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Motocron - The Classic Velocity Vehicle Log

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Like many of you who have more than one vehicle to keep track of, the Classic Velocity garage used a combination of paper folders, a whiteboard, some yellow pad pages, and even a spreadsheet at one point. However, as the vehicle count grows, or as time passes, it becomes increasingly difficult and inconvenient to find information by rifling through thick folders. And sometimes, the answer is in a folder that you have since archived or given to the new owner. Even if you only own 1 or 2 vehicles, and do none of your own work, you would probably like to keep track of  what was done when, how many miles/hours you traveled, what events you participated in, and be able to recall details and photos anyplace, anytime.

The Classic Velocity Vehicle Log (CVVL)  is an app that keeps track of all of the activities and costs (at whatever level of detail you choose to track them) over time associated with all of your vehicles. It will even let you go back in time and paint a complete picture of vehicles you already own. It lets you track todo items and deadlines. It lets you It adds even greater value by providing a series of reports on activity, costs, mileage/hours, and locations, to help you easily search and find answers. Reports can be filtered by vehicle, timeframe, type of activity, etc, and viewed in a variety of formats.  Lastly it lets you do this wherever and whenever you want on whatever device you want. $10 per year gets you unlimited entries for up to 10 vehicles.

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Use code CVVLAUNCH at checkout for a discount and help the Log to fund the Blog!

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Matching Motorcycle Luggage

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At first glance, the very title of this article, and the content seem like a very "First World" kind of problem. And it is, but bear with us and read on as it is not quite what it seems. First, the reality check. Having more than one motorcycle is certainly a first world problem. In fact, having a motorcycle at all which is used for pleasure and leisure is also a first world privilege. However, most readers of this are likely to have more than one machine, and many have both modern and vintage iron. As such, they may relate to this quest. It is the desire to have a single set of luggage that can be used on multiple machines. In this case, more modern machines, since the Krausers from the BMW /5 are never going to work on the Norton Dominator, and neither will be the choice for a 2-up cross country trip (although the /5 would probably do fine). Ever since Trog first rode his R bike or his Hurling Davidstone to the steakosaurus hunting grounds, man has been seeking to safely carry spiked clubs, spears, and cashmere smoking jackets along with him on a motorcycle. When Brog invented motorcycle luggage, he became very wealthy, and could hire others to hunt his steakosaurus, while he stayed in the cave by the fire with the women - smart man, that Brog. But I digress....

Over the years, the more modern machines in the garage have changed. And with those changes, has come an odd assortment of racks and luggage. Sometime inexpensive commuter solutions, and sometimes costly machine-specific items. For example, the stock luggage for the R1150GSA, or a set of soft "Moto Totes"given to us for free with a CB750. Facing the need for yet another luggage solution, we decided to clean house and buy one quality set of luggage that could work on both a BMW 650, and a KTM 1190. Just sell all of the odd bits and pieces, and buy the ultimate luggage set that could match both machines. To quote Top Gear, "How hard could it be?"

In a word, very. So first some parameters. We wanted a complete setup including tankbag, panniers, and topcase. They had to be interchangeable on either bike. With the exception of the tank bag, the entire luggage system had to be weatherproof without stopping to put on any kind of covers.  It needed to be able to accommodate a passenger. It had to cost less than a running vintage motorcycle in reasonable condition -- we have found this to be a reasonable unit of currency, as any funds would get diverted to a running vintage motorcycle over accessories for a more modern one. In fact, the children's college fund might lose such a challenge depending on the bike, but I digress... It needed enough carrying capacity for a multi week trip. It should be removable or remountable in less than one minute. It should survive a healthy amount of off-road usage. A specific, but not unreasonable set of parameters.

We found that there are many fine solutions out there, but they quickly fall away as you apply all of the parameters. Cost was a big one. We could have just picked stuff from the Touratech catalog, but costs quickly approached 2 running vintage motorcycles. Same was true for having a shop build a custom setup. It quickly became apparent that a single solution from one manufacturer was not going to work. With that established, we began to tackle the components separately. First, the tank bag. Magnetic bags were not an option, so strapped options like Wolfman were the leading candidates. I did like the whole detachable base concept from Giant Loop. Ultimately though, I decided to go with the SW Motech tank ring solution. No straps, no magnets, quick refueling, and adapters for both machines. OK,  we now had a single tank bag that could be used either machine. On to the second area of challenge. The panniers. Racks are expensive, panniers are expensive, and then there is the whole soft vs hard luggage debate. It was very difficult to find a single set of metal panniers that could work on both bikes. We failed to find racks with the same size hoops so that the pannier pucks could be positioned in the same location! The total here was going to be the cost of 2 sets of panniers plus racks for 2 machines. The dollars climbed like a scalded rump monkey.

