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

Friday, November 10, 2006

When Dinosaurs Roamed The Earth

Dinosaurs are always cool.
Google Video is a source of all kinds of video things, most of them crap. But amongst that ocean of embarrassing refuse of 21st century media is some surprisingly great motorcycle footage that doesn't involve sport bike crashes or riders with no protective gear and even less brains.

A real gem is a 1960s British Invitational Motocross Race at Canada Heights in Kent featuring Dave Bickers, Jeff Smith, Vic Eastwood, Arthur Lampkin, Derek Rickman and more. It's a wonderful race from the past when men were men and everyone raced in black and white. Watch the riders, listen to the names of bikes, watch the race, and you will get a look at not only great riders but a time when 2-stroke bikes were just beginning to threaten the dominant British 4-stroke machines.

We've come full circle some 40 years later with 4-stroke machines beginning to displace the 2-strokers but that now has more to do with environmental issues than performance issues. Frankly, I think racing now is better for it simply because the thundering sound of a 4-stroke engine makes for better race spectating than the incessant buzz of a 2-stroke powered bike.

Click here, watch for 12 minutes and enjoy.

Monday, October 30, 2006

If I Were A Rich Man

If you've had the good fortune to purchase of one Triumph's wonderful 2006 Scramblers you'll need the proper riding togs to go with it. I suggest you click on over and look through the catalog for "The Steve McQueen Sale and Collectors' Motorcycles & Related Memorabilia" auction at Bonham's. They are auctioning off a bunch of Steve McQueen memorabilia and motorcycles on November 11th and you might want to see about snapping up what must surely be the Holy Grail of motorcycle jackets.

Yep, McQueen's very own waxed cotton Belstaff Trialmaster Professional riding jacket:
photo: Bonham's

I had a Belstaff jacket just like it when I was young. All I needed beyond that was looks, talent, charisma, and riding skill and I could have been just like Steve.

I'll be surprised if that jacket doesn't bring some very serious money, more than the high auction estimate of $5,000. It may not be the very same Belstaff* jacket Steve's wearing in the ISDT picture above but it's close enough. For a die hard motorcycle enthusiast with money to spend the jacket offered would be quite and item to display in the den. And if that fellow had any guts and the jacket fit him he'd go riding in it at least once. I hope it goes to a worthy buyer.

Update: Nov. 12, 2006
Steve McQueen's old jacket did a little better than the auction estimate. The final selling price was $28,000. That tells me two things (1) Whomever did the auction estimates didn't know much about motorcycle history and the real power of the McQueen racing image to old riders.

*Update: April 29, 2006: I've been informed that the jacket McQueen is wearing in the photo is in fact a
Barbour International Jacket jacket and not a Belstaff. No matter, if you want to look just like Steve you can visit British Motorcycle Gear and buy your own for way less than $28,0000.

Friday, October 20, 2006

I Confess


OK, I confess, I'm interested in something on two wheels other than a motorcycle. I want a Heinkel Tourist motorscooter. There, I said it.

My wife has had an on-again-off-again interest in scooters so I've been poking around the scooter world to see what's what and fill in the extensive gaps in my knowledge of scooters. Somehow her interest in modern scooters has translated into me wanting a Heinkel from circa 1960. It's not clear to me how that happened but I'm good with it. I'd even let her ride it.

I've found that the scooter world is very much like the motorcycle world, just slower, maybe a little quirkier, and with a better sense of humor about itself. I confess too that I have always had an interest in things that were a bit different, a bit quirky, out of the mainstream, and so the Heinkel Tourist, with it's big valenced front fender and stout German heritage, has caught my interest. I work for a German company and have some knowledge of things German and as nearly as I can tell, the Heinkel Tourist is built the way the Germans used to build things before they discovered plastic, computers, and a "the more complex, the better" mentality.

I have no intention of giving up motorcycles but I just have the feeling that it would be no end of fun to have a vintage scooter, and a Heinkel in particular, to trundle about with on the weekends or to take to vintage events. The Heinkel has the style and substance of another era and I like that a lot.

With just 175cc it wouldn't be fast but it would be fun.

Heinkel's turn up for sale periodically, sometimes at good prices, sometimes at surprisingly high prices. They are not as numerous in the US as in Europe so finding the right Heinkel at the right price could be a bit of a challenge. I let one slip by already --"he who hesitates is lost" and all that. The was a nice looking Heinkel on eBay recently but it was down in Australia and the shipping costs would have made the purchase impractical unless the bug to have one bites me harder than it has. The recently acquired 1992 Kawasaki KLR650 is my 40th motorcycle; could my 41st two-wheeler be a vintage scooter? Stranger things have happened but not recently. I'm past-due.

More Heinkel Tourist info here for the excellent USA based Heinkel Tourist enthusiast and here for German site for all things Heinkel.

Friday, October 13, 2006

You Are What You Eat?

Whether for leather jackets or food or yard ornaments, cows can be expensive.

I've commented more than once now on the whole Harley-Davidson shtick and after I wrote my last blog entry about their silly video, I promised myself I would not write any more about H-D for awhile. But I couldn't resist.

I have to be honest right up front here and say that I actually like their bikes. Harley's have a visceral feel to them that is unique and enticing to their riders, I imagine, not unlike the way an old center-steer John Deere tractor appeals to old farmers or wannabe farmers. I was reminded of this sometime back when I test rode a new RoadGlide and the shifting brought back memories of youthful summers on my uncle's farm and the fun I had driving his faded green tractor.

Harleys are unique enough in their feel and image now that "the Motor Company," as H-D likes to call itself, has managed to market the whole Harley experience in every imaginable way to increase their profits and grow their stock price. They have succeeded beyond what anyone believed and I wish I had been smart enough to buy a thousand shares back then but I'd spent all my money and then some on a new Softtail Custom. In the early '80s when H-D first went public with their stock I knew guys that bought just one share and ordered the actual paper stock certificate as a memento because everyone knew for sure Harley was going to finally go belly up and join Indian, Crocker and a pantheon of other great names in motorcycle heaven.

It didn't happen; H-D is still with us and they are everywhere.

The revival of H-D is one of the great turn-around stories in American business. Brilliant marketing, clever ads, an understanding of aging Baby Boomers, in addition to actually improving the basic quality of the product, worked just as it should. But Harley did not stop there. They branded their own clothes, chrome accessories, Monopoly game sets, Ford trucks, kid's bicycles and more. Any product with a blank spot for the Harley logo has become fair game in the pursuit of profit. I expect eventually at Sturgis or Daytona you'll be able to buy H-D branded fake vomit in case you're not man enough yourself to drink until you puke.

So when I was browsing the PetSmart web site the other day and saw "Harley-Davidson® Breakaway Safety Cat Collars" I knew there was no limit...or bottom...to what Harley would brand in order to make a buck.

Or so I thought.

I got an e-mail the other day from Ed over at Motohistory.net and he mentioned that H-D and ConAgra Foods, Inc. have just announced that soon, coming to a shabby convenience store or multi-million dollar Harley boutique near you, will be Harley-Davidson beef jerky. ConAgra, Inc., the folks who make "Slim Jim" beef jerky and "Wesson Oil" (amongst other things) will be stamping the Harley logo on presumably orange-and-black packages of beef jerky and calling it "Road Food" just for you. Soon, not only will you be able to find your personal identity in what you ride and what you wear but you can eat what you ride too! Ah, capitalism! To quote one of the parties in the jerkyfest speaking about H-D "...nothing fit with the brand and its image like jerky." No kidding...

Now H-D bikes and H-D branded stuff have never been inexpensive but it did seem to me that $5.99 for 3.25 ounces of sticks of dried up dead cow was a bit pricey even if they did have the Motor Company logo on their package. Being me, I did some math and found that at $5.99 for 3.25oz of H-D beef jerky, and considering that the typical Harley is about $20,000 and weighs about 700lbs, the jerky is $29.48 per pound while the Harley is only $28.57 per pound.

Guess what, it's cheaper to eat their motorcycles than their beef jerky.

Notice: The names Harely-Davidson, Sportster, RoadKing, ElectraGlide, and Softail are copyright H-D.
The names Slim Jim and Wesson Oil are copyright ConAgra, Inc.
Cows are copyright God. At least for now.

Thursday, October 05, 2006

Baa Baa Black Sheep

There is an old Harley rider's expression "If I have to explain it, you wouldn't understand." Well, apparently the folks at H-D felt a need to try and explain it anyway and so in the trendiest video way, they now proudly proclaim "We believe in flames and skulls."

Harley's "statement" film is on their website and you can click here for a look.

