A Perfect Motorcycling Sunday (The 2017 Oregon Vintage Motorcyclists Corvallis Show and Swap Meet)

I’ve been researching and writing about motorcycles for years and I’m still a newbie when it comes to general motorcycle knowledge and history.  Last weekend was perfect to remind me of how much I don’t know about motorcycles when I attended the Oregon Vintage Motorcyclists (OVM) show in Corvallis.

Oregon Vintage Motorcyclists Show – May 2017

Last Sunday was also a perfect day for riding, the warmest day of the year so far around here, and it turned out to be a perfect opportunity for me to learn more about Indian motorcycles, the featured marque at this year’s OVM show.

OVM Featuring Indian Motorcycles in 2017

I’m privileged to have met very knowledgeable motorcyclists from whom I’ve been learning about motorcycles.  Last weekend I spent time with Doug and Carl as they prepared and loaded two very special and rare Indian motorcycles to take to the OVM show in Corvallis.  Besides talking motorcycles, spending time with them gave me an inside perspective on what it means to own an older motorcycle.

OVM 2017

My participation in the action started Saturday, when I helped them load their motorcycles to take to Corvallis.

Loading the 1921 Indian

We took Doug’s 1921 Indian to Carl’s, where he was setting up his 1958 Royal Enfield Indian for the show. Every load and unload of the bikes followed a lot of conversation about motorcycles. Just to unload the Indian it took us about 30 minutes. It was one minute of actual moving the bike and 29 minutes of story telling. Great stuff, my friends.

Doug and Carl unloading the Indian took 30 minutes: 1 minute to unload, 29 minutes of stories

This 1921 Indian is quite a piece of machinery.  It was great to take a closer look at this bike, learn how builders took care, in the 1910’s and 1920’s, of mechanical challenges we take for granted today.  There was a time we worried about how manual chokes on cars and motorcycles operated.  New riders and drivers of today probably don’t even know what a choke is, let alone what it does, as the basic concept of managing fuel and air on a cold start motor is managed by computers.  And to think that on this 1921 motor, where you manually injected a dab of fuel in each cylinder head on cold starts, a manual choke would had been a high-tech, luxury item?

What about the oil pump? It is manual. Chain adjustment? Move the transmission or the rear wheel, depending on what chain you need to adjust and adjusting the one that goes from the engine to the transmission will require you adjust the one going to the wheel. A distributor? The bike requires manual adjustment to advance or retard the spark. Brakes? Only rear brakes, and then it is not much better than what we used to find on bicycles 20 years ago.

Side valves

Riding skills at the time guys were racing these bikes were of a different sort than today’s. It required the rider knew enough mechanical knowledge to keep the engine running, and knowledge to make it perform at its best, a heavy dose of courage mixed with high levels of insanity, and then, yes some riding skills as well.

In contrast, today’s riders often complain about bikes with traction control, ABS, “too many nanny features” they say, as they ride motorcycles with excellent and linear acceleration, sticky tires, and disk brakes that can stop the motorcycle with a one finger operation.  They should be riding a motorcycle with no front brakes, to adjust their feel to what really are “nanny” features on today’s bikes.

1921 Indian: a race motorcycle of the time, power plus motor on a Scout frame

The bottom line is that innovation is inevitable and we all ride safer today and require lower insanity levels to conquer the hills.  What we take for granted today (or complain about today) is exactly what gives especial value to these older motorcycles and the riders of that time.

This 1921 Indian, which actually is not a production motorcycle but a motorcycle built for racing, can be considered very primitive, but everything that made it run fast was well thought out. Today it is a working piece of art, a quick study of its details will teach you a lesson in motor operation, and I bet you will find beauty on the solutions they invented to made it work. It is a photograph, a frozen image, documenting where we were in technological development 100 years ago.

Carl’s 1958 Royal Enfield Indian is on another level of innovation, it is another picture of technological development of another era.  Motorcycles by this time were more popular and when compared to the 1921 Indian they are high-tech what with the manually operated choke, drum brakes, front forks with integrated springs and shock absorbers.

1958 Royal Enfield Indian

One of the interesting aspects about this motorcycle was to learn the marketing strategies of those days were not too different than what we see today. Royal Enfield badged their motorcycles with the Indian brand as a strategy to expand its presence in the American market.

The Indian badge

Royal Enfield Indians were exported with the Indian badges beginning in 1955 and through 1960, from what I learned, although Royal Enfield motorcycles were being sold by Indian dealerships already before that time.

21K miles, very low miles!

Carl’s motorcycle is a 500cc twin, built on the Royal Enfield Constellation frame.

1958 Royal Enfield Indian

On my internet search to find out more about these bikes I came across a slightly different model, a 1958 Indian Woodsman, which was an American dealers request for a scrambler version of the Royal Enfield Indian.  Although this is also a 500 cc parallel twin, there are many differences between this bike (photo below) and Carl’s bike.

1958 Royal Enfield Indian Woodsman (photo from “Bring-a-trailer” site

These bikes are part of the “scrambler” movement of that time, which included Triumph, Ducati, and Honda motorcycles among others during that time.  Ducati’s Scrambler line was also an American dealership request, brought to market in 1962. Which reminds us of how much power dealers had, during those days, in shaping what the motorcycles looked like. Today motorcycle companies have marketing departments, design teams, it is a much more sophisticated operation.

Anyway several hours of story telling later we managed to spare 10 minutes of time to load the two bikes into the trailer.

Bikes loaded, ready to go!

Sunday morning Carl drive the bikes to Corvallis.  I joined Doug, riding to the OVM in Corvallis.  Because Doug was going to ride his 1000 3C Laverda, a triple cylinder motorcycle, I decided to take my triple as well, so the Triumph Tiger 800XC was prepped for the trip.

Getting the Triumph Tiger ready, first ride of the year: check oil, chain lube, tire pressure

I met with Doug at the Friendly’s market.

At Friendly’s market, the Laverda 1000 C3 (looks great, sounds great)

Soon other riders showed up, the Friendly’s market is a gathering point for Sunday rides in Eugene, and we became a group of five riders going to Corvallis.

Leaving Friendly’s market

On the way I worked with the guys to take some drone shots but I failed miserably. The drone was reading a “magnetic proximity” error when I tried to start it from the motorcycle, and did not operate properly.  I managed to untangle the drone issues in Corvallis.

On the way to Corvallis – stop to film with the Drone, fail!

At the Oregon Vintage Motorcyclists Show

We made it to Corvallis after the drone fiasco.  This was my second time attending this event, great to see so many nice motorcycles available for display, bump into old friends, and enjoy the overall atmosphere.  Here are a few photos.

The Indians

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Various other motorcycles

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These are just a sample of the many interesting motorcycles that were shown at this year’s OVM.  It was all attended, as always, which makes the parking area an interesting area to look at bikes as well.

The president’s choice for this year’s OVM was the 1912 Indian.

1912 Indian, President’s Choice for this year’s show

And Doug’s bike got the popular vote for best in the featured marque for this year’s show.

Doug’s 1921 Indian was voted best motorcycle of the featured Indians

And that was it.  We rode back home and went through a similar process to unload the bikes: a few minutes of action, lots of minutes of motorcycle stories.

Unloading the motorcycles: More story telling, little action.

It was a perfect day, including an Indian Pale Ale and a nice burger at Meiji’s with great friends after all bikes were unloaded, the trailer was parked, and all gear was put away.

IPA at Meiji’s

And I concluded the action with a walk back home, crossing the train tracks into the wrong side of town.

More Sundays could be like this one.

Thank you for reading.

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KTM 790 R and Yamaha T7 / 700XTZ Ténéré: Are Hardcore, Adventure-Rally Motorcycles Finally Coming to Market?

Are you ready to acquire, right off the showroom floor, a light weight, twin-cylinder, hardcore adventure motorcycle? Something that you can take on a long adventure ride but which you can also engage on a rally-style ride if you so desire?

Yamaha T7: will it be the first to deliver a true adventure-rally machine?

Ladies and gentlemen, I think we are closer than ever to finally have this option available.  I’m not telling anything new here, we all know Yamaha and KTM have officially informed they are working on adventure motorcycles that are light and built for the off-road.  We also know these two companies are serious when it comes to designing and producing adventure or dual purpose motorcycles.  Therefore, there’s hope at least one of these two bikes, hopefully both of them, will be what we’ve been waiting for a long time.

One of these bikes is the Yamaha 700XTZ Ténéré, based on the T7 concept Yamaha presented at EICMA 2016.

2018 or 2019 Yamaha Ténéré XTZ700

The other is the KTM 790 R, or adventure, which will be built around the new 800cc parallel twin motor developed for the KTM 790 Duke, presented at EICMA 2016 as a concept.

2018 or 2019 KTM 790 Adventure or R

The names I’m using for the Yamaha (700XTZ Ténéré) and the KTM (790 R) are educated guesses based on how these companies have named their bikes in the past. T7, the official name of the Yamaha concept, an obvious short version for Ténéré 700, could as well become the official name of the production motorcycle.  I assume the KTM will have an R or SE R (super enduro) version of this adventure model.  The “R” would be similar to what KTM offers on the 1090 and 1290 adventure lines.  The SE is a reference to the super enduro version available in the KTM 950 line in 2006-2008. That would be something, right?

We don’t know much about these bikes at this point, we will likely come across more information about them along the way and we will report it here.  Otherwise we are left to our own devices to speculate at will.  Here goes a brief description of the long journey it took the industry to finally hint at building these bikes, my thoughts about why we are getting these kind of bikes now, and what I expect these bikes will realistically deliver.

The long journey… Unicorn or new Goldilocks?

Will these two bikes be what we (well, realistically speaking, some of us, maybe a few of us) have been expecting for a long, long time?  On the adventure riding world the term unicorn has been used to describe that elusive light-weight, multi-cylinder, rally-ready motorcycle which is also ready for adventure.

We are talking here something that weighs 400-440lbs (under 200kg) ready to ride, with great off-road performance, built around a twin-cylinder motor, with reasonable power (my numbers would be 70-90 hp), and capable of reliable long distance adventure riding.  That’s my set of numbers, my goldilocks set of numbers, what would make this bike just right for me.  I’m not looking at a single cylinder motorcycle, nor looking at something that is heavier than 200kg. Hopefully less than 200 kg, something that is not currently available as a production motorcycle.

Dream on, it is impossible to build such a motorcycle, what you want lies only on your imagination, a Unicorn, go get a single-cylinder motorcycle many in the riding community have said. 

Some riders have defied the general opinion that these bikes cannot be built and managed to create their own motorcycles.  Perhaps they have paved the way to changes in the industry we may be witnessing today.  By actually building something themselves, they prove it can be done.  That’s the case of a few mechanically skilled, independent creators here and there who have built one-off rally machines based on existing motorcycles and motors.

One favorite motor for these builds is Honda’s 470 cc, 48 hp, parallel twin, 180 degree crank motor of the Honda CB500 (a bit low on power but actually plenty good on a light weight frame and even on the CB500X itself).  There are at least three builders as far as I know who have put the Honda CB500 parallel twin motor on a Honda 250cc dual-purpose frame (CRF250L) and they claim great results from those applications.

The bike depicted below, built by Michael Kozera, weights around 360 pounds.  48hp matched with that lower weight seems like an extremely reasonable match, great power-to-weight, and then you add the reliability of a Honda motor, and the smooth operation of this motor and voilá, you have a great hardcore adventure machine which should be capable of long distance travel as well.

Michael Kozera’s CRF500L (CRF 250L with CB500X motor)

There are others with less radical approaches to resolving this issue, like Rally Raid in the UK, produces kits and accessories to modify existing motorcycles.  One set of kits was designed for the Honda CB500X, turning it into another option for this missing link on the adventure motorcycle spectrum.  This kit uses a Honda CB500X as a base and from there it provides a 19-inch front wheel, better suspension, and spoke wheels among other strategically designed accessories. Modifying an existing motorcycle will likely not produce a seamless result, but it shows people are working on solutions, proving that if something is not available, it doesn’t mean it can’t be done.

