Monday, 29 June 2015

Europe 2015 pt. V: Final checks

The Topeak Morph hand pump I use for my bicycle can also be used for motorcycle tires. That's where I'll start this update, because, really, that's what the last few weeks have been all about: making sure I have the right gear and that it works.

It's a strange world, motorcycling, that it can induce long internal discussions on air pumps. I suppose that is a reflection of just how much this upcoming trip spins in my head. I deliberate over everything. Yet I feel strangely unready. Either way, the adventure begins on Friday. Or, if you're reading this at some point after 3 July 2015, the trip began Friday.

Up until that point I'll be doing last-minute preparations. The early part of the week, for example, is dedicated to giving my riding gear the full waterproofing treatment: TechWash, TX Direct and Fabrisil for my jacket and trousers, a good clean and two applications of NikWax for my boots and gloves.

I changed the oil on the bike over the weekend. I'll be carrying tools to clean, oil and adjust the chain as necessary. And, of course, with the hand pump I'll be able to ensure I'm keeping the tires properly inflated as I ride through various altitudes. For any issues beyond those simple things I've got RAC coverage.

I've downloaded a free German-English dictionary for my phone. So, you know, that will totally make up for the fact that I never got around to listening to the Coffee Break German podcasts I had downloaded several months ago.

My tent works. Jenn and I rode down to a campsite in Devon about a week ago to give my gear a test run. The tent's poles needed new cord but apart from that it's in surprisingly good condition. REI stuff costs a lot but it's worth it in the long run; I've had that tent for roughly a decade.

Hell yeah I have a Leatherman attached to my belt. Like a boss.

Also perfectly functional are my sleeping bag, bed roll, mini stove, frying pan, enamelware mug, Leatherman, wind-up flashlight and various other camping items. All that gear fits easily into the Oxford Aqua 50 bag that Cam sent me, with still enough space for groceries I'll pick up along the way.

Cam's a fellow rider who lives in Scotland. He got in touch not too long ago to let me know he had the bag sitting around being unused and asked if I'd want it for my trip. Cam, I can't thank you enough for that thing. It will be a huge help.

One of the things I love about motorcycling is the generosity that seems to come from everywhere. In addition to Cam's kindness, fellow moto-blogger Sonja has offered up a place to sleep when I'm passing through Germany. And the advice I've gotten off Nikos has been incredibly useful.

Also showing the love have been the good folks at Suzuki. They've sent along an awesome tank bag for me to use on the trip and review. Designed specifically for use with the V-Strom, the bag attaches via a clever tankring lock. Expect the full review when I get back from my trip; the early signs are that it will be a positive review. I had a chance to try out the bag on the trip to Devon last week and was quite pleased.

Meanwhile, in true adventurer style, I've jerryrigged (a) my own GPS mount. The GPS had been clamped to the Strom's handlebars, but adding the tank bag made it impossible to see. That's fine. To be honest, I'd never been terribly happy with the GPS being that low, anyway.

Those of you with a good memory might be asking at this point: "GPS? What GPS? I thought you were doing this trip the old-fashioned way."

It's true that was my intent. Back in May, heading to a funeral in Texas put a huge dent in my finances. So, I had planned to make my way to Italy using some good ol' fashioned paper maps. But then I happened to notice that two of my intended destinations are not on said maps, and, more influentially, a conversation with Nikos convinced me I should find a way to make use of modern technology.

I know that plenty of people have had successful European adventures using the old-school methods of paper maps, wits, friendliness and patience, but I'll be honest that the thought of being completely lost in some "faraway" land where I don't speak the language causes deep ripples of panic in my mind. So, I shot myself lightly in the foot financially and bought a TomTom Rider (b).

Inevitably, fate will punish me by having the thing break somewhere in the Alps and I'll still end up navigating the old-school way. But for now I'm able to sleep a little better.

In breaking down for that purchase I opened the floodgates and allowed myself also to get a Lonely Planet guide and an additional pair of padded cycling shorts. I already have one pair that I use for long rides but it suddenly occurred to me that one pair of shorts over the space of several days might be unpleasant.

I'll be missing this lady while I'm on the road.

Spending money makes me unhappy, though, because it is money I won't have on the road. A part of me worries not just a little bit about having enough cash to even pay for petrol. But, hey, I guess that's part of the adventure.

I feel so unprepared at the moment. The more I think about it, the more apprehensive I get. There are times when I work myself into a state of thinking: "I don't even want to go."

