…I’ve noticed something odd when I go to the shop with my FJR. That’s my rear tire over there. Now, that’s not an extreme-to-the-edge wear pattern, although it does reflect some peg scraping. But I have a 650-pound touring bike, and, while I’m nowhere near the poster-boy for conservative riding, I’m not willing to sacrifice my life to Mr. Inertia.
But every time I go to the shop, I see a number of literbikes and super sports that are worn all the way down to the cords in the center of the tire, and with three untouched inches of tire on either side of the center.
So, I guess I’m just curious.
What, exactly, is it that you sportbike guys are doing when you ride?
Are you just doing burnouts in the parking lot, wasting 100+ bucks per tire in a few days? Or do you just never turn, and ride in endlessly straight lines? How on earth does someone burn through a tire, while leaving the outer two or three inches untouched on either side? And, by the way, you do realize that if you can see steel cords on the surface of your tire, then riding it–even to the shop–is a gamble, right?
I just have this image in my mind of someone who hauls his ZX600 from 0 to 60 in 3 seconds at every stoplight, and then slows to 5 MPH every time he approaches a corner.
Seriously, I’m not trying to be an ass. I really do wonder how you can actually ride a sportbike for any distance at all, and have pristine, untouched, 3-inch chicken strips. You simply have to be doing something stunty, and not using the bike as a daily ride.
And while we’re on the subject of weird riding habits, what’s with the shorts and tennis shoes? I realize that we live in a desert here in far southern California. It’s hot. I get it. But I constantly see guys tooling around in shorts and tennis shoes. And I’m not talking about squids on super sports. It’s almost universal. I see guys on Gold Wings, Harleys, sportbikes, and BMW GSs wearing shorts and Reeboks, tooling around town, and on the highway. And I’m not talking about dumb young kids. I’m talking about guys my age (mid-40s) riding 800 lb tourers.
I mean, granted, I’m a paranoid old woman who wears a full Olympia Motosports suit and full-face helmet to ride 2 blocks to the 7-11, but seriously, why on earth would you hit I-15 on a bike, wearing a T-shirt, shorts, and a ratty old pair of Air Jordans? Even if you’re a super-skilled rider, the roads are full of cager morons who’ll run you over without even seeing you.
You are aware that we are involved in a rather dangerous sport, aren’t you?
Via Motorcycle Daily, it looks like California will no longer stand alone in the US in allowing lane-splitting.
So kudos to the Arizona legislature for honoring the Goldwater legacy of personal liberty tempered by individual responsibility with Arizona House Bill 2475. Introduced by Harley-Davidson-riding Representative Jerry Weiers (say “wires,” R-District 12), the bill will legalize, for a one-year probationary period beginning January 1, 2011, lane-splitting in stopped traffic. It will only apply in counties with populations greater than 2 million (according to 2006 population estimates, this is just Maricopa county, with the Phoenix-Glendale-Scottsdale megalopolis). The bill sailed through the Transportation committee (which Weiers chairs) and the House Rules committee, and has been read to the State Senate as well. It's looking like there is little opposition to the bill so far, which makes sense: those who lean to the left should like the message of encouraging the lower environmental impact of motorcycle transportation, and those on the right should appreciate the individual-rights angle.
I don’t like lane-splitting in moving traffic, mainly because here in Southern California, no-signal-no-looking-lane-changing idiots are likely to run you over. On the other hand, I almost invariably lane-split at stoplights. As long as you exercise reasonable prudence, it’s not a big deal.
The ambient air temperature read 87° as I pressed the starter switch on the blue-on-white Buell 1125R, and prepared myself for the slight possibility of fun.
I say “slight possibility”, because the restrictions that Biggs Harley-Davidson in San Marcos, CA had set on the test ride were stacked against any serious test of the motorcycle’s capability. First, I was restricted to riding a pre-defined route that would prevent any serious test of the bike’s handling. Second, I was required to ride behind an accompanying Biggs employee, who would be riding a…wait for it…Street Glide. Now the Street Glide is a beautiful motorcycle, but any casual listing of it’s outstanding characteristics would not include “Sharp, high-speed handling”.
I was told, however, that I was lucky to be allowed to take a test ride at all, because “the insurance company classifies them as ‘superbikes’, we we were lucky to allow anyone to take a test ride.”
And you can believe as much of that as you please.
Starting up the 1125R rewards you with a decidedly un-Harley-like, yet recognizably V-Twin rumble. It’s a fairly unique sound, and after thinking about it for a while, I decided that it sounds sort of like a WWII aircraft engine.
