Best of the year

Cycle World once again picks the 10 best bikes for the year. They’re unveiling the results day by day.  It was no surprise that yesterday’s pick for top standard was the new, improved Kawasaki Z1000, which, by all accounts, is a fantastic motorcycle. The brand new Triumph Tiger 800XC, was a bit of a surprise as the best Dual-Sport, though.  I think that may change when the new wears off the Trumpet.

Similarly, today has a surprise, too.  The shocker is not that the Ducati Multistrada wins the best open streetbike award. It may be one of the best all-round motorcycles ever produced by anyone.  Personally, it’s the best motorcycle I’ve ever ridden.  The unexpected win for today is that the Ducati Diavel–a bike that has only been available in the US for several weeks–has been selected as the best cruiser of the year.

While I’ve seen it, I haven’t gotten to ride it yet, but I don’t think it’s a “cruiser”.  It’s definitely something, but, aside from seating position and fat rear tire, it’s not what comes to mind when I think of a cruiser.

But congrats to Ducati.  These two bikes account for a hefty share of the 61% sales increase Ducati has achieved in the US over the last quarter.

2012 Harley-Davidsons unveiled

It’s a big week for Harley Davidson.  Not only did they report that earnings more than doubled and sales rose in the second quarter, they’ve also unveiled their 2012 line of motorcycles.

2012 Harley-Davidson Dyna Switchback

The first high point of the new models is a brand new Dyna model, called the Switchback. It not only comes standard with the removable windshield and hard bags–that both pop off without tools–it’s also powered by the new 103ci V-Twin mill.  In addition to the more powerful engine, it’s also got new front end geometry, upgraded suspension and a low profile front tire.

A new, 10th Anniversary model of the V-rod is also part of this year’s line-up, with lots of new components, including a special exhaust and wheels.

Next, the more powerful 103ci power plant is now standard on the Softail, Touring, and most Dyna models, almost completely replacing the previous 96ci standard engine in all but a few Dyna models.

A new option generally available on the 2012 bikes is a Security Package, containing ABS brakes and a Smart Security System with a hands-free security fob. The package is a factory option for all Dyna, Softail, V-Rod, and Touring models.  It comes standard for all CVO models, the Road Glide Ultra, the Electra Glide Ultra Limited, and the Road King Classic.

And, speaking of the CVO models, Harley has rolled them out for the motorcycle press to play with, and the reports are in from Motorcycle USA, Motorcycle.com, and Cycle World. This year’s CVO models are the The CVO Softail Convertible, the CVO Street Glide, the CVO Ultra Classic Electra Glide, a new version of the CVO Road Glide Custom that is oriented more for the street, than the touring version from last year.  The CVO models all come with Harley-Davidson’s 110ci power plant. The CVO Street Glide also comes packed with a 400-watt sound system, to help you better hear your hard rock & roll music over the roar of your loud, life-saving pipes.

Close call

Every once in a while, you get a reminder of how dangerous our sport can be.  I got a reminder this morning.

When I left the house at 6:40am, the sun was shining, temperatures were in the high 60s, and there wasn’t a cloud in the sky. So I slipped on my sunglasses, lowered the face guard on my Shark EVO helmet, and took off into the rising sun. As I was leaving town, I ran into a fog bank that was as thick as a blanket. On the parkway out of town, there is one stoplight, so I knew it was ahead of me somewhere. I couldn’t tell where, though, exactly, because the fog was so thick, I really couldn’t tell exactly how far I was down the parkway, because I couldn’t really see any landmarks.

I slowed down from 55 to about 40 and started to peer ahead for the stoplight. I wasn’t really anxious though.  It was early in the morning, and the stoplight is almost always green for the parkway I was on, rather than the little rural road that crosses it.

Then, I ran into a really thick bank of fog, and my faceshield began collecting water droplets so fast, I was almost blind. I took one hand off the bars to wipe my faceshield with my glove, and ended up just smearing water around. A few more wipes, and I could see better, and then, popping out of the fog right in front of me was the stoplight, red, with cars crossing the intersection. I reached down to grab the bars with both hands, and stood on the brakes. The ABS worked, but I stopped about 15 feet past the white intersection line. Fortunately, this is a fairly rural area, so the intersection lines are set pretty far back from crossing traffic, so I didn’t enter the crossing lanes.

