Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Motorcycle utility...

My friend Brian sent these photos to me last week under the heading, "Sanford & Son bike loading." I suggested wearing the tires a la the Michelin man, but this apparently worked just as well.

Monday, January 29, 2007
  Great idea, or the worst idea in modern motorcyledom?

This part was installed on a custom bike I saw on display at the Oklahoma City Motorcycle Show and Swap Meet a few weekends ago. It's a combination brake/sprocket. At first I thought, "Wow! What a great idea!" It would save weight, and allow for a cleaner looking rear end.

Seconds later, I pondered the reason that bike manufacturers and MotoGP teams could possibly have for not installing them as standard equipment: Chains need lube. Lube/gunk accumulates on sprocket. What's usually a non-issue for most chain-driven bikes could possibly become a slippery, unsafe mess when it meets a disc brake surface. Given that a lot of chopper folks seem to like the clean look of a bike with no front brake, it seems to me that this part could contribute to a catastrophe under the right conditions. I predict that you'll be able to spot the bikers that install these from the well-ground heels of their boots.
  Less sport, more tourer...

Firstly, can I mention how absolutely lovely riding conditions in central Illinois have been this winter? Between the first week of December and the 16th of January, I think there was only one day that I had to drive a car to work.

Secondly, I've finally gotten around to posting a photo of my bike with its new saddlebags semi-mounted. They're Nelson-Rigg Spheres, complete with all mounting straps and rain bags, and they cost me the unbelievably low sum of $46.00. I can, as I promised the wife, fit a 20lb bag of Tidy Cat into each of 'em.
Wednesday, December 13, 2006
  Purchasing a motorcycle.
So, you've decided that you want to buy a motorcycle. Which brand is best? Which color? Sportbike? Cruiser? Four-cylinder? V-twin? I’m jealous of you--there are a lot of great bikes to choose from.

Motorcycles have come a long way since they were invented in the late 1700's (I did mention that I'm not an authority on motorcycles, didn't I?). What I do know for sure is that today's bike-buying public demands "bang for the buck," and that includes both longevity and low maintenance. Would I recommend an Aprilia? Sure! A Harley-Davidson? You betcha! You can't go wrong with virtually any motorcycle available today, though I can't yet vouch for a few Korean brands as I don't personally know anyone who owns one.

Here are a few things to consider when buying a motorcycle:
1. Cost. There are a lot of great bikes available new for $5-10K. On the $5K side there are bikes as diverse as the sporty Kawasaki EX500 and the cruise-y Suzuki C50 (800cc) V-twin cruiser. On the $20K+ end there are a few Harleys, some high-end Ducatis and BMWs, and a few others. A more expensive bike, unlike a more expensive car, does not necessarily guarantee increased longevity. Expensive bikes are usually composed of more expensive components, which will probably need replacement at roughly the same interval as components on less-expensive bikes. Many Ducatis require timing belt checks at 6,000 mile intervals, while the valvetrain components on a relatively inexpensive Suzuki SV1000S don't need to be inspected for 15,000 miles. This is probably a good rule of thumb: More expensive bike = more expensive (and possibly more frequent) maintenance. Here's my best advice: Buy the bike you can comfortably afford that fits your skill level. Most dealers are willing to work on a price with you in the same way that car dealers do. Many manufacturers offer incentives such as zero percent financing and no downpayment. Don’t worry about resale value, especially if you’re buying a Harley-Davidson. The vast majority of bikes should not be thought of as investment property, so don't waste time trying to decide if a Ninja 650 will depreciate more than a 600 Katana.

2. Skill level. Have you ridden a motorcycle before? If not, I would recommend buying an inexpensive "starter" bike. Illinois statutes state that licensing tests must be done on a bike with an engine displacement greater than 150cc. I was told by a driver services inspector that my Bandit 400 was "really too large" for the test (although I passed). Manufacturers aren't really offering much between 150 and 500cc. Suzuki makes a 250cc bike which would be fine for commuting around town, but is lucky to hit 65mph with a good tailwind (in my experience). If you're going to go the Drivers Services route to licensing, I recommend buying the bike that you want, then borrowing a smaller bike for the licensing test.
Be realistic about the size and type of bike that you "need." Riding a 400cc bike for years, I knew that any bike would be a huge upgrade for me. I considered getting a Suzuki SV650S, but my wife knew that I really wanted an SV1000S, so that's what we bought. The SV1000S is not a sportbike, but does have enough power to get a rider into trouble. Ridden sensibly, though, it's a pussycat. The same could be said for virtually every new bike available. A Suzuki GSX1000R has 150+ rear-wheel horsepower, but can be ridden like a scooter around town with the right touch. Getting that "touch" takes experience. Hitting a bump mid-corner that causes you to grab the throttle and unleash that power can be disastrous and/or deadly.

