I live just over the river on the south side of Boston. It’s a suburb sure, but a relatively urban one. It’s a wonderful place to live mostly because it’s under 15 minutes to downtown Boston yet it has bucolic features like tree lined streets which isolate it from the urbaness around it.
That 15 minutes is of course when there is no traffic and there are very narrow windows of time when there is no traffic. This is especially true when heading from Boston to home as Route 93 South seems to never have a break from congestion.
But enough about the woes of commuting in and around Boston. Let’s move on to the less-than-obvious benefits of a supermoto as a commuter bike, even if you do a lot of highway miles like I do.
1. Seating Position
A supermoto, for the uninitiated, is effectively a dirt bike with street wheels and tires. Of course in order to make it street legal it needs additional things like lights, horn, and a license plate.
Being an altered dirt bike, it is not very comfortable since the seat is often referred to as a 2x4 plank. There are aftermarket seats that can remedy this, but I have as of yet not changed mine.
So, if it’s not very comfortable why have I chosen ‘seating position’ as the number one benefit of a supermoto as a commuter bike? Simple: Visibility.
Supermotos, like their dirtbike counterparts, generally have higher seat heights and an upright rider triangle (relationship between seat, foot-pegs, and handlebars). This means I am sitting higher and sitting more upright which allows me to see over, around, and through other cars and obstacles. I like to think that being tall and upright also increases my visibility as it pertains to other drivers seeing me.
In addition to visibility, there are further benefits to the seating position of supermotos. The seat to peg relationship provides more leg room putting less stress on the knees. The handlebars allow a lot of leverage over the front wheel.
Finally, you can move around on the seat and even stand up to give your backside and legs a break, which I find beneficial for any ride over 30 minutes or so.
2. Suspension Travel
Like many metropolitan areas in the United States roads can be left for months or years without being fixed or repaved. The sluggish economy has only made this worse. Boston has the added difficulty of frost heaves in the winter.
Even though my commute is mostly on 93 North through Boston, a main and well travelled road, there are countless potholes, bulging expansion gaps, and manhole covers. These can be exceedingly uncomfortable on cruisers especially and even sportbikes, I’ve had both.
Supermotos benefit from their inherited dirt-bike suspension due to the often over 9 inches of travel on either end. Sure, the suspension takes some tuning to balance between handling precision and plushness, but once it gets close to be sorted the supermoto can do a much better job of absorbing the bumps in the road.
Supermotos often have smaller displacement single-cylinder powerplants. This results in lower horsepower ratings but also lower weight. Supermotos are not known for their dyno busting power but thanks to their light weight the power is sufficient to propel both rider and bike easily through traffic.
I’ve mentioned there is traffic in and around Boston, right? Being able to quickly and easily accelerate and decelerate anywhere between 5 and 40 mph is incredibly beneficial for squirting through gaps and avoiding collisions with cars that choose not to see you. Once you get above 40 mph, acceleration slows down but is still faster than other vehicles on the road.
Supermotos are great at changing speed, up or down, within the normal mph range of traffic.
4. Top Speed
I’ve owned and ridden sportbikes that will easily go 120 mph in third gear and even approach 200 mph if given the room. While these speeds are exhilarating and exciting they are not very useful in bumper to bumper traffic. If you are like me, you struggle keeping sportbikes under the speed limit.
This is where the limited top speed of a supermoto has a counterintuitive benefit as a daily commuter. It allows you to ride plenty fast enough to keep up with and even pass the faster commuters, but not so fast as to make you an easy target for officers of the law.
A hybrid benefit of the lower top speed and non-aggressive seating position is that even though you may be traveling faster than the posted speed limit you appear to be going slower than you are. This is opposite of a sportbike where 35 mph looks like 50 to the police.
5. Fuel Economy
Definitely not a primary benefit for me, but more like an added bonus. I can accelerate as fast as my bike will allow me and drive 75 mph and still get 65 mpg. This figure is of course rider and bike dependant, but I can ride my 2006 Suzuki DR-Z400SM as aggressively as I can on public roads and still get excellent fuel economy.
Those are the benefits of commuting on a supermoto as I see them. There are more and there are additional benefits of commuting on any type of motorcycle that aren’t covered here. Maybe that will turn into a separate list.