2015 Oregon Vintage Motorcycle Show

Last Sunday was the 35th Oregon Vintage Motorcycle Show.  I decided to go and take a look! I got my Multistrada ready for the short hop to the Benton County Fairgrounds  in Corvallis, where the show takes place every year.

Parking spot in the shade

Parking spot in the shade

I arrived at 1:30pm or thereabouts, as some visitors and exhibitors, were already leaving. I managed to find a spot in the shade of a tree, right at the side of a red Scrambler Ducati. Never saw who was riding it, but the two Ducatis looked good next to each other.

This year’s featured marque of the event was Hodaka.

Featured Marque: Hodaka

Featured Marque: Hodaka

I had heard of Hodaka motorcycles before, but never really paid any special attention to them.  Despite it being the featured marque, I was surprised to see these many bikes at the OVM in all kinds of shape, but most of them were in great condition, either in original un-restored form or bikes that had been restored to original.

Hodakas Gallore

Hodakas Gallore

I ran into a couple of my riding friends and acquaintances and from their comments I figured there was something special about Hodaka motorcycles in Oregon.  A little bit more research and I found out Hodaka was the result of an unique joint venture between Japan and the United States resulting in these motorcycles, which were produced between 1964 and 1978.

More Hodakas

More Hodakas

What makes it unique for Oregon is that its worldwide distribution was headquartered in Oregon, in the small town of Athena, northeast of Pendleton. The distributing company was called Pacific Basin Trading Company, PABATCO.  It is never too late to learn, I have to say. Apparently  PABATCO designed and engineered a great part of the motorcycle and engine (no wonder they were all dirt and enduro motorcycles) and Hodaka in Japan was responsible for the manufacture and assembly. Also interesting, I hear this distribution company was owned by the Shell Oil company for the duration of this motorcycle production.  Now I understand why there are so many Hodakas in Oregon. Thank you OVM for teaching me a lesson about this unique marque of motorcycles and how Oregon was a decisive factor in its existence.

Hodakas again.

Hodakas again.

These events are always great for checking some unique motorcycles, some of them you only see when their owners bring them out of their sheds exactly for these kinds of events. For example, check this Vincent, a 900SS.  What? A Vincent 900 SS you said?

Vincent "900 SS"

Vincent “900 SS”

Yes, this Vincent has the characteristic L-twin Ducati motor. I’m not sure the owner made the engine transplant for the extra power or for the “reliability” of the Ducati motor.  I chatted with the owner and one other guy, as we joked about the possibility of Ducati bringing reliability to a Vincent.  It is all a question of perspective, you see.

Vincent "900 SS"

Vincent “900 SS”

Anyway, the Ducati motor looked much more simple and compact installed in the Vincent – and no doubt, it is more powerful that what this Vincent originally had.

Another unique motorcycle was this 1929 Indian Chief.

1929 Indian Chief

1929 Indian Chief

Gotta love the “details” that make it unique, such as the wood topbox, the auxiliary gas tank (could as well be the main tank at this point), the bicycle LED light, the license plate, the ship skin seat cover.

1929 Indian Chief

1929 Indian Chief

It includes a suicide shifter. Which triggers me to make a comment: some people question whether it is the shifter or the springless foot operated clutch pedal (toe returned on Indians) what really put the riders into danger, leading people to nickname these shifters as suicide shifters.  I would say it is the shifter itself since, under certain circumstances, getting one hand off the handlebar to operate the shifter may get the rider into trouble.

Tank-side shifter on 1929 Indian Chief

Tank-side shifter on 1929 Indian Chief

I would assume the bike runs and rides, and I base this on the amount of oil leaking on the lower part of the motor.

When plain ol'wires do a better job than modern solutions such as duct tape or zip-ties

When plain ol’wires do a better job resolving issues than modern solutions such as duct tape or zip-ties

This bike is an awesome machine for such events.  Or it could go, as is, to a museum. Or could even be considered a piece of art, I dare say.

Another interesting motorcycle, if you can call it a motorcycle, was this beautifully restored 1935 Morgan SS.

1935 Morgan

1935 Morgan SS

It was difficult to get a clean shot of this motorcycle since so many people surrounded it at all times.

Dashboard of this car, I mean motorcycle.

Dashboard of this car, I mean motorcycle.

Very nice, with the motor mounted upfront.

Very nice, with the motor mounted upfront.

It could be something interesting to drive.  You certainly don’t ride it.

Is it coming or going?

Is it coming or going?

And I had never seen or paid attention to it from the rear angle before. A straight shot from the back shows this interesting shape.  Other models have a more tapered end, I believe.

