Thursday, 26 September 2013

What I want: Suzuki V-Strom 1000

2014 Suzuki DL1000 V-Strom
Is this the first Suzuki I've put on the What I Want list? Golly, I'm pretty sure it is. I wonder what that says about Suzuki?

Nope. Wait, no. There was that minute or two back before I started riding when I was subscribing to the Start With A 250 school of thought and found myself considering a Suzuki Inazuma. But even then, the reason more Suzukis have failed to show up on my list was evident: Suzuki doesn't make very attractive machines. There's just something about them I don't really like. They look a little too buggy, I think -- even the cruisers. Or, in the case of the Hayabusa, cartoonish (a).

And years ago I test drove a Suzuki Vitara that fell apart as I drove it, which put a permanent bad taste in my mouth for all Suzuki products. Yes, I know that was 13 years ago and the car division is removed from the motorcycle division to such a great extent that the former doesn't even exist in the United States anymore, but still. Suzukis just aren't my thing.

But, that said, the Japanese manufacturer has a good number of faithful fans. And, in fact, they are the ones who have caused me to give Suzuki a second look.

So far I've clocked about 1,500 miles on Aliona, and though I'm not quite ready to give her up I do find my eye is frequent to wander. I think a lot about what sort of bike I'd want next, and to a large extent I feel I might be happy with something almost exactly the same. This is why the Honda NC700X remains so high on my personal list. Indeed, since my only real complaint is that I'd like a tiny bit more power to support a passenger and luggage, I sometimes think the bike I'd next like to have is simply a 1000cc version of Aliona. Indeed, my positive Honda experiences thus far make me inclined to be brand-loyal when it comes to my next bike.

But I keep hearing all these incredibly good things about the V-Strom. My favourite motorcycle site, RideApart, for instance, named the V-Strom 650 as one of the best on which to carry a passenger. Additionally, the V-Strom was included in their list of most comfortable bikes. On MotorcycleNews.com they gave the bike five stars. Meanwhile, regular people on both sides of the Atlantic rave and rave about the "bullet-proof" nature of the bike. In the face of that, I can't help thinking: "Hmm, maybe..."

Because here are some of the things I've learned from my 1,500 miles with Aliona: 
  1. I like reliable, gas-and-go machines. Messing about with stuff makes me angry. As much as I romanticise the idea of lovingly tinkering away on something, I actually can't stand it. I'm not afraid to tackle mechanical issues, I just don't want to.
  2. I'm not that interested in tearing through corners. I have zero desire to touch my knee to the ground, for instance. I want to go places. And I find that most of the places I want to go require a combination of high-speed motorways and poorly maintained British roads.
  3. I'm not really selfish enough to go places by myself. Any bike for me has to also be a bike for my wife.
  4. I like anti-lock brakes. They saved my life once, so I'm pretty much insistent the feature be on any bike I seriously consider.
If the cheering of so many others is to be believed, the V-Strom 650 pretty much addresses all of these issues. Additionally, a recent video by Motorcycle USA identified two other aspects about the bike that appeal to me: 

Firstly, it is described as a tall bike, which I like considering I'm 6 foot 1. Growing up in Minnesota, land of the Scandinavians, I never really thought of myself as tall, but according to the ergonomics of many motorcycles I am a gigantic freak. So, a "tall" bike appeals to me. 

Secondly, the testers point out that the V-Strom is relatively narrow, which is the sort of thing that is a bonus if you live in Europe, where filtering is allowed. The other day, for example, Jenn and I rode to Bath and probably shaved a good 45 minutes off our journey time thanks to the ability to move between cars.

Admittedly, all of the glowing praise that has turned my eye toward the V-Strom is for the 650 version. But I am assuming the new V-Strom 1000 will be more of the same thing with, you know, a bit more power for the sake of hauling around passengers.

The V-Strom 650 manages 68bhp, compared to Aliona's 76bhp. Aliona is quite capable in 92 percent of the situations I put her in, but there are certain times -- always with Jenn and luggage -- that I'll think just a little more power would be ideal. So, I'd be wary of stepping down 8bhp to get the V-Strom 650. The new V-Strom 1000 is estimated to have at least 100bhp, possibly more. I'm sure that's plenty for me.

I have been invited to a V-Strom 1000 launch event at Thunder Road in October. I'm keen to go and check out the bike, because the more I look at it, the more it appeals to me in certain ways. I like the tall windscreen, for instance. Aliona's windscreen helps keeps away some of the wind that made riding a Harley at speed such a terrifying experience, but not quite as much as I'd like. Additionally, I like the look of the bike's cockpit; it seems like the sort of dash one would find on a Star Wars speeder bike.