In the space of about 10 seconds, visibility dropped from about 250 feet to about 50 feet, my faceshield got completely fogged–I was also wearing sunglasses, which didn’t help in the dim gloom–and I hit the intersection. All these factors, visibility, fogged faceshield, having one hand off the bars, not having time to slow down even more, and the light being red instead of green, as it usually is, all conspired to nearly put me right into an intersection with cross traffic.

Fortunately, I rode away from this one with nothing but a nasty fright.

It’s the tip of a very thin wedge you’re living on when you ride a motorcycle, though.  All it takes is a moment of distraction to cause a disaster.

A few years ago, an acquaintance of mine was just out having a leisurely ride with wife. One minute she was riding behind him, and the next time he chacked his rear-view…she was gone. Going through a turn, her Sportster ran into some sand that had been washed into the road, the rear wheel came lose, and she went down. Sadly, she died in that crash.

We all know this story, because almost all of us know someone this, or something similar, has happened to.  We’ve all had close calls.  And we still get on our bikes every day and ride.

Some people call us crazy.

Me, I just think that most of us would rather live our lives, even at some risk, than to simply exist in safety.

Michelin Pilot Road II vs. Pirelli Angel ST

I’ve gone through my first rear Pirelli Angel ST tire this week, and I can now report that, compared to the Michelin Pilot Road, the Angel ST just doesn’t get it done.

First off, the mileage was terrible.  My last mileage on a Pilot Road II rear tire was 6,800 miles when I replaced it with this set of Angels.  I burned through the Angel rear tire in 5,700 miles. The Michelin is a few bucks more than the Pirelli, but the extra 1,100 miles in wear more than compensates for the slightly greater cost.

In addition, the Angels, while acceptably grippy, and with better wet-weather traction, detracted slightly from the handling of the bike.  Certainly, the Angel ST provides much better handling than the leaden Bridgestone BT-021 OEM tires. Sadly, it also provides noticeably less sharper handling than the Pilot Road II. Granted, this may not be true for all makes of motorcycle, but it is certainly true of the FJR1300.

The Michelin Pilot Road II is hands down the winner in comparison to both the ANgel ST and the BT-021. It transforms the handling of the FJR, making it noticeably more responsive and easier to steer just with body movement.  The extra mileage over both the other two tires also makes it a better value.

Unfortunately, my front tire is still good, so I had to match up the rear with another Angel.  Next, time, however, I’m getting the Pilot Road II, and I’m sticking with them. The only reason I got the Angels in the first place was that the shop was out of stock on the PRII.  if that happens again, I will go to another shop that does have them.

I’m sold on the Michelin Pilot Road II.

2011 Ural Gear Up

2011 Ural Gear Up

The Ural line of motorcycles has a fascinating history. And, as far as modern bikes go, it’s about as close as you can get to a real old-school motorcycle, without actually rummaging around in a junkyard.

I admit, I have a fascination for them. In my mind’s eye, I picture myself setting off across the trackless wastes of the Mojave, or riding down mountain deer trails. In real life, of course, I would actually do none of those things, ever, but if I had a Ural I could. No doubt when the aliens attack, or the astroid hits, I’ll really wish I had one.

In any event, Motorcycle.Com has a 2011 Ural Gear-Up Review showcasing the highlights of the Gear Up, Ural’s two-wheel drive, go anywhere, do anything model.

It’s also pretty affordable for what you get: a sidecar with loads of space and a 400lb cargo allotment, 2-wheel drive for the sticky bits of wilderness, and, apparently, a fair amount of chick-magnetism. I suspect a lot more ladies feel more comfy at the prospect of riding in a sidecar, than on the back of a two-wheeler. And I syspect the actual ride would be more comfy, too.

Also, a note to prospective owners in California: California law does not require a motorcycle license to operate a sidecar motorcycle, or any other vehicle with more than two wheels.

Bagger Cruiser Comparo

Motorcycle-USA did a comparo between the 2011 Star Stratoliner Deluxe, Kawasaki Vulcan Vaquero, and Harley-Davidson Street Glide. It was close, but the Street Glide won.

Now, maybe it was a little unfair, because the Street Glide was not the standard model, but the one equipped with the “Power Pack” options package of the 103ci mill, and ABS. On the other hand, it was still the slowest bike in the comparo. So why did it narrowly win?

