Triumphant

2015 Triumph Trophy SE

BMW Motorrad has long had two boxer-engined motorcycles that were considered the top of their class: The R1200GS adventure bike and the R1200RT touring bike. Apparently, the Brits at Triumph Motorcycles found this enraging. Over the last century, the Brits have often found the Germans enraging, of course. Anyway, Triumph produced two bikes to compete directly with BMW’s offerings, the Tiger 1200 for the adventure crowd, and the Trophy for the touring rider.

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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.

Honda NT700V Test Ride

2010 Honda NT700V
2010 Honda NT700V

Motorcycle Daily has a new ride review of the “Baby ST”, Honda’s NT700V.  This twin-cylinder light tourer–called the Deauville in Europe–is really less of a tourer than a mid-sized all-rounder with nice luggage capacity.

Comparing the NT to other motorcycles is a bit hard to do, since it really is a unique bike. It’s not as good looking or as fast as BMW’s F 800 ST, but it is less expensive considering the extras that are included in the NT’s base price, and would serve as a better all-around bike out of the lot. Compared to Suzuki’s V-Strom or Kawasaki’s Versys it’s a bit expensive, but then again it has superior creature comforts, shaft drive, and bags. This new import from Honda may just fill a niche that those bikes don’t; great for the more rational riders among us who are turned off by the idea of a 700+ pound touring bike or cruiser, and excellent for the novice or thrifty commuter looking for a usable, maintenance-free workhorse. Whether these riders come out of the woodwork to buy up NT’s by the boatload remains to be seen, but I can’t deny the bike is a pleasure to ride.

It seems like it might be a good choice for the beginning rider, or even the experienced rider who doesn’t put a premium on sport performance.

Ducati Multistrada 1200 S Test Ride

Ducati Multistrada 1200 S
Ducati Multistrada 1200 S

Since its release last year, Ducati has made many claims about the new Multistrada 1200, calling it four bikes in one: A tourer, a commuter street bike, an enduro, and, not least, a sport bike.  That’s a pretty tall order, even for a pretty tall bike like the Multistrada.  Does it live up to the Ducati hype? Or to the hype from Cycle World, which named it the Best Open Streetbike of 2010? To answer that question, I showed up at Moto Forza in Escondido, to try one out.

The Multistrada comes in three basic configurations, but I got to take out the top of the line S model with Öhlins suspension, Ducati Traction Control (DTC), and the on-the-fly riding mode/ suspension setup.

Visually, the Multistrada looks like a big bike–and a tall one, too, with a long-travel suspension to support its enduro pretensions.  Despite looking like a large, unwieldy bike, the specs tell a slightly different story, as the Multistrada weighs only 423 lbs dry, and 478 lbs fully fueled and ready to ride. That weight puts it in sport bike territory, and despite its size it’s surprisingly light once you’re sitting on it.

The center of gravity is very low.  The Multistrada uses the same engine as the 1198 sport bike; the L-Twin cylinder, 4 valve per cylinder, Desmodromic, liquid cooled power plant that puts Ducati racers on the podium. The engine has a power output of 150HP at 9250RPM and 87.5 fl-lbs of torque at 7500 RPM. In the Multistrada’s case, the engine is placed with one cylinder parallel to the ground, so the weight of the both the crankcase and cylinder are placed as low as possible.  This makes the Multistrada very well balanced, and easy to hold up–even on tiptoes.

As you’d expect, the 1198 engine has been slightly neutered from its superbike version, which has a peak output of 170HP and 97ft-lbs of torque.  The compression ratio has been similarly reduced from 12.7:1 to 11.5:1. Still, the Multistrada’s peak output far outshines its GS-style competition–and most street bikes.  By way of comparison, the FJR1300 outputs 145HP…and weighs 200 pounds more.

