HD XR1200 First Ride

The new harley-Davidson XR1200 seems to be racking up the kudos.  Motorcycle Daily has a write up on it, and they conclude:

This is the ultimate Harley-Davidson Sportster, with performance and reliability completely unknown to the guys who owned a Sportster decades ago. Guys that dreamed (like Erik Buell) about what a Sportster might be or might become. That dream is finally a reality, with factory reliability and a factory warranty.

From what everyone is saying, this seems like the closest thing to a modern sportbike that  Harley has ever built.

AMA Opposes Tariffs

The american Motorcycle Association finally came out in opposition to the plans for imposing a 100% tariff on all European bikes imported to the US that have an engine displacement of 50cc-500cc.

The federal measure is designed as retaliation to the 27-member European Union’s continuing import ban on American beef treated with growth hormones. EU officials haven’t lifted that 20-year-old ban, despite a World Trade Organization (WTO) order to end it.

If U.S. officials impose the retaliatory tariff, it would double the price of a host of under-500cc on- and off-highway machines from brands such as Aprilia, Beta, BMW, Fantic, Gas Gas, Husaberg, Husqvarna, KTM, Montesa, Piaggio, Scorpa, Sherco, TM and Vespa.

“There is no logical link between European motorcycles and the dispute over beef,” said Ed Moreland, AMA vice president for government relations, in his comments submitted to the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative. “Imposing these stiff tariffs on motorcycles would do nothing to resolve the trade dispute, but would punish American buyers of European motorcycles.”

I’ve never been a big fan of tariffs anyway.  This is even stupider than most tariffs.  The Euros won’t buy our hormone injected beef, so we won’t buy their small, economical motorcycles?  It’s hard to see what the linkage is there.  Beyond that, the idea seems to be that if the Europeans want to penalize their consumers by denying them access to our beef, the best response is to penalize American consumers by restricting our access to their products?

On the other hand, I’m sure the Japanese support this tariff proposal  every inch of the way.  Since there aren’t actually any American manufacturers producing motorcycles of that size, the Japanese are the big winners.

The Return of Norton?

Take a look at the motorcycle below.  Take a good look.  It is a 1991 Norton Commander F1.

1991 Norton Commander F1
1991 Norton Commander F1

This is one of the most beautiful motorcycles ever built.  It was powered by a 588cc twin-rotary Wankel engine. I think the 588cc is a bit of a misnomer.  It was a twin wankel, so it would more properly be an 1176cc equivalent.

This bike took the racing world by storm in the last few years of Norton’s existence. The civilian version of it originally cost about $48,000.  And they still sold like hotcakes.  There are currently about 60 left in the world.

For now.

Brit businessman Stuart garner already owns Norton racing, and he intends to buy all of the remaining parts of the old Norton Motorcycle Co., that are now for sale.  Garner has already built a brand new version of the twin-rotary Norton, and has created a racing team that will be entering the new bike at the Isle of Man TT race in 2009.

Norton NER 588 Racer
Norton NRV 588 Racer

Garner seems serious about bringing Norton back to life. In addition to the NRV 588, he’s also producing a new version of the Norton Commando.

2008 Norton Commando 961SS
2008 Norton Commando 961SS

In addition to the Commando, Garner says he intends to bring the rotary commander back to life, too.  it will be a road-going version of the NRV 588.

I just hopes he takes his styling cues from the 1991 F1, and brings that magically beautiful bike back to life again.

KTM: 2-Wheel Drive Patent

Via RILYSI, it looks like KTM, the respected  Austrian Motorcycle manufacturer, has applied for a patent for a 2-Wheel drive, hybrid motorcycle.  Even more interesting is that they’ve apparently fast-tracked it to production sometime in the next 24 months.

The word is that it will have an internal combustion engine driving the rear wheel, and an electric engine driving the front wheel.

Coming on the heels of KTM’s expected zero-emissions Enduro racer, it looks like KTM should change its flagship color from orange to green.

Except that Kawasaki already took that color.

Versys: 50-State Legal

Well, it only took two years after its introduction in the rest of the world, but the Kawasaki Versys is finally California-legal for the 2009 model year!

2009 Kawasaki Versys
2009 Kawasaki Versys

I’ll make a special trip to the dealership to take a look at this one.  Everything I’ve read about this bike is that it is a fantastic all-rounder.  It’s zippy and fun, but well balanced, light, handles responsively, and…well…everything.

It’s said to be a great commuter bike due to its lightness and maneuverability.  It’s very economical, too, getting 60 MPG from the 650cc, counter-balanced, Parallel-Twin power plant.  Everything I’ve read says that this is a great all-rounder.

One shortcoming, however, is the 33-inch seat height.  That’s a bit lofty for smaller riders, and perhaps a little intimidating to newer ones as well.

But it’s reputed to be a dream to ride, so I think I’m going to try to wrangle a test ride, if possible, to see if I agree.

Odd Harley XR1200 Test

I’m not sure, exactly, what the point was to this test.  The guys at MCN took a few days to ride and compare the Harley-Davdison XR1200, the Ducati GT1000, and the Moto Guzzi Griso 1200.  Their conclusion:  The XR1200 isn’t a benchmark sportbike.