The fact that I do this is no doubt indicative of some larger aspect of my personality, some self-defeating I-don't-know-what that stands between my ambitions and my realities.

But Friday will come and I will be on that overnight boat from Harwich to Rotterdam, and from that point there's really no turning back. It will be fine, regardless of what all my anxieties scream at me.

Meanwhile, my apologies if things on the site run a little slow for a while; I'm unsure what my internet access will be like. This will manifest itself most in my ability to approve comments. I'll do my best to stay on top of it.

Anyway, bânt a fi.


(a) Yes, I know the correct spelling is "jury-rig" but that is not the way I've ever pronounced it. In Texas we say "jerryrig."

(b) Not too badly. Thanks to promotional offers and an additional discount I get at Fowlers for having bought my bike there, I was able to get my GPS for considerably less. 

Friday, 26 June 2015

The joy of jerryrigging

There are all kinds of positive aspects to motorcycling –– I wrote about several of them not too long ago –– but one of the lesser-known positives is the incredible sense of satisfaction that you get from coming up with a solution to a problem.

Sometimes the solution can be purchased. My shed is an example of that; it's a solution to the problem of British weather. The Constands centre stand dolly I use is another example; allowing me to navigate the Strom through the tight corners of my courtyard so I can put it in the aforementioned shed.

Especially gratifying, however, are those instances when you come up with your own, homemade solution.

So, here was the problem I faced: there isn't any particularly good place to mount a GPS (aka sat-nav) on a Suzuki V-Strom 1000. Indeed, the only place available on your standard Strom is on the handlebar. And because much of the 'bar space is eaten up by switchgear, handguard mounts, mirror mounts, brake reservoir and heated grip controller, you have to attach the GPS low –– where the 'bar bends down to the clamps.

This is less than ideal at the best of times. Placing the GPS so low puts it out of your immediate line of sight when riding, forcing you to take your eyes off the road and look down to follow directions (a). Meanwhile, if you mount a tank bag view of your GPS will be blocked completely.

This is my old setup. It may not look like it from this angle but the GPS was mounted particularly low.

The solutions currently offered by the aftermarket aren't terribly good. Suzuki sells an installation bracket that bolts to the clamp. If you look at the bracket, however, it doesn't appear it would raise the GPS more than 2 inches –– just enough to peak out from behind a tank bag, maybe, but still low and out of your line of sight.

Touratech sells something similar, but it looks particularly difficult to install. They also, however, sell a handlebar crossbar that is cheaper, less fiddly, and looks like it would allow you to mount a GPS just that little bit higher (probably half an inch to an inch higher than the clamp-mounted system).

When I say "cheaper" I say that within the Touratech context. The crossbar, which is nothing more than a piece of metal with some bolts, has a list price of £26.09 (US $41.08). Nonetheless, I ordered one.

A month ago.

The confirmation email said it would arrive in 10 days. But to my knowledge, it still hasn't arrived. Thankfully, I did not pay for the crossbar and had simply scheduled for it to be sent to Touratech's Wales location. This instance included, I have only dealt with Touratech twice, and both times I've been disappointed (b).

But, as I say, even that solution wasn't terribly good. So, I'm happy fate ruled it out. What I really wanted was a bar that runs above the dashboard display, similar to what you see on the dashboards of the BMW R1200GS and Triumph Tiger Explorer. It is a ridiculously simple thing, but it makes a world of difference.

This is the view from astride a Triumph Tiger Explorer XC. Note the bar that runs above the clocks.

Then, last weekend, as I rode down to Devon, I had an epiphany: I could make a GPS mounting bar for the V-Strom 1000! I could do it myself, just like one of those old dudes that spends all his time on the ADVrider forums.

It occurs to me there might be, somewhere, another Strom owner out there who would also want to mount a GPS, so, this is how I did it:

First, I got a piece of plastic tube that Jenn's grandfather found in his shed. He keeps various bits of tubing around for gardening projects. The tube is roughly 25 mm in diameter. Then I went down to the local hardware store and bought some 22mm steel tubing of the sort you might use for building a shower rail.

The next step was to cut both pieces to 300 mm using a hacksaw. My idea was to create something to bolt onto the two metal brackets that hold the V-Strom's adjustable screen. There are several holes already drilled in said brackets, so I figured it would be easy enough to make use of them.

After that, I slid the metal tube inside the plastic tube, thereby creating a bar that's extra strong (I suspect that either of the tubes would have been good enough on their own, but, hey, why not use two?)

