Feb 19, 2012

Can It Do Everything?

One of the guys on the Minnesota Dual Sport sent a mildly dissatisfied note to the group asking if there is any such thing as a "dual sport" motorcycle? I think his point was that there is no such thing as a motorcycle that is great at everything. One of the group's smart guys, Paul Streeter, replied, "Hey, I own more than one Swiss Army knife, too!"

My initial thoughts on the subject were, "I have spent almost 30 years looking for an all purpose bike. In my experience, guys who own lots of bikes generally don't have even one in ready-to-ride-anywhere condition. That's for certain a problem with me. I have a DL and a WRX and a KL250 and the last time I rode the DL (or tried to ride it) I discovered the battery had failed. I can imagine I'll find a reason to ride the V-Strom again, but I'll have to put in a few days of prep work on it to be able to trust it. The KL is just garage mass and has been for a couple of years. When I get the damn thing to start, I'll sell it. The WRX is, currently, my all-purpose DP bike. I use it for commuting around the city, for dirt riding, touring (Lake Superior last summer with my brother on the DL), and I expect to check out the Rockies this summer on the little bike.

"That's just me, though. I don't like owning a lot of stuff. More to the point, I don't like a lot of stuff owning me. Dual sports can do everything, but some things they do aren't done as well as other tools can do them. Swiss Army knives are pretty limited knives, too. Ever try to throw one or fillet a trout? In fact, I'd argue that Swiss Army knives are pretty good at everything they do, except for being knives."

 If I can get my lard ass back down to 180 pounds (even better, 170), I'll have a hard time imagining anything I want to do on a motorcycle being unsuited for the WR250X. It's too small for a passenger, but nobody in my family wants to ride with me anyway; at least as a passenger. It's too slow for road racing, but so am I. With the addition of the Giant Loop Coyote Saddlebag and Diablo Tank Bag, there isn't a one-person travel situation I'll ever be in that will require more storage space.

Still, the WR250X is clearly not the perfect all-purpose motorcycle. It will not cruise at 80+mph; something I have been caught doing in my desperado past. In fact, the WR is most happy cruising at about 60-65mph. The WR's little front wheel doesn't roll over big stuff like a real dirt bike's 21" wheel. With my old, original-issue, withered-up and wimpy left hip, that was a problem because I didn't have the will or strength to get the front wheel far enough into the air to skip a 12" log or jump a ditch. On the other hand, crashing is a much bigger deal to me at 63 than it was at, even, 53, so I may be done with my log-hopping, ditch-leaping days. That all remains to be seen, I suppose. However, that does not diminish the all-purpose-ness of my WR or whatever weapon you deem to be superior.

In all honesty, a 450 or 650cc supermoto or dual purpose bike would be even more multipurpose than my 250. However, you have to be more man than me (expecially than my 29" inseam) to wrestle one of those high-altitude bikes through the woods. I've ridden the KTM 690 and other than the mounting/dismounting issues it is an amazing motorcycle. The KTM 990's 875mm seat height and 192kg are beyond my capacities off-road. The over-$10k price tag for either of those machines is out of my socioeconomic class.

Which brings us to another aspect of dual-purpose-ness; practicality. Not only does a dual-purpose bike have to be affordable (to me/you, not Mitt Romney) but it has to be practical to maintain and affordable to occasionally crash. Because, if you plan to venture off-road, you will crash your dual-purpose toy. This is a perfectly valid Motorcycle Affordability Test:

If your bike, or you, can not pass this test, you have more motorcycle than you can afford and what you own is definitely not dual purpose-ready.

Feb 15, 2012

Revised I-94 Reader

A few days before Xmas, I received a package from the kind and generous folks at Aerostich that contained a motorcycle-themed card and a book, Revised I-94 Reader; Eclectic Stories and Rides. Amazon sells a Kindle-based version of the book for $4 and, I suspect, it is available from Riderwearhouse and old fashioned form. The author, Rand Rasmussen, is a Minnesota guy who commutes big miles for fun and occupation between Fargo and the Twin Cities. He isn't exclusively a freeway rider but he's unashamed of the long miles he puts on Minnesota's east-to-west interstate and in some ways that's a refreshing view of motorcycling's generally accepted disdainful take on freeway riding.

