2012 Honda Gold Wing breaks cover

2012 Honda Gold Wing
2012 Honda Gold Wing

Honda has announced the new 2012 Gold Wing, which I guess is the premier, non-Harley touring bike.

There was some talk that Honda would be coming up with a big redesign of their flagship bike, but…not this year. The changes are essentially these:

  • Less curvy, more angular styling
  • Increased wind protection, which I didn’t actually think was possible.
  • New saddlebags with 7 liters more space
  • Redesigned dashboard
  • tweaks to the suspension.

Other than that, it’s pretty much unchanged.

The base model pricing comes in at $23,199, which is 1 shiny dollar cheaper than the Wing’s new competition, the BMW K1600GTL.

Honda, of course, has an entirely different take on the amazing amazingness that is the 2012 Gold Wing, and if you want to read that, Honda’s press release is below the fold.

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Could the big Sport-Touring bikes be any smaller?

Someone’s always complaining about weight on the big sport-touring bikes. The FJR & Connie are both almost 700lbs wet.  The new K16GT is just over 700, as is the ST1300. Now, I can understand wanting a lighter, more maneuverable bike–I want one myself–but I’m not sure the big tourers can be any smaller.

I mean, physics are physics.  Once you assume the requirement for HP and torque of a certain level, you’ve assumed an engine of a certain size and weight.  Once you’ve decided you need 1000-1200lbs of Gross Weight, you’ve assumed a frame of a certain size, stiffness, and, hence weight. Once you’ve decided to stretch the wheelbase a couple of inches for highway stability, you’ve increased the size of the frame/subframe/swingarm, which is more weight.

Take a look at the new Ninja 1000, which is about as stripped down to basics as a sporting streetbike gets–no ABS, no bags, no electric windscreen, smaller engine, no shaft drive–and the wet weight is 500lbs.  The old ZZR1200, with no bags or shaft, was 600lbs.

Ultimately, the features on the Sport-Tourers make the weight inevitable. Start off with a repli-racer like the R1, which has a wet weight of 454 lbs.  Add a shaft, add 100 lbs. Add ABS, add 10lbs. Add Bags, add 20 lbs. The list goes on. Adding just those three items alone has increased the R1’s wet weight to 584lbs–and we still haven’t beefed up the frame or suspension to support a 2-up, touring capable load weight, or increased the wheelbase to make the handling more stable. Or, for that matter, given it a pillion seat that your chick is gonna want to ride for 20 minutes.

A given volume of aluminum and steel is gonna weigh a given amount. If you want a lighter bike, then you have to give up either a large engine, a shaft drive, max GVW, physical size, or any of a hundred other features that the big sport-tourers have as a standard.

Either that, or build the thing out of carbon fiber and titanium, and pay $40k+ for it.

Yeah, they’re heavy bikes. But it’s difficult to see how they could be lighter, and/or smaller, and still offer the specs that they do.

First Review: BMW K1600GT/GTL

UK Motorcycle journalist Kevin Ash has posted what I believe is the first ride review of the new 6-cylinder BMW K1600GT/GTL motorcycles.  This torque-monster of a motorcycle (129lb.ft) has been highly awaited as BMW has trickled out all sorts of press releases about the technology.  Is it worth the wait? Well, maybe…

What you’ll be hoping for then is a bike laden with well thought through gadgets, a super smooth engine and real muscle from idle upwards. You get most of that, but not quite all…

The big complaint about the bike seems to be the way it performs at the lower end of the rev range.

The motor is a little disappointing at lower revs, especially in the 2,000-3,000rpm zone where you find yourself a lot, as the gearing is tall and the engine so smooth it will trickle down to idle even in the high gears without complaint. Given the fat torque curve you’d hope to be able to snick the smooth-changing transmission into top and leave it there until you switch off at the end of the day, but in practice typical 50-70mph (80-110kph) overtakes demand a couple of downchanges if you’re going to despatch with slower traffic rapidly. And that’s solo, with a passenger, full luggage and steep mountain roads to negotiate (which is the point of a bike like this) you’ll be using the gearbox a fair bit more than you might have expected.