Do you plan on taking a lot of long rides? A cruiser would be nice, especially if you plan on taking someone along. Do you prefer acceleration and handling to comfort? Buy a sportbike. Do you want to tour comfortably with a passenger but don’t like typical "cruiser" looks? Buy a BMW. There really are no rules for how you choose to ride your bike. Sportbikes can make good tourers, for example, with a backpack or a set of saddlebags. It depends on how much pain you can stand, really. A 430-mile day on the SV1000S more or less made my legs stop functioning properly until the next morning. Would I do it again? Name the time and place!

My best advice is to make a list of all the bikes you're interested in, then visit dealers for a "fit." Inform the salesperson of your skill level, and if he has even a small sense of responsibility (and wants to keep you as a repeat customer) he or she might recommend a bike that you'll fit perfectly. Don't be afraid to ask your biker friends for advice, if you don't mind them bending your ear for a few hours...

3. Serviceability. Modern bikes are engineered for reliability. In the interests of speed and handling, however, bikes tend to be comprised of lighter, more delicate components than your average car or truck. If you enjoy performing your own maintenance, you’ll love owning a bike. If you don’t want to perform your own maintenance, there are a lot of shops who’ll enjoy working on it for you (at labor rates that are comparable to those at an auto shop).

Bikes need the same general maintenance as cars: Oil and filter changes, air filter changes, brake pad replacement, and tire pressure checks. Some also need fuel filter changes. If your bike has a chain final drive, you’ll need to inspect, clean and lubricate it at intervals as specified in your owner’s manual. Chains and sprockets will eventually need to be replaced. Sticky tires on sportbikes might be worn to the limits within 3-4,000 miles; sport touring tires can last for 6-10,000 miles. Lubrication points are generally identified in the owner’s manual, as are fastener retorque intervals. Clutch fluid (if you have a hydraulic clutch) and brake fluid are replaced at specific intervals. Water-cooled engines need an eye kept on engine coolant (also replaced at specific intervals). None of these maintenance items are difficult for anyone with any mechanical experience, although tire changes require bead-breaking and balancing equipment ($$). You might save $40-$60 per tire by bringing your wheels to the shop for tire replacement. For that, all you need is a centerstand or a set of maintenance stands.

Valve clearance will need to be checked rather frequently, as compared to automotive engine valve clearance intervals. On the Bandit 400, this was done every 6,000 miles; on the SV1000S, it’s done every 14,500. You can do this yourself, but it’s best left to qualified mechanics if you have any hesitation about performing the steps.

I highly recommend that you purchase a set of service manuals soon after purchasing a bike, new or used. Do a web search for your particular bike; some enterprising individual may have posted a copy of the service manuals online. CD copies are relatively inexpensive, and can always be found on E-bay.

If you look at the purchase price of a new bike, the cost of new tires every 4-10,000 miles, the cost (and time) of regular servicing and cleaning, the fuel economy benefit, and a motorcycle’s general lack of utility, you might find it hard to justify the "economical" aspect of purchasing a bike. The fact is that most bikes probably won’t "save" you much money in the long run. Just remember that "economy" is only a part of the argument—and you’ll forget about that the first time you’re leaned over hard on an on-ramp.

4. Resale value. Forget about it, unless you're buying a Harley or a classic race bike. Bikes depreciate, and there's really no way to get around that. On a positive note, bikes are much less expensive than cars. If you're past the "bikes are only toys" mindset and realize that they are a valid form of daily transportation, the depreciation when you go to sell or trade your bike won't hurt so badly.

Lastly, ask your fellow bikers for advice. Invest in some bike magazines (I recommend Motorcyclist, Sport Rider, and the U.K.'s Bike), pick out a few bikes you want, then hit the dealerships. Happy hunting!

Ride safe!

If you know me, you might (like my wife) be tired of my nearly constant talk of things motorcycle-related. You might also wonder why I would spend hours polishing a bike, only to take it out the following morning on a salty winter road. If you're a fellow rider, you’ll probably understand.

