Oct 16, 2008

Motorcycle of the Year?

I think the whole Motorcycle of the Year concept is buggy. What does MOTY mean: the best value, the most expensive, the weirdest, the shiniest, the most innovative, the most/least popular, or the bike that the most folks will probably like/buy? The Kawasaki Versys is one of the few choices I’ve seen in this kind of competition that makes any kind of sense to me. Obviously, from the responses Motorcyclist got many agreed and many did not. The magazine summed up their rationale with "The Versys has an irrational appeal to anyone who's tired of coloring inside the same old lines."

Last year, Motorcyclist picked the KTM 990 Super Duke, which was a traditional, no-brainer kind of choice. KTM is everyone’s favorite Euro-trash manufacturer and a brand that practically no one is likely to put their own money on. The year before that, 3 BMWs got Motorcyclist’s award. A few years back, Motorcycle.com picked the Goldwing and got seriously hammered for the choice. Look through the years and you’ll find Ducati’s, MV’s, Triumphs, and lots of cruisers; all safe bets and all in-the-box choices. This year, webBikeWorld gave their MOTY award to the BMW K1200LT - R1200GS. Talk about coloring inside the same old lines. Rider picked the Kawasaki Concours C14 1400, not exactly an original thought, either. There is some talk on the web that Estonia picked the Yamaha FZ6 for their MOTY. Estonia? I thought that was a mythological country from Doonesbury or Dilbert. Do they have gasoline in Estonia?

As a creative “outside the box” choice, the Indian Motorcycle of the Year 2008 was the Bajaj Pulsar 220 DTS-Fi, according to a collection of India’s gearhead magazines. That kind of choice would have really set the US motorcycle elites into flames.

While many in the industry have given up on motorcycling as an activity of the middle class, I’m not in that group. In fact, I’m totally disinterested in anything the rich and powerful do, unless they are running for cover when the working classes decides they’ve had enough from that inbred crowd. I’d buy a front row seat to watch that, but I don’t care about the cars they drive, the houses they live in, the politicians they own, or the motorcycles they ride. Any motorcycle that only the 0.01% who own most of the world can buy and ride is an example of a product that has nothing to interest me.

What makes a bike the MOTY? I’d be willing to agree that the bike ought to provide some engineering breakthrough like a new fuel source design. But Americans are working hard to be the slowest to adapt any new technology, so the chances that an electric, hydrogen, or diesel powered bike will make a dent in the market is next-to-zero. If “weird” is the driving force for the decision, there are plenty of stupid looking custom cruisers that have about as much chance of selling enough units to count as being “manufactured” as do some of the weird multi-zillion dollar MOTY choices.

So, back to the original Kawasaki Versys MOTY choice, the $6899 price tag puts it pretty solidly in the middle class price range. 59mpg is downright modern and makes the Versys a little bit practical. The look of the bike is far from conservative, especially with the off-set rear suspension and non-symmetrical swingarm. Some bits of the design are downright ergonomically brilliant, even the console qualifies on that count. Considering the conservative nature of their readership, I’d say Motorcyclist made a pretty bold choice with the Versys. Maybe that’s the real goal of selecting a MOTY? Not the motorcycle itself, but offering some kind of food for thought to the readers/riders to wrench them out of their mental boxes and into the real world?

Oct 14, 2008

Motorcycles as Transportation?

Last month, Motorcyclist named the Kawasaki Versys the "Motorcycle of the Year." Many Versys owners agreed, but several readers flamed the rag for choosing something so "practical." One reader stated that case well, "I can only conclude that the magazine's staff has completely lost touch with the core readership to whom riding is a passion, not just a way to save fuel or commute cheaply."

I've been hammered a few dozen times, myself, for considering my motorcycles "transportation" and not toys. Personally, I don't consider riding a few times a year in poser parades or polishing a turd 10x as many hours as are spent riding the bike to be "passion," but my mileage always seems to vary from what many folks claim. I don't know what a MOTY would be, but I like the Versys a lot and would consider it a valid option to my V-Strom. I think pretty much every bike that can't be used for racing or commuting is a pointless exercise in wasted engineering skills. "Passion" is an emotion I distrust, since it burns out so quickly and leads most of us to stupid choices. However, I'd put my love of motorcycling as a transportation choice against most folks'. For example, there is not chance that I'd be willing to take a 7,000 mile trip to Nova Scotia in a cage in August, but I planned all year to do it on my V-Strom.

So, what I'd like to hear is your opinion of not the Versys but the criteria for a MOTY. Please, if you would do me the favor, post your response to this website (http://geezerwithagrudge.blogspot.com/) rather than responding to the email (if you are on the GWAG mailist). For some reason, Google's mail often ends up in my spam filter folder and I can't figure out why.

