Wednesday, 30 March 2016

Electric motorcycles have arrived; Have we?


Not too long ago, I got a chance to spend a day tearing around on a Zero DSR. It was the first time I had ridden an electric motorcycle and I came away surprised at just how much fun an e-bike can be. 

When I returned home to the palatial Cope estate, I couldn't stop singing the bike's praises to my wife. My time with the DSR had convinced me that electric motorcycles are "there," I told her.

So often when motorcyclists discuss electric, we insist that the technology — specifically, the available range — hasn't arrived in terms of practical usability. But my own experience had shown that getting 120 miles from a full charge was entirely possible.In fact, that estimate may be a little conservative. Zero claims 147 miles of range, and I think that's realistic.

Either way, it really is "there" in terms of distance that the average American motorcyclist rides on any given day. Anecdotally, I'm thinking of the riders I grew up around in Texas and Minnesota. In my mother's hometown of Lake Jackson, Texas, there's a 4.5-mile stretch of road called Oyster Creek Drive that runs the width of the city. On nice evenings, dudes will get off work at the Dow plant, drive home, then hop on their Harley-Davidson Street Glides and Street Bobs. They'll rumble up and down the strip once or twice, stop for a beer downtown, and be home in time to watch the news.

At most, one of those dudes will clock up 20 miles in a night. On a Sunday afternoon, if it's not too hot, he might ride the 15 miles out to Surfside Beach, putting in roughly 50 miles that day with some back and forth. If he goes any further than that, though, he'll take his truck. The days when his mileage would truly exceed a Zero's current range are few and far between.


Within the world of motorcycling websites like The Motorcycle Obsession and RideApart, it may sound like I'm being insulting to those dudes. Because, after all, all of us are super-hardcore awesome riders, doing an Iron Butt a day in dirt while getting a knee down. That's certainly the impression people like to give in comments, at least. And people on the internet never lie.

But there's evidence to suggest that outside our interwebs fishbowl, the American motorcycling experience allies more closely to that of riders in Lake Jackson. According to the 2015 Powersports Business State of the Industry Webinar, the average American rides just 2,809 miles a year. That's 234 miles a month, or less than two full charges for a Zero DSR.

Meanwhile, over here on the other side of the Drumpf wall, the average UK rider manages roughly 7,500 miles annually. That's still not very much, and an electric motorcycle remains viable. Charge points are to be found in any number of places, including "services" (rest areas with gas stations and fast food), which are located every 20-40 miles on the motorway network. Some charge points are even free.

And, of course, all that overlooks the true purpose of most electric motorcycles: commuting. Easy to ride and almost totally maintenance-free, electrics are incredibly well-suited to urban/suburban use and equipped with a range that will meet most people's needs.

Many moons ago, when I was stuck living in Southern California, I had a daily commute of 40 miles each way from San Diego to Carlsbad. It was a painfully long drive. I listened to learning CDs in my car, and within a year had become fluent in Welsh (which is more or less how I ended up moving here). That 80 miles a day is within a Zero's ability, though –– even ignoring the possibility of plugging in the bike while at work.


"It's silly that more people aren't riding electric," I told my wife. "It just makes so much sense. A bike like that, you just get on and go. It's easy; you're more aware of your surroundings. It's such a great experience and it really is do-able in terms of range."

"You should get one," she said. "You could trade in your Suzuki."

"Ah... uh... oh... well, you know, it's not really..." I stammered. "I mean, the way I use a bike, that's different. There are times when I have to cover a lot of distance and..."

"You just said it would be possible to get up to Scotland in a day," she said, her voice now picking up the West Country lilt she uses when shooting holes in my arguments.

"I did, yes," I huffed. "It would be a long day, though, and would require some judicious planning."

"You're not capable of planning?"

"No. I mean, yes. I am. I could. But it's not a bike that fits my lifestyle. My motorcycle use, as a moto-journalist, is different. An electric bike wouldn't really work for me."

"Hmm," she said. "It sounds like you're saying everyone else should be doing something, but you don't want to give up your rumbly toy."

I still think my particular case is unique. A motorcycle is my only means of transportation and there are times when I have to travel pretty far for professional purposes. To test ride the Zero DSR, for instance, I had to ride 120 miles to Birmingham; that's a 240-mile day. Last week I had to travel to Peterborough, England, for a meeting –– some 400 miles round trip. But I do think my wife may have stumbled upon something. Perhaps the biggest obstacle for electric motorcycles isn't range or cost, but motorcyclists' unwillingness to change.


