Tuesday, 26 November 2013

What I want: Honda NC750X

Honda NC750X
I try not to look at the stats for this blog too much. I've been blogging in one form or another for a decade now and experience tells me that wandering too deep into the dark woods of blog stats can be detrimental to one's mental health. You start to feel that the incalculable whims of the internets are somehow a reflection on you, your ability to write, etc. If lots of people are reading you feel good, and you become miserable when the opposite is true.

Soon, like the Southern preacher who gets money pressed into his hand at the end of sermons, you find yourself trying to chase after the topics that you think interest people, rather than what necessarily interests you. And thereafter your blog starts to suck.

That said, I want in this post to return to something I've written about before and which has turned out to be one of the more popular topics that brings people to this blog. According to my stats, here are the top three search terms that lead people to this site:
1) boss hoss
2) honda nc700x
3) nc700x

That first one, of course, is inexplicable. And inexcusable. You people should be ashamed of yourselves. Like Orange County Choppers, Boss Hoss are representative of much that is wrong with motorcycling. These are the Bright Young Things painting themselves gold and swimming in Champagne whilst great lines of unemployed workers starve to death (a). That is to say they are fascinating, excessive and ultimately detrimental –– almost entirely lacking in quality. Or, as I previously described them: abominable hunks of prematurely ejaculated patriotism.

No, forget that noise. What I'm interested in is the NC700X. I wrote a post about that motorcycle roughly seven months ago, and still there are people showing up now and again to comment on it. Indeed, it's become something of a tiny forum, with many people showing up to report their experiences with the bike. And I can't help but notice that the feedback is almost entirely positive.

I still have yet to ride an NC700X, in part because I'm afraid I'll find myself signing a purchase agreement as a result of it. Having read extensively about the machine, and having sat upon it at Thunder Road I know that it possesses all the features I like about my beloved Aliona with a number of added perks: considerably better gas mileage, a lower centre of gravity, and a whole lot of storage space. 

Admittedly, Aliona's engine delivers 21 bhp more than the 51-bhp NC700X (Aliona has 76 bhp in total), but the NC700X has (just) slightly more torque and I've come to realise that my riding style may not demand all that much power. Whereas other people see an empty road as an opportunity to push a bike to its limits, if no one else is around I gleefully slow down to about 25mph and weave.

But now there is at least one thing (apart from the obvious thing, i.e., lack of money) keeping me from buying an NC700X: Honda has announced it is soon to upgrade the bike and it will become the NC750X. An extra 75cc will deliver a whopping 4 bhp more, but more interestingly, the gearing has been adjusted to make it even more handy at highway speeds.

I use the What I Want tag to yammer on about all types of motorcycles, but in my mind the list splits into two categories: bikes I wish I had, and bikes that I am very legitimately considering within the confines of existing circumstances (i.e., bikes that I don't need to win the lottery to own). I can honestly see the NC750X becoming my next bike. Well, unless Triumph produce a Speedmaster with ABS tout de suite

Maybe they will; I don't really see myself being able to get another motorcycle until late 2015 (b). But those two machines –– the NC750X and the Speedmaster (assuming it has ABS [c]) –– are at the very top of my Legitimately Considering list.

They are certainly different machines, and that gives you a clue as to my main issue with the NC750X: it doesn't look terribly cool. I have, as I say, seen the NC700X in the flesh and although I am totally in love with its features and practicality, I'm not at all that jazzed about its plasticy plasticness.

The NC750X is not a bike that's necessarily going to get you laid. Sure, it will efficiently, reliably and comfortably transport yourself and your hookup to a hotel room. But the act of convincing said pareja de amor to get on the bike in the first place is going to be solely down to your individual charm; the bike is not going to help out.

Everything on the NC750X is plastic. That makes it lightweight and durable, and means scratches are less cause for concern (when you scratch plastic it doesn't result in rust as with metal), but, you know, it's plastic. 

Plastic doesn't gleam in the sun, nor is it the sort of thing that ages well. Or, rather, the look of plastic –– its aura. Plastic belongs on a new thing. Name me one plastic-laden item from 1993 that still looks cool. Although technically timeless and inclined to last roughly 100,000 years, plastic doesn't have a timeless feel. Within a decade or so, it makes an item look cheap.

And certainly that was my impression of the big storage cover on the NC700X. Its plastic looked a little too easy to break into. Easier to access than the tank bags and dry bags that I use otherwise? Not so much, but you get my point.