 Rackless soft luggage solutions tended to use the passenger seat or violate the one minute rule to get on and off. However the quest lead us back to Mosko Moto. A unique soft luggage solution that fit a variety of racks including those I already had on the 650. A set of Tusk racks for the 1190 were very reasonable, so we now had a single set of panniers with 50 liters of capacity. Not cheap, but weatherproof, and well below the hard luggage alternatives. That brings us to the top box. The obvious choice here it is to get something like a Givi or a Shad case, and mounting brackets for two bikes. However, at a rally I ran into a guy who had a unique and useful system for mounting a Pelican top case so that it was easily detachable. I had a pelican top case from the prior project, so this was even more intriguing in that I could eliminate the cost of the top case itself. This mounting system is by a company called back road equipment, and they are a small shop making some really cool items for a specific segment of the market. The system is brilliant. It uses a plate for your rear rack along with a puck system for mounting the pelican case to the plate. It releases by way of a simple mechanism which can also be locked. While they had an adapter for the 1190, they were still developing the adapter for the 650. We decided that it was worth the wait, and after about a month, we had solutions for both machines.

So finally, after a lot of shopping online, talking to potential solution providers, and becoming a beta tester, we have accomplished the goal. One top case, one set of Panniers, and one tank bag. The good news, is that this was all achieved using funds which came from bits and pieces of luggage and racks that have been laying around for years and which went to new appreciative homes. The not so good news, is that all of this ended up costing about the price of a running CB360 in good condition. It's a good thing it was spent in smaller chunks so that we avoided diversion of funds. Was it worth it? So far, yes. It is great to know that the rain gear or the compressor, is not in the "other luggage". It is great to know that the USB adapter is in the (only) tankbag. And we really like having our favorite top case on both machines. We're sure that at some point in the future, a modular system will emerge which allows you to accomplish this goal easily using a single vendor of your choice. Today, however, getting matching luggage is harder than you think.

The Most Important Engine

Classic Velocity

With power out for days already, and no real estimate of when it will return, this has become the most important engine I own....for the second year in a row! 0.5 gallons per hour, which translated to normal driving is 150 MPG ;-)

 

NY International Motorcycle Show 2012

Classic Velocity

This winter has been relatively mild so far in these parts. In some ways, it makes the normal “cabin fever” escapes seem a little less like, well...escapes. While I watched the Dakar Rally this year, I was able to get out and ride (see Dakar during Dakar). And then, the NY International Motorcycle Show came to town while I was still out riding a few days before. However, the show, as always, is a welcome immersion in the two-wheeled world. The IMS is of course focused on the new, and my interest is primarily in the old, but there is plenty that is of interest, and there are also plenty of accessories and gear aimed at the general two-wheeled world regardless of vintage.

A continuing phenomenon is that there are always many exhibits which exploit the old to sell the new. Honda and Harley Davidson in particular, seem to include some old models or racebikes to remind everyone of the rich heritage that makes them worthy of your investment. For a relatively new marque, Victory always has a model or two that directly translate old styles into new models. Their HighBall model is complete with mini Ape hangers, whitewalls, flat black paint, and a bobber style rear. Triumph unabashedly has a line called Classics which includes the Bonneville, the Thruxton, and a Steve McQueen Edition. Ducati only recently discontinued their Classic line. And then there is Royal Enfield. Nobody else on the planet is selling a 1955 motorcycle today as new. They may have recently made a concession to fuel injection rather than carbs, but they were forced into it by the emissions police in their most important markets. They may have finally lost the kickstart on some models (why ??) and gained a front disc brake, but those are minor concessions to convenience and safety. Other than that, they look and feel, reportedly run and stop, and even tap your wallet, like a proper all-purpose British bike from the late 1950s. For no good reason, I want one.

At the other end of the spectrum is Evolve motorcycles with their Tron cycle. This is a working electric bike which is a replica of the famous machine from the movie. Very cool. Very impractical. Also in the future camp was BMW. For a company with a long and rich heritage, they have not really tried to mine their past for reusable gems. In fact, their booth is firmly anchored in the future with Maxi-Scooters, world-leading Superbikes, and Hyper-Touring machines. There was no sign of the coming water-cooled R bikes, but that too will be ushering in the future to the most sacred component of the heritage. BMW also had the turbo-charged center-hub-steering masterpiece created by Sweden's Stellan Egeland. I spoke with him for a few minutes about his creation. He is mad, and we are all the better for it. As if in contrast, the BMW MOA booth featured only a well-traveled version of my R100GS PD. Back to the future, Kawasaki's new ZX-14 will run in the low 9 second range in the quarter mile out of the crate !! The only problem is that you need Ricky Gadsen aboard to make the happen.

Cafe Racers, Streetfighters, retro clothing and gear, were all mixed in liberally with the new. The good news is that very good gear can be stylish and will no longer break the bank. You can get reasonable heated gear for those that need it, or you can go on a moto-tour of Costa Rica if you prefer to wear your warm weather gear during the northern winter. As a sign of the times though, the show was definitely smaller and less well attended. I thought I would see more products and services aimed at keeping your machine on the road longer, but I did not. I thought I would see more commuter and more hybrid solutions, but actually there was more of that last year. Perhaps it is just that fewer vendors can afford to be present at the show. It did not take me a long time to get through the whole show, but it remains an essential break for us northerners during the Ice Solstice.

