All we know is that Daryl is riding his brother Merle’s bike. It has a lightning-bolt SS insignia on the tank. The saddlebags contain, among other things, all sorts of legal and illegal drugs including prescription antibiotics and painkillers. (I, for one, find these completely believable given Merle’s alluded-to background.)
But let’s back up a bit; I’d like to point out that someone riding a motorcycle would be a valuable asset to a group of apocalypse survivors, be it the zombies, the Russians, or even the Republicans. Motorcycles are good for scouting ahead, checking on stragglers, seeing if the group is being followed, and delivering messages between vehicles in a convoy. They also use less fuel – always a good thing when resources are limited – and can get to places four-wheeled vehicles cannot.
To be fair, motorcycles have limitations. They do not carry a spare tire. They must be balanced like a bicycle. They offer the rider no protection from the elements, zombies, or Republicans. They generally require all four extremities to operate.
Now, back to Merle’s/Daryl’s bike …
I could tell right off this bike isn’t a Harley as it lacked the distinctive V-twin motor and both exhaust pipes exit the front of the engine, not a Harley design. Many non-riding viewers might expect Merle to ride American iron given his personality, but he’s riding a British bike. In my nearly six minutes of research, I found that consensus on the Internet seems to be this bike is most likely a Triumph Bonneville 650 originally built anywhere from the mid-60s to 1971. The Bonneville was cherished and heavily modified by hardcore riders nearly as often as the more ubiquitous Harley product; many are still being ridden today.
Although a cool and truly badass ride, a vintage Bonneville isn’t the best choice for post-apocalyptic transportation. Oh, it can do all the things I mentioned above fairly well including go off-road (but only in extreme circumstances); however, the bike has three large strikes against it: age, noise level, and range of travel.
Old-school choppers may be easier for a shade-tree mechanic to work on, but finding parts is more difficult than for newer or more commercially popular bikes. Replacement parts for a newer-model bike would be easier to, ah, “acquire”.
In a world where noise attracts walkers, the far-reaching powerful throb of an un-muffled motorcycle engine is sure to announce one’s presence to every walker for miles around. Daryl prefers a crossbow to a rifle because of noise concerns, so why would he ride this bike?
Another of the bike’s limitations is the small gas tank – referred to as a “peanut” tank – that generally only carries 2-3.5 gallons of fuel. When removing all the non-essential parts of a bike – “chopping” – a small gas tank is used to reduce overall weight to increase its speed. However, in any post-apocalyptic scenario, a larger tank that allows more miles between fuel stops would be preferred, at least by me.
A much better motorcycle for Daryl would be one classified as a dual-sport, meaning it can be ridden on-or off-road. Like any hybrid, a dual-sport isn’t the best in either category, but rather has characteristics of both. It isn’t as comfortable and won’t carry as many supplies as a big road hog like the Harley-Davidson Electra-Glide or Honda Gold Wing. Also, it won’t be as rugged as bikes designed for off-road use only, such as Suzuki‘s RMX450Z or Kawasaki’s KX450F. Dual-sport bikes are heavier and will not have as much suspension travel for overcoming obstacles.
While not as quiet as street-only bikes, they are designed to not shatter the quiet of wooded riding areas. Additionally, their fuel tanks can hold up to twice as much fuel as a peanut tank. As most major motorcycle manufacturers still have dual-sports in their offerings, parts for these would be easier to scavenge.
So, with all these marks against it, why does Daryl stick with Merle’s bike and not find something more appropriate? Simply put, it was Merle’s. Daryl rides this bike in honor of and in tribute to his big brother; it’s the one tangible thing Daryl has to remind him of Merle. To remind him of all that they were to each other, good or bad.
I can easily imagine this bike was Merle’s one true love, all his time, energy, and spare cash put into making it his perfect “sled” – customized motorcycle. Bikers express their personalities through their rides and these creations are seen as personal declarations, much like heraldry for knights of old. Bikers don’t want “cookie-cutter” sleds that look like all the others on the road. Bikers want their bike to be immediately recognized as theirs. There’s no doubt this particular bike belonged to Merle Dixon.
The biker in me understands this completely and will shout with a raised fist in support of Daryl as he thunders by.