When the book arrived, I was in a poor mind to appreciate the gift. Only a few days away from having the top end of my leg cut off and having had a several-inch titanium railroad spike driven into the hole, my capacities were numbed and dumbed-down. Morphine and I were about to end our unhappy relationship and that would only be replaced with a slightly less miserable fling with oxycodone. My diminished opinion of Rush Limbaugh was lowered several more notches after getting to know his drug of choice. It's obvious why he is so poorly read, neither of those "medications" is conducive to intellectual pursuits. They made me stupid, grumpier than usual, more paranoid than usual, and I suspect even the pain-numbing qualities are overrated.

This week, I picked up the I-94 Reader and passed a brief afternoon with its 64 pages. Rasmussen is not a compelling writer, in my opinion. He overuses the first person perspective, "I had left work . . . I needed to chose between . . . county roads I usually take . . . I reasoned, I would take . . . I was fine for the first ten miles . . . etc." All from one overly long, I-filled paragraph at the beginning of one chapter. There are at least twenty more I's in that paragraph. This only warrants a mention because it became irritating after a few pages. In these days of either no editors in the book stream or working-for-free interns pretending to be editors, we probably have more of this kind of writing to look forward to than less in our futures. The days of Maxwell Perkins are probably over.

However, with that irritant either out of the way or ignored, Rasmussen is often an interesting story teller. He does big miles, "It has been a great riding year for me with nearly 35,000 miles and three Dunlop 491 rear tires to my credit." He is a tough, all-season rider who is neither afraid of sub-freezing weather or night riding. His chapter/stories are often short and to the point and the experiences he describes are personal and sometimes exciting (crazy dangerous). The I-94 Reader is a brief but interesting look into another rider's life and Rand Rasmussen has a lot to say about motorcycling and pushing the boundaries of common sense.

When You're Cool Enough to Wear Icon

The company who made protective gear cool is trying to make hooliganism even cooler.

Feb 14, 2012

Joy Ride

Can't embed this one, but it's worth watching: http://vimeo.com/36305675.

The video quality and the storyline is pretty amazing considering the equipment used. There was a pretty impressive cast and crew listed at the end, though. I have to wonder how "amateur" this production was? Having tried video production myself, I know how much skill, experience, and talent can compensate for equipment and I know how little of those three I possess.

Feb 9, 2012

Not a Baby Step

You know the bit about physical recovery coming in "baby steps?" It's mostly true. Every inch of my range of motion has been painful and slow. Going from barely being able to move my foot to moving my dead leg from the bed to the floor to walking with a cane to walking unassisted has been slow (8 weeks yesterday) and frustrating.

However, this event was nothing short of instant gratification. No, I didn't go anywhere. I didn't even start the bike. But swinging a leg over the WR is an accomplishment and it was effortless. This was the first confirmation I've had that I'll be riding this spring. If I can get on this bike, I can ride it.

My wife took this picture Saturday. Since then, I've been walking 2.5-3.5 miles a day and/or cranking the stationary bicycle for 30 minutes. Nothing like a goal to provide motivation.

Feb 5, 2012

Dougie Rocks

My kind of factory tour.

US Road Safety

ITO World lets you look at how dangerous your favorite (or least favorite) road has been between 2001 and 2009. Click on the picture and check out US roads, including Alaska. Some pretty remote places are pretty scary.

