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

Thursday, September 24, 2009

The Worlds Fastest Motorcycle

photo by "Seldom Seen Slim", proprietor extraordinaire of landracing,com

The happy folks in the photo above are celebrating a new land speed record for motorcycles. At the Bonneville Salt Flats today the Bub Seven motorcycle streamliner driven by Chris Carr ran a two way average speed of 367.382 miles per hour* with a fastest timed speed during his first run of 372.742 mph.

I've followed land speed racing on and off since I was a kid and the absolute balls out, go for it ethos combined with science and engineering still amazes and impresses me no end. Science and engineering will only get you so far because in the end someone with a lot of guts and huge skills has to strap in and go faster on a motorcycle than anyone has ever gone. Chris Carr definitely falls into that category.

During the Bonneville meet this week I've been following the event via up to the minute postings over at the premier web site for land speed racing, LandSpeedRacing.com. Gotta love those cellular modems! Pay a visit to the site if you want a peek into what it takes to go really, really fast in a straight line with a car or a bike. Lots of cool pictures too, of course.

One of these years I need to make it to Bonneville and see it all in person. I've stopped at the site while passing through but that's not the same as being there and hearing cars and bikes run 200 - 400 mph. Gotta hear that some day.

*pending FIM ratification

Update: A few photos I shot in 2007 of the Bub Seven at the Cycle World Show in Phoenix that year:

Motorcycle or jet aircraft cockpit?

I talked with Dennis Manning at the 2007 Cycle World Show in Phoenix. I asked him if he had any regrets about not being "able" (polite choice of words) to drive the BUB 7 himself. He replied fairly emphatically "No. I learned a long time ago with Cal Rayborn and the old streamliner that at this level of competition you have to have the very best people for everything, the very best at what they do, and Chris Carr is the best."

Dennis Manning handing out posters at the '07 Cycle World Show. He is an unassuming looking man who conceived the fastest motorcycle in the world. I spoke to him for a little while and got the impression that he was a fellow who's mind and inventiveness never rests.

The basic shape of the streamliner is said to have been inspired when Manning was watching a salmon effortless hold it's place in a stream of rushing water.

Then engine is a dual overhead cam, 16v, fuel injected, turbo charged V-four built specifically for the Bub Seven, hence it meets the rules requiring "motorcycle engines only" for power.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Hi, I'm Doug, And I'm A Bike-aholic

I'm sure my wife is beginning to think I'm insane. My neighbor Dr. Jim, the psychologist, is probably taking notes on my motorcycle ownership behavior for some future conference speech to be entitled "Abnormal Motorcycle Ownership Behavior In The Mature Adult Male" with yours truly as "Subject A." I blame it all on my very early childhood: I was one of those babies in the 1950's who chewed the lead paint off my crib. Dain bramage, that's what it is.

Anyway, in a moment or week of whimsy, madness, or just another manifestation of my short attention span with any given motorcycle I sold the '03 Kawasaki Concours I bought a few months ago.

When the Concours arrived at the palatial 40on2 estate the bike was mechanically very solid and decently cared for. It had lots of farkles added by the previous owner and really only needed a bath and a good detail job so the day after I bought it I spent the best part of ten hours detailing the Connie. A good detail job means more than just a hose job and Armor All.

When I detail a bike I go over, under, around, and through. I take panels off, I have little brushes for getting into recessed areas. After the wash job I rinse it with filtered water and use the air hose to blow water out of the cracks and crevices so there are no unsightly water deposits where no one can actually see. The Concours shone like a new penny when I was done. People who saw it were amazed that it was so clean at 25,xxx miles and after three owners and also how little I paid for such a nice bike.

I rode the Concours a bit during the summer, plotted longer rides but never got around to making them, and generally lost interest in the bike no matter how nice it was.

On my last ride on the Concours I rolled off an easy 200 miles visiting Saguaro National Park and was bored stiff when I got home. Somehow the bike failed to move me to ride further that day even though I had the time and the weather was not excessively hot. Nor did the bike entertain me on shorter rides; the Concours is a bike for rolling up serious miles and it needs a lot of asphalt to show what it's got. Short afternoon hops, which are mostly what I do anymore, seem mundane on the bike. Too much bike, too little road. Or maybe too little rider these days?

So the Concours is gone to a new home in northern Arizona with a fine fellow name Roger who knew a good deal on a clean bike when he saw it. I wish him well. And thanks to my good horse trading skills and my ace detailing I didn't lose any money on this bike.

