Tuesday, August 29, 2006

Body By Coleman, Part II

I’ve been making fun of Yamaha’s new odd-duck of a scooter, the oddly named XF50 C3-Cubed, when in fact they can’t even be blamed for coming up with the basis of this design in the first place. That distinction would have to go to Harley-Davidson’s mid-sixties “Topper” – yes, you heard right boys and girls, HD once made a scooter! The Topper was interesting in the fact that it was big when compared to other scoots. In all fairness though, most scooters from the sixties and seventies were none too nice to look at with the possible exception of Vespas.

Monday, August 28, 2006

A Cager’s Perception of Motorcyclists

I consider myself to be a well grounded person, so I’m not often struck by great discoveries and shouts of “Eureka”. This makes it all the more surprising when I do have a notable moment of lucidity. Such an event happened last week at work when I was chatting with one of my co-workers about motorcycling; which in itself holds no big surprise, as it’s one of my favourite subjects. The guy I was talking with is your typical mid-forties office worker with wife and kids, a house in the suburbs, minivan, etc. He likes hockey, talking politics, and has a beer every now and then. He takes two weeks off in the summer, one week at Christmastime, and another for March Break. He doesn’t ride and has never ridden a motorcycle, nor has anybody in his family, so when it comes to motorcycling he’s a complete virgin full of preconceptions.

It was while talking to him that I had one of those “A-ha!” moments when it all finally made sense. Here’s my big conclusion: Cagers actually accept media hype as the truth when it comes to motorcycling. This guy couldn’t believe that I actually rode a motorcycle without being in some kind of “gang”. To me this was a great surprise, as I had no idea that it was some kind of prerequisite. So I simply explained (very slowly) that motorcycles are not only a fun way to get from point A to point B; but they also make sense from an economical and environmental standpoint. He had to sit patiently through my spiel which goes something like this: “How often have you noticed a big gas guzzling SUV rolling down the highway with the driver as the sole occupant? Now imagine if that same driver had been riding a +50mpg motorcycle. Wouldn’t that make more sense?” I love this argument because anybody with a shred of ecological conscience (and at least half an ounce of grey matter) simply can’t refute it.

He was then surprised to learn that my riding suit covered everything from head to toe in a synthetic material (i.e. no chaps or leather fringe). Again, I explained that many riders prefer to have a riding suit that adheres to a certain fashion; while my personal preference was to wear something that would keep me as safe as possible in case of an accident. I didn’t bother going into the whole leather vs. synthetic issue as both have their pros and cons, and such a discussion would most likely have been over his head.

Finally, he was left completely confused after looking at my bike, which clearly isn’t a cruiser, nor is it a sportbike. Again, I explained that there are many different styles of motorcycles that correspond to different riders’ styles and preferences. My choice is a motorcycle that can handle both the daily commute and a cross-country trip.

I figure I’ll let my teachings sink into buddy’s cranium before I start instructing him on the fine points of countersteering, but I can just hear it now: “You mean by turning left you go right?!?” Oh boy, my work here is not done.

Engine By Yamaha, Body By Coleman!

OK, so it seems the designers at Yamaha have attended one too many tailgate parties and their fondness of beer coolers have made it not only onto the drawing board, but into full-fledged production! If you're wondering what I'm referring to, check out the new-for-2007 XF50 C-Cubed scooter. Uhm, yeah... Their marketing blurb even states "Bet you will have trouble wiping the smile from your face." Sure, I'm always smiling when I'm nauseous.

I'm wondering what Yamaha's been trying to do with their latest designs. Sure the Maxam 3000 concept scooter was an interesting retro design that harks back to the domestic mega-sedans of the late sixties and seventies; but that was a concept. This thing is actually available (or will be) at a dealer near you.

Aww heck, what do I know? If Honda was actually able to sell both the Ruckus and Big Ruckus scooters which look like they were designed by Caterpillar, maybe Yamaha's two-wheeled Coleman will actually sell a few units after all...

Sunday, August 27, 2006

Fearing What's Ahead

Last week I rambled on about fear and its effects on the motorcyclist when riding. In the right dose it can be a good thing, but too much of it will kill you (applicable to so many other things in life, I know). Yesterday morning I was out riding and fear was there, hidden in one of the dark corners of my mind of which there are so many. This fear was different though, as it was a more general feeling; not a specific sort of "watch out for that tree" or "cellphone wearing SUV cager" kind of fear, which creeps up on you when you least expect it (so always expect it, eh?). Nope, this was a fear that starts to rear its ugly mug every year about this time: winter's coming.

