The count down to Spring has started!

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

No way Jose.

No way Jose, she said.

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

São Paulo, Brazil

Landing at Guarulhos Airport, São Paulo, Brazil.

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

Porto Alegre, Brazil

Landing at Salgado Filho Airport, in Porto Alegre.

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

Ice Rain in Eugene

Beautiful but destructive icerain

Beautiful but destructive ice rain

Unusual set of snow days in Eugene.

Nice walk by the river on a snow day

Nice walk by the river on a snow day

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

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

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

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

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

Bikes waiting for better riding days

Bikes waiting for better riding days

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

Battery tender, keeping all bikes charged!

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

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

These lights are powerful...

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

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

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

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

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

Are you ready for this?

Yamaha T7 concept

Yamaha T7 concept

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

New Africa Twin prototype

New Africa Twin prototype

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

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

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

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

The ellusive gap... are we finally there?

The ellusive gap… are we finally there?

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

Job completed! March 2016

Honda CB500X Adventure: Rally Raid Level 3 Adventure Kit

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

The 2015 Honda CB500X, with Rally Raid Level 3

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

EICMA 2016 and Yamaha T7 – Renewed Hope!

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

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

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

Scrambler Ducati Desert Sled

Scrambler Ducati Desert Sled

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

KTM 790 Duke concept

KTM 790 Duke concept

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

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

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

Is the T7 the holly grail?

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

Yamaha T7 Concept, EICMA 2016

Yamaha T7 Concept, EICMA 2016

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

Yamaha T7 Concept, EICMA 2016

Yamaha T7 Concept, EICMA 2016

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

LED lights on the Yamaha T7 Concept, EICMA 2016

LED lights on the Yamaha T7 Concept, EICMA 2016

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

Is this Yamaha's mid-size adventure Ténéré?

Is this Yamaha’s mid-size adventure Ténéré?

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

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

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

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

Yamaha T7 Concept, EICMA 2017

Yamaha T7 Concept, EICMA 2017

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

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

Yamaha T7 Concept, EICMA 2016

Yamaha T7 Concept, EICMA 2016

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

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

Yamaha T7 Concept, EICMA 2016

Yamaha T7 Concept, EICMA 2016

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

More from Yamaha’s press release on this bike:

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

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

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

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

Thank you for reading.

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

Posted in Bike Reviews, The Book | Tagged , , , , | 9 Comments

Scrambler Ducati new models: Cafe Racer and Desert Sled

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

Scrambler Ducati: Italia Independent

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The 400cc Sixty2 Scrambler Ducati

The 400cc Sixty2 Scrambler Ducati

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

The Cafe Racer

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

The Italia Independent, a limited edition in cafe racer style

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

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

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

Picture this with spoke wheels

Picture this with spoke wheels

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

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

2015 Scrambler Ducati Full Throttle (customized)

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

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

The Desert Sled

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

Scrambler Enduro?

Desert Sled

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

2016 Scrambler Ducati

2016 Scrambler Ducati Urban Enduro

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

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

2016 Urban Enduro Scrambler Ducati

2016 Urban Enduro Scrambler Ducati

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

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

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

803cc Air-Cooled V-twin

Desert Sled, likely a better version of the Urban Enduro

What’s Next?

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thank you for reading.

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

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

Disruptive Innovations and the Future of the Motorcycle Industry

Mobile phones rendered landline telephones obsolete. Smartphones are killing the digital consumer cameras which only a few years earlier rendered film cameras obsolete. Uber has disrupted the taxi cab industry. Youtube and Netflicks are disrupting cable TV faster than cable TV displaced network TV.  Do we need a definition of disruptive innovation or will these examples suffice for us to understand it? Calling these innovations “disruptive” is a way to understand change, see how quickly it can be ignited, and how unexpected it can be.  Let’s talk about how disruptive innovations could change the motorcycle industry.

BMW Motorrad Vision Next 100

BMW Motorrad Vision Next 100

Let’s start with the obvious:  the automotive industry.  Most innovations taking place in the auto industry trickle down to the motorcycle industry, and changes are happening at a fast pace in the auto industry. As pointed out by GM’s CEO in January of 2016, at the launch of the Chevy Bolt, the “auto industry is set to change more in the next 5-10 years than it has changed in the last 50 years”.

Mary Barra, GM CEO at the Launch of the Chevy Bolt in Detroit, January of 2016: The auto industry will change more in the next 5-10 years than it did in the last 50 years

Mary Barra, GM CEO at the Launch of the Chevy Bolt in Detroit, January of 2016: “The auto industry will change more in the next 5-10 years than it did in the last 50 years”

The recent 2016 Paris Motor Show was a showcase of these changes that are coming to the auto industry.  Mercedes Benz is a great example, they are embracing the inevitable by using the very set of disruptive innovations as a marketing campaign for their next generation of cars. They call it the CASE Pillars, where the next generation of Mercedes cars will be Connected, Autonomous, Shared, and Electric.

Mercedes Benz EQ Concept Car, 2016 Paris Auto Show

Mercedes Benz EQ Concept Car, 2016 Paris Auto Show

Volkswagen is on a similar trajectory. Call it perfect timing, brilliant strategy, shrewd, or all of the above when Volkswagen uses the infamous “Diesel Gate” to leverage a revolutionary marketing campaign.  VW’s marketing campaign aims to change the public perception of the VW brand as the emissions cheating company to become the leading manufacturer of electric cars, which they state will be accomplished by 2025 with a full line of electric cars, including autonomous vehicles, such as the I.D. concept shown in the Paris motor show.  Clever strategy at a minimum.

VW I.D. Concept Car, 2016 Paris Auto Show

Volkswagen I.D. Concept Car, 2016 Paris Auto Show

Many other car manufacturers are on the same boat, besides the ones who are already invested on this future, including BMW who has been selling electrical cars for several years, and Nissan who has been the bastion for affordable electric cars with its Leaf.  While Nissan is currently working to get more powerful batteries on the Leaf, Chevrolet’s Bolt is set to be the first high performance, and still competitively priced, 200+ mile-range electric car, beating Tesla’s Model 3 to the market. The Leaf, the Bolt, and the Model 3 will be followed by several other cars from other manufacturers, very soon, in the next couple of years perhaps, which will be priced similarly to their internal combustion engine counterparts and will perform at the same level, if not better.  No more excuses will be needed not to jump on the electric bandwagon.

There is one other example I will mention, which is the Wanxiang Group from China.  I mention this group because China will be the largest market for vehicles in the world and they already have several small electric cars in the market.  However, when they aim at the top of the market, squarely at Tesla, when Wanxiang Group’s purchased Fisker assets a few years back to resurrect the Fisker Karma, to be renamed the Karma Revero. You know they are serious, they understand this change is inevitable.

Karma Revero (PRNewsFoto/Karma Automotive)

Karma Revero (PRNewsFoto/Karma Automotive)

Electric cars are, no question, the one change that is inevitable.  The question in many people’s minds is when will internal combustion engines stop being produced. Some analysts say as early as 2030.

That number, 2030, seems to be coming too fast, but it is not unrealistic, and it makes sense when we look at how fast land lines or film cameras or horse-driven cars, for that matter, stopped being produced when disruptive innovations took a hold of the market. Some historians indicate it took about 10 years for larger urban centers to substitute horse-driven cars for gasoline driven cars.

All I can say is “the times are a changing” and with that goes a small homage to Bob Dillan’s 2016 Nobel Prize in Literature.  So what’s next? Electric is a given, what about the other pillars? Will connectivity, autonomous and perhaps shared be the next set of benchmarks?

Autonomous is of course already happening as well. Tesla is currently on its version 8.0 of its operating system which includes improvements on the cars’ automation. Last year I was waiting for my Uber at the San Francisco airport when I spotted a BMW with what seems to be a Bosch derived automated driving system.

BMW with Bosh Automated system, spotted at San Francisco airport in July 2015

BMW with Bosh Automated system, spotted at San Francisco airport in July 2015

Connectivity is happening already on basic levels. When you buy a car today there are versions or options where you plug in your smart phone and it uses it for navigation, music, communication. Blue tooth has been around for a long time.  Cruise control is already available using sensors to adjust speed with traffic ahead. It is just a question of continuous improvement, both from the cars’ perspective but also from the streets, roads, traffic signs, which could likely be adapted to passively or actively communicate with cars.

The shared part has been around for a while as well. We’ve had the Zipcar in our town, for example, but it still is a niche product. It will likely go to another level when automated cars become the norm and anyone can share their automated car with others when not using it. It’s the Uber of the future, the Uber sans driver.  Actually the shared car could disrupt Uber like Uber is disrupting the cab industry.  The shared car should also be disruptive to auto industry overall if it reduces individual car ownership.

Zipcar - still trying to find solid footing

Zipcar – still trying to find solid footing

To summarize, we are almost at a critical mass with electric cars and the related disruptive innovations, so much so I already wonder whether people will remember Elon Musk and Tesla as the visionary guy and his company who brought to us this main change to the auto industry.

2016 Tesla Model S

2016 Tesla Model S

Just to be reminded, by entering at the top of the market with a luxury car that was electric, expensive but better (in many accounts) than the internal combustion cars of its time, Tesla was the success story people wanted to see happen to be able to embrace this change.  It would likely not have happened if the Gee Wiz had been the poster child for electrified cars.

The G-Whiz

The G-Whiz

By the way, do you know what automobile manufacturer and which model, using gasoline powered motors, was the main disruptive technology of the 1900’s, and which was responsible for eliminating horse-driven or electric cars from urban streets?

Victorian London, circa 1900's - the end of the horse drawn cars

Victorian London, circa 1900’s – close to the end of horse drawn cars

Yes, I did say horse-driven and electric cars of the 1900’s, as many first cars were battery powered electric vehicles. We are just coming back to electric cars after a 100 years detour with internal combustion engines.


What about Motorcycles?

Let’s get back to what matters to us, motorcycle riders. As we mentioned before, most innovations on the motorcycle industry are derivatives of innovations taking place in the auto industry. ABS, fuel injection, semi-active suspension are good examples.

Do you remember in 2009 when the 2010 Ducati Multistrada was introduced? That motorcycle was the pinnacle of technology, it still is, but in 2010 it represented a dividing mark on the motorcycle industry. The Multistrada had electronically actuated suspension compression and damping levels and menu driven riding modes (urban, enduro, touring and sport) which controlled ABS levels of engagement, traction control, and engine fuel maps which together changed the motorcycle’s dynamic characteristics.  And you could further customize each of the four pre-set riding modes on any of the variables (ABS, traction control, suspension damping) to better match your riding style or the ride you planned for the day.

The 2010 Ducati Multistrada 1200.

The 2010 Ducati Multistrada 1200.

Although the Multistrada was innovative, it probably could be seen more of an evolutionary than a revolutionary motorcycle, if we keep in perspective the latest changes in the auto industry. Nonetheless the Multistrada was a dividing mark when in 2010 that motorcycled packed the full set of evolutionary technologies available at the time. Seven years later and those technologies are now ubiquitous on the top of line models offered by all manufacturers and some of those items such as ABS and riding modes are now common on middle of the range models across almost all brands of motorcycles.

Yamaha FZ-09

Yamaha FZ-09 (MT-09) dashboard, with riding mode selection

Soon all bikes will have ABS (already the case in Europe), and eventually all will come equipped with cornering ABS (still somewhat new), throttle by wire, cruise control, and riding modes.  It’s simply a question of time.  Can you call these sets of technologies disruptive? Perhaps and more likely you can call them disruptive if you were a carburetor or drum brake maker and did not retool your industry to become a manufacturer of fuel injection systems and disc brakes respectively.

Connected, Autonomous, Shared and Electric

Which of the set of disruptive technologies of the auto industry will impact the motorcycle industry? Again, let’s use Mercedes’ four pillars (connected, autonomous, shared and electric) to discuss possible scenarios of what the future will look like for the motorcycle industry. And then we should talk about BMW’s vision described by its Next 100 concept.

Electric is the easiest and already available technology, so let’s start there. We already have electric motorcycles, and scooters.  But very few manufacturers are entering the viable production zone at this point.  Zero has been around for a while, for example, and is one of the few manufacturers of electric bikes selling these bikes to the public. Their latest model the SR ZF 13.0 with the “power tank” is claimed to reach up to 197 miles with one charge.

2016 Zero SR ZF - Up to 197 miles of range

2016 Zero SR ZF – Up to 197 miles of range with the “power tank”

Harley Davidson has created its electric motorcycle concept, the Livewire. It created a lot of buzz especially because it came from Harley. The Livewire toured the United States in 2014 and the following year in Europe, but apparently there is no actual movement from Harley Davidson indicating this bike will be produced any time soon.

Harley Davidson Livewire concept

Harley Davidson Livewire concept

Victory Motorcycles has purchased Brammo and has been developing motorcycle concepts and has entered them on specific races and has been competitive on these races. In 2016 they entered the Pikes Peak race with an electric motorcycle, claiming second place. Incidentally, this Victory electric motorcycle, which was piloted by Don Canet, could have won this year’s Pikes Peak race if it weren’t for them qualifying first and because of it they  started the race early in the morning when the track was still wet on the last few miles at the top.  If they had started their run later in the morning they would have won it based on their times on the lower sections of the mountain where the road was dry (and you know electric motors do not lose power at higher altitude). If Victory keeps up the effort they are on the path to win the 2017 race with an electric motorcycle.

Victory Empulse, Pikes Peak 2016. Second fastest Motorcycle overall.

Victory Empulse, Pikes Peak 2016. Second fastest Motorcycle overall with Don Canet (notice the wet track)

Before the Pikes Peak race we had been witnessing the evolution of electric motorcycles on the prestigious TT race as well. Electric bikes competing at the TT races, called the TT Zero race, have been improving their performance year after year, from about 89 mph average speed per lap on the first iteration of this race in 2011, they have now reached close to 120 mph in the 2016 race, only on the sixth year after that first TT Zero race.

Victory electric motorcycle - TT race

Victory electric motorcycle – TT race 2016

Although the performance of electric motorcycles both on the TT races and the Pikes Peak race has approached and perhaps surpassed the performance of internal combustion motorcycles, it has hardly made a dent on the consumer market.  Victory’s Empulse TT starts at US $20,000. Do you see these bikes on the street?

2016 Victory Empulse TT

2016 Victory Empulse TT

Zero motorcycles and other electric motorcycle brands have struggled to develop a competitive edge on the motorcycle industry.  There is no Nissan Leaf or Tesla Model S equivalent in the motorcycle line up. You don’t see many video bloggers with electric motorcycles like you see in the auto side of the equation, where Tesla, Nissan Leaf and BMW I3 owners have popular Youtube channels simply because of the cars they drive.