The video is really nicely done from a graphic standpoint; the black and white images are compelling. Compelling only at first glance though because once you stop and look, the real message in the video is as conformist as any three-piece-suit culture of "The Man" against whom the video pretends to rebel. Does it strike anyone else as ironic that a billion dollar, multi-national, Wall Street listed corporation has made a video that talks about being an individualist and "sticking it to The Man"?

So the video got me to thinking about what I believe.

I believe I'm glad that I'm a motorcyclist all the time and not just a faux biker on the weekends.

I believe flames and skulls are a cliche now. (OK, flames are not, well painted flames will always look good)

I believe I'm glad I owned a Harley when it was a motorcycle and not a lifestyle statement.

I believe I'm glad I ride a Honda today and whatever brand of bike I want tomorrow, and that I am not bound by what my friends ride.

I believe I feel sorry for the hard core H-D riders (you know who you are and so do I). H-D has sold you guys out and you ought to be mad enough about it by now to go ride something else for a while and "stick it to The Man."

Sunday, September 17, 2006

Grim Fairy Tales

"1970 Bultaco for sale. Needs minor cosmetic work and tune up to be ready
for vintage mx or concours events."

Exaggeration seems to be part and parcel with world of motorcycling. You are shocked, I know. Just as most motorcycle speedometers tend to be significantly optimistic, so claims about epic rides, riding prowess, and other aspects of one's motorcycling adventures may diverge somewhat from reality. I, of course, would never do that. Trust me. Every story I tell you here is utterly, definitively true, mostly.

The most amazing display of cognitive dissonance in all of motorcycling though is that some people's representation of their very own motorcycle, sitting right in front of their very own eyes, may not mesh closely with reality when they describe it in a "for sale" ad. The motorcycle section of your local classified ads or the ever popular www.cycletrader.com may have more in common with a politician's campaign promises than reality.

Having owned bunches of bikes and sold bunches of bikes I have spent a fair amount of time rummaging through bike-for-sale ads. I confess that I love browsing Cycle Trader and Craig's List. Most of the ads are dull but there are just enough bargains, gems, diamonds in the rough, and oddities to keep me coming back for regular visits month after month, year after year. Even when I'm not buying or selling I spend time browsing the ads so I'm up on current prices just in case I do decide to buy or sell a bike. It always pays to know your market and you never know when you might stumble across a great deal on that 1960 Heinkel Tourist scooter you didn't even know you wanted.

After looking at countless numbers of motorcycle ads over the years and driving to look at too many misrepresented bikes I've learned a thing or two about reading between the lines of the bike-for-sale ads. It's made me just a tad cynical about what I read there's entertainment value even in cynicism.

One of the things that amazes me is how often the same phrases are used by completely different people as they struggle to convince you, using bad grammar, no punctuation, and grainy photos, to buy their treasure-turned-white-elephant. Guys get very low marks for originality in used bike ad writing. This of course can work to the benefit of the savvy shopper who can decode the true meaning of the words.

Over the decades, I have stood in a goodly number of oil stained driveways and garages and heard the stories behind the ads.  Some stories were interesting, some were funny, some sad, some were outright lies. I've learned a lot but it has been hard-earned knowledge, trust me. So to give you the benefit of my years of bike shopping experience here are some lines from actual bike ads I've recently browsed and what they probably, really mean.   Should you find yourself buying or selling a used bike, perhaps these will prove useful:

"My loss, your gain"
I paid way to much for this thing. Somebody with more money than good sense bail me out.

"OBO" [or best offer]
I'll take $500 less than I'm asking. Alternate: I'll only take $50 less; I just wanted to con you into coming to see the bike in hope that you'll bite when you get here.

"Runs and looks perfect!"
I finally got it running again after I tried to tune it up myself to save money.

"recently tuned/oil change"
Last year year I bought oil on sale at Walmart and my buddy turned some screws on something.

I washed it for the first time in 10,000 miles and it doesn't look as bad as I thought.

"Forced sell"
I'm three payments behind and the collection agency is calling every day.

"scuff on front fender, runs great"
I tipped over in the driveway, now I'm scared of it.

I wanted to be a stunter but couldn't wheelie for more than three feet.

"carbon fiber blinkers"
I wanted to be a stunter but couldn't wheelie for more than three feet, crashed, and broke the stock turn signals off.

"bike is super clean"
I washed it for the first time in 10,000 miles AND waxed the tank and fenders.

"rare silver color"
They made 10,000 of them but it's the only silver bike I own.

"flawless condition"
I washed it for the first time in 10,000 miles , waxed the tank and fenders, AND Armor All'ed the seat.

"adult owner"
I'm an old fart and scared myself with this thing. Someone take it off my hands.

"fast & looks great"
I'm got too many tickets. And I washed it.

"bought from orig owner"
I'm reselling a beat up repo I got cheap from the credit union.

"super dependable"
It has not left me by the side of the road thumbing a ride home in over a month.

"very good condition, recent fluids"
I washed it and finally added enough oil to reach the bottom of the dipstick.

"lots of new parts, clutch, chain, etc"
I bought a junker and got it running. Buy it quick before I have to spend more money on this turkey.

"HONDA RC51, like new cond, only 500 mi, completely stock "
I'm an old fart and scared myself with this thing. Someone take it off my hands.

"no time to ride"
I got four tickets in one month and lost my license.

"Call For Price" [always a dealer]
I want full retail and I think you're too stupid to realize that.

"price plus fees" [dealer]
Doc fees, freight fees, prep fees, salesman commission fees, tire disposal fees, lot boy dusting fees, pay for my kid's braces fees. Prepare to pay at least $1,000 more than the ad price.

"Must sell! Moving into new home"
I'm way over my head on the house payment and have to bail on the bike. Someday I will own another motorcycle. I hope.

"will consider any reasonable cash offer"
As long as it's within $50 of my asking price.

"Must sell due to health"
I didn't tell the wife I was buying this and now she's gonna kill me.

"This bike is my daily driver"
I've beat the crap out of this wreck and want to sell it before it breaks down again.

"Owner is motivated to sell"
Lost my job. One payment behind now and no new job prospects.

"must sell having a baby"
My life is over.

I got my girlfriend pregnant and we gotta get married or her dad's gonna shoot me.

"Divorcing must sell asap"
See other ad listings for my truck, boat, trailer, gun collection, stereo system, and dog. Give me cash so I can hide it from the court and my soon-to-be ex.

"nothings funner than beating a rice burner with a Harley"
I once out ran an '86 Toyota Tercel up to 65 mph.

"Need money for a dirt bike"
I scared myself witless on the street. Maybe freestyle motocross is safer.

"Too many toys, must sell!"
I didn't tell the wife I was buying this and she's gonna kill me.

"Must sell, as I am just getting too old"
My wife and kids have nagged me about safety to the point that I just give up.

"Must sell due to medical problems."
I'm a squid and crashed.

"professionally detailed every 3 months"
I'm such a poser I don't even wash and polish my own bike.

"Must sell. Husband died"
He bought this thing without asking me and I killed him.

"never been laid down"
But the engine has had it's guts twisted out while street racing.

ALL CAPS indicate: "I didn't tell the wife I was buying this and she's cut me off."

and of course the most pathetic of all:
"New bride says bike must go."
I have been neutered. Please kill me.

As for me, when selling a bike I advocate simply telling the truth about the bike and including several, nice, clear pictures in the ad. Avoid silly hyperbole; state your firm price and that's that. It's always worked for me but then I'm not a motorcycle dealer, a squid, desperate to sell, behind in any payments, about to be divorced, or scared of riding on the street. My wife would never demand that I sell my bike (wise husbands and wives never demand such things) and so far I don't have "TOO MANY TOYS" so life is good even with just one bike in the garage.

Friday, September 08, 2006

Speed On Two Wheels

"Speed On Two Wheels," a TV program about sport bikes and how they go fast, appeared not long ago on The Science Channel. The program, with some extra footage added will be out on DVD shortly and the guys at Cry Havoc Productions who made the show were kind enough to send me an advance copy. I had seen a bit of the "Speed On Two Wheels" previously but not the whole show and my first impression was that it had some interesting footage and some nice explanations of how bikes worked, more educational in nature than enthusiast oriented. That fits, I'm sure, with the show's Science Channel audience. Watching the entire show on DVD turned out to be a pleasant hour well spent, far more so than most anything motorcycle and non-racing that you are likely to find on "Speed TV" or whatever they are calling it this year.

