Poll: What is your favorite rendition of the New Africa Twin?

By now we have at least five renditions for what the New Africa Twin will look like based on rumors that Honda will bring this bike back to the market in 2015 or 2016 (if you want to read more about each version, read the post on this link).

In order of appearance in the rumor mill, we have:

Motorrad’s version (Germany):  Dubbed CRF 1000 it is based on Honda’s excellent 450cc machine used in the Dakar races.

Will this be the 2015 CRF1000 Africa Twin?

Motorrad’s version

In Moto (Italy):  Somewhat similar to Motorrad’s version, but with a front fairing more similar to the CB500X and NC700X.

In Moto Version

In Moto Version

MCN (England):  Replica of the original, including the double round headlights and gold rims.

MCN's rendition of the New Africa Twin. Can you spot the differences?

MCN’s rendition of the New Africa Twin.

Moto Journal (France):  Similar to In Moto’s rendition but with headlight and bash plate that seem to have been copied from the KTM 1190.

Yet, another rendition of the speculated Honda.

Moto Journail

EnduroPro (Spain):  A mix between the MCN and the In Moto versions. But the motor on this drawing is not very realistic and also does not look like a parallel twin. Although EnduroPro’s text indicates they believe the bike will be a parallel twin.

EnduroPro Magazine's rendition of the New Africa Twin

EnduroPro Magazine’s rendition of the New Africa Twin

Your criteria could be to select the one you believe is more likely to be what Honda is thinking about, or the one you like best.

Have fun!

 

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Is the Tiger 800XC a desert racer? (Steens 2014 Part 3/3)

[This is the third and final post from my last trip to the high desert in southeastern Oregon and this time with the Triumph Tiger 800XC. This post includes a comprehensive review of the Tiger's performance on dirt roads.  Click here for Part 1 and Part 2]

It was timely to have researched about the new mid-size adventure bikes Honda and Yamaha may bring to the market as I prepared and executed this ride with the Triumph 800XC to Oregon’s high desert.  It helps for keeping things under the right perspective.

The Oregon High Desert

The Oregon High Desert – fun roads to ride motorcycles

After riding the Triumph on desert roads with a good dose of aggression I went back home from this trip with many thoughts in my mind as I evaluated the Tiger 800XC’s performance on these fun roads. I was surprised by how well it performed and made me re-consider what I would like to see on a mid-size adventure bike, especially now that we hear about a possible new Honda Africa Twin or a new Yamaha 700 (or will it be 750?) Ténéré.

Getting ready to leave Diamond, population 7.

Getting ready to leave Diamond, population 7. This was my second visit and stay at the Diamond Hotel, I plan to go back.

Ahead of me I had plenty of time, about 400 miles of two-lane highway going west towards the Cascades range and down to the Willamette valley to organize my thoughts.  But before hitting the highway I decided to visit two local attractions  – the Round Barn and the Diamond Craters.

Lots of signs.

Let’s make sure you know where you are going

I went to the Round Barn first then backtracked from there to see the Craters and from the Craters started the long way back home. The Round Barn is just what the name says, a round barn.

The Peter French Round Barn.

The Peter French Round Barn.

It was built in about 1,880 by Peter French, the boss of the “P” Ranch on the Donner and Blitzen Valley. They used this barn for breaking and exercising horses in the winter. It was quite the investment during those days, bringing the rocks for the inside wall and the wood, but then again, when all operations depended on the horse, that was the way to go.

Peter French Round Barn

Peter French Round Barn

The barn is listed in the National Register of Historical Places.  If you are in the area, go check it out. There is also a book store on the grounds where you can find books and information about this interesting area of the state.

Peter French Round Barn

Peter French Round Barn

From here I started my way back stopping on the Diamond Craters. A sign at the visitor area of the craters says this is “designated an outstanding natural area and area of critical environmental concern (…) it is home to many plants and animals adapted to living in an environment of lava flows, cinder cones and craters.”

One of the craters

One of the craters

And one crater with water on it. Water levels used to be higher.

Another Crater.

Another Crater.

Time to hit the road, I turned my back to the Steens and headed north and west back home.

One of the several "last views" of the Steens.

One of the several “last views” of the Steens.

Soon I connected with Highway 205 and from there I went through the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge towards Burns.

Another "Steens last view".

Another “Steens last view”.

I’ve been to this area in early September in 2009 and found this lake dry that late in the summer. I remember the GPS indicating water on both sides of the road and all I could see from the road was dry grass. It is mostly a shallow body of water and by September after several months without rain most of it becomes a dry grassy area.

Malheur Lake, June 2014

Malheur Lake, June 2014

Just before getting to Burns Hwy 205 climbs a ridge where I stopped and looked back for the last view of the Steens on this trip.

Till next time, my friend!

Till next time, my friend!

From Burns it becomes a boring two-lane highway.  I filled the tank in Burns and from there I did not stop until I hit Sisters. Before I left the Diamond Hotel staff had mentioned a forest fire in Tumalo, just outside Bend. There were concerns of possible road closures but once I got to the area traffic was flowing normally. I got to see a helicopter with a hanging bucket of water flying towards the fire.  From my perspective it looked like throwing a tea-spoon of water on a healthy fire in a fireplace.  It won’t make much of a difference, I thought, no matter how many trips that helicopter would have to make.

Smoke from the near Tumalo fire, viewed from Sisters.

Smoke from the forest fire near Tumalo, viewed from Sisters.

The Sisters mountains were somewhat hidden by all the smoke in the area.  I know a couple of people who live in the Tumalo area and I wished their houses and business were safe.  The smell of burned wood that permeated the area, that view of the helicopter, the haze throughout the area, you experience through that the seriousness of the situation. We are at the mercy of the powerful nature.

Fire near Tumalo clouds view of Sisters

Fire near Tumalo clouds the view of the Sisters

And just as I was writing this segment of the story on July 13th, a Sunday morning here in Eugene, I heard thunder not too distant from here, thunder without rain, thunder being nature’s source for forest fires. It just crossed my mind a new forest fire could be starting somewhere especially when things have been really dry around here this year.

Back to the story, when I rode the Lone Mountain Loop, with all the dust, the bike lost its idle. It is a “feature” of the Triumph Tiger, where dust gets into the mechanism between the idle stepper motor and the linkage to the roller at the rest stop of the throttle.  There is one particular area of this exposed mechanism (it has some three connections between the stepper motor and the throttle stopper) which operates on a tolerance of less than 0.5mm, where just the right amount of dust takes it our of whack.  More on that later.

Back home in one piece.

Back home in one piece. Minus idle speed.

The point was that traveling in the traffic of Springfield and then Eugene, the bike with no idle speed became a potential liability at some intersections, but mostly a tremendous annoyance. It makes you wonder whether this bike was meant to be ridden off pavement. Other than that, the bike performed really well.  And this is what I want to talk about.

Back to the main question of this post: Is this bike a Desert Racer?

First of all, I’m not an expert or professional rider, but I have many years of riding off pavement. I do believe most owners never take their bikes off pavement, and when they do, they ride conservatively or have their bikes loaded with camping gear. When I talk about desert racing here I mean speeds that a rider with average dirt riding skills (my case) comfortably and safely ride when they ride fast. That means some sliding out of corners but no two-wheels-in-the-air stunts. It is not about Dakar speeds.  Although on occasions I confess to have taken this bike to some good speeds on these roads, just to see what it could do.

The Bike and the Tires

The bike is a 2012 Tiger 800XC (all original except for a Triumph bash plate, engine guards, and fender extenders front and back).  Bike was not carrying any gear, except for basic tools, cameras and drinking water.  The bike was shod with Shinko 705 tires for this trip. They are usually rated as 80% street 20% dirt and I picked these tires because I was reluctant to make this bike into a dirt rider – I did not want to compromise its on pavement performance.  It just does so well on paved roads, why mess with it, right?  But in the end these tires performed really well on dirt and gravel. And it just makes me wonder how much better this bike would have performed if I had installed TKC 80’s, Karoo 3’s, K60’s or other more aggressive tires instead.

Shinko Trail Masters 705. With about 1,200 miles on them

Shinko Trail Masters 705. With about 1,200 miles on them

Tire pressures were kept at 36 psi front and back – not aired down from the recommended 36-41 range. I have for tradition not aired down tires when traveling on dirt and gravel roads, especially because these larger adventure bikes which, although with a 21 inch front wheel,  have rims that are relatively wide to accommodate lower profile street tires.  When you air these tires down, combine that with the weight of the motorcycle and the wide rims, you will have less tire profile (or cushion) between the rim and that odd rock you may encounter at speed. You run the risk of bending the rim. On the other hand, airing tires down assists the suspension in coping with smaller bumps on the terrain and significantly improve traction and adherence. So, taking in consideration not airing down the tires, the bike/tires combo did great.

2012 Tiger 800XC

2012 Tiger 800XC

In terms of suspension, the bike is all original. Only change was a bit of compression added to the rear shock.

What is this desert I talk about?

I’m talking about off-pavement but riding on existing roads.  These are relatively leveled dirt roads, with light gravel at times.  On these roads, the bike traveled very well and safely at speeds ranging from 40 to 75 mph.

Dirt Roads, lightly graveled.

Dirt Roads, light gravel, just how I like.

On these roads, the bike always felt planted when going at speed. The front end never pushed wide or threatened to slid from under the bike.  The rear, except for 3 or 4 unexpected slides, which were always easily controlled where the bike quickly regained composure, never stepped out beyond what I had planned. For the most part the rear stuck very well under acceleration, sliding just enough to keep the bike composed and settled on the curves. It was as if this bike had traction control.  Overall it was as if the bike were on rails.

If anything, I wish this bike had a faster throttle response and consequently more rear action.  There were times when I realized I entered a curve too fast and could be running out of road, and in those times I wished I had a faster throttle response. I do think this is an inherent characteristic of motors with three or more cylinders and linear torque curves – without that sweet spot. But this bike can actually do it.  Only that you have to get used to ride it on the higher range of the torque curve. That’s where you get more engine braking and more throttle response from smaller throttle input.  You just have to get used with the engine revving higher than what you would expect from a dirt bike. Most riders suggest a different sprocket to resolve this issue.  Problem is this bike has a narrow-span gear box, with a tall 1st and a short 6th gear when compared to the F800GS and the KTM990.  So when you shorten all the gears, you obviously will shorten an already short 6th gear.

