Archive for May, 2012

Insta-Killl Is Always ON

Posted: May 31, 2012 in Uncategorized

So I heard on the radio that there were two motorcycle fatalities in Iowa over the Memorial Day weekend. One was caused by a blowout on the highway, and another was as a result of a rider who “lost control” of his bike and was thrown down a ravine into a river. Without wishing to disrespect the departed, we can perhaps use their unfortunate demises to reinforce good habits for those of us who ride on.

First, the blowout. Sometimes, you just get a blowout and there isn’t much you can do about it. Preventative measures include visual inspection of tires, and checking your tire pressure often. But right now there are a lot of farm machines on Iowa’s backroads, and sharp pieces fall off of them with regularity. Avoid debris in the road like the plague. In the event of a blowout, gently close the throttle and brake on your good tire. Of course, that’s really only good advice as long as it’s your rear tire that gives out. A front-wheel blowout is tough to recover from under the best of circumstances with the best of riders. Wear your PPE to protect you if you can’t keep the bike upright.

Then the “loss of control”. Probably better termed “operator negligence”. The brief description was that the bike hit a railing and threw the rider a good distance down a ravine and into a river. I’m not saying this was indeed the case, but it sounds to me like a mis-judged corner entry speed. A lot of motorcycle deaths start out with the words “Hey, watch this!”. Of course, to be perfectly fair, most bikers are killed by negligent automobile operators who are too busy doing their makeup, sipping a latte’, and talking on the phone to actually pilot their vehicle.

The coolest thing about riding is the visceral experience of nothing between you and the road, the awesomeness of perfectly judging corner entry, and enjoying the quick reflexes of a bike. However, the most dangerous thing about riding is that whole “nothing between you and the road” thing. If you want to live to be an old, greybeard rider, you need to do your maintenance, train, ride responsibly, and wear PPE. Riding on a bike is like playing Call of Duty with Insta-Kill always on. Ride hard, but ride safe!

The Coolest Place in Iowa

Posted: May 31, 2012 in Uncategorized

The “coolest place in Iowa” might not sound like much of an endorsement, but I must insist that I had a great time at Baxter Cycle yesterday. Not only did I get to test ride two awesome brand-new bikes, but I also got to take a walk through their skunkworks and the vintage bike┬ásection. You’ll never guess what I saw back there.

Yes, that is a crappy cellphone pic of a Vincent Black Shadow. The fastest production bike from 1949 to 1973. There’s also a fleet of Norton Commandos, a bunch of 60s Bonnevilles, and a 1938 Speed Twin. There’s a ton of cool stuff back there. If you’re in the neighborhood, it’s worth stopping in just to see some of the classic Brit bikes. The new stuff is pretty impressive too.

I fired up my little Honda and set out westbound to turn in the remainder of my military gear, and then take a detour to Baxter Cycle in Marne, IA. I had only planned on talking to a salesman and drooling on various bikes. But the very nice fellow (Jeremy) let me test ride a 2012 Bonneville and a 2012 Scrambler. In short, they were a blast.

I took the Bonneville out first. It was gloss black and bog-standard. The Bonneville has a 360 degree firing interval, whereas the Scrambler (and Speedmaster and America) has a 270 degree crank. The first thing that struck me was that the Bonneville felt absolutely weightless. I mean it felt like a Huffy more than a Harley. The grips and controls are significantly smaller than my Honda’s, and that struck me second. Then there’s the motor. It revs freely and happily, though I wish they hadn’t put such effective silencers on the exhaust.

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I ran the Bonnie down Highway 83 about 3 miles, managing to hit some big sweepers and a number of straights. The bike doesn’t have the rip-your-face-off acceleration of a superbike, but it is very nippy. 0-60 is a two-gear affair that I would guess to be around 5 seconds. The acceleration is very whooshy and smooth. A sort of dignified speed. Speed with class. In fact, I was having such a good time thrashing the motor that I whizzed right by 90mph before slowing a bit since it was a borrowed bike. It handles magnificently. I tipped the Bonnie into a big left and right hand sweeper at significantly above the posted speed limit and it felt like I could have chucked it in even faster. Handling at low speed is utterly easy. Steering is very light, and again, it really feels like you’re steering a bicycle. It’s a hoot. Oh, and while I’m at it, the seat was very comfortable and the position, while unfamiliar to me, was very comfortable as well. The ride was slightly firm, but still very enjoyable.

