~Since 2004~
A site about memories, thoughts, photos, and unrepentant opinions about motorcycles and motorcycling after four decades of twisting the throttle.

Saturday, September 25, 2004

Ein Kliene Nachtmusik

I was given the chance to ride an original Triumph engined Rickman Metisse when I was in California a few years ago. It happened like this...

I drove over to Pismo Beach from Arizona to help my parents celebrate their 60th wedding anniversary. At the appointed party time on Sunday I found myself munching mom's cookies and hobnobbing with seldom seen family and friends also in town for the anniversary bash. After a bit I wandered out onto the patio to enjoy the distant view of the ocean and eat the extra cookies I'd slipped from the buffet table. From my older brother I heard that a friend of his named Mark had "some old Italian bikes and some Bull Tacos" and that I was welcome to pay the guy a visit and take a look at them if I wanted.

Since my brother knows a lot about business but nothing about motorcycles I was interested but didn't get my hopes up for seeing anything too grand. Over the years, from one person or another, I've heard a good many stories about the guy who "has an Indian in his barn" or "a whole collection of Harley's in his den." Most of the time when I finally got to the bikes they turned out to be bones or just plain non-existent but once a guy actually had an un-restored '48 Indian Chief in his garage. Sadly, he knew exactly what it was worth so my offer of $1200 cash money didn't impress him.

Late in the pleasantly warm afternoon just before sundown, bro and I sneaked away from the party and headed off in the car, motoring down some wonderful winding back roads dotted on each side with small farms, vineyards and upscale "estate" homes. The road was great fun to drive with the car and I kept thinking that next time I came over I'd bring my bike to explore and enjoy the roads properly.

When we arrived at Mark's house I thought maybe I was actually on to something for a change. The home was very nice and situated on several acres of mostly undeveloped hills and there sitting in the driveway was a fairly nice '75 Bultaco Alpina. Things were looking up. We were welcomed cordially by Mark but he quickly apologized that his best bikes were not there just then. Seems his 1974 Moto Guzzi V7 Sport and Vincent Black Shadow were out being restored. Hmm... Normally at that point I'd have been very skeptical about ever seeing such wonderful machines in someone's garage instead of at a concours but the assemblage of interesting vehicles and goodies setting around suggested that here was a fellow that put his money where his heart was.

After a few pleasantries about the Alpina. and bikes in general we wandered into the rather crowded garage. Right off I could see that most of the garage was taken up with assorted motorcycles and other toys and the nice automobiles sat in the driveway. Obviously Mark was a man who knew what was important in life.

Two bikes caught my eye right off, an early '70s Yamaha AT 125 Enduro in nice condition and wonder of wonders a very nice 650 Triumph-engined Rickman Metisse. And not just any Metisse mind you but an enduro model with complete lighting and a current California license plate. I always loved the look of the Rickman bikes, their nickel plated frames showed a touch of class that made them stand out from their contemporaries. Even today nothing catches the eye at a vintage event quicker than a nicely done Rickman.

I was sort of slobbering all over the Metisse when Mark casually asked if I wanted to take it for a ride. Does a bear relieve himself in the old growth forest? Cool! I've ridden all kinds of bikes over the years but somehow had never gotten the opportunity to ride a Rickman of any kind. It was just about dark and I was dressed in my "good clothes" from the party (clean sneakers, clean Levi's, and a shirt that didn't have the name of a motorcycle anywhere on it) and of course didn't have a helmet with me. Not exactly ideally dressed for an early evening ride on a 30 year old motorcycle but hey, Mark found a helmet that fit my rather large cranium and I knew mom would understand if I came back to the house covered with bug guts and a grin (it wouldn't be the first time). Mark was kind enough to start the beast for me as my Brit bike starting skills are all but dried up and after giving the engine a brief warm up period I hopped on, clicked the right side shifter into first gear and took off down the winding drive and out onto the highway.

