Editor’s Letter – June 2022 – Manual Mania: War and Peace on 2 Wheels

In my December 2020 Editor’s Letter, I talked about the Yamaha 90 Enduro I got for Christmas. Buried in the Letter is a mention of the owner’s manual.

I thought about that owner’s manual when I got a PDF of a 2020 Honda Africa Twin. The 1971 Yamaha manual was about 44 pages. The 2020 Honda manual is 379 pages!

We can all agree that an Africa Twin is a considerably more complex motorcycle than a little enduro bike from 50 years earlier. Still, 44 pages are digestible for any owner, and 379 pages are intimidating.

Africa Twin Adventure Sports ES

I’m not the only person to notice this, as I received a press release from Scrap Car Comparison in England, where they researched the bloating of vehicle owner’s manuals for an entry on its blog. The website went through 90 manuals to get an idea of which manuals were the easiest to consume, and which were most challenging.

As it turns out, the Africa Twin didn’t come close to topping the long-winded manual list. That notoriety goes to the Kawasaki Z1000SX, which clocks in at 117,155 words, which takes over eight hours to read silently at a typical 238 words per minute. Unexpectedly, the not-high-tech Royal Enfield Interceptor 650 came in second, though it’s less than half as long as the Kawasaki.

According to Scrap Car Comparison, Honda manuals are typically easy to read, and BMWs take three of the top five difficulty spots. If you want to get a two-wheeler with the shortest manual, pick up a Vmoto Super Coco CPX. The 2834-word manual can be read in just 11 minutes. The most concise owner’s manual for a motorcycle available in the United States is the Yamaha Ténéré 700 at 28,685 words, which takes about two hours to read.

Jorge Lorenzo and Super Soco CUmini
Jorge Lorenzo and Super Soco CUmini

It’s no surprise that automobiles are much worse. The King Kong of manuals is for the Audi R8 at 616,064 words. You’ll have to set aside over 43 hours to read the R8 manual. As Scrap Car Comparison points out, that’s longer than Leo Tolstoy’s War and Peace (587k) and the entire The Lord of the Rings trilogy (576k) by J. R. R. Tolkien.

While we don’t read the manuals of the motorcycles we test from cover to cover, we do frequently refer to them for everything from changing the time on the clock to accessing the air filter.

The complexity of motorcycles and their manuals spills over into our job of testing motorcycles. At one end of the spectrum, there’s something as simple as a Yamaha V Star 250, and at the other are the nearly endlessly electronically adjustable European superbikes. Even dirt bikes have adjustability levels that completely change their characters. For instance, the handling and suspension action on a Honda CRF250RX are entirely different in the softest power mode than in the most aggressive.

It’s a constant struggle to decide how deep to dive into modes in a review. Our reviews could end up longer than the Z1000SX manual. However, we don’t want to gloss over significant changes to the behavior of a motorcycle if they’re present.

So, we’ll keep at it, searching for the optimum balance between information and readability. If you feel like we’re leaning too far in either direction in a motorcycle review, always let us know in the comments. We like hearing from everyone!

Don Williams


Ultimate Motorcycling