As I say, though, overall I'm not that fond of the look of the bike -- especially that silly duckbill thing. Tis a good thing I'm married because I'd never be able to pick up a girl while astride sucha machine. And I'm not overjoyed at the fact the V-Strom is chain-driven. I don't hate chain maintenance too much, but I'd prefer not to have to deal with it.

I look forward to seeing the bike in person in October -- getting a chance to sit on it and so on, as well as learning what the price is supposed to be. That's an issue that could easily push me back onto the side of disinterest.

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(a) I've heard the 'Busa is a love-it-or-hate-it bike. Place me firmly in the hate-it camp.

Tuesday, 24 September 2013

Always learning

It's been relatively quiet on the motorcycle front lately. I've been working more and have been really struggling to get things done that are important to me, i.e., write. The knock-on effect is that I don't find myself too often going anywhere other than work. And, as I mentioned in my previous post, I prefer to commute to work via bicycle.

There have, though, been a handful of short trips through town in the last week or so, which have taught me that all important lesson of getting your head right before getting on the machine. 

We don't tend to do that with any other vehicle, do we? With a car, you just sort of get in and go; the safe, stable nature of the vehicle means you can get away with not engaging your brain for a while. Hell, some people never engage their brains. They just point the car in whatever direction their SatNav commands and never fully consider their place on the road, the fact that they are a human amongst humans, and that all those humans -- even when inside cages -- are extremely fragile and subject to actions of others.

I suppose I engage my brain when I'm on my bicycle. On some level. Certainly I am alert enough that I can recall minor details of the journey. For example, the black BMW that was behind me as I crossed Windsor Road this morning, or the waiting bus and three cars that passed before I turned onto Bute Place. Whereas I'll bet the BMW driver has no memory of me. Being able to remember what you've done suggests you were paying attention. But I can't say I notice myself being alert.

I'm certainly not very alert to the bicycle itself. I don't really consider its positioning, how well it is going to take a corner or various other things. Because the bicycle is basically just an extension of my physical self. It will do little more than I am capable of.

A motorcycle, however -- especially a lovely 600cc one like Aliona -- is capable of producing far more power than my little legs. As such, my attention must not only be on that which is around me but also that which is beneath me. Because if I'm being inattentive, a motorcycle can hurtle me into a corner at 100 mph with ease.

Your head needs to be right before you put a helmet on it. That's a little truth of which I was being reminded on those short trips through town. I was reminded as I came toward a sharp corner and suddenly realised I was doing so way too fast, causing me to instinctively set out my right foot as if flat tracking on city streets. I was reminded of it again when I misjudged the actions of a car, had to brake hard and stalled in the middle of a roundabout. And once more when I was too hesitant whilst filtering and found myself caught between two lines of accelerating traffic.

Thankfully these learning experiences have been relatively painless -- just a bit of soreness from all that butt clenching. But I'm keen to do what I can to avoid them in the future. So, I've been thinking about and practicing basics.

The other day, for example, I spent about 45 minutes in the Cardiff City Stadium parking lot, practicing U turns. On Sunday, I took part in my very own Go Slow Challenge, to work on manoeuvring. Over and over on rides I think back to Andy Smith (a) yelling in my ear, and I try to think of the things he would be identifying in given situations.

I have no doubt that I must look silly, riding around in circles by myself in parking lots. But experience and skill are a person's best defense. We've had two motorcyclist deaths in Wales this week (one in North Wales and one in West Wales), which is a reminder that luck won't always be on your side.

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(a) Andy was my instructor. He's a top-quality motorcyclist, and if you screw up he swears like a sailor.

Monday, 16 September 2013

Bicycles are not the enemy

Not too long ago, I did that really stupid thing of getting into an argument with someone on Twitter. We should know better than to do this. It is the discursive equivalent of four teenage boys in a pickup truck; absolutely no good can come of it. But I fell into the trap because the person was talking about two things I enjoy, and by disparaging one he was damaging the reputation of the other. 

The person was Chris Hodder, lobbyist for the British Motorcyclists' Federation. As a lobbyist, of course, it is his job to complain about everything. I realise that. But when he recently launched into yet another moan about cyclists I responded with the utterly intelligent "Quit being a twat."

