Since we last checked in with Kyle Hyatt, he’s had a few major changes in life. Most people would consider the big one to be a new job as the News and Features Editor at Roadshow by CNET. I, on the other hand, think he’s got a much more important update – he just bought a new bike! Let’s find out how it happened:
From LA to Vegas and back, or how I bought my first motorcycle
Part 1: The weight of the wait and all the pieces have to line up.
by Kyle Hyatt
Everyone who rides motorcycles has a story about the time they bought their first bike, and I’m no exception. Mine just happens to be a little more involved than most.
The topic of what my first bike should be has been the subject of much discussion and speculation. Everyone seems to have an idea of what might constitute a good first bike for me, and while undoubtedly well-intentioned, most people’s suggestions lacked practicality for someone my size and in my geographical area. Thus I took it upon myself to find something that would be the Goldilocks motorcycle for me, even if it seemed like a questionable choice to others.
Through countless hours of internet research and the two press bikes which I ended up reviewing I was able to hammer out a pretty sharp picture of what I didn’t want. I knew I didn’t want something smaller than 500 cc or something with much more than 100 horsepower. I had to have enough power to get around LA safely and efficiently, and yes that includes freeways, but I also didn’t want to be the new guy on some crazy liter bike. I knew I couldn’t have something with a low seat height which unfortunately rules out a lot of really cool bikes like the Ducati Scrambler (Desert Sled notwithstanding) or the KTM Duke 690.
In finding my don’t-wants, I also landed on a few must-haves. I wanted something with a range more than 100 miles per tank. I wanted something with ABS and if possible, traction control (I want to get to the point where I don’t need them, but I feel better having them as a new rider). Oh, and it also had to sound cool. This list of criteria led me to the ADV category, which, for someone of my stature (6’4”, around 300 lbs) kind of hit the sweet spot in terms of ergonomics, electronics and range.
The problem with ADV bikes, or at least my problem with them, was weight. I needed to be confident that I could wrestle my bike up from the ground if need be so some 600+ lb behemoth like an R1200GS or a Multistrada was entirely out of the question. No, what I needed was a mid-sized adventure bike which left me with two choices: Tiger 800 or F800GS. I just needed to hash out which of the two would best suit my purposes.
On paper, the Tiger and the F800 are drastically different bikes given their similar sizes and engine displacements. The Tiger is of course blessed with the sublime 800cc Hinckley triple while the F800 has a parallel twin that may have been designed to power a Soviet log splitter, given how exciting its exhaust note is. The Triple screams which is ideal for carving city streets or canyon roads, while the F800 twin has at least one metric shit-ton of low-end torque.
One big bonus the Tiger had in the used market was that it was much cheaper. In fact, I found low-mileage examples of the pre-electronic throttle version for well under $8,000. It is also, in my not-terribly-humble opinion, a much more attractive bike than the GS. I wasn’t overly concerned with off-road manners being as this is a daily rider and I have no ambitions to be the next Charley Boorman.
Triumph Tiger 800 it is then. I happened to find a lovely example for sale at Pro Italia north of LA. It was a 2014 and had just 6,000 miles on the clock as well as having had its first major service. It was green too which, on an ADV bike, is undeniably cool. I was so excited about it that I texted Abhi to tell him that I may have just found my first bike. To my surprise, his reaction was kind of mixed.
“I’ve ridden the Tiger, and it’s cool, but I just don’t like it that much. It feels really top heavy. Have you ridden it yet?”
“Nope, not yet but I’m planning to,” I replied.
I never did. A few nights later, Abhi called me from a bar. He asked if I knew Spurgeon from RevZilla and if I had seen the reviews he’d done of the slightly newer Tiger XCx. I did, and I had.
“Spurgeon just bought the long-term KTM that he’s been testing and is wanting to get rid of his 2015 Tiger 800 XCx that he bought after RevZilla’s long-term review. It’s loaded, and while it’s got a lot more miles than that other bike, it’s also newer and has all the electronics and crash protection. Oh and bags.”
