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

Sunday, December 30, 2007

True Believers

True Believers make the best targets. No, I'm not talking about overly pious, religious people. I'm talking about people who make a motorcycle brand their almost-religion, people in whom, if only for a moment, you can instill a flash of doubt in their brand fervor, and who will then reward you with pained looks of horror. I love doing that, it gives me joy. Sometimes I'm easily amused.

In the motorcycle world the Harley guys are the biggest group of True Believers but BMW, Ducati, Triumph, Aprilia and others have their share of devotees, some of whom will gladly pay excessive prices (a logo premium or BMW guys call it "the Roundel Tax") to ride what they perceive as "the only motorcycle to own." Anytime someone pays too much for too little and then justifies it beyond all reason they have begun the drift from motorcycle enthusiast to True Believer. I'm only a motorcycle true believer to the extent that I think motorcycles are wonderful and amazing vehicles and more worthy of riding and ownership and devotion than any other type of vehicle ever made. As it happens, I've driven the current pinnacle of the production car world, the Bugatti Veyron, and it's an amazing piece of engineering but I'd rather have a Ducati Desmodecci for a day than a Veyron. I can't afford to actually own either one, which seems wrong and cruel, but that's life.

The fun comes when you can trip up one of these True Believers with some bit of mischief that leaves them horrified or looking silly for a moment. Example: In days gone by Ducati guys have rambled on to me about the glories of their Italian bike. "Italian style! Italian handling! Italian racing red! Italian SOUL!" they exclaim slowly fumbling prayer beads made of old Ducati bevel drive engine parts. The fun part came when you could tell them "Yes, but Ducati is owned by an American investment company, Texas Pacific Group. Ducati is no longer Italian, it's Texan." Argh!! They grab their heart…shudder…sacrilege!... and then rend their Ducati Mechanica t-shirt. Is nothing sacred??

And yes, that's an actual real estate development sign in Arizona.

Actually, a couple of years back TPC sold their Ducati shares to some Italian group so Ducati is back to being thoroughly Italian, as it should be. Of course knowledgeable Ducati faithful will then remind me with sneer that Aprilia's engines, until not long ago, were built by Rotax in AUSTRIA! GASP!! Except I don't care so it didn't work. I'm a fan of Aprilia but not a True Believer. The Rotax built Aprilia V60 engine is one of the best in the world but I don't care where it was built, it works superbly, and sounds even better…better than a Ducati. I do admit to being a purest though, as impractical as that is nowadays, to the extent that I think Italian bikes should be designed and built by Italians, Japanese by Japanese, etc. etc. Each culture brings or can bring unique characteristics and an almost undefinable flavour to the design and building of a bike and that is worth preserving. It is what can lift mere machinery to a higher level of mechanical art.

At a vintage meet I found an Indian owner with a good sense of humor

I'm no great respecter of persons, a big ego is merely a big target and friends and comrades-in-wheels who take themselves or their favorite bike brand too seriously are fair game for a bit of lampooning. I consider my 2002 Aprilia Caponord one of my favorite bikes ever. I miss that particular bike even though I've replaced it with a 2003 model. But I'm not such a fan that I couldn't pass up an opportunity to torment my fellow Aprilia fans. A couple of years back when Aprilia was in financial trouble and rumors abounded as to what would finally happen to the company or if it would survive at all.

In on-line forums the Aprilia faithful debated the unhappy possibilities that could befall the brand. Some heard that the Austrian firm KTM would buy Aprilia, others heard that BMW would snatch them up since BMW and Aprilia had done business together for many years (the first BMW F650's were built by Aprilia, the Caponord has BMW tubeless spoke rims on it). Seeing a chance to give a few Aprilia true believers bad dreams I offered up my own "facts" thus: "I heard that Harley-Davidson will buy Aprilia. They need a new outlet for their engine production because V-Rods are not selling well. I heard that next year the Aprilia RSV 1000 and the Tuono will come with a V-Rod engine in them." Someone replied calling me "evil." I was pleased. Aprilia wound up being taken over by it's chief rival, Italian scooter maker Piaggio, to the Aprilia faithful, a fate only slightly better than being bought by KTM or H-D.