Thinking about this, I started to look at many people's arguments against electric and I was struck by their similarity to the arguments people give for not riding at all.

No doubt you've been in that situation where you mention riding to a friend or coworker, who suddenly gets a dreamy look in his or her eyes and says something like: "Yeah, I've always wanted to get a motorcycle."

To which the obvious answer is: "Well, why don't you?"

Unless you're being wheeled around a care home it's not too late to start riding.

But rather than concede to this impeccable logic the person will offer a profusion of excuses. Excuses that mask his or her true reason for not riding: he or she can't be bothered to learn how to do something different.

Essentially, that's what those who refuse to consider e-bikes are doing. They're muddying the water with a thousand excuses, trying to hide the simple fact that, golly, they just don't want to ride electric. Motorcycling is an activity that requires certain concessions of inconvenience, but they're unwilling to make these particular concessions.

I guess I shouldn't say "they." It's more appropriate to say "we." Because my wife is right – although I'm happy to take the high ground of telling people they should help save Earth by riding electric, my actions say I'm unwilling to join them.


I make my excuses about range and cost (moto-journalism isn't the most lucrative career), but quietly I know that if I didn't personally have those obstacles I still probably wouldn't be buying electric.

Probably. Maybe I would. It's a lot of fun, after all. I don't know. The fact is, although I think electric motorcycles are "there," I'm not entirely sure that I am.

Friday, 25 March 2016

Please let this be true: Production version of Victory's Project 156 may still happen


There are fresh rumors that a road version of Victory's Project 156 bike is in the works and may arrive as soon as this year. And no, I don't mean another cruiser.

Project 156, of course, was the name for Victory's effort last year to conquer the Pike's Peak International Hill Climb. Powered by a rip-snorting prototype 1200cc liquid-cooled V-twin engine, the naked race bike was designed in part by Roland Sands and ridden by Cycle World editor Don Canet. Although the Project 156 attempt was ultimately unsuccessful, the bike Victory produced for the event drew a great deal of attention and raised many motorcyclists' hopes that a production version would soon become available.

Those hopes were raised even further in the weeks leading up to last month's unveiling of the Victory Octane, a 103 hp cruiser that some felt didn't quite live up to the Project 156 ethos. Many expressed disappointment that Victory had not delivered a model more faithful to the original Pike's Peak bike.

But now British motorcycling newspaper MCN is suggesting motorcyclists should not yet give up on the idea of a super naked from Victory. The paper claims a Polaris insider has told it: "The intention is still to create a production bike with similar levels of performance and looks for the road in the near future."

MCN says this bike "could be revealed later this year." The paper bolsters its claim by pointing out that Victory will again be racing at Pike's Peak this year. And, indeed, a quick glance at this year's competitor list shows Victory will actually be running two bikes up the notoriously difficult mountain course.


Don Canet will be back, this time astride a prototype electric motorcycle. And a 2016 version of Project 156 will be ridden by 2014 Pike's Peak Open Class winner Jeremy Toye, indicating that Victory are very serious about taking the prize this year.

Not surprisingly, Victory is saying nothing about all this. The company's standard response to any questions about what may or may not be in the works has always been: "We don't ever talk about future products."

And in this case, you can't blame Victory for keeping tight-lipped. An over-enthusiastic PR campaign for the Octane left some motorcyclists upset and may have convinced Victory that it's better to take a "less is more" approach when it comes to unveiling new models.

However, when I spoke last year to Victory/Indian external relations manager Robert Pandya about that year's Project 156 bike he did say: "Obviously we're doing this for a reason."

He also offered some hope to motorcyclists pining for an American bike that isn't a cruiser by pointing out that Victory was aware of the desire for such a thing.

"Certainly there's been interest from our existing customers" he said. "And our desire is to draw in new customers in different categories. We've got different venues we can play in, in terms of the overall opportunity on market. There are spaces where American bikes are not currently present, and maybe there's an opportunity for us."


That's an observation that feeds into a statement made earlier this month by Polaris President of Motorcycles Steve Menneto regarding the future of Victory and Indian. He told Minnesota's Star Tribune: "We project that [sales] volume will increase [and] we will double our market share over the next three years."