A view from the back of the 1935 Morgan SS

A view from the back of the 1935 Morgan SS.  Someone loves Scotland.

Another unique motorcycle was this Greeves Silverstone.

Greeves Silverstone

Greeves Silverstone

Now, do you know what makes this motorcycle marque interesting?  According to Wikipedia, Bert Greeves, the founder, was mowing the lawn of his home in England when he had the idea of fitting a lawnmower engine to his disabled cousin’s wheelchair. With that he invented the Invacar. The Invacar company was set up and won a major contract to provide motorized three-wheeled chairs for disabled people to the UK Government Ministry of Pensions and National Insurance. That was 1952. His business succeeded and Bert Greeves, a good trials rider, decided to diversify and got into motorcycle manufacturing.  That’s how the Greeves motorcycles were born.

Greeves Silverstone

Greeves Silverstone

Check this BSA and the Velocette next to it.

A BSA and a Velocette

A BSA and a Velocette

A nice single cylinder Ariel.

Ariel

Ariel

A CZ.

1964 CZ 250 Twinpipe

1964 CZ 250 Twinpipe

There was a very nice Kawasaki H2 750 Triple, Mach IV.

Kawasaki H2 Mach IV 750 Triple

Kawasaki H2 Mach IV 750 Triple

 

Aside from these unique motorcycles, the usual suspects were all present.  Here is a group of BMWs.

BMWs

BMWs

An assortment of Vincents, Triumphs and Nortons.

Triumphs, Vincents and Nortons

Triumphs, Vincents and Nortons

I wouldn’t mind if a Norton 850 Commando joined my other bikes.

Norton 850 Commando

Norton 850 Commando

As always, there was the presence of the unusual.

A match made in heaven

A rider and his bike, a match made in heaven

Talking about “matches”, I was just about forgetting, there were a few Matchless there as well.

Unrestored Matchless

Unrestored Matchless

What else did I learn from this excursion to the Oregon Vintage Motorcycle show?  There is always a motorcycle model I’ve never seen before, or a detail I had missed previously on some of these rare motorcycles. There were many opportunities to learn as there were bikes displayed in the event.

2015 Oregon Vintage Motorcycle Show

2015 Oregon Vintage Motorcycle Show

I went back to my bike and its friend had left already.  I did not get a chance to meet the lucky owner of the red Scrambler Ducati. I assume he was the guy who got the bike as a birthday present the week before (see my previous post).

Alone but still in the shade

Alone but still in the shade

I went back home through Alpine Rd. so I could stretch the Multistrada’s muscles.

A short ride, afterall.

A short ride, afterall.

Soon I was back home, overall, this ride was less than 100 miles round trip, I believe.  But it was a very entertaining trip.  Thank you vintage motorcycle owners for bringing your bikes to the show.  I plan to be back to Corvallis for this event next year.

Posted in Ride Reports, Travel | Tagged , | 2 Comments

A Scrambler Ducati Near You!

Remember those first rumors and endless discussions on motorcycle forums about Ducati bringing back to the market the Scramblers?  Then there was Ducati’s successful multi-media campaign and those strategically leaked photos and videos. Eventually the bike was presented at the EICMA show in Milan last fall.  That event was followed by the official launch of the bike in Europe then the launch in the United States earlier this year. Last week was finally our time to officially be introduced to this much anticipated motorcycle.

Scrambler Ducati at Claim 52 Brewery

Scrambler Ducati at Claim 52 Brewery

By the time I submit this post every Ducati dealer in the United States should have received their first shipment of Scramblers.  Our local dealer here in Oregon (European Motorcycles of Western Oregon) has received their first two bikes, both are icon models, and not surprising, both bikes have been pre-sold.

Scrambler Ducatis at European Motorcycles of Western Oregon

Scrambler Ducatis from the European Motorcycles of Western Oregon

If you want a Scrambler Ducati for this riding season I would recommend you place your order right away, as these bikes are selling fast – and I believe the next shipment for our region is almost all pre-sold already.  The red bike, by the way, was a surprise birthday present from a generous wife to a lucky husband.

No demo bikes yet.  Once a Scrambler Ducati is available as a demo, who knows when that will be at the rate they are being sold, we will take it for a spin and will let you know our thoughts about it.

Posted in Bike Reviews | Tagged , | 2 Comments

Welcome the new Honda Africa Twin!

After more than a year of speculation Honda has finally and officially announced its new Africa Twin.  First of all, the name is confirmed, Africa Twin it is!  And it is also called the CRF1000L, following Honda’s name convention for dirt and dual sport motorcycles.

CRF1000L, the New Africa Twin

CRF1000L, the New Africa Twin

Sparse information is available at this time, but if anyone had doubts about its return, rest assured, this bike exists. And it is rather handsome.

