Choosing a motorbike can be a big challenge. Do you buy what your best mate has? Do you buy what the guy at the riding school suggested? Do you buy what the salesman at the bike shop is pushing you to buy? Or do you buy the bike that's really right for YOU?
Whether this is your very first bike, or you're coming back to riding a motorbike after a long break, one thing you'll find is that there's a HUGE range to choose from in makes, models and styles of motorcycle.
Your first challenge is to choose the STYLE of bike that suits you best. This will depend on what type of riding you intend to do. It's all very well buying a scooter, but if your passion is weekend riding in the mountains it ain't gonna cut the mustard! Similarly, Harley's and Ducati's sound great and look a dream, but if you're main riding is in heavy traffic every day, you'll soon wish you'd bought something else.
So how do you make the decision that's right for you? Well, let's start by looking at the different styles of motorcycle and what they have to offer.
Sports bikes are for adrenalin junkies who like their rides relatively short and full of power and excitement. Examples of typical sports bikes include the Yamaha YZF-R1 (pictured), the Suzuki GSX-R750, the Honda CBR600RR, the Kawasaki Ninja 650R and the Ducati 999.
If you're restricted to 250 class motorcycles, you might be choosing between the Kawasaki Ninja 250R, the Hyosung GT250R, the Suzuki RGV250, the Honda NSR250 and the Aprilia RS250.
What ever you choose, sports bikes are about speed, not comfort. They are typically light, agile machines with a huge power-to-weight ratio and adrenalin-pumping acceleration. Experienced riders really appreciate the precision of sports bikes, which are usually designed to closely resemble their racing cousins. Sports bikes become an extension of the rider's body and very small weight shifts can be used to control the bike through tight corners and sweeping bends.
The negative of sports bikes is that they typically don't behave very well at slow speeds in heavy traffic. They tend to have a high centre of gravity and the rider sits in a very "prone" position - ie, stretched out over the fuel tank without a lot of room to move when you start to get fatigued. So they become a bit painful on long rides. They also don't tend to suit older riders who suffer from joint pain or stiffness.
Cruisers are for comfort junkies. If you really want to look the part and be able to ride all day without getting fatigued, a cruiser might be the right bike for you. Typical examples of the modern cruiser at the Kawasaki Vulcan Classic (pictured), the Suzuki Boulevard, the Yamaha V-Star or VMAX, the Honda Shadow and the Harley-Davidson DynaGlide.
If you're restricted to the 250 class, your choices would include the Yamaha V-Star 250, the Suzuki Intruder LC250, the Kawasaki Eliminator 250VN or the Hyosung Aquila 250. While these are small bikes, they are styled after their larger brothers and can look very stylish. My wife had an Eliminator 250 which looked like a Harley and bikers would come and stare at it when ever she parked it, even wanting to sit on it to see what it was like.
The real advantage of cruisers is their upright sitting position and, in most cases, the forward positioning of the brake and gear levers, which allows your legs to be partly or fully extended when riding. They are designed for long haul riding in comfort and style, usually quite low revving with lots of top end speed but not a lot of acceleration.
Negatives of cruisers include their weight, which can be excessive, their fuel consumption (sometimes very thirsty) and their lack of ground clearance (which in the bigger Vulcans and Harleys can mean scraping on roundabouts and tight corners. They also can require a bit of muscle to handle, especially if you happen to lay one on the ground. They are usually more expensive than other styles as well.
Sports Tourers are a little rarer than the first two styles we've covered here, but well worth considering all the same. They combine the speed and handling of a sports bike with the comfort and style of a cruiser, with some obvious compromises. Typical examples of the sports tourer class are the Yamaha FJR1300 (pictured), the BMW K1200GT, the Moto Guzzi Norge, Honda ST1100, the Suzuki Bandit 1200S, the Yamaha FZ1, the Honda VFR, the Triumph Spring ST and the Buell S3T Thunderbolt.
As far as I know, there are no sports tourers in the 250 class (sorry, it would be something of a contradiction).
As the owner of a sports tourer myself (FJR1300), I can attest to the combination of power and comfort that sometimes really shocks riders of other styles of motorcycle. They are quick and agile, able to handle the twisties with ease and keep up with almost anything, while at the same time they can easily be made comfortable enough to ride all day. But they are typically pretty expensive and heavy. Some are also fuel guzzlers, although mine gets remarkable economy for such a large bike.