Thursday, 30 January 2014

Bullet points

Things have been pretty dead around here lately. And by "dead" I mean "wet." It has been raining nonstop for weeks. On top of that, it's been cold and I've been working long hours, which means the only free time I have is at night. So, I haven't ridden much.

I feel the need to try to assert my non-wussyness by pointing out that I am willing to ride in the dark and rain and cold -- I have before and most certainly will again. But when the purpose of a ride is simply to get out and clear your head, those conditions aren't ideal.

As a result of this stagnation I've been living vicariously through the internet, consuming just about every motorcycle-related thing I can. To make myself feel I haven't wasted my time in this, I've decided to share a few of the things I've found most interesting in the past week:

+ The reviews are out for the new Suzuki V-Strom 1000 and the basic consensus is: "meh." In my own daydreaming look at middleweight ADV bikes I questioned whether the Big Strom would really be £3,000 more of a bike than the 650cc version and it appears the answer is no. Here are reviews from: 

+ VisorDown had a funny little piece on why being a motorcyclist may not make you as sexy as you'd like to think. Somewhere in the back of my head I seem to remember RideApart doing something slightly similar not too long ago. So, it seems the appropriation of content goes both ways. (RideApart has on at least three occasions taken a VisorDown story and claimed it as their own) But I like this piece if not simply for the line "you’ve probably got a network of undesirable mates... called ‘Turnip’, ‘Ped-Boy’ or ‘Keith’." 

+ Allegedly a number of protests took place around the world in objection to Australia's VLAD act, which extends pretty stiff penalties for associating with undesirable types like Turnip, Ped-Boy and Keith. Exactly how VLAD (a) is implemented is tricky to determine, but the general feeling is that it could be used to prevent motorcycle dudes from hanging out with motorcycle dudes. If I'm honest, I don't quite see how it does this, unless you are keen to commit crimes with said motorcycle dudes. 

+ Harley-Davidson is making its demographic target clear by setting its sights on X Games fans, last week proclaiming a desire to see motorcycle ice racing added as an X Games sport. This is a gimmick, obviously. Harley-Davidson doesn't care about ice racing; a Harley, with its excessive weight, would be pretty far down the list of things you'd want in actual ice racing. But HD does care about the X Games audience. You'll remember that Victory has forayed into the same demographic territory with the Ride and Seek series. In my own opinion, I feel Victory's demographic pandering worked a little better. Their efforts are spoiled only by the facts that: 
a) Victory bikes are ungodly expensive
b) Victory insists on having R. Lee Ermey as a spokesperson. Because nothing says "hip and different" like a 70-year-old Marine who does cartoon voiceovers. 

+ The UK's National Motorcycle Museum has announced plans to add a 250-room hotel to its facilities. This is uninteresting but for the revelation that there is such a thing as the National Motorcycle Museum. I had no idea. A road trip shall be planned.

+ Meanwhile, electric motorcycle maker Brammo has announced it's going to try its luck in the notoriously stuck-in-the-past UK market. This, despite the fact that Zero gave up on us in late 2013. Britons are very sceptical of electric anything, and this is reinforced by our substandard charging network; the whole of Wales has just three charging stations, according to this map. Additionally the bikes are frustratingly expensive.

+ Staying in Britannia for one more item, the UK's Motorcycle Action Group recently went on record in stating that it still objects to the country's 40-year-old helmet law. Because I'm so pro-helmet I can't help but feel it's a totally pointless fight, but you have to respect the fact that Lembit Opik seems better able to state the philosophical argument against helmets than his American counterparts. I like the fact that he describes it as a "symbolic test of liberty." It sounds a whole lot more sane to say: "Look, we realise this is a silly issue and, in fact, we think helmets are a good idea, but we're concerned about principle," instead of the usual American line of: "No helmet because freedom!"

Picture provided by Michael Padway & Associates.
+ I'll bet there are people who know all the motorcycle hand signals by heart and take a certain authoritarian pleasure in using them. They probably seek out group rides solely for the purpose of being able to use hand signals. These are people with whom I am unlikely to get along.

+ Because I often find myself leaning toward sport tourers I thought this Cycle World piece was interesting. I just wish sport tourers looked cooler.

+ And speaking of bikes I want, the Triumph Bonneville has long been toward the top of my list. I've often thought about booking a test ride, just to get a sense of the bike in person, but have been afraid that if I did such a thing I would end up buying one right there and then. It appears that fellow moto-blogger Sash has also recently been bitten by the Bonnie bug pretty severely. Because I love that bike and I'd love to read about anyone's adventures on it, I am doing what I can to push her to get one. Head over to her blog and do the same.  

Monday, 27 January 2014

Gear review: Oxford HotGrips Premium Heated Grips

Oxford HotGrips Premium Touring Heated Grips
EDIT: The switch on these grips failed after only a month of use. Replacing the switch cost £20.

Saint David, patron saint of Wales, famously said: "Gwnewch y pethau bychain." Do the little things. 

Fond of spending several hours standing naked in cold water as a means of testing his faith, St. David was no doubt well acquainted with little things. Nonetheless, his advice remains sage in modern times –– especially for motorcyclists. Because one of the unhappy truths of of motorcycling is that it can be an exacerbating process; little things often become big problems very quickly.

That's true in the case of both the machine and the rider. I am slowly learning that simple annoyances can have a huge affect on the quality and longevity of my riding. But I hadn't realised just how much until I had a pair of Oxford HotGrips (badly) installed on my bike.

As I mentioned in my previous post, the shop I took my bike to dropped the ball somewhat in fitting the grips. They managed to make the sort of mistake I was afraid I might, which, of course, is why I had taken the job to them in the first place. The glue set before they got the grip on all the way. As a result, you can see about 3 mm of white throttle sleeve, and the grip hangs out just a bit over the bar end, making my right handle look like a penis.

Feel free to visualise that, along with the hand action of rolling on and off the throttle, and understand why I was so unhappy with the shop's work. I will now forever feel as if I am giving my Honda a handjob. I thought I had left those days behind when I moved away from Reno...

To add to my pain, the shop chose to cover up the exposed throttle sleeve with electrical tape. Because, you know, that looks really good and will hold up for a super long time in a rainy country like Britain. But, quite probably through sheer luck, they did at least manage to ensure that the grips work properly. And when you're riding through British winter, that's really all that matters.

You need this in your life

And, wow, does it matter. I am inclined now to launch into something of an evangelical tome on the value of heated grips, but I'll spare you and simply say this: you need heated grips. Unless you are one of those Minnesota only-in-the-best-weather sort-of riders (nice khakis, buddy), you need heated grips.

The day after having the grips installed, I rode out to one of my favourite cities, Bath, which is roughly 60 miles away. Back in November I had ridden more or less the same route on my way to Dyrham Park and back then the journey had required midway hand-warming stops. Additionally, I had found the ride to be quite wearying. Not so this time.

