What five motorcycles would I like to own in 2019

Very few motorcycles have caught my attention lately. The ones that do call my attention are the ones that are breaking old molds, venturing in new terrain, such as the Indian FTR 1200, inspired on flat track racing bikes.  This Indian will have the courage to show up in 19-inch wheels, similar to the proportions of motorcycles from past years.  I just think this bike is gorgeous, and will probably have a traditional motorcycle feel to it in terms of v-twin motor vibrations, sound, and how torque is delivered.  Good, I hope, for a relaxed ride, and yes, with compromises on performance, limitations that take it away from the sports naked world, which I don’t really mind, that’s not my cup of tea.  If its looks are kept somewhat close to what this prototype shows, it will be a sweet and different machine.

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Indian FTR 1200, supposed to be launched in a few months and available for sale next year

Outside of that, it is about game-changers in the area of adventure riding, and bikes with the latest technology in terms of riding aids including cornering ABS, cruise control, and improved suspension and riding modes.

Before we get into them, let’s talk about my current motorcycles. I’ve settled with my current five choices, my newest motorcycle, the 2015 Honda CB500X, will already be turning four years old next year.  My oldest motorcycle, not counting the 1980 Honda CX500, is the Yamaha WR250R, which will turn 10 years old next year.  Then I have the 2012 Triumph Tiger 800XC and the 2013 Ducati Multistrada Pikes Peak.

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So many toys, so little time…

One day will be time to start a slow renewal of the fleet. I said slow. But if money was not an impediment, say if I win the lottery which I don’t play (in other words, it’s not gonna happen), these are the five motorcycles I would like to own in 2019.

Starting from the top, I would upgrade my Multistrada for a newer model of the same.  I really like this bike.  It is effortless on long journeys with full travel gear, and still delivers a sports bike performance.  The Multistrada and all other similar bikes from other brands are the best touring machines available, in my opinion. And the Multistrada, as one of the first in this segment, remains, again in my opinion, one of the best of the bunch.

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My 2013 Multistrada Pikes Peak.

My brief stint with sports naked machines, my Ducati Streetfighter, taught me that while those bikes look great, and are built for going fast, that’s not where I want to be in terms of comfort or at speed.  The Multistrada goes almost as fast, if not faster, but does it while offering comfort and with its wide handlebars and height, still provide quick turn-ins when it reacts fast from minimal and effortless counter steering inputs.  And still, because your body is on a relaxed position, it allows you more control and great vision for street riding.  No wonder such machines outsell sports bikes.

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2018 Ducati Multistrada 1260 Pikes Peak

The reasons I would upgrade to the 1260 Pikes Peak are very specific.  First and foremost, it has more torque on low end of the RPM band without sacrificing its presence on higher RPM levels (HP has increased as well).  Second, it has key electronic improvements when compared to my 2013, especially cornering ABS and cruise control. Some of you complain about the nanny electronic aids, I celebrate them in feeling safer when riding and in paying less for insurance.  Third, the Pikes Peak comes with Ohlins suspension, it provides a much better feel from the front end when pushing the bike on corners.  Fourth, it has a lower seat position than my 2013, which is always good for someone like me, who maneuvers my current 2013 on tip toes due to my long torso on shorter legs body type (30-inch inseam).  And fifth, the TFT display is much easier to visualize important information when riding, the menus are easier to navigate when making changes, and offers a better interface to connect with smart phones.

Next, there is my 2012 Triumph Tiger 800XC.  This bike has never quite been a favorite of mine.  The sound of its three-cylinder motor under acceleration is great, the feel is not, it made me realize, despite liking some characteristics of it, that I’m much more into twin cylinder motors.  Overall, this bike does everything well, it does not excel in anything particularly.  I like the looks, its bright orange color from the launch model, and the fact that Triumph had the courage to offer it in the first place.  I remember following those first spy shots of this bike when on development tour in Greece, then the first official video of it, where images were too dark to see the bike, or the bike was only shown in split second images, but the full sound of the three cylinder motor being driven in anger was there.

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My 2012 Triumph Tiger 800XC

This bike was meant to be my true adventure riding machine, the bike to ride when long distance riding including all types of roads, including gravel, were part of the course. The bike to go to Alaska and down to Tierra Del Fuego.  This bike could still do it, but, if one day I would really get into a trip to Alaska, I would much rather be riding the BMW R1200GS Rallye.

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2018 BMW R1200GS Rallye

This BMW GS has a nice TFT display, you can have integrated GPS, electronic suspension, riding modes, cruise control, cornering ABS and the BMW R1200GS, since the 2013 changes, is the best adventure bike when it comes to managing air flow for the rider in its system of screens. It is not like the Multistrada in terms of power, but it offers more than enough power on a well balanced combination of torque and HP for adventure touring and for some fun on the curves when it comes to that. I always say, if I had to have only one motorcycle, this is probably it. But I’m not ready for a trip to Alaska yet and not at a point that I have to sell my motorcycles, hence the purchase of a BMW R1200GS will have to wait.