"Speed On Two Wheels" is a good program with some interesting info and footage, especially for the non-rider or new rider. One of the best things about the show is the merciful lack of Harley-Davidson or biker clichés, lack of gratuitous scantily clad women, and lack of loud, cheesy, hard rock music for a sound track. Thank you, Cry Havoc Productions, for breaking free of the current fashions in motorcycle videos.

The show gives and inside look at AMA road racing and sport bike riding in general with some emphasis on the exploits of the Kawasaki road racing team. Suzuki gets a bit of coverage too with some excellent comments by Matt Mladin and there may have been a Honda around somewhere. Since the cameraman for Cry Havoc Productions is the redoubtable Dylan from over at the Twisting Asphalt blog there are a few Ducati's to be seen and they even manage to include a visit to the Ducati factory and museum in Italy. Side note: The museum guy's Italian accented English was sufficiently unintelligible that subtitles would have been handy.

I found the inside look at Kawasaki's race team to be interesting, much more so than the usual "up close and personal" scripted stuff one usually sees about pro racers. The racers, primarily the Hayden brothers Roger and Tommy, looked and sounded a bit awkward and you know what...I was ok with that because pro racers are racers, not pitchmen or motorsports presenters. I'd rather hear Roger Hayden ramble a bit about what he does than some PR flack recite boiler plate statements on what Roger does. The scenes of Roger, brother Tommy, and assorted others talking about their work had a definite unrehearsed quality to them and it gave a much more authentic feel to the information.

The show is fairly free of crash scenes (only two that I can recall) and overtly scary things that distract from the real story. This is a big plus when communicating the fun and science of motorcycling to the uninitiated without overwhelming the facts with far more eye catching crash scenes.

People who ride a lot know about crashing, we don't like the fact that crashes happen but we accept that they happen and do not get fixated on the painful fact. When an experienced motorcycle rider watches footage of a crash we usually slip right into the mode of "What went wrong? How did that happen? And what can I learn from this?" The non-rider only sees a human tumbling like a rag doll and a machine being destroyed. Watching crashes can be educational for a rider, it's just scary and mind jarring for the non-rider. Limiting footage of crashes in "Speed On Two Wheels" is a big plus in getting the public (or my wife) to focus on the facts and science of riding and competing on two wheels rather than the obvious drama of a crash. Riding and racing motorcycles isn't about crashing, it's about riding well, sometimes riding fast, and NOT crashing in the process.

As you'd expect, the show isn't perfect. The story line seemed to wander a bit and the reason for the jump from one scene to another wasn't always clear. The vintage black and white footage of motorcycle racing could have been left out entirely; perhaps the thought was to provide some juxtaposition to modern racing but the footage is so ancient as to be nearly irrelevant. It's like showing pictures of the Wright Brothers and the Space Shuttle in the same story. It's been done too much already and casts the net of information a little too wide.

Some explanations in the program, such as Nick Ienatsch's explanation and example of traction using a small Honda dirt bike were pretty obscure. I found myself re-explaining to the Mrs. exactly why it was that over-use of brakes and throttle cause a bike to do things like wheelies, stoppies, slides and high sides. On the other hand, the example of how brakes - front, rear, and combination of both - effect braking distance, was excellent.

"Speed On Two Wheels" is a program that is worth adding to your motorcycle video library, first because the inside tidbits about the race teams are interesting, and second because it is a program you can show the non-riders in your family to help them understand a little about what motorcycling is and why you're hooked on it. You can pre-order the DVD of "Speed On Two Wheels" here.

Monday, August 28, 2006

Everything Old Is New Again

Schuberth J1 pic snagged from their site

The guys over at webBikeWorld (excellent site, I read it daily) have posted a review of the new Shuberth J1 helmet. As soon as I saw the helmet I had to chuckle and send of an e-mail to the editor:

"Everything old is new again! Back about 1970 when the Bell Star, the first "full face" helmet, made it's appearance, racers quickly realized that face protection was a good thing. We adapted by bolting football helmet face guards to our open face helmets. It became so common that Webco began making a double loop protective guard to screw to your open face helmet. It was made without the steel reinforcement of the of football piece so the potential greater impact of a motorcycle crash would not leave the face piece bent in against one's face and requiring the Jaws of Life to remove it. A picture of yours truly riding my Bultaco in a La Mesa, California motocross in 1970 is attached."

back when I was skinny and had all my hair

Don't misunderstand either, I like the look of the J1 and it's engineering far surpasses a clunky plastic guard bolted onto my 1970 "Capt. America" helmet. I'd be hunting a J1 down to try it on except I just bought another Arai SZ/M (3/4 helmet with face shield) this past Saturday. Drat. Poor timing on my part as I'd like the extra face protection of the J1 and don't like the enclosed feeling and restricted vision of the typical full face helmet. Ah well, the Arai will be ready for replacement in 5 years or so and maybe then I'll look at the new "pudding bowl" helmets that someone just invented. ;-)

Thursday, August 24, 2006

Resistance Is Futile: An Update

It's all for the good of the people
Sometime back I offered up some info and comments on "Big Brotherism" in transportation. I thought I'd add just a small update on the idea that "they" are coming for your motorcycle.  via Autoblog:

"When the driver exceeds the posted speed limit, he or she will receive a two beep warning. Once their speed is 5 mph over the limit, the vehicle seat vibrates as another warning. If the second warning is disregarded, ISA takes over and slows the vehicle until it's at or below the speed limit."

That system was demonstrated in the U.K. using a motorcycle.  It will take the do-gooders some time to work out the kinks and legal niceties of the technology and of course your will to resist the concept of external vehicle control must be worn down a bit more by speed cameras, black boxes in your car, hyperbole laden accident statistics, and further implanting of the idea that your individual freedom must give way to the greater good of the people (as seen by the technocrats).
A government's need to increase it's power over the populace is exceeded only by it's need for more of your money. Your motorcycle is only a small piece of the picture but it's obviously been spotted as a good early candidate for control because motorcycle riders are politically weak and seen largely in a negative light by the public and so will garner no wider support amongst voters.
You can give it a decade or so but it is coming.

Monday, August 14, 2006

More Hot Shots

2005 ST1300 thermocamera image
How hot does your bike get while merely sitting in the sun? Why does the gas tank burn your thighs when you hop on the bike after work? Men have pondered it, talked about it, argued about, even as they found valuable electronics be roasted in the storage compartments of their touring or sporty bike. A question for the Ages, to be sure.

Last year I did some observations on my Aprilia Caponord so we'll just call this an annual 40on2 blog entry to be made when it's too hot to ride much and I can't think of any good stories at the moment.

The weird looking picture above was made with the FLIR P40 thermocamera ($40,000 if you want your own). The measurements are not completely conclusive since there are a variety of factors involved in measuring the heat of surfaces (emissivity of each different material, reflected heat, blah, blah, blah) but are close enough for our humble purposes here.

Having access to some heat measurement goodies like thermocouples and a FLIR P40 I decided to explore the fun world of infrard and motorcycles a little more before we move on to other, more important topics like "What bike should Doug buy next?"

From the thermal image above (since the image is a bit grainy):

Side of fuel tank = 151°
Side of seat = 181°
Fairing "tip over wing" = 161°
Saddlebag side = 151°
Hondaline Top box = 151°
Note here that the ST was only sitting in the sun, not running nor had it been since 8:00 in the morning.
The FLIR P40 measures 75,000 data points at once and then translates that into pretty pictures for our eyes. Color equals temperature. Think thermally, not photographically. Note the temperature scale on the side of the image. Dark colors mean a cooler temp but it's cool relative to the scale, not your refrigerator. In these images, cool = about 100°F. Also, really shiny metal stuff like mufflers, control levers, etc. reflect the heat around them so the camera is seeing mostly the reflection, not the temp of the part. It gets complicated sometimes so that's why the temps you see in these images should not by any means be considered exact but they do match pretty well with more rigorous measurements I've done on lesser vehicles such as cars. The camera accuracy is +-2% >30°C so there's that to consider too.

The external surface temps I measured on the ST would be typical for most any modern bike (or car for that matter). Plastic and paint don't vary all that much these days. Some of the bikes done in flat colors on the bodywork or gas tanks (Aprilia "ash black", Honda 599 a couple of years ago, etc, etc.) might get a good bit hotter. It is possible under "just right" conditions to get transient spot temps of over 230F on some surfaces like the corners of leather covered seats when the sun is at just the right angle for a few minutes. Covering a bike is best but even tossing a towel over the seat or instruments cuts heat substantially and reduces long term negative effects on the materials. If you value your bike, cover it when it's parked outside.

How hot does it get inside the fairing storage compartments of the Honda ST1300? If you have one you'd be curious. Topics of heat and the Honda ST series go together like Harley and vibration or BMW and over-priced.

