Didn’t really take any pictures but I rode five different bikes, The Africa Twin, W800, Goldwing, Venture, and Bolt. Here’s a quick summary of each, in the order that I rode them.
Honda Africa Twin
Easily my favorite bike of the day, plenty of power, cruises at speed very nicely, easy to handle, confident handling, easy to stand up on and control, very easy to imagine taking this on some fire roads/light trails with plenty of confidence. Only complaint was the seat, it was angled to push you forward on the bike and is super grippy, because of that it felt like I had been sitting, and sliding on sandpaper. Great for when you’re pushing the bike offroad, not great for general riding.
Great looking little cafe bike, actually thought it was a Triumph when I pulled into the lot. For the most part I really liked this bike, it was fun to ride, handled decently well, and was surprisingly competent on the highway. It had several downsides though. 30 seconds on it was all it took to remind me why I’m over the cafe racer phase in my life, the suspension is fine, until it isn’t and it wrecks your back, the lack of power and torque for an 800cc (773 actually) twin is unacceptable. My friend was on a 650cc Vulcan S and walked away from me at every opportunity. At any speed, any RPM, this thing was just downright slow. The worst thing though was the tramlining, on the highway it was actually unnerving to the point I had to slow down. My buddy expressed the same feelings. I’ve never ride a bike before, or since that was so bad.
The Goldwing deserves every bit of praise that it gets. Incredibly smooth, phenomenal handling for such a large bike, easy to use controls, surprisingly sporty, comfortable, etc. Yet, it didn’t quite live up to expectations. At 6' I felt a little cramped on the bike, my seating position, while still comfortable, was very upright, and I felt very locked into that one single position with no room to move, especially my feet. The pegs really lock your feet into one spot, move your feet back and you’re in a slight rear set position with your toes supporting all your weight, and trying to move your feet forward results in boots meeting engine. It’s not enough to turn me off of the bike because it was still comfortable, but I’ve ridden more comfortable bikes.
Also, sport mode makes a massive difference in throttle response and turned the bike from good but boring, to comfortable and super fun.
Yamaha Star Venture
Let’s get one thing out of the way, this bike is hefty and not shy about it’s weight. Coming off the Goldwing the weight difference was remarkable. Slow speed maneuvering took a lot of focus, and if I had to do more than just a couple of turns in a parking lot it would be exhausting. Once moving though and on the road the weight hides fairly well, and actually benefits high speed stability. It was a fairly windy day, even the ‘Wing was helpless against the big gusts, but you’d never notice on the Venture. The V-Twin puts out gobs of torque as one would expect, perfect for cruising and no downshifts acceleration, but it needs to either rev higher, or have taller gearing. I’ve ridden several variations of this Yamaha twin, and it’s the same base engine in my Warrior. These come on hard at 2500 rpm, and pull like a freight train up till about 4300, at 4500 power noticeably starts to taper, and by 5k it’s time to shift. The Venture has the same bottom end characteristics, but hits the limiter around 4700 rpm. So when you’re accelerating, it pulls, pulls, pulls, and juuuussstt as power starts to taper, BAM! You hit the limiter. It’s infuriating. I found myself constantly watching the tach and short shifting just to try and avoid this. Comfort was phenomenal with lots of room to move and stretch. Despite the weight disadvantage, I’d still take this over the Goldwing if I was looking for a bike to eat up a ton of miles in comfort.
I came away with one conclusion on this bike. Just buy the Sportster. The Sportster defines this style of bike, and as much as a person wants to deny it I guarantee that it was a Sportster that got them interested in the Bolt in the first place. “But the Sportster is a Harley” they cry, “They’re ancient and horrible and heavy and don’t stop”, “Their riders are terrible people and I don’t want to be associated with that”. I’ll be honest, the Bolt did have a bit more power and was a bit smoother, but I didn’t find anything else about it that the Sportster doesn’t do the same (that is terribly), or better. The seat is small, the airbox is huge and clunky, there is zero lean angle, the suspension has no travel and will shatter your spine at the mere mention of a bump. I had fun on the Bolt in a bomb around town and act like a hooligan kind of way, but the only lasting impression it gave me was that I really miss my Sportster. Just buy a Sportster, put on a set of non obnoxious pipes, and don’t dress in ass-less fringe chaps with a black and blaze orange do-rag and no one will give you a second glance.