Kurt's Corner Monthly Motorcycle Blog Archives


December 2012

By: Kurt Hertel

Ducati’s reputation as a manufacturer of exotic, temperamental, and uncomfortable sport bikes unsuitable for anything short of racing (or at least riding like you are) is gradually being revised year-on-year. While the exotic part adds value and cachet to the brand (see Ferrari) that other brands would kill for, the temperamental and uncomfortable part only narrows the field of potential buyers. Starting in the early nineties with the Monster, and a couple years later with the ST2, Ducati has worked very hard to offer products with a broader appeal than a dedicated sportbike can have, while preserving the image of uncompromising performance. (As an aside, the reputation was always inaccurate or at least incomplete anyway. If you doubt this, Google the 900 SD Darmah or the 860 GT for examples of Ducati’s answer to the proverbial UJMs of the seventies. Does that make them UIMs?) More recently, this effort has culminated in the Hypermotard, the Multistrada, and the Diavel. Ducati can now be accurately described as a full-line manufacturer of street bikes. For 2013, T he Hypermotard is all new, and the Multi and Diavel have new models added to the line-up. Finally, 2013 marks the return of the R model superbike homologation-special, this time as a Panigale, of course.

2013 Hypermotard The Hypermotard receives its first wholesale upgrade since its introduction in 2008. Now based on a steel trellis frame with an aluminum subframe, with an 821cc liquid-cooled 4 valve per cylinder engine with a wet clutch, the Hypermotard models will now all have the same engine instead of two different displacements. The new motor is a Testastretta 11 degree engine offering 110 hp and 65lb/ft. of torque (versus 95/75 on the previous 1100 version). This engine is purportedly based on that of the 848 Streetfighter, but with a longer stroke and smaller bore for improved torque and flexibility. Full ride-by-wire allows ride mode adjustment as standard, (sport, touring, and urban), along with 3-level ABS and DTC 8-level traction control, both also standard. This leaves the Monster line with the only remaining air-cooled 2-valve motors at Ducati. All the additional standard equipment and liquid cooling have added 7 lbs. to the previous 1100 evo’s 379 lb. dry weight. Wet weight will increase a little more due to a .9 lb. increase in fuel capacity, a worthwhile trade-off. The new bike also continues the recent trend of increasing valve-adjustment intervals at Ducati, at 18,000 miles. As before, an SP version of the Hyper will be offered, consisting of forged aluminum Marchesini wheels, Ohlins shock, and Marzocchi fully adjustable forks, the latter two of which increase wheel travel, and n fiber bits and pieces, a specially stitched seat, and special paint complete the SP package, along with a 9 lb. weight loss from the standard model. The sleeper of the bunch though may be the new Hyperstrada. If that sounds like a cross between a Hypermotard and a Multistrada, you’re not far off. Take a standard Hypermotard and raise the bars 20 millimeters, add a more comfy seat, a windshield, two power outlets, integrate 50 liters of saddlebags and reduce the suspension travel a bit and you have a touring supermoto. Although KTM got there first with the 990 SMT, the Hyperstrada is nowhere near as elemental, being at least one generation more advanced electronically, if not two, and also ( to my eye at least) much prettier.

2013 Multistrada The changes to the Multistrada are few and with one exception, relatively minor. The standard bike without ABS is no longer available, so ABS is standard throughout the lineup. As before, the standard bike also comes without saddlebags, center stand, and heated grips. The engine, which is shared among all models, has a number of small changes. Two spark plugs are now used per cylinder in order to produce cleaner and more complete combustion and better fuel mileage. The injectors have been repositioned so that they spray directly at the intake valves, using the heat from the valves to improve atomization, with the additional benefit of cooling the valves, the result being more torque (though no more power), but more importantly, smoother power delivery. The seat allows the rider to sit slightly further back than the previous one, and the windscreen is taller and wider but otherwise, the ergonomics are unchanged. The new Multistrada model for 2013 is the Gran Turismo, a long-distance-touring specific variant with higher bars, a more heavily padded “ comfort” seat, larger 73 liter panniers (vs. the 58 liter items on the Tour), engine guards, and LED supplemental lights.

The big news is the addition of Sachs’ “Sky hook” adaptive suspension to all of the “S” models (which include all but the standard model; our, Pikes Peak, and Gran Turismo). This system, while retaining the electronic adjust-ability of the previous Ohlins setup, also adapts itself to various riding conditions by varying damping settings on the fly. Two accelerometers in front and two in the rear, one each on the unsprung mass of the left fork leg in the front and on the shock in the rear, and one on the bike’s chassis at each end, send data to an ECU (one of six now on the bike!) which determines the appropriate levels of damping front and rear given the relative positional data received from these accelerometers, along with parameters such as road speed, braking, and ride mode chosen. Changing the ride mode now changes the baseline damping settings of the suspension, and the upper and lower limits of damping within which the Skyhook system will refine these settings. In case you’re wondering, the name “Skyhook” is meant to evoke an image of the bike being suspended from a hook in the sky (presumably with apologies to Daniel Dennett).

2013 Diavel

The changes to the Diavel line include the addition of two new variants, the Dark and the Strada. The Dark is a matte black version available at an MSRP $1300 less than the standard Diavel, but with no functional downgrades. Given the popularity of the color, this might be the most popular model even without the lower price. The Strada, on the other hand, is a Diavel set-up for touring (are you seeing a pattern here?) with the addition of a windshield, repositioned bars (.6 inch up, 2 plus inches closer), plusher seat, passenger backrest, revised grab rails and passenger footrests, power outlets, heated grips, and saddlebags. The entire package is far less likely to prompt a reaction of “I’m not getting on the back of that thing” from your significant other. Finally, the black Carbon is no more, and the standard bike is available in red or blue, both with a white “Corse” stripe and white wheels. The blue one reminds me of a Shelby Cobra.

2013 Panigale R

As usual, Ducati is releasing an ultra-high-end “R” version of its new 1199 Panigale superbike for well-heeled Ducatisti and superbike teams (especially its own) hoping to use titanium conrods and an adjustable swingarm pivot on their racebike. A lighter flywheel, DLC coated valvetrain, and the Ti rods will allow faster and higher revving (the rev limit is 12000 rpm, up 500). Along with the typical carbon fiber bits and pieces the bike also has an aluminum gas tank, part of which is left exposed with only a clear coat. Where is the touring version, you ask? Maybe next year.



November 2012

By: Kurt Hertel

For 2013, Kawasaki is employing a strategy they first used a decade ago, but with a twist. From 2003-2006, Kawasaki offered for sale two different “600”-class sportbikes the ZX-6R, and the ZX-6RR. Kawasaki upped the displacement of the R to 636ccs by increasing the bore from 66mm to 68 mm, while adding to their lineup a homologation special RR model of the more traditional 599cc and far lower production numbers. Aside from displacement, a more track-oriented (read stiffer) suspension, a slipper clutch (a street first, if memory serves), mods to the intake side of the head, and a mounting boss for a steering damper, the bikes were pretty much identical. The stronger engine, especially in the midrange, and softer suspension, made the R model a much better street bike than either the RR or the previous R model. In fact, the 636 was probably the best 600-class bike at the time, so much so that it has become something of a cult-bike. It is one of the few ten-year-old Japanese sportbikes for which we still receive requests.

Presumably Kawasaki knows of the original 636’s popularity, and intends to capitalize on it with the new 2013 ZX636. This time around however, there is no 599cc version accompanying the 636 to market, meaning no supersport racing of a 2013 Kawasaki, although I’m unaware of anything to prevent anyone from racing a 2009-2012 version. In Europe, the 2012 bike will be sold alongside the 636 as a ‘13 with only a graphics update. From the perspective of a street rider, racing class displacement limits are wholly arbitrary anyway. In fact, for my purposes a displacement of somewhere between 600cc and 1000cc is ideal for a streetbike with sporting intent (hello? Suzuki?), but the lack of a top-level racing class in this range combined with the amount of marketing yen the manufacturers spend on racing has focused development on these two displacements, regardless of what might be the best displacement for the street. If it weren’t for the legacy of the GSXR750 as the first real sportbike for the street and the value to Suzuki of that legacy, it probably wouldn’t exist either. The handling of a 600 with the mid-range of a 750 would be the goal, and while the former is achieved, the latter is a closer-run thing than you might think.

The midrange focus of street riding led Kawasaki to up the displacement of the ZX-6R by increasing the stroke, rather than the bore as in 2003. In addition, to increase the bore size would require a wider motor, while the larger pistons would increase the amount of reciprocating mass inside the engine, partially defeating the stated purpose of retaining the handling of a 600. This also explains why Kawasaki didn’t increase displacement even more, as to do so would inevitably increase mass. As it is the non-ABS 636 weighs a kilo more than the 2012 ZX-6R. ABS adds an additional 2 kilos. The ports are reshaped to improve flow, and now only one injector per cylinder is used instead of two, saving weight and making room for a larger airbox. The decreased fuel flow one might expect from the deletion of four injectors was offset by increasing fuel flow through the use of more finely atomizing injectors. Camshaft timing and lift have been optimized for the larger displacement, while the compression ratio has been reduced slightly.

The 636 has a new, 700 gram lighter clutch with a slipper function and an assist to reduce lever effort. Also reducing effort is the fact that the new unit only requires 3 springs instead of 6. The new 636 also receives the KTRC traction control system currently offered on the ZX-10R, the first to appear on a Japanese middleweight. This system offers three different levels of intervention, with level 3 being the highest level ( for low traction situations like wet pavement), and level 1 being the lowest. The system samples wheel speeds and throttle and gear positions one thousand times per second, to determine if power should be cut. If so, in levels 1 and 2, this is done by retarding ignition, while in level 3, fuel/air can also be cut if necessary. The system can also be turned off, although the default position is on, so if one turns off the bike, the system will automatically be functional upon restart. The 636 also has two power modes, low and full, like KTRC switchable via a rocker switch on the left clip-on. Full power mode does what it says on the tin, while low power mode softens throttle response and reduces peak power by up to 20%, but changes nothing below 10,000 rpm.

While the frame and swingarm carryover from last year, the fork is an updated Showa Big Piston fork, now called Separate Function (or SFF-BP in Kawasaki’s acronym-speak) because preload is controlled on only the left leg, and damping on the right. All adjustments are now made on the tops of the fork legs, whereas the previous units had their preload adjusters on the bottom. The front brake calipers are new as well; monoblock Nissins said to be lighter and more rigid. As mentioned, the bike is available with the KIBS ABS system, which is also said to also help reduce rear wheel lift under hard braking.

When I rode this bike, it had been a couple of years since I had ridden a middleweight sportbike in anger, and even this was a street ride, not a track excursion. That being the case, I turned off the KTRC, as I am far too old/smart/scared to ride hard enough on the street to get the benefit of traction control. Full power mode did seem appropriate however. Accordingly, my first impression was “Why would I ever need more motor?” This bike pulls hard enough even at 7000 rpm to immediately make me think of how much a ticket would cost, and is an order of magnitude (or two) faster than a 750 racebike I owned 25 years ago. I expected this of course; the world has moved on. What I didn’t expect was how smooth and refined the bike is. The power delivery is very linear and smooth, and I felt little or no vibration at any rpm. The fueling also seemed spot-on, with none of the abruptness I’ve experienced on fuel-injected bikes (admittedly a couple years older now) especially just off idle. The biggest (and most pleasant) surprises though were the front end feel and the front brake. The fork was compliant and forgiving, while remaining very controlled and smooth (there’s that word again) with very little dive on braking. And these brakes are as good as anything I’ve used; not just powerful, but with excellent feel no matter how hard I got on them. I’ve used stronger brakes, but never with this kind of feel and control. The bike is even pretty roomy and comfortable for a sportbike, at least for the fifteen minutes I spent on it. My wife would kill me if I bought another motorcycle. Maybe if I bought it for her.



October 2012

By: Kurt Hertel

Kawasaki’s Ninja 250 had been without competition for 20 years or so in the quarter-liter sport bike class until the 2010 model year, when Honda introduced the CBR250R. Although the CBR is about 3 horsepower down on the little Ninja (or Ninjette as it has affectionately been known for years), the CBR’s single had better torque down low than the Ninja’s twin, and more importantly, its fuel injection resulted in much better rideability and fuel mileage than the carbureted Ninja. The CBR undoubtedly stole some sales from the previously unassailable Ninja, and Kawasaki has struck back with the Ninja 300, which is really an all new design. According to Kawasaki, 34% of the buyers of the 250 are female, and 57% of its buyers have 1 year or less of riding experience. This segment is more important to manufacturers than just sales numbers (although the Ninja 250 has consistently been among Kawasaki’s top 5 sellers, which is nothing to sneeze at). Kawasaki says it has been able to retain 40% of its customers moving to larger displacement bikes from the 250. The 250 class is definitely the time to instill some brand loyalty.

