Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Ride a Burger to Work

I am seriously enjoying the nice weather we're having so far this spring.  Sure, we've had our fair share of rain (like today), but  I'll take the wet stuff over the frozen stuff any day!  Last year in early May, there were still remnants of snowbanks along some of the city streets... This year, I've already mowed the lawn - FOUR TIMES!

Anyhow, I'm discovering how practical and convenient the Burgman really is.  Sure, I still love the old Yamaha Seca, and a bigger bike would be nice for serious touring duties, but for riding to work or running errands, the Burgman beats most other motorcycles hands down.  It's no slouch for light touring either!

Water puddles along city streets?  No problem, I still get to work nice and dry (and clean) thanks to that huge fairing and the fact that I'm actually sitting in, rather than on, the bike.  Stop and go traffic?  No cramped clutch hand here!  Not to mention that this little thing zips away from red lights way ahead of the rest of the queue.  What about chilly mornings?  Standard issue heated grips & seat, and that big windshield that lifts up with the push of a button pretty much cancel out the cold.  Need to tote your stuff around?  There's plenty of room under the seat for my briefcase, lunch, and space left over for a grocery bag on my way home.

Sure, it still isn't a "motorcycle" to most peoples' eyes, but you'd be surprised the attention it gets over the cookie-cutter cruisers and crotch rockets in the MC parking lot!  I mean, thousands of Italians can't be wrong!

Besides, it looks like Suzuki will have some serious competition in the big scooter business.  BMW has been making the rounds of the spring motorcycle shows with their new C600 and C650GT "Maxi-Scooters".  Overall specs are similar to other big scoots, but I get the impression that BMW will bring a whole new level of refinement to the game.  The GT even has optional GPS!  Although I expect that they'll sell decent numbers in Europe, I doubt they'll bother importing very many this side of the pond.  As always, chrome and displacement sells bikes in North America, since it's little more than a hobby to most motorcyclists.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

When Does It Stop Being A Motorcycle?

There's an interesting discussion thread over on the BurgmanUSA forum regarding the use of "trike kits" on motorcycles and how a trike ends up being classified by the various laws and regulations. For the most part, if it's got three wheels or less (but hopefully more than one) it's considered a motorcycle and thus, you must have a motorcycle licence to ride it. But what happens when you install one of these "trike kits" which add two outrigger-style wheels in the back, effectively bringing the number of wheels in contact with the ground up to four?  Interesting conundrum - and it would seem that the answer differs considerably depending on the jurisdiction.

Legal speak aside, for me the question is more: when does it stop feeling like a motorcycle?

I've never ridden a trike or a sidecar hack, so I can't really comment first hand. I have read numerous articles and reviews of Can-Am Spyders and Ural hacks which almost always come to the same conclusion: they're plenty fun, but ride in a completely different manner than a motorcycle. Personally, I can't help but think that what makes riding a motorcycle so great is lost somewhere in the transition from single track to three-wheeler. Not being able to lean in a corner, or steer by shifting your weight, or counter-steer... I don't know, but it just wouldn't do it for me anymore.

Sure, a trike would still give you the whole "wind in your face" thing, and a sidecar hack will give you an added thrill the first time you "fly the chair", but in the end it's simply a different beast.

Now, I'm not putting down three-wheeled aficionados. If you ride one and you enjoy it, more power to you. However, most of the trike riders I've met chose to do so as a compromise. In many cases, health reasons are cited for the move to three wheels. But again, if a trike allows you to keep riding rather then getting stuck in a cage; I think it's a good compromise.

There are, of course, a few oddities out there. The most popular one being the Piaggio MP3 scooter: two wheels up front, one wheel out back, and it still leans into corners thanks to its parallelogram front suspension (brilliant!). Cool trick: it can also lock the front mechanism at slow speeds, keeping itself upright, so you don't have to put your feet down in that puddle of water at the stop light. Just the thing for those fashionable Italians on their way to work.  Oh, and just so you're aware: TowPac actually makes a "trike" kit which is compatible with the MP3, effectively bringing the total number of wheels up to five.  Now, I'm sorry if you ride such a contraption, but when your motorcycle ends up having more wheels than your car, maybe it's time to reconsider!

Well, move over Piaggio, it would seem that a fellow Italian company wants to take top honors in the "what the heck is that" category. Quadro plans to go into production with the 4D - a scooter with dual wheels front and back, yet it still allows you to lean in corners. Basically, it looks like the bastard lovechild of a Piaggio MP3 and a Dodge Tomahawk.  Interesting fact is that Quadro is owned by Marabese Design, the same design firm that came up with the MP3 for Piaggio!