OK, I'll admit that it's rather grim to start talking about the "W" word in late August, but I've already seen the signs: days are getting shorter fast, the nights are way cooler, and - horror of horrors - I've even seen the boys at the Dept. of Transportation working on their snowplows! I suppose this yearly cycle is something that should be embedded in my soul, having been born in the snow on that January morning thirty-some years ago; but sometimes I can't help but wonder if there is any truth to the concept of reincarnation, and if so I'm quite convinced that my previous life (or lives) was spent somewhere warm with no snow, or freezing rain, or frost heaved roads, etc.

Late August is always a rather blue time of year for me, as it signals the downward spiral towards winter. Everything before the 8th month is a build-up, but after there's little hope until next spring. Oh, there's still alot of good riding time left before the V-Strom gets put into hibernation (last year roads were good until mid-december), but the added layers of clothing, thicker gloves and frost on the helmet visor somehow take a bit away from the fun of it.

Oh yeah, and riding in a cage just isn't fun (they lean the wrong way in corners you know)!

Bah, enough doom and gloom, I better go out riding before December gets here.

Thursday, August 24, 2006

Fischer Motors Revisited

So the Fischer MRX is actually going into full production... OK, at the risk of again getting some flack from cybernauts, I've still got to raise a few issues about Fischer's new "American Superbike". Some of you may recall my critique of Fischer's marketing department and their choice to label the MRX as an American bike (see here and here). Now, I don't personally have a problem with using patriotism to sell wares when the label accurately fits (heck, it's worked rather well for HD); but the MRX is a British-designed, Korean-powered bike with more imported components than you can shake a shift lever at.

They've even got the cojones to claim the MRX to be the "first American Superbike"! Hello, paging Mr. Buell - are you listening to this. Granted, I'm not the biggest Buell fan either, but at least he used an American designed mill and tranny on his bikes.

Oh, and one last thing: I thought that superbikes had to have a 901 to 1000cc engine to fit the designation, at least that's the AMA's definition. Who let this little 650 v-twin in anyhow? Whatever, their marketing department doesn't seem to mind bending the truth now and then if it can get them more hype. I'll be curious to see if sales live up to all the expletives they're throwing around.

Anyhow, let the flaming begin...

BMW's R1200 Goes Nekkid!

Read today on Total Motorcycle that BMW will be coming out with a roadster (i.e. naked) version of their R1200 bike in 2007. No big surprise here, as they've been producing roadster versions of the R series for quite a few years now. If we're to compare with the older R1150R, the new one's lighter (Wet Weight about 492lbs) and more powerful with 109hp.

So if the RT was too big, the S too sporty and the ST, well, too fugly - maybe the R is the one for ya!

Variety Is The Spice Of Life

I wonder how some bikers do it? Riding the same model and/or make of bike for years and years... It seems to me that there are so many bikes out there just waiting for me to hop on, that it would be a waste to keep riding the same one. Of course, some will argue that they've simply found the "perfect fit", which is OK too.

If your current ride is everything you could ever want in a bike, then more power to ya! I guess my problem is that bikes are like jeans or shoes, over the years they seem to mold to your body - but my body sure as hell doesn't fit in the same mold as it used to. Jeans and shoes also wear out eventually, or they go out of style. This is the same with most bikes, except maybe cruisers that have pretty much had the same look for the past sixty years.

One of my bandmates recently labelled me a compulsive consumer that was too easily influenced by media and marketing hype. To be honest, he's probably right. I suppose if I'd chosen some more traditional hobbies like, uhm, I don't know... knitting? Seems you can't really farkle a quilt, or do grandmas really get excited over the latest model titanium knitting needles? But I digress... My passions are photography (new cameras and technologies seem to come out every other day), music (guitars, keyboards, drums - not exactly cheap), and motorcycling (bling, farkles, new models, more power, better ergos, etc.).

Everytime I read a magazine that talks about the latest bikes and what they have to offer over last year's models, I get that warm fuzzy feeling which usually means that my wallet is about to lose some weight. I love it when they come out with some sort of new fangled system, be it ABS, single-sided swingarms, reactive shaft drive, variable valve timing... The stuff that makes the more "traditionalist" crowd of motorcyclists gasp! I admire the guys (and gals) that can wrench an old 50's bike back to life; but let's be honest, if auto manufacturers still produced 50's designs they'd be out of business. For some reason, the nostalgia factor seems to be part of the attraction to many motorcyclists. Hey, whatever works for you. Personally, I want something with today's technology; I'll take lightweight alloys over mild steel any day of the week.

Of course, I love my V-Strom and it's been a very reliable and fun bike; but there's just too many other options to ignore.