Triumph guys (the new Triumph fans, not the old ones) make a nice target if you tell them the new Triumph engines were designed by Kawasaki. This gets them to sputtering and shouting "Yankee infidel! May Edward Turner curse you!" As with many a good jab, there is always an element of truth on which to fall back for defense. When Triumph was re-founded some years back by Englishman John Bloor I read that they consulted with Kawasaki on engine design but the Triumph engine was not designed by Kawasaki. It's all about effect and facts should be seasoned as needed to achieve the right effect. The important thing is that for a moment the budding Anglophile thinks he's still making payments on and riding a British bike with a Kawasaki engine. Horrors!
Photo above right : A real Triumph engine with a proper right side shifter.

My best all time gotcha was when I had my '99 Kawasaki Drifter. The Drifter was the Kawasaki homage to Indian, some would say rip off of, but I saw it as an honest salute to a great American bike. The Drifter carried Indian's famous deeply valanced and sweeping fenders, had mostly black trim on vintage dark maroon paint, and almost no chrome save the pipes, mufflers, and air cleaner covers. Mother Kaw, as Kawasaki enthusiasts sometimes refer to the company, did a fantastic job of building a retro Indian look (got sued for it too by the real fake Indian people in Gilroy) and really have not equaled it with subsequent color schemes. I loved the '99 Drifter. It was a wonderful bike to ride on a pleasant day and seemed to possess some of the panache of the real Indian motorcycle without the hassles of riding an actual ancient bike.

Seeking purity of design and some fun I "de-badged" my Drifter, pulled the Kawasaki labels off the side covers, flipped the instrument trim over to hide the Kaw name leaving then only the monochromatic dull silver tank badge had the not-easy-to-read "Vulcan" V-logo on it as the labeled indication of the brand. The bike drew lots of comments and was often mistaken for an Indian. I admit that it was a bit of the intent on my part and fun. I always corrected people, told them my dad had been once been an Indian dealer and I wanted to enjoy the Indian look without the eccentricities or expense of the real item.

One night at a local bike and hot rod gathering place a fellow sauntered up to look at the Drifter. He was decked out in the official black H-D t-shirt, clean H-D doo-rag, shiny H-D boots and shiny H-D leathers. He eyed the Drifter for a moment and said seriously "Nice old Indian, man." I looked at him and then said slowly and with a cruel smile. "It's a Kawasaki, not an Indian." The guy looked visibly shaken, like he'd just Frenched kissed a girl in the dark and found out when the lights came on that it was his sister. It would have been better if his buddies had seen the moment, the look on his face, the moment he mistook a Jap bike for a real classic. He'd never live it down and probably be sent off to ride Gold Wings or some other terrible fate.

Thursday, December 06, 2007

Tom & Andrew's Excellent Adventure

Tom over at the Man and Machine blog wrote me way back in early 2006 about his search for an BMW R90S which happens to be my all time favorite motorcycle. We corresponded a bit, time passed, and the next thing you know Tom writes me this year that he has done more than talked about it, he actually bought one, a very nice looking Daytona orange version from 1976. That's Tom in the photo on the right (photos nicked from Tom's blog and e-mail).

s bike has had some mods done to it by the previous owner and isn't a museum piece or show piece and consequently he can ride it without feeling like he's devaluing the bike or desecrating a work of art. My thinking is that bikes should be ridden, that's what they were meant for. Not abused, mind you, but ridden and enjoyed in the way they were designed to be. A professional motorcycle restorer once told me "If you don't ride it, the next owner will."

Now the story improves.

Having more sense of adventure than good sense and apparently against the advice of those with good sense but no sense of adventure, Tom got together with his pal Andrew, who rides a 1976 Honda CB750, and decided to ride their old bikes from Indiana to Utah for the Bonneville World of Speed event and see just how fast they could go on the salt. Bonneville offers a "130 Club" for guys who want to run what they brung and don't want to go all the way and build a full on Bonneville race bike. Now that, friends, is my idea of a grand plan and what's better, they actually went did it.

I'll go no further with the story, only comment that I am a bit envious, and worse, without excuse for not doing something like that myself by now. Read Tom's account of their cross country journey over at Man and Machine. Link here. You'll find a good story of old motorcycles, friendship, fast bikes, fast cars, and some excellent pictures of land speed racers at the Bonneville Salt Flats.

No doubt the old meisters at BMW and the now retired techno-wizards at Honda would be pleased to see their machines put to proper use by riders who appreciate them, even thirty years on.

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