Tuesday, June 16, 2009

My New (Old) Bike

After five great years and many miles together, I’ve bid adieu to my dear V-Strom. Although somewhat bittersweet, the big beast had become a little too much to handle given my recent back problems. No worries though, I replaced the technologically advanced, fuel-injected Suzuki with something so much better: a 1982 Yamaha XJ650RJC! Air cooled and carburetted, but at least it’s got TCI (no points – yeah!) and a lovely low-maintenance shaft-drive.

So how does it ride? Pretty darn nice! Feels much more nimble than the V-Strom ever was, but I’m sure that has to do with the lower weight and much lower CG. Quicker turn-in makes this bike way more flickable. Surprisingly, there was very little work to do on it to get it roadworthy. Fresh oil & filter, fresh shaft oil, new air filter & plugs, cleaned and synced the carbs. That’s it! I still can’t believe that a bike that rolled off the assembly line 27 years ago and hasn’t been taken very good care of (previous owner left it outside most of the year) still runs so well. Starts and settles into a steady idle every time without even fiddling with the choke.

There are, however, some issues that I’ll be trying to get sorted out in time. There’s a leak in the exhaust collector (i.e. the 4-into-1-into-2 thingamajig) due to it being quite rusty – but then again it also doubles as a bash plate so this can be expected. I’ve been told it’s easy enough to fabricate a replacement, but for now maybe some strategically placed gobs of JB Weld will do the trick. There are also a few nicks and dings in the mufflers (both left and right). There’s still some NOS OEM replacements floating around eBay, but with the price people are asking you’d think they’re made of gold. I’ve read of a few owners retrofitting HD Sportster mufflers onto their XJ’s with no rejetting required. Since many (most?) Sportster owners seem to go for aftermarket pipes, there’s a whole lot of slightly used OEM ones available for cheap.

I’ll also be looking into getting a fresh paint job, as the original red has faded to the point where the rear fender seems more like a metallic pink. Not my preferred colour. I’m thinking a light beige/cream colour with dark brown pinstripes. Similar to Ducati’s GT1000. Also want to get the seat reupholstered, as the original vinyl is torn in a few spots.

Functionally, it’s good, but I’ll be looking to replace the brake lines with braided stainless-steel ones, and get some better gripping brake pads. As a precaution, I’ll probably change the clutch/throttle cables too, and all the fuel lines.

For now though, I’m just happy to ride!

Wednesday, June 03, 2009


I sold the V-Strom. I decided that it was just too darn tall and top heavy for me to comfortably handle given my current health issues, so I listed the bike on Kijiji and a few days later I got a bite. He came to pick it up last night.

Although there was some melancholy when loading the bike onto his trailer, it was all good. Oh, and by the way, I made sure that he paid me first, as I've always sworn that never any bike that I own would see the bed of a trailer or truck as long as it was running... but since he'd already forked over the cash, it was no longer my bike.

So I'm wondering what to buy now? One thing's for sure, I'll be staying away from taller bikes like sport-tourers or dual-sports until I can get these back problems sorted out. I'm thinking of getting something a little more classic, like an early eighties UJM. The seat height would definitely be lower than the 33.5" Corbin on the V-Strom. I've always liked the older CB750's, or maybe a nice KZ1000. Actually, I've seen an ad in the paper for an '82 Yamaha XJ650 Seca with less than 30,000kms. Maybe I'll check that out tonight.

Thursday, April 30, 2009

A Fork in the Road

Haven’t posted anything in a while ‘cause I’ve been busy. Spring has finally arrived, so I’ve been busy riding. More than that, I’ve been busy thinking (never a good thing – I’ll admit). See, I’ve had a few tense moments while riding over the past few weeks, the memory of which I’ve tried to sweep under the carpet, but I haven’t had much success as they keep sneaking back out of my subconscious mind. Mundane little screw-ups, really. Like releasing the clutch too quick at a green light and lifting the front wheel for a few feet. Told myself that I was just a little rusty and after a few hundred miles I’d be fine.

