Motorcycling to school or work has plenty of advantages to make it worth your while, but having the right bike for the job makes it even better. The trick is finding a bike that ticks all the boxes of a good commuter machine while still giving you that spark of pride each time you look back at it.
While technically any motorcycle can be used for commuting, some bikes are fundamentally better suited to the task than others.
So with that in mind, today we’re looking at some of the key attributes we think go into an excellent motorbike for the daily commute.
Seat height and riding position
Firstly, let’s talk about ergonomics. They play a huge part in how a motorcycle functions.
Tall seats can be cumbersome at traffic lights, especially if you are short of leg, but they also provide a commanding view over most traffic while riding.
Conversly, a low seat makes touching the ground easy but has the problem of hiding you and your bike amongst other vehicles.
On that train of thought, in our experience cruiser style bikes with a low seat height and forward controls doesn’t make a great commuter. Sure, it gets the job done, but it’s definitely not as easy (or safe) as other bikes that put you in a more commanding riding position. If you’re looking for a pure commuter, we recommend looking at a bike with an upright riding position and a reasonably high seat to help you see over traffic. This will mean that not only can you see obstacles in your path sooner, but also will make you easier to spot by other road users as well. Anything you can do to be more easily seen is a definite plus commuting through heavy traffic.
Size and Width
It’s not something we immediately think of when choosing a commuter, but the width of a bike can make or break a commuter machine.
Generally speaking, the widest point of any motorcycle is its handlebars, though sometimes panniers can sit further out as well.
If the handlebars are very wide your ability to slot between cars to the front of the traffic light queue becomes a lot more effort, too narrow and you lose out on comfort - and in the case of handlebars you lose low speed control.
The overall size of your bike also factors in.
Big heavy bikes are great for touring the country with ease, but put them in heavy traffic and they become more difficult to handle.
On the flip side, smaller bikes are great for nipping through traffic but can get blown about in the elements and can lack power for longer stretches at motorway speeds.
Fuel tank range / Fuel Economy
Unless you want to be great friends with the local service station attendant, you will want a bike that won’t need to be topped up daily.
Let’s face it, at the end of a hard day of work you just want to get home as fast as possible.
Large capacity multi-cylinder machines therefore aren’t what we‘d recommend as with more cylinders comes the need for more fuel.
One thing we found frustrating with our old motorway commute from the outskirts of Auckland to the CBD was how often we had to service our bikes. Commuting just 60km a day soon meant we were performing oil changes every six weeks which quickly became a chore.
Typically many older Japanese bikes require an oil change every 5000km, while many newer machines have seen this stretch out to 10,000km or higher. While an older model might be cheaper to init but, servicing it over its life could in fact make it more expensive than a more modern alternative in the long run.
So we expect if you’ve gotten this far you’ll be expecting a few examples that we think fit the mould as perfect commuter machines. While any bike purchase is a deeply personal choice, we think these bikes are some top options for the daily grind:
Kawasaki Z400/Ninja 400
Triumph Street Twin
KTM 390 Duke
For us, there’s no better choice than our Honda CRF250L Rally. It ticks all our boxes and, better yet, can still be a fun ride when the daily grind is over and we need to let loose on the weekend.