Next, let’s talk about my Honda CB500X, with the Rally Raid kit.  This bike is probably one of my favorite bikes ever.  It is the perfect size, and not too heavy, and delivers just the power one really needs.

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My 2015 Honda CB500X with Rally Raid kit, on Echo Canyon, Death Valley

The problem is that I use it as my rally machine, and while its size and weight work on its favor when compared to larger adventure machines, its 19 inch front wheel paired with a traditional fork are its Achilles heel. Although much improved from its original fork, thanks to Rally Raid, with its improved valving, spring, and an additional two inches of travel, it works but up to a point.  The result is that this machine is perfect for everything, except when you want to go fast, rally style, on rocky terrain.  The front wheel has a tendency to crash before skipping over rocks protruding more than three or four inches on the gravel and dirt surface.  Slow down and it is a perfect machine.

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My 2015 CB500X in Lippincott Pass, in the Death Valley, March 2018

The major problem with the CB500X, though, is not related to how it performs, but how it looks at the proverbial Starbucks. Even the large KTM adventure machines have their place under the sun with the poser crowd these days, although no one cares or wants to admit it.  The CB500X disappears on that virtual scenario of larger displacement bikes.

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The Honda CB500X proudly parked in front of Starbucks for no one to see

At the end of the day I’m not offended when someone thinks my bike is not macho enough. I prefer to think it takes more to ride a bike that is the under dog, and that’s what makes me like this little Honda the best: the fact that it is an under dog in the adventure motorcycle world, one that actually performs well.  And I like it that I built it myself!

However, the moto industry is threatening to be courageous and seems ready to offer real midsize rally/adventure machines, emphasis on rally, soon.  Yamaha has the 700 World Raid Super Tenere in the works, they’ve been teasing us with this bike for far too long in my opinion.  First it was the concept in 2016, than the prototype in 2017, then the world raid tour in 2018, it seems they are not convinced this bike in its concept or prototype shape, which both look great, is what we, the consumers want. I fear it will be downgraded too much when a consumer version is put to market, and who knows when it will come to market.

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

On the other hand, KTM is also readying a new beast for this new segment, the 790 Adventure.  Coming from behind on this two-horse race, they’ve gone past the Yamaha and seem ready to present it at this year’s EICMA motorcycle show in Milan. The engine was developed two years ago, shown on a 790 Duke prototype in 2016, which was then introduced in 2017, and that motor moved to the 790 Adventure with a few changes for the application, which was on its turn shown in prototype shape in 2017 and will be introduced this year and for sale in 2019.

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KTM 790 Adventure, available in 2019 according to KTM sources

If one of these two bikes, the Yamaha Tenere 700 or KTM 790 Adventure weights about the same as my Honda CB500X, then we will know they will deliver better off-road performance than my little Honda.  Time will tell.  Meanwhile the KTM has moved to front line on my list as a possible bike to replace my Honda CB500X Rally Raid.

My Yamaha WR250R is the oldest of my regularly run motorcycles.  It will turn 10 years old next year and has been my go to bike for when riding becomes more challenging.  It has been flawless until this last trip to Death Valley when its fuel pump started showing problems when we were in the middle of Mengel Pass.

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The 2009 Yamaha WR250R at the moment the fuel pump started acting up almost at the highest point of Mengel Pass in the Death Valley

I imagined having to walk down all the way back to Ballarat… thank goodness we learned that once it cooled off, some 5 to 15 minutes after a stop, depending on how hot it got and how hot was the time of the day, the pump would prime again and the bike would start.  Still, this bike at the time of its launch in 2008 was a unique offering from manufacturers, and there were not direct competitors for many years, as no one put together a reliable, smooth operating, well geared dual sport that is light enough, has suspension travel for good times when off road, and it is not so bad on the road.  Now we see more offerings from several other brands, and of those, the KTM 500 EXC or its sibling, the Husqvarna 501 are on top of my list.  I will fix the fuel pump on my WR250R and ride it one more season before I think about upgrading it, though.

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Husqvarna 501S

Finally, let’s talk about my 1980 Honda CX500.  This is the bike I bought to build into a flat tracker or scrambler.

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1980 Honda CX500

I like that it has a V-twin motor, transversely mounted like on Moto Guzzis, but it turned out working on it to be more than what my interest could lead me to make it happen.  Lack of time is what we say when something is not a priority in our lives.  And hence this bike became something that I push around when I rearrange bikes and cars to make room for work or storage in my garage. One of my original ideas before purchasing such a bike was inspired on retro looking machines, like the Ducati Scrambler.

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2016 Scrambler Ducati

One has to congratulate Ducati for investing on such a line of products and for definitely expanding a segment that had been moving at a slow pace.  But the bike just failed to deliver the feel I was looking for.  The BMW R NineT line, on the other hand, checked a lot more of the boxes of what I wanted for this space in my shed.