The ergos are extremely comfortable, from the well-cushioned stock seat, to the easy reach to the wide handlebars.  The ground was a bit of a reach for my 5’10” frame and 32″ inseam. I couldn’t quite flat-foot the bike, so, shorter riders will certainly want to opt for the optional low seat which is 1″ shorter, but, sadly, not as well padded.  The passenger seat also serves as a short backrest/support for the rider, and is something you’ll be happy to have when you open the throttle. The position of the mid-mounted foot controls is very natural and comfortable, and the upright seating position is perfect for long-distance riding. Practically everything, from the brake and clutch levers, to the foot shifter are exactly where you’d want them to be, with everything in almost ridiculously easy reach.  It’s hard to see how Ducati could have done a better job creating a bike that caters to your creature comforts.

Ducati Multistrada 1200 S Instrument Panel
Ducati Multistrada 1200 S Instrument Panel

The instrumentation on the Multistrada is well thought out, too. It’s all electronic, with an LCD readout that’s easy to read even in bright sunlight. The image to the left is a good representation of what you see as a rider in bright daylight.  As you can see, the entire panel is quite legible, with a large speedometer readout on top, and the tachometer readout stretching all the way across the bottom.

You’ll also notice the round “Set Up” readout on the right, showing that the engine output is set to “Urban”, with the suspension set to one rider with luggage.  This “Set Up” system is central to the Multistrada riding experience, as it controls the engine’s output, the DTC setting, and the suspension preload and rebound.

The riding mode has four settings. The Enduro setting limits engine output to 60% of maximum, or 100HP, while setting the DTC at a relatively loose setting to allow for some power sliding (on well-maintained unpaved or gravel roads, anyway). The Urban setting also limits the output to 60%, while tightening up the DTC to provide more intervention when traction is lost. Both the Enduro and Urban settings provide very linear, controllable throttle response from the Mutistrada’s fly-by-wire throttle system.  The Touring setting opens up the full 150HP available from the L-Twin power plant, while providing the same linear, controllable throttle response of the previous two modes.  Finally, there is sport mode, which unleashes the full power of the engine, full DTC, and an extremely responsive–but not frighteningly so–throttle. In short, the mode control offers noticeably different ride characteristics. It’s definitely not a fancy switch that costs lots of money and does nothing.

Similarly, the suspension control automatically adjusts the preload and rebound of the Öhlins suspension to handle a single rider, rider with luggage, two riders, or two riders with luggage.

In addition to the preset factory settings, you can also set the DTC, engine mode and suspension setup independently, and you can store those personalized settings in order to call them up at need.  this allows you to tailor the engine modes, DTC, and suspension settings to your personal preferences for various types of riding.

Starting the bike is done via a keyless ignition system that depends on the close proximity of an electronic key fob. If you lose the fob, however, all is not lost, as an alternate method is available that allows you to start the bike by entering a 4-digit PIN.  Also, if you’re on the road, and you drop the fob out of a pocket or something, the electronic display immediately flashes a message telling you that the fob is lost, which substantially narrows down your search area.

There is, by the way, a price to be paid for all this electronic goodness, which is that there is a constant drain on battery power at all times.  Leave the Multistrada sitting in the garage over the weekend, and you’ll be OK.  Leave it there for a week, and you’ll need to hook it up to a battery tender.

Once the engine is running, the Multistrada produces a throaty growl that hints at the vast reserves of power on tap. Clutch pull is fairly easy, allowing for one-finger operation.  The friction point is also set very close to full out, so that the clutch engages with very little pull. Give it a little throttle, ease the clutch out, and the Multistrada pulls right away from a stop, without requiring excessive revving.

Starting out in downtown Escondido, I set the engine setup to “Urban” and I was off.  The Multistrada is very maneuverable in town, although, if you plan on splitting traffic at stoplights, you need to be aware of the extra-wide handlebars. The Urban setting provides very controllable power in traffic, and you can flick the bike from lane to lane with ease.  There’s more than enough power to pull away from traffic or for passing, but the 60% power limit ensures that it’s never anywhere near the limits of the rider’s control.