At present in the United States, roughly 50 percent of all street motorcycles larger than 600cc are sold by Harley-Davidson. It could be that Polaris has enough faith in the Indian brand that it thinks it can double its market share simply by cutting into Harley's piece of the pie.

Or, it may be eager to expand into other segments of the motorcycle market. Perhaps to naked motorcycles, which is the second most popular segment in the United States. And if that were the case, Victory has certainly made no secret of the fact that its aim is to focus on performance, cutting a distinct path away from the more traditional world of Indian. 

But all of these "what-ifs," "maybes" and "should-bes" are the sorts of things that led so many people to being underwhelmed by the Octane. So, personally, I'm a little skeptical of these new rumors. To build a road version of the Project 156 bike seems like too great a leap.

Victory has always been a forward-thinking company, blessed with engineers and designers capable of dreaming up ideas that are decades before their time. But it has also been pretty gun-shy when it comes to implementing those ideas.

If Victory wanted to fulfil riders' daydreams of a Project 156 bike for the masses, it obviously wouldn't be as simple as slapping an Octane engine into an upright chassis (which in itself isn't exactly "simple"). Riders would expect power north of 120 hp, as well as the bells and whistles found on many other super nakeds: ABS, traction control, rider modes, and so on. This bike would need to be at least as good as a Suzuki GSX-S1000, with many wishing it to be on par with a KTM 1290 Super Duke. That's a pretty tall order, and it's a hell of a lot to have to get right on your first try. It would, as I say, be a massive leap.


However, that doesn't mean I'm not eagerly looking forward to my first glimpse of the 2016 Project 156 bike. The look of that motorcycle may say a lot about whether production bike rumors are true. When building last year's bike, Roland Sands and his team were squeezed for time, so they used the swingarm and suspension of a Ducati 899 Panigale. Since Victory will presumably have had more time to prepare for this year's event it will be interesting to see if the chassis now has a more original "in house" look.

If it does, that may hint at production intentions. Or it may not. I guess we'll have to wait and see.

(Originally published on RideApart)

Wednesday, 23 March 2016

Ride Review: 2014 Triumph Tiger 800


I mentioned recently that my Suzuki V-Strom 1000 has been in the shop as a result of a recall issue. It is still in the shop. Apparently there is a backlog in getting parts out to dealerships and I won't see my bike again until the end of the month.

I would be a lot angrier about all this if it weren't for the fact Fowlers of Bristol gave me a Triumph Tiger 800 to use in the meantime. Different from the current XR/XC model, this is the Tiger 800 that served as something of an economy model from 2010-2015. That is to say, it was less expensive and a little lower spec than the Tiger 800 XC that existed during the same time period.

And certainly there are aspects of the Tiger 800 that give it the feeling of being built to a budget (e.g., suspension). But, overall, this 799cc motorcycle is a lot more fun and thrilling than I would have imagined. My experience with its successor, the Tiger 800 XRx, had been so negative it plummeted my opinion of the entire Triumph brand. This bike, and the hundreds of miles of fun I've put on it, have gone a long way to restoring the British brand's name in my eyes.

Engine

Claiming 94 hp, the Tiger 800's star feature is its springy, powerband-tastic inline triple, which impels you to exceed the speed limit with license-threatening ease. You'll need a whole lot of straight and a healthy tailwind to push the machine past 110 mph, but getting up to 80 comes with relative ease. And staying there is effortless and surprisingly smooth –– no inline four buzzing, no V-twin thrumming.

Unfortunately, 80 mph is not the legal speed limit on motorways in Her Majesty's United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland. At legal speeds (70 mph), with the Tiger 800's hard-to-read tachometer hovering near 5,000 rpm, there is a kind of lurching/straining that makes you think you're in too low a gear.

It's not awful, nor is the sensation distracting enough to put you off tackling long stretches of super slab, but there's no doubt the Tiger 800 shines more brightly on country roads. Especially if those roads have curves. Moving up and down the gears is easy enough once the bike warms a little, though the transmission can be a little clunky at the start of a ride. Finding neutral is a challenge in either case.


Throttle response is smooth and makes you wistful for the days before ride-by-wire, while power delivery kicks in strong just below 4,000 rpm. It makes for a happy situation in corners, allowing for confidence in terms of throttle control. And shooting out of those corners gives the sensation of being propelled forward by a giant rubber band. It is a lot of fun, and revving is rewarded with a sharp bark of an exhaust note.