If you’ve ridden a recent 250 Ninja, you know that without rejetting, a long warm-up on the choke is required to get the bike to tolerate large throttle openings without stumbling from low RPMs. This is mostly due to the overly lean jetting mandated by the EPA in order to meet their emissions requirements. It felt kind of like an old, poorly-set-up set of flat-slide carbs. The CBR is, like most injected bikes, ready to ride immediately and take full throttle if one so desires. The adoption of fuel injection for the 300 Ninja has resulted in a bike that is just as rideable as the CBR, if not more so. The digital fuel injection (DFI in Kawasaki’s parlance; jeez the Japanese marketers love those acronyms) on the 300 Ninja utilizes dual throttle valves, the smaller and closer to the intake valves of which are controlled by the rider’s throttle inputs, the larger and further from the intake valves of which are ECU-controlled. The ECU will not let the rider open the throttles far enough to make the engine operate outside its design parameters, voila, no ride-ability issues, regardless of conditions, and better fuel economy. This kind of set-up can only be utilized with the computer controls that come with fuel injection. Although DFI may be the biggest change to the engine, it is by no means the only one.

As you might’ve guessed from the nomenclature, the littlest Ninja has received a displacement increase from 249cc to 296cc, an increase of 19%, while horsepower is claimed to have increased by 25%. If true, that would put it at approximately 33-34 hp. This is 8-10 more hp than the CBR250, which is huge in this class. Kawasaki claims a quarter mile time a little less than 2 seconds better than the CBR, with a top speed of 108 versus the CBR’s 91. Even just riding the bike around the parking lot, you can feel a huge difference between it and both 250s. To feed the new engine’s increased lubrication and cooling needs, the oil sump has gone from 1.7 to 2.4 liters. The (sleeveless) cylinders are lighter and designed to cool better as well. The displacement increase has come from an increase in stroke from 41.2 to 49 millimeters, with bore unchanged. Kawasaki engineers obtained this stroke increase while actually shortening the connecting rods by moving the crank journals further from the crank centerline, resulting in no increase. The crankshaft has been rebalanced to decrease vibrations, and the crank journals are now made from a harder material for increased durability. Another anti-vibe strategy used is rubber engine mounting. The reduction in overall vibration is very noticeable back to back with the 250, and allowed Kawasaki to trade the old rubber topped footpegs for modern aluminum superbike-style pegs. The pistons and wrist-pins are lighter than those in the 250, and have a flatter crown to reduce compression a bit, allowing detonation-free use of regular unleaded. Larger intake valves and wider ports allow for the additional combustibles required by the larger displacement. The use of lighter reciprocating parts in the motor allowed retention of the old bike’s 13,000 rpm redline, notwithstanding the increased mean piston speed produced by the increased stroke.

The increase in torque also required a new clutch. While they were at it, Kawasaki added assist and slipper functions, allowing the use of fewer and lighter clutch springs, which in turn resulted in 25% less force required at the lever while still handling the additional torque. This is useful in a bike with so many women in its target market. While ground clearance has been increased by .4 ier at the junction with the tank. The new frame rails are further apart and made of gusseted high-tensile steel, increasing torsional and longitudinal rigidity dramatically, which shows in the more of-a-piece feeling from the new bike. The increased frame rigidity allowed the use of softer spring rates and revised damping front and rear for comfort without giving up control. The new Kawasaki Air Management System (KAMS, there they go again with the acronyms) directs cooling air from the radiator downward and away from the rider while the hot air from around the engine is also directed away from the rider. Shifter feel and engagement has been improved by the use of a change for a piston cam to a roller-type. Also available for the first time on the smallest Ninja are anti-lock brakes, which cost 4 pounds and $500.00. The styling has also been revamped, looking very similar (intentionally so I’m certain) to the ZXes 6, 10, and 14. The displacement is nowhere to be seen on the bodywork, a strategy Kawasaki adopted starting with the 2008 facelift to the 250. Overall, the look and feel is much more like that of a full-sized sportbike. In fact, the only potential downside I can see for the Ninja 300 is the possibility that first time buyers might put off an upgrade an extra year because this bike is so capable. The price has increased marginally, but given the raft of improvements and new features, still represents good value at a base MSRP of $4799.00.



September 2012

By: Kurt Hertel

Touring has always been the same as any other kind of riding for me, it just happens over more than one day. Riding was always about finding the twist-est road on the map, riding to it on the twist-est roads between me and it, and riding it as fast as possible, maybe two or three times. “Touring” just meant that the road was more than one day away. I recently had the chance to revisit a trip I took 5 or 6 years ago. The first time I was alone, and covered the distance in 3 days. This time I was with my wife (on her own bike), and we covered the distance in 5 days of riding. The additional time allowed me to actually see the places through which we passed. When I returned home from the first trip, I had a hard time describing what I had seen, because my head was down and my vision was impaired by a red mist, the result of trying to cover as much distance as I could at as high a speed as possible. I knew the scenery where I had been was stunning, but it all kind of ran together, and I had a hard time remembering any specific details. Now I know what I missed.

Our first day was from Denver to Gunnison. Since one of my wife’s favorite roads is U.S. 24 between Minturn and Leadville, the original plan was to buzz down I-70, then south on 24 to U.S. 50, then west over Monarch Pass to Gunnison. A sinkhole on U.S. 24 just south of I-70 resulted in a month-long closure of that route, so we instead took U.S. 285 to Pine Junction then south on County Road 126 and CO 67 to Woodland Park. This route passes through a couple of wildfire burn areas, including 2002’s Hayman fire, the largest wildfire in recent Colorado history. These burn areas are stark (and beautiful in their own way) reminders of what a destructive force fire can be. Oh, I almost forgot, the road is awesome too. At Florissant, about 14 miles west of Woodland Park on 24, County Road 1 cuts south, then a right on County Road 11 leads to a roller-coaster of a road taking you the 15 or so miles to U.S 50. At least when we were there, this road was utterly devoid of other traffic, which made it pretty cool. (If you miss the turn on 11, you end up in Cripple Creek. As they say, don’t ask me how I know.) After stopping to sit out a downpour and grab a bite in Salida, we headed up and over Monarch Pass, where we apparently caught back up to the storm we thought we waited out in Salida. At the bottom of Monarch Pass the rain became sideways, as the wind picked up to 40-50 mph. My wife was getting angrier and angrier as we went on with no letup in the rain or the wind. She was leaned over at 15-20 degrees while going straight just to counteract the wind. When we rolled into Gunnison we were wet and cold and very glad that the heater in our room warmed up quickly. The storm did, however, create an inspiring sunset. We had breakfast the next morning at the Tic Toc Diner, a funky little diner on Hwy 50 right in Gunnison, where the food was simple and good, the service excellent, and the décor all clocks. I highly recommend it if you’re in Gunnison. At Blue Mesa Reservoir just west of Gunnison, CO Hwy 149 heads south eventually paralleling the Lake Fork of the Gunnison River to Lake City. The 117 mile stretch of149 between Blue Mesa Reservoir and South Fork is designated as the Silver Thread Scenic Byway because of all the mining camps that existed in this area in the past. Many old mining structures still exist at higher elevations and are reachable with jeeps and off-highway vehicles. Lake City is famous as the site of the Alferd Packer massacre and his subsequent trial for murder and cannibalism (there’s a sign marking the site of the massacre). After Lake City, 149 heads up and over Slumgullion and Spring Creek Passes, where the Byway really lives up to its designation. Slumgullion Pass is claimed to be the steepest paved road in Colorado (a point I would not argue) with numerous switchbacks and amazing vistas around every corner. The pass takes its name from the Slumgullion earthflow (or mudslide, which supposedly resembles the stew of the same name,) which dammed the Lake Fork of the Gunnison 700 years ago, forming Lake San Cristobal, Colorado’s second largest natural lake. After crossing the Continental Divide at Spring Creek Pass, Hwy 149 descends into historic Creede, a silver mining town which had a population of around 10,000 souls at one time, but now has less than 500 permanent residents. I couldn’t stop looking up while in Creede, as the town is hard against very steep rock walls. After Creede, Hwy 149 picks up the course of the Rio Grande, the south fork of which starts at …(wait for it)… South Fork. We say farewell to Hwy 149 to head west on U.S. Hwy160 toward Pagosa Springs and Durango over Wolf Creek Pass. This pass has relatively recently become a different proposition than it used to be. It used to be a very steep, narrow, and intimidating high mountain pass, subject to closure due to weather with very little warning and at almost any time of year.(After all, Wolf Creek Ski Area averages almost 400 inches of snow per year). Now, this pass, while still very steep, (7-8 degrees most of the way) is four lanes all the way .It looks like an interstate by comparison, and the temptation to go fast is tempered far less by the fear of death. The scenery is still breathtaking, however. The remainder of the day was spent on U.S. 160 through Bayfield and Durango, and on to Cortez, where we were to spend the next two nights. This stretch of road is very pretty and fun, but after where we had been all day, it was a little anti-climactic. We pulled into our motel only to find this:

This would become more relevant after our next day’s ride. Our next day was one I had been looking forward to since I planned our route, while my wife was filled with trepidation. This was the day we were going to travel the San Juan Skyway, a 240 mile vaguely rectangular loop that includes four high mountain passes, and some of the most spectacular scenery anywhere. My wife is very intimidated by open drop-offs without guard rails or other separation between the road and cliff, even if on foot, almost feeling a sense of vertigo. One of the passes over which the San Juan Skyway leads is Red Mountain Pass, which, if you done traversed, with very high, vertical and unprotected drop-offs very close to the road’s edge. For my wife, this pass was to be more about challenging her own fears than sightseeing. The day started with us retracing the end of our previous day by going east on Hwy 160 to Durango, then north on U.S. 550. The highway runs parallel to the Hermosa Cliffs to the west on the long climb up to the summit of Coal Bank Pass, the first of the triumvirate of passes that come fast and furious on this eastern-most north-south leg of the Skyway’s rectangle. The forty mile stretch from the beginning of the climb up Coal Bank Pass all the way to Ouray, which includes Molas and Red Mountain Passes, makes up the most spectacular road I’ve ever been on. While I was grinning beneath my helmet at the beauty, my wife was trying to keep from crying because of how afraid she was, especially, I found out in Ouray while we ate lunch, when she saw the sign informing us of the seven miles remaining to the summit of Red Mountain Pass, when she thought we had already passed the summit and were on our way down. We shopped for a while in Ouray to allow some decompression to take place before hitting the road again, continuing north on Hwy 550 as far as Ridgeway, where the Skyway turns west on CO 62; the top of the rectangle, as it were. When we were here, it was pretty much deserted, and other than the sound of the bikes and the wind, almost preternaturally quiet. After crossing Dallas Divide, we had a distant view of Mt. Sneffels to the south. After about 23 miles, Hwy 62 ends at CO Hwy 145. Going southeast toward Telluride, this starts the western leg of the Skyway’s rectangle.

After Telluride, Hwy 145 starts climbing again, up and over Lizard Head Pass, and the road from Telluride to Rico is absolutely stunning, even in foggy, rainy conditions, in fact maybe it was even better that way. From Rico along the Dolores River the deciduous trees lend an almost New England feel all the way to the town of the same name. From Dolores we head back to our motel in Cortez, where it would have been nice if the saloon across the parking lot had not been padlocked, but a quick trip to a sub shop with a stop at a liquor store on the way back solved that problem. I knew the next day would be a lot less stressful for my wife, and also suspected it would be her favorite day of the entire trip. In the morning we headed north on U.S. Hwy 491, which was renumbered from 666 in 2003. The satanic connotations of that number, along with the fact that the section of U.S. 666 in New Mexico had a persistently high death rate caused it to be called by some “The Devil’s Highway,” and caused some of those who believe in such things to believe it was cursed. A more prosaic reason for the renumbering was the fact that those same connotations resulted in a constant problem with theft of the highway number signs, which are probably hanging in garages all over the four corners region, and maybe beyond. Just a few miles short of the Utah line, is Dove Creek, which bills itself as the Pinto Bean Capital of the World. Not bad for a town of 700 to be the World Capital of anything, I suppose.