I came back and Jeremy offered to let me ride the Scrambler, and I couldn’t say no to such hospitality. The Scrambler was anti-social matte black and had Triumph kneepads on the tank. I was a bit unsure of the Scrambler’s semi-knobby tires, but they proved nearly as capable as the Bonneville’s street tires. Riding down the same stretch of IA83, the Scrambler was even more fun. On paper, it has 10hp less than the Bonnie, but I really couldn’t tell. What I could tell was the ride was smoother than the Bonnie, thanks to the chunkier tires and taller suspension. Surprisingly, handling was very close to the Bonnie. Turn-in at speed and it just grips and grips. In town, it’s like a very light dirtbike. The seat was slightly hard, but the riding position was even better. I could honestly see myself taking the Scrambler on some decent road trips. Oh, and the exhaust. That wonderful exhaust. The factory 2 into 2 grunts and grumbles like a beefy dirtbike. It has charm and character, whereas the Bonnie’s exhaust is a gentle hum like a Trappist monk.

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But which would I have? Well, gun to my head, I’d say the Scrambler. The Bonneville has so many things going for it, but the Scrambler is a Swiss Army knife to the Bonneville’s stiletto switchblade. The exhaust note on the Scrambler is very pleasing. The seat position is like an off-roader. The engine is nippy and rev-happy. The knobby tires and modestly sized wheels make for an unmatched capability on pavement or gravel. The Chuck Norris flat black paint and blacked out engine look rugged and vaguely anti-social. The Scrambler has all the good genetics of the Bonneville and gives them character. Makes them come alive. Throw in the fact that it gets an estimated 60mpg highway and still has a 4.2 gallon tank (that’s a 240 mile range, for those of you in Rio Linda), and you have the ultimate go-anywhere do-anything road warrior.

A WARNING FOR SPORTSTER BUYERS

So these two bikes cost under $9000. The Bonneville in its lowest-end incarnation is $7600, while the Scrambler adds up to $8500. So if you’re about to drop similar money on a Harley Sportster, please don’t. Go test ride these bikes first. You still get a big name, you still get a good looking bike, and best of all, you get a better value.

Clearly, the cheapest, and probably best way to start riding is to get on Craigslist and buy a used bike. There isn’t a lot to add to that, but there are a few tips I can give the new-to-riding.

First, patience. I missed a GREAT deal on a 2005 Suzuki M50 because I was at a training even with my National Guard unit. I had lined up to give something like $4200 for the Suzuki. But someone else snapped it up. I was pissed. Well, the following Monday, I headed down to the family farm where I work as a migrant laborer(thanks for the bang-up economy, Mr.Prez…). Before I set off on the tractor, I checked Craigslist, and there I found my Honda. I saw the 2007 Honda Shadow Spirit C2 with 5000 miles listed for $3000 and I called right away. The bike had been listed for about two hours when I made arrangements for a test-ride. My local bike shop had two 2005 Shadow 750DCs on the floor with 7000-15000 miles for $4500, so I feel like I got a pretty good deal. I still haven’t found a comparable bike for less than $3500–but the guy selling mine was set to deploy to Kuwait for a year and wanted to buy a Harley on active duty, but his wife said the Honda had to go before he got a new one; so I got a deal.

If you watch Craigslist, or for that matter, the inventory at your local bike shop, deals come and go every day. Just because you miss one doesn’t mean another one won’t come along soon. The best time to buy is probably late in the riding season when everyone’s looking to trade for a bigger/better ride. The best time to sell is around the first couple of nice days in spring, and folks will pay ridiculous cash just to get out and enjoy the weather.

Second, do your homework. Ride a bunch of different kinds of bikes if at all possible. If you’re like me and have had some previous riding experience, then get a bigger bike right away so you don’t outgrow it as I have done with my 750C2. Also, make sure to ride different types of bikes. You might find, as I did, that a “standard” like the Triumph Bonneville is a better fit than a cruiser or a supersport. Or you might find you like being scared half to death and riding in an uncomfortable position and buy a supersport. You never know!

That’s about it. Go in with as much information as possible, pay cash (going in debt on a bike is dumb. sorry, it just is), and get the bike you want–not the bike your friends want you to get.

 

Ride The Fat One

Posted: May 19, 2012 in little Honda, things I want

Last night a couple of friends came up to visit from a local bike night. One has a Victory V92 and the other has a 2012 Harley Fatboy Low with all the matte black extras–and in fact had a higher sticker price than my 2011 Subaru Impreza WRX. I got to go around the block on it, but it was very late and I couldn’t goose it at all without waking the dead. But I did form a couple of impressions.