Slippin' and a Slidin'

Read an interesting post by Christine where she relates a recent scare she had while negotiating a turn. Seems there was some sand on the road which made her a bit nervous (I know the feeling - tar snakes do the same for me), and while concentrating on the sand she inadvertently went wide and almost into oncoming traffic. Rest assured, nobody got hurt.

I won't go into a long winded discussion on target fixation and how your eyes should always be looking where you want to go, 'cause I figure most motorcyclists have heard it before (if not, please sign-up for a motorcycle safety course now). Specifically, I want to talk about fear.

Fear isn't always a bad thing, and to be quite honest with you I tend to embrace it. But like all things, I guess there's a bit of yin and yang to fear. Good fear is the kind that keeps you alert and reminds you of your own limits; it also pushes you to improve your skills. The bad fear is the crippling kind; when it overpowers your ability to think and react accordingly to the situation at hand. Many have already seen the Bike Crashes Into A Tree video; and although it's an excellent demonstration of how target fixation can be a bad thing, I think it also speaks volumes on fear. Obviously, the guy isn't having a panic attack or anything quite as traumatic, but his fear of the unknown (in this case - the motorcycle) prevented him from doing any number of things to prevent the crash. He could've used the brakes, let go of the throttle, pull-in the cluth, turned the handlebars, etc... Instead, he ran right into the tree at a very low speed (1st gear, barely above idle).

So how does one get over the fear of sand on the roadway? Simple - get a dirtbike and go to school. No matter what kind of streetbike you ride, from a Naked Ducati, to a full dresser Harley, you will learn more in one afternoon of dirtbiking with a 125CC thumper than a full year's worth of pavement pounding. Don't have a dirt bike? Then rent, borrow or buy one. Even a cheap, beat-up MX from the seventies will allow you to feel what it's like to have the rear wheel lose traction in a turn - a very humbling experience the first time around! All that you learn in the dirt will carry over onto the tarmac.

Fill that bag of experience!

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

Hybrid Prototypes

Yesterday I was reading an article in the paper about all the new hybrid cars and SUV's that manufacturers are coming out with and it got me thinking (never a good thing, I know). Why hasn't this technology crossed over to motorcycles yet? Well, it seems some manufacturers are consitering it, in the conceptual sense.

Yamaha unveiled a few concept bikes last year that are interesting. Problem is, they're just concepts... Not to mention that they're not exactly the most appealing bikes to look at! The GEN-Ryu is an interesting idea for a sport touring rig, but the looks sort've remind me of a sixties cartoon vision of the future. But then again, remember how people reacted when Ford came out with the Taurus? I've got to give Yamaha kudos for thinking-up these bikes though; and you've got to admit that if any company were to actually bring this kind of stuff to market, it would be Yami (hint: remember the GTS-1000 with that cool single-sided fork?). Just one thing though, if they do put these into production, I'm hoping the marketing people will put a better name on them. I mean really, would you want to be riding around on a scooter called the FC-Me?!?

Friday, August 18, 2006

Can You Hear Me Now?

Had a chat with some riding buddies about the whole loud pipes issue and I was surprised by some of their opinions. Of course, the guys who already had straight pipes on their bikes were adamant that it was their "right" to do so, and that they did it for "safety" reasons. My oh my, how humble! To be honest, I've heard those rehashed arguments thousands of times and it's not really what I was interested in. What really caught my attention were the ones who did it without really having a reason. Sheep mentality rules, it would seem, as many cruiser riders admitted that they had installed V&H straight pipes (a rather pricey downgrade) because "everybody has loud pipes". These are most likely the same people who get into motorcycling to show their individuality.

I'm not against motorcycles having a certain music to them (the sound from a stock CB750 from the seventies is still music to my ears), but I have to draw the line when a v-twin starts producing enough noise to drown out an Airbus at takeoff. What's truly sad is that some of these cruisers go through all this trouble (and money) to get more attention - why else? - yet a mildly talented rider on a Ninja 250R could still wipe their ass in the twisties! Which brings me to a simple equation:

Loud Noise ≠ Power

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

Too Deaf to Hear the Complaints?

It seems the good citizens of Edmonton are now pressuring their elected leaders to do something about the excessive noise generated by some motorcycles. I wouldn't be surprised one bit if they end up getting what they want: an outright ban of motorcycles in parts of the city. Think it sounds a bit too draconian? Consider this: Québec city has a by-law prohibiting motorcycles from entering within the "Old City". Not just straight pipes and sport exhausts - ALL BIKES!

I guess eventually I'll be forced to agree with the "Straight Pipes Save Lives" crowd; because there simply won't be any places left to ride, so there won't be any bike accidents left to speak of!