Below are some fairing storage compartment temperature observations taken from my trusty ST1300.

Note: I did all this "quick and dirty" by any normal test standards. The equipment was borrowed from work and frankly, no one was paying me so I wasn't going to get too carried away.

The test plan was this:

Add two Type K thermocouples to the right fairing compartment of my ST. One would measure air temp in the compartment and one would be affixed to the floor of the compartment.

The bike would sit in the sun all day facing north. This is the least damaging position for the bike here in Arizona. I could have set the bike up for "worst case" temperatures but hey, it's MY bike.

At the end of the day I went out and connected the temp. measurement unit (Fluke 52 K/J digital thermometer for the geeks) to the T/C's and read the temps. My apologies to the true geeks / European readers for doing this in Farenheit but we must sometimes defer to cultural norms.

Test conditions:

Ambient = 106°F
RH = 25% (humid for AZ)

In the compartment:

Air temp = 116°F
Floor temp = 120°F

Not too surprising. Cars can get to 175° air temp inside under the right conditions.

So I attach the Fluke with highly scientific black tape to the storage compartment cover and start the bike.

…I head for the front gate and home…guess what…the temperature drops slightly. Must be some airflow in and around the compartment. Interesting.

The road home is mostly country 2 lane. Speeds vary from 45 mph to 50 mph posted. As this was all for science I road a bit faster, about 60 - 65 mph. Only three stop signs and one stop light for the 17 miles home.

Cruising at 60 - 65 the temps in the storage box start to climb slightly and max out at about 125°F on the floor. Air temp is slightly less.

Here's where it gets more interesting.

As I get into town and drop to 45 mph the bike is now properly warmed up and with the lower speeds the compartment temps start to climb. After two stops signs we're at 130° inside the compartment. Roll through my little neighborhood at 25 mph and we're at 140°. I park the bike in the driveway and let it idle. The radiator cooling fan kicks on and off and the temp inside the box starts to climb. After about 3 minutes the floor temp in the box is about 73.3°C…oops…163.9°F. Is your cell phone dead yet? Your PDA gasping it's last? Maybe. I was certainly hot standing there in the sun and having done enough for science that day, I shut off the bike. The temp inside the box climbed to 162° and then after a couple of minutes began to slide back as the engine cooled.

I rolled the bike in the garage and the Mrs. came out so see what I was up to. Happily, she brought some cold water with her. My next immediate project was to clean tape glue gook off the fairing. The heat had made a mess of the tape hold the instrumentation in place. Yuk.

high tech mounting system
So how hot COULD it get in the storage compartments? Can't say for absolutely sure and I'm not devoted enough to do a whole test regimen on the bike but I'd guess that stuck in traffic on a hot day the temp might climb to 180°, maybe a little more. If one is given to continous high speed riding (perish the thought!) it could get hotter.

No doubt Honda has done all this themselves but they will never tell us the facts. "Engineering secrets not fit for the unwashed masses" and all that. Given that the inside of a parked car can reach 175°F air temp and surface temps on dashboards can reach 240° I suppose the temp inside the fairing storage compartments isn't all that out of line but I still wouldn't put anything in there that was electronic. That sort of continuous heating can't be real good for consumer electronic components, never mind the tuna sandwhich in my lunch sack.

Saturday, July 15, 2006

Feeling Retro-Grouchy

2006 Triumph Scrambler

I've written positive things in the past about the new Triumph Scrambler and interestingly those blog entries are amongst the most "hit" pages in the blog and have garnered the most e-mail. From what I've read Triumph is pleased with the sales success of the Scrambler, it's one of their top sellers for 2006. That is no surprise to me, really. I suspect guys like me are the target market. We are someplace past 40…or 50…have some disposable income, and believe in our heart of hearts if we bought a Scrambler, put on a blue 3/4 helmet and some Uvex goggles, we'd likely be mistaken for Steve McQueen himself as we roll into our local Dairy Queen.

Some in the mainstream motorcycle press has been less enthusiastic about the Scrambler pronouncing "This is not a machine for taking any farther off-road than the end of your driveway" and "let’s be brutally honest here – despite its name, you’d have to be brave to take this 205kg bike very far from the Tarmac." You can almost hear the writer's "sniff" as they make their comments. Peter Egan at Cycle World was more complimentary but then Egan's an old fahrt like me and "gets it" when it comes to the Scrambler.

Whenever I read the lukewarm reviews of the Scrambler I finding myself wondering that if the bike is so mediocre, how is that anyone toured the world on the original Triumphs 40+ years ago? Those bikes had less horsepower, poorer suspension, kick starters only, Amal carburetors, Lucas "Prince of Darkness" electrics, and assorted bits likely made from melted down war surplus army tanks. And yet people did tour the world on those old bikes. And people raced the International Six Days Trials and the great desert races of the American southwest. The bikes were amongst the best of their time but they were poor beyond belief compared to a modern Triumph twin. Perhaps riders then were stout fellows compared to the "girlie men" of today? As Egan noted, the new Triumph is about 100 lbs heavier than the original versions, but hey, what's a hundred pounds extra amongst friends?

Some twenty years ago a colleague of mine, while working for a few weeks here in Arizona, scarfed up a very nice low mileage 1966 Triumph Bonneville. Frank asked if I could keep it in my garage until we could smuggle it back to Michigan in a company vehicle. I was happy to store the bike since I was the one who talked him into buying it. Of course I also stored it with the proviso that I be allowed to ride it a bit. When time allowed I'd hopped on the old Bonnie and take it for a spin. It was tricky to start, wretchedly stiff in the suspension, and vibrated like an old…well…old British vertical twin. I was astonished at how bad the bike felt compared to any modern machine. And yet the Bonneville, as a model, was and is a legend, a bike legitimately famous for more racing and riding accomplishments than anyone could list.

So why the knock by the press on the new Triumph Scrambler? Why do even bike some rank -and-file bike enthusiasts pronounce the Scrambler a sled? I believe it is because modern riders, and especially press people, are getting spoiled. Many press people are courted with a freebie press fleet bikes, trips to famous places to ride them and to be wined and dined to the point that they dare not admit that anything less than the ne plus ultra of modern motorcycle technology is acceptable.

I admit to being a little spoiled myself. Hey, I'm not buying anything these days that doesn't have an electric starter unless it's a vintage bike of some sort. We've all grown accustomed to plush suspension and electronic fuel injection, if not heated seats, but many riders seem to have grown so accustomed to having their bikes pamper them that they apparently cannot make an objective analysis of what a bike is really supposed to be: Fun. Are we all so spoiled and jaded now that if a bike doesn't have 100 HP, plush suspension, ABS, and all-weather wind protection we dare not set our finely tuned fannies on the seat for anything more than a trip to the corner market? Triumph probably should have at least included a goose down pillow with each Scrambler test bike so the modern testers would feel more at home.

The KLR 650 fanatics seem to do well with a bike that is hardly state-of-the-art so I'm guessing that the Scrambler will work fine for those who willing to travel at a more sedate pace on less-than-intense trails. At least in the case of the Triumph Scrambler you're getting some style to offset the less-than-perfect off road capabilities. Too many moto-techno-snobs seem to have forgotten how to have fun with less than the most elite of rides under them. Folks, grab your pudding bowl helmet, waxed cotton Belstaff jacket and go have some fun.

By the way, I'm shopping for a new bike again. No, I'm not selling my Honda ST1300, I'm just looking for a fun bike to ride when I don't feel like dealing with 750lbs of modern technology. Take a gander at the pictures below. I'll bet you can hardly even tell which one is Steve McQueen and which one is me. I know I can't.

If I were on a BMW F650 or Suzuki V-Strom 650 I'm sure I'd be having just as much fun as on the Triumph but I probably wouldn't be mistaken for Steve McQueen either. Decisions, decisions.

Tuesday, July 04, 2006

40 on 2 picture server is kaput

Well, my little 4th of July surprise was finding out second hand that the company that hosts my pictures and other website stuff apart from Blogger has lost their leased servers. I have to say that domain hosting is the flakiest business on the Internet, as puffed up and lacking in substance as a zero mile rider on his new Harley-Davidson.

So for now the blog is semi-pictureless until I get the picture hosting thing worked out properly and then re-upload all the pictures for the blog to wherever my domain hosting winds up. I hate the nuts & bolts side of the web thing. I don't know diddly about html coding, perl script, domains, DNS servers, bandwidth usage, blah, blah, blah. Like the digital fuel injection on my ST1300, I don't want to understand how it's programmed, I just want it to work reliably.