Then I simply needed to hold the bar up to the screen's brackets where I wanted to bolt it and mark my drill points with a Sharpie. With a 25mm bar, your only choice is to use the bracket holes for the screen's highest setting.

I took a deep breath (I always get anxious when cutting or putting holes into things), and drilled bolt holes on each side of the bar.

I used a 5mm drill bit to make the holes, then pushed through two 5mm x 40mm bolts (i.e., 5 mm wide and 40 mm in length). From there, it was a simple matter of attaching the whole thing to the Strom's screen mounts and reattaching the screen (on its lowest setting in this case, though I could probably also use the mid setting holes if I wanted).

And just like that I now have a bar that allows me to mount my GPS well within my line of sight.

I'll be honest that I was actually surprised to have it work so well. More often than not, anything I do falls into the "Measure Twice, Cut Thrice" school of DIY. I suppose that's an indication of just how easy this project was; if I can do it, so can you.

Odds are, if you do it, it'll look better. But I feel there's something beautifully redneck about that blue plastic. It is exemplary of the kind of ugly-ass fix that a true Texan would build. It's straight-up Gulf Coast jerryrigging (c). But the most important thing is that it works.

Besides, it won't stay that way for long. I have decided I will cover the bar with stickers from the countries I've ridden to. Before long, it'll be a prized part of the bike.

Including the cost of hacksaw blades and a drill bit capable of going through metal, this project cost me £8.59 (US $13.52).

Meanwhile, the feeling it gave me to come up with and implement this solution is invaluable. As I was putting it together, I started singing to myself, "I am a genius: a genius who is amazing," in the style of David Bowie.

How it looks with my GPS mounted


(a) One means of alleviating this issue is hooking up a Bluetooth device in your helmet and syncing it to your GPS so you're receiving audio direction in addition to the visual direction offered by the map. Unfortunately, I do not have a Bluetooth device in my helmet, nor the money to buy one.  

(b) The other time was when I rode out to the Wales location to ask for advice on which was the best emergency tire repair kit to buy. The woman at the counter was baffled by this question and directed me to a guy whose only input was: "Well, I dunno, to be honest. I don't really use 'em. I s'pose I'd go for this one by here, 'cause it's cheapest." Right. Thanks for the expert advice.

(c) I know the correct spelling is "jury rigging" but that's not how you'd say it in Texas.

Monday, 22 June 2015

What I wish Victory would do

I talk a lot about Victory motorcycles on this blog. Sometimes I feel apologetic about that -- I realise not everyone is as interested in Victory as I am -- but then I remind myself: this is my blog. I can write what I want.

Anyway, a few months ago, I wrote a post in which I suggested ways to "save" Victory from the dead end it seemed to be speeding toward. Then the company surprised me and everyone else by producing two (a) amazing new bikes designed to compete at the Isle of Man TT and Pike's Peak. Most notably, neither of these bikes are cruisers. 

My extreme excitement over these bikes led me to writing a piece for RideApart a few days ago, in which I declared: "I think it's entirely possible that we are sitting presently on the cusp of a new American motorcycling renaissance. At the very least, though, we are witnessing the rebirth of Victory Motorcycles."

Thanks to Sash being super awesome and letting me have a peak in her little black book I was able to get a quote from Victory's head of PR, Robert Pandya, for that piece. I asked him how likely it is that we will see a motorcycle coming from Victory that is anything other than the cruiser-centred platforms we presently see from all three American motorcycle companies.

His reply was artful (b), offering no solid information but allowing the mind to run wild in speculation. You can read the full quote in the RideApart piece (please also leave comments there; comments and shares are ways of showing the editors I'm worth the money they pay me), but the sentence that stood out to me most was this: "There are spaces where American bikes are not currently present, and maybe there's an opportunity for us, but we also have to look at it as an overall business."

Let's start with the first bit of that sentence: Opportunities in spaces where American bikes are not currently present. That's a lot of space. Sport bikes, standards, ADVs, and on and on and on.

Project 156: the beast designed to tackle Pike's Peak.

Some of those spaces we can eliminate straight away. Supersport bikes, for instance. Say what you want about bad luck, but from a bottom-line perspective Erik Buell has twice proven that sport bikes are not a terribly viable business venture in the United States.

Meanwhile, I think any calls for Victory to produce a bike that costs $5,000 are naive. Victory (and Indian and Harley-Davidson) sees itself as a high-end brand. There's not enough profit in making cheap bikes, and arguably doing so damages your overall brand image. This is why Suzuki struggles to get people to pay top dollar for its products.