Details are still sketchy, but from the pictures it looks like the rear wheels are further apart then the front ones - no doubt to make room for the drive mechanism.  Like the MP3, it can lock the leaning mechanism to prevent the bike from tipping over.  Look Ma - no kickstand!  I'd be curious to know how it rides... can you imagine the traction afforded by four contact patches rather than the typical two?  Initial specs say a 500cc engine, so it should have enough power for highway riding.  Dealers must love this thing when you go in for a tire change!

So what will the various government authorities make of it?  Car or scooter?

"Accessible design is good design." - Steve Ballmer

Friday, September 09, 2011

Like a Fine Bottle of Wine.

Some things, like good wine, tend to age well; while others, like bad fish, not really.

The same can be said of many motorcycles.  I'm a bit of a pack rack when it comes to all things motorcycle, to the point that I've got a box of old, broken parts in the garage that I'll most likely never use... yet I can't bring myself to throw it away (to the great horror of my wife, I'll admit).  Anyhow, among the things I've saved are hundreds of old copies of Motorcyclist, Cycle World, Cycle Canada, and other various motorcycle rags.

On those boring, rainy days - of which we've had our fair share this summer - I like to flip through the pages of old magazines.  It's entertaining to see what used to be considered way cool ten, twenty or almost thirty years ago.  What's also interesting is to see how their looks have stood the test of time.  Sure, classic-style bikes like Sportsters or Bonnevilles will always have a certain, timeless appeal.  What I like to see is how a motorcycle that was designed to look "modern" in 1990 compares with what's out on the showroom floor now.

If I walked into a local dealer's showroom with a wad of cash in my pocket, how many of these old modern bikes would still yank my crank (so to speak).

One that sticks out is the 1993 Yamaha GTS 1000.  It still looks so cool.  Of course, the hub-center steering up front certainly has something to do with the appeal.  Other than Bimota, I can't think of any manufacturers that have messed around with hub-center steering on a production model.  Although the Tesi 3D looks cool, it's design isn't as well executed as the GTS.

Another bike in the sport-touring segment would be the K1200RS which BMW came out with in 1996.  It's still got great looks.  The last sporting version of the (in)famous "Flying Brick" inline, laid-down engine. The swoopy lines, like waves on the water, made it look fast even when standing still.  Some will argue that it looks better than the post-2004 K-series that replaced it (Gail at SheRidesABeemer might agree?).

Another technologically advanced motorcycle (at the time) which has continued with a long heritage is the early-nineties Honda VFR.  As handy as a Swiss Army knife and with one of the sweetest mills in all of motorcycling, this was a bike you could take to the track or tour the country on.  Again, it still looks nice and would still make a fine sport-touring mount.

What do you think?  Any bikes that made you drool a few decades ago still hold their own against today's modern marvels?

Thursday, September 08, 2011

Of Flower Pots & Weak Shocks

What a wonderful labour day weekend that was!  There's just something about that third day tacked onto the end of the weekend that brings me back to my childhood schooldays.  Although as kids we rarely did anything that interesting on typical weekends; for some reason the idea of a three-day weekend would spark our grade-school imagination and we'd start planning all sorts of things to do.

As a motorcyclist with a full-time job (and then some); I still cherish the idea of an extra day of fun.  This year even moreso as in my neck of the woods rainfall records have been broken for June, July and August.  Yup - it's been wet.  So imagine how excited I was when the forecast called for nice weather all weekend.

Time for a ride.

The missus and I decided to ride the Burgman down to Hopewell Cape on the Bay of Fundy to see the famous flower pots (note: since buying the Burgman, SWMBO has decided that the Old Seca is strictly for solo riding).  The provincial park at Hopewell has gone through some major renovations over the past few years.  Really nice!

Here are a few pics...

A few comments about the Burgman: Nice seat, excellent fairing/windshield, great power... but I've got to do something about those rear shocks.  With just four inches of travel and weak springs, when riding two-up they're easily bottomed-out by potholes or speedbumps.  And given the current state of most of our roads, that means they hit bottom quite often.

Some of the forum dwellers over on BurgmanUSA.com have had great success with Progressive Suspension's 416 Series air shocks.  Guess that'll be yet another hibernation project for the winter months.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

The Man in Black

First off, let's be clear about one thing: I love Johnny Cash. I've always been a big fan of his music and his style. I use the "Man in Black" title sarcastically and with no disrespect intended.

Why is it that something like 90% of motorcycle gear is black? I've been asking myself this question for a few years now and I can't seem to figure it out. Is there a safety advantage? Obviously not, as it's probably the most inconspicuous of colours. What about practicality? Nada. Have you ever been stuck in gridlock under the mid-August sun while wearing a black riding jacket? Fun, eh?