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BMW R NineT Scrambler

However, when I started hearing about Indian making a street version of their 750 flat tracker, I decided to wait and see what this was going to be all about.  The prototype has a 1200 cc motor, derived from the Scout with some modifications to bias the balance more into HP rather than torque, but still keeping enough of a V-twin character to it.  The looks are awesome, with the 19-inch wheels.

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How much of this prototype will turned up on a street version of this machine?

Let’s wait and see what the street version of this bike will look like.  Certainly the fiber fairings will be turned into plastic, the Roland Sands wheels will be gone, and the exhaust will likely be generic.  Let’s see.  If it comes to look as close as possible to this prototype, I’m in.

That was it for now folks, these are my favorite five bikes that I would like to own today.  Hope all are enjoying a great summer, like we have it here in the south Willamette valley in Oregon, albeit a bit warmer than normal.

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My 1967 Jeepster Commando

I’ve been looking for a while for the ideal vehicle for running my weekend, in town errands during the summer.  I thought about a scrambler type of motorcycle, but I’ve settled for classic 4×4’s.  They are perfect vehicles to drive without the top on a small town where traffic is light, slow, and usually non-aggressive.  It has been difficult to find one that was not restored, re-painted, modified, or that was not too rusty to bring back to life.  Then I came across this 1967 Jeepster Commando.

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Jeepster Posing for Photographer Kendrick Russell

I’ll talk briefly about it on this post, mostly showing some of its key characteristics, and its state of conservation after 51 years of existence.  If instead of reading about it you just want to see it, I have a 4-minute video about it, the YouTube link is here (below).  If I might say so, it is a great short video, by far the best video I’ve ever made (which may not mean anything since the bar is set very low).

My short list for searching this type of vehicle included four main types of classic 4×4’s: Ford Broncos; Toyota FJ40s; International Scout 80s (I considered the 800’s as well); and older Jeeps (CJ5, CJ7 and Jeepster Commandos). Ford Broncos have mostly been restored or are simply too expensive. Thanks to Jonathan Ward (Icon) and others, such as Classic Ford Bronco, old Broncos in original state are hard to be found, since these companies locate bodies across the country and turn them into expensive, but gorgeous builds. I’m not criticizing them, by the way, as I admire their gorgeous creations. Just that their work has certainly inflated the market.

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Ford Bronco Aspen – built by Ford Bronco Classics

FJ40 Land Cruisers in general are too expensive as well, when they are not rusted through. They are also part of Jonathan Wards builds under the Icon brand.  The below version is not one of the Icon FJ40’s, but it shows the lengths people go in rebuilding these vehicles with the highest standards of quality, because enough people are willing to pay top dollars for these vehicles.

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1967 Toyota FJ40 Land Cruiser

Then we go into the classic 4×4’s that have not reached the stratospheric prices yet, the ones that are within my limited budget, which are the International Scout 80s and the Jeeps (CJ5, CJ7, and Jeepster Commandos).  Although their prices are not as high as Broncos and FJ40’s, Scout 80’s in good running order and not restored, repainted, or modified are rare.

I found this repainted one (photo below) near me in 2015 and almost made an offer.  The repaint job was fresh and nice, but the owner, who claimed the vehicle to be a barn find, did not share any pictures of it before the body work.  To me, it would had been more valuable in its barn find patina. So I passed on this vehicle after several days of back and forth on the pros and cons of a repainted classic.  It was a really good vehicle and I did look back as I walked away from it.

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1963 or 64 International Scout 80

So lets go to Jeeps in general, they are less rare, lots were made.  CJ5s and CJ7s are but difficult to be found in unmolested state.  I’m not against modifications, mind you, but they are mostly modified toward a direction with which I do not quite agree, and to an extent that makes it almost impossible to bring them back to their natural beauty.  Jeepsters, on the other hand, still can be found with a good price, and you still can find some good, mostly original examples, as is the case for my 1967. So, when I came across this one, and the previous owner was nice, very frank about its shortcomings, and clearly someone who understands the value of such classic vehicles, and who wanted to be sure the next owner was not going to cut it out into something else, it was difficult not to settle the case and make an offer and ship it back home.

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Shipping the 1967 Jeepster Commando

It is not without little problems here and there, what do you expect from a 51 year-old vehicle, right?  But overall, I consider it perfect for what I wanted and it drives good.  I will start making some improvements here and there, mostly to keep it in good and safe running order. The Buick 225 (3.7 liters) V6 Dauntless engine is one of the highlights of these vintage of Jeep vehicles.

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Buick 225 V6 Dauntless

It has 160hp and 235 ft/lb of torque. It starts right up but it needs a tune up. It seems to be running rich, the idle is a bit high, and it backfires.  I will look into the carburetor, it might need a rebuild, will also look at possible vacuum leaks.  I will check the alternator, points, and the timing. And I will review its somewhat recent brake job.