The Tiger 800XC has a tall first and a short 6th gear

Gear ratios: The Tiger 800XC has a tallest first and the shortest 6th gear of this bunch

However, when going slow on first, lets say climbing a steep rocky area, the tall first gear becomes a real hindrance. You will need to slip the clutch, more so than with other bikes.  In those cases, if you ride through that type of terrain frequently, I would recommend a change of sprocket. It will somewhat compromise your road riding, maybe fuel economy as well. I don’t think it will actually solve what to me are motor characteristics, the inherent torque delivery of three cylinder motors when compared to single or twin motors.

Under normal operation this bike operates well at the 4K rpm range where the motor sounds relaxed and does not struggle to deliver smooth power. But riding on these desert roads, when you start having fun and need that immediate and stronger throttle response, I recommend keeping the motor on the northern portion of the rev range and you should be fine. I’m talking about 5-6k rpm peaking at 8k perhaps. Although at this range it sounds like there is drama going on with the motor, it is well within the normal operating range, and that’s the band of the range where you will find the type of torque that will deliver the power you need. Remember this bike does not redline until close to 10k rpm.  That’s what makes this bike sound and feel as if you were driving a Trophy Truck instead of a Baja Bug.  That can be a lot of fun, actually.

Here is a video of the action.  I already posted videos on the previous post of this trip, but here you will find 12 minutes of unedited action. You will see how well the bike handles.  This bike can go a lot faster than what I rode it.  It just needs the right rider to make it happen.  That is, the limitation was not the bike, but the rider in this case.  You will also see how it bogs down some when keeping it at 4k rpm and I twist the throttle, how it lags a bit to get power from 4k rpm.  But going one gear down and keeping it at 4,500 it already shows a better profile for response.

 

One Recommendation: adjust suspension to your riding style

One recommendation I would make is to set the suspension for your riding style.  This bike’s forks are not adjustable.  But it seems like Triumph did a great job setting it up for the right compromise for all occasions and riding styles.

It was only when I pushed it on bumpier roads that I felt the forks had too much rebound. On those occasions the front end feels locked up and as a result you get a harsh ride over bumps.  The compression seemed fine.  Here is a video going over small bumps from odd sized gravel mixed in with the dirt and dried up mud from cattle (hooves).  You can clearly see how the front end feels harsh.  Of course, airing down tires would have helped some.  But it would not solve the actual problem, especially when facing larger obstacles.

 

Therefore, overall, so far the only recommendation is to adjust the front suspension, and only if you will be riding fast. Otherwise, leave as is and you will be more than fine. But if you are going to adjust it, since it is a non-adjustable suspension, it will require re-valving.  If you will go through that trouble, you may as well make it a fully adjustable set of forks.  Also if you reduce the rebound damping, something that is needed in this bike, you may realize that you will need to upgrade the springs as well for your weight and riding style. This can be expensive really fast, though.  But it may just transform a good bike into a really good bike.

Faster Gravel Roads

And I also traveled with this bike on fast gravel roads, what I call gravel highways. On these gravel roads, the bike traveled well at 65 to 85 mph speeds.

Gravel Highway

Gravel Highway

On these roads I encountered two problems that I don’t think are unique to this bike. One of them was a front end wobble on deeper gravel sections.  But on these roads I was riding with a friend of mine and he was riding a KTM Adventure 950 and his bike was having the same problems, if not worse.  And he has a steering damper on his bike!  Here is a video of the wobble, which I called on the video “headshake”.  But I’m not sure that’s what it is.  In this video you will notice I stopped where my friend had stopped to check front tire pressure, as the wobble made him think he had a flat tire. That thought had crossed my mind as well.

And to prove the point that his KTM was struggling more than the Triumph, here is a video of the Tiger going past his bike as if the KTM was standing still.

Ok, I confess I added this video just to rub it in on the KTM riders who claim their bikes are the best machines for off pavement riding.  I have no question they are great bikes.  But there are other great bikes out there.

The second issue I encountered on fast gravel roads was rear wheel traction on washboard areas. But again, I don’t think this is an exclusive “feature” of the Tiger.  This is just the way things are with most bikes.  It can be improved, perhaps in the case of the Tiger it is about too much rebound for the rear shock as well.

The Real Problem and a Solution

The one issue that really bothered me with this bike is that it is prone to lose idle speed when riding on dusty terrain.  You hear all about it on the several forums.  People often refer to it as a stepper motor problem.

I encountered this problem for the first time on this trip, and I have to say it was extremely annoying (and dangerous when I was riding on city traffic on my way back home). So I decided to investigate the issue.  I cleaned the bike and removed the tank and the airbox to have access to the stepper motor and the linkage to the roller where the throttle rests at idle.

The naked Tiger

The naked Tiger

And here is the stepper motor to the right of the black cross bar, with the mechanisms leading to the roller and throttle resting stop and cable to the left of it, between upper and middle trumpets.

Between the top throttle body trumpet and the midde one, you will see the throttle cable, the roller and to the right the linkages leading to the stepper motor.

Between the top throttle body trumpet and the middle one, you will see the throttle cable, the roller and to the right the linkages leading to the stepper motor.

I cleaned the throttle linkages and the roller and it took care of the problem. But I can’t see myself after a day of riding on dusty roads doing this work by a campsite.  Some people suggest adding marine grease to the linkage to prevent this problem from reoccurring.  Others suggest spraying WD40 into the area when the problem happens and you are on the field. I don’t like those solutions. I will keep it as dry as possible, and will see if I can simply spray air into the area, just enough to blow the dust off of it.  It is tight in there and there is no clear vision from the outside (you need to remove the tank and airbox to see it).  But once you know where it is, you can “map it” and cut a small piece of hose and curve it just enough to reach the area from outside of the frame. And you can either use compressed air (if in your garage) or take the hose with you and use canned air or a tire pump when in the field to blow air. Alternatively, you can use a small nylon brush with the appropriate curvature to reach the area. I will try these alternatives before applying grease or WD40 (or similar) options.

Close up of the roller, the area that needs to be cleaned. It is tight to get in there from the outside.

Close up of the roller, the area that needs to be cleaned. It is tight to get in there from the outside without removing tank/airbox.

Anyway, when looking at things in perspective, this is nothing compared to the problems the KTM 1190 Adventure and Adventure R are facing with respect to riding on dusty areas. The 2013 bikes had problems with the airbox’s lid warping from engine heat and letting air bypass the filter and going into the throttle inlet via cracks formed between the box and its warped lid. KTM changed the airbox design for the 2014 but that still did not solve the problem.  Dusty air getting into the motor creates significant, and expensive damage.  It may seem I’m bashing KTM here, but I’m not.  It is what it is. I really like those KTMs. The 1190 is in my short list of future bikes, who knows, certainly something to consider after there is a KTM fix for the airbox problem.

Spotless airbox lid on the Tiger. Filter and airbox work!  (I have a Uni pre-filter installed on this bike as well)

Spotless airbox lid on the Tiger. Filter and airbox work! (I have a Uni pre-filter installed on this bike as well)

The entire operation to get to the Tiger’s problem area involves removing plastic, removing tank, and removing the airbox to access the throttle linkage.  The first time I did this and then put everything back together took me about the time of an entire soccer match.  The second time I removed all those pieces and put it all back together took me about half of that.

France vs Honduras on FIFA world Cup in Brazil: the amount of time it took me to clean the throttle linkage.

France vs Honduras on FIFA world Cup in Brazil: it was the amount of time it took me to get to the area and clean the throttle linkage and put the bike back together when I did it for the first time.

Conclusion

If you are an average rider like me, and will only be riding gravel and dirt roads, you basically don’t need to do anything to this bike. It would be overkill to invest on suspension or change sprockets or anything.  Just ride it as is and you will have plenty of motorcycle for a lot of fun. I personally haven’t changed anything on this bike up to now, although I imagine suspension adjustments will go a long way in making it a better bike. And yes, tires make a difference as well.

Now, if you will be riding on rocky terrain, deep sand, single track, then, to begin with, this size of bike is not the ideal size for that type of travel. You would want something smaller and lighter. But I understand, we all dream these bikes can ride the Back Country Discovery Routes. And they do if you have the skills or the cullones to put it through those routes. I think it still can do it without changes if you ride in normal and conservative speeds. But you will probably benefit from a sprocket change to lower the gears for crawling or going steep and technical terrain. And if you want to ride it more aggressively, and loaded with gear, I would recommend reviewing the suspension set up. And that’s it. Well, and learn how to clean the throttle linkage up from the stepper motor on occasion.

Now for the personal preference side of this equation I’m thinking about a slip-on exhaust to get a more throaty exhaust note, something that would drown out the triple whistle (what makes it sound like a jet turbine) and the engine tappet-like sound (Triumph dealer claims it is normal) you hear at around the 3k RPM.  Also, a narrower slip-on exhaust would allow for side racks that won’t stick out too far and wide, which would work for side panniers (I’m thinking about soft panniers like the Siskiyou (Giant Loop) or the smaller set of the Mosko Moto).

What about the speculated new Africa Twin and the new Ténéré 700 or 750 XTZ?

After riding the Tiger on this trip and pushing it on these roads, I have to say the 800XC is pretty much spot on. But of course, it could be better. And that is what I’m hoping from these two new possible offerings in the market.

Will this be the 2015 CRF1000 Africa Twin?

Will this be the 2015 CRF1000 Africa Twin?

If they are lighter than the Tiger would be one thing that would be extremely helpful, so you could venture with these bikes with more confidence in technical terrain.

More torque at lower revs would also be a welcome improvement, which is something these two speculated bikes would have if they stick with parallel twins with a 270 degree crank as rumors seem to indicate.  Although the Yamaha seems to have a smaller displacement and less power, with only 50 ft/lbs of torque if the motor comes unchanged from the FZ-07/MT-07 as it has been speculated.  But 70 hp of the 700cc twin of the FZ-07/MT-07 it is still plenty of power to have loads of fun on dirt roads!

Will this be Yamaha's new mid-size adventure bike?

Will this be Yamaha’s new mid-size adventure bike?

The BMW F800GS has a parallel twin (360 degree crank, though) and has more torque at low revs when compared to the Tiger.

2014 BMW F800GS

2014 BMW F800GS. Too bad they discontinued this color for 2015 (Kalamata now available on adventure version only)

Finally, one item that would be very welcome is the capacity to fully adjust front and rear suspension (pre-load, compression and rebound damping).

Other than that, the 200 mile range of the fuel tank is spot on for the Triumph, you don’t need more than that, in my opinion. So I hope that is the case for these two new bikes. When you need more range, just strap a gas jug and it takes care of the issue.  But under normal circumstances, 200 miles will be plenty.

That’s it.

For whatever my opinion is worth, overall the Triumph gets two thumbs up from me for the loads of fun it afforded me on the desert roads of southeastern Oregon. Maybe it is not a desert racer, but given reasonably leveled roads, this bike does really well. I was thrilled by its performance.