Inexpensive Procrastinator Gearhead Gifts

Classic Velocity

We all have them. Neckties and sweaters and scarves that are in a box in the basement, or the back of the closet. Some are so low on the goodtaste scale that they could not even be re-gifted. Some can only be worn one day per year in very understanding company. Most are waiting for people to forget that they gave them to you, or for moths to completely devour them, or for the pawn shop to open. Wouldn't it be great if you could ensure that you at least got something useful, however inexpensive ? I have offered other Holiday posts and suggestions before (see Twas the Night,  The Twelve Days of Classicus, and Gearhead Gifts). This year, I offer help for the last minute shoppers (ie: the procrastinators, the unorganized, and the few truly busy) with not much to spend (ie: those of limited means, those buying for people they don't really care about, and cheap SOBs) but who need to hand something to a known gearhead. I guarantee these will be appreciated and used, and I guarantee that you can still find these items in stock....
 
1. A Box of Latex/Vinyl Gloves. These represent a brilliant leap forward in gearhead hygiene. They also say "You are only worth a few bucks, and I got this on the way over here, but I am thoughtful."
 
2. A Box of Shop Towels. Ditto
 
3. A Case of Oil. Get the right stuff by peeking into the garage, or in the trunk. Nothing says you care like Castrol.
 
4. A Gift Certificate for the Tire Rack, Bike Bandit, Autozone, etc. Hard to go wrong here. This is also a good gift for a gearhead that you don't really like because it will cause them to spend their own money to make up the difference between your $20 gift certificate and the $2000 set of wheels and tires they need.
 
5. A Zippo Hand Warmer. Just the thing for a cold garage, a cold ride, or a cold heart. 
 
6. Spark Plugs. Inexpensive, but you need to get the right ones. If in doubt, see #4.
 
7. A Key Safe. If the person has more than one vehicle, or even just more than one key, this along with some of those little plastic labels will help. Don't get the kind that lock with a key.....within a week you will be repairing a wall, and helping the person to recover from a self-inflicted wound.
 
8. An Air Pressure Guage. Even if one exists, you need one to keep in the vehicle toolkit, one for the toolbox, etc. You can never have too many.
 
9. A Scale Model. This can be for either an existing or a dream vehicle. If for a dream vehicle, attach a note that says "Full scale model to follow on or before mm/dd/yyyy." If for an existing vehicle, attach a note that says "It's been nn years, when is it finally going to look this good?"
 
10. A DVD. Search Amazon and the web for movies featuring a specific vehicle, or just get a gearhead-centric movie. Gearheads will repeatedly watch a 90 minute movie for a 2 second glimpse of their vehicle in the background partially obscured and out of focus.
 
11. A Gas Card. This is a great multi-faceted gift. It says, "Let's go for a ride/drive honey", "Your vehicle deserves the very best. You on the other hand..", "Go take a long ride/drive", "Get that @#$$% thing running", "Haven't seen you at the club meetings in a while, maybe you need this", "Show your carbs some love by using the good stuff", "Fix the @&$%^# fuel guage", "Take care of that vehicle, its gonna be mine very soon", "Next time fill-up BEFORE the rally starts", et cetera, et cetera, et cetera. It should be delivered with the appropriate facial expression and hand gestures to help convey and amplify the meaning. After all, it is the season of giving.

Rallying the Trailers

Classic Velocity

The 2011 BMW MOA International Rally was a good way to spend some quality time with 7500 of your closest friends...during a heatwave. In fact, this year the tag line was "A Family Reunion". As with all large families, you have to love everyone even if you dont always agree with uncle Phil's politics, or cousin Susan's body piercings. One of the things that I really admire about this family is the ingenuity. In some cases it is just frugality. Despite owning and paying for a premium brand, there are some family members that will go to great lengths to avoid spending the amount demanded for a comercially available gadget or enhancement. They will make their own. Many have the knowledge and skill to do so, and we are all thankful for some of the resulting commercial products or home workshop items available. Others create solutions to problems that the commercial world doesn't view as viable. For example, what if you'd like to use your dual sport bike to drive your snow plow ? You won't find that coupling in the BMW accessory catalog, now will you ? Anyway, the solutions at the rally always range from humorous to brilliant, and this year I was particularly captivated by trailers. Not because I want one, but because I noticed a lot more of them than in prior years. I have to admit that I have seen a few on the road over time and have always thought that they compromised the whole purpose of a motorcycle. Why not just pack less gear or use UPS ? Why compromise the most agile of vehicles on the road ? Perhaps valid questions, but a sidecar is perhaps more compromising, and I want one of those someday. if this many of my family members saw wisdom in this approach, I should at least replace sentiment with research.

