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

Saturday, December 31, 2005

2005 - Looking Back

2005 was a year of ups and downs but then what year isn't? The downs have been real downs though and the ups have been high rpm, red line ups. Life is always the most interesting near the red line.

The biggest downs for 2005 were the loss of my friend Daun to cancer at age 36 and my friend and co-worker, Mike A.K.A. "Killer", at age 54 in a solo bike crash. I wrote a bit about Daun previously but have not written anything as yet about Mike's demise. I'm still pondering his crash out on Apache Trail and trying to piece together in my mind what happened late at night when Mike was all alone on his VMax. We can ramble on all we like about bikes and riding and roads but ultimately it's the people we meet along the way that matter and give real character to riding. To ride and not in some way share the experience with fellow riders is to miss a good bit of what makes motorcycling so special. To lose motorcycle friends is to have the motorcycling experience diminished and put into a more realistic perspective.

Downs of a much, much less significant nature were the departure of my beloved Caponord. Yes, I still miss the Capo and sometimes find myself scheming about ways to get another one. Reason still prevails but just barely. My Kawasaki 1600 Classic left this year but didn't leave the empty spot in the garage like the Capo did. I need an Italian bike again and preferably an Aprilia even though buying an Aprilia is largely an act of faith and madness because of the sketchy support and parts situation. One must believe fervently in the solidarity and reliability of the brand to attempt ownership. The timid owner, those in need of dealer hand holding, need not apply.

Having talked a bit about the downs, I'd rather focus on the ups. There were a great many this year; here's a few highlights:

First and foremost is that I put another year of riding behind me. There were a few moments when things went wonderfully right but could have gone oh so wrong. A 100+ mph blast up Kitt Peak and similar wail down Aravaca Road burned the sound of the Aprilia v-twin into my mind and heart. A moronic driver in a junker Chevy crossing the yellow line in a fast curve on Aravaca Road nearly spoiled my year though. It was a matter of inches. Often in motorcycling triumph and tragedy rub elbows.

The wild flower rides early this year were great fun and maybe the most relaxing rides and getting out to ride for the first time time with my buddy Doc Henry and the redoubtable Angry Bob was grand.

Other, good stuff came in the form of the new Honda ST1300 in the garage.

I took a bunch of pictures in 2005. I am still very much enamored of mixing motorcycle riding and photography. My new Nikon 8800 is a wonderful camera. I wish there were disk space available to share more of what I shoot. A couple of favorites follow:

Magma Hotel, Globe/Superior, AZ

East of Tortilla Flats, AZ.

Eloy, AZ

All in all I rolled up about 6,000 miles in 2005. Not as much as in '04 but I'm hoping to improve that number in '06 by including at least one longer trip instead of the usual day rides I've been doing the last couple of years. '06 looks very promising on several levels and I remain hopeful of lots of miles and great rides.

The blog has done surprisingly well too. I have actually turned down some opportunities to promote it further because I prefer to write when the mood strikes and without feeling beholden to anyone. It's a tiny blog with just a few visitors when compared to the bigger, better known blogs but that's ok with me. I enjoy the writing and judging by the mail a regular group of people enjoy the reading. I genuinely appreciate your e-mails and the time you spend reading here. 

I wish you all well in 2006. Ride Safe!

Sunday, December 04, 2005

Instamatic Memories

 Prior to the start of the Elsinore Grand Prix
I was rummaging around some old boxes and assorted stuff and ran across some pictures from a long time ago. If you've ever seen the movie "On Any Sunday" you'll likely recall the segment on the late, great Elsinore Grand Prix. If you have not seen the movie and you consider yourself a motorcyclist you need to watch it, you've missed a couple of hours of superb motorcycle entertainment.

As it happens I was at the particular edition of the Elsinore Grand Prix they filmed for the movie although not competing myself.  In On Any Sunday there is an overhead sequence shot from a helicopter before the start of the race and if you look real close I was down in the crowd with my Super 8 movie camera filming assorted stuff including some helicopter flying low.  I was also snapping still pictures with my little Kodak Instamatic camera.  As we all looked up at the low flying copter someone remarked "They're filming some sort of movie about the race, I guess because Steve McQueen is racing in it." You can't actually see me in the crowd but I was there. Big deal, I know.

I wandered up to near the front of the starting field of bikes and not too far back from the front row stood Steve McQueen by his Husqvarna. I've never been much on celebrity fascination but it was fun to see one of the biggest Hollywood stars of the time getting ready to race a dirt bike.

Later, McQueen was sitting quietly on his bike, collecting his pre-race thoughts no doubt, and folks were mostly leaving him alone. A woman walked up with a pen and paper and asked for an autograph. I was close enough to hear him say firmly but not impolitely "Not now, catch me after the race."

A bit later a little girl walked up, she was perhaps 7 years old, and offered up a pen and paper and asked for an autograph. McQueen looked down at her and flashed his million dollar smile, "Honey, for you, sure!" He picked up the little girl and sat her on the red tank of the Husky and put his arms around her and autographed her piece of paper. He chatted with her a bit but I couldn't hear what was said. I always thought that was a classy thing to do. No doubt the little girl had been put up to it by an adult but McQueen was too much a gentleman to disappoint a child.

No. 98, Steve McQueen, AKA "Harvey Mushman"

I always liked McQueen after that; in a single gesture he'd shown that he was a real person first and a famous guy second. He was also a really, really good motorcycle racer.

Monday, November 28, 2005

Reason And Insanity

Take away my belt and shoe laces. Keep me away from sharp objects for a while. In a moment of reason and clarity I sold my Aprilia Caponord. I'm not proud of being so wise. Reason and clarity should have little to do with motorcycle ownership or divestiture. Most of my years of motorcycle ownership are a testament to a lack of reason and a commitment to a passion for bikes that has no connection to clarity beyond a clear understanding of my need to own bikes and ride them.

Lately I have been making more use of the Honda ST1300 while the Caponord with it's lovely Remus non-mufflers sat idle in the garage. I took the Capo for a long ride a few weeks back up to the foothill mining town of Globe and then southward through Winkleman, AZ and other forgettable spots. The road was nice though and the bike reminded me of why I loved the Aprilia and how intensely Italian bikes can get into the blood. But other matters press in and the Honda will meet my moto needs for a time and the Aprilia was too expensive to sit little used in the garage. I keep telling myself that.

So back on the 18th of November I stood in the driveway and watch Gerry from Tucson ride happily away on my beloved Caponord. Rarely have I felt such pangs when a bike departed. The 1974 BMW R90S did it to me as did the 1999 Kawasaki Drifter 1500.

I envied Gerry. He's nice guy and a true bike enthusiast but his wad of hundred dollar bills in my pocket felt insufficient to console me. I had the sense that it would be some time before motorcycle passion the equal of an Aprilia would occupy the garage again. I'm a guy and guys don't cry but we do sit in a Lazy Boy recliner and stare morosely while we think about rides past on a bike now gone.

Yes, I have the ST1300 and it is a really wonderful motorcycle but "Honda" and "passion" are something of a contradiction. One of the few knocks on the Honda ST1300 is that it's too automotive, too seamless, too refined. It all true although not to the extent that it is with a Gold Wing. "Aprilia" and "passion" are a natural fit, however.

OK yeah, I've already begun thinking about what bike comes next but it will be some time in 2006 before that happens. In the mean time I miss the Caponord and most of all I miss the sound of the engine makes as you roll fast into a moderate turn and the exhaust rumbles down to the gear change.

My wife (who, by the way, had not urged or even suggested that I sell the Capo), did inquire as to why I actually needed more than one bike. Sweet, innocent child! She is only now beginning to understand how deeply bikes are embedded in my brain and heart. I assured her that I did not need a second bike as one needs air to breath but I would in time buy a second one just because I love bikes. I've own 39 bikes in 39 years of riding and I'm guessing there is a ratio there that will be continued in the future. As I often said "I don't smoke, I don't drink, I don't do drugs, I don't consort with women of easy virtue, I just ride motorcycles."

So I took the reason-tainted money from the sale of the Capo and paid a few bills and made plans for other things and continue to enjoy the Honda if not enjoy it passionately.  I'm having a fine time on the ST but one something's missing.

In time, after the financial dust has cleared, something has to give. Financial considerations will have to be put aside as something must arrive in the garage that makes my pulse quicken at the thought of fast turns and exhaust notes. The Honda won't do it but a Tuono or Caponord Rally Raid would. Or maybe that new Triumph Scrambler. After all, 2006 will mark the 40th year since I first soloed on a motorcycle and it wouldn't be proper to let such a momentous occasion pass without buying the 40th bike. Now there's a moment of reason and clarity!

Tuesday, November 15, 2005

A Goose By Any Other Name

(photos via the Moto Guzzi web site)

There's an old joke about a Spaniard, a Frenchman, and a German instructing an American about who's language is the most beautiful. The Spaniard says "Consider the word 'butterfly', in Spanish it is 'mariposa'" and he rolls the word beautifully off his tongue. The Frenchman sniffs and says "Yez, bot in een French eet iz e-ven more beauteeful, eet iz 'papillon' and he pronounces the word even more elegantly than the Spaniard. The German harrumphs and glares at the other three and says "And vat iz wrong mit da vord 'Schmetterling'?"