2015 Rally Raid Honda CB500X

The CB500X with the Rally Raid kit, level 3, the most “adventure” kit they make, does very well, extremely well actually, power slides on gravel roads are easy and fun when you can twist the throttle with abandon.  The bike does two-track roads very well, manages sand superbly, and travels on deep gravel well enough.  I know, I’ve taken it twice to the Death Valley, it has done the infamous Mengel Pass and a few other rough canyons in that area!

However it has the limitations inherent from being based on a street bike: its clutch’s narrow friction zone especially when tied to the street motor’s narrow torque band and the weight of the motorcycle, besides the absence of a 21-inch front wheel, and the although improved, still narrow suspension travel makes it hard to ride it on technical terrain. So yes, there are limiting factors, it is not a rally machine, but these factors could had been resolved by Honda if they had built this bike from the ground up with an enduro/rally application as the end goal.  Rally Raid proves it can be done.

I don’t have Michael Kozera’s skills for building a machine like what he built, therefore, and despite its limitations, the Rally Raid Honda CB500X is my compromise for now, as there is nothing out there yet, around 200kg (440lbs) or less, with two cylinders, that would take its place in my shed if the focus is rally, adventure, or back-country riding. At about 440lbs the CB500X is light enough to allow for plenty of adventure riding and it is still very comfortable on long road rides. It is a solid motorcycle that delivers good fun.

CB500X Rally Raid Level III kit: Ready for adventure – at Titus Canyon, Death Valley 2017.

Let’s not forget Aprilia. They have built multi-cylinder enduro bikes in the past, the RXV 450 and 550.  They are perhaps the best example of what can be done with two-cylinder motors while still keeping it light enough for off-pavement adventures.  These bikes have a 77 degree V twin motor matched to a dirt bike frame and vocation.  These bikes were short-lived, and the few people who owned them say these bikes were/are great, as long as they worked/work (they were famous for not being reliable, but that is another issue).

2009 Aprilia RXV 450 V-twin

Finally, at the extreme end, you would have KTM’s 950 SE.  Those bikes were the closest thing ever made by a manufacturer as a hardcore adventure machine.  At 450lbs, it was on the heavy side.  But still, rated at 98 hp and with an off-pavement purpose this bike was plenty good.  It was also short-lived, being available for only three years (model years 2006 to 2008).

KTM 950 Super Enduro R

The KTM 950 SE R, the Aprilia RXV series, the Rally Raid effort based on the Honda CB500X, as well as the individuals who have put twin cylinder motors on dual-purpose bike frames show that, technically speaking, it is possible to build light-weight multi-cylinder rally machines.

If it can be done, then why manufacturers don’t build them?

If it is not a technical issue, then what is preventing us from having a production-based, light-weight rally-adventure (or adventure-rally) beast? The answer can only be a market issue, likely in association with an industry bottom line issue.

First, perhaps most important of all, we haven’t had enough customer interest to justify building such a bike.  Such a bike would certainly be too expensive for its size and displacement.  Go to the motorcycle forums and you will see people already comparing these speculated bikes from Yamaha and KTM to Suzuki’s V-Strom 650, or talking about wanting a low price adventure motorcycle. Nothing wrong with a V-Strom, or low price motorcycles, but it is not what some of us want. I fear we have been a small number of riders in the world who want such a light weight hardcore adventure machine.  That is why production motorcycles such as Aprilia’s RXV series and KTM’s 950 SE-R series did not last. There is a strong following for these motorcycles, but it is coming from a small group of riders, not large enough to justify their continued production, to take these motorcycles from being a niche product to a mainstream product.

KTM 950 Rally, the last twin cylinder to win Dakar, 2002

Second would be the Dakar race, which is the inspiration for what has become the adventure motorcycle sector, limiting motorcycles to single-cylinder 450 cc motors. This could be playing a major role here, eliminating the industry’s incentive to produce twin-cylinder middle-size rally-style motorcycles.  It would help with the important cool, hardcore factor for such motorcycles, something that could move them from niche to mainstream.

Third, there is no question, the Charlie and Ewan Round the World and Long Way Down series has pushed the adventure riding community toward the larger displacement motorcycles.  Maybe they have created the large adventure motorcycle community, they certainly inspired many to think about the BMW 1150 and then 1200 GS models to be the end all be all motorcycle for round the world travel!  We are still on the shadow of the impact from those nice videos, although they are becoming a thing from the past.  Nothing wrong with Charlie and Ewan, I enjoy watching and re-watching both series.  Just that some of us (and maybe more are joining our team now) have always wanted  something different, more nimble, more hardcore.

Fourth, and probably related to all the above statements, we know the industry relies on profit, nothing wrong with that either.  Manufacturers maximize profit by selling upscale machines or on volume of sales of popular machines (or a combination of both along a gradient towards more upscale motorcycles). Niche products that are not on the top of the scale do not get a space under the sun in this very realistic, financial bottom-line scenario.  We all know this, and we understand how this works.

Therefore, unless something changes on this scenario, nothing is going to happen. I’m betting on a change. Reasons 1 and 3 on the above scenario are probably the ones making this happen.  That is, midsize adventure machines may have a new popular machine in the Yamaha and a more fashionable, cool machine in the KTM.  These bikes will be less of a niche, and hence there is a build up for the economies of scale needed for the industry to justify the investment on such motorcycles.

A new vision of what is goldilocks for an adventure motorcycle would start making sense to more riders out there.  Having said that, I hope these bikes won’t be watered down for the larger population and disappoint the few of us who want something special and are willing to pay the price for that.  But how are we getting there?

A Detour on a Tipping Point Example

Just recently I started hearing the term goldilocks in reference to motorcycles, starting with the Ducati SuperSport and the KTM 790 Duke concept.  In the Ducati case, goldilocks was used to describe it as a sports motorcycle with non-radical sport riding ergonomics, with reasonable power (not too much, not too little, just right, at its 113 hp), easy handling, and sufficient level of electronic riding aids (three levels of ABS, Ducati’s typical 8-level traction control, and up and down quickshifter with throttle blip on the downward action) and on top of that, it looks like a real sports bike (it carries clear hints of a Panigale in its design). It is just right for many riders out there! Heck, I want one based only on the reviews I’ve read and seen so far.

2017 Ducati Supersport S – Just Right?

The KTM 790 Duke concept is another example.  With the new 800cc parallel twin motor expected to deliver close to 100hp, it has been described by KTM themselves as a new direction, away from the top displacement and power machines, this machine is about more focus on light weight and handling. Here is text from Motorcycle Magazine, describing and agreeing with KTM’s direction:

As KTM rightly points out, with the 1301cc 1290 Duke already in its line-up, there’s not much point in trying to go bigger or more powerful. So instead the 790 Duke focuses on light weight and handling. And when the production version shows up in around a year’s time it looks like it might be able to hit a Goldilocks zone in terms of power, weight and price. Not too much. Not too little. Just right.

Maybe the KTM 790 and the Ducati Supersport are a great sign that leading motorcycle manufacturers, and riders alike (because as I mentioned earlier, we are the ones who buy the products and ultimately decide whether they are a success or not), are reaching some level of agreement, of the tacit kind perhaps, that there is room for common sense, after all.  We may be tilting to more interest on mid of the road numbers for horse power, weight and performance.  But these bikes need to be cool, they need to deliver performance.  This is where technological advancements play a role, as these machines  deliver usable performance and riding enjoyment for a greater number of riders.

KTM 790 Duke Concept: 800cc Parallel Twin

This is what I’m reading between the lines of the reviews of the Ducati Supersport. The great majority of journalists have written very positive reviews about  this Ducati, no one criticized it for being too easy to ride, or for not having enough power. Quite the opposite as a matter of fact, it seems all of them welcomed those very concepts as positive remarks about this motorcycle.  I project the Supersport will sell very well for Ducati. The 790 Duke should follow the same path both on journalists’ reviews and on sales.  And this is paving the road for a new cool and still hardcore group of machines.  It is where common sense meets performance.

You may see this as a compromise. In my case, the fun of riding (not the fun of owning a motorcycle, necessarily) does not reside on the portion of the performance and power band I never use (the one I don’t have the skills to use), instead it is based on how well the motorcycle delivers performance where I can afford to use, which is at the middle and top end of my comfort zone. I like motorcycles which I can use most of the power and performance it offers, which happens to be the motorcycle’s sweet spot. This motorcycle still needs to offer a margin of performance for me to explore my riding boundaries, go faster or learn new tricks.  It needs to challenge me but not overwhelm me.  I feel like I’m cheating when riding something that has a performance limit I will never reach. Worse yet are the high performance motorcycles which actually limit how much riding I can do with them.  I don’t want a motorcycle for others to think how good a rider I am, I want a motorcycle to maximize my joy of riding.

If these two mid of the pack motorcycles, the Supersport and the Duke 790, are indicators of a change taking place in the sports and naked bike world, where motorcycles which fall within a revised, new perspective of what is a goldilocks zone in terms of power, weight, performance, and price, and they become the new wave of popularity in their fields, could that also happen in the adventure world?  If so, what would the equivalent “just right” motorcycle be in the adventure world?

The goldilocks approach for adventure motorcycles for me, mind you, will be a mid-size adventure motorcycle that:

  1. It is not necessarily an entry level motorcycle as price goes.  That is, being lighter and more compact should not equate with it being a lesser bike, quite the opposite, actually.  I’m not looking for an adventure-styled motorcycle built with inexpensive components that best suit street riding.
  2. It has compromises, because the machine is geared for riders who want it to perform well on off pavement roads, even ride rally style if they so desire and have the appropriate skills.  Meaning it will have spoke wheels, suspension travel, good quality components, engine/clutch performance for technical riding, but will be light.  At a minimum it needs to have the bones (low weight, twin cylinder motor, suspension travel and wheel size) to be made into an adventure/rally machine using bolt-on parts.

To summarize, I’m not looking for a less expensive adventure-styled motorcycle that is more appropriate for city riding (we already have the Honda CB500X, BMW F700GS or Suzuki’s V-Strom 650) or a heavy or middle weight motorcycle (such as the BMW F800GS or Triumph Tiger 800XC and all the larger adventure motrcycles).  I’m looking at a motorcycle which was designed from the ground up to deliver solid adventure and rally performance.

Perhaps the Panigale and the Super Duke needed to exist before the new Ducati Supersport and the KTM 790 Duke would make sense the same way a BMW R1200GS, a Yamaha 1200 Super Ténéré or a KTM 1290 R needed to exist before something else at a smaller scale would make sense in the adventure world.

What is the tipping point that will make this happen in the adventure motorcycle world? These bikes certainly need to be cool, as mentioned before.  They also need to be hardcore enough for people to spend the money considering they are not going to be the largest or the most powerful motorcycle out there, but will not be inexpensive either. People need to see value on what this bike can deliver, when they compare it to a BMW R1200GS or a KTM 1290 Adventure.  Something like what Honda Africa Twin has shown the world, but smaller, leaner, meaner.  Definitely more hardcore.

The BMW GS and the Africa Twin Effects

The industry has its financial bottom line and they have to pursue it, we know this  already, that’s how they survive.  I understand that and the sales numbers clearly indicate larger adventure motorcycles were or still are the sweet spot in their perspective. Nothing wrong with that. But very few of us ride large machines like Chris Burch does and we still want some of the power and the comfort these larger bikes deliver.  They will likely always have their space under the sun.

The Honda Africa Twin came very close to be that lighter machine we have been talking about, and for many it is what they were expecting.  Honda advertised it as the “True Adventure” motorcycle, and they certainly made their point about it. Although it is heavier than many anticipated, I believe it has ignited a change in the industry for being a motorcycle with better dirt vocation than all other large adventure motorcycles out there. True adventure. A believe the Honda Africa Twin is a key element for the tipping point in the Adventure World.  If it did not create the change, it rides that wave rather well.

Honda’s prototype of the New Africa Twin

The industry’s expansion toward the 1,200cc (and beyond) side of this market was a result of the success of the BMW 1200 GS, I don’t think anyone can dispute that. This is what I call the BMW effect, with new models being launched every year by many manufacturers to compete with the BMW, the yard stick of large adventure motorcycles. As a result, basically every manufacturer has a 1200cc or larger “adventure” model in their line up.  That’s where “cool” has resided for the last 10-15 years.