I'm pretty sure the weather this time was actually colder than it had been on my previous ride to the Avon Valley, but getting there was so much easier. I arrived in Bath alert and comfortable, perfectly able to deal with the challenges of its pedestrian-laden streets. My hands were warm and somehow that translated into my whole body feeling better.

The trip had been taken only for the sake of a bit of reconnaissance –– finding a place to park near the Raven in anticipation of an event there –– so I didn't have anything to do in the town. After gulping down a tea I hopped on the bike and headed back home. So, at best, my break was just 15 minutes. I rode all the way back to Penarth without feeling the need to stop –– again my hands were warm and that resulted in the rest of me being able to suffer the elements for longer.

Ugly, good gear

Oxford are a motorcycle gear company based out of, you guessed it, Oxford, England. The have earned a reputation for producing affordable, good-quality motorcycle gear that has a tendency to be a bit ugly. My Oxford tank bag, for instance. Really useful, but ugly. The same could be said for the myriad other Oxford items I own –– from chains to balaclavas. They are all useful, but they lack a certain aesthetic finesse.

But then, how sexy can motorcycle grips be? I mean, mine have been fashioned into high-speed dildos; surely that's enough. What matters with grips are their features.

The Oxford HotGrips premium range (I've noticed that major U.S. retailer RevZilla calls them "Heaterz," but it's the same product) is available in different types of grip to suit your style of bike: sport, adventure and touring. The workings of all three grips are exactly the same.

These three styles of premium grip help to differentiate them (slightly) from the older, fewer-featured versions that are also offered by Oxford. The variations on the heated grip theme can be confusing, so make sure you know what you're getting. The premium grips cost a little more but I feel they're worth it.

Oxford HotGrips Premium controller
Firstly, the premium grips allow you five different settings, whereas the standard version offers only two ("high" and "low"). In riding to Bath on a 4C day (39F), I found I only needed my grips set at 30 percent when moving through urban areas, and 50 percent when I was on the motorway. I was wearing my "winter" gloves but not the liners I would normally need in such a situation.

Secondly, the premium grips eliminate the installation challenge that had put me off trying things myself. Obviously, I did not learn this until after I read more about the grips for the sake of this review. I should have done that in the first place. Though, in my defence, I thought I had. It turns out I had been reading about the older versions, which required more of a derring-do attitude toward wiring than I possess.

To ensure the older versions of the grips didn't kill your battery, you have to do a bit of wire splicing, marrying the grips to things like your tail light. You do this because otherwise the grips won't shut off automatically when you turn off the engine. Were you to choose the non-splicing route and wire the grips directly to the engine you would risk forgetting to turn them off and thereby draining your battery.

Despite the assurances of numerous speaking-in-cliche blokes on internet forums ("Ya, mate, it's a doddle! Splice the wire, bob's your uncle. It's the dog's bollocks. My hands are roastin' now...Though admittedly, the throttle sticks from time to time. No worries, though. Helps me stay ahead of the rozzers! LOL!"), the idea of wire splicing almost put me off heated grips entirely. Had my father not given them to me for Christmas, I may never have bought them on my own.

But it turns out that the premium grips have overcome the aforementioned wiring problem. Now, you can wire the grips directly to the battery, no splicing required, and the new Battery Saving Mode will shut them off if you forget.

Additionally, Oxford says more effort has been put into ensuring that the premium grips hold up against the elements.

Not perfect, but worth it

Because Oxford HotGrips are designed to work with every motorcycle, they're not necessarily going to work as seamlessly as a product designed specifically for your machine. That means the wires may stick out at odd angles. If you've taken basic care in installation these wires won't interfere with your access to the controls; it just may not look as sexy as you'd like. But then consider the price difference between Oxford heated grips and OEM heated grips. How much is sexy really worth?

My only minor complaint comes in the truth that Oxford HotGrips can't bend the laws of thermodynamics. It's a given that if you hold your hand up in 80-mph wind, the bits that get coldest fastest will be the fingers. This is because they have the most air swirling around them and the least amount of blood getting to them. Put on gloves and wrap your hands around a heated grip and the basic truth will remain the same. Without handguards to block the wind, heated grips can only do so much.

I found that I felt the warmth most obviously in my palms and that my fingertips could still be just a little chilly even when my palms were telling me to turn down the heat. As I say, though, the grips worked quite well overall. My chilly fingertips were by no means intolerable and my ability to tackle long distances increased exponentially.

I am now very much a heated grip guy. And with Oxford's reputation for durability I look forward to riding through many more winter days. It's amazing what an effect little things can have.

Thursday, 23 January 2014

Robert Pirsig was right

John Sutherland and Robert Pirsig holding Chris Pirsig.
If you're in to motorcycles it's a good bet you've tried to force yourself to read Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance at some point. And, if you're like me, your attention started to wane once the Sutherlands headed back to Minnesota. Partially because there is from that point increasingly less talk about motorcycles and partially because, deep down, I can relate more to John Sutherland than I can to Pirsig.

Well, at least where motorcycles are concerned. Because Sutherland, you'll remember, wasn't terribly interested in learning how to work on a motorcycle. This is why he spent so much money on a new BMW R60/2 (a). He wanted a machine he didn't have to fuss with, and he bought into the idea of BMWs as the most reliable of machines. Keen observers will note from my recent post about sport tourers that this is more or less the same reason the modern BMW F800GT sits amid the top three motorcycles I would most like to own.

I'd like to tell myself that I'm a little better than Pirsig makes Sutherland out to be. I clean and lube my bike's chain every 200 or so miles, I check the chain free play and adjust as needed, I do BOLT checks (b) before every ride, and so on and so on. I'm not at all averse to the idea of doing my own maintenance, I'm just not keen on actually doing it. I mean, from a romantic standpoint, I'm all for it. Yes, let us all do our own maintenance and live with motorcycles as God intended. But from a practical standpoint -- squatting down on the dirty, wet ground and banging my hands all to hell trying work out a big, greasy, metal puzzle -- I'd instinctively prefer to let someone else do it. Especially if the puzzle involves a vehicle's electrical system.

Pirsig says this sort of thinking is just an expensive means of making yourself angry. In part, because when you take your motorcycle to a mechanic he or she doesn't invest into it the same things as you. When a mechanic looks at my Honda CBF600SA, they don't see a shining beautiful tool for helping me come to terms with the fact I am presently "stuck" in the UK. They don't see a representation of freedom. They don't see the end product of setting a goal and accomplishing it. They don't see a way for my wife and I to have more enriched lives through access to Britain's breathing spaces. They don't see any of that. They see a Honda CBF600SA -- a motorcycle that Motorcycle News describes as "a bit soulless" -- and they don't care about it the way I do.

The end result of this lack of emotional investment, Pirsig says, is that mechanics are more inclined to do shoddy work.

