Thursday, September 21, 2006

Lord Tunderin' - Ban The Loud Exhausts!

Just got back from a week of meetings in Québec City. Unfortunately, my employer no longer allows us to use our personal vehicles for company travel - so I had to hop on a plane rather than ride my trusty V-Strom. Boring? Yes. However, I was surprised that the security personnel at the airport were at least pleasant to deal with (contrary to their usual demeanor). But I digress, this is a motorcycle blog after all!

For those of you who've never been to Québec City, I highly recommend it. It's about as close to Europe as you can get without leaving the continent (of course, St-Pierre and Miquelon islands are an exception). The Old City is among North America's only fortified cities (it's enclosed within a stone wall), and it's listed on UNESCO's World Heritage Sites. A word of advice however: take the plane, or the car, or even a horse. Ain't no use in going on two wheels, because you won't be able to visit some of the city's best assets with that particular mode of transportation. Wondering why? Read on.

I was lucky enough to be staying at the beautiful Château Laurier, just a few steps from the Old City and its European flair. While walking along the streets that line one of the gates into the Old City, a number of street signs caught my eye. The first was posted on all the parking meters along the Grande Allée, which is a busy street lined with restaurants, terraces, hotels and various nightclubs. These small stick-on signs were on the posts for the parking meters and had the international icon for "No Parking" with a depiction of a motorcycle underneath. Yup, you guessed it! Motorcycles are not allowed to park along this street. Not only that, most of the metered and drive-in parking lots within a three block radius of this area are off limits to motorcycles! Care to ponder why? Simple, the local business owners and residents were fed-up with the excessive noise of straight-pipes and sport exhausts; so they lobbied city hall and had the restrictions put in place. So if you're in this particular area in Québec City, you can drive through but don't stop, 'cause you'll have no place to park.

Of course, if you are driving through, be sure to take the detour before you get to the gates of the Old City. As is clearly marked on street signs along Grande Allée, all motorcycles must exit before the gates, as they are not allowed within the narrow streets of the Old City. Again, you can thank the Loud Pipes crowd for that one. Since these streets are narrow, mostly made of cobblestones, and most of the small historical buildings are made of brick, stone and mortar; the sound from loud exhausts would reverberate throughout these streets and be a nuisance to all within earshot.

Now I read that Edmonton's Chief of Police is lobbying for similar rules in certain parts of that city. Once again, motorcyclists everywhere will be made to pay for other's need for attention.

Friday, September 15, 2006

Motorcycle Movies (That Don't Suck)!

I've been tasked with organising movie night for a bunch of buddies (all motorcyclists), and I'm wondering if anybody has some suggestions for a good motorcycle-oriented movie. Before you start listing names though, here are some that I've already crossed out:

  • Easy Rider: C'mon, it's just too kitsh. Besides, who hasn't seen it anyhow? Not to mention that it wouldn't be a very original choice...
  • Motorcycle Diaries: Although a very good movie, it doesn't so much evolve around the motorcycle.
  • Torque: Cheesy.
  • Biker Boyz: Über-cheesy.

Once movie I've been considering is The Fastest Indian starring Sir Anthony Hopkins. I've heard alot of good things about it, so maybe that'll be the ticket.

Suggestions are welcomed!

Thursday, September 07, 2006

Dangerous Deeds

My mother hates motorcycles. But then again, who's mother doesn't?

Time and time again I've heard her retell the story of the biker that crashed in front of the family farm when she was a young girl. The biker in question didn't die, but I can understand how the mangled and bloody mess of a man that he was could've left a few emotional scars on any child who witnessed it. I've never lied about how dangerous riding a motorcycle can be - not to my mother or to myself - but does that mean that I should cower away and hide, never to ride a motorcycle again? Hell no!

Like so many other things in life that put a smile on your face, there is some risk involved and you must gauge that risk everytime you head out. How well you evaluate the risk will most likely define how good a motorcyclist you really are, much moreso than wheelies and stoppies. So many times when I'm riding through time, either on my daily commute or just running errands, I see motorcyclists doing stupid things. This can range from bad form, like tailgating or wrong lane position; to complete dumb ass behaviour like the aforementioned wheelies.

Do I have a problem with stunt riders? No. What I do have a problem with is when these same riders chose to demonstrate their skills in city traffic. It's not only the inherent danger of going nuts on city streets that rubs me the wrong way; but I also hate the image of motorcyclists in general that they're promoting. Every town has a few abandoned roads or parking lots where they can go nuts; so why don't they? Simple reason, they need the attention. Like children who scream "Pick Me!" to their teacher, they need the validation of others to justify their existence. OK, I admit that was a bit psychological - but you've got to admit that there's some truth to it.