A word or two about the title: Sometime in the 1960's, the American Motorcyclist Association stated that 99% of all motorcyclists were law-abiding citizens. The remaining 1%, to make a long story short, were classified as "outlaw" bikers. Some "outlaw" motorcycle clubs state that being a One-Percenter means that they're a part of the 1% of riders who live and breathe motorcycling, year round, as a way of life and a primary (if not sole) means of transportation. Not being an outlaw or someone who can use my motorcycle as my sole form of transportation (thanks to central Illinois winters), I can't claim to be a One-Percenter. Although not totally law-abiding, I have to lump myself in with motorcycling's general population.

I'm a relative newcomer to the motorcycling fold. In 2001, I bought a used Suzuki GSF400 Bandit from a coworker. To make a long story short, it was after only a few months of riding that I came to the sad realization that I'd spent way too much money on cars during my 17 years as a motorist. I'd ridden a friend's Honda CT-70 as a kid, and put a few miles on friend's bikes as a teenager. My dad took me for a few rides on his KZ400 in my pre-teen years. I spent seven bike-less years living in motorcycle-riding heaven, southern California, in the late '80s/early '90s. It wasn't until I bought the Bandit and had both the desire and the time to dedicate to motorcycle riding and maintenance that I realized that I wanted to ride motorcycles for a living. Unfortunately, I can't do that--very few can--but I do attempt to do the next best thing, which is to ride whenever and wherever possible.

In a recent issue of Motorcyclist magazine, a well-known biker was asked, "Why do you ride?" His answer was stated in the form of a question, "Why do I breathe?" On this blog, I'm going to do my best to explain why I ride and why I highly recommend that everyone should try their hand at riding.

I've logged approximately 31,000 miles on two bikes in the past five years, and have no racing or track day experience. I consider myself to be somewhere in the middle of the pack with regard to my handling skills, and more cautious than I am quick. This is my experience level. I can't say that I'm an authority on motorcycles, so I'm going to throw whatever knowledge I have out there and ask for input from other riders. If I'm wrong about something, let me know. If you can add to a discussion or have a question, feel free to comment.

Anyone is free to comment, although I'd really appreciate hearing from anyone in Champaign-Urbana and the surrounding communities, as that's where I do most of my riding. If anyone in the area would like to contribute with information on good riding roads, speed traps, bike/accesory sales, or any motorcyle-related topic, let me know (woof68 at msn.com). I'm not trying to start a motorcycle club, but there are a ton of bikers in the area, but no real cohesiveness. All of us, regardless of motorcycle type, have something to learn from each other that could make us better, safer riders. Please sanitize your comments in order to not tick off your fellow sportbike/cruiser/chopper/touring bike riders. Good-natured ribbing is always fun; stereotyping is not. We all share the same roads, so let’s try to be friendly.

With that intro out of the way, here's why I ride:
-I enjoy a connection with the road and my surrounding environment that car drivers don't experience.
-I enjoy being in command of a motorcycle, as opposed to the "passenger" feeling I get while driving. I wouldn’t suggesting that I’m a bad driver, or that driving a car doesn’t demand a lot of concentration. I will say, in my humble opinion, that most car drivers seem to be asleep at the wheel.
-I enjoy the view. Where a car offers a limited view through its windows (and possibly a sunroof), I have a 360-degree view around the bike, and a 180-degree view bubble above the road level. It's a beautiful thing to raise my chin to where I can't see my instruments on a moonlit night in the country.
-I enjoy the feeling I get that comes from finding the right line through a corner. Most cars can fudge their way through a blundered corner; motorcycles don't have that option.
-I enjoy effortlessly accelerating past inattentive car drivers. I enjoy effortless acceleration, period. (Note to those who have "fast" cars: The average sportbike can accelerate from 0 to 60mph in the 3-second range.)
-I enjoy riding my bike, knowing that I've maintained it properly and am solely responsible for its performance.
-I enjoy that people in cars, when they see me riding in the rain, are probably thinking, "poor bastard," not knowing that I’m having much more fun than they are.
-I enjoy getting a consistent 40MPG while riding a vehicle capable of sub-11 second quarter-mile times.
-I enjoy being able to maneuver my bike around obstacles (cars) while riding in town, which saves time. Some states recognize the fact that motorcycles actually ease congestion.

Next post: Purchasing a motorcycle.

Ride safely!

Motorcycles, motorcycle parts and accessories, motorcycling, and motorcyclists.

Location: Illinois, United States

Happily married for 3 1/2 years, 5 cats, no kids (but a baby on the way!).

December 2006 / January 2007 / March 2007 /

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