But not all of us write technical manuals for a living, Rob. Not all of us have a nice, comfy, secure garage where we can dismantle our bikes and leave them sitting for a while if we run into unexpected challenges. Not all of us want to spend the bulk of our far-too-limited free time fixing a damned machine rather than using it.

So, when my father bought me heated grips for Christmas I decided to have someone else install them.

Chris and Robert Pirsig on a Honda CB77, in 1968.
Initially, my plan was to take the bike to one of the Thunder Road locations, with the ulterior motive of test riding another machine while they did the work. Thunder Road are the primary Honda and Suzuki dealers in South Wales. My interaction with them thus far has been less than spectacular, but I was keen to give them another chance because the only real wrong they've done is ignore me.

But when they did that to me again, failing to reply to an email I sent enquiring about service (I got an auto reply but nothing after that), I got huffy and decided to take the bike to a little shop just around the corner from my flat. Sure, that place was "low rent," shall we say, but I figured a professional mechanic of even basic calibre would be able to handle the installation of heated grips.

I figured wrong. The fact is, they did such a poor job that I was able to identify problems on sight. Sparing you a long story, I worked myself into a quivering rage and got most of my money back. The grips work as they should but the electrical tape on my right grip makes it look as if the job was done in Arkansas.

I feel now like John Sutherland: angry at the mechanic for doing such a substandard job, and angry at myself for having trusted him. Would it have been better if I had taken my bike to Thunder Road (c) and paid more? I don't know. I wish I had the skills (and time and space and tools and motivation) to have just done the job myself.

__________

(a) Isn't it crazy to think that both Pirsig and the Sutherlands made this trip on machines that produced no more than 30 bhp?!

(b) BOLT stands for "Brakes, oil, lights, tires." Based on a quick search of the interwebs, I appear to have made up this acronym. I don't remember making it up, but I also don't remember anyone telling it to me. So perhaps there is my own knowledgeable Phaedrus lurking deep within.

(c) My relationship with Thunder Road is an odd one, it has to be said. Because my empirical experiences, i.e. those experiences I've actually had rather than those I could have, suggest I should focus my attention on other businesses. But opposing this is Thunder Road's incredibly positive outreach. After my initial negative experience, they contacted me directly to apologise. When they disappointed me again, they again got in touch. So, since they've not ever made me angry in a way that cost me money, I'm likely to give them a third try sometime soon.  

Monday, 20 January 2014

Tall in the saddle: Middleweight 'adventure' motorcycles

My favourites in previous categories.
Let's not go any further before we tackle the issue of the word "adventure." When discussing adventure machines, it's ridiculous. Adventure bikes are the SUVs of motorcycling. Indeed, just as it is common to turn the phrase "sport utility vehicle" into an acronym it is equally popular to refer to these motorcycles as ADVs. And in both cases, the name is value weighted. That is to say, you are expected to think of additional things that aren't actually promised. Specifically, the phrase that's supposed to come to mind is "off road."

But are these things actually intended to go off road? Nope. Not really. Which is fine, because the simple truth is that the majority of cases neither vehicle will ever see more dirt than that found on a well-maintained farm road. People buy them not for the sake of competing in the Dakar Rally but because they are comfortable and they look durable.

Plus, adventure is what you make it. Hell, a Lexmoto Vixen could be an adventure bike, depending on how, exactly, you are choosing to define "adventure."

Anyhoo, over the past few weeks I've been enjoying the process of thinking seriously about which machine I'll choose as my next. So far, I've looked at cruisers and sport tourers, and in both cases I've been hit with comments along the lines of: "Chris, what you really want is [NAME OF ADVENTURE BIKE GOES HERE]." 

Certainly I can see the argument for it. Generally equipped with taller seats, ADVs are likely to be better suited to my 6-foot-1 frame than, say, a Suzuki Van-Van. And the seating position is more in line with what I prefer: upright and not too bendy. The bikes are said to be comfortable and very much fit for purpose if a person is keen to take on long-distance rides. And they quite often come standard-equipped with the sort of "extras" that I find incredibly important, such as anti-lock brakes, a centre stand, heated grips and tall windscreens.

On paper, an adventure bike sounds like my ideal machine. But, oh my great googly moogly, are they uncool. I mean, so, so, so uncool. They sound uncool. The look uncool. And the accepted truth of them is that you are even supposed to dress uncool when riding them. It's as if a team of the greatest thinkers of our day were assembled and given the task of taking every single ounce of sexy out of motorcycling. They succeeded.

I have immense respect for the ADV riders I've encountered, and I know there are a handful that read this blog regularly. If it makes y'all feel better, I tend to pay more attention to the advice that comes from you than that delivered by other types of riders. I'm just not sure I want to join your legions yet.

But, if there's one thing I've learned about myself it's that practicality usually wins out over my desire to be cool. So, it's good to explore my options. As with sport tourers, I've decided to limit my options to middleweight machines, and I'm choosing to define "middleweight" as: between 600 cc and 1100 cc.

Suzuki V-Strom 650
Suzuki V-Strom 650
Price: £6,899
Basic stats: 649 cc, 68 bhp
About: This is a fabled machine. I'm pretty sure they're singing folk songs about it in the hills of some faraway place. You will struggle to find too many people with anything negative to say about the V-Strom, beyond my own personal feeling that it's not sexy. But, hey, rugged can be sexy. The old Hell for Leather website (R.I.P) once described the V-Strom as one of the very best motorcycles for carrying a passenger, and because I've seen V-Stroms kicking my ass on the motorway I know it it handles well there, too.
Would I buy it? Yes. It's tough, it's powerful, it does everything, and it seems to win the love and respect of everyone. Suzuki offers multiple packages for the V-Strom and although the version of the bike that I would want would cost about £1,000 more than the base price, that still puts it in at under £8,000 –– cheaper than all but one (a) of the cruisers and sport tourers I like.

Kawasaki Versys 650
Price: £6,649
Basic stats: 649 cc, 60 bhp
About: The Versys 650 seems like an "Oh, we have one of those, too," sort of bike for the Kawasaki stable. It's just sort of there. I've seen one in person and certainly liked the height, but it didn't strike me as a machine that would be particularly comfortable for Jenn to be on with me. Reviews I've read have been pretty mixed, with the only real consistency being that it's not fantastic at high speeds. If you ride motorways in the United Kingdom, you need a machine that can cruise at well above the 70 mph "limit."
Would I buy it? No. It costs more than the far superior Honda NC750X and I sense it would be a step down from my existing bike.

Yamaha Ténéré
Price: £6,999
Basic stats: 660 cc, 46 bhp
About: A famed workhorse of a machine, the hard-to-write Ténéré is probably the best machine on this list for doing what is implied in the looks of all the others: going where roads are scarce or nonexistent. People actually do use this thing (or, well, a version of it) to compete in the Dakar Rally. The downside is that on the road it struggles to keep pace with all those bikes that would eat its dust offroad. According to reviews, getting the bike above 70 mph is a challenging and unpleasant experience.
Would I buy it? No. It is not fit for purpose in ultra-urban Britain. I'll keep the Ténéré in mind should I ever move to Honduras.