All the News that Didn't Fit

World Wide
On the world motorcycling front, the recession continues to hammer on manufacturer's profit margins. In the first 9 months of 2011, European two-wheeled sales registrations fell 9.03%, adding up to 122,095 fewer units on the road. The big hits were in Italy (-15.6%), Spain (-15.1%), the Netherlands (-13%), and Greece(-16.6%). EU market strongholds, Germany (-1.57%) and France (-3.58%) were the closest thing to bright spots in the EU's two-wheeled economic report. Summer sales were disappointing and even mopeds experienced 10% sales declines. This puts European sales more than 25% below 2008 levels.
French travelers will have a new transportation option waiting for them in the Paris French National Railway (SNCF) station at Montparnasse; e-scooters. In partnership with Peugeot Scooters, the SNCF has established a pilot program that combines train travel and two-wheeled mobility. The experiment is scheduled to expand into the Gare Monparnasse station.
Suzuki's Burgman Fuel-Cell Scooter is the world’s first fuel-cell vehicle to earn EU Type Approval. The air-cooled fuel cell and compact, frame-mounted hydrogen tank powers an electric motor with water as the only emissions.
An upside to the economic downturn is that EU motorcycle deaths dropped 11% in 2010 from 2001 statistics. Cycle deaths dropped as much as 33% in Luxembourg to as little as 1% in Portugal and Finland, but all EU nations had some level of fatality reduction.
E-Bikes made a big splash at this year's EICMA show. There were 40+ electric motorcycle and scooter companies, many are the infamous "made in China" disposa-bike variety, but some serious players are in the game, too.  For example, German manufacturer, E-Max, makes utility electric scooters that are being used by the Spanish postal system had several vehicles on display.
MythBusting Motorcycles
In September, the Discovery Channel series “MythBusters” ran the social responsibility of motorcycles against cars, fender-to-bumper, and motorcycles lost. With scientists from UC Riverside's Center for Environmental Research and Technology and Global MRV – Clean Air Technologies Division, Adam Savage and Jamie Hyneman tested production cars and motorcycles from three decades.

On pollutant emission measures (carbon dioxide, carbon monoxide, hydrocarbons, nitric oxides), motorcycles consistently came up short (or long, depending on how you feel about higher pollutants). On the plus side, they did find that motorcycles can be more fuel efficient and may produce slightly less carbon dioxide than cars, but even with a custom aerodynamic bubble cars outperformed motorcycles in limiting carbon monoxide, hydrocarbon, and nitric oxide emissions. Adam and Jamie are motorcyclists, so the data went against their personal biases.

Great, one more losing argument with my wife.
Wrightspeed Geared Traction Drive
Wrightspeed announced its Geared Traction Drive (GTD) integrated inverter, electric motor, and two-speed transmission. "The two-speed Wrightspeed GTD shifts electronically, using software-controlled motor synchronization instead of clutches, and provides a maximum output torque (per wheel) of 1,893 ft-lbs in first gear, and 810 ft-lbs in second gear (180mph max)." Currently, the GTD system is intended for medium duty truck retrofit applications, but it could spell dramatic improvements in all electric vehicles.

Feb 4, 2012

The Supermoto Is Dead

My first hint was the absence of the WR250X at the Yamaha booth. One of the Yamaha dealers manning that outpost complained that Yamaha had dumped the "only 250 that I can sell." The WR250R and the XT250 remain in the 2012 lineup, but the WRX is gone. Those two bikes look exactly like they have for the last three years. Supposedly, Honda still has some of the 2009 CRF230M supermotos left to sell, but that model has been gone from their US line for 3 years. Suzuki never offered anything in the supermoto line. Kawasaki offered the KLX 250SF SuperMoto in 2009 and 2010, but still had those models in the warehouse all last year, so it is a dead model in the 2012 lineup.

So, the only supermoto options available in the US are from BETA, Husaberg, Husqvarna, or KTM. None of those options are bad, but none of those companies is a good bet for long-term parts availability. I guess the good news is, I got mine. The bad news is that the coolest little bikes ever didn't make it in the US. I hate to say goodbye, but . . . goodbye to a good idea. You guys don't know what you missed.

An upside is that one of the coaches I teach with said the WRX's are impossible to find now; used or new. Dealers scrapped them out of their inventories last summer and the folks who have them, love them and plan on keeping them. It could be this bike will end up like great mis-marketed bikes such as the Transalp, Pacific Coast, Honda Hawk GT, Yamaha 550XTZ Vision, and the host of great motorcycles nobody wanted in their own time but are now highly sought after by people who figured it out too late.

2012 Progressive International Motorcycle Show

In case you're not able to go, here are a few highlights:

This used to be the Cycle World show, but it's run by Progressive Insurance this year. Same show, same vendors, not many new bikes. I'll talk about that later.