Editorial

October 20, 2015

Too big for the task

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I’m a poor judge of shoe size. I’ve been size 11 for 35 years and yet I can’t make a purchase without eliminating size 10 as too tight and 12 as too large. Salesmen know my type. They dutifully haul out three boxes (or, if the shoes come in half-sizes, five boxes) and wait for me to try all of them on. Too tight shoes are easy to dismiss — everyone knows when their toes are pinched, but determining when large is too large is tricky.

Identifying shoes as “too large” is like calling a pillow too puffy or lasagne too cheesy. It’s a matter of interpretation. Who doesn’t appreciate room for the toes? But how much room is too much room? I pace back and forth in the shoe store, satisfied with the fit. But what if I need to run for a bus? Will they flop about on my feet like my father’s shoes did when I clomped about the kitchen in them as a five-year-old?

Back and forth I jog in the store, attempting to replicate real-world scenarios. Quick changes in direction determine if angry dogs and nosy neighbours can be dispatched, and jackrabbit starts and abrupt stops are part of urban living. Invariably, the correct shoes are the ones just large enough for our feet. It’s so logical it’s self-evident. But why, as motorcyclists, do we wade around on motorcycles too big for the task?

My mother, who ground out the Depression on a rock-strewn farm, bought shoes for me a size too big. I was supposed to grow into them, but sometimes I wore the shoes out before my feet ever fit them properly. Many motorcyclists apply this teenaged growth-spurt logic to the transaction of buying a bike. Just one size bigger than the size that properly fits, the argument goes, and you’ll gain more than headroom for the toes, you’ll gain a world of usability.

My partner recently purchased a KTM RC 390. At the end of May I doubled her an hour from home to the dealership GP Bikes, and we rode back into the city together. It was obvious the bike fit. Her body language spoke of a rider at ease with the machine. Pulling from stoplights her feet quickly found the footpegs (inexperienced riders drag their feet from stoplights like a drunk being hauled from the saloon to the county jail) and she confidently rode at a brisk pace.

But, with a 375 cc single-cylinder engine, isn’t the KTM too small for day-to-day use? Isn’t it just too diminutive in a world of massive SUVs, 1,700 cc cruisers, and sky-high adventure bikes? Do you want a motorcycle that fits or are you hoping you’ll grow into it?

The old photographer’s chestnut goes like this: What’s the perfect camera? Answer: The one you take with you. And small bikes are just easy to take with you. I can pop the KTM out of the garage (after I’ve received permission to borrow it, of course) and be on my way in less than a minute. It’s as convenient as a bicycle, which is my preferred way of getting where I need to go within a five-kilometre radius of home. Who can be bothered to lug out a big bike for a short ride? And yet the short rides we take while we’re going about our day-to-day lives can bring unexpected joy.

Yesterday I zipped through the graveyard on the way to Staples for printer ink. (With a few nice bends and a steep drop to a tight corner my local graveyard is a mini-Mosport, though I’m careful not to push too hard — there are too many gravestones and too little runoff room.) And then I remembered that I needed to fetch a visor from the magazine’s lockup. Road repaving fouled my route home, but by shutting off the engine and walking the bike through a park, I was able to bypass the mess.

But what about that trip to Cape Breton or to Pennsylvania for a long weekend, you ask? Would we forestall a trip to the east coast because all we had was a Ford Fiesta and not a motorhome? We’d squeeze the kid in the back along with the suitcases and get on with it.

What’s happened is that we’ve let our occasional use of a vehicle be the determinant of our purchasing decision. Most of us ride to work a few days a week, or get out a half-dozen weekends a year, or do one big trip a summer. Or every two summers. Or three. (Those of you with kids, I see you nodding.) Living with a bike that addresses the anomalies of our usage as opposed to the usual uses of the machine means that once a year we use a bike in its natural element — taking that touring bike to the coast, for instance. But the rest of the time it’s overkill. But buy for the way you use a motorcycle daily, and every trip to the convenience store or to the next town over will put you right in your machine’s sweet spot.