Honda NC750X
Honda NC750X
Price: £6,299
Basic stats: 750 cc, 54 bhp
About: An oh-so-slightly larger version of the much-accoladed NC700X, this bike consistently earns motorcycle journalists' begrudging respect because it is so capable of doing so much. The only complaint they ever seem to have is that it is not a bike that is excessively thrilling. It is incredibly fuel-efficient, it has infinitely more storage space than any other motorcycle –– enough for a full-sized helmet –– and if you are so inclined, you can get one with an automatic transmission. It is also the most affordable of all the bikes in this list.
Would I buy it? Yes. This bike has shown up twice on my What I Want list. It's so damned practical that I find it almost impossible to resist. I have often thought about heading to my local Honda dealer to ask for a test ride but have a very real fear that I'd end up buying the thing right there and then.

Honda Crossrunner
Price: £9,499
Basic stats: 782 cc, 101 bhp
About: A VFR in ADV clothing, the Crossrunner has a reputation as being something of a "parts bin" machine, with numerous aspects being taken from other Honda models. That said, it gets a fair bit of respect. It is powerful, handles well and is all-day comfy. Though, it is a machine that serves as definite proof that "adventure" does not mean "offroad." Additionally, Honda have paid special attention to providing quality passenger seating.
Would I buy it? Maybe. The new VFR800F was one of my favourites from the sport tourer list, with my only real concern being whether it might feel too cramped for me. Voilà, the Crossrunner seems to solve that issue with its more upright seating position. However, although I realise that in producing 101 bhp it is a hell of a lot of bike, I still can't help feeling the price might be a tad too high. Additionally, the Crossrunner in person looks confusingly like the NC750X, which isn't necessarily a bad thing but leaves you frustrated that it doesn't have the storage space of the NC750X.

BMW F700 GS
Price: £7,680
Basic stats: 798 cc, 75 bhp
About: Bafflingly calling itself an F700, yet carrying an 800-cc engine, this machine is part of BMW's bread and butter. Thanks in part to Long Way Round, people tend to think of BMW as being the adventure-motorcycle company. Comfortable, easy-handling and compatible with an accessories catalog that only Harley-Davidson could rival, it is a surprisingly affordable prestige bike.
Would I buy it? Probably not. The base price is agreeable but you end up having to pay extra items that come standard on a lot of the other machines. I'll admit that I buy into the mystique of BMW somewhat, but less so for bikes with front ends that look like a robot Simpsons character having a stroke.

BMW F800 GS
BMW F800 GS
Price: £8,685
Basic stats: 798 cc, 85 bhp
About: Second verse pretty much same as the first. Except this time the name makes sense and it costs more. For that extra £1,000 you get 10 bhp and nothing else.
Would I buy it? No. See above and add £1,000. Then see below and wonder what, exactly, you're paying for in the BMW.

Triumph Tiger
Price: £8,099
Basic stats: 799 cc,  94 bhp
About: There seem to be about a dozen variations on the Tiger theme, but this one is the cheapest and most road-focused. Lauded by British journalists as a great all-round machine, it has a front end that looks like a mosquito with its proboscis ripped off. It also looks like something from an Erector Set, but the advantage to this is, I'm guessing, everything is relatively easy to access in terms of maintenance. As is the case with all Triumphs in the United Kingdom, it is certain to earn you a modicum of automatic respect from other riders and the occasional casual observer.
Would I buy it? Maybe. You know, to be honest, I hadn't really invested a lot of thought into the Tiger until just now. OK, yes it is ugly/stupid in terms of looks, but it certainly ticks all the other boxes. It is comparably powerful to the VFR Crossrunner but, if I understand the advantages of a triple, has more low-end grunt –– which, of course, is the thing I love about cruisers. Additionally, it is a solid £1,000 less than the Crossrunner. It also costs less than the BMW F800 GS whilst providing more power.

Suzuki V-Strom 1000
Price: £9,999
Basic stats: 1037 cc, 99 bhp
About: The big version of the V-Strom, it's another bike that's previously shown up on my What I Want list. In terms of what separates it from the 650 version of the V-Strom (aka the "Wee-Strom"), it has a fair bit more power from the engine, and you get traction control. Early reviews of the newly released machine are incredibly positive.
Would I buy it? Maybe. If I had a better-paying job, the answer would be a straight "yes." As things stand, however, at £10,000, I'd have to be strongly convinced that the larger V-Strom is really £3,000 more of a bike than its 650 cc little brother. Additionally, you'd have to prove to me that the Big Strom is also a lot better than the larger Kawasaki Versys.

Kawasaki Versys 1000
Kawasaki Versys 1000
Price: £9,599
Basic stats: 1043 cc, 116 bhp
About: It's a bit like the aforementioned Versys 650, but better. And with a bigger engine. And it is, indeed, a hell of an engine. Basically, you're getting the super Ninja in adventure form. Which means that the issue of motorway riding is completely resolved. It is said to handle well, can cruise comfortably at 100 mph, and has been the steed of choice for a number of those Ride A Motorcycle Around The World guys. Kawasaki claims to have invested a great deal of effort into making sure the passenger is comfortable, and the bike comes with a host of as-standard useful things like traction control, different power modes and, of course, ABS.
Would I buy it? Yes. All that fancy stuff takes the practical side of me to a happy enough place that it could override the feeling of uncoolness.

Triumph Tiger Sport
Price: £9,599
Basic stats: 1050 cc, 123 bhp
About: This is a bike that has been suggested to me by a number of people. Looking more like a Honda CBF1000 than an ADV bike, it is definitely a machine intended to be kept on civilised roads. Meanwhile it seems to get a tremendous amount of love from journalists.
Would I buy it? Probably not. Again, price is my main hang up here. It costs the same as the Versys but doesn't have as many of the features. Without such features, nigh £10,000 is more than I want to spend on a machine that I will never really fall in love with. It will never make me feel like a superhero.

Crow T. Robot
And that's the list. Out of all of the above, I think the machines that appeal to me the most are: Kawasaki Versys 1000, Suzuki V-Strom 650 and the NC750X. Indeed, if I stare at the Versys long enough, and sort of squint my eyes and make "vroom" noises and remind myself of the fact that I am already married to a super-hot woman and therefore have no need for a bike that could help me pick up chicks, I can sort of make myself like it. Though, I still feel that all adventure bikes look a little too much like Crow T. Robot from "Mystery Science Theater 3000."

Ever ridden any of these bikes? I'd love to hear about your experiences. Definitely let me know if you think I've gotten it all wrong in terms of the adventure class aura. Also, let me know if there are any bikes I've forgotten about.