Now I need to find something else, something that will inspire me to ride and also fits my very meager retired guy budget. Now that I'm retired no monthly payments are allowed. Of course I could go back to work, get another job in order to make the payments on a snazzy new Gold Wing or BMW. I could stick a fork in my head too.

Bike-wise nothing very interesting fits into the budget so I'm thinking maybe just buy an old Sportster, bob it in the current fashion, and start hanging out at the Silver Bullet Tavern down the road just to fill up my spare time. Think "Extreme Makeover: Doug Edition." Something like the little item below from Craig's List comes to mind. Or maybe that would be the final proof that I need to have myself locked away for my own protection?

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Book Review: The Vincent In The Barn

Book Review: "The Vincent In The Barn" by Tom Cotter
Publisher: Motorbooks
Price: $26.00

I was hopeful about "The Vincent In The Barn" because the "I heard about a Vincent/Indian/Harley in a barn" story really is classic story and a common thread in the imaginations of lots of motorcycle guys like myself. I was predisposed to like the book. In fact though, in the book there is no breathless story of finding a Vincent in a barn as the title might lead one to believe. There are mostly just recitations of stories of people, often wealthy collectors, acquiring bikes they already knew or suspected existed or in one case found while looking for a rare automobile. The bikes found in that particular story were merely consolation prizes resold to offset travel expenses in the hunt for the rare car and that is not exactly a story of motorcycle passion and the bringing to light of a two wheeled treasure.

Yes there are stories of Vincents or Indians brought to light and revived but somehow the stories managed to come across more like vintage bike club newsletter stories or perhaps a vintage bike blog entry than "Indiana Jones and the Last Vincent." A few stories have some charm and hit a little closer to home for the average motorcycle guy like one man's search for a Honda of the type his parents owned when they were first married in the early 1960's.

Some stories run just a few short paragraphs, not enough to really hook the reader, and about a third of the way through the book I was losing all interest in reading further but soldiered on hoping to find something truly engaging. In the end I cannot think of a single story of the forty in the book that really sticks in my mind as a "Wow, that was amazing!" tale.

If you are into old bikes you will probably find enough of interest amongst the pages to enjoy the book. It is a nice collection of little stories but I was expecting much more of an epic tale about "the thrill of the hunt" for old motorcycles and their rejuvenation than what "The Vincent In The Barn" delivers.

Wednesday, September 09, 2009

"Sometimes It Is All You Need"

"I rode one across America when I came home from 'Nam!"
"Oh yeah? I rode one over Hitler's foot in WWII!"

A comment that I have heard now and again (sadly, not often enough) about my photographs is "Man, I wish I could take pictures like that!" The next question is "What kind of camera do you use?" The fact of the matter is that unless you are a professional photographer (and I'm not) the camera in use doesn't much matter as long as it is not a seriously crappy bargain basement camera. The eye of the person holding the camera for the scene, the light, and also an understanding of basic rules of composition can make an inexpensive but decent camera look really good.

Point in case is the photo above which not I but my wife took at the vintage bike show earlier this year.* The colors are bright and the view of the two old guys engaged in conversation over an old Harley fairly begs the question "What great stories are they telling?" I think it's a good photo because it's pleasant to look at and invites or tells a story.

The camera used for the photo was e's Olympus FE200 6 mega-pixel point & shoot camera set on full automatic. Not a completely inexpensive camera at $239 but not big dollars either.

Could the picture have been improved? Sure, no photo is perfect and most are far from it. I heard a story once about a fellow asking photographic legend Ansel Adams "Are ALL your photos so perfect?" Adams replied with a chuckle "Believe me, we only print the best ones."

The point is that it was the wife's eye for the scene and the colors that allowed a fairly inexpensive "entry level" point & shoot camera to take a nice photo. Also, had she noodled around worry excessively about the widgets and dials of a fancier camera the moment of the conversation might have been missed. Sometimes quick and simple gets the job done so don't think that you must have a $1500 zillion-megapixel camera to take good photos of your rides and riding buddies. If you happen to be an aspiring photo geek then go ahead and spend the $1500. Tell your wife I said it was ok.

Some points to consider:

A basic camera works fine as long as you are willing to stop for a moment and SEE what you are pointing the camera at. Pay attention to the picture you see in the viewfinder because it's what the camera will record. The guy's head in the very middle of the viewfinder with no legs and a stop sign sticking out of the top of his head is what the camera will record.

Will your $250 point & shoot take as sharp and clear of a picture as a $1000+ Nikon or Canon DSLR camera? Nope, but if you are not going to print your pictures out at 16x20 inches it doesn't really matter. If you only want to post pictures on a website it matters even less.

