I started looking into fuel efficient, practical commuting motorcycles/scooters three years ago. The first model I tested was a used Yamaha XT225, which is a 'dual-sport', (i.e. you can ride it on the street, but it is also designed for off-road riding.) Interestingly, it was being sold by a woman who had just purchased a Kawasaki Ninja 250 to replace the XT225. So I started researching the Ninja 250.
After test driving a Ninja 250, I found out that it actually provides more of an upright seating position than a typical "super sport" (even though it is styled like a "super sport"). After some research, the Ninja 250 was at the top of my list of fuel efficient motorcycles, although I was still attracted to the off-road possibilities that a 'dual sport' offered over the Ninja. (Online the Ninja 250 FAQ is a great resource, and not just for the Ninja, especially the "New Rider" section http://faq.ninja250.org/wiki/New_Riders )
I also tested a standard-style motorcycle with a 250cc engine - the Honda Nighthawk. But I found that it's lack of rear suspension travel resulted in a bumpier ride than I was willing to live with.
I then looked at a Kawasaki Super Sherpa 250 'dual sport', which was very similar to the Yamaha XT-225, and I accidentally ended up being the highest E-Bay bidder on a 2001 Super Sherpa.
I have now been riding the Super Sherpa for over two years, and have been very happy with it. I have purchased all of the safety gear (jacket, pants, gloves, and of course helmet), and usually wear them all. I keep records of my gas mileage every time I fill my tank, and my mileage has ranged from a low of 72 mpg to a high of 83 mpg per tank.
My commute runs about 24 miles round trip every day, but I only use the motorcycle in good weather - which means almost every day for the last month here in New Jersey. I rarely ride it in the winter. Depending on traffic situations, I will take the motorcycle on the highway (heavily travelled 295 in south Jersey) for one or two exits (3 to 6 miles). That's all that is comfortbable with a small dual-sport motorcycle. If I had purchased the Ninja 250 it would be much smoother on the highway due to it's twin-cylinder engine (as opposed to my single cylinder) and lower stance (less wind buffetting than a dual sport).
All in all, for great mileage and practicality, a 250cc motorcycle seems to be the best choice, unless you want to regularly carry passengers (the rider/passenger is usually around 350 pounds for these motorcycles). Some people see 250cc as a 'starter' bike, but if your commute is less than 20 miles each way, a 250cc will be more than capable and will give you unbeatable mileage.
The Super Sherpa is no longer sold in the U.S. (you can still get them in Canada), the Ninja 250 (about $3500 new) has been substantially updated for 2008, and the Yamaha XT225 has been updgraded to a 250cc engine (now known as the XT250 - about $4400 new). Honda has also introduced a 230cc dual sport, the CRF230L (about $4500 new).
James, you are so right. In a world were bigger is better, there is an often overlooked satisfaction to doing more with less. A 250cc scooter (18hp at rear tire) gets me through traffic fast, leaves sportscars in the dust at traffic lights, burns a gallon of gas every 60 - 70 miles, is highway capable and does all this in a light, quiet, hassle free package. You really don't need a 1,000+ cc engine to get around!
And a large bike between a man's legs is a sign of insecurity / overcompensation anyways :)
Jason - It sounds like your scooter is perfect for you, and yes, unless you're going cross-country touring, there's no reason to go above 250-500cc. I looked at a few scooters, and loved the amount of storage that scooters offer. But I was also looking for something to occasionally take off-road, and thus a scooter wouldn't work for me.
One thing that comes across on this board is the need for safety. I have always said that there are two types of motorcycle riders: Those who have been in an accident, and those who will be in an accident. No matter how careful you are, something can (and probably will) happen that will cause an accident. A motorcycle is inherently many times less safe than a car. One needs to dress appropriately, but no amount of protection on a motorcycle will come close the safety of a steel safety cage and multiple airbags offered in a car.
You need to be careful when choosing a bike. Size does matter. Think about a large man on a little 125cc bike. He doesn't belong on the rode because he becomes a danger to himself and others. You should always choose your bike based upon what type of riding you want to do and your comfort level you have with the bike. Personally, I would look kind of silly on a 250cc bike. I'm 6'2" and need a little more bike underneath me.
myself I think bigger is better
living in so cal I ride a harley and have had occasion to use all the engine I have .
a 250 on the freeway is a danger to you or can be.. not enough power / speed a person should get as big as they are comfortable with but remember what you are on and it's capabilities
I’m riding a 250cc Piaggio MP3 Scooter to work. It’s the three-wheeler with two wheels in front that tilt and lean like a regular bike. The MP3 is probably second only to a Vespa as the ultimate wuss ride. Still, I can accelerate faster than a BMW 535 on this thing. It has a top speed of about 80 mph. I take it on short 1-2 mile stretches of freeway when I need to, but mostly I ride below 55 mph in urban areas.
The MP3’s dual-wheel front end gives it some interesting advantages over conventional scooters:
1) More traction and stability in corners.
2) Almost twice the braking capacity of a two wheeler. About 75% of all braking on bikes is in the front wheels. When you double them up, the benefit is obvious.
3) The ability to stand on its own at a full stop. You do this with a simple switch control that locks the bike from tilting. I ride in bumper-to-bumper traffic through 14 stop lights on my commute and my feet never touch the ground.
Kevin, I ride a 250cc Honda Helix scooter, unmodified except for a backrest by Utopia. I am 6'6, 200lbs. I have done many 200 mile trips, several 400 mile days, and circled Lake Erie (650 miles) in a day... twice. I have ridden with other scooters, cruisers, touring and sport bikes and kept up, earning respect from many who scoffed. I find the limiting factor to be between my ears, not under my butt. Size does matter but to me, skill and attitude matter more.
http://www.ironbuttrally.com/IBR/1995.cfm?DocID=3 Ed Otto rode a Helix in the 1995 Iron Butt Rally. He finished 22 out of 37 finishers / 54 starters. He is my hero!