2016 Zero S Streetfighter (photo from Zero site)

2016 Zero S Streetfighter (photo from Zero site) Price starts at US $9,895 already deducting a US $1,110 federal tax credit

It is easy to conclude motorcycles are lagging on the change, the electric disruptive innovation has not made a mark on the industry yet. Connectivity, yes, top of the range motorcycles are now blue tooth hubs for helmet to helmet and smartphone communications. Autonomous, well, that is a challenge for two-wheel vehicles, although BMW seems to be aiming at that (more on that later). Shared, I doubt it for what motorcycle represents, unless we are talking about small displacement urban mobility.

But electric motors have not created the same critical mass for the main motorcycle markets as you see on the auto industry. A couple of explanations come to mind. One of them is that motorcycles already are more efficient means of transportation to begin with, so they are not bringing that environmentally conscious consumer to the show room to write a check and ride away with an environmentally friendly motorcycle.

Another reason could be that motorcycles are not viewed as means of transportation in many markets, but as a symbol of adventure, a sport or a hobby and with that, there is no incentive for getting rid of the internal combustion engine, which is an intrinsic part of the riding experience. If riders don’t view a motorcycle as a means of transportation, and I’m on this camp, electric motors are not a target. Motorcycle riding is my hobby and my escape route to adventure.

Again, that potential environmentally conscious consumer is not available when we talk about motorcycles as a sport and hobby product. And when we talk about adventure, electric motors are not there yet (no re-charging stations in the middle of nowhere), although I bet electric motors with their high torque figures and linear acceleration would perform really well in some technical situations for as long as the batteries have charge.

The road continued with no other challenges until a few miles after the mine operations

Adventure riding – not ready for electric motors yet – although they could perform very well, when there is charge on a battery

At the model range where people see motorcycles as means of transportation, however, at the low cost, or low displacement and scooter levels, where people use the word “mobility” to refer to two-wheel vehicles, that’s where we see more movement towards electric models.

Jetson Electric bike - a Gee-Wiz of the motorcycle world

Jetson Electric bike – a Gee-Wiz of the motorcycle world

While the auto industry seems to be riding just at the edge of the wave of cleaner emissions, motorcycles seem to be towed behind by world leading legislation such as Euro 4 and California emissions legislation in Europe and the United States, respectively. That means only one thing: motorcycles will lag behind on the changes but eventually will be dragged to make it happen by legislation. The writing is on the wall.

BMW Motorrad:  ACES and the Vision Next 100

Today one of the most successful motorcycles on BMW Motorrad line up is the 90th anniversary of BMW Motorrad celebratory models (BMW was found in 1916, produced its first motorcycle, motorrad, in 1921).  These celebratory bikes are the retro-looking and retro-driven (air/oil cooled motors) R NineT and its models: the Pure, Racer, Scrambler and the first one, the well known Roadster.

Another 'round the world machine?

2017 BMW R NineT Scrambler

That’s 90 years of BMW Motorrad.  BMW itself is celebrating its 100th anniversary now and to celebrate it, BMW has launched an international exhibit to kick start its next 100 years with a renewed vision, which they call the Vision Next 100.  This exhibit has started in Berlin and traveled to two other places in the world before ending in Los Angeles last week.

BMW Vision 100 Next

BMW Vision 100 Next

As part of this international celebratory exhibit, we can call it a marketing campaign, BMW presented futuristic concept vehicles based on the ACES idea across all their brands. ACES? Does it sound familiar? Yes, they are talking about Autonomous, Connected, Electric and Shared vehicles, the disruptive innovations discussed earlier, that Mercedes organized as CASE.

The Great Escape

BMW Motorrad is part of ACES as well, but I was so glad to hear BMW was referring to motorcycles as “the last or the final great escapes from every day life (…) providing an experience for all the senses” on this marketing campaign. This means there is hope that in this vision BMW motorcycles will continue be fun to be ridden.

Does it have to look like a boomerang?

BMW Motorrad Vision Next 100: Does it have to look like a boomerang?

A two wheel concept vehicle, well, a futuristic looking motorcycle, was presented in this traveling exhibit.  It is not a prediction of the future, not a prediction of BMW products for the next 100 years, but part of the vision for the future of each of the BMW brands.  The concept is to show “what could happen in three or four vehicle generations from now”, according to their presentation in Los Angeles. I agree with the BMW official who said, as part of this presentation, “the best way to predict the future is to start to create it”.

BMW Motorrad Vision Next 100

BMW Motorrad Vision Next 100

As part of the presentation of this concept, BMW officials talked about six trends related to mobility (yes, another list – but I’m adding it here because I think it can be applied to my day job and life in general) which are used for product development:

  1. Mobility is becoming versatile
  2. Connectivity is becoming second nature
  3. Mobility is becoming tailor-made
  4. Technology is becoming human
  5. Energy is becoming emissions-free
  6. Responsibility is becoming diverse
BMW Motorrad Vision Next 100

BMW Motorrad Vision Next 100

The look of the concept itself is described to reflect the triangular frames of the 1920’s BMW motorcycles and the obvious boxer motor we still see today on BMW motorocycles, although it is clearly an electric vehicle.

It makes me wonder… does it have to look like a boomerang?  The R NineT motorcycles are a hot item today and they look so much less futuristic than the contemporaneous 2016 R1200GS line does. Therefore, I wonder, can you have all the technology you need to put in practice this Next 100 vision, but still make it look like a regular motorcycle?  I bet that is not only possible but when 2030 comes around and we see the motorcycles being produced, and we look back at these pictures of 2016, we will realize how wrong the BMW concept was in terms of looks. Call it wishful thinking from my part.

Besides looking like a boomerang, this concept packs some interesting technology. The bike was ridden onto the stage and stopped and self-balanced itself on two wheels, no side-stand or rider feet touched the ground.  According to the presentation, the only time the bike needs a side stand is when it is turned off.

BMW Motorrad

BMW Motorrad “next 100” concept

Another technology included on this bike was related to connectivity to the road. A video shows the motorcycle display (which is on the rider’s visor as a heads up display and not on the dash of the bike) the ideal line the rider should take through a coming curve and overlaid a picture of the handle bars to indicate the ideal lean angle of the bike. For beginner riders, the bike would change the lean angle to improve safety (to have the bike follow the ideal line for the curve at the speed of travel), and for the experienced rider, it can just show the best line and lean angle and let the rider pick it by him or herself, or can actively boost the motorcycle dynamics ( did not hear an explanation what that does or how that works).

According to the description, the bike’ s sensors add foresight to the experience, more than what we, humans, can see, and only the laws of physics would limit the riding experience.  The vision 100 concept was described as a motorcycle that combines the analog and digitized worlds generating more safety and fun to the riding experience. So much more safety, they continued, the rider does not need to wear a helmet or other protective gear. Well, I would say, for this to work it has to be imagined that all other vehicles on the road, and deer jumping out of forests and other wildlife crossing our roads, will not interfere with the path of this motorcycle or the motorcycle will anticipate those incidents as well.

Next 100: No need to wear helmets or other protective gear

Next 100: No need to wear helmets or other protective gear

I’m not so sure about all these innovations envisioned by BMW, if they will all be possible in the real world, but I would welcome more safety, if it is possible.  BMW did not mention electric motors, but one can assume it is a big part of the equation.  They did mention that motorcycles should continue to provide pure emotion when being ridden involving all senses, the sound, and the wind.  So there is hope their vision of the “great escape” means motorcycles will continue to be what I call a sport, a route for adventure, or a hobby and just not an efficient transportation.

My personal take on disruptive innovations and the motorcycle industry

I am all about playing my role in reducing carbon emissions and making sure we slow down, and if possible stop global warming. In the last three years I’ve been five times to the Marshall Islands, a nation made out of 24 atolls. I’ve seen upfront what it means to live in a place in the middle of a vast ocean where the highest ground is only about 6ft above sea level.

Majuro Atoll: higher sea level and storm created waves that destroyed the foundation of the house (July 2015)

Majuro Atoll: higher sea level and storm created waves that destroyed the foundation of this cabin (July 2015).

It is scary going to this atoll, in the middle of nowhere, when you know you cannot escape a storm going to “higher ground”. And if you do need to escape, the airport may have been flooded, the runway destroyed, and rescue planes cannot land.  But I’m only a visitor, I’m only there a few days at a time.  What about the people who live there? One of my clients took me out on a quick tour the last time I was there, this last July, and pointed out to a flat slab of concrete: “that is where my house was” she said.  And that story happens in other places of the world, and eventually other impacts from global warming will also hit closer to home, our farmers and our urban living conditions will be affected as well. South Florida comes to mind.

Landing in Majuro atoll, Marshall Islands, July 2015

Landing in Majuro atoll, Marshall Islands, July 2015

On the other hand, I love motorcycles and a major part of what I enjoy while riding is about the internal combustion engine. I like all types of motors, be them a single cylinder, parallel twins, V-twins, boxer-twins and even in-line threes or fours. They all sound and vibrate in their own specific way, have torque and acceleration dynamics based on their configuration and displacement.  I won’t mind eventually getting an electric car, but an electric motorcycle is something I’m not looking forward to having if that is the only alternative I would have.

My 2013 Ducati Multistrada Pikes Peak

My 2013 Ducati Multistrada Pikes Peak

For the people like me, perhaps most of you reading this post, who love an internal combustion engine, motorcycles will likely lag behind on this revolution, even if the disruptive innovations will open new frontiers and new technologies that will improve the riding experience.

I consider ourselves to be lucky for still being allowed to ride when safety has regulated the auto industry many times over (seat belts, deformation zones, airbags, anti-lock brake systems, and eventually connected and autonomous cars) while motorcycles do not need to have a bumper neither most of those active or passive safety systems. As a matter of fact, in some American states you do not need to wear a helmet! How fortunate we are.

My 2013 Ducati Multistrada Pikes Peak

My 2013 Ducati Multistrada Pikes Peak

Electric is a given, but for now we should not be complaining about California’s clean air regulations or Europe’s Euro 4 standards either.  If by 2030 manufacturers will no longer produce internal combustion vehicles, and that will also apply to motorcycles, well, that’s only 13-14 years from now!  We may not have a choice eventually, so we should get on with the changes, but enjoy, while we can, our internal combustion engines. I will do that.

Thank you for reading.

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

Posted in Bike Reviews, Product Reviews, The Book | Tagged , , , , | 4 Comments

Why are motorcycle GPS devices so expensive? (and other mumblings about GPSes)

Have you ever wondered why GPS devices are so expensive when they are designed for motorcycles? Upfront I can already tell you, I don’t have an answer.  Anyway, let’s talk about it and about GPS devices in general and see what we can learn about them.

Current GPS: Garmin Nuvi 2495, more than two years of use on the motorcycles.

My GPS is a Garmin Nuvi 2495.  It is a car GPS, with more than two years of use on my motorcycles on all kinds of weather, including this ride here, when I went through rain and hail (June 2016)

Stand alone GPS devices are on the brink of extinction

How can I start a story without bringing up some context first? Two main items come to mind.  First is that portable GPS devices for vehicles are likely on the edge of extinction.  Our smart phones take care of our navigation needs these days.  New cars already come with their own navigation systems or they have an interface to connect and in some cases display your smart phone on the car’s own dashboard or screen.

Just a sample of the many navigation apps available for smart phones

Just a sample of the many navigation apps available for smart phones

For motorcycles, things are a few steps behind. While some riders use their smart phones as a GPS on their motorcycles, you get mixed results for this kind of use.  For one thing you cannot operate all smart phones with gloves. Second, smart phones are more delicate devices and more challenged when under the elements and on off road rides on a motorcycle.

I’ve been hearing recently about “disruptive innovations.”  The smart phone is perhaps the most disruptive of all innovations of the last 10 years.  The I-phone, for example, is only 9 years old and together with other smart phone devices that were released right after the I-phone, they have transformed our lives and how we operate in all areas of work and play.  Smart phones virtually ended telephone land lines, they are pushing consumer cameras off the market (the so called point-and-shoot cameras are basically gone), they challenge laptops, they will end the use of credit cards, they are our office operations on the palm of our hand, and yes, for our topic at hand, eventually they will make GPS devices redundant, even for motorcycle applications.

For now, though, I appreciate Garmin, Tom Tom and all other companies who continue to produce GPS stand alone devices, offering them on applications that work for hikers, cars, boats, airplanes, motorcycles, even when it is likely that one day they will no longer be needed for several if not all of these applications as stand alone devices.

I really like GPS Devices!

The second contextual factor I want to bring to the front of this conversation is about my relationship with GPS devices and maps.  I like paper maps, but I love GPSes.

My first map of the USA, with two years of travel documented. This map is old...

A historical map, two years of travel documented on a paper map when I first moved to Ohio.

I have paper maps for every location I traveled to.  Even when virtual maps are available on line, and I can plan a ride using software and a GPS, I like the physical contact with a paper map, the perspective you get from following a line on paper. When riding on a new location I like to eventually pull the map out and get a broader perspective about where I am and where I’m going next.

A small sample of my map collection

A small sample of my map collection

But I really like GPS devices.  My relationship with GPS devices started early when these products had just become available as consumer devices somewhere in the early 2000’s. The first time I used a GPS made me realize how convenient they are, and I remember exactly how it happened.  I lived in Columbus, OH, the heart of it all, at that time and had an ongoing project in Springfield, IL, land of Lincoln.  I used to fly frequently between Columbus and Springfield, this was the time when TWA existed and it had a hub in St Louis.  Remember TWA?  To fly to Springfield I had to change planes at the Saint Louis Airport, where I would take a turbo-prop plane for the short hop to Springfield.

On one of those trips, in 2003 I believe, I was coming back to Columbus. I had been dropped off at the Springfield airport and walked to the TWA counter to learn my flight from Springfield to St. Louis had been cancelled (side note: today we have apps on our smart phones that provide us with instant instant flight information – another disruption from this innovation, displacing a good amount of staff on airport desks – I fly may times in a year and I rarely, very rarely interface with staff in the many airports on my travels).  But this story is not about smart phones, it happened before smart phones existed, so when I learned about the cancellation of my flight, I also learned no other flights were available, it was the last flight of the day to St. Luis., and I was stuck in Springfield.

