Friday, March 27, 2009

Inside Lines

"It's an open question whether potential buyers of the Hachette titles will be able to secure funding for acquisitions, however. With global credit markets still frozen, money for the acquisition of distressed media properties like magazines and newspapers has grown scarce to the vanishing."

Why buy the latest issue of Cycle World when you can buy the whole magazine?

Update: Ad revenue figures for popular magazines reveal how the economy, and the internet, are affecting the print media; magazines broken down by category here. (Oddly, Playboy is down, Popular Mechanics is up.) Also, there are conflicting reports about whether Hachette is selling Cycle World or keeping it.

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Flashback Friday

The Yamaha TZ750, the mightiest production road-race engine of its time—maybe of any time.
(photo by Jerry Smith)

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Sunday, March 22, 2009

Bikes I'd Like To Ride: Honda DN-01

Honda has a long and storied history as a manufacturer of landmark motorcycles like the Trail 90, the 305 Super Hawk, and the CB-750. The company has also produced some magnificent failures, including the CB-450, the CX-500 and CX-650 Turbos, and the CBX—all technically advanced but largely unloved by the motorcycle-buying public in their day.

These latter models exemplify Honda’s occasional urge to show off its technical chops by cramming a bike full of every leading-edge idea it's been sitting on for lack of someplace to try them out, not because it needs to but just because it can. That’s why I call this the Because We Can school of motorcycle design.

But just because you can do something is no reason to go ahead and do it. Like a chef who throws every spice in the kitchen into the soup, sometimes Honda just doesn’t know when to dial it back a notch.

The latest graduate from the BWC school is the DN-01, which looks like the aftermath of a high-speed collision of a sportbike, a scooter, and a cruiser. It has a dual-mode, automatic Human Friendly Transmission (really, that’s what they call it), linked brakes with ABS, shaft drive, a sporty fairing, and a laid-back seating position.

It also weighs nearly 600 pounds wet, has no storage space at all, is styled as if it suffers from a crippling identity crisis, and comes with an eyeball-popping MSRP of $14,599. (Update: the 2009 model is listed at $15,599.)

Why would I like to ride a DN-01? Because I had an ’82 CBX, a magnificent failure if ever there was one, and I enjoyed it. Because I have a soft spot for motorcycles that over-reach in the present in the pursuit of something worthwhile for the future.

And because 10 years from now, when the DN-01 will have either changed the face of motorcycling as we know it or vanished into well-deserved obscurity, it will be kind of cool to say I rode one of the first ones.

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Friday, March 20, 2009

Two Wheels for Transition

The dynamic individual pictured here is Paul Peloquin. He's a very capable motorcycle rider, and a veteran of the Iron Butt Rally, in which he finished 18th in 2007. I almost got him killed a few years ago, and yet he continues to be my friend. This should tell you what sort of man he is.

So should this.

Paul works for the Oregon Department of Corrections. The DOC has 14 institutions, scattered all over the state. In conjunction with Oregon's 150th anniversary, on June 19 Paul is going to ride to all 14 of them in 24 hours to benefit Shelly's House, which provides transitional drug-free housing and services for up to 16 women offenders supervised by Marion County. These women are working toward recovery and self-sufficiency, but meanwhile are at risk of homelessness or relapse or both.

Paul figures he'll clock about 1100 miles on his ride. Still, that's a walk around the block compared to the journey the women of Shelly's House are on. Go to the Two Wheels for Transition website, check out the ride and the route and the bike, and find out how you can help.

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From the archives, the director's cut

The Dog and the Hog

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Flashback Friday

"Hey, how you doin'?"
Gene Romero, Ontario, 1974
(photo by Jerry Smith)

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Thursday, March 19, 2009

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Monday, March 16, 2009

Say Again?

A few posts back I mentioned the pressures of work were keeping me from updating this blog as often as I'd like. They still are, so over the following week I'll be putting up links to posts from Tread Life's early days you might not have seen. If, in the meantime, something comes up that's worth a fresh post, I'll find the time to put it up.

From December of last year:

Unpopular Opinions: Sound? Off.

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Inside Lines

"We are convinced that very shortly the motorcycle World Championships will be accessible to non-polluting engines."

The TTXGP, scheduled for June 12 on the Isle of Man, is being touted as "the world’s first clean emissions motorcycle race."

Meanwhile, the Dutch are working on a diesel bike that looks pretty tasty, even if it'll be hard-pressed to beat a city bus away from a stoplight.

Is MotoGP too professional?

Two wheels or four? Popular Mechanics makes the call.

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Friday, March 13, 2009

Flashback Friday

Freddie Spencer, Daytona, 1987
(photo by Jerry Smith)

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Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Never Let The Truth Get In The Way Of A Good Story

(That's me in the middle.)

Over at there's a piece about the 1976 Daytona 200. I went to Daytona that year to race in the Novice class on my TZ250. Two other racers and I pooled our resources and rented a garage in the pit area for the week. Things were a lot cheaper back then.

Garaged next to us was the Yamaha team, where Kel Carruthers was looking after Kenny Roberts’ bikes. Kenny’s dad Buster was there, too. So was Ray Hook, who made Blendzall two-stroke oil. Blendzall was the oil of choice back then. Rumor has it the Yamaha guys dumped out the oil in the Yamalube bottles displayed prominently in their garage and filled them with Blendzall when nobody was looking.