Hopefully I can land my domain someplace that isn't apparently financed by wire transfer money form a former Nigerian bank minister or profits from resurrection of the Indian Motorcycle brand. Stay tuned...

Update, 12 July: Ok, all fixed, I hope. With picture and domain hosting switched to a company that should be in business for more than a year and a customer service department that actually responds in a timely fashion we should be all set.

Saturday, June 24, 2006


caught in flagrante by CP
It's been two years this month and 112 entries since I started the blog. As surprised as I am that anyone reads it, I'm more surprised that I've kept writing it but then the blog and I have had a pretty good relationship. In the past my best relationships have been with inanimate objects like motorcycles, computers, a camera, and the TV remote. Shucks, I've kept the blog rolling along longer than I've kept almost any of the bikes I've owned with the exception of my 1992 BMW R100RT (4 years) and a cast off Bultaco 100 Sherpa S. The Bultaco doesn't actually roll but the engine is in the living room waiting for the frame to become more than a Spanish lawn ornament in the backyard (7 years).

the Comely Passenger's view
So I'm feeling philosophical at the moment, wondering how it is that as the decades have rolled past, the most often savored memories are my memories of riding. In truth, I relate to motorcycles better than I do people and that's even with me being a fairly lousy mechanic. People have come and gone in my life in the past but the bikes have been a constant, maybe because they never expected more of me than I was able to give except for the 2001 Aprilia Falco which expected me to be a lot younger and a better rider than I was. I do appreciate the people in my life, they keep me going forward, keep me thinking, working, and especially in CP's case, help me to be better than I would be without them.

But if there had been no motorcycles in my life would I be the same person I am now or poorer in spirit? I'd be richer in finances, that's for sure, but I have to think that inside my head it wouldn't be quite as interesting if there were not memories of California Highway 33 on a Suzuki or Colorado mountain passes on a BMW R90S or buying a Harley-Davidson before it was chic to buy a Harley. If I'd never ridden 150 mph on the way to work would I truly understand just how small and tedious a corporate cubicle is? I've driven fast cars on the race track, flown hang gliders from Glacier Point in Yosemite, ridden a bicycle one hundred miles in under six hours, and done other assorted slightly daft things but it is the motorcycle memories that I always turn to when I need to escape and go exploring inside my head.

photographing wildflowers in the desert - 2005

We are all the sum of our experiences good, bad, and indifferent. I believe that motorcycles, despite the expense, pain, and occasional injury, have made me more a unique person than I would have been otherwise and I would indeed be poorer in spirit if I'd never become a rider of motorcycles. I think most everyone who takes to two wheels for more than a brief fling comes away richer in spirit and sense of their own humanity and that is a good thing indeed.

Sunday, May 28, 2006

Facing the Music

7:57 is a very quick non-racing lap at Nurburgring

In olden times the chance to see real motorcycle races on film in the USA was nearly zilch and seeing racing bikes on TV, even less. If you were lucky you belonged to a motorcycle club that would borrow promotional movies from PR departments at Castrol or other companies that supported motorsports and you got to watch, through a haze of cigarette smoke, ten year old 16mm films of races in Europe (often in black and white).

Nowadays SpeedChannel (AKA the NASCAR channel), ESPN, OLN, and others give fairly decent coverage to MotoGP, World and AMA Superbike racing, motocross, and occasionally SuperMoto. Dakar Rally coverage on OLN is good although they spend far too much time on racer "up close and personal" segments instead of on the racing action. And while I'm at it, a big thumbs down to SpeedChannel for dropping their coverage of the Isle of Man TT races.

Racing movies are almost prolific now ("Faster", "Dust to Glory", "World's Fastest Indian") and especially since everyone with a bike, a camcorder, and access to a winding road, is making their own video. Most of the home brew videos are awful for content, image quality, and most of all, sound track. Why oh why can't you guys doing videos, whether amateur or professional, just let the bike do the sound track? Who could possibly think that some third rate thrash band or their favorite garage band can provide better sound than well tuned four cylinder engine or barely muffled Italian v-twin? You might as well use "I'm a lumberjack" from Monty Python, it would add as much class to your video.

Over at Google Video there's a great video of someone named Doohan (not Mick) and another guy dicing with cars on the Nurburgring. It's the only video I've seen of the 'Ring where a car passes the bikes. Someone who really knows how to drive a Porsche motored on past everyone and disappeared up the track. Impressive! The music sound track in the video is crap as usual but through it you can hear the bike engine wailing and even a shout of excited laughter from the rider when he gets the bike crossed up and saves it. Good stuff.

I just downloaded a 39 mb video from BMW wherein someone who rides much better than most of us flat hauls around the Nurburgring in Germany aboard a BMW K1200S. The perspective is good if a bit distorted by the windscreen, the riding is excellent, the bike is clearly amazing, and nearly smothering it all is some crappy music instead of the full sound of the BMW's 150+ hp four cylinder engine. Kudus for BMW for making a fun video but a big poke in the Roundel for not letting the bike itself do the sound track.

So to you budding Bruce Brown's out there: When you make your video, just let the engine handle the sound track, there's nothing in your library of pirated MP3 music that will sound as good. And you pro video guys, turn down the canned synth music and let the whole ride experience shine through including the engine sound.

Tuesday, May 09, 2006

Torture Rack

An eighth of an inch?? An eight of a freaking inch??? I stood there, shoulders slumped, dumbfounded that I could have spent 45 minutes measuring the $500 color-matched, Hondaline top box on my ST1300 in order to mount a new Givi parcel rack and missed by an eighth of an inch. No, I didn't catch the error in time. I'd just drilled four holes through the pristine metallic red surface of the top box after taping, marking, measuring, re-measuring, sighting, eyeballing, and otherwise making sure the new Givi top box rack would align perfectly and still got it wrong.

The Hondaline box is a beauty but has no real straight lines in the design to work from for measurement purposes and the Givi rack isn't much help that way either. Only with careful measuring could I be assured that all four holes would be just the right size and in just the right place and somehow I missed. I didn't fully realize the extent of my error until the rack was screwed down and obviously skewed. Was I upset? Oh yes. I put down the tools and walked in the house muttering and looking to drown my anger in ice cream.

Later in the evening after I calmed down I went back out to the garage, removed the rack, hogged out a couple of holes like any good, ham fisted idiot would do and re-installed the rack. It's on straight now...ok, not really, it's still maybe a sixteenth off but only a test engineer who makes his living inspecting car body and interior trim parts in the minutest detail would notice. Yeah, that's me. It will drive me crazy for as long as I own the bike but what's done is done.

So Sunday morning  I climbed onto the ST and headed for Kitt Peak National Observatory southwest of Tucson and about 110 miles from the palatial 40on2 estate. Kitt Peak is about 6,000+ feet above sea level and the road up to the top is nice and twisty. As with most good roads in Arizona, the ride to the road was fairly boring but the road up Kitt Peak was fun.  I didn't set any records up the mountain but the ride was nice and I worked on being smooth instead of fast. The ST handled as predictably as always and the excellent, fuel injected V-4, made the effects of altitude on performance a non-issue. The Honda continues to impress me with it's effortless operation and ability to get down the road with zero fuss.

These guys are numerous and have a taste for pretzel bits
At the top I wandered around, fed the wild birds, and observed the observatory complex while taking pictures and being suitably impressed by the feats of engineering technology. Several telescopes of assorted sizes including a big 4 meter unit are ensconced up there in gleaming white technological splendor. Each telescope has it's own building and each one stands like a monument to what can be done by smart people trying really hard. Thousands of years of accumulated astronomy knowledge are funneled into the creation of that place and it's difficult not to be impressed. There is a big solar telescope that doesn't look like a telescope but is made just for looking at the sun.

Solar Telescope
The big reflector mirror that catches the sun image sits at the top up a multi-story angled building that sits over a shaft that runs something like 135 meters under ground. Someone really smart dreamed up that one, someone with a PhD in sciences that in their most basic form would boggle ordinary minds.

And yet, when all the magnificent telescope building was done, when all the gleaming white paint was dry, someone discovered their calculations were just a tad off...

A closer look:

Yup, that's a rusty c-clamp, 6ft of rusty cable, and a bunch of scrap steel plate added to some sort of fancy rotating device so the darned thing will balance properly. I suddenly felt a little better about missing the measurement on the top box by an eighth of an inch.

After wandering about and seeing what there is to see and even letting myself in through an unlocked door to wander into the bowels of the big solar telescope I climbed back on the ST and trundled down the mountain and 110 miles non-stop back to town for some excellent Chinese food. I nearly forgot about the sixteenth off Givi rack but not quite. I did console myself though that people obviously smarter than me had to resort to a c-clamp and rusty metal plates to fix their mistake, all I had to do was drill out a couple of holes.

