Thursday, February 25, 2010

Down The Rabbit Hole: Lehman Monarch II

This is a Lehman Monarch II trike. It's based on a GL1800 Gold Wing. It weighs a claimed 1,148 pounds, is 112 inches long and 54 inches wide, and has a 4.5-cubic-foot trunk under the standard Gold Wing top box.

And there's one just like this one in my garage.

It's here for an article I'm writing on trikes for Rider. I intend to ride it every day, weather permitting, for 30 days to see what the three-wheeled world looks like from the inside. Motorcyclists are getting older every year, and some are feeling their age more than others. For them, trikes represent a way to keep riding past the point where the difficulty of holding up a heavy two-wheeler would otherwise force them to hang up their helmets for good.

As soon as I get some pesky insurance issues ironed out, the V-Strom will be hooked up to a Battery Tender and covered up for a nice long snooze while I unlearn countersteering and putting my foot down at stoplights. I'll keep you posted as the test progresses, and I hope to shoot a video or two, as well.

Oh, I see that face you're making. Fine, go ahead and scoff, you...scoffer. But first look me square in the eye and tell me you're not the least bit curious what it's like to ride a 100-horsepower trike. Hah. I thought so.

Scary Movie

Nowhere to go but forward. Nowhere to turn around. No second chances. No room for error. This is what they mean by riding on the ragged edge. Watch it in full screen mode. Be glad you're not this crazy.

Inside Lines: Yamaha Super Tenere 1200

“The Super Tenere looks like it's been aimed squarely at BMW's highly successful R1200GS and R1200GS Adventure bikes, which have seen a surge in popularity in the last few years, both as go-anywhere adventure machines and as the motorcycling equivalent of an SUV, for better or worse.”

Gizmag has the scoop on Yamaha's new XT1200Z adventure bike. Standard equipment includes a set of crosshairs with a BMW GS smack in the middle. Big image gallery, too.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

You Call That A Vacation? THIS Is A Vacation!

Edelweiss Bike Travel is offering the granddaddy of motorcycle tours—a 40,000-mile, 248-day ride around the world. That’s right, around the world. Not just parts of it, but all the freakin’ way around, hitting all five continents. The ride begins on November 14, 2010, at Edelweiss HQ in Mieming, Austria. From there it’s on to Paris, then Dakar, then across the Sahara, then onto a plane bound for Buenos Aires. Then it’s...well, I could go on, but if you’re really interested, look here for more details, and download the 28-page, 5MB .pdf for the complete itinerary.

And remember to send me a postcard.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Inside Lines: Frameless Ducatis For The Street?

“The patent includes several references to roadbikes and production which clearly indicate that the design will be used on roadbikes in the future.”

Gizmag reports that Ducati has applied for a patent designed to protect the design of its GP9 and GP10 race bikes that will almost certainly be applied to future street Ducatis. Read the full report here, where you'll also find a photo gallery.

Garageaholics Anonymous: Peg Board Tool Cart

Until I complete my Peter Egan toolbox restoration, my tools are living in a big yellow plastic utility box on my workbench. Since this box isn't made to hold tools except in a pile, it's hard to find what I'm looking for, and as a result the tools end up scattered all over the bench most of the time.

I ran across this pegboard tool cart this morning and decided I had to build one. The instructions call for welding, which isn't one of my skills, but I bet I can figure out a way to bolt one together. (The comments at the bottom of the page offer some clever alternatives.)

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Wild In The Streets

This is:

A) An insurance agent’s worst nightmare.

B) A liability lawyer’s dream come true.

C) The bold new face of AMA roadracing.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Yamaha TZ750: A Flea On The Tiger's Back

If someone were to offer me a track day on Valentino Rossi’s Yamaha M1 MotoGP bike today, I wouldn’t have to think about my answer. I’m too old to go haring around a racetrack on an expert-level racebike, I’m not even flexible enough to fit on it, and I couldn’t go anywhere near fast enough to appreciate it for what it is. So I’d say thanks, but no, thanks.

But in 1986 someone asked me a similar question and I didn’t have to think about my answer then, either. I said, “Hell yes!”