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It has an airpump to recirculate engine gases

The transmission is a manual three-speed.  It is more like first, second and fifth, as there is a large gap between the second and third gears.  This large gap between 2nd and 3rd  allows the Jeepster to cruise effortlessly on the highway at 60 mph.  But if you encounter steep hills, steep enough where 3rd gear might be too tall, you will have to substantially slow it down to be able to operate on the much lower second gear.  All in all, this gear box is not perfect, but it works and makes for a great experience, I consider it to be the source of fun and adventure when driving around town.

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Dog leg set up: first down, two up on the other side

And it is a 4 x 4, with Warn manually locking hubs.

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Warn Locking Hubs

In terms of the body, it looks pretty good. Of course, it has surface rust, but I actually like it the way it is.  Some people go through the effort of creating fake patina.  This Jeepster has it naturally.

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Nothing matches natural patina!

The frame and floors only have surface rust as well.  All is good!

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Only surface rust on the interior (you can see the 4 high and 4 low lever)

The previous owner had gotten an estimate to repaint the entire Jeepster, I can still see the markings made by the body shop as they located areas that needed more attention before it could be painted.  Thank goodness he did not go through with it, as, in my opinion, it would have devalued this Jeepster, like it devalued the Scout 80 I almost bought, in my humble opinion.

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Body shop marks for areas where body needed repairs before a repaint

I removed the top with the help of a friend.  We managed it, but it was heavy for two folks, when the time comes to put it back on I think the operation will need at least one more person.

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Topless beauty

To preserve the patina, there are a few methods discussed in the “internets”.  Some people just wax and polish their vehicles, others lay a clear coat on top of everything, making it very shiny. I opted for treating the body with boiled linseed oil.  According to the few people who used this method, each coat lasts about six months, so I will treat it again before retiring it for the season at some point this fall.

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Boiled linseed oil: Although designed for wood surfaces, it works with painted metal as well. Be warned, the rags you use to spread linseed oil on a surface (wood or metal) may self combust as linseed oil evaporates! Read the instructions if you decide to use this type of product. 

Boiled linseed oil will leave the surface somewhat shiny and oily, especially right after application.  But it will also give a bit more depth to the color of both painted and rusty surfaces.

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Oily shine right after the application of boiled linseed oil

Anyway, this is my classic 4 x 4 for summer drives in town, my 1967 Jeepster Commando.

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It is quite the vehicle, full of character, lots of fun especially when topless, and gets the attention, many waves, thumbs up, and curious looks from people the that come across it.

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This blog is about motorcycles, though, so the next post will be about my new short list of motorcycles, the five motorcycles I would like to have in 2019.  Maybe this one below is a hint for one of the five bikes I would like to have…

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Maybe not.  Thank you for reading!

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2018 Updates

If you are one of the few regular readers of this blog you must be wondering what happened to my posts, as we now reach almost one year without a new post. I don’t have an answer, except that I did try to start making YouTube videos, and I actually made a few videos, and will likely make some more, but not sure about making it a regular thing.  It takes time, something that is difficult to find these days.

The Multistrada and the newcomer, the 1967 Jeepster Commando

I like to communicate, though, so I figure writing is still the best alternative for now, if making videos challenges the communication process.  Meanwhile, I did slow down on my riding, partly due to work, partly due to enjoying other things other than riding, like a 1967 Jeepster Commando, basically all original.

The Jeepster being delivered

Before the Jeepster, though, I did get a 1980 Honda CBX500 that would be a flat-track or urban scrambler project, and is now semi-abandoned. Well, I did give up on that build.

Meanwhile, I’ve been riding and I’ve been attending moto events as much as possible. I did attend the Portland One Moto show, for example. Nice motos!

One moto show 2018

One moto show 2018

One moto show 2018

I did go to a fourth visit to the Death Valley, that adventure-riding Disneyland.

The CB500X on Echo Canyon, Death Valley

The CB500X continues to impress, this time it conquered the Lippincott trail.

The CB500X just before getting on the infamous Lippincott trail.

And I did take my Multistrada to the coast just recently.

The Multistrada, back to the Oregon Coast

Finally, I did attend the 7th Annual Giant Loop ride, two weeks ago, which was the 10th anniversary of this adventure riding brand.

Somewhere on the East Steens, during the 2018 Giant Loop annual ride

With so many toys and so little time, it should be time to start re-thinking the garage.

So many toys, so little time…

More to come!

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If I had to have only one motorcycle, what would it be? (reflections on a trip to the coast)

Today, September 17th, as I’m finalizing this post, it is raining outside.  This is the first real rainfall since June, marking the end of summer in the south Willamette valley.  This post describes a motorcycle ride I’ve taken back in June, at the beginning of the summer.

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Riding down from the coastal range towards the coast

That was a long time ago, so much has happened since then.  There is a new-to-me (=old) motorcycle, a 1980 Honda CX500 which I may turn into something else. A tracker? Cafe Racer? Who knows. And then there was the eclipse in “totality” form just north of Eugene. Then we’ve had lots of forest fires, some are still burning as of this morning, let’s hope this rain will end all these fires. It has been an unseasonably hot summer for our region.   Then there were several work-related trips. Then there are the unfinished Death Valley reports, which I still plan to complete. And then the summer is over.

