Oct 22, 2010

Insights from an Ex-Ducati Exec

Ducati North America head Michael Lock gave an interview to the New York Times about the state of motorcycling in the US and . . .  I agree with practically everything he said.

Lock has abandoned motorcycling for a Norwegian EV company, Think, and he appears to be feeling free enough from the constraints of politispeak to say what he thinks about the state of motorcycling in the US.

For example, as to the state of motorcycle sales in the US, "September was minus 39%, which was pretty tragic considering September last year was a disaster. So I know the trend is not upward and it’s not slowing down. The industry is still contracting at quite a pronounced rate." Or his opinion on Harley's market future, "A motorcycle is a status symbol. It’s a discretionary purchase. You buy it. You feel good about life. Where Harley goes in the U.S., the rest of the industry has to follow in many respects. The shadow Harley casts over the rest of the industry is undeniable and their age demographic issue along with general economic conditions was a perfect storm."

 Like most of us, Lock believes, "Motorcycling won’t die, but it has to be substantially restructured. A lot of the fluff marketing has to go away. Maybe motorcycling has to go back to being a simpler pursuit rather than the whole posing thing and all the race replicas. It has to go back to being a simpler pleasure."

So, bring on the 100mpg 250's and out with the hippobikes! Want to kick some life into US motorcycling, ride small and often.

Couldn't Catch a Break

All Rights Reserved © 2010 Thomas W. Day

Scotty couldn't catch a break. He got tangled up in office politics and ended up laid off during of one of the worst economic periods in seventy years. Out of work and with the usual expenses knocking on the door, he still wanted to take a long motorcycle trip in 2008. It wasn't looking good for him, one week from the day we were planning to leave town. It would get worse.

In 2007, after I got back from Alaska, Scotty got the bike bug. He asked what I thought would be a good bike for commuting from Hudson to downtown St. Paul and I gave him a short list of my recommendations. He started shopping and found what looked like a good deal from an old biker in Wabasha. It was a 1992 Yamaha TDM, one of my all time favorite motorcycles, with low miles and in mediocre condition. We drove down to look at the bike and found it was moderately beat up, but ran, and seemed to be in neglected but reasonable condition for the asking price. Scott bought it and rode it home, struggling with carburetor problems that caused the bike to run insanely lean below 3,000 rpm and worrying about brittle and bald tires.

He cleaned it up and started working on the carb problems right away. After taking the bike apart a dozen times, wrestling with the overly complicated carburetion that was always a hassle on that generation of motorcycles, Scotty gave up and took the bike to a "reputable" Minneapolis independent repair shop to get the last of the tuning problems tweaked into shape. The three-day turn around he'd been promised by the shop turned into three weeks. When he got the bike back, the original $300 estimate had turned into an $800 repair bill, but the bike ran and he was happy.

At least, he was happy until he tried to do some minor work on the bike and discovered the shop had stripped the mounting bolts to his fuel petcock, lost some fairing screws, and done assorted damage that took him a few more hours to sort out. When he called the shop to complain, they admitted to having set a rookie tech loose on Scotty's bike, apologized, offered to "make it right," and asked him to submit a copy of the invoices he'd collected in fixing the stuff they'd screwed up. When he arrived with the list, he was blown off by the shop owner and ended up with a reimbursement offer that was more insult than compensation. A few hundred miles later, the bike was back running as badly as ever. The shop's "fix" was expensive and temporary.

Scotty kept plugging away at the obstacles to his making the trip, though. He found freelance work and filed for unemployment to make up for the lost job. He got involved in starting an on-line school teaching the stuff he'd been teaching at the college. He kept working on the bike and his travel gear, fine tuning both into something he felt confident in traveling with into the "wilderness" of eastern Canada.

Three weeks before the launch date, we made a backroad trip to Duluth where Scotty picked up some extra gear at RiderWearhouse and we put on a few hundred miles finding out how we'd travel together. On the way back, we took a side trip through Jay Cooke State Park and Scotty lost control of the TDM in the first of a pair of quick turns. He crashed, softly, in the gravel beside the road, avoiding a trip into a gully but doing some minor damage to the bike. He put on such a good demonstration going down in his riding gear that a lid-less cruiser rider traveling in the opposite direction vowed he'd be buying a helmet as soon as he got home. Scotty was in pretty good shape, until he swung back on the bike and hyper-extended his left knee. All the way home, he worried about the knee and he was right to worry. By the time he got home, his knee was swollen, painful, and barely mobile. He set to work in a home-schooled physical therapy program and was pretty mobile about a week before we were planning to leave.

