Riding the 2016 Ducati XDiavel

Cruiser motorcycles never featured on the list of motorcycles I would like to own or even ride one day.  My opinion about these bikes has always been subjective, either linked to the looks of these bikes or the lifestyle associated with owning them.  But then things changed.

Before a ride, let's test the access to foot controls...

Before a test ride, let’s test the ergonomics of forward foot controls

This changed this last couple of years when manufacturers started producing bikes with cruiser ergonomics, especially forward foot controls, but with somewhat of a sport aggressive demeanor with a motor that goes with it.  These bikes can been referred to as urban sport cruisers. Three bikes among this group of bikes, very different from each other, I see them as cool urban bikes, drew my attention: the Ducati XDiavel, the Victory Octane, and the Moto Guzzi V-9. Yes, the Guzzi is more different than the other on this group of different bikes.

This report is about my thoughts about urban sport cruiser machines, but primarily it is about the XDiavel.  I will discuss in more detail this bike, will provide my riding impressions on it from the perspective of someone who had never ridden a cruiser before.  I will also speculate whether there is change on the urban motorcycle scene, since I believe I’m not the only one who has become interested in cruisers for the first time as part of this crop of interesting urban motorcycles coming out in the last few years.

An XDiavel line up - ready for organized test rides in the PIR, May 2016

An XDiavel line up – ready for organized test rides in the PIR, May 2016

The Background

If you have been following my stories, I’ve been posting thoughts on what would an ideal urban motorcycle be, a motorcycle someone could use on a daily basis.  This search has been very predictable for me, an adventure and enduro motorcycle rider, leading me straight to “standards” of the scrambler variety, like the Ducati Scrambler and the BMW R NineT Scrambler.  Old habits die hard, I know.

This search, however, brought to light other interesting motorcycles on a style I’d never paid attention before, bikes that are definitely out of the adventure riding box.  On this vein, the XDiavel was one of the bikes I was most interested in riding because I’m familiar with this brand and have ridden most of its products. Therefore when Ducati organized a national tour to offer test rides on the XDiavel, I jumped at the opportunity.

The XDiavel promotion tour, truck with motorcycles and merchandise was at Portland International Raceway on May 2016

The XDiavel promotion tour, truck with motorcycles for organized test rides and merchandise, was at Portland International Raceway on May 2016

Before getting into the Ducati, though, let’s talk about the other two bikes on this short list.  The Victory Octane became an interesting option for me especially because at some point it had been rumored we would see a Victory model based on Project 156.  Many of us heard about project 156, as the promotion was well orchestrated especially around the Pikes Peak event.  Just in case you haven’t heard about it, Project 156 was the result of Roland Sands teaming up with Polaris to deliver a concept bike under the Victory brand with the design and the performance to conquer Pikes Peak in 2015. The bike did not win it but it certainly left a mark.  Job well done, Victory.

Project 156: Roland Sands and Victory, teaming up to conquer Pikes Peak

Project 156: Roland Sands and Victory, teaming up to conquer Pikes Peak. Great looking motorcycle.

Some say the descendant of the 156 is the Victory Octane, which it turns out, has the look and feel more to a cruiser, much more similar to its Polaris cousin, the Indian Scout, than the more upright and standard or even aggressive stance of Project 156.

race-to-the-clouds-logos

On the other hand the Victory Octane motor delivers a more aggressive riding experience than the Scout does, according to reviewers (I have not ridden the Victory Octane nor the Indian Scout), and the Octane certainly looks more aggressive than the Scout.  The Octane’s 1179cc motor is a V-Twin rated at 104HP at 8,000 RPM and reaches a maximum of 76 ft-lbs of torque at 6,000 RPM.

What this motor can possibly deliver in terms of performance is what makes the Victory Octane interesting to me.  The riding experience described by others resonate with what I’m looking for, especially because it comes on a compact package, with an interesting, very urban demeanor.  Meanwhile, Polaris, here is my question to you: is the Octane really the bike meant to have been originated from project 156?  That is, will we see something more upright like the 156 instead of the Octane and the two other Octane-derived concepts (the Ignition and Combustion concepts)?

2017 Victory Octane

2017 Victory Octane: shinier version.

The other urban sport cruiser that has caught my attention is Moto Guzzi’s V-9 in bobber style.  The controls are not too far forward, more of a standard look, but still offering a relaxed approach to riding.

2016 Moto Guzzi V-9 Bobber

2016 Moto Guzzi V-9 Bobber

The motor is an attraction on itself, an 853CC transversely mounted V-twin in Moto Guzzi tradition. This motor is attractive not for its performance, but for what it represents, its tradition, a true classic and one of the remaining air cooled motors. From several reports from the people who have ridden it, they say although rated at only 55HP, the way its torque is delivered (the maximum torque is 47 lb-fts, but at a very low 3,000RPM) they never felt power was a missing element on the riding experience. On paper and on looks itself, this seems like a great urban machine to me.

An interesting aside here is that Moto Guzzi appears to live in a special place in the mind of moto-journalists.  On all reviews they are very quick to point out the limitations on these bikes, and there are several limitations.  On the other hand, they hardly dismiss these bikes for their short-comings.  Quite the contrary, they always seem to find something positive to say about these bikes. Is it because these bikes deliver a feeling, a riding experience that can take you to years past, but with traction control, fuel injection and ABS, and perhaps 21st century reliability? Is this today’s interpretation of what a true motorcycle is?  It only makes me curious about this bike, and I think it deserves a test ride.

Moto Guzzi V-9 Bobber

2016 Moto Guzzi V-9 Bobber

Since I’ve been discussing the BMW R NineT Scrambler on several posts, including this one, and it is on my short list of bikes I would like to own one day, let’s see how it rates in comparison to the Victory Octane and Moto Guzzi V-9 Bobber in terms of specs.

Air-cooled boxer motor: going, going...

BMW R NineT Scrambler, One Moto Show, Portland, February 2016

The BMW R NineT Scrambler, if the motor is the same as the R Nine T for the United States market (for the European market it has changed to meet Euro 4 standards) is likely to be rated at 110HP at 7,750 RPM and reaching maximum torque at 85 lb-fts at 6,000 RPM, figures that put this bike very evenly matched to the Victory Octane.  But BMW edges the Victory on torque and is set on a lighter weight, “scramblerized” package. These are different leagues of bikes, in terms of style, but the BMW is probably a bike that you can take for a ride with your sport bike friends and not be left behind.  The Victory Octane, who knows. The BMW is a more versatile machine. But I digress. From this short list of bikes, with two of them closely matched in performance, the Moto Guzzi sits alone with its lower HP and torque. It should be about the subjective riding experience, right? That’s what counts in the end.

What about the Ducati XDiavel?

Talking about the importance of the riding experience, let’s get back to the main protagonist of this post, the Ducati XDiavel. The XDiavel is a departure from the Diavel concept, more refined and clearly more defined towards the cruiser domain.

2016 XDiavel S

2016 XDiavel S

The Diavel immediately looked out of place when the XDiavel was put next to it with its more sophisticated appearance, trellis frame exposed, more traditional shapes for the tank and seat. And foot controls set forward. And we are not even taking in consideration the DVT motor yet.

The XDiavel and the Diavel

The XDiavel and the Diavel

Thanks to Ducati’s marketing campaign which remains bold on motorcycle launches, they brought the motorcycle “launch” experience to me on a truck that toured several parts of the country.  In May of 2016 the XDiavel truck was in Portland with several motorcycles on board for a three-day window of organized test rides. I was there for the experience and I got to ride the XDiavel twice.

Ducati's mobile "launch" of the XDiavel in Portland, May of 2016

Ducati’s mobile “launch” of the XDiavel in Portland, May of 2016

Incidentally, Ducati still makes use of umbrella girls. I confess I find it difficult to criticize Ducati for using this approach to draw attention to their products, who knows when this practice will end. I bet they were happy to get a check for this work. And they were very nice as well, and patient and dedicated to their jobs, they posed for me.

Nice motorcycles

Nice motorcycles

Since the XDiavel has been out since last year, you probably already know its specs.  But just in case, and because I mentioned the basic specs of the Victory Octane and the Moto Guzzi V-9 (and also the BMW Scrambler), I should talk about the Ducati as well.  Although the Victory Octane brings a new level of performance to the urban sport cruiser scene, the XDiavel is on another league in terms of power and technology, it is a different beast altogether.  Let’s not forget, it is a Ducati.  So let’s see those numbers.

XDiavel Specs (from Ducati’s website)

The motor is a new Ducati Testastretta DVT (Desmodromic Variable Timing), L-Twin, with 4 desmodromically actuated valves per cylinder, dual spark, liquid cooled and driven by a belt (instead of chain).

Here are some numbers:

  • Displacement: 1262 cc (77,0 cu in)
  • Bore x Stroke: 106 x 71,5 [mm] (4,17 x 2,81 [in])
  • Compression ratio: 13:1
  • Power: 156 hp (114,7 kW) @ 9500 rpm
  • Torque: 95,0 lb-ft (128,9 Nm) @ 5000 rpm

If this summary of the motor specs are not enough, or because of them, the Ducati comes with a full host of riding technology aids that is usually associated with high-end sport, touring and adventure motorcycles.  Its standard equipment includes riding modes, Bosch cornering ABS, traction control, a power launch (for when you want to safely show off this bike’s power to your friends or for those unsuspected encounters at red lights), ride by wire, cruise control, self-cancelling turn signals, full-led lighting, backlit handlebar switches (quite nice actually), bluetooth module, infotainment system, and I think I may have missed something or another.

This is no ordinary cruiser.  The Victory Octane, as mentioned before, is a departure from the usual scene, the Ducati XDiavel even more, and so much so that it needs a power launch control.  Some people have been referring to these bikes as muscle cruisers. Maybe you could say that in relation to the Victory Octane.  You can hardly say that for the Ducati, as it is too sophisticated and technologically packed for that association, although it has a lot more power than the Octane.  I’ll stick with urban sport cruiser, a much better match in my opinion.

Ducati Power Launch - DPL

Ducati Power Launch – DPL.  A muscle cruiser? Or a sport cruiser? Who cares, it moves fast!

The Design – attention to detail and exclusiveness

You can see from the motor and technology package that this is a special machine. Maybe you would realize all of that by just looking at it, especially the S version, with its glossy black paint, machined belt covers, premium seat, machined aluminum mirrors, and a myriad of other details.  As you’ve seen on my previous post about this bike, the attention to detail is incredible on this machine. It is a Ducati on its soul, besides the power, this bike’s appeal comes from its styling and sophistication.

Everything about this bike talks about style, refinement, but also aggressiveness

Everything about this bike talks about style, refinement, but also aggressiveness

It is a very attractive motorcycle. Power that is unmatched, style and sophistication is what Ducati brings to the segment, something that has not been available before.  Of course, you would not be surprised, it comes with a hefty price tag. Yes, it is a Ducati.

Short exhaust exiting on the side with a dual pipe configuration , if we can call that a pipe...

Short exhaust exiting on the side with a dual pipe configuration , custom wheels, beautiful and sophisticated in all details

As a final result of this package, when I saw this bike for the first time at the local Ducati shop back in March, I immediately wanted to ride it.  I patiently waited until the truck arrived near me, with the bikes, the umbrella girls, and all the marketing paraphernalia.  They even gave me a T-shirt along with the ride.

XDiavel: "Are you ready for change?" summarizes the concept and the campaign about this motorcycle.

XDiavel: “Are you ready for change?” summarizes the concept and campaign around this motorcycle.