Yeah, I know. Way to take the high ground. But the thing is that Hodder, by his own admission, is jealous of all the positive press bicycling receives in the UK. 

And certainly it does. The two most legitimate newspapers in this country, the Times and the Guardian both have special sections dedicated to cycling, the UK government recently announced it will over the next two years spend upward of £148 million (US$236 million) on improving cycle networks across the country, not to mention the whopping £913 million (US$1.4 billion) that will be spent on London's cycling infrastructure alone, over the next decade.

Cycling is big in the UK and getting bigger. And with good reason. Cycling is a catch-all answer to many of modern society's ills. It's incredibly cheap, almost negligibly so; it is as environmentally friendly as a form of transportation can possibly be, producing zero emissions; it helps to keep a person physically fit and outdoors, combating obesity and the rising anxiety epidemic (not to mention the tertiary societal benefit of helping streets to appear safer and more welcoming because of the presence of people); in many UK urban scenarios it is simply the most efficient mode of transportation (a); and it is an activity that is family-friendly.

I could go on. My wife works for one of the UK's largest sustainable transport charities. But my point is not so much to sing the praises of cycling but to illustrate that it's not a particularly good target for ire. Cycling is a very good thing, in many ways. Complaining about it, especially in any kind of official capacity, makes you seem ridiculously out of touch.

Meanwhile, the state of motorcycling in this country is less than encouraging. As I've pointed out before, the number of people being issued motorcycle licenses has plummeted in recent years. Sales of motorcycles are sluggish and in most cases declining, the only exception being in sales of machines in the 125cc class. Notably, one does not need (b) a full license to ride a 125 in the UK. My theory is that the ridiculous licensing procedures are one of the primary reasons for motorcycling's decline in this country.

If only there were someone, a lobbyist for a motorcycling interest group, perhaps, who could fight against the prohibitive nature of the UK licensing system...

No, Hodder doesn't want to do that. He wants to use his public voice to whine about bicycles. He wants to complain that a healthy, green, family activity gets too much love. And in so doing he makes motorcyclists look like idiots. He makes us look inconsiderate, out of touch, and disgustingly self-absorbed. In other words, he wants to be a twat.

And he wants to ignore the blindingly obvious fact that bicyclists and motorcyclists are natural allies. In UK urban scenarios we face many of the same physical threats from inattentive cagers and pedestrians, and we deploy many of the same tactics (e.g., filtering) to out-manoeuvre them. We both have to suffer the elements, we both have to plan intelligently about what we carry, we both have to worry more about theft, and so on.

And here's the thing: bicycling is what re-ignited my interest in motorcycling. Bicycling made motorcycling viable to me. Exactly a year ago, I was working part-time as a bicycle courier, adapting to the challenges of being out on the road with notoriously impatient British drivers. It was the experience of building confidence, of realising I can hold my own, that made me see motorcycling as a real transportation alternative, rather than just a summertime hobby for overweight middle-age white men with too much money.

I am certain I am not the only person for whom cycling would serve as a logical step toward motorcycling. As more and more cyclists take to the roads as a result of government initiatives, think how many will say to themselves: "Hey, I actually enjoy getting around this way. It's so much better and easier than a car. If only I could get everywhere this way, but maybe a little faster..."

Not to mention that increased numbers of people on two wheels will (slowly) make drivers more aware of such hazards, thereby benefiting us all.

Rather than behaving like a fat child deprived of candy, the BMF and other motorcycling interest groups should be scoring some free good press by supporting government cycling initiatives, and thereafter working to encourage cyclists to take that logical next step up to motorcycling. Many of the benefits are the same in terms of mental health and commuting efficiency, and motorcycles remain cheaper and more environmentally friendly than cars. Cyclists who are used to mixing amongst traffic and suffering the rain would have no problem turning to a motorcycle for longer journeys.

That someone would fail to see this is enough to make you lose your cool and start arguing on Twitter.

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(a) I know what you're thinking: that can't possibly be true, but it is. I have timed it. Believe me, I love riding my motorcycle and would love to create an excuse to take it to work each day. But the fact is, with no traffic whatsoever my bicycle time beats my motorcycle time by at least five minutes (it's all in the route, you see). With traffic, the gap grows considerably wider.

(b) You have to display L plates and are not allowed to carry a passenger, but conceivably a person could ride a 125 for the rest of his or her life without ever having to do more than take a solitary CBT course.

