Dec 13, 2010

My Top Ten Bike List #10:

This is it, my last pick of ten. So far, my list includes the following 9:
  1. 1988 Honda NT650 Hawk
  2. All versions of the Montesa Cota trials bike
  3. All models of the Honda Transalp XL600V
  4. Yamaha's SRX Series (250, 400, and 600cc)
  5. 1992 Yamaha 850 TDM
  6. 1977 Yamaha IT175D
  7. BMW R 80GS Paris-Dakar Special
  8. Honda EXP-2
  9. Yamaha XT350
This is a pretty complete list, from me, and I'm running out of motorcycles to add to the group. You'd think someone as old as me would be at the other end of the spectrum; with more favorite toys than room to list them. Sorry to disappoint. Most of the motorcycles I really would have loved to love have been unavailable in the US and I've only had the opportunity to drool at the idea through magazine articles. One thing I've discovered through experience is that long distance love is usually misplaced. Things look better from a distance than up close. So, I'm tempted to say "I'm done at 9."

That wouldn't be fair. In fact, I own one of my 10 favorites and it could be my last motorcycle. This affair started with the first edition, the 1999 Suzuki SV650, which I rode for almost 50k trouble-free miles before trading it for the newer, more multipurpose, fuel-injected version, the 2004 V-Strom. In fact, if you look at the picture of my SV you'll notice that it was heading toward becoming a V-Strom before I sold it. Now, approaching 50k miles on the V-Strom, I'm as happy with the DL650 as I was when I saw the first version of this motorcycle at the Cycle World Motorcycle Show in 2004.

I've already posted dozens of pictures of this bike and my adventures on it on this blog, so doing it again is probably idiotic. But he's a rare shot of the bike in clean condition. If you want to see a few more, go here. Or check out the June 2009 North Dakota Tour blog entries or the August 2008 Nova Scotia tour stuff. Eventually, I hope to do something with my 2007 Alaska pictures and video, but that might be a lost cause. The V-Strom has taken me places I've always wanted to experience. Five guys on V-Strom 650's toured from the tip of Venezuela to Prudhoe Bay, Alaska and, other than damage caused by hitting a British Colombian moose at speed, all 5 bikes and guys made the trip without incident.

The V-Strom 650 is everything I expect and almost everything want in a touring motorcycle. It gets reasonable mileage (43-58mpg, depending on conditions and speed). The stock suspension is almost dirt-capable. The motor is tough, starts easily and reliably at any temperature or altitude, and fairly easy to maintain. The brakes are powerful, reliable, and predictable. It's comfortable for long miles. The V-Strom is capable of mounting luggage that will hold all of my stuff and has room for my grandson or my wife. It handles well on freeways and limited-access dirt roads. The top speed is faster than I need to go and all-day cruising speed is anything between 55 and 95. The headlights are the best I've ever experienced. The stock exhaust system is stainless steel and quiet as a cage.

So, without any question I put this bike on my top-ten list. Some of the other bikes may fall off of the list, but the V-Strom will be there for a long time. It would be disloyal to do otherwise.

My Test Riding

How I ended up being a test rider is probably the most convoluted story I could tell. "Purely by accident," would probably be the best answer. In my decade with Minnesota Motorcycle Monthly, I've been allowed to write about two Kawasaki KLR 650s, Suzuki's SV and DL 650, the Kawasaki Versys, and Hyosung's 650 cruiser. Now that I look at the list, I realize that the editors only put me on 650s and never anything expensive. Sort of an interesting trend, don't you think? I'm the mid-sized, budget bike guy.

With that in mind, last spring I had a Suzuki SLV 650 Gladius for a week. Yep, another 650 and another budget bike. I guess I wouldn't trust me with anything expensive either, so the tactic is fair and reasonable. Irritating, but fair and reasonable.