So let’s see what riding this machine is all about!  Am I ready for change?

Riding the XDiavel

I arrived at the PIR on a late Saturday afternoon, so I got to ride this bike on one of its last groups for that day.  Then I came back Sunday morning and took another ride.  Lets start with the Saturday afternoon ride.

Following my ride, one more tour is heading out

Following my ride, one more group is heading out

Organized group test rides are very limiting, as one important priority on such rides is about keeping moving as a group which limits the attention you may want give to the bike and its riding experience.  You are not encouraged to accelerate out of the pace of the group, you are not allowed to stop whenever you want to document the bike, and you have to ride the route they planned for you at the pace they selected for you, for the duration they consider will be enough for you.

Bikes ready for action!

Bikes ready for action!

On the Saturday guided test ride, besides the lead and sweeper riders, there were about eight test riders, a relatively large group.  The route was to leave the PIR area and head east towards the airport area on the other side of I-5 using back roads and then ruen south before going west again to return on a parallel road to the PIR.  It was about 40 minutes long, at speeds averaging between 30 and 40 miles per hour.  As I mentioned already, it is a bit lame to ride in a group but since we were testing a motorcycle with cruiser ambitions, maybe it makes sense to ride on a parade mode. We want to make sure the bike rides well on a slow pace.  Even if it has 156 hp at the ready.

The bike offers three positions for foot control adjustment. I picked a bike with the foot controls in the middle.  And I thought it was still too far forward to me.  That is something one has to get used to, if they’ve only ridden adventure or sport motorcycles. Once you are moving it is all good, the problem is when you stop.  If you remove both feet from the pegs, once you start going again it is difficult to really know where your feet go to reach the foot controls.

Left foot controls positioned at the most forward setting

Foot controls (in this case for the left foot) positioned at the most forward setting. I picked one with controls in the middle position, it still felt too forward to me

Therefore here there is an advantage for being compliant with what you learned on your motorcycle safety course: if you keep one foot on the controls (bike in first gear, right foot on rear brake as recommended) it is very easy for the left foot to find its way back to the peg because you have the right foot as a reference.  Problem solved.  Anyway, I assume after a day or two of riding the new tall and forward foot controls position are going to be learned and become automatic.

I put the bike in sport mode, what’s new, and I could immediately feel the power, lots of it.  How to tame this beast for slow riding is the challenge we expect from powerful motors and this bike felt a bit lumpy on 1st gear when trying to move at constant speeds of below 20mph.  Of course those are speeds you only use when leaving a parking area.  Most of us will spend very little time at those speeds, so that is basically okay.  The bike I rode on Sunday morning, also on sport mode, felt better on those same speeds, same riding mode and it should be noted that when I tried urban mode for a little while, the bike felt better at slow speeds and you can change back to sport mode on the go.

Somewhat lumpy below 20mph in first gear

Somewhat lumpy below 20mph in first gear

Once we got to the riding speeds programmed for this tour, between 30 and 50 mph, the bike felt good.  You have to use the gear box, though, you have to be on a proper gear for a smooth operation on this bike.  That is, if you are at 30 mph, in third gear, on a slight uphill and you want the bike to accelerate quickly, you will be better off by downshifting to second gear.  This bike’s motor has been designed to deliver a good amount of power at the lower end of the torque curve, but it still feels and deliver better performance at higher RPMs.

Therefore, you need to use the gear box to enjoy the power and quick acceleration you get when at the 4,500 or 5,000 RPM and above.  That’s where the power lives.  That is, it is still a typical Ducati, it has torque down low, but it still is a motor that revs high to deleiver performance of a true sports bike.  You need to appreciate the rush of power delivery going past 5,000 RPM to really enjoy what this bike is all about. Believe me, it is fantastic.

Bike feels much better and more responsive at about 5K RPM

Bike feels much better and more responsive at about 5K RPM

Yes, each bike has an appropriate or best gear for a certain speed and acceleration depending on gear ratios and motor design.  Cruisers by tradition will actually tractor well at low speeds but they will top off too soon on the RPM range. It is one of those compromise situations.  The XDiavel is coming from the other side, it is a performance motorcycle with capacity to ride at low speeds.  Therefore, it is not a cruiser in the traditional cruiser sense. It is a sports bike, with classy urban looks, with cruiser ergonomics.  An urban sport cruiser.

Perfect at slow cruising speeds, 36mph on 3rd gear

Perfect at slow cruising speeds, 36mph on 3rd gear and 3.5 K RPM

Having said that, the bike felt very good on 3rd gear at above 30 mph speeds for cruising. If cruising is the thing to do, you can also resort on its cruise control.  I did test it at slightly less than 50 MPH on 4th gear.

Cruise control engaged

Cruise control engaged (green light on the right side of the upper dash)

With the cruise control engaged the bike traveled very smoothly at those low speeds.

Cruise control on (green light on the right side of the upper dash) set at 48mph, 4th gear

Cruise control set at 48mph, 4th gear, smooth operation and riding experience

Eventually we started our way back to the PIR and I felt this ride was not enough for me to get a feel for this motorcycle.  The event organizers told me they would be back at 9am Sunday morning, that on early mornings they have had less people show up, so they could take me on a different route.

One thing to note is that this bike has self cancelling turn signals.  I’ve always been skeptical about these systems thinking they would not work well or that they would not be timed to work the same way I would do manually. But the reality is that it worked really well, it never failed, and the timing was perfect.  Together with cruise control and cornering ABS this is something I would like to have on my next premium motorcycle.

Sunday morning I showed up at 9am ready to ride.  No other riders were ready to go at that time, so I got to ride only with the lead and the sweeper.  I felt I was riding escorted by two guards, one ahead and one behind me. Yet, we rode a little bit faster, and we took a different route.  This time we went to the opposite direction, west towards St. John.

Leaving St John

Leaving St John

We crossed the Willamette river, which was already a much more interesting route than looping on the south area of the airport.

Crossing the Willamette

Crossing the Willamette

And from there we took the short cut going up towards the Skyline Boulevard. Since it has a great amount of curves, I had a chance to see what else this bike can do.  It leans very nicely, fast and sharp despite its long wheel base.  It is a bit of a strange position to have your feet up and way forward when trying to ride more aggressively.  This bike may not be able to keep up with sport bike riders on the hills, but they better keep their game up or the sport bike in cruiser disguise may catch up with them.

Cornering with the XDiavel

Cornering with the XDiavel

We reached the Skyline Boulevard and turned around from there, back towards the PIR, so the ride would be a total of 40 minutes long to be back and ready for the next group (the guided tours leave on the hour).

Back to St Johns and the PIR

Back to St Johns and the PIR

Back at the PIR, at the headquarters of this tour, I could reach more informed conclusions about this bike. The Sunday ride with more variation of terrain and speeds gave me a better impression about this bike.  It can cruise well, it can accelerate very nicely (its best performance feature in my opinion), and it can lean and be ridden aggressively on curves, which is not a surprise, considering it is a Ducati.

In essence, it is a cruiser in shape and form, but don’t think the cruiser ergos will stop you from enjoying other experiences with this motorcycle.  A case in point is that as another group got ready to go on their guided test, I went with the local shop guys to a back road to test the Ducati Power Launch (DPL).  By the way, once you’ve used the DPL three times in a row the system will only be actuated again once the bike cools down (from time from the last time or miles ridden since you last tried it).

Testing the DPL

Testing the DPL

And that was it.  Overall, thank you Ducati for allowing me to test ride this wonderful machine.

The Urban Scene

The Ducati XDiavel, along with the other bikes described on this post, form a new group of cool bikes to enter the motorcycle urban scene. We’ve seen the scramblers, roadsters, cafe racers, and there were already cruisers as part of this group.  But the Ducati XDiavel and the Octane bring performance to this group of cruiser-styled bikes.  The Moto Guzzi brings a more classical and traditional performance, it seems.

These bikes are all after the cool factor that comes from the riders who created a path themselves by making modifications on their bikes to create beautiful, exclusive and desired machines. Manufacturers design motorcycles that look somewhat like these custom machines, but built on an integrated factory-built platform that allows performance, safety and reliability for real use.

Bikes lined up for group test rides at the PIR

Bikes lined up for group test rides at the PIR

These bikes will never be as cool as a well designed custom creation, but they are likely to perform better, and they allow more riders,who do not have the skill or the time, perhaps,  to have access to cool bikes. That larger access diminishes somehow the cool factor and here is where the Ducati comes in:  with its style, sophistication and performance, the associated price tag is likely going to keep some level of exclusiveness.

To summarize, this is a unique bike, the one you could ride wearing a tuxedo for a gala event, or ride it with your scuffed leather jacket to your local riding club, or don your race leathers and take it on a spirited canyon ride with your sport riding friends. It would do well on these three scenarios. You would potentially look cool in at least two of these three scenarios. Three for three will depend on how good your riding friends are, they would have an advantage if they ride sport bikes.

Will I buy one?

Well, I liked it, but I will likely not buy it this point.  And it is not something against the XDiavel in particular.  It is something that would apply to the Victory Octane as well, even though I never test rode one (and I still want to test ride one).

The reason is simple.  Although I find these bikes very cool, and the XDiavel is a wonderful performance machine, I just did not get comfortable with the forward foot controls.  Whenever I crossed cruisers on the road in my many years of riding, guys with their feet forward, backs arched, I always thought maybe, just maybe, there s something special about that riding position, maybe it is even a comfortable riding position.

This bike is about style and performance in cruise disguise

Style and performance in cruise disguise

But in reality, I learned with two 40-minute rides, I’m much more comfortable with a more upright riding position.  It allows me to ride on a more relaxed mode.  But when things get more interesting, the upright bikes allow me to move my body so much more easily on the bike to assume a more aggressive posture. On a cruiser, you are more of a passenger on your own motorcycle, and it does not leave much room for movement.  I’m glad I had a chance experience what would be to ride a motorcycle with cruise ergonomics.  I’m not going to say “never” but for now I say: not yet.

As others have mentioned before, and I will say it again, it is really great to be a motorcycle rider these days. The XDiavel in particular is bringing something that was not available before, with its extreme power and sophistication.  I am looking forward to seeing these bikes on the road and hopefully try them again, just for the sake of experiencing that nice motor.

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Ducati developing new Scrambler, an Enduro version?

The launch of the Ducati Scrambler and the Scrambler Ducati brand in 2015 followed one of the most intensive marketing campaigns in the moto industry.  Ducati would release pictures, videos, had a website, made use of social media.  When the bike was finally out people were experiencing, well, I was experiencing an overdose of publicity, of hipsters, beards and flannel shirts.  Thank goodness that is all gone now and we can move on.  It took me a while to get to ride a Scrambler, an Urban Enduro, and it only happened after the dust of the launch had settled and journalists’ and even new owners’ reports had already been out. It was worth the wait, though, what a a lovely machine it is: fast, torquey, nimble and a true Ducati with its air-cooled V-twin soul.

The 2016 Urban Enduro Scrambler Ducati

The 2016 Urban Enduro Scrambler Ducati

By the time I got to ride it there were already rumors about expansions to the Scrambler Ducati brand, how this family of bikes would have new models soon.  In fact, it was announced by the Ducati officials themselves during the launch of the bike.  People assumed new models would be larger, Ducati went smaller.  The Sixty2 was it, named after the 1962 year, the year when the Scrambler Ducati was produced for the first time.

