Powerful Bikes That Offer Comfort and Safety
Today’s motorcycles are much more advanced than those sold just 15 years ago. Many include safety features you may be familiar with from cars, including antilock brakes, traction control to prevent skidding during acceleration and stability control to prevent skidding during turns. They’re more reliable—riding a motorcycle no longer requires mastering roadside repairs. They’re more powerful—the fastest sport bikes can top 200 miles per hour (mph), probably quite a bit faster than you will ever need to go. Many motorcycles now even have high-tech infotainment systems similar to those found in cars—these include navigation, music, bike-to-bike communication for people riding together and smartphone syncing. A few come with comfort features such as heated seats and handgrips and foot-level warm-air ducts.
Riders looking for fun and adventure are buying these new bikes in increasing numbers, but not every motorcycle makes sense for middle-aged and older riders. A bike with a firm suspension, awkward seating position or so much power that it is touchy to control could quickly become uncomfortable for many riders. If you choose the right bike for your needs and preferences, though, it can be a great source of pleasure.
Here are eight great bikes for riders who want power and style as well as comfort and safety…
The big, powerful Harley you wanted when you were young—only better. Harley-Davidson has long been known for muscular, heavily chromed, visually appealing cruisers that announce their presence with a low rumble. Most of today’s Harleys still fit this classic Harley mold. But these days, hidden beneath that classic styling is cutting-edge motorcycle technology and much better reliability than the Harleys of the past—no more puddles of oil in the garage.
Harley-Davidson Dyna Low Rider stands out as a very well-made bike that combines classic 1970s Harley styling, a powerful 1690-cubic-centimeter (cc) engine and a reasonable sticker price. Its adjustable ergonomics make it suitable for even smaller bike buyers in search of a comfortable ride—this bike’s handlebars and seat can be easily modified to fit the rider. Antilock brakes are a $795 option. Base price: $14,199.*
A big touring bike for long trips. Last year, the Harley-Davidson Electra Glide Ultra Classic was substantially redesigned. It now combines classic Harley styling and power—like the Dyna Low Rider, it has a big 1,690-cc engine—with some refinements designed to make this bike a great choice for extended journeys.
While most Harleys are air-cooled, this new Electra Glide features partial liquid cooling to prevent engine overheating even when laden with luggage on hot summer days. Harley added an unobtrusive radiator that does not interfere with the bike’s attractive air-cooled style. It also comes with standard electronic cruise control…antilock brakes…an excellent infotainment system…and well-designed luggage that has an easy-to-use latching system.
The seats are low, deep and comfortable. The suspension’s firmness can be adjusted to the rider’s preferences, and the bike’s fairing (the shell in front) does a very nice job of shielding riders from wind and rain. The only downside is the high price. Base price: $23,249.
Helpful: This bike is available in an Electra Glide Ultra Classic Low model with a seat that’s 27 inches off the ground, compared with more than 29 inches for the base model. It’s a good choice for shorter riders, though it does boost the already steep sticker price by $1,150.
A comfortable, refined ride even on bumpy roads. “Adventure touring” bikes are designed to go anywhere—around town…on long road trips…or even off-roading.
BMW R1200GS Adventure is the gold standard of adventure touring motorcycles. Its excellent adjustable suspension is designed to handle rocky trails, so it provides a very cushy ride on paved roads—even bumpy ones. Its seating position is upright and easy on the back. Its fairing does an effective job of keeping the wind and rain out of the rider’s face…and it has less engine vibration than most bikes. Antilock brakes and stability control come standard. The R1200GS Adventure is a fairly large bike with a powerful 1,170-cc engine—but to BMW’s credit, it feels remarkably light and nimble once in motion. Base price: $18,340.
Alternative: KTM 1290 Super Adventure is a worthy competitor for this BMW in the adventure touring class. It is a bit lighter with a more powerful engine. Its base price is $20,499.
Warning: Like most adventure touring bikes, these have high seats—more height provides better ground clearance on uneven terrain but makes them challenging for shorter riders. Comparable bikes appropriate for shorter riders include the Triumph Tiger 800 and BMW G650GS.
A great bike at a very nice price. Arguably no new bike offers more for the money than the Star Bolt. This is a cruiser—its seating position designed for long rides, not breakneck speeds—made by Yamaha subsidiary Star Motorcycles and sold by Yamaha dealers. It offers clean, attractive styling, excellent reliability and a comfortable ride. It is light and easy to handle, and its 942-cc air-cooled engine provides ample power. The Bolt is small compared with some of today’s big, beefy cruisers, but its size will seem more than adequate to riders who remember the slimmer bikes of the 1970s and 1980s. This is a really good motorcycle and a really, really good deal. Base price: $7,990 for the 2016.
An even less expensive bike that is still enjoyable and reliable. If even the $8,000 price tag of the Star Bolt is more than you want to spend on a motorcycle, consider the Honda CB500 series. You might think of these as the Honda Civics of motorcycles—they’re very reliable and reasonably priced…but not as exciting, distinctive, powerful or feature-laden as some of the other bikes on the road. That said, a CB500 still is a blast to ride—light, low and easy to maneuver—and it can provide plenty of pleasure for anyone new to motorcycling (or who hasn’t ridden in decades). Its 471-cc engine is on the small side by today’s standards, but this bike still will get off the line faster than the vast majority of cars on the road.
Honda offers several different models in the CB500 series, including the CB500F, which is somewhat sporty…and the CB500X, which is a scaled-down version of go-anywhere adventure touring bikes such as the BMW mentioned above. Both CB500s have a comfortable, upright seating position. Antilock brakes are available as a $500 option. Base price: $5,799 for the CB500F…$6,299 for the CB500X.
Alternative: If you want a bike that’s as well-made as the CB500 and nearly as inexpensive—only with a bit more personality—try the Yamaha FZ-07. It’s a light, manageable bike with a comfortable upright seating position like the CB500F, but while the CB500 is fun for beginners, the FZ-07 is just flat-out fun for anyone. It has the responsive steering and driving feedback of a true sports bike and a larger engine. The base price for the 2016 FZ-07 is $6,990.
*All prices and descriptions refer to 2015 model-year motorcycles, except as noted.