Time Travel

2014 Suzuki V-Strom 1000 ABS

Suzuki is best known for two motorcycles: the Hyabusa, long known as the fastest production motorcycle in the world, and the GSX-R750, a bike that provides nearly suberbike performance at the weight of a 650cc supersport. But, alongside those two motorcycles is a third model that holds a special place in many people’s hearts: the V-Strom.

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Impossible

2013 BMW K1600GT Review

For years,I’ve been adamant that the R1200RT is the only BMW touring bike I’d be interested in owning. The I-4 powered K1300GT was uncomfortable, seemed sluggish at low revs, and, frankly, a bit ungainly compared to the RT. It was also a motorcycle line that was plagued by a number of niggling mechanical and fueling issues. It was certainly fast, but I was never impressed with it. I remember that after I put it through a ride test, my exact comment to the BMW rep when I got off the bike was, “Meh.”

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Weight Loss

2013 Honda Gold Wing F6B Review

Honda’s Gold Wing has long been the luxo-barge of touring motorcycles. It has pretty much everything you can have on a motorcycle, like stereo, cruise control, anti-lock brakes, massive storage capacity, room for two people, and even an 1832cc flat 6 power plant that seems like something you’d expect to see in a car, rather than a motorcycle. Of course, weighing in at 933 lbs., the standard gold wing is near enough to being half a car anyway.

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So, I decided to unwind the VFR a bit…

…and here’s what happened.

It’s 6:30am, and I’m on an empty road outside of town, stopped at a light. Since there’s no traffic, I thought, "why not see what this baby can do?" So, I popped her into manual leaned forward, and peged the throttle as soon as the light turned green.

Nothing much happened. I mean, it pulled briskly off the light, as good or better than the FJR ever did, I guess, but it was just—I dunno. Boring. No excitement. Just smooth acceleration. "Well," I thought to myself, "for a bike that’s supposed to be capable of a sub 3-second 0-60, and a 10 second 1/4 mile, this isn’t very impressive."

Then the tach hit 4,000 RPM.

The VFR leapt forward as if a giant had smashed the back of the bike with a hammer, my arms jerked against my shoulder sockets, and the front wheel gently lofted off the ground.

I quickly decided that discretion was the better part of valor.

That was just…scary. In a split second, the VFR want from a tame little kitten to a rampaging beast. The FJR never did that.

I’ve gotten through the fist 600 miles, and I’ve been letting it unwind a bit. And I can tell that this is an extraordinary machine. It certainly has far more power than you could ever legally use on the street. It’s an absolute hoot.

It wants to take curves—even very sharp ones—far faster than the FJR did. It may not be quite as fast or sharp-handling as a 1000cc Gixxer on the track, but it’s pretty sporty for a middle-aged gentleman like myself. Or almost anyone else for that matter.

If you wanna rip, the VFR1200 will rip. If you want to take it slow and easy, the VFR will accommodate. The ergonomics, now that I’ve gotten used to them, aren’t uncomfortable at all, though more sporty than the other sport-tourers.

Handling is decently sharp, and turn-in is relatively easy, although it takes some conscious rider input. I blame the tires for that, and I’m still planning on getting rid of the EOM Dunlops at the earliest opportunity.

The more I ride the VFR1200, the more I like it. I love the DCT, and the ability to switch between manual and automatic modes. I like the size. I just like it. So far, I haven’t found a major negative aspect of the bike to complain about.

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.

Getting used to her

Now that I’ve had a chance to get more acquainted with the VFR, I’m really starting to like it a lot. I’m not too happy with the OEM Dunlops. I’ve gotten really sold on the Michelin Pilot Road, so the current set of Dunlops will be the last.  The PR is just a far more responsive tire.

But, even with that said, I’m settling into how to ride the VFR, and sort of internalizing the new riding style it requires. As I do so, the bike seems lighter and more responsive. It certainly beats the FJR hands down in the handling department. As I get used to her, my confidence in what she can do continues to climb.

Yesterday, I took a huge gamble with the weather…and lost. It was 45° and just pouring rain. Storm cloud

But the VFR handled it with aplomb. It just motored right on through it with no drama at all.

Coming from the electronic clutch on the FJR to the VFR’s Dual Clutch Transmission (DCT) automatic transmission, I can say I don’t have a single complaint. In Drive mode, it just puts along, as gentle as a lamb. In Sport mode, hitting the twisties, you can really just ignore it, and power on through the corners. When it does shift gears, you hardly even notice that it’s done so. The transmission goes "click-clack", the engine tone changes slightly, the chassis does nothing, and you keep riding.

In manual mode, when you downshift aggressively…nothing much happens, either. RPMs go up a lot, more engine braking is felt, and you just…keep riding. The amazing thing about the DCT is that once you turn on the automatic mode, it’s completely ignorable. All you have to do is concentrate on diving into the corner, holding a line, and powering out. It’s a pretty amazing piece of technology.