Well, there was an option, I could rent a car and drive to St Louis.  The two airports in question are 113 miles apart, a trip that is supposed to take 1h 45min if there is no traffic.  I negotiated a deal with TWA and rented the car, although they told me it was going to be a close call considering the travel time, plus the time it would take to return the car, and the time to get to my gate.

Luckily the rental car came with one of those early GPS devices, similar to the Nuvi 260 I would eventually purchase in 2005.  I was new to GPS devices, in fact, it was the very first time I manipulated and used one.  I entered the address where I had to return the car at the St Louis airport and went out on my drive.  Time was tight, there was no margin for error.  I instantly loved the directions given by the GPS, I was not going to spend time stopping to look at maps or backtracking after getting lost.

I learned how convenient it was to have the ETA feature (estimated time of arrival). As I drove south on 55 (incidentally a portion of 55 going north or south from Springfield is also the famous Route 66), I was gaining a few minutes on the ETA, traveling slightly (slightly, right) faster than the speed limit.  When I arrived in St Louis and merged onto I-70 west towards the airport, if memory serves me right it was somewhere around 7 or 8 in the evening, traffic was intense on I-70 and the ETA started going up.  And then I hit construction.

The road was closed for several miles, including the exit I should had taken to get to the airport, forcing me to exit I-70 and get on a detour.  I was in trouble by this time, I thought I was done with trying to arrive on time, I would miss my flight, and I would still get lost.  That’s when I heard another great feature of the GPS in action. As soon as I exited the freeway the words “recalculating” from the woman’s voice on the GPS came up and soon it put me on another route telling me again where to go, and I arrived on time to get to my flight. I was relieved. And I was impressed.

I have another very similar story when a GPS was a savior again, this one was in California in 2006, and this other story carried a bit of extra drama.  Maybe I will tell that other story at the end on this post, I don’t want to make the post yet longer.

What is relevant from this drive from Springfield to Saint Louis is that it got me hooked on GPS devices.  Not that I didn’t like gadgets already and not that I already had my eyes set on a GPS, but I learned how really convenient these devices were, there was not way back from that experience.  Sine I bought my first GPS in 2005, whenever I travel by car or motorcycle, I always want a GPS at my disposal. I love perusing information on my GPS, from the ETA, to alternate routes, to gas stations, restaurants, hotels, ATM, attractions n the area I’m riding or driving, besides the directions themselves. And now, with my latest GPS, I also have weather and traffic information, as well as telephone call notifications thanks to a blue tooth connection with my phone (here you go, the smart phone shows up again).

I agree with most people who say a GPS does not substitute a map.  I also agree that using a GPS can create a tunnel vision effect distracting me from landmarks as I get fixated on the directions the GPS provides me. Therefore, I strongly recommend that at a minimum the rider studies the maps of where he or she plans to ride before engaging on a trip with a GPS.  However, all in all, taking in consideration the appropriate caveats, I find GPS devices an indispensable tool for my car or motorcycle trips.

GPS devices are great, but why are they so expensive for motorcycle applications?

However, I continue to wonder, why are these devices, when dedicated for a motorcycle, so expensive? Are we paying the “extinction” tax (similar to the oil depletion tax subsidies we all pay)?  Perhaps this price differential resides on the differences between a car and a motorcycle GPS?

Garmin Zumo 395

Garmin Zumo 395 ($600)

The two versions of motorcycle GPSes currently available from Garmin, the 395LM and the 595LM, cost $600 and $900 respectively.

Garmin Zumo 595

Garmin Zumo 595 ($900)

I’m not sure about the prices of Tom Tom and other brands that might be available for motorcycles.  But I know Garmin GPSes have a motorcycle surcharge of sorts because comparatively to the 395 and 595 devices, two years ago I bought a Nuvi 2497, a car dedicated GPS, for $130.  That’s a fraction of the price of the Zumo devices.

Garmin Nuvi 2497 - an automotive GPS

Garmin Nuvi 2497 – an automotive GPS

I’ve browsed and lusted after motorcycle GPS devices for many years, always wondering when their prices would come  down enough to make sense for me to buy one. Car devices did become less expensive but motorcycle devices became more sophisticated and more expensive.  So I never bought one.

That’s why I use that Nuvi 2497, an inexpensive car GPS, on my motorcycles. As an alternative, or back up, I carry with me a GPS device designed for hikers (Garmin Oregon 450), I also carry my smart phone, and at least a paper map for each state or region I will be traveling on.

Despite liking GPS devices I’ve only bought three such devices so far, all of them Garmin devices:  A Nuvi 260 (more than 12 years old now), the Oregon 450 (about 6 years old, I believe), and the Nuvi 2497 (two years old) which is now my main GPS device. The three of them work well even after being exposed to all kinds of weather, from rain to hail, to sandstorms, to dirt and gravel roads. They have survived everything I encountered so far on my motorcycle rides.

My Garmin Nuvi 260. Retired in 2014 after 8 years of motorcycle use. It still works!

My Garmin Nuvi 260. Retired in 2014 after 10 years of use, including eight years of motorcycle use at that time. It still works!

What are then the differences between a motorcycle GPS and a car GPS? Are these differences enough to justify the price difference? I can tell you again: I still don’t know the answer to the price difference question. But let’s explore the possible reasons for this price differential.

What are these differences between a car and a motorcycle GPS?

To try to answer this question I looked at the official Garmin specs and the key differences across three devices: the two motorcycle devices (Zumo 395 and Zumo 595) and my Nuvi 2497 device. Lets talk about the price differences first.  The Nuvi 2497 I use cost me $130.  Today, a GPS with similar features, the Garmin Drive 50LMT, is rated at $230 (interesting price increase, but the 4 inch GPSes, like my Nuvi 2497 are no longer available).

Garmin Drive 50 LMT (Nuvi 2497 is no longer available)

Garmin Drive 50 LMT (Nuvi 2497 is no longer available)

That means, the Garming Zumo 595 costs 3.5 times more than the Garmin Drive 50 LMT, and the Zumo 395 costs 2.6 times more than the Garmin Drive 50 LMT.  If you don’t want blue tooth connection, you can get the Garmin Drive 50 for less than $200.

Main difference: Is the Nuvi 2497 waterproof?

I assume the first thing that comes to everyone’s mind is whether the GPS is waterproof, a very important characteristic for motorcycle use.



Nuvi 2497


Zumo 395


Zumo 595


The Nuvi is not waterproof.  But is it really?  My two non-waterproof GPS devices have been on rain, hail and sandstorms.  And they have never failed. So far. 12 years and counting…

The Nuvi 2497 during a rain shower.

The Nuvi 2497 during a rain shower.

How do I manage that? For one thing, its case appears to be waterproof already from Garmin. Of course there are the various water ingress points such as the on/off button, the card slot, speakers, the microphone (the 21497 can be voice actuated) and the cable connection.  None of these are waterproof.  That’s when Gorilla tape enters the conversation.

Gorilla Tape

Gorilla Tape

What I’ve done to both my Nuvi 260 and more recently to my Nuvi 2497 is to cover all water ingress zones with Gorilla tape.

The back of the Nuvi 260 after tape was removed after its retirement. The same Gorilla tape lasted all years of use!

The back of the Nuvi 260, you can see the marks left by the tape after it was removed when I retired this GPS (maps were so outdated after so many years it was cheaper to buy a new GPS).

I did the same thing for the Nuvi 2497.  I covered the on/off button, the speaker, the microphone, and the card slot with Gorilla tape.  After two years I recently took a closer look and realized it needs some adjustments (picture below shows the tape coming unglued).  But this device has never failed me so far. The thing is, even if it had failed, I could buy another two of them before I would get to the Zumo price.

Two years later, the Gorilla tape needs some adjustments.

Nuvi 2497 two years later, the Gorilla tape needs some adjustments.

Probably the most difficult component to keep dry is where the cable connects to the back of the unit.  I use a RAM mount (another important item that makes it work on motorcycles) and covered the connecting cable with Gorilla tape on top of the RAM mount.  In this case, I tried using Powerlet cables so the unit can be mounted and dismounted without removing it from the RAM mount.  But the Powerlet cables did not deliver the promised performance. More on that later.

Gorilla Tape covering the connection on the back of the unit.

Gorilla Tape covering the connection on the back of the unit, back when it was new

As mentioned before, despite the improvised nature, this set up has proven to work, keeping this GPS operational under all types of riding and all weather conditions.  It is not perfect, it requires keeping an eye on it.  It is here where you can make your first calculation:  is the inconvenience of adding Gorilla tape to several parts of this GPS a problem?  What if water enters the unit and damages it? Well, how many times this has to happen, how many Nuvi devices you need to buy before you get to the price of the motorcycle version?  So far I’ve been using this method for 10 years without a problem, without failure.The bottom line?  I’m not sure making the Zumo line waterproof explains the cost differential.  But for me, since the devices I use have survived the elements so far, then the price differential does not justify it.

Another main difference: How bright the screen is!

Let;s try something else. A car device does not need to be too bright since it is likely it will be seen on the interior of a car, which is shaded.


Nuvi 2497

WQVGA color TFT with white backlight

Zumo 395

WQVGA color TFT with white backlight

Zumo 595


For a motorcycle device, this is different. You will be under the elements and under direct sun light. The TFT display with white backlight of the Nuvi (or the Zumo 395 for that matter) is not bright enough, depending on where the sun is.  Direct sun light is the worst possible scenario for these screens.  At night or on cloudy days it is fine.  A transflective display is great under direct sun light.  Is it worth the investment? If I were to buy one of the two Zumo devices for this reason it would have to be the Zumo 595, and then the $900 is too much, in my opinion. It is more than what I consider worth for the benefit of having the brighter screen.

Other Motorcycle specific specs?

So far, the cost of making the device waterproof and have a transflective screen may explain most of the cost differential.  However, these two items have not become essential for me to have on my devices, therefore, they have not justified the premium price. Therefore, let’s go forward and examine more specific motorcycle features of the Zumo line and how it compares to my Nuvi.



Trip Planner

Tire Pressure Monitor


Nuvi 2497

No adventurous routing …

Trip Planner:
Trip Log

No tire pressure monitoring system

Smart notifications via Smartphone Link.

Zumo 395

Garmin Adventurous Routing™:

Trip Planner:
Trip Log

Tire pressure monitor system
sensors sold separately

I assume it comes with smart notifications

Zumo 595

Garmin Adventurous Routing™:

Trip Planner:
Trip Log

Tire pressure monitor system sensors sold separately

Streaming music/media

Smart notifications:

I would like to have the tire pressure monitors and the routing capability.  For the routing I use my Oregon 450.  It is small, since it is meant to be a handheld device, but it is very doable in a motorcycle application.  It would be more convenient to have all of that in one unit. That would be one feature I would like to have on a new device.

Garmin Oregon 450 on my WR250R, Death Valley, March 2016

Garmin Oregon 450 on my WR250R, Death Valley, March 2016

Then again, the reality is that I only really use it when going off road. Perhaps it is because of the inconvenience of having to bring the Oregon 450 with me, setting it up, is that the result is that most of the time, by a great, great margin, I’m only using my Nuvi, even when going off road. Point for the Zumo line here.

My Garmin Oregon 450, a GPS for hikers, and I use it on my motorcycles and on my bicycles

My Garmin Oregon 450, a GPS for hikers, and I use it on my motorcycles and on my bicycles

The tire pressure monitor is a convenient feature.  It hasn’t justified the expense to me yet, but in the future this is something to look into. Some motorcycles already come with their own tire pressure monitors these days. For now, point to the Zumo line.

Did I miss any other essential features here?

A clear disadvantage for car GPSes when using on a motorcycle are the cables and the micro-USB connection.  The Nuvi devices devices come with a regular and large 12 V plug and a long and bulky cable and a very fragile connector with the GPS (micro USB). Besides being bulky, they are not meant to be connected and disconnected on a regular basis, where dust and water may get into the connections.  I’ve tried instead to use Powerlet cables, as mentioned before, but for some reason they don’t work very well.

Powerlet extension for Garmin GPS

Powerlet extension for Garmin GPS, a collection of failed cables

Frequently these cables get disconnected, no matter how much tape I use to keep connecting points tight, and the GPS turns off or keeps turning on and off.  It is really a problem.  Therefore I’ve given up the Powerlet option after many tries and have resorted to plugging and unplugging the GPS using the long and bulky car cable.  It uses a bit more of Gorilla tape (I can re-use it but there is only so much the tape can take until it no longer seals the connections), but so far, so good…  If there is an achilles heel for the car GPS on a motorcycle application, that will be its cable and connectors.  Point for the Zumo again.

In conclusion

The bottom line is that, in my opinion, I don’t need to buy an expensive GPS to have a navigation system for my motorcycles.  There are risks associated with it but so far it has worked very well for me.

Hail! Nuvi 2497 unaffected by hail

Nuvi 2497, unaffected by hail

Maybe I’ve been lucky, but my car GPS devices have survived all sorts of riding and types of terrain without a problem.  Rain and hail have not been a problem, a sandstorm has not been a problem either. From dirt to gravel roads, nothing has been a problem for my Nuvi devices either.

But then again, why is the Zumo line so expensive? Is its waterproof capacity what makes it so expensive?  Is it the capacity (software) to offer a route and track system? The navigation software cuts across so many Garmin products, you would think there are economies of scale on the programming of the device. Is it the tire monitor pressure system? Is it the transflective display?  Are there other features I forgot to mention?  All in all, at the end of the day, I’m happy with the budget device I have.  Would I prefer to have a Garmin 595? Yes. Price it much lower and I will buy one tomorrow.

The counterpoint: There is one exception to my analysis. I do think motorcycle GPSes are really convenient on BMW motorcycles, since you can navigate the GPS menus without taking your hand from the handlebars.  The combination of the built n control and the GPS and its proprietary mount makes it yet more expensive.  But I do see value on it, something to consider. (Note: back to the disruptive innovation, I can see how eventually such a clever wheel (or similar device on a motorcycle) will control your Smart phone and hence your smartphone built-in GPS and the stand alone GPS will still be gone.  It is just a question of time, the wheel has opened the door for this possibility).

GPS control wheel, installed GPS on the background

BMW S1000XR: GPS control wheel on the left, GPS on the background

Meanwhile, when my Nuvi 2497 dies I will get the next Nuvi available or equivalent.  And as you can see, I don’t have an answer.  Maybe you have your own answer for how much you are willing to pay to have the one device that will take care of all your navigation needs on a motorcycle.

Bonus feature (or making the long story longer yet):

The other story I mentioned earlier, when a GPS was a savior, was in 2005.  It is very similar to the story in Springfield.  This time it was in Sacramento, California.