As I blasted up through the gears I was impressed with the pulling power of the Triumph. Mark told me later that the engine had been breathed on a bit but nothing too radical had been done to it. I was glad that I've ridden a lot of Bultacos so the Triumph's right side shifter posed no problems for me. The right side shifter also means that lesser men, those unable to shift on the right as proper motor-cyclists all are able to do, will shy away from the Triumphs and Bultacos and the other true motorcycles in the world thereby keeping small the numbers of us who can truly enjoy foreign pleasures. With quirky obsolescence comes a certain exclusivity.

The Rickman brakes on the other hand were just as nebulous as one expects in an old, none-too-light, British bike. Braking is best planned in advance lest ordinary stops turn into those wide eyed maneuvers that threaten to leave one sweating in soiled shorts.

Mark's bike was fitted with snaky, chrome plated, high exhaust pipes and the ends of the pipes capped with some mostly-for-show small chrome mufflers. The sound as I wound the engine up and leaned through the first curves was really wonderful and makes me think that much of the success of the modern Yamaha four-stroke motocross bikes is in the rumble as much as the performance. Doug Henry's excellent races on Yamaha's YZ400F in the AMA Supercross series and outdoor motocross series back in '99 introduced a whole new generation of riders to what motorcycles sounded like when men were men and didn't need neon colored pants to show how fast they were. I don't care how good a 2-stroke is tuned it will never sound as wonderful as an open pipe 4-stroker. The Triumph sound is timeless.

The Triumph pipes were loud and the sound ricocheted off the canyon walls playing havoc with the early evening peace of the gentrified rural area. As a serious and concerned motorcycle enthusiast it occurred to me to roll back the throttle a bit and moderate the din. On the other hand I was riding a beauty of a blue Rickman Triumph on a winding California back road on a warm summer evening. The twin pipe Triumph symphony continued unabated by prudence.

As I returned to driveway I could make out that the land in front of the Mark's house was on occasion used for dirt bike activities. Some short curving trails, a small jump and the rough outline of an oval left no doubt in my mind that the Rickman and other bikes in the garage had been exercised there so I took the liberty of blasting through the dirt rather than taking the winding drive back up to the house.

My short sprint across and around the dirt field convinced me that the Metisse was never going to flip back and forth as nicely as my old Bultaco Pursang did but I still ached for a chance to try a nice long power slide with the shiny blue beast. Sadly, the unfamiliar rough ground and my street attire made that a "maybe someday" wish. To me, one of the biggest things lacking in modern motocross racing (besides Bultacos) is the lack of a fast sweeping turn and the beautiful arcing slides that a good rider can draw with the back wheel and a careful throttle hand. Much of the style and finesse of real motocross has been replaced with hyperbole and pogo stick jumping.

The Rickman was reluctantly returned to the garage but I did toss in a small wheelie on approach remembering to leave some extra runout room for the disinterested brakes. My non-cycling brother asked with a certain "I-can-tell-you-like-it-so-it-must-be-wrong" look in his eyes, "Are those pipes legal for the street??" I responded "Nope. What's your point?"

I would have been happy just spending the next hour of that fine evening lofting the front wheel and exploring the power band of the 650 twin but manners, fear of damaging the bike, losing skin, or offending my ever-so-generous host reined me in. It's one thing to sneak away from your mom and dad's 60th wedding anniversary party to look at old bikes and quite another to risk offending a fellow old bike enthusiast.

I rolled into the garage, shut down the engine and sat there with a silly grin on my face wondering how many other things I'd have to give up to own a Rickman. I calculated quickly that as magical as the Rickman was, I was just as enamored of eating and wearing clothes as I was with blue and nickel dash of the Rickman Brother's creation.

I thanked Mark for the ride and we talked for a bit about the other bikes in the garage and the two he had out being restored. But as we talked about the Alpina and the Guzzi and the little 125 Yamaha, the din of the open Triumph pipes buzzed in my head and distracted me in a way that made it hard...in a pleasant way...to follow the conversation.