Due to his time pressures and a little reluctance to take on a new mechanical task, he decided to have a Hudson shop replace his chain and sprockets. A few hours after dropping the bike off, he got a call from the repair tech asking him to come back to the shop. When he got there, the tech showed him that the previous owner had screwed up the countershaft retaining nut and, in a moronic attempt to repair his mistake, had welded the nut to the countershaft. The sprocket was worn out and moved freely on the shaft spline, behind the weld. The repair estimate was a dozen hours and nearly $2,000. Scott called me, hoping for some miracle, but I could only think of one possibility that didn't involve partial transmission disassembly; carefully grinding the weld away and using a wheel puller to break the sprocket away from the shaft. He had given up on riding the TDM east and didn't want to test my theory. The bike went to a Bayfield, Minnesota repair shop and Scott had his fingers crossed, hoping for a happy outcome. Three weeks later, the shop was still waiting for Yamaha to deliver some key parts. The repair costs were more affordable, but the time estimate for the repair was beyond the point of no return.

When he hung up, Scotty was done in. He'd been working for almost a year, getting himself and his gear and his bike ready for this trip and, short of buying a new bike, he was stuck. At every turn, something happened to keep Scotty off of the road. He couldn't catch a break on a used bike, on a repair shop, or on his own body and skill. He went on a little of the trip in his Toyota, but it wasn't the same.

When we got back from the East Coast, the second shop delivered the bike with parts missing. Important parts. The bike was leaking oil from a missing oil filler gasket. The chain had been installed with no slack. They'd installed the wrong front sprocket, gearing the bike down radically. They tried again and brought the bike back with even more problems. After several passes at repairing the problems they'd created, they started howling "What did you expect?" And even became downright threatening when he asked them to fix the problems they'd caused. Scott had to pull the whole bike apart to figure out what the shop had screwed up. A year later and dozens of hours of labor, Scott finally figured out the fuel delivery problems and the TDM is running like a TDM. He still hadn't taken a decent trip on the bike.

Sometimes, instead of calling for you, the open road does exactly the opposite. If you believe in omens and signs, it's probably best to listen. If you are of a more practical bent, you just tell yourself "the best laid plans of mice and men" and write off all that work and frustration as preparation for life's next event. Sometimes, you are just beaten by events and if there is a lesson in there, somewhere, you try to find it and learn from it.

UPDATE: This fall, Scotty moved to New Mexico on his TDM without incident or mechanical interruption. After a couple of years sorting out the booby traps left by the previous owner and a collection of MN mechanics, the TDM appears to be a real motorcycle again. He's enjoying spectacular rides in the NM mountains and is even getting into riding the 850 off-pavement. Sometimes the break just takes a while to catch up to you. 

Russian Off-Road Challenge 2010

The well-informed and always entertaining folks from the TC_DualSport group turned me on to this incredibly entertaining off-road expedition. Some seriously macho Russians on some unbelievably tortured motorcycles with a great Russian Rock and Roll soundtrack.

These guys found every possible way to fall down and survive. All the scenery and riding footage of The Long Way Round, without all the whining and yak.

Oct 21, 2010

Perfect Motorcycling Weather

I've said this before, but fall is my favorite time to ride. The weather is usually pretty predictable in Minnesota, unlike spring. So, I can count on knowing what to wear and what to expect when I hit the road. It's cool enough to need gear and warm enough to be comfortable without all the bulky underlayers that I'll be packing on in a month or so. Tires still start the ride warm enough to have some grip.

But the best part is, for some reason, the motorcycle seems to be a whole lot happier to be working in cool weather. I don't mean that my trusty V-Strom minds the heat, but the engine just feels more alive on a cool fall morning. The throttle seems to be directly connected to the rear tire. It's probably an illusion, but it's one I like.

Sev, the MMM editor, had me all primed, this weekend, to get to ride a new Triumph (2011 Sprint GT) or Ducati (2011 Monster 796) for a review. He let me down, though. Apparently, there are better suited folks than me on tap to ride those two cool bikes. I'll probably get first dibs on the next Hyosung POS. No competition for reviews on that sort of ride.

Honestly, I have mixed emotions about test riding motorcycles. There is a nasty statistic that claims that a substantial number of motorcycle crashes occur on borrowed or new motorcycles. I can believe that. Getting used to a new ride takes some time. If I had my druthers, I'd druther test ride on a closed track. At least, I'd rather put a few dozen miles on a new bike on that closed course before I venture out into the vicious and nutty world of cagers and truckers.

Since a Triumph or Ducati isn't in the works for me, I'm going to make some miles in Wisconsin this weekend. On my V-Strom. By myself. I love this weather, so I'm not complaining.

Oct 6, 2010

Product Review: GIVI E21 Commuter Side Cases

All Rights Reserved © 2007 Thomas W. Day
The GIVI E21 USA Monokey cases are described as "Compact Travel Companion In City Traffic, Short or Long Range Tours!" Could be, but I'm going to test that theory. I have a pair of Chase Harper soft saddle bags that I love, but the DL's big butt prevents me from using those cases without serious modification of the bags' mounting system. The other end of touring luggage, giant aluminum panniers or the more typical GIVI hard luggage, turns the DL from something moderately svelte and agile into a bike with the wingspan of a Goldwing.  If I wanted a Goldwing, I'd buy a Goldwing.

