Living with the VFR

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I could ride this thing all day and not get tired of it. It’s comfy for my 5’10"/195lb stature. It’s got a great stonkin’ engine. The DCT makes any kind of riding you want to do a joy.

This morning, a guy in a new CBR100RR pulled up next to me, and was checking out the VFR and all I could think was, "you poor bastard…your bike sucks."

Admittedly, he may feel differently.

I’ve been pounding around recently in manual mode, and man, this thing moves when you get the RPMs up over 5k. It pulls like a truck. The Sport mode in auto is nice, and has lots of get up and go, but in manual mode, when you just let it pull to the redline for every gear, it’s scary fast.

In parking lots, the DCT is about 1,000 times better than the FJR’s YCCS tranny. It’s easy to maneuver, though it does require a tad a foot-braking to keep it settled in low-speed maneuvering. It feels way lighter than 600 lbs, even trundling around at a walking pace.

Which I do as little as possible.

I’ve been asked about vibration. Yeah, it’s there in manual mode. It’s more noticeable at higher revs. But, to me, it’s part of the character of the V4, and I like it. And you really have to push it before the vibration becomes anything more than part of the background.

I’m immensely satisfied with the bike.

Settling in to the VFR1200F

I’ve now got slightly north of 400 miles on the new VFR. I’m really impressed with her—except for a couple of minor quibbles. In general, my overall rating for the VFR1200F is "Wheee!"

The DCT just…works.  In heavy city traffic, where I spent about 4 hours today running a whole bunch of errands, just putting that bad boy in "D" and letting the automatic tranny take care of everything is just sweet. There’s enough oomph that you can zip by cars when you need to with a twist of the wrist. At the same time, it’s perfectly controllable power at all times. You can just toddle around town without a care.

The paddle shifter works pretty well in Manual mode, too, but I have to say, with the automatic Sport mode I just don’t use manual too much. I don’t know how Honda worked out the algorithm to when it shifts, and what gear it picks, but it’s pretty amazing. About 99% of the time it picks just the right gear for whatever you’re doing at the moment. However it does it, it’s pretty sophisticated.

There is some vibration, but it’s not intrusive or bothersome. It’s nice V-4 vibration. I dunno how to explain it, except to say its part of the bike’s character. It lets you know you’re on a V-4 instead of an I-4. It doesn’t make your little hands sleepy or anything. It’s just…there. I like it. It kind of has the same feel as the BMW Boxer. It’s a good vibration.

vfrtail

Luggage is a problem. The VFR has a really wide tail light assembly. I’ve tried a couple of different sets of sport bags for the tail and they just don’t fit, without covering up most of the turn signals. I’m beginning to think this is an intentional design move by Honda to force people to buy the EOM luggage for $1000+.

Either way, I can’t seem to find saddlebags that fit, look nice, and don’t obscure the rear lights. So, I still have nothing but my Tourmaster top case to carry stuff with. I’d really like some other luggage options. I guess I’ll have to keep looking, because I really don’t want to have to pay Honda an outrageous price for what are essentially plastic boxes.

It was pretty warm today, and I can already see that the Honda is gonna be way more comfy in hot weather than the FJR was. You get more air, and better, smoother air than the FJR. And the VFR doesn’t seem to bake you at a stoplight by bathing you in engine heat like the FJR. Superior air management. Of course, in cold weather, like we had last week, I’ll admit I missed the wind protection of the FJR and the huge Cal-Sci windscreen I had on it. I knew that would be the case going into it, but I had to re-learn how to dress for winter Southern California weather, like I did before I got the FJR.

Layers. That’s the key. Layers are important.

It hot weather, though, it’s a blessing to get moving on the VFR.

The footpegs are a skoche too high for my comfort. It’s not bad, but lower pegs would make the bike a bit more comfy for me. I think that’s gonna have to go into the "Deal with it" category, though. It’s a sporting machine for fancy gentlemen like myself, and if I lower the pegs, it’s going to compromise the lean ability a bit. Based on my experience so far, I probably shouldn’t do that.

The other ergonomics are just fine for me. The bar risers make the reach to the controls a bit sport-biased, but not uncomfortably so. Mainly, the bike fits me rather well. I’m happy with the extra sportiness of it.

The seat…meh. It’s an EOM seat. The FJR seat was better. The shape of the Honda seat just catches the back of my legs in a place where I don’t like it. Fortunately, both Corbin and Sergeant make seats for fancy gentlemen like myself. Heated, too.

