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

Friday, December 31, 2004

2004 Wrap Up

31 Dec 04: As motoryclists for 100 years have known, beware soft
ground and side stands.

I'm writing this as 2004 sputters to a stop like a 2-stroke with a fouled spark plug. It's been an interesting and challenging year on so many levels. It would have been nice to wind up the year at some wild New Years Eve party being chased around the room by a supermodel but writing a blog entry is probably the next best thing.

Looking back at 2004

My dear ol' dad passed away in January and that was surely the lowest low of the year. I do wish we'd have gotten some sort of chance to ride motorcycles together over the years but it wasn't meant to be. I am grateful that my dad and I got along well and that I at least got a few small riding stories out of him.

Former co-worker and occasional riding buddy Dennis Holsen passed away rather unexpectedly in February. I expected my dad to die; Dad was 85 and in poor health. Dennis should have had a few more years left. We had plans to ride places. I wish I could tell you the whole story about Dennis and his funeral but I couldn't possibly do it justice here. Suffice to say that Dennis was buried on the Gila Indian Reservation here in Arizona and attending his funeral was like a trip a hundred years back in time all except for his 1500cc Kawasaki with the straight pipes. Dennis had pipes at his funeral and they weren't bagpipes.

There were other lows too but they didn't amount to much compared to losing friends and loved ones.

Good stuff abounded during the year and that helps offset the crud.

I seem to have averaged buying one bike a year for 38 years now. This year I bought two although one didn't stay long. One of the big plusses this year in terms of motorcycling was discovering the True Light of Aprilia. I did a shade over 300 miles today on my Caponord including about 30 miles of winding dirt road and the bike was a delight during every mile. To be able to blast through pavement twisties, then motor down miles of desert dirt road, then hop back on the highway and ride 80 mph home is truly a wonderous thing. Doing it with Italian style is doubly so. Here's hoping that in 2005 the Aprilia company will prosper under it's new owners and the most under recognized sporting bikes in America will once again start to flourish.

Blogging turned into one of the pleasant surprises of 2004. I could ramble on here a bit about favorite blogs but Dylan at Twisting Asphalt covered all the bases for me in his New Years Eve entry. It seems that we share nearly identical tastes in our blog reading, at least as far as bike sites go. Take a peek at Dylan's favorites and then say an "amen" for me. He's done me a nice honor in recognizing my efforts here and I appreciate it greatly.

I've noodled around with personal web pages for several years including one covering motorcycles but the format of a blog didn't catch my attention until this year. Thanks to Mike Werner at Bikes in the Fast Lane and Dylan Weiss at Twisting Asphalt for the inspiration to start my own blog. Corresponding with Dylan, a bit with Dusty Davis (A Long Ride), Travis (Motorcycle-Blog), and Jeff (Goon Blog) has been great fun, insightful, and encouraging.

Like most folks who set out to write a blog, you don't really expect anyone to read it, you just feel like you have to do it. Any sort of success generally comes as a complete surprise. A bit of recognition and encouragement by fellow bloggers is a highlight of 2004. Speaking of Dusty and Jeff, they have a serious problem with their blogs: They don't write enough. Get to work, guys!

Okay, a short ramble because I think it's important. BluepoofBikes Motorcycle Adventures and Cecilie's Motorcycle Journal are easily the best of the motorcycle blogs written by women riders. That so many women are not only into riding but some are writing so accurately about the experience and enthusiastically about it is, for me, one of the highlights of 2004. The downer, of course, is that both those charming lady riders already have boyfriends.

The blog world is growing, new blogs are showing up, and soon the 'net will be awash in them. If the folks noted above keep writing, I predict they will surely become...or remain...the core of the best.

Stuff I liked a lot in 2004

None of these goodies are new to the motorcycle world or hi-tech but anything that works well deserves a plug:

Number 1 on the list...dare I say it again? Aprilia. I feel 10 years younger and 10 mph faster any time I'm on an Aprilia. I also feel noticeably poorer in the wallet any time the bike gets near a shop. No one said riding the best was cheap.

Less exciting but still useful and now a regular part of my little motorcycling world:

CrampBuster throttle assist. Man, does this little piece of plastic make long rides easier.

Vista-Cruise throttle lock. A recent addition and already well known in the bike world but a wonder goodie when you just HAVE TO take your hand off the throttle but don't want to slow down or stop. The Universal Fit model is like most universal fit stuff. It fits if you cut and tweak things a little. Looks clunky, like some sort of Rube Goldberg device but works super and is way less expensive than most of it's competition.