Overall, I like the NC750X a lot. A whole lot. Enough to pay money for it. But I'm not sure I could ever really love it.

__________

(a) EF Morgan was of similar circles. He famously tormented Aldous Huxley by releasing a baboon into his room. Crikey, the inter-war period was fascinating.

(b) But hey, hope springs eternal. A year ago, it was pretty damn unlikely that I'd have Aliona by now.

(c) ABS will be required on all motorcycles sold in Europe from 2016. So, assuming Triumph doesn't ditch the Speedmaster, it will eventually have ABS. The question is whether I'd be willing to wait that long.

Friday, 22 November 2013

What I want: Honda Valkyrie (aka Honda F6C)

Here comes the sexy
I'll warn you now: this post is a meandering one...

I am fond of pondering the When It All Goes Horribly Wrong scenario. This is a what-if scenario that started showing up in my usual daydream repertoire sometime after my first wife left me. At that time I didn't really have a prepared response for such a happening, so I just spent a year or so wallowing in utter misery. I taught myself to play a few chords on the guitar and wrote two bittersweet love songs for an imaginary girl, but by and large that time was ill spent.

Because what you are supposed to do when something traumatic happens -- if films and rock songs have taught us anything -- is suddenly veer onto a life path that is generally out of character and more awesome. You are supposed to travel to Italy, India and Indonesia and thereafter write a book about it. Or at least change your hair style and start a new career. I often think that one of the greatest appeals of Doctor Who is his ability to regenerate: when everything turns to poop the Doctor literally becomes someone else.

So, to ensure I won't make the same mistake again, my imagination has decided, rather unimaginatively, that future response to a When It All Goes Horribly Wrong situation is to drop everything, take to the open roads of North America and live the life of a vagabond.

As it happens, I was in the early stages of finally forming this response when I first met Jenn. I was even to the point of looking online at cars that I thought might be up to the task of serving as my home. In particular, I had my eye on a relatively low-mileage Ford Econoline. The whole plan was shelved, of course, when I fell in love with Jenn. It slipped back into the realm of daydream and, as you might suspect, these days the vehicle of choice is a motorcycle.

"If Jenn ever leaves me," I tell myself, "I will sell everything I possibly can, pack up and ship myself back to the States. Then I will buy a motorcycle and set out to roam the vastness of North America in my loneliness, surviving only on my wits and my incredibly profitable writing ability (a)."

It is, as I say, a cliche daydream, but the beauty of it is that it can also be adapted into a When It All Goes Terrifically Well scenario. So, you know, rather than imagining the utter misery of being without my wife, I can daydream such an action as a response to our winning the lottery.

Indeed, I prefer this second scenario. I mean, life without Jenn -- even one spent awander (b) on a motorcycle -- would be a great big mountain of suck. Besides, it is easier to travel a place from a position of financial strength. And that latter truth would certainly come in handy fulfilling the part of the daydream that I spend the most time on: the question of which motorcycle I would choose as my cross-country steed.

For a while, my machine of choice was the aptly named Victory Cross Country. A big, comfortable beast that can serve as a sort of home base for a person. Sure, the bikes people actually use for making round-the-world trips are more often than not V-Stroms, KLRs and other 650s, but when the idea is to permanently trundle across a continent you -- or, at least, I -- want something with more heft. Something that's too heavy to steal. And I like, too, that the Cross Country is (86-percent) American-made.

Since the return of Indian Motorcycles, however, the Cross Country has in my heart been replaced by the Indian Chieftain. With its ridiculous train-like fairing it looks cooler and has the je ne sais quoi of heritage.

But my love of Honda is well documented, and when you're daydreaming about living every day astride a bike, the reliability of a Big Red machine starts to sound pretty appealing. Even in fantasy scenarios. So, it is usually not too long into the daydream that I start to consider the Honda F6B. Basically a Goldwing without the old-man top box, it's a bike that's won a fair bit of accolades since coming out not too long ago.

The F6B has a unique look that possibly doesn't yet encourage goofy stereotypes of its riders, and it has more technological wizardry at a lower price than a Chieftain (the "deluxe" version of the F6B costs $2,000 less than a standard Chieftain). And, unlike the Chieftain, it's shaft-driven.