BMW owners have long been known for loading up their bikes with gear and going to Columbia for coffee. Via Tibet. In fact, many bikes at the rally were stacked with loads that I'm sure required them to use major highways where the overpasses had sufficient height clearance. Vendors offering solutions for carrying more stuff or offering smaller lighter stuff are always popular with my family. If there is a crack or a crevice on a BMW motorcycle, chances are that someone makes a storage solution that fits in that space. I myself am planning to sell a storage solution for the space in between spokes on alloy wheels. The prototype has a slight problem above 30MPH and in crosswinds, but it provides 20 liters of usable storage, so I'm sure there is a niche of people who are willing to compromise. My other idea is for a periscope that allows us to see over our fully extended tank bags. Many family members at the rally showed up with sidecars full of gear as another way to address the problem. I'm sure some of these sidecars never had a person in them and exist solely to carry gear. But I digress.

The point is that in many ways, a trailer is a natural extension of the need of this family to carry more gear. The family members with trailers have obviously decided on a more traditional automotive approach. Attach a trailer hitch, and pull something behind you with more room for gear. It has some logic and it is even convenient. As family member Frank said to me, "I got tired of having to pack and unpack the bike every time I stopped to camp. Now I pull up to the camp site, unhitch the trailer, and go ride the twisties." Sounds appealing. Another family member, Steve. said "I had this bunch of aluminum diamond plate laying around. It was either a set of luggage or this. By the time I made the luggage big enough, I was as wide as a freakin car, so I went with the trailer."  Having seen some loaded up bikes, I can see his point.

Motorcycle trailers have some unique challenges. The hitch needs to be attached to solid points on the rear of the frame. With a swingarm (or even a single-sided swingarm) at the back of most bikes, this can be a challenge. They need to lean, or allow the bike to lean independently. They need lighting. They need to be lightweight. But that is not all. It is a long held view that trailers should match the vehicle pulling them, and hence the 57 Chevy pulling the half-of-a-57-Chevy trailer. The equivalent was certainly at the rally, with an K1200LT and trailer. Home-made, store-bought, one wheel, two weels, big, small, cheap, expensive, they were all there. Family member Rick observed, "I have not seen two of the same trailer at this entire rally. It is just a giant Farkle, and no two bikes are farkled the same." Farkle on Rick. I'm not sure if this is a growing trend in the family or I'm just noticing them more this year. I'm not a potential customer for a trailer, but you have to admire the resolve and ingenuity that goes into this particular solution to taking it all with you.   

NY International Motorcycle Show

Classic Velocity

The Moto EquinoxJust in time to break up the incessant east coast snowstorms, the New York International Motorcycle Show (NYIMS) took place from January 21st to 23rd at the Javits Center in NYC. Bitter cold, Ice and slush in the streets, a wind chill well below zero coming off the Hudson river, and NYC parking rates could not deter me or the multitudes from attending. At the same time , the New York Boat Show takes place, so cabin fever and garage fever are in sync. I have declared January 21st to be the Moto Equinox, a time when the earth's tilt is briefly at 24 degrees. While most humans simply compensate, it causes the brain of all gearheads in the north to become imbalanced and it triggers an acute hunter-gatherer reflex, when they should be hibernating. 

La Brea Tar PitsThe show is the two-wheeled equivalent of a winter cruise vacation. The food is extraordinary, what with overpriced pretzels and overpriced overcooked hotdogs in the New York tradition. It is complete with scenes of tropical tours, tanned faces, mesh jackets, and booth babes. Combined with the hunter-gatherer reflex, this is a dangerous mix, very similar in nature to the La Brea Tar Pits. Less than two minutes into the show area, and I was ensnared by a race-winning Honda dessert racer. After pulling myself free, I was captivated by a board track racer display which had a 1928 Harley, and a 1931 Indian. There was nothing for sale there, but I caught a scent and moved on to the Vin Moto display.

vintage cafe racermodern cafe racerThe show is also a good barometer of what is in style these days, and what is out. Compared to the last few years, there was far less of the ultra-blinged-out Hyabusas and ZX14s. They were there, but you would have to conclude walking around that they are more of a niche. The same was true for the custom choppers. They were everywhere a few years ago, and now they were also more of a niche at best. Perhaps the economy has just taken its toll on these high end machines. Then again, maybe not, because the Cafe Racer is in. It is the new thing. Besides TV shows and magazines, many booths had a one-off cafe racer style bike on display. They ranged from a vintage BSA, to a Guzzi, to any number of CB750-based creations. Cool and interesting stuff. The interesting thing about the Cafe Racer is that it is based in frugality. You used what you could scrounge up, and bits and pieces of different makes and models. Anything is fair game. Perfect for the times. But despite my bias toward them, you can't help but wonder if this is another passing fad.

Ducati DiavelBatman's baggerBut make no mistake, the NYIMS is about new bikes, not old. It is the place where manufacturers of bikes and accessories show off their latest wares and entice buyers, causing them to emit ooohhs and aahhs, which then attract others to the tar pits. Two kinds of motorcycle manufacturers were at the show; those who make cruisers of various kinds, and those who make almost all kinds of motorcycles. Harley-Davidson, Victory, and Indian (the new new Indian) are in the former camp. While Honda, Kawasaki, Suzuki, Triumph, Yamaha, Ducati, and BMW are in the latter. Of those that make cruisers, the continuing trend is to try to make them more like the custom bikes mentioned earlier. I thought that Victory was impressive in showing bikes that looked like they were one-offs. Honda with the Fury was an honorable mention.

