Paul Charman laments the era of big luxury motorcycles and abundant scooters, then finds a brand he likes.

They may be fast, flash and cost tens of thousands of dollars, but how many modern motorcycles are really useful?

How many represent easy-to-use transportation at a sane cost for that person we used to call "the working man"?

At the risk of slandering a small group of genuine enthusiasts, many of these high-performance superbikes, luxury tourers and big-bore cruisers wind up in the garages of older and, of necessity, more financially secure characters - folk who hardly ride them.

Some - I'd say a lot - are retained as a mere accessory, a collectable or fertility symbol.


These gold-plated weekend toys get used for the occasional beery pose outside the Puhoi pub or maybe for a straight-line burn-up or two ... seldom anything to really tax the performance, handling or longevity available. And just as well, too, or their wobbly middle-aged riders might be out causing havoc at twice the speed limit.

Okay, it's all generalising, but the big manufacturers seem obsessed with importing high-profit-margin, high-performance bikes for the elite, while unleashing a cult of flimsy scooters upon the rest of us.

Of course a few Japanese bikes of up to 250cc capacity are still marketed, but they seem way overpriced.

A Japanese 250 is likely to cost you at least $10,000 by the time you register it and buy helmets and riding gear.

Call it sustainability, or just plain old commonsense, but to me a motorcycle should cost a lot less than a car.

I began riding in 1973, the year the Arab Opec countries proclaimed an oil embargo in retaliation for America backing Israel during the Yom Kippur War.

Motorcycles seemed very useful then. Cars were expensive, everyone was keen to conserve petrol and bikes represented cheap wheels.

Your bike had to do a little bit of everything: commuting, off-road riding and even touring.

It was the era of sturdy Japanese motorcycles, a Honda CB 750 costing (from memory) about $2000, while very solid small-bore road and trail bikes from Japan went for a little more than $500.

Today they have largely been supplanted by luxury machines costing what us mere mortals reserve for house deposits or perhaps to buy a brand new family car. And the alternative is likely to be a scooter in gay plastic panels. But things could yet go full circle.

Suppose we wake up to hear Israel has done as it has threatened to do - launched its cruise missiles against Iran's alleged nuclear-weapon production sites.

And suppose Iran then makes good on its threat to close the Strait of Hormuz, through which much of the world's oil is exported.

In this scenario we'd instantly be back to 1973, albeit sans the compressed natural gas car conversions of that era to fall back on. And if so, I don't think folk will want to have $20,000 to $30,000 tied up in a weekend toy, especially one which does worse than a small car for fuel economy.

For some weeks or months fuel would be restricted, probably rationed under legislation called the Petroleum Demand Restraint Act 1981. But as in 1973, even after war has ceased and peace has been declared, years of political and economic ructions are likely.

Mark my words, it would mean the re-emergence of smaller, more economical motorcycles.

Fuel misers sized, say, from 150cc to 250cc, which can't keep up with the traffic on the open road now, would quickly come back into vogue. And remember, there wouldn't be much other traffic to keep up with anyway.

My idea of a useful motorcycle in this scenario is one which costs $5000 max, travels 30km or further on a litre of fuel and reaches at least 110km/h two-up. It would be light enough to manhandle when parking, pushing or loading, and nimble enough to travel across non-tarmac surfaces should the need arise.

It would be a genuine all-rounder, popular enough to generate an abundant supply of spare parts ...

This criteria used to fit the Suzuki GN 250, possibly New Zealand's most popular motorcycle ever, which was imported from about 1980 till (from memory) about 2007.

Alas, small well-priced bikes like the old GN have largely been replaced by scooters. But I would caution that a good motorcycle is usually a better bet than a "good" scooter. It seems like going back to kindergarten to restate it, but smaller wheels plus lower ground clearance add up to more strife in that rare situation when you have to leave the tarmac.

Type the words "Lambretta" and "Scottish Six Day Trial 1959" into your internet search engine to see the physics of how rough ground affects a scooter.

Scooter frames are also relatively flimsy in comparison with the triangulated steel frame of a decent motorcycle. And since most scooters lack a manual clutch, they lack facility to increase revs in contingency situations.

With the "luxury" of selecting gears manually, even a small engine can provide a surge of power to get out of a sticky traffic situation, or to climb steep driveways, etc.

So if the balloon goes up, I'd say get a motorcycle - not a scooter.

In this day and age I'd point to bikes like the Lifan LF250 V twin. This Chinese brand aims to make a name for better quality than its fellows and it seems to pack more features into its small range than the smug Japanese manufacturers.

Best of all, Lifan bikes seem to cost thousands of dollars less.

Depending on the model, they generally have both side and centre stands, both kick and electric start, and if you must have a scooter it will come top box included. The emphasis seems to be ruggedness and economy.

I've barely plumbed the depths of the LF250, which, costing $5000, admittedly just scrapes into my criteria. Enthusiasts will do their own road test and draw their own conclusions. All I'm saying is that - on the face of it anyway - the Lifan range is well worth a look.