I was coming back from Sacramento, after a work meeting with a colleague of mine.  I did not have a smartphone yet, the I-phone was released in 2007, so I had my Nuvi 260 with me because we rented a car in Sacramento.

We finished our business, returned the car and went to the United desk.  When we got there there was a crowd of people around the agent. Yes, the connecting flight to San Francisco, from which we would catch our flight to Eugene had been canceled. No other options were available that late in the day.  My colleague had her daughter at home with a sitter and the sitter would not be available to stay another night, so she really did not want to miss the San Francisco to Eugene flight.

I brought up the rental car scenario to the United agent, they said United was not going to pay for it.  As we were negotiating this, and I do negotiate almost anything, another passenger, wearing a gray suit, arrived.  He was really agitated and just said: I will pay for the car and we travel together to San Francisco. I looked at my colleague, she nodded yes, and that was it. We had transportation.

Very similar to my story in Springfield, making it by car would be very, very close! Everything would have to work very well for us to arrive on time for the connecting flight.  The distance between the Sacramento and San Francisco airports is 105 miles via the faster route, and is expected to take just less than two hours to arrive.

We got the car, well the guy on a suit got the car (I can’t remember his name, I think it was Greg, let’s call him Greg).  As soon as we start driving we started to learn Greg’s story.  First of all, his flight was departing 3o minutes earlier than hours. If our time was tight, his was even tighter.

The second story Greg told us, as we are already on the I-80 towards San Francisco is that he was an attorney working out of New York City. He had come down to Sacramento for a deposition on a malpractice law suit against a dentist. As he is finishing his work he gets a phone call from a hospital in NYC, and he learns his wife had been admitted in the emergency area of the hospital due to a health issue (I don’t remember what it was, I think it was heart related).  His two young kids (under 6 years old) were at home with the cleaning lady.

This guy could not afford to miss his San Francisco to New York flight.  I became the co-pilot and operations manager. I think the car rental agency was National, and because now I learned Greg was really in a hurry I called the car rental company and got the exact location for delivering the car,  I took my Nuvi 260 out of the bag and entered the address and got an official ETA. The ETA was tight, very tight.  We would make it if we did not need to return the car. So Greg steps on it, we are driving upwards to 85 mph. My colleague on the back seat complains about the speed we are traveling and we both turn and say “shut up”.  Well, we did not say it that way, but we did tell her we would be fine, just relax. But we slowed down some.

So I had another idea, and called National again, asking for a curb side delivery of the car (as in deliver the car at the United departure area of the airport).  After a few back and forth conversations, and explaining our situation, they said they could not do it as we requested at that time, but offered to let us drive to National, close the deal (return the car), but stay in the car and an agent would drive us to Greg’s check in area.

The GPS helped us navigate the freeway system as we arrived in the San Francisco area and then took us straight to National. The agent jumped on the car with the paperwork, took the drivers’ position, and delivered us to Greg’s gate.  We haven’t heard from Greg since the time we said goodbye to him at the United desk in San Francisco, but we know he did not miss his flight.

And the Nuvi 260 was really helpful in making sure he did not miss his flight. We did not miss our flight either.

Thank you for reading!

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

Posted in Product Reviews, The Book | Tagged , , | 9 Comments

Should I upgrade my 2013 Ducati Multistrada Pikes Peak with the DVT model?

Should I upgrade my 2013 Ducati Multistrada Pikes Peak with the 2016 Pikes Peak model? That’s the question.  I’m not the only one grappling with this question since 2015, when Ducati incorporated many upgrades to the Multistrada, especially the DVT motor.

2016 Ducati Multistrada Pikes Peak on the right, my 2013 Pikes Peak on the right.

2016 Ducati Multistrada Pikes Peak on the left, my 2013 Pikes Peak on the right.

On this post I will discuss ten reasons to keep my Multistrada Pikes Peak or to get the new DVT model.  These reasons are not “either or” scenarios, they are just considerations on specific items, where, on my personal view, I would favor one motorcycle or the other.  Your take might be different than mine item by item, but you can use this framework to reach your own conclusions.

2016 Ducati Multistrada Pikes Peak

2016 Ducati Multistrada Pikes Peak

A premise for this comparison is that besides the DVT Multistrada I haven’t seen other motorcycles that would work as an upgrade to my Multistrada.  There are some motorcycles that are better on sport or touring performance.  When you combine sport and touring, though, and put together on a upright riding position package, the Multistrada is still my favorite so far. I say “so far” because I’m open to other motorcycles, and will look for alternatives if something comes up.  For now the Multistrada DVT is the natural upgrade to my sport/touring motorcycle, the 2013 Ducati Multistrada Pikes Peak.

The 2016 Mutistrada DVT Standard model I test rode

The 2016 Mutistrada DVT Standard model I test rode

Within the Multistrada line the alternatives have improved with the addition of the Enduro version.  But it is the Pikes Peak primarily the one that gathers my attention, hence the one that will be discussed here.

My 2013 Ducati Multistrada Pikes Peak

My 2013 Ducati Multistrada Pikes Peak

Now that we have discussed the context at hand, we are ready to start bringing up, one by one, the items, the differences between the 2013/14 and the 2015/16 Pikes Peak bikes, that can make me, or you, favor one or the other.

Reason 1: The Testatretta motor!

No question, one of the most critical elements that makes the Multistrada successful is its motor. When this bike first came out in 2010, the motor was all the rage. This bike was a first on that front and has created a new segment, we now have a few other options delivering similar or better level performance from their motors from KTM, BMW, Aprilia, and others. So let’s start with the Testastretta motor.

The case to keep the 2013: The dual spark motor performance and characteristics

Although the DVT motor has more power, is more stable on low RPM, and is smoother throughout the rev band when compared to the 2013 motor, its power delivery at the mid portion of the RPM range does not feel as strong as what I experience in my motorcycle’s Testratretta dual spark motor.

Testastretta twin-spark motor, Multistradas 2013 and 2014.

Testastretta twin-spark motor, Multistradas 2013 and 2014.

The 2013/14 Multistrada’s motor is a re-designed version of the original Testastretta motor on the 2010/12 models.  The re-design included several modifications that improved the management of spark, fuel, and the air mixture maximizing its efficiency and stability at lower RPM.  It was a subtle but critical improvement.

The 2013/14 motors maintain just enough of the characteristic vibration of a V-twin, it is something I actually like.  But it is not overwhelming at all, it is just a light touch you feel via the handlebars, seat and pegs. When you add the v-twin vibration to the dynamic forces of acceleration and sound, it does give a feel of raw performance, it delivers an aggressive attitude. It is telling you there is a strong v-twin in there, taking you on this high performance adventure, and in the case of this specific motor, it is willing to give you more as you climb the rev range.

The Evolution of the Multistrada Testastretta motors

The Evolution of the Multistrada Testastretta motors (the 1198 was the original motor)

In preparation for this write up, I rode my Mutistrada over the weekend, just to be reminded of what this motor is all about. At 4,500 RPM that motor is already very responsive and linear. The magic spot, the characteristic of a motorcycle where I enjoy the riding experience the most, happens at the confluence of vibration, RPM gain, speed gain, and induction sounds.  On this bike it starts just above 5K RPM on the “150 hp high” setting.  That’s the sweet spot of its motor, all the way to about 8K RPM, giving me a great latitude, a wide range for fun.  This is ultimately the reason I like this motor, and why I keep it at the 150 hp and on the high setting, where its delivery is sharp, even when on Urban mode.

Even Urban setting is kept at 150 HP with the High acceleration on my bike

Even Urban setting is kept at 150 HP with the High (150 HIGH) acceleration on my bike

The case to get the DVT bikes: The DVT motor performance and characteristics

As a counter point, though, the DVT motor is sublime. Although it is smooth at higher RPMs, you would never question there is a V-twin pulling you through when riding this motorcycle, especially at lower RPMs. There are several advantages to this motor, from technical to experiential in relation to the motor on my motorcycle.

The DVT Motor

The DVT Motor

From the technical side, it is yet more efficient than the motor from each it evolved.  Actually, there are so many differences, it is a different motor altogether.  The most important one, of course, is on its name, the variable valve timing on intake and exhaust valves.  It delivers more power and yet more improvements to low RPM motor stability, and better fuel efficiency, without compromising performance on the higher end of the rev range.  As a matter of fact, this motor has about 10% more torque than the dual spark motor.

On the experiential side of things, when comparing to my 2013, the DVT motor does feel more stable at low RPM.  However where I noticed the most improvement was on how smooth it is under strong acceleration.  And since we are talking about strong acceleration, there is rush of power you get above 6K RPM from this motor… it is something out of this world. That’s where the sweet spot of this motor resides.

Although that rush of power is great, it comes with a down side. If you are in touring mode you will experience a slow down on the acceleration rate when the motor goes from 4K to 6K RPM. It is somewhat of a disappointment to have that flat spot on the torque curve, but it only makes the acceleration you experience above 6K so much more intense.

In conclusion, I would say both motors are great. The dual-spark motor delivers more of a raw performance, it is an in your face performance, and you get some nice induction sounds along the way, it is a true v-twin motor, perhaps the last of a generation.  The DVT motor, on the other hand, is a lot more refined, but it is still delivering a thrilling performance. It requires a change on how you use the gears, if you want to be on the sweet spot, but when you are there you will be rewarded! For as much as I like the feel of the dual spark motor, there is no looking back, the DVT motor on itself is already a good reason to upgrade to a 2015 or 20156 model.

Reason 2: Reliability and Service intervals

Anytime someone knows I ride a Ducati one of the questions that comes up in the conversation is about reliability and service intervals.  These are important items to consider when we know these bikes are expensive to maintain and service.

The case to keep it: reliability

The twin-spark motor turned out to be reliable.  My motorcycle has never had any mechanical problems.  It was also the first Ducati motor to have a 15,000 mile service interval, which is great progress for these service demanding Ducati motors.  However, it still requires belts to be changed every two years.

The 2013 Twin-spark motor, 24,000 Km, 15,000 miles service interval.

My 2013 Twin-spark motor, 24,000 Km, 15,000 miles service interval.

The case to get the DVT bikes:

While we are still learning about the DVT motors, who knows what reliability level they will reach, they incorporate lots of changes and new technology.  What we know is that these motors have yet a longer service interval than the motor they substitute. Its service interval is 30,000 Km which translates to 18,750 miles.  And I hear (to be confirmed) the belts need to serviced only every 5 years.  That is not bad at all.

DVT Motor: Desmove service every 30,000 Km, 18,750 miles

DVT Motor: Desmove service every 30,000 Km, 18,750 miles

I would say, in the long term, the DVT motor, with its longer service intervals, will carry more value, not even considering what it already gains in performance and efficiency from the variable valve timing technology.

Reason 3: The Suspension

Aside from the motor, another important item that makes the Multistrada successful is the suspension.  The 2010-12 models had the Öhlins suspension, and from the 2013 model the Multistrada line comes equipped with Sachs semi-active suspension, also called the Skyhook which with Ducati’s name added to the acronym it becomes DSS.  In 2015 the Multistrada continues with the Skyhook, but with evolutionary upgrades.

However the 2015-16 Pikes Peak comes with an evolution of the Öhlins you would find on the first versions (2010-12).  This makes for a difficult decision here, and it will probably be the most important one for several people.  I remember on motorcycle forums in 2013 some people were very passionate for Öhlins or for Sachs semi-active suspension. The reason for the controversy is obvious: they are both good suspension systems.  But they are also different.

The case to keep it:  Sachs Skyhook Suspension (DSS)

The case for Skyhook is comfort and the easiness to get performance from it.  You can dial it in to your own style of riding going through a series of menu items. It is incredible how the DSS, Ducati’s semi-active suspension, works.

DSS: Ducati Skyhook Semi-active suspension.

DSS: Ducati Skyhook Semi-active suspension.

Once you ride a motorcycle with it, and you happen to like it, which is my case, you want all suspensions to work the same way, especially when you travel on rough surfaces. On sport mode, for example, it keeps the damping you need for aggressive riding, but softens the edges of imperfections on the road. Overall, it is likely to keep the wheels on the ground on a more evenly fashion while making the ride more comfortable as well.

Therefore, you should get more performance, safety, and also comfort out of it.  The tendency is that more and more motorcycles will have semi-active suspensions. We already these systems on premium brands such as KTM, Aprilia, BMW, and MV Agusta.

The case to upgrade to the DVT: Öhlins suspension, including the fully adjustable Öhlins TTX36 shock

On the other hand, Öhlins is known to deliver high performance suspension. I rode a 2010 Multistrada with Öhlins and liked it. I also rode the 2016 DVT with the standard  suspension (not semi-active) more recently. After so many years riding Skyhook semi-active suspension, I’ve gotten used with it. However, riding the standard Multistrada I got reminded about how good it is to have better feedback from the front end of the bike.

Ohlins front forks

Ohlins  front forks, the gold stanchion is back…

Semi-active suspensions don’t give you that important detail, the feedback you may want to feel at the handle bars. The feedback makes it easier to ride faster, even if semi-active suspensions deliver optimized performance in varying conditions. You need to trust the semi-active suspension, you read the bike better on “analog” suspension.

Overall, I would like to have both suspensions, and then switch to one or the other by a flick of a button. Since that is not possible, if I had to opt, I would give a try to Öhlins next.  I know I would miss the Skyhook, though.  That is a tough decision.  You can go with Multistrada S with DVT, in which case you get the DVT motor, but an evolutionary version of the semi-active suspension.

Reason 4: Riding technology package, the case to get the DVT bikes

Since both bikes offer high level of technology, and the choice is between these two bikes,  having technology is not an issue favoring one or the other bike. As a matter of fact, riding technology is another element that characterized the Multistrada, since it was one of the first motorcycles to have a full package including riding modes, power delivery modes, suspension settings, levels of ABS and traction control.

That is, if you like a Multistrada, chances are you like the technology that comes with it as well.  Therefore, when comparing the 2013/14 Multistradas to the 2015/16 models, there is no question, advantage goes to the DVT bikes.

Latest version of Bosch's ABS, with stability control (the "cornering ABS)

Latest version of Bosch’s ABS, with stability control (the “cornering ABS)

And that’s because of the upgrades it includes.  Two items are probably making the case unambiguous:  Bosch’s ABS with stability control, the famous “cornering ABS”; and cruise control.

Thanks to Bosch and KTM for introducing the cornering ABS to their Adventure models, a technology that has become a requirement on all top brands since then. KTM has it, BMW has it, and the DVT Multistradas have it.  I want my next performance motorcycle to have cornering ABS.

