If you’re in the market for a new bike and you’ve got a dealer that’s happy to let you take a few options for a spin, you’d be bonkers not to. But sometimes it’s difficult to know exactly what you can take away after testing a new bike other than ‘yeah, I quite liked that’. Because let’s face it, most new bikes are reasonably good, and if you’re used to riding a 25 year old bag of nails anything’s likely to feel pretty dreamy; but that doesn’t necessarily mean it is, not by today’s standards, anyway.
If you’re test riding prospective new bikes, it pays to have a think about what you want to get from the test ride, beforehand. There are loads of things to think about, some of which will be different from one person to the next (because we all want a slightly different mixture of things from our bikes), but here are a handful to get you started.
Engine and gearbox
Peak power, torque figures and all that stuff is all good and well, but the only way to really know how an engine feels is to experience it. There are umpteen different engine configurations, firing orders and throttle systems that all make one bike feel fairly different to the next. Do you want something really revvy, with all the power at the top-end. Or are you a grunt lover? Has it got enough top end power to make you smile? Has it got enough low-down grunt to beat your mates off the traffic lights? Is that even what you want to do? And do you want explosive power, or smooth power?
As far as the gearbox goes, most modern bikes are fairly slick; but some are slicker than others (who’re you calling are slicker?). How important is a smooth gearchange to you. When you’re testing the bike make sure you go all the way through the gears, up and down, and make sure you’re happy with the how it feels.
For some people, electronics is one of the biggest considerations when buying a new bike these days. Does it have traction control, can I connect my phone to it, how easy is it to use etc.? I wouldn’t recommend putting the anti-wheelie and the traction control systems to the test on a ten-minute test ride, but it is worth trying out the different power modes (if it has them) and having a go at navigating through the systems menus (if it has them), to see if it’s something you’re likely to be able to get the hang of.
Test everything you can on the bike. If it’s got heated grips, try them; they might not be a deal maker/breaker but if you’re testing a few different models, it’s worth getting as much info as you can about each. Something fairly incidental might end up being the thing that sways you, particularly if there are a couple of models that are fairly evenly matched.
Most modern bikes, with their hydraulic clutches, electronic steering dampers and ride-by-wire throttles, have got lovely, light controls. But not all of them do. When you’re on your test ride, make sure you put some thought into what all the controls feel like. Are the clutch and throttle light enough to operate without giving you arm pump? Does the throttle snap shut quickly enough? Are the levers in the right place, and if not, how easily can they be adjusted?
It’s easy to let the excitement of riding a new bike take over and forget about things like this, but it’s all important stuff that needs testing.
It’ll be quite difficult to give the chassis a MotoGP spec test in a ten-minute road ride, but you ought to be able to decide whether you like the way the bike handles or not. Is it stable enough for you at speed? How does it cope with bumps? Does it turn and change direction easily enough for you?
Some bikes have adjustable suspension, but some don’t. If it’s a bike without, make sure you like the way the suspension feels, because you might be stuck with it. A softer setup might be great for comfort, but if it’s too soft, it won’t react well if you ever want to start riding a bit faster/sportier.
How well does it fit? Motorcycles, as well as people, are all different shapes and sizes, so you want to get one that roughly matches you. Certain things can often be adjusted, like handlebars and levers, and on some bikes you can even adjust the seat height and foot-peg position. You might not have time to do that in your test ride though, so it’s worth having a look to see what is adjustable and making a mental note of which way you can adjust it (i.e. if the seat is adjustable, is it in the ‘high’, or the ‘low’ position when you ride it?).
How sporty do you want your new bike to be. If you’ve already got a bad back, being cramped up on a Supersport bike probably isn’t going to do your lumbago any favours. At the same time, if you’re planning on going on track at any point, you might fancy a sporty little number.
Make sure you take the bike up to speed, even if only briefly, to check you’re happy with the level of wind protection on offer. And spend as much time as you can testing the bike, the more miles you can get away with doing on it, the better. Ride it at different speeds, on different roads and in different environments.
And don’t forget, even if it ticks all your boxes and makes you smile, it wouldn’t hurt to take something else out for a spin just in case that makes you smile even more.