“Tell me more,” I said.
Anyway, long story short, we hatched a plan over the next several weeks that would see Spurgeon and his friend Steve Kamrad cannonballing across America from Pennsylvania to Nevada to take part in the annual LA to Barstow to Vegas dual-sport ride on Thanksgiving weekend. Steve also had a Tiger, and they’d be using this as an excuse to give the bike a proper send-off and to schlep it cross-country to me.
Most people would probably balk at the idea of having their newly purchased bike thrashed across the Mojave desert for two days. Particularly by a guy who looks like the mushroom-dealing cousin of the Sheriff from Stranger Things, but we agreed that if he broke something, he’d fix it since I’d be riding the bike back to LA from Las Vegas. Spurgeon’s a decent human, so this was good enough for me.
That was all decided three weeks before the actual ride, and after my hotel was booked and plane ticket purchased, it became a waiting game. Let me tell you, waiting three weeks to throw a leg over your first bike is excruciating. The fact that there was a 10-minute review video with your actual future motorcycle only exacerbated the problem:
So, to recap, I’m three weeks out from buying a bike I’ve never ridden from a guy I’ve only met once, who is going to ride it off-road through the desert immediately before I take delivery. Great idea, right? Gold star for positive life choices, am I right?
I figured that I’d need some more gear before undertaking my first road trip, seeing as I only had stuff suitable for in-town rides or quick blasts up a curvy road. Nothing that wouldn’t see me miserable on the extended freeway ride from Vegas back to LA. I sent an email to arguably the nicest man in motorcycling today, Andy Goldfine. Andy is the founder of Aerostich, and I knew that what I wanted was something waterproof, windproof, and with more armor than an Abrams tank. I needed a Roadcrafter. Unfortunately, because I am an exceedingly strangely-shaped human, my R3 required a great deal of custom work, work which Andy and his fantastic team of craftspeople turned around in less than two weeks.
I’ll cut to the chase and say that my Roadcrafter is easily the most amazing piece of gear I’ve ever worn, and that goes beyond motorcycling. It’s comfortable and not too nerdy, and I feel like Iron Man while wearing it. Keep an eye on Bike-urious for a full review on my R3 shortly.
Eventually, Thanksgiving weekend rolls around and I hop a flight out of LAX to Las Vegas. My helmet in one bag, my Roadcrafter just barely fitting in another with my boots. An hour later, I’m pulling into the decidedly off-strip driveway of the Orleans hotel and casino and checking into my room. Spurgeon, Steve, Abhi and Nathan all arrive a couple of hours later, well after nightfall. They’re covered in dust and dirt; they look exhausted. Nathan has a crazy bandage on his lip, the result of an accident on day 1.
We screw around in the parking lot, trying to get the last pieces of footage needed for a video that Spurgeon and Steve are making and then we do the official handover of the bike. It’s filthy. The kickstand spring is broken and so is the right front turn signal but I don’t care. The Tiger is one of the prettiest things I’ve seen. Spurgeon immediately begins to dive into the treasure trove of spare parts that go with the bike and throws each of them into one of the black aluminum panniers that come with the bike. He has a brand new set of street tires, in addition to the essentially new set of off-road tires that are on the bike already. There is a top-box, a new windshield, levers and pedals and screws and it goes on and on. Then he hands me the key, and I throw a leg over.
The whole thing feels auspicious as I turn the key, pull in the clutch (why, Triumph, why?) and thumb the starter. Immediately the bike jumps into life, with the weird Triumph triple whistle-burble reverberating through the parking structure. I kick it into first gear and go for my inaugural lap. It feels good. Smaller than I expected but comfortable. The throttle is amazing. The Arrow exhaust is quieter than I’d hoped but still pleasant. I knew I’d made the right choice.
I park the Tiger – from then on to be known by her new appellation, Kathleen – and we all head inside to get changed for the post-ride banquet. We have a couple of beers, and some laughs and everyone calls it an early night. The next day was going to be a long one.
To be continued…