Just west of Dove Creek, we turn north on Colorado Hwy 141. Shortly thereafter we see what must be the Sunflower Capital of the World (so there, Kansas) with sunflowers as far as the eye can see in all directions, all facing the morning sun to the east. Just past the town of Egnar (using the word town generously) Hwy 141 drops down to the Dolores (from the Latin for sorrows, as in “dolorous”) River at what is called on maps Slick Rock, but there appears to be no “there” there. About 5 miles of gloriously twisty road follow through huge red boulders and rock formations. It is positively otherworldly, and it must be seen because I can’t describe it. My wife is still talking about “Slick Rock.” The road then straightens out into Dry Creek Basin, a stretch of road that gives new meaning to the expression “the middle of nowhere.” We passed maybe five cars and trucks in the thirty miles between the wide spot in the road called Slick Rock and Naturita, but its isolation is part of its beauty. After Naturita, Hwy 141 heads northwest along first the San Miguel River and then the Dolores again. This is known as the Unaweep/Tabeguache Scenic Byway, a red-rock canyon that gets deeper and deeper the further north you go until near Gateway you are riding surrounded by red mesas that appear to be thousands of feet high. Although completely different, it rivals the San Juan Skyway in its scenic beauty. This part of our trip from Slick Rock to Gateway generated more thumbs-ups and points off into the distance per mile from my wife than any other section, as I suspected it would. I think it is also where she really “got it;” where she realized how much fun life is, and how much more beautiful the scenery is, from the seat of a motorcycle. After stopping for lunch at the Gateway Canyon resort, we covered the remaining 44 miles of the Byway northeast to Whitewater, skirting Grand Junction on the east side of town, to get on I-70 eastbound so we could go up and over the Grand Mesa on our way to Cedaredge, our stop for the night.

The Grand Mesa was magical, as it always is, although the temperature dropped probably 40 degrees between I-70 and the top of the Grand Mesa. Damned microclimate! By the time we got to Cedaredge, we were both energized and exhausted, a continuing theme on this trip. Cedaredge is an agricultural community of less than 2500 situated just south of the Grand Mesa that produces peaches, apples, and wine from local vineyards. They have an exhibit in Cedaredge called Pioneer Town, which is essentially a recreation of the buildings from a turn-of-the-century town, along with period-correct contents of these buildings. Included are a one-room-schoolhouse, a marshal’s office, doctor’s office, barber shop, clothing store, silos, etc… It is very engaging for someone interested in history, or anyone who just likes old stuff, and is obviously the result of much effort. After spending the evening in the pool and hot tub of our hotel, conveniently untroubled by anyone else, we went to sleep knowing we had to go back to the big city the next day.

As always, we didn’t want to go home, and even as far west as Silverthorne, where we stopped for lunch, the solitude we’d enjoyed the entire trip and which had kind of become a leitmotif for us, was replaced with the bustle of people who had to get somewhere. By the time we came down out of the mountains, we were both ready (though still too tied to our day-to-day life to be willing) to turn around and go right back to Cedaredge or any one of a number of other places we’d been. Now that I’d learned that you don’t always need to ride like your hair is on fire to have f fun, and my wife had learned how riding in a car is like watching the world go by on television compared to riding through it, maybe we will someday have the opportunity to go and not worry about coming back.



By: Kurt Hertel

Riding a motorcycle involves the control and use of numerous different gyroscopic effects, or at least successfully riding does so. These gyroscopic effects, along with inertial effects and the righting effect due to trail, are what keep the bike upright and stable when traveling in a straight line,(allowing us to proclaim, “Look Ma, no hands”) and are also what needs to be overcome in order to turn the machine.

Inertial effects are a product of the phenomenon described by Newton’s first law of motion, i.e. objects in motion tend to stay in motion in the same direction and with the same speed unless acted upon by some other force. The amount of force required in order to change the speed and/or direction of an object in motion is proportional to both the velocity and mass of the object. The effect of velocity explains why a side wind will affect one’s trajectory far more at 10 mph than at 100 mph, all other things being equal. It also explains why turning a bike traveling at 100 mph requires so much more pressure on the bars than turning a bike traveling at 20mph. Finally, this also accounts for the fact that far more motorcycles are damaged in parking lots and driveways than on freeways. The effect of mass explains why that side wind will affect a heavier bike less than it will a lighter bike, assuming the same aerodynamic profile, that is to say that the effect on the direction and/or velocity of an object in motion from an outside force is inversely proportional to the object’s mass and it’s starting velocity. So Newton’s first law can be restated as “ A fat guy on a Gold Wing at 100 mph is hard to deflect.”

One gyroscopic effect relevant to our examination arises when a body with a spin momentum around a particular axis is put into spin motion around a second axis. This creates a force acting around a third axis perpendicular to the first two. The classic example given of this effect which is very helpful in visualizing it is that of holding a bicycle wheel with one’s hands holding the ends of the axles ( as if the arms are forks). If the wheel is spinning around its axle with forward momentum (the top of the wheel going away from the person holding the wheel), an attempt to turn the wheel clockwise around its vertical axis will create a resultant force that tilts the top of the wheel to the left. This is exactly what happens when we countersteer a motorcycle; when we turn the spinning front wheel through the handlebars and forks to the right on its vertical axis, we create a force that leans the front wheel and therefore the whole motorcycle, to the left, or away from the direction in which the wheel was originally turned. This effect is called the steering moment. This force resisting turning increases with the speed with which the steering input is made, the velocity at which the wheel is spinning (which equates to road speed as long as the front wheel is on the ground), and with the mass of the spinning wheel, especially the proportion of the wheel’s mass that is at its circumference versus at its center. (This latter variable accounts for how dramatically steering is quickened/eased by the installation of ultra-lightweight wheels, such as those made of carbon fiber. With such wheels, the weight of the hubs is not so dramatically different from the weight of the hubs on standard wheels, the greatest difference in weight is at the rim where it matters the most.) As with the inertial effects above, once again we see that the stabilizing effect increases with road speed.

The second gyroscopic effect is known as the roll moment. This effect occurs when the wheels are spinning forward and the bike leans to one side without the bars being turned, the roll moment tending to make the bike turn around an axis that is perpendicular to the ground, or vertical (often called yaw) in the same direction in which the bike was leaned. If the bike is leaned to the right, the roll moment tends to right the bike by “yawing” in a clockwise direction. A third, called the yaw moment, which tends to right the bike when the wheels are spinning forward and also rotating around the radius of a curve by tending to keep the bike vertical. One final gyroscopic effect that provides some stabilizing effect is that of the rotating parts of the engine, especially an engine whose crankshaft is transverse, or across the frame parallel to the axes of the wheels, usually rotating in the same direction as the wheels. Off- road riders and trials riders are very familiar with the technique of using increased engine revs to provide stability, especially at very low speeds down a rough surface, such as down a flight of stairs or a rocky wet trail. It is also easier to keep a bike balanced when stationary when the engine has some revs versus idling. The counter-rotating crankshaft used in MV Agusta’s new F3 is an attempt to make the bike easier to turn by eliminating this source of stability. Your local wheelie-merchant will also testify as to how much easier it is to maintain the balance point if the front wheel is spinning than not.

Each of these gyroscopic phenomena, producing and resulting from, as they do, rotational effects, go on to produce further gyroscopic effects, which we might call secondary, tertiary, and so on, however they and their interrelationships are far too complex for my non-engineer faculties to understand, let alone to explain. Suffice it to say that the faster the bike goes, the more the sum total of the gyroscopic effects produced result in stability, keeping the bike upright and going straight, and making steady-state cruising down a smooth level surface about the easiest thing one can do on a motorcycle, almost like the bike could do it itself. In fact, if you’ve ever seen a bike “ghost-riding” after its rider has fallen off or bailed out, you have seen a bike doing exactly that, which it will continue to do until it hits something, loses momentum, or something like a bump upsets its equilibrium with no rider to regain it. In fact, riding a motorcycle is a process consisting of continually upsetting, and then regaining, the bikes equilibrium depending on the directional requirements of one’s location.

The righting effect of trail is a complicated phenomenon involving coefficients of friction and chassis geometry, but trail itself is a product of rake (or castor) angle of the forks, the radius of the front wheel, and the fork offset. Fork offset on most modern street bikes is produced at the triple clamps, and is the reason that the tops of the fork tubes and the steering head form a triangle instead of three points on a line. Road bicycle forks produce offset by their curvature. Trail is defined as the amount by which the point of tire to ground contact lies behind, or trails, the point where an extension of the steering axis intercepts the ground. The righting effect of trail can be demonstrated by reference to a castor on a grocery cart. As long as the cart is going forward, and the wheel is in contact with the ground creating friction, the wheel will automatically right itself, returning to point straight ahead even if momentarily thrown off by some other force. It is the righting effect of trail that does this. If you have ever gotten an older cart that has a wheel that never points forward and seemingly points in all different directions haphazardly, it is usually a lack of contact between the wheel and the ground that causes it to not right itself. Similarly, it is usually a combination of a lack of weight on the front of the motorcycle, from acceleration or a suspension imbalance, and a bumpy/uneven surface that causes headshake on a motorcycle, which is the motorcycle equivalent of that goofy wheel on the cart spinning ’round or oscillating randomly. (Maybe Ohlins could make some little tiny dampers?)

All other variables being equal, increasing rake angle increases trail, and therefore stability. This is why cruisers and touring bikes which favor stability over agility, have more rake angle than sportbikes, which require the rider to overcome the stability that results from the high speeds at which they tend to be operated, and so favor agility. A larger radius front wheel also will increase trail, thus the 21 inchers used on modern dirt bikes, which improve greatly their stability in the rough terrain that is their bailiwick. In fact, in very rough terrain, trail can change repeatedly and very quickly, even becoming negative. This is why dirt bike plastic is easily and cheaply replaced.


The Sound of a Motorcycle is Music to my Ears, Also so is Music

July 2012

By: Kurt Hertel

Music has long been available, standard or as an option, on many motorcycles. Usually, however, these bikes have been large and expensive full-boat tourers like the Honda Gold Wing, Harley Ultra Classic or Kawasaki Voyager. Even on these machines, ambient noise, especially from he wind, makes hearing the music at anything approaching highway speeds problematic, at least for me. In any event, I’ve not yet been in a position where I had the wherewithal to buy such a machine, nor could I take enough time to make such a machine worthwhile. But since I’m of the opinion that life is usually better with musical accompaniment, I’ve spent thirty years trying to effectively listen to music while riding.

My first attempt was with a Sony Walkman (remember them?) cassette player and the earbuds it came with. That combination only allowed me to hear a buzzing noise (presumably from the ignition) the pitch of which would rise and fall with rpm. I assume this was from a lack of shielding on the plug wires and the headphone cord or some other such combination, but it effectively drowned out the music. I’ve often claimed that the sound of some motorcycle or other was “music to my ears” but this was going too far. Ironically, there were other problems with the earbuds at the speaker end of the setup that I wouldn’t discover until I got closer to a workable playback solution. My next attempt came with the advent of the portable CD player. If you have any experience with these devices, you might remember that they used batteries like a power tool, but more problematic was the tendency for them to skip with the slightest provocation, which made them practically worthless for any activity involving motion (which of course meant you could really only use them while sitting still; clearly no improvement over a non-portable CD player). I might as well have installed a turntable and carried records with me. I remember actually finding a piece of foam rubber and cutting it to fit the compartment of my tank bag (which affixed to the bike with straps of course). Next I carved the 5x5 square s hape of the player out of the foam rubber, thinking that placing the player in this little womb would cushion the blows to the player from bumps in the road and stop it from skipping. Of course this failed miserably, leaving me with constantly skipping music, a tank bag with no actual storage, and given that lack of storage, room to carry only one or two CDs that I could listen to while they skipped. Another abject failure. Then came the mp3 player, which I discovered quite late because of my advancing years and the resulting lack of currency in modern information technology. T he idea that I could carry 25 CDs worth of music in a machine the size of a Zippo, which could not skip because it was a solid state flash drive, was an absolute revelation (cue a shaft of blinding light coming through the clouds and a choir). Now my preparation for a ride included picking a playlist and downloading it. Thinking more is always better , I bought a 40 gig hard-drive based player, and spent a week loading all of my CDs onto my computer and then downloading to the player. At my first stop on my first ride thereafter I dropped the player on the ground, learning in the process how fragile a hard-drive is. But while it worked it was awesome. My unfamiliarity with computers also led me to believe that the ability to download music for listening on my motorcycle was the highest and best purpose to which a computer could be put. Actually I still believe that, followed closely by looking at bikes I can’t afford on ebay.