Here is the first paragraph of its announcement, from Honda’s worldwide site:

May 12, 2015 – Honda is delighted to announce the return of one of motorcycling’s most celebrated and evocative names – the Africa Twin. Having clearly shown the direction of its development and intent with the reveal of the True Adventure prototype at EICMA in November 2014, Honda can now confirm that the all-new CRF1000L Africa Twin will be in dealers across Europe in late 2015.

If this bike will hit Europe at the end of this year, it will probably be in the United States in the Spring of 2016 or thereabouts.  Yes, it has been confirmed – unlike earlier Africa Twin models, this bike will be marketed in the United States.

AT 3These images seem more like a photoshop exercise than an actual photograph, but the motorcycle pictured on Honda’s announcement looks remarkably similar to the  pre-production bike presented at EICMA last fall.

Honda's True Adventure (the new

Honda’s True Adventure (the new “Africa Twin”)

Honda’s announcement described what this motorcycle is all about. This description is very close to what we expected and projected, along with most anyone who has written about this motorcycle in anticipation of its unveiling:

Some motorcycles encapsulate perfectly what an adventure motorcycle is all about. The original XRV650 Africa Twin – which debuted in 1988, after the first 3 out of 4 consecutive wins at the Paris-Dakar – was one such machine. Its go-anywhere ability, rugged durability, easy-handling agility and all-day comfort made it the perfect partner with which to explore. And it helped to define a motorcycling segment that has now grown into one of the most popular worldwide. The new Africa Twin remains true to all the attributes and abilities of the XRV650 and its successor the XRV750, while adding the benefits of everything Honda has learnt on and off-road over the last decade, including Team HRC’s return to the Dakar in 2013.

AT 2The announcement also confirms our expectation about the use of DCT on this motorcycle.  DCT as a motorcycle application remains an exclusive domain of Honda, and by including this technology on an adventure motorcycle, Honda takes it to yet another level of uniqueness for such an application.

Furthermore, in a first for the category, the Africa Twin will feature the option of a new evolution of Honda’s Dual Clutch Transmission (DCT)  technology, which remains unique to Honda in motorcycling. This latest evolution of DCT has been specifically developed and programmed to provide the off-road ability with which the Africa Twin is synonymous.

We appreciate technological innovations, as well as Honda’s courage and pioneering attitude to include DCT on an Adventure motorcycle.  It (DCT) may not be among our preferred options on an adventure motorcycle (or any motorcycle for that matter), but we know of many adventure riders who are looking for a bike with an automatically operated transmission, better yet if it is a dual clutch transmission.  We can’t wait to test ride one and see how this transmission works on off road applications.

The all-new CRF1000L Africa Twin is set to redefine expectations of just what a large-capacity adventure motorcycle can and should be capable of, both on and off-road, and opens an entirely new chapter in Honda’s illustrious history of dual-purpose motorcycles made for true adventure.

We should soon learn more about what expectations the CRF100L Africa Twin will redefine.  We assume, beyond it being a typical marketing phrase, that this bike will be more than just another alternative on the mid-size segment, where the BMW F800GS and Triumph Tiger 800XC reside and where the KTM 950 and then 990 Adventure used to live as well.  This bike may as well nip on the heels of the usual suspects at the 1200 segment. That is, assuming the several technological innovations this bike should incorporate if based on the many patent applications filed by Honda for this bike, the new Africa Twin should raise the bar on the types of motorcycles available at the adventure segment. Lighter weight and more compact dimensions for a given motor displacement and suspension travel, for example, could be one of them.  A lower center of gravity could be another one, and of course, there is the DCT.  We just hope this bike incorporates all those patent applications as innovations and other technological innovations we may not know about, and that it will really set new expectations for this segment.

Here is a recent short video circulating about the bike, likely taken during the filming of Episodes 4 and 5 (see our previous posts).

A lot more information should become available about this motorcycle in the next days, weeks and months. We will continue to monitor information and post and comment about this motorcycle as more information becomes available.

It is coming!

It is coming!

While we wait, let’s hope for this bike to be different enough from the existing options so it can bring a new era to the large-capacity adventure motorcycles – and that DCT is not it – or that DCT is not the only attribute that distinguishes it from the other bikes.  Well, we know it isn’t.  Talking about DCT, we heard it would be available on a few trim levels: basic model, full electronics model, and one model with electronics + DCT.  There might be variations on the theme. As a matter of fact, this bike is the CRF1000L… should we also be looking for the CRF1000R, if we follow Honda’s naming convention? Well, one thing at a time my friends.  For now, fellow adventure riders, let’s welcome and celebrate a new alternative for the adventure segment.

