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Commuter motorcycles make splash in American market

January 1, 2013 12:00:00 AM PST
High gas prices are forcing many people to make their commute on two wheels. Motorcycle manufacturers are responding to the increased demand.

The price of gas goes up, then it goes down, then it goes up again -- maybe. With volatility in pump prices, commuting on two wheels has become a bit more popular in this country, as it has been in Europe for many years.

"Our surveys have shown that a lot more motorcycles these days are using their bikes for commuting and errands, getting around, just like they would cars," said Ty van Hooydonk, communications director, Discover Today's Motorcycling.

Motorcycle manufacturers are responding with bikes that are almost tailor-made for commuter duty.

Take Honda's new NC 700X. It's got a smooth 2-cylinder engine tuned to make good power at low revs. Fuel economy? Up to 60 miles per gallon or more, says Honda.

Optional saddlebags mean you can take all your gadgets with you. There's even a clever storage bin where you'd think the gas tank would be, complete with power socket. An optional trunk adds even more capacity.

Another useful bike is Kawasaki's Ninja 650. Don't let the racy name fool you: This one's right at home on the freeway.

And the Kawasaki designers made sure the seat was nice and narrow for shorter riders to feel comfortable, particularly smaller women. You could add soft luggage to further its utility. And 50 to 60 miles per gallon should be a cinch.

Sure, commuting on a motorcycle can save you a lot of gas and can be fun, but it's not something anybody should just jump into doing. If you're going to be facing the mean streets and freeways of Southern California, safety needs to be your primary concern.

A proper training class is a good start.

"Start there. You're going to learn about all the gear you need, figure out how to negotiate traffic properly, and of course you're going to learn the skills that you need for riding a motorcycle," said van Hooydonk.

Finally, there's a different choice for a street commuter that could also tackle the dirt on weekends, Husqvarna's new TR650 Terra.

Optional adventure-type saddlebags can make it a real urban warrior, though it still carries the persona of Husky's famous dirt bikes from back in the day.

Fun to ride, easy to park, good on gas, access to the carpool lanes: They're not for everyone, obviously. But for those looking for a cheaper way to get around, sometimes two wheels add up to being better than four.