Although summer is over, there is plenty more to happen, the riding season is not over.  But let’s get back to the present time and complete this post, we can talk about the rest later. Also, please note that I have a video at the end of this post, which matches this ride.

A trip to the coast, June of 2017:

Our local BMW shop, together with its sister shop in Tigard, organized a motorcycle ride to the coast.  The announcement mentioned a shrimp boil to be served, free of charge, to all riders at the destination on Fogarty Creek State Park.  Free food?  I’ll be there!  The ride was well organized with four group rides, four options to reach the destination, one street and one adventure route starting from each shop.

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Rest stop at northwest side of Table Mountain: Adventure route from Eugene store

I opted for the adventure route and volunteered to assist with the ride starting from the Eugene store.  EMCWOR‘s Scott asked me to be a sweeper for the ride.  Besides being the sweeper, I was doing my regular self-assigned job as photographer, videographer, drone-operator and story-teller.

View of the Pacific from Table Mountain

The sweeper on a ride is the guy who makes sure no one is left behind, makes sure everyone arrives safely at the destination.  It is not an easy job on a motorcycle ride and it gets yet more difficult when it is a dirt ride where there is more chance for things to go wrong, or for people to get lost.  The complexity increases yet some more when there is a larger number of riders involved, which was our case, with a group of 13 riders.

Upfront I can report that despite one flat tire, a small crash, and a fumble here and there on my job as a sweep, we all made it to the coast.  We were the last of the four groups to arrive at the beach, but we had great fun on the way, it became a real adventure route, that’s what adventure riding is all about, right?  On top of that, we rode through some great roads over the coastal range with great views.  It was a great selection of roads, Scott!

Riders getting ready!

I was busy with work that week, lots of complex document analyses and report summaries to be completed and which spilled over to the weekend.  Determined to make it to this ride, though, I woke up very early Sunday morning to complete my reports and upload my last files.  I managed to get the bike ready and made it to the shop as Scott was half-way through the ride briefing.

More riders getting ready

However, I had a problem. I was not able to upload the route on my GPS, as my Garmin Oregon 400 expired, so I used my street GPS, which cannot upload tracks (I just purchased a Montana 680T, more on that later as well).  I did manage to see the route on my computer, I learned about its major intersections, the total distance, but on a dirt road there are many minor intersections. As a sweeper, I should have had a GPS with the track of the route we would be riding on. This, together with a communication problem, would delay us a bit later on.

Honda CB500X, my choice for the ride

There were 12 riders at the shop when I arrived, I was number 13. I knew a couple of the riders from seeing them at the shop, but I’d never had a chance to meet them or have a conversation with them, let alone ride with them.  Practically all of them were riding BMW GS’s (besides me, there were only two other riders on non-BMW motorcycles).

From a quick observation, however, I noticed most of the bikes had seen their fair share of dirt, they had that wear and tear patina you only see on adventure bikes that have been used properly, you know it when you see one.  That was a very good sign, and I hoped this would make my sweeper job easy. It turned out to be the case, even the riders who were on dirt for the first time did an awesome job at it!  It was a great group for an adventure ride!

The route was 129 miles long.  We left Eugene via River Road and from there we took back roads going past Junction City, to 99W towards Monroe from where we got to Alpine road.

From Eugene to Fogarty Park with some dirt roads on the way

If you are from this area and ride motorcycles, you know Alpine Road.  This is a short but great road, especially when it becomes a single-lane road, with great pavement and lots of nice tight curves with mild elevation changes at the east side of the coastal range.

Enjoying Alpine Road

After having some fun on Alpine Road’s tight curves we had our first planned stop at the Alsea Falls, still on Alpine road.

Quick stop at Aslea Falls.

From there we went towards Alsea and got on 34 towards the coast for a short while until we would make a right on a dirt road to start the adventure portion of the route.  During these section of 34, however, the group split into two.  I’m there, the last man on the line, patiently going at the speed this last group was comfortable riding.  This was not a problem at all, I was enjoying the ride and the road at the end of the string of riders.

When we arrived at the Cr-714, also known as Fall Creek road, when we would hit the dirt and gravel roads, the first group had been waiting for us at that cross of roads for a while already and as soon as they saw us coming, and verified we were all there, they took off immediately, and so did everyone on my slower group as well.  I had to change a battery on my helmet cam and did not have a chance to tell anyone I had to do it…

It took me what, some 5-10 minutes to do the job, which included removing the helmet, so I rushed to get to the group, but they had already sent someone looking for me because there was a fork on the road in less than a couple of miles already.  That was the result of a conflict between being a sweeper and trying to capture video as well, the group had to wait for me.

