Yakima PD Dumps Harley

Harley-Davidson has seen a lot of competition for the police bike market over the last few years, most notably from BMW, starting with the R1100RT-P to R1200RT-P.  Honda has been making inroads on Harley’s market share, too.

Yakima, Washington is now is the latest police agency to dump the Harley bikes they’ve been riding, to switch to the Honda ST1300-P.

The California Highway Patrol’s dismissal of the HD bikes in favor of the R1100RT-P back in 1997 was the first major blow to harley’s dominance of this market in the US–although Kawasaki had made some inroads with the CHP with the Kawasaki 1000 Police Bike.  And once the CHP made the switch, most other agencies went along with it too, either wholly or in part.  And, since California tends to be a trendsetter in police operations, as in popular culture, that gave BMW a big and continuing boost with agencies all across the country.

It’s difficult to see how the MoCo reverses this trend with their current lineup of bikes.  Police bikes generally have to do things that civilian bikes usually don’t. As Yakima PD spokesman Sgt. Gary Jones puts it:

“We have to be able to go over the curb, sidewalk ditches and [the] low ground clearance on Harley got hung up on breaking the stand kicks,” said Sgt. Jones.

Apparently, reliability was an issue to, as the (poorly written) story notes:

Riding more than 50,000 miles [per year], officers say, the Harley Davidson’s only lasted a few years and maintenance was costly. Agility is a top priority for the way police use motorcycles.

The trouble with Harley’s touring bikes, which are the generally used models for police purposes, is that they reflect design trends of 60 years ago.  Now that’s something about which HD is proud, and it’s also a key selling point for their rider community.  But that very design makes them, in the modern world, less suitable for police use when more up-to-date bikes are available, with their shorter wheelbases, higher ground clearance, lighter weight (not that the ST1300 is a lightweight bike by any means), and significantly better handling and performance.

The Buell division does make the Ulysess available in a police model, and that seems like a fine choice, especially for rural agencies, where dual-sport capability might be a positive point.  But it’s not particularly well suited for a daily urban environment, sine the bike’s tall height is somewhat inconvenient for constant stop and go riding.

What HD does have going for it the tendency among some government agencies to buy American, but that’s solely a political, not technical decision. Having been a Harley owner, and having ridden the Sportster, Road King, and ElectraGlide, I’d take the R1200RT over those bikes any day if performance and handling ability are a major criterion.

It’s hard to see how the MoCo stays competitive in this market over the long term–except, of course, for the politics of “Buy American”.

Too Much of a Good Thing

I yield to no man in my advocacy of the philosophy of “All the gear, all the time” (ATGATT).  When I went down after being hit by a driver who ran a stop sign, back in December, I ended up in much better shape than I otherwise would have because I was in full gear.  As badly as I got worked, not wearing all the gear would have ended up worse.

But still, there are limits, and I think Universal Pictures has transgressed those limits with this:

Dark Knight Motorcycle Suit
Dark Knight Motorcycle Suit

Yes, it’s a replica of the Batman motorcycle suit that Christian Bale wore in “The Dark Knight”.  And it apparently isn’t just a pretty piece of clothing. According to Universal, the suit is a real, functional set of leathers.

  • Strong Cordura Mesh Base with Heavy-duty 4 way stretch Spandex inserts.
  • Removable CE Approved Body Armor in both Jacket and Pants
  • Highly detailed, removable lightweight interior lining.
  • Form Molded Leather and Kevlar Armor Sectons [sic].
  • Made from Quality Tanned Cow Hides

It looks like it even has knee pucks for racing. So, granted, it’s functional, and with CE armor, provides appropriate protection.

But if you buy and wear a Batman motorcycle suit, I can’t really decide if it’s just super-geeky, or…teh ghey.

The English Invasion (Updated)

2010 Triumph Thunderbird
2010 Triumph Thunderbird

Other than Triumph’s web site, no one seems to be reporting this, but as of this week, the very first Triumph Thunderbirds have arrived in the United States.  The first bikes arrived on Tuesday, so that means that there is a very high likelihood that some of them will be on showroom floors at Triumph dealerships this weekend.

So, along with the Bonneville, and Thruxton, Triumph has now bought the venerable Thunderbird back to life, and back to the US.

The new Thunderbird is a 1600cc parallel twin, and, while I can’t find any actual specifications on it, the engine supposedly puts out “in excess of 80 HP”, and “in excess of 100 lb-ft of torque”.  Stack that up against, say, a Road King.  Harley doesn’t like publishing horsepower stats, but the RK has around 96 lb-ft of torque.