Problem is, I’m not fine.

I hurt my back last year while doing some work at the cottage. Doesn’t yet make sense to me, as it wasn’t really backbreaking work to begin with. Just typical chores around the yard. Then I woke up one morning with a numbness in my left arm and hand. By the end of the day, the numbness had turned into partial paralysis. Not good. So I went to see my family physician, who sent me out for some x-rays, then I went for an MRI, and finally was referred to a neurologist. By then I was getting a little nervous about the whole mess, as I’ve rarely been sick in my life – honestly, this was only the second time in my thirty-six years that I’d seen an x-ray machine, and obviously the first time I’d been sent into the belly of an MRI (noisy bugger, it is).

Diagnosis: osteoarthritis... spondylosis to be precise. In laymen’s terms, arthritis of the neck. Osteophytes (bone spurs) grow off my neck vertebrae, which in turn compress the discs, which pinch the nerves, which finally causes all sorts of havoc in my extremities.

So I’ve been doing my exercises, seeing my physiotherapist, and generally being a good boy. Things have gotten better – but they still aren’t great, as evidenced by my sloppy clutch work lately.

I don’t like the feeling of riding without being in full control of the bike, so I’m considering selling it as the temptation to ride is liable to make me do stupid things against my better judgement (human nature: passion over logic). I haven’t talked to my wife about it yet, but I know she’s suspicious of something. I’ve been out riding quite a bit over the past few weeks, and I always find some excuse for her not to tag along. Truth is, I don’t want to risk riding with her on the bike.

Meanwhile, I keep thinking about my next move. I’ve thought about those new automatic crossover bikes like the Aprilia Mana, or maybe the Honda DN-01, but they’re both too pricey for my budget. Maybe I’ll try to find a used maxi-scooter like a Burger or SilverWing.

For now, I’m still looking at that fork in the road.

Tuesday, March 03, 2009

Scooter in the Future?

So I've been trying to get my wife to move from the backseat to the frontseat, so to speak. She's always been a little curious about riding a motorcycle herself, but most bikes out there intimidate her as they're either a) too high, or b) too long. Seems there just aren't that many smaller bikes out there anymore, although the UJM does appear to be making a comeback.

So one thing we've talked about is getting a scooter. Regulations around here permit you to ride a scooter without a special endorsement to your regular (i.e. car) licence if its displacement is 50cc or less. Now I'll admit that I was hoping she'd go for something more like a Ducati Monster so I could have a little fun with the "wife's bike" every now and then. But I'm slowly warming to the idea of a scooter.

First of all, they're cheap. A decent Japanese scooter will run you about $2,500 new in my neck 'o the woods. If you're willing to take your chances with either a Korean or Chinese model, then you're looking at $1,500 or maybe even a bit less. They're also quite cheap to insure.

Secondly, I'm thinking a small twist-n-go scoot could be fun in urban traffic. Since we've moved from the country to the city, and I can walk to work in about the same time it takes me to gear-up, a scoot would be a great alternative for short trips around town.

Of course, maybe it was Doug and his fair Debbie over at 40on2 that convinced me it wasn't a bad idea. I mean, if the scooter can keep up at about 70 kph, maybe it could even work for leisurely rides out in the country?

So any suggestions as to which scooter would work best? I know she-who-must-be-obeyed seems to prefer the classic, Italian-looking ones (like the Yamaha Vino), but maybe I could convince her that a Ruckus would be better!

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Who the f*ck is "Ed"?

Not in a very good mood. To be honest, I'm quite pissed.

Seems there's an Asian guy out there named "Ed" who's developped a parser that can lift the characters off of Blogger's word verification generator for posting comments. Result? I've just spent the better part of an hour deleting eighty-plus comments linking to porn sites. How do I know it was a parser? Simple, all eighty-two comments were posted within 10 minutes.

So now I have to activate comment moderation. Sorry, it sucks, but I don't want to have to go through this crap again.

Anybody else run into this problem, or am I the only lucky bastard out here?

