Why CarMax rules

There are some reasons why buying a car at CarMax kind of sucks. They don’t negotiate prices. The prices they don’t negotiate are too high. But there is one reason why CarMax rules: The CarMax Warranty. If you never need it, it might be pricey. If you do need it, it will save your bacon. Like it did mine.

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New PR2s for the VFR

The front tire on my VFR was finally getting a bit…baldy, so it was time to replace it. I went a ahead and just replaced both tires with a new set of Michelin Pilot Road II CT’s. Once again, the handling of the bike has been transformed. The more aggressive tire profile makes dropping into the corners a breeze, and the bike—heavy as it is—now responds just to shifts of body weight.

I chose the PR2 instead of the new PR3 because I’m in Southern California, and rain just isn’t really an issue here. It rains maybe 45 days a year. Yes, the PR3 is a better, grippier tire in wet conditions, by all accounts, but I don’t really face those conditions. And the price difference between the PR2 and PR3 is great enough to keep me perfectly happy staying with the older model tire.

Maybe I’m wrong, and some of you can provide some better guidance on the advantages of the PR3 over the PR2. But none of the service guys I’ve talked to seem to think the PR3 is worth the extra price here in SoCal.

Anywaym I’m way happier with the bike’s ride than I am with the Bridgestones. I know the Bridgestones—in both the BT021 and BT023 models—are really poular both as EOM and aftermarket tires, but I’ve never gotten why. I mean, I understand why they’re popular as an OEM tire: they’re cheaper, while still being reasonably grippy, and very stable, along with having decent tread life.

But every bike I’ve ridden with them just has a far more leaden feel. With both my old FJR and the new VFR, the Bridgestones required far more effort to initiate a turn, and were completely unresponsive to shifts in body weight. They would do anything you wanted them to do, but you have to provide a lot more steering input than I like. Very stable tires, to be sure, and very trustworthy, but they just needed so much effort to corner. Of course, having said that, they hold a line like nobody’s business.

But then, so do the PR2’s. They’re significantly more expensive, but much easier to live with on those twisty, turny country roads I ride on every day.

If you spend the majority of your time in town or on the highway, there’s nothing at all wrong with the Bridgestone BT021 or BT023 tires. But if you like to dive in and out of the twisties, they can’t touch the Michelin Pilot Roads.

News you can use

Here’s a fantastic resource. Motorcycle Consumer News has released their performance index of all motorcycles for 2012. It’s right here in PDF format. It’s got just about every bike available today in it, and it shows their performance test results in a number of areas, including weight, HP, Motor type, MPG, top speed, 0-60, 0-100, 1/4 mile time, HP:Weight ratio, and more. It’s chock full of goodness.

I note that my VFR rates 148.9 RWHP, with a 10.16 1/4 mile @ 134.9 MPH. 0-60 in 2.7 secs.

Funny, it doesn’t feel that fast when you’re on it. Angry smile

(H/T Rider Groups)

~
Dale Franks
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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.

2012 Suzuki V-Strom 650 ABS

2012 Suzuki V-Strom 650

Suzuki has released the details–some of them  anyway–about the new V-Strom 650 ABS.

First of all, the ABS system is new, and is supposedly better and lighter than the old system. In addition, Suzuki has made lots of other styling changes and other tweaks.  The seat is a bit higher, although with optional lower and higher seats, you’ll have a wider range of choice and ergonomics now. The slightly smaller gas tank is also narrower between the knees.  The muffler is excitingly modern, as is the new composite resin luggage rack. The windshield is 3-position manually adjustable, too. New headlights and instrument cluster round out the redesign.

The powerplant is where some big changes come in. The displacement is still the same, but midrange power and torque has been increased with new cam profiles, and the use of single, instead of double, valve springs. Air cooling has been replaced by liquid cooling for the oil cooler. A new crankshaft and primary gear are said to smooth the engine out a bit. Fuel economy is better, too, with a claimed 10% improvement on gas mileage.

The US Market will receive the orange model shown here, as well as an all-black version.

The V-Strom has always been a highly regarded bike, and the new changes seem like an improvement to an already well-loved bike.

 

For the Upscale Harley-Davidson Owner

Via Paul Crowe at the Kneeslider, I’ve learned about a new iPhone app that serves as a digital dashboard for your 2001+ Harley-Davidson motorcycle with EFI.

