupperware) and that is what I would like to see in my dealer.

  • Honestly, there’s a machine out there right now that I’d love to see come to the states as a commuter. The Aprilia Mana 850 has integrated luggage, an adjustable CVT (which can be set to act like a manual transmission for those who want that manual feel), a plenty large 4.2 gallon tank, and from what I’ve heard, good fuel mileage. It’s biggest flaw, as I see it in the US market, is the highish price I’d expect, and the lack of integrated front windscreen.

    If manufacturers want to know what to bring to the States as a commuter, they need to look at this bike and see what they can take from it.

  • Aprilia seen to have done very well with their new Mana. Enough poke
    to keep most riders reasonably happy, the choice of fully automatic, seven speed manual, or variations in between, and even a bit of storage space to boot (as it were).

    I don’t know from personal experience just how economical this particular bike is, but I do have a bit of experience with CVT vehicles and have always found this transmission system to provide very good economy along with a performance advantage over conventional stepped transmissions.

    If economy truly was the aim of the game, I would expect an aerodynamic fairing would help the Mana out. I would also plunder the emission control measures such as catalytic converters.

    If on the other hand performance was the name of the game, it does seem a shame that Aprilia gave the Mana less power than it’s smaller Shiver brother, despite a 100cc capacity advantage. A frame mounted quarter fairing for aerodynamics, a la SV1000S or FZ1 (you should be able to see the motor on a bike), along with a similar state of tune to the Shiver (it usually follows that a more powerful motor is so because it extracts more energy out of each shot of fuel) might just give us not only a highly desirable and economical commuter, but also a sports bike very well suited to the abilities of most of us mortals.

  • Over here in Holland a very exiting new motorcycle is ready to be delivered to its first buyers: The Track T-800 CDI.

    It features a very economical 3 cylinder 800 cc turbo intercooled diesel engine with common rail injection, originally designed and still used by Mercedes for use in the Smart, a very small two seat car.

    I commute over 500 miles a week on my old bike, and this Track delivers (almost?) everything I look for in a commuter bike: very good ergonomics, very high mpg and a long life diesel engine.

    The price: over here it costs 17,500 euro’s. That’s about the same as a BMW R1200GS. .

    Have a look at www.dieselmotorfiets.nl for some info. I hope you will understand the highlights, despite the fact it’s all in Dutch J

    I think diesel is the way the larger companies should go for real long distance commuter and travel bikes.

    Good luck with your excellent website from Holland,

    P.S. Oh, and I even forgot:

    It has a continuously variable transmission. So you don’t have to shift.

  • “Would you commute on an automatic-transmissioned scooter? With plenty of built-in luggage? A traditional motorcycle? A motorcycle with an automatic transmission?”

    I already own what is almost the perfect commuter: Kawi Ninja 250R. I use it as my commuter in good weather. The only improvement it needs is fuel-injection. That could only improve its current 65MPG I get now. Maybe a diesel version would be nice, too.

  • My Honda Silver Wing has the performance, economy, storage and protection from the elements that meets all the requirements for a commuter. The auto tranny is a blessing in heavy/stop and go traffic. It’s a pretty nice touring machine also.

  • I would not have a problem with an automatic transmission for any motorcycle. As long as it was able to run well, who could complain? Maybe power junkies. As a guy who has been riding for 42 years, I haven’t ridden anything like that since my 2 ½ HP mini-bike, my first motorcycle, so to speak. My current ride I bought for comfort AND MPG. A Yamaha V-Star 650 Classic that regularly gets over 50 MPG and even carries my wife and our little dog very well. A road burner? Not hardly, but as I keep looking at bigger more powerful bikes I still keep my 650. With hard locking luggage and multiple windshields and adjustable lowers, I get plenty of protection. Add the Aquabox for the XM radio and the intercom and you have a poor man’s Road King. This ride may not have the power for an automatic transmission, but I am sure after they are made by all the major manufacturers and a few years of learning, they would be well accepted. A commuter should be basically a small scale tourer. That is what I have tried to do with my V-Star. Sure I would love a Gold Wing, Electra Glide or the sport tourers, but they are all too big and NOT as much fun on the city streets and back road trips to work. They DO have all the goodies we all want, but they are too heavy for slow speed maneuvering. They ARE great on the open road of course, but how do you ride before you GET to the open road? The sport tourers still have that uncomfortable “ergonomic” riding style that is too close to the sport bikes. I have tried them. Older bodies like a “full upright” position. That is why cruisers are so popular. Honda really missed the boat with the old Silver Wing, although it was close in basic design, and the Pacific Coast was too close to a scooter. WAY too much plastic and only that built in trunk for storage, but it did ride good. If Harley could make an Electra Glide or Road King based on a 1000/1200 they might really have something. The “smaller tourers” that most have tried were just too different of a bike than just a smaller CC big tourer. Give us a full blown tourer to BE a commuter and I would think it could find a wonderful niche in the market place. The tourer versions of the current cruisers aren’t really tourers. You don’t need a full fairing, but a better coverage windshield like the Slip Streamer SS32 with hand protection would be great for better wind and rain protection and help keep the weight down for better MPG. They all could easily build something in the 800 to 1200 CC range and still have all the cool touring bike features, good MPG, fun “rideability” and be under $15,000. I would love to see that tried. I think it would be a hit with the aging baby boomers. Why not? You have small, medium and large in all other styles of bikes except for touring models.

  • One thing that everyone seems to be forgetting to add to their list of requirements is the service interval. How many people would buy a car to use every day that needs to be serviced every 4000 or 6000 miles? And scooters are generally even less that that. OK many motorcycle enthusiast will be happy to do basic servicing themselves but the wider audience being targetted with such a bike would/could not do so and servicing costs would very soon mount up over the year.

  • Sorry, I missed the first opportunity to post my opinion on a good commuter bike. How about this: A paid for 2002 Honda CBR1100XX? VFR handle bars, braided SS brake lines and soft luggage. Nothing wrong with commuting on a bike that has brain rotting acceleration!

  • I’ve been commuting on a Kawasaki Concours for 9 years. It works for me, but I am now 65 and have had five knee replacements in the last 5 years. I have been back on the bike within five weeks after each of my surgeries, but I’m beginning to wish my Connie were a tad shorter and quite a bit lighter. I love the power, but I’d settle for less.