I actually participated on a survey on the Scrambler site, even before I got to see a first Scrambler live, and on this survey there were questions about my perceptions about the bike and one of the questions asked whether I thought the Scrambler was too powerful.  There was no option on the multiple choices for this question saying “No, I want more power” or something similar.  But it did ask if the bike’s 803cc motor, rated at about 75 hp,  was too powerful.  Ducati was gearing for the Sixty2, with the motor modified to deliver 400cc displacement, significant less power tailoring the bike to the beginner rider.

The 400cc Sixty2 Scrambler Ducati

The 400cc Sixty2 Scrambler Ducati

Over in Europe new riders are regulated in terms of how much power they should have at their disposal on their first years of riding.  The Sixty2 complies with the European A2-class driving licenses, which restricts riders to motorcycles of up to 47 hp (The Sixty2 is rated at 41 hp).  It works in Japan where 400 cc capacity of a motor (the Sixty2 is actually 399cc) is the boundary for lower level licenses. And then the bike is more affordable as well. It was a move to produce a bike to a new segment. Incidentally here in the US a beginner can show up at any motorcycle dealer and exchange cash for whatever bike they want, I believe they don’t even need to show a motorcycle endorsement on their license to make the purchase.  Darwin law rules here, which is somewhat ironic, actually.

Anyway, now there is hope Ducati is going larger in the family branching of new Scrambler models. Or at least different. A new (spy?) picture circulating on the internet shows a bike of the Scrambler Ducati family, just that this time it is not about the displacement of the motor, it seems (or only), but about the bike’s shape and function.  People have been expecting an 1100cc machine, Ducati has that type of motor from many iterations on other models.  Maybe this is it, maybe not.  What we can see from the photo is more of a true enduro machine.

Scrambler Enduro?

Scrambler Enduro?

Upside-down forks, rear rack, side racks, spoke wheels, maybe a larger front wheel (19 or 21, cannot tell from the photo) and we could be talking here about a more realistic Enduro version (as opposed to the “urban” enduro).  Maybe it will have the same motor, it seems it still has a single disc upfront, so the 803 motor seems like a good match. Who knows, these “spy” photos may not mean anything and this bike could be a side, dead branch on the stages of the Scrambler evolution (seems like appropriate language since we mentioned Darwin earlier).

What I see in this photo seems very interesting to me.  I would welcome a round headlight enduro machine with no windscreen nor front fairing, but with capacity to carry travel gear. Light weight and probably keeping the essence of what I experienced on my test ride of the Urban Enduro: a fast, torquey and nimble machine. If it is kept simple, as it seems, and it is dirt and travel oriented as well, then why not?  Bring it on Ducati, we need to redefine adventure in the context of motorcycles. This revolution might as well come from someone as unexpected to ignite it as Ducati.

Stay tuned.

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Riding the R NineT, thinking about the R NineT Scrambler

Take a look at this  motorcycle.  Doesn’t it look great in my garage?

IMG_7845

It feels at home!

I like the boxer motor, the nice shape of the tank and the overall nice lines of a standard concept.

Air-cooled (oil-cooled) boxer motor and a nicely shaped tank

Air-cooled (oil-cooled) boxer motor and a nicely shaped tank. Overall, a standard motorcycle!

But I prefer the Scrambler version of this bike, based on what I saw on the One Moto Show in Portland earlier this year.

Air-cooled boxer motor: going, going...

The R NineT Scrambler at the One Moto Show in Portland, February 2016

The BMW R NineT Scrambler is just about to be released in the United States, and I think the Scrambler would look great in my garage.  Although it is called a “scrambler” it remains a street machine, in my opinion, just that I like better the scrambler looks and it will match my other bikes.

The main differences between the R NineT and its Scrambler version? A 19-inch front wheel (you can get the tubeless spoke wheels of the GS on the Scrambler), riding position might be slightly taller, the bike overall should be an inch or two taller. The other changes are a steel tank (instead of the aluminum tank of he R NineT) and lower specs, but hopefully still good enough, for components such as brakes and suspension.

BMW Motorrad photo - Spoke Wheels for tubeless tires - same or similar to the R1200GS wheels

BMW Motorrad photo – R1200GS Spoke Wheels

 

When did I start wondering about a BMW Scrambler in my garage?

A standard motorcycle has been on my short list of bikes to have for a while and this BMW package in Scrambler guise seems to check all the boxes of my wish list.  Several years ago I was considering the Boneville Scrambler and the Moto Guzzi V7.  I also thought about buying a 70’s BMW to turn into a scrambler, a look I like.  I wanted something simple, not too tall, not too heavy, with no fairings or windscreens, just an essential motorcycle for every day riding and for relaxing rides not too far from town.  Just a fun, back to the riding basics, lay back motorcycle.

BMW Scrambler

An honest Moto Guzzi V7 or something similar to this BMW Scrambler is what I ultimately wanted

Motorcycles have been evolving over the years. If we assume a past point in time, let’s go back to what we may call the standard bike, the basic upright motorcycle with a round headlight and no fairings of the 60’s and 70’s.  For sake of argument, let’s consider those bikes the “common ancestor” of today’s bikes because they already had all the essential elements and operating gear we see in motorcycles today. (Maybe we need to leave cruisers out of this scenario as “our” common ancestor with them may have been produced a few decades earlier.)

Honda cb450

People would buy those standard motorcycles, be them BMW’s, Triumphs, Hondas, and the many others available at that time and would take upon themselves to make changes to them, usually by eliminating parts to turn them into scramblers and flat trackers, adding lowered and narrower handlebars to turn them into roadsters, or adding fairings and bags to turn them into tourers.  Eventually manufacturers themselves offered a line of accessories, like fairings and bags to make money with the transformation process.  And later on some equipment came with the bikes as standard options.  Gradually more differentiation took place to a point where today these bikes are designed from the ground up for a specialized and specific use, and hence look and perform so differently one from the other.

BMW's view on motorcycle types for the American market

BMW’s view on motorcycle types for the American market

From the original scramblers we today have dirt bikes, enduro bikes and adventure bikes. From the basic standards with windshields and bags we today have touring and sport touring bikes. From roadsters and cafe racers we got sport bikes and street fighters.  I enjoy my Ducati Multistrada because it is such an awesome sport-tourer and no standard motorcycle with mods and all could match this bike’s performance on 500-mile days, carrying gear and all.  I enjoy my WR250R because right off the box it performs on dirt  better than any scrambler has ever been able to.

Despite all the benefits we have gotten from this evolving process however, a standard motorcycle has been increasingly capturing my imagination mostly because the specialized bikes have distanced me from the pure riding sensations, something only a standard motorcycle delivers.  And I always enjoyed riding standards, since the first standard I’ve ever ridden, a Honda CG125.

Honda CG125

Honda CG125

But there is one remaining contradiction with my enjoyment of riding standard motorcycles. Let’s go back to my idea of getting a BMW of the 70’s and turn it into a scrambler. When I got to ride one of them recently, it became a turning point on my plans. I test rode an R90 and it felt like a tractor and handled like if the frame was made of rubber with the front wheel going on a direction, the rear wheel on another.  And what about the brakes?  They were made of wood it seemed.

My memory of the fun riding experiences from the past had been obfuscated by time and the gradual improvements on technology that occurred during the last 30 years.  I realized riding new motorcycles had raised the bar on what to expect from a motor and chassis.  The 1970’s BMW is extremely cool, but it does not deliver a basic level of performance I expect today without modifications that are certainly beyond my capacity or perhaps the bike’s capacity itself.  Yes for the standard’s basic shape, ergonomics and feel.  No for the motor, chassis and brakes.

A BMW /5 of the early 70's

A BMW /5 of the early 70’s

But there were newer and traditional motorcycles in the market, as I mentioned earlier I had been thinking about the Moto Guzzi V7 and the Triumph Boneville.  My idea about buying the V7 or Boneville was put on hold when I heard about the new Scrambler Ducati.  The air-cooled Ducati L-twin motor was a major attraction. So I decided to wait until I could ride a Scrambler Ducati and make my mind.  However, before I had a chance to ride the Ducati, BMW launched and offered demo rides on the BMW R NineT.  And that was quite the experience, and another turning point, this time a very positive one.

2015 BMW R nineT

Riding the 2015 BMW R nineT, April 2015

I must have ridden more than 50 different motorcycles since I started riding.  The BMW R NineT was clearly my all time favorite for relaxed rides on pavement.  It was the one which provided me with the best riding experience. It is a basic formula: a standard motorcycle with a great motor, brakes and suspension.  Because it is an air-cooled boxer motor it retains some of the older motorcycles’ tradition alive delivering the sound and the feel of the past.  However, this motor was on the very successful and mainstream BMW GS line until four years ago and because of that it has been through many upgrades, it is basically a modern motor, with modern touring dynamics and performance. Now you put this motor on a compact package with a solid well designed chassis, and the result is phenomenal.

Riding the R NineT, April 2015

Riding the R NineT, April 2015

Once I knew a Scrambler version of this bike was on the works, I had a feeling it was going to be an interesting motorcycle.

Riding the BMW R NineT, Spring 2015

Riding the BMW R NineT, Spring 2015

While we don’t have the Scrambler available for a ride yet, the best way to have a feel for how the Scrambler will ride would be to take the current R NineT bike for a ride again, and while at it purposefully project how it would possibly behave in Scrambler guise.

Riding another R Nine T. July 2016.

Riding another R Nine T. July 2016.

I had ridden the R Nine T in Spring of 2015, that has been more than a year already. What I remembered from that test ride of the R  NineT was how I enjoyed the motor in terms of performance, especially at low to middle RPM ranges. I also remember what a great and smooth gear box it had.  A motorcycle that seemed perfect for in-town riding or for relaxed and even somewhat spirited rides on the many great roads on the south hills not too far from town.

Perfect for an after work trip to the wineries.

Perfect for an after work trip to the wineries.

The 2016 model I took for a ride this last month (July 2016), had the brushed aluminum tank with the visible weld on the tank.  I actually like this package better than the black one.

Brushed aluminum tank with weld mark on the 2016R NineT

Brushed aluminum tank with visible weld on the 2016R NineT

But the Scrambler matte gray with the brown seat looks even better in my opinion.

Steel tank on the Scrambler, as opposed to Aluminum in the R nineT

Steel tank on the Scrambler, as opposed to Aluminum in the R nineT

Back to this last month’s ride, turning the motor on, there it was, that nice sound of the boxer twin I had almost forgotten already.  I assume the R Nine T and its Scrambler version will sound about the same, although the R Nine T has the exhaust on a lower position.

R Nine T Exhaust

R Nine T Exhaust

And the Scrambler has the pipe exiting in the typical higher scrambler position.  I want to think the Scrambler version with the Akrapovic exhaust will sound as good as the regular R NineT does.

I definitely want one.

R Nine T Scrambler exhaust.

Placing my feet on the pegs of the R NineT and I immediately started wishing the Scrambler has a higher seat to peg distance.  I had forgotten this tighter roadster style rider triangle of the R NineT.  The Scrambler will be taller so there is a possibility for lower foot controls.  I checked on the motorcycle ergonomics site (cycle-ergo) and the BMW scrambler data is not there yet.  I examined photos of the two bikes side by side and it seems the frame is the same on both bikes, which makes sense.  But looking more closely, the foot controls of the Scrambler appear to be positioned about one inch lower than that on the regular R NineT.  I hope this is the case, if not someone will likely put together a kit for lowering the foot controls.

Boxer twin looks funny, looks traditional, behaves distinctively

Boxer twin looks funny, looks traditional, behaves distinctively

Back to the motor, it vibrates like a motorcycle motor should vibrate.  Except that it has that boxer motor side torque push when you rev it in neutral. I think about it as a badge of tradition, the reminder that I was revving an unique motor. Once I put it in gear and started moving, the vibration and the side push disappeared. From that time on all I was enjoying was its torquey power delivery matched by a smooth gear box finished with the traditional boxer sound enhanced by a nice exhaust tune.