Tuesday, 10 September 2013

Motorcycle race

In a recent post I mentioned the fact that one of the reasons I like wearing a full-face helmet is that there's no particularly good way to tell who I am. That is to say, unless you are close enough to peer through my legally-required-to-be-clear visor, you can't really tell what type of who I am.

Sure, from my frame it's not too difficult to guess I'm male. If you are a keen motorcyclist, perhaps you might assume from my choice of bike (the ever safe and reliable Honda CBF600SA) that I may be somewhat new to the game. But beyond these semi-educated guesses all else is unknowable. What's my age, for instance? What's my race? With every part of me hidden, there is absolutely no evidence to suggest a viable answer to these questions.

Any answer a person might give would be based wholly on his or her assumptions. They may have a picture in their mind of the person beneath all that leather, textile and plastic. But that picture is nothing more than a reflection of the person's perceptions of a motorcyclist. This is why some people will seemingly go out of their way to have a ridiculous argument with you about something you didn't do –– because they're not actually having an argument with you. They're angry at someone who dresses sort of like you, whom they encountered last week.

In this way, I suppose being a motorcyclist gives me a small sense of what it's like to experience racial discrimination.

But it's the overall lack of race that interests me about motorcycling. Before I become so incredibly obsessed, I have to admit I was very much one of those people making unfounded assumptions about the two-wheeled folk zipping past me on the motorway.

If they were on a "crotch rocket" (a ridiculous term that my former self would have used as a blanket description of every bike that was not a cruiser), I assumed the person to be white, male, and in his 20s. On the other side were "Harley riders," i.e. people on cruisers. Because of their open-face (or complete lack of) helmets and aversion to protective gear, I was able to gain more info about them. And in Minnesota, at least, almost all of them were white men. The vast majority of whom were greying and carrying a fair bit of insulation (a).

I am resisting the urge to rant here about suburban Minnesota males in khakis and golf polo shirts who once a year ride glittering Road Kings and drop them in the middle of intersections on easy turns.

But the point is: white males.

For the longest time, that was my image of a motorcyclist. Certainly that's an image upheld by media portrayals. Presently I cannot think of a single example of a film or TV show in which features a motorcyclist who is anything other than a white man. Motorcycles are Hollywood shorthand for white-guy coolness.

But as I started to give in to my motorcycle obsession, joining Google+ discussion groups and interacting with more and more riders, I found myself surprised and delighted to discover that my previous assumptions were not entirely correct.

Firstly, it's not just men. There are plenty of women who ride, and who ride well. And what I mean by that is that women are not just a token aspect. When I was younger, I dated a girl who rode a motorcycle, so obviously I've always known that some women ride, but I suppose I assumed them to be fringe. 

Additionally, I had no doubt that there were, say, blacks or Hispanics who rode, but assumed them, too, to be in very small numbers.

That's not really the case, though. It's estimated there are roughly 8 million female motorcyclists in the United States –– some 3 million more than all the motorcyclists in the UK combined. Numbers are less easy to Google search in terms of racial background, but I am willing to accept that the number of non-whites are substantial. 

Certainly there are enough blacks and Hispanics riding motorcycles that Harley-Davidson has invested the time and money to pursue them with initiatives like Iron Elite and Harlistas. And I'll awkwardly point out that two of my favourite motorcyclists certainly don't appear to be of the same Irish stock as myself. 

And I like that. I love it. If not simply because it gives me something to cling to in hoping that I am not just adhering to the stereotypes of white men who reach a certain age (the fact I tend to like cruisers and/or sport-touring bikes doesn't help me in this, admittedly).

I suppose there are two ways to look at the issue of race in motorcycling: One is that it is an open brotherhood –– that all who choose to ride are welcome regardless of race or creed.

Another is that, you know, it's a motorcycle is a mode of transportation. Like cars, which black people also use. Freedom is not the sole purview of white men, and if a motorcycle is a person's chosen method of getting around perhaps that doesn't actually say anything about the method being used. No more than blacks who Rollerblade, Asians who waterski, or Hispanics who get to work on Segways. Perhaps a motorcycle is just a thing that humans use and there's nothing beyond that.

I suppose, though, either way, I am happy to realise that it's not just me and "my kind." I'd hate to think that the next step for me is khaki pants and golf shirts.

(By the way, if you are interested, here is an interesting article on blacks and motorcycle culture in America)

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(a) Remember: it's not a beer belly, it's insulation for your love furnace.

Sunday, 8 September 2013

This

This is why motorcycling is awesome, and especially why lane-splitting is awesome. This is 100-percent legal in the UK. Just think of how much time this dude saves himself. 

