Archive for April, 2012

Pics From The Road

Posted: April 21, 2012 in little Honda
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I like to take a ride every night, and I usually go out to the nearest state park because the park is nice and the road to it is in good shape and has big, sweeping turns that make for good practice. I took some pics with my phone once I got to the park. I might get some pics of the highway if I find a picturesque spot.


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My bike was in really good condition when I bought it, but it needed an oil change and was about four or five ounces low on coolant. I’ve since remedied both. I also put on a new K&N air filter just for grins. Given that the bike is five years old and under 5k miles, even if it was serviced at a dealership, the spark plugs are probably the originals and probably about roached at this point. So I just ordered an 18mm thin-wall socket, a gap tool, and four new NGK plugs (OEM part #DPR6EA-9).

Maintenance is crucial on bikes. If you have an engine failure in your car, you can probably limp it to the shoulder and wait for help in safety and comfort. If your engine fails on a bike, you are at risk of locking up the driveline and being thrown like a rag doll. Before I set off, even just on a nightly cruise to the nearest state park, I check the oil, coolant, tire pressure, lights, and brake fluid. It has been super cold out, so I check the oil first, then start the bike and check the rest while it warms up. It doesn’t take me any longer to get rolling whether I did my pre-flight checks or not, so there’s no excuse not to. Additionally, with the wild swings in Iowa temperatures, I have had to inflate and deflate my tires a few times to keep them at the manual-recommended 29psi each (30lbs at the back with passenger). Tire pressure directly translates to grip, which directly translates to whether you go around the corner or off it. Tire gauges are about a dollar at gas stations, Wal-Mart, and every auto parts store ever, so buy one and put it in your riding jacket, or a saddlebag, or somewhere that it’s always within reach. Talk about cheap insurance.

My bike came with a Honda maintenance manual–the kind bike shops keep on hand. They’re about $100 to buy, but if you plan on doing basic maintenance your self (and you should, unless you’re independently wealthy), it’s a good idea to pick one up. There are some things I won’t do on my own, at least not yet, and because they aren’t cost-effective. I can have my carb cleaned for $50. I would bet that the tools necessary to clean a carb total more than $50. I’m going to pay to have a new front tire put on next year. I’m also going to pay to have a Honda mechanic do the 10k mile valve adjustment. I’m just mechanical enough to be able to change plugs, oil, filters, and that sort of thing. All of the procedures that require me to take the bike apart I will leave to a professional. If you have the skill to do it, good for you. You’ll save a ton of money. If you don’t have the skill, be realistic and save some money for scheduled maintenance.

Maintenance can be tedious (I enjoy working on my little Honda), but it will pay big dividends down the line. Take care of your bike, and your bike will take care of you. Besides, there’s nothing better than a bike that starts every time.

I’ve only been on the highway for coming up on two months, and as I mentioned in my intro article, I’ve already spent some time in inclement weather. It’s raining and thundering today, so I thought I would throw down an article about the weather. My experience was only about 25 minutes and 15 miles of miserable Iowa weather. But it was enough to put me off riding in bad weather. The following is probably not the gospel truth, but it is how I remember it.

I was doing my final Annual Training for the Iowa National Guard. After ten long, stupid years as an infantryman, I was finally going to be out, and this alternate AT was my ticket out early. My armory of assignment is about 70 miles away over two-lane state highways, which on nice days are a really fun ride. But this morning was different. It was warm, but the wind was chilly. The last weather report on my Android phone said there was a 30% chance of rain. Taking those odds, I donned my CorTech jacket, Icon gloves, and GMAX helmet and headed for the garage. I rolled my Honda out the door and fired it up, giving it some choke to warm it up before hitting the road. As I sat on the bike waiting for the engine to warm, I saw low clouds blowing southwest to northeast at a good clip. Thinking this meant the storms would be well east of me (I was headed west), I kicked the bike into gear and rumbled onto the backroads.

The odd mix of hot and cold breezes put me on alert, but the wind seemed to be pushing the storms past me, so I told myself to grow a pair and rolled on some more throttle. I came to my first intersection and pulled off the road in time to see a massive streak of lightning strike a power pole or tree or something a few miles west of me. The flash illuminated the padding inside my full-face helmet, and gave me some pause. Briefly, an old aviation saying flashed through my mind: “There is no reason to fly through a thunderstorm in peacetime.”  I dug out my phone from my jacket pocket and called the unit full-timer to ask how weather was at my destination. He said it was party cloudy, but he was driving in and out of rain squalls on the way in. I figured I was a quarter of the way there, so I would tough it out and just go.

