“What’s a Decent Highway Motorcycle?”


A reader asked me the above question (in the subject line). She has already been riding two other bikes, so this wouldn’t be her first. My answer comprises the rest of this post, but I’d be more interested in your views of how to select a “highway motorcycle.” (Please add to comments below where it says “Leave a Reply”).


You ask an apt question and I believe there are many decent highway motorcycles. And in fact, your own personal interpretation of what best represents a highway motorcycle would be the primary determining factor since many modern midsize (and above) motorcycles operate quite well on highways.

Some folks might want a big bike with lots of luggage space, such as a Honda Goldwing, BMW GTL or one of Harley’s bigger touring bikes. However, for others, those machines are way too big, heavy and expensive.

A lighter and more agile type of machine would be a sports-tourer. These bikes take riders long-distances with luggage, quite comfortably. They also weigh less and cost less than the biggest touring machines. However, sport tourers are still big bikes, compared to most.

Some folks like the look and experience of cruisers, which have a tremendous variety of ways they can be customized, and they come in many different weights and engine sizes. They also generally sit lower to the ground, which, especially for shorter riders, is an important consideration.

If you ride a lot in all kinds of weather, you might want to consider a bike with a windshield, or adding a windshield to an existing motorcycle.

If you don’t mind a little extra weight and spending a little extra money, you might want to consider a motorcycle with a shaft drive, which is low maintenance.

Frankly, the above comments are merely a generalized overview, since every motorcycle represents a compromise of many factors, including:

  • Price
  • Weight
  • Design (tourer, sport-tourer, cruiser, adventure-tourer, standard….)
  • Seat height
  • Suspension
  • Ergonomics
  • Engine size
  • Performance
  • Drive train (chain, belt, shaft)
  • Available accessories (windshield, luggage, etc)
  • And more

That’s a lot of stuff to contemplate and the reality is, any person might need to gain some years of experience riding on different bikes to develop enough personal perspective to determine what’s best for him/her.

Having said all that, if I were to answer your question as briefly as possible, I would boil it down to the following:

  • Weight
  • Ergonomics
  • Price

I would not suggest getting a bike that you, personally, consider too big or heavy, which can lower your confidence if you don’t feel you are always fully in control of it.

Any bike should be comfortable for you. Whether you prefer leaning forward, or leaning backward or sitting upright, there are different bikes that accommodate such positions. How easily it is to place your feet on the ground is important. You need to get on the bikes and experience them. Ideally, you should ride any specific bike before you pay for it, but that’s not easy to arrange with many dealers (at least in the United States), particularly if you are purchasing a new bike.

Finally, for many persons, price is as important a factor as any and you’re the only person who can evaluate that. Of course, buying a used motorcycle can save money and there are many great opportunities in buying a used bike, but other riders are comforted by a brand-new machine which, in most cases, shouldn’t have many hidden problems. (New bikes also have a warranty to handle certain problems that might present themselves, and in my experience, I’ve saved a lot of money with warranties).

Wishing you safe riding!

114 thoughts on ““What’s a Decent Highway Motorcycle?”

  • I like that you talked about how light motorcycles would be able to drive long distances with luggage as well. I would love to have this type of motorcycle since I love to have a road trip every weekend. It will definitely ensure that I will be having a nice driving experience to destress.

  • A lot of motorcycles will get you down the road smiling for 100 miles. But if your idea of “roadworthy” includes jaunts much longer than that there are some basic physics to account for. You will have to “try on” your motorcycle like you would try on the clothes that you will wear when you ride it.

    It’s called ergometrics and there are three basic elements of the ergonomics of riding a motorcycle. First is body position. To be comfortable you need to be able to sit in a comfortable position. With the bike on its center stand sit with you feet on the pegs, put your hands in your lap. Do you feel pushed up against the tank, or precariously perched? If you are not comfortable here go to the NEXT BIKE, this one ain’t for you. If you are comfortable, close you eyes, raise your hands to your shoulders and just let them drop as you lean a little forward. When your forearms are about parallel with the ground the handlebars should be right under your hands. If the bars can’t be adjusted to fit you and there is no aftermarket bars that will work- NEXT BIKE.

    By now it is probably clear to you that the “Standard” bike is the way to go. That’s why they became “standard” it is the best all around way to configure a two-wheeled vehicle.