Handling is way better than the FJR. It’s only 50 lbs lighter, but the way it handles makes the FJR seem positively porky by comparison. The thing is, I think that the Dunlop OEM tires make the VFR seem porkier than it should be. I really, really, want to burn through these tires to get a set of Pilot Road III’s on this baby. As it is, though, the VFR is pretty flickable for a bike that weighs 600 lbs.

I was also a bit apprehensive about the range with a 5-gallon tank, as opposed to the 6.6-gallon tank on the FJR. Not really a problem. I’m getting better mileage on the VFR—though that me be because I’ve been limited in my ability to push it, but even so, my range is only about 30 miles less on the VFR than it was on the FJR. Since I’m mainly a daily rider and not planning on going on long tours with it, it’s not really an issue for me.

The VFR could be a little quicker off the line. Like I wrote previously, it appears Honda has tamed the initial throttle response—it’s all fly-by-wire on the VFR—in 1st and 2nd gears. This is undoubtedly to keep you from killing yourself. Because if you switch to manual mode, the jam the throttle all the way to the stops from a dead stop, it accelerates gently, right up until the tach hits 4000. At that point, your arms get jerked out of socket, and the front wheel gently lofts off the ground. Maybe it’s a good thing that initial throttle response is tamed the way it is. Somersaulting your bike over like a flapjack at a stoplight would be embarrasing.

So, it’s not a drag racer. But when you’re zipping along right in the meat of the powerband, some throttle discipline is mandatory. Anywhere from 4,000-10,000 RPM, the VFR cranks. Assuming the weather stays nice, I’ll burn through the remaining break-in miles in the next week or so, and then…we’ll see what we will see.

VFR Update

So, I’ve tooled around town on the new bike. Some initial impressions below. But first, a walkaround video and some pics.

httpvh://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oTCr83dsjkA

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I’m keeping it very sedate while I’m breaking it in, so I haven’t pushed the engine more than a little bit. But even a little bit of pushing and this thing takes off. For instance, i

n automatic, there’s a standard Drive mode that short-shifts and is very strongly biased to fuel economy…to the extent that you’re in 6th gear by 40mph. Not very exciting at all.  Like a moderately sporty scooter. Then there’s the Sport mode. It’s…the opposite. It shifts at redline. And, while I can’t really use the sport mode much during the break-in period, it is…exciting. Let’s just say you can leave rubber from the rear wheel…in 3rd gear, though with brand-new tires.

You don’t need to know how I know that. Or how badly my pants were soiled.

The hardest thing to get used to is not shifting. Over the last three years, I’ve built up all these habits on the FJR. I upshifted with my foot, but downshifted by tapping the handlebar paddle. But there’s no need to shift at all on the VFR with the auto tranny. So, I have to keep stopping myself from tapping the shift lever on the handlebar, and pulling out of auto into manual mode.

Also, the FJR didn’t do anything at all until the RPMs hit 2,500. But as soon as you touch the throttle on the VFR, it goes. So, I’ve gotten a little sloppy on the throttle, because twisting it slightly on the FJR didn’t do anything. That is not the case with the VFR, so I’m re-learning how to discipline my throttle hand.

I haven’t yet figured out the optimum process for making sharp turns, or low-speed maneuvering in general. Like the FJR, the VFR takes a combination of throttle input and rear brake, but I just haven’t found that optimum amount of each that makes turning smooth. Without a clutch to keep at the friction point, low-speed stuff is a little tricky. I had it mastered on the FJR, but now I’m having to relearn it. It’s trickier on the VFR because it responds instantly to the throttle.

Interestingly enough, the VFR doesn’t pull hard from a dead stop, like the FJR did. The VFR stomps at >3,000 RPM, but the initial takeoff is fairly smooth and easy. Having said that, I also haven’t twisted the grip hard yet.  We’ll have to revisit this impression after break-in.

I really like it so far. It seems much lighter than the FJR, though it isn’t, really, at just 50 lbs lighter. I’ve also only been able to ride in town, so I have no experience with the twisties, and even when I ride to work the next few weeks, I won’t be able to push it.

This break-in period is really hampering my usual riding style, which is…not conservative. Mainly, I’m riding it in the standard auto mode, which is so biased towards low RPM that it shifts to 6th gear at 40 MPH. So, I’m gonna have to wait for another 550 miles before I can get into the performance aspect of the machine.

So far, it’s exactly what I expected, and exactly what I wanted in a fancy gentleman’s sporting bike.

Something I don’t understand

Apparently, packs of motorcycles—not Harleys, but sportbikes—are terrorizing the highways around St. Louis.

Brian Johnson of St. Louis said he was heading on I-170 north to Lambert International Airport with his wife when he saw the pack of motorcycles on the other side of the highway.

"There was a good half mile stretch where it was 20 bikes wide the whole highway," he said. "It was hundreds after hundreds after hundreds of bikes."