Other than that, Ash lauds the smoothness of the engine, the low weight (relative to the various accouterments, the handling, and, happily, the banshee scream of the inline-6 when you push it into the higher rev ranges.  One surprise to me, having ridden the K and R series bikes, is that he’s not all that impressed with the performance of the suspension when set to the harder “Sport” mode.

In Sport the ride gets harsh and choppy and the lack of compliance means you’re not only more comfortable staying in Normal even when going for it, the bike feels happier too. I’d even go for the plushness of the Comfort setting in preference to Sport when riding fast, as stability doesn’t suffer too much and aside from some floatiness over undulating bumps, the wheel control remains good.

Maybe the K1600-series is different, but on the R and earlier K bikes, I prefer the Sport mode for hard riding.  Maybe this is one of those subjective assessments that can only be confirmed–or denied–through personal testing…which I intend to accomplish, and relate to you, as soon as these bikes make it to Southern California, and are available for testing.

At any rate, Ash’s ride review make for interesting reading, and make me lick my chops for a chance to unleash that I-6, myself.

Erik Buell Racing 1190RS

The secret is finally out! Here is the high-res image of the new 1190RS from Erik Buell.

Erik Buell Racing 1190RS
Erik Buell Racing 1190RS

As you can see, it’s a race bike, albeit one that has mirrors and turn signals grafted on to make it street legal. The body is all lightweight carbon fiber, and a small number–just enough for racing homologation–will be hand-produced.  No word on the cost yet, but you can bet the price will be in the jumbo jet altitude. More reasonably priced street models are planned for later, although that will take investors and production facilities.

I do have to say, though…that exhaust isn’t doin’ it for me.

“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.

My Dream Sports-Tourer?

This last weekend’s crushing disappointment over having my offer for that 2005 ZZR1200 rejected and my jotting down of some motorcycle perspectives came at about the same time. Because, in considering the ZZR, I’ve been thinking about the bike I really want to have.

If I could have a dream sports-tourer, it would have the following characteristics:

  • Wet weight: under 600 lbs.
  • Great handling
  • Hard bags
  • 90lb-ft of torque and 140+HP at the rear wheel, enough to give me a 1/4 in the mid 10s.
  • Good wind protection, including an adjustable windscreen.
  • Handlebars that allow easy mounting of electronics.
  • Heated grips
  • 2 aux. 12-volt electric outlets
  • ABS

Give me that, and I’ll happily live with a chain drive to save weight.

But what I think I’ve actually just done is designed a K1600GT with a chain drive. Let’s see, wet weight, 703 lbs…

Yeah. That’s what I did.

Huh.

Maybe that extra 100 lbs isn’t a deal-breaker.

Oh, speaking of the new BMW K1600 bikes, BMW released the prices today.  $21,000 for the GT, $23,000 for the GTL. Compared to the inflated price of a Gold Wing, that $23k for the GTL is a steal.

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.

I can still hear it. Taunting me. (Updated)

2005 Kawasaki ZZR1200
2005 Kawasaki ZZR1200

I popped into a dealership today, for reasons entirely unrelated to motorcycle buying, and I saw this 2005 Kawasaki ZZR1200, just sitting there.

It is practically spotless. It has 378 miles on the odometer. They’re asking for $6k.

I can’t get her out of my mind.

Quite apart from anything else, I’ll never see another deal like this for years, if ever. How often do you run across one of the most powerful streetbikes ever made, that’s 6 years old, in perfect condition, with less than four hundred miles on the clock.

It’s like the guy has been saving it just for me. I mean, seriously, who buys a bike like this, keeps it for six years, and only rides it for 378 miles? I can’t even comprehend that mental process.

Now, I don’t need a second bike. And it’s got all the things I’ve been staying away from, i.e., chain drive, no ABS, no accessory slots for electric stuff. But there were so few of them ever sent to the US, and they’re so distinctive, it’s just calling to me.  Cripes, you can’t even put bags on the thing, except for an aftermarket set of soft bags maybe.

But it’s such a sweet deal. I’ve got the money to buy it outright.

