Motorcycles are, by almost any definition, impractical. They offer little in the way of safety, you can’t carry much on them, and they’re miserable in foul weather. I say that as someone who currently owns two and has done all kinds of silly things on them, like crossing Indiana in a snowstorm. When talking about a “practical” motorcycle, you must speak in relative terms.
When I decided that I really ought get that second motorcycle, my friend Matt offered some unsolicited advice. “If your A-Bike is something practical,” he told me, “your B-Bike must be something insane. And nothing is more practical than your BMW GS.”
He had a point. BMW’s go-anywhere, do-anything adventure-touring GS is about as practical as a pair of suspenders. (And about as sexy, but I digress.) I love my 1150GS, which I inherited seven years ago from my father. He bought it from a neurosurgeon, who spent an ungodly sum on modifications that included a pair of enormous PIAA lamps. I’ve ridden my black bug-eyed beast everywhere, including Mexico, and I’ve commuted on it for years.
At the other end of the spectrum sits the Ducati 900SS/SP I owned before getting the GS. It is a glorious but batshit crazy bit of Italian insanity the good Dr. Hunter S. Thompson immortalized in “Song of the Sausage Creature.” (That, by the way, is the finest review of a motorcycle yet written, and if you haven’t read it, do so immediately. Again, I digress.) An SS is an ethereal machine, a nearly perfect engine mounted in a nearly perfect trellis frame wrapped in a little black dress of a fairing with a wheel at each end and not one thing more. It barks and clatters in a symphony of exhaust and clutch noise, pulling like an angry mule in every gear. Nothing I’ve ridden or driven before or since felt so primal or visceral.
Yet that bike was a colossal pain in the ass, a persnickety thing that demanded no end of attention. It burned gas and cash in equal measure, before nearly killing me. Repeatedly. A shoddy weld on the aluminum swingarm cracked, and only God and Columbanus know how long I’d ridden on it before spotting the problem. An axle nut backed off the rear end at freeway speed about an hour into a three-day ride. I threw a chain while leaned over in a turn. The bike finally tossed me over the bars in a spectacular highside when a puddle of antifreeze ambushed me at the apex of a downhill left. I fractured my right elbow, decided it was time to move on, and handed the bike off to a friend. A decade later, I still smile when I think about that always wonderful, often infuriating, thoroughly impractical motorcycle.
Which brings us back to The Rule of the B-Bike.
Few people live by this rule so fervently as my friend Matt, who recently returned home from a meandering three-year ride from California to India by way on a Suzuki DR650. He left the DR in India and picked up a Suzuki V-Strom 650, a bike second only to a GS in practicality (and homeliness). His B-Bike is an MV Agusta Brutale 750. It’s got a hockey stick for a power curve, a throttle like a light switch, and an attitude best described as bad. Matt says it’s the only bike he’s ever feared. He loves it.
He offered a few suggestions for a second bike in an email from Croatia, where he was rebuilding the DR’s engine. Or maybe he was in Turkey, teaching English. In any event, the only one I remember was an ‘05 Suzuki GSX-R1000, a 444-pound, 178-mph rocket with a 147-horsepower engine that sang like Michelle Bradley. Some call it the last of the pure sportbikes. Most just call it Godzilla. I once rode an ‘07, which makes more power but carries more mass. I opened it up from a standstill on a freeway on-ramp to see what it could do. Remember the scene in Star Wars where the stars elongate as Han Solo makes the jump to lightspeed? A Gixxer 1000 can bend time. “More” is always the answer for me, so I knew things would not end well if I bought one.
“How about a fifth-generation Honda VFR?” I offered.
I wasn’t there, but I know for sure Matt groaned before pounding out a reply calling the VFR a stupid idea. He pointed out that I’d already owned a sixth-gen VFR—a 25th anniversary model in the right and proper red, white, and blue retro livery. Besides, he said, the Honda is supremely practical. He then went on, at great length, about the virtues of his recommended Suzuki GSX-R.
I saw his point. The Viffer is supremely practical, and not your typical B-Bike. It’s the Goldilocks of motorcycles, just the right combination of speed, handling, and comfort. It commutes, carves corners, and crosses continents with ease. It is the perfect motorcycle.
Admittedly, the wild Gixxer appealed to me. I tracked down a beautiful blue and white one—the only acceptable color, by the way—with crazy low miles in Indiana. Or maybe it was Ohio. I don’t remember. Far enough away that riding it home to California would have been both great fun and sheer hell.
While searching Craigslist for a candidate a little closer to home, I found a bright red 2001 VFR with even lower miles, just 20 minutes from my house. I called the guy. He’d bought it new, put 12,000 miles on it in 10 years, then injured his back. He tucked it under a cover in the garage and never rode it again. Aside from a Two Brothers exhaust and Pirelli tires, it was bone stock, almost mint. He even had the owner's manual.
That was three years ago. Since then I’ve swapped the Two Brothers for a polished Staintune, installed a Nitron shock, and rebuilt the fork with a cartridge kit. That made a perfect bike even better. The VFR’s unparalleled combination of speed, style, and comfort puts it about midway between the Beemer and the Duc.
Matt’s right. If your A-Bike is practical, your B-Bike should be insane. But sometimes the best course takes you right down the middle. After spending an hour on my VFR, Matt agreed that I’d made the right choice. The VFR taught us that one motorcycle can be your A-Bike and your B-Bike.