24 August 2009

New horse in the stable

After 9 years of faithful service, my old '81 Yamaha XS400 has done it's job well. Originally purchased to serve as a "learner bike", I liked it enough that I just kept on riding it. However, advancing age means things are starting to break and 28 years after its manufacture, replacement parts are becoming scarce (some are already impossible to find). So, it was time to upgrade to a bike that was a little newer and a little more popular so that parts (both junkyard and factory) were more available. The day my kickstand literally snapped off was the final motivation.

Let me introduce you to the Ninja 500R. I'd take a picture of my own bike but it's dark out. So, here's a stock photo (correct color, though):

Yes, yes, I know the first thing most people are going to think is "a sport bike? You're gonna kill yourself!". Actually, I got "you're going to die" comments all the time on my significantly more pedestrian Yamaha, so I suppose I should not be surprised. Maybe you'll call it justification, but allow me to explain the reasons I got it.

First, it's not a supersport. The "crotch rockets" or "bullet bikes" that get a bad name from dangerous riders have 4-cylinder engines with power-to-weight ratios that are unworldly. Those are the bikes that young men with more money than brains tend to destroy along with themselves at 100+ MPH speeds. However, not all supersport riders behave like that... I'd even say that the majority of supersport riders are safe and responsible, but it's the idiots that make the headlines (especially the ones without safety gear). Just like people, not guns, commit crime, it's the riders, not the bikes, that turn themselves into organ donors. However stories about safe gun owners and safe riders don't sell papers, so you generally don't hear about them.

I'll be riding the Ninja the same way I rode the Yamaha -- cautiously and within the speed limit.

Regardless, this is still not a supersport. It has half the engine, only two cylinders, which means that it cannot do roll-on wheelies -- it simply does not have the power. (This is good, because wheelies are not on my agenda.) In other words, the sporty appearance is writing checks the small little engine cannot cash. This lack of acceleration also means that insurance for it is cheap compared to a supersport.

So why the Ninja? It's a very popular bike, which solves the parts problem. The model has not really changed since 1994 (and still shares a lot of parts with Ninja 500s back to 1987). This makes the purchase price lower, because Kawasaki didn't invest any money on retooling. It also means that I can grab almost any Ninja 500 part and it'll fit my bike.

And speaking of fit, my old bike was fine for short commutes but on the rare occasion I took it on a longer trip, the seat was too far forward which made for a sore tailbone and cramped legs. I haven't made any long trips on the Ninja yet but so far it seems to fit me better. It also has a windshield, something my old bike lacked, which means I don't get beat up by the wind anymore.

I haven't rode the new bike much yet -- only to get it home -- because the prior owner let the carbs gum up (this happens if you don't ride often enough). Tonight I cleaned those up after removing the EPA anti-tamper plugs. I had to "tamper" with the pilot jets, you see, to clean them. Stupid EPA. That done, Lemontree then made me change the oil because it looked dark, and I didn't complain.

Tomorrow I'll transfer the plate and registration and get the old bike ready to sell to someone else, so it can resume its role as a learner bike. I'll make a discount for blog readers if you're interested. ;)

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