A connector hooks up the ECU to your iPhone. The phone, mounted on the handlebars, can then display a speedometer, tach, engine temperature, signal indicators, and gear indicator.

Sadly, new 2011 Softails have a different ECU connector, so the phone can’t be hooked up to them. For other Harleys, however, the app is available for CDN$250.

“Really, DCT is awesome”

Wes Siler, of Hell For Leather, has already been pretty vocal about his unpleasant experience on the new Honda VFR1200F, so it’s a bit of a surprise to see him not only back one one, but liking it. What he likes, specifically, is the one thing I’ve been leery about, which is the new Dual-Clutch Transmission (DCT).  Owning an AE-model FJR with the electronic clutch, I’ve found it convenient in city traffic, but a bit scary in parking lots, as I’ve mentioned many times before.

This new DCT, however, seems to be a different beast.

The thing that makes this transmission so brilliant is that it actually, honestly, really improves control over the bike at low speed. Yes, some hydraulic pumps, two clutches and an electronic brain are better than my left hand at smoothly, predictably modulating power. Tight u-turns become a cinch, barely requiring your concentration. Pulling away at a crawl is as easy as twisting your right wrist. Coming to a halt, you just stop, the transmission simply cuts the power unobtrusively and instantly.

And that is precisely the bit of information I wanted to know about. The FJR AE has a problem with slow speeds.  Once that tach drops below 2500RPM in first, the clutch engages and you lose all power.  This mainly happens inevitably when you’re leaned over a bit pulling into a parking space, making the FJR AE want to flop over on it’s side.  The key is to give it some throttle, and stomp on the rear brake to slow down.  This requires a fair amount of hand-foot-eye coordination. That seems to be completely unnecessary with the Honda.

Of course, it also comes at a steep price, bringing a DTC-equipped VFR to a sticker price of $17,499. That’s perilously close to BMW territory when it comes to pricing.  But, without the BMW’s large-capacity bags, heated seat, grips, ESA, traction control, and usably large fuel tank.

With gas mileage in the 30s, and a 4-gallon tank, the VFR is hardly the best equipped “touring” model of the sports-touring category, unless “touring” to you means stopping every ton for gas. And the available luggage for the VFR is pretty small compared to the rest of the bikes in the sport-touring class.

It seems like a great, powerful bike with some great technology, but the high price and assorted drawbacks don’t impress–at least, not in a good way.

The rumor, of course, is that Honda already has a sport-tourer version of this bike in pre-release (as well as an adventure version). Perhaps they’ll rectify some of the current range and luggage issues with that bike.  I suspect, however, that the drawback of high sticker price won’t be solved.

The Diavel’s Big Rear Tire

A few days ago I noted that the big 240-section rear tire on the new Ducati Diavel seemed like it would make handling a bit less fun.  But lots of reviews from European writers say it’s fine. New Diavel ride reviews are in from Motorcycle USA and Motorcycle.com, and both of them bring the subject up in somewhat different terms.

Motorcycle USA’s Bart Madson writes:

[T]he Diavel is probably the best-handling fat rear we’ve ever sampled.

But that’s somewhat damning praise, as there are inherent issues with the rear. Some in our journalistic riding troupe vocalized zero flaws, but we noted a hinky sensation on low-speed maneuvers. Sharp hairpins exhibited a flopping sensation when pitching over. Quick transitions, more noticeable at lower speeds as well, also delivered an awkward feel. The 240mm rear didn’t have us bitching and moaning as a deal breaker by any means. It just left us wondering what that Diavel could been had it been delivered with a more conventional tire choice.

Motorcycle.Com’s Pete Brissette echoes the sentiment, somewhat more technically:

The big rear tire works for me as part of the Diavel’s styling; however, the rear tire’s low-speed handling performance doesn’t work quite so well for my tastes.

Initial turn-in response is neutral; transitioning from upright to three-fourths lean is a fairly smooth, linear-feeling process. But it’s the last little bit of lean you might initiate to complete the turn that results in a “falling in” sensation, as though the tire’s profile is more triangulated than it appears.

As I rolled into the throttle to power out of the apex of a turn, the bike would sometimes exhibit a front-end “push” – like the rear of the bike was chasing the front – depending on the radius of a turn and camber of the road.