The bike in question was also a Yamaha, a distant ancestor of the M1—the TZ750. During its heyday, the 750cc four-cylinder two-stroke had a reputation for being vicious, nasty, hard to ride, and nearly unmanageable in all but the most expert of hands. According to someone who ought to know, it was overweight, it didn’t steer, and no matter how well set up the suspension was, it wobbled like a shopping cart with a bent wheel.

The someone was Kenny Roberts. And when KR talks, you listen. Especially when he says of the TZ750, “This bike spit me down the road more times than any other bike I’ve ever raced.”

Roberts and a 1977-vintage TZ750 owned by Yamaha racing director Ken Clark, along with two-time AMA Superbike champ Wes Cooley and his 1980 title-winning Yoshimura GS1000 Suzuki Superbike owned by Craig Vetter, had been invited to Willow Springs Raceway in Rosamond, California, to take part in one of Cycle Guide’s high-concept feature stories, this one comparing the TZ and the GS with their approximate street-going counterparts, the FZ750 and GSX-R750. The general idea was to inflate the egos of sportbike riders by showing them how like actual race motorcycles their streetbikes were.

A flimsy premise, yes, but it got us two days at Willow, and the opportunity to ride two legendary racebikes.

I wrote the story in CG, and was so busy taking notes that I remember only a little bit of what went on during those two days. I remember catching editor Jim Miller going into a slow left-hander, diving inside him, and whacking the throttle on the Yosh Suzuki as I passed him. Later he said the sound that erupted from the open megaphone nearly blasted him out of the saddle of the GSX-R750.

I remember sitting on the dusty floor of a bare room under the timing tower—there was no furniture, not even chairs—interviewing Roberts about the TZ750, his racing career, and anything else that came to mind. I probably asked him what his favorite color was—when you get a guy like KR to sit down for a Q&A, you milk it for all you can.

But the thing I remember most is walking up to that TZ750, pulling in the clutch, thumbing the choke lever, toeing the gear lever down into second, pushing the bike down the pit lane, dropping the clutch, and hearing the dry clutch rattle and the engine burble for a few seconds before it lit up with a deafening staccato shriek that shot an entire day’s supply of adrenalin through me in a second.

I’d raced a 1974 TZ250 about a decade earlier, and the TZ750 was not so far removed from it that everything was unfamiliar—the hard rubber grips, the reversed shift pattern, the bark of the muffled expansion chambers all triggered long-buried sense memories. But after I’d put a cautious warm-up lap under my belt and twisted the grip all the way for the first time as I hit the main straight, it was like nothing I’d ever experienced before or since.

The bike was geared for Daytona or some other high-speed track; at Willow it was topped out in fourth by the time turn one came up, with fifth and sixth unusable. It still tripped the radar gun at nearly 150.

When I hit the brakes the bike stopped right now, about 50 yards sooner than I’d expected. As I built up speed I braked later and later, and every time the TZ stopped so hard my eyeballs flattened against the inside of my faceshield. In the corners it felt like it was on rails, and changed direction so quickly and easily I couldn’t reconcile it with what Roberts had been saying about it only an hour before.

The power was astonishing; the engine came on the ports with the suddenness of a punch in the face. No hesitation, no lean spot as it made the transition; below the powerband there was decent power, then in the blink of an eye there was holyshiiiit-loads of power. Exhilarating is too weak a word to describe the sensation of riding it. It was, as the kids say today, awesome.

Back in the pits I babbled on about how fast it was and how easy it was to ride—until Dain Gingerelli pointed out that I hadn’t been riding it at anywhere near a race pace. He was right, of course. I’d been going as fast as I’d dared on someone else’s rare and expensive race bike, but the more I thought about it, the happier I was that I hadn’t simply embarrassed myself by fouling a plug—or my leathers.

Later that day I got to watch Roberts on the TZ. He hadn’t ridden one in years—he’d only ever ridden this one once, five years earlier—but despite that, and the fact that there was nothing at stake but a magazine story he’d probably never read anyway, he flew around Willow like a man possessed.

I got to ride one legend that day, and see another put on a show. Not bad, even if I never got going fast enough to get the TZ’s attention.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Tread Life Productions Video Premiere

You can teach old dogs new tricks. I'm living proof. Here's my first video, and my first YouTube upload, both accomplished without spilling blood or crashing the entire Internet.

It's no Dramatic Chipmunk, but it's a start.