    I’ve never seen one, but I’ve read a bit about the Honda Deauville. It looks to me as if it would be a good possibility for a year-round commuter for me here in northeast Colorado. (Most years, I’ve been able to ride for all but one or two weeks of the winter. This winter was bad — the bike was parked for about 9-10 weeks.) One of the things Honda UK has done with the Deauville is to offer an extensive accessory list that adds convenience and flexibility rather than bling.

    I think shaft drive is essential. Good weather protection (not just a
    windshield) is essential. I love the Wee-Strom, but I don’t think it can get close to a bike with a full-fairing for weather protection. I notice that while I don’t mind riding in the rain (too much) when I’m going 100 miles, I hate it for my usual short commute. That’s when I dig out the car.
    I think that my tolerance for rain would decrease if I were on a bike that got me much wetter below the waist than the Connie.

    Thanks for exploring this. I do not think the manufacturers are really viewing the commuter as much of a market yet.

  • I bought a Harley-Davidson 883 back in 1999 and was surprised that it would average 58 to 60 mpg without engine mods. With a rack on the back it will carry whatever you need to bring to work and will do it in style. Sure it’s not the fastest, but economical it is! I have over 49,000 miles on mine and it is dead reliable. Easy on the maintenance too (no valves to adjust, belt drive needs very little attention, one carb etc…) You could do a lot worse. Ever check on the prices for a used Sportster? Less than many new scooters. Like the scooter, I believe there is an image problem with some folks as it’s “only a Sportster”, but as a commuter bike it’s one heck of a deal. Check it out.

  • I disagree with the notion that some have that ABS or heated grips or traction control would make a bike too complicated…it depends how you look at it, I guess.I commute on my bike on slick freeways and what ever temperature it is.107 to 22 Fahrenheit during most years….one could argue that anyone with sense would require ABS on a commuter. They require chains at times, right? Why? I guarantee it’s not because of the cool way your car looks in them…..

  • I commuted year round for twenty years in the UK and for several years used a 250cc Honda Spacy scooter. It was in it’s element in the cut and thrust of city traffic and I enjoyed using it in this enviroment compared to my BMW R100RS. There are a couple of “down sides” to this scenario however: Firstly, tire wear is horrendous on these automatic scooters. I regularly got 12k from the rear tire of my BMW and even managed 6k on the rear tire of my CB1100RC before the bike was stolen so I would not consider myself hard on tires but I never got more than 3k out of the rear tire of the Spacy!

    The second point is the complexity of repairing a flat on the rear tire. I never actually had a flat but went through the procedure when fitting a new tire. If I tell you that it involved removing the muffler you will get the idea. Admittedly these days flats are more easily dealt with but there are always occasions when the repair kits will not work i.e. tire off the rim.

    Lastly the weight of these modern scooters prevents them from being truely economic (which is partly a function of the power to weight ratio). I regularly achieved better MPG on my Ninja 500 than I did on the Spacy. Hope this helps anyone considering a new scooter.

  • This can be tricky, so many people focus on MPG and not so much on the broader picture that can eat up the best MPG savings. I do a large amount of maintenance myself engine oil/filter (8K), fork oil (10K), chain/sprocket (15K), Brake pads and exchange brake/clutch fluid (once a year – 24K), rear shock (30-40K) and for my type of riding these are very importaint. I ride 170 miles a day and better than 90% of the time it is on a 2002 VFR and 2006 VFR. I’ve owned a Kawasaki EX500, ZX14 and ZX6 and VFR and the Honda wins hands down. Here is why?

    1 Kawasaki 500, 16 inch tire will cost you more because they spin more thus less mileage between tire changes Typically 12-14000 miles between tires and 100-140 dollars each wheel. When traveling over 70 MPH fuel consumsion will drop from 70+ to the mid 40′s. Finally the cost of a valve adjustment is in the 300 dollar range and this was required every 6000 miles, although I could normaly double that number it still had to be done every 12,000 miles.

    2 Kawasaki 600, the tire situation was better but still if I could get over 15K, I would consider that very lucky. Plus the tires on 600cc’s are radials that are a huge improvement over bias plys, but this comes with a 20 dollar plus cost each. The Valves were about the same as the 500 (12k) but you can bump the cost of a valve tune up about 100 dollars for a 4 cyclinder to 400 dollars.

    3. Kawasaki ZX 14, This was the hardest to sell off, this bike is about as perfect a commuter as one could want with the exception of MPG, I’m a very conservative rider and if I could squeeze 40 MPG I was doing very well. The Valves were better but 16K was the best I could do before the 14 needed to see the shop. Cost was still about 400-450 dollars. Tires today are better then in the past but with 170 hp 14,000 was about all I could do and I don’t know anyone who has a ZX14 who did anywhere near 10,000 miles.

    Finally there is the VFR, this bike has better wind protection than all the above and my MPG hovers about 48 MPG although If I ride around 75 MPH that number can go as high as 52 MPG. Here is where the Honda Shines, Valve jobs although costing the most (600 dollars) typically happen… Well my first and only valve adjustment happened at 87,000 miles. Spark plugs are expensive but knowing they will last 32,000 miles vs 7500 miles the costs pretty much equal out and less work.
    Before buying a bike ask the salesperson how many miles between valve adjustments, it can be found in the owners manual.
    Hope this helps.

  • The perfect commuter bike was built. Some time ago. Enter the mighty BSA M21 Commander. In light of Gas Gas reviving flatheads for trials, what about the M21? 600cc of slogging power, more a pack mule than a motorcycle. I’ve ridden a few, they are truly amazing. It is incredible how much can be packed onto one, and they still get 75+ mpg all day long. And reality is, they are stone ax reliable. But it is just a flight of fancy….though I would ride one.

  • Honda Goldwing at about 700 to 800 cc’s.

    I ride my Goldwing to work. It get’s better mileage that my
    Titan but not spectacular. Maybe something like the old
    Silverwing. I’m not interested in a scooter. Some of the
    sport-tourers (ST1300) don’t have the protection and
    trunk space that the Wing has. I like a lot of room for
    rain suits, briefcase, jacketes, gloves, pants, etc. The
    Wing has just the right amount of storage for me.
    However, I really don’t think that I need 1500cc’s for
    commuting. I think a modern 1000, 1100cc four cylinder
    Wing would be cool.