My history of really wanting a Triumph but choosing in the end to just get a Honda (and thereafter tell people I wish I had a Triumph) suggests I'd do the same sort of thing again in this scenario. I'd get the F6B, then stare longingly at each and every Chieftain I saw.

All that said, one thing sort of bothers me about the bikes I put into this daydream: I'm not entirely sure I like baggers. I mean, those hard bags are just things that will break when I inevitably drop the bike, right? And the nature of them somewhat limits what I can put in them. In my (very few) long trips thus far I've found I prefer the utility and, it has to be said, look of things like dry bags. As I've mentioned before, nothing says "I'm on an adventure!" better than having bags strapped to your bike.

And do I need all the fairing that's on the Chieftain and F6B? Well, maybe. I would be travelling here there and everywhere, after all. But the cowls on the F6B and the Chieftain hold speakers, which is something that doesn't really interest me. Having a sound system seems to me just a load of extra weight and equipment that likely won't hold up well to heavy rain. Besides, I'm the sort of person who listens to Danielle Ate the Sandwich; I probably don't need to broadcast that to my fellow riders.

Though, it would be hilarious if I did. I would love to roll into Sturgis blaring "Indiana."

No, perhaps a screen is all I'd need. Or just a more rigid constitution and increased forearm strength. And with that thought in mind I have often entertained the idea of choosing an Indian Chief Classic as my vehicle of choice. I think it would look kind of cool bedecked in Kriega and dry bags, and I reckon it's the sort of machine that would age well (in terms of looks, at least). But then, this week Honda announced the new Valkyrie.

Oh, my. I mean, oh. My.

That is an insane-looking machine. I've deliberately allowed myself a meandering post just for the sake of being able to put in loads of pictures of it. Basically, a Goldwing that's been stripped down even more than the F6B. This thing is a great big hunk of futuristic sex awesomeness. Paint it in dark grey with red trim and it would look very much like the ride of choice for Judge Dredd. And for a kid who grew up bouncing around his bedroom screaming the lyrics to "I Am the Law" that's pretty much all the selling point a bike needs.

But, no, it looks even cooler than that. I love those huge radiator vents, giving it the look of something you'd use to attack a planet. The headlight looks like some sort of disruptor cannon. I don't even know what a disruptor cannon is; I just made that phrase up. But still, that is what the headlight looks like.

OK, yes, the Valkyrie is ungodly heavy and would probably be a whole lot of Not Fun to ride in a challenging urban situation. I'm guessing it filters with the agility of a drunken moose. And you probably wouldn't want to ride up the notoriously steep streets of Duluth, MN when going to pick up your Aerostitch Roadcrafter, risking getting stuck at a light while on a 23-percent incline. But with that weight comes the ability to ride through tornadoes and test the structural integrity of country bridges.

Also, how awesome is it that Honda names a motorcycle after the Norse harbingers of death? In Norse mythology, a valkyrie is a female form that rides into a battle and determines who will live and who will die. It's appropriate imagery, I suppose. No doubt one would feel like a member of the Riders in the Sky when tearing across the continent on this thing.

No, not that Riders in the Sky. This Riders in the Sky -- the one driving a ghost herd. Because that's what one does on the Valkyrie: takes control of demon animals. Demon animals from space. Which you shoot with your disruptor cannon.

Someone buy me this bike. I have cities I want to conquer.

__________

(a) Hey, it is, after all, a fantasy scenario. The fact I've thus far failed to support myself with writing doesn't need to stand in the way of my imagining it.

(b) It would appear that "awander" is not actually a word. It should be.

Monday, 18 November 2013

Gear review: Furygan Revol Evo

Furygan Revol Evo
When it comes to motorcycle gloves, I suppose there are really only two things to consider:
1) Will they protect my hands in a crash?
2) Will they keep my hands warm/cool?

The first question is rather hard to answer definitively without, you know, hurling yourself from a motorcycle at speed. Yes, you can get a good sense of a glove's durability from safety ratings. You can smack the leather and hard plastic and tell yourself that you feel it would hold up well. But you don't actually know.

So, the bulk of my review of the Furygan Revol Evo glove is centred on how well they answer the second question. Unfortunately, after having ridden with them for a while I have to say they've not answered the question very well.

The gloves are marketed as winter gloves, and were bought on that same heady day after signing up for my CBT that I bought my helmet. Both items were promptly hidden from my wife until I was found out a few months later. Because they are winter gloves, one would expect them to keep hands warm in, you know, the winter. But unless you're spending your winters in Arizona I can't say they really live up to the billing.