Regardless of what you call them, butterflies are one of God's more entertaining inventions and lots of nice motorcycles are great bikes but sadly get tagged with odd names or at least odd model names. Some are named for their company founders like Honda, some are merely initials like BMW or KTM. I have never read a definitive answer on how Aprilia got it's name but it's a lovely word unlike Ducati which sounds like a bit like an Italian food made from waterfowl.

My all time favorite bike name is the Scott "Flying Squirrel" from early in the last century. It appeals to my sense of the absurd. I would love to have heard the discussion at the Scott factory over selecting that name. No doubt they were serious about the bike, it was advanced for it's time, the first water cooled 2-stroke production bike, but really, the "Flying Squirrel"?

A few current odd model names from various manufacturers: "Rune" (sounds to much like "ruin") for the Honda ego-cruiser, "Burgman" for the Suzuki maxi-scooter (name your scooter after an eccentric Euro movie producer?) and of course the "Caponord" from Aprilia. Aprilia could be forgiven for the Caponord as it means "Cape North" which is a remote location in Norway and the sort of place to which one might ride and adventure touring bike like the Caponord. The Caponord name does get a lot of questions when people ask "What is it?" Just being an Aprilia throws them off enough; explaining to an English speaking person that Caponord is Italian for a place in Norway seems like too much trouble.

BMW has done some odd names also, like the BMW R100 R Mystik. BMW did a bike a few years ago with the word "BOXER" emblazoned across the tank. It meant something to a few folks who love opposed twin engines but I'm sure it just looked odd if not surly to most people. "Are you a boxer" "No." Do you like boxer dogs?" "No" "Do you work in a warehouse or shipping department?" "No." I would get tired of the explanations quickly. Caponord has been enough with which to deal.

Royal Enfield long ago appealed to a man's true inner spirit with the Enfield Bullet Machismo 350. Nothing like the thundering machismo power of a 350cc bike to boost the libido. I like it, it makes as much a statement of studliness as Honda's 250cc Rebel.

Recently Moto Guzzi, the venerable Italian company owned by Aprilia and now Piaggio, has announced their new sport touring model, the Norge 1200. The bike is very nice looking, comes with GPS built in, and in fact would look really wonderful in my garage if the ST1300 wasn't already occupying a place there. Owning a couple of Aprilia has given me a taste for Italian machines that will not soon abate.

Lovely bike! If you want something styled right give the project to the Italians.

My only hang up with the Norge 1200 is the name. I know, sometimes I'm shallow. But you see "Norge" is also a brand of refrigerator here in the US and was quite popular when I was growing up in the 1950s and '60s. The name is fixed in my memory as a kitchen appliance and was even enough of a fixture in the American mind to be used as part of a sketch in a Saturday Night Live TV episode long ago.

Another view of a machine infinitely more desirable than a refrigerator:

I love the look of the Moto Guzzi Norge 1200, it's modern, it's Italian, it's a V-twin, it's Italian, but I'm not sure I could ever keep a straight face telling someone what it is when they ask. I'd forever be thinking of Dan Akroyd as the "Norge repairman" bending over to pick up a refrigerator and showing us more than we needed to see of his Cape del sud. Let us hope that Moto Guzzi can find a better name if or when the Norge 1200 comes to the USA.

Tuesday, October 25, 2005

Adventure Poser

The Buell Ulysses XB12X Free wallpaper from Buell.

I seem to find myself out of step with the masses again. Big surprise. The U.S. bike magazines are all aglow over H-D / Buell's new "adventure sportbike," the Ulysses XB12X. You know it must be a cool bike and great if it has two X's in the name as that's a sure sign of engineering prowess or at least a Mexican beer.

I've been tempted to rant a bit about the bike mostly just because it seems so rant-worthy and because so many people seem enamored of the thing. The idea of a sport bike (a Buell) based around the stodgy old H-D Sportster engine has always been good fodder for jokes if not derision for some years now. Taking a creation like the Buell sport bike, adding extra ground clearance and calling it an "adventure sport bike" seems even more deserving of at least healthy skepticism if not laughter. As I am not encumbered by advertising revenue from H-D I am free to make fun of the bike in ways the press is probably thinking but afraid to put into print themselves.

I've watched the Buell Ulysses prototypes for a year or so now (don't ask how, I just did) and I've never been especially impressed with anything about them, least of all their looks. But then prototypes are usually cobby and ragged looking things, a work in progress with details never fully finalized until the last minute. The first H-D V-Rod I saw was simply the old H-D VR1000 road race motor crammed in a one-off frame and everything painted flat black. It was rough. The production V-Rod looks much nicer. The Ulysses always looked cobby and ugly but now that it's in production it looks well finished and ugly.

About two months back now I looked at the production Ulysses and found it to be ridiculously tall (even compared to my Caponord), ugly, the seat was a plank, and did I mention the Ulysses is ugly? The bellypan fairing surely will take a beating and won't look good too long even on moderate dirt roads and the cool rim-mounted front brake discs ride lower than the bellypan, just a few inches above rocks and other unfriendly things. Of course the bike will be serviced by H-D dealers which means you get to be a second class citizen in a world of pseudo-bikers (thank you, Angry Bob, for confirming my suspicions).

About that name "Ulysses", could Buell have picked a more goofy name for their new bike? It brings to mind not classic heroes of navigation and adventure but the hokey Italian "sword and sandal" movies of the 50's wherein second rate actors pretended to be serious actors and did battle with jerky, stop-action animated monsters. Will the de rigor clothing for Buell Ulysses riders be a Greek leather skirt and sandals? Will KTM release a competitor to the Ulysses called the Cyclops? Will BMW pick up styling cues from the Ulysses and make their GS series even uglier now? Will people who actually want an adventure sport bike be smart enough to visit the Aprilia dealer and look at a Caponord? Will the Aprilia dealer even have a Caponord in stock?

The press loves the performance of the Ulysses but is it useful performance? Is it even not-useful-but-at-least-crazy-classy performance like the Aprilia Tuono or Ducati Monster? The off-road capability of the Buell XB12XXXXX (there, I made it even better!) is limited according to the press so you can toss that out the window as a plus. The engine is fairly strong in the horsepower department of you believe Buell's figures (they also claim it gets 64 mpg). So the biggest feature of the Buell seems to be that it combines a short wheelbase (54.1"), tall bike (33" seat height with two people on board!) with a decent amount of torque to give you wheelies in nearly every gear. Zowie, wheelies in nearly every gear, that's useful, especially when carrying a passenger. 22 year old squids in t-shirts and baggy pants should love it. My guess is that adults who actually want to ride somewhere in sporting comfort AND take a tour down some dirt roads may decide otherwise once the praises of the latest Harley-David$on / motorcycle pre$$ love fest fades from the mind.

It will be interesting to see how well the Ulysses is selling in two years. I'll bet the new Triumph Scrambler out sells the Ulysses. The Triumph, according to the Triumph management, is a styling exercise not actually designed for off-road use. I have to admire their honesty in admitting that and also their styling tastes. With the Buell I see only a contrived bike offered up as a serious contender in order to fill a growing niche market pioneered by BMW. Take a gander at Buell's own web page and compare the pictures of the Ulysses with any of the other Buell's except the Blast. Take the Buell Lightning, jack it up 2 inches, tweak the chassis geometry a bit, add some semi-off road tires and presto! An adventure sport bike and perhaps a whole new clothing and accessory line.

Buell, I suspect, is actually hoping to attract a legion not of adventure touring enthusiasts but of adventure touring RUBs to go with the H-D RUBs "potato, potato-ing" their way around town. Have a Hummer in the driveway? Then you should have a Ulysses too! And the official Ulysses jacket, and Ulysses boots, and Ulysses gloves, and Ulysses underwear. Don't forget your Ulysses golf balls too. You'll look great cruising through the county park while pretending it's Timbuktu. Anyway, I suppose the Ulysses performs well in some general sense as a motorcycle, especially if you need a too-tall bike (passed off as "flickable" is used by the motorcycle press) with no weather protection and an engine based on the mediocre "half a Harley" Sportster lump.

For "adventure sport bike touring" or whatever the heck they call it, I'll stick with my Caponord as it at least has a proper amount of weather protection and isn't sold through H-D dealers. If I had money to burn the GS might be a better choice for the adventure half of things as it's more dirt worthy than the Capo and the Triumph Scrambler is cooler than the Ulysses will ever be even if it's got less horsepower. However, if I ever have the urge to ride in a Greek leather skirt and sandals and do wheelies I'll take another look at the Buell Ulysses.

Thursday, October 13, 2005

Farkle Time!

The ST1300, as nice as it is, could always be better. The idea of adding goodies or farkles as they are called now, to a bike to make it a more personalized ride is an old one. No doubt Gottlieb Daimler would have added highway pegs and sissy bar to his first motorcycle had there been an Internet mail order place from which to order them. More likely he merely hoped to send the saddle out to Honda top box gray-marketed into the US by selected parts supplies because Honda is apparently too focused on sport bikes, Goldwings and dirt bikes to sell it themselves. The box comes with a nice looking "Pan European" label on the back, that being the ST's model designation for Europe. The label now graces my tool box along with assorted other decals from over badged parts and bikes. I have no problem panning Europeans but I don't need it on my bike.