Two minor shortcomings are apparent in city driving. First, the engine hates anything under 3,000 RPM.  It shudders, rumbles and coughs. It’s nowhere near as revvy as a sport bike, but it clearly doesn’t want to stay in the low RPMs. Above that, however, the throaty L-Twin smooths out, with surprisingly little vibration. Second, the transmission really wants to make neutral easy to find when downshifting from 2nd gear.  Kicking the shifter, releasing the clutch, and being rewarded with a screaming rev and no power is…embarrassing.  You need a firm foot to get it back down to first.  It’s easy to learn, and it only happened to me once, but it was a bit of a surprise.

Prior to getting onto the I-15, to head towards my favorite canyon road near Bonsall, I changed to Touring mode.  Throttle response was still very smooth, but you could certainly feel the increase in torque, as the acceleration pushes your butt back against the front of the passenger seat. I told you you’d be happy to have that passenger seat back there, because, even in touring mode, the Multistrada has a ton of acceleration.  First gear on the 6-speed gearbox is fairly short, but in second, the 10,500 redline allows you to hit speeds in excess of 90MPH almost instantly. But be careful: when you hit the redline, the rev limiter kicks in and it is not unobtrusive.  On the freeway, 5,000RPM translates to 90MPH indicated in 6th gear. At highway speeds, 6th gear is relatively gutless, requiring a downshift to pass briskly. The rear-view mirrors, while having a noticeable amount of vibration, are still usable at highway speeds.

Ducati Multistrada 1200 Cockpit
Ducati Multistrada 1200 Cockpit

Also, at highway speeds, you notice that the relatively small, manually adjustable windscreen comes up a bit short in the wind protection department.  There’s a lot of airflow over the shoulders and arms, and noticeable buffeting on the helmet.  There’s an optional, larger windscreen, but it’s only about 1/2″ wider and 1″ taller, so I’m not sure how much of an improvement that would provide.  As such, long-range touring, while technically possible with the 5.3 gallon tank, would get a little tiring over the course of the day. Happily, California Scientific already has an aftermarket windshield to help solve that problem. What can’t be helped is the Multistrada’s high profile, which does make it susceptible to freeway crosswinds, so it does do a little bit of a dance in those situations.

Other than that, however, this is a very comfortable highway bike.  The ergos are so natural and the seat is so comfortable that solving the air management problem would make the Multistrada a truly all-day steed. What would make it even more of one, would be to have cruise control, and maybe self-canceling turn signals, neither of which seems like an unrealistic expectation in a motorcycle with a $19,995 MSRP.

Getting off the highway to attack the curvy canyon road of Camino Del Rey, going into Bonsall, I set the Multistrada up for Sport mode, and tightened the suspension to the firmest setting. At the lower settings, the long-travel suspension seems a bit too cushy for serious sport riding, being comfortable but lacking that firm, sporty feel.  Once tightened sufficiently, however, it transmits the feel of the road right to your seat and hands, and it turns the Multistrada into a surprisingly–and highly–capable sport bike.

Strafing the canyons on the Multistrada is a real pleasure.  Its height makes it easy to lean, and gives you tons of ground clearance. Both 2nd and 3rd gears are fairly wide, so you can pick a gear appropriate for the desired audacity of your attack.  If you choose 2nd gear, the Multistrada accelerates aggressively, and once the L-Twin power plant hits 5,000RPM the Multistrada is a rocket. It can power through curves at a speed substantially north of twice the suggested speed, taking curves with a suggested speed of 30MPH in excess of 80MPH. The throttle, while noticeably more responsive than in Touring mode, is aggressive without being snatchy. Even in full-on Sport mode, the Multistrada is a confidence-inspiring bike, and allows attacks on the curves to be far more aggressive than I can manage on my FJR1300.