The first few minutes I spent in the parking lot, doing a couple of figure-8s, and playing with the low-speed handling of the bike. For someone like me, who rides at low speed using the techniques from the “Ride Like a Pro” series of DVDs, the 1125R is resistant to the trail-braking techniques. That’s because the rear brake is essentially useless. There is no feel whatever, and even a hard stomp on the brake pedal rewards you with…nothing.
This was a recurring feature of the ride, since I tend to use my rear brake a fair amount, and I had to adapt my riding style to essentially ignoring the rear brake and concentrate on two-finger front-braking. I use my rear brake and engine braking to scrub off speed when approaching corners, and the 1125R doesn’t reward that technique at all, though the engine-braking is quite acceptable.
Conversely, the front brakes worked very well. They were grabby, and had plenty of feel. And the bike didn’t stand up straight under light front-braking.
Getting onto the street, another adjustment I had to make was the use of the clutch. It takes hardly any squeeze at all on the clutch lever for it to fully engage, and the engagement and disengagement is fairly abrupt, due to the small amount of required travel. By the end of the ride, I had adapted to it, but it took a bit for me to figure out how to shift smoothly, and not apply to much RPM before the clutch engaged.
Ergonomics are described by Buell as “athletic”. I’d describe them as fairly comfortable in sportbike terms. They’re certainly more relaxed than I expected, and you can ride the 1125r without leaning on your wrists, and laying on the tank. You are crouched forward, and pegs are high, but not so far forward, and not so high that it becomes quickly uncomfortable. It may be a racing bike, but it is a bike you can ride.
Even at very low speeds, the exceptional balance of the 1125R never gives you the feeling that you’re about to fall over.On the street, the broad torque curve is forgiving, and the engine responds promptly in any gear. Unlike the long-stroke V-Twins on most cruisers, the high-revving short-stroke Rotax engine rewards throttle inputs with prompt obedience, the power is linear, and willing to surge higher at the flick of a wrist. While lofting the front wheel on the 1125R could be done with ridiculous ease, the power is easily tameable. It doesn’t get out of control, and doesn’t surprise you. It merely does what you ask, when you ask.
I’ve read several reviews of this bike, and many of them have mentioned buzzing and vibration at certain RPMs. As far as I could tell, it had typical V-Twin character, with buzzing and vibrations everywhere. I expected that, and I don’t really understand why anyone would complain about it. You can drop in as many counter-balancers as you want, but no V-Twin with ever be electric-smooth. That’s just not the character of the engine type. As far as I could tell, the Rotax engine really showed off a lot of the character that makes the V-Twin engine so lovable.
Having said that, it’s not a smooth bike. The vibrations do make the rear-view mirrors essentially useless at speed. But, if a glass-smooth engine and perfectly clear rear-view mirrors are your deal, then a V-Twin bike probably isn’t for you.
Doesn’t make you a bad person.
As we entered the I-15 from Escondido, I could see my minder from Biggs drop his elbow as he twisted the throttle for all his Street Glide was worth. With a very slight twist of the throttle, the 1125R stayed right in formation with him. I did, however, find the mild acceleration amusing.
The 1125R is not only very stable at highway speeds, the way the fairing directs the airflow was perfect for my 5″10″ frame. There was no buffeting at all, just a nice stream of clean air at the top of my chest and shoulders. Dropping into a slight tuck made even that go away. The fairing design on the Buell is quite effective, which would make highway trips far less fatiguing.
While the route we traveled contained no twisties, while we came back on the Old Highway 395, I did do a little playing with the bike’s response to body position. Putting weight on a footpeg, leaning your upper body, even looking and shifting a butt cheek puts the 1125R in the mood to lean. there were a couple of turns on our route, and when going through them, the 1125R was composed, and tracked like it was on rails. It effortlessly took a line inside that of the Biggs minder and his Street Glide, and stayed on that line like it was on rails. I had wondered whether the relatively steep rake and short trail would make the Buell twitchy in corners, and as far as I can tell from my limited experience, it doesn’t.
The only major drawback to the 1125R was the leaden ineffectiveness of the rear brakes.In fact, it’s very stable at all speeds, and in all conditions–admittedly limited ones–I subjected it to. Even at very low speeds, the exceptional balance of the 1125R never gives you the feeling that you’re about to fall over. You can crawl this bike along in city traffic at walking speeds, and never take your feet off the pegs. You don’t usually think of sportbikes as particularly forgiving or confidence inspiring, but the Buell 1125R is exactly that. That, combined with the more forgiving ergonomics, make it a joy to ride.