That makes the Thunderbird competitive in performance.  And, at $12,499 for the standard version and $13,299 for the ABS version, it’s very competitive in price.

UPDATE: The Motorcycle Daily web site has a write up on an initial-production Triumph Thunderbird. They note the following about the bikes powerplant:

[T]he new Thunderbird is powered by a new water-cooled, parallel-twin engine that displaces 1597cc, with a DOHC 8-valve head. The engine makes 85 horsepower and 14,90 Kgm (108 ft/lbs) at 2750 rpm. For those who want more power, Triumph offers a kit that adds 12 horsepower and more torque.

Sounds like a beefy ride.

$12,499 for the standard version and $13,299 for the ABS version

Germany Attacks Japan!

Ever since BMW announced it would begin producing a liter-class sportbike to compete with the Japanese, people have been waiting for the BMW S1000RR.  The one question was what the price would be, as BMWs tend to be a bit more…extravagantly priced than their competitors.  Those questions are now answered.  And the price is competitive.  So is everything else.

We’re very pleased to announce the pricing on the 2010 BMW S 1000 RR: MSRP*: $13,800.00

Options:

  • Race ABS (excluding DTC): $1,000.00
  • Race ABS and Dynamic Traction Control (DTC) Combined: $1,480.00
  • Gear Shift Assistant: $ 450.00
  • Anti Theft Alarm: $ 395.00
  • Motorsports Paint Scheme: $ 750.00

The options include either standalone new 4-stage Race ABS or Race ABS combined with multi-stage Dynamic Traction Control. Other must have options include the truly awesome Gear Shift Assistant that allows clutchless upshifts during acceleration, Anti Theft Alarm and the WSBK-inspired Motorsports Paint Scheme. This new Superbike from BMW weighing only 404 lbs, and putting out a massive 193 hp, is one of the most potent, sophisticated and lightest sport bikes ever unleashed on the planet. The new S 1000 RR is the most powerful production 1000cc sport bike in the world.

So, let me see if I for this right.  BMW is going to put out a 404 lb. bike with 193HP, and they are going to charge just $800 more than Honda’s 178-horsepower  CBR1000RR?  That’s pretty aggressive pricing.

The styling is pretty aggressive, too.  It’s not bad looking, either, if you don’t mind that the headlights look like a pirate with a squinty eye.

All in all, it looks like another German act of aggression.  And, at 193HP, I think that it needs a suitable nickname.  I propose the name “Kalmarmörder”.*

____________________

*Squid killer.

“Laaaaasers”

Frickin' Laser Beams!
Frickin' Laser Beams!

“Is it too much to ask for an frickin’ engine with frickin laser beams? Really, people. What do I pay you for?”

The technology behind the Internal Combustion Engine continues to move forward.  Brit scientists working for Ford Motor Company have found a way to eliminate the spark plug.

In a breakthrough that may make vehicle starting issues due to fouled plugs or inclement weather a thing of the past, engineers at Ford have reportedly teamed with scientists at Liverpool University to develop a laser beam ignition system to replace ye olde spark plug. The researchers claim their technology is more efficient, more reliable, and it will enable vehicles to start easier in extreme temperatures and damp climates.

Apparently, the lasers can also spark ignition at multiple points inside the cylinder simultaneously, resulting in a more efficient and complete ignition.  Ford plans to implement this technology in their car models in the next few years.

I wonder how this new technology would mate with the DART Motor.

VFR12000: It’s Official

According to the UK’s Motorcycle News web site, the 1200cc V-Tec Honda I mentioned previously looks like the replacement for the ST1300–or the Pan European as they call in The old Country–and maybe the current Interceptor (VFR) as well.  MCN has pics and some info, though the full lowdown will be in the print version of the Brit mag.

Honda’s V4-based Pan European replacement will be the world’s most technologically-advanced bike in the world when it’s released next year.

Full details are in the new issue of MCN, but what do you think of the looks?

Leaked Honda design drawings have shown the bike’s distinctive duck-billed styling, which we’ve made real using CGI.

The colours are our guess – but the look is the real deal. Less controversial than the sports-touring version spied testing recently, it’s still a distinctive-looking beast.

One notes that “the world’s most technologically-advanced bike in the world” (in the dictionary, see “redundant”) still has a manual turnscrew at the back of the bike to adjust the preload.  Or as one wag at the STN Forum put it, “That’s Honduh-Speek for ‘The most needlessly complicated valvetrain in the world.'”