Happily, the Euro ST1300 is the same color as the US model so the wonderful candy red paint is a perfect match and the box is built to Honda's usual high standards. There must be some small difference though in the luggage racks because I found it necessary to substitute some supplied washers for stuff from my accumulated M/C bit n pieces box. I ordered the passenger elbow supports for the box, in for a penny, in for a pound I figured, but at $98 for the cheesy rubber elbow rests they can't be classified as anything but a serious rip off. The box might be worth it's asking prices of $550 compared to the non-color matched, far less stylish Givi units many guys mount on their ST's but arm rests are a rip. At least they mounted easily although the instructions advise you to drill holes in your shiny new box that would be at least 1/16 or so too large for the screws. Glad I didn't trust the directions and sized the fittings myself. I'd have been seriously torqued if I'd have drilled big holes and wound up with sloppily fit parts.

Other goodies already added to the bike are GenMar's handle bar risers to get the bars a bit closer to my arms and take some load off of my short arms. 325 miles the other day proved their worth. A sheepskin seat cover makes the stock seat bearable but not ideal; I'm sure it's nothing another $500 can't fix. A Helmet Guardian helmet lock set up has been secured behind the license plate to make locking the skidlid simpler than taking off the seat to use Honda's crappy built-in wire loop (Really Honda, was that the best you could do?). The biggie so far is a new Scorpio i500 alarm system with a perimeter sensor. For the first time in decades I don't feel so uneasy walking away from the bike to go into a restaurant. I'm not sure how useful the perimeter sensor feature will be but it was fun to adjust and play with in the garage and of course the essence of any good farkle is some degree of impracticality.

On order but not received yet are some Powerlet 12v power outlets, a rider/passenger intercom system, some heat deflectors to ward off the merciless ST1300 engine heat, and a Cee Bailey 4" wider windscreen. The stock screen is just ok and just ok isn't what I'm after. Speaking of ST1300 engine heat, it's still not as bad as the foot roasting cylinders on my old R100/RT BMW but some slightly better fairing design by Honda would have helped. Note to Honda: Find yourself a FLIR thermocamera and a good operator and figure out where the heat is happening.

Total farkle bill thus far: About $1700. Ouch. For a mere $3,300 more I coulda had the new Beemer. Ah but wait, that was MY $3,300 and not someone else's so I'm still very happy to have not spent already and to have it to get the ST1300 fitted out to suit me. The Beemer at $19,000 would have left me with no farkle money and we can't have that.

I'm not sure what else the ST needs that I just can't live without but there is bound to be something.

Thursday, September 29, 2005

"That's A Boat, Isn't It?"

It used to be you got your bike serviced for about $20 and $25 if something needed extra attention. The engine had only one or two cylinders to bother with, maybe two carbs, and a total of four valves if it had valves at all and a set of ignition points. The ignition points were easily set with a dwell meter and a feeler gauge and you were good to go. It's been down hill ever since.

Long ago I learned to set ignition points with a feeler gauge, fiddle Amal carburetors into working for a little while, and bleed brakes on bikes with the new-fangled disk brakes. These days, according to the ST1300 owner's manual, just removing and replacing the front wheel on the ST1300 calls for a feeler gauge (which I found in the Honda's tool kit). Times change, both monetary and technical inflation happen.

New bikes are usually heavily discounted in their retail price (H-D excepted) and the dealer has to make his money somewhere so the real cost of ownership has been moved from the sales floor to the service and parts area. In the effort of the dealer to secure some profit I think the cost of service work has grown too far out of proportion to the price of the bike.

Maybe I should have bought and old airhead Beemer and serviced it myself? No, the magic of 118 HP would definitely not be there and the fact is my trusty R100RT used to cost as much to have serviced as the new R1200RT does. Horsepower can make one forget many other shortcomings in bike ownership but horsepower has always been a complex and expensive proposition. A friend of mine years ago used to do some top notch tuning and guys would call him and ask him how much it would call to go fast. Lee's answer was "How fast do you want to spend?"

Having taken the plunge on the ST1300 I decided to look at service costs for each 4,000 mile service interval. In the past I never paid much attention to service costs, at least until I bought a BMW, but service has gotten to be a big issue and has to be figured into the budget. The typical mechanic / technician may not be growing rich in his vocation but that doesn't stop the dealer from charging $65 - $80 an hour for the wrench time.

With bikes getting more sophisticated services should be costing less because nearly everything about the engine is controlled by computer now and there is less real tuning to do but services are actually getting more expensive under the guise of "complexity." Cars are complicated also but the service costs for those seem to be going down, not up. For example, I just had my 2004 VW Jetta serviced at 15,000 miles. Under the hood hides a computer controlled four cylinder water cooled engine, air conditioning, power steering, etc, etc. The 15k service cost was $37 at Berge VW in Mesa. The Honda ST1300, also powered by a four cylinder, water cooled, computer controlled engine, and costs a bit more to service. Quotes from Honda dealers I phoned run from $280 to $800 for the 16k service. That's a fair bit of distance from $37 for the VW.

The highlight of my calls to get service costs on the Honda was the service guy at one of the "Motorsports" chain of bike stores owned by a local car dealer. When asked about service prices on the ST1300 the service guy asked me "That's a boat, isn't it?" No, it's a bike. "Uh...just a sec...what was it again?" Honda ST1300 motorcycle. "Oh...lemme see...what did you want to know?" The service costs for routine and major services. [Sounds of pages flipping] "Yeah, uh the 600 mile service is about $210, the 4k services are about $140 and the....uh...16k service is $360." Oh yeah, I want that place to work on my boat...er..bike.

One wonders what is being left out or overdone in the disparity between $280 at one dealer and $800 at another or for that matter the $37 the VW cost me. Only two dealers that I called offered up extra comment and accurate information on the servicing of the bike. The service guys seemed friendly and competent on the phone. The bike will be going back for service to where I bought it, Western Honda. Spare me the Western Honda horror stories if you have them, I can find find horror stories about every single dealer around here although none until the other day seemed to include asking the customer if his sport touring motorcycle is a boat.

Looking at the long term maintenance cost picture the Honda actually winds up with significantly higher service costs than the BMW (which costs between $250 and $300 per service) assuming one keeps either bike for 100,000 miles. Regardless, it's not likely to play out that way in my world where I change bikes often than I have a date with a woman.

I feel good about the Honda ST1300 as a motorcycle and in it's capabilities to do what I want it to. I feel less positive about the service situation and it has nothing to do with the brand of the bike. The BMW would have been serviced at Iron Horse Motorcycles in Tucson and I know them and how they work; they serviced my '92 R100RT for me a number of times and I know they were doing all that they were paid to do. Buyers remorse? Shoulda bought the Beemer? No, the up front price was just too high for me. As "Dirty Harry" said, "A man's got to know his limitations" even when in the throws of moto-lust. Motorcycle ownership is much more pleasant despite the on going expense when you can deal with people who you can respect for their professional commitment.

Dealing with erratic, dubious, or over priced motorcycle maintenance seems to be a fact of life but it would be easier to part with the money if I could have some confidence in the shop doing the work and the guy turning the wrenches. I'll be watching Western Honda closely to see if things go as they ought. I'm hoping to develop a rapport with the service guys similar to what I had with Iron Horse Motorcycles in Tucson. The the scariest moments in motorcycling should not be happening when you take your bike in for service and then wait to see the bill.

Wednesday, September 28, 2005

Triumph Scrambler 900

The more I see of Triumph's new Scrambler the better I like it. Other than the ill-placed front brake master cylinder and the lack of a good bash plate it seems like the Brits really did the bike right. It's not often that I stare at a picture of a bike and all sorts of riding ideas and images from the '60s pop into my head. As we all know, bikes and riding were better in the '60s even if they really were not.

I finally called the nearest Triumph dealer today to see if or when they would have a Scrambler on hand. Sadly, the answer was "April" so that was a bit of a let down. The other sad part is that the dealer told me MSRP would be $9,999 which is a good bit more than Triumph has been getting for their twin cylinder bikes. I'm not sure if the extra $ is a reflection of the currently weak monetary exchange rates or Triumph (or the dealer) have realized they have a winner on their hands and intend to charge all that the traffic will bear. I could have gotten wound up enough about the Scrambler to think about parting with $8k or so but $10k starts to get a bit much for a low performance vertical twin no matter how cool the packaging may be. Come April I'll take a closer peek though or maybe wander over L.A. way for the Cycle World Show in December. [April '06 update: the official price on the 900 is $7999 ]

Saturday, September 17, 2005

And The Winner Is...

