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.