Generally more expensive cameras from the major makers such as Nikon, Canon, and Olympus will have better quality lenses and light meters. Those two things matter more than the number of megapixels. Personally I think a used Nikon CoolPix 995 with a lowly 3.3 mpx is a better choice than a 10 mpx Acme Plasto-camera. The old Nikon will still have a better quality sensor, lens, and light metering than many new cameras.

Can you get a good quality camera for less than $200? Yes. See above. Visit Ebay.

An expensive camera packed safely away in a saddlebag is worse than a cheap camera within easy reach and actually gets used.

Lots of cameras, even inexpensive ones, have "vibration reduction" built in. That means your hands, still buzzing from hauling butt down the road on your hard tail bobber, will be compensated for by the camera. Get a camera with vibration reduction.

You should learn to use an image editing program like PaintShop Pro or Adobe PhotoShop Elements if for no other reason than your friends will appreciate it when you don't e-mail them twelve 5-megabyte photos in one e-mail. Spend two evenings learning the basics of image cropping and re-sizing. It's worth it. You can also learn to erase that stop sign sticking out of your buddy's helmet.

Back in 2004 I had the fun of working for a week and a half on an automotive press trip in Death Valley, CA for European auto manufacturer Skoda Auto who is a subsidiary of Volkswagen AG. The pool photographer for the trip was Michel De Vries, said to be the top automotive photographer in Europe. Was I doing the happy dance to be able to just work around him and ask questions and make a pest of myself? You bet! At one point in the trip DeVries pulled a small Canon point & shoot camera from his pocket, snapped a couple of photos, and put the camera away. "What up with that?" I asked meaning "Why not the $8000 Canon wonder-camera sitting in the car?" "Sometimes it is all you need" he said patting the camera in his pocket.

*Disclaimer: The photo has been cropped to remove clutter and resized for web display.

Just for reference:

3.1 megapixels, Nikon CoolPix 990. About $75- $150 on Ebay

5 megapixel Olympus FE200 $239

12 megapixels. Nikon D90 $1500

1 megapixel (raw image from the Mars Rover "Spirit")**
**The Mars rovers use a 1 megapixel camera but it's a perfect 1 megapixel. You can't afford it.

Wednesday, September 02, 2009

Weekly Motorcycle TV Is Amateur Hour

I suppose I should file this blog entry under "Wishful Thinking."

I love the BBC TV show "Top Gear." If you are a car guy, even if only partially, you cannot help but enjoy Top Gear. The footage of the cars is dramatic, the music unconventional by American TV standards, and the three hosts are irreverent, educated, knowledgeable about cars, funny, and frequently bombastic. They are scathingly critical of the the cars they test when it is deserved and hesitate not a moment to poke fun at each other, America, British Royalty, or anyone else they think deserves a bit of puncturing. And they obviously love cars.

When compared to Top Gear all American motorcycle variety shows (and car shows) suck. They suck because they often appear to be done on a budget that would barely be sufficient for a high school health class video and it also appears that most of the production budget was spent on computer generated graphics for the opening of the show. They also suck because they cannot see past V-twins, Sturgis, Daytona Bike Week, stunting, and shilling for some motorcycle accessory company. It is apparently written into every production contract that the show must involve fake accessory installations, Sturgis, Daytona Bike Week, and boobs.

In large measure American weekly bike shows suck because the hosts of the shows suck at being hosts. They exude forced enthusiasm and they are seemingly untrained or are obviously untrained in speaking to an audience or to a camera ("jus keepin' it real, dood!"). Frequently the matter of simple enunciation is forgotten. Slurred words, poor grammar, and dialog handled awkwardly all lend an air of "Amateur Hour" to the bike shows.

The hosts of a first class motorcycle show should NOT chosen because they are a pretty boy with a square jaw line and a thick shock of soap opera hair. Some aging ex-racer who once took third place in a championship gets a thumbs down too because racing fame does not equal on-air ability. And because some bit of fender fluff has a double-D rack and her motorcycle license she is not automatically qualified to host a motorcycle show. I know some of my twelve regular readers would disagree with that last one. Gad, every time I see a motorcycle show host on a bike duck paddle to or from a stop I want to hit the delete button.

Someone please make a real bike show happen. I am tired of watching five minutes of, and then deleting from the DVR, "American Sport Bike Chopper Stunter TV" or whatever other lame, repetitious crap that is being foisted off as a motorcycle TV show this week. Or just bring back the old "Bike Week" show on SpeedChannel and let Dave Despain host it again. Is that too much to ask?

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

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