Anyhow - rant mode off. Final message is this: "Don't worry Mom, although there are alot of dumb riders out there, you raised me better than that!"

Tuesday, September 05, 2006

Paint Yourself Into A Corner

I've got a few friends who ride Harleys and, although I'm not a big fan of the marque, I do admire how HD has gone from near bankruptcy under AMF's lead in the early eighties to being über-profitable thanks in large part to Willie G. and Vaughn Beals. The quality has gone up, as have the prices (exponentially so). And of course, people are still lining up to get a Hog; but not as much as they were a few years ago. The big-4 Japanese manufacturers are coming out with bikes designed to steal HD's thunder: Yamaha's Roadliner is more powerful yet lighter than most of HD's offerings, Kawasaki shook everybody's boots with the massive 2-litre V-Twin in their Vulcan 2000, and now even Suzuki who has been lacking in the cruiser department has come out with the M109, a rather modern looking machine with plenty of power to slap many a' Hog's bottom.

The biggest problem I can foresee for poor old HD is how to evolve without losing its fanbase. Sure, the whole VRSC series is new; but then again the feedback from hardcore dyed-in-the-wool HD aficionados was anything but pleasant when it first came out. Many were dismayed that the Harley badge would be afixed to a water-cooled 60-degree V-Twin engine that was designed in large part by Porsche - a german company. However, marketing got the best of everybody and the V-Rod and its various offspring are selling rather nicely.

But what if the design team at HD wants to go further? I'm sure that there are sketches of more modern looking bikes in the desk drawers at HD, and I wouldn't be so quick to blame Willie G. for holding them back. In essence, Harley has created a monster that they can't seem to overcome: their own customers. A big chunk of HD's clientèle are the recently retired baby boomers who either had a bike "before", or have always dreamed of getting one. Check out any Harley advertisement and it's rather obvious who they're aiming for. It's the American Dream: freedom of the open road, no rules, no schedule... Essentially, pure unadulterated fun - exactly what the doctor ordered after a lifetime of sitting behind a desk.

But the boomers aren't dreaming of Ninjas or Gixxers - they want the bike that stirred their souls when they were kids, and the only brand still available is Harley Davidson. And wouldn't you know it; they're still producing practically the same bikes that were cool back when Dad still had hair. Take the money you've been saving for a rainy day and buy one off the showroom floor; then show your individuality by customizing it with accessories from the official HD catalog (the same catalog that all your other HD friends are buying from).

So what happens to the younger crowd, generation x'ers like me: thirty-something DINKs (Dual-Income, No Kids) that don't buy into the melancholy marketing because we simply weren't born back then and couldn't give a damn about Captain America. That's your generation Pops, not mine. There's money in our pockets and we're looking to spend it, but HD doesn't have the product. We simply go to whatever else is out there; be it Japanese, Italian, Deutshe or British. Even ancient manufacturers like Triumph have managed to keep one foot in the past to keep the traditionalists happy (ex. Bonneville), while looking towards the future with more modern machines for the younger crowd (ex. Daytona 675) - and they've still managed to retain their identity in the process.

So how does Harley break out of the paradigm? Well, Buell is a step in the right direction. HD found an ingenious young motorcycle designer and partnered with him (i.e. more or less bought 'em out) to start producing sportbikes. There is one broken tooth in the cog though; it's a given that Erik Buell's designs are truly original and forward thinking in many aspects, but the heart and soul of these bikes, namely the engine, is simply out of the tired old Sportster's parts bin. The "Evolution" V-Twin is not exactly what I'd call cutting-edge technology, which would explain why most Buells will get left in the dust when up against Japan and Italy's finest.

So maybe the movers and shakers at HD should take it one step further and start yet another spinoff brand. A hypothetical name could be "Freedom Motorcycles" or maybe "Liberty Bikes", I mean just about any word judged to be patriotic could do the trick - no matter. They could distance themselves a bit more from this sub-brand, and the advantage to this duality would be two-fold. On one hand, they could pull in a younger demographic who never would've considered getting an HD, and on the other hand this would prevent upsetting the more traditional crowd. Maybe then they could start producing bikes that would really compete with what the rest of the world is offering right now. How about designing a small V6 engine to power a sportsbike? Think it sounds crazy? Well, maybe you remember Mazda's 1.8 litre V6. French custom bike builder Ludovic Lazareth built a frame around it and turned it into something special. Heck, I'm sure the same engine would be easy to fit into a true luxury touring bike to compete with the Goldwing and K1200LT. Or maybe they could design a smaller V3 to fit in some naked bikes. They could stick in some technology that the older generation wouldn't consider kosher; stuff like ABS, variable valve timing, shaft drives, and the list goes on... Whatever - the slate is clean. They just wouldn't have to concentrate on cruisers anymore; they've already got that segment covered.