There isn't any story line to speak of. I did it mostly to see if I could get a handle on the mechanics of shooting and editing, and to prove to myself that at 58, I'm able to do what 14-year-olds all over the world can do in their sleep. Take that, World Wide Web. And stay off my lawn.

The plan is to make more videos, and not just for practice. I live in a pretty nice part of the country, as you'll see in the video, and I'd like to share it with you as I ride around it this year. I have two long trips in mind, one south to California to visit my sister and some old racing buddies, and another a return to Vancouver Island and the mainland of British Columbia, neither of which I've been able to get out of my head since I went there last year.

I'd like to do some other videos, too, on bike maintenance and safety, new products, and some local rides. Once I get this whole digital video thing figured out, that is. It took me about six hours to shoot the footage, another six to cobble it together on my MacBook, and another three to get it formatted correctly and posted. That's 15 hours for a three-minute video. That you're seeing here for free.

Economics was never my best subject.

Hey, You Kids, Why Don't You Go Inside And Play?

When I lived in the San Francisco Bay Area I used to go to indoor short-track races at the Cow Palace. The track, which the rest of the time was the floor of a hall where they held car shows and livestock auctions and crafts exhibitions, was cement or concrete, and looked as slippery as ice, but the traction was astounding, and the racing was cut-throat. I have some photos from one of these events where Kenny Roberts and Steve Eklund duked it out like the two masters of the craft they were; I'll get around to posting them soon.

Meanwhile, here's a video of an indoor supermoto race, shot from a helmet camera. It combines short track and road racing in a space that looks about the size of a 7-Eleven parking lot. I'd love for this to catch on here. I'd pay to see it. (Right now I'd pay to have the music track scorched from my memory.)

Saturday, February 6, 2010

The War Is Over! The Economy Is Fixed!

They must be, because yesterday, on the floor of the United States House of Representatives, Congressman Louie Gohmert (R-Texas) took time to recognize the achievements of Texan Ben Spies.

“Ben Spies is to be congratulated upon his winning the 2009 FIM Superbike World Championship,” Rep. Gohmert said. “He has no doubt blazed a trail for future successes with his steady hand, nerves of steel, and balance like nowhere found here in the House of Representatives.”

You got that last part right, Mr. Gohmert.

I watched the World Superbike series last year, and I was on the edge of my seat for most of it as Spies and Noriyuki Haga duked it out for the title. So good job, Ben, and good luck in MotoGP.

But honestly, is there so little to do in the U.S. House of Representatives lately? How’s the unemployment rate doing? Anybody got that pesky health-care thing figured out yet? Or an energy policy?

What? Oh. But Ben Spies is doing okay, right? Good. That's all we wanted to know.

Friday, February 5, 2010

Beanies And Bullshit: Just One Of The Things The Anti-Helmet Guys Don't Want You To Know

It’s my own fault, really, for signing up for all those Google news alerts. A couple of the ones I get regularly are about helmets, and this evening I made the mistake of following a link to a site full of misinformation, half-truths, unsubstantiated claims, and just plain muddled thinking about helmets and why no one should be forced to wear one. And then I got my rant on.

If pinned down for an unequivocal yes or no on the issue, I'd have to say that if you don’t want to wear a helmet, you shouldn’t have to. I take that position for purely selfish reasons; a few of my hobbies are, shall we say, potentially hazardous to my continued health and well-being, and I don’t want them to be outlawed by politicians and/or insurance companies citing the social-burden argument, which says the societal costs of an inherently dangerous activity like motorcycling (or shooting, or rock climbing, or skiing) outweigh the right of people to indulge in them.

But anti-helmet-law advocates too often take their argument a crucial step beyond the rights issue, and insist that helmets don’t increase your chances of surviving a crash—in short, that they don’t work. And that's where it goes off the rails.

The statistic these guys are most fond of bleating about is one that even the staunchest helmet advocates don't dispute: a motorcycle helmet isn’t designed to protect you from an impact at speeds much above 13 mph. The problem with that argument is it assumes the 13 mph figure applies to the speed the bike is going when you fall off. It doesn’t.