For what my opinion is worth, TWO THUMBS UP!

For what my opinion is worth, the average adventure rider, TWO THUMBS UP!

As for the other bikes, I would love to ride the F800GS, the KTM 1190 and the speculated new Africa Twin and new Ténéré (when/if they become available) on these fun roads.  Maybe these other bikes will make my Triumph Tiger 800XC feel like a heavy street bike.

Thank you for reading.

Up next the Ducati goes back to the California Sierras.

Posted in Bike Reviews, Riding the Triumph | Tagged , , | 3 Comments

XTZ 700 – Yamaha’s new mid-size Ténéré

We are not surprised to see a drawing of a speculated XTZ 700 (or 750) Yamaha Ténéré surface on the internet. Motorrad sketched something that looks really interesting, with design cues from the XTZ 1,200 Super Ténéré and using a parallel twin motor, likely a variation of that motor from the Yamaha MT-07 (or FZ-07 for the American market).  That’s not likely to be Yamaha’s own view for such a bike (if they have a view for such a bike in the first place), but certainly this drawing looks interesting and to a certain extent, makes sense as an evolution of the XTZ660 and XTZ1200 styles.

010_Yamaha-XTZ-700The launch of the MT-07, the speculation about Honda’s New Africa Twin, Yamaha’s own Dakar history, a perceived gap in the adventure market, and the age of the XTZ660 has led us to believe something could come up from Yamaha’s camp sooner or later in the midsize adventure market.  This article from Motorrad suggests Yamaha may be finally taking action. The same article indicates Yamaha will have 15 new models to be revealed on the fall motorcycle shows.  Something similar to the bike depicted in the drawing above could be one of these 15 new bikes.  That would be quite a large market attack from Yamaha. Can we say blitzkrieg?

The 2014 Yamaha MT-07 (FZ-07 in the USA)

The 2014 Yamaha MT-07 (FZ-07 in the USA) has a good powerplant for an adventure bike

More details are yet to be provided so, as we have been doing with our Honda Africa Twin is Back post, we will update this Ténéré post as new information becomes available about this speculated motorcycle.

For now let’s talk about how this segment of the market is shaping up and the basis for this new speculated motorcycle by Yamaha.

The Perceived Gap

It just may be that finally we are experiencing saturation on the large adventure bikes’ market, the 1,200 cc segment of the adventure motorcycle market. It makes sense: you first take care of the most profitable segment, stake your claim there, then you go after the second best, the midsize market.  And of course, the motorcycle industry has heard the cry of the adventure enthusiasts who have been asking for more multi-cylinder mid-size bikes on the adventure segment. And we should add there is that almost permanent quest from a minority of us for a more enduro or rally oriented motorcycle in the adventure market, I’m not sure this group has been heard really. Bottom line, as we’ve discussed on the New Honda Africa Twin post, there is a perceived gap in this market and it seems there finally is some action from the industry to provide bikes for that portion of the market.

perceived gap on adv marketOn our interpretation of this market there are no multi-cylinder motorcycles that are dirt oriented in the segment from 700 to 1000 cc of displacement since KTM stopped producing the 990 Adventure.  Some people consider the BMW F800GS and the Triumph Tiger 800XC to be “dirty enough” and to a certain extent, they are. But that’s it.  And that’s where Honda seems to be targeting with at least one of the possible and speculated versions of the New Africa Twin. Or so some of us hope.

On the 1,200cc segment you have many options,  but they are more touring-adventure types of motorcycles. It seems every motorcycle manufacturer has captured one slice of this profitable large bikes’ market in their quest to erode BMW’s R1200GS dominance of this segment. But the GS remains the best seller.  And these large bikes have evolved along the years, perhaps even including the KTM 1190R, to become more street oriented.  If not for anything else, it is for their larger weight and, of course, their price. Some of these bikes perform well enough on dirt (for their size), but very few owners take them off road. Yamaha recently let us know only 12% of the Super Ténéré owners take their bikes off-road.  Where’s is the next Starbucks?

This is Motorrad's interpretation of the Adventure Market gradient between dirt and street. And where they situate the speculated Africa Twin

This is Motorrad’s interpretation of the Adventure Market gradient between dirt and street. And where they situate the speculated Africa Twin

Of the two mid-size adventure bikes worth mentioning when we talk about dirt orientation, the F800GS is probably the measuring stick today. Although BMW was not the first motorcycle manufacturer to conceive, develop and successfully market a motorcycle for this mid-size portion of the motorcycle industry, it is the BMW F800GS, launched in 2008 in Europe (2009 in the US), the leader of this segment. It is the more dirt-oriented mid-size machine of this multi-cylinder segment.

2014 BMW F800GS

2014 BMW F800GS

Triumph successfully entered this market in 2011 with the Tiger 800XC, and I happen to have one of these machines and I do take it on off-pavement adventures on occasion, where it performs rather well, I would say.  Like the BMW, the Triumph could be better, though.  And this is where I would like to see new bikes being offered in the market deliver: a better dirt package, perhaps a more enduro or rally oriented suspension, and if possible, a lighter multi-cylinder motorcycle. And maybe that is not possible.

My 2012 Triumph Tiger 800XC

Our 2012 Triumph Tiger 800XC in action

Back-tracking some more in the history timeline of adventure/enduro bikes, to before the time BMW, let’s say, re-discovered the 800cc market with the F800GS, this displacement size was the top size of the enduro market.  It was the Paris-Dakar rally what brought the appeal for a motorcycle that would travel the world and would be capable of traversing any terrain. The BMW R80GS was the machine that turned this segment into reality.  This is the origin of the multi-cylinder adventure bike which evolved into the very successful BMW R1200GS and this entire larger displacement segment. Some of this bike’s (and this segment’s) consolidation can be traced back to the adventures of Ewan McGregor’s and Charley Boorman’s Long Way Round and Long Way Down series and other individuals who have taken these bikes on round the world adventures.

A new era on the motorcycle industry

1980-87 – BMW R80GS created a new market for the motorcycle industry

Yamaha and Honda were also leaders of this 700-800cc segment of the market by also winning the Paris Dakar race several times and by also producing Dakar-based motorcycles under the Ténéré and Africa Twin brands respectively.  But that was a relatively short lived period for these two manufacturers.  They have invested on it, produced bikes that carry their name in the imagination of riders to today. But they lacked a commitment to further develop the bikes, and lacked presence across some markets in the world.

The Original! Honda Africa Twin XRV650

The Original! Honda Africa Twin XRV650

1990 Yamaha XTZ750

1990 Yamaha XTZ750

Consider that before the KTM era (total dominance since 2001), from 1979 to 2000, Yamaha and Honda were rather successful:

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

Yamaha was the brand with the most Dakar wins until KTM entered this circuit. Like BMW, Honda and Yamaha before them, KTM themselves have developed a series of motorcycles based on the prestige of the Dakar bikes. Differently than BMW, Honda and Yamaha, though, until recently KTM did not seem to propose to lead the market in sales volume, but in developing motorcycles that have better enduro or off road aptitude than the offerings from other manufacturers.

Paris Dakar Winners since 1979

Paris Dakar Winners since 1979

All other mid-size multi-cylinder adventure-styled motorcycles currently available are just it, more emphasis on the style and not the capability for off-road adventures.

In honoring the Dakar race history, it seems only four manufacturers are actually expected to produce machines that could offer the general public some level of the sensation of what it could be like to ride a Dakar capable machine (even though Dakar is now limited to 450cc machines, we are talking here about multi-cylinder machines). Yamaha, BMW, Honda and KTM are it. And then, on the outside of this circle, but looking into it, we have Triumph with the Tiger 800XC.

Rumors feed our dreams for what these manufacturers could bring to the market should they perceive a gap exists as well. And it seems they finally agree with us.  I guess we are all looking for something new and exciting on this perceived gap of the market.

The Orange camp seems to be an obvious candidate, they are the ones that have been building the more enduro type of bikes of all of them. We have heard from forum participants the desire of seeing a 750 V-Twin with more rally-like specs than the 990 Super-Enduro.  We’ve heard some faint rumors that it could be a reality, especially since KTM stopped producing the 990 Adventure.

The red camp talks about the revival of the Africa Twin, and these rumors seem to be the most realistic ones of all speculated stories on this front.

BMW already has the F800GS, but it eventually will need a revamp, something more radical than color, subtle styling changes and the addition of electronic packages of recent. The only changes to the 2015 F800GS are color changes, for example. Well, they built the Adventure version (I wish they had only expanded the tank with one extra gallon, by the way). But then again, the F800GS remains the benchmark on this size.

Triumph, who knows, they may surprise us again. Although I seem to think their way up will likely be with evolutionary changes on things they lag behind on the Tiger 800XC, such as an electronics package, the need to move the dash information control from buttons on the dash itself to controls on the handlebars, and a subframe (or making passenger pegs an added/removable part from the frame).

Other manufacturers may join this market, the same way they crowded the 1,200 segment.  Although the midsize segment is not a hot market as the 1,200 cc market is, there is room for growth, and there is plenty of room for building exciting machines.

But we have hope that, akin to what happened in years past with the 1,200 market that, we may see fireworks on this segment of the market in the next couple of years.

Under the skin of a speculated new Yamaha Ténéré

With respect to this midsize development, Yamaha has been the silent one.  But we haven’t forgotten that Yamaha is a member of this exclusive group of manufacturers with history and an interest in this market.  Maybe they are still feeling the sting of the low sales volume they experienced with their Super Ténéré, an excellent motorcycle but which never generated much excitement in the market, except for the bike’s launch itself. Although very solid and proven to be reliable, this bike actually seemed to be somewhat obsolete by the time of its launch.  I remember comments from journalists and riders at that time, that were actually wanting Yamaha to develop an evolution of the XTZ750 and not a 1,200cc bike. The 2014 XTZ 1,200 has shown a few improvements from previous years, a small diet, and the addition of an electronic suspension package.  Progress, but still a soft selling machine.

What really triggered our interest in Yamaha’s camp, with the possibility of finally bringing a mid-size machine as a continuation of the actual Dakar-based Ténéré line, was the development of two new and exciting powerplants and the recent launch of two naked motorcycles based on these two powerplants. As soon as these bikes and motors came out adventure enthusiasts started to speculate whether these motors would work on a mid-size adventure motorcycle.

First was the beautiful new three cylinder motor that powers the Yamaha MT-09.

Three-Cylinder Powerplant

In-Line, Three-Cylinder, 847cc Powerplant

The MT-09 came to the market with appropriate fanfare. It is an exciting package with performance and a reasonable price. For some reason, three cylinder motors have a following, or a new found following in the market. There is something about flat, linear torque curves and smooth acceleration.