The GIVI mounting frame is something worth discussing, too. It's built to take abuse and to support substantial weight. The frames are designed to accept any of the GIVI MONOKEY cases, which means anything from 21 liters to 52 liters could be mounted to the same frames. In a 45-55mph crash that totally destroyed one side case, put deep gouges in my crashbars, and busted me up extensively, the GIVI mounting frame suffered not one bit of damage. I'm not sure I can overstate how well this frame is designed and built.

In 2007, I had wrestled with side cases and touring luggage for my Suzuki V-Strom DL650 until settling on the GIVI E21 cases. The E21 cases are 16" x 14" x 5”, top-opening, and have a 21 liter capacity. Not small, but not huge enough to radically change the lane-splitting clearance of the V-Strom. Another advantage of the GIVI cases is the MONOKEY™ locking and mounting system that is custom designed for specific motorcycles and adaptable to every MONOKEY™ case GIVI makes. You could have E21 cases for commuting and E44 cases for touring, if you have the cash. All you would have to do to change luggage is use one key to unlock and remove the little cases and the another key to install the big guys. You can buy the E21 cases in flat black or get the top portion of the case painted or supplied in cruiser chrome'ish.

In theory, all of this makes the E21 cases seem pretty practical. In practice, the small top-loading cases are difficult to make useful for more than around-town errands and minimal gear storage duties. For a recent 10,000 mile trip, I ended up dedicating one case solely to camera and computer duty and the other to carrying a Darien jacket liner, a bike cover, chain oil, and a few bits of maintenance equipment. Both cases were stuffed to capacity with that light load. This restriction put serious demands on my tail bag load and resulted in a top-heavy, wind-sensitive load that turned dangerous on the Dempster Highway.

The Red-Green E21 field modification

Even earlier in the trip, contact with another rider's soft bag (caused by a sequence of events that neither of us is proud to describe) at about 15mph caused my right side GIVI case to disintegrate like a plastic Easter egg while doing next-to-no-damage to the soft bag. Some creative use of Gorilla Glue and a mile of duct tape put the case back together where it lived until I decided to crash on Canada's Dempster Highway and even the duct tape failed to hold up for that incident.

In all, I still like the E21 cases for commuting, although I hardly ever have much in them on a normal day. For touring, unless all you're packing is a toothbrush, one change of underwear and socks, and a spare tee-shirt, I think the E21's are too small and too fragile for that duty. Trust me, I tried and failed in the attempt to prove that statement wrong.

All the News that Didn't Fit

Moto2 Takes A Life
Shoya Tomizawa, a 19-year-old Japanese Moto2 250cc racer died from cranial, thoracic and abdominal trauma after a crash at the San Marino Grand Prix. He lost control of his bike in a corner and was struck by Scott Redding and Alex de Angelis. All three riders crashed and Redding was hospitalized for evaluation.
Tomizawa won the first race of the series at Qatar, took 2nd in Spain, and after ten series races, he was in 7th place. His death occurred barely a week after Peter Lenz's fatal crash in Indianapolis. He was the first on-track GP-level death since Daijiro Kato died in a crash at Suzuka in 2003.
Looking for a Few Good Racers
Vemar Helmets, Sidi Boots, and AGV Sport Apparel are looking for riders to sponsor for the 2011 season. Motonation, the USA importer for those brands, is "accepting resumes for rider support for the 2011 season." Contact Motonation, 10225 Prospect Ave., Santee CA 92071 or jojo@motonation.com to tell them why you should be the one to use their gear for free.
Noise in New Hampshire
In May, North Hampton, New Hampshire voters approved an ordinance requiring stock exhausts on post-1982 motorcycles. New Hampshire state law sets a limit of 106 decibels. The city attorney and the local police chief claims the law is unenforceable, but local citizens are adamant that motorcycles are a "nuisance." Planning Board Chairman Phil Wilson said, "What the chief should have asked the lawyers is, ‘The townspeople have passed this ordinance, now how do we enforce it?’"
Targeting Motorcyclists
NHTSA is offering up to $350,000 to be distributed among five law enforcement agencies under the "Motorcycle Law Enforcement Demonstration" grant program. The program is modeled after a controversial New York State Police experiment that setup 15 motorcycle-only checkpoints this summer to verify proper motorcycle "paperwork" (license, insurance, registration), fill quotas, and generate municipal and state income. The discriminatory character of singling out a specific type of vehicle for "inspection" has been questioned by the AMA and other motorcyclist organizations.
California Smog, Noise, and Motorcycle Bill
The California senate passed SB 435, the "motorcycle exhaust bill." The bill is on Governor Schwarzenegger’s desk, waiting to be signed into law. If passed, SB 435 will require stock exhausts on all model year 2013 and newer motorcycles.