–––––––––

(a) That one exception is the Triumph Speedmaster. At a base price of £7,199 it is £700 cheaper than a fully loaded V-Strom. But, of course, that's a real apples-and-oranges comparison because the Speedmaster has none of the fully loaded V-Strom's features. Indeed, I am only even considering the Speedmaster hypothetically, based on the fact that in 2016 all motorcycles in the UK will be required to have anti-lock brakes. A current Speedmaster lacks that basic feature, which I feel is 100-percent necessary for any bike I'd pay for. 

Thursday, 16 January 2014

Endurance

Elspeth Beard rode a beat-up BMW around the world.
In addition to daydreaming about which motorcycle I'd like next, one of my favourite things to do when stuck indoors is stare at a map and imagine the places I could go. 

The obsession from which this blog gets its title is one borne of a desire to see more of the world around me. I have lived in the United Kingdom for 7.5 years but I really haven't seen that much of it. I have never been to Scotland, for instance. Never to the eastern side of the island of Great Britain. Never to Northern Ireland. Never to Manchester, Liverpool, York, or Newcastle. Until this past Christmas, I had never been to Cornwall. Most of what I have seen and experienced on this side of the Atlantic Ocean exists within 30 miles of the M4 –– the 190-mile-long motorway running from South Wales to London.

Part of the reason for that has been lack of adequate transportation. There was a space of time there when I had a 1995 Peugeot 306, but I didn't trust the thing. This mistrust proved to be well-founded when the brakes gave out on the aforementioned motorway and I ended up having to use the rear end of a Ford Focus to stop myself. Afterward, I bought an even worse car, sold it three months later and thereafter went without.

But there has been, too, my tendency to build up fears and anxieties of the unknown. I have an amazing ability to get worked up about nothing. The whole motorcycle thing was (and is) an attempt to overcome both the above issues: i.e., lack of means of exploring, and lack of the proper will to do so.

(That's not to say I've ever lacked the desire to explore/wander. But there is a difference between having the desire to do something and having the will to do it. I could digress into a discussion of how I honestly feel the oppressive negativity of most Welsh people's thinking has infected my own and made me a lesser person, but I won't go into it except to say that after living here for a while I started to lose my will to explore.)

Now that I have a bike and am getting to the stage where I am (slowly) growing more confident in my riding ability, my mind turns ever more to the issue of where to ride. The list of places I've yet to explore in this rainy archipelago is so long I have trouble choosing. Where to go? What to see? What to do? 

In 1929 Vivian Bales rode 5,000 solo miles in 78 days.
And as I ponder these questions one thing stands in my mind as a possible obstacle: endurance.

So far, the most I've ridden in a single day has been 220 miles. It was an all-day affair, broken up by no less than six stops, and I almost crashed toward the end. Since then, I've rarely ridden more than 150 miles in a single day, and again, these journeys are broken up by an incredible number of breaks. 

Consider, for instance, the fact that it is just 90 miles from Aberdare, Wales, to Pennant, Wales. When I covered that distance back in October it took me 4.5 hours to do so. OK, yes, it was rainy and I wasn't well-equipped for the cold and I stopped for a long lunch and I was riding down comically narrow lanes for a certain part of the trip, but still. That's an average of 20 miles an hour!

There is no way I'd be able to take off enough time from work that I could travel up to Scotland and back if I were only covering 20 miles an hour!

To that end, a trip to Scotland would inevitably require a certain amount of motorway riding (motorways are like interstates, for those of you playing along at home). Because the lesser roads in the United Kingdom are, indeed, lesser roads.

It is not like the United States where there is a large network of good-quality roads that simply have lower speed limits and less traffic. Such as in Texas, where you can get from Dallas to Houston either by the I-45, or via a combination of U.S., state, and farm-to-market highways, and in both cases be relatively assured of good road surface. In Her Majesty Elizabeth II's United Kingdom, back roads are small, they are badly maintained, and they tend to wind illogically through every possible village and town.

All of this leads to a need to increase my endurance: the distance I can go overall, and the distance I can go without breaks. It's admittedly a hard thing to work on in winter because the opportunities to get out are less, daylight hours are fewer, and cold weather naturally forces more breaks upon even the toughest of riders. But I am trying.

This past Saturday, for instance, I was very pleased with myself for making it from Gloucester to Penarth without a stop. That's 65 miles, most of it on the motorway, and the temperature was 3ºC (37ºF). Account for the windchill factor (I was going about 90 mph [a] most of the way) and it was a cold ride home –– my visor frosted up on the edges. But I did it without much negative effect. Though, I doubt I could have gone more than an additional 5 miles without a break. And even with a break, I'm not sure I could have handled more than 30 additional miles to the day's total. 

In total on Saturday, I rode 140 miles, and I was quite tired at the end of it. With that sort of daily mileage, just making it to the Scottish border would demand a midpoint stop –– meaning I'd get to spend one evening of my precious time off living it up in a Travelodge in some gloriously insignificant town like Ashby-de-la-Zouch.

Steve and Tina spent much of 2013 riding all over the United States.
I realise that the main thing I need to do to increase endurance is simply ride as much as I can. But I'm also investing in a few modifications I hope will help make the ride easier/more comfortable. Chief among these are heated grips. My father bought me some for Christmas, and I'm going to have them put on in the next week or so. Additionally, as I write this, I am waiting for the delivery of a new, taller windscreen. It will only add 12cm (4.7 inches) of height, but, as they say in these parts, every little helps.

My hope is that the combination of these two things will result in my not getting so cold so quickly. It's hard to go very far when your teeth are chattering.

Beyond that, though, I'm not too sure what to do. So, I'm turning it over to you: what else can I do to increase my time in the saddle? What are tricks you use to stay comfortable and alert for long rides? I'd love to know.

__________

(a) If you are a member of Gloucestershire Constabulary, Avon & Somerset Constabulary, Gwent Police, or South Wales Police, please note that this is a lie told for storytelling purposes only. I never ride above the speed limit.

Tuesday, 14 January 2014

Checking the mirrors

Today marks the 1-year anniversary of this blog. Only one year, mis amigos. Wow.

In many ways it feels as I have been doing this for longer, because so much has happened in that year. And in another sense, because I am so obsessed with motorcycling, and love talking about it so much, it feels I haven't been doing it nearly so long.

I started this blog on 14 January 2013 because I was so consumed with thoughts of motorcycles and motorcycling I could no longer hold it inside. I had no one with whom I could share my passion (a), so I created this blog as a sort of mental dumping ground. Without it, I felt, I might go mad. As I said at the time: "If I felt this way toward a girl there would be incrimination; restraining orders would be issued. People would look at me with their best serious faces, speak in their best concerned tones and say: 'Chris, you are sick. Very, very sick. You need to get help.'"