2005 Honda ST1300. I love red bikes.

In the end the final decision came down to typing a line in an e-mail to the BMW dealer: "John, about the R1200RT, I've decided to..." And I literally paused there and thought... "take the RT" or "pass on the RT". Believe me, I was that conflicted. A little Bavarian gnome sat on one shoulder whispering "You vant der ahRT, take der ahRT!" and a little soulless banker sat on my other shoulder whispering "Are you insane? It's FIVE THOUSAND freaking dollars more!!" As also noted by my occasional riding buddy, Tommy G: "What good is the BMW if you can't afford to ride it anywhere?" Make no mistake about it, I wanted the BMW R1200RT but in the end I had to balance moto-lust versus wringing another $5000 out of my emaciated wallet.

The Honda ST1300 is a fabulous machine, fast, smooth, excellent low speed handling, the fit and finish is equal to the BMW and in some areas like paint exceeds the BMW. The BMW had more goodies than I needed like the ABS, electronic suspension and cruise control. Perhaps all those add up to $5k but for me they didn't. Also, my son started his first year at Northern Arizona University this fall and there are limits to finances, even for famous international moto bloggers. The vast profits from Forty Years on Two Wheels could not be counted on to cover the extra five grand or even a quart of oil.

The ST1300 enjoys a long and well deserved reputation for speed, comfort, and reliability; those were a big factor in choosing the bike. I have a friend that has rolled up over 100,000 miles on her ST with scarcely and incident. Reading through the various Honda ST forums it seems clear that most issues with the bike are high mileage issues that occur with any machine. I don't know that the ST1300 is a bike that makes people wild with moto-lust but it does whoosh down the road like some sort of Japanese magic carpet and that's pretty darned appealing. The sleekness of the styling of the ST1300 is impressive to, it's a much prettier bike than the BMW. The only time the Germans have ever gotten styling right is when they hired an Italian or Spaniard to do it for them. I don't know who's resonsible for styling the ST, my guess is that it's an American, but the bike sits there with a presence that says "Go. No limits. Just go."

I plan to keep the ST a while (for me that's longer than one year) and run up some serious mileage trips or at least I hope so, as there are too many places to go that I've wanted to go for 40 years and have not gone. It's been too easy to let the years roll by and not do what I wanted to do although I've done more than I ever dreamed of as a skinny 16 year old kid bombing around on his first 60cc Yamaha. Often times we settle for a lesser goal and put off the greater one in deference to assorted work and family obligations. I think that's ok but should not become such a habit that they chisel on our tombstone "I wish I had done more."

I seem to have arrived at that point in life where I have the bikes, the means, and the vacation days to do some great rides back east or wherever I choose. Between the Aprilia Caponord and the Honda ST1300 I should be able to get wherever I wish to go in fine style. My immediate goal now is to find someone to go with me. After 38 years of mostly solo riding a comely passenger is needed.

Thanks to you guys who wrote and commented, made suggestions, and urged me to be true to my history of buying the to the extreme limit of my budget. I'm sorry I let you down and acted as sensible as one can be spending $14k on a new motorcycle.

My apologies if I didn't write back directly to all of you. Some commented anonymously so I have no e-mail address for you and I've just been a little behind on my e-mails also.

More pictures and comments to follow on the ST.

Thursday, September 15, 2005

Triumph Hits A Home Run

In olden times when one wanted to ride off road you didn't always have a specialized bike for it as we do now. You simply turned off the pavement and rode. What a concept! No special bikes needed and the off road areas were still wide open to anyone who wished to wander far a field and without asking or getting a permit or worrying about squishing the "snarking rock toad" or some other such creature. In fact touring bikes and off-road bikes were pretty much the same bikes with minor changes like tires, handlebars, and skid plates. Note to the folks who spend $$$ on a high tech, custom skid plate for their dirt bike: Early desert racers would take the metal part of a square shovel and bolt it under the engine. It made a super tough bash plate and only cost a few bucks.

Back then, street bikes still retained some vestige of off-road capability from the days when there were still many roads that were not paved. People EXPECTED that their street bike could be ridden down fairly rough dirt roads without much thought. I doubt that Goldwing owners think that way now. Two of the preeminent bikes at this were the BSA and Triumph "scramblers." They were called "scramblers" because they were usually fitted with high pipes and slightly more aggressive tires in case you intended to compete in scrambles races, the precursor to motocross. The modern AMA Grand National off-road series is, I think, the grand child of the old scrambles races. Click here to see my comments on riding a classic Rickman Triumph a few years ago.

A Triumph ISDT bike, a waxed cotton Belstaff jacket, open face helmet and Uvex glasses and goggles. You don't get more manly than this. It was all real at the International Six Days Trials 40 years ago. McQueen was no poser. 

Triumph was reborn some years ago under the guidance and significant funding of British zillionaire John Bloor. Since they have done an admirable job of renewing the brand honestly, doing modern things all the while holding onto their heritage. Their latest effort for 2006 is the Triumph Scrambler, a bike styled to look like the machines of the '60s that dominated most forms of off-pavement racing. I am in love.

As always seems to be the case when in love, my timing is off and I've put my money down on the one of the previously mentioned new bikes already (picking it up today in fact). But this new Triumph looks wonderful, taps into the all the imagery of motorcycling in the 1960s while stuffing a modern machine under the rider. If I wasn't already commited to the new machine the Triumph might have popped to the top of my moto-lust list.
I have to believe that that Scrambler or whatever they choose to call it is going to be a huge success. The Triumph Thruxton retro-bike was tempting but the scrambler is more than tempting: Just enough street performance to be entertaining, enough dirt performance to wander off-road without thinking much about it was we did in the old days, and a very classic and timeless look, all at a fairly modest price, I'm sure. There is definitely NO money left in the budget for one of these unless I sell my beloved Aprilia Caponord. Hmm…

Tuesday, September 06, 2005

On the Fence

"How well I have learned that there is no fence to sit on between heaven and hell. There is a deep, wide gulf, a chasm, and in that chasm is no place for any man." - Johnny Cash

As Johnny wrote about life, so it is when we must decide on a new bike or at least it seems that way. Sometimes moto-lust is focused and utterly obsessed with just one bike. One machine works it's magic from a magazine picture or by the glint of a showroom spotlight and you mind, your heart, your gut, all say "That's the one!" If it's a Harley most likely it was some other important part of you though. Regardless, you know what you want. No logic, no debates. I've had that happen in the past but not often. The 1974 BMW R90S did it to me way back when. Not so easy for me this time.

I started out with two machines in mind and being a person always willing to explore the possibilities have worked myself into a muddle or minor bit of turmoil. In truth, there's not much in life that I'm real passionate about except motorcycles. Other things such as photography, are very important to me but not a true passion. After all these years bikes and thinking about them still makes my heart beat faster. If I think about enough bikes a defibrillator or payment book from the home mortagage company should be kept handy to steady my heartbeat again.

So I'm still undecided here...teetering back and forth between passion and reason. My heart says BMW and there is almost no logic in that and about 18,900 negatives all with Washington's face on them. Might have to split the difference between passion and reason with an ST1300. $5k less than the Beemer and that's $5k of my money that could be spent on...what? Funeral insurance? Estate planning? Food?

I'm not even sure what my fascination is with the Beemer. It wasn't even on the list to start with but riding it flipped my switch. My buddy Darin went down and looked at an RT this weekend and didn't even ride it and now he wants one. BMW may have a real winner following up on the heels of the R1200GS.

Just to cloud the mind further I found out that the guy who bought my '01 Kawasaki Concours wants to sell it. He's only put 800 miles on the bike since he bought it from me which means it has a total of 6300 miles on it. It's got a few scratches on one side from when he dropped it but other than that it's still the same bike I sold him 3 years ago, still has the extra pieces I added to make it suit me. $4100 and it's mine. Is the Beemer $14,800 better than the trusty Concours? It's newer and sexier, and handles better, that's for sure.

Got a note from the Honda dealer today too. ST1300 (non-ABS) out the door for $13,800. $5k less than the Beemer but without as nice a fairing and the saddlebags are a bit smaller. I seem to be drawn to comfort issues. The old Concours does have a surprisingly nice seat and it is already broken in to my butt shape plus the saddlebags are roomy if unaerodynamic.

Thank you to those of you who have commented or written thus far, even Jeff who was no help at all with visions of rest homes and "if only I bought the red bike" memories.

This is gonna be a tough call.

Saturday, September 03, 2005

"and the flames got higher.."

Do not test ride this bike.

Well, I did it. I walked into two motorcycle shops, looked a bikes, test rode three of them and didn't buy anything. This is very weird. What's happening to me??

First stop was the Aprilia dealer to look at the Futura all flame red and Italian. Oh yes, very nice. I sat on it, loved it, I talked to the nice dealer about it and then with visions of owning two Aprilias dancing in my head, went off to visit the BMW dealer and look at BMW's new sport tourer, the R1200ST, because it was the sensible thing to do. Uh huh.

The dealer, Iron Horse Motorcycles in Tucson, had a nice selection of ST's in stock including the silver/dark gray color combo I liked best on the 1200ST. John, the owner of Iron Horse asked if I would I like a test ride on one. Do Bavarian bruins do their business in the Black Forest? You betcha!

The 1200ST was set up with the low seat and the handle bars at max height. This is good for me as I'm only 5'8" on a good day and there have not been many of those this year. So off I went with nearly carte blanche to be gone and hour on this wonderful silvery missile of a bike. I was gone about 10 minutes.