Heat management on the Buell 1125R can be described with one word: Nonexistent. That bothers some people. Meh. I live in the desert. Everything’s hot. So, the 1125R has no lower fairing to generate the nasty heat away from you. Man up and deal with it.
The only major drawback to the 1125R was the leaden ineffectiveness of the rear brakes. I didn’t like that at all. As far as other negatives goes, I did notice that the gear shift selector read “Gear: –” for the entire ride. And, while the analog Tachometer dominates the dashboard display, you tend to have to hunt for the digital speedometer. On a bike that can cause you to travel at license-losing speeds at the drop of the hat, a more prominent speedometer might be helpful. Finally, the switchgear on the handlebars look amateurish and clunky, and sport annoyingly bright colors. They look out of place on an otherwise well-crafted bike.
On the plus side, this is a genuinely fun and–in sportbike terms–comfortable bike to ride. It’s definitely not a beginner’s bike by any stretch of the imagination, but for an experienced rider, the Buell 1125R is versatile enough to use as a daily commuter at nice, sedate speeds, and a weekend hooligan bike for more…ahem…energetic riding.
I like it a lot.
Motorcycle.Com has just released this year’s comparo of the top sport touring motorcycles. This year, they pit the BMW K1300GT, Yamaha FJR1300A, Kawasaki Concours14, and the venerable Honda ST1300 against each other.
They declare the top bike to be…
Objectively the BMW is the clear winner to us. It makes markedly more power than the others despite not having the biggest engine. Our experiences aboard all four left no question the big K bike is the quickest steering and provides excellent braking performance. It offers very good wind protection, great ergos, an adjustable seat and handlebars, possibly the best passenger perch and very good saddlebags, to name only a few high points.
I’ve never been aboard the St1300 or the C14, but after tiding a K13GT and owning an FJR, I’d pick the FJR any day. I didn’t like the GT at all.
The RT, on the other hand, was a dream.
I took a trip down to San Diego BMW Motorrad today to see what kind of deal they’d give me on a R1200RT, so I could compare and contrast it to North County BMW. Turns out that they want to do a deal a little more than North County does. Not only did they offer me a black RT with a couple of more options than the one at NC BMW, they offered me more for the FJR, and came up with a deal that cost $900 less. So, if I buy one of these things, I think San Diego BMW is the place to go.
Anyway, while I was there, they offered to let me take another RT test ride, which, of course, I did.
This time, since we were in the urban setting of San Diego, I did some different things with the bike, and tried out some of the options a bit more, so I could get a better feel for the details, instead of the overall impression, like I did last week.
Handling in the city was still fantastic, of course. For a 571 lb bike, it really is flickable. On the FJR, I feel like I need to lean down a bit over the tank to lower my center of gravity a bit to get the bike into a more maneuverable attitude. That just isn’t necessary with the RT.
I went down the long open stretch of Kearny Villa Road. There’s no cross traffic, it has a 65MPH speed limit, and it’s a bit of a bumpy road for some reason. It was the perfect place to try out the ESA option. On the sport setting, the suspension transmitted every bump in the road right to the seat of your pants. But push the ESA button to set it to “Comfort”, wait about 10 seconds for the suspension to adjust, and all the little bumps in the pavement just disappear. It had a really nice, smooth ride, even on a relatively bumpy stretch of road. So, the ESA really does work as advertised.
I also found an empty parking lot to try out some slow-speed maneuvering in. The handling of the RT shines just as well at slow-speed, tight maneuvers as it does on the twisties. Give it some gas, find the friction point on the clutch, apply some trail-braking, and you can do lock-to-lock figures 8 with no problem at all.
This is in sharp counterpoint to my FJR AE. Since the AE has an auto-clutch, you have to keep the RPMs above 2500, and apply lots of trail braking. This really requires very fine throttle control, because if you let the RPMs drop too low, the clutch kicks in, and your trail-braking is instantly transformed to “stop now” braking, right in the middle of your lean. This is not a good thing. At very slow speeds, the RT is supremely controllable in comparison.
I really can see why cops love the RT as a police bike. It’s very confidence-inspiring, and makes you look like a better rider than you are. It rewards you for doing the fundamentals right, and doesn’t require you to learn quirky little compensatory riding habits to make up for the bike’s shortcomings.