Triumph Tiger XCBMW Concept CIn the we-make-almost-everything group, there is an interesting split. The Japanese makers all have cruisers in their lineup, while the Europeans do not. What they all do have are impressive entries at the low end of the market. Even BMW and Ducati have bikes in the $7K-$8K range with spectacular mileage and utility. A true sign of the times, and an attempt to get young people into the brand early. Speaking of signs of the times, BMW had their Concept C scooter as the centerpiece display!! They also all have an Urban/Streetfighter bike which is powerful and devoid of bodywork. Ducati's Monster (and the very VMax-looking Diavel), Kawasaki's B-King, Triumph Speed Triple, etc. Another interesting split is in the Adventure bike category. The Europeans have had them for a while, and now the Japanese are coming after them. Everyone is gunning for the benchmark BMW GS in this category, and the competition is heating up with the new Triumph Tiger XC, the Ducati Multistrada, and the Yamaha Super Tenere.

All of this was fun to look at along with the miracle cleaning products and the stunt show. Some great apparel was on offer, and I stepped into the edge of the tar pit by purchasing some Rok Straps, and caressing some super bright LEDs from Twisted Throttle (they had no booth babes). It got so warm that I had to buy an overpriced ice cream.   

GS Challenger?

Classic Velocity

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It is rare that I am spending any significant time on a new car or motorcycle. Even more rare, if it is not German. However, yesterday I got to spend some time with the much-awaited Yamaha Super Tenere adventure bike. Since the Dakar starts today, I thought that a few posts surrounding that theme seem appropriate. The Yamaha Super Tenere (at least the model name) has been around for a while in the rest of the world in various displacements, but it is now coming to the USA in 2011, and is being hyped as a competitor to the BMW GS. Now anytime a Japanese maker launches a new challenge to a segment traditionally owned by someone else, lookout. Toyota and Nissan both made inroads into the once impenetrable US pickup truck market, The Mazda Miata is arguably a “better” small British sports car, Yamaha's Vmax reigned as the premier “muscle bike” for years, etc. It is worth paying attention.

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However, the main reason for my interest is that it is categorized as an “Adventure” bike, a category invented by BMW with the GS. Bmw is still the benchmark when you look at 1000cc and above in this segment, and they are also leaders in the lower displacements. Not that there are not already challengers in all of these segments. The KTM 990 even has the model name Adventure, just like the GS variant. The Triumph Tiger, and Ducati Multistrada, are also competitors in the broad sense, along with The Suzuki V-Strom and even the Kawasaki KLR650. However, many of them fill slightly different niches and I think that it can be successfully argued that people choosing to travel around the globe, or tackle the Dakar, or generally romp around in harsh terrain, gravitate in the majority toward the BMW and the KTM brands. But I digest...

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Tenere is a region of the south of the Sahara desert inhabited mostly by the Berber tribes. Oceans of sand is a good mental picture. You have to be made of hardy stock to thrive in this environment, a thought not lost on Yamaha when they chose the name some time ago. In the flesh, the bike looks good in Yamaha metallic blue. The front view reminded be of the Tiger and the Vstrom, perhaps because they both come in a similar blue, and have a small windshield. It is not a great looking bike IMHO, but then again I own a GS, so many would immediately disqualify me from any aesthetic commentary. Ergonomics from the waist down felt good, but it seemed like a longish reach to the bars for my 5'11 32" inseam frame. The seat had grippy material on top which I imagine would really help you to stay put. The cockpit controls and displays seem well laid out, and I liked the turn signal indicators to either side of the dash. Speaking of turn signals, the lights themselves were nicely proportioned being small and on short but flexible stalks. The bike certainly looks and feels smaller than the GS, and the numbers bear that out.

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The luggage (aluminum panniers) seems sturdy, but they are deep and narrow. The left pannier is “notched” to allow for the exhaust. It helps the bike look more svelte, but the high mileage and touring crowd will probably look to the aftermarket. The windshield seems relatively small with some adjustability. This is one of those things that you just can't judge until you put in some mileage. The same with the mirrors which look good and beefy. The bike also sounds pretty good with a mellow sound at idle and a muted but growing growl as the revs climb. Looking at the front of the engine, the crash plate will be a mandatory add-on. The oil filter is very exposed without it, and although it should make oil changes much easier than on the GS, it would be subject to road debris and the first minor scrape with a rock. A nice feature is the way that Yamaha has used a spoke wheel with a tubeless tire. BMW pushed the spokes to the outside of the lip of the rim, while Yamaha has them laced to a central spine (dual in the front) in the center of the wheel. The bike has comparable weight and power to the GS, is a 1200cc twin (parallel), and has shaft drive, so pretty competitive on that front.

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Overall, it seems like a good bike, given that it should be priced cheaper than the GS. I was hard pressed to find something that the bike did “better” than the GS (albeit without riding it), but that is the difficulty with being the challenger, you have to do better, not just match. There are lots of reviews out there on this machine, which suggest that it is not quite the GS-killer that was hyped in some forums. GS fans are legion, and mostly loyal, despite routinely taking their beloved machine to task. KTM fans are fanatics. I don't think that there will be a ton of conquest sales from BMW and KTM for this bike.