The new generation of Boxer twins is the best ever, the shifting is clunkless, the clutch is light, the bikes are light, the 1200cc edition of the oilhead twin revs easily but the 1200ST got the best of my aging neck and wrists in about 5 miles. Sheesh! Comfort-wise I REALLY wanted it to be better than the Falco I had last year and it is but not enough. And worse, if the ST was like this, the Futura would not be any better. Gloom. The fires of moto-lust drew down to a mere glow of coals.

When I returned to the shop so quickly John asked me what was up. I replied simply "I'm too old for this bike, not too mature, just too old." "Ah" John said, "You haven't lived that long!" Says me sadly: "But my young friend, you don't know HOW I have lived or what things I have done to this old body. We must now consider the 1200RT."

John was ready to roll out a new R1200RT for me to try but at $18k+ it was beyond my budget so why bother? "A man's got to know his limitations." John had a very clean and low mileage R1150RT sitting there so I asked to ride that just because I wasn't ready to give up too easily. The 1150 was decent, definitely a BMW right down to the clunky shifting. It was ok but uninspiring. It reminded me of a newer version, a descendent of my '92 R100RT airhead. Makes sense of course since it is. Back to the shop after 20 minutes. Upon returning, John (evil man that he is) asked "Ready to try the 1200 now?" "Well...if you insist..." I have little will power sometimes when it comes to motorcycles. You are shocked, I know.

The 1200RT was a revelation, an order of magnitude above the 1150. It was the same feel as the 1200ST but with a bolt upright riding position and a wonderfully protective and electrically adjustable windscreen, and cruise control, and ABS, and Electronic Suspension Adjustment (Normal/Comfort/Sport). I did some big figure 8's in the parking lot and headed out on the road. Oh my...oh...it shifts like a Japanese bike...it handles as nicely as my Caponord. The wind protection is superb. In my mind's eye I could see me on a red RT motoring across vast distances with nary a hint of fatigue in me or the bike. I went down some back roads and it was a piece of cake to imagine being a 1000 miles from home on that bike and not being tired. I felt ready to travel again.

This isn't me. But it should be. And with the girl too as long as I'm dreaming.

Back at the shop I motored up onto the sidewalk by the front door. The evil John came out with an angelic smile on his face, "Well?" I imagine that in the Garden of Eden the serpent said something that simple after he conned Eve into eating the apple, knowing full well what mischief he had wrought. I rambled on for a minute about how astonishingly good it was over the 1150RT. Two entirely different machines in feel and rideability. The 1200RT was the best BMW I've ever ridden.

I looked at smiling John and thought about the blank check in the glovebox of my car. At least I'd been smart enough to not keep it in my pocket. I'd have to walk across the broad, hot parking lot, unlock the hot car and fetch the check back to the shop if it came down to it. There might be time to come to my senses. I told John to give me his best shot on the price because he had a red RT sitting there and I love red bikes.

So off we went to the little office, John to peck at his computer for a minute and come up with a price and me to ponder whether or not I'd finally gone completely mad. I'd swear the music over the ceiling speaker was playing Paul Simon's "Still crazy after all these years..."

When John was done with his number crunching, even with a very reasonable price reduction because the '06s were coming and I'm a charming fellow, the 1200RT would be a full $4000 more than I'd thought of spending. And the payments, oh my...a full $100 a month more than I had in mind when I rolled out of bed this morning. Visions of open roads, red BMW's, me, and a very, very flat bank account danced slowly in my head now. I thanked John for his extreme courtesy and generosity in letting me test ride no less than three bikes. I'd have to think about it over the weekend.

I hope I'm not getting sensible in my old age. Getting old is bad enough, getting sensible about motorcycles would take a lot of the fun out of life. If I suddenly decide to take up golf just call the vet and have me put down as I would not want to live out my last days in such and undignified way. I'm still thinking about the red RT. I've got it stuck in my mind so much so that I'd sell my beloved Caponord to get it and I know I would regret THAT the minute it was done. As Johnny Cash sang "and the flames got higher.."

Friday, September 02, 2005

"I Fell Into A Burnin' Ring O' Fire"

Johnny Cash was singing about love and lust but could just as well been singing about moto-love and moto-lust. Neither love nor motorcycles make a great deal of sense most of the time but millions of people plunge ahead despite advice from friends, common sense, or lack of funds.

So in pondering the new bike thing I've added some possible candidates and a twist or two. First, the next candidate, the Honda ST1300:

You have to admit it looks pretty sleek for a Honda.

Reviews talk about the ST1300 being automotive-like, almost too purrfect, too clean, too tidy. Functionally that's probably true as it's a Honda and Hondas work even if they lack any real soul. I may decide that function...the ability to drag my decrepit body down the highway in comfort, is more important than sizzle. It is a very pretty bike, the folks at Honda did a nice job on the curvaceousness of the critter and they do come in red and red is my favorite color for bikes.

But what about a wild card pair? Can you think outside the box when it comes to buying a motorcycle? Further outside the box than buying a left over 2004 out-of-production Italian bike like the Aprilia Futura?

The Futura, BMW, and Honda machines stretch the wallet from about $11,000 to maybe $16,000 if I haggle a bit (and I always do). That's a fair chunk of change and what if I wanted the most bang for my buck, the most goodies for the garage, the most riding possibilities?

What if, for the same money as one Futura / BMW / Honda, I bought a...

2005 Kawasaki Concours. Not exactly modern but no slouch either with 100+ HP

AND... (GASP!!)

2005 KLR 650. It's not easy bein' green

Both of the Kawasakis are dinosaurs, 1986 technology that has lived on and on because they work and work pretty well if not great. The tooling to build them must have been paid for by 1988 so the bikes have remained at bargain prices for machines of their class and displacement. Kawasaki has talked about killing the KLR650 and the Concours for years and every time they do people rush to buy one before they are gone. Both bikes have avid enthusiast followings and accessories are plentiful and not real expensive.

The 2001 Concours I had gave me one of my best riding days ever in 2001 when I took off one morning with my friend Tom to do a break-in ride and we racked up 495 miles that day. The Concours does gobble miles and does it pretty painlessly even of the suspension is not exactly supple.

The KLR650 has been called "the Swiss Army Knife" of motorcycles. Owners have ridden them everywhere including around the world. With some KLR owners it's almost a point of pride to beat the bikes senseless because they just keep jugging along like nothing happened. Hanging the most clunky old made-from-surplus -ammo-can "saddlebags" on the bike is extremely cool. I even owned a KLR650 once upon a time but sold it because it seemed too tall. After the Caponord the KLR no longer seems too big or too tall for the inseam challenged to take into the dirt

My neighbor Jim has a red KLR650 and thinks the green one is hideous so there's a good reason to buy it too. We can harangue each other about who's bike is uglier. "Yeah, well, at least mine doesn't look like a Campbell's Soup can!" "Yeah, it looks like the pea soup IN the can." Great fun and we're not even out of the driveway yet.

Two bikes for the price of one? That's a lot of fun there even if it's not spicy Italian or cool German.

Anyway, tomorrow I'm off to look at the Futura and ponder that. I'll stop at the BMW dealer too and see how serious he is about wheeling and dealing. The R1200ST is very nice in person, maybe the nicest BMW in a long time and almost the spiritual successor to the R90S.

Decisions, decisions...

Wednesday, August 31, 2005

Burning: Moto-lust and Otherwise

Aprilia Futura RST 1000. Moto-lust, oh yes

BMW R 1200 ST. German techno cool

This is the longest I've gone without making a post since I started 40on2 last summer. There are reasons for that or maybe excuses but mostly I'm just really feeling the effects of the long Arizona summer. My work keeps me outside a lot in the summer and we've had more 110+ degree days this year than in a very long time. I'm feeling the heat down to my bones the way winter cold chills you northerners to the bone after about three months.

I've not been out on the Aprilia much in the last two months, once to the dealer to get it's 10k service and once just because I HAD to get out before I went bug-eyed from not riding. It was a chilly 105 degrees just before sunset so I decided that was as good a time as any.

Since the 10k service the bike has been running superbly with the low speed, off throttle response very crisp and clean finally. The dealer set the O2 a little higher than zero this time and installed the latest ECU mapping for the Capo and it pulls cleanly to redline in every gear. Read what you will into that.

Despite the heat and non-riding I'm getting semi-serious about buying a second bike. Saturday I'll be visiting a couple of dealers to see if I slip over the edge from temptation to ownership for the 39th time. Bikes under consideration are the BMW R1200ST and the Aprilia Futura.

What I should get what with my aches and pains and advancing age is a Goldwing but I'm not quite that far gone as yet. What I'm looking for is something interesting that can gobble up a lot of miles with a minimum of fuss or fatigue. The R1200ST seems like the techno hot ticket but costs about 50% more than the Futura so it may just come down to money. There are limits to finances even for famous moto-bloggers. ahem..

Common sense dictates that I should just spend $8200 and get another Kawasaki Concours but part of the mandate is that the bike be interesting. I loved my Concours, it was a very competent motorcycle that gobbled miles with a minimum of fuss but it wasn't interesting enough to make me burn with passion for another one. Burning with moto-lust seems to be one of my few pleasures these days as I burn in the sun at work.