Friday, September 24, 2004

Aprilia update

I waited much too long. The Aprilia is a rush in every respect. Too many slow bikes allowed me to forget what it's like to just annihilate a section of road and scare myself witless in the process. I think even if I stop riding the Aprilia for some reason (no parts, shaky dealers) I'll just park it in the living room and look at it.

Used Aprilias are fairly inexpensive right now, the company has become unstable (Italian business, big surprise) and they were just bought by the Piaggio company. It's spooked the market so some fabulous bikes can be had fairly inexpensively. True, you can still get a Japanese sport bike for fewer dollars and probably have fewer issues but trust me, nothing...nothing...has the look and feel of an Italian bike. The Japanese built great machines, the Italians manage to build spirit into their motorcycles.

A few details on the bike: It's a 2001 SL1000 Falco with slightly over 8000 miles on it. Normally when you look at a bike in Cycle Trader On-line the pictures make the bike look way better than it is when you finally see. The seller always seems to forget to mention the dent in the other side of the tank, the cracked plastic and the coolant leak "that stopped by itself."

In the case of the Falco, the picture showed a gorgeous bike, so much so I rushed off to see it the next day. In person the bike proved to be even better than in the pictures. Zowie. I looked it over very carefully trying my hardest to find some reason not to buy it but couldn't. Too red, too Italian, too sexy, too clean. Moto lust fogs the mind.

Steve, the previous owner, clearly is preoccupied with keeping his bikes clean just as I am mine. A clean bike is a happy bike and a happy bike won't let you down (knock on wood). In fiddling with the bike yesterday I did finally find a dirty spot; Steve had neglected to clean the underside of the top of the chain guard. Slob. ;-)

Other good things about the bike: The stock mufflers have been replaced with Aprilia's carbon racing canisters and re-tuning chip. There is a disclaimer on "silencer" information section of Aprilia's web page that says "The silencer is intended for closed-course competition purpose only and is not to be utilized for any other purposes. This item is not to be installed upon or used on any motorcycle used for street or transportation purposes on public roads or highways." I feel so naughty.

The restrictions added to the bike's airbox and ECU to make it more acceptable to USA bureaucrats have been cleaned out so the bike makes it's full compliment of Euro spec horsepower which is said to be about 118 HP at the rear wheel. Visit here if you want more info and to see some dyno charts for a similarly equipped Falco.

For those interested, Aprilia pics from yesterday's brief wanderings can be found here.

More Aprilia ramblings to come, of that you can be sure.

Goon Blog

I got a note from Jeff who's started his own "Goon Blog" and runs the web site for the Iron Liver Goons M/C. Somewhere between 1% groups and the Gold Wing Road Riders Association is the Iron Liver Goons. Not what you expect, trust me. Be sure to read their Mission Statement.

Anyone who heads up their blog banner with "Rambling nonsense of a motorsickle nature. Disagree? Get your own damned blog" is always worth a read.

Tuesday, September 21, 2004

But Can You Take Her Home to Meet Mom?

Aprilia Falco. She's Italian and very hot. We met for the first time Sunday, spent a couple of hours together and I brought her home tonight. Mid-life crisis on my part, I guess. There was no way to sneak so much Euro flash into the neighborhood quietly. What will my conservative neighbors think? Aprilia would be better off with a younger man but seems to respond to my rusty advances so what the heck. I figure I might as well have one last fling while there's a little life left in me.

My friends, with their dowdy metal oinkers, will be shocked and think I've gone mad. They may be right but madness can be a fine form of entertainment for one used to more a more staid consort. A wise fellow (me) once said "Fast motorcycles are like fast women: fine for a weekend but would you want to live with one?" Only one way to find out!