Here's why I'm right:

If I somehow held clout within the fortressed walls of Victory HQ, I would be pushing aggressively to see the company produce an ADV-style bike.

Although BMW, Ducati, Honda, Kawasaki, KTM, Moto Guzzi, MV Agusta, Royal-Enfield, Triumph, Suzuki, and Yamaha already have or will soon have one or more ADV-styled bikes in their line ups, I think there is still room for additional players. Partially I think that because there are so many different directions in which to take the ADV class. You can pursue the indestructible dual-sport route of the Kawasaki KLR, the high-end techno-wizardry route of the KTM 1290 Super Adventure, or the tall-sport-tourer tack of the Ducati Multistrada.

Personally, I'd like to see Victory putting together a machine to rival the likes of the KTM 1290 Super Adventure and the BMW R1200GSA. There are several reasons I feel this would work.

Firstly, those bikes are high end -- luxury items with the sort of price tag that Victory would like to command. And BMW and KTM have proven that there are people who will fork out big bucks for these machines. The R1200GSA is BMW's best-selling motorcycle worldwide.

In the United States, a KTM 1290 Super Adventure will set you back upward of $21,000.

Secondly, these type of ADVs fit with American sensibilities. There's no denying that Victory's thoughts are first and foremost with the U.S. market, and history has proven over and over that's a market that likes big things. The R1200GSA and 1290 Super Adventure are huge machines, and when equipped with aluminium panniers they occupy an even greater amount of real estate (c). That sort of thing appeals to the American id; we like to look as if we are going to war even when we're just popping down to the grocery store to get milk.

It goes without saying that any Victory ADV would be powered by a twin engine. That configuration produces the grunt and rawness that Americans have come to expect from the motorcycling experience. And it lends itself to some pretty great acoustics. I've heard some R1200GSAs with aftermarket exhausts that sounded bad-ass.

In addition to providing a familiar, cruiser-esque experience in engine torque and sound, big ADVs also serve as solidly viable two-up machines. According to Harley-Davidson CEO Matt Levatich, in an interview he did with Cycle World, 80 percent of the motorcycles his company sells in the United States "are purchased by couples who ride two-up." So, it's an important consideration.

Thirdly, where ADVs excel over the cruiser experience is in their performance aspects. Bikes like the R1200GSA and 1290 Super Adventure are faster, more powerful, lighter, and better handling than any cruiser-based bike could ever hope to be. Victory is keen to put itself forward as a performance brand, so I feel an ADV is a good fit within that ethos.

Most importantly, with the heritage of Polaris as its parent company, Victory has the credibility to produce an ADV that people would believe in. The challenge for Victory in any attempt to move beyond the confines of cruiserdom is the cynicism of buyers toward its ability to deliver a given product. Imagine if Harley-Davidson were to come out with a supersport motorcycle tomorrow. The response from the peanut gallery would not be, "Yay, Harley's pushing America forward," but instead: "What the hell do these guys know about supersports? This thing is probably a steaming pile of crap. Boo!"

Through its Polaris heritage, however, Victory can overcome that hurdle. If Victory were to produce an ADV, I think there would be a lot of people who would think: "Man, I've seen people do some insane things with a Polaris RZR. I'll bet Victory has access to engineers who know a thing or two about off-road vehicles. So, when they tell me this new ADV bike is a world-crossing son-of-a-gun, I believe them!"

Here's why I'm wrong:

I could spend all day coming up with "evidence," working myself into a state of believing with 100-percent certainty that a Victory ADV will be unveiled at this year's EICMA. But then take a look at the second part of the aforementioned sentence from Pandya: "(W)e also have to look at it as an overall business."

Bikes like the Gunner are more familiar territory for Victory.

In the God-blessed United States of America, Harley-Davidson, a company that makes nothing but cruiser-based motorcycles (d), controls more than 51 percent of the market for motorcycles of 601cc or more. Add to that all the cruisers you see on the roads from Indian, Victory, Triumph, Honda, Kawasaki, Moto Guzzi, Star, and Suzuki. It's clear that Americans like cruisers. A lot. A whole lot.

And, as I say, the American market is clearly very important to Victory. If I had a dime for every time Victory mentions in its promotional/marketing material what country its from, I'd have enough cash to buy one of its bikes. Although Victory exists on the worldwide stage its focus is primarily on what happens at home, and it may be that Victory feels the not-cruiser side of the American market isn't quite large enough to vindicate the R&D expenditure that an ADV would demand.