The second item, cruise control, is not the most important item, but there are moments when you really wish you had it, when you need to do something with both hands, things you shouldn’t be doing  (like turning the camera on).  Or when you need to rest your right wrist on a long ride. It is very convenient even if you only use it once in a while. I’m at the “why not” camp for that one. I want my next touring motorcycle to have cruise control.

Cruise control on the DVT

Cruise control on the DVT

Reason 5: Seat height

The DVT Multistradas have a lower seat, offering better reach to the ground for inseam challenged people.

Lowe seat height can be a major advantage for the DVT models

Lowe seat height can be a major advantage for the DVT models, should you be inseam-challenged

Depending on how tall you are you may find this a reason to upgrade or not.  For me, this is a major positive item!  When riding my Multistrada I’m always observant when stopping about how at least one foot will reach the ground and how stable that reach needs to be.

Reason 6: Marchesini wheels, the case for the 2o13/14 models

On the previous Pikes Peak models, Marchesini wheels has been the one major item that characterized the model, besides the color scheme.

Marchesini wheels on the Pikes Peak, discontinued on the 2015 and 2016 models.

Marchesini wheels on the Pikes Peak, discontinued on the 2015 and 2016 models.

That’s no longer the case, the DVT Pikes Peak models come with cast wheels.

Cast wheels on the 2015-16 Pikes Peak

Cast wheels on the 2015-16 Pikes Peak

This is not a priority item, but it makes a difference on performance and strength of the wheel and is one of those contributing items that help with the decision.

Reason 7: Information display, the case for the DVT models

This is a no-brainer. The new TFT color display of the DVT models is so much better than the monochrome displays of the previous series.

2010-14 Multistrada Monochrome displays

2010-14 Multistrada Monochrome displays

Some have complained the new TFT displays scratch easily. There is always a downside, right? You can apply protective film to them, problem solved.

The TFT color display in the DVT model. More informative, easier to navigate

The TFT color display in the DVT model. More informative, easier to navigate

Aside from looking better, the DVT model offers a much easier navigation process. Just one more reason to go for the DVT models.

Reason 8: Engine sounds and the Termignoni silencer, the case for the DVT Models (2015/16)

When Ducati announced the Pikes Peak model in 2013 it showed pictures of the bike with the Termignoni slip on. It happened that it was not included on the bikes destined for the American market. Now it is part of the Pikes Peak package.

Termignoni slip on on the DVT Pikes Peak

Termignoni slip on on the DVT Pikes Peak

It happens that I like the sound of the DVT bikes better and with the Termignoni silencer it gets even better.  It is the case of getting the Pikes Peak DVT.

Item 9: The overall package, the case for the DVT bikes

There are so many other items on the new model, like cornering lights (lights that come on when the bike is leaned to illuminate the direction when cornering), back lit switches. I also like the shorty carbon fiber wind screen on the DVT better.

Carbon fiber shorty on the Pikes Peak DVT, another point for the DVT bikes!

Carbon fiber shorty on the Pikes Peak DVT, another point for the DVT bike!

The overall fit and finish quality seems to have been improved as well. It is, overall, a more refined motorcycle.

Item 10: The looks! So subjective…

It took me a long time to acquire a taste for the Multistrada, what with the beak and the  angry bird face. The Pikes Peak bikes were always a better paint scheme in my opinion. And the 2013/14 Pikes Peak models in particular are unique when compared to the other two Pikes Peak versions.  The first Pikes Peak version had the red and white and black and the shiny carbon pieces, a nice looking beast.

2012 Multistrada Pikes Peak

2012 Ducati Multistrada Pikes Peak – official Ducati photo

But the 2013-2014 model is the only one that is only red and white.  It looks more aggressive, sharp, and the satin carbon fiber adds a nice touch to it. It is my favorite.

2013 Ducati Multistrada Pikes Peak - Official Ducati photo.

2013 Ducati Multistrada Pikes Peak – Official Ducati photo.

It is not that I don’t like the new Pikes Peak paint scheme, but on looks alone, I prefer the 2013.

2016 Multistrada Pikes Peak

2016 Multistrada Pikes Peak

Of course, this is very subjective. And it should not be a determinant factor on someone’s choice.  But it helps.  I doubt Multistrada motorcycles of this vintage (2010-2016) will become collectible items some day, but if it were the case, I would bet on the Pikes Peak models more than the others to have that space in history.  And perhaps the 2013-14 models are a special case on that scenario, or so I would hope. Aside from the Pikes Peak versions, a potentially collectible version of the Multistrada could be the black color on the 2010-2011 S models which are rare motorcycles.  And those black bikes look great as well.


In my mind, there is no question the DVT is a much improved motorcycle. If my Pikes Peak checked all boxes when I got it, the new one comes with “optional” boxes that did not exist at that time.

Which Pikes Peak? 2016 DVT or my 2013?

Which Pikes Peak? 2016 DVT or my 2013?

At this point, I want the DVT motorcycle. I have other priorities at the moment which do not allow me to indulge on the new level of performance and quality the DVT bikes deliver, and in specific the Pikes Peak, my unambiguous choice.  Also, I think I have a few more adventures to accomplish with my Pikes Peak. It is still my favorite and the best motorcycle I’ve ever had.

I still want to have more adventures with this bike

I’m not done with  my Pikes Peak, I want to have more adventures with it

But if someone is considering the upgrade, Ducati has a campaign with the Pikes Peak where you can get 1.99% financing or $1,200 cash for accessories.  That should make it easy, right?

I will dream about the DVT, but I can’t complain, my Pikes Peak is an awesome motorcycle.

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





Posted in Bike Reviews | Tagged , , , , | 10 Comments

The 2017 BMW R NineT Scrambler is here!

I got a text message earlier today… “bring your camera!” it said.  I was involved in so many calls and conversations today, it was hard to wait until I could find the time to get to the European Motorcycles of Western Oregon to check this thing out in person.

The 2017 BMW R NineT Scrambler is here!

The 2017 BMW R NineT Scrambler is here!

I had seen one of these bikes for the first time in February at the One Moto show in Portland. But this time I could see and touch it as well.

It is something!

It is something! Just beautiful.

I don’t know what angle is the best angle to photograph this machine. They are all nice angles o this bike.

Beautiful from all angles

Beautiful from all angles

It doesn’t have the nice front forks of the R NineT roadster.  Nor the aluminum tank.  And a few other items here and there, showing BMW wanted to make sure this bike started at a lower price point than the R NineT Roadster.

Another nice view...

Another nice view…


However, you can build your own by selecting options or getting BMW accessories for this bike, and almost bringing it all the way to the roadster level. ABS is standard. As options you can get traction control, heated grips, cross-spoke wheels and off road tires, for example.  As accessories, there is a long list.  As examples, you can get a headlight protector, a short seat and the aluminum hand brushed tank.

Footpegs are positioned slightly lower than on the roadster. The Akrapovic exhaust is "scramblerized"

Footpegs are positioned slightly lower than on the roadster. The Akrapovic exhaust is “scramblerized”

The cast wheels are okay.  The cross spoke wheels are better looking in my opinion.  My one complaint about this bike? The one-clock. Really? One clock is okay, but why not make it an analog tachometer? Speed shows so well in digital form. I guess that is an issue of preference.  Not my preference, in this case.  During the preliminary videos released by BMW, they do talk about a two-clock option.  But I haven’t seen that on any of the official materials available so far.

Single clock. Looks nice but...

Single clock. Looks nice but…

On the other hand, I like the Metzeler Karoo 3 tires.

Metzeler Karoo 3 tires. A no extra cost option.

Metzeler Karoo 3 tires. A no extra cost option.

It comes only on this matte gray color, called… Monolith Metallic Matt. Despite the name, I like this color a lot. I actually prefer it to the original black or the hand brushed aluminum tank version. The matte gray works well with the orange tones of the seat.

Gray tank and orange seat, good match, in my opinion.

Gray tank and orange seat, good match, in my opinion.

By the way the seat is not leather. It looks like leather, it almost feels like leather, they did a great job at it, even with the stitches in some strategic areas, giving a more realistic look of leather.  I like the color of the seat as well.

I want one!

I want one!

I had a chance to check the ergos. It is taller than the roadster, but I still can flat foot it (my inseam is between 30 and 31) with both feet.  The handlebars are taller than on the roadster.  It checks all the boxes on the ergos.

Another 'round the world machine?

Another ’round the world machine?

I can see riding this machine around the world. Or just around the block. I would take it many times around the block… It looks like the perfect machine, the essence of what riding is all about. It is unassuming, a good mix of old school but modern, a classic motor, but with great performance. Based on my test rides on the R NineT roadster, it is powerful and a lot of fun to ride. One of the best machines I’ve ever ridden.

Ready for adventures!

Ready for adventures!

If you want to see one of these bikes in person, contact your local BMW shop, they should have one ready.  If you are in the general proximity of Eugene, check with Mickey at the European Motorcycles of Western Oregon. Who knows till when they will have this bike available… I bet not too long.

Thank you for reading.

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A Ducati Multistrada 939?

While I was entertaining the possibility that Ducati would come up with a real enduro machine based on the Scrambler line, a reader from Moto.It came across this disguised motorcycle that looks a lot like the Multistrada, but in a smaller version.

A 939 Multistrada?

A 939 Multistrada?

The folks at Moto.It believe the motor is the one from the 939 line (as in Hyperstrada, Hypermotard).  It makes sense to me.  When I tested the previous Hyperstrada version (you can read that report here), the one based on the 821 motor, I thought it was a perfect machine.  At 110 hp at 9,250 RPM and 65.8 lb-ft at 7,750 RPM I thought it lacked a bit of grunt, well, when compared to my 1200 Multistrada and my previous Streefighter 848.  Having said that, the motor’s performance was not quite and issue, it actually moved the bike fast and the motor was very smooth at it.


I test rode the Hyperstrada (this was the 821 version)

Overall lack of comfort for touring and some, well, lack of “maturity” to the design was more of an issue to me on the Hyuperstrada. Nothing wrong about it being a hooligan machine, at 450lbs of weight. However, it lacked the travel requirements I would think a “strada” motorcycle should have.

If Ducati develops a 939 Multistrada, though, that would make this smaller size bike such a perfect motorcycle for so many who, like me, think the Hyperstrada just doesn’t cut it, and for the ones who think the Multistrada 1200 is a bit too much. As a matter of fact, a 939 Multistrada would actually be comparable to the lovely MV Agusta Turismo Veloce.


2016 MV Agusta Turismo Veloce 800

To keep things in perspective, the 939 motor in the Hyperstrada delivers 113 hp at 9,000 RPM and 72.2 ln-ft at 7,500 rpm.  These numbers are very close to the Turismo Veloce’s numbers of 110 hp at 10,000 RPM and 61.2 lb-ft at 8,000 rpm.  And if I remember my ride on the Turismo Veloce, it was plenty fun!  You can read it here.

Overall, a 939 cc Multistrada would fit a perfect spot in the range of what we can call mid-size sport touring motorcycles and it would show how Ducati continues to expand its motorcycle lines, and investing more on adventure machines.


Talking about adventure, Ducati, please hurry up, burn a few marketing steps, and put together the Enduro version of this Multistrada 939.  Am I dreaming too big?  Maybe not, judging by that “spy” photo, this smaller Multistrada already comes with a 19 inch front wheel and double-sided swingarm.  And the low seat height might allow for 21-inch front wheel and more suspension travel for an Enduro version without making it a too tall of a motorcycle.


Let’s see if this possible Multistrada 939 will show up at EICMA.  Very likely at this point. Or if Ducati delivers an Enduro Scrambler. Or both bikes, and then some?

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The Honda CB500X Adventure – Part 5: Riding it on Death Valley – Is it an adventure motorcycle?

The Death Valley adventure continues. Today we will ride Goler Wash Road and go over Mengel Pass, it will be a great opportunity to test the CB500X on various types of roads,  the kinds of terrain an adventure machine is expected to manage.  The previous day was a preliminary test of this motorcycle, on today’s loop, with new and more challenging obstacles, we will gather more data to discuss how much of an adventure machine the CB500X can possibly be.

The CB500X Adventure Conquers Mengel Pass

The CB500X Adventure Conquers Mengel Pass… but… do you see rain drops on the bike?

The Mengel Pass Loop

This loop is 177 miles long, starting from our camp on Panamint Springs, to Mengel Pass via Ballarat and back to camp via West Side road and Furnace Creek. I subdivided the route into these six segments:

  1. Panamint Springs to Ballarat – 32.8 miles
  2. Ballarat to Goler Wash Road – 15.2 miles
  3. Goller Wash Road to Mengel Pass – 9.1 miles
  4. Mengel Pass to West Side Highway – 24.3 miles
  5. West Side Highway to Furnace Creek – 39.6 miles
  6. Stovepipe Wells back to Panamint Springs – 56 miles
177-mile loop

177-mile loop

The terrain on this loop offers a great variety of riding conditions:

  • Pavement at the beginning of segment 1, the end of segment 5, and the entirety of segment 6;
  • Gravel highways with nice sweeping curves on most of segment 1, the entirety of segment 2 and most of segment 5 (Note: gravel roads are my all time favorite type of road for motorcycle riding, especially when it includes sweeping curves);
  • Gravel two-track roads (my second favorite type of riding) on the majority of segments 3 and 4;
  • Rocky, slow going, pick your line or you will not have ground clearance, on steep terrain. We fund this type of road on small portions of segments 3 and 4 (Note: this is something I’m not good at, making it my least favorite type of riding); and
  • The bonus segment…. deep sand riding thanks to a major sandstorm that in less than one hour covered a portion of the West Side road with more than a foot of sand, in the beginning of segment 5 (Note: I kind’a like riding on sand).

The segments included terrain descriptors and my riding ability/preference on each type of terrain, to provide a better context for my review of the CB500X Adventure (Rally Raid Level 3 kit).

To get some perspective on how other types of bike performed on this same loop, Scott and Hugh were on this ride with me, riding a KTM 500 EXC and a 2013 BMW R1200GS respectively.  The smaller more dedicated motorcycle for technical terrain (KTM) as well as the large and well known great adventure motorcycle (BMW) provide a good range of types of motorcycles to help make comparisons with the Honda Cb500X Adventure which is sort of on the middle of these two other bikes.