For instance, on the super-bad no-good Mod 2 day it was cold enough that a tiny bit of snow was blowing around as we rode out to Swansea (a). You don't get more wintry than snowfall. And the gloves were simply not up to the task. Halfway there my right hand had frozen up so badly that I only had feeling in my index finger and thumb and had to force us to make an early pit stop. 

But, hey, perhaps that's an extreme example. And after all, winter in the southern parts of the UK is rarely cold enough to produce snow. You are far more likely to encounter temperatures ranging from 3-8 C (37-46 F). Those are the temperatures in the range I experienced on my trip to Dyrham Park, or a week before when riding in the Brecon Beacons, or a few weeks before that when I rode down from Mid Wales. In all those cases, however, I suffered cold hands after only about 30 minutes of riding.

Meanwhile, I discovered when I first got my bike and rode it down from Cheltenham that the gloves are sweat-tacularly hot when riding on a day that is 17C (62F). Indeed, my experience is that these gloves have a pretty limited temperature range: somewhere along the lines of 9-15 C (48-60 F).

With that in mind, then, I'd say they are sort-of adequate late-spring/early-autumn gloves. And to their credit they are cheap, comfortable and, at least, more waterproof than the all-leather summer gloves I use. After less than a year of use, however, there are definite signs of wear and it should be noted that the first time I used them, I set them on a radiator to warm them up and that caused the glue on the Velcro forearm strap to melt.

All in all, I suppose it's another lesson of You Get What You Pay For and if you can afford to do so, I'd suggest buying different gloves. That's what I plan to do. 

__________

(a) I realise you may not be familiar with the geography of South Wales. Cardiff and Swansea are roughly 45 miles apart. The McDonald's that I had to stop at in order to get feeling in my hands is only 19 miles into the journey.

Friday, 15 November 2013

Invading England

I like to keep track of just about any riding I do that's more than a jaunt through the city. So, here are a few pictures from last weekend's ride out to Dyrham Park, near Bath. It's a quick 50-or-so miles from Penarth, with most of the riding on the motorway and therefore not terribly exciting. 

But any riding is better than none.

Dyrham Park

I was happy to get out of the house. With The Long Dark now fully under way in Britain my annual depression has been growing ever more difficult to keep in check. I find it harder and harder to get out of bed. But on Sunday morning the sun was shining and with Jenn planning to have lunch with a friend I had excuse to wander off and do my own thing.

The first time I ever went to Dyrham Park was with my friends Jenny and Chris, who live in Bath. Not to be confused with the Jenny and Chris that are my wife and me. Indeed, this first visit came well before I ever met Jenn, at a point in my life that was terribly unpleasant; my first wife had just left me.

These pictures don't quite do it justice.

That first visit came at roughly the same time of year as this one. I had taken the train out to Bath to visit with Jenny and Chris for the weekend, and we had gone to Dyrham Park for a walk. Jenny had brought along a flask (a) of mulled wine and some mince pies. The three of us sat on a giant log and consumed these winter treats whilst looking out across the wide Severn valley and all the away across to the hills of Wales.

So, it is a very special place to me. It is a place of healing, of remembering what it is that I love about the United Kingdom. And it is because of Dyrham Park that I am so religiously fanatical about the National Trust.

There were some deer hiding in these trees.

I was on the road by midday, zipping comfortably along the M4. Logic suggests that I should feel a little more apprehensive about hurtling along at 80 mph (b). But in fact, I feel pretty comfortable. Motorway riding actually removes a number of the variables one has to encounter on UK roads. There are no pedestrians or cyclists, cars don't leap out from alleyways, there are no roundabouts to navigate, and so on. Generally, my biggest complaint is the wind. But on this day it wasn't too bad.

It was rather chilly, however, and by the time I got to Dyrham Park there was a fair bit of ache in my hands and I was once again making promises to myself about heated grips. At the gate house, when I went in to show my membership card, one of the women there asked if I wanted to leave my helmet on a shelf, rather than having to carry it around. I almost wept at how considerate that was and in my head launched into yet another very long discourse on how much I love the National Trust.

Looking toward Somerset

I walked across the grounds taking in the autumn chill and the sight of families wandering around -- two sisters racing each other, a little boy shouting in Italian, a brother getting stroppy because his sister got to carry a backpack, and on and on. Life. There's a character in one of my books who says: "You put livin' and dyin' in a fair race and livin' always comes out ahead." I too often struggle to remember that truth.