If you are in the United States (with the exception of California), think of how much you are missing out because pro-motorcycle groups are wasting all their time and money whining about helmet laws. They are failing to lobby for the legitimate advantages of motorcycling.

Thursday, 5 September 2013

Gear review: BMW Sport helmet

According to the description in this video, BWW Motorrad designs and builds its own helmets. Helmets that look and, apparently, perform a whole hell of a lot like Schuberth helmets. Considering that BMW outsources for all manner of things on its motorcycles, it seems strange and, indeed, unlikely that helmets really are an in-house concern. Have a look around ye olde internets and the truth of the whole thing seems illusive. Maybe BMW helmets are Schuberth helmets, maybe they're not. What's relevant to me, however, is that I feel I've got a top-quality lid.

Admittedly, I haven't got that much experience upon which to base my claim. Perhaps, indeed, quite possibly, there are better helmets out there that can be bought for as much or less, but I haven't encountered them. The BMW Sport helmet is easily more comfortable than the cheap, no-name, head-pinching thing I bought almost 20 years ago, when I took a training course in the United States. Equally, it fits better to my particular skull than the Arai and AGV models I tried on at Riders of Cardiff. Not surprisingly, the same is true of the BMW in comparison to the cheap Spada lid that Jenn wears (a).

It is snug but not painful and holds well to my head. That is to say, it never moves around, nor does it move my head around, even when travelling at motorway speeds.

Increasingly, if I know I'm going to be moving above 40 mph for any sustained amount of time (b) I try to wear earplugs when I ride, because they help reduce fatigue. But on those occasions when I have forgotten, the high-speed noise within the helmet is perfectly endurable -- quiet enough that I can still talk to myself using my "inside voice."

A major reason for that quiet is the presence of pads that run along the neck and under the chin, blocking out wind. These pads are removable -- in fact, the helmet came with the pads removed -- but installing them was such an incredible pain in the ass that I have never attempted to take them out again. When the weather has been anything approaching warm, however, I have given it some serious thought. 

Those pads were quite handy in the winter, helping to keep my head warm enough that I didn't have to struggle with the complicated balaclava routines deployed by many UK riders. But in legitimate summery weather I have found myself desperate to keep at least 30-mph airflow moving through the helmet's vents.

There are only three vents on the helmet: one at the chin that pushes air up onto the visor, and two at the top of the helmet that allow in air you can (almost) feel toward the crown of your skull. In hot weather I have thought I'd like more vents, but I'm guessing that removing the neck and chin pads would create plenty of airflow. And more noise, which is another reason I've not bothered. I'd rather have a sweaty face than ringing in my ears after a ride.

Additionally, the visor can be opened to several different positions. Which means that you can open it just enough to get in more air but still protect your face somewhat against bugs. The same visor position also worked well for riding around the city in the winter, helping to insure against fogging.

Not mysterious enough.
The visor's anti-fogging pinlock insert works about as well as can be expected. Indeed, I have far more complaints about the fogging I get from sunglasses I wear. Though, I do wish the helmet had one of those mask bits that direct your breath away from the visor. I feel like that would help prevent fogging, and I think it looks cool. 

One of the things I like about a full-face helmet is the anonymity it offers: you don't know what I look like. You don't know my age; from behind you don't even know what race I am. Get close enough to peer through my visor (c), though, and you can see my distinctively crooked nose. You can see that it's me in there. And for some reason that makes me a little sad; I'd prefer to remain unknowable -- masked.

With the visor closed, the helmet seems to hold up well in the wet. I have ridden in steady rain a handful of times and no water got in. As far as I know, at least. Admittedly, when your gloves are soaking through, the issue of wet helmet hair isn't high on your list of concerns. But the fact that I've not noticed water in the helmet probably speaks enough to its quality.

The helmet is also lighter than any other helmet I've tried. As such, I can wear it all day long without headaches or fatigue. Indeed, the greatest aspect of my helmet is the fact that, by and large, I pay it no attention. I forget about it and am free instead to take in all the things that are outside the helmet.

And ultimately that's the point of any piece of kit: it should facilitate or increase your enjoyment of motorcycling. The BMW Sport helmet does just that.

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(a) Side note: It turns out Jenn loves riding on the bike, so she is on it more often than I had originally thought. As such, I am presently saving up to buy her a better helmet.

(b) I find that if I am doing a lot of city riding and wearing earplugs my riding is a little sloppier. I think this is because in a British city the situation around you changes very quickly, and having the full of my hearing helps me respond to these changes better.