MT-09 or FZ-09

MT-09 or FZ-09

I know about this based on the 3-Cylinder 800XC.  The Tiger 800XC performs really well on dirt roads, but in my case, I bough this bike thinking mostly about riding it on the road. This is where the power plant seems to better deliver its power and torque curve.

Because of an adjustment of the bikes in our shed (a Ducati showed up) I was reluctant but did make the Tiger into a more dirt-oriented machine. And I have been positively surprised by how well this bike behaves on fast dirt roads, with all original equipment, except for the Shinko 705 tires. Check this video (link below) where you can see how well this bike can do on dirt roads.

There are a few things one would prefer on an off road bike though, such as a better low to middle RPM 1st gear action for technical and high incline climbs, more engine braking, and a more lively throttle response, which are things you normally get from a twin-cylinder motor. Add a small weight reduction to better face technical terrain.  And on more of a preference issue, the bark of a twin-cylinder when off road just sounds more fitting.

And that’s where a new Africa Twin and a possible mid-size Ténéré based on a twin-cylinder package sounds appealing.  So it was as if on cue that soon after the story about the MT-09 came out and people started talking about a Yamaha adventure bike based on this new triple motor, I’ve heard of the MT-07 and another new motor, a compact parallel twin package.

MT-07 (FZ-07) 700cc parallel twin motor

MT-07 (FZ-07) 700cc parallel twin motor

And the bike that came with it.

Yamaha MT-07 / FZ-07

Yamaha MT-07 / FZ-07

So I’m glad the Motorrad drawings depict this speculated new Ténéré with a parallel twin motor.  This motor offers the hope for a lighter bike in an adventure package.  And on top of that, this motor has a 270 degrees crank, meaning it will provide rideability and hopefully sound and feel similar to that of a V-twin, but on a compact package.

Specifications for these two bikes:

FZ-07 FZ-09
Price $6,990 $7,990
Cylinders Parallel Twin, 270 degree crank Three in line
Displacement 689cc 847cc
Power 74hp 115hp
Torque 50 lb/ft 64.5 lb/ft
Fuel Economy 58mpg 44mpg
Tank size 3.7 gallons 3.7 gallons
Calculated Range (mpg x tank size) 214.6 miles 162.8 miles
Weight 397lbs 414lbs

The 1991 Paris Dakar winner Yamaha YZE750T had these figures:

● Engine type: Liquid-cooled, 4-stroke, DOHC, 5-valve, in-line 2-cylinder, 802.5cm3
● Transmission: 5-speed
● Maximum power output: 74HP
● Weight: 194kg / 427lbs

The new parallel twin motor, if it is the one applied into an enduro package (adventure), would probably replicate very closely, the specs of the winning motorcycle, matching the exact 74hp of that bike, and perhaps the same weight, about 430lbs.

1991 YZE750T Super Ténéré

1991 YZE750T Super Ténéré

The new parallel twin’s 74hp is plenty good power in our opinion. It was plenty good for the race bike to win the Paris-Dakar race in 1991. The challenge is to keep the whole package light and make it fit into the gradient of bikes available as a lighter bike.  Or that’s what we would like to see on a new bike.

table of comparison
Therefore, if Yamaha decides to build such a bike, and it is based on the FZ-07 motor (or a variation on the theme), it gives us hope this is going to be a light bike, perhaps in the 430-450lbs level. It could also be that Yamaha could make a dirt version with the parallel twin motor and a more touring version, 19 inch front wheel, with the triple motor. These two versions would make everyone happy, open up the options for the market, and for some, make it a difficult choice between two dreamed about mid-size adventure bikes.

We will keep an eye on information about this possible bike and this segment of the market, where we predict a few new exciting motorcycles will become available in the next couple of years.  We will update this post (or create new posts) as more information becomes available.

Thank you for reading.

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Riding the Tiger 800XC as if it were a Rally Machine (Steens 2014 Part 2/3)

Many years ago I was traveling by car with one of my cousins in the area close to the border between Brazil and Uruguay.  As soon as the pavement ended and we hit dirt and gravel, my cousin made an observation, she said I was like her father: carried normal speeds on paved roads, but when hitting dirt, cranked the speed dial to faster. I had not realized until then how much that was true. But yes, I like driving and riding at speed on dirt roads. Maybe I learned this from my uncle on our many travels back and forth to the ranch.

Access road to the Ranch, Uruguay, April 2006

Access road to the Ranch, Uruguay, April 2006

Something has to explain why riding at speed on dirt roads is the ultimate fun for me. Until I rode my Ducati on the paved roads of the California Sierras last weekend, that is. Well, that was fun, but not as fun as riding on dirt. But the Ducati on the Sierras is another story still to be written.  I can’t believe we are in July already, half the year gone, days becoming shorter. But still the entire summer ahead of us!

Back to the story, it was Saturday and we were at the Diamond Hotel for a three-day weekend and Doug and I were the only two who traveled by motorcycle on this early June trip. Everyone was talking about hiking and bird watching as the activity for the day. When planning this trip and planning on taking the Tiger instead of the WR250R, I was unsure whether I was going to ride on Saturday or join the “civilian” festivities with the others.  But I had such a blast with the Tiger on dirt roads on the way in that I felt confident to do the Lone Mountain Loop.

And Enduro machine, really?

And Enduro machine, really?

After the experience of the day before on the deep gravel of Hogback Road, my riding partner bailed out on the idea of going for a ride on Saturday, and I can’t blame him either. Besides, he would enjoy his wife’s company and that of the other friends as well, and there are plenty of places to hike in the area. On top of it, this was his birthday celebration as well, and this would be a good time to enjoy the group’s company.

I, on the other hand, was single-minded, just wondering what this bike could do on my favorite dirt roads.  So I got ready to go, knowing I would be riding alone in a remote area.  From the Diamond Hotel it would be more than 80 miles just to get to the beginning of the loop, south of Fields, OR. Then the loop is another 80 miles or so of  some of the best dirt roads for going fast. There are very few miles of technical sections, if you could call a few ruts here and there, some switchbacks and one steep rocky descent technical. Most of it is gravel and dirt roads with nice sweeping curves, some two-track sections, framed by some great vistas all along. The roads allow you to see long distances ahead, which allows fast going without the risk of encountering hidden obstacles behind blind curves.  Just the recipe for fun, my way of having fun on a motorcycle.

This and water would go in my back pack, and then the tools which are already on the bike

This and water would go in my back pack, and then the tools which are already on the bike

I had five cameras, including the I-phone. I had extra batteries, and the charge cord for the phone. A can of Off to keep mosquitoes away in case I needed to wait for assistance in the middle of nowhere.  I also carried some energy bars. I would be fine until someone arrived for assistance, should that be the case. I told the guys my route, the direction I would take, and the times I would be reaching specific landmarks and crossroads along the route.

Ready to go! June 7, 2014

Ready to go! June 7, 2014

It is always good going to the south east of the state, from the roads, to the smells of the desert, to the views, to the solitude, it hits many of my favorites. I was glad to be on the bike again on a nice morning, and basically not carrying any load on it. I made my first stop before getting to Fields, to give a perspective view of the desert.  I would be going towards the right on the area of the photo, which is south towards Nevada.

The area south of the Alvord Desert, near Fields, OR. June 7th, 2014

The area south of the Alvord Desert, near Fields, OR. June 7th, 2014

A view of the Steens on the distance, the Alvord Desert on the right.

The Steens on the distance

The Steens on the distance

I stopped in Fields to top off the tank.

Fields Station, OR.

Fields Station.

From there I went south to find the beginning of the loop.

Let's have some fun!

Let’s have some fun!

I started slow, getting body and mind in sync with machine and road. It was about testing each others’ abilities and finding the right medium and balance for the right speed.  The first goal was to get to the top of Domingo Pass.  And we made it there with no problems.

On the top of Domingo Pass.

On the top of Domingo Pass, looking toward the east

The road was looking as if very few vehicles had used it this Spring so far.  In the fall you find it a bit more traveled on. This worried me a bit, not knowing what I would encounter ahead in the more remote areas, like lose rocks and ruts from winter travel.

Going down on the west side of the Domingo Pass (Pueblo Mountains).

Going down on the west side of the Domingo Pass (Pueblo Mountains).

From the other side of Domingo Pass you get a view of where I’m going (photo below), going south first towards Nevada (left on picture), than a right to find the valleys on the other side of the mountains depicted on the right side of the picture at the distance, to then start the north part of the loop.

Rincon Flat as viewed from the top of Domingo Pass

Rincon Flat as viewed from the top of Domingo Pass

Once I got to Rincon Flat I installed and turned my GoPro camera on. I just purchased a GoPro 3+ that was in promotion at the REI (included extra battery and a jaw clamp among other accessories – they must be ready to have the GoPro 4 ready to be released). That meant I was not stopping for pictures as usual, the GoPro took care of most of these next shots.

Rincon Flat, riding towards Nevada. June 2014

Rincon Flat, riding towards Nevada. June 2014

Eventually I found a comfortable speed zone.  This bike was feeling really planted, encouraging some twisting of the throttle. As if it asked me, “is that it, is that all you can make me do?” so I responded with more throttle.

Still going south...

Still going south…

Comparing videos I’ve taken with my WR250R on the same roads, and launching them together, side by side, I can see the speeds of the two bikes were similar. Except on straights, where the Tiger obviously gains speed coming out of corners much faster than the WR250R can do. But speeds on curves were very similar. I was really amazed by what this bike delivered (considering also the Tiger was not using real dirt tires – it has Shinko 705’s which are 50/50 at best, some people claim they are 80% street, actually).

Nevada in the distance

Nevada in the distance, but I will “turn right” just before the border

I just kept going, I was simply making great time, like if I were in an Enduro or Rally race. And the bike corresponded well.  Below is a video of this first part of the loop. Not really rally speeds, but it was not slow going.

I’ve always been skeptical of large and heavy bikes playing in such terrain. But given these roads, the bike and rider were a perfect match. It was complete synchronicity.  When compared to my WR250R, riding this bike was as if I was driving a Trophy truck in a Baja race! It sounds different with the three cylinders firing at 5-6,000 rpm, it is obviously heavier than the WR250R, but it moves fast as if it ploughs over everything. I have to admit, it is a bit decadent, but it was a lot of fun! Here is a second video, when I turned right before getting to Nevada. It’s a short cut to get to the Catlow Valley area.