Group waiting for me on a Fall Creek bridge

These roads were great. Well, I love gravel and dirt roads, so I’m biased in thinking very gravel road is good.  From Cr-714 we got into SF52, got on the Siuslaw National Forest and started climbing towards Table Mountain. During this climb we got into two situations.

The first was when we had a quick stop to re-group.  As we were there chatting, we realized one of the bikes had a flat tire.  So here goes a question for you: how many BMW riders does it take to fix a tubeless flat tire?  I’ll let you do the count…

How many BMW riders does it take to fix a flat, tubeless, tire? (can you imagine how many it would take if it was a tubed tire?)

Nonetheless we had a great amount of laughs while fixing this tire, plenty of electric tire pumps were made available, for example (each one claimed to be more powerful than the previous).  We also got a lesson on using plugs when Scott came to the rescue with the right tools for the job and the right technique to fix it in one try, a fix that lasted the entire ride (as far as I know).

Scott showing how to get it done

The second issue happened right after we started going again, when the last rider of the group, the rider just ahead of me, lost connection with the rest of the group on one of the many forks on the road.

The fork on the road… that little speck of light on the left is the rider waiting for me

When I got to this fork he was waiting for me, some 50 yards into one of the roads, and told me he had not seen anyone when he got to the fork.  Because I did not have the track on my GPS, I was relying on motorcycle tire tracks to find the right way on these seldom traveled roads.  I did not see motorcycle tire tracks on the road he was in, so I told him I was going to “check for tracks” on the other road and turned around, back towards the fork.

In retrospective, I should had been more clear with him. I should had said “wait here, I will check for tire tracks on the other road”.  I say this because as I turned around and started going down the road back to the fork I saw him taking off on the other direction, continuing on the road he was in. I wrongly assumed he was going to find a spot to turn around. I got to the other road and very quickly saw the motorcycle tire tracks and knew this was the right road.

Clear, fresh motorcycle tire tracks on the other road

I waited for the rider… and nothing.  Maybe he is waiting where I saw him last time? So turned around again and went back to tell him what was the right road and… and where was the guy?  I couldn’t believe he would continue on his own, and to summarize my reaction to this, when I kept going and not finding him, hill after hill, when I topped a larger hill about half a mile into this other road and there was no sign of him I heard myself exclaiming out loud “puta que o pariu” in Portuguese, which, loosely translating to English, means “oh dear”.

I rode about another mile until I found him stopped at the next intersection.  I helped him turn his bike around and we got to the right road just when we encountered someone coming back looking for us.  That was a failure on my job as a sweeper. At the same time, one thing that happened a few times on this ride was that riders failed to use the important rule of group rides which is to wait for the following rider, make sure they see you, at all intersections.  Well, we were on an adventure route, right? This is what makes a ride interesting, but certainly it is something that can be avoided.

Lost rider waiting for me at intersection

We got back with the group and continued climbing, traveling around the west side of Table Mountain and arrived at a clearing on the northwest side of the mountain, where we had a stop to enjoy the nice vistas.

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We could see the Pacific Ocean from there, always a nice and welcome view in my book.

Nice view of the coast range and the Pacific Ocean

From there we continued our way down towards the coast.

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Group leaving, going down towards the coast

That’s when we had a small incident, when Scott stopped to check something on his bike, one of the riders did not manage to stop on the gravel road.  It was a steep descent, and this rider’s bike had street biased tires.  The good thing is that it only caused minor material damage, the rider was okay!

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Picking up fallen motorcycle

After picking the bike up, checking the rider for his well being, certifying that all was good with rider and bike, we continued our way down towards Toledo.  At some point we got into some nicer and wider gravel roads, those roads that are perfect for throttle sliding, and we finally hit pavement very close to Toledo.

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Going through downtown Toledo

On the other side of Toledo, instead of traveling to Newport and taking 101 we continued north along the Siletz river, on a road that goes parallel to 101 until the Siletz river turns west toward the Pacific, where we reached 101 a few miles north of the Fogarty Creek park.  At this point I considered my job done.  I waited for some riders at the entrance of the Fogarty Creek park, and a few other riders were taking a long time to arrive.  I figured they knew where to turn.  I did check that they arrived.

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Many riders from the other three groups had already left by the time I got there

And that was it, when I got to the parking lot, many riders had already left, going back to Portland or Eugene, or whatever was their home base.  The good thing is that, despite being the last group to arrive we had had a great adventure and, most importantly, there was still plenty of food left.  Thanks Madelyn!

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Plenty of food left for us, the last group to arrive

I didn’t stay long on the beach, soon after eating I got back on my bike and rode home, going south on 101 to Florence and from there taking my old friend, highway 36.  About my job as a sweeper, well, what can I say, I would give myself a low grade.

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Mostly our group, enjoying the food

I realized this was my first time taking the Honda to the coast.  I will need to take it back there for a more adequate introduction.  The bike performed really well on this trip, it did about 260 miles on this loop, it sipped fuel, and it showed it can play with the big guys.

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Back home, another mission accomplished (I need to tidy up this shop!)