Airflow management is quite a lot better than the FJR. Even with my Scorpion EXO-1000, which is a sort of noisy helmet, the RT is noticeably quieter with the windshield at the lowest position. At highway speeds, you can bring the windscreen up to the point where the wind noise almost goes completely away.
I really like the boxer engine. The I-4 powerplant certainly has it’s charms, but the boxer has a lot going for it, too. It has a really low center of gravity, which makes the bike easier to pick up, hold up, and maneuver. The noticeable torque and low-speed vibration gives the bike a much more visceral feel, but wind it up, and the balancers kick in, the vibration goes away, and it feels much more like an I-4 powerplant than a twin. It seems like a better motorcycle powerplant than the V-Twin does, because the weight distribution is more friendly for a motorcycle, because it’s down so low.
I fiddled with the rear-view mirrors with a little more rigor this time, and got them aimed properly. I’m still not overjoyed about seeing the handlebars in the top of the mirror, and the top of the saddlebags at the bottom, but once they are adjusted properly, they give you an acceptable field of view at whats going on behind you. At speed, they are rock-steady. And their placement is part of the RT’s terrific wind management, so they perform an additional useful purpose, keeping your hands out of the airstream, unlike the FJR.
Street performance on the RT seems similar to the FJR AE, with a couple of exceptions. From a standing start, the FJR responds much quicker off the line–although that could be just my unfamiliarity with the clutch on the RT, which would improve pretty quickly. They both seem to hit 50MPH in about the same time, according to the “One Missisippi, Two Mississipi…” Timing method.
The FJR has taller gears, however, and doesn’t need to shift into second gear until about 60+ MPH or so. The RT hits the rev limiter in 1st at just slightly above 50 MPH in first. The RT’s 60-80MPH roll-on in 4th gear takes about 3.5 seconds. The FJR AE does it in about the same time in 5th gear.
Interestingly, the better air management on the RT doesn’t give you the same feel of acceleration as the FJR does. The RT is doing pretty much the same thing, stoplight-to-stoplight, as the FJR AE, but it feels less dramatic doing it.
“Dramatic” is a good word to describe the difference between the bikes. I think that comes as a result of different design philosophies. BMW puts a premium on rider comfort, while Yamaha puts a higher priority to giving you a more sporty feel. So, when you do X on the Yamaha, the bike seems to be saying “Woo Hoo! Isnt this fun?!” When you do it on the BMW, the bike says, “Well, we are proceeding at quite a clip, aren’t we? You comfy enough? That nasty wind isn’t bothering you, is it?” The FJR has drama. The BMW doesn’t.
They’re equally fun, but the fun comes in different ways. The RT really is about the handling. It acts like it wants to lean into the turn for you. It’s as if the RT senses what you want to do, and then does it instantly. The FJR, on the other hand, wants to be told what to do. It wants you to dominate it, and it rewards you with the gratification of accomplishment in making it do your will. In short, the RT is a sub, the FJR is a dom.
And there’s lots of fun in exploring both of those personalities.
I spent the afternoon test riding both the K1300GT and the R1200RT. I rode the same route I take to work, which, as I’ve mentioned before, is 1/3 city streets, 1/3 highway, and 1/3 twisty country roads.
Here are my impressions.
Both bikes have far superior handling to the FJR. It’s not a matter of “hey, this is pretty nice”. It more a matter of “Holy SH!t! So this is how a motorcycle is supposed to handle!” The FJR is a nimble bike for its size, but the handling of the BMWs made the FJR seem like riding a…uh…thing that doesn’t handle as well.
Sorry, the simile well ran dry, there.
The RT handles far better than the GT. The GT handles really nice, but on the RT, going through the twisties, it was like the bike knew where it was supposed to go without me doing anything. It runs like its on rails. It falls right into the precise line you want, just when you want it to. The GT was as obedient to steering input as you could ask for, but unlike the RT, it didn’t seem to anticipate. The RT handled like it was reading your mind, not just obeying your inputs. I think I could ride the RT or the GT equally fast in the twisties, because the RT is a step better in handling. I just wonder where in the RT BMW installs the demon that reads the road ahead of you and prepares the bike to turn.
The GT has a superbly smooth engine. It responds instantly to throttle input with no hesitation. Twist, zoom, “oh, look, we’re doing 110 miles per hour.” The RT responds much slower, and the Boxer engine has far more vibration. It also has tons of torque in every gear. If you’re stopped at a light, leaning on one leg, and you blip the RT’s throttle, the bike stands up straight as the torque hits. It’s really noticeable. Still, with the RT, you can sneak up on 110MPH without really trying either. Just not as fast as the GT or FJR. The RT engine growls, the GT engine screams.