Monday, September 20, 2004

Bike Theft Prevention

Since I've been shopping for another bike (no cure for bike fever, you know) I've also had to revisit the unhappy world of motorcycle insurance. I've also been mindful of Dylan and MotorMilt's recent experience with having their Ducatis stolen. Which reminds me, I'm not so certain that the Muslims are wrong in lopping off the hands of thieves to punish a thief and discourage future thievery. OK, maybe a whole hand is too severe, maybe just a finger for the first offence. Even the dumbest criminal would probably give up and find a new career long about the time finger no. 5 disappeared.

I've decided to be more proactive about protecting my bike(s) so I've been investigating new alarms, locks, and whatnot. Way back in '74 I had a bike alarm called a "Cycle Guard" that fit under the license plate and actually had paging function built into it in the days before such things were common. It cost me a very dear $109 back then but when I'd leave my bike parked at motel or outside a restaurant it offered good peace of mind. These days I'm think about it's modern equivalent, the Scorpio cycle alarm.

One of the interesting items I've run across in my web wanderings is call DataDots. It's a security marking system that invisibly marks items (bikes, parts, etc) with a modern version of the old "microdot" image so they can be read with an inexpensive scanner. The company I work for uses something similar to mark all portable assets (laptops, etc) to help resolve theft problems.

Since stolen motorcycles are often stripped and sold for parts, being able to mark most significant components of a bike could be a real asset in recovery or at least resolution of what became of a missing bike. Perhaps the biggest advantage is the small "Protected by DataDot" label affixed to a bike that lets potential thieves know that every blessed thing on the bike is invisibly marked and traceable. Visit the website and take a peek. Might just be the kind of thing to keep your bike your bike.

Saturday, September 11, 2004

Close But No Cigar

I got up this morning with intention of buying a new motorcycle or at least a new used motorcycle and specifically an almost unused Ducati 800 Supersport I'd looked at last week. Financial issues were arranged ahead of time so it was just a matter of walking into the dealer, working out a price on a bike I liked and writing a check. I rolled the Kaw 1600 Classic out of the garage and prepared to set off. It's bloody hot today again here in AZ but if you're going bike shopping and show up on a bike it seems to get you treated somewhat differently, in a positive way, than if you show up in a generic car of some sort. Last time I drove up to a dealership the young sales guy asked me how long I'd been riding. I replied "I have riding jackets older than you are...and I still wear them."

My intention was to revisit the Ducati dealer and sweet talk him a little on the very slightly used 800 Supersport I looked at last week and go home happy. Being the kind of person who likes to explore all the possibilities one last time I decided to visit three other dealers (Japanese brands and BMW) before finally hitting the Ducati shop last.

When I pulled into the BMW dealer, my first stop, there in the parking lot was a beautiful Ducati ST4 in bright yellow. Yum. Must be a sign of some sort that there is surely a Ducati in my future. I wandered around the BMW place just to look, drool a little, see what they had used, and warm up my buying urges. The R1100S Beemers looked sweet but were way out of my price range there was nothing there within my price range or that even much turned me on so I rolled on down the road.

Next stop was the Honda/Yamaha/Suzuki/Watercraft generic "powersports" dealer, one of several around town owned by a local car dealer. The stores are clean and well stocked but run like car dealerships, not motorcycle shops. The showroom bikes are jammed together, no price tags on them, and don't even think about a test ride. Come to think of it, don't even think about finding a sales guy that knows an Aprilia from a Zundapp. The BMW shop is owned by the same outfit but at least is run as something of an enthusiast's shop with BMW as a stand alone marque.

I've played a bit of a game for years when visiting the flakey powersports-type dealers, most dealers in fact, by asking the inevitable saleskid "What kind of bike do you ride?" I'd say nine times out of ten the answer is "I don't own a bike right now but..." A little more questioning usually reveals that the fellow likes motorcycles but doesn't know squat about them. The exception is usually found at Harley shops where riding the product, however over-rated it may be, is at least seen as an essential bit of credibility for the sales staff.