However, no matter how much I like this little Honda, from my experience riding BMW R1200GS’s, from what I saw on this ride, and what I’ve seen on other rides with friends of mine on these bikes on all sorts of terrains (Mengel Pass comes to mind), I can see how these BMW’s do everything very well.

Yes, they are heavy beasts, riders may need some help maneuvering their bikes on tight trail spots, or lifting them from the ground when they drop them.  But once they get going, they basically traverse any terrain with ease.  They have that strong down low torque offering great tractability at slow speeds, they are engaging on pavement, and they tour well offering great comfort and pack all sorts of riding technology.

My Honda does not try to do all of that, and I have other motorcycles for when power or comfort are required. However, if I had to have only one motorcycle, and it needed to do it all, I have no doubt, it would be a water-cooled BMW R1200GS.  It remains top of the heap for touring and adventure riding. In 2020 I may go on a trip to Alaska, a BMW Rallye could be the ideal motorcycle (if it will still be made by then).

Here is a video of this trip to the coast:

Thank you for reading (and viewing the video).

Posted in Random Thoughts, The Book | Tagged , , | 1 Comment

Going to the middle of nowhere! (A Motorcycle to have a beer with!)

I know, sentences should not end with prepositions. Would you prefer if it read “a motorcycle with whom to have a beer?” No, right?  And second, I know motorcycles are inane objects, and hence have no “soul” and no capacity for empathy, let alone the capacity to have a beer. And third, yes, the beer is only for me.

2015 Honda CB500X Rally Raid

The point is that this motorcycle is unique in many respects, especially when adding the Rally Raid adventure kit.  It is reliable and it is light enough to be picked up should/when I drop it on solo rides. It manages traffic speed on two-lane roads well, it likes curves with very light and fast response on turn ins, it is comfortable and it does not vibrate too much with its parallel twin motor at cruising speeds (60-75 mph). You can travel long distances with it.  It can basically do everything other adventure bikes do in terms of travel and conquering rough terrain, and it sounds good and is enjoyable to ride on top of that.  And it does all of this without breaking your bank account.

2015 CB500X at Santiam Pass

If you want to find faults, yes they are there. One of them is that it is not too engaging on pavement. With its 48 hp it can manage speed, but it won’t taunt you to go faster.  And travel on free-ways could be a problem, if traffic is flowing at 75-80 mph.  It will do it, but the motor becomes a bit strained past 75 mph if that is the desired cruising speed.  And if you want to travel two-up, well, than it will depend on your size how much you both weigh to see if the bike can manage it. It will be cramped especially if that includes travel gear. But its real downfall, let’s face it, is that it won’t score you any points when you park it in front of your local Starbucks.  I like it exactly because of that, it is an underdog in the adventure riding world.

CB500X at the Santiam Pass, Oregon

This post is about a trip I took to a campground in the middle or nowhere, the Barnhouse Campground, a few miles east of Mitchell in the middle of the state of Oregon.  A beautiful location, close to several historical and geologically important areas, but on itself the area of the campground is just a patch of woods on the side of a tall hill, surrounded by miles of beautiful nothing.

View from 100feet above the Barnhouse campground, looking north

This trip served as one missing test on the CB500X:  how will the CB500X behave on a long riding days when loaded with full camping gear?

At the Barnhouse Campground, near Mitchell, Oregon.

Aside from an opportunity to ride the CB500X, the inspiration for this trip was to meet friends of mine, from the time I lived in Ohio, on a campground location somewhere in Oregon.  This is something we’ve been doing every year since we moved to Oregon in 2005.  The plan for this year was to camp somewhere in the Snake River but after we learned some areas would be closed due to snow we moved the meeting to the Ochocos area.

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Bird’s eye view of the area, from the campsite.

The last time I’ve been on this area was in 2008 when I used to ride the BMW F650GS Dakar. I had forgotten how beautiful this area was, with plenty of nice vistas with the scale that gives that perspective of big sky.  Any deviation from the main roads of the region will give you the sensation of being in the middle of nowhere.

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Beautiful nothing for miles and miles

The round trip total was 457 miles in two days of travel.  This was a reasonable distance to test this motorcycle’s capacity to handle 200+ miles daily distances with varied sets of roads and carrying camping gear.  On the way in I mostly took regular two-lane highways (126 and then 26) and on the way back I picked some gravel roads and one-lane country roads (forest roads 12 and 42 before returning to 26 and then 126).  The bike handled everything very well.

Traveling on Highway 26, close to Mitchell

I wanted to take Highway 242 but it wasn’t open for the season yet.  Later on in the Summer I will have have to go back that way with this bike for the traditional shots I take with my bikes with the Sisters mountains on the background.  The alternative was to stop at the Santiam pass for some snow capped mountain shots.  Not the same thing, but it will do for now.