(c) Tinted visors are effectively illegal in the UK.

Monday, 2 September 2013

In defence of Aliona

Aliona and me
She's like a girlfriend I once had in that she tends to look better in person. What I see in her doesn't seem to show up well in photos; perhaps because what I see is so affected by what I feel. And very much like that aforementioned ex-girlfriend, Aliona's sleek body and performance overcome a somewhat goofy face.

No, the front end of a Honda CBF600SA isn't really goofy. It's kind of bug-like. Mosquito-esque. It's a style that isn't really timeless; I can't imagine the hipsters of the 2050s lovingly resurrecting this particular model.

Whereas one can be certain that Harley-Davidsons will look pretty much the same 40 years from now, in only about 5-10 years the Honda CBF600SA front end will start to look awkwardly dated, like the square tail ends of 1980s sport bikes.

That said, there is a certain quality to it. Not so much bad-ass, but menacing. Rather than being the machine Captain America would ride into battle, it is more the transport of choice for, say, the person who will hunt you down and do very terrible things to you with very sharp objects. And behind that cowl the tank rises up like the muscled, lean shoulders of a race horse.

She reflects these features in her behaviour. Whereas getting up to motorway speeds was a chaotic (but somewhat thrilling) experience on the Harley-Davidson 883 SuperLow and 1200 Custom I rode recently, Aliona just does it. There is no monster roar, no feeling of screaming at God like Lt. Dan in a hurricane; she just does it. Efficiently, easily, quickly.

Emphasis on quickly. I had a lot of fun on those Harleys but they did not get up to speed as deftly as Aliona. You think it, and she does it. Though, if you are keen on speed and its intoxicating physical effects, Aliona delivers there as well. If you are inclined, you can really push her and there is a feeling of being strapped into a bungee seat –– a slingshot sensation –– and when you look down at the speedometer you are already breaking the law (a).

Note that I say "strapped into." There is no wild, reckless, shaking sensation to riding the CBF600SA at high speed. She is solid. More solid than some cars I've owned, as a matter of fact. That beloved old Ford F250 I drove in high school would put the fear of God in you above 70 mph. Meanwhile, I found myself recently moving along the M4 on Aliona, briskly but casually, when I suddenly noticed we were going 95 mph. (b). She. Is. Solid.

And when I am dumb enough to move at such speeds, she has, too, the ability to stop me. In my previous post, I mentioned an incident coming home from Bretforton in which I failed to pay a great deal of attention to an 18-wheeler until way too late. Had I been on any number of other bikes I would not be writing this now; the anti lock brakes on the CBF600SA saved my life. Indeed, they made me realise that I will never again seriously consider a machine that is without them (sorry, Triumph).

I like the sound of the bike as well. It is not the roaring devilry of a cruiser, no, but something different. At idle there is a quiet, low hum, like the didgeridoo that plays in films shortly before a person is attacked. At high speed, the noise is not overpowering, which allows me to hear instead the engines of the cars around me. I think it is far more useful to be able to hear the sudden increased throttle of a car than your own monotonous cacophony.

And with the adjustable seat elevated to its highest position, the bike is relatively comfortable for my 6-foot-1 frame. Though, that has taken a little time to develop, to be fair. But after my 220-mile ride recently I suffered no ill effects the next day –– no soreness in my back or knees, etc. And the wind protection is enough that I don't feel I'm hanging on for dear life.

Having sat upon the Honda NC700X, I know it is possible for a bike of Aliona's ilk to feel lighter, but she is still pretty damn easy to move around. As my riding confidence grows, I find my bike is evermore capable of fitting through tight spots in traffic. And she is not so heavy that I struggled to pick her up after (stupidly) dropping her, nor is it a challenge to do side-stand turns.

In certain reviews, the CBF600SA is dismissed as a bland machine, but I can't understand how a machine capable of 140 mph could ever be bland. It's certainly not the case for me. And though I sometimes find myself eyeing different bikes, the capabilities of my bike mean that for many I will never do more than look (until very recently, the Harley-Davidsons would have been written off my list for their lack of ABS).

I'm sure one day I'll find a bike I like more, but in the meantime I will enjoy zipping around on my menacing digeridoo of awesomeness.

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(a) If there are any members of South Wales Police reading this, please be aware that this statement is false. I would never break the law.

(b) Again, if there are any law enforcement figures reading this, that claim is a total lie.