Anyhow, I'm just thinking out loud... Maybe somebody over at Harley Davidson headquarters in Milwaukee will come across this blog and it'll spark a few ideas? Here's to hoping that the spark catches!

Them's The Brakes

It would seem that the rumours that have been floating around the various V-Strom forums for the past few months are true; Suzuki is actually coming out with optional ABS for the DL650 on the new 2007 models. What's surprising is that they'll be offering no such option for big brother DL1000. Although details are sketchy, the one thing that has been confirmed is the price - an ABS equipped Wee-Strom will cost you an extra $500. I'm hoping that it'll have a shut-off on the ABS, similar to some BMW GS models, so that you can disable it when riding in gravel or dirt.

More details to follow...

To Roll, Or Not To Roll...

So I didn't sleep very well last night due to a mild case of the sniffles. Woke up this morning feeling pretty much shitty, so I called in sick at work and decided to take it slow. Checked out a few blogs, dropped a comment here and there, and just generally didn't do anything constructive. So here's my dilemma: the sun just came out, I'm feeling much better, and the road beckons... So what should I do?

Although the temptation is great, I'd feel really bad about going out on the bike when (in all honesty) I could've gone to work this afternoon. The office has already called me this morning 'cause they needed my input on a draft procedures document - so what do I do if they try to reach me this afternoon and I'm out carving the curves?

Ah hell, having a guilty conscience is a real bitch. Think I'll just go out in the garage and work on the bike instead; at least that'll give me a bit of "quality time" for now.

Hide or Synth?

Picked-up the latest copy of Motorcycle Escape last weekend, a touring-oriented magazine that was published about once a year by the folks over at Primedia (also responsible for Motorcycle Cruiser, Motorcyclist, Dirt Rider, etc.). I was glad to read in Jamie's editorial that they've decided to start publishing Motorcycle Escape seasonally (4x per year), as I find it's a rather good read. Although similar in content to Road Runner, I find the overall layout a tad better in Escape.

The Riding Boots Buyer's Guide was a good read, although certain models seem to have been left out... But what really caught my attention while flipping through the pages was the Leather vs. Textile comparison that Marc Cook penned. It seems that this is a constant debate amongst motorcyclists. Although Cook's article wasn't anywhere as deep and researched as the now legendary helmet article that appeared in Motorcyclist last year, it's still a good overview of the pros and cons of both leather and textiles. Although the conclusions weren't surprising to anyone, it's still nice to have it put in print. Leather does offer better protection, but it should be noted that not all hides are created equal. Many of the more "fashion" leathers that I see some bikers riding around in won't offer much protection in a fall. What looks good at the bar might not do so well going over the bars! In a long slide, race-quality leather will offer the best protection without overheating or tearing apart.

So if leather is the safest option, why shell-out big bucks for an Aerostich suit? Simple, it's a matter of comfort. Textile is simply a more versatile material. This is most likely why many long-distance tourers have gone to synthetics rather than their former cowhide. A Cordura jacket is lighter and cooler than a leather equivalent, plus it offers other advantages like being easy to wash. Textiles are usually better in rain and humidity; where leather will take hours and hours to dry, I usually just empty the pockets on my suit, take out the armor and throw it in the dryer. This is a big plus for me, as when I'm touring I don't always have the time to wait for a leather suit to dry up before heading out again. [TOURING TIP: If you're riding long hours in the rain - even with a rainsuit over your gear - stop for a break at a truckstop. Most of them offer laundry facilities. Take off your jacket and riding pants and throw them in the dryer while you go for a slice of pie and a cup of coffee. It's alot easier heading back out in the rain when you've got a nice warm and dry suit on. You just can't do this with leather.]

My overall opinion is that leather is best for specific applications; like racing, canyon carving, or lazy afternoon cruising when the weather's right. Textiles, although offering less protection than high quality cowhide, are resilient and versatile. When you're leaving for two weeks of touring and luggage space is limited, it's a fair bet that a textile suit will be your final choice simply because it can adapt more easily to varying weather.

One rule does apply to both leather and synthetics: cheap price equals low quality. If you're serious about your own hide, don't skimp when getting gear to protect it!