How To Select The Perfect Motorcycle By Knowing Yourself First

Match your personal archetype to your perfect bike type

Be The Horse illustration
Be the horse...Illustration by Morgan Schweitzer

The Japanese have a term, "jinba ittai," which translates to, "the rider and horse as one." Some years ago, Mazda picked this up to describe how it wanted the MX-5 Miata driving experience to feel. But the concept really is more suited to motorcyclists, who should absolutely choose the correct "horse" for their type of riding. Imagine André the Giant flogging a race-kitted Vespa LX 50 through the Carousel at Sonoma Raceway. That obviously doesn't make much sense, nor does the vision of 4-foot-8 Snooki caning a Triumph Rocket III along the Tail of the Dragon. Borrowing from Chevy Chase in Caddyshack, "To be one with the horse, you must be the horse, Danny."

Virtually all spec charts show curb weight and seat height, but these are only part of what determines how easy a bike is for different riders to handle. Big, heavy cruisers often feel lighter than they really are due to the leverage afforded by their wide handlebars, their low seating, and center of mass. However, despite a sportbike’s much lighter weight, stretching over its tank to reach the low clip-on handlebars might actually be harder for some riders. So who are you, and what is your best horse? Here are four handy strategies for matching your personal archetype to your perfect bike type.

1. Size matters. Get a bike that matches you dimensionally, including the reach to the bars and pegs, as well as seat height. In a car, the seat, steering wheel, and sometimes pedals adjust to fit 95 percent of the population. Most bikes don't, so choose carefully.

2. So does weight. Honda's Grom weighs 225 pounds and Indian's Roadmaster tips the scales at 930. Your ideal is somewhere in between, so find a bike whose mass you can safely handle—including picking it up when it goes all flounder on you.

3. Pick perfect power. From a safety standpoint, the amount of power you need depends on your riding. For my money, 800cc and up lets you beat city traffic, claim-jump any freeway lane anytime, and execute quick passes on the highway.

4. Tailor to talent. Choose a bike whose skills match your own. For a Walter Mitty, wrestling an R1200GS down a slippery trail and through an icy creek might be a whole lot of no fun. But if you're truly a wild hog, get one!