There are plenty of options at this high end of the market with some branded words associated to their names such as Enduro, Rally, Rallye (that “e” makes it special right?), SE, NTX, R.  This is marketing at work for which is the coolest and most hardcore adventure motorcycle.

It defies technical logic when the heavier motorcycles are the ones with all the off road components while the lighter motorcycles, which seem just right for rally riding in terms of weight and size, would be the ones brought to market with less off-road equipment.  Maybe others are starting to see it the same way I do? If you want real rally performance, the average rider, and even the great rider, needs something different, not 160hp attached to almost 600lbs of weight. Maybe 80hp attached to a 400lbs machine is a good number?

When the Africa Twin was introduced, although it was larger and heavier then most expected, it actually showed to be more seriously destined to off-pavement riding than all these other larger motorcycles.  It may have been what shook things up on this top motorcycle market, since the Africa Twin has been selling very well in Europe.

Honda Africa Twin – may have a true adventure competitor soon!

Maybe now we are experiencing the Africa Twin effect. Since the Africa Twin was in the works and then introduced, coincidentally or not, KTM has bifurcated its 1190 adventure line into the 1090 R and the 1290 R models.  The 1090 R being the more appropriate off pavement machine and closer to the Africa Twin in size and performance. BMW has slightly modified its 1200GS line to make room for the R1200GS Rallye (yes, that’s the one with the “e” mentioned earlier).

There is something good here, this is a sign of a reaction, which makes me think we are on the verge of changes for the better.  Both the KTM 1090 R model and the BMW Rallye could be interpreted as manufacturers reacting to the Africa Twin presence and making their machines more off-pavement ready.  But that is not enough.  Or will not be enough.  More action is needed than putting lip stick on a pig, pun very much intended.

Overall, although we have more “Rallye” and “Enduro” names attached to motorcycles and we have the Africa Twin as a middle of the road machine, we are still talking about 500lbs or heavier machines! Far from being the Unicorn, these machines, however, may be changing the locus of what is the Goldilocks for an adventure bike.

Maybe this new focus is what is making room in the market for true rally-ready machines?  We go from adventure to true adventure to rally and true-rally, perhaps? Hopefully it will open the space for the smaller machines that will be a lot more capable for off-pavement riding.  That’s where the T7 concept and KTM’s 790 Adventure (or whatever it will be named) come to the conversation.

Yamaha T7 Concept: Unicorn or Goldilocks?

The Yamaha T7 Ténéré 700 XTZ, or KTM 790 R or…

Are we ready, as consumers, to act on such level of common sense and buy motorcycles that are smaller, that may be expensive for their size, but which could potentially be commensurate with the title “rally” for the first time? If so, a new Goldilocks for adventures motorcycles seems to be just around the corner.

Let’s talk about the Yamaha T7 first, which seems to be further ahead in development than the KTM offering.  Yamaha calls the T7 a concept and defines it as follows:

Created using the race-bred DNA that has made Yamaha one of the most successful names in the Rally world, the Yamaha T7 Concept is a fully functioning prototype developed to achieve a perfect balance between road and off road capability.

This lightweight machine is based on an all new chassis that has been designed to complement a specially developed version of Yamaha’s highly acclaimed 700cc CP2 engine, delivering strong torque and an easy power delivery for perfect traction in all conditions.

Equipped with an aluminium fuel tank, 4-projector LED headlight, a carbon fairing and skidplate, and a custom made Akrapovič exhaust – as well as high specification KYB front suspension – the T7 is a vision of the ideal adventure machine, and is playing a major role in the development of Yamaha’s next generation adventure models.

A new chapter from the book of legends will be on the street – and on the dirt – from 2018.

The Yamaha T7 was presented at EICMA as a concept based on the 700 cc parallel twin, 270 crank, 74hp motor found in the MT/FZ07 and its derivatives. The motor is a well know machine. This bike could be just the right machine, 74 hp is the right amount of power, its torque curve is great and this combo could deliver sane but plenty of fun, at the right weight, and perhaps even the right price.

Yamaha T7 Concept, EICMA 2016

Of course, Yamaha made it clear that the T7 , as a concept, is only a “vision of the ideal adventure machine” and then it says it is “playing a major role in the development of Yamaha’s next generation adventure models”.

Yamaha T7 Concept, EICMA 2016

The spy photos already show many differences from what we’ve seen on the T7 concept to what may be coming to market.

Yamaha’s 700 Ténéré – 2018?

However, what we know is that it has the right bones: a light weight motor, plenty of power at 74 hp, a compact frame, the right wheel sizes (21 front / 18 rear), and plenty of suspension travel.  That means, at a minimum, we can make it look like the T7 in appearance and in function.  Right, Yamaha?

Yamaha T7 Concept at EICMA 2017

The FZ-07, where this motor resides, is rated at 182 kg, or 400lbs.  The XSR 700, which also has this motor, is rated at 186 kg, or 410 lbs.  I’m not sure these numbers are correct, but if they are close to reality, it seems Yamaha can produce an adventure motorcycle based on this compact motor,  which could weight about 440lbs, which is what we have on the CB500X with the Rally Raid kit.  Now add 26 hp to this equation, a 270 degree crank on the parallel twin (as opposed to the CB500X 180 degree crank), the right wheel sizes, and this is an awesome machine already.

The KTM 790 R is probably going to start from a different perspective. It is likely being developed already and will be based on the new KTM 800cc parallel twin which is expect to deliver power, in KTM-style, at the upper 90’s, if judging by what has been speculated about the machine that already has this motor, the KTM 790 Duke.

KTM 790 Duke – Concept or Prototype?

Knowing KTM, we can assume this motorcycle will be “ready to race” in adventure style, meaning it will be as “rally ready” or better than the defunct 950/990 line. It will likely be light from the start, and it will come with great suspension from the start as well. It will likely be expensive but it won’t require much to be added to it to make it ready for adventure-rally riding.

KTM 790 R (or Adventure)

If the spy photos are anything to go by, the bike will be compact.  Similar to the Yamaha 700, it has the right wheel combo (21 front, 18 rear).  The spy photos also show WP suspension, which I bet will be better than what Yamaha will offer.  Check that swingarm, it talks about serious, and light. And the machine doesn’t look to be tall and still has good ground clearance.

KTM 790 Spy Photo

Finally, as a wild card, we have the revised F800GS.  I’m not sure which direction BMW will take on their 10-year revision of the tired F800GS, if they will go towards the Africa Twin and make it heavier but more off-pavement oriented than the motorcycle being replaced, or whether they will make it a lighter-weight, more rally focused machine.  I would prefer the latter, of course.

The F800GS has only had minor updates in its almost 10 years (it will be 10 years if the new F-type GS will be ready for MY 2018).  We hear this new F bike will have an 850 or 900cc motor, final drive (chain) on the left side (hence not the rotax motor consequently not the Nuda motor as many had anticipated), tank on a regular position (not under the seat), new aluminum frame (hopefully fixing the infamous shock bolt problem), and tubeless wheels.

The motor looks to be a twin but more compact than the current F800GS motor and as it has become popular these days, we hear it will have a 270 degree crank (the current Rotax motor is a 360 degree crank with a balance shaft).  The motor looks to be compact, but since most people have been referring to it as an F850 or 900 GS, it could be heavier than the current F800GS.  If the frame is being discussed as aluminum, then maybe it will compensate for the weight of a larger motor? My bet is that it should be closer to the Africa Twin in function and purpose, hence size and weight.  Let’s keep it as the wild card for now.

2018 or 2019 BMW F800GS replacement

Based on the tradition of what Yamaha, KTM and BMW deliver, based on what we know about these bikes so far (not much), we could speculate the following from these new bikes (and using the Africa Twin as a comparison):

If these bikes are launched as described above, which could be considered more wishful thinking than anything else, I would be in serious doubt whether I would get the Yamaha or the KTM.  Yamaha offers great reliability, on the other hand it could cut some corners on critical components, delivering less off-pavement performance and more weight to be on a lower price point and target more volume sales.  However, it has a known motor which is compact, so we know Yamaha can organize this bike around a steel frame and sub-frame and still be light enough.  Yamaha will likely cost less than the KTM, BMW, and also the Honda Africa Twin.

Yamaha’s potential Ténéré 700 XTZ

KTM is likely to produce something that is ready for the action, hardcore adventure off the showroom floor. However, we know there will likely be reliability issues – it is a new motor, and a new motorcycle.  Certainly it will be the coolest of the machines, especially if you’ve been addicted to the orange cool-aid or having been tempted to try it. It will be the first KTM for many (I could be on that list). And it will have great power to weight, as it is expected from KTMs.

KTM 790 R (or Adventure)

It would be a great but difficult choice to decide among the Yamaha or the KTM should they come to the market (and very likely will come to the market).  The BMW is very much an unknown factor at this point.  It would be great if they turned the F800GS into a true off-pavement contender.  BMW has had such off-pavement history with models such as the HP2. The F800GS has been a forgotten model in their adventure line up (and as consumers’ choice), with no serious upgrades since its launch in 2008 (MY 2008 in Europe, MY 2009 in US), except for the larger tank on the F800GS Adventure and details here and there.  Therefore, who knows where their priorities reside.  The R1200GS Rallye is pointing towards a more dirt worthy machine in their line up.  Is that going to be the case for the new F800GS?

Finally, the Africa Twin deserves an honorable mention.  It is not completely what I was expecting, but I have to say Honda did deliver a “true adventure” motorcycle.

Although it won’t be available outside of Italy, Honda is going to deliver a limited number of Africa Twins in a “Rally” dressing.  It is said this bike in rally version will weight 7 kg (15 lbs) less than the current models.  That will bring the Africa Twin to 488 lbs in non DCT version.  It still is a heavy machine, but once again it shows the interest of the industry in moving towards a rally focus.

Honda Africa Twin Rally

Four parallel twins with 270 degree cranks… and off-pavement vocation, which one would I get?

Based on what I know, which is not much, of these four motorcycles, my number 1 choice is the Yamaha Ténéré if it will look anything close to the T7 concept. I don’t have my expectations high about that, though.  It will still work if I can upgrade the components (suspension primarily) to fit my riding expectations.  It will have to have the bones, such as light weight, a strong frame with sub-frame, and the appropriate wheel sizes for that to happen. I think it will check all these boxes. The motor is well known, it is light, which is a very positive element, and 74 hp is plenty good.

MT-07 (FZ-07) 700cc parallel twin motor, compact and light!

The KTM 790 is my second choice. I do have hopes KTM will deliver something good, usable for the average rider and still hardcore enough to be taken on rally rides off the showroom floor, by experienced riders. The true goldilocks.  I think this will be the game changer motorcycle, this will be the new effect motorcycle.  What if KTM manages to make it weigh the same as the T7 (Ténéré 700) and then delivers 20 extra horses?  That will be tempting. We will know more about this motor when the KTM 790 Duke becomes available.

KTM 790 Duke concept, EICMA 2016

The Africa Twin is my 3rd choice.  This bike is already a known factor.  The reviews about this bike from journalists and owners have always been positive.  Too bad we won’t have access to its rally version outside of Italy, although it barely makes a difference on its weight.

The BMW is a wild card, mostly because the spy photos showed up with no information from BMW themselves on their intent with the change, therefore we don’t know the direction BMW will take.  It could go either way, as a variant to the Africa Twin or a lighter weight, hardcore machine.  This bike seems to be completely different than the current F800GS. Let’s hope BMW will have the courage to make something lighter and more hardcore out of this line.

Spy photo of the replacement for the F800GS

There could be others in the run, such as Triumph, for example.  Their problem in positioning themselves for a potential lighter weight fight is their own success factor, the triple motor.  It is heavy and offer low torque at low RPM when others are bringing compact and torquey parallel twin motors and making them behave and sound as if they were V-twins (270 degree crank).