Riding the BMW R NineT, April 2015

Riding the BMW R NineT, April 2015

Once on the hills, I was enjoying the bikes overall performance, its turn-in speed, and projecting whether it would maintain some of its characteristics on scrambler form. I like bikes with a taller stance, I like the way they fall into the lean. On taller bikes with taller front wheels the turn-in is slower and gradual, but wider bars (the general case for taller, enduro bikes) give you more leverage and compensate against the resistance, allowing light counter steering input to generate proper and quick lean action.

The air-cooled boxer motor lives on

19-inch front wheel on the Scrambler

If the 19-inch front wheel slows things down a bit on the front while in motion, my dirt riding bias will actually appreciate this anticipated front end stability.  Just that I doubt it will have wider handlebars. I have heard, however, the Scrambler has a different rake and trail, and is expected to neutralize the effect of the larger wheel on turn-in speed.

Nice lines!

Wider bars? Taller probably.

Moto-journalists from Europe have already had a chance to ride the bike, and the two reviews I’ve read so far have given exactly opposite opinions on this very matter.  One of them said turn-in on the Scrambler was faster than on the Roadster version while the other one said it was slower.  These two opposing perspectives that we have so far tell me there isn’t a clear difference among the two bikes.  Therefore, even if the actual turn-in speed is different, it is likely not by much.

Riding the R NineT, April 2016

Riding the R NineT, April 2016

For the rest of the changes that might make an impact on riding experience between these two bikes we have suspension and brakes.  We hear in both cases BMW procured lower quality components for the Scrambler… well, let’s say they procured more affordable components.  And again, the two journalists disagreed on how the Scrambler’s suspension behaved when compared to the R NineT.  One said he was surprised the Scrambler’s front end was stiffer than the R NineT despite its longer travel, while the other said the front end was softer on the Scrambler when compared to the R NineT.  Again it tells me the Scrambler will be fine.

BMW R NineT Scrambler at the One Moto Show, PDX, February 2016

BMW R NineT Scrambler at the One Moto Show, Portland, February 2016

Will I buy the BMW R NineT Scrambler?

I’m seriously considering it. Price is something to take into consideration, of course.  Pricing has been released in Europe, but not here in the United States.  We can make some projections based on European prices, with the caveat that this never quite happens in a simple way as it depends on the manufacturer’s world and local marketing strategy for the product as well as on what are local legislation requirements and taxation levels.  Having said that, here is a simplistic mathematical way to project US prices for this bike:

  • Starting price in Italy for the R NineT: 15,950 Euros
  • Starting price in Italy for the R Nine T Scrambler: 14,000 Euros.

That makes the R Nine T Scrambler valued at 88% of the R NineT’s price (in Italy).

  • Starting prince in the USA for the R NineT: US $ 15,095
  • Projected price in USA for the R Nine T Scrambler: US $ 13,250 (88% of R NineT’s price in the USA)

Adding the four items I would like to have:

  • ASC: 350 Euros (maybe, not a priority, but I will check insurance quotes with and without ASC, and see the difference, it may be a good investment)
  • Heated grips: 230 Euros (it would be good to have, not a necessity)
  • Spoke wheels, tubeless (from R1200GS): 400 Euros (this will definitely be an to include!)
  • Two clocks (R Nine T style): have heard comments, have not seen in photos, nor have seen quotes of price (not needed but I like analogue rev counters).

With the options I want, it will probably be priced at almost the same level as the starting price of the R Nine T.  Given the caveats discussed above, we know pricing will be different  for the bike and accessories than what I projected. This is just about getting a ball park figure, where we know it will be priced above the level of the Boneville T120 line, closer to the Thruxton R price.

IMG_6337

BMW R NineT Scrambler at the One Moto Show, Portland, February 2016.

Therefore, who knows what will be the out-of-the-door price for the first batch of these bikes. In other words, we need to wait to see if it will become a member of the “I’d Rather Be Riding” garage or not. It is a very strong candidate, it is currently ahead of any other bike at the moment.

If you live in central or western Oregon and are considering the BMW Scrambler, go to the European Motorcycles of Western Oregon and schedule a test ride on their R NineT demo (if they still have it, as these bikes have been selling fast).

That was it for now, folks. I’m slowly catching up with my posts, so what’s next?  My report on the unique XDiavel or my awesome adventure with the CB500X in the Death Valley?

Stay tuned and thank you for reading!

Posted in Bike Reviews, The Book, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , | 2 Comments

A Perfect Sunday. Well almost…

On any Sunday was a great film.  Steve McQueen, Mert Lawwill, and Malcolm Smith showed us several versions of great motorcycling Sundays.  Here I offer one humble interpretation of a perfect, to me, motorcycle Sunday.

Taking the Triumph Tiger 800XC on a spirited Sunday ride on the wyneard country

Taking the Triumph Tiger 800XC on a spirited Sunday ride on the winyard areas around town

First, you need to have a nice motorcycle.  The Triumph Tiger 800XC will do that very nicely. Then you take it out on a nice and spirited ride on the country roads around town, in the morning hours, before things get too hot.  Yes, the morning temperature was great traffic was low, the sky was blue, the landscape and the roads invited to some good throttle action.

Perfect view from the cockpit

Nice view from the cockpit

To make things more interesting I was testing a new “accessory” on the bike, if you can call that an accessory. I was testing a revised windshield on my Tiger 800XC.  One of the major problems with this bike, for me at least, is the wind turbulence I get at the helmet level.  I tried adding a Touratech extension to the windshield but it did not work for me, it actually gave me the impression buffeting increased and after one single ride it was gone.

Touratech addition to windshield: it did made things worse

Touratech extension to windshield: it did made things worse

For motorcycle windshields, I’ve been learning, smaller is better. You usually have two options: keep the airflow as clean as possible going through your helmet or have a large windscreen to eliminate the airflow.  I prefer the clean airflow.  On my Multistrada I exclusively use the carbon fiber shorty version; it has worked very well for me and I do ride this bike on long distances and at some, well… good speeds, I would say without problems. Besides working well for me I think the carbon fiber piece looks great as well.

The Multistrada and Mount Hood

The Multistrada’s short windscreen (@ Mount Hood)

Then I realized I had somewhere on my garage a windshield (from Madstad Engineering) I had installed on my BMW Dakar several years ago.   Let’s see how using only the base of that set up will work on the Tiger.  Maybe it will do the job like in the Multistrada, with only the base mounted without the large 18-inch plexiglass windshield that came with it.

Rigging only the base of a Madstad screen on the Tiger

Rigging only the base of a Madstad screen on the Tiger

I installed the base by attaching it to four of the Tiger’s six OEM windscreen attachment points (the two front ones and the two behind the headlights).  For the two screws behind the headlights I used two bicycle rear rack adjustable brackets that fit just about right to keep the “windshield” in what seems to be the right position.  The front ones were even easier, installation worked really well, no need for new holes on the windscreen base (it already has plenty of holes that were either pre-drilled by Madstad or were drilled by me when I used this base to install two RAM bases for two GPS’s for the BMW).

Brackets covered with gorilla tape

Brackets covered with gorilla tape

So… how does it work? you ask on the very edge of your seat, I don’t doubt. Well, after 75 miles of riding at various speeds and various wind directions… I fear reporting that the results are inconclusive at this point.  It seems better overall, still some buffeting remained but it seems better while there is more air pushing me back at the shoulders.  And then there are the looks, it will require some getting used to.  The best conclusion I can offer at this time is that I’ll keep it for now.  That is, the rigging is already doing better than the Touratech fancy-looking laminar plexiglass addition, it seems.

It sort of matches the lines of the bike

It sort of matches the lines of the bike, but not quite.  I like the satin black look.

Yes, but those looks, uh? At least satin black is a good match with the rest of the bike.  Maybe it needs a white number sticker and that will make a difference, 68 could be the number, as in the number of the bike when I raced my first (the only, mind you) enduro race.

But there is more motorcycling fun for this Sunday. What about some light maintenance (chain cleaning) on the CB500X and throwing some water on the bike while at it?

Chain maintenance, using WD40

Chain maintenance, using WD40

When you keep the motorcycle clean, as a general rule, it offers a great baseline to make it look really clean with minimum effort at any time you want to spend more time cleaning.  In this case, it was water only and a partial wipe. Five minutes of that and it was looking good.

Water and a wipe here and there and voilá, a clean bike

Water and a wipe here and there and voilá, a clean bike

Since we are on the subject of cleaning motorcycles, I used to ride with a guy who thought my bikes were not clean and I should not start a new ride with yesterday’s mud on it let alone last month’s or last year’s mud caked on the bike.  Yes, I used to keep my bikes a bit on the un-kept side of things, stored them wet and all.  One time, one of them spent the entire winter covered in slowly drying mud from a last ride in the fall.  What a shame and how hard it was to clean it in the spring if I bothered.  I used to wash it once a year and thought that was good.

That habit lasted until I started doing my own maintenance on my bikes. I apologize to all mechanics that took care of my bikes when they accumulated months of dirt riding on them and they had to clean it before they worked on it.  Now I acquired more of a taste to keep my motorcycles clean – it has become part of the fun of riding and owning a motorcycle.

Since we are having this much fun, let’s talk some more about touchy subjects: what about chain lube? Yes, chain lube can generate extensive and colorful debates on motorcycle forums, so here goes a disclaimer: I’m not and expert on chain lubes, actually I’m not an expert on anything, and I’m not trying to convince you to follow my experience. And I do think all chain lubes, which are designed or recommended for O-ring chains, should work reasonably well on your motorcycle chains, one way or another.

I'm keeping these chain lubes away from my motorcycles for a while

I’m keeping these chain lubes away from my motorcycles for a while

That said, I know the “white stuff” I’ve been using until recently has been really good at keeping everything that comes in contact with the grease to stay attached to the chain. It’s like if it were a magnet. It sticks to chain, so does the dirt.  Yes, dirt accumulates on the chain as abundantly as the amount of lube the manufacturers recommend you spray on your motorcycle’s chain.

The last chain standing with lithium or something like that grease

The last motorcycle in my garage that still has “chain wax” as a lube

This grease protects the chain and sprockets, but chain maintenance has become a chore on chains with these types of lube.  I want to try a different approach for now and see how it goes. And WD40 has become my choice. For now.  Only time will tell whether I will keep using WD40 to clean and then lube the chains.

You can't even tell it is lubed. The chain on the CB500X.

You can’t even tell it is lubed. The chain on the CB500X after Sunday’s work.

The Multistrada and the Tiger have received the treatment as well. I would say it has been a half-done clean job on the Multistrada, the other side needs work, but it is a start.

Cleaned and lubed it with WD40 after the trip to California

Cleaned and lubed it with WD40 after the trip to California

But there is yet more fun to be had on this Sunday!  After cleaning the chain of the CB500X I lit the grill to barbecue some steaks, while listening to soccer on the radio, having a cold beer for good measure, and then I started the last motorcycle project of the day: trying to see if it is possible to remove the heavy oxidation on the spokes of the Tiger.

Tiger spokes are oxidizing. Or something.

Tiger spokes are oxidizing. Or something.

Instead of windows cleaner as the general fix-all tool on the Fat Greek Wedding movies, in my garage the wonder product has become WD40, as of today.  It worked on cleaning most of the oxidation on the spokes of the Tiger. Can you imagine if the motorcycle chains will really do better with WD40?  I may need to find the generic brand for the kerosene and what ever else is in that can.