To that end, it's perhaps worth remembering that Victory is actually a small company. It is small part of a much bigger machine, yes, but in and of itself it's not huge. So, the budget required to deliver the right kind of ADV, one that competes against (and even beats) the R1200GSA and 1290 Super Adventure, may be beyond Victory's budget.

For instance. many people would expect the bike to have shaft drive (e). That's a technology not present on any other Victory, so it means R&D, which means money. To command top dollar, many buyers would also expect things like cornering ABS and electronically adjustable suspension; more R&D, more money.

Lastly, I think it's worth asking who Victory thinks it's competing against, and who it wants to compete against. Figuring that out offers an indication of what the company thinks is relevant. For example, I doubt BMW sees itself as competing head-to-head against Suzuki. I don't imagine anyone sits at the table at BMW and shouts: "Ach mein Gott! Zey are stealing away from us the sales of motorcycles for squids and cheapskates!"

So, it doesn't care about coming up with something to beat the Inazuma; it doesn't bother.

If Victory sees Harley-Davidson as its biggest rival, there's little reason to develop an ADV or any other bike that the rest of the world might be interested in. If it saw BMW or Triumph as a worthy adversary, however, we might see some very exciting things in the future.

Only time will tell.


(a) Well, actually, three. Victory raced two bikes at the Isle of Man.

(b) The man is a top-level professional after all.

(c) If you've ever seen one of these bikes fully loaded and equipped with additional lights you know there is no way a driver could honestly claim to have not seen you.

(d) For the time being. Still waiting for that LiveWire to be released, guys.

(e) Though it's worth noting that the KTM 1290 Super Adventure is chain-driven and that hasn't stopped moto-journalists from wetting their pants over the thing.

Wednesday, 17 June 2015

Ride Review: Triumph Tiger 800 XRx

Disappointment. If you were to ask me to sum up the Triumph Tiger 800 XRx in a single word, that would be it. There are plenty of positive words I might use in addition -- "fun," "revvy," "light" -- but ultimately this new effort from Triumph is a letdown.

Which is kind of surprising to me. And a relief.

I spent a lot of time pondering the Tiger 800 XRx when first looking into the V-Strom 1000. The two bikes have somewhat similar performance figures and price tags. The Strom delivers considerably more torque and a handful of additional horses; the XRx's RRP price tag is £500 more.

Within the British market, however, the Triumph dominates. Triumph is the home team; whereas Suzuki's sales strategy in the UK perhaps hasn't been terribly wise over the past few years. It's painted itself into a corner with too many discounts.

The XRx is one of a string of new Tiger 800 models released this year. There are so many it can be a little confusing. They are:
  • Tiger 800 XC
  • Tiger 800 XCx
  • Tiger 800 XCA
  • Tiger 800 XR
  • Tiger 800 XRx
  • Tiger 800 XRT

All six are effectively the same bike: same 800-cc inline triple, same performance specs, same bodywork, same ergonomics, etc. The differences basically come down to accessories and are so minute that most riders have to be told what they are, and most dealers get a little confused in explaining them.

The primary difference is the wheels: XC models are spoked and have a 21-inch front; XR models have alloy and a 19-inch front. The former is insinuated to be better off road, the latter intended to be kept on the pavement (yet, strangely, it comes equipped with an off-road rider mode).

The six models range in price from £8,500 to £11,000. All of them are interminably ugly.

I understand beauty is in the eye of the beholder -- and that I own a V-Strom 1000 is testament to the fact an ADV's amazing do-everything usefulness can help one forget about its aesthetic deficiencies -- but to my eye, Triumph's Lego-like offerings (including the Tiger Explorer XC) are the worst. There's just nothing about them that make me think: "I want to be seen on this thing."

That feeling is so strong within me that when I was initially comparing the Suzuki V-Strom 1000 and Triumph Tiger 800 XRx, I eventually decided not to even bother with the Triumph, to not even ask to test ride it. It's just too ugly, too plasticky, too angular, too much like the knock-off Transformer toys my mom used to buy at Fiesta when I was a kid.

That said, there's a dude on my road who owns a Tiger 800 of some sort and every time I see him pull a wheelie past my house I have to admit I think he looks cool.

The good, the bad, and the ugly

But now I've had a chance to spend some time on the Tiger 800 XRx I can say with confidence that I made the right choice in getting a V-Strom 1000. We'll get to that in a second, though, because there's a quite lot to love about the Triumph.