Oct 5, 2008

All the News that Didn't Fit (October)

Sally is Gone

At the Aerostich Very Boring Rally II last month, many of the company's fans received the sad news that Sally Seehus, the voice and face of Aerostich customer service, died just a few days before the event. Aerostich employees and customers shared stories of her humor, dedication to her vision of Aerostich's mission, and the personal link she provided to a company that many of us see as the Minnesota connection to the world of motorcycling. Our condolences go out to Sally's family and her many friends.

Parking in Seattle

Seattle is considering a law to fine cagers $38 for attempting to move a motorcycle or scooter from its parking place to make room for a car. This law particularly intends to protect owners of lightweight scooters who often find their rides stuffed into odd positions in parking spaces. Garrett Johnson, a scooter and motorcycle advocate asked, "Can you imagine if people got into unlocked cars, popped into neutral and rolled it away so they could take parking spots?"

Testing Airbags

Stephane Perry of Quebec gave motorcycling's newest safety equipment an extreme test this month when he ran into a Hyundai Tucson with his 2008 Gold Wing. He struck the Hyundai at about 50mph, which would normally result in a visit to a hospital; or morgue. Instead, he said the experience was like "hitting a mattress"; a very loud mattress. When the police and emergency workers arrived, Perry was busy taking pictures of the totaled Honda and heavily damaged Hyundai.

Perry said, "A motorcycle without an air bag is not an option anymore."

US Championships and World Events

John Kearney rode his 2008 Husqvarna CR 125 to a second place finish in the Woodcliff Lake, NJ Open Mag Class during in the seventh round of the AMA National Hare and Hound Series to wrap up enough points to own the 2008 AMA National Hare and Hound Championship.

Jake Zemke has won the 2008 AMA Formula Xtreme championship. Zemke, a 32 year old 12th year professional, has been in the running for 11 years straight, but this is his first championship.

Aaron Yates won the 2008 AMA Superstock Series at Road Atlanta, adding this crown to his 1996 750 Supersport title and the 2002 and 2005 Supersport championships.

Pat Smage is the 2008 AMA/NATC Trials Champion, having wrapped up the championship at Spirit Mountain in Duluth. Cody Webb won the first Duluth event, but Smage won Saturday and Sunday's rounds and the 2008 championship in front of a small crowd of dedicated fans.

Nate Kern, on a BMW, won the 2008 ASRA Pro Thunderbike championship with one race left on the schedule. Kern is the first non-Buell rider to win the Pro Thunderbike title.

Kenny Coolbeth, riding for Harley-Davidson Screamin' Eagle, wrapped up his third consecutive AMA Grand National Twins championship. He got his winning points advantage with a win on the half-mile track at Monticello Raceway.

The US ISDE (International Six Day Enduro) team finished on the podium, in third place; the best finish for the US team since 1982. The team did this well in spite of losing the team's strongest rider, Kurt Caselli, who crashed out of the event while in the battle for the overall lead with Juha Salminen. The US riders scored 10 gold, 15 silver, and two bronze medals for the event. The US women's team member, Maria Forsley, finished second in class for her first ISDE

Valentio Rossi beat the pack in a hurricane-dampened race at Indianapolis in mid-September. He fought it out with Nicky Hayden for a few laps before pulling ahead for the remainder of the race, which was red flagged seven laps early due to weather. Valentino is 85 points ahead of last years champ, Casey Stoner, and won the first US round in California earlier this summer. There are 5 races left in the MotoGP season.

AMA Sports Magic Mile Shootout Results

Stephen Vanderkuur took home $11,000 from Pickerington, Ohio on Saturday, August 23. , Michigan's Stephen Vanderkuur stood at the top of the box - and went home richer. The Honda rider controlled the competition in the 450 Modified class after winning his heat race for $500 and winning the Last Man Out race for another $500.

"I started off in the lead. Then I got passed and worked my way back out front. I don't know what happened, if he slowed or what because I'm riding the track pretty much wide open the whole way around," said Vanderkuur. "It feels good to win this race. It was good to have something different with all the fastest guys on the fastest bikes. I'm excited, and I'm looking forward to getting my expert license."

Other heat race winners included Dave Atherton winning the Pre-1982 Vintage Twins support class and $2,500 and Robert Descenna and J.D. Beach, who pocketed $500 in their races.

New Product Releases

The 2009 BMW F 800 GS should be arriving at your local BMW dealer. For a mere $10,520 you can be on (and off) road on your brand new water-cooled, chain-drive BMW. Triumph's new

 Street Triple R streetfighter will be available in November at Triumph dealers at around $8,999. The Dayton 675-based power plant produces 107hp at 11,700 rpm and is loaded with trick looking streetfighter hardware. All of Triumph's parallel twin bikes will included EFI systems for 2009.

