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My grandparents were transplants from oil country in North West Pennsylvania. Both had served in the Second World War. My grandfather as a Marine Raider and my grandmother as a nurse in the Navy. I still don't know how they met. But what I do know is they both liked to travel on 2 wheels. My grandmother preferred Indians while my grandfather was a Harley Davidson type of guy. When I would take my summer trips to visit them it was on the back of a Harley both there and back. Those rides made me want a Harley more than anything, except maybe being a U.S. Marine. Unfortunately it took nearly 25 years for me to see that first dream of owning a Harley come to life.
I became a Marine at 18 and a husband and father by 19. The constant strain of deploying and always working long hours pushed the thought of riding motorcycles to the back of my mind. But on one fateful day I may a proclamation to the world and a promise to myself that when I was promoted to the rank of Gunnery Sergeant I would buy a Hog. 11 years, 3 combat deployments, 1 additional child, 2 dogs, and 1 Purple Heart later I got that promotion. I never forgot that promise to myself. Based on my wife's reaction when I traded my Scion tc for a Harley-Davidson Nightster, she had forgotten it all together.
I was sold the moment the salesman cranked the motor. The sound was more moving than heavy machine gun fire. I purchased that same day before even having a license. My wife told me that I better ride "come hell or high water". That is exactly what I did. I rode that Harley for 4 years until I was given orders to California. Because of the desert heat and sand I decided to move up to something a little bigger with wind protection and traded that Nightster for a Switchback. It too was beautiful. But it wasn't meant to last.
Within 2 years of living in California I had been in 2 accidents. Insurance covered it both times but I realized quickly that I needed more. More performance. More safety. More everything. I researched night and day and read every review and motorcycle of the year list that there was. As hard as I searched I just could not find a Harley-Davidson that was anywhere on a top 10 list or winning a comparison. However, big bore adventure touring motorcycles were showing up everywhere with reviewers singing hosannas with every new model. BMW R1200GS Adventure, KTM 1190 Adventure, Ducati Multistrada, and the list goes on. There had to be something about these motorcycles that I was missing so I went and rode a few.
My first fear was comfort. It didn't make sense to me that an upright riding position could be more comfortable than the feet forward position on a Harley. I was dead wrong. It was even more comfortable. I was also concerned that I would have an issue being bent over the bars and putting pressure on my hands. I still have some shrapnel in my right hand that gives me fits. But these bikes don't vibrate like a hog so that wasn't an issue either. After much deliberation I settled on a 2014 Yamaha Super Tenere ES.
All of my Harley friends were devastated. They had lost a friend. How could I move to such an "un American" bike? The answer was simple. It was cheaper while being more capable and versatile. Out the door I paid thousands less than my previous Harley. It has an electronically adjustable suspension, heated hand grips, ABS, linked brakes, an adjustable windshield, and even a gear indicator. I was smitten from the start.
Not only was this motorcycle less expensive, but it was also more capable in almost any metric. Horsepower? Check. Braking? Check. Carrying capacity? Check. Fuel economy? Check. I began to question why I had started off with Harley-Davidsons in the first place. I continue to ride come "hell or high water". But that hell has to be hotter and the water higher for me to even break a sweat. Hardly a Harley you say? I say great, and I am happy for that choice. A young Marine made a promise to himself about buying a motorcycle. This now old and aging Marine wishes he could go back in time and knife hand that youngster into opening his eyes to true performance. I think that if these types of bikes had been around in the '50s that maybe, just maybe, grandma and grandpa would have felt the same.