Stay tuned.

Tuesday, August 09, 2005

Aprilia Caponord: On the Hot Seat

It's summer in beautiful Arizona (or most anywhere that sun shines hot). You ride your bike somewhere, stop for a leisurely lunch and leave your bike parked under the bright sunshine where you can admire it through the window of the air conditioned cafe as you munch your lunch. After lunch, thoroughly satiated by a good burger and an ice tea, you walk out, start the bike, plop your bottom on the seat and "Yeeeyowwwwieeeeeee!!" Hot crossed buns for dessert. Unless you only ride in winter you've had this happen to you and here in Arizona it's just part of the normal fun of riding in warm weather.

As noted in the previous post I brought home a FLIR thermocamera to work on a test fixture and while I was at it made some images of my '02 Aprilia Caponord setting in the sun. It was about 98° - 100° F outside. Initially I was interested in the engine area but also recorded some images of the seat and then tossed my sheepskin cover on it, let it set for awhile and made new images so I could compare the seat surface temps with and without the "Sheepskin Buttpad" I bought from Alaska Leather Company.

Here's the visual image of the seat without the cover and with (wish I'd have bought the black one):

Here's the infrared camera view of the seat without the sheepskin cover:

The white area on the seat is 177°F. Tell me that won't hurt for a minute when you snuggle up against it.

Predictably the sheepskin cover was a bunch cooler than the bare black vinyl seat cover but the amount was interesting and confirms semi-scientifically what sheepskin seat cover users know already.

The hottest part of the sheepskin cover is approximately 137°F, 40° cooler than the bare vinyl, still plenty warm but because of the low mass of the sheep fur the heat doesn't really bite the way the bare vinyl cover does.

For what it's worth: Research with vehicle interiors shows that some bare leather seats left in the sun on a 110° day (say as iconvertibleable with the top down) can reach 240° in some areas. I have no doubt that if I'd left that Capo outside all day long at just the right angle the seat temp would have touched 200°F in some areas. Besides being hard on your bum, those are the kinds of temperatures that ruin expensive seats.

The stock Capo seat is not real comfortable for more than about 100 miles and since I added the sheepskin cover I've rolled up days past 300 miles without undo suffering. The fact that my bum doesn't get roasted each time I hop back on the bike after a fuel or rest stop surely must add to the comfort factor.

Someone pointed out on a motorcycle forum a while back that you could always spot and old guy's bike by the sheepskin seat cover. I laughed when I read that and it may be true but that's because after riding a couple of decades you learn to value comfort more than style. When you're 6 hours into a day and you do not have a serious case of monkey butt in your jeans you don't give a hang about style.

Worth noting: The Alaska Leather Company is owned and run by motorcyclists and doing business with them was a breeze. If you want a bit more comfort on your next long ride give them a call and spring for the sheepskin. It's genuine old fahrt tested and approved.

Tuesday, August 02, 2005

Aprilia Caponord: Hot & Cold

The water temp gauge on a bike tells you how hot the engine coolant is but what about the rest of the bike? How hot does the gas tank get? The bodywork? The seat cover on a hot summer day? All are warm to some degree and therefore are emitting infrared energy. "Gosh, Mr. Science..."

No doubt you've often wondered what your bike looks like in the infrared portion of the spectrum. OK, probably not. Humans cannot see infrared energy which is in essence what we call heat or at least some of it is heat if there's enough of it in the right wavelength. Yes, I know you can see the coils glowing on radiant heaters and other sorts of hot stuff glow also. We're talking about seeing low heat here (below 500°F) and temperature differences at low levels. If you can see how hot the body panels are on your bike you've got a serious problem in the works.

So if you want to "see" heat at low temperatures you need an infrared camera and it just so happens I have one at work. It's made by FLIR (same FLIR that makes thermal imaging goodies for fighter jets an such) and can in a single image measure over 70,000 temperature points and turn the temperature levels into pretty colors and those into an image that we can see with our own eyes. Cool. Or hot. I'll spare you the techie stuff about how it's done, it's tedious and involves math that I don't really understand myself; I just use the camera to do research on heat propagation through vehicle interiors and yes, that's every bit as exciting as it sounds. Zzzzzzz.

So I brought the IR (infrared) camera home to do a bit of work here on a test fixture and decided to make some heat images of the Caponord when it was sitting outside "cold" and then after it had been started and allowed to idle up to operating temperature of 168°F.

Below is the Caponord cold. It's Arizona in the summer and the air temp according to the thermometer on the Capo is a balmy 98°F.

In the visible light portion of the spectrum it looks like this:

The heat image (depending on what color palette you chose for the camera) looks like this:

Just out of the garage an into the Arizona summer sun.
Note which part got warmed up first even with the engine off.

The temp scale on the right of the image is in Celsius because that's what I normally work in temp unit wise. 60°C = 140°F just to give you an idea.
From an correct analysis standpoint to read the temps on the bike accurately you would have to know the emissivity of each material in the image and a few other details too. For our purposes here just assume the temps indicated are within about 2 - 5 degrees of accurate. This was fun in my driveway, not a NASA project, folks.
By the way, the aluminum frame spars and brake rotors appear to be cold because the angles and the highly reflective surfaces to some degree reflect "the sky" which is very cold or surrounding temps. No, not the air, the sky...different thing there...outer space as it were but not quite. Never mind. Just enjoy the pretty colors.
Here's the Capo after it has fully warmed up:

Engine coolant temp is 168°F at this point
The temps for the exhaust header pipes and sky are way off the scale hot & cold because the camera is set for vehicle interior temps and not engine type temps or outer space. Even the seat surface is past 60°C. More on that later. Note in the image the heat from the radiator coming through the body panel below the gas tank and the heat of the engine warming the concrete driveway. The camera, by the way, has a temperature sensitivity of as little a .07°C so it's possible to pick out some minute temperature differentials with the FLIR analysis software.

With the FLIR software you can look at specific points and areas in an image and figure out all kinds of interesting things about temperature movement and levels that most bike companies choose not to know or at least care much about. How do I know they chose not to know that stuff?  Because I've owned enough bikes that roast legs when idling and sometimes even when riding to know that no one bothered to test for heat issues as a consideration of rider or passenger comfort. I've heard that Yamaha's sport touring FJ1300 is a leg warmer. The Caponord is a bit too but not enough to be a bother. My old Yamaha 550 Vision was the all time worst here in Arizona. Just riding home from work on the Vision was enough to leave you stunned and dizzy and with 1st degree burns on your inner thighs.

I made a few more images of the Caponord and I'll post them next week for your interest and edification. They will be slightly more useful than the above two but not as picturesque.

Saturday, July 16, 2005

Not Soon Forgotten

34 and looking fine
Forgive me if I ramble a bit. She was special, one of those 'net people we connect with but never get to meet. There was never romance between us, just kindred spirits. She was a motorcycle rider so of course that started us on the friendship path. Because of our age difference and our very different goals in life we never saw romance as a reasonable thing for us so we just "didn't go there."

She'd had so much pain in her life, genuinely bad things and those were before the first bout with cancer. Sometimes you meet someone with so many hurts you have to help, you don't have a choice. I couldn't help but reach out to her as a friend and as someone who would stand by her, not hurt her, and not abandon her. In truth, she was pretty dysfunctional and often shut out those who reached out to her and more than one boyfriend gave up in exasperation. Being her friend took a fair amount of work and plenty of people gave up on her. I wasn't always glad when she called but we don't give up on friends in need.

She had a hard time believing that anyone could actually care about her and not want something in return. But I'm a sucker for lost causes and I felt God wanted me to do what I could for her so I was always there and ready to chat or e-mail or talk. I believe I was the one who talked her into trying chemotherapy one more time.  It was either that or she would die anyway, and soon.

I wanted to go see her when she was recovering from her first bout with cancer but she wouldn't permit it. She'd gone from 130lbs to 85lbs and didn't want anyone to see what cancer had done to her. She never managed to get above 87lbs before the cancer struck again a year later.

She used to call me from California and ask me to tell her stories about how we'd ride together someday when she was healthy and could buy another bike to replace her Honda. Naturally I recommended an Aprilia but she thought the Ducati Monster would be more to her liking. So she'd call and I'd tell her stories about riding around the Southwest and the stuff we'd see and do on our bikes -- vagabond stories, not romantic sunset stories. She told me often that nothing let her escape the cares of life more than riding her motorcycle.

After I would go out for rides I'd send her little notes and a picture so the daydreams would seem more real and she might try a little harder to get better. In truth, she only wanted to give up trying; she was so tired. I wanted to tell her it was ok to give up and I couldn't.

I grew very attached to her and her screwed up self.  More than I'd realized. I don't usually let myself do things like that.

I'm frankly amazed that I'm taking this so hard. I didn't shed a tear when my father died and I loved my dad. But he was old and had lived his life and enjoyed success in all the truly important things.