Again, I was not really riding at Enduro or rally speeds, but several times the bike broke the 65 mph (100km/h) speed. And it did not require much work, it just felt solid most of the times. And I never turned the ABS off.  I did test the ABS three times, one of them on purpose to see how it worked, and it felt good, and a couple more of times when I encountered something unanticipated. In two opportunities You feel a very small delay until the brakes start to work, but work they do, and well.  The front brake, that is. The rear brake, well, I was not counting on it. As I mentioned on the previous post, I wish I could lock the rear wheel at will.  But I like the front brakes operating under ABS management.

Most of the time my mind was in the moment, my only thoughts were directly connected to the road, the bike, and my actions.  With these riding thoughts in mind I suddenly found myself at the start of my favorite set of roads, the real remote areas of this loop, in record time. I was again surprised on the ease of the going.

There it is!

There it is!

The nice roads section starts with a very steep descent. I actually did not think twice about keeping the ABS on for this as well.  And it worked well enough, basically I was relying on front brake only and kept bike in first gear.

There is the first road of a series of nice roads surrounded by beautiful landscapes

There is the first road of a series of nice roads surrounded by beautiful landscapes

When I get there I noticed the gate was closed, and at first sight I thought it could be locked, and was already thinking of alternate routes or turning back, pretty much disappointed.  But then I noticed the yellow sign.  Great. I opened it and closed it behind me.

Closed gate. Keep it closed.

Closed gate. Keep it closed.

The roads were in great shape, they are mostly used by local ranchers to re-supply cattle feeds.  So that guaranteed they had been cleared from the winter months’ mayhem.  The Domingo pass, it seems, are less traveled than these roads.

Cattle near a feed area

Cattle near a feed (and possibly water) area

Overall, I could just open the throttle and keep the bike at good speeds.  Very few stops on the traditional places I usually stop, where I adjusted the cameras, changed batteries and recording cards.

Hawks Valley, June 2014

Hawks Valley, June 2014

And then I got to the Funnel Canyon.

Funnel Canyon, June 2014

Funnel Canyon, June 2014

And the Catlow Valley itself.

Catlow Valley, June 2014

Catlow Valley, June 2014

The dry lake before getting to Hwy 205.

The Tiger on a dry lake bed.

The Tiger on a dry lake bed.

It was all good. And here is a video compilation of riding on these areas.  Yes, it was not rally speeds,  but this bike did fairly well – except for an annoying issue – with all the dirt and dust, the bike’s stepper motor for idle adjustment could not do its job.  I’m investigating the problem (it is a common issue on this bike). I have fixed it already, I think, but I’m investigating how to keep it from happening again, or how to fix it when in the field without having to remove the tank and the airbox. With the onset of this problem, the bike had no idle after the stop on the dry lake.

The Tiger, great performance on fast and fairly smooth dirt roads

The Tiger, great performance on fast and fairly smooth dirt roads

Anyway, aside from this annoying idle problem, I have a new appreciation for this bike and for what people call “big enduros” or “adventure” bikes in general.  I would assume other middle-weights would do fine, the F800GS comes to mind.  I just wonder how well it would do on these roads. Maybe even better than the Tiger 800XC since the F800GS has a bit more torque down low, a more responsive throttle action which may make speeds off of corners faster and with more of the fun wheel spins, and a narrower mid-section.  And it has the option for Enduro ABS (and traction control, if that is wanted).  And what about that “badass” KTM 1190R?  It must be a blast on these roads. And the dreamed Africa Twin with 100HP (and probably more torque as it is a parallel twin) and less weight than the Tiger?

Here is a video of this last part of the loop where you can see how well the Tiger does on these roads.  It misses a barking exhaust note… maybe next time.

That was it for this trip, I got back on 205 and started my way back towards Frenchglen and from there to Diamond.

Hwy 205, June 2014

Hwy 205, June 2014

But I checked the time, it was still early in the day, so before getting to Frenchglen itself, I decided to check the Steens Loop. I had heard it was closed, but went to check it out for myself through the north access road of the loop.  I was traveling at 65-70 mph on the loop when I crossed an SUV coming down from the mountain.  He flashed his blue and red roof lights… oops… I realized it was an “official” vehicle and thought he had caught me.  I slowed down to the 35 mph speed limit and kept looking in my mirror and I could see the dust of a vehicle driving behind me, this went on for a few miles. I definitely did not want him/her to think I was running away. But was not going to stop either…  Eventually the vehicle got close enough for me to see it was a different truck, so I got lucky… this time. So I twisted the throttle again to enjoy the sliding effects of this ball-bearing-type-gravel road.

On the Steens Loop, June 2014

On the Steens Loop, June 2014

And yes, the loop was closed. This last winter was very mild in terms of rain and snow. But there were still some snow banks covering the road in this year’s early June right above Jackman Park. People were saying two weeks more and it would have melted.  So I can assume it is open by now.

Snow bank just above Jackman Park. June 7th, 2014

Snow bank just above Jackman Park. June 7th, 2014

I turned around and made my way back to Frenchglen.

Back to Frenchglen

Back to Frenchglen

Where I stopped for fuel.

Frenchglen Mercantile

Frenchglen Mercantile

The store was called the Bradeen Brothers Store when it was founded.  Did I say it was 1926 on the previous post?

Bradeen Brothers Store

Bradeen Brothers Store

Check the stand in the middle of the picture, just above the “Bradeen Bros.” words.  It is still there today.

Almost 100 years at service.

About 90 years of service. Frenchgen Mercantile

And from here I rode back to Diamond for another great dinner. I got there before my group arrived. Somehow I crossed them, as they were at the Jackman Park and had hiked to the Krieger Gorge.

I traveled 271 miles this day, completing 638 miles since I had left my house.

The next day is my return to Eugene with stops at the Round Barn, the Diamond Craters, and then many miles of Hwy 20 towards Bend and Sisters.

The French Round Barn. June 2014

The French Round Barn. June 2014

Thank you for reading.

Posted in Riding the Triumph | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

The Tiger Runs Wild in the High Desert (Steens 2014 Part 1/3)

Our group of riding friends here in Eugene started talking about a trip to the High Desert this spring. What about an extended weekend stay at the Diamond Hotel in June?  This conversation was not about a motorcycle trip. But in my single-minded way of thinking, if it is about going to the Steens then it is a motorcycle trip. What else is there to do in the Steens, I jokingly asked them?

If it is about going to the Steens, then it is a motorcycle trip.

If it is about going to the Steens, then it is a motorcycle trip.

I’ve been wondering what the Tiger could do in those high desert open roads I like so much.  I visualized all the dirt roads I already know, roads with which I’ve gotten familiar since 2006 when I went to the Steens for the first time with the BMW F650 Dakar. And after that with the Yamaha WR250R a few times. These bikes, especially the WR250R, make riding in that area second nature, it’s a point-and-shoot motorcycle.  Knowing those roads well I know where potential challenging points for the heavier Tiger are, riding this bike on those roads would raise my riding level. So it was with trepidation that I loaded my gear on the Tiger and took it with me on this trip.

Will the Tiger and I make it there and back? The answer is unequivocally yes! More than that, I was impressed with this bike. There are some shortfalls about this bike when it comes to riding on dirt, but overall it positively surprised me. In the three posts I will write about this trip I will describe in detail and show videos to demonstrate how well this bike performed on this real adventure trip. It includes an enduro/rally type of performance with this bike in my favorite roads at the Lone Mountain Loop. Well, uh, not an enduro nor rally, really… but I put this bike into high gear and it responded well to the challenge on dirt and gravel roads.  I will also cover some maintenance steps for this bike after such a dusty ride.

At Doug's house, ready to go!

At Doug’s house, ready to go!

As I had suspected from the initial conversations about this trip, only Doug was up to ride to the Steens with me, and even Doug was not completely in for this motorcycle trip, I suppose. But he made it.  All others went by car.  I loaded my gear on the bike Thursday evening and early on a Friday morning I rode the bike to Doug’s house for a 7 am departure. Doug rode his KTM 950.  These two bikes are reasonably compatible.

Doug and his KTM

Doug and his KTM

I had originally thought about taking as much dirt and gravel roads as possible from Bend all the way to the Steens. This being a three-day trip, however, one day to get there, one day staying there, and one day to come back, and not knowing how much effort I would have to invest in managing to keep this bike upright, I decided to take the shortest paved route to Paisley and keep dirt exclusively to those fun roads starting right out of Paisley.  Also impacting this decision is that the Diamond Hotel serves dinner at about 6pm.  If you miss dinner you will be sorry. And hungry. We did not want that, and we wanted to be there early so we would have time for a cold beer before dinner. Luxuries, you know. So we rode to Paisley via 58 to 97 to 31.

We stopped for fuel in Crescent, but I decided to hold off and wait to fuel in Paisley.  Let’s see if this Tiger can really do more than 200 miles with a tank of gasoline in real adventure riding situations. Although, it should be known, full disclosure here, I was not carrying tent, sleeping bag and other camping paraphernalia that all adds weight.

KTM gets fuel in Crescent, the Tiger bets on waiting until Paisley... Will it survive 200 miles without a refuel?

KTM gets fuel in Crescent, the Tiger bets on waiting until Paisley… Will it survive 200 miles on one tank of gasoline?

From Crescent we took 97 north for a short distance to the beginning of Hwy 31 and then continued the southeast track towards Paisley. As soon as we got to Hwy 31 I looked in the rear view mirror and saw Mt Bachelor and a corner of one of the Sisters. So I had a chance to get my three Sisters’ blessings, as is customary for me when starting motorcycle trips to East Oregon.

Mt Bachelor as viewed from Hwy 31, close to Hwy 97.

Mt Bachelor as viewed from Hwy 31, close to Hwy 97.

The day was picture perfect. We carried on steadily and only made a quick stop as we approached Summer Lake.

Summer Lake

Summer Lake

We eventually rode by the lake, which is mostly dry, and arrived in Paisley at 11:00am, on schedule.  The Tiger had covered 212 miles and the computer indicated I still had 19 miles to go before running dry. It was close, but it gives me the assurance this bike can safely cover 200 miles before I need to stop for fuel.  This included a very brisk climb of the Cascades following an inspired Doug, or should I call him Valentino Rossi on a dual sport, it was hard to keep up with him. Even with that, the bike would have done an indicated 231 miles before it would run out of fuel.

To me 200 miles is just perfect. More than that and you are always carrying unnecessary extra weight and/or bulk. If I know I will cover an area with more than 200 miles without gas stations – these areas are very rare, mind you – I will prepare for that by strapping an auxiliary tank which easily extends the bike’s range for what would be needed. On my three years of ownership pf this bike I’ve never faced a situation where I was riding it and there was no gas station for 200 miles on any direction. And 175-200 miles is just about the time for me to stop for a quick rest anyway.  You can tell I do not understand the fixation some “adventure” riders have with large motorcycle tanks. Must be something Freud would explain, perhaps.