But I now understand what the RT guys are talking about when the speak of the “character” of the boxer twin. It growls and vibrates at low RPM, and burbles happily at freeway speeds. Kick it down to fifth on the highway, twist the throttle, and it passes smoothly. Shift back up into 6th, and it’ll just cruise along at 90MPH without a complaint.
The GT has a really touchy throttle. Touch it, and you’re at 6000 RPM instantly. That’s a bit unnerving at first, and really makes you pay attention to clutch control. The GT accelerates faster than than the FJR, but there’s something…boring about it in comparison. It’s as if the GT is saying, “Yes, I can go from 0 to 100MPH in 5 seconds. Big deal. It’s what I do.” There’s all this acceleration, and…it just doesn’t impress you like the FJR does. I can’t really describe it, other than to say the GT was more boring than I thought it would be, speed notwithstanding. That was the biggest surprise of the day. The FJR is just a more fun bike than the GT. I wouldn’t have thought that would be true, but there you go.
The GT sucks in the comfort department. The narrow seat just jams itself up your crotch. It’s every bit as comfortable as sitting on a split-rail fence. Well, that’s probably not a totally fair comparison. The GT doesn’t leave splinters. But other than that, it’s the same. The pegs are also too high for real comfort. It’s not different enough from the RT to notice it just sitting in the showroom, but after 45 minutes on each, the seat and higher pegs begin to irk you noticeably. The FJR is a far more comfortable bike to ride than the GT, but the RT edges out the FJR in comfort. The RT is Cadillac comfortable. With the GT, you sit perched on top of the bike, like a canary riding the shoulder of an insane pirate. With the RT, you feel like you’re inside bike, luxuriously cosseted in a comfy, smooth saddle that gently massages your bum.
Other than sheer acceleration, the RT struck me as a superior motorcycle to the FJR in almost every other way.
Except the rear-view mirrors. Great mirrors on the GT; in the perfect position. The RT, on the other hand, has the mirrors set low, giving you a perfect view of the ends of the handlebars. Perhaps the BMW engineers wanted to be sure you could check your gloves frequently, so you would notice if a bug hit your knuckle armor, causing an unsightly soil on the leather. Or perhaps to check and see if a flying stone struck your bar ends, leaving behind a nasty scratch on the perfect black enamel. Because other than that, the rear-view mirrors on the RT are essentially useless.
But, frankly, that’s a fairly minor quibble.
I went into the test rides today, firmly convinced that I wanted a K1300GT. I rode the RT mainly as a favor to the sales guy who said I really owed it to myself to compare the two bikes. I came back from the RT test ride with a huge grin on my face, utterly surprised to like everything about the bike. I came back from the GT test ride thinking I’d rather have my FJR. I am still a little bit amazed at how much I like the RT, and how underwhelming the GT actually was to ride.
UPDATE: I took another test ride of the R1200RT the following week, and added more detailed impressions of the RT here.
Last night, my final replacement racing stripes came in from Premier Cycle. I put them on, so this morning I finally got to ride my fully restored FJR to work. Actually, I’ve been riding it every day since my last post, but without all the stripes. Now they’re all back on.
And, I even added a farkle, for good measure, You can’t really see it in the cell phone pic here, but I went all out and got the heavy-weight, matte black and decoratively milled silver Throttlemeister, and installed that, too.
So, the FJR is now better than it ever was.
I’m almost back to 100% physically, too. I’m still having a little problem with tendon synovitis–whatever that is–in my right wrist, which is still causing me a little pain. So, I’m still in physical therapy once a week for that. Happily, the orthopedist gave me a prescription for a patch that uses a medicine called Flector, and that seems to be fixing things up, too. So, I should be given a clean bill of health in the next few weeks.
All that remains after that is settling up with the insurance company for my personal injury claim. I don’t know what the claim will actually end up being, but I have missed a couple of days work over this, and ended up with a bit less than $1,000 in out of pocket medical bills over and above my insurance. What with all the time spent once or twice a week in physical therapy, MRIs, nerve conduction tests, and what-not, I bet it’s not going to be cheap, though.
I suspect I’ll probably end up being able to pay off a number of bills for other things.