  • they already build it. It’s called the Kawasaki Ninja 250R. I use mine for commuting and regularly get 70+ mpg. My only complaint: the rear of the seat could be redesigned better such as to hold soft luggage or something more substantial than the small lunchbox that I bungee on to mine.

    It has plenty of power – enough to cruise at 70-80. It only weighs 305 lbs. And until the 2008 model was introduced, had a seat height of 29.3 inches with 16” wheels (the ’08 runs 17” wheels and gets another inch higher.)

    What we don’t need is another 35 inch seat height dual sport with 85 horsepower touted as a good beginner / commuter bike.

    I also wish they would make some of the 600cc sport bikes with 29 – 30 inch seat heights for new riders and vertically challenged folks. Also, how do we expect to get more women riding if the only bikes they design are for 32” and greater inseam heights?

  • The motorcycle cycle press is overly preoccupied with engine displacement size and performance. I have been riding motorcycles now for over 37 years and have owned everything from 90cc to 1200 cc. If a motorcycle doesn’t go from 0-60 in 2.5 seconds and stop on a dime and have the newest modifications then it is not worthy of riding or being reviewed. Why can’t we have a bike that is just dependable and comfortable. A bike that gets good gas milage and is simple to work on. When I was growing up bikes in the 250-500 cc range where immensely popular. We need to get back to basics and start enjoying motorcycling again. I have a 1982 Suzuki GS 300L. It is a very antiquated motorcycle compared to today bikes but it does everything well and it is comfortable and dependable. I have other bigger bikes but I ride that bike the most as it is fun to ride and easy to own. Remember the Honda CB 350 and 450 bikes. Very popular in their day and would work well in the present day. We need to take a serious look at our priorities and let practicality and common sense back in our lives.

  • sorry for the late response – MPG is only one part of the cost structure to the concept of economical. Tires/chains etc also add to the cost. And as for saving money? Yes I get twice the MPG from by bike than my Car. But I also save at least 50% of my travel time. Frankly, if I used just as much fuel on the bike as the car, I’d still ride. I value my time just as much a my money, probably more.

  • Economical Commuter: What Should They Build?: MD Readers Respond, Part 1

    The KLR650 is an excellent commuter:

    • sits tall and upright for comfort and visibility

    • 50 MPG

    • 2up without a problem

    • hauls luggage simply

    • will commute on or off road

    • insures reasonably

    • KLR’s are readily available nationwide

    • aftermarket parts and upgrades galore

    • rider can perform their own maintenance

    • KLR Kommunity support with online and Tech Days

    • during your vacation you can ride your KLR from the Artic Circle to the tip of South America

  • I’m enjoying the discussion but I think that the article might be missing the point. The problem isn’t necessarily a lack of the right bikes being made but combination of marketing, our fragile egos and lack of incentive from city/state governments.

    If we are being hones with ourselves a Ninja 250 is all you need. Or 500. Maybe even the SV650 which is as close to an all around perfect practical bike as there is. (I ride a Bandit 1200 myself) But the magazines tell us that we need the GSXR 1000 and all other bikes are mere pretenders. I used to sell bikes (and am an MSF instructor) and could not get people to buy a reasonable as their first bike. Young guys want something fast and cool because that is what their friends all have and older guys want something fast and cool because dammit they have the money can buy whatever bike the damn well please!! ‘I was riding when you were just a twinkle in the eye son’. Whatever, I’ve been riding longer and farther than you pops!

    The first bike I thought of was actually the PC800, I’d love to get my hands on one of those as my city bike. The Bandit is a good all around bike but seems a bit much for the city. I’ve taken it coast to coast to coast three times so far, I prefer a bigger bike for those trips but did it on a ’78 CB750 and it was just as fun.

    Another piece of the puzzle is having federal, state and local governments give people an incentive to ride like free tolls, free or reduced parking and allow lane splitting. Make it economical and convenient and more people might ride more. The more bikes there are on the road the safer it is for all of us. How about we have louder horns on bikes?

  • Lots of replies looking for a new PC800. I liked that bike but never owned one. The rear end needed a more motorcycle appearance and the front end just needed to be a bit smaller. But, Honda doesn’t need to design a new one, they already did! You just can’t buy it here, The Honda Deauville 700 ABS – http://www.viamichelin.com/viamichelin/gbr/tpl/mag5/art20060901/htm/route-honda700.htm Now if that isn’t a perfect commuter/do it all I don’t know what is.

  • A couple of comments on comments in your Economical Commuter article..

    The absolute perfect commuting bike already exists or is about to. Its the Aprilia Mana – - a sweet looking 800cc proper motorcycle with all the commuter and novice friendly attributes of a maxi-scooter. Auto transmission with a manual 7-speed override, selectable sport shifting auto mode, faux gas tank doubles as a spacious trunk… A bike like this, if we are lucky enough to get in America, will surely make 17″ wheel converts of many a Vespa rider and will entice first time riders who are sick of low- milage cages. I will buy one as soon as they import this great commuter to American shores.

    About a comment: Suzuki Burgman 400 looks really nice; doesn’t really have any competition from Honda, Yamaha or Kawaski.

    Not true. I had a 400 cc Yamaha Majesty that trounced the Bergman. This high milage commuters dream sparked an unexpected passion in me for two-wheeling… I sold it and now ride an 06 ZZR600 and am in the market for an Aprilia Tuono. It all began for me with the mighty Majesty, which I did some touring on and easily hit an indicated 105 mph on the highway.

  • You wrote: “we continue to explore just exactly what our readers are looking for in an economical commuter bike”

    What we really need is a commuter bike for people who are not Motorcycle Daily readers — people who are not yet motorcyclists.

    We need to address the reasons why many people won’t commute on motorcycles and scooters. I see the reasons as follows:

    1. Perceived safety. This is a tough one. We live in a country where people justify Hummers because they feel safer than when riding in mere automobiles. However, there are a few things we can do:

    a. ABS brakes.
    b. Traction control.
    c. Airbag option (like the one Honda offers on the Goldwing).
    d. Better lights from the factory, including headlight modulation.
    e. Powerbands and drivetrains designed for commuting rather than racing.

    2. Fuel economy. Many non-motorcyclists are shocked to learn that most motorcycles get worse fuel economy than a Prius. We need better fuel economy and to stop insisting that all motorcycles be able to run the quarter mile faster than a Ferrari with nitrous. We need to do much better with aerodynamics, too. Both for rider comfort as well as fuel economy.