Wednesday, February 25, 2009


Feeling kinda blue today, as winter is slowly gnawing away at my hard outer shell and multiple layers of clothing. Might be dealing with a mild case of Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD – how’s that for an acronym?). Or maybe I’m just sick and tired of all the snow after last weekend’s 35cm whopper of a storm (that’s a little more than a foot for you Yanks and Brits). It’s gotten to the point where, short of trucking the stuff out of town, I just don’t know where to shovel it anymore. Snowbanks along my street are over my head, which makes pulling into traffic a little more exciting than it should be. At least Mr. Weatherman isn’t predicting any more of the white stuff for the near future.

Also worrisome to me is the state of certain other MC bloggers out in cyberspace. I was sad to read about all the problems that Gary over at Rush Hour Rambling has gone through over the past year, and the fact that the RHR blog is most definitely gone for good. Very sad, as it was a great blog, not to mention that Gary has done so much for motorcyclists (especially rounders).

Same goes for Gail at SheRidesABeemer. Currently unemployed due to the economic state and looking for work before the reserve runs out. Her latest blog entry details how truly difficult it is dealing with bureaucratic red-tape when you're just struggling to get by. Scary indeed, and as a public servant I can't help but feel somehow responsible for some of her troubles. Sure, I don't work for the same department - heck, I'm not even in the same country! But bureaucracy is the same the world over. Processes, procedures, policies and paper trails have taken precedence over common sense. I can't tell you how often I get frustrated by how powerless I am in my job. Sometimes I could actually fix a problem here, or deal with an issue there, all in a matter of a few minutes. But then the red tape monster rears its ugly head, and something that seemed so simple ends up taking a few days to get done... and even then it isn't done right.

Here’s to hoping that spring and sunnier times aren’t too far off. I think many of us could use it right now.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Motorcycle Movies - Part II

A few years ago, I blogged about a few good motorcycle movies, and asked suggestions from my fellow cyberbikers. Must have to do with the long winters up here on the Canadian east coast, but I like to stock-up on motorcycle-related entertainment to get me through the long months of hibernation. There were the obvious choices like Easy Rider and On Any Sunday, and a few more obscure ones like Dust to Glory and Cycles South.

Well, my movie library has grown since then (thanks to Whitehorse), but there’s one movie I just wanted to single out from all the others since I found myself so interested by it. It’s called Riding Solo to the Top of the World, and it’s the work of Indian documentary videographer Gaurav Jani.

Now, I loved all the Boorman/MacGregor series and I appreciate what they’ve done for motorcycle adventure touring the world over. One of the sales reps at the local BMW dealership even told me that some people walk-in asking for the “Long Way Round” bike. But for all their bitching and whining, these two guys weren’t exactly roughing it as much as they’d want us to think. Something breaks down? The accompanying trucks will have the spare parts. Problems with the GS? Phone a tech at BMW on your satellite phone... Perks like that aren’t exactly available to mere mortals like me.

That’s where Jani shines. He goes from Jaipur to the top of the world, Changthang Plateau in Northern Tibet (altitude: 16,000 feet)... and he does it alone... on a 350cc Royal Enfield! Now, that’s courage. He documented the whole journey with a Panasonic DVX-100 camcorder that he only started using a few days before he left. 70 days later, he returned to Mumbai with over 40 hours of material which was eventually edited down to a 94 minute documentary.

It is, in my opinion, one of the best motorcycle documentaries available. Everything from the music to the scenery to the journey itself transports you. Oh, and it was completely self-financed. No big producers! In fact, the DVD release was funded by 60kph, a motorcycle touring club in India, and Jani’s brother.

I highly recommend it.

"An adventure is only an inconvenience rightly considered. An inconvenience is an adventure wrongly considered." - G. K. Chesterton

Monday, February 16, 2009

Moncton Bike Show

I've been dealing with the winter blahs for the past few weeks, so to lift my frozen, soggy spirits, I thought I'd check out the Bike Show over the weekend. Firstly, I've got to congratulate the organizers for doing such a great job. Just about every major MC manufacturer and aftermarket distributor was there. Secondly, where did all these people come from!