It has a couple of less than perfect things, though they’re pretty minor. The black paint on the spine of the fuel tank scratches really easily. A tank protector is a must. The bike has a notable tendency to stand up straight under braking, so some discipline in corner entry speed is required. Finally, it seems Honda has been "helpful", and tamed the initial throttle response in first gear, so it doesn’t pull really hard right off the line. Then at about 4,000rpm—Boom!—instant power. I’d like a little less help in that area. I’d like to launch without the "helpful" nannying.

Those are pretty minor deals, though. In the main, this thing is as fun as a barrel of monkeys. I’ve just got 450 more miles of break-in before I can let her hair down more aggressively.

I can’t wait!

Finally, I’ve applied the very first customization on the VFR.

mlbsticker

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

vfr1

vfr2

vfr3

vfr4

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.

2011 Ural Gear Up

2011 Ural Gear Up

The Ural line of motorcycles has a fascinating history. And, as far as modern bikes go, it’s about as close as you can get to a real old-school motorcycle, without actually rummaging around in a junkyard.

I admit, I have a fascination for them. In my mind’s eye, I picture myself setting off across the trackless wastes of the Mojave, or riding down mountain deer trails. In real life, of course, I would actually do none of those things, ever, but if I had a Ural I could. No doubt when the aliens attack, or the astroid hits, I’ll really wish I had one.

In any event, Motorcycle.Com has a 2011 Ural Gear-Up Review showcasing the highlights of the Gear Up, Ural’s two-wheel drive, go anywhere, do anything model.

It’s also pretty affordable for what you get: a sidecar with loads of space and a 400lb cargo allotment, 2-wheel drive for the sticky bits of wilderness, and, apparently, a fair amount of chick-magnetism. I suspect a lot more ladies feel more comfy at the prospect of riding in a sidecar, than on the back of a two-wheeler. And I syspect the actual ride would be more comfy, too.

Also, a note to prospective owners in California: California law does not require a motorcycle license to operate a sidecar motorcycle, or any other vehicle with more than two wheels.

Performance Cruiser Smackdown

Motorcycle USA took the power cruisers out for a spin and then chose the one they liked best. In the running were the Victory Hammer, Harley-Davidson Night Rod Special, Triumph Thunderbird, Star Raider S, Suzuki Boulevard M109R, and Ducati Diavel. One of these bikes isn’t even a power cruiser–and was the slowest of the five–and still won.

The Diavel, by the way, got the highest score, 170/200, and the reviewers still didn’t pick it.

Honda Crosssrunner First Ride

2011 Honda Crossrunner
2011 Honda Crossrunner

Motorcycle Daily has taken the new , VFR800-based 2011 Crossrunner out on the road to put it through its paces.

The Crossrunner was introduced last fall as a 2011 model at the EICMA show in Italy as bike with offroad pretensions–and pretensions is pretty much all they are. Really, this is a street bike, although one powered by the 782cc V-4 VTEC mill that powers the European version of the Interceptor. That’s not a bad heritage for any streetbike.

Unlike the VFR, however, the Crossrunner sports comfy, upright ergonomics to go along with its V-4 character.

The pluses appear to be  a bike that, like the Suzuki Bandit, offers you a torquey engine with 100HP, a relaxed riding position. The down side for the sporting enthusiast, is the 530lbs wet weight, but in general it seems like it would be a fun bike.

2012 Victory Highball First Ride

Motorcycle USA’s Bryan Harley has gotten his hands on Victory Motorcycles’ newest take on the Dark Custom craze, the 2012 Highball.

His take on the engine:

The torquey low end is matched throughout the powerband and distribution is even throughout. There’s excellent response from the EFI with every release of the clutch cable and Victory’s Freedom 106 V-Twin in its Stage 2 state of tune is one of the bike’s strongest features. It doesn’t sign off early on the top end and the tranny can withstand winding out each gear before banging it up to the next. Gearing down, there’s a generous amount of engine braking.

2012 Victory High-Ball
2012 Victory High-Ball

Handling:

The straight roads around Daytona Beach had us clamoring to find a corner to test the High-Ball’s handling, but on the few turns we did find the High-Ball impressed us with its neutral turn in and stability when leaned over. Our primary grievance was its limited cornering clearance.

Well, it’s a cruiser. Cornering clearance will never be a strong suit.

The looks:

Victory has done an admirable job of injecting the High-Ball with vintage styling cues, from the way the white paint accentuates the recessed tank to the way the whitewalls make the chunkiness of the tires stand out. Spoked wheels stay true to the theme of the bike while its slim swingarm keeps the tail end open so you can enjoy an uncluttered view of the whitewalls. The few glimmers of white makes the blacked-out treatment of the engine, frame, bars, pipes, headlight bucket, triple trees, fender struts and cylinder head covers stand out that much more.

And, don’t forget the black mini-ape-hangers.

Overall, the new Victory seems like a neat addition to the Dark Custom world, with a powerful 106ci mill, smooth handling, and a price that won’t completely break the bank at $13,499.