I was never in love her or her with me, we just grew close in some mysterious way that I don't really understand.  I hope I made her messed up life just a bit better for a few minutes sometimes. At least now she is in Heaven and the pain and the hurt are forgotten. I'm having trouble finding much comfort in that for myself though. She was just 36.

Monday, July 04, 2005

To Forgive is Divine

Motor Cycle News No excuses, indeed.

Let me say at the outset that I like BMW motorcycles. I've owned five of them over the years, certainly ridden more than that, and expect that I'll own one or two more before the Big Dirt Nap. So understand right here that I'm not picking on BMW or the new K1200S, I'm talking about how we perceive the motorcycles we love and forgive their sins.

The New BMW K1200S superbike is finally into the marketplace and the first tests have been seen in the moto press. The first report I read was from MCN in the UK and they compared the bike to the Kawasaki ZX12R and Suzuki Hayabusa. Naturally the BMW was chosen as the best of the three bikes even though it had less horsepower, was slower, has sloppy low speed throttle response thanks to incomplete development of the EFI, can cost $1500 more (likely $6k more in the US) and the styling is "oddball."

One could be cynical and say that MCN like many magazines is...um..."sensitive" to the feelings of BMW and their new flagship bike. Naturally I would never suggest such a thing as a connection between advertising and review results although my experience with bike magazines many years past and more recently with the automotive press indicates that it is possible to for manufacturers to have some influence on magazines. No doubt you are shocked at the notion that commercial considerations could intrude on the purity and sanctity of the Press.

Rather than be cynical (perish the thought) I'll ascribe the laurels often heaped upon BMW and some other companies as being the result of what I call the "Forgiveness Factor." Such is the prestige of some logos or even national reputations that certain shortcomings that would be glaring faults in other brands are simply ignored or "forgiven" in the more the more laudatory brands. I like the religious sounding "forgiveness factor" for our penchant to forgive the shortcomings of our favorite bike brands.

For many riders, their fealty to a brand is akin to a religion. This is true of Italian bike owners, German bike owners, and especially Harley-Davidson owners. Harley owners are the most fanatical of course, forgiving all sins in the name of the Motor Company and St. Willie G. Davidson, amen. As a Harley dealer told me once about buying a Harley, "It's like joining a #$%^$ cult or something."

My official Forgiveness Factor scale runs from 0 - 10, zero being no forgiveness for problems with a bike and ten meaning everything can be forgiven. A 10 usually means there is more to be forgiven, also. Most great classic bikes like Vincent, Brough, and even the lower tier machines like Bultaco or BSA are given 9s or 10's because they are now classics of their time. We may forgive the elderly many things by virtue of them having impressed themselves and our experiences with them, onto our lives and memories when we were younger.

On the Forgiveness Factor scale Harley's are given an 8 because to not forgive nearly everything about them is un-American and disrespectful to the flag and all those diligent workers in America, Taiwan, and Japan that are building parts for assembly into real American motorcycles.

Typically, a Japanese bike would rank very low on the Forgiveness Factor scale, probably about 1 or 2, as the Japanese bikes have no actual soul to connect with emotionally and must make up for that by being as mechanically perfect as robots and honor bound engineers can make them. A shaky electrical system or final drive failure in a modern Japanese bike is rare, it simply would not be acceptable to some 60 hour a week engineer who's personal and national honor are at stake in each wiring harness connector and fuse block. Frankly, I admire that. Since our expectations for Japanese bikes are so high, as their own expectations are so high for their own work, we forgive them less. We also get better motorcycles that way.

On the other hand a mistake in a design by a German engineer would not be cause for loss of face with one's peers or a cause hari-kari, merely another reason to take a week off in Spain or Italy to unwind from the stress of having to redo the design next year. In that same vein, a mistake by and Italian engineer would not result in huge stress as he did the best he could and besides, the bike handles so wonderfully and sounds so good, why worry about it? Let's go to lunch, drink wine, and whistle at beautiful women! In our stress filled, schedule driven, rat-on-a-treadmill world, somehow the crazy Italian concept has appeal and is more easily forgiven.

I have applied the Forgiveness Factor to nearly all my previous bikes and apply it currently with my beloved Aprilia and it's tendency to occasionally display for no apparent reason "error code 1" on the instrument cluster. All bike owners forgive their mount's shortcomings to one degree or another whether they admit it or not. I'm not sure it's good for the Press to be so accommodating though.

Italian bikes are famous for style, performance, and quirkiness, a well rounded and complete cachet that is uniquely Italian and when you buy an Italian bike you are required accept certain things like shaky parts availability as a given, it might even be in the owners manual somewhere. There will be electrical quirks for example. Italian electrical systems seem often to be a marriage of Italian and French parts and in what universe could the marriage of anything Italian and French be good? Ok, French bread with garlic and Italian cheese comes to mind but other than that?

Why put up with this grief when you could just as easily have purchased a Yamaha and gotten better response from the support system? Grief is endured because Italian bikes have an air about them, a feeling when you ride them; a crazed Italian passion for motorsports fused right into their alloy that makes them a unique experience in motorcycling. To experience that is worth the price, mostly.

In part it is because of the aforementioned Italian bike soul, a mystical blend of handling, performance, and sound, that indefinable quality that is so delightful, that we give Aprilia, Ducati, Moto-Guzzi, etc. a Forgiveness Factor of about 7. Many things are forgiven Italian bikes that, should they occur in a Honda, Yamaha, Suzuki, or Kawasaki, would bring a class action lawsuit against Japan, Inc. For Italian bike owners, quirky electrics, fairing screws made of recycled Fiats, and a parts system always at lunch drinking good red wine is just a part of the culture and fun. You wear the inconvenience like a badge of honor, a symbol of your own passion for motorcycles and willingness to forgive for the sake of that motorcycle passion in the bike's designers and builders.

In the '50s and '60s, you wanted one of these to tour the world and know you'd make it.

But back to BMW. BMW enthusiasts are very close to Harley enthusiasts in blissful forgiveness of their favored brand. BMW have created a reputation for reliability that is rooted in the great "/2" series bikes of the '50s and 60's (Note to Beemer cognoscenti: I know that "/2" was actually only a few specific models but it's become a generalized term of all mid-century Beemers). At a time when traveling by American or British motorcycle meant carrying every spare part but a frame and probably needing them, BMW owners carried the nicely complete, high quality factory tool kit and a tire patch kit that came with the bike and probably never needed them anyway. In thousands of miles of travel with the five BMWs I've own (1969 - 1992 model years) I only recall ever opening a tool kit on the road once. When I was in Colorado on my new 1974 R90S I found a small external lock nut on a valve cover stud had loosened. That's it.

Along the way BMW has blessed us with, gear box clunk, plank hard seats, too soft cast wheels, EFI glitches, and more recently, weak final drive units on the GS series. All are forgiven because BMWs are reliable. Everyone knows that they are reliable. It's beyond question. They are German engineering of the highest caliber (BMW says so) so BMW are assigned a Forgiveness Factory of 5 by most owners whether they realize it or not.

BMWs do ride differently than other bikes, have a distinct feel about them, a Wagnerian sense of powerful capability and durability on the road. It's so good in fact that sins are forgiven for the experience of the ride. BMW has marketed their perceived reputation for quality as cleverly as Harley-Davidson has marketed their "bad boy" image. Therefore, for BMW much is forgiven by it's enthusiastic customers and even the Press.

What does BMW give in exchange for this moderate Forgiveness Factor of 5? The Italian bikes give passion, style and all that, but no one ever accused German bikes of having either passion or style. So why give the BMW K1200S a Forgiveness Factor of 5? Because it does have that cachet of German engineering quality, fully deserved or not at this point. The cachet is worth more than the reality so some forgiveness is in order.

[A small aside: I've worked for a German company for the past couple of decades and know the German engineering mindset well.]

So it looks to me like the BMW K1200S benefits still from this Forgiveness Factor built on the reputation of the old /2 bikes and cultivated so carefully by BMW over the decades. According to MCN the K1200S still has obvious fuel injection mapping problems and the performance is less in nearly every respect than it's Japanese counterparts. So it wins. All shortcomings are forgiven to a point sufficient to make the K1200S the winner. Watch it happen in other magazine tests too.

Seems odd that people will happily pay in the US $6000 more than for a Hayabusa, get a little less motorcycle in many respects. But they will get a BMW and all the important intangibles attached to that marque and that's what really matters. So it is with Italian bike owners too, we forgive a lot, maybe too much, but at least we don't have to pay a 30% premium for the privilege.

Forgiveness is a powerful thing. I could forgive this bike much.

The big, new BMW isn't nearly as interesting to me as the Aprilia Futura with it's melodious V-twin, slightly avant-garde Italian styling, and scarcity on the road. The Futura is older, slower, has no ABS, and parts and accessories are a challenge. It is no match for the K1200S in any objective comparison. Just the same, I'll take the Futura, out of production though it may be, quirky electrics and all, just in the name of passion and style. All it's shortcomings would be forgiven, allowing it in my heart, to win over the BMW K1200S.