    3. Transmission. I own a sport bike (Buell), dual sport, and a maxi-scooter — and Aprilia Atlantic 500. For commuting in 30 miles of stop and go rush-hour traffic, the scooter is, by far, the best choice.

    4. Comfort. How stupid is it that there is no way to duct warm air that has passed through the radiator back to the passenger’s legs? At 40 degrees F, that would be welcome. So would standard heated hand grips and heated seats. The commuter also needs to be shielded from the wind, both on the legs and torso, which is why scooters work very well.

    5. Cargo carrying capability. When the average bike does not even come with a compartment large enough to store a bag lunch, is it any wonder people resist them as commuter vehicles?

    6. Protection from the elements. There really is no reason why a scooter cannot have a roof. BMW realized that years ago when the offered the C 1 in Europe.

    In short, there are already plenty of commuter motorcycles for motorcyclists. Now we just need commuter motorcycles for commuters.

  • This topic is close to my heart currently as I am in the market for just such a vehicle; a lightweight, reliable, economical commuter bike, capable of occasional forays into the country in comfort.

    There have been lots of really great suggestions that I have read and concur with. My ultimate practical bike would have these elements:

    Decent power and especially, torque, for the real world. I imagine this would be easily sustainable with an engine of 650 to 800cc, probably via a twin or triple cylinder configuration. Probably 60 to 85 HP, 40 to 65 Ft Lbs torque.

    Weight around 400 pounds..

    Excellent gas mileage. Certainly 50mpg. As has been said before, modern engine management electronics should make this a no-brainer.

    Weather protection. It doesn’t have to be Full Dress by any means, but a decent fairing/windshield is a must for me.

    Hard luggage nicely integrated into the styling of the bike.

    Heated grips and hand protectors.

    Top-notch brakes. Reasonably priced ABS option.

    Top-notch suspension. Male-slider forks. Adjustable, quality shock(s) in the rear.

    Upright seating position to better scan the road ahead.

    Low maintenance belt drive, a la BMW F800

    Nothing available in the US currently meets all these needs closely. From what is available currently, I like the Kawasaki Versys with Givi luggage, despite the styling not being entirely harmonious. Brakes a bit weak. Seat a bit weak.

    The rumored Triumph Tiger Cub sounds very intriguing. Great 675cc engine. Good ergos. Nice suspension. Panniers available. Good brakes. Keep it under 8K $$$ (let’s be real here) and this would be a WINNER.

    My two cents worth. I’d love to be part of a focus group to get this category recognized by the manufacturers.

    Thanks for bringing it up, Motorcycledaily.

  • I commute on my 99′ DR650 as often as possible….even snow doesn’t bother me if the roadway is plowed. I have a duffel bag that I strap to the factory luggage rack to carry my change of clothes, rainsuit and laptop computer. Works out perfectly. The best part it is the all-surface suspension and tires….traffic jams are a thing of the past, as this bike allows me to go over curbs, medians, soft shoulders, freeway embankments…whatever I need to do to keep moving. I spend much less time getting to/from work than I do when I drive. All while returning 55mpg in an low-maintenance, high-reliability package.

  • Here are what I think a commuter bike should be:
    - Option for automatic so to attract female population into riding.
    - Hard bag storage that can hold a PC easily.
    - Low seat and upright sitting for long ride comfort
    - Good suspension
    - Great gas mileage at least 60mpg so FI is mandatory.
    - Light weight so to save gas and easy to maneuver in traffic, and confidence inspiring from rider
    - Speed range into 80-90mph would be ideal when riding on freeway.

    Promotions from federal and local goverments:
    - Tax break for commmter bike with high mgp
    - Designate a lane for bike or free to use HOV
    - Mandate a lower insurance rate.

  • How about CBR125, YZF-R125? The CBR is available in Canada and the YFZ is available in the UK with a rumor that it will be avail in Canada

  • How about the Yamaha TRX850 from years back? Not sold here in the US, but what a neat bike. Light, narrow, low end torque, and Japanese reliability. I think Kawasaki has something going for it with the Versys, and Ninja 650. A little better styling for the Versys perhaps, and after sales start to soften, a bump in displacement to 750cc would be a good thing. Honda also sells parallel twins in other countries that are commuter bikes, and I think they still sell a V twin 250cc Ducati Monster style bike in Australia that would be a great starter bike for new riders. I remember when Yamaha triple 750s (with shaft drive) were sold here in the 70s as sport bikes. Maybe costs are to high now to develop single engined units. The Japanese could use HD’s formula for spinning several different models from one engine design however. Street/Sport, Commuter, and Adventure Tourer perhaps?

    This is a great web site and and I check it every day for Moto news, usually first!

  • Kawasaki Versys 650. Does it all on the cheap.

  • What I’d like to see the Japanese manufactures produce is an updated single. Something along the lines of the Yamaha SR500. Maybe in 650cc with all the modern goodies for a better ride and higher reliability. My cash is in hand.

  • Thank you for the dailynews. I like what you people do for the industry.
    The future is looking good for motorcycles, scooters etc due to high fuel costs.
    Will more of the European style equipment be here in North America soon?
    I hope so and possible that better designed touring bikes for the single rider be available.
    I love my 650 V-Strom but feel there could be a more stylish effort made. (Sport touring version)
    I think the SV 650 motor in a lighter version of the FJR would be welcomed. (Belt drive) Or SV 800 to compete with the New BMW F800`s
    Quess I am looking for the ultimate touring lightweight.

  • The most fun bike dollar for dollar pound for pound 25 years ahead of its time… The Yamaha 550 Vision. I would love to have a new one with EFI and the fairing they put on in 83?. It was a great commuter then and would be one today without much modification.

  • Yes let’s have motorcycles with paddle shifting or automatic transmission, ABS, and of course a multi plated front, side and rear cowls over concealed air bags of course that retract or deploy according to the weather and most certainly outrigger guide wheels on either side that deploy at lean to keep low sides from happening or make for safe wheelies and grab those sensors off a Lexus not to park the thing but to automatically activate the brake, or throttle or traction control when you are getting too close to another object or approaching a yellow light and if you just used existing technology with a turbo blown hayabusa engine you could probably build it right now and still hustle along on your daily commute riding your 2009 “batbike” in your brooks brother suit.