Moments like these help. I sat on that same log I had shared with Jenny and Chris so many years before, and now drank tea from a flask I had brought, eating a Snickers and gradually feeling so much better about everything. I stayed there taking in the view until the tea began to test the limits of my bladder and the sun was setting.

Nos da, heulwen hydref.
I packed up, collected my helmet and got back on the road. It was dark now, colder, and I had spent the past several hours sitting outside, so it wasn't long before I felt the need to pull off the motorway into a services, to get some French fries and warm my hands. But thereafter it was an easy ride home, speeding happily into the crisp, cold darkness of night.

"This is why I put up with all the rest of it," I said into my helmet. "For moments like this."

__________

(a) In the United States we would commonly refer to a flask as a Thermos. Britons also use 'flask' to describe that same object that Americans think of, so you are left to guess the actual receptacle based on contents. 

(b) As always, if you are a member of UK law enforcement, please remember that this is an exaggeration. I am a good boy and I never ride faster than the speed limit.

Wednesday, 13 November 2013

Study confirms what a lot of us already knew

This makes him a better driver.
I took my UK driver's exam on 26 June this year -- about two months after I had earned my motorcycle license. I realise I haven't ever told that story, so I've put it in italics below. But the important thing to take away from the experience is that I passed the driving exam without fault. That is not an exaggeration, I mean it literally: I was not marked down for one single thing.

And as I sat in the car, feeling a wave of relief at having passed, waiting for the examiner to finish the paperwork, he said offhandedly: "Of course, that's what I would expect from a motorcyclist. They make much better drivers."

Certainly that's a sentiment that many motorcyclists like to hold about themselves. Our fragility on the road forces us to compensate with extra awareness and caution, and that helps develop and improve the skills we use when we're behind a wheel. Before I earned my UK license I had been driving for some 21 years, but I can honestly say my driving was improved as a result of my riding a motorcycle.

And it turns out this is not just something we think. There is statistical evidence to back it up. A study has shown that, in the UK, at least, motorcyclists are 23-percent "better" at driving a car.

There's something to throw at the "murder-cycle" goofs.

Of course, one of the logical explanations for this statistic in the UK is that our licensing is so stringent. Getting my motorcycle license was a long and exhausting process, with almost all of my training taking place on the road, amid the zip and unpredictability of traffic. And because a motorcycle license and a driver's license are completely different things in this country, it means that anyone who has both will have had to go through a very similar examination process twice. Of course that person is going to be a better driver.

But I'm willing to bet that the same finding would be true in the United States. Perhaps not to the same extent as in the UK, but still a large enough percentage of "better" drivers to help prove motorcycling's benefit.

Training in the UK is extensive.
What do you think? Does riding make you a better driver?

__________

It took me seven years to get my driver's license in this country.

That is to say, it took me seven years to finally get around to getting my driver's license in this country. When I moved here, I had a license from the United States, which is valid in the UK for 12 months from one's arrival date in the country. Applying a loose interpretation of the law, I decided this meant that if I took at least one trip out of the country a year I would not have to go through the tedium and red tape of getting a UK license. 

I kept this up for five years, until I got stopped by a police officer. After a very long discussion, the police officer eventually conceded to my point of view, but the experience put the fear in Jenn. The rule of my life in Her Majesty's United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland is that I must always be a Very Good Boy. Because even relatively minor brushes with the law could result in my being shipped out of the country.

True, the sordid tale of Abu Hamza al-Masri suggests I would actually have to do quite a lot to be kicked out of Britain, but, hey, best not to push my luck. Certainly that was Jenn's view. She didn't like the idea of her partner being sent packing because of his laziness over a driving test, so she started lobbying for me to finally jump through the DVLA hoops and get a UK license.

The idea cooled, however, a few months after that, when we decided to get rid of our car because of the exorbitant cost. Why get a license when you haven't got a car? And that's how things stayed until about a year ago when this whole motorcycle obsession became too much to hide.

If you are reading this in places other than the UK, the rules about motorcycle licensing are probably similar to those of my beloved and adopted home state of Minnesota. There, according to the state's Department of Public Safety, you must have a valid driver's license to apply for a motorcycle endorsement. In other words, in order to be licensed on two wheels you must first be licensed on four.