    The next area is wind protection. You gotta have it. A handlebar fairing on an “open” bike works just fine, but whatever you use the airflow should go over your head and around your body, making a bubble as wide as you your hands on the bars and just over your head when you are looking a couple of inches over the windscreen.

    The last thing is weight. 400 lbs is the lightest thing that will feel stable at speed with any kind of gusting (like a passing semi) 500 is better. 600 better than that and so on – but as the weight goes up they do become a handful in the parking lot. In nutshell get the heaviest bike that you are confident about poking around on. Once again you have to try it on.

    Any decent sized modern bike will have all the power you’ll need. What you WANT is a different matter. My bike makes 130 hp but 70 would get the job done.

    I just did 2000 miles on my 30 year old motorcycle and I hope to get in another few hundred in before the Summer ends. I love the joy of a motorcycle on the open road and I’m sure you will to. Enjoy and always stay alert and aware of what is going on
    around you.

  • I ride a r1200gt and an r1150gs at home, very easy on the highway, but am renting a triumph 1200 explorer for a southwestern Vaca. I like the big dual sports, as they combine sufficient hp, stability on the highway, typically easy steering, and comfortable ergonomics (seat, arm and leg position). The smaller bmw gs’s seem like a great choice for under the 1000cc bikes.

  • When I am asked this question, I usually give a narrower response. In my opinion, a 500+cc sport bike or a 750+cc cruiser is a good bike for the highway. Smaller engines than those and you will be running at high rpm at 75-80mph. When I say sport bike, I mean super sport, sport touring, naked, etc.

    Another important thing for hwy riding is comfort and lesser stress points on the body when you are sitting for more than 20 min.

  • Lots of good bikes to choose from. I think a bike with a full fairing and hard luggage is the way to go. It can get hot, so think about where and when you will use it. A fairing let’s you start the season early and finish late, especially if you’ve got heated gear/ grips/ seat. And in the rain you can’t beat a fairing. I have an ’86 BMW K100RT. Brilliant on the highway and in weather. She has a low center of gravity so zips around well in the city. I have literally laughed at the rain and light snow! She weighs in at around 550 pounds. Not a power house but lots of horse to do the job. The other is an ’04 Kawi Concours. Also, full fairing with bags. The engine and tranny are brilliant. Seating is comfortable. The Kawi is a little top-heavy, however. She comes in at around 600 pounds. It’s nice to have some weight under you on the highway, especially in the wind and with truck traffic around. I would also check out something like the Honda VFR…an 800cc offering with great reviews. There are easily a dozen good bikes I can think of (more out there). If you can find a nice Moto Guzzi that would be fun. The Norge is the one I would love. Good luck!

  • my suggestion for big road traffic bike is heavy, manageable bike with big visual print for stability & visibility, ABS and big brakes for scrubbing off speed, and excellent mid range torque for powering out of dicey situations and passing big trucks. whether its japanese, german, US, UK, touring or cruiser is up to you. Whoever mentioned buying the dealership when you buy the bike gets a gold star!

  • My reasoning is like David’s, above, liking the size motor that he does.

    I am no shrimp at 6’2″+ and 220 lbs, my legs touch the ground on every bike.
    I have had several bikes, currently a Kawasaki Vulcan 500 (EN500) and a Triumph America.

    I have ridden the America on 900 mile round trips and been very comfortable, with small saddlebags, windshield, big fat tires to skip over pavement imperfections, approx 60 H.P., and absolute mininimum 40 plus mpg with a 5 gallon tank, bike is 550 lbs wet.

    I am retiring and have it in my head to put my new backpacking tent and sleeping bag and air mattress on the luggage rack and in the saddlebags a change of underwear, tent shoes, chain lube (grrr – a pain) and do some 2 or 3 day national park camping trips where I mostly eat at restaurants. I got a tom-tom.

    The Kawasaaki 500 is really terrific around town, or for a few hours and a tank of gas on a one way day trip, BUT… the Triumph America seems the best for road trips because I am big. If I was much more short and sleight.. say like 5’6 and like 140 lbs, I would ride the EN500 all day long, it is a great piece of engineering and very roadworthy with big tires for tar strips.