  • Is a bike in the style of the sadly departed Kawasaki ZRX1200R. No acres of plastic to worry about damaging in the event of an off. A comfortable “normal” seating position, a torquey motor that allow you to not bother with constant gear changing. Exposed motor as God intended :). I just don’t understand the sport bike fascination for the street. Yes I have one , A GSXR750 but that is track only, where it can really be enjoyed. To really enjoy a sport bike on the street you are risking life and liberty in your pursuit of happiness ;).

    I do not understand the cruiser mentality , the feet forward position is incredibly uncomfortable . I cannot see how that is beneficial to proper bike control, likewise the “handlebars to the stars” look. I suppose that a lot of cruiser riders don’t really care about riding, but more for the look.

    I really enjoy supermoto’s they are a great bike for the street , but have a more narrow focus then the “standard” motorcycle. I have ridden my ZRX 500 miles in a day, and still managed to walk after that. I have ridden my ZRX on the track , where it held its own very ably. If you want to know what a UJM is capable of visit zrxoa.org.

    Anyway long live the UJM either 2 or 4 cylinder, the best bike for the general rider, perhaps folks in the US will get it some day. There is a reason why this style of bike is so popular in Europe, there a motorcycle is a tool rather then a toy. When Gas hits $4+ a gallon perhaps that will be the way here. One can hope.

  • I commute nearly year-round on a 1999 BMW F650. I have a top case and two side cases which store all my gear when I get to the office. I get almost 50mpg. Weather and simple necessity do require me to have car for grocery shopping, snowy days, and hauling friends around. My commute is around 20 miles one-way on a highway (not interstate) and neighborhood streets – I do not take the most direct route on purpose. My next vehicle will replace the Beemer with another bike – I’m going to keep my 2000 Acura as a driveway decoration as long as possible. I keep maintenance costs as low as I can by doing as much of it myself as possible (oil, fluids, wear items). The dual-sport aspect of the bike is a nice plus in that I can take potholes, ride on the shoulder, run over bricks (!) if necessary.

    Ideal commuter for me would have:
    Plenty of storage
    Infinite MPG (ie plug-in electric)
    High reliability and low maintenance costs
    Performance comparable to a 500cc motorcycle
    Price less than $10,000 US
    Rugged, ability to run over small animals, drop it and still drive it home

    That’s it. Until the electrics hit the market I am going to stick with BMW – I am eyeing a F800 as my next bike – reasonable (?) price, high MPG, decent storage, good performance. Hopefully I can continue to change the oil myself without invalidating the warranty.

    I’d buy an electric Honda ST1300 or BMW R1200RT tomorrow at almost any price.

  • If this is too late for comment then so be it. I love that SOMEBODY is finally asking this question in a public forum. I can only hope the manufacturers read it.

    I rode a Metropolitan 49 cc for 8000 miles with a top speed of 39 mph. If it had a top speed of 45 mph I would have kept it.

    I would own a Buell Blast if it didn’t shake like a jack-hammer at low rpm’s. Why? High mpg, light weight, hydraulically adjusted valves, belt drive, cast wheels, disc brakes, nearly flat seat (the large size), and the under frame exhaust are all features I like. I like the way it looks too.

    I owned a 250 cc Honda Reflex Scooter. I loved the wind protection. One day it lost traction at 10 mph while stopping and fell on the left side. It cost $1640.00 to repair in 2004. The under seat storage was very useful.

    Features I want in a bike: Self adjusting valves, shaft or belt drive, cast wheels (I hate cleaning spokes), tubeless tires, heated grips and seat, a removable windshield that blocks wind from the hands as well as the face, a long wide flat nearly level no step seat no higher than 31 inches like bikes of the ’70′s, smooth riding suspension with plenty of travel (4″ or more), removable splash guards that block wind from the legs similar to the old Honda Cub, optional saddle bag supports, turn signals that don’t need to be relocated when adding saddle bags, optional passenger backrest, optional trunk, anti-lock brakes, 4 gallon tank, a center stand, 599 cc’s or less with no vibration while idling or at speed (the anti-Blast motor), 70 mpg, under frame exhaust, weight under 400 pounds, red back-lit instruments on the triple clamp not the tank, very loud horn, accessory electrical plug-ins, modulating headlights and taillights, and multiple color options, no large body panels unless they are protected from damage by bumpers a la Honda ST or BMW touring bikes, dual trip meters, and a clock. Someone please manufacture this motorcycle. If it could be done as a scooter that would be OK too.

    Thanks again for bringing this up in a public forum.

  • I liked your articles on an ideal commuter bike. Did you realize that the Kawasaki Versys fit most of your criteria? You ought to try it out. I went from a 1500cc cruiser to the Versys have not regretted it once.

  • I daily commute to work on a BMW 2006 F650GS and I can’t think of a better motorcycle for the task. My requirements…

    Have
    Moderate Wind protection
    ABS Brakes
    Fuel Injection
    Standard Riding Position
    Luggage Attachments
    85mph cruising speed
    Heated handle grips
    60mpg

    Wish
    Longer maintenance intervals
    Shaft Drive

  • How about an “old school” trail bike – simple air cooled electric start ,4 stroke, 250 – 350 cc, good wheel travel but not excessive so it has a low seat height. Honda and Yamaha are close with the 230cc kids bikes. We don’t need a pro level enduro to just trail ride. Then make a dual sport version for commuters.

  • I’m thinking about a 450-500cc vertical twin, 4 gallon tank, rear rack, windshield. It must be very inexpensive, cheap on maintenance and parts, get 50 mpg. Most newer riders forget that a big bike used to be a 750 and a 1200 was as big as it got. I rode a 450 Honda for years including freeway commuting in SoCal and long road trips and it did everything I wanted. None of it in a spectacular fashion but it did it all and cheaply.