A look of shocked surprise failed to cross my face upon hearing this.

First, it’s really an odd test.  In what possible world is a cruiser, even a retro, race-inspired cruiser, going to be a benchmark sportbike?

In Harley terms, the XR1200 is a pretty powerful machine.  At 90HP, it packs about 15 more horses than an XL1200.  And, as one of the reviewers notes, it handles way better than any Harley ever built.  Harley isn’t trying to appeal to the liter-bike crowd.  They are trying to get some younger appeal going with riders that want some more sportiness and better handling than is currently available anywhere in the HD line, with the possible exception of the V-Rod, and still have a bike that is recognizeably a Harley-Davidson.

And at that, it looks to me like the XR1200 delivers.

And, as they also note, it has a presence that none of the other bikes have.

You can bitch and moan about Harley’s all you want, and denigrate them to a fair-thee-well, but at the end of the day, all around the world, the Harley-Davidson has a cachet that no other motorcycle has.  Their bikes are the ones that the other cruiser manufacturers take styling cues from.

If you can now get a Sportster with signifigantly more muscle and better handling, there’s certainly nothing wrong with that.  And, I’ll bet Harley sells the initial run of 750 like hotcakes.  They seem excited over at HDForums, anyway.

The World’s Fastest Production Motorcycle

It isn’t the Hayabusa.  It’s not the ZX-14.  It’s a Harley-Davidson.  Sort of.  I mean, Harley owns MV Agusta now, and MVA makes the F4 1078RR 312.

MV Agusta F4 1078RR 312
MV Agusta F4 1078RR 312

This bike is superbad.  The 2008 2008 F4 R 312 took a land-speed record at Bonneville in September, getting a 306 KPH speed at the salt flats.  The new 1100cc version for 2009 has crossed the $120,000 F4 CC racing bike with the 2008 F4 R 312 to come up with this new power monster of a motorcycle.

Kawasaki and Suzuki have some sort of wierd “gentleman’s agreement” to limit the top speed of the ‘Busa and the ZX-14 to 186 MPH.  MV Agusta chooses not to join such a silly convention.  With 190 horses on tap, this is gonna be a screamer.  MVA hasn’t announced the MSRP for this thing yet, but you’re probably looking at $30,000-$36,000 or so, although a local dealer here in San Diego has a 2008 F4 R 312 for sale for $24,000 here.

It’s not a bike I would ever buy.  The chain srive, and absolute lack of any touring accessories make this a non-starter for me.

But, I wouldn’t turn down an extended test ride.

Aprilia Auto-Pilot

Well, OK, not really auto-pilot, but Aprilia is putting out a bike with an automatic transmission–or, rather, a Continuously-Variable Transmission (CVT).

Aprilia Mana 850

The Aprilia Mana 850 does have a manual setting so you can shift with either the foot, or with hand controls, a la the FJR AE model.  This model now joins the Honda DN-01 as a CVT-trannied bike.

Honda DN-01

Compared to the clean, naked-bike look of the Aprilia, the Honda’s Shark nosed look is an epic fail in my view.

What probably isn’t a fail is the use of the CVT in these new bikes.  I never really liked the idea of an old-style automatic transmission in a motorcycle.  It’s been possible to have an automatic transmission in a motorcycle for years.  A couple of manufacturers have even done it.  Nobody else liked it much either though, because there’s alway that fear that something awful will happen, like the tran ny deciding to downshift as you roll on the throttle in a curve, causing the back wheel to loose traction, spin you out, and leave your bike, and you, crumpled into an unsightly mess.

The CVT avoinds that, because there is no “shifting”.  The transmission just smoothly changed ratios without any noticeable gear changes.  It’s just smooth power delivery at all speeds.

This is good for some people.  My chick really can’t ride a standard motorcycle any more, because she doesn’t have the hand strength to clutch a standard bike.  And for newer riders, coupling a CVT with a lower-powered bike might make for decent commuter sales, which I think is what the manufacturers are shooting for.

The New K1300GT

The Boys of Bayern have upgraded their premier sport-tourer.  The New K1300GT is on the way.

2009 BMW K1300GT

When you absolutely, positively have to spend $21,000 on a motorcycle  BMW has just the bike for you.

Of course, it has every conceivable farkle, and the new 1293cc powerplant puts out 160HP. At the crank, of course.

It makes me wish I had money to burn.

Harley-Davidson XR1200 Coming Soon

Today, I got a nice email from Kelly Yahr at Harley-Davidson.  Wanting me to talk about the upcoming US debut of the Sportster XR1200 in December.

HD 1200R
HD XR1200 - Static

It looks like Harley is going back to the Sportster’s flat-track roots with this one.  The Europeans have had a chance to play around with this model for about 8 months now, but no one on this side of the pond has gotten a chance to see it yet.

I also notice that the promo material for the bike looks a bit different.  No…uh…older gentlemen tooling around at cruising speed, perhaps with a girl, both of them wearing half-helmets.  Instead, they seem to be going for a sense of speed and motion.