It took me almost 20 minutes just to find a parking spot! Considering that this is only the second year that they've had this bike show, I'd have to say that it's been an amazing success. Also judging from the licence plates on the cars in the parking lot, plenty of bikers (and wannabes) from Prince Edward Island, Nova Scotia, and even Québec braved the slush covered roads to attend. Great turnout.

There weren't that many "new" models to see this year. Sure, BMW had the K1300 series, but I'd consider these an update of the K1200's rather than a new model. Same goes for most of the other manufacturers. Some new comers were to be seen though, like Honda's DN-01. I was actually surprised by how small it is when compared to some of the marketing pictures. Also, the seat is way too low for me! Can't imagine spending any amount of time in the but-on-the-ground legs-up-front position... but if you're used to riding a cruiser, it just might be something you'd find familiar.

Yamaha had the new V-Max, albeit on a raised turntable with a chain around it so you couldn't get too close. Kinda stupid, really, as it was the only production bike at the show that you weren't allowed to throw a leg over. Anyhow, again it wasn't my cup 'o tea.

Suzuki had their new SFV650 "Gladius" standard bike. Nice from afar, but up close you notice that the red metallic paint is actually more of a fushia/purple. Might make sense, as one of the Suzuki reps told me it was targeted more towards female riders. Not a bad idea, as the low seat height (30.9 inches) would make it inviting for newbies and those of challenged inseam. I'm just not so sure about the MSRP of $9,199 CAD. I mean, for an extra $800 you can pick up the original naked bike (i.e. Ducati Monster 696), and trust me - there is no comparison in the fit and finish of these two bikes. The Monster is beautiful from every angle - near or far. The Gladius? Well, when you get up close it's easy to spot the cheap plastic panels, exhaust cover, etc...

Monday, February 09, 2009

New, Sexy European Import

Although they don't sell in as high numbers as the Japanese, European bikes are gaining popularity here in the Great White North. BMW and Ducati are mostly responsible for this trend, as the local dealer has told me that he can't get enough R1200GS's to keep up with the demand, same goes for Ducati's 1098/848. Although still quite pricey when compared to their Nippon counterparts, the manufacturers across the Atlantic have dropped their prices quite a bit over the past few years.

Maybe that's why other European manufacturers have decided to test the icy waters. Sure, we've already got Moto Guzzi and Triumph - though again, in smaller numbers. Nope, here we've got a new-to-Canada Motorcycle Brand that has long been popular in Europe. Amongst the models they'll be offering, there's the only supercharged production bike on the market... Give up? Think Peugeot.

Doesn't ring a bell? Well, if you've never been to Europe that's completely understandable. The French carmaker hasn't had much luck on North-American soil. They're hoping to change that by exporting not cars, but scooters.

Oh yeah, the supercharger thing? Completely true. They're offering the Satelis BlackSat scooter, a 125cc scooter with a supercharger that pumps out something like 20hp. Not much compared to a Hayabusa, I'll admit, but more than enough for the urban commuter with occasional weekend jaunts.  Typically, 125cc scoots are in the 10 - 12hp range.

I was surprised that Peugeot will be offering quite a few models; everything from the VS2 Retro - a 50cc moped, to the Satelis 500 Executive which is in the same class as the Burgman and Silverwing.

Sunday, February 08, 2009

Over The Fence

I remember when I was a teenager (hey - it wasn't that long ago), and I started being interested in the opposite sex.  My grandmother, in her old world wisdom, would say that I was at the age when a young man starts "looking over the fence".  In other words, looking for something more interesting than what I had in my own backyard.

I've always remembered the expression, and I find that it can often be applied to more than simply attraction to all things female.  As a motorcycle touring enthusiast, one of the things that keeps me searching for that elusive perfect curve is the insatiable need to look over the fence.  I'm always trying to discover new places, people, and experiences.