Non-ethanol fuel in Paisley

Non-ethanol fuel in Paisley

From Paisley the most direct route to Frenchglen is about 130 miles of gravel and dirt roads. If, to be on the safe side, you decide to top your tank off in Plush, you will add some 20+ miles to the route. We thought a stop in Plush would be good for lunch and gas. And a stop in Plush always adds interesting twists to travel in that region, and this time was not an exception.

This road goes by several names. It starts in Paisley as Red House Lane.

This road goes by several names (it is a mix of roads, actually). It starts in Paisley as Red House Lane.

We had made a good time to Paisley, we were on schedule, but now is where the challenges start.  My fears and apprehensions were quickly dismissed, however. As soon as I hit gravel and dirt, even with the loaded bike, I could see the bike felt composed, no worries at all. I did not turn ABS off, by the way. The ideal set up would be to turn ABS off only for the rear brake. But this is not a capability this bike offers. More sophisticated systems on newer bikes such as the KTM 1190 Adventure, the water-cooled BMW R1200GS, or even my Ducati, have ABS systems designed for off pavement riding.

I’m not sure how much disabling ABS only for the rear brake would translate into an improvement but I would rather be able to lock my rear wheel when I want or feel a need.  The front ABS on this bike worked very well, I used the front brake several times, including at speed (60mph+) on dirt/gravel, with no fear of lock up and it really works in significantly slowing the motorcycle down.  This was in circumstances where the rear brake was rendered useless with ABS, by the way.  But I doubt it would improve performance without ABS, I would suppose.  But I still would like the ability to lock the rear wheel up on command.

Anyway, back to the trip, it was great to be riding this road and I was happy to have taken this bike when I realized how well it coped with gravel, dirt and even more challenging rutted conditions as the pic above shows, with the dried up mud tracks. Now, when this road is wet, you will not see me riding the Tiger on this road.

Helmet Cam Photo of the Road

Helmet Cam Photo of the Road

At some point we spotted antelopes. A group of three crossed the road ahead of me and this is a photo (below) of the last one of this group – they have a funny way of running, different than deer, but seem smarter than deer, or more skittish perhaps, when it comes to crossing the road.  We eventually ran into more antelope at the Hart Mountain Refuge.

Antelope ahead

Antelope crossing the road ahead: Would a tiger hunt antelope in the wild?

The bike was doing so well on this road that I started to roll on the throttle to see how far it would let me push it.  It turns out it lets you take it very far, this is quite a domesticated beast. It growls under command, but if not, it will just traverse all sorts of terrain purring with ease. Impressive machine for its size. I’m left wondering about the F800GS, must be even better, perhaps. Take a look at the video below, I apologize for the wind noise, as the camera was backwards. But it gives you the experience of riding this beast at speed on a gravel road.

Hogback road was a different story, though. Some areas of hard gravel were making things quite interesting.

Hogback Road. June 6, 2014

Hogback Road. June 6, 2014

At the first sections of Hogback Rd, just east of 395, it had small gravel on top of hard compacted soil. Slippery, but you know where you stand, or roll, at all times. But later, as we approached the turn off to Plush, we encountered deeper gravel which brought head shakes on both of our bikes. At one point both of us thought we had flat front tires.  My bike actually started an almost tank slapper at one point, as the handle bars at one point veered violently to the right.  Some level of head shake was always there at 50-60 mph. Slow down and you get that flat front tire feel. What’s worse? Slow down and fear losing momentum or go fast and face the head shakes?

This happens often on my WR250R, on similar circumstances, but I just ignore it. But with this bike I was not ignoring this thing. I tried everything to cope with it: relaxing my arms, standing up, speeding up, slowing down. Everything helps a little. The best approach to calm her down was to let go of the handlebars, but then I could not operate the throttle, obviously. The second best was to sit as far back as possible, on top of my Giant Loop bag in my case, keep arms relaxed and then carry a good speed on top of that. You want to let it shake a bit, but not transfer that motion to the rest of the bike. If you tense up, your arms and body transfer the motion to the rest of the bike and the head shake can easily turn into a tank slapper. And when that happens it becomes a likely buy-buy sunny-side-up scenario.

Hogback Road: it doesn't look like much, but this is deep gravel.

Hogback Road: it doesn’t look like much, but this is deep gravel.

I did not play with the bike’s settings (what is available on this bike is pre-load and compression damping on the rear shock) to see if I could improve its composure. I just lived with it, kept my body relaxed and maintained speeds on the high 70’s or more. It worked. And it was fun.  But if I was having this issues, Doug was feeling miserable.

Doug stopped to check air pressure of front tire. Was it flat?

Doug stopped to check air pressure of front tire. Was it flat? It felt like flat.

Later, much later, on the way back to Eugene, he found out his forks had built up so much pressure that when he released the air valves the bike dropped almost two inches. This was possibly what was building up to his problem, why his bike was really struggling on deep gravel.  Anyway, we made it safely to Paisley.

Paisley Gas Station, Restaurant, Grocery Store, Hangout...

Paisley Gas Station, Restaurant, Grocery Store, Hangout…

We topped off our tanks after the station’s owner (or manager?) was hinting about Frenchglen’s gas station’s reliability issues: “If he is there” or “if they have gas”, he said, warning us to not count on finding gas in the Frenchglen Mercantile. Yes, I’ve been there and they once had a sign saying: “back in 1 hour”. And they didn’t take credit cards either. But we could also get gas in Diamond, from the hotel staff. Or Fields. Anyway, we topped our bikes’ tanks off to be on the safe side. Reasonable planning is another item on the list of reasons to not need to have a “tanker” bike.

But first and foremost, we took care of our bellies.  By this time I was starving.

The Cheeseburger was actualy pretty good. Better than last September when I stopped here with Christian.

The Cheeseburger was actually pretty good (and it is larger than it appears).

Doug gets started on a conversation with a local. It turns out he has a gemstone claim in the area. He proudly showed us photos of a recent blast he detonated in his claim. The explosion creates a large pile of loose dirt he sifts through for gems. That was quite the conversation, part of the Plush experience, I suppose.

Fuel and conversation at Paisley

Fuel and conversation at Paisley

We met other locals, or imported, newbie locals, like two friendly Mexican brothers.  We left Plush and found our way to the Hart Mountain Rd.

At the Hart Mountain Refuge

Confluence of roads at the Hart Mountain Refuge

And my first view of the Steens on this trip (below).  Just a smudge of snow, it seems from the distance.  Will the Steens loop be open?

The Steens, some 50 miles away.

The Steens, some 60 miles (100km) away.

This road was also covered in fresh gravel. I had to ride on the yellow band to the right, on the edge of the road, for more stability, otherwise it was doing the same thing as we got on Hogback Rd., but it was lighter and easier to manage here.

Frenchglen Rd.

Frenchglen Rd.

As we got closer to the Steens, the road got better but you still had to pick a line as free of gravel as possible.  Again, the faster I went, the better the bike felt.  By comparison, my Yamaha 250 does shake a bit too, but it is much less pronounced.

Almost home-free.  I can taste the cold beer!

Almost home-free. I can feel the taste of a cold beer!

Closer yet.

Are we there yet?

Are we there yet?

We topped off our tanks in Frenchglen, so here is an update on their gas reliability issues. They have a new attendant at the Frenchglen Mercantile, and he seems to match the store. And now the store takes credit cards (the attendant used his I-phone to process it). Who knows who will be there next time, but things looked good this time.

Fuel in Frenchglen.

Fuel in Frenchglen, June 2014.

The inside of the store is always the same. It is good to have certain things not change. For a change.

The store continues the same, operating since 1926.

The store continues the same, probably not too different what it looked like when it opened 88 years ago, in 1926.

Diamond is another 30 miles up the road. We made it there by 4pm, with time to spare to unload the bikes, learn about the vicious and relentless mosquitoes, and appreciate a very cold beer while enjoying the view of the bikes, from behind a screened mosquito free porch, of course.  I was really glad about this bike’s performance, that evening I was like a kid with a new toy. Well, it is a re-discovered toy. And I am a kid. A big, old, and forever a kid.

Bikes parked in front of the Diamond Hotel

Bikes parked in front of the Diamond Hotel

Others did not arrive until later, when it was almost time for dinner. After dinner they were talking about next day activities: hiking, bicycling, or bird watching? Right. I was thinking differently. I had my mind set but some things are better dealt with and mentioned on the next day, after a good rest. I was so tired, I slept well.

The next post will be a report on what I did the next day, and it was one of the best riding experiences of my life! Stay tuned.

Posted in Riding the Triumph | 10 Comments

A Warm Spring and Several Good Rides

It seems spring has come and is gone already. Either that or time flies when you are busy riding, busy at work, busy researching for blog posts, and also spending some time abroad in this mix. But I’ve managed to put more than 2,000 miles between the Triumph and the Ducati this year already! The Yamaha has not been touched yet, though. Will it ever?

The Triumph gains space in my riding time

The Triumph gains space in my riding time – Easter Sunday Ride – 4/20/2014

I’ve spent more time with the Triumph Tiger this year than the last two years, when I was obfuscated by the Ducati fever. But things are settling down now, and I had a chance to re-discover the qualities of the 800XC on road and off-pavement. That doesn’t mean that I have lost my passion for riding the Ducati, that seems impossible to be extinguished.

Short tour to Cottage Grove and Wine Country. May 3rd, 2014

Short tour to Cottage Grove and Wine Country. May 3rd, 2014

Riding the Ducati is always something special.  There is something about the sound and the vibrations from that V-Twin.  And of course, the performance, which is night and day when compared to the Triumph.

The Ducati at the Aufderheide Dr., May 25, 2014

The Ducati at the Aufderheide rd., May 25, 2014

It’s a funky looking bike. Shaped from a mix of motard, touring, and enduro styles. But it works best as a sport-touring bike. And when you don’t push it hard it can deliver an astonishing fuel economy for the performance vehicle that it is. For example, on a recent trip to Auderhaude Rd and then up the Cascades to Sisters, I filled the tank in Sisters.  On my way back home, the bike delivered an average consumption of 53.3 mpg, at an average of 59 mph, from Sisters back home. Yes, it was downhill. Still, better than a Prius, which I consider the benchmark for fuel consumption.

Environmentally friendly performance motorcycle? The rose bushes in my back yard were in full bloom! May 25th, 2014

Environmentally friendly performance motorcycle? The rose bushes in my back yard were in full bloom! May 25th, 2014

The Ducati can actually deliver better fuel economy than the Triumph Tiger, at same level of riding speeds.