I’m also hoping to get a corbin seat, and replace the rear seat and backreast with a Corbin Smuggler trunk.
I’m comfortable with riding again, although I notice that I really take a long hard look at all cross traffic now.
I was almost home.
I turned off of Center City onto El Norte Parkway, and as I was crossing Escondido Boulevard, I saw him pull out. I could see the driver very clearly, or rather, I could see the back of his head. With two lanes of traffic and a turn lane approaching him from his left, he was looking to the right to see what traffic was coming that way. I was in the edge of right lane, and I pulled into the left lane in an attempt to go around him, but it was too late.
He hit me on the right side, impacting the right touring bag, just behind my leg. The rear of the bike was knocked out out to the left, and, fortunately, low-sided on the right side. It did a 270-degree spin on the ground, ending up on the right side, laying perpendicular to the lane.
The left side of my right shin got whacked against the fairing, giving me a softball-sized bump on the shin. I guess I put out my hand to help break my fall, so the bone at the base of the hand, near the thumb is bruised up.
I was thrown clear of the bike at some point, and the impact drove the edge of my composite toe on my left boot right into the base of my big toenail, which I expect I’ll lose, in due course, and my left knee got wrenched a little bit, probably from rolling on the ground. I remember my helmet hitting the pavement and sliding along a bit, and thinking, “Man, I’m glad I have a full face helmet.”
Fortunately, I was wearing–as I always do–full gear: Olympia Motosports armored jacket and pants. So, no road rash, or anything like that.
As far as the bike goes, the right footpeg was sheared off. The right touring bag destroyed, and the mountings bent pretty badly. Right mirror bent into uselessness, part of the fairing badly scratched.
Fortunately, my frame slider took the brunt of the slide damage, with about one inch and a half ground off, and the mounting bent.
I rode her home, with my right foot hanging off the right passenger footpeg.
I’m pretty bruised up, and my toe is killing me. I think I might be in a lot more pain tomorrow, and probably won’t make it to the Long Beach motorcycle show.
I just know I’m gonna lose that toenail. Dammit.
Fortunately, the other driver is–or, perhaps, was–a commercial livery driver, so they have full insurance coverage.
It’s 4:50 am on Saturday morning. I just got back from the emergency room.
Turns out my toe is really broken. It wouldn’t stop bleeding last evening, so at about 11:00pm, I went to Palomar Medical Center to have them look me over. The verdict: Broken left big toe, bruised right shin, hyperextended left knee ligaments, bruised wrist.
Anyway, I’m now in one of those fiberglass ankle and foot splint dealies, and the doc says I’ll probably be in it for about 6 weeks. On the plus side, my prescription zipped right past Vicodin, and on to Percoset. I took one a few minutes ago. In another 20, I expect to be seeing the other side of consciousness.
Cripes, but my toe hurts! And, oh, yeah, that big toenal’s coming off.
Anyway, now, I have to make a doctor’s appointment for Monday so my regular doc can look me over. And I might need physical therapy for my left knee, and see an orthopedist.
All because one idiot–and a professional driver at that–couldn’t be bothered to look both ways at a stop sign.
The people at Nationwide Insurance are celebrating some cool new tech thingies that not only make the roads safer for cars, but for bikers as well.
Blind Spot Warning Systems. The system identifies vehicles in blind spots. A warning light, sound, or vibration is activated if a lane change is attempted when a vehicle is present in a driver’s blind spot. The system is valuable to riders, who are often “hidden” in the blind spots of other vehicles, particularly large SUVs or trucks.
Lane Departure Warning Systems. The lane departure warning system activates if a vehicle has inadvertently drifted out of its lane. As with blind spot warning systems, a light, sound, or vibration is employed to warn drivers and prevent them from wandering over the lane line. The lane departure warning system protects riders from inattentive drivers, particularly those who drift lanes while talking on cell phones.
Forward Collision Warning Systems. The system monitors the distance between vehicles. If a driver is too closely following another vehicle, the system activates and, with a light or sound, warns the driver of a potential collision. The forward collision warning system helps prevent rear-end collisions, protecting riders from motorists who have turned their attention from the road to a distraction, like texting.
Adaptive Headlights/Night-Vision Assist. A variety of night-vision technologies are available, including infrared headlamps and thermal-imaging cameras. Each allows the driver greater recognition of objects, such as animals, people – even motorcycles and scooters – that are obscured by darkness. Adaptive headlights bend the light around corners, compensate for ambient light, and may also be speed sensitive. Each of these developments makes it easier for drivers to spot riders in the dark.