Posted in Bike Reviews | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

Honda True Adventure – Episode 5 – The Test

Well, it seems Honda has decided to release a lot more information about this bike, in very quick form.  We are not complaining…

Honda used to have an R&D center in Offenbach, near Frankfurt.  Perhaps they re-opened a new R&D center in Europe, this time near Munich? On this video, titled “The Test” the test riders ride the new Africa Twin in Germany. The video is staged just south of Munich near the town of Tutzing by the Stamberger Lake according to the map depicted in the video. The same map would indicate they rode on dirt roads on a corridor between Monatshauser Strasse to the south and Kustermannstrasse to the north.

And what about the 60’s or perhaps early 70’s decor of the hotel, preserved from a time before the original Africa Twin? With the radio playing on the background in German, the hotel decor, the low light, the emptiness of the hotel, it puts an interesting and rather different scenario for this test ride, James Bond like.

…We are just enjoying this last batch of information from Honda about this motorcycle.  Nice sounds from the motor, by the way.

Posted in Bike Reviews | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

Honda True Adventure – Episode 4 – The meeting, Part 1

With the popularity of adventure motorcycles going on for more than a decade already, it seemed natural for Honda to bring its discontinued but always popular Africa Twin back to the market.  However, for many years already Honda has ignored the pleas of adventure riders and fans worldwide who were asking for the return of the Africa Twin, a true 50/50 (on road and off-pavement) adventure motorcycle from Honda. Instead Honda seemed to go the other way, developing adventure styled motorcycles that were increasingly more road biased.

That was until early in 2013 when rumors of an actual Honda adventure motorcycle appeared, coming from sources with direct connections with Honda. During the 2013 EICMA show in Milan Honda’s head of product planning (Dave Hancock) on an interview with Moto.IT stoked the fire providing a strong hint that something especial would be coming up from Honda in the adventure department.

In the spring of 2014, about a year ago, information was leaked from at least one person who had actually ridden the rumored adventure motorcycle from Honda. “Impressed” was the only word that circulated on forums as a description of the state of mind of this rider after he rode the bike.  At about the same time a set of specifications about this bike were leaked to key motorcycle journalists.  These specs can be considered impressive for such a large displacement adventure motorcycle:

  • 200kg / 440lbs (fueled) // 180kg / 396lbs (dry)
  • 20L / 5.3 gallon fuel capacity
  • Parallel twin engine, 1000cc
  • 100hp
  • 250mm / 9.8in suspension
  • 21” front / 17” rear
  • Offroad-designed ABS brakes
  • Offroad-designed traction control

During this time, Honda submitted several patents related to what appeared to be an adventure motorcycle.  A review of several of these patents indicated Honda was going in, and doing so in with style, with a motorcycle which incorporated several new ideas. More on that later.

In the fall of 2014 an adventure motorcycle from Honda, at a high level of development was presented to the public during the 2014 EICMA show in Milan under the True Adventure banner.  The motorcycle was disguised with what seemed to be fake mud, but showed wear and tear on certain components indicating it had actually been ridden. We believe this is the motorcycle that matches the above rumored specs (except for the 18inch real wheel of the displayed bike – instead of the 17 inch wheels on the rumored specs). We also believe this motorcycle is one of the bikes that had been tested in the Winter and Spring of 2014.

Honda's prototype of the New Africa Twin

Honda’s prototype of the New Africa Twin as shown in the EICMA show in October of 2014

One other important item about this “True Adventure” bike presented at the EICMA show, which was noticed from observing the bike itself, was the absence of a clutch lever and gear shift pedal.  It was confirmed by Honda officials at that time that this bike would have the option of a Dual Clutch Transmission (DCT).

Where's the shifter? DCT on board.

Where’s the shifter? DCT on board.

This has been a long but steady road about the development of this bike.  Somehow, Honda kept us informed along the way with just the right amount of information for us to picture in our minds what they were planning to do about this bike.  A good and probably inexpensive marketing campaign so far.

The story about this bike continues on a series of videos released by Honda as part of its marketing campaign on this motorcycle.  Episode 4 video was launched by Honda last week.  On this episode, the video depicts a meeting with the True Adventure motorcycle project management, the bike’s engineers, the test riders, and again, there was Dave Hancock, Honda’s head of product planning.

The video shows the team gathered around a table to talk about the bike, a day after the test riders had taken it out for a test ride.  Based on their conversation, the bike they are discussing in the video is clearly an evolution of the bike they rode in the Spring of 2014, that is (in our opinion), an evolution of the bike presented at EICMA.