Pics of the new bike are below.  My initial impressions:

1) Hmm.  No tip-over wings. We’ll never hear the end of that from the ST1300 guys.

2) Looks like Honda figured out a way to get rid of that backlogged inventory of GL1800 rear-view mirrors.

3) I have to say that if the bike actually ends up looking like that, then Honda did a fantastic job of ensuring that bags aren’t too closely integrated into the bodywork.  The tail looks great with the bags off.

Buell Releases Factory Racer

Buell 1125RR Racing Bike
Buell 1125RR Racing Bike

Buell’s 1125 has been racing for a couple of years now, and not without some success.  The race bike version, the 1125rr has been limited to the various Buell racing teams, though.  Until now.

Buell has announced that the 1125RR is now being released as a factory racer.  It won’t go to the general public, but it will be available to licensed racers.  So, you won’t be seeing it on the street, but you could be taking one out on the track, if you have the appropriate credentials.

How does it differ from the regular 1125?  Well,  according to Buell:

The Buell 1125RR features a modified Helicon 1125cc 103mm bore x 67.5mm stroke liquid-cooled 72-degree V-Twin engine. Power increases come from components including a larger airbox and intake manifold, revised valves and camshafts, a higher compression ratio, titanium exhaust system and other weight-reduced components.

Now, I’m not all that interested in a race bike–most people aren’t, after all, but I really like the looks of that fairing.  It’s about 1,000 times better than the street version’s odd fairing and forward scoops.  That’s not an uncommon complaint, and if you have a Buell 1125, maybe you’re thinking I’d rather have that fairing than the stock one on my bike.

Well, you can. It’s Buell part number M2000B.08AZ.  Apparently it’s some high-quality, lightweight fiberglass deal.  At least it better be high-quality, since it costs $1,499.00.  But if you want it, you can have it on your bike.

Interesting Bookmark

Have you ever wondered about how your bike’s street performance might stack up against another bike.  Well, the folks over at Motorcyclist Online are there to help you out.  They have the actual dyno results and performance numbers of every bike they’ve tested.

I was reminded of that again, because, after my test ride of the BMW’s, I really wanted to see how they stacked up to each other in street performance.  The results are interesting, because one of my concerns about buying an RT–assuming my insurance settlement is enough to cover it, of course–was whether I’d find the performance anemic compared to my FJR.

According to that actual tests that Motorcyclist has performed, the results are:

Bike HP (HP @ RPM) Torque (lb. – ft. @ rpm) 1/4 Mile (sec. @ mph) Top Gear Roll-On  (60-80 MPH)
BMW R1200RT
101.1 @ 7500 78.0 @ 6250 11.68 @ 118.8 4.30
BMW K1200GT
127.6 @ 8900 79.3 @ 8100 11.30 @123.7 3.80
HD V-Rod 109.3 @ 8250 74.3 @ 7000 11.31 @115.0 4.05
FJR1300AE 127.2 @7900 89.6 @ 6800 11.86 @ 118.8 4.02

Well, I must say this comes as a surprise.  First, it seems that the AE is slower off the start than the RT, with a 1/4 time that’s 2/10 second slower than the RT.  Where the RT loses out is in the grunt at rolling from 60-80 in 6th gear, as the FJR does it 3/10 second faster rolling on in fifth.  I suspect that a 5th gear roll-on would be closer on the RT.

Another surprise is how close the performance between the K1200GT is to the Harley V-Rod.  That’s about a dead heat.  I suspect the K1300GT has some performance increase though. But for a cruiser (sport-cruiser?) the V-Rod is pretty hot.

But, based on the numbers above, I don’t see that the performance difference between the RT and the FJR AE model, like I have, would be particularly noticeable.  And based on handling alone, I can already see that I can hustle the RT faster through the corners than I can the FJR.

Can you hear me talking myself into it?

I really want to know what that insurance settlement is gonna be, now.

Finally?

So, every year, you hear the rumors: “There’s a new VFR on the way.”  “It’ll have five cylinders.”  “It’ll be a 1,000cc V-4 superbike.”  Et cetera, et cetera, et cetera.

There’s something about the venerable Honda VFR that provokes fanatical loyalty from it’s fan base.  And, for years, they’ve lived on rumors that the VFR will be upgraded in some fantastic way, and that the 782cc V-Tec equipped V-4 would get a new, massive power injection.  Or another cylinder.  Or something.  whatever it is, it would be wonderful.  Sadly, they’ve never gotten  it.