Playboy's Leather Meets Lace Weekend Event

Head for Hollywood on October 3rd for a "no-host party at the Highlands Hollywood Loft," where you can hang out with celebrities, Playboy Bunnies, and bikers in an event that is raising money to rebuild the Hollywood sign. You can participate in the

 Saturday morning "Fun Ride through Hollywood to Malibu" and get weird at the "Leather Meets Lace Party" at the Playboy Mansion. The big biker event is "a Red-Carpet escorted Ride with celebrities and motorcycle enthusiasts joining together to support charities such as www.motorcyclecharity.org,  www.peacelovehappiness.com,  www.ridefortheheart.com,http://www.ablanketofhope.org,  http://www.accidentscene.net/." 

I'd be all about being there, but my fuzzy toilet seat cover needs brushing.

And Now for Something Really Silly

For our readers who have far more money than sense, here is the perfect motorcycle: the Gunbus 410 cubic inch V-Twin motorcycle. This strange looking Clemens Leonhardt creation is powered by a fuel injected, 45 degree 6728 cc V-Twin that makes a Boss Hoss powerplant look miniature. The giant engine hooks 523 foot pounds of torque to a 3-speed transmission, with a reverse gear. The claimed seat height is 31.5 inches and the whole freaking 1433 pound mess is more than 11 feet long. The price is still pending. 


All the News that Didn't Fit (September)

Every month, I do a column for Minnesota Motorcycle Monthly  called "All the News that Fits." The title is exactly what the column is about: I find a bunch of news items and the editor prints what fits on the page. Some months, there is a lot of news space and everything I find ends up in the magazine. Other months, the magazine is full of ads and local information and there is little to no room for ATNTF. So, I thought, "Why let all that work go to waste, when I can put the leftovers on this blog?" That's the sound of me "thinking," in case you were worried that I didn't have that capacity.  

 With that altruistic motive in mind, here is the stuff that didn’t make the cut in the September issue:

All the News That Didn’t Fit

Harley-Davidson Museum Open to the Public

Harley torched the chain ribbon (with acetylene) to the new Milwaukee Harley-Davidson Museum on July 12, 2008. CEO Jim Ziemer received his first tattoo as part of the ceremony and other events marked the day..

Ziemer said “Harley-Davidson has dreamed about building this Museum for a long time. It adds a whole new dimension to the Harley-Davidson experience.”

New Product Releases

Just in time for the end of the cruiser era, Triumph is releasing a 1600cc parallel twin, belt driven, cruiser called the Thunderbird. The bike won’t reach dealers until sometime in 2009. If you are still employed, you will be able to make a deposit on a Thunderbird next spring. Harley is introducing the Tri-Glide Ultra, in 2009. This $30k three-wheeler is intended for the aging, skill-challenged market that is wrestling between the purchase of an electric wheelchair or an image enhancing Harley. If you have the cash, you can have both the balance-compensating qualities of a Hoveround and the image polish of a big twin.

NHTSA Recalls

2008 BMW R1200 GS (46 units): Due to a material defect in the intermediate shaft of the transmission, the shaft could break. The transmission could seize if this occurs.

Oct 1, 2008

My Personal Economic Crash

For the last year, I've been unable to avoid hearing about the economic crisis in this country. Every aspect of the media is harping about "crash this" and "crash that" and has been almost since Bush and his crowd took over Washington. Personally, it's been a hard eight years, too. I went into this century thinking I was set for life, if I managed to hang on to a moderate income and didn't buy too many toys. A year later, I was looking to crank up my hobby home businesses into income producers. Still, the impact of living in a failing economy (again) didn't hit me until this week.

One of the "features" of being old is having that "here we go again" feeling. In the 70s, the Midwest was hammered by the first "new economy" of my life. Jobs were lost, industries failed, rural economies collapsed, and towns became populated by ghosts. I was living there, I remember it well.

As a motorcyclist, there was a depression aspect to life, also. For the first time in my life, I had to worry about someone stealing my motorcycle while I was at work, if the bike wasn't garaged at night, or almost any other time. One of the guys I raced against lived in Omaha. His garage was broken open and his bikes, tools, and other personal belongings were stolen. Not long afterwards, something tried to break into my shop, the "Dirt Shop," and the next morning I discovered that a window had been broken before the thief learned that an 18" bike wheel dangling from above the window made an effective set of window bars. He, apparently, also found it impossible to reach my tools with a stick from the broken window. I found the stick lying on the floor and a bunch of tools had been dislodged from their wall hangars. For several years, the dirt bikers I knew all had stories of theft, loss, and anger.

