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

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...

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