The blog wasn't intended to be more than a little internet corner in which I could mumble to myself. I didn't imagine many people would read the thing, and I had no idea it would ultimately serve a major role in my finally fulfilling an 18-year-long ambition.

Exactly one year ago, I was 36 years old. I did not have a UK motorcycle license. I did not have a motorcycle. I had not ridden a bike since earning my Minnesota motorcycle endorsement in a YMCA parking lot in 1994. And my wife of just two months was less than enthusiastic about any talk of my changing the status quo. After all, we were drowning financially, we did not have a car, and I hadn't yet even bothered to get my UK driver's license (b). On the face of it, a motorcycle seemed impractical.

Today, I have both my UK motorcycle and driving license (c), and a bike. And in some small way I feel my marriage is stronger because achieving those things has shown my wife I am capable of not just having a big idea, but also making it happen. My life is quantifiably better. And this blog has played a major role in making it such.

One of the most obvious ways it has done so is by introducing me to you, the people who read. Thank you. Your advice and encouragement has been invaluable.

When I first started on this particular journey I knew just two people with an interest in motorcycles. However, both of them –– my brother and Lucky –– were (and are) living thousands of miles away in Minnesota. No one in my immediate circles had a bike, and, to my knowledge at the time (d), no one had even a passing interest in the machines. There is no bike scene to speak of in South Wales beyond a handful of casually racist middle-aged dudes in unflattering leather suits who like to hang out at roadside cafes on summer weekends. So, without you I would have felt alone and probably given up. Your reading and commenting and interaction has helped me to feel connected to the wider world.

The second most obvious way in which this blog has helped me is that it made me visible to the good people of Loan.co.uk, who saw a certain talent in my writing and offered to buy me a motorcycle in exchange for a bit of hard work on their website. In so doing, they changed my life, and I am endlessly thankful.

There have been all kinds of other highs and lows along the way; I've done my best to document them all. Here, though, are the standout moments from each of the months of 2013:

––– JANUARY: I was just finding my feet at this point, ordering all the jumping emotions in my brain into thoughts and ideas to be written. In so doing, and without realising it, I was giving shape to a desire that was hitherto too nebulous to really be acted upon. There's a lesson to be learned from this: if you want to do something, take the time to think how you will do it. Work out all the challenges and what you need to do to overcome these challenges. Then you can begin to focus on making the thing real. Of course, it also helps to have inspiration. And it was in January that I stumbled across a little YouTube video that gets me excited about motorcycles every time I see it.

––– FEBRUARY: With my motorcycle obsession beginning to take shape I, somewhat impulsively, signed myself up to do a CBT course. Short for Compulsory Basic Training, the CBT is the first of myriad steps toward earning one's UK motorcycle license. As a sort of guarantee against backing out, I surreptitiously bought myself a helmet. Because I didn't want to get in trouble, I hid the helmet from my wife, thereby causing myself several months of needless anxiety until its eventual discovery.

With a fellow student, the day I passed my Mod 1
––– MARCH: By and large, the month that contains my birthday and Texas Independence Day was one of triumph. Having earned my CBT the month before, I now succeeded in passing the theory and hazard exams, as well as the Module 1 exam. There are effectively five hoops one must jump through to get a motorcycle license in the United Kingdom (more if you are under the age of 24) and by the final days of March I had made it through four of those hoops without too much stress. I was nervous about the final hoop but felt relatively certain that, as with the others, I would succeed on the first attempt. I was wrong.

––– APRIL: Technically, I failed my first attempt at the Module 2 exam on 26 March, but the devastating emotional impact of that failure lasted well into the fourth month and beyond. That was a terrible day. With the benefit of hindsight, I can say there were a lot of uncontrollable variables working against me –– specifically, the weather and the presence of an examiner who was shockingly unprofessional –– and I can tell myself that, really, that attempt shouldn't be a part of the mental record. Like, you know, if a piano fell on Usain Bolt while he was running you wouldn't really hold it against him that he didn't finish the race. But self anger is a terrible beast, and the experience corroded me from within. Things got worse and worse, to the point that I started to hate the motorcycle training sessions I was taking. When I failed the Mod 2 a second time, I plummeted into depression.

––– MAY: I managed to pull myself together in part because a number of you were so kind as to comment or even drop me an email of support. I appreciate the hell out of that. I was able to build myself up and, on a sunny and warm (by UK standards) afternoon, finally managed to pass the Mod 2 exam. Again, with the benefit of hindsight, I have quite a lot of critical things to say about the whole process, both in terms of training and examination, but the positive to take away from it is that I now had my UK motorcycle license. It felt something of a hollow victory, however, because I couldn't put my newly earned license to use: I didn't have a bike nor the means to get one.

––– JUNE: Things didn't stay that way for long. Off the back of a post I wrote about the Harley-Davidson Iron 883 the folks at Loan.co.uk got in touch in May and put me to work. I'll admit to having always been suspicious as to whether the work would actually result in anything, but they proved to be better than their word and early in the sixth month I travelled to Cheltenham to collect my first motorcycle –– an experience so immense to me that I broke it into two posts. Here's Part I and here's Part II. It took me weeks to properly accept the whole thing had actually happened, and even to this day I feel as if I am lying when I tell the story.

––– JULY: The summer of 2013 was an odd one for Britain because it produced weather that was actually summery. Usually, summer in Britain is more a state of mind than a climatological condition; people just think it's summer and dress as such, but in truth the temperatures remain what they were in spring and will be in autumn. Not so in 2013. It was hot. And having a motorcycle allowed Jenn and me to properly enjoy it. In July we took our first of many short summer-day jaunts, a ride to Hay-on-Wye, where we ended up skinny dipping and being ogled by a youth group.

––– AUGUST: Jenn's initial resistance to my idea of a motorcycle had long since disappeared by the time summer hit, but our frequent trips to picturesque villages and the beach and so on helped to concrete her love for the bike. These excursions also helped me to slowly build up the experiences that make one a better rider. Of course, experiences are positives and negatives, and it was in this month I got to experience the utter embarrassment of dropping my bike for the first time. Fortunately, the damage was very minor and I learned to be a little more cautious in choosing where to place the bike.

––– SEPTEMBER: Things began to quiet down in the ninth month of 2013. The weather turned a little more British and trips to the beach reduced. I started what is now my winter routine of trying to get in at least one ride a week. Often these rides were taken on my own and that allowed me more opportunity to think about my riding. So, in addition to making sure I was getting out, I also started making sure that I regularly practice the basics.

––– OCTOBER: With the days growing ever shorter and wetter I took my first overnight road trip on the bike. I learned some valuable lessons about timing, planning and accepting the zen of being really, really, really wet and cold. Despite the extreme physical misery, and the frustration of dropping the bike again, this solo trip to North Wales easily stands out as one of the highlights of my year. As soon as I got back I started dreaming of future rides.