Kenny, Buster, and Ray were all from Modesto, California. The guy I was working for at the time, who I’d come to Daytona with, was also from Modesto, and he and Ray were buddies, as were Ray and Buster, so there was occasional coming and going between the Yamaha garage and ours.

That was the first year the AMA required mufflers on road racers. The stated reason was something along the lines of “less sound, more ground,” although how that applied to a superspeedway like Daytona was a mystery to one and all.

When I arrived at the track for the first day of practice, walking around the pits I saw three or four brands of expansion chambers for sale with built-in mufflers. They’d been tuned to work with them, and subsequent lap times showed they gave up little or nothing to the unmuffled pipes everyone had run last year.

Strapped for cash, I had hacksawed the stingers off my expansion chambers and replaced them with generic weld-on mufflers packed with fiberglass. Even I figured this wasn't going to work very well, and I was right. I spent a couple of days trying to get my bike going as fast as it did the year before, with no success.

One afternoon, while I was moping around the garage between practices, Buster Roberts dropped by. He asked how I was doing, and I told him about my lack of speed, and my muffler problem.

Buster and I surmised a bit, and one or the other of us suggested my cylinders might have been ported too radically (or perhaps the word was inexpertly) to work with mufflers. That was entirely possible, since I did my own port work back then. But I only had the one set of cylinders anyway, so I was stuck with them.

Then Buster said something that floored me. Would I like to borrow a spare set of Kenny’s 250 cylinders?

You know that scene in the western where the bad guy walks into the saloon and the piano stops, and everybody’s head swivels toward the door? That was pretty much the effect Buster’s words had on everyone standing nearby.

I was so surprised that I said something I meant to come out more or less like Why, yes, Buster, I would, thank you, but probably sounded like I was choking on a chicken bone. Buster went next door and a minute later came back and handed me a box containing a cylinder block for a TZ250.

You have to understand that in those days Kenny Roberts was a god. So was Kel Carruthers, who tuned Kenny’s bikes. Between the two of them, they were knocking American road racing on its ear. Rumors abounded about unobtanium parts, magic ignitions, port timing developed by NASA—everyone was certain Kel knew something nobody else did, and that was one of the reasons why Kenny and his bikes were so damn fast.

So when Buster handed me that cylinder block, it was like an angel handing Indiana Jones the Ark and saying, “Go ahead, take a peek inside.”

I opened the box and lifted the block out. The first thing I noticed was the ports. They were rough cast, not like the ones in my cylinders that I’d labored over for hours, smoothing the walls with a Dremel tool and jeweler’s files.

I grabbed the dial caliper out of my toolbox and measured the port heights and widths. I knew the stock dimensions by heart, and one by one they came up on the dial.

By now I had an audience. “Well?” someone demanded. “Stock,” I said, shaking my head. “They’re stock.”

I thanked Buster for his generosity but decided to stick with my own cylinders. My race didn’t go that well. I qualified at the back of the first wave, and finished downfield from there. My bike ran poorly, and by the time I saw the checkered flag I was more than ready for the race to be over.

Kenny Roberts’ day didn’t go that well, either. A tire failure in the 200 caused him to crash, and Johnny Cecotto ran away with the race. I snapped a picture of Roberts after the race, a minute after he climbed off the bike and pulled off his helmet, exposing the strips of duct tape he used to keep his hair out of his eyes.

After that race our career paths, Kenny Roberts’ and mine, diverged. I raced in the AMA for another year or so, then hung up my leathers and eventually became a writer. Kenny Roberts went to Europe, kicked a lot of European road-racing ass, and eventually became a legend.

Years later, when I worked for Cycle Guide, I got a chance to interview him for an hour or so at Willow Springs Raceway. I meant to ask him about that cylinder Buster handed me back in 1976, but I never got around to it.

To this day I can’t say for sure whether Buster had picked up the wrong box, or if he was just offering me a new stock cylinder block to replace the one I’d butchered.

But I suspect the truth is that he picked up the right box, that Kenny Roberts ran out-of-the-box cylinders on his 250. After all, why even bring stock cylinders to a race if the ones on the race bike were ported? Why not just bring another set or two of ported cylinders?

I'll probably never know. And you know what? I don't care. In fact, I think the reason why I didn't ask Kenny when I had the chance is I like my version of the truth. And you have to admit, it makes a helluva good story.

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Friday, March 6, 2009

Flashback Friday

Steve McLaughlin threw his TZ750 down the track during the 1975 Daytona 200, then got back on and finished sixth.
(photo by Jerry Smith)

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Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Inside Lines

"I think we made an interesting stir here as data showed you can improve your mental condition simply by using motorbikes to commute."

Riding motorcycles not only saves gas, it saves brain cells.

Who would have guessed the way to save money in MotoGP was to make even more stuff out of carbon fiber?

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Sunday, March 1, 2009

Two Head(light)s Are Better Than One

“It connects to something very basic in the psyche that goes back to when they were little children.”

Research indicates a bike with two headlights “elicits a response similar to that when a human face is seen” in other drivers, making them more likely to be aware of the bike and react accordingly. Read about it here.

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