Ducati Multistrada 1200 S Front View
Ducati Multistrada 1200 S Front View

Turn-in requires a bit more input than you’d expect, thanks to the Multistrada’s conventional, even conservative, geometry. It’s not telepathic like an R1 or a Gixxer. So, initiating a turn requires some input on the bars or in body English. It’s not a lot of effort, but the Multistrada needs a little more rider guidance than a full-on sport bike. The upside to this is that the Multistrada will pull an enormous amount of lean while remaining rock-steady through the turn. It is in no way as jittery as a CBR, with its more aggressive geometry, and doesn’t require constant inputs through the turn to hold a line. Instead, it holds a line like no one’s business. Or like it’s on rails. Take your pick of metaphors. When you hit the apex of the curve and roll on the throttle it rockets out of the turn, once again scrunching your butt into the front of the passenger seat. You’d think a more low-slung sport bike would work the turns better. You’d be wrong. The Multistrada eats curves for lunch, and miles of tarmac for dinner.

It also transitions from side to side very well, remaining composed and stable. Again, flicking from side-to-side takes a bit more effort than a dedicated sport bike, but it’s extremely compliant, following the rider’s inputs to the letter. In short, the guys on ZX-10s will not be leaving you behind when the going gets twisty. If you know what you’re doing, quite the reverse may be true. And you’ll be far more comfortable throughout the day, with no sport bike kinks to work out of your back when you’re done. Did I mention the Multistrada was comfortable? It’s quite nice to get sport bike performance without suffering through the tortuous sport bike ergonomics.

The canyons also show off the power and reliability of the Brembo brakes.  The brakes simply have loads of feel, and the response is progressive and powerful.  They can get you out of trouble about as fast as you can get yourself into it. The key word, there, being “about”.

The ABS isn’t intrusive, nor is the DTC when you get into serious sport mode.

Heading back to Escondido, on the long sweepers of Old Highway 3, I switched back into touring mode, and set the suspension to the cushiest, single-passenger setting.  The suspension smoothed out the rather poorly maintained tarmac, while the user-friendly throttle response smoothed out the bike’s acceleration, while not taking much of anything away from its exhilaration.

There was one final problem I noticed with the Multistrada, which is the annoying tendency of the speedometer to display triple-digit speeds, when your seat of the pants speedometer is telling you that you are traveling substantially slower. When it’s in Sport, or even  Touring, mode this bike is, as our friends in Boston would say, wicked fast.  You expect something more like the BMW R1200GS in performance when you look at the Multistrada. But when you ride it, you notice that you’ve hit 90MPH…and haven’t shifted to 3rd gear yet.  50MPH on the Multistrada seems…painfully slow.

I didn’t take the bike onto a dirt road or fire road, so I can’t speak about its Enduro performance. I suspect the 17″ front wheel would limit its Enduro ability, compared to the BMW GS, with it’s 21″ front wheel.  But I can say that for city streets or canyon-carving, Ducati has created a truly enjoyable, versatile motorcycle in the Multistrada. I would be perfectly happy to have this as a replacement for the FJR. This is about the best all-rounder I’ve ever ridden.

So, it seems like Ducati’s claims for the Multistrada’s versatility are not so much hype as…the truth.

Buell 1125R Test Ride

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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”.

Our Exciting Test Ride Route
Our Exciting Test Ride Route

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.

2009 Buell 1125R
2009 Buell 1125R

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.

Another Test Ride?

I‘ve been looking at Buell’s web site since the new models were rolled out, and looking up some information on the 1125R.  I’ve also been watching that young Eslick fellow sweep the Daytona races around the country.

So, I stopped off at Biggs Harley-Davidson today to look at one in person.  All I got to do was sit on the bike–they have a white one on display, as well as a couple of CR variants.  The CR is too much of a naked bike for my taste, but the R model looks sweet.  I know the looks are controversial, but I like them.

Just sitting on the bike, I could tell that the ergos are far more forgiving than the Kawasaki Z-Bikes, and way more comfy than the R1 or R6.  You aren’t forced to lean as far forward, and the pegs aren’t set quite as high, so you aren’t crouched into a full fetal position.  This is a sportbike I might actually be able to ride for more than 30 minutes at a time.

Surprisingly, the Biggs guys are open to letting me take one out for a test ride.  So I’ll probably have a test ride report on the Buell 1125R in the near future.

Another R1200RT Test Ride

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.