I've been on my Suzuki V-Strom for almost 4 years and it's a long ways from a sport bike. When I sold my SV, I sort of thought I was finished with that genre of motorcycle. Mostly, that's because I'm old and my knees don't like being tucked into a sporting crouch for any period of time. I had a good time on the Gladius, though. It's quick, light, and handles so much better on good roads than my bike that I had second thoughts about giving up on that sort of motorcycle. The Gladius is probably close to 200 pounds lighter than my V-Strom all loaded for a trip. It's smaller in length and height, too. In fact, if I needed a 3rd bike, the Gladius might be that bike.

After that test ride, the whole season went by without another bike riding/reviewing offer. I suspect my days as a test rider are limited. I'm not inclined to look at a new motorcycle as a prospective purchase, which alters or perverts my opinion on the value of that motorcycle. In fact, at best I review motorcycles from the perspective of a guy who might be interested in the bike as a 2nd or 3rd owner; after the majority of the depreciation has done its economic damage.

On top of that, I am clinically unable to hype any motorcycle as a "good buy." Motorcycles, mostly, are a poor transportation investment for most owners. In the north, a motorcycle serves as a vehicle for no more than 9 months out of the year and, often, for less than 6 months. The rest of the time, motorcycles are garage ballast or decoration. While riding a motorcycle can save on direct fuel costs, the higher maintenance costs (especially tires) negates those savings pretty quickly. The kinds of motorcycles I love the most, 250s and under, don't suffer as much from those disadvantages but Americans generally don't buy small motorcycles so magazines don't review them. Which means, I don't get paid to write about riding them.

After and before the Gladius review, which oddly hasn't even made it into the Minnesota Motorcycle Monthly archives, the magazine reviewed the Honda NT700V, Royal Enfield G5, Suzuki TU250X, Ducati Monster 696, and the KTM 990 Super Duke. Of that lot, the Honda and the Suzuki are the only bikes I'd have been interested in or, most likely, would have said anything good about. The Suzuki was reviewed by that bike's brand new owner, so that wasn't even an option.

Test riding is a risky business. Sometimes it's fun, sometimes it's painful. Hurt found that most crashes occur to new riders or riders on borrowed motorcycles. A test bike is a borrowed bike with a big price tag. Nothing makes me more nervous that borrowing someone else's brand new stuff. Usually, test riding is break-even economically. At MMM, we aren't compensated for our expenses (fuel, food, etc.) and the pay is pretty much the rate writers expected in 1955 for pulp science fiction. If you're not having as much fun as you would on your own motorcycle and you aren't making money, what are you doing? Showing off? Exchanging your time for microscopic bits of fame or infamy? Personally, I've always favored wealth over fame and I manage to acquire infamy without even trying.

An odd thing about getting old is that stuff doesn't mean as much to me as it once did. I don't care at all about your stuff and I'm only loosely attached to my own stuff. When I go to the CW Motorcycle Show, I mostly look for friends and interesting people to talk to. The new bikes look suspiciously like the previous years' bikes and styles and colors are all that change much (and I don't care about colors). The V-Strom was the last motorcycle that really tripped some of my triggers and the only thing I see on the manufacturers' 2011 import list that even looks interesting is the 2011 Yamaha Super Ténéré Adventure-tourer. It's a good thing I don't have a job that requires me to pretend to be excited about the 29th coming of the Honda VFR or the Suzuki GXR. No wonder marketing morons make so much money. That's the only way you could get anyone to do that job. Mostly, each year's new releases are just minor variations on the last decade's stuff and I already have enough stuff.

So, as my test riding career withers away, I find myself caring less and less. If I'm going to go somewhere, it will be on my own motorcycle. If I'm test riding, the ride is usually limited to something local, something safe, and someplace with which I'm familiar to minimize the crash risk. I'd never go anywhere like that on my own dime. Those places are the places I go through on my way to somewhere interesting. With a reduced interest in new stuff and an increased interest in new places, I don't even sign up for many of the magazine's offered test rides. Where would I go on a Polaris Victory? How would I get off and on a BMW (any model)?