Tuesday, April 18, 2006

Shop Hopping

I love to go shop hopping. You know, you hop on your bike, go from bike shop to bike place sampling the wares and thereby fill up a Saturday on the cheap (unless of course you happen to weaken and buy something). Infinitely more fun and useful than mowing the lawn. Shop hopping is good way to meet up with friends, make new ones, sit on some bikes, dream a little, see what's new, and just absorb some bikeness. With any luck a good lunch happens along the way too.

My recent bike shop wanderings have left me feeling that it's a wonder motorcycle dealerships sell any bikes at all. That they do make sales is more a testament to the moto-lust of motorcycle enthusiasts who will endure an excruciating sales experience in order to obtain the object of their desire. In ye olden tymes buying a bike meant going to a motorcycle shop, probably located in a less desirable part of the business neighborhood, and then hoping to be accepted into the fraternity without too much hazing. This of course leads me to a small story:

I had decided at the tender age of 19 years to buy a new Harley Sportster. Young whelps of today sneer at the modern Sporty's performance and think of it as a chick bike but long ago there was no more fearsome performance machine readily available than the Harley-Davidson Sportster. And you'd better be able to kick start it, punk, 'cause only wusses buy the electric start version.

(yeah, I know it's not a Sportster)

So I walked into Oceanside Harley-Davidson, in those days a corrugated metal industrial building reeking of oil, and the huge, burly guy behind the counter asked loudly "Whattdya want, kid??" Clearly he had better things to do than talk to me. There was probably a town to be pillaged somewhere. I, the skinny, squeaky voiced 19 year old kid (with money in his pocket) replied. "I think I want to buy a Sportster." "Har har har har!!" laughed the man mountain counter ape. Looking to somewhere in the black nether reaches of the building the guy said "Hey Louie!! Da kid thinks wants A SPORTSTER!!! HAR HAR HAR HAR!!" Sufficiently intimidated, I turned and left and took my money to a Suzuki dealer who was happy to sell me a new T500 Titan (2-cylinder, two-stroke) that was probably faster than the Sportster if less fearsome in reputation.

My then new Suzuki T500 Titan. Cheaper than a Sportster, no hassle to buy.

The more common buying experience these days is the so called "powersports store." They sell bikes, they sell accessories, they sell watercraft, they sell generators, they sell gaudy clothing more worthy of a peacock than a motorcycle rider (whatever happened to buying your new motorcycle gloves at the Army Surplus store?). They will sell you any blessed thing you want and it will all be handled by a salesman who knows less about the range of products than many of the customers walking through the door. Yes, I know, that not ALL shops and sales people are that way. I'm sure in the vast expanse of America there is a dealer somewhere that has a knowledgeable sales staff. Things are actually a bit better at a few BMW or H-D dealers but not all.

My favorite game when visiting a bike shop, especially the powersports stores, is to ask the salesman what he rides. Most often I'll get the answer "I don't have a bike right now but…" As it happens though, when you work in a bike shop it can be pretty tough to afford to buy what you sell. I spoke with one of the top sales kids at a big store a while back and he was making $22,000 a year. Great money if you are still living with your parents. He didn't have a bike either.

How or why this misbegotten sales system survives is a mystery to me but then it survives pretty much in the same, much larger form, in the world of automobile sales from which it sprung. I grew up in car dealerships, my dad was in the business, and I know how that business works. But bikes are not cars, they are better than cars and deserve a better sales situation for the potential buyer.

Of course car buyers at least can get a demo drive whereas the potential motorcycle buyer gets only a laugh or a sneer from most motorcycle dealers if he asks for a demo ride. Imagine a customer walking into a car dealership, finding out his new luxo-barge SUV is on the show floor but no, you can't take it for a drive. In fact, out of courtesy to the future owner, don't even sit on it. Or touch it. And no, we don't have a brochure for you. Cars dealers would perish under such a system but frequently motorcycle dealers think nothing of treating a potential customer as if it's an honor to be allowed to buy.

Regardless of the scewed up sales system shops use, the modern motorcycle customer is treated far more courteously than I was long ago in that tin building hawg shop but not really treated any better. New riders, often sold bikes that are too big for them and at inflated prices no less, are merely a sheep to be fleeced and shown the way into the wider confinement along with the rest of the flock living the motorcycle "lifestyle." I personally always thought of motorcycling as a way of life, not a style statement.

The man mountain behind the counter long ago was, I suspect, at least knowledgeable about the motorcycle he was selling, owned one, and rode it. Regardless of the modern hassles, going and looking at bikes on a Saturday is a great way to pass the time.

Monday, March 27, 2006

Weekend Wanderings - Patagonia

I've been itching for a longer ride as the weather has warmed a bit.  This past Sunday I rolled up 340 miles to Patagonia and back, a distance the big ST makes happen with ease.

No, I didn't wander to Patagonia in Argentina this weekend -- it's Patagonia, Arizona, a charming little town in southern Arizona about an hour from Tucson. If you think all of Arizona is rocks, cactus, and rattlesnakes you'd be very wrong. The terrain of the state varies a good bit and Patagonia is in a lovely, rolling hill area at about 4,000 feet. It's not really lush and green there but it's very nice and definitely not the stereotypical idea of what Arizona is like.

I determined that the weather this weekend would be ideal for riding. Sadly, Saturday was lost to getting the 4,000 mile service done on the Honda and my 2005 taxes fettled by the tax accountant. I did manage to squeeze in a visit to a motorcycle dealership (Harley) while I was were up in the big city area. It was demo ride day. No, I wasn't planning on buying a Harley (been there, done that 20 years ago) but far be if from me to turn down an offer of a test ride.  I putted down the road a bit on a new Road Glide and it rode just as I remembered Harley's riding.  Not bad, just not what I want anymore.

So Sunday was the day for a ride and I was up and smoothly motoring down the road at the crack of 8:30 and headed southward towards Patagonia. The first stretch leaving our little town is unavoidable freeway. There are other ways to get there that are more interesting than the superslab but I didn't want to spend all day getting to were the good riding started.

Off of Interstate 10 south of Tucson you can pick up Highway 82. Judging by the number of motorcycles we saw on 82 and later 83, it's a popular road for southern Arizona riders. Mostly I saw H-D's on the road.  Harley riders are said to often pity those of us riding non-Harleys but I can assure you, from the seat of the ST1300, the view was reciprocal. My thought was that for all the Harley posers out there, there's still a whole bunch of H-D folks who get out and ride. Good on 'em as the Aussies say. (Secret confession: I enjoyed the Road Glide although the brakes and shifting were terrible.)

The roads to and from Patagonia are smooth, curvy, and run up and down the rolling hills. The pavement is smooth and well maintained, the sort of road that urges indiscretions with the throttle. There were more motorcycles than cars on them and I don't think I saw a patrol car all day. I didn't ride terribly fast though, it was too nice a day and the scenery too pleasant to miss it all by blitzing the curves.

Patagonia is a great place, I could even get interested in retiring there.  There is a growing art community in Patagonia and some very talented people therein. It would be a great place from an art and motorcycle perspective to spend my golden years while refusing to "go gently into that good night."

Often times artists tend to lean towards the liberal, touchy feely political-social direction. Patagonia seems to be attracting it's share. Picture a an old Volvo with a Kerry For President bumper sticker on the back parked outside an art gallery downtown. In Patagonia though, the other side of the spectrum appears to be proudly represented by the P.I.G.S.:

There's businessman not afraid to stand out in his community. I have to admire the spirit, if not the business plan. I should have checked to see if he was selling T-shirts for his business. I'd have bought one just to offend certain people I know.

I settled down to lunch in Patagonia at Santos Mexican Café. There were snazzier looking places in town like the Velvet Elvis Pizza parlor but Mexican food is a favorite in our little house and we thought I'd take a chance on Santos instead of Elvis:

As it turns out, my choice was well rewarded. The tortilla chips were dull and the salsa a bit too zippy for for my tastes but the burria tacos were excellent, amongst the best Mexican food I've had in Arizona.

Other places of interest around town: Church or nightclub, they've got you covered in the same building:

After visiting the art galleries in Patagonia and talking to exceptionally friendly people I motored off towards the towns of Elgin, Huachuca, and Sierra Vista. More wonderful roads and opportunities for photographs which may or may not get turned into watercolor paintings by the Mrs.