Hi Karen - my sense is that the Ninja 250 will be fine for your use. I don't have much experience (only took one for a 15 minute test ride), but I'm 5' 9" and weigh 200 lbs and the 250 didn't seem to lack power with just me on board. I probably wouldn't be taking a passenger on a Ninja 250, but if you can keep yourself and your passenger total weight under 300 pounds, the 250 will work fine.
It sounds like you'll be going on mostly winding backroads, probably 50-60mph? If so, the 250 will actually be more agile in the twisties than the larger 650r. However, if you're planning to do a lot of highway touring (70+ mph), the 650r would be the better bike.
One note about the 250, if you're buying one new you may find the break-in period to be annoying. Basically, you're not supposed to take it over 40 mph for the first 500 miles.
The Ninja 250 FAQ is a good place to find more information but, as you might suspect, they are very biased toward the 250. http://faq.ninja250.org/wiki/New_Riders
I had a ninja 250 for my first bike, it was great for learning to ride, and it really got 65 to 70 mpg. The performance was good, but at my size (5'8" - 200 pounds) it was to small for me to use for freeway speeds 70 mph & up. Given your size (125 pounds) the bike should be all you need. For me , riding the 250 in town or on rural roads / backroads was great. I would recomend the 250 ninja for anyone less than 200 pounds (especially for new riders). It is cheap to purchace, looks cool (like a bigger sportbike), has comfortable seating position, and great mpg.
I also like the ninja 650R (though I have never driven one); you will get much better performance with it. On the downside: 1) lower mpg (around 50 mpg), 2) your insurance will cost more $$ (probably double?), 3) at 5'6" tallyou may have trouble putting your feet on the ground (maybe not?).
When I replaced my ninja 250, I considered the ninja 650R but purchased a Yamaha FZ6 (600cc). It was a hard decision but the FZ6 had a little more HP.
I just received my September issue of Cycle World in the mail, and it has a great article on "Beginner Bikes" - nine bikes from the 230cc Honda CRF230L to the Harley Davidson 883cc Sportster. Their test shows the Honda getting an amazing 93 mpg, and HD about 55 mpg.
If you're thinking of getting a new fuel sipper, you should pick up a copy of the magazine, or check out this link:
I started tracking my mileage with every fill up (being the geek that I am, I put the data in http://www.mileagetracker.org/ ), and I have almost hit an 80MPG average for my 2001 Kawasaki Super Sherpa for the summer. I have verified my odometer with a GPS, so the mileage and mpg are accurate. I do few things to improve mileage: shutting off the engine at long lights, and being easy on the throttle (although I do use wide open throttle at least once a trip.)
So, how much money have I saved vs. driving? If I hadn't ridden the motorcycle, I would have used my car (2003 Pontiac Vibe, 5-speed), which gets 30 mpg around town with judicious driving. So, for 755 miles, the car would have used 25.16 gallons, vs. the motorcycle's 9.53 gallons, for a savings of 15.63 gallons. At an average of $4.00/gallon, I would have saved $62.52. If I still had my Isuzu Trooper, which did 15 mpg around town, I would have used about 50 gallons over the 755 miles, and the motorcycle would have saved 40 gallons, or about $160.
Either way, it's not a huge savings, but I suppose that's not the complete reason for riding - nothing can get my day going as well as enjoying the great outdoors with the wind in my face.
Here are the details of my summer riding:
DATE \ Miles since last fill up \ Gallons used \ MPG
6/3/08 \ 114 miles since last fill up. \ 1.53 \ 74.5 6/19/08 \ 125 miles since last fill up. \ 1.63 \ 76.7 6/26/08 \ 114 miles since last fill up. \ 1.37 \ 83.2 7/3/08 \ 102 miles since last fill up. \ 1.30 \ 78.5 7/29/08 \ 106 miles since last fill up. \ 1.37 \ 77.4 8/6/08 \ 89 miles since last fill up. \ 1.00 \ 89.0 8/21/08 \ 105 miles since last fill up. \ 1.33 \ 78.9
Records Totals/Averages 79.7 MPG
I'll have to take pick up a copy of the October Rider magazine. It sounds like some interesting reviews.
I totally agree when you say "anything over the 750-800 range is more toy than tool". I've had a both a Yamaha 650 and 750 and both had more than enough power, even at highway speeds. I've test ridden a friends 1100cc bike, and although I'm sure it can pull harder than my 750 did, there is no possible reason for anyone to need that kind of power.
My little 250 cc dual sport is really out of breath at highway speeds. For my 24 mile round-trip daily commute it really works well, but won't see me I-295 very often.
I just did another fill up, and it bumped my average for the season to 80.1 mpg:
6/3/08 \ 114 miles since last fill up. \ 1.53 \ 74.5 6/19/08 \ 125 miles since last fill up. \ 1.63 \ 76.7 6/26/08 \ 114 miles since last fill up. \ 1.37 \ 83.2 7/3/08 \ 102 miles since last fill up. \ 1.30 \ 78.5 7/29/08 \ 106 miles since last fill up. \ 1.37 \ 77.4 8/6/08 \ 89 miles since last fill up. \ 1.00 \ 89.0 8/21/08 \ 105 miles since last fill up. \ 1.33 \ 78.9 8/28/08 \ 101 miles sinse last fill up. \ 1.22 \ 82.8
Totals/Averages 11.76 gallons \ 80.1 mpg