Last week, that need lead me to the Challenger Canada Annual Rendez-Vous at the Fairmont Chateau Montebello resort in (you guessed it) Montebello, Québec, Canada.  For the uninitiated, the Challenger in this case is not a neo-retro muscle car by Chrysler, but an ultralight aircraft by Quad City Ultralights of Moline, Illinois.  

I've been on assignment in Ottawa for the past three months now, and since I'm away from home and family, my weekends have been rather boring.  I've always been interested in aviation, and more specifically ultralights, as they offer an entry into recreational aviation at a price cheaper than most family sedans.  You can't say that about a Cessna.  Since Montebello is just an hour's drive from Ottawa, I figured "why not"?

First thing of note: the Chateau Montebello is simply amazing.  It's one of those old, grandiose railway hotels that you can find all along the tracks in Canada.  What makes this place so interesting is the architecture.  It is a huge red cedar log cabin!  The lobby's main focal point is the central quarry stone fireplace.  Beautiful!  Built in 1930 as a private club, it's elite membership once included the likes of Lester B. Pearson, as well as Prince Rainier and Princess Grace of Monaco.  Very swaggy!  In more recent times, it hosted a G7 summit with Reagan, Trudeau, Thatcher and Mitterand.  Man, what a wild time that must've been... Not.  For motorcyclists like me suffering from a bad case of cabin fever, they rent snowmobiles - which is just what the doctor ordered.

Anyhow, the Canadian Challenger Club have been holding their yearly winter retreat there for a number of years.  I was lucky enough to be there on Saturday morning when most of the members started flying-in.  Now, before I go any further, maybe we should dismiss some myths about ultralight aircraft?  These aren't simply lawnchairs bolted to a hanglider with a chainsaw engine and propeller.  Forget that.  These are fully-enclosed, dual-stick, heated airplanes with more head, leg and elbow room than a Cessna 180!  Equipped with skis, they can land on just about any flat, snow covered field.  And, as I witnessed, they don't need much room to land or take-off either.

So I attended a few sessions with the flyboys during the day.  Great bunch of guys, very similar to hanging out with a bunch of motorcycle enthusiasts.  Of course, while the two-wheeled variety will talk about sprocket combinations and tire choice, these guys talk about propellers and... uhm... tire choice!  Seems Tundra Tires are a big deal to those who like to fly out in the back country (imagine ATV tires on a plane - you get the idea).

At the end of the day, I drove back to my appartment in my rental (Pontiac G5 - ugh) with a new appreciation for these little planes and what they have to offer.  We motorcyclists are often quite proud of our adventurer image, out on the open road, wind in our hair, bugs in our teeth... Of course, most of it's marketing.  So you think you can go anywhere there's a road, eh?  Imagine if you weren't limited by roads... Now you know the attraction to flying.  These guys really see over the fence.

Saturday, February 07, 2009

The Times, They Are 'A Changing.

Went on about Honda's new DN-01 a few months ago, and I noticed that they finally put up the price for it: $17,499CAD. They've also got it listed as a touring bike, yet it doesn't have any luggage. Destined for failure? Maybe so. But I still admire Honda for at least having the vision to try something different. But they've been different for some time now... Anybody remember the Rune? How about the Pacific Coast? Both were interesting concepts that were put into production, but never really achieved any significant level of sales.

Maybe I'm just an optimist (or a dreamer), but I can't help but think that this time Honda got it right. Other odd-looking bikes have come out over the past few years that have turned out to sell quite nicely. How about the Victory Vision, or the BMW R1200RT, or even my beloved Suzuki V-Strom. All these models were met with mixed reactions when introduced, yet they still appeal to a certain market, since they're selling.

So maybe the DN-01 will find a niche market too. For what it's worth, I think it would make an excellent touring bike. Just throw on some nice sidecases and you're ready to go. Why does a touring bike have to be overweight with tons of torque anyhow? Remember when people would tour two-up with tent, sleeping bags, and all the fixin's on a Honda CX500 (with the all-important Vetter shield)? Never heard them complain. People still travel the roads and by-ways on Sportsters without any issues. So why not a DN-01?