Draggin' Jeans. Kevlar reinforced britches. Bought a pair because I wanted something better than regular jeans but not all the way to leathers. The quality and comfort is first rate and somehow they are warmer than regular jeans. I may regret that come summer in Arizona but they will still be cooler than leathers. I bought the black Draggin Jeans and they fade kind of funny but I can live with it. I just hope I never have to test them beyond that.

Nelson-Rigg tank bag and tail pack. I've not used my new stuff much but the sewing, features, and general construction of the $60 N-R tank bag is waaay better than Aprilia's $140 unit.

Alaska Leather Sheepskin Butt Pad. Terrible name, great product. Sheepskin seat covers look dufus on a bike but the Alaska Leather Butt Pad has turned the Aprilia's saddle from a 75 mile seat to a 200 mile seat.

Battery Tender. You plug it in and it does what they say it will. What a concept. More companies should try that.

Nikon Coolpix 8700 camera. 8.0 megpixels of excellence. I don't care what anyone says, it's a better camera than the D70. I had the D70 and was happy to only loose a few hundred bucks when I sold that turkey.

A Dishonorable Mention for 2004 goes to:

Givi for their lackadaisical quality control. I replaced the stock Caponord windscreen with a Givi unit. It was cheaper by about a third than the stock Aprilia unit and cheaper in quality by half. Poorly trimmed, loads of distortion, and delivered with a large scratch on it despite all the packing. And that was the second one they sent me. There's more to the story but I won't bore you with the details. I've had some Givi luggage in the past. Their windscreen department isn't making the same effort. I finally told them I'd just live with it because I had better things to do than ship windscreens back and forth across America.

Mustang Saddles. I replaced the stock saddle on my '03 Kawasaki 1600 Classic with a Mustang part. The fit of the passenger seat and cut of the rider's seat was way off. I make my living inspecting and testing the fit and finish of vehicle trim parts and interiors. I know what I'm talking about. I sent them a nice note with pictures and their response was that those uh... design features... were as planned. OK. The Mustang went back and was replaced with a Corbin. The Corbin wasn't perfect in some respects but at least it fit on the bike correctly and is comfortable.

And finally...

I promised myself when I start this blog several months back that I would write only about motorcycles and the sport. No ramblings about politics, sex, drugs, teenagers, or about being single again at 53 years of age (soon to be 54) except as they might concern bikes. That means it's time to break my own rule:

It's not about bikes or even sex and drugs but I have to toss it in here. Part of what I do at work is thermal imaging of cars and parts. Some of my images this year were made for Skoda Germany during a German automotive press trip to Death Valley and subsequently were used in a variety of German automotive publications including magazine of the ADAC (German Auto Club) which has a readership of about 10 million people. Also here. Sadly, our company policy kept my name off the images but they are mine and it was kinda cool (not thermally speaking, of course) to see them out in the real world instead of just buried in engineering reports.

15 miles from no where on the way to Nogales, AZ

Happy New Year to my all my new found blogging friends out there and to all three of my regular readers who are not bloggers!

Thursday, December 30, 2004

Bikes In The Fast Lane...To Dakar!

Mike Werner over at the Bikes in the Fast Lane news blog is living the life that most of us only dream about. Mike and his buddy are currently playing hardcore moto-tourists and following the Dakar Rally aboard their BMW GS's. Mike is posting updates about their experiences and the rally as time an 'net connections allow. This is good stuff so if you have an interest in adventure touring or want an excellent layman's perspective on the world's greatest off road race, check in daily over at Mike's blog.

Sunday, December 26, 2004

Sounds of History

Gilera 500/4
Modern racing bikes, especially the MotoGP have and awesome sound but somehow have developed beyond grasp of the ear to sense the passion of the men who design or ride them. Exhaust tuning and unlimited dyno time have created pipes and horsepower undreamed of 30 years ago but sounds that are closer to a 500cc 2-stroke than and a classic 4-stroke wail. The sound is stupendous but a little sterile; techno-sterile might be a good way to put it.

Early Ferrari and MV Agusta engines were said to have "a sound like ripping canvas." That's a tough one to imagine today in our ripstop nylon world. I imagine that on sailing ships of old when a huge mainsail gave way and the canvas burst in a massive edge-to-edge tear it must have sounded like doom and calamity coming right at you. John Surtees on the Moto Guzzi V8, with it's skinny tires, wistful brakes, vicious handling, and dustbin fairing, must have felt and and sounded the same way as the bike and rider fought their way around the guardrail and tree lined grand prix tracks of 1957. Doom and calamity and sound aimed right at you.