Oh, and one final message to the fat bastard who rides by my street at midnight on his way home from the bar and does the obligatory blip of the throttle at the stop sign: SCREW YOU!


Tired of the Heat?

CMG Online had the rather peculiar idea to publish a story in the middle of summer (well, maybe the tail-end) about an endurance race held in northern Alberta where people do 24 hours around a 9km track carved onto the surface of a frozen lake with - ahem - scooters.

Sounds too strange to be true? Read-up, it really happened!

When Credit is Due.

Motorcyclist Magazine's September issue is the long awaited "best of 2006" edition. Every year, the two-wheeled editors and staff at the mag (one of my favourite mags - I might add) pick out the year's 10 best bikes, then they pick one as Motorcycle Of The Year (or MOTY as it has become known). Last year's choice, the BMW K1200R, surprised a many readers and the ensuing letters to the editor were ripe with either applauds or pans. This year, they've gone with what Cycle Canada categorized as an "Odd Duck" just last month: the Triumph Daytona 675.

At first glance and from afar, the 675 looks like your typical sportsbike. Its only when you get closer that you notice that it ain't all that. In lieu of the typical inline-4 is a triple. Yup, a triple! Also, just by looking at it you can tell that the ergos are a little more forgiving than on your run-of-the-mill Japanese sportbike. You see, Triumph learned the hard way that you can't compete on the track with the Big-4; so they set out to build an "Urban Sport" bike, i.e. a bike for the street, not the track. Kudos to them! Let's face it, 98% of the sportbikes sold will never see the likes of a racetrack, yet their riders are still required to bend in positions that would make a Cirque-du-Soleil performer blush. Somehow, I still think that the Daytona will wiggle it's way onto a track sooner or later.

I was also very pleased to see that the Mag has named Harry Hurt as their Motorcyclists Of The Year. The now infamous Hurt Report has been quoted more times than Brad and Angelina, and many of the stats and issues it raised over 25 years ago still hold true. It's been a long time coming for Dr. Hurt, and it is well deserved indeed.

"Adversity is the first path to truth." - George Gordon Byron

Tuesday, August 08, 2006

It's All About the Looks!

Found this post by RB on the Cycle Canada forum (new and somewhat improved), and I nearly busted a gut laughing! Anyhow, here's a repost of it:

"Now I've Seen Everything

Went for a ride this morning and we stopped at a little restaurant for breakfast. No other bikes in the lot but when we walk in we see 2 guys and a gal decked out in everything Harley. They were also with two "civilians" dressed in plain garb. Our three amigos had H-D chaps, vests, t-shirts and obligatory do-rags. Every piece of leather had as many flaming/snarling/screaming/crapping eagles that could possibly fit into the space available. They also had the fingerless gloves (which they left on while they ate??). I smiled and nodded to them and they just sort of stared back with a "please think that we're cool/tough" sort of look on their mugs. I thought it was funny that I didn't see any bikes but figured what the hell, they must be parked around back or somewhere, so we took a seat.Sooner or later they finish wiping up the egg yolks with their fingerless gloves and they stroll out. I'll bet you they have practised walking that way for each other! Clint Eastwood or John Wayne never walked that tough.I'm just tucking into my omelet when I happen to look out the window and see them..............CLIMBING INTO THE BACK OF A PICKUP!!!!! Now I can be as open minded (some say empty headed) as the next doofus but why get all the gear on just to ride in the back of a truck to breakfast? Maye they were from out of town and were guests of the civilians, who wanted to take them for breakfast? If so, they still had to make the concious decision to get all duded up. These people weren't kids either folks. No sirree, they were full-fledged adults, middle aged if you will.Cripes! What's next? Going grocery shopping with Mom while wearing your gen-u-wine Roy Rogers hat, boots and cap-guns?If I hadn't been so dumbfounded I would have laughed, and likely choked. We finished up and went for a great ride. Now I've got to get busy with my chores."

Misti, by Misti.

Canadiant Streetbike has a nice write-up on Misti Hurst titled: Misti Hurst 12th in the Canadian Amateur 600 Nationals at Race City. I'm wondering how impartial they are, however, when considering that the article was penned by Misti herself!

Kidding aside, I offer congrats to Misti for a good race. Keep it up!

Although it probably sounds chauvenistic, there's something incredibly attractive about a woman who can handle a sportbike.

He's Still Alive, Jim!