  • I started riding in 1970 and have owned and registered 56 streetbikes so far. Everything from a Honda CT90 to a Ducati S4R. As has been pointed out no bike will save money over a car in the long term – this has also been pointed out by my wife (of 31 years) many times. But, motorcycling is fun and that counts for something. Some of the funnest bikes I’ve owned were smallish “commuters” from the 70′s – RD’s, SR500 (3 of them). Just basic bikes that got the job done. Recently I’ve had the opportunity to ride some old English bikes which have been all very fun rides. A Triumph T100 “Tiger” was a real sweetheart that I simply fell in love with. So, my dream bike is for Triumph to bring out an exact copy of the old T100 but with the following changes. Doesn’t leak, leftside shift 5 speed, electronic ignition etc, decent brakes, better but authentic looking forks. Do NOT counterbalance the engine, or otherwise screw it up like the current “Bonneville”. Would a little $5000 500cc 350 pound 40 HP sweet handling (you’ll never know till you ride one) modern T100 be a seller? I’d fall on my knees, thank the Lord, and buy one right away. Oh, and I’d never ride a scooter.

  • Smoke a bergman – Ride a monster.

    My ’97 750 monster gets 50+ mpg, and is fun to ride on the weekends. It also looks cool, sounds like nothing else, keeps up at highway speeds, and is tolerant of beginners. The new 695 looks like a reasonable replacement.

  • Something like this maybe? http://www.flytheroad.com/

    I have no affiliation with this venture, no pun intended, but found it interesting. Some may argue that it is not a motorcycle, but interesting in that it does blur the lines a bit and I could deal with 100mpg.

  • This is (in response to/a submission for) the article:

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

    As an expat who lives and rides in Europe, it’s unfortunate to see that America’s purchasing attitudes will probably not allow manufacturers to bring already existing “perfect commuter bike(s)” to the US market.

    Many different models over here would fit the bill, but they aren’t speed demons, or insanely inexpensive, or insanely expensive (apparently an attractive trait for a motorcycle, a la foreign exotica bikes).

    As an example, Honda doesn’t import the Transalp 700 to the states for a reason. We as Americans whine about the perfect commuter, but with our marketing-instilled self-confidence problems, we wouldn’t buy it.

  • If a bike is going to be a good and economical commuter for the average adult, then it needs the following:

    • An upright sitting posture (sorry, but sports bikes just do not work for adults).

    • A reasonably powerful engine, say about 50 hp minimum.

    • Lots of storage capacity, probably saddle bags and a tail luggage rack. This is needed to store rain gear, jacket gloves etc., paper work or other stuff from the office and to be able to stop at the store on the way home and pick up a gallon of milk and a loaf of bread.

    • A comfortable passenger seat and passenger back rest in case you have to drop one of your kids off at school.

    • A small wind screen is nice.

    • Not too heavy, probably less than about 500 lbs.

    • A turning radius that makes getting in and out of your average strip mall parking lot easy.

    • 40 to 50 miles per gallon minimum.

    • Something kind of like my 1977 Kawasaki KZ750B that I bought new 30 years ago and am still commuting to work on. Still waiting for something better.

    Thanks for the forum.

  • Kimberly, reading all those interesting responses got me thinking. Most of us think in terms of motorcycles and motorcycling when we mentally construct the ideal commuter. We want it to be a competent motorcycle.

    But non motorcyclist may just want a cheap fuel sipper that gets from A to B in a reasonable fashion. Small scooters come close to doing that.

    But I think there is one factor that might hinder non motorcycle folks from making the leap. Many states require a motorcycle license to operate two wheel vehicles that can exceed 30 mph. A commute where traffic speeds stay in the 30 mph range must be pretty rare. If I were a non motorcyclist contemplating a scooter, I would be very hesitant about going out in traffic with a 30 mph top speed. On the other hand I think I would be quite put off by the bother to get a motorcycle license
    - maybe even intimidated. Drop the whole idea.

    Now if the states were to up the max speed, without a motorcycle license, to 50 mph, then scooter commuting would look much more attractive. When you think about it, many people get their motorcycle license through the MSF programs. They ride around a parking lot for a few hours on a 125 cc bike, maybe never exceeding 30 mph, and having no idea what its like to be in traffic on two wheels, let alone at normal traffic speeds. And, a lot of the learning time is taken up with getting proficient at shifting gears (especially for those who only drove automatic cars), which is irrelevant with scooters.

    Just a thought.

  • The big dual-sports would be perfect if they weren’t so tall. Put those engines in standard street clothes with round headlights, analog gauges (speedo and tach), five-gallon fuel tanks and long, flat, two-up saddles. Use a belt final-drive and add a back-up kick-starter. Now an aftermarket fairing and luggage of the owner’s choice can easily be added. Make a 250cc version as well for MSF and people who don’t need to go on the freeway and want even more MPG.

  • A friend sent me a link to Part 4 of your “Economical Commuter” articles and I have now read the whole series with great interest. I am a former motorcyclist. In late 2003, I switched to scooters. In the annual 2005 Cycle World Buyer’s Guide, the blurb about the Vespa Granturismo scooter reads, “…the GT is meant as a daily commuter, but it’s capable of much more than that; in fact we’ve heard of one fellow who rode cross-country on one. Across America, that is, not Italy.” That “fellow” was me. If you don’t mind, I realize that I am quite late to the party, but I have a different perspective on your question that may interest you.

    I can sum it up in one word, “Italy.”

    Italians have been paying extremely high gas prices for decades and, as a result, they have evolved an extremely sophisticated market for commuter motorbikes. Essentially, I claim their market has developed to the point that they have already answered your question. More specifically, they have answered your question in the useful sense of, “What kind of commuter vehicle will people actually buy?” As opposed to “What kind of commuter vehicle do people say they want?” Here is the answer (Numbers taken from Cyberscooter.it).

    2007 Italian Scooter Sales

    Rank- Mfg – Model – # Units Sold
    1 – Honda – SH150i – 21,778
    2 – Honda – SH300i – 18,644
    3 – Honda – SH125i – 15,983
    4 – Yamaha – XMax 250 – 11,451
    5 – Yamaha – TMax 500 – 10,589
    6 – Suzuki – Burgman 400 – 9,382
    7 – Yamaha – XCity 250 – 8,197
    8 – Kymco – People S 200 – 6,435
    9 – Yamaha – Majesty 400 – 6,026
    10 – Vespa – LX 125 – 5,909

    If you want to determine the characteristics of a commuter vehicle people will actually buy, all you have to do is make a list of the specifications of the above ten machines. The above machines (with a couple minor exceptions) can be described quite simply – automatic transmission scooter, Japanese quality/reliability/parts-availability, big wheels, comfortable ergonomics, adequate speed for Interstate Highway use, adequate underseat storage, luggage race for a top case, wind protection, and a 12 Volt socket. That is it. Further, these machines are already being manufactured and sold (The Hondas are designed and built in Italy!) in the rest of the world.