KTM 500 EXC, Honda CB500X Adventure, and BMW R1200GS

KTM 500 EXC, Honda CB500X Adventure, and BMW R1200GS – in Ballarat, Death Valley, CA

Adventure starts when things go wrong

As a preamble to this ride and review, let’s talk about adventure.  The old saying “adventure starts when things go wrong” is true. Not sure someone would question its applicability. What people could question, perhaps, is whether they want to be in a situation that would possibly turn into an adventure as defined per that saying.

When riding a motorcycle you are automatically on adventure mode. It is even more the case when riding off pavement, in desolate areas with limited traffic and difficult access.  If something happens, you want to be ready for it.  That’s one element, getting ready for the unknown, something that attracts me to motorcycle riding, and it is a large component of my interpretation of what is “adventure” riding.

The 177-mile loop planned for this ride can easily be done in a day, considering all terrain involved, the easy and fast, and the challenging and slow segments.  In our case, besides the terrain itself, three elements conspired to make this ride into a real adventure.

The first one being that we left camp late, meaning we would likely be in the most desolate part of the ride deep in the afternoon.  The second was the weather forecast, indicate a 70% of rain. Here in Oregon, 70% of rain means it will rain.  In the Death Valley, I thought, well… 70% means perhaps maybe it will rain, but the skies were so blue, the park is so large, we will likely dodge it…  Still, I brought my rain gear with me.

We could have worked with these first two items and gone for a plan B of sorts.  We could have departed earlier in the day or decided for another destination.  But we didn’t.  As a result, 70% meant 100% and we got rained on and it made riding on rocky terrain more slippery, hence more challenging, and the rain helped make things darker sooner, when we were still in the mountain.

The third item was a sand storm and you already know about it as I have mentioned it on the other posts where I mentioned this bike and this trip.  We knew about the chance of rain, we did not know about the sand storm.  Storms like this seem to be very localized and not too infrequent in the area.  I had never been on a sand storm before, I have to say it was quite the experience.  It was the icing on the cake, making this a real adventure, as it was an ultimate test for me and for the machine. An experience not to be forgotten.

The combination of all these factors contributed to making this day, this ride, a legitimate adventure. Mother nature and the weather it throws at us is beautiful, incredible, powerful, overwhelming.  Because the conditions turned so quickly, we had no shelter, not even a tree or an overhanging rock anywhere.  When the sand storm arrived further reducing visibility it introduced deep sand as a new element to the road conditions… we had no choice but to keep moving.  It caused the group to get separated after a small incident with one of the bikes.  We were able to resolve it, kept moving, hoping for the best.

Maybe it is not a big deal.  How often when you ride you are cold, wet, and also hungry, right?  But when you add all of that together, and then take n consideration where we were, and when we were there, things get really interesting.  We were the last people traveling in the area just east of Mengel Pass for that day, as far as I could tell. Just to give you an idea about its intensity, we had food with us, but the conditions were such that we did not want to stop, dig it from the bags, and eat it. Well, it definitely would not be possible to eat during the sand storm. Earlier when it had started raining, I did not stop to don my wet gear either.

We made it through it all, and the group reconnected before going back to camp.  Because the outcome was a positive one, we were able to celebrate this ride like no ordinary ride would be celebrated.  I know other riders have been through challenges much more realistic and overwhelming than the ones we encountered.  Still, in the end, our little adventure was felt like the real thing.  This ride, this small 177-mile loop, was one of the best rides of my life, for what I endured on my own perspective, for the friendship I hope to have strengthened and developed with Scott and Hugh during this full day of riding. We already have a plan to go back there for another ride together.

Having said all of that, let’s go back to the evaluation of the CB500X with its Rally Raid Kit as an adventure machine.  When we call a motorcycle an “adventure motorcycle” we are talking about something different than the adventure I just described. We are not precluding the possibility of such an unexpected adventure to happen, but we are talking about “adventure” as the evolved definition of a type of motorcycle based on its capacity to travel long distances, carrying gear, including camping gear, and which can traverse all types of terrain, from pavement to some off-pavement roads.  That’s how the CB500X with its Rally Raid Level 3 kit, the adventure kit, will be evaluated.

But there is a lot more to this story.  So, don your helmet, let’s start this ride!

Panamint Springs to Ballarat – lots of fun and the first incident with the CB500X

This was my second time in the Death Valley.  The roads, the landscape, it is always good to be there, experience the scale of it, there is a lot to absorb. No wonder it has attracted so many people to visit or to live there, even considering, or perhaps because of its often inhospitable weather conditions.

We were all set. The BMW carried our lunch.

Lunch on the bag on the back of the BMW

Lunch on the bag on the back of the BMW

I carried tools, spare tubes, and camera equipment. Because one of my dirtbagz burned the day before, I improvised with small bags from Mosko Moto that I had as a back up.  Two 4-liter storage pouches attached to the side racks, with camera equipment.

Back up plan for bags: Mosko Moto 4-Liter storage pouches

Back up plan for bags: Mosko Moto 4-Liter storage pouches

Two 2-liter storage pouches attached to the engine bars, with spare tube and tools.  Ready for the action!

Two 2-Liter storage pouches, for tools and spare tube

Two 2-Liter storage pouches, for tools and spare tube

We started by going south on Panamint Springs road. It was already windy, and the winds were blowing from the south.  You can actually see some sand blowing on the horizon already.  But that was not a big deal at this point, and nothing compared to what we would face later in the day.

Going south on Panamint Valley Road

Going south on Panamint Valley Road

We turned into the fun gravel roads in the direction of Ballarat, our first destination, a total of about 33 miles from our camp.  The CB500X is light enough to move fast on these roads, power seems just appropriate for the kind of speed you can safely manage on gravel  roads.  The bike feels composed with the Rally Raid’s upgrade to front forks and rear shock. Front fork has about 7 inches of travel (almost 2 inches more from stock).

Yes, this road is a lot of fun to ride and the CB500X did very well.

Yes, this road is a lot of fun to ride and the CB500X did very well on these roads.

When we reached a section with sweeping curves, that was the ultimate fun with this machine.  Because it has limited, well, low power, about 48 hp, it makes it really easy to simply twist the throttle with abandon and have the bike settle nicely on gravel curves, with very little risk the rear will pass the front.

When riding on gravel I like to crank the power at the very beginning of the curve to help settle the bike and relieve the front from steering functions.  With this bike you don’t need to fine-tune the throttle, there is no need for traction control, just go for it. Besides its soft power, Rally Raid’s Level 3 kit with its Tractive shock and spring on the rear was probably another decisive factor on keeping this bike settled so well. It never feels to be hunting for traction even on washboard surfaces. Perfect.

Fast sweeping curves, perfect for the CB500X

Fast sweeping curves, perfect for the CB500X

I kept cranking the speed up and up, the bike always feeling composed.  I was having a blast! And then I was riding at about 60-70 mph on straights, slowing some on curves, I was on the zone, when out of a curve I came to a straight stretch and I see a sign on top of an erosion-damaged area on the road.  I had been through others on this road, but this one was different. There sign was on top of it.  I arrived too quickly to do anything about it.

On the photo below, just before I hit it, it looks like nothing.  Actually it was not too deep but it had a sharp edge on the other end with just the amount of height to make it a big deal, especially when hitting it at about 50 mph.

I hit this thing at about 50 mph, major impact

I hit this thing at about 50 mph, major impact

It was a major impact and I felt it hard, but the bike kept moving.  I could not believe the bike was in one piece.  However, the handlebars moved on the clamps, the front rim (tire inflated at regular pressure) got slightly bent, and the bike developed a light clank from the triple tree area.  I could not find the source of the clanking at that time so I kept riding it, but kept checking on things at stops to see what was damaged from the impact.

Checking to see whether the wheels were still round and tires still inflated after the shock.

Checking to see whether the wheels were still round and tires still inflated after the shock.

After a closer look I learned the steering stem bearings were smashed pretty good from the impact, the bike developed a slight notch on the steering.  Therefore, here goes another upgrade I recommend for this bike if you want to take it on serious off pavement adventure riding.

Part number 130279 or AB22-1020 or 22-2020 will fit the CB500X and costs about $35 on ebay

Tapered bearings: Part number 130279 or AB22-1020 or 22-2020 will fit the CB500X and costs about $35 on ebay

The CB500X comes with ball-type steering head bearings.  I recommend substituting it with tapered bearings.

After some research, and talking to the chief mechanic from the Honda dealer in town, I learned this “All Balls Racing” tapered steering stem bearing (left) was a fit for this bike.

I purchased the kit and the bike has now a more appropriate stem bearing.  However, I would recommend this bike be ridden more carefully, it is not a rally machine.  It can be even more of a problem if you do not have the Rally Raid Level 3 wheels.  Can you imagine hitting this bump at speed with the 17-inch alloy wheel that comes with this bike?

Slightly bent front rim (and did you know these Conti tires were made in Korea?

Slightly bent front rim (and did you know these “German” Conti TKC 80 tires were made in Korea?)

We arrived in Ballarat without further incidents.  I’m glad this Dodge power wagon truck is still there. I had seen it in 2010 and six years later it is still there, like it belongs to the landscape.

1940's(?) Dodge Power Wagon

1940’s(?) Dodge Power Wagon

Ballarat is one of the many interesting places in the Death Valley. It is worth a stop.

The Trading Post in Ballarat

The Trading Post in Ballarat

The “Trading Post” is still there, with the same guy who manages or owns it or lives there.

The piano in the porch of the trading post, Ballarat, CA.

The piano in the porch of the trading post, Ballarat, CA.

What was different this time was this beautiful model who was taking advantage of the peculiarities of Ballarat as a background to photograph and model for her vintage clothing shop.

Interesting juxtaposition of subjects

Interesting juxtaposition of subjects

She graciously accepted the request to be photographed with us.

Beautiful with the beasts (men and machines)

The beautiful and the beasts (men and machines).  Photograph taken by the model’s photographer

To conclude this first segment, the incident where I hit the erosion across the road was not the bike’s fault.  But it does point out that if you want to push this bike hard, and again I do not recommend anyone ride any bike that way, then you should replace its stem ball bearings with a set of tapered bearings.

It also shows the importance of having having a set of spoke wheels which are stronger than alloy wheels. And the larger, 19-inch size helps going over obstacles as well, when compared to this bike’s original 17-inch wheels.  This is exactly the kind of scenario that justifies the Rally Raid Level 3 kit, or why bikes with alloy wheels are not recommended for this type of riding.

Overall, on gravel roads the CB500X does a great job.  I enjoy its power and power delivery for this type of road, when you are already on the range of the torque curve, you can accelerate it on gravel curves and it is solid and settled on how it feels and behaves.  Gravel roads are my favorite type of riding by a great margin and this bike, with the Rally Raid kit, allows for twisting the throttle with abandon. With a 100 hp machine you can have fun as well, of course but you will need to manage to manage it carefully, unless you rely on traction control.

You may not even need the Rally Raid Kit for gravel riding on this bike. You can always go slowly and enjoy the scenery and in that case this bike on its OEM configuration, maybe better tires, would had been fine on this first segment of the loop. But with the rally raid kit you have better suspension which makes quite a difference if you like to ride faster.  It is not a rally machine, though, and if only the already improved front suspension dealt better over the smaller rocks, this machine could be considered a perfect gravel monster.

Ballarat to Goler Wash Road to Mengel Pass – More fun and the second incident with the CB500X

After the short stop in Ballarat we were back on track.  After that first incident I re-adjusted the handlebars, did a final check on things and considered it good to go.  I did start slower this time though.  The road continued south with the same type of gravel, just a bit rougher on spots, until reaching Goler Wash Road (Goler Wash Road is part of Coyote Canyon Road), some fifteen miles or so south of Ballarat.

Continuing south of Ballarat and changing skies

Continuing south of Ballarat and changing skies

Take a look at the picture above and the one below, the skies have completely changed from what you see on the first photos. No more blue skies, no questions, a storm was brewing.  We carried on.

The skies have changed...

The skies have changed…

Soon the road starts climbing as we enter the canyon.  It is about 9 miles from the main road to reach the summit of Mengel Pass through Goler Wash.  It turns out there is a mining site that has been operational for the last 6 years or so in the area, it is about half way to the summit of Mengel Pass, and is reached through the Goler Wash Road.

That means the road has been graveled to support the back and forth traffic of trucks carrying mining equipment,fuel,  supplies and whatever they are mining.

Goler Wash... deep gravel, not very compacted yet.

Goler Wash… deep gravel, not very compacted yet.

As a result, there are no more “steps” on Goler Wash. Instead, it is this gravel that is not very compact.  On the picture above it looks like a simple gravel road, but it is very steep and the deep and loose gravel made me lose traction when I got half way through it.  I was the first to hit it, and had no idea how steep and loose it was until the bike lost traction some 10 yards from the top.  Once I lost traction the bike fishtailed one way, than the other, and when it got sideways I dropped it.

Dropped the thing

Dropped the thing

To the CB500X’s credit, no bike made this little hill on their own power. Also, there was no damage done to the bike. It crashes well (well it was almost stopped by the time I dropped it).

We ghost-walked the KTM.

Ghost-walking the KTM on this steep with gravel portion of the road.

Ghost-walking the KTM on this steep with gravel portion of the road.

The BMW almost made it on its on power after Hugh got some speed to start the short but steep hill.  But it also lost traction close to the top and once it lost traction it dug its own trench and required attention.  We have to give credit to Hugh and the BMW, although it also lost traction, the bike looked stable all along.  The problem was how to extricate this heavy bike from this trench on this steep incline… Two of us pushing, Hugh on board, a few back and forth moves, that’s how we made it.

The BMW dug its own trench, but did really well, almost cleared it without assistance

The BMW dug its own trench, but did really well, almost cleared it without assistance

All bikes needed help but the three of us made it to the top of this small patch of road.  This steep hill was not a big deal, considering what we would face next, but we did talk about maybe turning around here. We decided to keep going.

First obstacle cleared!

First obstacle cleared!

From the picture below you can see how the road abruptly disappears. It was a steep section of this road.

To understand how steep it is, take a look at hour it disappears abruptly behind the BMW

To understand how steep it is, take a look at hour it disappears abruptly behind the BMW

The road continued without any other major challenges after that.

The road continued with no other challenges until a few miles after the mine operations

The road continued with no other challenges until a few miles after the mining operations

At some point we reached the mining operations. The road continued to be good for a couple of miles after that.

Mining operations on Goler Wash area.

Mining operations on Goler Wash area.

But then the road started to degrade and segments with rocky terrain appeared.  Not too bad, though. The section below was the worst portion on this road and it was just before hitting the summit.