That said, I've always believed that competition improves the competitors. I came away from this encounter feeling like there is another competitor aiming at the benchmark GS. I don't personally think that this version will have a significant impact, but Yamaha are not rank amateurs trying to play in a space that is new to them. They have graced the top step of the Dakar Rally podium several times in the past. Everybody in this category had better stay sharp. And that's a good thing.  

There's A Tool For That

Classic Velocity

Working on machines over time inevitably leads to the acquisition of needed tools. At first it is general tools which have a wide variety of uses such as a metric socket set, and wrenches. However, I was looking around the garage the other day, and I was suddenly surprised at how many special tools were laying around. Some pegboard had several special tools for machines I no longer owned. Others were for that one time when I needed to get to the one bolt that was inaccessible by using a conventional tool. A few of the toolbox draws had special variations as well. As usual, I thought that I should categorize the tools that are beyond the basic necessities, and why I needed them.
 
Special Sizes. This category contains my Whitworth wrenches. I can blame a few Norton motorcycles for these tools, which caused the need for both sockets and spanners. The bikes are gone, but the tools remain. A massive 26mm wrench is also in this category. I can't even remember why I needed this. Lastly, I can add a few large standard sockets such as 1 1/16 used for steering nuts that are actually metric! Lastly, I need to add the five-point and other "star" wrenches that BMW has forced me to acquire. I am not sure what was wrong with allen head hardware, but there you have it.
 
Special Access. In this group, I include the deep metric sockets that I have, some of which are in 3/8" and others in 1/2" drive. By the way, shouldn't metric sockets have metric drives ? This mixture of 3/8" drive, and 17mm socket seems somehow incongruent. But I digest....Also present here are swivel socket extensions, super long screwdrivers, and drum brake adjusters. And I can't forget miniature ratcheting screwdrivers and thin spanners, and circlip pliers.
 
Specific Jobs. If you need to keep the alternator fan pulley stationary while you loosen the nut on a Porsche engine, you need the wrench made for that job. You need half a day and a troupe of contortionists to get this done without it. You cannot loosen the oil filter on the newer BMW R1200 bikes without the filter wrench made for the cavity it lives in. Ever try to replace the clutch on a 911 without the alignment tool ? Ever try to remove a reluctant finned exhaust nut on a Norton, or on a BMW /2 or /5 ? Ever try to convince a ball joint to separate from its' control arm without a pickle fork ?
 
I Made It. I have a number of wrenches, screwdrivers, and other instruments that I have bent, twisted, amputated, or otherwise altered so that they could perform a specific function, or fit in a specific space. I also have some soldered wiring pigtials, 6v test lights, a wooden front fork stand, pieces of axles used to drive out other axles, old bearings to seat new bearings, etc, etc, etc.
 
If you have ever spent hours doing something that would have taken a few minutes with the right tool, you can appreciate the need for some investment of your time or money to avoid doing that again. You often grimace at the cost of some piece of metal or plastic that you know you will only need once in a while, but when you are in the moment of need, the right tool is priceless. 

Real World Gear Testing

Classic Velocity

Did you ever read one of those product reviews that was largely a rewrite of the manufacturer's marketing brochure ? Did you ever purchase a product based on the advertising only to have it fall short of the advertising claims ? Ever wish someone did a real world test of a product you were interested in ? Well, the Internet gets us closer these days with product reviews, but they seem to contain the disgruntled and the ecstatic with little inbetween. Consumer reports is good if you want a washer/dryer, but they may not have reviewed your product, and they cost money. So in the hopes that more people will do the same, I offer this real world test of some motorcycle gear used on a 6,000 mile rountrip in 10 days.

 

FirstGear Kilimanjaro Jacket. I previously posted on this jacket and how great it was in the winter. Well, this test took place in one of the hottest summers on record across the midwest and across Oregon's high desert. Along the way was a 38 degree morning in the Utah mountains, and several more in the low 40s. Also along the way were 3 periods of rain, with one of them a real downpour. There was also a few hundred miles offroad in hot dusty conditions, and heavy crosswinds in western Nebraska. A pretty thorough test. I debated taking this jacket because (a) it is heavy, and (b) it is least suited to hot weather. The decision to go with it turned out to be a good one. It was ideal on the colder mornings and at night with just a sweatshirt beneath it. I carried the liner, but only used it (as advertised), as a jacket one cool evening. Now, even with all of the vents open, this is not a good hot weather jacket. It is heavy and thick. Without a windshield, it would probably have worked better given the armor-like shell, but with little airflow, it is barely adequate. Also, the collar flaps around unless you zip up the jacket two thirds of the way. It would be great if you could velcro or snap the vents to keep them open. In the rain, the jacket was brilliant. I carried a rain suit, but only used the pants. The jacket beads water and I was never wet on the inside even in a pretty good downpour. The underarm vents regulated temperatures, and it dried quickly once the sun came out.