HD 1200R In Motion
HD XR1200 In Motion

And with a full-face helmet, yet.

Maybe this will help the MoCo “youthen” their image a little bit.  God knows they need to.  The average HD guy is, what, 55 or something now?  If the MoCo wants to stay in this game, they are gonna need to branch out a little bit, and capture some younger riders.

They make the most beautiful cruisers in the world, but they need something more to attract a new generation of riders, who are used to a bit more in the performance and handling categories than Harley is giving them.

Maybe this new Sporty is a step in that direction.  They’ve cranked up the V-Twin EVO to 90HP–a big increase from the 70HP on my Sporty.  Dropped in Nissin dual disks on the front end of that sucker, too.  Heck, it’ll probably do stoppies now, if you want to.

The MoCo got Scott Parker and Rich King, along with Euro GP racer Adrien Morillas in to help them design the thing, so presumably it’s got a bit of the ol’ flat-track spirit in her. As it is, this is the closest thing to a Sportbike that HArley has made in a long while.

I did get a bit of a start when I saw the static pic, and noticed the big square thing forward of the engine.  Surely, I though, that isn’t a…radiator!  And, so I had to go to a European bike web site, just to reassure myself that it is, indeed, still an air-cooled engine.

But, dang me if that don’t look like a radiator.

Motorcycle.Com had a pretty good review of the XR several months ago.  They seemed to like it pretty well.  But in looking over the European sites for more info on the bike, I ran across this review, which stated:

Basically, perhaps rattling basically, the Harley-Davidson XR1200R is a beatific bike. Dynamically the XR1200R performs and handles meliorate than some Harley before. It’s speed (if not just fast), recreation to intercommunicate around and looks good, too.

Well.  I don’t think I can really add anything to that.

Fast Motorcycles

The FJR isn’t a superbike. Well, not by today’s standards anyway. Back in the mid 80s, it would’ve been a frightening monster, but the V-Max, then the Hayabusa, and the literbikes took care of that.

Now, it’s just a really fast bike. Faster than most on the road, actually. The FJR will do a quarter mile in some time between 10 and 11 seconds, somewhere between 123 and 130 MPH. Depends on who’s riding it, of course. By comparison, Harley-Davidson only makes one bike, the V-Rod, that even comes close to matching that performance, and even the V-Rod does the quarter mile about one full second slower than the FJR.

As an aside, I’ve had a couple of the Harley cruiser boys meet me at lights, and give me the revs, like they wanted to see what we could do against each other stoplight to stoplight. I just smile, and wave when they take off.

Before I bought it, I was actually a bit scared of it. With 146HP and 99 ft/lbs at the crank (which comes out to around 125 HP and 90ft/lbs at the rear wheel), it is, by any standard a powerful motorcycle. My Sportster–after I did the Stage I, probably pushed out about 70HP and maybe 5ft/lbs of torque. Maybe a bit less.

So, I was wondering if the FJR’s performance would be frightening. For instance, I wondered if I’d be doing unintended wheelies coming away from a light. I’ve been pleasantly surprised to learn that it isn’t frightening at all.

Oh, don’t get me wrong. It can be. On a couple of occasions, I’ve twisted the throttle a bit too much, and thought, “Well, that was a bad idea,” and backed off. It’s never resulted in a dangerous situation, but things started happening faster than I thought they would, causing me to reconsider.

But, for the most part, the speed is…deceptive. You twist the throttle a bit to pass, and suddenly you’re bouncing off triple digits. But the air management is so good, and the bike is so stable, you simply don’t feel the speed. the environmental inputs you receive from a bike like the Sportster just aren’t there. And that’s a good thing–or a bad thing, if a cop happens to be lighting up the road with his KR-12.

The thingis, it doesn’t force the performance on you. It’ll certainly give it to you, willingly, if you ask for it, but it can also be as sedate as you want it to be.

This really has me wondering what it’s like to ride a real superbike, like a ‘Busa or ZX-14 Ninja. I wonder if they give you the sense of control that the FJR does, or if they have a more untamed feel.

I don’t think I could ever actually own one, of course. They don’t fit my needs at all. The riding position would get me cramped up pretty quick. And I hate the idea of having to go back to doing chain maintenance. No bags, and no two-up riding make them pretty impractical for my needs, too.

I bet it’d be fun to try one out, though.

Another bright spot for the FJR, by the way, has been the slow-speed handling. The lack of a clutch doesn’t worry me at all now. I know where the YCC-S releases the clutch on the tachometer, and a little trail braking is all you need. You can do a full-lock turn from a standing start on the FJR. That saves a lot of parking lot paddling, because you can really twist your way out of tight spaces at very low speeds. Of course, replacing the stock throttle tube with the G2 Ergo tube/cam has helped immensely there, too, by taming the throttle response into something more predictable and linear.

I’ve really been impressed by this motorcycle. It has great comfort, great–and useable–power, great maneuverability, and gives you loads of fun.

My only regret is that with the SO, and two big dogs, I’ll probably never get to take it on the road for a real touring ride.