First, The Fatboy Low is a large machine, and feels large. However, it really wasn’t unwieldy around the narrow town square streets. The motor was very nicely balanced, and made huge, enormous, incredible amounts of power. My friend’s bike has been tweaked and tuned so when it was last dyno’d, it hit 125hp and nearly the same number of ft/lbs. So it was quite nippy for an 800lb gorilla. Cruising the city streets at 25mph was dealt with at idle, as was launching from STOP signs–but it never felt like it was going to run away with me.

Additionally, the saddle is soft and very wide. The brakes were very good, and coordinating clutch/throttle/rear brake to perform low-speed maneuvers was pretty easy. I was initially intimidated by the size and incredible noise, but it really wasn’t any harder to drive around the town square than my Honda 750. One day I would like to make a run down the highway on it and observe its obviously muscular acceleration.

If you have $27,000 lying around, this isn’t a bad way to go. And if you have $54,000 lying around, get one for me too.

You Have My Attention…

Posted: May 17, 2012 in Uncategorized

My under-employment has given me a couple of days to ponder my next bike really carefully. And probably with a bit of unhealthy obsession.

I’ve narrowed my search down to the Triumph Bonneville and Yamaha FZ6 for the non-cruiser category. I’ve looked up written and video reviews of each, and what I find striking is the FZ6’s raw power. No, it isn’t as fast as a supersport like the R1 or Hayabusa, but it is still extremely fast. I like to think of it as a “light power-tourer”. I’ve made arrangements to go look at a 2007 FZ6 at a local dealer over the weekend and see how comfortable it really is. Google uncovered story after story of guys who simply put on hard bags and a touring seat and go for a couple of days straight. The FZ6’s relatively large fuel capacity, combined with about 50mpg highway makes for a bike with around a 200 mile range. It has a cool half-fairing, underseat exhausts to prevent leg burns, and can go 0-60 in under 4 seconds and on to a top speed very near 140mph.

However, the FZ6 isn’t without complaints. Some say the clutch doesn’t do anything until the last 1/3 of movement, some think the driveline has excessive lash, and it still suffers from low-rev dogginess because of its four cylinder mill–though not as much as most sportbikes do. I will find out this weekend, I hope. As long as the FZ6 I’ve found is still on the dealer lot for me to at least sit on and obsess over.

As I previously posted, I’m starting to look outside the realm of cruisers and see if there’s another bike out there that might suit me better. My biggest complaint about my bike, and most small cruisers, is a total lack of roll-on power. I don’t want to race or do anything stupid. I do, however, want to pass cars as quickly as possible. And that requires power–something my 44hp Honda lacks.

I also don’t want a crotch rocket. I had one for a couple of months when I was in high school. I took my lunch money and bought a 1986 Fz600R with about 35,000 miles on it, and it was UGLY. But it was fast. Mind-bendingly, frighteningly fast. My mom made me sell it, and a friend of mine wrecked it on his test-ride, making it only a couple hundred feet before the high revving 4 cylinder engine shot him into a tree. He was fine and paid for the bike. I didn’t ride again until the fall of 2011.

But there is a third way. Suzuki very stupidly killed its fantastic SV650 and SV1000, but you can occasionally find one used under $4000 in good condition. The motors from both bikes have gone on to the V-strom, so you can still get them serviced. Just don’t drop the bike because body parts are in short supply. I actually VERY nearly bought an SV650 before I found my Honda. The SV has a riding position between the full lay-down style of the crotch rocket and the upright cruiser. It was pretty comfortable, but I imagine your wrists would hurt after a couple of hours. ┬áThat said, the SV’s v-twin motor produced enough low-end grunt to never feel doggy, and could run fast enough to get your blood pumping. I really like this bike and kind of wish I had just gone for it instead of obsessively seeking out online reviews.

Next, there’s the Yamaha FZ6. It has a fully upright ride position while retaining the racing looks of the R6, and in fact having a re-tuned motor from the R6. The FZ’s mill is tuned to give more power in the middle of the rev range, and by most accounts, it hasn’t worked, leaving the bike feeling lost from 5k-7k, then it turns into Mr Hyde. I really want to ride one and see how distracting this power delivery is. My old Yamaha FZ60oR felt very doggy in town, but when the revs built up, it was scary-fast. The FZ6 looks awesome, and seems to have potential. As a bonus, you can find them used for around $4000, sometimes less.

I really just want a solution to the roll-on power problem, and it’s hard to solve in the cruiser class. The only option is really to go bigger, and eventually you end up with a bike that is excellent on the highway and kind of a pig in town. I would like to preserve the in-town ability of my bike and just give it some more power to make passing quicker. I guess the lesson to be learned here is to think about what your bike will be used for before you buy. And don’t get hung up on a single class of bike just because all of your friends have one.