In the little town of Huachuca ("wah-choo-ka") there's a old auto junkyard that appears to be long closed. The place is for sale and to my surprise contained not the usual array of dull '70s and '80s Detroit boredom-boxes but all sorts of ecclectic things from a '41 Chrysler to Nash Metroplitans. Everything about the place says that someone very eccentric was the proprieter and was much better at collecting junk cars than selling them.

Peering through the chain link fence into the vast jumble of rusted fenders, car bodies, baskets of 1930's headlamps, vending machines and more, I spotted a motorcycle.  I wandered over and there wedged in the tangle of junk was the remains of an early '70s Suzuki T500 Titan (500cc 2 cylinder, 2-stroke engine). "Hey!" exclaimed to myself. "A Titan!" I used to own one of those. Bought it new about 1971.

After the junkyard fun I headed towards home, retracing my route on highway 82 rather than jumping onto the freeway north of So. Along the way we took a few more pictures of the bucolic sort, landscape stuff mostly for future art reference but one of some cows relaxing by a windmill and old water tank. I suppose when you're a cow life isn’t too stressful, at least not until you realize too late that you're not going to ever make it to retirement age. Final photo for today: bossy relaxes and gets more tender in the "ja-cow-zi":


Tuesday, March 14, 2006

More On Motorcycle Art

I've always enjoyed art. By that I mean the real stuff like original paintings, drawings, and sculpture done by people with actual talent. I took a lot of art classes in school, enough to know that my future did not lay in commercial art and certainly not in fine art. Sadly, I have little talent for such things which is probably why I enjoy so much looking at art, visiting galleries, and talking to artists. I view the works unencumbered by the notion that somehow I could do better, knowing that genuine creativity as with riding a motorcycle well, is more difficult than it looks.

To me creating a work of art like a painting or drawing seems almost magical; the ability to see and then translate the visual through the mental and back to the visual again via the hands a gift to be treasured and respected. To be able to create motorcycle art must surely be a double pleasure, you get to ride and then re-tell in visible way what you saw and felt or even only imagined.   My participation in art has been pretty much limited to simple admiration and the acquisition of a few interesting posters signed by famous racers. No, none of the posters are biker babe posters or the well-known "Mikuni Calendar."

I do love take pictures with my camera and shoot a great many but I don't consider myself good enough to call myself a photographer. There are too many really fine photographers out there to put myself in their league. Professional quality photography takes more work and knowledge than most people suspect. Great motorcycle racers make going fast look easy, great photographers make shooting great pictures look easy. If it was easy we'd all be Valentino Rossi or Ansel Adams.
I've commented a time or two in the past on the excellent art of Jason Watt. Jason continues to turn out impressive drawings legendary riders new and old and for increasingly high profile clients. A recent work:

original art by Jason Watt
In the past, for the most part motorcycle art seemed to consist of either old racing posters or cheesy, over done paintings of choppers roaring into the sunset. There may have been more or better stuff but the chance to see it was fairly limited. I happened to see Harry Miller's excellent work and one or two others at the Del Mar Concours many years ago and that was pretty much it for nice motorcycle art as far as I could tell. Most of the story of motorcycling has been documented with a camera and words rather immortalized with a paintbrush.

The bikes of today are the best ever, the safety gear the best ever, and the brotherhood of the road as good as ever so it's nice then that in the area of art that motorcycling no longer has to ride pillion in the art world except perhaps in the mind of art snobs. Even those are fewer in number since the Guggenheim Museum with it's "Art of the Motorcycle" exhibition elevated bike design itself to the level of art in the public mind. With the current generation of riders more well fixed financially than ever before, working artists have a more of a reason to create fine motorcycle art. It's truly satisfying to see another area of motorcycling being expanded and brought to a higher level.

So in my web ramblings I've run across many, many artists now doing motorcycle subjects and one I ran across today is Don Greytak. Up in Montana Don has been busy drawing scenes of farm life in a way somewhat reminiscent of Norman Rockwell but in black and white. If you grew up on a farm or spent any real time on a farm you're bound to have some memories stirred by his work.

Often part and parcel with farm life in days gone by were motorcycles. Greytak captures this nicely as part of rual life alone with the tractors, animals, and other more obvious elements. The reason old Indians and Harleys were so often reputed to be found in barns was because motorcycles in days of yore provided a good alternative transportation (and fun) for a farmer or his sons. In fact, my first ride ever on a motorcycle was on my Uncle Harold's farm back about 1962 or '63 on a little Honda 50. Uncle Harold's son Jerry had a Triumph 650 that frightened me with it's sheer size (I got over that).

Don Greytak's drawings (lead image in this entry) are evocative and really capture wonderful slices of motorcycling's past. They truly tell a story and despite the fact that the stories told would pre-date my own era of riding by a good bit, the feelings and moments seen are still occurring, just with different machines and a bit less innocence. It's not hard to look at the people rolling away on their big, '40 or '50s era machines and imagine yourself doing just that. The only difference now is the bike. The smiles and the feeling of adventure are still the same.

If you want to decorate your home or apartment think about dropping some bucks on something nicer than the Castrol race poster you got for free last year at the races or bike show. You'll find that good artwork is a joy to own and brings out those good ride feelings even when it's too cold or wet to ride. Your wife or girlfriend might even be impressed that you are developing artistic tastes beyond "Dogs Playing Poker."

Monday, February 27, 2006

Time Travel: The New Triumph Scrambler

Time Machine: 2006 Triumph Scrambler 900

Continuing on with my current fascination for the new Triumph Scrambler 900 I was reading assorted motorcycle forums and a few people were commenting on the fact that the new Triumph is antiquated technology. "Who's it for?" "Sure to be lousy off road" "The high pipes look like a leg cooker" "Why not 100 horsepower??" They do miss the point entirely. Moreover they do not realize that the day will come when they will wax nostalgic for the present KTM 990 and BMW 1200 GS and younger riders will guffaw at the 2006 bikes' lack of mag-lev suspension and hydrogen fuel cell ceramic magnet motors. I can forgive the current generation though since they were probably not even born yet when real Triumph scramblers roamed the deserts and race tracks of America. They don't have any recollection, no personal tie to the history behind the look of the new Scrambler.

I decided to peruse the web a bit for info on desert sleds of yore and see what was out there. If you can't ride something you can always look at pictures and dream.

Popular Science, Nov. 1966

Along the way I found a page, "The Steve McQueen Desert Scrambles Page", put together by Pete Snidal a few years ago. It's taken from the pages of vintage November 1966 Popular Science Magazine and consists of an article by Steve McQueen giving his riding impressions of the great dirt bikes of the day including the Greeves and the big new Honda 450 twin. 
It's a fun read for motorcycle buffs and a great illustration of why the new Triumph Scrambler will be a big success. If you consider the time frame of the article and the relative ages then and now of guys like me, you can see how the Triumph legend and image is deeply ingrained in the minds of those of us who have been around a while.

McQueen's winner in the comparison? The Rickman Triumph, of course! Steve reckoned the new 2-stroke engine bikes were coming on strong though: "These two-strokes have a lot going for them, but frankly l'm too attached to four-strokes to be completely won over." Later on he'd race and win his share on a 2-stroke Husqvarna but I suspect it was the old thunder of a Triumph twin that he preferred. In his last years when he went wandering about on the highways it was on an old chopped Indian, not a modern bike.

Back to the the new Scrambler. Modernist naysayers aside, just imagine for a moment if it were still 1966 and this new Triumph comes out. The 1966 bike press and enthusiasts would be going absolutely nuts over a 900cc, 54HP street legal scrambler. They surely would be wondering "Does anyone actually NEED a 900cc off road bike?" "A 54 HP dirt bike just for trail riding??" "Crazy!!" "That's the kind of power race bikes make!!" "It has a DISC BRAKE!!"  The all conquering Triumph 900 Scrambler would be front page news in every motorcycle publication in the world and only REAL MEN need apply for this beast!

Fast forward to 2006: Now it's just a new/old nostalgia bike, over weight, under-suspended, and underpowered. "Who's the target market?" someone asked in a message I read today. Hmm...

I'll take a red and white one, please. I'm man enough for the beast and a lot of guys my age who weren't Steve McQueen in 1960-whatever (or could even afford a bike like his then) will want one too.  Now, where'd I put my old waxed cotten Belstaff jacket? (size 36)

Monday, February 06, 2006


Ajo, AZ train station
I had planned to ride down to Tombstone, AZ this past Sunday but decided on Ajo, AZ at the last minute. I plan a lot of my rides like that...change things at the last minute or perhaps not deciding on a destination or even a direction until the bike is rolling out of the driveway. I like the serendipity of it and the potential of the expected discovery when you arrive where you had not planned to be.

