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Small motorcycles or why you do not need 1000cc to have fun

Saturday, September 20, 2014 @ 08:15

After riding small displacement bikes for seven years now, I feel it is high time to explain myself – why do I bother; why not “upgrade” to a bigger machine?Lukas J on his motorcycle

First of all, I must point out that it is not some sort of twisted loyalty or mania for compact engines. Well, that is not completely true – sometimes it is. Like with everything in life, we try to be devoted and respectful for the things we truly love. 
In the following section, I will discuss some key light motorcycle advantages that I find relevant for both new and experienced riders.
I would like to mention that I had the chance to experience all of the skill points, which I will come back to in the next paragraph, while on a two-day motorcycle trip in Ecuador. I felt extremely comfortable and confident on the rented bike within just a couple of riding hours. Furthermore, I could truly appreciate the amazing curvy roads with numerous hairpin turns amidst the so called “Volcano alley” of Ecuador.
Finally, the choice of travelling with a 200cc bike proved to be a smart one in the end, as I could easily handle the light machine in sandy off-road terrain and push it out on my own after getting stuck in a muddy river crossing. One important reminder – a good idea would be to avoid resting camera cases or other electronics against your tool bag, but that is a completely different story… 

Skill based

  • New riders often experience that they can master small bikes much faster. The sensation is based on the fact that the rider begins to feel confident sooner due to acquiring full control and response on the machine after less time compared to bigger bikes. It is especially useful for learning how to use the bike’s transmission efficiently, as you will have to play a lot with the clutch and gears to beat those persistent cyclists and scooter guys...
  • High versatility, manoeuvrability and response makes small bikes the prefect little monsters for practicing and experimenting while minimizing the risk of serious injury and financial loss. Furthermore, their characteristic manoeuvrability enables the rider to embrace rapid cornering and make full use of next to unlimited freedom in heavy traffic situations. 
  • Due to fast response, small bikes are ideal for learning how to plan ahead while on a motorbike, raising the awareness of the rider as a result. Simple control and jumpiness of the tiny rockets can be the perfect properties to develop quick reactions and life-saving riding instincts before moving onto more powerful machines.

Most of the technical advantages come from my personal experience as well. Starting with the fact that I was able to own both a cross and an enduro, later a cross and a street bike at the same time due to the low initial costs. It was amazing to know that despite the rain, I could always go to the forests on two wheels. Regarding the impressive mileage, my two sea-crossing trips proved the point to me – I could easily ride the 600km distance with just two buckets of petrol. Finally, I am constantly impressed by how dynamic I can be in heavy traffic while on my YBR. And all of this comes with straightforward do-it-yourself mechanics!


  • Small displacement bikes usually come at significantly lower initial investments, so the rider can easily afford a new machine and be the first owner. Furthermore, customization and replacement parts often come at lower prices.
  • Nothing can surpass the economic qualities of small displacement bikes. How can you argue with a mileage of 33 km/L as an average for most small range (125-250cc) Japanese bikes compared to efficient BMW machines (650cc) that can run at 24 km/L?
  • Lightweight motorcycles have proven to have obvious advantages when commuting in cities and while travelling or touring light. Their low fuel consumption combined with nearly the same packing capacity is preferred by many. Furthermore, this is supported by their flexibility and easy repair procedures.  
  • Yet another important advantage is the ease of maintenance and robustness. The combination of the two creates a perfect environment for learning about the mechanics of motorbikes by fixing and maintaining the bike on your own.
  • Despite volumetrically smaller engines, most modern motorbikes are equipped with high-end technology such as ABS brake systems, liquid cooled engines, electronically controlled fuel injection, etc. Therefore, one must understand that the choice of riding small does not necessarily include a technological downgrade of any sort.  
Lukas J holiday in Equador
Hopefully the described highlights have sown a seed of curiosity in some of you, fellow riders. It is obvious that there is much more to lightweight bikes than keeping the throttle howling at 8500RPM to finally feel the wind or choosing lightweight camping gear to avoid losing precious top speed, or racing with cyclists in heavy traffic, or being overtaken by THAT GUY on a CBR who is flying at 200km/h, or even feeling like you are in the middle of a hurricane while overtaking trucks.
Not to mention filling 10 litres of petrol every 300 kilometres, sensing every little bump and twist in the road or the feeling of breaking world records when you finally reach your inconceivable top speed of 125km/h! 
Some riders will giggle and say: “But I can achieve 125km/h in 5 seconds on my Super XXX 5000!”, to which I would simply sit back and respond casually: “I’m sure you can, but where’s the challenge in that, huh?”. How is that comparable with a deep and spiritually engaging experience of truly connecting with your bike and skilfully bringing it to its peak performance on a daily basis? 
I have read an online discussion  recently, where one rider answered a couple of questions regarding the topic of riding small. As it turns out, our views are similar; hence this article is not just a set of one person’s ramblings - now there is at least the two of us!
What is happening in your head while you are riding a small bike? What is the main difference?
“Your mind stops thinking about just twisting the throttle, and more about the road, hills and what's around you. The skills that you can learn from these bikes are incredible, and they really do change the way you see the whole world of motorcycling. 10/10, would recommend for at least a week for ANYONE on two wheels.“
All strapped and ready to cross the Baltic sea once more
Is there any controversy regarding this?
“Sure… I often meet riders who claim that small displacement bikes are simply too slow for them. A valid argument for a professional racer, I would say. However, assuming that you are a responsible rider, why would you need a machine that peaks at 300 km/h?
Unless, obviously, you ride on a race track. Whereas commuting and touring hardly ever should require higher speeds than 130 km/h if you live outside of Germany – the land of das autobahn, you are not suicidal and actually enjoy seeing what surrounds you while riding.”
All in all, it does not really matter whether you choose to ride small or big as long as you are on two wheels and you enjoy every second of it. However, the aim of this article was to shed some light on the existence of the lightweight motorcycle world which, I hope, by now you believe in. And now you know why some people love it. 
We could discuss the advantages of both David and Goliath all day long: is it better to go small when commuting in heavy traffic or are large displacement bikes are better on long tours in mountainous terrain - many different circumstances and many great solutions. Whereas the main message is that every rider must try each bike type and all riding styles at least once in order to embrace the change and take in the corresponding challenges to develop one’s skills. As Dr. Andrew Weil had once said: “You've got to experiment to figure out what works.”
Written by Lukas J.
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