The test riders discuss their impressions when the see the bike again one year later.  They describe a few characteristics of the motorcycle, talk about improvements from the previous version, and leave us wondering about what is going to be depicted in the next episode by showing clips of the bike in action as a teaser for the Part 2 of this meeting.

In the video, Dave Hancock states:

Yesterday we tested the adventure bike which is going to change the face of the adventure world forever.

He could be referring to the many innovative items this bike will present as demonstrated by the long list of patents Honda has secured for this motorcycle.  One such item is the position of the air cleaner on this bike.  By splitting it into two halves and placing them on the sides of the tank, it allows them to be higher and farther from the ground, while the heavier gasoline can be placed lower, directly on top of the motor, and perhaps partially under the seat, allowing for a lower center of gravity.

Honda Patent on Aircleaner

Honda Patent on Aircleaner

He could also be referring to the Dual Clutch Transmission.  This type of transmission has existed in cars for many years already.  And in the last few years Honda has introduced it to motorcycles (NC700 and NC750, and other models as well). Therefore DCTs are nothing new.  What is new is an application of a DCT transmission on adventure motorcycles.  If it does succeed, this motorcycle will really change the adventure world forever. Although we have already been exposed to something similar for adventure bikes – such as the Rekluse auto-clutch, the DCT offers a new window of opportunities, as it becomes an intrinsic system, core to the operation of the motorcycle.

The DCT is a very important element about this bike, but it is one of many innovations this motorcycle will bring to the adventure world. As we mentioned before, the list of patents submitted by Honda during the development of this bike is large, here we just covered the air cleaners solution Honda proposes with this bike. Dave Hancock may not be exaggerating when he says this bike will change the face of the adventure world forever.

Is the bike ready for prime time? 

All we have at this point are assumptions based on what we know about motorcycles in general, a few rumors here and there, and mostly the information Honda has officially provided to the public in these two last years.  Among the official set of information from Honda is what we gathered from the Episode 4 video, where Honda officials state the bike has been worked on, improvements have been achieved from the previous iteration, and the head of product planning (Dave Hancock) appears confident about the bike.

We will certainly hear more about the bike on the next video (which will likely be called “Episode 5 – The Meeting Part 2″).  The latest time we expect to see this bike in production form is November 19-22 in Milan at the 2015 EICMA.  We would not be surprised if this bike shows up before that event, though. It is only a hunch but we believe this bike is almost ready for prime time and at a minimum we will see a pre-production version very soon.

Stay tuned!

Posted in Bike Reviews | Tagged , , , , , | 4 Comments

Honda True Adventure – Episode 3 – The Return to Dakar

Several weeks ago Honda released its third video of its media campaign for its Honda True Adventure.  If you haven’t seen the previous episodes or have not heard of the “True Adventure” words yet, this concept, “True Adventure” was unveiled at the 2014 EICMA show in Milan. We interpret it to be the general name being used by Honda to describe the development of the successor to its very successful Africa Twin motorcycle.  Episode 1 (the dream) and Episode 2 (live unlike the others) are available on this site.

Original Honda twin from 80's Dakar races, the new Africa Twin, and on the right the current Honda Dakar bike (450 CRF)

Original Honda twin from 80’s Dakar races, the new Africa Twin, and on the right the current Honda Dakar bike (450 CRF)

Episode 3 describes Honda’s return to Dakar.  In the past several years Honda has mounted a concerted effort to challenge KTM’s domination on this race. Since 2001 KTM has obliterated the competition, KTM owns the Dakar races, with a total of 14 wins in 14 races (there were no races in 2008).  It was earlier on the history of this race, the pinnacle of enduro races and the basis for the development of what we today know as Adventure Motorcycles, that Honda was successful.  Honda had a win on the fourth Dakar race, in 1982, and four consecutive wins from 1986 to 1989.  Those four consecutive wins were run on the Honda motorcycle that originated the famous Africa Twin, a V-twin (NXR750V).

  • KTM – 14 wins
  • Yamaha –  9 wins
  • BMW – 6 wins
  • Honda – 5 wins
  • Cagiva – 2 wins

On the 2015 edition of the Dakar race I believe it was the first time a motorcycle other than a KTM held temporary overall first place positions for several consecutive stages.  In the end, KTM won again. Overall, KTM held seven of the 10 first positions.

Dakar 2015 Rider (country) Motorcycle
1 Coma (ESP) KTM
2 Goncalves (PRT) Honda
3 Price (AUS) KTM
4 Quintanilla (CHL) KTM
5 Svitko (SVK) KTM
6 Faria (PRT) KTM
7 Castaeu (FRA) KTM
8 Jakes (SVK) KTM
9 Sanz Pla-Giribert (ESP) Honda
10 Pain (FRA) Yamaha

However, now it seems we do have a race, and we hope, for the sake of having a true motorcycle Dakar race in the coming years, that Honda continues to challenge KTM and who knows, Honda may win the 2016 edition of the Dakar or have more bikes in the first 10 positions!  The Episode 3 video highlights Honda’s participation on the 2015 Dakar race.