BMW may have out pointed the Kawasaki and the Suzuki in the MCN review by using the unacknowledged Forgiveness Factor but using the same system in my world, Aprilia wins over the BMW. No doubt you think I'm crazy or stupid (I've been called worse and fairly recently) for preferring a six year old Italian design of the latest state-of-the art German design. I'd rather ride a 1974 Bultaco 250 Pursang than a new YZ250 too. Personally, I think it's crazy to pay thousands and thousands of dollars more just for a badge and technology that you don't need but that some how fits into the Forgiveness Factor also. It's ok though, regardless of what you ride or why you chose it, because in the end, riding a motorcycle, choosing a motorcycle, is never about logic anyway, it's more like choosing a religion.

Sunday, July 03, 2005


My two Pembroke Welsh Corgi dogs have a wonderful pedigree even if they themselves have never been in the show ring. Their father's class and success shows in how they carry themselves and in their spirit. Nearly every great and successful current brand of motorcycle has a competition pedigree also and it shows in their class and their spirit. I believe that for all the successful motorcycle brands there is a spice that's added to their image and to their desirability that is brought about by their racing successes and that NOT having a successful racing program diminishes a motorcycle brand.

My point is that racing is a crucial aspect to a brand's broad acceptance and success in the market place and the imprinting of that brand on the customer's perception of the brand. All the current successful manufacturers including lesser known but successful brands like Aprilia and KTM have laudatory racing records (yeah, I know about the Aprilia / Suzuki / Yamaha / Rotax connection). BMW's racing successes go back to the time before WWII and extend to modern times in the torturous and deadly Dakar Rally. KTM may not have half the credibility that it has without it's success in the Dakar Rally. Ducati without it's racing heritage would just be a stylish Italian motorcycle and not quite as desirable. Those world championship trophies and scores of race wins mean something in the showroom, at least to the knowledgeable enthusiast.

Now for a mini-rant: Heritage cannot be purchased outright either, anymore than buying the latest fashions makes an ordinary person a celebrity, just ask the people from the defunct Excelsior-Henderson brand or the once again departed Indian Company. Just because the folks from Gilroy bought a name from the past doesn't mean they were entitled to the substantial glory attached to the name but earned with the blood, sweat, and passion of racers and engineers of 40 or 50 years ago. The "Indian Wrecking Crew" of Bobby Hill, Bill Tuman, and Ernie Beckman brought racing glory to Indian in it's dieing days in the early 1950s. A modern Indian wrecking crew wearing business suits instead of racing leathers brought nothing to the marque but shallow marketing of overpriced fashion apparel and poor quality bikes boasting copies of Harley-Davidson engines. As close as you'll ever get to a real, new Indian since 1953/54 is the Kiwi Indian. If I had a spare $40k laying around I'd be tempted because I love Indian Motorcycles and the Kiwi folks are passionate in the face of common sense. You have to admire that. (End mini-rant)

There is scarcely an name more worthy of honor in racing than MV Agusta and yet, as wonderful as their modern bikes are, everyone who has been around motorcycling for a while and can see past the marketing and knows that Count Agusta is long gone and the current bikes have no real connection to the glories of the howling red four cylinder Grand Prix racers of the '60s and early '70s beyond the Agusta name. The men behind the engineering of the new MV Agusta bikes are passionate motorcycle enthusiasts and MV Agusta may yet earn a new reputation for superb modern racing bikes and sport bikes but glories of Isle of Man victories are forever reserved to a company of people led by a wealthy motorcycle patriarch who got lost between a helicopter company and a Malaysian business empire. The soul of MV Agusta was laid to rest with the Count.

Knowingly or instinctively, many customers in the motorcycle dealership showroom know that the bike they are looking at has a real pedigree or a purchased one. The BMW faithful initially at least shied away from the first BMW 650 "Funduro" as they knew the engine was from Rotax, not BMW, and the bike was assembled by Aprilia. On some level in the group consciousness of the motorcycle world, posers and pretenders are ultimately avoided whether they are RUBs decked out in their official faux biker Motor Company garb or a Vincent resurrected with a camouflaged Honda engine in it. The new Vincent is beautiful, by the way, but it's not a real Vincent. Even dear Aprilia has used too many foreign engines in their bikes; at least their wonderful liter bikes have an engine designed within the confines of Italy even if it's been built by lederhosen wearing Austrians. [I seem to recall hearing lately that the building of the 990cc V-twin engine has been moved in-house though]
The H-D V-Rod which has been less than a rousing success for the Motor Company, I think suffers somehow because it has little more than a smoke and mirrors racing heritage based on one third place finish in AMA superbike racing years ago. Having a losing engine re-engineered for the street (read: completely redesigned from the ground up) by Porsche doesn't seem to add much to the desirability of the bike since the H-D cache is built on it's American roots. The V-Rod engine is probably the future of H-D though because of emissions rules but it will take some more racing and marketing of that before the bike has an honest pedigree of it's own. Currently H-D is doing some interesting things with the V-Rod in drag racing so at least they are making an effort. I wonder if we'll see the V-Rod engine translated into a flat track motor some day?

V-Rod drag bike (photo via Vance & Hines)
And for every rule there is an exception. If you know bikes you know that John Bloor and the revived Triumph brand have done very well without doing anymore than dipping their little toe into the racing waters. Credit Bloor for being a much better businessman than the others who tried to raise the motorcycle dead and also for building a first rate product. So it's "not a real Triumph" with an engine designed by Edward Turner but the new Triumph Thruxton 900 is built in the U.K. by Guinness drinking Limies and that's worth a little something.

I guess ultimately it depends on how passionate you are about motorcycle history in general and how much you are willing to pretend or not pretend you own a part of it. In the modern corporate bottom-line driven motorcycle industry there are bound to be compromises. The days when a single, wealthy enthusiast like Count Agusta or F.X. Bulto (Bultaco) could fund a whole company with their own money and passion for bikes just because they want to are long gone. The breeds are inevitably branching out, becoming diluted.

Theoretically, wonderful design and engineering should always take the day and glory purchased and applied to the side of a gas tank should not be necessary. I would suggest that if the owners, designers, and builders really love motorcycles and can take honest pride in their own work there should not be a need or even a desire to trade on the name, labors and passions of people to whom you have no real connection.

The blood of champions runs through my little Pembroke Welsh Corgis, I didn't buy a mixed breed with the pedigree of an single, entirely different bloodline.  Top breeders tell me that crossing  two breeds often does not result in the best of both in the new dog but the worst of both.

"Watson" - Cymru am byth!
For nearly 600 years people enthusiastic for the Corgi breed have ensured that it would not only be refined and preserved and improved but that it arrived undiluted for each new generation of Corgi enthusiasts to enjoy. Would that it could have been so with many of the great makes of motorcycles like Indian.

Saturday, June 25, 2005

Happy Anniversary To Me

Somewhere in Arizona

So it's been a whole year now since I began "Forty Years on Two Wheels." I'm no one special, never famous, just a guy who rides and was looking for an outlet for the words rattling around inside my head. There is a common thread of experience that runs through all of motorcycling regardless of the brand of bike, type of riding, or years of experience and somehow it seemed worthwhile to share my strands of that thread with those who might be interested.

I wasn't sure when I started this blog if I'd make it past an entry or two before I lost interest but I've racked up fifty plus of entries now and I'm pretty pleased about that. It's surely a testament to my perseverance, ego, and the quantity of fragmented motorcycle stories (aka BS) rattling around inside my head. Combining bikes with my love for photography is a big plus in that regard. It's easier to write about things when there's a quantity of pictures to keep the memories fresh. If you don't take pictures when you ride, start doing it. Someday you'll be an old fahrt and those pictures when you were young and studly on a bike will mean a lot to you and let the grandkids know that the old fool in the rocking chair actually was a real person once with and exciting life. With luck they will want to hear some of the stories that go with the pictures.

Like most people that start a blog I'm mildly amazed that anyone reads what I write or ever comes back for a second look. Perhaps you are too. The blog is getting 400 to 800 hits a week now and my mom doesn't have a computer so I know it's not her. Yeah, 400 to 800 a week -- "big deal" -- but heck I never expected to get more than 100 hits in a year and half those would be me looking for more typos I missed. However minor my success is here, it's still pretty amazing to me. One of the joys of getting older is that you learn to appreciate small victories.

In the last twelve months, besides writing the blog I've owned three different bikes, ridden about 10,000 miles, ridden over 100 mph regularly, over 150 mph once, not gotten any speeding tickets (knock on wood), taken a few thousand pictures (some of which came out like I expected), and made a number of new motorcycle friends. That's all a big plus in my world.

Anyway, for those of you who read here regularly, thank you kindly for your time and attention. Knowing there is at least a handful of folks watching makes me try a little harder than I might otherwise. For you bloggers I've gotten to know in person or via e-mail over the last 12 months, thank you for your encouragement and your feedback; I've tried a little harder because you guys are all out there doing a great job with your own blogs.

Popular Posts

Search This Site

"When my mood gets too hot and I find myself wandering beyond control I pull out my motor-bike and hurl it top-speed through these unfit roads for hour after hour." - T.E. Lawrence

An Important reminder from the past:
"I believe there are more instances of the abridgment of the freedom of the people by gradual and silent encroachments by those in power than by violent and sudden usurpations." - James Madison