Notice what all these technologies have in common? They are high-tech ways of telling morons that they’re being morons. “Hey, Moron, you’re changing lanes!” “Look in your blind spot, Dillweed!” “Are you gonna crawl up the ass of the car in front of you, or what?” I’m not sure that bells and lights are enough, though. Maybe they should have some sort of deal embedded in the headrest that gives you a nasty rabbit punch to grab the moron’s attention.
I guess a lot of the danger arises from where you happen to live. As it turns out, here in San Diego, even the inattentive drivers aren’t all that bad. Now, I didn’t used to think that. In fact, when Chris got on the back of the bike for the first time, she was swearing like a sailor at the driving habits of cagers by the time we were finished.
But, I spent this Thanksgiving holiday up in Los Angeles, at her folks’ place. We were in her Vibe–not on a bike–and even then, the sheer amount of stupidity and blatant assholery on display from other drivers was simply astounding.
If I had to ride up there on a daily basis, I think it’d take about a week before I went the full Michael Douglas Falling Down route, and just started chasing cagers to their destination so I could gun them down in the street like dogs.
Of course, a lot of the stuff I saw was intentional assholery, so no amount of gadgetry will help that. But, for the marginal driver, I guess anything that helps them, however gently, to realize they’re being stupid is a help.
Why, yes, I do plan to stretch the pilot analogy for all it’s worth. Why do you ask?
Last night’s brief run on my new FJR1300AE was interesting, but not really long enough, or varied enough, to get a very good idea of what riding the FJR is like. And it was after dark, so I was very conservative. But, because of an extra-long commute today, I have better grounding in the feel of the new bike.
Last night, I forgot to pull the DoD sticker off the Sporty, which meant I had to go back today. So my round trip commute was about 70 miles. The morning bit was 1/3 city-1/3 interstate-1/3 twisties as usual. The afternoon commute, on the other hand, was 3/4 heavily trafficked surface streets, and 1/4 jammed freeway. So, I got to open her up a little bit, as well as deal with about an hour of stop & go traffic. this gives me enough initial experience to provide a first ride review.
My observations, in no particular order:
The stock grips and throttle are a pain. First, they are a bit too small for my hands. The diameter of the grip tubes is pretty tiny, so holding he throttle is harder than the Sporty was, especially with the thick Kuryakin ISO grips I had. Even worse, the throttle is stiff. It takes a signifigant amount of grip strength to turn and hold the throttle. So, after a while, your right hand aches and numbs a bit. it’s not a problem in city traffic, but on the open highway, it’s a bit unpleasant after about 10 minutes of steady gripping. I had a throttle boss and throttle lock on the Sporty, and I really miss them. So, those are gonna be a mandatory add-on for the FJR. That’s the only bad thing I can find to say about the FJR so far, though, and it’s easily fixed.
The surging of the throttle is noticeable, but pretty controllable with a little practice. Since you can’t be ham-handed on the throttle and expect your clutch work to save you from surging, using the throttle on the AE model requires a more deft touch. It’s a learned behavior, but it’s a mandatory lesson. My understanding is that on the ’06 and ’07 models of the FJR, Yamaha installed a throttle cam to give it more sporty, and less linear, throttle response. This was discontinued for the ’08 models due to complaints about surging. there is, however, and aftermarket product, the G2 Throttle cam, which is essentially a reverse of the Yamaha throttle cam, and which installs in the throtle housing on the handlebars. This cancels out the Yamaha cam, and makes the throttle response properly linear for the AE model. I suspect the manually-clutched A model would be just fine without it, but for the AE, it seems like a good idea.
I feel more visible on the FJR than I did on the Sporty. You’re just up much higher. With the Sporty, you are very low slung, and in heavy traffic, the cars all seem to be above you. With the FJR you stick up a little higher with is a good thing for visibility, especially with nearly everyone else driving an SUV. It’s only about 6 inches higher, but it seems significant.
It also makes you feel like you are riding “on” the bike, instead of “in” it. You sort of feel perched on top of the bike, which is not a bad feeling, but it is different. The FJR is very similar to the feel of the Road King in that way.
All the sport-bike guys wave at me now.
The feel of the FJRs engine is…electric. And I mean that in both ways. It’s performance is electrifying, although in a an amusingly sedate way. You really have to look down at the Speedomoter to assure yourself that, yes, you did just start moving, and yes, you are going 80MPH in a 50MPH zone. It is really a deceptively fast bike.