The one bike I really want to test ride, the Yamaha WR250X, is the only current model motorcycle that I have an interest in owning. It could be dangerous to put one of those dudes in my hands because I'd take it somewhere that would put the test to the bike's abilities. It might not be pretty when I bring it back.

Dec 10, 2010

All the News that Didn't Fit

There wasn't much news that didn't fit this month. These are the scraps:

Motorcycle Parking
Brooklyn, NY cops are putting the arm on motorcyclist sidewalk parking, an illegal practice that has escaped notice in the past. Motorcyclists park on the city's sidewalks to protect their motorcycles from the city's infamously erratic drivers and for security. A parking ticket costs $115.
Cincinnati, Ohio officials are going to create more parking spaces for scooters and motorcycles. The director of Transportation and Engineering said demand for these spaces is high and the city will add more spaces as streets are being redone.
Fit Yourself to a New Motorcycle
Check out this website to see how you fit on a brand new motorcycle: http://cycle-ergo.com/
Road 2 A Cure
Former Army Ranger Chris Calaprice has crossed several milestones in his 43 years. He is a two-time survivor of pancreatic cancer and was also treated for melanoma (skin cancer). On November 20th (November is National Pancreatic Cancer Awareness Month), he came to the end of his 9-month-long, 42,000-mile 50 states tour.
Chris said, “We set out on the Road 2 A Cure to change the nation’s view of pancreatic cancer from one of hopelessness to hope, and to capture it in documentary style.What we learned is that cancer funding is largely driven by big marketing dollars and politics, but we can change that through our democracy – survivors and supporters need to exercise their voices. My wife and I paid a high price to bring pancreatic cancer awareness to America, but it is imperative for those millions of people out there being crucified by this unforgiving disease.”
Like the US economy, European motorcycle sales are crashing. Following a terrible 2009, 2010 sales are 33% below the previous miserable year. In fact, for the last 3 years, sales have contracted by almost one-third every year. Italian sales, which drives the European motorcycle market has been hammered, but Germany, the UK, France, Denmark, Greece, Poland, Norway and Sweden are all down. Even scooters, the under-50cc market, is down 26%. There is some hope, though. The 5-day Cologne INTERMOT show registered more than 210,000 motorcyclists and scooterists, which was a decent increase from the previous year.
H-D Set to Manufacture in India
Harley Davidson's CKD (complete knock-down) assembly facility is expected to go on-line in the first half of 2011. This plant will, initially, build "motorcycles for the Indian market from component kits supplied by its U.S. plants."
Harley-Davidson Motor Company President and Chief Operating Officer Matthew S. Levatich said, “This investment will allow us to improve our market responsiveness and production flexibility while reducing the tariff burden, which we expect will drive growth over time by making our bikes more accessible to India’s consumers."