What is the relevance of this video for the Honda True Adventure motorcycle campaign? Well, we are not sure, to be honest, considering the Dakar bikes are 450cc singles.  It could be that Honda is using “True Adventure” as an umbrella for several products, including a 450 enduro motorcycle, similar to the one on the Dakar races, tuned down so it can be accessible by the general public, along side a couple of versions of the 1,000cc Adventure bike, the successor of the Africa Twin (a version with a 21-inch front wheel, for true off pavement adventures and a version with a 19-inch front wheel for more on road adventures).

It could simply be part of the campaign for the only product that could be developing, the much anticipated 1,000cc Adventure motorcycle.  The return to Dakar video would simply be there to frame this new motorcycle under the context of Honda’s successful participation on the Dakar race, similar to when, in the 1980’s, Honda dominated this race and the Africa Twin was born.

The Episode 4 has already been released.  We will post it soon with a description of what are Dual Clutch Transmissions, as we believe this is a key technological piece on this new Honda adventure motorcycle.

Posted in Bike Reviews | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

Riding the BMW R nineT

After my visit to the One Moto Show in Portland, and after having had a chance to spend some time with BMW’s head of design Ola Stenegärd and the BMW R nineT project lead Roland Stocker, I was now curious to test their creation.

2015 BMW RnineT

2015 BMW R nineT

I know I’m late to the party.  This bike has generated all the sensation in 2013 and 2014, and still demands plenty of attention in 2015. Despite all of that, I confess only now I get to pay close attention to it. I had been looking for an urban bike that was not a sports, cruiser or adventure bike, but I had been obfuscated by another bike that had been getting a lot of press during that same time – more on that later. What is important is that when I took the R nineT for a ride it was an all new bike to me. I got to ride it with an open mind, unbiased from the opinions of previous reviewers.

IMG_4080That’s how I like to ride a new machine, as if I’m exploring a blank canvas. My biases were from sitting on it and perceiving the handle bars to be perhaps a bit low (from my adventure rider perspective), from knowing about the water/oil cooler boxer motors from my previous riding experiences with the 2012 R1200GS, and from what I had heard from Ola and Roland about the project itself, not their riding experience with it. Well, that and it is a beautiful machine, I wanted to like it.  What is important is that I had not heard or read or paid special attention to anything that mentioned what is was like to ride this bike.

IMG_4088Thank you Scott and Madelyn at the European Motorcycles of Western Oregon for the opportunity you’ve given me to meet the key BMW staff behind this bike and for letting me ride it!

IMG_4030On a sunny Saturday, a couple of weeks after my visit to Portland I had the chance to test the R nineT demo bike here at the Eugene store.  I started the motor and it felt as a typical twin boxer, trying to rotate the whole motorcycle clockwise as you blip the throttle. It is something you get used to after the first or second time you blip its throttle at a stop, one of those things that are part of the twin boxer experience. Nothing new. Once in motion however, the motor felt so much composed, more than what I remember from my experience with it on previous air/oil cooled R1200GS’s.

IMG_4118I took the bike to the wine country in the south Willamette Valley where I explored how it handled two-lane country roads with shapes of all kinds from tight switchbacks to fast sweeping curves.  Despite the ergonomics being different than what I would have chosen it to be, I prefer taller handlebars for a more upright position, as soon as the bike was in motion I’d forgotten all those thoughts.  It just fit me so well. It seems this is always the case with BMW’s, I don’t know how they manage it, but their bikes’ riding positions have always been great for me, no matter what BMW I’ve ridden.

IMG_4111The first thing I noticed when in motion was the exhaust note. I was using my super quiet Schuberth C3Pro helmet on top of good earplugs, and the sound that managed to go past this double layer of good protection was just the right amount of a deep tone, somewhat angry exhaust note. I would assume it was a very well studied and engineered note. I have to say it is just perfect in volume and tone, providing great feedback to the rider and letting you know you are riding a true roadster.  And if you want louder, just remove the baffles.

IMG_4065The next thing I noticed is how smoothly the motor responds to throttle input. I didn’t get that thrilling instant acceleration from minimum throttle input I get on my 2013 Ducati Multistrada (and I really like that, by the way).  But then, the R nineT is a different animal.  Although it is not sports bike fast, I did not miss much in terms of throttle response when I asked the bike for something more exciting. For a naked bike with a relaxed stance, this bike actually delivers more than I expected in terms of power and acceleration. And not only that, the acceleration felt very linear on its broad torque range.  The motor was a willing partner going up the RPM range with ease.