A cold beer, the radio blasting a soccer match narration in old style, the barbecue lit, and some more motorcycle work. Perfect!

A cold beer, the radio blasting a soccer match narration in old style, the barbecue lit, and some more motorcycle work. Perfect!

Well, that was it folks.

Yes, I know, I should be writing the riding reports on the Ducati XDiavel ride, and the awesome adventure with the Honda CB500X in the Death Valley, or the most recent ride on the BMW R nineT (while projecting riding the Scrambler version of the R NineT) and instead I’m here, babbling about a perfect Sunday that involved some simple riding and motorcycle maintenance.

logo gremio shortWell, that’s why it was a perfect Sunday: because the motorcycles kept me away from the computer.  And it was only “almost” perfect, as the title of the poster called, because my home town soccer team failed to win the easiest match of the season and with that it failed to reach the top of the charts. So close…

But the soccer championship is only half way gone, and so is the summer, there is a lot more to come.  Thank you for reading.

Posted in Riding the Triumph, The Book | Tagged , , | 3 Comments

Taking the Ducati Multistrada to Northern California

This was my fourth visit to Northern California with the 2013 Ducati Multistrada Pikes Peak.  There is no question to me, this type of travel, this type of motorcycle, having it loaded with travel gear and all, riding it on the nice roads we find in Northern California, that is sport-touring and is perhaps what the Multistrada is all about.  Much more than urban, and I should not even mention enduro, this motorcycle is about sport touring.  Emphasis on sport or not, it does very well on touring duty.

2013 Multistrada Pikes Peak - All packed and ready to go!

2013 Multistrada Pikes Peak – All packed and ready to go for another trip to Northern California!

We could leave the urban and enduro modes of this motorcycle as a function of its upright riding position, which I actually like and is what makes this motorcycle look they way it does, unique when it was launched in 2010.

I basically only ride it on Touring or Sort modes.

I basically only ride it on Touring or Sort modes.

Now that Ducati has developed the Multistrada Enduro, perhaps we can free ourselves from interpreting the Multistrada as a four-mode machine.  I’m on my fourth year of ownership of this bike and I never used the “enduro” mode, even when I’ve taken this motorcycle off-pavement.  And I only use “urban” in the very few instances when I get stuck on traffic and want the bike lower for a better reach to the ground from my 30 inch inseam.  I can confirm, after three and a half years of ownership, this bike is a sport tourer.

Raring to go!

Raring to go!

In Touring or sport mode, my rides to Northern California, or anywhere requiring 500 mile days, with a good section of twisties, from tight to long sweeping curves, are the ideal environment for this motorcycle.  It is where I get the most satisfaction from riding it, it is where this motorcycle makes the most sense to me.  In my opinion, the Multistrada did set the bar higher for motorcycle travel offering a great combination of performance, comfort, and capacity to carry gear. Very few motorcycles offer this combination without compromising much one or the other functions. On top of that, since 2013 the Multistrada has the option of semi-active suspension, besides ABS, traction control and other electronic aids.

The Multistrada with Mt Shasta on the background

The Multistrada with Mt Shasta on the background

As an Italian citizen, I’m amazed my compatriots have conceptualized and delivered such a machine, and even more, have created a new segment for touring motorcycles.  This bike is no longer unique in its configuration for several years already, and this field is growing each year with new bikes such as the KTM 1290 GT, the BMW S1000XR, just to mention a couple when we know there are so many other great sport-tourers, bikes with great and powerful motors built on travel-ready frames with comfortable adventure style ergonomics, and packed with a suite of high tech riding aids.

KTM 1290 GT

KTM 1290 GT

The Multistrada remains such a great product, it has been the leader of this segment, and since the 2015 model, with its DVT version, it has raised the sport touring bar.  We, the consumers, benefit from such improvements as these bikes have brought to the market riding modes, motorcycle stability control (cornering ABS), semi-active suspension, traction control and of course, more power…  When time comes to upgrade my Multistrada, there are these other options out there, but for now the Pikes Peak DVT is at the top of my short list.  For now, though, I’m really happy with what I have.  And the report on this trip describes why.

The Multistrada Pikes Peak entering California for the fourth time.

The Multistrada Pikes Peak entering California for the fourth time.

As I was saying at the beginning of this post, before I got distracted declaring my respect to this type of motorcycle and in particular to the Ducati Multistrada Pikes Peak, this was my fourth trip to Northern California with this bike.  These gatherings are organized by a group of Ducati riders who participate in the Ducati.ms forum.  Locations are chosen with the goal being to provide riders with a great selection of fun roads.  This gives me a chance to talk about the Butler motorcycle maps.

Butler Motorcycle Maps

Butler Motorcycle Maps

There are a few books describing great riding roads, and like those books, these series of maps rate roads based on a motorcycling criteria.  I would have color-coded them differently, going from yellow to orange to red as a gradient.  Instead, they rate yellow at the highest level, then red and last orange.  Bottom line, yellow, red and orange roads are expected to be fun riding roads.

Wouldn't you change the colors to from yellow to orange to red or vice-versa?

Wouldn’t you change the colors to from yellow to orange to red or vice-versa?

Although not using Butler maps in specific, we decide the location for these meetings using a similar criteria to what Butler maps provide.  On my first two years attending these meetings the get together was in Graeagle.  And the last two years have been in Weaverville.

Weaverville, surrounded by G1 (yellow), G2 (red) and G3 (orange) roads.

Weaverville, surrounded by G1 (yellow), G2 (red) and G3 (orange) roads.

For next year, there has been talks about Topaz Lake close to the border with Nevada and not too far from Yosemite.  Who knows, these decisions are not final until the winter, but I like the idea of changing locations every two years or so and exploring new areas.  I’ve never been to Yosemite.

Next year, Topaz Lake?

Next year, Topaz Lake?

Back to 2016, this year’s ride from Eugene to Weaverville was rather eventful.  I was supposed to leave early in the morning with a plan to go to Crater Lake and from there to Klamath Falls and then Weed (now in California) and from Weed take SR3 to Weaverville. Since I didn’t leave until 10 in the morning, I by-passed Crater Lake on this trip.

These trips happen in the later part of June, which usually is already settled for summer at these parts of the world, meaning chances for rain are very small.  Not the case for 2016.  My choice of roads turned adventuresome as I got low temperatures at the Cascades.

vlcsnap-2016-07-17-11h01m44s361

And lots of rain for good portions of the trip, including hail!

vlcsnap-2016-07-17-11h10m44s981

And then all sorts of deer… can you see this one right in the middle of the road?  Well, deer is not the result of my choice of roads, but I had never seen these many deer crossing roads like on this trip.

vlcsnap-2016-07-09-18h51m32s262

And even one elk.  That thing was tall!

vlcsnap-2016-07-09-19h08m46s027

From these two pictures it looks as if the deer and the elk are far away, but remember, this is taken with the GoPro camera on its widest angle.  In other words, they were not too far from me.  And this is just a sample of the more than seven deer I encountered on this trip.  The ones that I saw, that is, because they crossed the road in front of me, I would guess there were plenty more.  Be careful out there!

I made it into Weaverville by 6pm under a good amount of rain.  I got settled at the hotel, I was the first to arrive, so I went on a walk to “downtown” Weaverville for dinner.

Downtown Weaverville

Downtown Weaverville, June 2016

By the time I was back from dinner others had arrived.  The plan was to go decide which way to go on the next day, chose a set of the many nice roads in the area.  Instead, it rained, it rained a lot!

The bike in the porch of my hotel cabin, protected from torrential rains

The bike in the porch of my hotel cabin, protected from torrential rains

That’s sheets of water…

Sheets of water, literally.

Sheets of water, literally.

A few guys ventured out of town and got a good day of riding, as the rain was mostly circumscript to Weaverville, after all.  I joined the lazy bastards crew.

Shooting the sh!t and bench racing under the porch

Shooting the sh!t and bench racing under the porch

And that’s how things stayed until the caterers showed up with dinner.

Portable barbecue

Portable barbecue

On the next day, Saturday, my last day on this trip, we woke up to a sunny day, no indication it had ever rained in that area.

Packing the bike, ready to ride back to Eugene, first stopping at Eureka.

Packing the bike, ready to ride back to Eugene, first stopping at Eureka.

The plan was to go to Eureka and have lunch at the Black Lightening Cafe, an establishment owned by a rider and which has become a hangout for local motorcyclists or any rider traveling on 101.  Because Eureka is on my way back home I decided to travel north from Eureka in the direction of home.  Everyone got ready in time and we were off towards Eureka, traveling on SR3 and then SR36, two great, highly recommended roads (check the map photo above, plenty of yellow, red and orange rated segments on these roads).

Getting ready to leave towards Eureka

Getting ready to leave towards Eureka

I have some video of the ride on SR3, but it is taking me a long time to get it ready, editing video is not my strongest suite (yet) but I promise I will put something together for your enjoyment.  Video is a lot better in telling how fun these roads are, much better than any words I could use to describe what it is to ride on these roads.  We stopped a couple of times along the way.

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We made it to Eureka just at the right time for lunch.

Exclusive motorcycle parking in front of the Black Lightening Cafe

Exclusive motorcycle parking in front of the Black Lightening Cafe

All settled for lunch!

Motorcycle only parking!

Motorcycle-only parking!

Great food, great conversations.  The Black Lightening Cafe also sells riding gear, by the way.

Black Lightning Cafe, Eureka, California

Black Lightning Cafe, Eureka, California

From there I said my goodbyes to the gang and started my ride back home via 101, enjoying the coast.

Somewhere on 101 already in Oregon

Somewhere on 101 already in Oregon

I thought about spending the night at some place along the way but in the end, as I continued north, I realized I could make it home before dark.

Made it back home just before it got dark

Made it back home just before it got dark

Despite the rain on the way down to California, despite the heavy rain on the day I had scheduled to ride in the area without the travel load on the motorcycle, I can’t complain.  It was fun riding to California in the rain, it was a small adventure, made it more interesting, and it was fun riding on the way down from Weaverville to Eureka, even with the bike loaded, trying to keep up with the faster riders.  After all, this is what this bike is all about. 500 mile-days is nothing for this bike, traveling with it loaded, not a big deal, even when things get one or two notches up toward the sport side of things.

An amazing motorcycle

An amazing motorcycle

Sunday morning I washed the bike, checked all fluids, cleaned and lubed the chain, it was ready for the next adventure. What an amazing machine.

Also, I want to make a note, this is a great group of riders and I really enjoy this annual event, I’m already looking forward to next year’s meeting, be it in Topaz Lake or not.  People from several riding backgrounds show up, some don’t even ride a Ducati (they perhaps once had a Ducati motorcycle, maybe not).  There is a great sense of camaraderie within the group and to me, in particular, these events are part of my road riding school.  Among this group of riders there are some excellent riders and following them on the road has been a lesson on fast but safe road riding every time. Thank you Jessica and Chip!  And I want to include a special thank you to Scott and Jessica who organize these events!

IMG_7748

What’s next for this site? I still have several reports to draft and publish: The CB500X Adventure and its maiden ride in the Death Valley; riding the XDiavel, riding the BMW R nineT (again!), and talking about motorcycle GPS.  And videos to edit to complement the stories!  Stay tuned!