Firstly, the XRx is noticeably lighter than my Strom. Triumph claims a wet weight of 216 kg. Compare that with the 228 kg that Suzuki claims for the Strom. In old money, that's a 27-lbs. difference, or roughly the weight equivalent of three newborn babies and a 6 pack of beer.

Unfortunately, the XRx's weight isn't as evenly distributed as it could be. Weight is set a little higher than on a Strom, which means the bike is more willing to tip at slow speeds. This resulted in my having to put my foot down more often than I would like. The problem was exacerbated by a slightly over-enthusiastic rear brake.

Above 10 mph, however, everything smoothed out and the bike was easy to throw into spots. Standing on the pegs feels natural and the suspension's ability to handle potholes, speed bumps and curbs was what I would expect from this class. Which is to say: it was problem-free to the point of my not really noticing it.

At spirited motorway speeds, the bike was equally pretty stable. Not as rail-solid as my Strom but certainly leagues better than the wobblefest I experienced on the XRx's big brother, the Tiger Explorer XC.

The XRx's two-piece seat isn't as large as the Strom's but there's still plenty of room to move around and to carry a passenger of actual human proportions. However, there was something about the angle of the seat or the material used that caused a certain level of discomfort. I found I kept slipping forward in such a way that my manly bits got squished. So, every 15 minutes or so I'd have to stand on the pegs and do a little jiggle dance to shake things free.

I had experienced a similar seat issue back when I spent a day on the Tiger Explorer XC. All in all, it's not an awful problem, but after a few hundred miles it can get pretty annoying. Your groin's mileage may vary.

Wind protection is decent and, as with so many things on motorcycles, there is a larger screen available at additional cost.

The dashboard on the XRx is pretty Spartan, which belies the number of whiz-bang features packed into the bike. Indeed, the bike's electronics are amongst its biggest selling points as far as I'm concerned. Along with ABS you get two 12v sockets, self-cancelling indicators, multiple throttle maps, multiple levels of traction control, multiple rider modes and cruise control. That last one in particular is what made me spend so much time weighing the XRx against the Strom.

Additionally, the bike's dash display offers up pretty much all the information you could ask for. Unlike the Strom it does not give you ambient temperature, but truthfully, that's not a terribly necessary feature on a motorcycle. If you're on a bike, you already know whether it's hot or cold outside.

The XRx speedometer is wisely digital, which should mean that switching from mph to kmh isn't difficult (I didn't try), but some of the XRx's features seem less well thought out. Both the 12v sockets are in the seat, making them difficult to use with a GPS or phone. The buttons for the cruise control are not at all clear, nor easy to reach. The method for setting traction control/rider modes/etc. is not very intuitive. And the self-cancelling indicators seem to get really confused by roundabouts (which, of course, are used for the majority of British intersections).

By and large, though, these are quirks -- things that you would probably get used to as an owner. In the same way I have gotten used to my Strom's snatchy throttle.

To that end, the XRx takes the prize for smooth power delivery. Though, part of that is because the throttle is so unresponsive. I was able to wiggle it about 5 mm in each direction without it having any effect. Initially I thought this might be due to the bike being set on some ultra-tame rider mode, but switching things up delivered the same meh results.

Still, the inline triple engine is the star of the XRx show. Some guys swoon for a triple and I suspect that for them the XRx would not disappoint. Revvy and delivering a lovely wail at high speed the engine triggers some latent hooligan instinct. This is why my neighbour does wheelies all the time and why I was randomly riding over curbs.

However, hooliganism wears thin with me quickly and by the end of my time on the XRx I had grown especially tired of how unnecessarily noisy the bike is. There's just a whole lot of extraneous high-pitched growling, making it sound as if you are trying to compensate for something. It is especially annoying because all that bluster isn't really representative of actual power.

Triumph claim just shy of 95 horses for the XRx but I can't see how they came up with that figure. At high speeds the bike feels anaemic in comparison to my Strom. Around 85 mph the XRx began to wheeze and struggled to gain momentum with the throttle wide open. Meanwhile, the noise coming from the bike at that speed is calamitous.

Again, though, acoustics are a thing of personal taste. I have no doubt there are plenty of folks who would love the sound of an XRx as it fights to get up to autobahn speed.

What they won't love, however, is the heat coming from the crank case. It radiated onto my shin and was genuinely uncomfortable. I don't mean warmth, but genuine heat. On a day when it was 15C (59F) and when I was wearing thick riding trousers.