But the Triumph is a much more relaxed motorcycle.  It is the easiest motorcycle to ride, from all motorcycles I’ve had so far. Acceleration, braking, clutch and transmission, everything is smooth and gradual.

Alpine Road on my way to the Coast. June 1st, 2014

Alpine Road on my way to the Coast. June 1st, 2014

Its biggest downfall is the windscreen.  It really needs to be changed or tweaked or something, and I don’t know why I haven’t done something about it yet.  It generates loud buffeting at any speed above 45 mph.

I took it on June 1st to the Cycle Parts’ Ona Beach lunch.  Thanks, Rod, the hamburger was so good I had no chance but get on the line again for more! While there, someone with a Yellow Ducati SF848 showed up.  Good to refresh my memories about that bike.

Excellent attendance at Cycle Parts' Ona Beach lunch.

Excellent attendance at Cycle Parts’ Ona Beach lunch – a total of 68 motorcycles/riders were there. Including someone with a Yellow SF848

The newest bike there was a KTM Super Duke 1290.  This thing looks and sounds serious.

KTM SuperDuke 1290

KTM SuperDuke 1290

KTM is finding their way into the street bike market. They even modified their big enduros giving them more street flavor with their 1190 Adventure bikes. Now they are taking the SuperDuke to a new performance level. What’s next? I bet they will have something to take them back to their main vocation… what about a mid-size V-Twin rally type, real enduro bike? They would not vacate the spot they left behind after closing the 950/990 Adventure line.

With these thoughts in mind I went back home from that trip to Ona Beach and stopped at the Heceta Lighthouse, it’s always there, like an old friend.

The Tiger and the Heceta Lighthouse.

The Tiger and the Heceta Lighthouse.

That’s it for now.

Coming soon: The Tiger’s impressive and aggressive performance on dirt on a trip to the Steens. On the other side of the equation there were mosquitoes and grass seeds (allergies!) as well.

Coming Soon! An Impressive performance by the Triumph Tiger, as well as a major shortfall.

Coming Soon! An Impressive performance by the Triumph Tiger, as well as a major shortfall.

Has the Triumph managed to push the Yamaha away from the shed? Stay Tuned!

And thanks for reading.

Posted in Riding the Ducati, Riding the Triumph | 4 Comments

FIFA 2014 World Cup in Brazil – A Game Changer?

I was in Brazil a few of weeks ago.  This trip gave me a chance to learn what soccer fans will experience when they will be in Brazil in a few days from now, when the beautiful game will be played under the FIFA World Cup organization.  2014FIFAWorldCuplogo2-FIFAI could still see World Cup related construction while I was in Brazil, and that was three weeks before the start of the Cup. The local media was speculating that the 12 stadiums to be used during the Cup were likely not going to be completely finished by the time the games started. But that is far from the main problem. I learned about the Brazilian people’s grim mood toward hosting the World Cup.  Some are protesting about the exorbitant expenses involved in building stadiums and infrastructure.  Others are simply embarrassed that Brazil is not completely ready for the cup. Others aim their complaints toward FIFA and their high standards and requirements. From these issues we may learn what are possible game changers in how World Cups will be played in the future, especially in the criteria for selecting the locations to host this most important cup of the most popular sport on earth.

When in South Africa the FIFA official ball was called the Jabulani. For Brazil, it is called Brazuca.

When in South Africa the FIFA official ball was called the Jabulani. For Brazil, it is called Brazuca.

My adventure, like that of American tourists going to Brazil, started when I had to face the bureaucracy at the Brazilian Consulate in San Francisco.  In my case I had to renew my Brazilian passport and I had to be onsite for that (if you do it via mail a Brazilian passport will only be valid for three years). I chose a Wednesday in mid April to go to San Francisco to do this job, booked a flight leaving at 5:30 am from Eugene arriving in San Francisco at 7:20am, returning to Eugene the same day.

The Official Brazuca by Adidas.

The Official Brazuca by Adidas.

I arrived at the consulate at about 8am, the consulate opened at 9am and I was number 15 on the line.  But soon there were some more than 200 people there, all American tourists lining up to get their travel visa to be in Brazil for the Cup.

While waiting for services I had a chance to talk to several tourists. They told me consulates across the United States were struggling to arrange appointments for the required visa interviews due to high volume of visa requests and/or lack of staff at the consulates. At that point in April, interviews were being scheduled for June, meaning many people who started the process at that time would not get their visas in time for the world cup.  To resolve this situation the Brazilian Consulates dedicated Wednesdays for processing visas without appointments, on a first-come-first-served basis.

That’s Brazil: it gives you the impression things are a mess, and they potentially are. But in the end it all comes together although sometimes with delays and adaptations to the process.  One could hope the same goes for the FIFA World Cup in Brazil!

At the consulate, just before windows opened

At the consulate, just before windows opened

With my brand new passport in hands I got on my United flight to Porto Alegre, my final destination in Brazil, and one of the 12 cities hosting games for the world cup. My flight went to São Paulo first where I connected with the domestic carrier TAM which took me to Porto Alegre.

Arriving in São Paulo, May 10th, 2014

Arriving in São Paulo, May 10th, 2014

Arriving in São Paulo is quite the experience. If you have never been there before you will be amazed by the sea of residential high-rises going into the horizon.  Makes for a densely populated area.  Traffic jams can be incredible. It is not as bad on the other 11 towns hosting games, just because they are not quite as large as São Paulo.  But you can count on traffic being an issue everywhere in Brazil.  To solve potential traffic problems in these 12 cities, Brazilian national and local governments have decreed optional holidays for most government workers on the days when games will be played, in the hopes it will reduce traffic congestion in these towns.

Residential areas. Almost everyone live in apartment buildings

Sea of buildings in sesidential areas. Almost everyone lives in apartment buildings

The Guarulhos (GRU) International Airport in São Paulo will play a key role taking people to the different cities where the games will be played. It is Brazil’s main air transportation hub.

Guarulhos Main Terminal

Guarulhos Main Terminal

GRU was still under renovation when I was there in November last year. And it was not operational yet three weeks ago. My flight taxied to a point on the tarmac and stopped far from a gate. Passengers were transported to the main terminal by bus.

New terminal in GRU airport under construction in November 2013

New terminal in GRU airport under construction in November 2013

The construction of the new terminal was going to be completed by May 25th, just a few weeks before the main influx of tourists starts.  This should resolve the problem of not enough gates for planes at this airport.

New Terminal at Garulhos Airport, supposed to have been functional by May 25th

New Terminal at Garulhos Airport, almost ready on May 10th, supposed to have been functional by May 25th

Construction at Porto Alegre’s airport, for example, which included the extension of its single runway, never left the planning stages after much talk and discussion about removing the families in the houses which are illegally built, mind you, at the end of the current runway.  And then there was the installation of Instrument Landing Systems (ILS) in Porto Alegre which were delayed.

Porto Alegre Airport (Salgado Filho) closed due to fog, two days before world cup starts (Photo from ZH)

Porto Alegre Airport (Salgado Filho) closed due to fog, two days before world cup starts(Photo from  6/10/2014 – Photo Agencia RBS)

Porto Alegre’s airport is frequently immersed on a thick fog during the winter days, and when that happens, it closes. And winter weather is just around the corner, when the cup is about to start.  The ILS was installed a couple of weeks ago in Porto Alegre, but due to specific red tape and technical issues yet to be resolved with ANAC (Brazilian equivalent of the FAA) the equipment is not yet operational.  Hopefully it will be fully operational and preventing flight cancellations when the first of the five games will be played in Porto Alegre on a few days from now, in June 15th.

Typical fog at Porto Alegre's Airport (Salgado Filho). June 2014

Typical fog at Porto Alegre’s Airport (Salgado Filho). June 2014  – Photo: Ronaldo Bernardi / Agencia RBS

On the other hand, other services were already operational both in São Paulo’s and in Porto Alegre’s airports. One of the annoying issues I’ve experienced in the past on my connecting flights in Brazilian airports was the lack of internet access for non-residents. There are a few pay-by-the-hour wireless services available at the airports, but they are expensive and require a convoluted payment process to obtain access, something only residents can unravel, if you have the right card, that is. But now you get free wireless in São Paulo’s Guarulhos (GRU) and in Porto Alegre’s Salgado Filho (POA) airports. I hope this service will continue after the World Cup is over.

Free wireless in Guarulhos (GRU) at last! And hopfully for after the cup as well! May 2014

Free wireless in Guarulhos (GRU) at last! And hopefully service will continue after the cup as well! May 2014

I was in São Paulo for a few hours to connect from the United flight to the TAM flight to Porto Alegre.  An interesting touch for the cup, TAM’s traditional red carpet service has been changed to a soccer pitch themed green carpet.

TAM's soccer pitch green carpet

TAM’s soccer pitch green carpet

One more thing before I take you to Porto Alegre: I saw this Gol plane at a gate (photo bellow), painted with the colors of the Brazilian national soccer team, to celebrate the team’s Confederations’ Cup win of last year.

Livery of a Brazilian airlines (Gol) plane celebrating Brazil's win on the Confederations Cup of last year.

Livery of a Brazilian airlines (Gol) plane celebrating Brazil’s win on the Confederations Cup of last year.

The flight to Porto Alegre was uneventful and I’m glad it lasts just a bit more than an hour from São Paulo. Mainly because the seats on TAM planes (but perhaps also other Brazilian airliners?) are really tight.  No leg room even for someone like me, of average height (5’10” with 30.5 inseam)!

Minimal leg room, TAM's Airbus 320

Minimal leg room, TAM’s Airbus 320 (from my visit to Brazil in November 2013)

By the way, the guy on a grey suite a few rows ahead of me is Paulo Paixão, the director for physical development of the players of the Brazilian National soccer team. He has worked with Felipão (Big Phil) since the time Felipão coached Grêmio, my soccer team, and Paulo lives in Porto Alegre.  He must be a very busy man these final days before the cup, getting the players ready for the first game.

Porto Alegre is located on a confluence of several rivers, building to a large mass of water which eventually becomes the Lagoa dos Patos (Patos Lake), and from there this water connects to the south Atlantic Ocean down south close to the border between Brazil and Uruguay.

Arriving in Porto Alegre, May 10th, 2014

Arriving in Porto Alegre, May 10th, 2014

Another view of Porto Alegre during approach for landing.

From my visit to Brazil in November 2013

From my visit to Brazil in November 2013

Porto Alegre will host five games during the cup (four in the phase of groups).