Johnson said the bikers were not your typical Harley Davidson types; most were wearing racing suits and riding speed bikes like you would see in stunt shows.

He said the first group of bikers were pumping their fists; the second group created a ringlike formation and had bikers riding down the middle doing wheelies.

Johnson said cars were forced over to the shoulder of the road and trying to get off. There were also traffic tie-ups on his side of the highway as drivers slowed to gawk at the spectacle.

Let me explain something to you morons very simply. If I’m out driving in my Ram 2500 Long Bed, and you try to force me off the road with your motorcycle you’re gonna die.

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.

ATK/Hyosung GT650R Test: Final Report

I just dropped off the GT at Orange County Harley-Davidson, and, while I’m taking the train home, I thought I’d pen my final report on the bike. Before I begin, though, there’s a good comparo of the GT650 model against the Suzuki Gladius at Motorcycle.com.

First off, the GT is a fun little bike. It’s relatively light, and easy to handle in traffic. While it takes some effort to turn in, it feels planted and stable through the corners. The steel twin-spar chassis is firm and not easily unsettled. For the price, it really has a lot of pluses. Just be careful at highway speeds in 3rd or 4th gear, because it will pop right past the 100MPH mark lickety split. And, at 100MPH, it seems like it’s going a lot slower. It’s also got a surprisingly comfy seat.

There are some drawbacks. The sportbike ergos feel punishing after a couple of hours in the saddle. My knees and lower back weren’t happy after that point. But, that’s true with any sportbike. The tranny is clunky. Positive, but clunky. And, after 1 week, I did manage to coax two false neutrals out of it. The OEM BT-56 tires don’t seem like the best choice for this bike, because I think they are the source of the resistance to turn-in.

On the whole, considering the bike’s budget price, you could certainly do worse for a low-cost intruductory sportbike.

ATK/Hyosung GT650R Test: Observations and Suggestions

After two days of living with the Hyosung GT650R I’ve got some observations, and come up with some improvement suggestions.

Before I begin, I should point out that, starting next year, the ATK version of these bikes will not be the stock Hyosung versions. Most of the components will come from Hyosung, but ATK is planning to make changes to the bikes, to include assembling them with non-Hyosung components as well. Part of what I’m doing with this test of the Hyosung is providing feedback directly to ATK CEO Frank White on suggested improvements to the stock model. So the bikes that ATK produces, while still oriented towards the budget beginning rider, will, hopefully, incorporate some of these changes.

Also, in answer to a commenter, this is not a 2010 EFI model, but an ’09 carbuerated bike. So I’m not going to be giving any advice about EFI mapping. But, I have noticed that, like all carb bikes, it doesn’t like running cold.  Tends to stall out prior to warming up.

The ergos are hard to live with. They’re just overly aggressive.  The only other bike I can think of with this aggressively committed posture is the Aprilia RSV4. Unless you’re going to take this thing to the track every day, it’s just ridiculous to have to live with race ergos on a bike the puts out 60 ponies. So, a good start is to move the pegs forward and down an inch or so. I don’t think, with the placement of the exhaust pipe, that you have room to do much more. For the clip-ons, replace them with a set of Helibars mounted to the top of the triple tree. That’ll move the bars up about four inches, and back about one inch.  You’d still get a fairly aggressive posture for strafing the canyons,  but a far less tortuous one for daily commuting. You’ll need a taller windscreen if you do this though, to reduce helmet buffeting.

The BT-56 Battleax tires probably aren’t the best tire for this bike. The GT has pretty aggressive geometry, and it should turn in better than it does. I’m thinking the profile of the BT-56 just isn’t well suited for this bike. If you’re going to stick with Bridgestone, then I’d try a move to the BT-016, which is the spec OEM tire for the GSXR-600, or maybe the Dunlop D220 used on the SV650.

When you are blasting along in third, then kick it down a gear for some engine braking before entering a turn, too much engine braking causes the rear wheel come loose a bit, and it unsettles the chassis, starting up a bit of side-to-side shimmy. I learned that while strafing canyon roads today. This can be disconcerting. Use caution.

First gear is pretty “meh”. You can launch the bike OK, but it’s not a huge lunge of power. The fun really begins at about 6500RPM in second. You can pretty much do anything in second gear, and you can go through the twisty bits at twice the recommended speed limit. Sixth gear on this bike allows you to sedately cruise down the highway, and it’s almost lugging at 70MPH. It’s as tame as a pussycat in 6th, with very low vibes and perfectly clear rear-view mirrors. You can cruise practically forever this way.