After advancing technology finally solved the playback quandary for me, I discovered how bad the speaker end really was. Earbuds don’t block out ambient noise at all, although if they play loud enough they might drown it out, but not without terrible distortion. The tendency for the wind noise and other ambient noises produced by riding a motorcycle to drown out all other sounds (obvious if you’ve ever tried to have a conversation with a passenger at highway speeds) probably takes a back seat to the permanent hearing loss that can occur because of long-term exposure to these loud noises. The wind noise from riding a motorcycle can be at a level of 100-115dB, even with a full-face helmet. A chainsaw produces 110dB, a jackhammer 120dB. OSHA requires provision of hearing protection by employers when their employees are exposed to sound levels of 100dB for more than 2 hours a day or 115dB for more than 15 minutes, so these can be damaging noise levels, especially on an all-day ride. The answer to both the speaker end of on-bike music and the potentially damaging effects on one’s hearing of wind noise is the in-ear monitor, or IEM. These devices have been used by musicians for years to monitor their own performance on stage in real time. Unlike earbuds, these earphones actually slide into the ear canal and seal well enough to block out a lot of the ambient noise without having to be so loud as to damage one’s hearing themselves. Numerous different tips are available to customize the fit to the size and shape of a particular person’s ear canal, in fact most come with 3 or more different sizes to try. The best answer is a custom-made mold, molded to fit the contours of your ear canal and to work with your earphones. These are typically made by an audiologist and are accordingly not cheap (mine were $90, and that was ten years ago and did not include the actual earphones themselves). Custom made earplugs are also available for those of you who don’t care about having music. Whatever you choose, I encourage you to protect your hearing when you ride. Consult an audiologist for details, costs, and options. IEMs depend on a good seal in the ear canal for both fidelity and comfort. If they aren’t comfortable you won’t be able to wear them, as one’s ear canal is a context where the line between comfort and pain is very thin.

There are some caveats to this practice, however. First and foremost, of course, is that the better the attenuation of ambient noise, the less you will hear of what is going on around you, like sirens, horns, etc. Although I like to think that one can make up for that by increased visual vigilance, (they do after all issue driver’s licenses to hearing-impaired folks), I’m also sure that it does increase the risks, at least marginally. Whether that is a good trade-off or not is wholly up to you. I’ve also ridden with people who should have NO distractions, music or otherwise. If this is you, don’t do it. Secondly, I have been told twice by the local constabulary that riding with any kind of earphones is illegal. I’ve never been cited, though the warnings were issued while I was receiving speeding citations, so maybe they felt like citing me would be “ piling on.” Last but not least, the interface between your helmet and earphones complicates choosing one or both. Certain helmets will be very difficult to put on without pulling out your carefully inserted earphones, and the shape of the ear/cheek pads can force some earphones uncomfortably deep into your ears, which, if it doesn’t hurt immediately, will very shortly do so. Modular, or “flip-up” helmets make putting on and removing your helmet without dislodging your earphones easier. Also, a quieter helmet will allow you to get away with less attenuation of outside noise and less volume but still allow you to hear the music. If it’s important to you to have music while you ride, all your efforts to do so will be worthwhile. If it isn’t, you probably aren’t even reading anymore.


Honda's Going to Take You on an Adventure

June 2012

By: Kurt Hertel

Honda has announced three new models built on the same platform, the NC700X, NC700S, and the Integra maxi-scooter, the former of which is due to be released to U.S. dealers in July. While the “S” model is a middleweight naked bike, and the Integra is, as you might expect, a big scooter, (neither of which is currently scheduled to be imported to the U.S.) the NC700X is a middleweight adventure “-ish” bike, the “-ish” a necessary caveat based on its 17 inch wheels with low-profile radial tires with an obviously street-biased tread pattern, along with its 6/5.9 inch suspension travel front/rear. What is more interesting and more important than the putative category into which the bike will be pigeon-holed is the technology incorporated therein and the ways in which it differs from the design of existing motorcycles. Taking a page from automotive design (in this case, the 1.4 liter engine in a European Jazz, here known as the Fit) the 670cc laydown parallel twin is designed for low-end torque and fuel efficiency, somewhat at the expense of power. Modern engines are most efficient when operating at large throttle openings and low rpm, so the cylinders are slightly undersquare at 78mm x 80mm bore and stroke, giving a low-revving but torquey engine, with torque peaking at 4300 rpm.

This bike is designed to suit the reality that most riding is done at speeds under 90 mph and rpms under 6ooo, especially under the prosaic conditions of commuting. The rev limiter cuts in at 6500 rpm, which is distinctly car-like and about the time most modern non-cruiser motorcycles really start to accelerate hard. Honda cites the result of this design as 64 mpg, although an attempt by a U.K. magazine to ride at a reasonable pace on mostly A and B roads with some towns and some freeways, not trying to maximize mileage at the expense of performance or alternatively to ride fast, resulted in 87.8 mpg, so Honda’s claim may be a little conservative. For comparison purposes they included in the test a 2012 Kawasaki Versys, which recorded 60.8 mpg. Your mileage may vary. The only apparent concession to emotion over practicality is the use of a 270 degree crankshaft, which creates a bit of v-twin character. Interestingly, the crankshaft is forged as a 360 degree unit, then twisted 90 degrees while still at a temperature of 900 degrees C. Roller rocker arms are utilized for smoothness and reduced friction, and each cylinder has its own camshaft. Friction is also reduced by the use of a special coating on the pistons, and by reducing the number of shafts in the engine-driving the water pump directly off the camshaft, and using the balancer shaft to run the oil pump. Bore and stroke, combustion chamber shape, and valve timing have all been chosen very carefully to optimize the mixture for economy’s sake. In addition, the fueling is via one throttle-body powering two injectors which fire at different times, a production first. The laydown nature of the twin and the placement of the fuel tank under the rider (filler cap under the passenger seat) allows for a storage compartment under the ersatz tank big enough to hold a full-face helmet. Both features also create a very low cg, which should make handling easier at all speeds. Fittingly, the Versys is probably the most obvious and natural competitor to the NC700X. Both bikes are approximately 650cc parallel twin “tall-rounders” with adventure-bike looks belied by their 17-inch wheels. The standard version of the Honda has an MSRP of $6999.00, $900.00 less than the Versys’. Combined with the improved fuel mileage, the Honda will be a cheaper ownership proposition, although the Versys is by no means expensive. The question is however, even if the Honda is substantially cheaper than the Versys, on a fun per dollar basis which is the better buy? And maybe the meta-question, does it still matter in the U.S. motorcycle market, which, unlike Europe and Asia, has never really evaluated a motorcycle based upon its value as efficient transportation, but more as entertainment. This is probably due in part to the longer distances typically travelled in the U.S. and the climate, but probably more due to the relative inexpensiveness of gasoline in the U.S. compared to the rest of the world. The Versys has long been one of the most under-rated motorcycles on the U.S. market based on either the miles-per-dollar or fun-per-dollar metrics, and it remains to be seen whether the U.S. is ready to buy a bike that is so obviously aimed at satisfying the former. Motorcycle manufacturers have been the target of some criticism from environmentalists and others (although I somehow doubt that those critics are potential motorcycle buyers, even for a bike such as this) for squandering their technology on performance by building vehicles that carry only two at most and get only 25% better fuel mileage than a car. What this type of criticism fails to recognize of course is that it doesn’t matter what they build if no one buys it. Build it and they still may not come.

Given all of the above folderol, Honda’s decision to release this bike in the U.S. is not without risk, although said risk is certainly tempered by the fact that it is bound to sell well in Europe. Honda has also decided to release a version of the bike with ABS and a new, much smaller and lighter example of the dual-clutch transmission (DCT) that originally appeared on the VFR1200. That version will cost an additional $2000.00. Presumably the DCT version is designed to get some people out of cars, and also maybe to serve as kind of a scooter for motorcyclists, a practical, convenient alternative to commuting on the bike designed for poetry, but pressed into service for prose. A full line of accessories are available, including saddlebags, trunk, heated grips, center-stand, and taller screen. So far, as measured by the number of customers willing to put down a deposit, it appears that the U.S. market may be ready for a bike that appeals almost solely to the left half of our brains.


The Anniversary Editions: Suzuki's New V-Strom 650 (10th Anniversary) and the Honda CBR1000RR (20th Anniversary of the CBR 900RR)

February 2012

Suzuki’s Swiss-Army-knife-on-wheels DL650, also known as the Vstrom 650, (or the wee strom, since the DL 1000 is also back in production for 2012) is new and improved for 2012. Although none of the changes are earth-shattering, cumulatively they add up to what is effectively an all-new bike. Already one of Suzuki’s best-sellers even with a face only its designer could love, the new bike, at least to my eyes, is much better-looking than the previous model. Of course Suzuki cites numerous functional benefits such as the increased durability of the black resin body panels that have replaced the previous model’s painted plastic panels; or the improved mass-centralization resulting from pushing in the nose and tail sections and reducing the exhaust overhang, but the improvement in looks more than justifies any changes, notwithstanding any functional benefits. The new bike is narrower (by 5mm), lighter (by 13 lbs.), has more ground clearance (10mm), and a longer wheelbase (5mm) than the 2011 model. Part of the reduction in curb weight is unfortunately a result of a half-gallon reduction in fuel capacity, although Suzuki claims no loss of range due to a 10% increase in fuel mileage. The increased ground clearance along with a concomitant increase in suspension travel (.4 inch) are due to increases in preload at the front and spring rate at the rear, which also improve feel and bump absorption. The predictable inc of the suspension changes and a 25% increase in the amount of seat padding, has been offset by making the bike narrower at the tank/seat junction. The ABS system (still not switchable) is now 1.5 pounds lighter, and wind protection from the adjustable screen is improved. Additional weight is saved by the use of a resin luggage rack instead of aluminum. Optional accessories include lower (by .7 inch) and higher (by.8 inch) seats, hand guards, heated grips, centerstand, power outlet, lower cowling, chainguard, and two different pannier options; resin cases from Hepco and Becker and aluminum ones from SW-Motech. An all-new digital dash includes a gear position indicator, ambient temperature display, A/B fuel consumption readout, and a freeze-warning indicator, which options can be toggled through via the a switch on the left bar.

The engine in the previous model was based on that from the SV650, which has always been a peach. That engine was improved for the Gladius, however, and the new DL’s motor is based on that in the Gladius. The new motor is more powerful throughout the rev range, while revving faster and vibrating less. The oil cooler from the old bike (which was both ugly and exposed to damage from rocks and debris) has been replaced by a liquid-cooled heat exchanger located under the oil filter, an elegant piece of engineering of which I expect to see more in other applications. Overall, Suzuki has included a myriad of improvements for only $200.00 more than last year. Also new for 2012 is an Adventure version of the DL650, which includes engine guards, a touring windscreen, and the aforementioned aluminum panniers, any of which can be purchased separately for the base model. And did I mention that it’s way better looking than the old bike?

Another bike that has received a host of incremental improvements is Honda’s flagship litre bike, the CBR1000RR. 2012 is the 20th anniversary of the introduction of the CBR900RR, a bike that really changed the way open-class sportbikes were built. At the time, the big dogs were the GSX-R 1100, the FZR1000RR, and the ZX11, all sport-tourers by comparison. In their company, the CBR900RR felt like a 600 with litre-class power, which was not too far off. The CBR900RR opened the door for all of the current class of superbikes. You might think that Honda would celebrate this anniversary with the introduction of a brand new litre bike, but instead they have made small changes aimed at improving ridability. While Honda has not jumped on the traction control bandwagon, (although the new VFR1200 will have such a feature) the fuel mapping has been revised to improve the linearity of throttle response, especially at smaller throttle openings and just off idle. New 12-spoke wheels (which are way better-looking than the previous wheels- are you sensing a pattern here?) improve rigidity and make them more consistently rigid at different points on the wheel, but add an extra pound. Honda maintains, however, that the weight increase is at the hub, minimizing the effect on rotational inertia. The new bike has a “layered” fairing, similar to the concept behind that of the VFR1200, the idea being to provide a larger still-air pocket for the rider and more effectively extract heated air from the engine compartment. The nose of the bike is much pointier than the 2008 redesign, which was criticized at its introduction for being too flat. The instruments are all new as well, now utilizing a bar-graph tach that brings to mind that of the RC51, although this version is programmable for four different modes. The new dash also includes a gear indicator, a lap timer, a fastest lap recall mode, a programmable shift light, a fuel-consumption readout, and a highest revs-reached function, which we used to call a tell-tale back in the dark-ages.

