Common Tread

How many motorcycles is enough?

Jun 23, 2016

How many motorcycles is enough?

It's one of those questions capable of killing a perfectly good hour when a group of riders is sitting around the camp fire at day's end or hanging out in the dealership lounge waiting for the tires to be mounted.

There is not one answer that applies to everyone, I believe. It depends, based on what it is you want to do with motorcycles and, of course, your purchasing power. For the rider who enjoys the occasional weekend spin around town when the weather is perfect but has other hobbies and responsibilities that mean more, one motorcycle is the right answer. At the other extreme, for George Barber, creator of the Barber Vintage Motorsports Museum, the answer to "How many?" is "All of them!"

Barber Vintage Motorsports Museum
How many motorcycles is enough? If you're George Barber, there is no end. Photo by Lance Oliver.

The rest of us find our sweet spot in between, or at least spend our entire riding careers trying to find that sweet spot. For me, the number seems to be three. I've often owned fewer but I've never gone above that, and the composition of my fleet has varied considerably over the years. Then there's someone like Lemmy, who buys and sells motorcycles all the time and generally has a project or two in some state of construction, deconstruction or basket of parts. I have no idea how many motorcycles are in his garage, but it's more than three. He also has a larger garage, I'd like to point out.

I haven't asked Spurgeon what he thinks is the right number, but he'd probably say "four," because his hero Peter Egan once wrote a column to that effect: one for traveling, one for sport riding, one for off-road and one vintage.

That's a good start, but I feel the answer needs to be more personalized than that. I start trying to answer the question the same way I start answering the common newbie question: What's the best motorcycle? (Meaning: What bike should I buy?) I always respond with "What do you want to do with it?" The best motorcycle for you is the one that best helps you do what you want to do. Expanding on that, the best lineup of bikes is the one that provides a specialized ride for each kind of riding you do.

Lance on an NX250
Yes, I looked a little like the proverbial monkey on a football while riding it, but the Honda NX250 made a great short-range commuter: 70 mpg and it didn't care how nasty the weather got. Photo by Bill Andrews.
To illustrate, compare my three-bike lineup of 10 years ago to my three bikes today. Back then, I had a regular weekday commute and rode to work year-round, so I felt a "rat bike" of sorts was an essential part of my lineup. I wanted something I could ride to work on salty winter roads that could potentially turn slick. I bought a used Honda NX250 for the purpose. I'm a pipsqueak of a man compared to Spurgeon, and don't even begin to compare me to Lemmy, but I still looked a bit silly riding down the highway on that little NX250. But I didn't mind abusing it and it got me to work in all kinds of conditions, including rainy days when the dual-sport tires were much appreciated and one 7-degree F morning that still stands as my personal record for cold-weather riding.

Along with the NX250, I owned the old 1997 Triumph Speed Triple I've had since 1998, and a BMW F650 with Givi bags and heated grips, which was the perfect bike for a trip I did to Mexico one year when I couldn't stand another minute of an Ohio winter. That trip included everything from U.S. interstates to wet dirt roads in Mexico, so the F650 was a fine choice.

Later, however, I decided I needed a bike for track days more than I needed a dual-sport, so now, 10 years later, I have a Triumph Daytona 675, a Kawasaki Versys with Givi bags and heated grips (are you getting the impression I like lightweight "touring" bikes?) and the old Speed Triple, still soldiering on, and quickly becoming my "vintage" bike just by hanging around.

The point is, my needs changed and the lineup changed to meet them. But the number is the same. Three bikes seem to get the job done for me.

If a meteor struck my garage tomorrow and wiped out all of them, and I was presented with an inexplicably large insurance check, I'd probably still end up with three: a sport-touring bike with luggage, a sport bike for the track, and an electric motorcycle that I would use for every ride of less than 50 miles.

Of course there are times I think it would be nice once again to have a lightweight dual-sport I wouldn't mind beating up. And I've always kind of wanted a supermoto.

And that leads us to the answer to this question that is probably the most common, to the point of becoming a cliché. How many motorcycles do you need? N+1, where N = your current number.

What about you? What's your ideal number? Tell us in the comments section below.