Friday, February 06, 2009

When Is A “G” An “F”?

I remember getting confused when BMW came out with their new 800cc parallel twins two years ago. My problem was that I’d gotten a rather good handle on BMW’s naming convention: Inline-4’s and 3’s are part of the K series, Boxer twins are R’s, and thumper single cylinders are F’s. Or at least they were. Now the F series were parallel twins, and the G series would be singles. Got it? Good, ‘cause it gets worse.

After a successful launch of the F800S and F800ST, BMW did exactly what everybody was expecting them to: they applied the engine to their flagship GS line with the launch of the F800GS and the F650GS. But wait. They already had an F650GS based on the thumper engine… No, forget that. This new F650GS is actually a twin, and the displacement is – get this – 798cc’s. Makes sense, no? Seems marketing trumps common sense. Since the existing (i.e. single cylinder) F650GS was a rather good seller for BMW, they decided to keep the name, and apply it to a parallel twin 800cc bike. So what’s the difference between the F800GS and the new F650GS? About 14hp and $2000. Same engine, simply detuned in the lower end model.

So by now, I figured that was it for the old thumper GS. Off to the two-wheeled graveyard, so to speak. Of course not! BMW has re-released it, without any notable changes, except it’s now part of the G series. The name? Duh, the G650GS of course!

There are some advantages to this. From BMW’s perspective, it’s an inexpensive model to manufacture, as their tooling is all set up and ready to go. For buyers, it’s also good, since you can now get a G650GS with ABS, heated grips, trip computer and a few other goodies for about the same price as equivalent Japanese bikes (like the V-Strom 650 ABS or the Versys). Sure, with the thumper GS you’re getting old design and technology, but you’re also getting something proven with fewer teething problems. Another advantage is that there’s plenty of aftermarket goodies already available out there – so let the farkling begin!

Oh, and by the way, I still haven't be able to learn the intricacies of Harley Davidson's naming convention!

Thursday, February 05, 2009

Someday, My Spring Will Come.

OK, so I’m sick and tired of winter. It seems every time I think things are getting better, Mother Nature dumps another coat of snow on us. At this rate, I’ll have to get studded snow tires for the bike if I want to get it out of hibernation any day soon. Yeah, I know: it’s only February. Maybe it’s just a bad bout of cabin fever.

Whatever, if I can’t ride it, at least I can fiddle with it. Starting this weekend I’m gonna start doing some prep work and little mods to the Silver Strom that I always mean to do during riding season, but never have the time because… well, I’m riding!

First off is the wiring. I’ve added some farkles on the bike over the years, and the wiring – although functional and safe – isn’t very elegant: inline fuses, oddly routed wires, etc. In short, it’s a mess. So I’ve ordered a new AP-1 auxiliary fuse panel from Centech, and once I get it there’ll be a stripshow in the garage (not me, the bike). Some of the wiring that has to be rerouted includes the heated grips, GPS (power and audio), satellite radio (ditto), aux. lights, and intercom. Judging by the small size of the fuse panel, everything should fit quite nicely in one of the under-seat compartments with room to spare.

Second is the intercom. It’s buggy. Seems every once in awhile the sound from my mic either gets cut off, or is replaced with a lovely crackling full volume static. The wonderful part is – I never notice it! My lovely wife, riding pillion, gets all the noise. Needless to say, she wants it fixed. As far as I can tell, it looks to simply be a loose connector. No biggie, right? Well, not exactly. It took me almost a month to get the schematics for the intercom from the manufacturer in Germany. Took me another few weeks to get some replacement connectors. Ack.

Finally, there’s the satellite radio. Ordered a kit from TSS-Radio that will allow me to use the Sirius plug-and-play receiver from the car and put it on the bike. Lovely!

Once that’s done, there’s a few mods I’ve been thinking about to make things a little more comfy for the missus. But that’s another story.