The suspension is new front and rear as well. The CBR finally gets Showa’s Big-Piston fork, which first appeared on the 2009 ZX6-R. It is somewhat ironic that it took so long for Honda’s top sportbike to get these forks, as last I heard, Showa is owned by Honda. Instead of using a separate cartridge inside the fork legs where the damping orifices and adjusters are, the entire inside of the fork legs are the equivalent of a cartridge. This allows the use of a much larger volume of fluid at a lower pressure, resulting in more precise action, especially at the beginning of the stroke, smoother damping action, and more effective adjustment. The damping adjusters on the BPF are on the top of the fork leg, the compression damping adjusters having traded places with the preload adjusters, which are usually set and forget anyway. Showa’s new “Balance-Free” shock sees its first use on the 2012 CBR100RR. This shock is similar in concept to Ohlins’ TTX unit, separating rebound and compression damping into two different compartments, eliminating the pressure equalization, or “balance,” that can occur right at the transition between compression and rebound and vice-versa. Reports indicate that this is especially effective when the bike gets light, extending the suspension, when cresting a rise. The CBR1000RR has always been known as the “user-friendly” litre-bike, and that appears likely to continue with these most recent updates.


DUCATI’S LEAP OF FAITH - 2012 Ducati 1199 Panigale

December 2011

Since 1987, all of Ducati’s superbikes have been a development of the 851, their first liquid-cooled 4-valve per cylinder machine. Many improvements have been made to that original design, but the basic elements have not changed. Ninety-degree L-twin, desmodromic valve actuation, belt-driven camshafts, dry clutch, trellis frame, and from the 916 on, under-seat exhaust; all iconic Ducati, but only the first two remain, and those two were not going to change no matter what. Ducati is a company that has always been very strongly tied to history and tradition, but in order to remain competitive in today’s world, the goals for this project were weight loss of 10 kg and a horsepower gain of 25. Meeting these goals required a clean-sheet design jettisoning many traditional Ducati design features, and for the new 1199 Panigale Ducati has done just that. This bike is revolutionary, not evolutionary.


As an example, there was no way to meet the weight-loss target with a traditional steel-trellis frame. The trellis frame is perhaps the most recognizable of all the features left behind in this redesign. Non-enthusiasts who have no idea what a dry clutch is would recognize the difference between the old and new in this regard. Taking a cue from the design of their Moto GP bike, the engine is now the main load-bearing member, supporting a monocoque aluminum airbox/steering-head bracket at the front, with a minimalist subframe to support rider and passenger weight, footpeg brackets, shock mount, and the swingarm all bolted directly to the engine at the rear. Fully half of the weight loss from that of the 1198 is due to the elimination of the trellis frame. Numerous other steps were taken in order to make the bike as light as possible. The head covers, oil sump, and clutch covers are magnesium, and the fuel tank and fork tubes are aluminum. While an aluminum fuel tank was available on the 1198S/Sp/R, it is now stock on even the base model, and the aluminum fork tubes on the 50 millimeter Marzocchis are a production first. The battery and the new-design Brembo Monoblocs are smaller and the calipers are 7% lighter, and the wheels and subframe are also lighter than last year’s pieces. All in all, 22 pounds are saved from the curb weight of the Panigale over that of the 1198, even with an increase in fuel capacity of 1.5 liters, which adds about 3 pounds of fuel.

Ducati’s superbikes have always had a committed riding position, with a wrist-heavy stretch from seat to bars. That dimension is down by 1.25 inches, with the bars .375 inches higher and a little over a half-inch wider than before. This should make for a more comfortable riding position, especially on the street. The Panigale’s wheelbase is a smidge longer than the 1198’s, and it has a bit more trail. Although one would expect this to result in a slower-steering machine, Ducati say this effect is counteracted by the weight loss and wider bars. The Panigale engine is rotated rearward 6 degrees from the 1198, allowing it to be placed 1.26 inches further forward without the radiator fouling the front fender at full compression of the fork. In combination with the more forward seating position of the rider, this allows a 52/48 unladen front/rear weight distribution (from 50/50) which is 50/50 with rider. The swingarm is almost 1.6 inches longer than before, improving traction under acceleration and reducing rear-wheel lift under hard braking. A wider steering head allows the brake discs to ride outboard of the wheel edges, improving cooling. The new linkage for the Sachs shock allows the rider to easily choose between either flat or progressive rate rear suspension action, especially useful for the owner who goes from street with a passenger/luggage to track day. The Panigale is also equipped with a 200 millimeter rear tire, increasing traction and allowing more lean angle.


While the changes to the rest of the Panigale are revolutionary, they pale compared to the changes made to the engine. A twenty-five horsepower increase in one model year is a tall order, especially to an engine that is already pretty highly tuned. The new engine, dubbed “Superquadro” by Ducati (which is Italian for oversquare) certainly lives up to its name, with a bore/stroke ratio of 1.84 to 1(from 1.56 to 1 in the 1198). Of course this required a concomitant reduction in stroke to just 60.8 millimeters in order to maintain the sub-1200cc displacement required by superbike-racing rules. While making an engine more oversquare is a good way to raise its rev-limit without causing unreliability due to excessive mean piston speeds, such an oversquare design can cause other problems, especially in an engine with a high compression ratio. The resulting large-circumference, but very flat and thin combustion chamber shape makes consistent, efficient combustion problematic. Maintaining the necessary intake charge velocity and imparting some lasting turbulence to that charge are difficult, especially at lower rpm levels. One way to help maintain combustion efficiency is a richer air/fuel mixture, the negative emissions consequences of which Ducati addresses with a new air-injection system. Ducati has learned much about running very oversquare dimensions in Moto GP, including the precise electronic engine controls necessary for efficient operation of an engine with these parameters. The extreme 112 millimeter bore also allows for larger valves, improving breathing. The intakes are titanium, allowing the larger size without an increase in inertia.

Full ride-by-wire throttle actuation allows different riding modes, in this case Race, Sport, and Wet, giving 195 horsepower (high, referring to throttle response), 195 (low), and 120, respectively. The Panigale motor, for the first time since the old bevel-drive engines, does not use a cambelt, instead using a combination chain/gear timing mechanism, which should obviate the need for periodic belt replacement, reducing the costs of ownership. Reducing the costs of ownership even further is the fact that this new engine doubles the valve lash check intervals to 15,000 miles, presumably through the use of the same harder valve-seat material as is used on the Diavel, Multistrada, and 848 Streetfighter. In a change that is bound to bring howls from the Ducatisti who bemoaned its use on other models, the Panigale finally uses a wet clutch, in this case a back-torque limiting unit with a servo assist for a lighter clutch pull. The new engine cases are manufactured using the same Vacural casting process that Ducati has been using in all of its redesigned engines of late. This casting method makes for a less porous result, dramatically increasing strength given the same weight of material. A new gerotor or “lobular” oil pump is used that evacuates the crankshaft chamber so effectively that it essentially creates a negative pressure zone, reducing friction losses and raising output. An external air-to-water heat exchanger mounts directly to the side of the engine, eliminating the need for an oil cooler and all of its associated plumbing, which should clean up the engine’s appearance. (This may be a hint that Ducati plans to use this engine design in applications without full-coverage bodywork). The aforementioned smaller battery and a smaller starter are made possible by a compression release, reducing cranking effort. The increased engine output, which hits the targeted 25 horsepower, also necessitated a change from the traditional roller-element main bearings to plain bearings allowing the required larger main crank journals. The engine in total weighs 1.1 pounds less than that of the 1198. If the weight and power claims prove to be correct, the Panigale may have the best power to weight ratio of any bike in its class.


The Panigale will be available starting in March in three different models, the base model, “S”, and “Tricolore.” Choosing a color will be easy, as the base model and the S will be available only in red, while the Tricolore speaks for itself. The base and S will be available with or without ABS, while ABS is standard on the Tricolore. The ABS system adds some rear braking force upon front lever application in Wet or Sport modes, along with lift-control to limit rear-wheel lift. In Race mode, there is no linking of front and rear, lift-control is disabled, and the anti-lock function only acts upon the front wheel. From the factory, the ABS modes are linked to the ride modes controlling mapping, but the two functions can be adjusted, or in the case of the ABS, disabled, independently of one another. The S and Tricolore models will come with DES (Ducati Electronic Suspension) which uses Ohlins’ mechatronic damper adjustment acting upon an Ohlins TTX shock and 43 millimeter forks. This is as in the Multistrada S which has preset values for each of the ride modes, but which can also be adjusted independently. All three models will come with DTC (Ducati Traction Control) an 8 level (plus off) system that also has presets for each ride mode but can be adjusted independently, along with DQS (Ducati Quick Shifter) and EBC (Engine Braking Control), which assists the slipper clutch by regulating the throttle aperture to reduce back torque. This alphabet soup of acronyms represents the fact that this is the most advanced sportbike ever produced, but not just with the goal of maximizing performance, which it does, but also to make the Panigale’s performance easy to access in any context, which Ducati’s previous superbikes have not always allowed. Deposits are being taken now.

The Upcoming MV Augusta Lineup

November 2011

If you follow sportbikes in general or MV Agusta specifically, you probably already know that they are producing a new middleweight sportbike called the F3. Until now all the information on the bike has been either internet speculation or selective leaks from MV, and telling which was which has been problematic. Two things that have been known all along are that the bike is a 675cc triple, and that it will be available in red and silver. The displacement was dictated by the maximum displacement of a triple in supersport racing in many series around the world, including World Supersport, not that racing has heretofore been a big priority for MV (of course Triumph had no plans to race the 675 Daytona either). The bike will be fully ride-by-wire, a first for a middleweight, with 4 different maps and traction control, the latter of which is also a first in the displacement class.

Notwithstanding these firsts, probably the most interesting technology utilized on the F3 is a counter-rotating crankshaft. This technology has appeared on race-bikes before, but I’m unaware of any previous street-bike applications. On a conventional multi-cylinder engine with a transverse (across-the-frame) crankshaft, the crankshaft rotates in the same direction as the wheels and tires; towards the front of the bike. The inertial mass of the crankshaft and that of the front wheel and tire assembly both create a gyroscopic effect that resists turning. Since the two masses are rotating in the same direction, their effects on handling are cumulative. With a counter-rotating crankshaft, the theory goes, the gyroscopic effects of these two masses are in opposite directions, at least partially cancelling each other out and making the motorcycle turn with much less counter-steering force because there is so much less total gyroscopic effect to overcome. MV is claiming 128 crank horsepower and 368 pounds dry weight, both of which are certainly competitive, if not class-leading. Suspension front and rear is Marzocchi and Sachs respectively, both fully adjustable of course. The base version of the F3 should be here in the spring at an MSRP of $13,498, which, considering the technology and the cachet is surprisingly competitive with an $11,599 GSX-R 600. A month or two prior to the release of the F3, MV will make available an Oro version with the same motor and upgraded chassis components. This machine will be VERY limited production, at the eye-watering MSRP of $27,900. Although details are still sketchy, a Brutale based on the 675 motor will appear later in the year at an as-yet-undetermined price.