Until you hit about 6,000 RPM. Then all the deception fades away. The engine comes on with a high-pitched shriek…and you frickin’ move. It gets not just fast, but scary fast. Below 5,000 RPM, it’s still very fast, but it’s so quiet and well-mannered, you just don’t realize you’re pushing triple digits. It’s a pleasant, friendly fast. Above 6,000 RPM, and the demon that lives in the engine wakes up, looks into your soul, and says, “Oh. You think you wanna go fast Nancy-Boy? Let’s see…”
Oh, and keep in mind that 4,000 RPM in fifth gear is 80MPH indicated. If the bike has a 9,000 RPM redline, what is the theoretical speed at redline in 5th gear? You do the math.
The FJR’s speedometer goes to 180 MPH. I’m just saying. No one that you know can hld the bike at that speed, I bet. Even if the bike could, in fact push enough air out of the way to reach it’s theoretical top speed, which I doubt. You’d be lucky even to get it to 150 MPH I bet.
It’s also electric in that the engine responds with the kind of precision and immediacy an electric engine does. Twist the throttle to a degree that is supposed to provoke 4000RPM from the powerplant, and you are immediately getting 4000 RPM. It doesn’t hesitate or delay, and it provides the asked-for level of power instantly. The Sportster, with it’s two cylinders and long stroke, really lags behind the throttle response you ask for. It feels mechanical, which, of course, it is supposed to feel.
The engine is also electric in it’s sound. The thumping and roaring of the harley is replaced by what seems to the rider like a whisper quiet, yet snarling, whine. I can hear things now that I couldn’t before, including the headphones of my XM unit at highway speed.
I can see things, too, such as a clear picture in the rear-view mirrors. They are perfectly clear at all speeds. Vibration, compared to the Sportster, is simply a non-issue.
A lot of the quietness of the FJR comes from the management of airflow. The Sporty, especially at highway speeds, buffeted my head around quite a bit. I’ve sensed no buffeting on the FJR with the stock screen. At it’s lowest position, I get clean air right below shoulder level, which puffs out the vents in my Tourmaster jacket, and provides a significant amount of cooling. At the highest position, the top of my helmet gets a clean, but a bit noisy, stream of air. This is perfectly adequate for summertime, but before next winter, I’m going to need to get the 4″ taller screen from California Scientific. That should get me an undisturbed pocket of air at the highest position, which will be great in winter.
So will the heated grips. Indeed, when you heat ‘em, they get hot. This morning the temp was down around 45, and I had to turn the grip heaters down to medium, or else they were too hot for comfort. I certainly could have used them on my Sporty for the last few months.
The handling on the FJR is nothing short of confidence-inspiring. Unlike the Sporty, the FJR simply will not fight your handlebar inputs. If you want to lean, it’s perfectly happy to lean. Indeed, even relatively minor handlebar inputs provoke a response. It really does want to do what you want it to. I always got the sense that the Sportster was fighting me when I wanted it it to lean. There’s none of that sense at all with the FJR. It wants to respond to your inputs, and does, with alacrity.
The YCC-S auto-clutch system, despite requiring you to learn a few new tricks at low speed trundling about in parking lots, really is an excellent solution for riding in city traffic. Going from light to light, constantly upshifting and downshifting is just so much less of a hassle with the AE. It really does save you a lot of left-hand fatigue. I’ve gone from being initially iffy about the YCC-S system, to wondering why every street bike doesn’t have it. whatever the costs are in relearning how to handle the bike at very slow speeds, the payoff in congested riding conditions is phenomenal.
I’ve actually worked out sort of a hybrid system of using it. I upshift with the finger paddle, and downshift with the foot pedal. No more wearing out the top of my boot toe before the rest of the boot. Downshifitng with the finger switch isn’t a problem, it’s just that, since it’s designed to use the forefinger for upshifting and the thumb for downshifting, what occasionally happens is that, instead of downshifting, your thumb punches the horn button. Then everyone around you looks at you like you’re an ass. Which, of course, you are.
Finally, the FJR makes you think. It makes you think about what you want to do, how you’re going to pass, and what moves you’re going to make. It makes you think ahead, because, when you twist that throttle, you’d better have a f*cking plan. Because whatever is gonna happen, is gonna happen extremely quickly.
Like every bike, the FJR has some shortcomings, although they are mainly centered in the operation of the throttle. For everything else, though this bike is more fun a barrel of monkeys.