IMG_4113The other surprise element was the smooth gear box.  What a gem. I was not sure what was going on, was I really changing gears or was it doing on its own? Gears went in precisely, fast and quietly. You close the throttle, the revs come down quickly, a quick press of the clutch, slight input on the lever and the next gear is in, back on the throttle.  All of this work is assisted by the sweet sounds from the exhaust, making sure you know what is what and when is when at all times.  Like it always should be on a motorcycle.

IMG_4098Now, how to explain how nice it is to ride this machine?  I guess the recipe starts from combining the perfect ergonomics, add to it the exhaust note and the clean input it gives the rider, and then the smooth acceleration. On top of that, count on the gear box where gears get it in as if on their own… I guess that is the experience of complete riding satisfaction. IMG_4107One more thing to add is the absence of a windscreen. All you get is clean air. One of the drawbacks of adventure motorcycles is their small windscreens, coupled with the upright seating position.  Everything in life carries an inherent compromise. On the R nineT on speeds up to 60 or 70 mph, depending on wind speed and direction, you are riding comfortably on clean air. All you hear are the motorcycle mechanicals in action and the distinct exhaust note. Past 70mph and your chest starts pulling you back. Last weekend I went riding with friends and the maximum speed on that ride was about 70mph. I would had been fine if I were riding an R nineT on that 125 miles loop.  There are trips when 70mph is the average speed, of course, and for those scenarios, you would certainly want some protection, at least to keep the wind from directly hitting your chest and pulling you back.  The good thing is that this bike has an assortment of accessories and parts catalog from renowned parts makers.

Such as is the case for Wunderlich, with a nice vintage looking windshield among other parts they make for this motorcycle.

Wunderlich Daytone Fairing for RnineT

Wunderlich Daytona Fairing for R nineT

Rizoma has a full set of parts for this bike as well. Cafe Racer anyone?

BMW RnineT with Rizoma Parts

BMW R nineT with Rizoma Parts

And of course, there is Roland Sands, who was involved with this bike’s project, and has come up with an assortment of cool products for this bike.

Roland Sands Design - Products for BMW RnineT

Roland Sands Design – Products for BMW RnineT

Finally, BMW itself offer a few options of their own.  Actually, the bike is sold as a customizable machine.  You can easily remove the rear sub-frame, for example.

BMW RnineT without rear subframe Or add a different tail to it.

BMWRnineT bob tailThat is, you can find a windshield to your liking, if you will take it on longer rides and get a proper rear view mirror for it as well (more on the mirror later). You can make this bike your own by customizing it to your liking with off the shelve tastefully designed parts.

Back to my test ride of the R nineT, one other design item I would like to point out is how this bike carries a theme, throughout any visible component, it seems. A theme that merges the BMW industrial look of the last decade with something more artistic, I would venture saying.

IMG_4078The theme of the dashboard is transferred to the tank, the seat, and many other parts of the bike.  However, it never quite repeats itself, the shapes are all different across different parts with different materials, there is a clear theme across them, however.  It is like when riding this motorcycle, it has the ergos, the motor, the gear box and the exhaust in total harmony. So is the bike’s design, carrying an interesting harmony on itself.  That, to me, is one key attractive element about this bike. If I had to pick one word to describe this bike, it would be harmonious. There isn’t an odd element to it.

IMG_4081Although it has the air/oil cooled motor of the 2014 R1200R (1170cc, 110bhp @ 7550 RPM), this bike is a roadster of its own. In fact, after coming back from my ride I took a second look at a 2014 R1200R that was on the show room and all of a sudden the R1200R looked clunky and out of place.  My perspective had been transformed by spending quality time with the R nineT.

IMG_4120On the other side of all the positives about this bike, I noticed four issues that may not be too relevant, or too negative, but they are there. None of them would stop me from buying this bike.

First issue is that 1st and 2nd gear are close to each other and then there is a gap to 3rd gear.  I actually liked where second gear is for it makes for nice 2nd gear uphill hairpins, it puts you in the meat of the torque with plenty of range left for accelerating out of the apex before moving to 3rd gear.  You will learn on those times when you are short-shifting, you will likely consider carrying second gear a bit further before getting to third.  Not a big deal.