I got nearly 30 miles down the road before a rain drop finally crashed into my face shield. I was five miles from the town that marked the midpoint of my journey. The rain started slowly, then it was like someone broke the largest water balloon ever. A torrent flooded down from the heavens and I was instantly soaked. Well, at least parts of me. Turns out my jacket really is water resistant. I slowed from well over the posted speed limit down to about 50mph, sometimes down to 45 as my tires struggled for grip. As I putted through town, still well before dawn, I felt an impact on my left arm. Hail. Shit. I suffered through the hail at a meager 35mph and pulled over at a gas station, taking shelter under the pump awning. I killed the bike and reached for my phone again. I called ahead to say I stopped due to hail, and might be slightly late.

I waited under the awning for what felt like years as the hail continued. A group of farmers had gathered in the window of the gas station. They sipped hot coffee as they looked at me in awe. Surely that fool on the bike was going to turn around. Surely he would come inside and wait out the storm. But he wouldn’t. As soon as the hail stopped, I fired up the bike, kicked it into first, and set off again into a wall of water.  As I came to the city limits on the far side, I struggled to maintain 40mph as I felt my rear tire hydroplane a few times. Then the fun started. It was now nearly 7am and the 18-wheelers hauling pigs to market from the hog farm down the road would now be making their first runs of the day. I braced myself and closed the throttle as the first of three approached. He was going slow also, so the wind blast was minimal. However, there was a something new: a spray of rain and hog feces that coated my bike and I. At this point, I was miserable, but committed. The next two passed leaving the same film behind on my beautiful blue Honda.

I struggled against the rain for about 10 more miles when the clouds broke and the highway was dry. Wet, dirty, and tired, I pinned the throttle open and made it to work on time. Early even. I spent my extra time cleaning my bike and helmet with a kitchen sponge.

Things I learned:

1) Check more than one forecast, preferably from local sources.

2) “A weather forecast is essentially a horoscope with numbers.” –old Air Force saying.

3) Riding in heavy rain is not fun, and had I not spent years on a dirt bike, I probably would have ended up dropping the bike.

4) Water+hog shit+time=rust.

5) Don’t ride in the rain unless you are a sadist.

On A Buffalo…

Posted: April 18, 2012 in little Honda, things I want
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I stopped in at the bike shop during my errands today to buy a spare clear shield for my GMax helmet. I happened to spy my next bike near the counter. It was a 2007 Honda VTX 1300C with bags and a HUGE highway shield. I would probably take the big shield off and go without or get a shorter one at some point. But anyway, I sat on it for a few wonderful minutes and pondered the differences between it and my lovable little 750. First, the seat is noticeably higher but the riding position is still really comfortable. The 1300C feels big. In fact, I felt like The Guy On A Buffalo.

I heaved the beast off its kickstand only to find that it is extremely well balanced and actually feels lighter to throw around than my Spirit C2…but it isn’t. In fact its nearly 200 pounds heavier. One should probably bear that in mind before tossing the big VTX into a corner or attempting low-speed shenanigans. I have read that the VTX 1300 also suffers from fairly doggy acceleration, but has significantly more grunt than its little brothers. I don’t want to go fast, I just want to be able to pass cars effectively without needing a downshift. If I was hell-bent on speed I would only be after a Triumph Rocket III or VMax. But I’m not that crazy. Not yet anyway.

I’ve had my 2007 Honda Shadow Spirit 750 C2 for about a month and a half now, and I’ve put about a thousand miles on it over a mix of in-town, county highways, and good ole I-35, also some gravel. I’m far from an expert, but I think I can share some initial impressions.

First, the elephant in the room–handling. Yes, the bike has a 21″ front wheel, and yes, it does feel goofy and tippy at first. However, once you practice your low-speed maneuvering it’s very easy and predictable. The bike is a middleweight at 505lbs wet, which makes it very nice in town and stable on the highway. It has enough weight that an 18-wheeler won’t blow you out of your lane, but it’s light enough to respond to body english. The 25″ seat height also makes it feel very stable at any speed. Gravel is still tricky, but everything with road tires is tricky on gravel. Oh, and while I’m on the seat, it is a gunfighter style seat that offers basically no padding for a passenger. The seat is comfortable up front though. If you plan to ride alone, you can get along just fine with the factory seat.

The brakes aren’t “sporty” by any means, but they respond in a linear and predictable fashion and will stop you quickly enough, even in “oh shit” situations (I’ve only had one so far). I wish it had a disc rear brake, but the drum works. This bike isn’t fast by any means, so the brakes aren’t super aggressive. I haven’t felt the brakes even hint at locking up, even under a few practice emergency stops from 70mph.

