I recently went to Okinawa. Japan consists of 47 prefectures or states and this is the only one I had not seen. At nearly 3 hours flying south it is only a little bit less than to the Philippines and quite different to the rest of Japan.
Okinawa has a tropical climate not dissimilar to my home town region so I was looking forward to warm weather even in winter. However in the run up to this trip the weather forecast was for rain and temperatures that were half normal for this time of year. In other words lousy for motorcycling. I had mapped out a ride long ago, north along the coast to the cape. I ended up exploring a good portion of the island but achieved this by four wheels due to weather.
I am going to pass on some information for riding there there take the opportunity to have a small chat about my new motorcycle considerations. I had been going to rent a motorcycle in Okinawa from Rental Bike Apro who have a range of small bikes, I was interested in their Yamaha XJR400 or a Honda CB400 Super four. A 400cc would be ample I thought given Okinawa island is small but there but bigger bikes also available if you need room or want to ride two up. They have rider gear and pickup from hotel and airport transfer services but it is not far from the monorail either.
Well as mentioned the weather forecast was lousy and indeed upon arrival it was cold rain blowing across the streets and felt little different to where I had just come from. Across the road from the bike rental shop is Nissan car rental and so that is what I ended up with. Navigating Okinawa is so easy, everything is well signposted and in dual language. You could ride without a GPS it is that straight forward, but as always a GPS will make it so much easier and let you focus on the scenery more. There is just a small section of expressway north which whisks you out of the city and past the giant US air force base that I never saw anything of. The historic sites are all ruins, fortifications only and I would advise not to spend much time on them. I visited one of the ‘castles’ but nothing more than a few stones so leave that for mainland Japan.
The modern architecture however is very interesting. Most of the houses seem to have been built at the same time in the same style, namely mid century flat roof which reminds me of the modernist style I was once very interested in however in Okinawa they are all two level raised to capture the breeze in the hot summers. If you enjoy that era I think you will be delighted to be surrounded in early 60’s style buildings. There is also plenty of space compared to Japan with wider roads and large house blocks and all this of course relates to Okinawa being an overseas territory of the USA after World War 2 up to 1972.
While driving I had time to reflect on my current motorcycle and pondering if I should change it soon. It is due for a new safety certificate which is an expensive item here costing about $700 for another two years (initial one lasts 3 years from new). It also needs new tyres, about $350 for a set of Bridgestone BT-023 GT radials if I order them online then another $60-70 to have them fitted by my local shop. Oddly if I buy them from the shop they cost about $200 more and still have same fitting cost. Servicing this bike is really just change of oil for this year. Very low maintenance motorcycle. I can do the oil change myself for about $40 using generic brand oil and filter Vs genuine Yamaha branded oil and filter and shop labour costing much more. The yearly road tax and insurance is also due, they total about $350. Timing wise now would be good to trade in I guess however second hand vehicles here do not retain much value. So unlike Australia where a FJR1300 retails for $25,000 and three years old would still be worth reasonable money here it was about $13,000 new and three years old with some scratch marks I estimate would worth about half that and trade in value less again.
Like most riders I read lots of motorcycle news and reviews. Because the FJR1300 is a little bit big and a little too heavy for here I have been looking the last three years at other motorcycles thinking what would provide the touring comfort from the cold here in a smaller package as about 50% of the riding I do would be better on a lighter bike.
I am attracted mostly to naked bikes, and older or retro styling. If I was back in warm Australia doing day rides I would strongly consider a Yamaha XSR900. It is the MT-09 I enjoyed so much in New Zealand in a neo retro style. Actually it is yard build, a modern take on the look that the early 885cc engine Speed Triple nailed but has since become confused in more modern versions. The 3 cylinder engine also reminds me of my Triumph although this new one has a lot more power and yet uses half the fuel. I am betting the XSR will not have the electrical glitches my Triumph had either. Not really a touring motorcycle though.
I previously owned the very retro Honda CB1100 in Australia and here they have a range of newer versions which have a few enhancements, most useful an increase in fuel capacity and style wise they now have the spoke wheels I wanted when I had one. However having rented one here previously there is zero protection from the wind and they are not a good long distance motorcycle. With all the spoke wheel retro motorbikes now on sale I wonder what happens when you get a puncture. With a tube you can suffer sudden deflation which can be dangerous. There was a good reason motorcycles moved away from spokes. And repair is not just putting a plug in or using a repair can, you need to vulcanize or replace the tube. I loved the character of the big air cooled four, about 90hp and lots of torque is perfect for real world riding but not the most suitable touring bike.
If I was going for a retro naked motorcycle now I would have to consider the Kawasaki ZRX1200 which is not a throwback to old days but the real deal that has been a long time seller here in Japan and simply modernised. It’s looks are 80’s with the square headlight and I find that I like this era more and more now compared to the earlier retro styling that is everywhere. Turbine smooth lazy power from another air/oil cooled inline 4 is the type of engine I like best. Lots of torque any rpm, no need to rev the engine yet can still enjoy the classic sound and wind up of a four at more sensible road speeds than modern overpowered bikes. Low maintenance ultra long life engine. The models long production run in Japan finally ended last year but there are still new ones in the final Eddie Lawson colour scheme sitting in shops here as well as many fine examples with low mileage. Here is a 1200 and the earlier 1100 version I saw on the Sunday at Cape Hedo in Okinawa when the sun made an appearance.