The 80s weren't much better. In California, the Reagan years mil-industrial welfare made life fairly good for engineers and bankers, but everyone else had it tough. The California helmet law provided incentive for the unemployed and unemployable to snag any helmet (secured or unsecured) from any unwatched bike. I lost a couple of helmets to theft and a couple more to my absentmindedness. Carrying a helmet to class, into restaurants, and everywhere else I went always resulted in my forgetting either the helmet or my gloves or, once, my backpack and . . . somebody snatched it before I could get back to recover it. My fault, I know. Sometimes being a motorcyclist is about as convenient as living out of a grocery cart. Carrying everything but the seat every time you step away from the bike gets to be a pain.

Pat Hahn is convinced I’m a total fool because I lost so many helmets in 10 years of California life. He’s probably right. I also lived on my bikes for those years, petal powered and 4-stroked. For ten years, I averaged close to 25,000 miles a year on my motorcycles and 2,500 a year on my bicycle. I almost forgot how to drive a cage, I was in one so rarely. Unless I was hauling family, a kayak, and/or diving gear, I was on two wheels. I had a busy life back then. I managed the manufacturing side of a mid-sized company, was the sole support for a family of 4, finished my college degree at night, and had a bit of a life on the side. I might have been the model of a southern California multi-tasker.

Professional bike thieves made life miserable and scary for California motorcycle adventurers. A group of friends took a trip into the Desert in the late 80s and awoke to find their bikes had been stolen right out of their campsite. I don't know if I've ever slept that soundly, but I wonder what would have happened if they had woke up to try to stop the thieves? Anyone well equipped enough to be able to snag three large motorcycles from a campsite might we well armed. I got into the habit of using a bike cover, a pair of U-bolt wheel locks (front and back brake disks), and carrying a foghorn can into my tent when I camped. Worst case, the cops would be able to look for a deafened murderer with a bike he had to drag into the pawn shop.

Then, the 90s and prosperity changed everything. All of a sudden, people had jobs and damn few of them felt the need to steal everything that wasn't tied down. It's amazing how many things analysts can find to justify reduced crime and violence when, obviously, having a roof over your head and food in your gut does wonders for "national morality."

I got used to not worrying about things being stolen off of my bike. I am stuck with the habit of carrying my riding gear everywhere, but I don't worry about losing saddlebags, mirrors, the bike seat, or the bike when I'm away from it for a few moments. I am capable of adapting bad habits in a moment. After fifteen years of theft-less life, I stopped worrying about the things I left in the parking garage/lot. I should have known that all those news reports of the next recession/depression were a warning that I needed to revert to California paranoia.

Yesterday, I got to work a little late. My class would be waiting at the door when I got there. I had a short day, according to my schedule, and I was a little distracted by the morning's nutty St. Paul detours and dumber-than-usual traffic. I haven't yet found a cover for my 250 Sherpa commuter bike, so my gear is exposed. That's a dumb thing to do, but it hadn't been a problem on the little bike or my 650 for so long I didn't think much about it as I locked the bars and ran for class, taking off my gear as I went.

When I got back to the bike, about 3 hours later than my "schedule" (as usual). My two month old MotoFizz bag was gone. Usually, I yank it and haul it with my riding gear to my office, but today I thought I'd get away without being paranoid. The asshole who stole the bag didn't bother to take the mounting straps, so he'll probably sell the bag for peanuts to someone who can't figure out how to use it. It didn't have much in it: a pair of cheap waterproof pants, a pair of bungie webs, a plastic waterbottle. The bag was expensive, but the contents were more personally valuable than practically significant.

I didn't lose as much money from the theft as I lost psychologically. It’s a reminder that things have changed, again, for the worse. One of the worries in riding a small bike is that the bike, itself, is easily stolen. St. Paul is about as insecure a city as I’ve ever lived near and there really isn’t a safe place to park anywhere near where I work. The garage is unmonitored and the motorcycle parking is not visible to the bored and braindead attendant. The school’s lot is equally invisible to responsible eyes, but we’ve had a recent rash of bicycle thefts right in front of the receptionist’s desk.

At the least, I need to find a bike cover that wraps up the little dirt bike so that the majority of thieves will pass it by for a more sure thing. At the most, I’m considering adapting an old defib unit to deliver a 700 volt “warning” shock to anyone who touches the bike. If you see anyone wandering the streets of St. Paul with a small MotoFizz tailbag. Give me a call and I’ll remove that person from the streets. I figure one good deed deserves another.