Finally, it could be that these bikes may be introduced to the market in their standard or “popular” versions, and we may need to wait for their rally, enduro, R, or whatever they will call their more off-pavement versions, to show up a few years down the road.  Time will tell.

Meanwhile, the 2017’s EICMA will be interesting for the adventure world with some critical new models being launched or presented for the first time.  2018 might be the year when, for the first time, we will be able to buy a true adventure-rally machine in a long, long time, if ever.  Times may be changing.

Thank you for reading.

Posted in Bike Reviews | Tagged , , , , , | 2 Comments

Death Valley 2017 Edition – Getting to California

Traveling with a trailer was a new adventure for me, and I learned many things about RV’ing on this five-day trip. However, in preparing for it there was only one question that kept coming back and again, which really worried me, which was whether my old truck would make the 1,700 miles round trip to California with the loaded trailer, going over the several mountain passes, winter storms, and strong winds along the way.

The old truck in the Death Valley.

I had tested the truck’s towing capacity with the empty trailer. At slow, city speeds there was barely a change in pulling or stopping power.  At highway speeds I could tell there was something dragging behind it but overall the truck felt good and solid.

IMG_2547

Going up Willamette Pass, March 2017

However, there were two conditions where I did not test the truck ahead of this trip due to lack of time and which worried me:  how the ruck would pull the fully loaded the trailer (two motorcycles and the riding gear, tools, and what I need for the five days effectively doubled its weight, I estimate the loaded trailer was at about 3,000lbs); and on top of that, how would it manage going up and down the steep passes that I need to go through on this trip?  While 3,000 lbs is within the truck’s towing capacity (3,500lbs for the 1996 five speed, 4×4, 302 V8, Ford F150), that towing limit was rated for a new truck in factory condition, I would say. 21 years later several horses have certainly escaped the barn.

I knew I would only test the truck’s capacity in the real application, like many projects I do.  Therefore I had a plan B, should I have any problem with the truck, which would be to rent a truck.  And if this would be an issue, the long term plan would be to buy a newer truck, with an automatic transmission (better towing capacity with a torque converter).

vlcsnap-2017-04-11-12h11m21s620

Trailer almost fully loaded.

Meanwhile one thing I learned is that the trailer made loading everything for this trip a breeze. That ramp was perfect for loading the bikes, the riding gear, and everything else I needed to “live” in this trailer on this five-day trip. At first I thought the two bikes would not fit side by side, requiring some strategic thinking to load the bikes, instead, they fit well and it was very easy to load and secure them (no wheel chock, by the way).

A second lesson I learned about having a trailer is that I took with me a lot more than what I really needed for this trip. The old saying “if you build it, they will come” may have a version that says “if you have the space, you will use it”. I made some mental notes about this issue so that on the next trip I can make sure I only bring with me what I really need and may downsize on other items.

Survived the first pass (Willamette Pass @ Hwy 58)!

I good portion of my worries about the truck’s capacity to do this job were dismissed as I started my drive south.  I took highway 58 towards Willamette Pass, which was my first test of the truck’s towing capacity.  It went up the pass with the appropriate downshifting, sometimes down to third gear. On those circumstances I was traveling at about 45-50 mph, a similar pace as to the tractor-trailers, which was important.  But other than climbing or going down hills and mountains, the truck behaved as if I was not towing anything.

For the most part I had to look back and make sure the trailer was still there

The real challenge, however, still remained for when I got to the Death Valley itself. On the way there, though, all was good and I was glad there was no snow on the road and especially at the passes along the way. However it rained and rained a lot all the way to California and then some.

Rain all the way in Oregon and in Northern California

Just north of Susanville the weather cleared and from there it was smooth sailing all the way to Bishop, CA, where I spent the night.

Just about getting past the last rain shower on the way south

The Death Valley 2017 Edition involved five groups of people, four of them from California.  We were a total of eight people, six riders for this adventure.  Three of these groups met in Bishop, CA, before going down to Death Valley, repeating last year’s stop at the Paiute Casino RV parking area.

Just getting there is already part of the adventure. Nice views on Hwy 139.

Eugene to Bishop is a 630 mile journey, about 1,000 km, which took me about 12-13 hours with the loaded truck. I left Eugene past 11am and arrived in Bishop past midnight.  The other two groups were there already, on the Paiute RV parking area just north of town.  I spread my pad and sleeping bag between the bikes and slept in the trailer for the first time, surrounded by the bikes and all my gear.  It was really cold, my 32 degrees sleeping bag with an extra liner did not do a good job in keeping me warm.  I had extra blankets in one of my gear containers, but I was too cold and too lazy to go look for them in the middle of the night.  I just slept in the cold as much as I could. Another lesson learned is to be better prepared for sleeping with the trailer loaded, keeping all the “on the trip” sleeping stuff together and with easy access.

Bishop is a nice location to spend the night for this long trip simply because it is close enough to the Death Valley.  If you leave Bishop by mid-morning you arrive in the Death Valley in time to check in and go for a ride before night fall.  As it has become a tradition on these pit stops, in the morning we stopped at the Schat’s Bakery for a cup of coffee and get some bread and pastries supplies.

Erick Schat’s Bakery, Bishop, CA

I highly recommend this bakery if you are driving through Bishop. Since then, however, I’ve heard of another good bakery south of town, the Great Basin Bakery, which is supposed to be really good as well. I will give it a try next time.  After coffee we got back on the road.

Beautiful area of this country!

We stopped for fuel (fuel is very expensive in the Death Valley) and continued south and east, and in no time we arrived at the Death Valley park under clear and sunny skies.

The convoy of three arriving at the Death Valley National Park

The truck did well so far, but it still would need to go up the steepest climb of this trip, the real challenge, which would be climbing up and down the mountains that are part of the Panamint Range inside the park.  The truck did it, however I had to take it down to second gear.  At a speed of 25 mph, with the air conditioning turned off, it was a long and slow climb.

On the way back, on these same climbs, the engine light came on.  I stopped, checked everything, all fluids looked good, I did not see anything out of place. Eventually, after a few stops, with the ignition key being turned on and off several times, the engine light turned itself off.  Who knows what triggered it, except that some key engine information went beyond its expected parameters.  And I guess it was a temporary situation.

Climbing these steep mountains inside the part, second gear at 25 mph

Back to the trip, all teams arrived at about the same time, we got settled on our camping area (Stovepipe Wells), we unloaded the bikes, and without much ado we were out for a ride towards Skidoo mines and then Aguareberry Point for the sunset.  It was really warm in the valley, which leads me to another lesson:  windows are not enough to manage hot days in the trailer, I will need to install a roof vent.  I already looked into this, and when I complete this task I will prepare a complete post about the cargo trailer turned into a toy hauler travel trailer.

Bikes unloaded, ready for the first ride!

What I can say is that my worries about this trip were dissipated, the old truck made it.  Besides the engine light, the only other problem I noticed was that the truck pulled to the right when braking hard with the weight of the trailer.  I need to investigate that.  And gas consumption varied from 9 to 11 mpg, down from its usual 12-15 mpg.  I assume this is normal for a V8.

I plan to keep this truck for as long as it can make these trips.  The day it doesn’t make one of these trips or something else major happens to it, that will be the time to get something newer and more capable.  For now, it does all right and in my mind it would be a waste of resources to spend money on another truck.

A very good truck.

On the next post I will document our first ride of this trip, when we visited the Skidoo mining area and the Aguereberry Point.

First ride of the trip: Coming down from the Skidoo mining area in the magic hour.

Stay tuned and thank you for reading.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Posted in Riding the Honda, Riding the Yamaha, Travel | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

Death Valley 2017 Edition – Part 2 – Getting stuff ready for the trip

I worked on three main items to get ready for this year’s trip to the Death Valley:  got a trailer and prepared it for the trip; performed a couple of upgrades on the Honda; and a couple of upgrades on the Yamaha.  Let’s start with the Honda.

The Honda CB500X Adventure in the Titus Canyon, Death Valley, March 2017

Getting the Honda Ready

Last year I bought the Honda CB500X and turned it into an adventure motorcycle by installing the Rally Raid level III kit.  This year all I had to do was fine-tune the bike’s adventure fitness by installing auxiliary lights (Denali DR1), adjusting the compression on the rear shock, and adding the double-take mirrors. That was it!

Denali DR1 lights installed on the CB500X, February 2017

There is no question there is quality on these Denali lights. They come in a nice box, with a proper wiring kit, with great instructions, and they have a list of mounting accessories and lens filters.  I bought these lights based on reviews from other riders and the ratings on their light beam type and reach. I was looking for something powerful enough to make riding at night safer, especially when riding off road, something I would encounter on this year’s trip if judging by last year’s adventures (and it was confirmed on this year’s ride).

These lights are powerful…

But are these fancy lights worth their price? Let’s check the Ebay made-in-china lights I installed in the Yamaha, I will compare their prices and the results of both sets later on and will compare them in more detail on another post. First let’s continue with the installation on the Honda.  Denali DR1 lights have a set of accessories, as mentioned earlier, including universal mounting brackets which will fit most any motorcycle brand and mounts that are specific to a motorcycle model, as is the case for the brackets I got.

Mounting bracket, a perfect fit.

The instructions were very easy to follow, the wiring is obviously made for motorcycles by people who understand how motorcycles operate, and the kit comes with everything you need for a complete and professional installation.

Straight forward installation.

It helps that the Honda offers enough space to route the wires alongside the tank and inside the fairing all the way to the front of the bike, and the bike also has plenty of space under the seat for the fuse and the relay.

There was even a place to screw the relay under the seat of the Honda

The final assembly looks good and “official”!

Denali DR1 lights installed.

And to complete the job, I added caps to the lights which are actually lens filters.  I opted for the transparent “flood” option, which diffuses the light (they come in spot light or flood options, transparent or yellow).

Denali snap-on filter lens

It is basically a plastic cap that fits on top of the light and, for my application in the desert, with all the gravel and rocks, also serve as a lens protector.

The final result of installing the Denali DR1 lights was a much improved field of vision at night. On top of that, they are great looking lights and when using the filter caps to protect the lens, these lights are perfect for adventure riding.

Thumbs up for these lights.  However, they are expensive… The Denali DR1 was $350 for the set of lights, $60 for the mounting bracket, and $40 for the lens filters (caps), for a total of $450.  Looking in retrospect, and based on what I installed in the Yamaha, I would not recommend buying the Denali set (or any similar and expensive set) unless you worry about how the bike looks. As mentioned before, I will compare the two sets on another post.

This bike is all set for adventure.

The next job on the Honda was to adjust the rear shock.  The main objective was to adjust the pre-load, get the bike on the proper sag, which required a simple adjustment to the shock’s lock nut, something I should had done last year.

By the way, the tool that came with the Rally Raid kit specifically included to adjust the lock nut by the round holes in the collar of the shock is not very appropriate, as the shock collar material does not have the strength to support the torque of the required turning force.  I ended up having to use a different tool that embraced the entire nut to be able to turn it properly.

I did not have a chance to test ride the bike after the adjustment before until I rode it in the Death Valley. My very first impression when I first turned a wheel on the bike after the adjustment was that my rear tire was deflated, so soft the bike became. As a result, the bike was almost an inch lowered, more comfortable, and still handled great on gravel roads. Thumbs up for the Rally Raid rear shock!

Adjusting the shock

The final touch was to install the double take mirrors. Easy job on the installation, they look better and are more appropriate than the OEM for the adventure application, but with mixed practical results.  They were constantly needing adjustment, I was never able to tighten them firm enough, it seemed.  But at least I could re-tighten them easily and on the go, as opposed to the OEMs, and eventually after so much clamping force was applied to it that it deformed the ram ball mount enough for the mirrors to stay put.  Therefore, I’m not convinced this is a permanent solution yet. Anyway, at this point this bike is all set for adventure, it is ready to go on a trip around the world.

Ready for adventure. This bike has proven that it can ride on all types of roads.

Getting the Yamaha Ready

Now let’s talk about the Yamaha.  In terms of auxiliary lights, my original plan was to install auxiliary light wiring kits on both bikes and transfer the Denali DR1 lights to the bike I would ride.  After I finished the work on the lights for the Honda I thought some more about this and decided for a different set of lights for the Yamaha.