But perhaps the motorcycle I think most capable of fitting my needs here is the Honda NC750X. Having ridden the 500cc version in Thailand twice I am just so impressed with this motorcycle. I actually like it more than the MT-09 Tracer I toured New Zealand on. And while every
failed ex racer motorcycle journalist whines and moans about the engine being low revving that is the very thing I like the most, instant go always any gear. Honda have made a fantastic real world engine, silky smooth and designed to always deliver power in the rpm range you are mostly in not just upper rpms that you see infrequently. It also has amazing gas mileage. It lacks sufficient wind protection like all the adventure style bikes but if I fitted it out with touring screen, heated grips and hand guards it perhaps comes closest to the sort of mid size touring motorcycle I think would work well here.
Back to Okinawa and yes the sun came out for 1/2 of day two so I was fortunate to be able to see the beauty of the place a little. The road up to the cape is ‘the’ motorcycle road and it reminded me at times of the southern coast of Sicily as the water was often a beautiful aqua blue shade.
You can visit the connecting islands on beautiful bridges.
And explore the many small coves and beaches on the islands.
And further riding from the Cape on the east is also accessible.
The southern coast has less good riding roads but would be scenic on a fine day. There is however a very interesting park and museum about the battle of Okinawa from World War two.
A weekend might seem like not much but it is not a large area to cover and two days you could easy ride the whole island. The capital city Naha is small compared to Tokyo so the traffic is modest.
Renting a motorcycle anywhere seems to cost as much as two or three times that of a car and Okinawa is not much different however the 400cc bikes and smaller would be enough and are a little more affordable. So long as you can pick the weather better than me then I think Okinawa is a good destination for a weekend of riding while it is too cold further north.
I have to also mention I went to the famous aquarium while there and whilst it is huge the crowds were even bigger. Thousands and thousands of people. Literally. And this was the off season. Bit difficult to enjoy to be honest.
So back to bike buying. Well nothing really stands out to me as the definitive choice. Wind protection is essential in the cold here so then looking at full or partial fairing bikes the BMW R1200RT is slightly lighter, not by much, I’ve ridden one already and like the FJR it is a bit too big for Japan. The F800GT has reasonable wind protection but I didn’t like the drivetrain in the 800GS version I rode. Suzuki’s GSXS-1000F is too sporty. The Vstrom I rode previously had terrible turbulence. The Bandit 1250 would tour well I think and has my favorite engine but it is approaching the weight of the FJR1300 before you fit it out with touring gear. Kawasaki have the Z1000SX which is unfortunately not released in Japan so far. Kawasaki’s similar styled ER650 Ninja made in Thailand is sold here. I have ridden it and a little bit cramped for tall guy like myself. Honda have the VFR800 but it has sports bike crouch so makes no sense to me. KTM’s Super Duke ‘GT’ has a focus on power thus ending up with less fuel economy and more maintenance then fits a tourer. MV Agusta have their 800cc Veloce touring model but I just could not bring myself to own another MV on reliability grounds. Triumph … Tiger Sport misses the mark for me with it’s limited fairing and cramped leg room. Not exactly a light bike either. Ducati … ahm nothing I can think of.
If you are curious how you fit on any particular motorcycle then as a general idea you can use a site called Cycle Ergo to show you and then compare between what you ride now or have been comfortable on side by side. Fantastic resource.
Yamaha are releasing a tourer version of the MT-10, even has cruise control which I love but had given up on finding on my next bike as seems to be only installed on large tourers. Not enough details so far but could be interesting. The MT-10 still has not been released in Japan so this could be long way off here. Ugly as hell and all those recessed spots are going to be full of bugs.
Realistically the MT-10 has twice the power I want and far more sophisticated suspension and electronics than I need, all that would go to waste with me as I just ride around a bikes limitations rather then need to have everything set perfect. But still…
My ideal touring bike for Japan might be the return of the Fazer FZ8 on the new MT-09 platform. A FZ9 Fazer. Why not the Tracer?, well it sits up too high purely for ADV style (but sucks on dirt roads). I prefer standard height motorcycles and the Fazer had a decent 1/2 fairing.
I may just be on the FJR1300 another year. The FJR1300 is too heavy however it rewards a easier pace and I want to take everything in when riding here. I do more riding overseas each year than I do here. Partly because I do no day rides in Japan since it is difficult to escape the 30+ million other people living in the greater Tokyo area. There is also a limited riding season here so I tend to do a big tour in Spring and another in Autumn. Only doing two rides (albeit long ones) a year it is somewhat hard to justify changing motorcycles even if the one I have lacks some of the fun factor a motorcycle should have.