Although the F3 has received the lion’s share of the publicity, MV has expanded its entire lineup, creating two versions of both the F4 and the 1090 Brutale. The F4 is now the F4R, and has received improvements over even the 2010 F4, which was already much improved over previous iterations of the F4. The 998cc inline-four is a more over-square design than previously, allowing a higher rev-limit while reducing mean piston-speed, giving more peak horsepower (195 vs. 183) while improving reliability. New this year is the F4RR. Engine tweaks, including larger titanium valves, redesigned intake and exhaust tracts, new thermodynamics, and larger diameter header pipes give a peak output of 201 horsepower. The F4RR has numerous other upgrades over the F4R, including Ohlins 43mm NIX forks with rebound damping in the right leg, compression damping in the left leg, and titanium nitride coated sliders, and an Ohlins TTX twin-tube shock and Ohlins steering damper. The F4R has to make do with 50mm Marzocchi forks up front and a Sachs shock, both of which are quality pieces in their own right, and the same CRC-branded steering damper as the 2010 F4. While both F4s share the same Brembo Monobloc calipers, big brother features radial master-cylinders for both clutch and front brakes. The forged aluminum wheels on the F4RR save 2 pounds over the cast wheels of the F4R. The F4RR has fully adjustable geometry, including steering head angle and swingarm pd. Both models retain MV’s 8-setting traction-control system and two engine modes. The upgrades on the F4RR will cost $5500 over the $19498 MSRP of the F4R. Whether they are worth the additional dosh or not is certainly an open question, although I have a suspicion that anyone seriously in the market for a $20,000 sportbike can probably afford a $25,000 one as well. I was so stunned by the red and white paint scheme being offered on the F4RR that in a moment of weakness I might pay $5500 for the paint alone!

For 2012, the 1090 Brutale 1090 will also be offered in R and RR forms at MSRPs of $16498 and $18998, respectively. The 990 Brutale has been deleted. The R model has replaced the 990 in the line-up, while the RR is an upscale model featuring Brembo Monoblocs instead of the two-piece calipers of the R model, forged rims instead of cast, 156 horsepower versus the 144 of the R, and a slipper clutch. The RR version is also being offered in a very limited edition that recreates the red, white and blue paint from the 750S of the 1970s. Very cool. If you see it, you’ll want it. MV has managed to expand its line-up by offering two versions of every platform and offering a bike in the F3 with the style and technology they are famous for at a more mass market price. Big doings in Varese, especially from a company so small it makes Ducati look like Honda.

If anyone has any questions or comments, send emails to KurtsCorner@faymyers.com.

How to Maintain and Store Your Bike for the Coming Winter Months

October 2011

As I write this, it’s the first day of autumn. As a result, we are all trying to maximize the amount of time we spend on two wheels, in anticipation of the cold and snow that soon will take out of our hands the decision of whether to ride or not. Although some people in this neck of the woods actually quit riding and store their motorcycles in the coming months, we are lucky enough that we don’t have to do so here in Colorado, at least in the metro area. We can’t ride every day, and within a month or so riding in the mountains will become impractical, but I can’t remember the last time I didn’t commute to work by motorcycle at least 1 or 2 days per month, even in January and February. Since recreational riding can be done at any time of day, and not just at 7:00am and 5:00pm, many winter weekend days are warm enough midday to allow rides of a couple of hours. I know some people store their bikes over the winter, and in some parts of the world that is almost a necessity, but I’ve done that once, and I ended up undoing all the steps necessary to store a bike safely just so I could ride it when a sunny 50 degree day came along. Instead I keep my bike ready both to ride and ready to not be ridden for a while by keeping it on a battery tender, and by keeping fuel stabilizer in the fuel all winter. This way the bike is ready to ride on any nice day that arises, but can also sit for 30 days or more if necessary. Remember, the best way to prep your motorcycle for winter is to ride it year round. If you decide you want to store your bike for the winter anyway, there are some steps you can take to ensure that you won’t be bringing it to us for repair in the spring before ever getting to ride it (not that we don’t want to see you).

When you take that last ride (the leaves are turning right now), take a small bottle of fuel stabilizer with you. About ten miles from home, fill your fuel tank up completely, and then add the amount of stabilizer called for by the directions on the container for the size of your tank. Your bike should always be stored with a full tank, as this will prevent the build-up of condensation and the rusted tank that can be caused thereby. The ride home will allow the stabilizer to mix with the fuel in the entire fuel system. This is especially important on carbureted bikes, but with all the additives and detergents in modern gasoline, I do it in fuel injected bikes as well. I have heard that the “red” fuel stabilizer isn’t suitable for gas with ethanol in it, but it is all I’ve used and haven’t had any issues so far. Keep in mind though that I’m generally riding periodically and using up the fuel, so my experience may not be representative, especially if you’re storing the bike for a longer time.

When you get the bike home, let it cool a little, but not completely, and change the oil and filter. Changing the oil while it is still warm makes it drain more completely and keeps more of the contaminants suspended in the oil. Care obviously should be used when working on a warm/hot engine. A motorcycle should never be stored with dirty oil in the engine. I’ve even known people to use cheap oil for this oil change and change it again using synthetic in the spring before ever riding the bike, but I think that is probably overkill.

Don’t store your bike dirty. Give it a good wash and wax prior to storage, and store it under a quality, breathable cover. You don’t want the road grime and bug guts sitting on your pride and joy eating away at your paint and chrome all winter long. I always lubricate my chain, cables and pivot points when I wash my bike, so that gets done prior to storage as well. Also make sure that your tires are properly inflated to avoid flat-spotting during prolonged storage, and check them once in a while, topping them up if necessary. You might also want to plug the end of your exhaust pipe(s) and any other means of ingress into your bike. I’ve heard of critters bedding down for the winter inside the pipes and airboxes of motorcycles.

If you don’t already own a battery tender, GET ONE! (This is one of those products like Kleenex that the brand name has come to be used generically. There are many different brands.) They cost less than most motorcycle batteries, and regular use will extend greatly the life of any battery that goes weeks or months without use. A “trickle” charger will work, but requires that you manually turn it on and off, because if you leave it on all the time, it will overcharge your battery and boil off all the water, ruining it just as surely as letting it sit and discharge, and possibly causing a fire hazard. A tender senses when your battery needs a charge and, when required, does so at very low amperage (typically .5 to 1 amp) until fully charged, then shuts itself off. This is a no brainer, folks. Resist the temptation to start the motorcycle periodically during the winter, whether to charge the battery because you are too cheap to buy a battery tender, or just because you miss the sound. Starting the bike without it then getting up to full operating temperature for some period of time just increases the chance of causing condensation inside the engine without the heat necessary to boil it off. If you have to start it, then ride it.

If your bike will be stored for an extended period of time, especially in a humid climate or close to the ocean, you should disconnect your plug wires, remove your spark plugs, and spray the inside of each cylinder with fogging oil. This will keep moisture and the corrosion it can cause from attacking the cylinder walls and causing the rings to seize to the bores. (I’m not sure that this is necessary in our dry climate. I have never done it myself without any apparent ill effects.) You can also use a teaspoon of motor oil, but turn the engine over a few times without the wires connected (but do put the plugs back in finger tight unless you want to see an oil fountain from each cylinder) to distribute the oil evenly on the cylinder walls. Leave the wires off to remind you to properly torque your plugs in the spring. Now all you need is a collection of your favorite motorcycle movies and race series’ on DVD, and/or some motorcycle books and magazines, and you are ready for winter. Personally, I prefer a heated jacket liner and gloves and a neck gaiter, but to each his own.

If anyone has any questions or comments, send emails to KurtsCorner@faymyers.com.

R.I.P. Gary Nixon

September 2011

I, (along with many other motorcyclists for whom he was a hero), was saddened by the news that Gary Nixon shuffled off this mortal coil on August 5, 2011 while waiting for bypass surgery after having suffered a heart attack on July 29th. He was 70 years old.

Nixon was born on January 25, 1941 in Anadarko, Oklahoma. At 15, and all of 89 pounds, Nixon was winning drag races on a motorcycle, only to shortly thereafter take up scrambles racing, quickly winning there as well. He turned pro in 1958, and by 1960 was racing on the AMA Grand National circuit. For those of you who don’t remember or who haven’t seen On Any Sunday, Grand National racing was a season-long points chase incorporating four different types of dirt-track races (mile, half-mile, short-track, and TT) and asphalt road-racing. Grand National racing obviously favored riders who, like Nixon, were fast on any bike and any surface. Nixon’s first AMA national win was a road race at Windber, Pennsylvania on August 4, 1963. As a perfect example of his versatility, Nixon’s next national win came in a short-track race a mere three weeks later, leading to a sixth-place finish in the championship that same year.

Over the course of the next three years, Nixon finished on the podium twelve times including national wins in short-track and mile dirt-track races, and on road-race circuits, culminating in a runner-up finish to Bart Markel in the 1966 championship. Two successive Grand National championships followed in 1967 and 1968, with five national victories in 1967 (including the Daytona 200) and two the following year.

Numerous injuries limited his effectiveness (but didn’t keep him off the track) over the next three years, particularly on the dirt-track side of the ledger, where a steel rod holding his left leg together was a major hindrance. Nixon’s response was to focus on road-racing, participating in the Trans-Atlantic Match races throughout the early seventies, and he would have won the 1976 Formula 750 World Championship but for his nationality (look it up, it’ll make you angry). Nixon officially retired from racing in 1979, although he made numerous appearances in vintage and endurance racing thereafter. Nixon tallied 19 AMA National victories and 150 Grand National finishes over the course of his career, and was inducted into the AMA Hall of Fame in 1998. More than his numbers, however, his grit and straight-talking lack of political correctness will be missed. Farewell, Gary.

Lead-Law Victory

September 2011

On August 12, President Obama signed into law H.R. 2715, which exempts kids ATV’s and dirt-bikes from the operation of the CPSIA of 2008, also known as the lead law. The CPSIA (Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act) was intended to ban the sale, manufacture, or importation of items designed for children 12 years of age or younger that contained more than a specified amount of lead, to prevent lead poisoning. Though mostly aimed at toys, and despite a distinct lack of evidence of children ingesting motorcycle and ATV components and thereby poisoning themselves, Congress passed the CPSIA despite its over breadth, and the power sports industry has been attempting to ameliorate its effects ever since. Though they were ultimately successful, it took the better part of three years and who knows how many millions of dollars. The law of unintended consequences is apparently still in full force and effect in the halls of Congress.

If anyone has any questions or comments, send emails to KurtsCorner@faymyers.com.

How's your Horsepower?

August 2011

We live in an amazing time. It’s a time of 150 horsepower motorcycles available new for $14,000. New motorcycles with fuel injection list for $4000.00. Antilock brakes add only $500.00 to that same $4000.00 bike. Even traction control and electronically adjustable suspension are now available on motorcycles (although not at anywhere near the afore-mentioned $4k price point). But, does anyone really need 150 horsepower? Well of course we do. (Just kidding). If we don’t, would traction control even be relevant on a 90 horsepower bike? And electronically adjustable suspension? I’m pretty sure that most people don’t ever adjust their suspension, so is it just frippery to make it electronically adjustable, or is it a way of making it easier for people to utilize the adjustments available to them? Are they more likely to adjust their preload for luggage and/or passenger if they can do it from the seat with a button on the handlebar than risking barked knuckles with a C-spanner?

This is also (still, sadly) an economically precarious time. Although sales of motorcycles are up from last year, the numbers are still nowhere near where they were five years ago. Manufacturers have slowed dramatically their research and development and the resulting introduction of new models. This is especially true of the Japanese companies. It used to be that the Japanese sportbikes were given minor updates every two years, completely new models every four. That pace has slowed dramatically, perhaps exacerbated by the earthquake/tsunami. The case can be made that there is a chicken-and-the-egg problem here, i.e., which came first, the lack of updates or the slowing of sales? Since development time for a new bike has tended to be 2-4 years, we’re only starting to see the true impact of the economic situation on new bike introductions. In two years we will know more.

Of course, anti-lock brakes are relatively inexpensive and available on many different types of motorcycles, though still more so in Europe. The safety benefits of ABS are applicable to any size road going machine with enough braking force to lock a wheel (if there are any younger readers out there, in the old days many could not without the application of herculean grip-force.) There has even been talk legislatively here and in Europe of mandating ABS on motorcycles. Regardless, ABS is bound to appear on more and more bikes in the future. Traction control made its first appearance on sportbikes and is still probably most relevant in that context, but big, powerful touring bikes and sport-tourers are also a natural fit. The additional expense of such a feature is most easily borne within the cost structure of a more expensive motorcycle, but functionally speaking, it is only useful on a motorcycle with enough torque to relatively easily spin the rear tire. So, while the cost of traction control is dependent more upon the cost of computing power than anything else, and will therefor continue to go down, it will probably never appear on smaller, less powerful machines regardless of its cost. Electronic suspension adjustment is likely to remain expensive enough for quite a while to be available only on motorcycles at the very top levels.