Been awhile, but I'm back... Not that I really left anywhere, except this cyber-realm that I tend to hang-out in. Been through some changes lately; some big, some small. I've got a new job (promoted to senior advisor position) with an exterior office so I can get some natural light shining in (no more fluorescent tubes), and my name's on the door. Cool! Not so cool is my new boss (a-hole on a powertrip), but I can be a real pain in the ass too, so we'll just wait to see who breaks down first.

I've also been travelling a bit, on two wheels of course. Me and the missus went down to Boston and Cape Cod for a bit. Lovely area, great people, lots of fun. Boston has now made it to my "Top 10 Nice Cities to Visit in North America", joining noted places like Québec, New York and Miami. As we were just passing through, we barely got to scratch the surface of this beautiful city. Got to hear all the opinions, both pros and cons, regarding the (in)famous Big Dig. Whatever side of the fence you're sitting on, none can deny the huge undertaking that this project has become. Just a few days before we arrived in Boston, a large section of one of the connector tunnels collapsed on some unfortunate motorists - so the topic was quite hot during our passing.

Leaving Boston through some of the smaller towns and communities on our way to the Cape gave us a nice opportunity to appreciate the beauty of these coastal communities. Many of them reminded me of home. Some of the little country roads are nice and twisty; but don't lend themselves very much to spirited riding because of the hidden stopsigns and many houses and driveways.

The Cape was great, although next time I head down that way I probably won't be staying in Hyannis again. It was just too "Touristy" for my tastes. Maybe some of the smaller towns along the coast would've been more to my liking. For what it's worth, we really did love Nantucket Island. Finally, I can associate the name to more than just a dirty limerick and an early nineties sitcom. We only stayed in Nantucket one day, opting for the high-speed catamaran passenger ferry (no vehicles), and renting a little 50cc scooter to get around the island. This little bugger (a Korean-made Kymco) was as much fun to ride as some sportbikes I've tried out; I think it has to do with the thrill of trying to reach 40MPH while riding two-up, down a hill, with a tailwind! What I loved most about Nantucket was the complete absence of mainstream capitalism. No Wal-Mart, Super-8 or MacDonald's to be seen, as these have been bannished from the island. All businesses are independantly owned and operated, and none belong to any chains. This helps keep the Island a little more quaint, not to mention being a boon to the local economy.

No sooner were we back in Monkeytown that we took off again for the Magdalen Islands. Nice ferry crossing, except the constant motion of the waves made me nervous about my two-wheeled steed down below. I kept having visions of it tumbling over, since the ferry doesn't accomodate for tie-downs. My worries turned-out to be in vain, as the 'Strom was still waiting as I left it, ready to go, when we got to the dock.

If you've never been to the Maggies, then you really should consider it. It seems no matter where you go in the world, Islanders always seem to have a more laid-back attitude when compared to us mainlanders. The locals we got to hang around with on the Maggies did not disappoint. Great food too! Just about any Inn, B&B or restaurant on the Islands will feed you ample amounts of fresh seafood (usually caught the very same day). We even had one waitress tell us that the chef was not serving mussels that day (although it was on the menu), because they weren't perfectly fresh.

For more agressive motorcyclists who are looking to carve some asphalt: the Maggies probably aren't for you. True, there are a few nice curves that stir the adrenaline, but mostly you get long straight and narrows with low speed limits and many of Québec's Finest. If you're more the easy-going type, than the "sand-dune highway" with it's pictoresque lagoons and ocean vistas is a must.

A few notes about the motorcycle, a 2004 Suzuki DL650 V-Strom. It's held up quite well this summer, being shod with some new "asphalt-only" tires (Metzeler ME880 Marathons). The only thing that keeps annoying me with this bike is the stupidly short maintenance intervals. I end up spending an afternoon in the garage changing a filter, or adjusting valves, or syncing the throttle bodies... Not to mention what a PITA a chain can be. I installed a chain oiler this year (Loobman) and I'm pleased to say that it works as advertised and keeps the chain nice an loobed. Only problem is that tiny droplets of oil keep flying all over the rear swingarm, the rim, and even up onto the topcase and left sidecase. It ain't much fun to take off the sidecase only to realise later that it's left black grease stains where your pants rubbed against it.

My car (2003 Jetta TDI) has 16,000km maintenance intervals. This, to me, is the way any vehicle that is actually meant to be ridden should be built. I don't care that I have to use synthetic oil in the mill, since it means that I don't have to change it every 5,000kms. Unfortunately, most motorcycle magazines only glance over the maintenance schedule for most motorcycles, and manufacturers don't usually post this information on their websites. So for my next bike, I'm looking for something with a shaft (I know, I've mentioned this one before), with oil change intervals at least at 6,000kms, and major service intervals at least at 20,000kms.

Any suggestions?