Moto Guzzi V8 - Photo: Pietro Venturini
Japan, Inc. has given us wonderful, bullet proof, modern engines that sound very nice but lack any real soul although the Honda GP machines of the 1960s were wonderful sounding machines. The Japanese in their relentless "continuous improvement" engineering may have perfected things too far. In America, Harley's are Harley's and sound good (hey, it's a big v-twin) but when sound and a logo become the main design criteria something innate to the spirit and heart of motorcycling is lost. So it's left to the Italians as always to give us engines today that make a sound that is addictive, coming from motorcycles that are a true embodiment of a human passion for living.

The best sounds today come from v-twin engines. Our Italian friends have not forgotten how to build soul into a bike and into an engine and I have no doubt that exhaust note is an important criteria in determining the final tuning and function of an Italian v-twin. Even the modern MV Agusta four cylinder engine has a distinctly throaty Italian GP sound, no doubt tuned with every intent NOT to sound like a Japanese four.

My Aprilia Caponord has Remus pipes on it and they are much louder and authoritative than the stock Aprilia cans. They are really out of character for "a big trailie" as the Brits call adventure touring bikes. I should take the Remus cans off and return the bike to stock but every time I dive into a turn, blip the throttle for a downshift, and really hear the 60 degree v-twin I get a little farther away from actually going back to the civilized stock exhaust.

Vintagebike.co.uk has a website devoted to, you guessed it, vintage bikes. In the "Sounds" section of the website is a wonderful treasure: Sound clips from great racing bikes going all the back to the 1949 Norton ES2 and 1957 Gilera Four. There are a smattering of modern machines too like the Honda Fireblade and BMW R1150GS so it's a fine opportunity to listen to "then and now" in the racing and motorcycle world. Compare the sound of '49 Norton to the 1150GS and the GS sounds pretty darned nice. Compare the Moto Guzzi V8 or 1967 MV Agusta to almost anything since and you realize that motorcycle sounds may have reached their zenith over thirty years ago. Listen to the sound of the Harley Sportster and you are reminded that it's time to mow the lawn. Yeah, that last comment was a cheap shot but I couldn't resist.

Mike Hailwood on the 1967 MV Agusta is the best sound on the Vintagebike page, better than anything running the tracks today. Modern MotoGP bikes sound too much like modern F1 cars and who wants their bike to sound like a car? The 1957 Moto Guzzi V8 (a 500cc 4-stroke V8 for you newer guys) comes closest to sounding like a modern machine. In 1957 it must have sounded to race fans like something from another planet. 

Moto Guzzi V8 at Goodwood - Photo: James Middleton

Imagine the times the bike raced in, the black leather suits without advertising, cork lined pudding bowl helmets, split lens goggles, 19 inch racing tires on rain slick tracks. Imagine tree lined and walled streets of the Isle of Man or the long course at Nurburgring. No computer tuning, no video feeds from the bike, just a hugely talented and brave rider astride a machine designed by men using slide rules and a passion for bikes and speed as their primary tools. Put some racing castor oil in a pan on the stove and get it hot until the odor prevades the room if you want the full effect.

Friday, December 17, 2004

New Additions to the Blog Roll

I've added a few more links over on the blog roll. None of the sites are new but at least one was new to me.

In the Scene (General commentary on motorcycling)
Ed Youngblood's MotoHistory (Ed Youngblood spent 28 or so years with the AMA and knows the motorcycle world as well as anyone around)
Spacecraft (Covers a lot of areas but there's a good motorcycle section)
Alanf's blog (Motorcycling with an emphasis on racing)

Pay them all a visit and tell them "hello." Bloggers love it when they find out someone is actually reading their stuff.

Sunday, December 12, 2004

The Capo is a Keeper

Near Red Mountain

I wrote this entry back at the end of October and for some reason forgot to post it here. Given the amount of time it takes to write this stuff and the undoubted expenditure of limited brain cells you'd think I would have been "quicker on the blog" as it were.

Recent thoughts from a Saturday on the my Aprilia Caponord. For you guys not in the warmer climes, the temperature today varied between 60° and 75° during the day. Blue skies, just about as perfect of weather as you could hope for.

The day started out a bit inauspiciously when after filling up the bike was a bit hard to start and stumbled for a few seconds after starting. Rolling down the road a few minutes later I noticed the infamous "error code 1" on the display. Drat! Not wanting to have the bike go dead on me at some inopportune spot in the desert I turned around and headed home.