Posted in Bike Reviews, Riding the Ducati | 3 Comments

A chance encounter with Simon and Lisa

Do I need to tell you who Simon and Lisa Thomas are? If you are into adventure riding I bet you know them.  Maybe you know them from the many activities they do as part of their travels around the world, beyond the motorcycles, such as their public speaking or charity work.  Just in case, here is the quick summary: they have been traveling the world on motorcycles for more than 10 years (13 years and counting!).

a chance encounter with Lisa and Simon at the BMW shop

a chance encounter with Lisa and Simon at the BMW shop

I have known about Simon and Lisa for a while from reading travel discussions on adventure riding motorcycle forums but I only had the great privilege of meeting them in September of 2013 when they stopped by Eugene to talk about their travels around the world at our local BMW shop.  Thanks to Scott and Madelyn at the European Motorcycles of Western Oregon for that opportunity to meet them and spend time with them back in 2013.  When I was invited to that gathering, Simon, being informed of my Brazilian connection, asked if I had Cachaça, the Brazilian Rum.  Not only did I have cachaça, but I also had the caipirinha paraphernalia.  Added lime and sugar to the mix and Simon showed us what he learned from their travels through Brazil.

Simon, caipirinha expert - September 2013

Simon, the caipirinha expert – September 2013

Three years later, yesterday I got out of the office on my lunch break to run an errand at the Oregon DMV (my WR250R’s rear wheel chewed the bike’s license plate) and since I was in the neighborhood I decided to make a quick stop at the BMW/Ducati shop to snap a photo of a new bike they have on the floor.  First thing Mickey said as I walked in is that Simon and Lisa were there.  What?  They had stopped for a very quick visit as they traveled north to participate on the June 23-26 Touratech Rally – West, in Plain, WA.  They were traveling with another family, who also travels on motorcycle!  They are Ted, Sandy and Jack Borden (very nice people as well, check their site and learn about their travels!).

Scott & Madelyn, Simon & Lisa, and Ted, Sandy & Jack. 6/22/2016

Scott & Madelyn, Simon & Lisa, and Ted, Sandy & Jack. 6/22/2016

It was great to have a chance to re-connect with Simon and Lisa. Lisa even gave me a quick lesson on Instagram!  Thank you Lisa! And what about a selfie with Simon?

What about a selfie with Simon?

What about a selfie with Simon?

And I even got to sit on Simon’s motorcycle and imagine my own travels.  One day.

IMG_0589

If you run into them on your own travels, stop and say hi. They are great people, inspirational and contagious on their enthusiasm for adventure riding and other important life matters.

onSimonsbike

There you go, true inspiration! (photo by Carl Best)

What was meant to be a five-minute errand turned into a short adventure, when I got to connect with Simon and Lisa after almost three years since the last time (who knows how many thousands of miles they traveled since that last time) and got a sneak preview on their plans for Alaska this summer.  Check their site, 2RideTheWorld, for more information.

Thank you for reading!

 

Posted in The Book | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

Taking the Ducati Multistrada on a shakedown ride

What a beautiful sunny Sunday, a great day to take the Multistrada on a shakedown ride, a great day to be reminded of how great this motorcycle is.

The Multistrada on a Sunny Sunday

The Multistrada on a Sunny Sunday

This has been an unusual year in terms of my riding priorities.  Up until this year the Ducati has been the go-to motorcycle for me, the unambiguous favorite, the one I pick when I open the shed, and it is always ready to go for a ride.  This year it is June 12th already, we are almost half way in 2016 (scary, uh?) and today was only the second time I took the Ducati out for a ride.  No wonder, with all the work on the CB500X, and how much fun it has been to ride that little bike… and then I rode the WR250X in the Death Valley as well (I took both bikes on that trip), and there is the Triumph with which I’ve enjoyed a few rides with its new exhaust (Yoshimura), and all along the Ducati has been patiently sitting there on the trickle charger.  This is not right.

Pink Roses and the Red and White Ducati

Pink Roses and the Red and White Ducati

This ride of today was a wake up call.  Thank goodness I have some action scheduled for this bike this coming week! I will take the Ducati on my annual trip to Northern California. Today I wanted to see if the bike’s systems are in top shape, hence the shakedown ride.  Well, the shakedown was for me as well, I needed to get reacquainted with this bike’s weight and power again.  And the lesson learned was the  reminder about how nice it is to ride this machine.  And I’m glad it is so, as it energized me to get everything in place for the upcoming 1,000 mile trip.

Here is a video compilation of today’s ride and for the first time I say a few words about the ride and the motorcycle during the video.  At the end of the video you will see (and hear) that while at the gas station, the attendant said: “nice bike, uh… (about three times)” and then he added “it’s a lot of CC’s for such a little guy” or something like that. It was worth keeping it and documenting it because it is exactly how I feel about this bike: I respect each and everyone of the 150 horses that offer a measure of this bike’s power.

 

So, how was the the shakedown ride?  The bike is running great, all horses are accounted for and at the readiness for this next trip.  By the way, I find it incredible that this motorcycle, despite its 1.2 liter motor and 150hp can still run at about 45 mpg, giving me a solid 200 mile range from a full tank, time after time.

201 miles with 9 miles to go but half a gallon in the tank (it 4.45 gallons to fill)

201 miles with 9 miles to go (it took 4.45 gallons to fill so in reality I would have some 20 miles to go)

Thank you for reading!

Upcoming stories:

Not necessarily in this order, here are a few stories I’m organizing and should be drafting soon:

CB500X: I will continue the CB500X Adventure series with post number 4 where I will document its adventure on the Death Valley.  What an awesome adventure it was, including a rainstorm, several bikes’ being dropped – one of these drops could be called a crash – riding through a sandstorm, some drama, and strong winds on the way in and the way back!  I will include and a few observations about the CB500X Adventure and Rally Raid products on that post as well. Maybe it will be a separate post so I can talk about something that went wrong with the bike (partially my fault) and the after ride maintenance, such as oil change and air filter change – I wanted to make sure I cleaned the sand that went everywhere from riding through the sandstorm.

Ducati XDiavel: I have ridden the Ducati XDiavel as well, which is something completely different than the bikes I usually ride.  I’ve been looking at reviews of cruisers lately: with the new crop of sport cruisers and heritage motorcycles, there are a few interesting motorcycles out there and a lot of interest from riders. I will post here the ride on the XDiavel (I actually rode it twice) and my comments and observations on cruisers and heritage bikes.

Ducati Multistrada: As I mentioned earlier on this post, I will be on a trip to Northern California on the Ducati. I usually don’t document those rides here, if I remember correctly I only documented the first one, in 2013. Just in case, this will be my forth trip to meet a group of Ducati owners in California (twice to Graeagle in the Sierras and now a second time to Weaverville in the Trinity Alps).

GPS: Use a motorcycle specific or use a car GPS on your motorcycle? I’ve been using car GPS’s on my motorcycles for almost 10 years already, I’m on my second one, the first one still works, just that it is so out dated it became obsolete.  Car GPS’s are not waterproof, they are not advertised as shock resistance, and whatever else people claim they need to be for a motorcycle application, and still the two Nuvi GPS’s I’ve used for almost 10 years have worked very well under all weather conditions and types of riding.  I will tell the story of how these car GPS’s work and how I prepare them for a motorcycle application.  And I will discuss why I haven’t bought a motorcycle GPS!  Yet.

Stay tuned!

Posted in Riding the Ducati | Tagged , , , | 3 Comments

The Honda CB500X Adventure – Part 3: Building the bike

The purchase of this bike, the research about the adventure kit, the communication with Rally Raid Products team, sourcing or building the parts not included on the kit, getting a few odd tools here and there and getting the shop ready has been a great adventure already, and you can read about it on the two previous posts.  The result of this effort is a simple but effective adventure motorcycle and riding it has been a positive surprise.  However, that is for Part 4 of this story, on today’s post I will document the actual building of the bike.

Job completed! March 2016

Job completed! March 2016

Rally Raid Products took on the challenge of building an adventure bike kit for this machine.  They designed and developed three do-it-yourself kits for this bike and a few other parts and accessories to complement the kit.  The Level 3 kit, the one I got for my bike, is the version geared for more off road riding.  Below is a picture of what is included on the kit: 19 inch front and 17 inch rear spoke wheels, triple tree, revised dog bone, new shock, springs and valves for front forks, taller side stand and front fender.

Rally Raid Products Level 3 Kit for the CB500X available at Giant Loop

Rally Raid Products Level 3 Kit for the CB500X available at Giant Loop

Getting the Rally Raid Kit

I purchased the kit via Giant Loop here in Oregon, who happens to be the sole representative of this kit by Rally Raid here in the United States.  I got top notch treatment by Harold Cecil at Giant Loop and Jenny Morgan at Rally Raid Products.  All my questions were answered within hours of my asking via email or telephone.

The instructions for the build, in chapters for each of the components of the Level 3 kit, are available on line in the Rally Raid Products site.  These instructions are well written, they have enough detail, step by step from the very start, with good quality photos.  Anyone with limited mechanical experience can give a shot at this build.  Believe me, if I can do it, you can do it as well.  I printed the instructions and consulted it along the build process.

Rally Raid Products - set of instructions for Installing Level III Kit on CB500X

Rally Raid Products – set of instructions for Installing Level III Kit on CB500X

Beyond the Rally Raid official instructions, Juan Browne‘s videos were invaluable to complete the job.  Juan is a CB500X owner and an enthusiast of the adventure kit, he has a great way with words and produces nice videos.  Juan’s videos on the build explain the steps of the process with a similar amount of detail as what you find in the instructions, but for some people, like me, a video is a better learning media.  I watched each video a couple of times and by the time I got to work on my motorcycle I knew exactly what needed to be done and in what order.  Still, I followed the printed, official instructions from Rally Raid Products on critical areas of the build.

Check the Rally Raid Instructions and Juan’s videos out before you make a decision whether you should give it a try to build it yourself or get assistance for certain parts of the build or you can get it completely done by a motorcycle shop.  Giant Loop itself offers to build the bike for you, or you can get a bike already built by them, a turn-key deal (at least they were making such an offer at some point).

Building my CB500X Adventure

I’m not going to give you step by step building instructions here, as the two sets of instructions I described above are excellent and I can’t possibly improve upon them!  I will simply document a summary of my steps and then show you a time-lapse of the entire build.

Reading the instructions and watching the videos was essential for planning the build.  By the time I got the kit I had all the tools I needed, I had the knowledge of what to do and had the shop ready to hit the ground running when everything arrived (see Parts 1 and 2 of this build).  I used my new lift to do this work. What a difference it makes to work with the bike at the right height for each part of the work.

Bike strapped to the lift

Bike strapped to the lift

Day 1 (Saturday afternoon)

I decided to start with the easiest end of the build, the rear shock.  If you are new to to working on motorcycles I recommend breaking the process into clear steps and start with what you consider the more straight forward and simple step.  Once you accomplish the first step you will likely gain the confidence to move on to the more complicated parts of the build.

Lifted the rear of the bike

Lifted the rear of the bike with jack

Once the bike was strapped to the lift I used another jack to raise the rear of the bike.  The flat jack I used works well when you have the RRP bash plate installed already.  My bike already came with the bash plate, which was installed by the previous owner.  I removed the rear wheel and followed the steps on the instruction.  It was very simple and easy to make progress on this work, especially considering all fasteners are new (no rust in sight) on this bike.

Ready for new rear shock

Ready for new rear shock

The kit raises the bike 2 inches, the rear height increase comes from two changes: 1) the rear shock is taller, by almost two inches.

The white spring is on the new shock assembly, the black spring is on the OEM assembly

The white spring is on the new shock assembly, the black spring is on the OEM assembly

2) a revised dog bone provides a different leverage to the spring & shock structure completing the 2-inch increase on this bike’s ground clearance.