The Denali sets are too expensive for the Yamaha, I concluded.  There is nothing wrong with the Yamaha, mind you, just that it is a bike that is set for trail and technical riding and therefore more prone to being dropped… It turned out to be a very good decision in hindsight, but that is for another chapter.  Therefore, I chose a cheap set of lights for the Yamaha, some Chinese-made knock offs of Kawell sets (which already are cheap sets of auxiliary lights) called Liteway.  They are 4-inch diameter sets rated at 27w (the Denali DR1s are rated at 10w).

No-brand LED lights for the Yamaha

The lights came on generic boxes, with the minimum you need to install them (a set of screws and a mounting bracket that allows angling the light right/left and up/down).  I had to purchase the wiring harness separately, but for about $15 for the harness, it was a deal.  The lights themselves are less than $15 a pair, so I bought two sets, one called “flood” the other called “spot” but to be honest with you, I don’t think they are different at all.  Anyway, I installed one flood light and one spot light on the bike, for maximum lighting potential, and now I have a back up set of lights.  For a final tally, two sets of lights and the wiring harness (which is very similar to the harness for the Denali) cost $45, which is exactly 10% of what I paid on the Denali DR1.

What about a mounting bracket to install these lights on the bike?  It happened that I had L-brackets in my shop supplies and those brackets worked perfectly with the bike’s reflector bracket.  For better looks I cut the horizontal side of the L-bracket to match the lights support bracket length, and bent the vertical side of he L-bracket to match the reflector bend (and added another bolt hole to the bike’s bracket – it had only one). These lights are not motorcycle lights, they are made for off-road trucks.  The wiring harness I bought was also not made for motorcycles so I had to cut it shorter.  The result was a perfect and solid enough fit!  It looks a bit, let’s say, industrial, not to say rigged, but it worked perfectly well.

Generic L-bracket bolted to bike’s reflector bracket was perfect for the “Liteway” lights installation.

The Yamaha has very limited space in its frame, under the plastic fairing, and under the seat to install the wiring and the relay.  It was tight but it worked!

Wiring harness – tight spaces to fit it on this bike.

Because these lights are made for trucks, they are disproportionately large for the motorcycle.  At the same time, they look a bit rugged (let’s say they are not fancy-looking or sophisticated).  They probably wouldn’t look too good on the Ducati, or maybe the Tiger, but they would fit the Honda well enough, I would say.  In the Yamaha, it looks like a perfect fit to me, especially if they can do the job for under $45. Actually, under $30 (since $45 was the price for the wiring kit and the two sets of lights). And the lights worked very well in a real application in the Death Valley, as I will document later.  Thumbs up for the Liteway LED auxiliary lights set!

Testing the lights on the Yamaha

Another task for the Yamaha was to get a new rear tire.

Getting it ready for a new rear tire

I opted for the Michelin T63 just because it was the only tire available on the size I needed for this bike at my friend Rod Johnson’s shop (Cycle Parts).  By the way, if you are in this  area, buy tires at Cycle Parts, they will install them for free (if you bring the wheels only and not the entire bike).  As a policy, I will always try to buy things directly at the local shops instead of online or on franchise stores.  I know, it seems like a lost cause these days of online shopping, but while these local shops are operating I will support them by giving them a first option!

The Yamaha on top of Mengel Pass

Besides the tire, the only other item to install for this bike to be ready were the double take mirrors (same set as in the Honda, just different RAM ball base so I did not need to change those from bike to bike). Oh, yes, and an oil change, of course.

Bike parked at Ballarat.

Buying the trailer and getting it ready for this trip and beyond

The final and most labor-intensive item for this trip was the trailer.  It is something I’ve been thinking about for a while – a simple trailer that makes it easy for me to load the bikes on my own, and at the same time I can sleep in it. I did some research, looked around for a while. I wanted a trailer that could be pulled by my truck, a 1996 4×4 Ford F150 with the 302 motor (5.0L V8), matted to a 5-speed transmission and a 3.55 rear axle ratio.  While an automatic Ford F150 of the same vintage and with the same specs can pull more than 6,000 lbs, the 5-speed is limited to 3,500lbs.

1996 F150 towing capacity

Eventually I will upgrade this truck, but I need a very good reason for doing it first. I paid slightly more than $5,000 for this truck about 10 years ago, it was such a deal, I just find it to be a complete waste of money to get rid of considering it works really well, it doesn’t burn any oil, the air conditioning blows cold air.

Even if this truck had a larger towing capacity, I would still prefer to have a smaller trailer rather than a larger one.  I was looking for something that would be as manageable as possible (easy to maneuver, hook it up, and store) and also as inexpensive as possible – after all, I didn’t want the trailer, a tool in my opinion, to be more expensive than any of my motorcycles.

Therefore, the parameters were set. It would be an enclosed trailer that would be the lightest and smallest trailer that would: 1) fit two motorcycles; 2) have a ramp door to easily load the bikes; 3) once the motorcycles were unloaded it could accommodate a cot, a table, and a cooking/sink area; and 4) be tall enough for me to walk inside it without hitting my head on the ceiling, so the interior height needed to be taller than 6ft (but not too much taller than that to minimize air displacement when moving).

That’s all I needed and I stuck to the minimum necessary.  Looking at all options available, I decided for a 6×12 enclosed trailer, with a single axle.  These trailers weigh about 1,500lbs with a carrying capacity of another 1,500 lbs with the gross weight rated at 3,000lbs. Perfect to carry two motorcycles and gear (or even three motorcycles).  I looked at used trailers but not much could be found in this area. Therefore I chose what was available locally, a brand new Interstate Victory available at Trailer Plus.  Chris and Brandon, from Trailer Plus helped me with the purchase process and were very patient with my many questions and ideas.  They contributed to this built by offering ideas and suggestions. Thanks guys!

6 x 12 Interstate Victory at Trailer Plus

This trailer has the perfect size to fit two motorcycles (as mentioned earlier, I could squeeze three bikes if needed), it has a nice loading ramp, and the perfect height.

Loading ramp, side door, a blank canvas at this point.

I had no interest in turning it into a bug-out or stealth camping trailer, so the guys at TrailerPlus installed three windows to make it as livable or enjoyable as possible, and  three sets of etracks (one set on the floor and two sets on the walls) which allows me to organize the bikes and cargo on several different ways.  They also installed a full electric hookup (120 volts) with one light fixture and two double outlets.

Building it to my specs

And then I organized the front of the trailer to accommodate a bench area for cooking, I installed a sink, which connects to a gray water tank, and installed a refrigerator.

Building the shelves for the front of the trailer.

The refrigerator will be used at my shop as well, when not in use at the trailer. I also organized some fabric to serve as curtains. And it was done!

All set: 5-gallon water with fixture for sink, 5-gallon gray water tank, 5-gallon reserve water, Coleman stove top, Coleman cot, refrigerator.

The bikes fit very well with plenty of space left for carrying other travel gear and equipment on the sides (cot, table, chair, riding gear, chairs, etc).  And I was able to lay my pad and sleeping bag between the bikes to sleep on the way in and back on the trip to the Death Valley.

Plenty of room!

When the bikes were unloaded, I installed a folding table and chair on the back of the trailer, perfect to work on my computer (manage the photos, videos) and charge cameras, etc.

What else do I need for a travel trailer?

Perfect set up.  What else would someone need, right? Okay, what about a hammock? Check!

Now you are talking!

I will prepare a post dedicated to the trailer where I will discuss in more detail the choice of trailer and the build after I finish the Death Valley set of posts (it has a couple of other features I did not include here and one other accessory that I will install to make it a nice and complete travel trailer, toy hauler).  All I can say for now is that it worked very well, it did its job, it completed its first 1,700 miles providing four nights of service and safely carried two motorcycles.

Leaving Bishop, CA, going towards Reno, NV.

As always, I had a great time in the shop, getting things ready for the trip.  This time I had this small heater to help take the edge of the cold nights while I worked on the bikes.  This thing goes through canisters faster than I go through beers…

Mr Heater to the rescue on the cold winter nights at the shop

Talking about beer, I usually drink Indian Pale Ale beers, my favorite kind of beer, perfect for an Oregonian (I’ve been living here longer than 10 years, I should qualify as Oregonian by now for the time invested here or for my taste of beer, whichever is more important).  But I had some left over Pabst Blue Ribbons from a barbecue with friends at my house and had to finish this supply. They taste like nothing but are light, perfect to accompany me in my work on the bikes.  Note: I do not recommend anyone to drink and operate power tools, machinery, or to work on anything that require fine dexterity (of course and don’t drink and drive or ride).

PBR company

That was it for this portion of my Death Valley 2017 Edition report.  Stay tuned for the next chapter when I will report my trip to the Death Valley, my impressions about the 1996 Ford truck and how it handled the fully loaded trailer going up and own passes and dealing with heavy winds.

Thank you for reading.

Posted in Riding the Honda, Riding the Yamaha | Tagged , , | 1 Comment

Forget about motorcycles!

Forget about motorcycles, let’s do something else for mechanical entertainment.

It is not an April fool’s joke, neither a permanent decision.  It reflects, however, the need to get my lawn mower ready for the grass growing season. And why not use the motorcycle lift to work on it?

Well, I did wash the Honda this morning, before it started raining.  I will continue that work on the Honda and then the Yamaha, the two bikes that went to the Death Valley, tomorrow. For now, let’s do the basic maintenance on the Troy Bilt / Honda lawn mower and let’s start spring the right way.

I will continue my report on the Death Valley trip very soon as well. The next chapter will be the work for getting ready which includes fun activities (well, they are fun for me) such as installing auxiliary lights on the Honda and the Yamaha, buying the trailer, and working on the trailer.

Trailer almost ready for action, March 2017

Fun work!  More on that soon!  Thank you for reading.

Posted in The Book | Leave a comment

Death Valley 2017 Edition, Part 1

I would guess everyone has a short list of places they like to visit multiple times.  The Death Valley is one of these places for me.  Geographically speaking it is large enough for me to experience new places every time I’m there.

On top of Mengel Pass with the WR250R, March 2017

That’s not the main reason to return to that park, however.  I don’t mind going back to the same roads and places every time, I don’t mind riding on the same roads.  Just being in such a challenging location is plenty good. Each time there is a chance to learn a bit more about human endeavors in general, how much humans are willing to risk in such inhospitable conditions for the expectation of making good money.

Skidoo mine area, March 2017

Or how people use the Death Valley area simply to hide from the rest of the world as was the case for Charles Manson who envisioned an apocalyptic race war which he called Helter Skelter (after the 1968 Beattles’ song from The White Album), and while committing a long list of other crimes, hid out at Barker Ranch just a few miles up from Ballarat off of Goller Wash.

Charles Manson truck, Ballarat, Califonia, March 2017

If that is not enough, it is guaranteed, roads and landscapes will look different from year to year depending on the time of the day you travel through them, the weather conditions you will experience at the moment you visit locations in the park will be different from year to year, or the roads you know well will be different according to how they have been impacted by winter storms.

Stripped Butte, something I completely missed last year when trying to outrun a rain storm right at this same place.

Last year we experienced rain storms and sand storms.  This year it was above the average hot for this time of the year, temperatures were hitting the mid to upper nineties during the day at the bottom of the valleys, and everyday followed the next with clear blue skies.

Arriving at West Side Road. Last year this view was not possible, as we were covered by a sand storm.

Of course, traveling back and forth from Oregon to the Death Valley is already part of the experience.

Getting close to Susanville on my way south, March 2017

I did some minor work on the bikes preparing for this trip.  The large ticket item being auxiliary lights on both bikes, which proved very good on this year’s ride.

The CB500X and the WR250R got auxiliary lights, February 2017

The biggest preparation however, which was part of the planning for this trip and hopefully will work for other motorcycle adventures, was the purchase of an enclosed cargo trailer and setting it up to be a motorcycle trailer and sleeping quarters for these trips.