 

Throttle Rocker. This simple piece of plastic with some velcro really does what it says. You have to find the angle that is right for the speed you want to travel, and make the velcro tight if you want it to stay put. For highway speeds, this makes it tough once you exit the highway since the throttle is partially obscured by the device. However, at speed, you can use the palm of your hand at rest to maintain speed. An alternative is to make the velcro a little less tight, and adjust it periodically to maintain speed. this can get annoying, but you can slide the device easily to handle different speeds. For $9, it is the poor man's cruise control, and it probably costs $1.50 to make, but it was a great help.

 

Cardo Rider Teamset. This bluetooth helmet device makes it possible to interact with a phone, a GPS, and an iPod. Receiving calls worked perfectly. You can answer by voice, or by tapping the large button on the helmet-mounted device. Easy even with gloves and you get an audio beep for confirmation. The audio clarity is very good, and the auto adjust volume for speed works well. Most callers had no idea I was on the bike, and commented on how much better this sounded that my hands-free car setup. Making calls was via voice activation to the iPhone for me. That was problematic mainly due to the recognition process of the phone, not the Cardo unit. My GPS did not have the right bluetooth capability, so I could not use that feature. The iPod feature is by physical wire plugged into a jack on the unit. This requires you to keep the iPod in a pocket or very nearby. It was also lacking in volume and was unusable at highway speeds. You need an amplifier of some kind or a more powerful device than the iPod/iPhone to make this usable.

 

Happy-Trails Panniers. These aluminum panniers proved dustproof, and waterproof thanks to a great sealing system. The lockable lids were secure, but the locks will not work if they are packed to the gills with items that interfere with the path of the lock tab. A minor quibble. The extra capacity over the stock luggage on the GS and the top-loading are both great. The lid attachment points were invaluable in securing a dry bag on one side, and tarp and rain gear on the other. Brilliant stuff at very reasonable prices compared to the alternatives.

 

Cee Bailey Tall Windshield. This shield makes the GS look (even more) ungainly, and it probably robs a MPG or 2 due to its size, but boy does it work. It transforms the cockpit into a relatively calm and relatively quiet place. If you are around 6' tall, this should be just about right. The only drawback, and this is a balance you have to strike, is that there is relatively little airflow to the rider. YMMV.

 

Vega Summit II Helmet. This helmet certainly had its flip-up mechanism tested on this trip, and it held up well. No issues there. It is not the best helmet for airflow, and I found myself leaving the shield open much of the time. This interferes with the use of the Communication device, so I opened and closed it a lot. The good news is that the detents for the opening stages are well defined. The interior was comfortable for long periods of time, and shield changes were very easy.

 

Vega Mesh Riding Pants. Through sheer coincidence, I purchased some mesh riding pants for the return journey in the heat and they were from the same Vega that made my helmet. These pants were a revelation. For under $90, they are well made, and come with full armor. The mesh areas are interspersed with ballistic nylon in key areas such as the seat and the shins. Although they are mesh, they do not let a lot of air flow through. They feel more like jeans in that you get the effect of any breeze, but your legs are still protected to some extent. They worked for me in a wide range of conditions with just bicycle shorts underneath. Good Stuff.

 

Gear is Good

Classic Velocity

The point is, ladies and gentleman, that gear, for lack of a better word, is good. Gear is right, gear works. And gear, you mark my words, will not only save time and money, but that other more important asset, your butt. Thank you very much.----  With obvious apologies to Oliver Stone and Michael Douglas, I have paraphrased the famous speech from the movie Wall Street for good reason. Gear is good. It is especially good in the middle of a record-breaking northeast winter when you cannot ride or drive. There is nothing like the acquisition of gear, however simple, to stave off the madness of cabin fever and change your outlook.

Gear has several magical qualities, but one is leading you to believe that things formerly not possible are now possible. For example, gear gives you the impression that you can perhaps ride your vintage bike in the frigid cold, rather than waiting for the more friendly climate of spring. I got a new motorcycle jacket over the holidays and not only is it much better than the old in construction and materials, it compels me to ride in lower temperatures and in adverse conditions. Were it not for the fact that I was away for the last 3 foot snow storm, I'm sure that the jacket alone would have made me go out for coffee on the R75. However, on a recent ride in balmy 35 degree weather with the jacket, I discovered that it cannot compensate for a lack of windshield, aging knees, or drafty boots. A few years ago, when I got some Gerbing heated gloves for christmas, they failed to compensate for those things as well. However, heated grips and a touring windshield, when combined with the jacket and gloves, makes me ready to replace the sled dogs of the Iditarod.

The second magical quality of gear is that it makes you want to drive or ride more. I once got one of those beaded seat covers for my VW bug. I immediately went for a very long drive into a neighboring state just because I thought I was immune to fatigue. It turns out I was not. Speaking of seats, I got an inexpensive closeout Alaska Leathers motorcycle seat cover on the way back from a rally, and thought that it made a significant difference, so you never know. New panniers are virtually a guarantee that you will embark upon a trip, the nature of which causes them to be as overstuffed and battle tested as your old ones. 