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At Santiam pass

I left the house at 11am with about half tank of gas, and at more than 200 miles ridden with one tank of gas I stopped to re-fuel in Sisters. The bike took 4 gallons of gasoline averaging more than 50 mpg. Not bad for the mountain climb. Speeds were between 60 and 70 mph, mostly 65 mph. I continued the trip and arrived at the campsite at 4pm, just about time to have a nice cold beer which I carried on a small ice box on the left pannier.

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Will the beer be good after 200 miles of travel on this bike?

See, I had to test this important capacity as well (will the beer arrive in good condition for drinking)? The answer is yes!

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Just perfect!

I set the tent, and enjoyed a great time with my friends. By sunset we walked to the edge of the hill, to capture some images.

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Drone shot of the sunset

I didn’t realize until the sunset that Mount Hood was visible more than 100 miles away.

Mt Hood visible more than 100 miles away

That was a short visit. The next morning I started my travel back to Eugene.  I went back using country roads per recommendations of a riding friend who had been on this area before, following state forest road 12 south from the campground until I hit 42 from where I turned west towards Prineville.  I was surprised by the beauty of the area, the road follows a ridge and goes through open fields alternating with areas of sparse trees and areas of forests.

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State Forest Road 12

When still on gravel roads, I was basically by myself the entire time.  The road was well groomed allowing good speeds.  I went past a few patches of snow on the sides of the road, at about 5,700 feet of elevation, which worried me a bit.  If it turned to be impassable I would have to return and go back via 26.

Patches of snow on the side of the road at 5,700feet elevation

It turned out not to be a problem, travel went on very smoothly. Once I hit 42 I turned west, toward Prineville.

State forest road 42

Pavement started on 42, first as a single-lave road, as we descended from the ridge. Always nice landscapes.

Windy road, with good portions rated G1 on Butler maps (“steep climbs, tight switchbacks, deep canyons and million dollar views”).

State route 42 is rated G1, G2 and G3 on Butler maps, which are considered best roads for riding motorcycles.

Still on state route 42

From single-lane it turned to two-lane, I started seeing more traffic, bu the road was still nice and surrounding beautiful landscapes.

On 42, at this point perhaps straight south of Mitchell

Continuing on this road, as some traffic appeared, the motorcycle had not problems overtaking slower vehicles.

Overtaking slower traffic No problems.

In no time I was back on 26, then Prineville, Redmond and Sisters, where I refueled again, after 222 miles with one tank and 3.8 gallons of fuel.

The bike and the three sisters.

Because it was the end of the Memorial Day weekend, I found a lot of traffic leaving Sisters, when all roads converge for about 30 miles into one road to go over Santiam pass. It took quite a while for traffic to move freely, and once again one has to think why, oh why lane filtering (splitting lanes) is not allowed in Oregon.  I had to constantly check my mirrors for who was following me, worried about the sudden stops of traffic, with fear of being run over by a distracted driver on those highway stop and go moments.

Heavy traffic leaving Sisters

Anyway, we made it home.  The bike proved to be very nice for these long trips.  It was loaded with camping gear, photo equipment, including a drone.

Made it home!

In total, we traveled 457 miles (730 km), with an average of 49 mph moving speed.  Maximum speed was 85 mph, when passing a row of cars on the climb to the Santiam pass on a passing lane (that was the speed of all cars that were on the passing lane – I was just following traffic, officer, either that or they would run me over).

457 miles

Before unloading the bike, and firing the grill for a celebratory barbecue, I served a cold beer to review video and photos from the trip.

Having a beer “with the bike”

As the bike, still seating outside the shed, still with all gear on, appeared to be looking on, I cheered it for the great adventured it had taken me on.  This little bike, an underdog of sorts in the adventure world, is a great machine, like a good friend with whom you want to have a beer after an adventure.

Yes, it is small and yes, it would be great to have some 20 extra horse power…  If it were to be my only motorcycle, I would consider 48 hp to be a problem. For now, should the urge for HP come knocking, I have two options at an extra 30-something on the Triumph or an extra 100 hp on the Ducati.

In the middle of nowhere with the CB500X!

Outside of that, and for the time being, this is the bike I look forward to riding when the idea is to have some fun around town or on a camping trip in the middle of nowhere.  Meanwhile we keep and eye on Yamaha and KTM, should they deliver something special (as light as the CB500, but with about 26 and 45 more hp respectively).

Thank you for reading!

Posted in Riding the Honda, The Book | Tagged , , | 5 Comments

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. Where do you draw your line?

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 drove 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 well 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.

Posted in Random Thoughts, The Book | Tagged , , , , | 2 Comments

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 and BMW’s HP2 Enduro.  Those bikes were the closest thing ever made by a manufacturer as a hardcore adventure machine.  At about 450lbs, both were on the heavy side.  But still, rated at 90+ hp and with an off-pavement purpose these bikes were plenty good.  Both were short-lived. The KTM being available for only three years (model years 2006 to 2008).

KTM 950 Super Enduro R

The KTM 950 SE R, the BMW HP2 Enduro, 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 , , , , , | 99 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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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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.

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