Electricity, windows and e-tracks installed on the trailer. February, 2017

My biggest worry about this trip was whether my 1996 Ford F150 truck, with the 5.0 Liter V-8 (302 motor) would be able to pull this trailer which would be about 3,000lbs fully loaded.  But it made it, no problems.  There were some moments, such as climbing out of the valley of the Death Valley at 90 degrees temperature when the truck would not go past 2nd gear and 25 mph, but other than that, it did very well at normal highway speeds, when the wind did not blow too hard.

The old truck made it to the Death Valley and back, once again. March 2017

This time around I met with two of the riders from last year’s trip and three other riders joined the group, and then two other friends joined us on a very nice and new Ford Raptor.

The riders of the Death Valley 2017 edition

On the following posts I will be describing the preparations for this trip and the rides we’ve taken on the 2017 edition.  We had a great time, the riders were all very good.  If counting the crashes and bike drops, I would be rated the worst rider of the group, as the WR250R had its chance to show how strong it is, surviving very creative crashes.  The CB500X survived unscathed, meaning I did not drop it or crash it and it ran flawlessly.

Stay tuned!

Posted in Riding the Honda, Riding the Yamaha, The Book | Tagged , , , , | 2 Comments

There’s always a motorcycle that will inspire me…

There is always a motorcycle that will inspire me to write or ride.  Usually they are  adventure or scrambler motorcycles. Every now and then, though, there is a different kind of motorcycle being the source of inspiration. The last time this happened, in 2012, the bike in question was the 2012 848 Streetfighter.  It inspired me, I acquired it, it became an interesting detour in my riding style which culminated with my decision to get my 2013 Multistrada Pikes Peak. I miss that yellow 848 Streetfighter.

The Ducati 848, May 16 2012

The Ducati 848, soon after I purchased it, May 16 2012

Although I did not stay with that bike for too long, I had a great time with it. It turns out, one of my favorite shots of this bike is on the banner of this site, I like keeping it there even if it has nothing to do with the bikes I ride as a rule.

McKenzie Pass, Oregon. July 4th, 2012

McKenzie Pass, Oregon. July 4th, 2012

This winter has been exceptionally hard for me, work has been stressful and then there is the weather; I’m just looking out of the window of my office as I type these words, it is a Sunday morning, March 5th 2017, and it is snowing on my backyard.

I’m writing this post after having watched a wave of Youtube reviews on the new 2017 Ducati Supersport following its launch in Spain three weeks back.  What is interesting about this motorcycle’s reviews is that just about everyone who rode this bike is telling the same story about it.

Was it the Ducati marketing spiel during the press meeting what influenced the reviewers’ opinions? Usually a well made presentation evens up the pitch, you can hear the reviewers regurgitating the same information they had just heard from manufacturer’s officials. On the other hand, perhaps these journalists and riders who had a chance to see it, ride it on road and on track, have all of them perceived it the same way, because that’s the way the bike really is.

The 2017 Supersport has distinctly and officially piqued my interest based on these reviews.  On paper, it seems interesting as well. Now I need to see one and ride one to make my own mind about it. Meanwhile, there is no question, this bike has inspired me.

The 2017 Ducati Supersport S

The 2017 Ducati Supersport S

The 2017 Supersport brings back an evolved view of a Ducati tradition

I do not connect this new bike with its history, the history of the Super Sport line which eventually became Supersport, simply because that history occurred before my time and before my exposure to Ducati motorcycles.  But it is an important historical and iconic motorcycle or line of motorcycles for Ducati.

The 1974 Super Sport model, the first of them, was the result of a confluence of important names in Ducati’s history: Paul Smart’s victory at the Imola 200 in 1971 on a 750 V-twin (the first series of V-twin motors), and the accounts of Fabio Taglioni’s interest in designing something more aggressive, culminating with the 1974 750 Super Sport.  The result was a bike built around that first winning V-Twin motor, created for or responding to a new and growing group of riders, street riders interested in riding sporty motorcycles.  And history tells us this bike represented a new chapter in the Ducati history books.

The 1974 Super Sport

The 1974 Super Sport

You may be interested in looking back at that significance of Paul Smart’s victory, Fabio Taglioni’s designs, and the concept of the Super Sport motorcycle, in case you are new to Ducati and have an interest on this bike.  New Ducati owners, and I’m partly on this group, probably have today a completely different view of what Ducati is all about, which is very much representative of the brand’s evolution, where it is today after so many years of changes.

If you have an interest in the Ducati history, there’s plenty to read about the 70s, when the move from single cylinder to V-twin motors took place, it’s all over the internet, so I will not repeat that information and bother you with it here. However, in case you want to know more or refresh your memory about the Super Sport line of Ducati motorcycles I recommend you read a very recent historical review on these bikes by Bennetts which was written in anticipation of the launch of the 2017 Supersport

Ducati Super Sport

Ducati Super Sport

To summarize, this line of bikes has had several iterations with different levels of success. According to some, the bikes that followed the 1974 SS all remain in its shadow.  Among the several Ducati business “ownerships” during so many years, Claudio Castiglioni (ownership period 1985-1996) changed this line’s name from Super Sport to Supersport.

Some say this change in the name was because the bike had become a tamer version of a super sport bike, which seems to characterize today’s interpretation of the Supersport, a tame, easy to ride motorcycle, according to the reviews following the launch.

And to complete this model’s story, 2006 was the last year a Supersport was produced until the 2017 model.

2006 Ducati Supersport

2006 Ducati Supersport, the last one of the previous series until the 2017 model

In those early 2000’s the Multistrada was a fresh new style, offered a type of riding that was experiencing growing popularity. The popularity of the Multistrada may have been what put the Supersport line into the sidelines, and also the Sport Touring line of motorcycles. I’m not certain about this, but it is a possible scenario to explain why Ducati ended the Supersport and also the Sport Touring lines.  After all, the Multistrada is a multi-roads and styles motorcycle, with its four riding modes: sport, touring, urban and enduro, especially after the 2010 model.

2007 Ducati Sport Touring (ST3)

2007 Ducati Sport Touring (ST3)

Perhaps the day after those motorcycle lines ended (SS and ST) some Ducati fans were already asking Ducati to bring them back to the market.  Instead, Ducati has broadened the Multistrada line which now has three main subgroups (1200, 1200 Enduro, and 950 models, aside from trim levels such as the “S” model and the Pikes Peak).

On the sport side of the equation, Ducati sharpened its sport offerings with the Panigale line which now comes in several versions as well distributed by displacement, purpose, trim levels, and special editions.  These are very specialized, technical machines.

It seems as if a gap opened up on the line up, with on one end the multi-purpose machine around the Multistrada line, which does all things well, but with compromises here and there, or very serious, specialized sport machines with the Panigale line on the other end.

2017 Ducati Supersport S

2017 Ducati Supersport S

Ducati seems to have captured that missing gap, the Supersport and Sport Touring into one package, under the Supersport name.  For some reviewers, the 2017 Supersport represents the return of the Sport Touring bikes, since it can be ordered with semi-rigid panniers, it comes with three-position adjustable windshield, more upright ergonomics for the rider, and a passenger seat.  On the other hand, it obviously is Ducati’s answer for the requests for a Suportsport as well, a more subdued sport line of bikes, if at all, since Supersport is on the name of the bike.

The Multistrada is a good sport touring motorcycle, I know, I own one.  But it lacks the sport line looks, a finesse in design and in behavior.  And the Panigale line is something different, it has always been a family of precise, technical bikes for the track or for road riding, targeted to performance-oriented riders, and hence somewhat challenging to the public at large. Personally, I’ve never considered a Panigale a bike to own, except if I was a collector.

More than filling a gap, the 2017 Supersport opens the door for possibilities.  I do think it will be a good seller.

2017 Ducati Supersport S

2017 Ducati Supersport S

What moves the Supersport

This bike has the same 937cc V-twin motor as the one on the Multistrada 950, the Hypermotard and Hyperstrada line.  Ducati is quoted as saying the motor is different on the Supersport, however, with different crank, throttle bodies, and different heads as the motor is part of the motorcycle frame, similar to what happens on the Panigale.

The bike’s front end is similar to the Panigale line, beautiful indeed, contrasting with the rear end which is more rounded and could be better compared to the rear of the Monster.

The bike comes with Ducati’s “safety pack” with three levels of ABS (Bosch 9 series – not sure it includes the so-called “cornering” ABS), eight levels of traction control, and three riding modes (sport, touring and urban).

It comes in two trims, with the “S” bringing on the goodies such as fully adjustable Ohlins on both ends, up and down quick-shifter with throttle blip on the down shifting, an optional color (silk white besides the Ducati red) and a rear seat cowl.

The motor produces the same 113 hp found on the Multistrada 950 and Hypermotard/Hyperstrada although with slightly different torque specifications.

  • Engine: Testastretta 11°, L-Twin cylinder, 4 valve per cylinder, Desmodromic, liquid cooled
  • Displacement: 937 cc
  • Bore X stroke: 94 x 67.5
  • Compression ratio: 12,6± 0.5 :1
  • Power: 113 hp @ 9.000 RPM
  • Torque: 71.3 lb-ft @ 6.500 RPM

This is not earth-shattering power, but the reviews seem to indicate it is enough for this bike.

So, what are journalists and reviewers saying about this bike?

It is interesting that journalists and reviewers seem to agree on the subjective experience about this motorcycle, on matters where usually people differ if not in direction, then on degree.  And what they agree about resonates with what I’ve been wanting on a motorcycle since I sold my Streetfighter and started to enjoy street riding with my Tiger 800XC and Multistrada.

The Yellow Ducati and the Heceta Lighthouse. September 23rd, 2012

The Yellow Ducati and the Heceta Lighthouse. September 23rd, 2012

It took me a while to feel comfortable enough on the Multistrada to eventually make it go faster then my Tiger 800XC.  Of course, the Multistrada is a much more competent motorcycle on the road, has better brakes, better suspension, a lot more power, but it is not as easy and fluid to manage as the Tiger 800 XC, with its slow but steady front end, linear fueling, fluidity of the three cylinder motor, short gears, and drama-free brakes (not efficient brakes, but easy to operate).

The Multistrada has required some getting used to, after two or three riding seasons, however, I was able to extract more of what it is all about and now it is my unambiguous choice when the plan is to reach the mountains and their curvy roads. It is much safer and faster than the Triumph.  Please note, I still consider myself a beginner when it comes to road riding and I definitely do not extract all of what the Multistrada can deliver.

Regular visit to Sisters via McEnzie Pass

Regular visit to Sisters via McEnzie Pass

Going further back on my riding history, my 848 Streetfighter was a tame version of its Streetfighter S bigger brother, but it was still a raw motorcycle in my opinion. It had plenty of power for its size and a motor that really felt good when ridden aggressively. But it was rough on the edges, which I’m sure is great for aggressive riders, but that is not my case.

That’s where the Supersport comes into the conversation.  Journalists have described the 2017 Ducati Supersport as a motorcycle that is easy to ride.  The power, they claim, is in that sweet spot, not too much, just enough.  They claim the bike’s handling is spot on, making it easy for anyone to extract more from what the bike can deliver.

Here are some quotes:

The bike is incredibly agile and easy to handle (…) It feels like a Ducati sport bike for the road, one that you can ride every day. Marc Potter, Bennetts

There are surely aging Ducati fans weary of superbike ergonomics but feel too young at heart for a touring bike. And Ducati thinks that there are sprightly newcomers who want Panigale looks without the terror of 160hp. Makes sense. (…) It’s a stately and venerable concept that deserves to be alive and well. Splits the difference between superbike and sport-tourer, true to the Ducati name. Zack Courts, Motorcyclist

The SuperSport lacks the outright aggression of a more focused bike like the Panigale 959, but on road and track it delivers a magic blend of composure, comfort and sporting agility. And it’s superb on the road; Ducati really has got the handling and ride feel spot-on because it fully delivers across the gamut of the riding and rider its aimed at. Simon Greenacre, Visordown

“Sport riding experience anywhere, anytime.” One of Ducati’s official line on this bike.

Will I buy this motorcycle?