The third magical quality is the ability to make you a better driver or rider. I swear that when I got my old Sparco racing suit, it made me 3 seconds a lap faster at Lime Rock. Ok, it did not really do that, but it felt like it. When I got my Alpine Stars boots, I increased my lean angle at the next track day, because it had toe sliders. They never came close to touching down, but my knee pucks were more worn out than ever, and times actually went down by 2 seconds. In the late 70s I got a pair of mesh driving gloves from somewhere. You should have seen me on the next drive through the twisties. I was Niki Lauda.


Gear will also save your butt. I have thankfully never had to prove this in any significant way, but today's gear is particularly good if you ride or drive old stuff. Today's helmets are unbelievably better and more comfortable. Racing suits are half as heavy and twice as cool, panniers can withstand crashes, padding will save your ankles knees and collar bones, GPS will get you where you want to go, etc. Its all good.


Lastly, and perhaps most importantly, gear lets you dream. It has a Walter Mitty quality to it much like the current Holiday Inn commercials. A dashboard camera mount makes you fast and smooth like Sebastian Loeb, a new race replica helmet makes you your favorite GP rider, new driving shoes were the only thing preventing you from winning the SVRA events in your region,  a new seat makes you ready for The Long Way Up/Down/Round, a new GPS makes you dream of the places it will display this coming summer when it is warm and you are on the perfect road heading to a great destination and enjoying a perfect day.

Gear is good.     

Comfort During Adversity

Classic Velocity

This weekend I rode the GS both days. Saturday was almost 40 degrees, and I ran some errands, and went to see a friend's new BMW 2002. Lots of folks were out on two wheels, taking the opportunity to alleviate a little cabin fever. Sunday I went to the MacPac breakfast and things were entirely different. The forecast called for precipitation beginning in the afternoon and becoming a wintry mix. The temperature was in the 20s on the way there.

I was one of three bikes at the breakfast, which either earns me "real rider" points, or more likely is an indication of diminished brain activity. In the winter when many animals bulk up and hibernate, it is customary to slow metabolism and brain activity so as to conserve energy until spring. I know I was doing the first part, but perhaps I was doing the second as well. Some would say winter has nothing to do with it. But I digest......    

Halfway through the breakfast presentation, the skies darkened up and opened up. It began to rain steadily. The ride back took place with temperatures in the mid 30s and steady rain start to finish, heavy in spots.

In summary, I had a fun comfortable ride there, and on the return I had a safe ride and arrived home warm and dry. The ride was, well, uneventful. This, my friends is progress.

When I began riding motorcycles, they were fast, and some were even fast, and had good handling. For their time. Gear however was mostly non-existent. Only the pros wore gear designed for the motorcyclist and his steed. The rest of us wore whatever we could get our hands on, mostly jeans and military or work boots. If it rained, you might have a poncho, but more likely you had an expanse of plastic from a new mattress which you strategically wrapped about yourself like a Sari. Then you would live in terror of it coming into contact with either the exhaust or the drivetrain. If you were carrying anything that couldn't get wet, you either waited out the rain, or left it with someone to be retrieved at some other time. When it got cold, you turned up the collar of the jacket you were wearing and blew on your hands like James Dean, as if arctic winds would be deterred by this. You also just tucked in and rode faster so that you could get where you were going and recover. I distinctly remember being pelted by hail through a denim jacket and t-shirt, because I was racing to get through the stuff.  Instead of trying to avoid loss of traction, you practiced it. You entered the corner like a GP racer with a steely grimace, and usually exited like a dirt tracker with eyeballs like saucers and discolored underwear. Some of us didn't survive practice. With the state of most tires, forks, and frames at that time, we were probably fortunate that front brakes were lousy. If they had been much more effective, we would have snapped forks and frames, and killed more of us instead of tearing up cornfields and the odd impromptu visit to peoples living rooms. Bikes went down all the time, and those of us that lived, impressed the guys (and especially gals) with feats of bravery and daring.

On Sunday, I traveled in safety and comfort. I had great gloves, heated grips, a warm jacket that I wrote about last week, an aging pair of boots that still works fine, and a helmet that blocked what the windshield did not. On the return trip I had the grips on high, and rain pants over my jeans. I watched with interest as water beaded up on the surface of the textile jacket and then rolled off. It was almost as good as the Rain-X treated visor in my fleece lined helmet. I was traveling in 33 degree weather in steady rain, and I was neither cold nor wet. But wait, there's more. The paper booklet and sheet I had picked up at the breakfast were perfectly dry in the bike's luggage, the tires displaced the water on the road, and the ABS system reduced the fear of using the brakes.

Bravery and daring is no longer so much the province of a motorcycle ride in adverse weather conditions. These are tough times. Today, if you ride through a california forest fire, texas tornado, or a saharan dust storm, the guys at the bar will probably say "Yeah, but you probably wore that new gyro-stabilizing jacket with the fireproof (yet breathable) shell, and had the satellite-equipped thermal imaging GPS Helmet. And I bet you had the optional sandstorm deflectors on that bike. Who are you trying to kid ?"