I don’t like the design of the rear views. The mirrors are a single module mounted on a swivel at the end of the stalk. So, when I hang my helmet on the mirror, it moves it out of adjustment. I realize that this is a personal problem, however, as this is a standard mirror design.

It’s kind of odd seeing an old-fashioned gas tank. I mean the big thing in front of the seat really is a gas tank. It’s not a cover for the airbox, with the actual tank hidden below the seat. You open the gas cap, and there’s a big old jug of explosive fluid. Just sloshing around. Right next to your nads.

ATK/Hyosung GT650R Test: Day 1

GT650R, Right Side
GT650R, Right Side

I’ve put about 3 hours on the bike today, mainly in city and highway riding, although I did take a brief spin through some mountain twisties, because I couldn’t end my first ride without a little taste of the curvy stuff. Having done so, I’ve got a couple of initial observations about the bike.

Before I do so, let’s be sure to be clear about what we’re talking about here.  This is not a high-end motorcycle. You can tell that just by the price, which is around $6,199. while that price compares favorably with close analogs like the $7,499 MSRP of the 2009 Suzuki SV650SF (which isn’t actually made any more) or the $7,199 Kawasaki Ninja 600R, the feature set of the bike is also commensurately reduced, as well.

It’s a budget bike, designed for people who don’t want to spend–or don’t have–the extra $1000 or so to buy a more sophisticated alternative. It’s a 90% solution for a V-Twin sportbike, so let’s measure it against that design standard.

Don’t get me wrong, if Suzuki’s press fleet had any more SV650SFs available, I would have tested the two bikes side by side. Maybe that would be unfair, but it’s what I originally wanted to do. Since that’s not gonna happen right now, let’s look at the GT650R for what it is.

GT650R Instrument Cluster
GT650R Instrument Cluster

Visually, it seems like a previous-generation sportbike to me. Simple instrument cluster. Fatter tail section than modern bikes. No LED lights or turn signals. Bulbous fuel tank. The most distinctive visual element is the twin-spar steel frame.

The instrument cluster really looks like a 90s-era set of gauges. There’s an analog tach, and simple LED display that shows a large digital speedometer readout, engine temp, and fuel gauge. There’s a odometer with a trip meter and reset buttons to the right. Above are simple and obvious function lights. No bells and whistles, but they are relatively easy to read.

The overall fit and finish is acceptable, though not completely to the standard of the Japanese marks, while the solid red paint job is functional, rather than exciting.

The riding position is committed, with the clip-on handlebars mounted below the top of the triple tree, and the footpegs set fairly high. After a couple of hours in the saddle, it was getting pretty cramped for my 32″ inseam, and my wrists were a bit sore. Sportbike ergos. They are what they are.

On the other hand, the seat is really decent, being wide enough to support my bum well, and with some room to move back to front a bit.

Starting it up rewards you with a pretty decent V-Twin growl. I mean, it’s immediately obvious what this engine is. It sounds nothing like the hum of the small-displacement I-4s. It was also a bit louder than I expected, and it’s got a rumbly, rather than bubble exhaust note, which I like.

The other thing I liked was that getting it rolling doesn’t require you to pump up the revs like a small I-4. A little twist of the throttle, and it’s ready to pull from the get-go, which is also a pleasant V-Twin characteristic. It has a fairly high redline at 10,000RPM, so the power at 3,00o-5,000 RPM is relatively sedate in 1st gear, but it’s certainly there. Of course, the way they’ve done this is to make 1st a very short gear. It pulls well from a stop, but it gets to the redline fast, requiring a quick shift into second.

GT650R, Front
GT650R, Front

Second and third gears, on the other hand, are very tall, and you can spend a lot of time there. I took a run up and down the mountain from Escondido to Lake Wohlford and back, and kept it in second for the whole run through the twisty bits…but we’ll talk about that in a minute.

The suspension is set fairly stiff, which is good for twisties, but was less good on the bumpy I-5 South, where it transmitted more road feel than I wanted to my butt at 85MPH. Having said that, at street speeds, did a surprisingly good job of absorbing the cracks and small potholes. The 41mm front fork is adjustable for compression and rebound damping, while the mono rear shock has adjustable preload. I was satisfied enough with it not to consider changing it after I got home.

Once the engine gets above 6,000 RPM, the vibrations start to kick in.  It gets pretty vibey under your butt, and the mirrors begin losing clarity pretty fast. On the other hand, the rubber footpegs and the handlebars do a decent job of isolating you from the vibes. Not once did I get any numbness in my hands during a 1.5 hour trip home. The vibration is going to be a point of contention for some, but not for me. I like V-Twins, and some vibration seems to me to be part of the character of that engine. Yes, the Ducati twins are much smoother. They also cost three times as much.