Rock garden!

Rock garden!

Most of the time, though, it was just rough going, but fun and and we kept moving.

Rolling stones rocking our going

Rolling stones rocking our going

This kind of terrain, with rocks creating very rough spots is hard on the CB500X, even with the Rally Raid kit.  The front suspension does not have the travel to allow more shock absorption, hence the bike feels really hard, transferring shocks to the handle bars, giving the sensation that it crashes onto these rocks instead of hovering over them.  You do need to slow down. And sometimes you lose the momentum, especially if you add the characteristics of the motor.  What is good about this motor on pavement and on gravel, may not translate too well on technical terrain.

But we made it to the top!

We all make it to the top of Mengel Pass

We all make it to the top of Mengel Pass

As a summary, for this segment, especially the nine miles to reach the summit, I would say the bike did well.  What makes this bike interesting as a lightest multi-cylinder adventure motorcycle available is the capacity to use it on solo travel.  Perhaps I could have picked it up on my own and recovered from the incident on that steep area of the gravel road.  I’m not sure because in this case I had assistance to pick it up and ghost-ride it to the top.

Based on this incident, which most riders would encounter when riding off pavement and off the beaten path, my conclusion would be:  the KTM could do it on its own power or the rider could manage to drag it to the top of that hill one way or another if needed, it is a very light machine; the CB500X is likely to need assistance; the BMW definitely needs assistance if it doesn’t make it.  The BMW has more weight and in part because of the weight, and in other part because it has the appropriate power delivery and gearing, it seems more stable to tractor up that steep incline. But if or when the BMW gets stuck you will definitely need help to get it going again.

The CB500X, on the other hand, does not have the “tractoring” type of power on first gear, that low speed torque delivery you need on these conditions. It is a bit frenetic (is there a better word to describe it?) on its power delivery from first gear, which is a problem for this type of riding condition. It works well in the city, it is fun on the twisties. Here it is a nuisance. A better rider would have perhaps cleared that little hill without problems.  But chances are these experienced riders will be riding something different.  And that is the point about the CB500X, with Rally Raid kit or not, its essence, the combo of motor, transmission and clutch, was not designed for this type of riding.  More on the clutch next.

From Mengel Pass to the West Side Road:  Third incident with the CB500X

As we were on the top of the pass, taking pictures and celebrating our accomplishment, it started to rain. Very lightly, though. We had felt a few drops here and there before, but now we know it is really coming, we could see it in the horizon.  The total distance to reach the West Side road from here is about 24 miles.  And mostly down hill.  Not a problem, right?

On top of Mengel Pass, looking towards the east, storms brewing...

On top of Mengel Pass, looking towards the east, storms brewing…

However, going down the other side, the road does not get any easier.  Actually it gets worse before it gets better.  There are some more rock gardens, with larger rocks than on the other side.

Real rock gardens on the other side of the pass. Notice the projected light of the bike - it is getting dark

Real rock gardens on the other side of the pass. Notice the projected light of the bike on the pile of rocks – it is getting dark


For this type of riding, you need to feather the clutch to go slow while keeping that very important momentum going.  This happens with most any motorcycle on these riding situations.  In particular with the CB500X, as discussed earlier, because of its its low and somewhat peaky torque, which feels more pronounced at slow gears and speeds, reliance on feathering the clutch becomes yet more important.

That’s when I found another potential challenge for this bike as a true adventure machine: it has a narrow friction zone for clutch engagement. It was about one inch of travel at the lever at the beginning of the ride and operating on this narrow margin was difficult, I stalled the bike several times.  At some point either the cable stretched or the clutch plates started wearing down, I was down to less than one inch of engagement travel. I adjusted it on the spot, which improved some, but there is only so much to work with, I learned.

Struggling to move forward... narrow friction zone on the clutch

Struggling to move forward… narrow friction zone on the clutch

The friction zone is something important for an adventure motorcycle, we need a good amount. On the street, no problems, we want fast gear changes.  Kudos to Honda for making a DCT version for the Africa Twin, designed to prevent the bike from stalling, exactly what makes it good for these types of circumstances. It is also what makes the Rekluse auto-clutch so popular on dual sport and adventure bikes. Maybe Rekluse has something for the Honda CB500X? I doubt it, but it would be an awesome upgrade!

The challenge to make the CB500X a true adventure machine is that you can’t broaden a clutch’s friction zone on a bike. You can maximize it by adjusting the cable and lever properly for the largest range it can deliver.  You can change friction plates to have them last longer or change springs, but stronger springs, which would be required for this type of riding, may actually shorten the friction zone.  I don’t know what I will do with this yet, but it is an area that may require some research.

After a few more challenging spots the road finally started getting better. And dark.

After a few more challenging spots the road finally started getting better. And dark.

As an alternative, now that the bike has more miles with the Tractive suspension, I can go back and properly adjust the sag, which based on a recent preliminary measure requires an increase of about half an inch of sag, reducing the pre-load may actually make the bike lower, and hence easier to maneuver on these situations.

If you have a long inseam this issue can be resolved with the old leg assist. In my case, I have to use balance and rely on a steady throttle to have the bike climb and crawl over obstacles.  I never wanted to be a trial rider, but you need these skills on these types of riding or a bike that will work with you.  The CB500X is not one of these bikes.  The BMW seems to do it so well… or was it Hugh’s riding? Both, I would say.  The KTM is light and Scott maneuvered everything very nicely as well.  They both had to wait for me and sometimes help me, each time we encountered one of the several areas of the road when such steep or rocky terrain required slow going.

Back to the ride, after a while the road finally got better and we were cruising.  I think at some point we went past Striped Butte.  Nothing to see, really, all we wanted at this point was to get out of the mountain as it was raining more and of course, getting darker.  We will come back to this area next time and I hope to spend more time on this very beautiful plateau.

Road gets better, we were cruising!

Road gets better, we were cruising!

At least now we were past the trouble zone, and only had rain to contend with and darkness was approaching fast.  I was just saying to myself “will there be any other surprise” ahead of us?  I was thinking about road conditions as surprises, but something else happened.

I was following Hugh and his BMW R1200GS when he hit a rut that had an odd camber to it, and it was right where there was a deep ditch on the side of the road. Perhaps it was the only portion of road with a ditch!

As Scott cleared the hump ahead, Hugh crashes his BMW into a ditch

As Scott cleared the hump ahead with his KTM, Hugh crashes his BMW into a ditch (Part 1)

His bike hit the rut and went out from under him and veered to the right where the ditch was.  There was nothing he could do. The bike went “head first” into the ditch. Check the sequence of events, below is part two.

Part 2 of the sequence

Part 2 of the sequence

Part three.

Part 4

Part 3

Part four.

Part 4

Part 4

Part five.

Part 4: front of the bike has fallen on a deep rut

Part 4: front of the bike has fallen on a deep rut

Part six, the most important thing: Hugh is fine.

Part 5, The most important thing, Hugh is fine!

Part 6, The most important thing, Hugh is fine!

This happened when it really started raining.  Scott had just cleared the next hill so he had no knowledge this was happening right behind him and continued. We were assessing the situation, waiting to see if Scott would come back to help us move the BMW from the ditch.  But with that rain falling steadily we figured we should not wait, we should try to extricate the bike ourselves.

We tried different ways, the best approach, we found out, was to drag the bike on its side to bring the front wheel back on the road.  It took a while but we managed to bring it back to the road and from there we stood it up.  There was damage to the beak and front fairing, and especially worrisome was the information cluster that was completely loose from its anchoring points.  I know some bikes need a working cluster to be able to start the motor and run.  Hugh turned the key on and it lit up and the bike started right away. What a relief, Hugh was fine, the bike was running! Great job BMW.

However, we lost a good amount of time there.  Scott by this time was probably almost out of the mountain.  He was completely oblivious to our issues, and, at the same time, he knew the road had been good since the last time he had seen us, so he had nothing to think that we were not just right behind him.

The incident with the BMW was something completely out of the ordinary, as Hugh is a great rider. “Sh!t happens”, is the best way to describe it.  Later we learned that once Scott reached the West Side Road, a good point to stop and wait for us, the sand storm was are already in full swing.  Have you been on a sand storm? There is no way someone could stand there, waiting, with all the wind and sand hitting you.  Especially when you assume we were not too far behind him. Scott carried on, he was worried, but assumed we were fine. I would had done the same, given the circumstances.

Meanwhile, Hugh and I did not know anything about the sandstorm, we are now riding again, maybe some 30 minutes or more behind Scott, it is still raining but road conditions are improving as we are getting out of the mountain and in more open areas.  It was a beautiful scenery, too bad I had stopped the video camera and never thought of turning it back on.

All along I was following Hugh and we were checking Scott’s tracks.  All of a sudden I got distracted and when we reached a more frequently traveled area, I could not see Scott’s tracks anymore.  What if Scott had gotten lost or fallen on the side of the road and with the rain and darkness we missed him?

With these thoughts in mind we made it out of the mountain and when we got to the West Side road the sand storm was going at full tilt and had already covered the road with a feet or more of sand.  The last leg of the adventure was just about taking shape.

In five minutes we stopped, our own tracks had been already covered by the sand storm (West Side Hwy.)

In five minutes from the time we stopped, our own tracks had been already covered by the sand storm (West Side Hwy.)

These photos do not make justice to how dark it was, nor it documents the wind level, nor how much sand was flying. It was a scene of total desolation, which, once again, explains why Scott did not wait for us here. Hugh and I talked, maybe screamed at each other over the wind noise and blasting. Assuming Scott was ahead of us, we decided to carry on, hoping for the best.

Te BMW is fully operational, except the headlights are aiming to the skies instead of the road ahead.

The BMW is fully operational, except the headlights are aiming to the skies instead of the road ahead.

From West Side Road back to Camp:  No more incidents with the CB500X, just a curious thing

My main concern at this point was about the bikes, how would they perform on this deep sand?

The G1X camera after about 1 minute of exposure to the sand storm

The next morning I photographed the G1X camera to show how much sand it accumulated after about 1 minute of exposure to the sand storm (when I took the sandstorm pictures)

The CB500X felt very stable and easy to ride.  When I realized this was not going to be an issue, and now that it was completely dark, we started riding side by side, as the BMW’s headlights were useless after the crash, aiming to the night sky, and Hugh had to rely on my Honda’s lights.  We went side by side for basically all the distance back to pavement.  Luckily the sandstorm stopped a few miles north (or we rode out of it).

A scene of total desolation

A scene of total desolation

When we were very close to reach pavement, just south of Furnace Creek, my GPS indicated I had received a phone call from Scott’s wife (the GPS connects via blue tooth to my phone).  I stopped to check my phone, it did not have reception at that point, but I let Hugh know we had received the call.  That was good news, it meant Scott was looking for us. Soon after I got a call from Scott. Great, he was waiting for us at the Furnace Creek gas station.  We arrived at the gas station just before 9 pm, just before it closed. It was great to regroup, even emotional. Very celebrated indeed. The adventure was complete.  Or was it?

Hugh filled his BMW’s tank, and I did not fill the Honda’s tank. We were 56 miles from camp, and we had ridden some 121 miles so far and I confess, I did not start this loop with a full tank. It was one bar down…  But 177 miles would be plenty good for the 50 mpg this bike does on average. As we were hanging out at the gas station I had a second thought and decided it would be a good idea to fill it up, but by that time the gas station was closed.

Zipties to adjust the BMW's headlights.

Zipties to adjust the BMW’s headlights.

We worked a few minutes on the BMW, using zipties to adjust the headlights.  It worked, they were now pointing on the right direction.

It is "fixed"

It is “fixed”

We continued on the last leg of the ride back to camp, we had 56 miles to go.  I don’t know this bike very well, this was the first time I was riding it with an emptier tank. In my history of motorcycle ownership, all my bikes had a reserve petcock or a a reserve amber light on the dash.  I was somewhat confident the Honda would make it back to camp with the gasoline I had on the tank.  But then we were climbing from Furnace Creek, the fuel gauge had two bars remaining and then it went fast to one bar and soon after it started blinking. No amber light? What the heck was that? Was I past the the traditional amber light point and did not notice it?  The dash would flash the last bar, alternating with a red bar (the red bar is part of the dash but it is covered by the lowest black bar when you have fuel).

The dash would flash the last bar, which would show this red box

The dash would flash the last bar, which would show this red box

The dash eventually showed a number on the right, which started from 0, and then the word “gal”.

Then it should the last black bar with a number on the right

Then it should the last black bar with a number on the right

Therefore, not having read the manual of the bike, I had no idea how much gasoline the bike had at this point.  I did not realize until then, instead of counting miles from the time the tank hits the reserve (when it starts flashing the last bar – that’s the amber light equivalent for this bike), the bike starts counting the amount of gallons consumed form the reserve amount.  The point is, I had no idea how much gasoline there is on reserve on this bike. So I started riding on save mode.  Hugh and Scott were way ahead, I could see their lights, but I was just not going to accelerate too much to keep up with them.  When we started going downhill again I started pushing it a bit more and finally reconnected with them.

Somehow the bike made it and now I know I can ride at for least 50 miles, if ridden carefully, after the reserve starts. Gladly this last part of the adventure did not mean I was going to be waiting on the side of the road for one of them to go back to camp to bring me some extra gasoline (we had plenty of gasoline at the camp).  The Honda sipped fuel, as the number on the right did not go past 0.2 in those last 50 miles or so. Now, after the fact, I checked the manual and it doesn’t say how much gas the bike has on reserve.  It does state “refuel right away” and the manual says that when you go past 0.26 miles (1 liter) it will start blinking faster.

Is the CB500X an Adventure Motorcycle?

To conclude, the CB500X Adventure is just what it is, a street bike with an adventure kit. You can expand its adventure boundaries with the kit, and then add your riding skills to the equation, and it will still have its limitations.  If your adventure riding is limited to dirt and gravel roads, the bike will be more than fine.

If you want to push it hard, this is not going to be your bike. The limitations are a city riding torque curve, narrow friction zone, and overall, parts that are not made for dirt riding, such as the stem bearings.  Besides the Level 3 kit, you can work around some of these issues. If changing the gear ratio for shorter gears, you may take care of two problems (torque curve and narrow friction zone). Maybe it will work with a different clutch spring or more rugged clutch plates.

Having said that, I would not have taken my Tiger 800 XC to Mengel Pass.  Would I have taken a BMW R1200GS if I owned one? From what I saw, it worked really well.  It was probably the best bike of the three on the slow going technical terrain.  Partly it was rider skill, as Hugh showed great balance, great throttle control, and picked his lines very smartly. However, I’m not sure I would take an R1200GS on these roads…  but as I always say, if I had to have only one motorcycle, it likely would be a BMW R1200GS.