––– NOVEMBER: As I write this, it is pissing down rain and the wind is throwing things around on the road. It feels as if it has been doing this forever, but I know that, in truth, it has only been doing it since November. Which is normal for Wales. That weather makes pleasure riding somewhat difficult, so most of my rides in the penultimate month of 2013 were jaunts so short they weren't worth mentioning. But there was one beautiful, heartwarming day in which I rode out to a National Trust property just north of Bath. Dyrham Park has deep personal meaning to me and being there helped to remind me that, yes, I do actually like Britain –– an important reminder at a time of year when homesickness affects me most.


––– DECEMBER: And that brings us pretty much up to the present tense. Whereas I am today celebrating one year of this blog, it was in the final month of 2013 that I celebrated six months of having a motorcycle with a look at some of the things I had learned so far. Again, it is hard to believe that so much has happened in so little time.

Looking back on the first year of this blog, one thing stands out to me: I am incredibly fortunate. And looking ahead to 2014 and the blog's second year, I am excited to see what will happen. As I say, I am formulating certain road trips in my mind, but motorcycling has taught me that there are often far more interesting things –– things I have not yet imagined –– just around the next corner. I look forward to seeing what adventures the journey brings.

–––––––––

(a) "Passion" has to be one of the most overused words of the 2010s; I apologise for using it but couldn't think of something better.

(b) I had my U.S. driver's license, but if one is a resident of the United Kingdom for more than a year, one is supposed to get a UK license. I had at that point been living in the United Kingdom for 6.5 years.

(c) For those of you playing along elsewhere, they are separate things in the United Kingdom and can exist independently of one another. As opposed to the situation in Minnesota and most U.S. states, where one must first possess a driving license.

(d) After finally getting a motorcycle I discovered that most guys and even a few gals carry a latent desire to get a bike.

Thursday, 9 January 2014

Weighing the options: Middleweight sport tourers

Technically, the Honda CBF600SA is a sport tourer.
Not too long ago I started the process of thinking seriously about my next bike, which, at this stage, consists of little more than saving money (a) and daydreaming constantly about what that next bike will be.

Because I'm an American, my default setting, it seems, is to daydream about cruisers; the post linked to above focuses on the Triumph Speedmaster, Harley-Davidson 72, and Victory Judge. But as happened before I got Aliona, the more I think about it, the more practical concerns like safety and performance and comfort start to creep into my thoughts.

The other day, fellow moto-blogger Sash offhandedly mentioned in a Google+ conversation that she is likely to return to a sportbike for her next machine. And I found myself thinking: "Yeah, I'll probably end up choosing something non-cruiser as well."

Because the thing is: although cruisers definitely have the benefit of long-term aesthetics –– you can take a picture of yourself on your cruiser and 50 years from now your grandkids will say: "Look how cool Grandad was!" as opposed to taking a picture of yourself on a sportbike and having those same grandchildren say: "Tee-hee! I'll bet Grandad thought he was cool!" –– they tend to fall short when it comes to overall riding experience. And although my experience with cruisers is admittedly quite limited, I found that when I rode the Harley-Davidson XL883 and the XL1200 my back hurt, and I hated the excessive windblast.

So, I have been looking at my beloved CBF600SA and thinking: "Actually, you're a damned good bike."

Especially since reading an article on RideApart (I know; I can't stay away) that noted: "If you’re unable to make a 600 go fast, you need riding lessons, not a bigger, more difficult bike to ride." Additionally, the article made the point that the overwhelming majority of riders will never put the capabilities of their bike to full use. If I'm honest with myself, I fall into that group.

With the exception of accidentally learning anti-lock brakes are really useful, I've never ridden anywhere close to the way my bike could be ridden. And even in the ultra-safe and precious way I have ridden, the bike has proven up to the task in all cases. It handles tiny lanes and motorways and everything in between with ease –– even when carrying both Jenn, myself and luggage.

As such, when thinking about the sport-like machine I'd like as my next bike, it occurs to me that the engine need not be excessively large. Which brings me, finally, to the point of this post: middleweight sport tourers.

For the sake of argument, let's define "middleweight" as being 600cc-1100cc. And we'll define a "sport tourer" as being like a sportbike –– agile and quick –– but with a more relaxed, upright riding position. Additionally, we'll say a sport tourer must have fairing. Thus we can save discussion of bikes like the Suzuki V-Strom and Honda NC750X for another day.

I've been looking at all kinds of offerings –– some seriously and some not so seriously –– and here's what I've found, going from smallest engine to largest:

Yamaha XJ6 Diversion F
Yamaha XJ6 Diversion F
Price: £6,699
Basic stats: 600cc, 77bhp
About: The XJ6 Diversion is essentially Yamaha's variant of the Honda CBF600, the bike I have presently. It is part of a class frequently awarded backhanded compliments like "reliable" and "nonthreatening." Though it has fairing and ABS, it does not come with much else. It has no features, technological or aesthetic, to make it really stand out and make me think: "Ooooh! Me want."
Would I seriously consider buying one? No. Having seen this bike in a showroom I know that it is tiny and wouldn't accommodate my 6-foot-1 frame. To that end, the passenger seat is virtually non-existent. And, overall, it looks cheap. I'm sure it's a fine all-rounder but I think it would actually be a step down from my present bike.

Price: £6,685
Basic stats: 600cc, 83bhp
About: More powerful and less expensive than the aforementioned Yamaha, the GSX650F is another bike that has one and a half feet solidly placed in the durable all-rounder category. Apart from its particularly agreeable price, it has little to make it stand out enough that I'd want it more than my existing machine. Though, in fairness, its seat is more accommodating of a passenger than the Yamaha's.
Would I buy one? No. I know Suzukis have a great reputation for reliability and so on, but I really don't like the look of this bike. It looks like two different bikes that have been sloppily glued together.

Yamaha Fazer8
Price: £7,999
Basic stats: 800cc, 104bhp
About: Yamaha's own spin on this bike is to say: "If you could only ever own one bike, the Fazer8 would be top of the list." Certainly it's got a hell of a lot more power than Aliona, but really it's a vehicle that still tends to fall a little too heavily into the aforementioned "durable all-rounder" category, which is generally motorcycle code for "dull." I suppose, though, with some extensive aftermarket work you could turn it into a solid sport tourer. And, in fairness, with all but one of the bikes on this list (the Triumph), a certain amount of extra money would be required to ensure the "tourer" bit of "sport tourer."
Would I buy one? Probably not. If memory serves me, this bike is shorter than the XJ6 Diversion and, again, the passenger accommodations are wanting. Also, I'm not hot on the half fairing. There are aftermarket kits that can turn the Fazer8 into a fully-faired machine, but at that point you are running too far away from the Fazer's attractive price.