  • France vs. Honduras, Jun 15, 2014
  • Australia vs. Netherlands, Jun 18, 2014
  • South Korea vs. Algeria, Jun 22, 2014
  • Nigeria vs. Argentina, Jun 25, 2014
  • 1st of group G vs. 2nd of group H, Jun 30, 2014

All these games will be played in Sport Club Internacional’s stadium, called the Beira Rio. The stadium, which went through a massive renovation to comply to FIFA’s standards, was not completed yet when I was there.

Beira Rio Stadium, still under construction, Poerto Alegre, May 16th, 2014

Beira Rio Stadium, still under construction, Poerto Alegre, May 16th, 2014

To me this stadium looks like a red and white circus tent.  Just let’s hope it doesn’t become a clowns’ event during the cup. After the cup, well, I don’t mind if it becomes a real circus full of clowns – after all, this stadium belongs to Internacional, the archenemy of my soccer team, Grêmio Football Porto Alegre. Both teams are based on Porto Alegre.

By the way, Grêmio has a brand new stadium, built to FIFA’s standards. It is larger and accommodates a few thousand more spectators than Beira Rio.  Its construction started after Beira Rio was chosen by FIFA as the stadium for Porto Alegre’s matches.  Grêmio’s Arena was built with private moneys, and it has been concluded and has been fully operational for more than a year already.

Arena do Grêmio, Gremio's stadium. May 10th, 2014

Gremio’s Arena. May 10th, 2014

Grêmio’s Arena is probably the only FIFA standards soccer stadium in Brazil today that is not under some form of construction. Even the stadium where the inaugural match will take place, in São Paulo on June 12, two days from now, is not completely ready.  Grêmio’s arena will not be used for official FIFA World Cup matches, it will only be used as a practice pitch for the national teams playing in Porto Alegre during the cup.

While I was in Porto Alegre, as is my tradition, I made sure I went to Grêmio’s Arena to see my soccer team play.  And I was not disappointed when Grêmio beat Fluminense 1-nil.

Grêmio 1 x 0 Fluminense, May 18th, 2014

Grêmio 1 x 0 Fluminense, May 18th, 2014

That was a long detour from the main point of this post, I get carried away when I talk about my Porto Alegre, my home town.  The bottom line is that Brazil is not completely ready for the FIFA World Cup  which will start when Brazil and Croatia play the inaugural match on June 12th, in São Paulo. By the look of things, construction in several stadiums needed to be halted, or was completed one way or another. And even if stadiums get finished, Brazilian news indicate surrounding areas will remain under construction, including roadways, parking structures, and several other aspects of human mobility around the various stadiums.

The announcement, in 2007

The announcement, in 2007

The problems with Brazil hosting the FIFA World Cup, the most prestigious sports event in the world, are not restricted to delayed construction issues.  The problems started in 2007 when Brazil was announced the host for the 2014 World Cup.

First of all, there was no consensus among Brazilians whether hosting this event was a good idea or not. Most Brazilians, it turns out, knowing the expenses involved in getting their country ready for such an event, were against the idea of Brazil hosting the cup.  And today, the percent of Brazilians dissatisfied with the idea of hosting the cup has reached an all time high of about 70% according to a recent poll.  At times, this dissatisfaction has been demonstrated with quite an amount of aggression by segments of the population.

Brazilians demonstrate against the cup - burning the Brazilian Flag

Brazilians demonstrate against the cup – burning the Brazilian Flag

Hosting a FIFA event, or the Olympic Games for that matter, is about elevating the prestige of a country, or city, it also is about self promotion of politicians involved in the process. Very rarely it is a sound financial investment. Look at the Winter Games of 2022. No cities are lining up for a bid to host these games, especially after Sochi’s experience. All because events such as these require massive investments.  I believe this is how the 2014 World Cup will be the game changer for FIFA, and maybe for the Olympic Committee as well, considering Rio 2016 is only two years away, and the same issues being discussed for the World Cup in Brazil also apply to Rio de Janeiro and its hosting of the Olympic Games in 2016.

"We want Hospitals with FIFA Standards"

“We want Hospitals with FIFA Standards”

So what is the background on the specifics of Brazil? First of all, Lula (Luiz Ignacio Lula da Silva) was President of Brazil in 2007 when Brazil bid to host the 2014 FIFA World Cup. His presidency was marred by corruption scandals and expensive populist policies generating large domestic spending and debt. But the world economy was growing at a fast pace during those days and Brazil was rated, together with Russia, India and China as the motors of the world economic growth. The BRIC countries. Brazil’s boom growth was closely linked to China’s growth. Brazil’s growth was mostly based on agriculture commodity sales to hungry Chinese, and minerals and steel products to a growing Chinese industry.

Of the BRIC countries, only China was the actual motor of world’s economic growth, as it turned out.  Eventually that growth tapered off, as a domino effect starting with the real estate bubble in the United States and what followed as a consequence with the world economy. By that time, Brazil had already committed to hosting the cup, there was no going back. But not only that,  FIFA had requested 8-10 stadiums for the cup. Brazil offered 12. Why? You have to ask that question to President Lula. But what most Brazilians seem to indicate is that it was for his and his party’s political gain, investing in regions where soccer is seldom played, but where the President and his party needed to gather support, these Brazilians say.

But the times changed, and with the economic downturn, what seemed like a bad idea became a tragic decision, and it would have to be shouldered by many Brazilians and their tax money. And likely this has turned into a political loss to Lula’s party on the upcoming presidential elections (November 2014). It has been a large investment, with federal funds that many Brazilians claim could have been invested on more important initiatives such as health and education.  If Lula had stayed with the 8 stadiums FIFA required and the problems would have been somewhat more contained.  But he was riding the wave of success, had political cache to spare, so he signed something even then he could possibly not deliver without sacrificing some popular programs. Four extra stadiums is quite an investment. Especially when some of these stadiums are likely to never fill up to capacity, perhaps not even during this World Cup.

As a result, seven years later, and a troubled Brazilian economy, there has been a lot of push back from the Brazilian people on matters associated with Brazil hosting the cup.  When I was in Brazil media channels were reporting worker groups and unions threatening strikes during the cup, including public transportation workers, and even airline and airport ground crews. Negotiations haven taken place, and with that more problems have been pushed under the proverbial rug for an economy showing the stress of inflation and with the Federal Government’s weakened political leverage to adopt necessary austere measures. These austere measures, by the way, are necessary and will not be brought up until after the cup. Dilma Rousseff, the current president and successor of Lula has the work cut out for her.  And then there are the November elections for president. When the cup is over, and the election campaign should be in full swing by July, we will learn more about the Brazilian economic reality.

Protests on the Test Game of the São Paulo Stadium, where the inaugural game will be played, on June 12

Protests on the Test Game of the São Paulo Stadium, where the inaugural game will be played, on June 12

Something else, I was for example amazed that local stores and businesses were not building the world cup into their marketing campaigns as they’ve always done in the past. No green and yellow windows at stores on the malls. The push back from the Brazilian people is so intense, it seems, business fear being associated with the cup.

On the other side of the argument, there were Government campaigns being aired on the media, at prime time, specifically targeting to influence the hearts and minds of the Brazilian people. The gist of the campaign was to suggest the future success of Brazil would be hinging on a successful hosting of the World Cup. And that is true, I would argue this is a reasonable argument at this point. So, the narrator, as the video shows beautiful manicured images of the stadiums, hotels, airports, read something like this: “let’s pitch in for a good effort and make this the cup of all cups. Let’s make it happen. Now is the time to be nice with the tourists, make it a pleasant experience for all, show the world we can deliver.”

Brazilians asking tourists do not come to the Wrld Cup

Brazilians asking tourists do not come to the Wrld Cup

Also, three weeks ago Dilma Rousseff (same political party as that of Lula) invited the most prominent and influential Brazilian journalists to a dinner event in Brasilia.  During the event it is believed she argued that now was the time for them to stop criticizing the World Cup, it is time to use their influence to prevent a larger embarrassment.  She probably asked the journalists to stop instigating the public against the Cup and also against the government.

One of a series of graffitti with World Cup themes

One of a series of graffitti with World Cup themes – always criticizing hosting the cup. Food or fancy soccer stadiums?

It should be noted that in the presidential elections this coming November, Dilma, who is in her first term, is likely a candidate for the next round this November. Her popularity is at its lowest, though. And the World Cup becomes from something that was in its inception to boost her re-election chances to something that is likely to undermine her chances. And that of her party as well.  There is a lot at stake here, hinging on the success of the world cup.

Therefore, what is the potential game changer?  What are we learning from the Brazilian experience with hosting the World Cup so far?

We learned that hosting a FIFA’s World Cup is not necessarily an emerging country’s sound financial and political investment. That’s something that we actually learned from South Africa in 2010. But by then it was already too late for Brazil. But it may not be too late for future cups and other emerging countries that may be a candidate to host the cup several years from now. Most importantly, FIFA should stay away from countries where decisions to host the cup are politically motivated, and which require massive infrastructure investments to meet FIFA’s requirements.

It is a lot safer for FIFA to seek developed and politically mature countries, where the existing infrastructure is sufficient to host the cup and the population is in favor of hosting the event. Or perhaps FIFA should seek rich and well established dictatorships where political issues will not emerge.  By the way, where is the next cup?

The same should apply to the Olympic Games, except that these are scaled down to cities. Rio 2016 is probably under a lot of scrutiny right at this time.  There have been rumors, likely unfounded, that London, the most recent Olympic Games host where most structures should still in place, would be ready to take over should Rio fails.  But more interesting is how cities are no lining up to host the 2022 Winter Games, after they learn the expense Sochi went through to prepare for and host the games, and how it still was below acceptable standards.  A perception that probably did not boost that city’s tourism industry after the games.

Having said all of this, I sincerely wish the 214 World Cup in Brazil is a tremendous success.  But I also wish that lessons are learned by all:  the Brazilian people, the Brazilian government, and FIFA. There may be more to this than I really know, so please accept my writings as, well, thoughts…

To divert from all of this negativity, here is a nice video of Porto Alegre, prepared based on FIFA standards (let’s interject humor). There is something good coming out of this: by promoting my lovely home town into a potential world recognized town. The video makes it look better than it is. Maybe. I’m biased though, as I really like this town.

Finally, in Brazil there is a popular expression that is often mentioned when things work out well after they’ve been in a precarious situation, or to explain why Brazil is spared of earthquakes, active volcanoes, typhoons, hurricanes and other natural disasters.  People say “God is Brazilian”.  I was listening to a Brazilian radio station the other day, and someone was being interviewed about the cup and this person said:  “Let’s hope God is really Brazilian and the cup will be fine.”

Yes, let’s hope for that!

I wish a successful world cup, safe for all spectators, Brazilians and foreigners alike. And may the best team win!

Posted in Porto Alegre, Soccer | Tagged , , , , | 1 Comment