Until now.

Honda VFR1200 Development Bike
Honda VFR1200 Development Bike

It appears that Honda is lining up a 1200cc V-Tec bike,, not only as a replacement for the VFR, but perhaps, according to some high-ranking Honda officials, a new line of bikes.

There’s only a few spy shots of it so far, but it seems to have gotten the VFR fans into an absolute tizzy, despite the fact that the headlight looks like the head of some sort of South American jungle toad.

Anyway, it sounds impressive.

The new bike is said to be a sport-touring mount powered by a V4 engine with displacement around 1200cc. It is claimed to have variable cylinder technology, allowing it to “turn off” two cylinders (presumably the rear bank) while cruising in order to save fuel. European publications are claiming that the engine will have power “approaching 200 horsepower”, but considering Honda’s corporate philosophy and the intended market, we seriously doubt it.

Snarky asides about Honda aside–true or not–this is an interesting development.  Not only does it call into question just how powerful the new VFR will be, it also calls into question the future of the venerable ST1300, with its 125HP V-4 (but non V-Tec) powerplant.

The ST1300 could certainly use a more powerful engine to push its massive weight down the road, and for touring purposes, variable cylinder technology implies the possibility of 50MPG at 70MPH.  Combine that with the ST1300’s 7.8 gallon tank, and you have a highway cruising distance of 390 miles between fill-ups.  A lighter, more powerful ST1200 V-Tec would seem to be the perfect reply from Honda to Kawasaki’s Concours14 and Yamaha’s FJR1300.

And, it doesn’t need to have 200HP.  165 is enough to make all the C14 riders green with envy.

The new bike is said to be a sport-touring mount powered by a V4 engine with displacement around 1200cc. It is claimed to have variable cylinder technology, allowing it to “turn off” two cylinders (presumably the rear bank) while cruising in order to save fuel. European publications are claiming that the engine will have power “approaching 200 horsepower”, but considering Honda’s corporate philosophy and the intended market, we seriously doubt it.

BMW R1200RT Second Thoughts

So, now that a day or two has gone by, I find myself having some second thoughts about the R1200RT test ride I took.  But, not second thoughts in the way you might expect.  What I keep remembering about the K1300GT is that when I went back into the dealership after my test ride, my first word to the salesman was, “Ick.”

Pure Bavarian Pleasure
Pure Bavarian Pleasure...in black.

I really can’t get over how much I didn’t like that bike compared to the RT.  I came back from the RT test ride with a huge grin on my face.

And, keep in mind, I was the first person to take that bike on a ride.  It had 7 miles on the odometer, and brand new tires.  BMW hadn’t even given the clearance for that bike to be used as a test bike, though the dealer had submitted the paperwork.  The sales guy had to call the owner to get permission for me to take it out, which he graciously granted.

So, I didn’t really get to wind the bike up to see what it would do.  I kept the RPMs down below 5k (though my understanding is that is where the bike really takes off)m and I had to keep it very restrained in the twisty segment I took it on, because of the new tires.

And I still came back with this big, old, stupid grin on my face.

So, my second thoughts have really been on the order of:

1. I don’t need the crappy 30-watt BMW stereo for $2,000.  For $400-$500, I can get an audio shop to stick in some marine speakers, a hefty amp, and hookups for my portable XM unit and iPod.

2. The dyno results for the stock RTs I’ve seen show that they have about 102HP at the rear wheel, and about 80 lb/ft of torque.  So, let’s say I put a high capacity K&N filter and a Remus or Staintune full exhaust.  What will that get me?  Maybe 107HP and 83 lb/ft of torque?  Is it worth the 1300 bucks?  I dunno.

3.  What would the bike feel like if I could ride out with my regular FJR style?  Would it feel wimpy in comparison?  Again, I dunno, but I’d like to find out.

Still, even with the relatively sedate paces I put it through, I really liked it far better than the GT.

I’m thinking black would be the best color…

Test Rides: BMW K1300GT and R1200RT (Updated)

I spent the afternoon test riding both the K1300GT and the R1200RT.  I rode the same route I take to work, which, as I’ve mentioned before, is 1/3 city streets, 1/3 highway, and 1/3 twisty country roads.

Here are my impressions.