Horsepower and its usability are a bit more difficult to evaluate. Horsepower numbers tend to be the very first thing people discuss about a motorcycle, especially sportbikes. Since about 2003 or 2004, liter-class sportbikes have been producing between 150 and 160 rear-wheel horsepower at sea-level as measured on a dynamometer. With the introduction of BMW’s S1000RR last year, and to a lesser extent Kawasaki’s 2011 ZX-10R (the Euro version at least) those numbers have moved upward again. But does it matter? I don’t know any motorcyclists who would say they want less power, but most of the recent gains have come at the expense of the usability of that power. We all love (I assume) the feeling of acceleration of a fast motorcycle, and in fact it’s one of the big reasons I ride. But modern sportbike horsepower gains have come from increasing the bore and reducing the stroke, thus reducing piston speeds and allowing more revs. While this approach is effective in giving big numbers on paper, it happens at ever-higher RPM levels that are really only usable on the track, especially on a liter-bike. To feel that push-in-the back of acceleration on a modern liter-class sportbike, particularly in any gear but first or second, requires speeds sufficient to get a very expensive ticket, or even have your bike impounded. There will always be a market for bikes like this, even if the number of places one can get away with riding such a machine even close to its capabilities on public roads is infinitesimal and becoming smaller. After all, Ferrari still sells every car it can build.

Manufacturers are starting to look for ways to make power more usable, in bikes like Kawasaki’s Ninja 1000/Z1000, Honda’s CB1000R, and Ducati’s Monster 1100evo. While there are aerodynamic and handling benefits to the sportbike- crouch riding position, as with top-end biased power delivery, utilizing these benefits on the road requires riding at speeds frowned-upon by law enforcement. Especially given the aging of the motorcycle-buying demographic, a more upright riding position seems like a better compromise. While these bikes lack the 150 horsepower top end of liter-bikes, they do have a more midrange-biased power delivery, making their power far more usable on the street. They also have the benefit of being very reasonably priced-with MSRP’s between $10K-$12K. A broader-focused, more usable, more comfortable and cheaper motorcycle may be just the ticket for these times. As if in recognition of this fact Motorcyclist magazine’s editors just named the Ninja 1000 its bike of the year. Last year’s winner was the S1000RR, so maybe this group is getting older and more practical like the rest of us.

If anyone has any questions or comments, send emails to KurtsCorner@faymyers.com.

The Relationship Between Motorcycle Riders of Different Styles

July 2011

The uneasy relationship that exists between riders of different styles of motorcycles has always puzzled and surprised me. I’ve always thought that I have more in common when out on the road with the rider of any type of two-wheeled vehicle (PTW, or powered two-wheeler in the vernacular), from scooter to Gold Wing, than with any cage driver. All motorcyclists, and I include scooter riders in that number, face the same threats and inconveniences, from inattentive drivers trying to kill us to overzealous and ill-informed politicians trying to regulate us, all of which stem from the very fact that we ride. Those commonalities should bring us together, but instead it seems we sometimes focus on the differences between how we choose to participate in motorcycling.

This was brought home to me (again) by a couple of things I’ve read recently on the Internet. The recently-announced purchase of the Indian brand by Polaris Industries was greeted with much hand-wringing and gnashing of teeth based on the assumption that Polaris would “sully” the performance heritage of that storied name by turning Indian into some upmarket version of Victory, instead of using their admittedly impressive R&D capabilities to make Indian into some kind of American performance brand. The undercurrent of much of the commentary I saw was that the cruiser market is somehow unworthy of the Indian name, which apparently should only (in these people’s view) be applied to a “performance” motorcycle as they define that term. This notwithstanding the fact that most, if not all, of the bikes that the original Indian made would fall into the category of a cruiser according to today’s definitions. More surprisingly, the tone of the commentary I saw was very negative toward cruisers and those who ride them, to the point of being insulting, with comments implying that cruiser riders are uninformed, less-than-skilled riders, or worse.

The other recent occurrence that revealed this schism within motorcycling was Ducati’s introduction of the Diavel, which has been pitched as a competitor for “power cruisers” such as the Harley V-rod Muscle and the Yamaha V-max. I’ve seen this bike called a betrayal of ucati’s brand heritage, and I’ve seen it’s buyers referred to as “low-information “buyers, which I would find insulting, if I owned one and cared at all what others think. As an example, I recently saw a picture posted of a gentleman riding a Diavel Carbon wearing a Ducati-branded leather jacket and road race boots, a half-helmet and no gloves. This picture is taken as proof that Diavel buyers are essentially idiots and posers who know nothing about “real” motorcycles (presumably like those manufactured by Ducati up to now?). The implicit comparison being made here is to HD buyers and their tendency to buy and wear lots of H-D branded gear, not all of which is purchased for its protective qualities. One of the ironies here is that the Diavel is definitely a “performance” bike, although apparently some people define that term more narrowly than I do. If we are honest with ourselves, the vast majority of the additional performance available from an 1198 versus a Diavel cannot be accessed on public roads anyway, at least not if one possesses any semblance of a self-preservation instinct. So what is really being said by these people is not that Diavel buyers, and cruiser buyers in general, are wrong for buying their bikes because of how the bikes make them feel or what they say to others about them instead of what the bike is capable of, but rather that it’s only ok to buy a bike for those reasons if you are trying to feel or convey the right things, as I define them. This is a pretty exclusionary attitude to be adopted by members of a group that is already a small minority that is regularly under attack from the rest of society, both out on the road and politically. We need to be careful about who we exclude or deride within motorcycling. The other irony is that 25 years ago it was sportbike riders who used to be looked down upon as not knowing what a “real” motorcycle was by riders of cruisers (especially Harley-Davidson riders). The more things change, the more they stay the same.

If anyone has any questions or comments, send emails to KurtsCorner@faymyers.com.

What Should You Look for When Buying Your First Bike?

June 2011

There is much involved in finding a bike for someone who has never owned one before, some of the considerations are obvious, some are less so. The first and most important one is what they want. People tend to get into riding with a mental image of themselves riding a particular kind of motorcycle, and usually don’t want a bike inconsistent with that mental picture. If one gets into motorcycling by picturing oneself as Captain America (or Billy), that person is not going to be looking for a 250 Ninja. But a custom chopper is rarely a good choice as a first bike.

The problem here is that there isn’t much available in the cruiser market between a Honda 250 Rebel/ Suzuki GZ250 and a 750 or 800. While the 250s are great bikes, they are very small for anyone over 5’10” or so, and somewhat underpowered for use on any road where the speed limit is over 55 mph. A better 250 for a taller person is Suzuki’s TU250, although it still is better in town than on the interstate, and looks more like an old BSA than a cruiser. The 750/800/900 cruisers all weigh at least 500 pounds, and most are over 600, which is a lot of weight for a new rider to deal with, especially if the rider is small. Maybe more important than the actual weight of the bike is the perception of its size. I can’t count the number of times I’ve watched someone struggle to lift a 750/800 class cruiser off of its side stand and watched the enthusiasm drain from her face. (I use “her” because this is particularly common with women because of their size and strength. Women also tend to have less ego tied up in what motorcycle they want than men do. Few men will allow their intimidation by the size of a motorcycle to be known.) Riders in this situation also typically don’t have enough experience to know that how heavy a bike feels sitting on it in a showroom often has very little relationship to how it feels to ride. First time cruiser buyers then are left with a choice between buying a 250 that their improving skills may make them grow out of in pretty short order, or buying a 500-600 pound bike, that at least initially, is pretty intimidating. The one “halfway” bike on the market that bridges this gap, at least for smaller people, is Suzuki’s S40, which is narrow, under 500 pounds, and being a 650, capable of highway use. It’s a little small for larger people though.

First-time buyers whose mental picture is more Valentino or Jason Britton than Easy Rider face different issues. The first han 5’6” into a tippy-toe situation that often will result in a dropped bike. Although lowering kits are available for most sportbikes, installing them always results in a loss of ground clearance and/or suspension travel, and also can result in changes in the geometry that affect the handling of the motorcycle, not ideal for someone still learning how to control time. I know many very experienced riders who are on their toes at stops. Of course, when you’re moving, a tall seat just means more legroom. The Honda CBR250 and Kawasaki Ninja 250 both have low enough seats for most people over 5’ tall to be comfortable, and are both under 400 pounds, making them ideal first bikes, at least with respect to size and weight. They are also both capable of speeds sufficient for travel on any highway, as both will do pretty close to 90 mph. Many first time sportbike buyers opt for one of these bikes, especially women. Men, especially young men, (and some women too) often want to jump directly to a 600 sportbike. The problem with this approach is that because of their top-end biased power delivery and aggressive riding position, modern 600 sportbikes are among the most demanding motorcycles to ride, which complicates the task of actually becoming a better rider. In some ways, even a liter-class sportbike, with much more torque available at lower rpm, is an easier bike to ride than a 600. Unfortunately, most novices don’t have the throttle-control skills, and many (most?) young men don’t have the self-preservation instincts, to ride a 160 hp motorcycle safely. A better option than any race replica sportbike for a new rider is one of the 650-class twins like Kawasaki’s Ninja 650, Suzuki’s SV/SVF 650s, or Ducati’s 696 Monster. These bikes have a combination of usable low-end grunt, a less aggressive riding positke them close to ideal for a first-time buyer to improve their riding skills for a year or two prior to buying a sportbike.

In the end, I believe that any bike can be safely ridden by a novice, if the rider is willing to approach their limits very carefully, but being scared is rarely fun, and fun is what our shared avocation of motorcycling is all about. Buying too much bike, either in terms of size, power, or both, or buying a bike that is too difficult to ride for a novice to have much fun on is the surest way to have a new rider become an ex-rider before they experience the pleasure that makes us riders for life.

If anyone has any questions or comments, send emails to KurtsCorner@faymyers.com.

Your Two Wheel Commute

May 2011

Until this morning, it had been upwards of a week since I'd been able to ride my motorcycle, either because of weather or commitments requiring a car (just say no!). I'd been feeling out-of-sorts for a couple of days, and my ride in to work today showed me why. Even though it's only a twenty minute ride, it was transcendent. Every song that came up on my Zune was awesome and somehow matched the rhythm of the road I was on at the time, and at every set of corners, cars magically turned off to allow me to follow those rhythms unimpeded. The air was brisk, but the sun was warm, and for that short time, all was right with the world. There is truth in the old saw about no motorcycles parked outside the psychiatrist's office.

With the recent news that fuel prices will be rising, possibly to levels heretofore unseen, at least in the U.S., people have been reexamining the idea of commuting on two wheels. Most motorcycles are far more fuel-efficient than most cars and probably any truck, and of course the comparison is even stronger with respect to small-displacement motorcycles and scooters. One can ride a Kawasaki EX650, for example, with a great deal of gusto (read large throttle openings) and still easily attain 45-50 mpg. This bike will accelerate to 60 mph faster than most cars on the road without breathing hard, and only lists for $7199.00, half the price of even the cheapest new car. These are all very rational (left-brained, if you will) reasons for riding instead of driving. They are not, however, the best reasons.

For me at least, commuting by car is an exercise in boredom and frustration. I can see why most drivers seem to be somn ambulant or angry. The best reason to ride to work instead of driving is because it's fun. When I get to work on my motorcycle I feel good (except for the fact that I have to stop at work and not continue to ride). Even the slowest, least performance-oriented two-wheeled vehicle (Metropolitan, anyone?) is more fun than the vast majority of cars. I think this is the result of two things: the fact that you are exposed to the elements (coincidentally also the biggest downside to two-wheeled commuting in our climate); and the fact that turning involves leaning into corners. Something in the kinesthetics of cornering on a motorcycle is pleasurable beyond my ability to describe, and to be able to do it on the way to work seems almost unfair. The rest of my day is invariably more pleasant having ridden to work. I think this is more of a right-brain-based phenomenon, maybe because of my inability to describe it as anything other than a feeling. Even if riding a scooter/motorcycle cost more than driving a car, it would be worth it. Since it actually costs less, it's a no-brainer.

If anyone has any questions or comments, send emails to KurtsCorner@faymyers.com.

Your Pre-Season Reading Guide to Riding

April 2011

Although I’ve been commuting to work on my motorcycle for a couple of months now, at least off and on, we’re still a month and a half or two months away from being able to take to the hills on our bikes. In some ways, it’s the hardest time of the year, as we can ride just often and long enough to be a tease, without being able to hit the twisties due to the remaining cold/snow/ice/ gravel. It seems that every year about this time I’m looking for ways to occupy myself during the times I can’t ride, but all I can think about is riding. Often, I end up reading about riding and/or motorcycles. The following is a list of books (in completely random order) I’ve enjoyed during the winter/early spring down-time. All have invariably gotten me pumped up for the coming riding season. Enjoy.