This is not to say the Diavel’s handling isn’t light-years better than just about any cruiser you can name, but it’s not as good as any other Ducati you can name either.

Ultimately a 62.2″ wheelbase, and 240 rear tire are what they are, and the effect on handling is ultimately insurmountable. Geometry and physics are pretty unforgiving taskmasters. On the other hand, though, handling that isn’t quite up to snuff in Ducati terms probably equals vastly superior handling in, say, V-Max terms.

Actually, remove the word “probably” from the previous sentence.

Is Honda’s DCT Tranny Obsolete?

The new Dual Clutch Transmission in the Honda VFR1200F may already be headed for the dustbin of history. So may manual transmissions on all motorcycles. A&R reports that British transmission gurus Xtrac have developed something called the Instantaneous Gearchange System (IGS).

IGS works by using a ratchet and pawl mechanism between the gear hubs, the main shaft is able to select and engage two gears simultaneously, with only one set of drive gears. With two years of racing on the Instantaneous Gearchange System already completed, Xtrac believes IGS is ready for prime time, and adoption in OEM automobile and motorcycle solutions.

So, there’s no need for a clutch lever. Simply pop the shifter button and the next set of gears seamlessly engage with no loss of power. As an added plus, it’s not only far less complex than the DCT system, it’s also far lighter.

Pirelli Angel ST Tire Review

Pirelli Angel ST Tires
Pirelli Angel ST Tires

On Saturday, when I took the FJR in for my 32k-mile service,I saw that the Michelin Pilot Road 2 tires on the bike, which were at 8700 miles, were down to the wear bars.  So it was time for a change.  Sadly, North County House of Motorcycles had sold the last pair of PR2s earlier in the morning.

Well, I certainly wasn’t interested in going back to the Bridgestone BT-021s.  They make the handling of the FJR heavy and unresponsive. But, they did have the new Pirelli Angel ST tire–and at the same price as the Bridgestones.  So I decided to take a chance on the Pirellis.

Unlike the BT-021s and the PR2s, the Pirelli Angels are not a multiple-compound tire.  Instead, Pirelli uses a single high-silica compound, and depends on both their unique method of wrapping the steel, and the tire profile to provide a wider contact patch when the tire is leaned, in order to provide the greater traction.

Apparently, Pirelli tested the tire life by running them through some sort of insane endurance test:

On March 15th 2009, 15 Journalists and 12 Pirelli Testers set 7 FIM World Duration Records at Nardò Technical Center in Southern Italy. On just one set of Angel ST tyres they covered a distance of 5,135 km at an average speed of 214 km/h in a tough 24H non stop trial which proved the consistency and the performance of the new ANGEL ST.

OK. That sounded…fine.  But how would they perform on my bike, compared to the PR2s, which I really liked?

As it turns out, pretty well so far, after about 100 miles.

The handling of the FJR is as good or better with the Angels as with the PR2s.  Grip seems pretty solid, even on the new tread, and with wet morning roads. Of course, only 100 miles into the tires, I haven’t been able to stretch the capability of the tires in the twisties, so the jury is still out, to large extent.  But so far, I’ve found them equal or superior to the Pilot road 2s.

I’ll keep updating on the performance as they get broken in.

Honda’s new DCT awarded

Motorcyclist has named the new Dual Clutch Transmission (DCT) on the Honda VFR1200F to be the best new technology of 2010.  The magazine gushes:

The DCT is not the first automatic motorcycle transmission, but it is the first to offer performance that will satisfy even the most demanding sport rider. Borrowing heavily from Formula 1 racing technology-and generating more than 100 patents in the process-Honda has created a transmission that offers full-auto or semi-auto (the rider selects shift points using finger triggers) operation and delivers quicker, smoother, more transparent shifts than any manual gearbox. Honda’s DCT is everything a conventional automatic transmission isn’t. It’s light, fast and intuitive, and genuinely enhances the sportbike experience.

That seems like pretty high praise, and you have to assume that, being motorcycling professionals, the folks there know what they’re talking about.

I have no direct experience with the DTC.  Indeed, I don’t know of an shop in the local area that even has a VFR in stock that has it, so I don’t even know where I could go to test it.

Having an FJR1300AE model with the electronic clutch probably isn’t a close enough comparison to make an educated guess, but I’d like to try out the DTC, though, to see how it compares.