The powersports place had a very clean late model Kawasaki ZX9 that I like really well although it wasn't on my list of possibilities up to that point. The price wasn't too bad and I imagine I could have beat them down a little so I asked how many miles it had on it. "Uh, I dunno...and the battery is disconnected so I can't get the key and tell you." Brilliant sales ploy. Send out a kid who knows nothing to sell a product that doesn't run. The Ducati 800 was still fixed in my mental image of me-on-a-bike so I continued my journey.

Next came the Kawasaki shop where they know me well since I've purchased three bikes from them and also sent them four or five paying customers. It's a nice little shop, independently owned, a little sterile, but still friendly enough and they will deal on bikes and not BS you too much. Sometimes they get interesting used stuff in, I even saw a used Ducati ST2 there a year or so back. Today though it was just "Hi" to Joey and the guys, a quick swing through, lusted just a bit after the ZX10 gonzo bike that I would have to be insane to buy but still would if I could afford the bike AND the insurance. Visiting the shop once with my son I sat on the ZX10 and asked Dave if he could picture me riding it to work. "I can picture you by the side of the road with flashing lights behind you." The lad does know me, at least a little bit.

So on to the Ducati shop. Happily, the Ducati dealer is a real dealer, a small shop run by an enthusiastic but businesslike owner. The shop is crowded but clean and the staff is knowledgeable and friendly. I asked about the used 800 I'd looked at the week before and it was still there. I told the sales guy I was vaguely dismayed to find it still there as now I would have to actually make a decision.

I sat on the 800 Supersport, looked at the 800 Monster sitting by it, poked prodded, asked questions, and tried to think of all the reasons why I shouldn't buy the bike. Eventually the sales guy wandered off to talked to someone more decisive or at least less indecisive. My cellphone rang. My brother. "Hey, what are ya doing" he asked. I told him and as you might imagine his advice could be distilled down to "Buy it, do it, go for it, now or never, you're only young once!" He did show a flash of maturity and wisdom when he asked if I could actually afford it. I told him "Sort of but not really, but that never stopped me before either."

Finally the shop owner came over to see if he could push me over the edge or at least stop me from poking and prodding and sitting on the red 800. I decided to go for it. The price was known and not especially flexible, the first sales guy had made that plain. So what's the price out the door? The owner grabbed a calculator, muttered something about "$180 for doc fees" and came up with a number fully $1000 higher than the base price of the bike. Erk... I don't think so.

Now sales tax and registration fees are given and are not cheap in Arizona. But the $180 of phony "doc fees" annoyed me just a bit. I was actually willing to give him the asking price for the bike plus the tax and title but I'd be darned if I was going to cough up $180 in phony fees. Your profit is in the mark up above what you paid for the bike, my friend. Don't insult my intelligence by telling me it costs you $180 worth of clerk time to complete the motor vehicle registration paperwork. I respect the right of any businessman to make a reasonable profit, that's how businesses stay open, but let's not play games with inflated "doc fees" and the like. Reminds of the Harley dealer that wanted to charge me $2600 for freight and set up on a Sportster once. He didn't sell me a bike either.

I countered with a number about $450 out the door less than what he quoted me, essentially deleting his doc fees and a little more just because I was kinda bugged. "No" said Mr. Dealer, "the bike is popular, I'll get back to you in a week or so if it doesn't sell." So be it. I was about to tell him I'd give him the price I offered plus drop a few hundred more on accessories on the spot but decided the moment was past. I thanked him for his time and headed for the door half expecting him to stop me as in reality we were only about $250 apart on the price. No dice though so out to the parking lot I went, fired up the Kaw and headed for home. I guess the moment wasn't right for a new Ducati after all. Maybe I didn't want it bad enough or maybe he didn't want to sell it bad enough. Maybe next week.