Something else not to love is the XRx's gear box. I have taken to keeping notes when I go on test rides and here are the only two words I wrote under the heading for transmission, neither of them terribly polite. I can think of no other bike on which I've experienced more false neutrals, and at one point I got stuck in third gear.

Members of the First Church of Triumph Pentecostal will inevitably comment that I just had bad luck (they've made the same comment in regards to my complaints about the Tiger Explorer XC), and they may very well be right. Maybe I just had the misfortune of riding the one Tiger XRx with an awful gearbox. But the fact that I did end up riding it, and that I suspect it's not the only one, speaks to Triumph's unfortunate history of not getting things right the first time.

They can make some lovely motorcycles, those lads up in Hinckley, but it takes them a few tries. I think it is entirely possible for the XRx to be an awesome motorcycle, especially if you are a fan of triples, but it's simply not there yet. As is, the bike is too ugly, too unreliable, and too expensive.

The three questions

So, with all that said, here are the three questions that I ask of every motorcycle I ride:

1) Does it fit my current needs/lifestyle?
Yes. The Triumph is designed to do everything my Strom does, other than balance really well. On paper, at least, it could easily slot into my current situation.

2) Does it put a grin on my face?
In the grand scheme, yes. Ignore the awful gear box and the wheezing at high speed, and this bike was a lot of fun. I enjoyed its relative lightness and the slightly hooligan spirit. That it had any problems was a surprise to me.

3) Is it better than my current bike?
Nope. Ignoring the subjective fact that I generally prefer a twin over a triple, my Suzuki beats this Triumph in terms of price, power, torque, gear box, suspension, comfort and reliability.

Monday, 8 June 2015

Ride Review: Victory Gunner

"Oh, I like that one," my wife said when I showed her a picture of the Victory Gunner. "I actually like it better than the Thunderf*ck."

"Thunderf*ck" is my wife's nickname for the Triumph Thruxton –– up to that point my wife's favourite motorcycle. When Jenn was a little girl, she collected stickers of motorcycles and Triumphs were always her favourites. So, I want you to just think for a second of how stunned I was to hear her place the Victory Gunner above them.

Not that I disagree. Taken for what it is, the Gunner may very well be the best bike in Victory's current line up. It's been on my What I Want list for quite a while. Having now had a chance to spend some time in the Gunner's saddle, my desire to own one has only increased. Despite my history of being somewhat hard on Victory there's no denying this is a good motorcycle.

All the usual caveats apply, of course. It's not a sport bike. It's not an ADV. It's not a tourer. And so on and so on, etcetera, etcetera. Narrowly comparing it to one of those is unfair. Accept the Gunner for what it is –– a raw, powerful, agricultural cruiser with arm-ripping torque –– and you'll find it's hard to beat.

Yes, agricultural. But remember what I said back when I reviewed the Harley-Davidson 883 SuperLow: riding a tractor is awesome. The Gunner's wrench-in-a-bucket gearbox offers a viscerally pleasing clunk with each gear change. And it's a sound that reminds you that you are on a motorcycle, by God: a cacophony of metal and explosions to which some lunatic has bolted wheels.

With that experience in mind, the Gunner certainly looks the part. In matte grey or matte green –– sorry, I mean, "suede titanium" or "suede green metallic" –– and blacked out engine and pipes, the Gunner avoids the questionable over-chromed aesthetic that too often ruins a cruiser in my opinion. I'm not a drag queen; I don't need sparkly bits and fringe. Keep my bikes looking simple, thank you.

The Gunner looks muscular and simple, aspects that reflect its performance. It carries a 1,737-cc V-twin engine that produces roughly 82 hp and about 96 ft lbs. of torque. The wide 17-litre tank draws your attention to the motorcycle and induces staring.

The bike is simple in the sense that it is instantly intuitive. Hands fall naturally to the grips, feet fall naturally to the mid-set pegs. Though I'd personally think it a terrible idea to choose such an expensive and heavy (523 kg wet) beast as one's first motorcycle, a Gunner could, indeed, serve such a purpose because of its user-friendly style.

Don't read that to mean it's boring or tame or somehow not suited to experienced riders, however. The Gunner is a joy. It punches forward with a solid twist of the throttle. And, if it's equipped with accessory Cobra exhausts, doing so rewards the rider with a rich, throaty growl. Throttle response is smooth, so picking up pace feels natural even while being quick. In accelerating onto the motorway I found myself in excess of the speed limit only halfway down the entrance ramp.