My favourite long-distance riding jacket right now is a First Gear Kathmandu that I picked-up last year at a considerable discount over at New Enough (now motorcyclegear.com - as a sidebar, those guys are great to deal with, I highly recommend buying your gear there). It's a great jacket, with plenty of pockets, good venting, CE armour in the right places, and hey - it's even got a hydrapack pocket so you can maintain your H2O levels while riding. Best of all: it's beige! Yup, that's right, beige. Plain, simple, boring, beige. The light colour helps reflect way more heat from the sun's rays than any of my black riding jackets. I liked it so much that two weeks later I ordered the matching pants (again - at a considerable discount).

SWMBO also liked my new jacket. So much that I had to order a Kilimanjaro for her in the same boring beige. She loved the jacket and, naturally, wanted the matching pants. Uh oh! No such thing. I've searched and searched the web, googling 'til the wee hours of the morning. No dime. It's near impossible to find some nice, beige, ladies' riding pants. Go figure?

Sure, a two-piece touring suit is a bit bulkier and slower to get in and out of than, say a Roadcrafter. But the 'Stich is in dire need of a makeover. Sure, it's got the quality and practicality down, but it's about as fashionable as a hazmat suit.

Which may be the main reason why so many riding jackets & pants are black. Maybe it's a fashion thing? The idea of black leather and motorbikes has so deeply ingrained itself into the whole "biker culture" thing that many people wouldn't consider wearing any other colour... Except for the racer boys who look like Sherwin Williams did a number on their puck-kneed suits. But that's another story...

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Sunset ride to Beaumont

One of my favourite local rides is due South out of town heading along the Petitcodiac river towards the small agricultural villages of Pré-d'en-Haut and Beaumont. The muddy banks of the river, ondulating fields of corn, apple orchards and the lovely small villages are the stuff post cards are made of. Add the setting sun over the river and some low-lying clouds for diffused light and it's practically perfect.

Here, Burgie takes a break while I shoot a few frames.

Sun setting over the river and the fields.

The small church at Beaumont. There's also a small Indian cemetery and monument to the Mikma'q people who used to call this beautiful place home. In the summer, local singer-songwriters offer concerts in the church - talk about an intimate setting. The acoustics are pretty good too!

Since Heritage Canada did a PSA in the early nineties regarding the history and importance of Inukshuk for the Inuit, they've started popping up just about everywhere! Guess they've moved further South from the Arctic.

One last shot of Burgie against a beautiful backdrop.

Beautiful ride, although I did end up unwillingly donating about half-a-pint of blood to the local mosquito population! I really gotta remember to bring some deet next time.

"Sundown ya better take care, if I find you been creepin' 'round my back stairs" - Gordon Lightfoot

Friday, August 19, 2011

A Man's Scooter!

As expected, the jokes have already started at work about my new "girly" bike! No worries, I can take it and dish it out with the best of 'em. However, one of my colleagues was worried that I might feel emasculated by the fact that I'm now "stuck riding a step-through", so he wrote me the following email which I share with you now:

"OK, let me start off by saying this 2011 Burgman 650 Exec ABS is only available for purchase by the manliest of men. My friend, if it was possible for a vehicle to sprout chest hair and a five o’clock shadow, this 2011 Burgman 650 Exec ABS would look like Tom Selleck. It is just that manly.

It was never intended to drive to the mall so you can pick up that cool shirt at H&M that you had your eye on. It wasn’t meant to transport you to yoga class or Bath and Body Works. No, that’s what your Tiguan is for. If that’s the kind of vehicle you’re looking for, then just do us all a favour and stop reading right now. This bike will make it to hell and back, twice, and without a scar. So if you can’t handle being seen behind the wheel of this biblical, fire breathing, dragon slaying, nazi killing hero because it has no pegs, move on.

No, this brute comes with the things us testosterone-fuelled super action junkies need. It has a 638 cc (38.9 cu. in), 4-stroke, liquid-cooled, DOHC, 2 cylinder engine to outrun the cops and an Electronically-Controlled Continuously Variable Transmission with 2 automatic modes (Power and Way Too Fast). It will save your bacon more than once. It’s got special upholstery that was made from the scales of some obscure extinct groundfish. It’s even got cutaway floorboards to accommodate a large Bernese Mountain Dog. The Burgman 650 Executive also comes with a passenger backrest for when your wife or mother rides with you.

The price on this bad boy is none of your damn business. Asking the price of all this macho is liable to earn you a Burnese-roundhouse-sphincter-kick with a follow up three fingered eye-jab. Would it hurt? Hell yeah. Let’s just say you won’t be the prettiest guy at the boat christening in Caraquet anymore.

There’s no km’s on this hellcat from Planet Kickass. Trust me, it will outlive you and the offspring that will carry your name. It will live on as a monument to your machismo. It has room for you and the hottie you picked up on the way to the gym to blast your pecs and hammer your glutes.

Notice: you should be aware that men will shoot at you because they are jealous of your ride.