Not so in this part of the world. Here, although it is generally the case that a motorcyclist will be licensed to drive a car, it isn't required. So, when I decided I wanted to ride a motorcycle, it was at that particular license I focused my attention.

Jenn was initially resistant to the whole motorcycle thing but soon realised how important it is to me and became supportive. Part of her requirement in allowing me to spend loads of money for training and testing, though, was that I also finally get my UK driver's license.

Friday, 8 November 2013

Reaction to Harley-Davidson Street 500 and 750

Harley-Davidson Street 750
Remember this summer when Harley-Davidson was going into convulsive fits of self-congratulation because of Project Rushmore?

"A whole new ride starts now," the company proclaims on its website. 

Rushmore, they said, was the biggest leap forward in the company's history. Huzzah, huzzah, fireworks, blaring guitars, etc. I didn't really see what the fuss was about.

The announcement the company made this week, however, is far more profound. Harley-Davidson is soon to release 500- and 750-cc liquid-cooled bikes. As far as I can tell, this is the first time Harley have offered a 750 or lower in roughly 30 years (someone please correct me if I'm wrong).

The machines, of course, are a response to the great big pink elephant that resides in the Cult of Harley temple: the median age of Harley riders is 47. And although 47-year-olds are awesome (I'll be one soon enough) and perhaps more likely to have the cash for the latest WTFBBQROFL Cock Monster Special Classic Deluxe Supreme (a), they are also dangerously close to that age when some guys start to feel that their hips, knees and hands aren't really up to the demands of motorcycling.

In other words, it's a demographic you don't necessarily want to build a business on. Or, at least, not the whole of your business. And in fairness to Harley-Davidson, the company has made laudable efforts to extend its appeal to women and minorities with initiatives like Iron Elite and Los Harlistas. But arguably those initiatives are just variations on a theme: appealing to people whose idea of safety begins and ends with a leather vest, and who enjoy riding enormous and expensive machines in straight lines, slowly.

And if that's your thing, you keep on rockin' mi amigo. To be honest, it's sort of my thing, too. Minus the bit about no safety gear. Would that I could live out my daydreams, my life would be spent astride a Victory or Indian, trundling here and there across the great North American continent. But as Gary France points out: "Motorcycle riding is very different depending where you are in the world and what is right for one market is very wrong for another."

You, too, can be as cool as this Asian hipster.
It's not just geography and road layout, though. Mindsets are different. Many people -- both in the United States and out -- have little or no desire for the typical heavy machine we've come to expect from Harley-Davidson. People like me in the real world, for example. When I test rode the 883 and the 1200 Sportsters back in August I loved the idea of them, but came away feeling it unlikely that a Harley would be my next motorcycle.

As I said at the time: "Although the XL1200 is brilliant in straight lines, it feels sluggish if you try to throw it around. Filtering straight past a line of cars came easily, but I would never attempt to weave this bike up through traffic."

Yes, I've seen one or two 883s navigating the London mess, but I think most people who live in urban areas of the sort we have in Europe -- and India, where the new HD Streets will be made (b) -- would prefer something a little more nimble. And Honda's tremendous success with both its 250cc and 500cc range of bikes suggests a market for "smaller" bikes very much exists in the United States, as well.

For the most part, I like the idea of the Harley-Davidson Street, with one reservation. But before I get to that let's take a look at some of the main points that have come up in reaction to these new machines:
  • They're from India. And? Truthfully that's not really an issue. Sure, I have sighed wistfully at the fact the bulk of Triumph's machines come from Thailand, but I don't think that has any bearing on their quality. Indeed, there isn't one bike in the Triumph range -- even the intolerably ugly Street Triple (c) -- that I wouldn't love to have as my own. Besides, no existing Harley-Davidson is truly American; like a "British-made" Triumph, the "American-made" Harleys consist of mostly foreign parts assembled in the target country.  
  • It's "small." Shut up. 500 cc is not small. 750 cc is definitely not small. Especially considering that the engine in the Street appears to be a variant of that used in the V-Rod (a). With three of the five initial markets (U.S., Italy, Spain, Portugal and India) being in Europe, I would expect the 750 to produce the 47bhp maximum allowed for the A2 license (d). Especially since A2 license holders (people under the age of 24) are a big part of the target audience for this bike.
  • It's got a radiator. God-forbid Harley-Davidson should build a modern machine. I've never
    Yip yip yip. Nice radiator.
    really understood the archaic love some people have for air-cooled bikes. I mean, I understand it, perhaps, in a romantic sense -- in the same way as I understand a love for horse-drawn carriages. But in a real-world way I don't get why you'd be so religious about it. The initial markets for the Street are places that can get quite hot, especially if you are stuck in the urban environments for which the bike is intended. Radiators will make the bikes more comfortable, more efficient (and thereby more environmentally sound) and faster. I will admit, though, that the oversized nature of this particular radiator is a bit silly and makes the bike look just a bit like an alien from Sesame Street.