Ridden hard, the Tiger 800 starts to wheeze far sooner than I'd like, but within the boundaries of the law it is fine. And it's probably best to keep it there, since the bike's basic suspension setup discourages aggressive riding.

Ride quality and brakes

Equipped with road tires, the Tiger 800 is designed to never stray from pavement despite its offroad styling. A lot of moto-journalists like to complain about that sort of thing, but I have no problem with it. It makes for a bike that is comfortable and steady on real-world roads.

Though, in the British real world of roads that are repaired only once a century or so, I'd probably like the Tiger 800's suspension to be a little less stiff. Especially since that stiffness doesn't help as much as you'd think in corners. In the bumpy stuff of Wales I found the bike becoming unsettled amid spirited riding, and I was occasionally thrown off my line as a result. I never felt able to trust the bike enough to push as hard as I wanted through a bend.

I can't help but wonder if things wouldn't have been better if Triumph had not decided to equip the Tiger 800 with a 19-inch front tire. Perhaps handling would be more assured if the company had embraced the bike's road-only nature and done as Kawasaki has with its Versys, equipping it with a 17-inch front.

Again, though, the overall feeling of the bike is good. Perhaps it is simply a victim of its own success: the ride quality is so good you're convinced it is capable of being better.

Meanwhile, the dual front discs and single rear disc are a tad soft in an emergency stop, but perfectly fine when riding within the limitations set by other aspects of the bike. The Triumph's standard antilock braking system is unobtrusive enough  that I had to really work to set it off.


I can't find any weight figures for the pre-2015 Tiger 800, but it is noticeably lighter than my 'Strom, making it a hell of a lot easier to muscle around in my garden area. It is not as well-balanced, however, so feet do come down occasionally when crawling around parking lots, and U-turns sometimes run wide.

It is steady enough, though, to make filtering through traffic a simple task –– aided by the overall lightness of the bike and the fact its handlebars are relatively narrow compared to other adventure-styled motorcycles.

Electronics

ABS is the only bit of techno wizardry to be found on the Tiger 800. No riding modes or traction control. No slipper or assisted clutch. By and large, these things are not missed too badly. Though, there were a few instances where traction control would have been helpful.

As mentioned, the ABS is a pretty basic and most riders will never manage to set it off.

Comfort and features

Seat height on the Tiger 800 is a non-adjustable 810mm (31.8 in). That creates a situation that's just a little bit cramped for my long legs, but knee soreness only ever set in after more than 230 continuous miles. The seat itself is plenty comfortable, with enough room to shift around a little over long distances. The passenger seat, too, is comfortable and large enough to accommodate a normal-sized human being (something that can be rare with motorcycle passenger space).

The windscreen is far too small for my liking, both in height and width. My arms, some of my torso, and most of my helmet were left to the elements, so long hauls were a literal pain in the neck. If I owned a Tiger 800, my very first modification would be the addition of a Givi AirFlow windscreen.

I'd also add handguards and heated grips, two features that do not come standard. With these additions, the bike could serve as a decent long-distance machine for someone a little shorter than myself. Though, you may want to avoid particularly toasty locales because the engine puts out a surprising amount of heat on the right side. Even at 80 mph I could feel warmth on my shin.


The Tiger 800's dashboard is impossible to figure out without an owners manual (I didn't have one) and defaults to a display that shows only the estimated number of miles left until empty. An odometer is visible only at startup. I hated this aspect of the bike, especially because the fuel gauge wasn't terribly accurate.

Riding along the motorway one day, I spotted a sign telling me the next fuel stop was 9 miles away. According to the Tiger 800's fuel gauge at that point, I had enough dino juice to go another 50 miles. But when I reached the fuel stop, the gauge was indicating just 12 miles of range.

Another complaint is the absence of hazard lights. That's a tiny qualm, perhaps, but British traffic can sometimes come to a very immediate stop, and hazard lights allow me to communicate more effectively to the vehicles behind me. It seems an odd omission on a bike that has features like a gear indicator and fuel gauge.

The mirrors are decent, though inclined to move. Headlights deliver a decently bright, though not as brilliant as I would have expected considering there are two.

Practicality

There's no doubt the Tiger 800 is a solid all-rounder. It filters well through city traffic and is steady on the motorway. It's all-day comfortable while being delightful (within its limits) on twisty roads. I'm a big fan of do-all motorcycles because I don't have the funds to own more than one. My experience with this Tiger 800 has been generally positive enough that I would be willing to give its successor, the Tiger 800 XR, another chance.