The road to Ajo is scenic in an Arizona wide open spaces sort of way. The scenery is not spectacular but the vastness of it is impressive and seems to draw a person out emotionally, making them more aware of the majesty that can be found in simple vistas if we just look.  My destination was worth riding to first for the ride, of course, and then for the charm of the little southwestern mining town.

Ajo Plaza from the sandwhich shop

Ajo, Arizona is a former copper mining town down very close to the Mexican border. It was a company town in every way, laid out by the first mine manager but with an eye to creating a living environment as family friendly as a southwestern border mining could be in 1900. The mine is closed now and the town is struggling to reinvent itself in some way or another. The evidence of the days of copper industry wealth are still apparent there though. The town is replete with interesting southwestern architecture and ornate buildings such as the Curly School, built by a big corporation trying to create a wonderful place for it's employees to live even if their work is tough and dangerous.

Church from the plaza

There is enough interesting architecture, blue skies, and magical southwestern sunlight that the town is a favorite spot now for artists and photographers. A visit with one of the locals while sitting in the plaza munching a sandwich revealed that there is a good deal more art culture there than one might expect and it was easy to see why. Gleaming whitewashed buildings and blue skies are always a winner when drawing, painting, or photographing. Much of the town away from the main plaza is pretty worn and frayed now but the residents, new and old, seem committed to making Ajo a fine place to live.

By the way, even though the town is off the beaten path a bit and there is only one sandwich shop open on the town plaza, the sandwich shop is a WiFi hotspot!  The senior citizens I chatted with were both sitting there with their laptops open and browsing the web while they ate. The sandwiches are good too.


Every small town seems to have it's local characters and the desert towns always have at least one grizzled old character out and about. When we first pulled into town we stopped in front of a little bakery / coffee shop to grab a snack.  I'd just gotten off the bike and was fiddling with my camera when Fred peddled up on his shaky old three wheeled bicycle. I looked up and said "howdy" and Fred howdied back. 

I wandered over to make some small talk with him, I think most seniors are always worthy of a little time spent talking with them. They've lived and seen a lot and you never know what stories you may hear or what honest hero you may be privileged to meet.  Fred didn't seem to be anyone special, just another old character out and about on a sunny day and sometimes a little friendliness can bring a spot of encouragement to a person.  Encouragement costs nothing and can be priceless sometimes. Fred's walker was strapped to the back of his bike and a small compass was pinned to his shirt along with a thermometer. I guess in Ajo it's good to know which way is north when you're out on your bicycle.

Fred eyed the Honda bike and asked "Whatcha ridin' there?" I replied "A Honda." He replied "Ha!" Cheapskate! Shoulda bought a Harley." I allowed with a chuckle as how I'd had a Harley once upon a time before they were fashionable but preferred the comfort of the Honda now. 

Fred set about telling me his view of things and the current events in his life. He was quick to mention his heart attack and also his lobotomy and how he still enjoyed good banter and word play. I didn't doubt him a bit.  Rather than bore him with talk of my cheapskate Honda we talked a bit about his old green bike, the problems with the brakes and the changes he'd made to improve their function. Always good to have the brakes functioning tip top when out on the road, ya know.

After a time I prepared to head on down the road and Fred said that the single wheel drive of his bicycle made it darned hard to get started on an uphill. He'd stopped part way into a gravel driveway and there was clearly not going to be enough torque in his old legs to get the trike rolling again without some help.  I can take a hint so I offered a push start which he accepted with genuine appreciation. I stepped around the back of the back of the bike and helped him get rolling again.  As Fred peddled off down the road I walked over to my cheapskate Honda, climbed on board, and hit the road too.

Friday, February 03, 2006

A Different Drummer

In the world of unusual bikes the bike pictured above is definitely a stand out. Yup, it's a Yamaha Vmax done up as an adventure touring bike. Zowie. Can you say "roost!"?

There's a great message thread over on the Adventure Rider forum with great pictures of big, serious, slightly different off road bikes. The Vmax picture is borrowed from there.

I admit to a penchant for out-of-the-ordinary bikes, marching to the beat of a different oboe, and generally going my own way. When the Honda CB750 and Kawasaki 900 Z1 were the "in" road bikes I bought the BMW R90S. I bought a new Harley in 1986 before the H-D fad started. I got to enjoy the bike without the RUBs around (Didn't have to pay retail+ for the H-D, either).

Big 2-strokes always interested me. Why buy a Honda 450 or 500 when a Suzuki 500 twin 2-stroke is available? I had the 500 Titan and the GT550 triple from Suzuki. The Kawasaki 2-stroke triples were "in" so why go there? I admit to still wanting a Suzuki GT750 "water buffalo" now and again. Two years ago I'd set out to buy a Ducati, a bit out of the ordinary in a world of Japanese sport bikes and somehow wound up with an Aprilia Falco. The Falco morphed into the even less common Caponord. Ever since the Capo departed I've had the urge for another "big trailie" as the Brits call them. The first BMW GS bikes were great but now the new ones are tainted by being fashionable if not by exhorbidant price tags. Another Capo or a Triumph Tiger would be more fun.

In olden tymes when I raced motocross it was on Bultacos and Yamahas except for low budget stint a 100cc Honda trail bike that still had a working horn. I was fast on that little Honda (skinnier then too) and honest to gosh, I'd actually honk the horn at people when I passed them on the race course. Believe it or not there was a time when the 100cc class was a huge class in dirt racing and it was grown ups racing them, not kids. I recall someone (name escapes me at the moment) taking some over all wins in SoCal desert races a time or two on a 100cc Hodaka.

So I had experience with limited suspension travel and bone jarring rides and when I took a swing at vintage motocross back in the '90s when everyone was on Husqvarna and Maico, for me it was once again on a Bultaco. I'm not that smart I guess, just persistent and determined to do what interests me, not what's in.

I've kept in my collection of bike photos a picture or two of a really nice Yamaha 650 motocrosser I saw a few years back:

The idea of owning a slightly daft off road bike appeals to me. More than once I've browsed cycletrader.com for Yamaha 650's and airhead Beemers and thinking of doing something sillier than usual with my mad money. I confess to browsing older H-D Sportsters recently with the thought of building a "desert sled" out of one just for the fun of it. It's been done, of course. Way back when, I remember reading about a Sportster as a desert bike in Dirt Bike Magazine and a couple of masochists once rode a chopper (Triumph, I think) in the Mint 400. Some motorcycle folks do more than dream, some folks go beyond the usual unusual all the way to bizarre. I admire people like that.

I'm still pondering another big trailie and another Caponord would be a fine thing indeed but maybe something a bit more out of the ordinary would be more fun. In the mean time, imagine bounding through the brush on this BMW:


Friday, January 06, 2006

A Pearl Before Swine

In all of motorcycling there is no name more worth of label "legendary" than MV Agusta motorcycles. Founded in 1945 by the autocratic Count Agusta simply because he loved motorcycles, the MV Agusta marque won dozens of world championships on the most famous race circuits of all time with their bikes in the hands of the greatest riders of all time such as Giacomo Agostini.

As I wrote about some time ago, a pedigree cannot be purchased nor can the good name of the past often be revived. Motorcycle brands born of a passion for speed and motorcycles rarely if ever fair well when revived by businessmen more interested in the bottom line than the top end.

MV Agusta, revived a few years ago by assorted Italian folks did a creditable job of building a great a bike, a bike as close to perfect in fit and finish as any production bike I've ever seen. Sadly, there was no real connection to the original MV Agusta beyond the name. Count Agusta is long dead and the moneychangers who control his business empire sold off the bike brand name to Italian investors.

Sadly, as often happens with Italian motor companies, the new MV Agusta company ran up mountains of debt while selling too few motorcycles. Consequently, the MV Agusta motorcycle brand was sold sometime back to Malaysian national car maker Proton who thought they could make some sort of quick profit, I suppose.
Proton, having no more soul than lump of lead, has just ignominiously dumped the storied Agusta name for a mere 1 euro or about $1.20 to an Italian investment firm thereby further tarnishing a great marque. Ironic that it should happen just as the American Motorcyclist Assocication announced that MV Agusta would be the featured marque a their "Vintage Motorcycle Days" event in August.

It would be nice if the MV Agusta name along with Indian, Vincent, Excelsior-Henderson, Bultaco, and other great brands of the past, could be left to their eternal sleep and well earned legend status instead of so often being raised zombie-like for the profit pleasures of businessmen who would be just has happy selling plumbing fixtures if the profits were high enough.

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