BMW F800GT
BMW F800GT
Price: £8,175
Basic stats: 800cc, 90bhp
About: You can see where Motus got their inspiration, can't you? Looking at this bike is what got me started on this post in the first place. I find it a strange bike in the sense that the more I look at it the more I like the way it looks. The bike has the whole BMW legacy thing going for it, it's belt-driven, and there are a number of extras (for a price, of course), like traction control, which make it a top choice amongst the reviews I've read. Motorcycle USA editor Adam Waheed is 6 feet tall and has a similar lankiness to myself; his long-term review of the F800GT makes no mention of being cramped, so I'm assuming I'd get along alright. There appears to be plenty of space for Jenn, too, and I'm certain the engine would deliver plenty of power to haul us both around with ease. A reviewer for Motorcycle News rode the F800GT from Petersborough, England to Germany and mentioned at one point that he was "cruising comfortably" on the Autobahn at just over 100 mph.
Would I buy one? Yes. OK, I will admit that to a certain extent I am falling for the aura of BMW here. It's a bit like the Harley-Davidson thing, where you're not just buying a motorcycle but also an idea of a motorcycle, and with it some sort of contorted, market-tested reflection of the motorcyclist you'd like to be. Admittedly, I may not want to associate myself with that idea; I can't help but notice that BMW guys don't tend to nod/wave when I pass. But there is also the simple fact that BMWs have a strong reputation for quality, reliability and rider experience.

Honda VFR800F
Honda VFR800F
Price: ??
Basic stats: 800cc, 105bhp
About: Having just said I'd fork out money for the "reliability" of a BMW, it's worth noting that Honda and other Japanese OEMs actually have a better track record than BMW, according to an article in Consumer Reports last year. And I'll admit that the very first name that comes to my mind when I think of reliable machines is Honda. In my (limited) experience, Hondas are solid. Even the ones that were used by my training school, bikes I had seen dropped multiple times, were durable motherhuggers. Which is exactly the sort of thing you want in a bike when you plan to go awander. The VFR, of course, is the bike for which the sport tourer term was coined and it has consistently won almost religious praise from its owners for nigh 30 years. The 800cc version was dropped from the roster not too long ago to make room for the larger VFR1200, but is now set to return with a new look and, presumably, a new set of bells and whistles. The bike is not out yet, so there are still a lot of unknowns –– one of the biggest ones being the price –– but traction control will apparently come standard.
Would I buy one? Yes. This bike has a hell of an engine and a tank that looks like an aroused clitoris. How can you not want that? Overall, it has a look that grows on you, a hell of a good reputation, and appears to have plenty of space for a passenger. In my eyes, the whole thing is a win. My only sticking point would be the price, which has not yet been announced. If it goes above the £10,000 mark that will pretty much remove it from my list.

Price: £9,499
Basic stats: 1000cc, 106bhp
About: This is the modern, 1000cc-version of the bike I ride at the moment. So, I know it is comfortable, reliable, and suited to pretty much every task I put to it. I know there's plenty of room for Jenn. And I know that with heated grips, a taller windscreen, and some panniers, it could serve as a solid sport tourer. Meanwhile, the CBF1000F's engine obviously delivers a fair bit more kick than my 600, as well as newer technology (Aliona is 9 years old). It also has just a tiny bit more fairing, though it is still technically half-faired.
Would I buy one? Probably not. I'm very happy to be monogamous with Jenn but I feel life is too short to stick faithfully to the same motorcycle model. Plus, that price seems just a little too high, considering more money would need to be invested for touring accoutrements.

Yamaha FZ1 Fazer
Price: £9,799
Basic stats: 1000cc, 150bhp
About:  Exactly like the Fazer8, but with a bigger engine and a shedload more power.
Would I buy one? No. Considering that I would never use all that power, and am already quite lukewarm on the Fazer8, why would I pay even more money for such a bike?

Kawasaki Z1000SX Tourer
Price: £10,499
Basic stats: 1000cc, 140bhp
About: The touring version of the best-selling Kawasaki in the United Kingdom, it's just a Z1000SX with panniers. Other touring items remain pay-extra options. Here in blighty, where balding, leather-onesie-wearing, bacon-sandwich-loving males dominate the riding scene with endless talk about the sportbike they rode in the 1980s, the Z1000SX has gone down a storm. Journalists from MCN, VisorDown and the Telegraph have all sung its praises. Despite the love from old men, however, it offers all the modern amenities, including traction control.
Would I buy one? No. Look, I'm not entirely sure why, but I am so against this bike that I feel tired. Perhaps it's Kawasaki's website that puts me off, the way all the models are in that kryptonite green and every goddamned photo has been run through the extreme HDR filter. Whatever it is, there's just something I outright hate about these bikes. Motorcycling is an emotional thing at times, so I can't really explain. In terms of rational criticism, however, the Z1000SX seems a little more sportbike than sport tourer, reviews have said there is almost no room for a passenger, and it looks tiny (check out how huge the rider appears to be in this promotional photo).

Triumph Sprint GT SE
Triumph Sprint GT SE
Price: £8,999
Basic stats: 1050cc, 130bhp
About: The only bike on this list with a load of touring gear (panniers, top box, heated grips, touring screen and gel seat) as standard, more affordable than the other litre bikes, and it's a Triumph. Though Britons aren't nearly so patriotic as their American cousins, the Triumph name still means something on this island of rain. Roll up on one and it will earn you an automatic modicum of respect from all the leather boys. Indeed, I've noticed that, in Southwest England particularly, it is common for said blokes to place themselves in a highly visible area –– in front of a supermarket, for example –– and just sit on their Triumphs for inexplicably long periods of time. The only triple engine bike on the list, the Sprint has gotten all kinds of love from reviewers and riders over the years. And the suspension is said to be designed for substandard British roads.
Would I buy one? Yes. Though, a quick glance at the ever-useful motorcycle ergonomics simulator shows quite a lot of forward lean and bent legs. I watched a review of the Sprint GT on YouTube recently and the 6-foot-3 test rider had to splay his knees on either side of the fairing. However, in the comments another person claimed to be 6-foot-2 and said he had no complaints, so (as with all the bikes, I suppose) a rather extensive test ride would be needed before I handed over my money.

A few other things to ponder:
  • The Suzuki GSX1250FA has a middleweight price –– just £7,865. So, I'd probably check that one out, as well. A quick Google search delivers some positive reviews.
  • At present, Honda seems to have dropped the ultra-reliable Honda Deauville. It's possible that bike is gone for good, or perhaps there are plans to give it a makeover and reintroduce it in the not-too-distant future, as was done with the VFR. If so, it would be a serious contender, despite its fugly looks.
  • Though, admittedly, none of these bikes really rock my world aesthetically. I showed some of these bikes to Jenn and she said: "Hmm" 
  • I really didn't need to run through every possible bike, did I? I could have saved everyone a lot of time and simply reduced the list to three, as I did when discussing cruisers. Sorry.
__________

(a) Present savings: £70.18.