Some years ago I spoke to Dave Thom, who worked alongside the late, great Harry Hurt on the Hurt Report, which is to date still the most comprehensive, credible, and scientifically valid peer-reviewed study of the causes of motorcycle accidents (summary of the Hurt Report here). Thom knows his stuff. He's been a motorcycle-accident research assistant and associate (1977-1981), a research associate and later the laboratory director of University of Southern California’s Head Protection Research Laboratory (1981-1998), and the general and senior program manager of the Head Protection Research Laboratory of Southern California (1998-2003). He’s currently a senior consultant specializing in protective headgear, safety, and research at Collision and Injury Dynamics, Inc.

In short, Thom knows a lot more about helmets and motorcycle accidents than some guy from ABATE named Road Dog or Spider or Poochy.

First, I asked Thom about the 13 mph figure.

“It’s an important and often misunderstood point,” he said. He explained that 13 mph—13.4 mph, to be precise—was the terminal velocity of an object dropped from six feet, or about the maximum height of the head of a rider seated on a motorcycle. “If you pick something up and drop it from six feet, it’ll hit the ground going 13.4 mph.”

But what about the speed the bike is traveling? I asked. What effect does that have on the speed at which the rider’s head hits the ground?

“The speed on your speedometer is very seldom any indication of how hard you’re going to hit your head,” Thom said. “The only situation where it is an indication is if you hit a vertical object, like a bridge abutment. Then your speedometer speed is very important.” But in most motorcycle accidents, the rider’s head falls straight down and hits the ground at 13.4 mph or less. “We found way back in the Hurt studies that the typical impact on a head at the 90th percentile was less than the DOT impact speed of 13.4 mph.”

If you need further proof that the bike’s forward, or horizontal, velocity is far less important than the vertical velocity of the rider’s head, said Thom, go to a motorcycle race. “If you’ve ever seen a guy fall off at 120, they almost always get up even though their forward speed was huge. They fall off, and they very likely hit their head at least once, but they have that six-foot fall, which is what we test helmets at.”

Once you understand the bike’s forward velocity is nowhere near as important as the speed at which the rider’s head hits the ground, the argument that helmets don’t work because they aren’t designed to protect you at speeds higher than 13 mph loses virtually all of its weight.

And yet you’ll see that argument put forward in most anti-helmet-law rants. The actual information is there for anyone to find, if they just look for it. But the anti-helmet faction doesn’t want to look for it, and they don’t want you hear about it, because it leaves them with one less bullet in their ammo belt in their fight against helmet laws.

As I said above, if you don’t want to wear a helmet, don’t. If you’re above the age of consent, it’s up to you. But there’s a difference between consent and informed consent. Some people don’t know the facts; others don’t want to know them. And that’s the difference between ignorance and stupidity.

Making A Hard Hat The Easy Way

Not much to say about this video except that while I was watching it, I had an uncomfortable feeling that I was seeing the future of dentistry.

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Product Spotlight: MagnoGrip and LED Work Gloves

Someone who knows me all too well sent me links to these products, along with a warning to freeze my credit card in a block of ice before clicking them. And I gotta say, these two gadgets appeal to me.

The one on the left is the MagnoGrip. It's a magnetic wrist band that holds all the tiny nuts, bolts, and screws that you'd otherwise put down and lose, or drop and lose, while you're working on your bike. It's made of heavy-duty canvas, is secured by Velcro, and has magnets claimed to be strong enough to hold a hammer.

The product on the right is an LED work glove. Having recently returned from a dive into the deepest, darkest depths of my V-Strom, I can appreciate the glove's tiny LED light that can be positioned on any of four attachment points (you get two lights, one for each glove). A micro-textured, grip-enhancing polymer material gives you a good grip on things, and a stretchy fabric gives the glove a snug fit.

(Note: I have not tested this product, nor have I received any compensation from the manufacturer for including it in a Product Spotlight. I just thought it was interesting/innovative/clever enough to warrant bringing it to your attention. All specifications and claims for the product are the manufacturer’s.)

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Buell "Innovations": A Closer Look

If you spend enough time on internet motorcycle forums you’ll eventually hear someone accuse motojournalists of being lazy; for example, not bothering to check the facts and instead rewriting the sales literature that came with a bike and passing it off as a road test. It’s not a charge I’m prepared to dispute unconditionally, although my guess is it has less to do with laziness and more to do with a lack of solid journalism skills.