Comfort on long rides is second to none in every aspect. The seating position is upright and relaxed, and the saddle has the perfect profile, putting less pressure on your posterior than the other two machines in this test. Long days in the saddle are pain and ache free, which can’t be said for the Vaquero or Stratoliner Deluxe.  There is no better seat on a bagger than the Street Glide’s…

“Without a doubt the Harley is the most fleet-footed bagger in this test. It is lighter and it feels lighter. It has the shortest wheelbase and as a result is the most agile in the turns. The suspension is very good as well. On the highway it feels firm and doesn’t exactly float like you would expect. But then in the hills it feels taught and gives the best feedback of these three bikes.”

I would’ve liked to see how a Victory Cross Country would compare in a test like that.

Yamaha FJR1300 Recall

I knew it! This is probably the fault that deadlined my FJR a few months ago. Details below:

Make: YAMAHA Model: FJR1300
Model Year: 2007
Manufacturer: YAMAHA MOTOR CORPORATION, USA Mfr’s Report Date: JAN 06, 2009
NHTSA CAMPAIGN ID Number: 09V002000 NHTSA Action Number: EA08025
Component: ELECTRICAL SYSTEM:IGNITION:SWITCH
Summary:
 YAMAHA IS RECALLING 9,300 MY 2006-2009 FJR1300 MOTORCYCLES. THE INTERNAL SWITCH WIRING COULD BECOME DISCONNECTED. IF THIS OCCURS ELECTRICAL CURRENT FLOW WILL BE STOPPED AND THE ENGINE COULD STALL.
Consequence:
 IF THE ENGINE STALLS, THE OPERATOR MAY BE UNABLE TO START OR RESTART THE ENGINE INCREASING THE RISK OF A CRASH.
Remedy:
 DEALERS WILL REPLACE THE IGNITION SWITCH FREE OF CHARGE. THE RECALL IS EXPECTED TO BEGIN ON OR BEFORE JANUARY 16, 2009. OWNERS MAY CONTACT YAMAHA AT 1-800-962-7926.
Notes:
 CUSTOMERS MAY ALSO CONTACT THE NATIONAL HIGHWAY TRAFFIC SAFETY ADMINISTRATION’S VEHICLE SAFETY HOTLINE AT 1-888-327-4236 (TTY 1-800-424-9153), OR GO TO HTTP://WWW.SAFERCAR.GOV .

Motus Motorcycles hits the road

Motus American Sport Tour - First Leg

Motus American Motorcycles is taking their new V-4  MST-01 (and maybe the MST-R?) bikes on the road starting July 11th.  Starting out from Birmingham, AL, they’l ride out to LA and ‘Frisco, then back through Denver and Athens, GA. While they’re in California, they’ll hit Laguna Seca for a little track fun.

Paul Crowe at The Kneeslider has more.

Triump Street Triple vs. Yamaha FZ8

Motorcycle Daily has done a head-to-head comparo between the Street Triple and the new FZ8. Both are naked bikes, but that’s about the only thing they have in common, according to the MD testers.  Both of them felt the FZ8 was boring, unless the poor suspension was frightening the bejeezus out of you. But that really isn’t the excitement you’re looking for in a motorcycle, is it?

Most of the FZ8’s reviews have been generally positive, so this overall thumbs down for it is a bit of a surprise.

Sad, really, because there does need to be something between the 600cc and 1000cc displacement sportbikes, with an extra dash of rider comfort. Like a GSXR-750 that doesn’t have tortuous ergos. Or a lighter VFR800 Interceptor.

The new Ninja 1000 is close, but it’d be nice to get something down in the sub-500lb range.

2012 Husqvarna Nuda 900R

The long awaited big bike from Husqvarna has been unveiled. It’s a 900cc Parallel-twin–based on the BMW F800 motor–dual sport known as the Nuda 900R.  Husqvarna claims the powerplant peak output is greater than 100HP, with 73lb-ft of torque coming in a 386lb (dry) package. Suspension and forks are top-notch Sachs and Öhlins components.

Styling owes more to Austria’s KTM than Bavaria’s BMW, although the term “styling” is used pretty loosely for duel-sports. If, indeed, it is a dual sport.  True off-roading with the Nuda will require a significant investment in skid plates to protect the exhaust and radiator, it looks like.

Motorcycle USA has more.