The RRP dog bone is below

The RRP dog bone on the right

I did ask John Mitchinson, the Rally Raid Products owner and kit developer, about the strength of the revised dog bone, considering the shaft portion attaches to the bike and shock at an angle.  He did test it and showed the results where it will sustain the forces it needs to sustain, without breaking. Anyway, the shock went in without a hitch.

RRP rear shock installed

RRP rear shock installed

The remote reservoir with the clickers was installed close to the passenger peg, for easy access.

Shock reservoir and clickers, easy access

Shock reservoir and clickers, nice position, easy access

The rear shock was a rather easy job.  Certainly the lift made things a lot easier.  Of course, the RRP’s well written instructions and Juan’s videos were instrumental to make this build move smoothly.

The next step for day one was to prepare the bike for the triple tree and removal of the forks.  It turns out removing the front fairing was very straight forward as well, except for finding the right way to remove the electrical connections for the lights and turn signals which are inside the fairing with no easy access until the fairing is lose.  The entire front fairing is removed as one piece.

End of day 1, bike is ready for Day 2, front end work

End of day 1, bike is ready for Day 2, front end work

At some point on Day 1 I installed the longer side stand.  Or did I do it on day 2?  That was a simple side project, pun intended.

Day 2, Sunday afternoon: Remove triple tree, remove forks, install Rally Raid triple tree

In theory this was the most difficult part of the build. And it turned out it was. I started by removing the front wheel.

Getting ready to tackle the most difficult part of the build

Getting ready to tackle the most difficult part of the build

The difficult part of this step the drilling and removal of the security bolts of the ignition cylinder.  After destroying one platinum and two titanium drill bits I learned the key to success for this job is slow RPM on the drill.  Keep it cool and lubricated if needed, then it works really well.  Lesson learned.

I spent two much time drilling these security bolts

I spent two much time drilling these security bolts

Once those bolts were removed the process went back to its easy and straight forward removal of parts and re-assembly, plug and play mode.  I removed the forks and the triple tree, getting the bike to its highest state of disassembly at this point of the project.

Highest state of disassembly for this project

Highest state of disassembly for this project

Now is basically reassembly. First thing was to install the RRP triple tree.

Rally Raid Products Triple Tree for the CB500X

Rally Raid Products Triple Tree for the CB500X: machined and anodized in black

And that was it for day 2.  Spending so much time drilling those bolts and having to go to the hardware store two times to get more drill bits eliminated my chances for finishing the job on this second day (well, actually I’ve been only working half days…).

Day Three (Monday Evening)

On day three (Monday evening) I started by preparing the folks (drain oil, remove OEM springs and valves and install RRP springs and valves, replace the oil).  I used the original tire chock that came on the lift and turned it into a vice to work on the forks. It gave me great leverage to remove the allen bolt at the bottom of the fork and then used the vice to keep the fork in the right position to drain the fork oil.

Secure fork to remove drain bolt and drain oil

Secure fork to remove drain bolt and drain oil

Removing the OEM springs and valve is a very straight forward job.  On the photo below you will see in the middle the OEM springs (progressive springs) and valve and the RRP level 3 springs and valves. Notice that white plastic tube on the OEM set up.  That is a spacer and it is what allowed Rally Raid to conceptualize the idea of using the original forks for this bike and still gain two inches of travel with improved valves, springs and all.

RRP Level III sptrings and valves compared to OEM spring and valve (center)

RRP Level III springs and valves compared to OEM spring, valve and spacer (center)

Fitting the RRP fork internals was also a straight forward job.  The kit even included the fork oil!  Once I reinstalled the forks I was able to stabilize the bike so I could have both wheels out.

Both wheels out! Ready for final step.

Both wheels out! Ready for final step.

That was it for Day 3, bike is now only waiting for the wheels, seat and fairing to be reinstalled.

Day 4 (Tuesday Evening)

On the morning I took the wheels to a local bike shop.  The bike came with Continental TKC 80 tires installed and the original Pirelli Scorpions which had been dismounted offf the wheels with less than 300 miles.  All I needed to do was to buy a 19in TKC 80 to complete the set (I have an extra 17 inch front wheel TKC 80).  A local shop mounted the 17in and 19in TKC 80s on the spoke wheels and re-mounted the Pirelli Scorpions on the original alloy wheels.  Now I can re-install the original wheels on the bike when I want to have it in Super Moto mode!

Wheels ready to be set up with the proper tires

Wheels ready to be set up with the proper tires

Once I installed the wheels on the bike I took it out of the lift to see how it stood and to check if everything looked and felt okay.  And of course, to see how much taller the bike was.  And it is taller by at least two full inches as mentioned by other reviewers.

All I have to do now is install the fairing, with the dashboard, windscreen and headlight.

All I have to do now is install the fairing, with the dashboard, windscreen and headlight.

The bike was looking like a real adventure bike by this time. It looks interesting without the fairing.  One day we will have an adventure bike that will not look like a transformer toy.  It will not have a beak, no tall dirt-bike front fender, no fairing (just a small windscreen), and with round headlights.  Yes, one day, a scrambler-styled motorcycle build around a solid adventure motorcycle platform (suspension, electronics) set up properly for adventure (subframe for travel with gear).  But I digress.

Almost ready!

Almost ready!

From here on it was all about getting the fairing and side panels back on the bike and the job was complete. There are some rubber grommets on some of the side panel fasteners that you need to make sure you know they are there and keep track of them on disassembly.  You will need them to secure the panels properly during reassembly.

RRP Level III Kit installed, bike is almost ready for an adventure

RRP Level III Kit installed, bike is almost ready for an adventure

Here is a time lapse of the building process.

 

A Few Final, Important Touches

The RRP Kit is the major step on this build.  However, to complete the “adventure” project this bike required a few more steps: a GPS base, 12V power source by the handlebars, side racks, bags, tail tidy (well this one is not an adventure requirement), a radiator protector, a shock protector, bark busters, and Leo Vince slip on exhaust (well this last one is not an adventure requirement but it is smaller than the OEM exhaust allowing more options for bags).

GPS base and mount.  I like the GPS to be as tall as possible so my eyes to do not need to divert much from the road when I want to check information.  This bike’s structure for the windscreen is perfect for such a tall installation.  I checked the pile of scrap metal in my shop and found two pieces of aluminum that only required a slight convincing (cutting, bending and drilling) to take the shape required for their new job.

GPS mount: Checking my scrap metal box and parts bin I found what I needed

GPS mount: Checking my scrap metal box and parts bin I found what I needed

And here it is installed on the bike, where it positions the GPS just above the instrument cluster.  Perfect!  It has an extra RAM base for a second GPS or other gadget.

GPS mounted (this GPS is a car GPS, a cheap Nuvi something or another

GPS mounted (this GPS is a car GPS, a cheap Nuvi something or another (the smallest I could find)

12V Power Source. Power for the GPS was via a cable connected directly to the battery and brought forward to the instrument cluster area.

I always have these cables around.

I always have these cables around.

The cable has to be long enough to travel from the battery (under the seat) to the front of the bike.

Powelet 12V power source by the instrument cluster.

Powelet 12V power source by the instrument cluster.

It allows connecting various types of plugs and devices at the front of the bike.

Several options available

Several options available

I have a second cable that I use to trickle charge the battery.  It also works for charging devices carried on the bike’s bags.

Cable for trickle charger for the battery.

Cable for trickle charger for the battery.

R & G Tail Tidy.  This is not an adventure requirement but it makes the bike more compact, and works better for the smaller American license plates.

OEM on the left, R & G on the right, ready to be installed

OEM on the left, R & G on the right, ready to be installed

It requires a good amount of disassembly on the rear of the bike for installation but it is all plug and play.  R & G offers a smaller tail tidy which will require sawing a small portion of the metal structure on the rear of the bike.  I picked the size that allows the bike to be reversed back to OEM condition.

Ready for installing R & G tail tidy

Ready for installing R & G tail tidy

SW Motech Side Racks:  I like soft bags, I have two sets of Giant Loop bags (Coyote and Great Basin) that work really well on this bike.  However, I like the practicality of side bags, smaller side bags, how I have on my WR250X.  I chose side racks because they offer more options for soft, side bags.  Particularly I chose the SW Motech racks because they can be easily disassembled when they are not needed and they are positioned closer to the bike and not too far back.

SW Motech side racks

SW Motech side racks

However, with the tail tidy bringing the blinkers back, there is a fight for space between the side racks and the blinkers I did not anticipate.

SW Motech side racks and blinkers relocated with tail tidy fight for same space

SW Motech side racks and blinkers relocated with tail tidy fight for same space

The blinkers are still visible.  This may need to be addressed. Or not.

Softbags.  I like my WR250X dirtbaz as mentioned earlier, for practicality (easy access, small).  Therefore that’s what I installed on this bike. I also like the idea of a same set of bags that can be transferred from one bike to the other. I can use my Giant Loop bags on all my bikes.  The dirtbagz work only on the CB500X and the WR250R.  You will see the dirtbagz are installed on reverse position on the CB500X, when compared to how they are installed on the WR250R.  It allows the shape of the bag to give room for the CB500X’s lower but angled up exhaust.

Dirtbagz

Dirtbagz

The problem I encountered is that the bags attached with straps did not stay in place on my first dirt ride in the Death Valley.  As a result they fell backwards, turned, and landed on the exhaust.

At the cabin on Hunter Mountain in Death Valley. Dirtbagz is burned...

At the cabin on Hunter Mountain in Death Valley. Dirtbagz is burned…

The right (exhaust side) bag burned really good.

Dirtbagz burned...

Dirtbagz burned…

I bought a new set of Dirtbagz and installed a loop on my SW Motech racks to keep the bags in place, similar to how they are installed on official racks made by Dirtbagz (they do not make a rack for the CB500X – I wish they did – it would certainly work much better and be lighter).

Temporary solution, will look for a larger loop and then seal the connections.

Temporary solution, will look for a larger loop and then seal the connections.

Having said that, my rigging of the rack does the job now, the bags are installed firm now, they don’t move and clear the exhaust very well.  And now the bags are placed forward enough that they do not interfere with the blinkers.

New set up. Bags do not interfere with blinkers.

New set up. Bags do not interfere with blinkers.

After 200 miles riding with the new bags carrying a good load of heavy tools and spare tubes and the new attachments on the loops were approved, the bags did not move and did not burn either.

New Dierbagz - survived 200 miles of riding carrying a typical load

New Dierbagz – survived 200 miles of riding carrying a typical load

For over night camping trips all I need to do is place a duffel bag on the back of the bike and I’m all set. I could also fit my Great Basin Giant Loop bag (or the Coyote) and I should be fine as well. Please note, neither my Giant Loop bags nor my Dirtbagz are waterproof.  I purchased a water proof duffel bag to keep camping gear and clothes dry if it comes to that.  For everything else, camera equipment and electronics, I have waterproof containers that fit in the dirtbagz.

Radiator Protector.  R & G makes a great plug and play radiator protector for this bike. Unfortunately during the entire time I was building this bike and getting it ready for its maiden trip at the Death Valley they were on back order. What to do? Build your own. I used a piece of gutter leaf guard, cut it to the appropriate dimension, doubled up a portion of it to get more structure to it, and zip-tied it to the bike.  Works wonderfully well!

Gutter leaf guard (aluminum) and zip ties do a great job!

Gutter leaf guard (aluminum) and zip ties do a great job!