The key issue here is that if you get in trouble with the CB500X, and you’re alone, at least you may be able to extricate yourself from the situation because it is a relatively lighter bike. Well, it is not light. It is about 440 lbs wet (“official” wet wait is 430 lbs plus the Rally Raid kit’s heavier wheels).  But it is the lightest multi-cylinder adventure motorcycle currently available.  If you want to go lighter than the CB500X you have to pick a single cylinder motorcycle.

The weight issue…

So what are the alternatives for the CB500X? Short of a single cylinder motorcycle, there is nothing out there. Yes, there is the BMW F700GS, but you may need to put spoke wheels on it. The Suzuki Strom DL 650 is also an option.  But both the BMW and the Strom are heavier than the CB500X. The small Honda with its Rally Raid kit is what is available at the moment, one of the few options out there on the just above 400lbs weight.

Not many options around the 400lb mark

Not many options around the 400lb mark

However, rumors are showing up indicating KTM will have a mid-weight, 800cc adventure bike.  Yamaha could be working on a 700 cc mid-size Ténéré.  And finally Ducati seems to expanding its Scrambler line with something that looks like an enduro machine (or a Scrambler with real scrambler ambitions). I would not be surprised if these other bikes really come out, since this is a real empty space in the market, for people who do not want a single cylinder machine.

One of the things a like most about the CB500X is that it is an unassuming underdog of a machine. Maybe I can make it slightly better for future endeavors. Meanwhile, this bike delivers lots of fun when riding it fast on paved or gravel roads. It is an interesting machine.

If you are an expert rider, look elsewhere.  If you want a real enduro or adventure performance from a machine, this is not for you either.  But if you want to enjoy the back roads with an inexpensive unassuming machine, this bike will deliver fun in spades.  I will keep mine. Unless Yamaha, KTM or Ducati convince me otherwise.  They will have to deliver something good to convince me to trade my Honda.

Final Day in Death Valley and Return home

That was it for the review of the CB500X in the Death Valley. The next day I did not ride it, for one thing I did not want to exacerbate the head bearing problem. And second, I had taken with me the WR250R and I wanted to take it out for a spin.

Took the WR250R for a ride, this time Lippincott trail from the top (in 2010 it climbed it)

Took the WR250R for a ride, this time Lippincott trail from the top (in 2010 it climbed it)

It was great to ride the WR250R again, it is so light. It shows also, that one bike is not enough… it is always good to have an alternative. Or so I want to believe.

On the next day I loaded the bikes and traveled back to Oregon.  The strange or strong weather patterns continued. Around Susanville the winds were really strong, enough for the highway patrol to prevent trucks to travel on certain portions of the road.  And then I encountered snow close to Mount Shasta.

Snow on the way back home

Snow on the way back home

In the end the weather played an important role on this trip. I had strong winds on the way in, strong winds on the way back, rain storms, snow storms and sand storms. And a lot of fun with two great guys who are great riders.

I’m already looking forward to my next trip to the Death Valley.  The CB500X will gain auxiliary lights, a sag adjustment, maybe a shorter gear ratio, maybe mirrors that don’t flop around.  I’m sure it will be fun to ride it again on the dirt.

Thank you for reading.

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The Honda CB500X Adventure – Part 4: Riding it on Death Valley – first impressions

The Death Valley in California is a great location to test an adventure motorcycle. It has gravel roads, sandy roads, rocky roads leading to challenging technical passes, and also paved roads, connecting the many fun riding sites.  On Part 4 I will report how the CB500X did on easy roads, Saline and Hunter Mountain roads.  On Part 5 we will raise the bar by testing it on Goler Wash and Mengel Pass.

The CB500X Adventure (Rally Raid Level 3 Kit) in the Death Valley

The CB500X Adventure (Rally Raid Level 3 Kit) in the Death Valley

If you’ve followed Parts 1, 2 and 3 where I describe this bike and the build process, you know I bought this bike for three main reasons: 1) I wanted a smaller multi-cylinder adventure motorcycle that is reliable and manageable for solo rides to isolated places; 2) I wanted to work or build my own adventure bike, which with a kit from Rally Raid designed for this bike, it makes the build process really easy, anyone can do it; and 3) I wanted this bike to be an option for visiting friends. There is more on these items on the previous posts about this bike.

Highest state of disassembly for this project

Highest state of disassembly for this project

To summarize Parts 1, 2 and 3, I bought the bike used, but with very low miles, and purchased the Rally Raid kit and then some other parts, to turn it into an adventure motorcycle. Then I spent the cold and rainy month of February building the bike.  This involved researching and procuring parts, organizing the shop for the build, getting the parts shipped, and then the build itself.  Installing the Rally Raid Kit itself takes only a couple of days, maybe three, if you have all the tools you need and some experience on the basics of working on bikes.

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.

It was a busy February.  Besides organizing the shop and building the CB500X adventure itself, I had a few other tasks to do preparing the WR250R which I also took to Death Valley, and some work on the truck, which was my means of transportation for the almost 500 miles to get from Oregon to the Death Valley.

Bikes and gear loaded on the truck

Bikes and gear loaded on the truck

The Death Valley trip itself involved meeting two other riders who are based in California, Scott and Hugh.  I know Scott from my Ducati trips to Northern California, a great guy whom I’m lucky to call a friend, and his long time friend Hugh.  The three of us connected really well, we had a blast riding our bikes in the Death Valley, and we already have plans for a 2017 ride.

Last day of riding on this trip to the Death Valley, March of 2016

Cesar, Scott and Hugh: Last day of riding on this trip to the Death Valley, March of 2016

Overall, the CB500X did very well on its adventure riding test.  It can go most anywhere, but it really shines on packed gravel roads and it struggles on technical, rocky terrain, the kind that requires slow moving, slip-clutch type of work. I will discuss all of these issues in detail.

Getting to the Death Valley, weather issues

March is the perfect time to be in the Death Valley, it is the time of the flower bloom, it is the time when temperatures are not too cold nor too hot. On average. Since it is also the time of transition from winter to summer, though, you can call the month of March the Death Valley’s spring, but it is more like one day is winter the next day it could be like the kind of summer weather we find in Oregon. And this transition can be violent, you may find yourself on unexpected situations, like strong winds, rain storms, sand storms, and even snow storms. Add to it that in my case I was traveling from Oregon to California and had to cross a few passes, as a result on this trip I encountered all of the above conditions on the way in, while there, or on the way back.

I studied the weather forecast to find the best route to get there.  The first obstacle was the strong winds I faced on I-5 near Mount Shasta.  The winds were so strong my five-speed truck struggled even on down hills, the small 5L V-8 requiring the engine to be on 4th gear, even on a down hill, to keep up with traffic.

4th gear on I-5, fighting strong head winds

4th gear on I-5, fighting strong head winds

I had several options of routes to get to the Death Valley and I had to make course corrections on the fly.  One of them was to get out of the I-5 and the strong head winds with which the truck was fighting.  I turned onto SR89, going south east towards Susanville.  My fear about taking this route was the possibility of finding snow on high elevations and then it is an area with less traffic, so if you need assistance you can be waiting for a while, if you can get in touch with someone, that is.  I was ready to sleep in my truck’s cabin if needed.

On the way south, only snow I encountered was on the side of the road, roads were clear.

On the way south, only snow I encountered was on the side of the road, roads were clear.

I arrived in Susanville and it was dark already. However, once I got past Susanville the road conditions improved, I cruised on 395 going south with no problems. I was going to spend the night at some point, and I knew Scott would be with his RV in Bishop, CA to spend the night. My goal was to meet him there, but I had left my house several hours behind schedule, therefore my plan was to go as far as I could, stop and take a nap if needed, and catch up wit him on the following day.

Susanville, CA

Susanville, CA

South of Carson City I got a text from Scott who was driving from Sacramento, California, and while updating each other on our progress, we realized we were just a few miles apart.  We met and drove together to Bishop where we spent the night at the Paiute Casino RV park.  The next day the weather was perfect and we arrived at the Death Valley park with no problems.  I will discuss more about the weather on the second day of riding and on my return to Oregon on Part 5 of these series of posts.

Close to the entrance to Death Valley, following Scott's RV.

Close to the entrance to Death Valley, following Scott’s RV.

We arrived at the camp (Panamint Springs), setup the RV, unloaded the gear and the bikes and went out for a ride. I was really glad to be there and to have this chance to test the CB500X in the real conditions you would expect such a bike to perform.

Bikes unloaded, ready for action

Bikes unloaded, ready for action

Riding the CB500X on Saline Road and Hunter Mountain Road, Death Valley

This first ride was an afternoon ride, so we decided to take it easy, go towards Saline road and from there make a right on Hunter Mountain road and check the cabin.  Then go back the same way. I was really anxious to try the CB500X off pavement.  The bike is a bit tall for my 30 inch inseam, but it is and feels a good amount lighter than my Triumph Tiger 800XC. I was counting on that for when I would need to stop on uneven terrain.

On the way to Saline road, a quick stop for pictures

On the way to Saline road, a quick stop for pictures

As soon as we got on the gravel, the bike felt really good.  I did not air down the tires, just rode it with regular pressure.  The bike felt very stable on gravel and I was able to get it to just around 70mph without any problems.

At 70mph, bikes feels solid

At 70mph, bikes feels solid

The bike did very well on the sweeping gravel curves of Saline Road.  This is where less power is a benefit, as you can twist throttle with abandon, well, some level of abandon, and the rear is not going to step out too much or risk passing the front. It just settles the bike very nicely.

Pin it and the rear wheel will keep the front where you want it to go

Pin it and the rear wheel will keep the front where you want it to go

The one thing that bothered me at this point was how much the front bounced on the kind of rocks you find on these kinds of roads, the ones that are lodged on the road but protruding slightly through the surface of the road.  In part this was happening because I did not air down the tires, but mostly it seems it could be coming from how stiff the front end felt as it reacted to these smaller bumps at speed. It seems everything was transferred directly to the handlebars.  My Tiger 800XC does a better job, my WR250R does a really better job at these situations.  Even my Multistrada could do better, I think.

The rear suspension, on the other hand, felt perfectly suited to any situation, I never felt the rear wheel to be fighting for grip and traction, even when going fast on washboard situations.

Rear weheel traction was good, great Tractive suspension setup for this bike.

Rear wheel traction was good, great Tractive suspension setup for this bike.

The bike did very well on the odd mud holes we encountered on the way up the mountain, much more a function of the tires, perhaps. Same happened on the sand patches we encountered.  The bike always felt solid and stable on mud or sand, really, really good.

No problems handling sand.

No problems handling sand.

While the front suspension did not absorb well the two- to five-inch rocks and edges on the road when going at speed, it did well on the larger more rounded obstacles, such as this erosion ditch on the final approach to the cabin on Hunter Mountain Rd.

Bike handled well erosion ditches.

Bike handled well erosion ditches.

It turns out, the bike and its upgraded suspension do very well at slower speeds on rough terrain, as long as there is momentum going forward. I would learn more about this on the second day, and I will go on more detail on Part 5 when I talk about it. Upfront I can say it is about power delivery on first gear and a narrow, maybe too narrow clutch friction zone.  That’s were a street bike’s set up, the part of the build you can’t quite change, find its limits when going off road type of situations (not off-pavement).  But more on that later.

When riding steep uphill on rough terrain, if you slow down, the bike struggles. A power and friction zone thing.

When riding steep uphill on rough terrain, if you slow down too much, the bike struggles to continue. It is a power (low torque) and clutch friction zone (too narrow) issue.

What is important is that we made to the cabin without a problem, just a slight moment, something that gave me pause to think this bike may reach “adventure” limitations at a lower level of challenges than what I had anticipated.  I have to say that, overall, I was very satisfied with what the bike delivered in this first day.  It is nothing more, nor less, than what I could be expected, with a small adjustment on the less side of it.

Te bike made it to the cabin on Hunter Mountain Rd.

Te bike made it to the cabin on Hunter Mountain Rd.

The only real problem that happened on this first day had nothing to do with the bike, but with the dirtbagz that moved from its position when I was riding and got too close to the exhaust. Obviously my job attaching them to the side rack was not good enough, and the bag on the exhaust side burned, and with it a spare tube got burned as well.

The burned dirtbagz bag

The burned dirtbagz bag

Since then I already bought a new set of dirtbagz (they fit both the WR250R and the CB500X) and found a better way to attach the bags on the CB500X.  Two tests so far and they still haven’t moved or burned.

We returned to camp the same way, and as expected it soon was dark.  The CB500X headlight is okay, but there is room for improvement.  This is a limitation that is not particular to this bike, as most bikes will do better, a lot better, with auxiliary lights. This is something I will upgrade on this bike during this next winter, by adding a set of good auxiliary lights that will work for both the Cb500X and the WR250R.

Headlight is okay, would benefit with the addition of auxiliary lights. I already have something in mind.

Headlight is okay, would benefit with the addition of auxiliary lights. I already have something in mind.

Going over Saline and Hunter Mountain roads was just an appetizer of a test.  The real test was to see how this bike behaved when going up Goler Wash and from there Mengel Pass.

On the first day it was only Scott and me for the Saline Rd and Hunter Mountain RD adventure, as Hugh was still traveling, arriving only at night.  Hugh joined us with his 2013 BMW R1200GS. As you can tell, for joining us on this adventure on Mengel Pass with his large adventure motorcycle, Hugh is either courageous, or a great rider, or both.

It turns out both were true, and the large BMW motorcycle gets its credit as well! It turns out having the R1200GS along for this ride was a great way to learn about the importance of having a very tractable at low speed, torquey motor to ride on challenging technical terrain.

On top of Mengel Pass, looking towards the east, storms brewing...

On top of Mengel Pass, looking towards the east, storms brewing…

But this is something for the next chapter, when I will report how the CB500X did on the ride towards the Mengel Pass.  I will report one crash, or two, and also, the horrible weather conditions we encountered as we descended towards Badwater, including a blinding sand storm. It was another night ride back to camp, with some drama to make things better – it was about confirming the definition of “adventure”.  All with a good ending, mind you.

Part 5 will include a summary of my perceptions of the CB500X as an Adventure motorcycle and a brief report on the return of the WR250R to the Lippincott trail (I was there with that bike in 2010) and my trip back to Oregon.

Thank you for reading and stay tuned for Part 5 where the real action unfolds.

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