Still, a lot of writers who should know better have, for so long I can’t remember when it started, parroted Buell’s claims that it pioneered several “innovations”—the quotes are intentional—like fuel in the frame, oil in the swingarm, and inside-out front disc brakes, the latter rebranded with the flashier term Zero Torsional Load.

I’ve held my tongue about this for years, and probably committed the innovation offense myself now and then just to keep an editor happy. If that's lazy, then I’m guilty as charged, although I could argue that it was a necessary economic decision based on the fact that few editors are prepared to pay me for being a nitpicky know-it-all (even though I'm really good at that).

But tonight I brought home a copy of a major motorcycle magazine from the library, and sitting down to read it over dinner, finally reached my limit.

Accompanying an article about the closing of Buell was a sidebar called “Buell Timeline”; it ran down the significant milestones of the company’s short life, including the debut in 2002 of the XB9R, “with innovations such as fuel in the frame, oil in the swingarm and inside-out ZTL front brake.”

There are plenty of examples of these “innovations” appearing long before Buell laid claim to them.

In the May 1972 issue of Cycle Guide is an article about a monocoque-framed street bike that then-editor Bob Braverman whipped up using a chassis from a company called Competition Racing Development Center in Brisbane, California. The two principals of CRDC were Don Haagstead and Jim Gordon. I remember seeing and talking to them at the first AFM races I rode in the early 1970s. Their monocoque design used the frame as a fuel tank, and the seat for an oil tank for the two-stroke powerplant. For more pictures of their work go here and scroll down to CRDC in the section about special-framed bikes. (An even older example of fuel in the frame can be found here.)

I couldn’t turn up any examples of motorcycles with the engine oil in the swingarm prior to the XB9R, but there are plenty of examples of trials bikes with a chain-oil reservoir in the swingarm; this period test of four trials bikes notes that three of them had reservoirs:

Swingarm chain oil reservoir. The Ossa doesn't have one. The other three bikes did. The Kaw has a bolt to keep the oil in. The Yamaha has a plug that keeps popping out.

It's not big leap, once you've put chain oil in the swingarm, to put the engine oil there.

Finally, in the book Arlen Ness—Master Harley Customizer by Timothy Remus, on page 128 is a picture of a Ness custom with what is unmistakably an inside-out front brake. Ness didn't call it Zero Torsional Load, instead modestly preferring to engrave his name in the rotors. But he beat the XB9R to the punch by several years. And it could well be that others beat Ness; never underestimate the imagination of Harley customizers, who seem willing to try almost anything to stand out from the crowd.

I should make it clear I’m not out to kick Erik Buell when he’s down. I was never much interested in his bikes, except maybe the Ulysses, but a lot of other people were, many of them passionately so. A few of them worked for Buell, and the fact that they lost their jobs largely due to a decades-long epidemic of head-up-ass disease in Milwaukee sucks hard.

But before anyone gets all teary-eyed about the company’s demise, remember that it staked its fortune on a niche bike that at its best was no better than its competition, and at its worst was a lot worse; and that boasting about “innovations” is no substitute for building reliable motorcycles that more than just a few people want to buy.

I hope Buell’s new racing shop thrives, and that when his non-compete agreement with H-D expires he comes up with something so terrific that the suits at Harley who cut him loose will be taking turns kicking each other around the block.

I just don’t want to hear him use the word innovation ever again, unless it’s really justified.

Building Honda's VFR1200F

Say what you will about "old-world craftsmanship" and "hand-built motorcycles," mass production rocks. It makes things faster, better, and cheaper than a bunch of guys squatting on the floor in a dimly lit garage could ever do. Here's a peek at how the new VFR1200F is made at Honda's Kumamoto factory. (And doesn't Kumamoto sound like a great name for a bike?)

Monday, February 1, 2010

Tanks A Lot! Motorcycle PSA Has a Smashing Ending

SMIDSY is an acronym for "Sorry, mate, I didn't see you." The scenario presented in this British PSA video harkens back to a day of more civilized discourse between motorcyclists and oblivious car drivers—the last time I was in a similar situation and honked my horn at the offending driver, he flipped me off for making him spill his latte and drop his phone—but it also proves nothing much has changed since then.

(Trivia note: the music is "The Entertainer" by Scott Joplin, a piece made famous by its use as the theme of the movie "The Sting.")