Nothing in the owners manual about an error code (always keep the customer in the dark, it makes ownership so much more adventuresome). Naturally, I turned here to the Aprilia forum for some sort of explanation. A quick search turned up several messages and comments, most of which led me to believe the error code was just a quirk of the moment I could ignore. Perhaps I didn't let the EFI do it's full check before hitting the start button. In fact, on restarting the bike the error code was gone. I also suspect though that the battery is weak because a couple of times during the day the engine hesitated just half a sec in initial cranking when I went to start it. Since the bike is about two years old and weak batteries are apparently a well known problem, I'll go ahead and replace it this week. The bike is due for it's 4700 mile service so maybe I'll just add it then if the dealer isn't too high on the price.

Anyway, put together a total of about 220 miles on the bike, mostly back roads, some twisty stuff, and about 10 miles of freeway. Head north out of Casa Grande on the back road to Mesa and visited a couple of dealers to see what was new. I'm also about due for a new jacket and wanted to see what was on sale. The Capo is definitely and attention getter when you stop somewhere and I'm already learning to answer the standard questions: "What is it?" "It's an Aprilia." "Never heard of them." "Made in Italy, like a Ducati, but not as common." "Why didn't you get a GS?" "GS's are like bellybuttons, everybody's got one." (In fact, I sat on a GS recently. I'll pass, thanks)

After the dealers it was out to Saguaro Lake and some winding roads, then a jaunt down a dirt road that looked interesting but wasn't. Tried just a smattering of trail riding, enough to learn that the Capo does not like soft sand. Only came close to dropping the bike once when I stopped for a pictures and the side stand didn't even think about supporting the bike, just sunk like it was in quick sand. Almost wound up with a photo for the "Capos in compromising positions" thread on the ApriliaForum. Note to self: Carry a side stand support of some sort.

After Saguaro Lake it was back into the valley for a few miles and then up Apache Trail to Tortilla Flats. Apache Trail is a nice twisty road for about 15 or 20 miles with pretty good pavement and runs up to Canyon Lake. Tortilla Flats is sort of an old west touristy bar/restaurant place and a popular spot for motorcycle people, sort of the Arizona equivalent of the Rock Store in California. Sadly, the road is also popular with SUVs and other lumbering dullards so the twisty stuff wasn't enjoyed to it's fullest. I did slow up and then take a run at enough turns to know that the Capo will corner as good as I can ride and probably better. Got into one turn a little hot and leaned the bike over pretty hard, enough to feel the back tire squirm just a little but it seemed pretty predictable.

Tortilla Flats, AZ

All in all the handling is everything I could hope for an more. I've rarely been on a bike that made me fell comfortable so quickly. The acceleration and brakes, especially the rear brake, are not in the same league as my Falco was but they are plenty good enough for how I normally ride. I'll miss the fierce acceleration of the Falco but the Capo isn't likely to land me in jail. I had sort of a need-for-speed vs. common sense issue with the Falco. I did run the Capo up to 120 mph at one point and it did it fairly easily but not with the effortlessness of the Falco. I'm thinking with the bags off and a little room the Caponord would probably do about 130 mph.

After Apache Trail it was back into town, a short hop down the freeway, and then dead straight back roads through the flat desert to Florence, Coolidge, and home.

Misc. thoughts: The bike definitely needs lower gears. A 16t countershaft will be next. The seat seems ok at first but after about 75 miles starts to bite. The angle is wrong, it's too narrow, and it's demise on my bike is assured. Not sure what to replace it with though, neither Corbin nor Sargent list a seat for the Capo although both will do it custom on the stock seat pan I think. The saddle bags are roomy but I wish they were top loaders instead of clam shells. Stuff always wants to fall out when you're rummaging around. Crash guards for the engine and bodywork seem like a good idea, From looking at it in the picture books, I'm not sure the Aprilia headlamp guard offers much protection though. Adding a center stand to the got-to-get list also. The previous owner put Remus Grand Prix pipes on the bike and they sound great but are too loud for my tastes and seem out of character for the bike. The stock pipes are going back on and the Remus cans will get Ebay'd or something.

One last item that might surprise a few folks: I ran the whole day on one tank of gas and the fuel warning light still had not come on at 218.8 miles. When I got back home I stopped, filled the bike up, and it took 4.48 gallons. 48.8 mpg! Even if I didn't fill right to the brim it would still be about 46 mpg. Amazing.

So the Caponord is a keeper. I could almost sell my '03 1600 Kawasaki and be happy with just the Caponord...but I won't. The Capo makes a great counterpart to the big Kaw. I also enjoy having a bike (theCapo) that is out of the ordinary but not too flashy; sort of a stealth exotic, I guess. Good fun.

Thought for the Day

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