Handling on the GT650R requires a lot of rider input. I think it’s the OEM tires, because the 25° rake and relatively short 56.5″ wheelbase should make the handling a bit sharper than it is. The handling is, in fact, rock solid, it’s just not telepathic.  You have to tell it what to do, and it complies happily, but you really have to tell it what to do. There’s no simple “look & go” like a GSX-R. On the other hand, it’s not twitchy, like the CBR. It just requires that you apply the appropriate amount of countersteer to make the magic happen. It’s been solid and planted at every lean angle I’ve put it through so far, though I’ve had to keep pushing the bars to keep a tight line.  At low speeds, the GT has a much wider turning radius than it should, with a full-lock U-Turn taking up the whole street, as much as my FJR.

The engine’s power is very manageable for street riding, and not intimidating at all, though it can be deceptively fast if you flog it. Again 2nd or 3rd gear is suitable for almost any street riding speed. At highway speed, 6th gear at an indicated 80MPH shows 5,000RPM on the tach, the vibes are very muted, and the rear-view mirrors are surprisingly clear. A kick down to fifth is suitable for quick passing. Air management with the stock shield at highway speeds could be better, and I experienced buffeting around the head while traveling down the I-5 at 85MPH. But, then again, you can say that about a lot more expensive sportbikes, too.

The transmission is solid and dependable, if a bit clunky, but there were no false neutrals. Clutch pull was bit heavy, though, making surface street riding a bit tiring to the left hand. Maybe my AE model FJR has spoiled me.

Braking is OK, with two fingers on the front brake sufficing for most things. The braking is progressive, although it takes an excessive amount of finger travel on the front brake lever. The rear brake has decent feel, far better than the wooden feel of say, the rear brakes on a Buell.

So far, I’ve found a only a couple of things to complain about. There’s a lot of travel in the clutch lever, and it’s hard to find the friction point. It’s just really vague between no clutch and full clutch. While I didn’t have any false neutrals while shifting, once you put it in neutral, it really wants to stay in neutral. I haven’t yet found the magical combination of clutch, throttle, and foot pressing to get reliably out of neutral on the first try. Or the third, for that matter. Also, it’s not super-fast, but, OK, I’m a bit jaded, as I haven’t ridden a bike of less than 1000cc displacement for a couple of years, so we probably need to give it a pass on that. It weighs 474lbs wet, so all the supersport guys are gonna call it a porker, which probably explains why it’s a bit slow. But, again, I ride a 650lb FJR every day, so it seems marvelously light to me.

So, after my first day’s experience, do I like it? Yes, I do like it, considering what it is.

Here’s the thing: once you’ve spent a couple of years poncing about on 145+ HP bikes with $12K+ price tags, you get used to a certain level of power and amenities. So, going back to a basic 650cc intro sportbike–and a twin, at that–is a bit of a disappointment. You have to look beyond that.

The GT650R is a budget bike for beginners.  It doesn’t have any weird spikes in the powerband to surprise you. It doesn’t pull your arms out of their sockets or frighten the bejeezus out of you give it a bit too much throttle. It doesn’t wander about the line in a curve, requiring a high level of finesse and technical skill. It’s got a pretty sedate power curve in town, but decent power for highway riding. It handles lean angles and rider input without complaint, and without going all squirrely on you. It’s not a great bike like a GSX-R, but it’s competent, and probably pretty exciting for a beginning rider.

No, it isn’t as pretty or sophisticated as a CBR or Ninja, but it also costs a bit more half of what a CBR600 costs, and $1,500 less than a base-model V-Strom. It’s a bike designed to give beginning riders a budget alternative to introductory sportbikes, and so far, it seems to me that it does that fairly well.

ATK/Hyosung GT650R Test: First Impressions

GT650R, Packed up and ready to ride

This is what the ATK/Hyosung GT650R looked like this morning as I prepared to ride it away from Orange County Harley-Davidson.

A couple of visual things I noticed as I was getting ready to ride.

  • Instrument cluster is simple, and relatively easy to read, though some might find the analog tach a little small. The large LED speedo is very legible.
  • The tank badge says “ATK”. The top of the triple tree says Hyosung “GT650R Comet”. ATK-produced bikes will no doubt have the Hyosung badges removed.
  • Decent little trunk under the passenger seat.
  • Useful cargo tiedowns on either side of the passenger seat.
  • Extensive chain cover to protect your pants from flying chain oil.

Those were just quick first impressions.

This first year of ATK-badged bikes are actually unsold Hyosungs. For next year, Hyosung will build the components, and ATK will assemble them in their Utah factory.