Riding Man-Mark Gardiner, I just finished this book, which is about a forty-something ad exec who quits his job and moves to the Isle of Man in order to learn the course and compete in the TT. The book is very entertaining and inspiring (although I’m not writing this from a bed and breakfast along Sulby straight) with quite a bit of TT history included. A movie was also made about Gardiner’s experience, called “One Man’s Island.”

Jupiter’s Travels-Ted Simon, The subtitle of this book is “Four years around the world on a Triumph,” and that is also an apt description of the book. Simon is an excellent writer, although when he left the U.K. on his journey he was a motorcycling neophyte. Enough so that he had no idea how unsuitable a mid-seventies-era Triumph was for a round-the-world trip. The difference in how people treat travelers just because they are on a motorcycle was the lasting impression left on me by this book. Simon followed up by retracing his journey in 2001, at the age of 69, recounting the changes in the locations visited and himself over the intervening years.

Sport Riding Techniques: How to Develop Real World Skills for Speed, Safety, and Confidence on the Street and Track-Nick Ienatsch, My favorite of the numerous books available on riding techniques. Concise and easy to understand, most of the techniques described don’t require racetrack speeds to utilize. See also Twist of the Wrist and its progeny by Keith Code, Total Control: High Performance Street Riding Techniques by Lee Parks, and Smooth Riding the Pridmore Way by Reg Pridmore and Geoff Drake. All of these books have something to offer even the most experienced rider.

Proficient Motorcycling: The Ultimate Guide to Riding Well; More Proficient Motorcycling: Mastering the Ride; and Street Strategies: A Survival Guide for Motorcyclists, all by David L. Hough. These books are all oriented toward street riding, especially in traffic They are great for new(ish) riders, and also very good for “mental practice” even for experienced riders, especially for alleviating the off-season “rust.”

Motorcycle Design and Technology, Gaetano Cocco and Motorcycle Handling and Chassis Design: The Art and Science, by Tony Foale. These two books have all the answers about why a particular geometry will lead to particular handling characteristics. I think they are both out of print, although the former is available used for a reasonable price at Amazon.com. The Cocco book is also less technical, though both have numerous mathematical formulae<./p>

Two of Cycle World’s columnists, Kevin Cameron and Peter Egan, have published collections of their columns recently. Egan’s is called Leanings, and Cameron’s is called Top Dead Center, after his column. Both are excellent writers, and their work is highly readable and entertaining. Cameron does a very good job of writing about complex technologies in a manner that is understandable to laymen.

Finally, a magazine that I highly recommend; Motorcycle Consumer News. This magazine contains articles about bikes, gear, and all things motorcycling, but no advertising, making it unbiased but expensive. Worth it though. If anyone has any questions or comments, emails to KurtsCorner@faymyers.com.

The 2011 Ducati Diavel!

March 2011

In this market, two companies stand out for their performance in terms of 2010 sales and resultant increases in market share; Ducati and BMW. Both companies achieved these results partly through continuing upgrades to existing models, but mostly by introducing new models in categories in which neither had previously had a successful offering. Ironically, each company's new model increased market share by competing in a category that is traditionally the others bread and butter; for BMW a litre class, full-on sportbike (the S1000RR) and for Ducati, an adventure tourer (the Multistrada 1200). Although Ducati did produce a previous version of the Multistrada, the combination of unconventional styling and a serious lack of promotion by Ducati doomed the bike to paltry sales. The new Multistrada, by contrast, has been a roaring success.

On the heels of this success, Ducati is introducing another new model, the Diavel. As with the Multistrada 1200, the Diavel uses the 11 degree Testastretta motor. The 11 signifies the amount of valve overlap, down from 41 degrees in the 1198. The reduced overlap and a lower compression ratio produce a far more tractable motor, capable of pulling from much lower rpm without the shudder characteristic of highly tuned big v-twins under load at low rpm. Along with the use of a new harder material in the valve seats, the new tune results in a doubling of the mileage between valve lash checks, now 15,000 miles. Freer breathing and improved engine-management electronics result in ten more peak horsepower than this motor as used in the Multistrada 1200, up to 160 at the crankshaft.

Not only is the Diavel Ducati's first entry into its category, it may be the first bike in this category from any manufacturer, if it even has a category. While its 240/45 ZR17 rear tire (specially designed for the Diavel by Pirelli) sounds more like something from a custom chopper, its potential for 41 degrees of lean (same as the Monster 696) is sportbike territory. Wheelbase, rake, and trail numbers are somewhere between sportbike and cruiser, but the brakes are sportbike spec and the base model's curb weight is under 500 pounds, or less than an 800 Interceptor.iser, and makes the bike very accessible, but the suspension is fully adjustable front and rear. The Diavel is definitely a category-buster.

It certainly does not look like anything else. Its combination of a front-biased visual center of gravity, waspish waist, and minimalist tail section is unique, although the steel trellis frame screams Ducati. According to Bert Janssen Groesbeek, Ducati's senior designer and the man most responsible for the Diavel's dimensions, it's a positive that people don't look at it and say "I don't mind it." Polarization of opinion as a design goal, then? There is something to be said for originality, of course, and Ducati has never been shy about going its own way.

Regardless of what category one places it in, there can be very little dispute about 160 hp and 94 lb/ft of torque. Ducati claims that because of the fat rear tire and long wheelbase, the Diavel accelerates to 60 mph in 2.6 seconds, faster than the 1198, and darn near any other street legal vehicle I can think of. The Diavel's list price starts at $16,995, and it should be unveiled the 4th weekend in March. Once again, questions or comments to KurtsCorner@faymyers.com.

What do Motorcycles Have In Store For 2011?

February 2011

Wading through the information regarding new bikes for 2011 has revealed a sharing of a design feature between products at opposite ends of the spectrum. The feature is offset, or desaxe, cylinders, and the bikes are Honda's CBR250R and Kawasaki's ZX10R.

A conventional alignment of crankshaft and piston, where the piston is centered over the centerline of the crankshaft, results in only two points in the rotation of the crankshaft where the connecting rod is centered in the bore; top dead center and bottom dead center. At all other points of crankshaft rotation, the conrod is "tilted" toward one side or the other of the bore, causing lateral force to be exerted against the cylinder wall, thus increasing friction, sapping power and requiring stronger and therefore heavier components. The fix is to offset the cylinder(s) so that when the piston is descending on the power stroke the conrod is closer to parallel to the bore centerline, reducing lateral resistance and therefor friction, allowing shorter piston skirts and smaller rods and bearings. While the difference is incremental, it is essentially free power.

Honda is using this design on the new CBR250R. The quarter-litre sportbike market has been owned by Kawasaki's Ninja 250 since at least 1990, the last year that Honda imported the VTR250. Not only is this a profitable market segment in its own right (the Ninja 250 was the fifth-best selling bike in the U.S. in 2009), but is perhaps even more important as the entry point for young/new riders, more of which the industry is in desperate need. While the little Ninja uses a carbureted twin-cylinder engine, the CBR's engine is a fuel-injected single, giving up a few top-end horsepower to the Ninja, but hopefully providing a higher torque peak at a lower rpm.

Also unlike the Ninja, the CBR is available with optional Combined ABS, for a $500.00 premium over the base MSRP of $3999.00. The CBR also utilizes DOHC valve actuation via forked roller rocker arms (an industry first)for a compact, low friction valve train. Operating costs are reduced by the fact that valve-adjustment shims can be changed without cam removal. A "spiny" cylinder sleeve is utilized for improved cylinder cooling and reduced distortion. Styling is like a three-quarter scale VFR1200. Available in the Spring in black and red/silver.

While Honda is using the offset cylinder design in order to maximize power output from minimum displacement, Kawasaki is using the design to maximize power output, period. Kawasaki is the first of the Japanese manufacturers to answer the shot fired across their bow by BMW with their S1000RR. While Kawasaki has undoubtedly increased power output comensurate with BMW's challenge, the more relevant issue is the ability to control all that power. In top-tier roadracing, especially since the advent of the 800cc formula in Moto GP, most of the competitors make more horsepower than can be effectively used. Litre-class sportbikes have reached the same point. The key is delivering the power to the ground in a controllable rider-friendly manner. Toward that end, the ZX10R is equipped with S-KTRC, a traction control system with three levels of intervention. Level 1 is the least intrusive, designed for grippy tires in racetrack conditions. Level 2 allows less slip before intervention, and level 3 is for wet conditions. The system compares wheel speeds to determine spin, then looks at throttle position, crank position, rpm, and gear every .0005 second, comparing the data to stored past events to predict wheelspin and subtly retarding ignition to maintain traction. The bike also has 3 different riding modes, full power, middle (75% power), and low (50-60% power). In combination with the optional race-spec ABS($1000.00)this bike is bound to be confidence-inspiring, although no bike is idiot-proof. Even with all the electronics, the 2011 machine weighs in at over 20 pounds lighter than last year's model. The footpegs even adjust by 15mm. What will they think of next? Available now in black and green/black starting at $13799.00. Call or come in for more information. As always, email questions or comments to KurtsCorner@faymyers.com.

Welcome to Kurt's Corner: A Motorcycle Blog

January 2011

Starting with this issue and going forward, I have been given the opportunity to share with you information about exciting new products and developments in motorcycling and the lifestyle surrounding it. My name is Kurt, and while my vocation is as a powersports salesmen at Fay Myers, my avocation is as a motorcycle enthusiast (some would say to an extent which approaches annoying). Although I've been in the industry for about three years, I've been an enthusiast and consumer for over thirty years.

My hope for this forum is to convey my love of the sport. If you want a sales pitch, come into the store and I or my colleagues will gladly give you a doozy regarding any of the products that we sell. If you want to get some information from the consumer's perspective, watch this space. The intent here is to inform and, hopefully, entertain.

The 2011 model year looks to be a promising one. Kawasaki and Honda have both announced very exciting products in a segment that is near and dear to my heart. This market segment has been somewhat under served in the marketplace of late; the big-bore naked-sportbike/all-arounder. Honda's stylish offering, the CB1000R, has been on the market in Europe for a couple of years. (I know, why does Europe get all the cool stuff first, right?) With an engine developed from that of the '07 CBR1000RR and fully adjustable suspension front and rear, this machine is bound to be the answer for the rider who would love a liter-class sportbike, but doesn't want a butt-in-the-air riding position. Unlike Honda's previous big-bore standard, the CB900, ( commonly known as the 919), this machine promises real sporting potential in a package with modern styling, While the 919 was a nice motorcycle, it was more of a retro/standard than a naked sportbike. I, like you, haven't had a chance to ride this bike yet. However, based on the information coming from Europe, it seems that the "retune(d) for torque" was actually successful on this machine, also unlike the 919, where it meant "detuned." MSRP of the CB1000R is $10,999 and it will be available this Spring.

Kawasaki's Ninja 1000 is at Fay Myers now, and boy is it a stunner; especially in the Ebony and Candy Fire Red color-option. It's also available in Ebony (black to you and me.) This machine is basically a faired version of Kawasaki's all-new-for-2010 Z1000. While the Z1000 is a great hooligan and sporting mount, especially in the new-for-2011 green (you must see it in person) its lack of wind protection and relatively short fuel-range limit its sport-touring abilities. Kawasaki has addressed these shortcomings by adding a fairing and 3-position adjustable windscreen, while increasing fuel capacity by.9 gallon and lowering the final drive ratio (down one at the rear). This motor needs no retuning as it was completely redesigned for 2010 specifically for use in the Z1000. It's dimensions were designed for torque production at low rpm (81 lb-ft @ 7800 rpm) rather than sharing a sportbike's horsepower-at-high-rpm bias. This is one of the best streetbike engines ever; smooth and torquey. The cherry on the sundae is the availability from Kawasaki of color-matched hard luggage. Makes me want to plan a road trip! MSRP for the Ninja 1000 is $10,999, only $400 more than the Z1000. Both are all-time bargains.

More information on 2011 products will appear in the near future. In the meantime come in, introduce yourself, and see the new Ninja 1000 in our showroom. See you in the twists. Got a question for Kurt? Email him at KurtsCorner@faymyers.com.