Now, go look in the mirror and tell me what you see. If it’s a rugged, no holds barred, super brute he-man macho Chuck Norris stunt double, then get a Burgman 650 Executive ABS when you get back from hang-gliding or BASE jumping or just chilling with your lady."

Thanks Tony... I needed that!

"Some men are so macho they'll get you pregnant just to kill a rabbit." - Maureen Murphy

Thursday, August 18, 2011

It's Here! (But what is it?)

Got the keys to the new Burgman on Monday and drove it home from the dealer's in Amherst, NS. Granted, it's only 70 kms away, but it was an interesting ride nonetheless. I did get to familiarize myself with this new scoot.

Lessons learned:

  • The left lever is not a clutch (repeat five times before riding).
  • ABS on the rear brake is very effective at preventing lock-up when you grab a handful of the left lever (see above point).
  • It'll do 0 to 60 mph in under 7 seconds. Not impressive by sportbike standards, but plenty fast to spook the guy on the Road King when I merged into traffic on the highway.
  • 60 - 80 mph "top-gear" roll-on is surprisingly quick.
  • It can easily do 100 mph. On a long stretch of superslab, I had it up to 160 km/h and it still had plenty of pull. No doubt that it can reach 180 km/h.
  • CVT tranny means constant engine rpm's does not equal constant speed. Very surprised to find I was going 165 km/h at the bottom of a long hill!
Worst (or best) part about owning a Burgman: the inquisitive stare you get from cagers/motorcyclists/gas station attendants/innocent bystanders... Three times already I've been asked the question: What is that?

Answer: That's my ride.

"Yeah, it's a scooter. You got a problem with that?"

"I like to do things that are surprising and different." - Rudy Rucker

Friday, August 12, 2011

New Horse in the Stable

I haven't ridden much this season. I try to blame it on many factors: the constant rain, low temps, mechanical gremlins in the old Seca... in the end, however, it's mostly due to this damn pinched nerve that causes my left hand to go weak and numb from time to time.

Ever try riding in midtown traffic and have your "clutch hand" go numb? Believe me, it gives a whole new appreciation to clutchless shifting!

So what's a guy to do? I guess the responsible thing would have been to push the old Seca to the back of the garage, under a tarp, and try to ignore the temptation until it goes away. Yup, that would've been responsible; but it wouldn't have been me.

Instead, I went looking for a solution to my predicament. How to ride without a clutch? Simple - get a scooter. I still need something that'll haul my aging carcass comfortably while ideally offering some space for the missus. So here's what I found:

I'll be picking up the Black Burgman on Tuesday. For now, I have to get a stall ready for her in the stable, next to the old mare (which I hope won't be too jealous).

Wish me luck!

"No hour of life is wasted that is spent in the saddle." - Winston Churchill

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Ugliest Bike?

So I'm on coffee break at work with a few colleagues who happen to be motorcycle aficionados and rather than argue on who has the most blinged/farkled/powerful bike, we're pondering the question of the ugliest bike ever built. Of course, for such an important debate to take place, there has to be some ground rules: a) it must be a full production motorcycle (i.e. not a "custom" or "limited edition" model), and b) it has to be mainstream enough that a motorcyclist worthy of the title will have heard of it (i.e. no obscure brands from Slobovia or Whatsthatistan).

My colleagues who were of the "cruiser" persuasion immediately pointed out modern interpretations of the style like the BMW R1200C, the Victory Vision or the Honda Rune. The crotch-rocket crowd were quick to put down Ducati's Terblanche designed 999.

Personally, I'm a motorcycle polygamist who goes for all styles of bike. My vote was split between the Munch Mammoth and the Ducati Indiana!

The brainchild of Friedl Munch, the Mammoth managed to cram an air-cooled inline-four taken from a car (the NSU Prinz) into a motorcycle frame. Displacing 1200cc with a 5½ gallon tank up top, it was actually a good performer... But like the Boss Hoss and Amazonas which came after, it is painfully clear that even the best designer would have trouble making something other than an eyesore when a car engine is used in a motorcycle.

The European manufacturers have long known that to stay afloat, they must cater to the American motorcyclist. For the most part this can mean only one thing: build a cruiser. While some like Triumph and Moto Guzzi had some success in this market segment, others like BMW and Ducati seemed to fall flat. Ducati can be forgiven - to a certain extent - as the Indiana was actually built by Cagiva, who would stick the Ducati logo on the tank. The premise was simple - build a cruiser using a sportbike engine. However, the resulting bike wasn't very well executed. I guess the one redeeming quality is that lessons learned by Ducati with the Indiana may have prevented them from a repeat with the stunning Diavel!

So what say you? What do you think is the ugliest production motorcycle ever?

No object is so beautiful that, under certain conditions, it will not look ugly.” - Oscar Wilde