Both bikes have far superior handling to the FJR.  It’s not a matter of “hey, this is pretty nice”.  It more a matter of “Holy SH!t!  So this is how a motorcycle is supposed to handle!”  The FJR is a nimble bike for its size, but the handling of the BMWs made the FJR seem like riding a…uh…thing that doesn’t handle as well.

Sorry, the simile well ran dry, there.

The RT handles far better than the GT.  The GT handles really nice, but on the RT, going through the twisties, it was like the bike knew where it was supposed to go without me doing anything.  It runs like its on rails.  It falls right into the precise line you want, just when you want it to.  The GT was as obedient to steering input as you could ask for, but unlike the RT, it didn’t seem to anticipate.  The RT handled like it was reading your mind, not just obeying your inputs.  I think I could ride the RT or the GT equally fast in the twisties, because the RT is a step better in handling.  I just wonder where in the RT BMW installs the demon that reads the road ahead of you and prepares the bike to turn.

The GT has a superbly smooth engine.  It responds instantly to throttle input with no hesitation.  Twist, zoom, “oh, look, we’re doing 110 miles per hour.”  The RT responds much slower, and the Boxer engine has far more vibration.  It also has tons of torque in every gear.  If you’re stopped at a light, leaning on one leg, and you blip the RT’s throttle, the bike stands up straight as the torque hits.  It’s really noticeable.  Still, with the RT, you can sneak up on 110MPH without really trying either.  Just not as fast as the GT or FJR.  The RT engine growls, the GT engine screams.

But I now understand what the RT guys are talking about when the speak of the “character” of the boxer twin.  It growls and vibrates at low RPM, and burbles happily at freeway speeds.  Kick it down to fifth on the highway, twist the throttle, and it passes smoothly.  Shift back up into 6th, and it’ll just cruise along at 90MPH without a complaint.

The GT has a really touchy throttle.  Touch it, and you’re at 6000 RPM instantly.  That’s a bit unnerving at first, and really makes you pay attention to clutch control.  The GT accelerates faster than than the FJR, but there’s something…boring about it in comparison.  It’s as if the GT is saying, “Yes, I can go from 0 to 100MPH in 5 seconds.  Big deal.  It’s what I do.”  There’s all this acceleration, and…it just doesn’t impress you like the FJR does.  I can’t really describe it, other than to say the GT was more boring than I thought it would be, speed notwithstanding.  That was the biggest surprise of the day.  The FJR is just a more fun bike than the GT.  I wouldn’t have thought that would be true, but there you go.

The GT sucks in the comfort department.  The narrow seat just jams itself up your crotch.  It’s every bit as comfortable as sitting on a split-rail fence.  Well, that’s probably not a totally fair comparison.  The GT doesn’t leave splinters.  But other than that, it’s the same.  The pegs are also too high for real comfort.  It’s not different enough from the RT to notice it just sitting in the showroom, but after 45 minutes on each, the seat and higher pegs begin to irk you noticeably.  The FJR is a far more comfortable bike to ride than the GT, but the RT edges out the FJR in comfort.  The RT is Cadillac comfortable.  With the GT, you sit perched on top of the bike, like a canary riding the shoulder of an insane pirate.  With the RT, you feel like you’re inside bike, luxuriously cosseted in a comfy, smooth saddle that gently massages your bum.

Other than sheer acceleration, the RT struck me as a superior motorcycle to the FJR in almost every other way.

Except the rear-view mirrors.  Great mirrors on the GT; in the perfect position.  The RT, on the other hand, has the mirrors set low, giving you a perfect view of the ends of the handlebars.  Perhaps the BMW engineers wanted to be sure you could check your gloves frequently, so you would notice if a bug hit your knuckle armor, causing an unsightly soil on the leather.  Or perhaps to check and see if a flying stone struck your bar ends, leaving behind a nasty scratch on the perfect black enamel.  Because other than that, the rear-view mirrors on the RT are essentially useless.

But, frankly, that’s a fairly minor quibble.

I went into the test rides today, firmly convinced that I wanted a K1300GT.  I rode the RT mainly as a favor to the sales guy who said I really owed it to myself to compare the two bikes.  I came back from the RT test ride with a huge grin on my face, utterly surprised to like everything about the bike.  I came back from the GT test ride thinking I’d rather have my FJR.  I am still a little bit amazed at how much I like the RT, and how underwhelming the GT actually was to ride.

UPDATE: I took another test ride of the R1200RT the following week, and added more detailed impressions of the RT here.