All in all, my own response to the Street is favourable. The most orthodox elders within the Cult of Harley will moan for the sake of moaning, but, to be honest, no one really cares what they think anyway. The whole point of the Street range is that those old guys will be dead soon. Harley-Davidson is with this bike reaching out to not only a younger audience, but a different one.

And that's the whole thing about motorcycles: it's your personal freedom, your tool for independence. Someone else's opinion of that tool is only relevant if you're trying to lure them into bed with you (and even then, not really). By and large, if Harley-Davidson puts legitimate marketing muscle behind them, I would expect the Streets to be quite popular.

To that end, I would expect the days of the 883 Sportster are numbered. When I rode it and the 1200, I couldn't really feel a major difference in performance or handling. Although the 883 is certainly a popular machine (searches for it are the no. 1 source of search traffic to this blog), I think it makes sense to drop the "smaller" of the Sportsters and have the 1200 serve as the next step up from a 750 Street.

I do have a serious complaint with the bike, however: it lacks antilock brakes. Which is just stupid. It's stupid because ABS is a brilliant asset for both the new and urban riders at which this bike is targeted. But it's especially stupid because in Italy, Spain, Portugal and the rest of the European Union, antilock brakes will be required as standard on all motorcycles (above 125 cc) from 1 January 2016.

Needs antilock brakes.
Considering it will have to do so within two years, Harley-Davidson should have offered ABS as standard on the Street from the very beginning. They could have spun things to make it seem they were being innovative and ground-breaking. Instead, they will just be keeping up.

So, I wouldn't be getting a Street until at least 2016. After that, well, I'll be getting getting closer to Harley's existing age demographic and will probably focusing all my attention on an ABS-equipped Victory Judge (e). But never say never.

__________
(a) The names given to Harleys are ridiculous and too often sound like rejected names for condoms.

(b) HD claims that the Streets sold in the United States will be manufactured in Kansas City. When journalists asked the follow-up question of whether the bikes will, in fact, simply be assembled in KC using parts from India, the company went tellingly quiet.

(c) Apologies, Lucky, since your bike looks pretty much the same. But as I say, even though I think it's ugly I would love to have one.

(d) All motorcycle licenses in the European Union conform to the same requirements. An interesting fact related to that is that in the riding test the emergency stop is supposed to be executed at or slightly above 50 kph. However, in the UK, we don't understand kilometres. Translated to our ancient way of thinking, the stop has to be executed at or slightly above 31.06 mph. Which, of course, creates a nonsensical challenge for a person riding a motorcycle that has the classic needle speedometer and who lives in a country where the urban speed limit is 30 mph. So, in the UK, it is allowed that people do a 30mph (48.2 kph) stop in their test. But, hilariously, this means that technically we are not meeting EU standards. As a result, every time a rider passes the test with an emergency stop speed between 30 mph - 31.06 mph (i.e., less than 50 kph) it means the UK government must pay a small fine to the EU.

(e) I'm assuming that Victory will get with the times in 2016. I'm really hoping they will and that by then I'll have the money for a Judge. My fear is that Victory will decide to just pull out of the European market -- I have only ever seen one Victory on UK roads.

Monday, 4 November 2013

A quick turnaround


The nature of the weather and my schedule means I'm not riding nearly as much as I'd like these days –– generally only about once a week. But, hey, that's once a week more than I was riding last year. So I guess I shouldn't complain.

I took Monday off, though. Just to get my head out of work. My job requires that I stare at a computer screen quite a lot, and that'll mess with your head after a while. I love what I do, and especially what it means, but sometimes I need to get away. We all do.