Wednesday, September 08, 2004

Girlie Men

California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger caused a small political ruckus a few weeks ago when he intimated that certain members of the California legislature "girlie men." Predictably, some politically correct people whined and were offended. I thought the comment was hysterically funny and wish more politicians would have the cajones to speak their mind instead of wilting before media and special interest group hypersensitivities.

Never the less, this blog isn't about politics, it's about motorcycles so speaking of girlie men, what is it with guys letting their girlfriend or wife tell them "the bike must go" or "it's that bike or me" or worse yet "getting married, fiancé says bike must go"? I've actually seen those ads in Cycle Trader over the years.

Here's a recent example I found while browsing bike ads: "SUZUKI..." "orig owner, 650 miles" ... "purchased 11/03, wife says must sell now." Excuse me? "Wife says must..."? I'm sorry but that's pathetic. It's best that the motorcycle be sold, that it go to a new owner who will ride it more than 650 miles in a year. Perhaps later it can be replaced by a lawnmower or new pastel bedroom furniture, things more fitting the seller's station in life. Sir, you got married, not gelded!

I'm divorced and it seems unlikely that I'll risk a trip to the alter again but if it were to come to that, should I happen by some miracle to find on my doorstep a wealthy supermodel who likes chubby middle-aged bald guys with no money, she'll only have a chance with me if she loves motorcycles. If she actually rides her own motorcycle I'll be a goner for sure. I don't care though how supermodel-rich-hot-crazy about me she happens to be, if she utters those terrible words "the bike or me" it's adios, Ms. Supermodel. [I know what you're thinking. Hey, it could happen! I'm not totally devoid of charm. Mostly.]

I understand there are reasons for selling bikes, I've sold most of the 30+ bikes I've owned for one reason or another but NEVER because someone told me I had to "or else." I did sell my nearly new '86 Harley in '87 because my son was born and I decided I needed the dough. Life happens. It's also a fact that when Dave was about two months old I took him to the bike shop, sat him on a new Harley, and told him for the first of many times that he owed me a new bike. Dave, if you're reading this, I'd prefer a Ducati now, not a Harley. A red ST4 with the matching bags would be nice but the Super Sport 800 will do fine.

Really gentlemen, if it comes down to a woman telling you that you must choose between her and the bike then she's not the woman for you. No one should ask another person to give up their mechanical passion for mere physical passion. And in that same vein, let me go on record here as saying that any guy that can't deal with his wife or girlfriend owning and riding her own bike has only one more nut than the guy selling his bike because his wife told him to.

Monday, September 06, 2004

Doing What Most Of Us Would Like To Do

Dusty Davis heads out for a month to see America on his Yamaha FJ1300. How many of us dream of doing something like this? How many actually work up the gumption to do it? I hope Dusty finds some 'net accesss along the way and can keep up his blog while he's gone. The on-the-road type entries always seem more real than the ones built on recollection. By the way, there's a great link on Dusty's page to the story of a guys 11,500 mile trip on a moped back in the late '70s. Great stuff.

Saturday, September 04, 2004

Bike Fever, Moto Lust, Whatever

Reading Dylan's blog, Johnstown Company, has gotten me thinking about Italian bikes again. I've had in mind for a while to buy some sort of sport bike or sport touring bike to go in the garage next to the 1600 Kaw. I stopped today at the nearest Ducati dealer today to swap tires and kick lies. Nice shop...a real motorcycle shop staffed by people who actually ride, not a motorcycle boutique or "cycle mall." Not many real shops left these days.

All the really nice toys were out of my price range or too impractical but they did have a used 2003 (or was it an '04?) Supersport 800 sitting there that some guy at traded in on a 749. Believe it or not, the 800 has only 87 miles on it. Apparently the guy has money to burn and wanted something a little more cutting edge than the 800. A little research beforehand would have saved him a ton of money. Very tempting bike at a moderate price. Not sure if I'll take the plunge or not but if I do it's all your fault, Dylan.

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