My motorcycle budget for this year has already been topped off, so I know it will not happen this year.  I did not purchase a motorcycle this year, but I did acquire something that will hopefully take me riding to different and more places this year, and which could actually be something to consider for a future purchase of a motorcycle such as the Supersport.  More on that soon.

Having said that, there are three motorcycles on my “would like to own” short list and the Supersport is on this list. Of course, its permanence on this soft list will depend on my own perceptions of what people mean by the “comfort ergos” been talked about in reference to this bike and my take on its performance. I definitely want to ride it, who knows, I might like it too much.

I would certainly welcome an opportunity to better explore road riding – a job that was started by the 848 Streetfighter – with a machine that is suitable to my not so aggressive riding style, and has been filled by the Multistrada and the Tiger, while the adventure duties have fallen into the Rally Raid CB500X and the WR250R.

Thank you for reading!

 

Posted in Bike Reviews | Tagged , , | 2 Comments

The count down to Spring has started!

Nothing like an unusually set of cold weeks here in west-central Oregon for me to officially start the count down for Spring .  March 20 is when it will happen in 2017. As of today 62 days separate us from officially celebrating it. The sun, with its companions warmth, longer days, and great riding, is on its way back.

No way Jose.

No way Jose, she said.

I could use the couple of snow storms interspersed with ice rain we’ve had here in Oregon as an excuse not to ride and not to write.  Well, it was a strong contributor together with travel with family, to visit friends, and for work, preventing me from riding.

São Paulo, Brazil

Landing at Guarulhos Airport, São Paulo, Brazil.

Landing at Guarulhos Airport, São Paulo, Brazil – a sea of tall condominiums.

Porto Alegre, Brazil

Landing at Salgado Filho Airport, in Porto Alegre.

Landing at Salgado Filho Airport, in Porto Alegre, an undiscovered paradise.

Ice Rain in Eugene

Beautiful but destructive icerain

Beautiful but destructive ice rain

Unusual set of snow days in Eugene.

Nice walk by the river on a snow day

Nice walk by the river on a snow day

Keeping me away from writing, on the other hand, has been an expedition on video editing. It seems people have been watching Youtube videos instead of reading blogs for getting informal information on topics of interest.

Maybe I’m only speaking for myself? I have three Youtube channels, one of them is called “TheCDANet”.  I’ve had this channel for several years, there are several videos on this channel, mostly riding footage.  Since most of these videos are in unedited form, I barely have 50 subscribers on that channel. I also started an “I’d rather be riding” channel to become the official companion of this blog.  I started it several months ago but have not made any videos for it yet.  Over the holidays I started another channel, this one is for personal and family stories. I have only one video on that channel and it went viral. Viral within my family that is.

This scenario has to change.  I don’t know how far I will go in terms of making videos, but during the winter break I uploaded Adobe Premier Pro (Creative Cloud) and started learning about video editing.  I have enough footage to make videos from past rides in the Death Valley, in northern California, the Steens (here in Oregon), a few test rides, or to simply discuss something about each of my own bikes. Let’s see how that goes.

Meanwhile, this new year looks promising in terms of riding. I already organized my annual epic (to me) rides; one will be to the Death Valley (CB500X Adventure and WR250R), and another to Northern California (Multistrada). And I’m planning to start another annual ride to my beloved Oregon’s southeast area (likely a solo ride).  And for the following years I would like to start a series of rides to the various Backcountry Discovery Routes. Ultimately, who knows when but certainly not this year, there will be a ride to Alaska and another to Patagonia, two places I’ve visited before by car or plane and can’t wait to be on those places on a motorcycle.  I would also like to take a road riding course and get some track days on my belt as well.

For now, though, the bikes are safely dry in the stable. Looking at this picture, don’t they seem as anxious as I am about the start of the new riding season?

Bikes waiting for better riding days

Bikes waiting for better riding days

Up next, in preparation for the Death Valley ride I will do some maintenance and improvement work on the Honda and the Yamaha.  I’m just waiting for warmer days (typically, Oregon winters are not too cold, so those warmer days will come soon) so I can start working on the bikes.  For now, all I do in the garage is to transfer the battery tender from one bike to another.

Battery tender, keeping all bikes charged!

Battery tender, keeping all bikes charged and ready to go!

One of the improvements to the Honda will be a set of auxiliary lights.  Last year, on our Death Valley rides, we always came back to camp after dark. This time I will be ready for it. Santa Klaus stopped by and delivered a set of Denali single-intensity lights that should illuminate plenty of trail ahead of me for possible night rides.  I got another set of wires and switches for these lights, so besides the Honda, another bike will get the privilege of having these lights as well, likely the Yamaha for now.

These lights are powerful...

These lights are powerful… 695 feet will be plenty good on a gravel road

Other work on the Honda will include installing a set of adventure riding mirrors, adjustments to the rear shock, and adjustments to the clutch cable, all needed improvements based on last year’s experience riding this bike on the Death Valley.  The Yamaha will get  adventure mirrors as well (maybe the same set for both bikes) and a new rear tire.  They will both get oil changes, and other basic maintenance work of course.

I hope you are all doing well, are enjoying the new year, and are looking forward to the 2017 riding season!  Thank you for reading.

Posted in Random Thoughts, The Book | Tagged , , , | 4 Comments

Yamaha T7: An ideal adventure/rally machine one step closer to reality!

Are you ready for this?

Yamaha T7 concept

Yamaha T7 concept

Exactly two years ago, at EICMA 2014, Honda delivered a concept motorcycle, the much rumored and anticipated Africa Twin.  To many it was the answer for what they always wanted.  To others, myself included, it missed the mark.

New Africa Twin prototype

New Africa Twin prototype

Honda delivered a great motorcycle, and perhaps it was the first motorcycle to make a dent on the BMW and KTM hegemony at the top of the charts of adventure motorcycles.  But aside from DCT (dual clutch automatic transmission which is not a consensus as a needed equipment to begin with) and a dual air cleaner system in the place usually taken by the fuel tank (which helps with a lower center of gravity when most of the tank volume sits lower), it had nothing really new to offer.  It is lighter than the large, 1200cc series of bikes, but it is heavier than the already heavy middle weight, 800cc series.

Honda Africa Twin - may have a true adventure competitor soon!

Honda Africa Twin – may have a true adventure competitor soon!

As an adventure rider, I appreciated what Honda brought to the equation. It is a compromise that many many riders appreciate, the bike certainly filled the gap left by the KTM 9X0 series and then some. It is a success story! However, the so called dual cylinder, lighter weight, rally looking and hopefully rally performing adventure motorcycle gap was not closed with the Africa Twin.

The ellusive gap... are we finally there?

The ellusive gap… are we finally there?

Since the Africa Twin did not answer my questions, and no other manufacturer answered these questions (or dreams?) up to now, I went my own way and “built” my own lighter weight, dual cylinder adventure motorcycle using a Rally Raid kit on a Honda CB500X, a  city bike (CB).  The existence of the Rally Raid kit on itself is a sign there is an unresolved gap on the motorcycle industry.

Job completed! March 2016

Honda CB500X Adventure: Rally Raid Level 3 Adventure Kit

It turns out the CB500X Adventure is a fun machine. Power, a low 48hp, is not an issue at all.  But power delivery is the issue that prevents this motorcycle to become an ideal bike for technical riding, when clutch slippage (wide and strong friction zone) is needed.  Add to it the 19 inch front wheel and limited front suspension and this bike is not there.  I enjoy it, but it remains a temporary solution.

The 2015 Honda CB500X, with Rally Raid Level 3

The 2015 Honda CB500X, with Rally Raid Level 3 “adventure” kit, in Death Valley, 2016

EICMA 2016 and Yamaha T7 – Renewed Hope!

Two years later, and Yamaha pulls the same trick at EICMA, releasing a prototype machine. Just that it looks much more like what we have been wanting, dreaming about,  and expecting, you are on the same boat I am: a dual cylinder motorcycle that is a serious off-roader, not only an adventure machine, but one that is also a rally machine. Something that has some power, but does not compromise its fun factor with extra weight or reliability issues. Is this the sweet spot?

After the Africa Twin failed to fill that spot, which is my opinion on the matter, mind you, since I know many of you like the Africa Twin, I turned my attention to other motorcycles that could fit the sweet spot.  Besides the Yamaha T7, two other motorcycles in several states of development called my attention.  One of them was launched this year at EICMA and was somewhat of a surprise, is the Ducati Scrambler Desert Sled.

It is not a rally machine but it is a lot closer to the real thing when compared to the outgoing Urban Enduro.  It has more suspension travel which is adjustable (fully adjustable on the rear), more ground clearance, a 19-in front wheel (as opposed to the 18-in wheel) and the simplicity of the design.  With no fairings, it looks like the real thing!  It is not what I’m looking for, but bet it is a fun machine.

Scrambler Ducati Desert Sled

Scrambler Ducati Desert Sled

Another motorcycle that will rock this market will be the long speculated KTM 790 adventure, which in KTM fashion would likely be a rally ready machine.  KTM machines are ready to race, right?  That bike has not materialized itself yet, but a street version, the KTM Duke 790, with the anticipated parallel twin motor, has shown up in concept form at EICMA 2016.  If the motor exists, then the KTM 790 in adventure form is likely in the works.

KTM 790 Duke concept

KTM 790 Duke concept

Meanwhile we have a true concept, in my opinion the star of the 2016 edition of the EICMA, the Yamaha T7.  This is the third bike on my short list of ideal adventure machines, and top of my list pf desired machines, the dreamed and rumored Yamaha XTZ 700.  The Yamaha T7 concept is a potential appropriate size Ténéré, the real inheritor of what the XT600Z (and 750) meant to enduro machines, it seems. On looks alone this concept seems to be exactly what we have been asking for.  And Yamaha’s own words seem to confirm it.  This is what Yamaha tells us about the T7:

Many of the current middleweight Adventure models are perceived as too oriented to the street and too sophisticated. They are therefore not suitable for use in real off-road conditions. The Adventure universe needs new specimens that can offer the versatility to tackle long distances and great endurance, typical of the original Ténéré, combined with a contemporary design and top technologies.

I agree with Yamaha.  Or they may have been reading my posts and, of course, I’m only one of the many who have been asking for this motorcycle in motorcycle forums and motorcycle reviews.

Is the T7 the holly grail?

The T7 is obviously only a concept, looking very rally, enduro like, a bike ready for serious off road riding. It was developed by the Yamaha teams in Europe which include, according to my Italian friends, engineers from Yamaha’s rally team in France, research and development by the Yamaha team in Italy, and design by the Dutch team.

Yamaha T7 Concept, EICMA 2016

Yamaha T7 Concept, EICMA 2016

The concept bike seems to have a steel frame designed specifically to cradle the 700cc parallel twin motor, lots of carbon pieces, a flat dirtbike seat, and an Akrapovic exhaust.

Yamaha T7 Concept, EICMA 2016

Yamaha T7 Concept, EICMA 2016

Add to it a very rally-like fairing, almost vertical wind-screen, and tall cockpit and the bike looks like the real thing.

LED lights on the Yamaha T7 Concept, EICMA 2016

LED lights on the Yamaha T7 Concept, EICMA 2016

These are items that will likely be toned down on a consumer version.  The spy or leaked photos we shared here on a previous post did not display some of the innovative design carbon pieces we see on the EICMA 2016 concept, for example. Who knows what direction Yamaha will take from this concept.

Is this Yamaha's mid-size adventure Ténéré?

Is this Yamaha’s mid-size adventure Ténéré?

What we know is that the motor is the CP2 (cross-plane two cylinder), at a minimum it is an adventure-dedicated version of the compact and light weight parallel twin, 270 degree crankshaft, 700cc, 74hp motor available on several models on the Yamaha line up (MT-07 / FZ-07 and XSR700).

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

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

Another item we can see are the 21-inch front wheel and 18-inch rear wheel.  All in all the motor, the frame, and the wheel sizes offer the backbone, the combination of parts, materials and shapes that makes this bike look like a serious off-road machine.  Even if the actual product is toned down, you know what can be done.