I work for the UK's National Parks and my job is to remind Britons how incredibly beautiful, unique and diverse is their tiny little country. That's the sort of thing a person can forget when he or she gets locked into an everyday routine. Get up, eat, shower, get all your things together, rush to get to work on time, spend all day staring at a computer screen, rush to get home, eat, prepare to do it all again the next morning. It is easy to get lost in all that. Especially at this time of year. For example, it is dark outside when Jenn and I go to work in the mornings; it is dark again when we head home; and more often than not, the time in between is grey, windy and wet. But you need to lift your eyes from time to time. You need to look around and see the great and small beauty exists all around you.

Brecon Beacons National Park
Monday was an opportunity for me to take my own advice. And fortunately it turned out to be sunny. I decided to make a quick run up to Brecon Beacons National Park. In these days when I am riding so infrequently, I tend to suffer pretty bad nerves in the first few miles of a ride. My imagination churns out worst-case scenarios and it takes a while for me to relax.

The nerves were soon enough gone, though, and replaced by cold. As I climbed up through the winding Taff valley a persistent chill set into my bones. My fingers ached. Cold wind found its way up my jacket and through my thin polyester sweater. It was about 3C (37F) at Brecon Beacons Reservoir and I was in full shiver. Once I got onto the A4059 I stopped at the earliest opportunity to put on more layers.

Incredible luck resulted in my stopping at the crest of a hill, overlooking the great cut of valley where the River Taff starts to form. The autumn morning sun made everything golden, the road was black, winding and empty. At its sides sheep grazed, insouciant to my presence.

It was one of those moments that you choose not to photograph because you know that no photo can come close to capturing everything. The freshness of the air, the peace, the scale –– a photograph can't give you that. It can't give you the warmth of the sun on my face, nor the energetic chill of standing there stripping off my jacket and sweater in order to put on another layer underneath.

I stuffed a pair of glove liners down my pants to warm them up, then stood clapping my hands to get the blood flowing, and, I suppose, applauding God's work. "Well done on the Brecon Beacons, Lord. I really like what you've done here."

In thermal shirt, T-shirt, and sweater, I wrapped my scarf around tight and zipped up my jacket. I put on my helmet, tucked the scarf up to my chin, pulled the liners from my trousers and quickly slipped them on. Then the gloves. Everything bundled, I made a few comforting slaps at my chest and fired up the bike.

I took things easy on the way back down. The A4059 was deserted so I puttered along at well below speed, just happy to be wrapped up against the cold and out in such a beautiful landscape. This is why we live. This is why we put up with all the other nonsense. For moments like this.

Brecon Beacons National Park
Before long, I was at the much busier A465, looping back to the A470 and home. I stopped in Merthyr Tydfil to warm up and have a tea, but was home again by 11 a.m. It was a short little adventure –– roughly 90 miles and all over before lunch. But small things can mean so very much.

When I got back, as I was putting up the bike I decided to shoot a quick video (it is only 14 seconds) on my phone to show off a part of the routine of putting my bike away: a side-stand turn.

I keep my bike in a very small garden area that leads to my flat. Getting it there requires a tremendous amount of maneuvering. First, I must push it off the road and down the pavement ("sidewalk" for those of you playing along in the United States) to my garden gate. The garden gate is just a door, which is exactly 72 cm wide. Additionally, it is up a 6-inch step from the pavement.

Getting a 222 kg (490 lbs) bike up a 6-inch step is a little bit of a challenge when you've got a head of steam. But it is beyond my ability when done from a dead stop, so I use a little wheelchair ramp to make things a easier. But they are only just a little bit easier.

After walking my bike down the pavement, I have to turn it so it will go through the door. This means doing a side-stand turn onto the ramp. With the bike at an incline and threatening to roll back into the door of whatever car is parked next to the pavement, I have to keep the brake held as I climb on the bike, start it up and ride it up the ramp and through the doorframe. As I do this, of course, I have to turn the handlebars so the bike can wiggle through the frame.

It is an acrobatic procedure that took a lot of practice to perfect. Once into the garden area, I quickly kill the engine so its noise won't echo against the concrete and annoy the elderly couple whose flat shares the garden space with ours. I collect the ramp, close the garden door, then side-stand spin the bike again so I can chain the back wheel to a steel beam, and so it will be easier to get out of the garden when I next go for a ride.

It's that last spin that I've captured above. I realise the video quality is not that great –– the thing obstructing the view slightly is my wallet, which I used to prop up my phone on a section of wall. Perhaps one day I'll have Jenn film me going through the whole routine. But I just wanted to show off this little trick, since it always makes me feel cool to do it.