    Of course, nothing is ever that simple, is it? If I post my above discussion on an Internet scooter forum, fierce arguments will ensue, centered on discussion about the USA market being different from the Italian market, USA licensing and registration regulations being different, yadda, yadda, yadda. However, at the end of the day, my list stands and it bears repeating:

    1) Automatic Transmission Scooter
    2) Japanese Quality, Reliability, and Parts Availability
    3) Big Wheels
    4) Comfortable Ergonomics
    5) Adequate Speed for Interstate Highways
    6) Adequate Underseat Storage
    7) Luggage Rack for a Top Case
    8) Wind protection
    9) 12 Volt socket

    I am fully aware that nothing is ever as simple as what I have presented above. A book could be written on the different aspects of this matter, however, my real point is that this work has already been done by the manufacturers. They already have mature products based on their research and experience in the fiercely competitive Italian motorbike market.

    Thank you very much for giving me a listen. I apologize if my “solution” offends your hard-core motorcycle clientele, but different times call for different solutions.

  • Yes, I would commute on an automatic scooter. We went all over southern Croatia on a Piaggio 250, last June, while on vacation. I loved it! I am rebuilding our next commuter; a $500 1976 KZ900. The wife asked me to get the bike in the garage (for 15 years) running and we can leave the Volvo and F150 home. We have a short commute (14 miles round trip), so a scooter would be perfect, but spending the money and time on the Kawasaki will be more fun. I think the 250CC 4 cycle Italian scooters are ideal (Italy was covered with them).

  • As I am a salesman for a motorcycle dealer and a long time motorcyclist I read with great interest the responses to you Perfect Commuter Bike question. What concerns me is that most of the responders are missing the point entirely. It is a given that we are a society driven by convenience and want all the latest and greatest technology to accompany our daily Starbucks and therein lies the problem.

    As regarding what the manufacturers should build we seem to be overlooking the primary factor that will attract the new rider/commuter. That being cost. All the ammenities mentioned such as saddlebags, windshields, and the like are great but when added by the manufacturer they significantly increase the cost of the vehicle.

    In reality if a person is going to ride a bike then they need to learn to ride a bike. What we need is what I like to call “Just your basic motorcycle”. No frills, no fancy plastic, no add-ons, just a bike that will get you from point A to point B and back again.

    The truth is a new rider gets overwhelmed with all the choices and options available and most are scared off by the price. Let’s not forget that if you ride a motorcycle you need to learn how to maintain a motorcycle. It just goes with the territory. That’s the philosophy that worked for the rest of us and it is also the one I impart to all my customers. It’s not rocket science.

    So what is the perfect commuter? Let’s see, back in the 60′s and 70′s Honda had a great little bike called the CB450, “Just Your Basic Motorcycle” ! I’ll concede the value of adding fuel injection for all the environmentalists out there. No frills! Afterall, one of the joys of ownership is personalizing your bike to suit your needs and tastes. Give us a bike that looks like a bike. A bike that everyone can relate to.

    A bike this size would be easy to ride, economical, and capable of going anywhere. I can remember riding a CB350 from Chicago to Miami back in ’72 and I lived to continue riding.

    The key to getting more new riders is simplicity of design, ease of operation and COST OF PURCHASE! And by the way, if you don’t want to shift, buy a scooter.

  • Interesting discussion going on about economical commuter bikes.

    I commute every day on my motorcycle, except when the roads are snowy/icy (which is a significant amount of time from December to March here in Vermont). I’ve barely driven my car in the last couple months.

    I’m finding that my V-Strom 650 is an ideal commuter bike. Nearly every fill-up, I find that I’ve gotten about 55mpg, and with a windshield and handguards, it offers decent weather protection.

    With the cost of gas rising with no end in sight, I’m seriously thinking about studding a set of knobby tires for my Honda dual-sport and using it to commute through next winter. It doesn’t get as high gas mileage as the V-Strom, but it’s a lot better than my car.

  • Everybody else seems to have logged their opinion, so I’ll just put my own answers in:

    In keeping with the mpg theme we have had around here lately, what sort of bike would you recommend manufacturers introduce to the U.S. market as an economical commuter?

    They ‘should’ introduce a variety of motorcycles tuned for fuel-efficiency instead of performance. Lower compression ratios would allow lower octane fuel and the compression chamber could then be shaped to run on a leaner mixture without detonation. Intake tracts would be designed to facilitate fast-moving air at low engine speeds rather than high-volume air at high engine speeds. Since low reciprocating mass and light weight are already concerns, it might be possible to merely change the heads and the FI mapping while using existing engine cases from sportbikes. Belt drive seems like a no-brainer for these applications.

    They should provide us with some more 400-500cc machines as many of us are simply too heavy of body to get around on a 250. They should style the machines similarly to what already sells: scooters, standards, cruisers, sportbikes. Many people will ride a little bike with a lame motor if it looks cool to them. Call it the ‘Katana effect’. I think such bikes might actually sell.

    It might also be worth it to try and design a total bike around maximizing fuel efficiency while having enough torque to haul a full-grown American up to highway speed. I remember when the Hayabusa came out it many thought it was a freakish abomination due to the aerodynamic necessity in its design. But it was fast as hell and we forgave its ugliness, at least enough of us did for it to sell for years. Now its part of the motorcycle landscape and doesn’t even garner a second glance. Well, a decent-sized bike that gets scooter-like mileage might be able to get a similar free pass on looks. Seems risky, though. From a business standpoint I’d say you’re better off making it look ‘sporty’ and advertising higher mileage and lower price than actual sportbikes.

    But I will buy none of these. If I’m going to ride a 500 it’s going to be maddeningly fast and weigh nothing. A carbon subframe would be expected, not touted. Frame sliders and delrin axle bungs would be standard features. You get the idea.

    As some readers pointed out, tire costs may be higher, but amortization of the purchase price of the vehicle would more than off-set that cost, presumably (a $20,000 “economy car” versus a $6,000 two-wheeler).

    This depends upon how long you are keeping your vehicle. I’ve had a couple of four-wheelers go over 220,000 miles, and i’m not that old. These have saved me the expense of buying a new vehicle and honestly required little maintenance along the way. How many bikes last that long? I know I’ve run through a few in the time it took to wear out the Volvo. (N.B. these were both diesels. Stone-age simplicity saves a lot of money over the long run.)