At more family-friendly speeds the Gunner also performs well. Its low centre of gravity and well-balanced weight make it relatively easy to move at a crawling pace. It's not a scooter, obviously, but filtering with the Gunner is stress free if you can find gaps for its 94-centimetre-wide 'bars.

In Europe, the Gunner comes equipped with anti-lock brakes. If you live in the United States, you should be writing to Victory customer service and asking why they love Not-America more than you. Because somehow adding an anti-lock braking system results in better overall braking.

You read my reviews I did last year of the Victory Judge and Victory Jackpot, their sub-par standard brakes were my biggest complaint. As I wrote of the Judge: "there is just not enough "whoa." The single-disc front brake is spongy, demands a full-handed grab to be deployed and is overall not as effective as you need it to be when you're sitting astride a 700-lb. motorcycle."

Front braking on the Gunner is still shouldered by a single disc (I would prefer two), but you get a lot more out of it. I was able to scrub speed with a simple two-fingered grab, as I am used to doing on my V-Strom. Hard stops require a decent amount of physical involvement but by and large, the difference between this Victory's brakes and those I experienced last year are night and day.

It should be noted that in Europe the Judge is also now being offered with anti-lock brakes, so my previous criticism may no longer be valid. The Judge is no longer sold in the United States because Americans can't have nice things.

Speaking of nice, riding at speed is surprisingly comfortable on the Gunner. There is no wind protection but even at autobahn speeds (I wasn't in Germany but may have been riding that way) I didn't find the experience to be too awful. For long-distance hauls I'd keep to roads that allowed more relaxed speeds.

I'd probably also invest in some new shocks. Suspension on the Gunner is certainly better than I've experienced on some other bikes (looking at you, Harley-Davidson Sportster), but by the end of my time with the motorcycle my back was starting to tighten up just a little bit. Life with a Gunner would, I think, demand stretching stops every 40-70 miles, depending on your stamina.

And any journeys you make will be solo. Passenger accommodations costs extra and the pillion-ready seat listed in Victory's accessory catalogue is, to put it bluntly, inadequate.

In a recent interview with Cycle World, Harley-Davidson CEO Matt Levatich told the story of discovering as part of Project Rushmore that only one person on the whole of Harley-Davidson's product development team had ever ridden as a passenger. Looking at the sloping maxi pad that Victory offers as a passenger seat for the Gunner makes me think the same issue may affect Victory's product development teams.

Or maybe not. I suppose that to complain about such things is to ignore my own caveat from above. The Gunner isn't supposed to be a tourer. It's not really supposed to be used to ride to Marrakesh (although, it's engine is solid enough that you could). If you want an awesome long-distance machine get a Victory Cross Country. The Gunner, though, is a cruiser. It's primarily designed for perfect summer afternoons, for (well-paved) back-country roads and relaxed trundling through small towns. And in that function it performs incredibly well. To date, I have only ever ridden one cruiser that's out-of-the-box better: the Indian Chief Classic.

Incidentally, on the same day I rode the Gunner I also got a chance to ride the Indian Scout for the first time. The two bikes are somewhat evenly matched in terms of horsepower and torque, and in the United Kingdom, at least, they are somewhat similar in price (the Gunner costs £400 less). I'll have a review of the Scout up soon, but for my money the Gunner is the better choice. I wouldn't have guessed that beforehand.

If you've got the moola, the garage space, and the right climate, the Victory Gunner really is hard to beat.

So, with all that said, let's get to the three questions I ask of every motorcycle I test ride:

1) Does it fit my current needs/lifestyle?
Sadly, no. Well, not yet, at least. There is literally no way I would be able to manoeuvre this beast into my shed. Plus, financially, I'm at a stage in my life right now where any bike I own has to be all things. I suspect long journeys on the Gunner would be uncomfortable, winters even more so. If I lived somewhere where I had a garage (and perhaps a more reliable summer riding season), I'd almost certainly take the Gunner as my second bike.

2) Does it put a grin on my face?
Yes. I had a blast. The Gunner feels like the culmination of everything that Victory does well, without the myriad nonsense they seem so desperate to inflict upon other models, like terrible paint schemes, comedy big front wheels and stupidly fat rear tires.

3) Is it better than my current bike?
Objectively, no. Obviously, it's cooler than a Suzuki V-Strom 1000, but it can't compete in terms of features, handling, power, performance, comfort, passenger accommodation, fuel efficiency, wind protection, or touring capacity. Not to mention the V-Strom would perform a hell of a lot better off road. But personality goes a long way, and the Gunner has a lot of that.