Shock protector.  There are neoprene sleeves for the shock available in the market.  But I like to see that nice white spring. The solution was to fabricate my own inner fender (from car carpets, a left over from my Triumph Tiger project – similar application) and screw it to a plastic frame under the seat. Perfect.

Inner fender - shock protector

Inner fender – shock protector

Hand guards. Hand guards are very important to protect brake and clutch levers during a fall.  I chose the Barkbuster Storm, another straight forward job.

Barkbuster Storm works well.

Barkbuster Storm works well.

The only item missing is a protector for the headlight.  I found a Thai made metal guard, which should work really well.

This is it. The bike, with the Rally Raid Products level 3 and a few other accessories looks great and it has shown it delivers the adventure riding experience. The bike, Level 3 kit installed, is surprisingly good on pavement, does rather well on the twisties, and it is awesome on dirt roads.  If you like to ride a bike fast on gravel roads, I can assure you the “adventurized” CB500X will deliver.  No need for traction control when the power delivery is somewhat soft, you can ride it with abandon, push it, and it will perform rather controlled rear wheel slides on dirt and gravel roads.  Just not quite a rally machine, but good enough for plenty of fun.  I really like it.

But this is what we will talk about on the next post.

Thank you for reading.

Posted in Bike Reviews, The Book | Tagged , , , | 7 Comments

The Honda CB500X Adventure – Part 2: Setting up the shop and parts shopping

How many times I stared at this ad which is found on the last pages of American motorcycle magazines, where this Harbor Freight, made in China, Pittsburgh brand motorcycle lift is available for US$299.99.

Has anyone ever paid the "official" full price on this thing (what ever it is)?

Has anyone ever paid the “official” full price on this thing (what ever it is)?

I never bought it until now because I would likely not use it, I thought, or I wasn’t going to honor the idea of a having a lift in my garage if it was only to be used for oil changes, even if it is an inexpensive Harbor Freight lift.  At the same time the oil changes and air filter maintenance have been done with bikes on center stands too low to the ground.  The idea of building the CB500X into the adventure bike and the other reasons discussed earlier helped with the decision to finally buy this thing.

It is heavy in its box and getting it out of the truck by myself required ingenuity. I’ve seen better methods than dragging it out of the truck, the best so far was a guy who unboxed it on the truck bed itself, making it lighter (several pieces are not attached) for unloading.

Dragged the thing out of the truck

Dragged the thing out of the truck using my motorcycle ramps, a car jack, and a pulley

I decided to paint the table of the lift, so now it looks like an upscale version of itself, version 2.0. Well, I do think it looks better in gray.

Harbor freight lift version 2.0

Harbor Freight lift version 2.0

The wheel chock that comes with these lifts needs an upgrade as well.  I used another Harbor Freight / Pittsburgh (what a team) part, and now it works very well.

It struggles a bit to lift the Tiger 800 XC, but it gets it done.

Haror Freight lift version 3.0. It struggles a bit to lift the Tiger 800 XC, but it gets it done.

I like this chock, once you have the bike stable on the lift, if you need to work on the front of the bike, clamp the rear wheel down, you remove the front wheel clamping structure of this chock.

Front wheel clamps moved out of the way without the need of using tools

Front wheel clamps moved out of the way without the need of using tools

Now that I have the lift, I realize it is such a fun tool to have at my disposal.  I will use it to do a much needed oil change on the lawn mower, for example! Can you see the fun of having it on any shop?  It turns the shed into a shop in the first place.  If for anything it adds another work bench to the shop, even if I never use it to work on my bikes again.

On motorcycle forums everyone always find a point of disagreement on anything, from tires, to oil, to ABS, to motorcycle brands and even to things you think everyone would agree on.  Well, there is one exception just to make the rule: everyone agrees Harbor Freight tools are the lowest in terms of quality.  Their prices are ridiculously low as advertised, the reason for the low price, though, is different than what they claim.  It is the quality thing… everyone agrees, that’s a joke.  You have to have a good sense of humor to buy and use these tools. But you know what?  Most of the time they work.

Tools sourced from Harbor Freight, some from Home Depot.

Tools sourced from Harbor Freight, some from Home Depot.

Yes, I have a little cemetery of broken tools somewhere in my shop.  But then, the store is a couple of miles away, I just go back there and buy a replacement one.  On the other hand, some of their product selections will work really well, like this $29.99 chair I bought at Harbor Freight.  It is doing well, staying out on my office’s deck after 10 rainy winters so far.

Horbor Freight chair

Horbor Freight chair

As a bonus, when you walk into a Harbor Freight store they will have plenty of staff answering questions, they seem to know their stuff, and they are likely to have any tool that you need as specific and out of the ordinary as it may be.  Yes, I wish my shop was furnished by Snap On tools. But the Pittsburgh and Husky brands have been good to me.

Back to the lift, another good thing is that once you are done using it, you can move it out of the way, tuck it on the side of the shop on its side, and we can even park the car inside the shop.

Lifted tucked away, on its side, car can be parked in the garage when lift is not being used

Lift tucked away, on its side, car can be parked in the garage when lift is not being used

That was that for setting up the shop: I got the lift, I painted it, I got a better wheel chock, and it was ready for action.

Now for the most important element of the project, shop for parts for the bike.  The main item was the Rally Raid Products, Level 3 kit for the CB500X. It includes inserts for front suspension adding two inches of travel to the front forks, a rear shock, triple tree, spoked 19-inch front wheel and 17-inch rear wheel, extended side stand, front fender, and dog bone.  Bike gets an extra two inch of suspension travel and height.  Please note, I just checked Rally Raid’s site and they are selling this kit as they make them and there is a back log on the wheels. I got mine just in time, I realize…

Rally Raid Products Level 3 Kit for the CB500X available at Giant Loop

Rally Raid Products Level 3 Kit for the CB500X available at Giant Loop

I also ordered a smaller slip-on exhaust (Leo Vince Corsa), luggage side racks (SW Motech), bark busters (Storm), and a tail tidy (R&G). I think that was it.  All suppliers were timely on their delivery of products.

Rally Raid came via FedEx, Giant Loop is just around the corner from me, world map speaking.

Rally Raid came via FedEx, Giant Loop is just around the corner from me, world map speaking.

Rally Raid kit, three boxes, came via Fedex, the rest via UPS. Everything delivered on time and as promised.

IMG_6116

The pile accumulated at the shop, and in between work travel, my evenings and weekends were dedicated to the building process.

Lots of goodies for the CB500X

Lots of goodies for the CB500X

There were a few other parts to complete the CB500X adventure project that were not available at the time I  was building the bike. One of them was a radiator protector (always on back order), so I built a temporary one which is staying for time being, very important item if you will ride this bike off pavement, especially on gravel roads! Another one is a headlight protector, that one I still haven’t ordered now that I know of a potential source – that’s the only item missing to complete the project as of now. I also built a GPS mount using the windscreen structure as a base and built an inner fender for the rear wheel to protect the shock.

On the next post of this series I will document the building (disassembly / assembly ) process.

Thank you for reading.

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The Honda CB500X Adventure – Part 1: Why this bike?

This last February I spent a good amount of time in my garage, building a CB500X into an adventure motorcycle.  I never minded the winter with its cold and rainy evenings, the build of this bike in my garage was a fun process, a good portion of why I decided to buy a Honda CB500X.  This build process included preparing the shop, sourcing parts, and building some of the accessories myself.  The CB500X is relatively inexpensive and Rally Raid Products has a great plug and play kit for this bike, which helped on the decision.

How to forget about cold rainy winter evenings.

How to forget about cold rainy winter evenings.

A second reason is to have a multi-cylinder adventure motorcycle that I can use for solo rides into the the unknown.  It slots nicely between my WR250R and my Tiger 800XC.  I was looking for a bike with a good level of reliability allied with as light weight as possible so I can pick it up from the ground, or be able to turn it around on tight trails or from a down hill situation, all by myself.  The CB500X’s weight is at the upper range of what I wanted (or can handle), but it is today the lightest multi-cylinder bike for such a project.  And it carries Honda’s reliability reputation.  It was about freedom, I wanted this motorcycle to not limit my choice of roads to travel or the desire to travel solo.

The 2015 Honda CB500X - Ready for adventure!

The 2015 Honda CB500X – Ready for adventure!

An added reason for this purchase was a friend of mine from High School and College, Julio (Juca) Petersen who lived in Florida.  He was diagnosed in October of last year with cancer.  He was a Honda rider, and along his life he had an XL250, an XL350, a Transalp and more recently an NC700X.  Should the treatment he underwent had worked, I was hoping he could make it here at some point for a ride with me.  This Honda would had been a perfect bike for him.  Unfortunately the progress of the disease was faster than what the treatment could do for him.  He passed away on February 3rd 2016.  This one is for you Juca!

Purchased the bike on January 9th, 2016.

Purchased the bike on January 9th, 2016.

Turning something negative into an opportunity, working on this bike during the month of February was a source of positive energy for me.  It was about working on motorcycles, something I always had wanted to do but had never felt the energy to pursue it.  Juca’s diagnosis and its outcome hit home pretty hard.  It was about losing a friend.  It was also about someone at my exact age and with similar trajectory in life, and who lived a healthier lifestyle than I did.  Therefore, let’s not procrastinate any longer, let’s build this thing, let’s do things I always wanted to do. We only live once…

Bike came with TKC80 tires, and the I got the Pirelli original tires as well.

Bike came with TKC80 tires, and the I got the Pirelli original tires as well.

I purchased the bike in January and immediately started sourcing parts for it.  The bike had 312 miles on the clock and came with several Rally Raid parts already installed including bash plate, adjustable levers, wide foot pegs, and rear brake reservoir protection.  It also came with TKC80 tires. I could not use the front tire as I was to change the 17 inch front to a 19 inch wheel, but the rear tire was new and re-mounted on the new spoke wheel that came with the Rally Raid kit.

Practically new!

Practically new!

In the next few posts I will document the process I went through for building this bike.  It includes setting up the shop for the build, what parts I bought for it, the parts I built, and its maiden voyage in the Death Valley.  The project included setting up the shop for the build, doing maintenance work on the WR250R that I also took to Death Valley and also maintenance on the truck to transport the bikes to California.

The project included setting up the shop and the CB500X itself. Because it culminated with taking this bike to Death Valley, I also worked on the Truck and the WR250R that I took as a back up bike.

The project included setting up the shop and the CB500X itself. Because it culminated with taking this bike to Death Valley, I also worked on the Truck and the WR250R that I took as a back up bike.

There were steps of this build when the bike was disassembled to almost its core, but somehow I never doubted I could put it back together.  I was on a roll!

Working on the front forks.

Working on the front forks.

I completed the project in time to join a couple of friends for the Death Valley ride.

Somewhere along Highway 89 in California, on my way to the Death Valley

Somewhere along Highway 89 in California, on my way to the Death Valley

The bike performed well in its maiden adventure.  Its main claim to fame was to conquer Goler wash and make it to the top of Mengel pass.

On top of Mengell Pass

On top of Mengel Pass

It also survived a major sand storm, which covered the road I was traveling on with more than a foot of soft sand for several miles.  The bike did rather well on sand!  But that is a story for another chapter.

Sandstorm at the confluence of Warm Spring Canyon rd and West Side rd

Sandstorm at the confluence of Warm Spring Canyon rd. and West Side rd.

Since the bike build was completed, and I went to Death Valley and back, I’ve been enjoying some of my free time on my reorganized motorcycle shop, having fun working on my bikes.  Stay tuned for the next set of posts about the building process and a more detailed account of this motorcycle’s first adventure.

Thank you for reading.

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