    A bike tuned for mileage might also be engineered for longevity and minimal maintenance. My current ride has 34k mi on it, practically new if it was a Subaru, but it’s a bike and that makes it pretty old. Facts like these make it impossible for me to see a bike as economically practical. The return on investment is simply for the joy that it brings, which is, as they say ‘priceless’.

    On the other hand, i’m heavy in debt and it is paid for. So, the $15 tank of gas is a great fiscal relief versus the $150 tanks of diesel my truck takes.

    Would you commute on an automatic-transmissioned scooter?

    Personally, no. But I do delight in the increase in scooter traffic I’ve seen over the past several years. As proud as I am of my fellow citizens, a scooter will simply not serve my purposes.

    I, for one, freely acknowledge that my motorcycle serves a social purpose as well as practical and entertainment purposes. To be perfectly blunt, the female attention more than offsets the scorn from fellow motorcyclists who think me a ‘poser’ or ‘squid’ for riding a sportbike in an urban environment. Trust me when I get a chance to put a peg down I do, but I’ll never be as fast as any of you guys who do trackdays. That and I’ve discovered that sportbikes do function perfectly well in the rain and cold, so why should I ride what you’re riding?

    Even if I couldn’t afford a sportbike, I’d never buy a scooter as long as they cost more than an old UJM and four carb rebuild kits. If I want to look like a dork and save money, I’ll ride one of my bicycles to work.

    Put me down for NO on the scooter.

    With plenty of built-in luggage?

    Meh. When I need to haul a lot of gear, I drive or take the bus. I’ve got a pair of soft saddlebags that can easily support a weekend’s vacation. I find my single-strap backpack unobtrusive both aerodynamically and chiropractically. The same has been true of the whole variety of bikes i’ve ridden: standards, sportbikes, even Harleys. I want to be on a motorcycle first. After that, luggage considerations are secondary and flexibility is most important to me. Built-In luggage would presumably be hard bags, which would have to be removed and stored somewhere, leaving ugly BMW-style mounting hardware in their place. Built-in storage, like the underseat of a scooter, cannot be removed and I ‘DO NOT WANT’. If I desire to go X-country, am honestly prepared to FedEx my personal items to a distant location and meet them there. So, I guess my answer is NO.

    I do ask one thing, though: My CBR900RR offers enough storage under the pillion for raingear, disc lock, and a spare pair of gloves and shades for unplanned passengers. This tiny little plastic box has saved me numerous hassles, but the tail section still looks sleek and streamlined since I hacked off the rear fender. It’s enough for absolute necessities but i’ll never be tempted to haul a bunch of dead weight in it. Now that the sportbike manufacturers have begun to design away from undertail exhaust systems, I hope they will go back to giving us some small storage space in that area. Since that is ‘plenty’ for me, you could say my answer is YES.

    A traditional motorcycle?

    The first bike I bought new was a GS1200 Bandit Nekkid. That seems fairly traditional and if it hadn’t been stolen I’d still be commuting on it. I commuted 50 miles every day for two years, rain, snow, cold, etc. on an air-cooled Seca II. Except for being rat-ugly that’s a pretty traditional motorcycle. So, YES.

    A motorcycle with an automatic transmission?

    I’m sorry, I just can’t go for that. Automatic transmissions are ok for scooters, and maybe for a few motorcycles for the benefit of motorcyclists who may not be able to operate a clutch. But by and large we motorcyclists are an odd bunch. We ride for different reasons but i think many enjoy a sensation that i find central to motorcycling: that of being in (near) complete control of the vehicle. Shifting gears is part of that. If I lost the use of my left foot or my clutch hand you can bet there’s an air-shifter gonna be sold soon. When I sprained my left ankle I discovered that i can reach the shifter with my hand, anyhow. So, NO.

    Putting auto-trans on motorcycles in an effort to appeal to a more maintsream American audience is a mistake and a waste of energy. Most people are just never going to be comfortable on a motorcycle. Adventurous souls might be interested in trying out a scooter. Most people in cars just think we are plain nuts. It’s a long way to go from pointing your finger at a nut to deciding you can try to be one of the nuts. I can’t see that doubling their mpg is enough to overcome that distance. They’d rather shell out for the hybrid car. Belt vs. chain drive means nothing in that argument. Ditto twin vs. thumper vs. inline-4 or 350cc v. 800cc. You might as well ask these people to hang-glide to work.

    Diesel is not going to make a difference to that larger audience. If anything they will be less likely to take interest in a diesel bike because they would then have to change two habits instead of just one. The only reason diesel pickups have been successful is because they can make such ungodly gobs of torque and a truck is inherently heavy. Also they have huge fuel tanks which helps people who can’t plan ahead regarding where to find fuel. Diesel passenger cars never caught on over here, except with a certain kind of mechano-dork like myself. But motorcycles are already mechano-geeky, so a diesel bike would only appeal to somebody who is already a motorcyclist and also a super-/uber- gearhead or a complete fuel economy-obsessed freak. I suppose it would sell if you put a BMW badge on it.

    The whole time I lived in DC, I was more afraid to commute to work by car than by bike. If some idiot decided to change lanes without looking, they could hit my car, f_ up my paintjob, cause me to have to pull over and wait for the police, collect insurance info., make a claim, haggle with the insurers to pay a fair amount, let somebody else work on my car, and be late for work. If they do that when I’m on my motorcycle, no problem, because I AM NOT THERE. I already moved out of that space before they came into it. Plus when I get to work I know I will be able to find a place to park where nobody’s going to scratch my car because they can’t park or break a window to steal out the change in the ashtray or key my car because it’s red, or steal it because you can’t always chain your car to a telephone pole. To a motorcyclist my arguments probably make perfect sense. To a ‘normal’ person it probably sounds insane. They are the risk-adverse, who aren’t satisfied unless they are guaranteed a room temperature seat at all times. We are the risk acceptors who can handle a little rawness for the other benefits we enjoy.

    How else can I say it? We are simply different. Even the scooter people aren’t like the rest of us motorcyclists. However, I’m more than willing to accept anyone who rides a scooter as a part of our diverse hobby.

    Hey, that’s my two dollars and twenty-two cents.

Thanks to everyone who took the time to respond.