    The trump holds a few days worth of stuff as described above. It will go plenty fast enough. I can stretch out farther than most bikes so my old knees do not cramp from being bent tighter than 45 degrees (like Davids Bonnieville) and the 200 mile plus range and big tires and darn good handling appeal to me. If I need to back it up an incline I can do it without straining my guts out.

    One thing about American expressways is that they will certainly get you there in a hurry and I can see the appeal of the giant Goldwings and Victories for that. But those expressways are as boring as heaven on a Saturday night. I will use the tom-tom to stay on roads where the speed limit is usually under 65, one or two lanes in each direction, hopefully with twisty sections often enough to keep things interesting, towns and a few traffic lights along the way, with state and national camping on the outskirts of the towns.

    So… big tires …. big frame … minimal/adequate luggagge capacity … legs out front… good fuel economy … good handling … low-ish weight … bags/rack/shield… one lane in each direction at 60 mph during daylight hours … maybe like 300 miles per day at most ..on a mchine that is highly maneuverable …that does it for me!

  • I have a Ducati Multistrada 1200 Granturismo. In my opinion this is the perfect motorcycle. My wife will also agree as she sits on the back and for her size 5’3″ she has plenty of legroom and the top case has a back pad. We have done multi day rides together and have had no complaints. It is powerful, has a lot of safety features, an adjustable suspension, plenty of luggage space, decent wind protection, etc…

  • Honda Pacific Coast is the perfect bike with an all day saddle and built in luggage carriers.

  • There are many bikes that would fit any requirement. The one factor that I have found important is when you purchase a bike, you also acquire a dealer. Make sure that the dealer is someone you can work with.

  • I would suggest 2 options.

    Triumph Sprint GT and if money is no issue the Ducati multistrada

    Slight different riding position but both can deliver all

  • Speaking in very broad generalities, I think a bike that weighs roughly 500lbs, with a 57-60″ wheelbase, with lots of steering lock and light feel, and with about 55 hp at the rear wheel is completely adequate. Then it is just a matter to equip it the way that you want it – seat, luggage, windshield. As MCg suggests, wisely I might add, a good self-evaluation of what kind of highway riding you want to accomplish along with your skill level and years of experience will make the decision much easier.

    Such a bike might be a current Triumph Bonneville, for one, handy, pretty, easily accessorized to taste. I am rather more fond of standards or sport-tourers than really heavy things, but I do believe that the weight/length I mention here usually provides good stability at elevated speeds, as well as less susceptibility to cross-winds or large truck slipstreams.

    I hope you are successful in your search!

  • The original question was (I’m paraphrasing) “What’s a decent bike that can handle big-highway traffic”.

    Now that IS a very “loaded” question because, as numerous commentors have noted, there are a ton of variables and parameters that COULD come into play…..not the least of which are…..

    – how much do you want to spend
    – how comfortable do you want to be
    – how large is your stature
    – how often (if ever) do you contemplate riding in inclement weather
    – how far will you be travelling and how often
    – how much luggage, whether clothing, books, tools, camping gear, groceries will you most often take with you
    – will you be riding two-up…..ever, always, frequently, never
    – are you in need of modern creature conveniences such as GPS and stereo system or intercom
    – are you going to be riding by yourself or most often in a group situation
    – what average speed do you have to travel in order to “keep up” on the roads you travel most

    There’s lots of good advice in this thread. Here’s mine….

    – buy used a gently used, shaft-drive, economically-priced, (all of which automatically means) Japanese 750 – 1000 cruiser or sport touring bike
    – sit on it (and ride it if possible) for as long as you can before buying
    – if you’re not mechanically inclined, take a friend along on your buying trip who can look and listen for faults
    – avoid bikes with cosmetic add-ons (chrome and flash), get the one that has “useful” accessories, like windshield, luggage, cruise control, backrest…..things that YOU want and that will fulfill some of the riding requirements I’ve listed above
    – don’t overspend. Unless you live on another planet, there are LOTS of used bikes out there. Shop as long as you can (within reason); you’ll be amazed at the bargains that come “out of the woodwork” if you can wait.
    – go ahead, make it an emotional experience (not to the point that you overpay or buy something impractical) because you’re gonna wanna LOVE your new bike. So, if you see one you simply “must” own…do a reality check with your mechanically-inclined buying buddy……and GO FOR IT!!
    Have fun, kiddo!

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