Yamaha T7 Concept, EICMA 2017

Yamaha T7 Concept, EICMA 2017

The weight of such a beast should be anywhere between 450 and 475 lbs if we use the MT-07 Tracer as a base, which is rated at 433 lbs wet.  The added weight would come from a larger tank, larger spoke wheels, stronger frame and sub-frame, longer suspension, bash plate, taller fairing and windscreen, etc.

It should still be lighter than the current 800cc offerings from Triumph and BMW, and certainly looks to be a lot more dirt-oriented than those two bikes.  The motor is an already known factor, and there is plenty of praise out there for it.

Yamaha T7 Concept, EICMA 2016

Yamaha T7 Concept, EICMA 2016

We will know more about this bike in 2017. The bike should be ready by the fall of 2017, when the show season starts and it is likely that Yamaha will use that time to officially introduce it to the public in its final form. Yamaha indicated it should be available for sale to the public in 2018.

In conclusion… I’m cautiously optimistic that this bike will be the yard stick against which  mid-size adventure motorcycles with real off-road ambitions will be measured. KTM is likely to offer a competitor which will have more power, will likely be lighter, but might be more expensive and perhaps at a different level of sophistication.  It seems we are finally getting attention to this segment of the market, actually, Yamaha may be creating a new segment to this market.

Yamaha T7 Concept, EICMA 2016

Yamaha T7 Concept, EICMA 2016

Personally, it seems I will be finding a solution for a motorcycle in this segment, one that is very likely a potential replacement for my CB500X Adventure.  If I can enjoy riding the 48 hp motor on my CB500X when off pavement, having a 74hp motor, delivering a broader torque curve, better sounds and more traction from its 270 degrees crankshaft, the Yamaha might just be perfect for what I want.

More from Yamaha’s press release on this bike:

This lightweight machine is based on an all new chassis that has been designed to complement a specially developed version of Yamaha’s highly acclaimed 700cc CP2 engine, delivering strong torque and an easy power delivery for perfect traction in all conditions.

Equipped with an aluminum fuel tank, 4-projector LED headlight, a carbon fairing and skid plate, and a custom made Akrapovič exhaust – as well as high specification KYB front suspension – the T7 is a vision of the ideal adventure machine, and is playing a major role in the development of Yamaha’s next generation adventure models.

A new chapter from the book of legends will be on the street – and on the dirt – from 2018.

It indicates this bike is a concept, or “a vision of the ideal adventure machine” so we will have to wait to see what the final product will be. It certainly is a great step in the right direction.

Thank you for reading.

Disclaimer:  I’m not a professional rider, and obviously not a professional writer. I write this blog as a hobby and because of my passion for motorcycles and motorcycle riding. I’m not affiliated with any business or organization related to the content of my posts, I’m not paid to write and publish my posts. The potential income generated by advertisements you may come across on my posts are going to WordPress, the organization hosting my posts. I pay WordPress to manage and host my posts, I would have to pay more to have advert-free posts.

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Scrambler Ducati new models: Cafe Racer and Desert Sled

There is no question heritage, classic, retro-looking motorcycles continue to be popular.  There is something about that basic motorcycle design where a gas tank looks like a gas tank, the motor is visible and it is air-cooled, and headlights are round.

Scrambler Ducati: Italia Independent

Scrambler Ducati: Italia Independent (limited edition, 1,077 models)

Back in 2014 at EICMA, two years ago exactly, Ducati jumped on the heritage motorcycle trend creating the Scrambler Ducati brand and introduced the four heritage models: Icon, Urban Enduro, Classic and Full Throttle.  At that very same time they announced the Scrambler brand would be expanding its line of motorcycles very soon.

And they followed up on their promise and less than a year from that time three new bikes were announced.  These new bikes carry very small changes to the themes already available, they are the Sixty2, the Flat Track Pro and the limited edition Italia Independent. In total today there are six different Scrambler models, seven when including the limited edition Italia Independent.

The six versions which, with the addition of the Italia Independent make the Scrambler Ducati choices today. Tomorrow, though...

The six versions of the Scrambler Ducati brand available today, plus the limited edition Italia Independent.  Tomorrow, though…

Now the Scrambler Ducati brand is getting ready to announce two new models: a cafe racer and a desert sled.  The question is, how different will these new bikes be from the bikes in the current range?

First of all, if we really go down to the essence of these bikes, there are only two different models on the current line up: The Sixty2 and the rest of them. The Sixty2 is the entry model with the 400cc motor (the same 803 cc motor from the other bikes, but stroked for less displacement to meet entry level rider requirements in key markets). Along with the less powerful motor, the Sixty2 has a list of components that were downgraded to bring the bike as close as possible to a better entry level point, or lower price point, including a double swing arm, for example.

The 400cc Sixty2 Scrambler Ducati

The 400cc Sixty2 Scrambler Ducati

The other five models are variations on the Icon theme. What changes from model to model are colors (tank and seat), tank side cover, handlebars, fenders, wheels (spoke or cast), exhaust (silencer only) and a small set of accessories.  That is, aside from the Sixty2, all other bikes on the Scrambler line are, in essence, the same motorcycle in different configurations.

The Cafe Racer

We have not seen photographs on the cafe racer, the new model which be will announced on November 7th, except for the few seconds of video on the Scrambler Ducati site.  But we can speculate freely, right? What we know is that from all the 803cc bikes, the one with more radical differences from the rest is the Italia Independent and it is the one that mostly resembles a cafe racer. But it is a limited edition motorcycle.

The Italia Independent, a limited edition in cafe racer style

The Italia Independent, a limited edition Scrambler in cafe racer style

My take on the upcoming Cafe Racer is that it will have some similarities with the Italia Independent, but it will be priced to be more affordable.

It will likely have the same 803cc motor because, well, with Euro 4 emissions, I doubt Ducati will invest on the upscale of that portion of the bike. It is just a guess, but if we take in consideration these are bikes are designed for urban use, then 803cc and 70+ hp is plenty of power for urban and around town riding.  What matters on these bikes is that the motor is air-cooled, and it sounds like a real motorcycle, and a V-twin makes a lot of sense for a Cafe Racer styled motorcycle.

Picture this with spoke wheels

Picture this with spoke wheels

Based on the very short video on Ducati’s site, one other item to consider for this bike would be spoke wheels.  Judging by what we could see from that video, the mirrors could be bar-end mirrors but positioned above the handlebars, and the handlebars appear to be taller than what you find on the Italia Independent.

On the other hand, there is the Full Throttle, which is the most “urban” of the Scramblers, in my opinion, with lower handlebars and its color.  I believe the Cafe Racer will be an improved Full Throttle or a downgraded Italia Independent.  Same motor, black color or other dark color(s), lower handlebars than Full Throttle, but higher than what we find in the Italia Independent.  Outside of the middle position between these two other bikes it could have (or I would hope to see) a flatter seat, spoke wheels, and a typical cafe racer tail to complete the package.  Of course, it should have a different exhaust note as well.

2015 Scrambler Ducati Full Throttle (customized)

2015 Scrambler Ducati Full Throttle (customized using currently available accessories)

As a consequence of this speculation, and if I’m halfway correct, I would not be surprised if the Full Throttle is discontinued, since Ducati already offers the Flat Track Pro as an option for what the Full Throttle seemed to be destined to do in the first place. Actually, to me the Full Throttle had an identify crisis, a split personality, as it looked more urban than all the other models, but at the same time it seemed as the most appropriate flat rack version on the Scrambler line.

The Desert Sled

The other Scrambler to be launched in a few weeks from now is going to be called the Desert Sled. We have seen a spy photo of this bike before, and we have written a post speculating about the bike on the spy photo as a more appropriate Enduro version on the Scrambler line.

Scrambler Enduro?

Desert Sled

When I say more appropriate, I’m talking about more appropriate enduro than the Urban Enduro is on the Scrambler line.

2016 Scrambler Ducati

2016 Scrambler Ducati Urban Enduro

However, again, I believe the upcoming Desert Sled will only be a variation on the current theme. Will it be a better Urban Enduro? Similar to how I see the Cafe Racer, I believe the Desert Sled will have the same 803cc motor, for example, and from there just accessories but hopefully components that are more tailored for real enduro use than the current Urban Enduro is.

Judging by the spy photo, for example, the Desert Sled will have the same single front disc as the Urban Enduro, the same high fender, the same tall handlebars and single clock.  One important item for an off road machine is suspension travel. It is difficult to tell from the spy shot and comparing to the current Urban Enduro, whether the Desert Sled has gained any suspension travel.

2016 Urban Enduro Scrambler Ducati

2016 Urban Enduro Scrambler Ducati

It could have other improvements such as a 19 inch front wheel instead of the 18-inch wheel of the Urban Enduro.  Also, the spy picture shows side and top racks, which indicates some touring or adventure type of riding may be possible out of this machine. It could also have the double swing arm of the Sixty2, just to make it a stronger and more apt desert machine.

I know I’m part of a very small fraction of the buying public who would want a real desert sled, but because I know I’m part of this small niche in the market, I do not hold my hopes up that this Ducati will be the machine to make me sell my Honda CB500X yet. In the end, our guess is that the Desert Sled will only be an improved Urban Enduro.

Likely the Desert Sled, and the name seems to tell the story better than the pictures, is more about bringing back, in the Scrambler Ducati brand fashion, the styling from the 60’s immortalized by Steve McQueen’s desert machines. The short promotion video, not showing the bike in complete form but showing people hanging out on a typical California or Nevada desert motel and swimming pool completes the story of this being another lifestyle motorcycle.

803cc Air-Cooled V-twin

Desert Sled, likely a better version of the Urban Enduro

What’s Next?

In essence, I would guess these new bikes, the Cafe Racer and the Desert Sled, will continue to be variations on the Icon theme.  Perhaps this time around though, the variation will go a bit beyond the line of accessories and go into different components and perhaps, on a more optimistic scenario, appropriate changes to these bikes frames.  And, likely it will be the case that these two bikes will have their own set of accessories. In my case, where I would be wanting to see a real desert racer, the desert sled will likely fall short of my expectations.

On the other hand, I’m glad the Ducati heritage or classic or retro-line, whatever you want to call it, will retain the air-cooled v-twin motor that is an evolution of the original motor that in the 70’s brought Ducati to the forefront, and which to today remains the signature of Ducati motorcycles, although it today comes in much more efficient and powerful water-cooled versions including the super-quadro and DVT versions. The scrambler line is the only line, unless a new 2017 entry level Monster or Motard would prove otherwise, where the v-twin motor in its air-cooled version remains alive.

Talking about heritage, it is good to be reminded, Ducati considers these bikes to be post-heritage, actually, and here is their definition from the time of the launch of the Scrambler line two years ago, and which still can be found on their site today:

“Post-heritage” design means taking the best from the past to create something unique and absolutely contemporary. The Ducati Scrambler is not a vintage motorcycle, but the ideal result of how the famous motorcycle from Borgo Panigale would be if Ducati had never stopped producing it.

We will be hearing from Ducati at their annual world premiere which will be broadcast live on November 7th, the evening before the EICMA 2016 starts (EICMA runs from November 8 to 13).  Besides these two new or improved versions of current scramblers, Ducati will be announcing a series of new models as it continues its production growth and product line expansion. A Super Sport, a smaller Multistrada and improvements to the DVT motor on the 1200 Multistrada will be hot items for this year’s launch. And who knows, what other surprises Ducati will have in store for us.

Back to the Scramblers, I’ve been talking about heritage bikes for a long time, yet I have not committed to getting one yet. However, such a motorcycle is what will likely be next on my motorcycle line up. Will it be a Ducati of the scrambler variety? Or a BMW Scrambler? Or a real standard, something real and original from the 70’s? I don’t know, except that it will have round headlights.

Thank you for reading.

Disclaimer:  I’m not a professional rider, and obviously not a professional writer. I write this blog as a hobby and because of my passion for motorcycles and motorcycle riding. I’m not affiliated with any business or organization related to the content of my posts, I’m not paid to write and publish my posts. The potential income generated by advertisements you may come across on my posts are going to WordPress, the organization hosting my posts. I pay WordPress to manage and host my posts, I would have to pay more to have advert-free posts.

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