Dec 5, 2010

You Didn't See Me

All Rights Reserved © 2010 Thomas W. Day

Last winter, in the span of two days, I had a pair of "you didn't see me" events. The first was heading east on Rice Street across from the capitol building. Traffic was heavy, it was snowing, the road was covered in ice, and as I approached an intersection a pedestrian dressed in a gray business suit and overcoat stepped into the crosswalk in front of traffic. He was well within his rights to expect traffic to stop, in fact he dramatically pointed to the iced over crosswalk-way in an attempt to illustrate his rights, but most of the traffic sailed by him without even slowing because stopping at that point would have caused a multi-car pileup. The first car that stopped for him received a jolt from the rear as a reminder that there are more pressing issues in that situation than a pedestrian's rights. Of course, the pedestrian could have pushed the "walk" button to make his passage easier. He could have worn clothing that provided some contrast from the road surface. He didn't because he was convinced that drivers were obligated to see him. Another American who believes that physics and nature should give a flying damn about man-made laws. Reminds me of Kansas ruling that pi should be a nice, clean three-point-oh.
A day later, I was leaving work late at night, exiting from a downtown parking garage. It was pitch black outside and raining. As I approached the street, a young guy--wearing a knee-length black fur coat, black sneakers, and a black fur cap--stepped in front of my car and glared at me as he passed a few feet in front of my car. He was clearly pissed that I hadn't seen him until we were both startled. I was amazed that I had seen him at all. 
Now there is a motorcycle safety ad running on YouTube called "You Didn't See Me." Not one of the YDSM characters depicted in the ad appears to know anything about motorcycle gear. A safe bet would be that none of them every wear a helmet, own a single piece of retro-reflective clothing, know that armor is available in leather jackets, or would consider doing anything other than blasting really loud "brub brrub brrrub" noises at the vehicles behind them as a safety measure.
Not being seen is a big deal to folks who either have difficulty watching out for themselves (and for folks who dress for some kind of success and need to be seen to make that triumph occur). Personally, I think being inconspicuous is overrated.
The examples provided in the YDSM video are cases in point. "You didn't see me squeeze my wife's leg as she told me to take the next turn." "I saw you stare at my long hair, but you didn't see me and my friends . . . " "I saw you complain about how noisy our bikes can be, but you didn't see me when you were checkin' CDs and drifted into my lane." All of these guys were doing something other than watching out for themselves. If I see someone screwing around with anything other than the steering wheel (that means you cell phone morons), I assume they will be drifting, lane changing, and crashing without a clue to their environment. I don't have time to worry about their opinions of my hair, exhaust noise, or lifestyle or for leg squeezing social moments. This is motorcycling dude. Pay attention to your business because nobody else will do it for you. Of the bunch of YDSM whines, the worse one was, "I saw you run a yellow light just to save a few minutes in time, but you didn't see me tryin' to make a right turn." How many things are wrong with this whine? You "run" red lights and if someone whacked a bike turning right at an intersection on yellow, that means the bike ran a red light or the bike was turning right from the left lane and was doing something less legal than the cager he's criticizing.
Finally, "I saw you waiting impatiently for my friends to pass . . . " about does it for me. I have exactly as much sympathy for parades of noise and air polluting tractors as the average cager. Packs of bar-hopping gangbangers only elicit empathy from bar-hopping gangbangers. Spend some time in a Hudson Highway 30 front yard on a Saturday afternoon and imagine yourself cursed with that sort of idiocy all summer long. It would make me want to run for city council just to be able to hire a real police department instead of the useless sort that small towns usually get.
There is a lot about the "right of way" motorcycle movement that pisses me off. The idea that motorcycles are a protected class because of our lack of protection, embarrassing skills, and minimal common sense is pretty high on the list. Any motorcyclist with reasonable intelligence has a lot more going for him than the average bicyclist or pedestrian. We throw around more weight. We have no good excuse for not wearing modern armor. We have better technology--accelerate faster, stop faster, have more escape routes, and have better visibility--than cages. More often than not, we get killed because we are ignoring those advantages or because we're being idiots. (Maybe that's just one problem said two ways?) If being mostly white, male, middle-class and having had access to public education (regardless of how that privilege was squandered) and state-provided training and regulation isn't enough of an advantage, motorcyclists want special laws to punish other road users who disrespect those rights.
Don't get me wrong. I'm all for restricting driving rights to those who are competent drivers. If it were up to me, getting a driver's license for a cage would be fifty-times more difficult and getting a motorcycle license would require evidence of extraordinary intelligence, on-and-off -road racing experience, and exceptionally uncommon sense. I absolutely believe that when someone is caught making a right turn from a left lane their existence should be aborted immediately and on the spot. If your cell phone is on and you are moving at more than 20mph, the closest cell tower should terminate you with expedience. And the list of my favorite population-reduction solutions goes on for miles and days. However, none of that will happen on this plane of existence, so we just have to assume no one sees us and look out for ourselves as best we can. Yeah, you didn't see me, but I saw you, assumed you were a moron, and did my best to stay as far away as possible. If I succeed, I live another day.