The 750cc powerplant is liquid cooled, and has a 5-speed transmission. This model being the C2, is shaft driven. I’ve seen claims on the interwebs that this motor is rated at 44hp and 46ft/lbs. So it isn’t fast. I’m guessing 0-60 is about six seconds, and mine tops out at 105mph. The engine isn’t rapped out, it just won’t go any faster. I’m guessing the 0-60 time is around six seconds, and 60-80mph roll-on is kinda anemic, even when you kick down to fourth gear and give it the beans. However, it will comfortably cruise at and above the 70mph speed limit here in Iowa. The good news is that what the little engine lacks in power, it does make up for in fuel economy. If I keep my cruising speed down to 65 or 70mph, I can get nearly 60 miles per gallon. I averaged 58.4 miles per gallon last time I took it out on a two-lane where the speed limit was 55. I was going a little over, but only a little.  It has enough power to ride two-up at highway speeds, but as I mentioned, you’ll want a different seat. On that note, if you want to ride two-up with bags and a shield, I’d just get an 1100 or 1300.

It isn’t a power cruiser or sport bike, but it is really a fantastic beginning bike. All of the controls react in a very linear and predictable fashion. It will go fast enough to keep up with your friends who have bigger bikes, though they will out accelerate it. I do want to get a more powerful bike, if only for the roll-on power. I don’t think it’s really worth the money to put a hypercharger and aftermarket pipes on a small bike. In the motorcycle world, it’s especially true that “there’s no replacement for displacement”. If I can find empirical evidence that a hypercharger and pipes can get me say, 10 more horsepower, I would do it, but for now my only planned upgrades are a set of decent saddlebags.  Maybe a shorty windshield. I hate being pelted by bugs, even in my helmet.

Things I would change about the bike? Well, I would rather it had a disc rear and 10 more horsepower. But if it had those things then there would be no reason to buy the Shadow 1100. I love my little Honda and if I can afford to, I’ll keep it instead of trading it for a VTX 1300 in a couple of years. Heck, if there are meaningful engine upgrades, I may just stick with this little guy until stuff starts to break.

On Christmas morning, 1994, I got a present that should be the envy of any ten-year-old boy. In front of the fireplace stood a 1993 Honda XR80R. Just like the one pictured below.

I had that bike until 2000, and I spent many, many hours on it. In the rain, the snow, and even on nice days. I jumped it off every jump-able surface on the farm, laid it down a few times, and wrecked hard a couple of times.  The little Honda kept on thumping along through it all. Then one day I outgrew it, sold it, and forgot about riding for eleven years.

I got back from my second and final tour in Afghanistan in August of 2011, and a couple of weeks later I was visiting my in-laws for the weekend. My father-in-law has a couple of bikes–a 2004 V-Star 1100, and a 2008-ish Honda Rebel–and he happened to be doing their end of season service when he asked for my help. He needed to change the oil in the Rebel and asked if I could ride it around the block a couple of times to get the engine warm. I said I could, and proceeded to ride the little Honda for nearly an hour. I was hooked again and set about getting my bike license.

I took the Motorcycle Safety Foundation Basic Rider Course at a local community college and loved every minute of it. After that class, I became consumed with finding a bike of my own. I looked at a number of metrics, but nothing really caught my eye until I was cruising Craigslist one fateful day last month. I found a 2007 Honda Shadow Spirit 750 C2 with 5100 miles for $3000. The best part is it was only about 25 miles from my dad’s place. With cash in hand, I bought it and rode it back to the farm during an awful wind storm, with sustained winds in the 40mph range, gusting into the mid 50s. I made it without incident over narrow Missouri two-lane roads, and knew this motorcycle thing wasn’t just a PTSD-induced phase or early mid-life crisis.

I bought a riding jacket, a full-face helmet, and riding gloves, and have since put nearly a thousand miles on my prized scooter. I’ve already ridden through a hail storm, in 30-something-degree weather, and over neglected Iowa backroads. My new little Honda has been just as endearing as my XR80R was. As I continue to evolve and develop my road-going skills, I will probably stick with Honda as my brand of choice. Though I’m not a Harley hater, I’m also not about to write a check for $10k or more for a used bike. You just get a lot more bike for your money with metrics.

I plan on sharing some equipment reviews, bike reviews, random rants, and roadside revelations on this site. For now, I’m going to get some more miles under my belt and crank out a couple articles about my little Honda.