On the other hand, there’s a tiny, almost unnoticeable little dent on the gas tank. Maybe if I just keep concentrating that, and magnifying it in my mind, this insane desire will go away…

UPDATE:

The insane desire did not, in fact, go away. I went in at 10:00am this morning and offered $5,000 out the door.

They told me to go F myself.

It turns out that they paid $4900 for it (Kelly Blue Book wholesale is only $3500), plus another $500 for reconditioning.  So their lowest price is $6k + Tax, title, and license.  That would bring the total price to about 6,600.

As much as I am dying to have this ZZR, I can’t pull the extra $1500 cash right now. So some undeserving bastard is gonna ride away with it.

First Ride: 2011 Ducati Diavel

The first ride reports are trickling in from the Ducati’s press launch for the Diavel in Marbella, Spain.  Visordown’s ride review tells me exactly what I wanted to know about the Diavel.  My main concern in looking at the specs of the Diavel was the handling.  It’s a bike with a long wheelbase, and a big, honkin’ 240-section rear tire.  That just screams “slow turn-in!” to me.  But, according to Visordown, Ducati has somehow done something special that those specs don’t capture.

The real ace up the Diavel’s sleeve is its handling. A massive 240-section rear tyre and a long wheelbase are not the ideal ingredients if you want a bike to handle, but – and I’m not sure how – the Diavel doesn’t suffer one bit…What really stood out to me was that throughout the whole day, I didn’t think about the bike’s handling once. It went exactly where I wanted it to, not once did I feel like I was running wide, or that I could do with more ground clearance. There are no footboards gouging the tarmac here, no concerns about getting home with half of your exhaust chamfered off. It doesn’t just handle well for a cruiser, it handles well for a sportsbike…When the rear Pirelli can’t cope, Ducati’s Traction Control steps in and gently corrects your over enthusiastic demands, keeping the rear wheel in line and most bikes struggling to keep up.

That…interests me.

Sadly, there are no Diavel’s available yet on this side of the pond, but my crystal ball tells me that sometime in the near future, I’ll be begging Balz Ringli at Moto Forza for a Diavel test ride.

Shootout: Honda CBR250R vs Kawasaki Ninja 250R

Kawasaki Ninja 250 vs Honda CBR250R
Kawasaki Ninja 250 vs Honda CBR250R

One of the things the Europeans do as a matter of course, and we in the US do very rarely, is to ensure that beginning riders are restricted to smaller-displacement motorcycles to get some experience before stepping up to the big boy bikes. All too often, this results in a new rider purchasing a Gixxer 1000 as a starter bike.

This is an extraordinarily bad idea.  I do a lot of work with the US military, and  the number of kids who come back from the sandbox without a scratch, and then promptly smear themselves and their new Fireblade across the pavement is truly troubling.

And it’s not just kids.  Because I do a lot of work on a military installation, and ride a motorcycle as my primary transportation, I had to take an MSF course in order to ride my bike on base, as per DoD rules. One of the guys in my MSF course was a 40-something Navy retiree, who had decided to buy a motorcycle, after having never ridden before.  His choice for a first motorcycle: A Buell Ulysses.  He said he trucked the bike home, unloaded it, and decided to try it out on his residential street.  He started it, gave it some gas, then released the clutch…at which point he grabbed a handful of throttle and went on a very short but terrifying “Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride”, that ended a few seconds later in a crash.  He decided that maybe he should take the MSF course before getting back on.

The Ulysses is a great bike. Not a beginner bike.  And it’s tame compared to a literbike.

Beginners who are interested in sportbikes really do need to start off on the lighter, smaller, and more maneuverable bikes.  But, for years, the only really decent beginner sportbike was the Kawasaki Ninja 250.  Now, however, new riders have a choice, with the introduction of Honda’s new CBR250R.

Visually, the new CBR250R is a much more attractive bike.  Unlike the rather dated look for the Ninja 250, the CBR250  looks modern. Indeed, it looks like a miniature of the VFR1200F.  The Honda also has a linked ABS option, too.

So, how do the two bikes stand up to each other head-to-head? Well, Motorcycle USA tested them to find out, and the comparison makes for interesting reading.