As a second issue, although this bike is very svelte at the seat and feet position, the foot pegs are exactly on the way my feet would be hitting the ground.  So you get this annoying sensation of foot pegs hitting the chins.  To solve it I made sure I placed my foot forward from the pegs and rested my calf on the foot peg, letting its spring move the peg backwards if I needed more direct connection to the ground. Your mileage may vary. For example, if you have longer legs, you should be fine with more options to place your feet on the ground at stops and this would not be an issue. For my 31 inch inseam, this became a small but obvious annoyance at every stop.

The third issue is the suspension. It works great at the regular speeds, and I actually did not have any problems with riding this bike on those roads in the wine country.  But once you push it harder, the bike feels less planted. I’m not sure this bike is meant to be ridden fast, and even if that was the case, it would not be my intention, if I owned this bike. I would avoid taking it out of the nice sweet spot of performance it offers, running the gears in the 4-6k range. Having said that, if higher performance is demanded, a suspension upgrade can be made.  I do not consider it a show stopper. I would even keep it stock if I bought it.

The fourth issue are the mirrors. They really do not give you much of a rear view. No problems, though, as you can get plenty of options on the catalog of accessories from Rizoma, RSD and others with products that will take care of this issue with style.

IMG_4110The question is: Would I buy this motorcycle? As I mentioned at the beginning of this post, I’ve been on the market for an urban motorcycle.  Something that is easy to saddle up to run city errands and perhaps to take on short trips to the wineries around town, maybe a stretch to the ocean or the mountains every now and then.  All my bikes are tall adventure styled bikes, not necessarily ideal for doing my short weekend rounds.  My options to fill this gap have been the Triumph Bonneville, the Moto Guzzi V7, and lately my attention has been directed at the Scrambler Ducati. Remember when I mentioned “obfuscation” at the beginning of this post?  Now the BMW R nineT has been filed as prominent candidate on my short list.

There are a few items that go in favor of the R nineT as my choice for local rides.  Number one is its size. It carries enough weight to offer a steady ride without compromising my sought after urban nimbleness, allowing it to be comfortable on short but also on longer journeys and has plenty of power for that.  Also, there has been talk about this motor being discontinued once European legislation (Euro 4) is implemented in 2016. The R1200GS has had the liquid cooled motor since 2013, the R1200R has the liquid cooled motor for its 2015 model year. Will the R nineT be forced to go the same route? BMW claims it can keep this motor within the parameters of Euro 4 by restraining output at the current performance levels. If that would not be the case, perhaps 2016 would be the last model of this bike as we know it and the air/oil cooled RnineT would become an instant classic.

Unlike other BMW designs, which on their whole are sort of Bauhaus (I know this is a mis-use of the Bauhaus concept) as they all have a function or a job, be it touring, sports or adventure, this bike has none of that. It is there for the looks, for the lifestyle to which it connects the rider, and for the fun of riding, pure and simple. And it delivers fun in spades. The question is: isn’t there something else in the market that would deliver similar fun costing sensibly less? Price is the one item running against it in my book, especially considering I’m also looking at upgrading a couple of my other bikes.

IMG_4094A second point going against it joining my other bikes in my shed are the rumors circulating on motorcycle forums and magazines, speculating about a scrambler version of this machine. And the rumors state the scrambler version would be accessorized as a base model, on a downgrade in terms of components when compared to the R nineT, and consequently offered at a lower price point than the R nineT.  If all of this is true, the Scrambler version would be my choice! The deal would be sealed, no questions would be asked.

Anyway, I have time to decide, I will wait and see where things go – there is a lot of movement at this end of the motorcycle segment, some of it were actually generated by the R nineT’s successful story itself.  Bottom line, this is an excellent motorcycle and I can see it in my garage, sitting on the front of the line, the bike that is the closest to the door, always ready to be my ride of choice when I don’t plan to go too far.  Knowing my style, eventually I would take it on longer trips – just to enjoy it at its fullest.

That was it, my friends, thank you for reading. As a bonus for you who read this post all the way to the end, here is a video about this bike. It is from the fall of 2013, you probably have seen it already.  If that is the case, it is time to see it again.  If you haven’t seen it yet, it is part of BMW’s marketing campaign for this bike, staging how Ola and Roland introduced this motorcycle to people who can appreciate it, the kind of people who would be showing their own creations at Portland’s One Moto Show, for example.

A motorcycle is beyond transportation. It is something else because it connects you… with life.

Warning: In closing, here is my final advice, please read it with attention. This is the kind of motorcycle I do not recommend anyone to test ride unless they are ready for a change, have a healthy balance on their bank account, or a good credit score and, on top of that, a nice accommodating spouse. Because this bike may balance your foundations and your definition of what is fun about riding and consequently create an unbalance on your check book. Be careful or it will follow you home. I’ve actually seen it happen! You’ve been warned.

Posted in Bike Reviews | Tagged , , , , , | 4 Comments