Absence of a center stand makes cleaning and oiling the chain an utter pain, though. Which is frustrating in light of other features that show someone at Triumph was really thinking when they designed this bike. Replacing the headlight bulbs, for example, could not be easier. And angled valve stems aid in making sure it's easy to maintain correct tire pressure.

As my pictures show, there are plenty of bits to hook a bungee cord to, and a small luggage rack comes standard.

Fuel economy is decent. Exactly how decent is hard to say due to the fact the fuel gauge is unreliable and the dash doesn't show an odometer when riding. But I was able to travel 200 miles on a single tank at one point.


Build quality

Looking closely at this bike, I think it's fair to say that in the 6,000 miles that had been racked up before it came into my possession, the bike had never been washed, the chain had never been cleaned, and the oil had never been changed. It's a loaner bike and Fowlers and Fowlers customers haven't been exactly loving.

I put roughly 1,000 miles on the bike during its month in my possession, attempting to clean and oil the chain out of sympathy but otherwise putting no effort into its maintenance or care.

In light of all that abuse, I'd say the build quality of the Tiger 800 is really, really good. The header pipes were showing rust but everything else looked and functioned as you would expect. The bike started every time and ran well.

Verdict

I realize beauty is in the eye of the beholder, but I'm simply not able to get over just how ugly the Tiger 800 is. Up close, examining every little feature, things only get worse. It is, hands down, the most aesthetically unpleasant motorcycle I have ever encountered.

That's a shame because it is otherwise a very good bike. Durable, reliable and fun, it is a far better motorcycle than I had expected. With the addition of some basic aftermarket parts it could easily serve as all the motorcycle you'd ever need.

The Three Questions:

1) Does it fit my current needs/lifestyle?
Yes. The Tiger 800 fits into the exact same class as the Suzuki V-Strom 1000. It's a do-all, go-everywhere bike and it fits easily in my shed.

2) Does it put a grin on my face?
Yes. I had a lot of fun during my time with the Tiger 800 and really enjoyed the opportunity to rip it all over Wales and Southern England. The springing nature of its power delivery was particularly enjoyable.

3) Is it better than my current bike?
No. Despite my deep frustration at Suzuki for the situation that led to my having the Tiger 800, I still prefer my 'Strom. My bike doesn't wheeze at high speed, its suspension is far better, its brakes are better, the dashboard is more useful, it's more comfortable, it's better balanced, and it's better set up to tackle long distances. Additionally, it has traction control and a slipper clutch. Beyond that, though, there are certain aspects that I've simply come to prefer. I think it looks better. I like the V-twin feel and the stronger engine braking that entails. I like the snappier throttle response. And I prefer the snarl it makes under acceleration.

Monday, 21 March 2016

Proclaiming My Wrongness

A few months ago, I wrote an article in response to the acquisition of EBR by a company known as Liquid Asset Partners, which describes itself on its website as specializing in "turning your underperforming assets into cash."

In that article I stated quite assuredly that Erik Buell's eponymous sportbike company was finally, truly dead.

"Let's be honest with ourselves," I wrote. "It's over. The final chapter has been written. EBR is no more, and nevermore shall be."

I had a handful of people take issue with me on that claim, calling me a hater who something something America something something engineering genius something something. I would soon be eating my words, I was assured, and EBR would rise again.

So confident was I, however, that I chose to double down on my claim, stating for all the interwebs to see: "I will be the first to cheer if I am ever proven wrong. I will loudly and happily proclaim my wrongness. I'll write... about what a cynical dummy head I've been. But I really don't think I'll get a chance to do that."

Of course, you know what happened next. Earlier this month, EBR announced that it is, indeed, back again. Liquid Asset Partners, despite its name, has apparently chosen not to liquidate all of EBR's assets but instead develop a "multi-year plan, and a 5- to 10-year vision" to put EBR back in the game. Production restarted on March 1st and the first bikes were expected to roll off the assembly line on St. Patrick's Day.


The company even invited the general public to celebrate at its East Troy, Wisconsin, factory on 18 March. 

All of which means I appear to have been wrong. A company that is 100% dead doesn't assemble bikes and offer free hot dogs. I guess I was being a cynical dummyhead, swimming the wrong way in a pool full of wrong juice while wearing my wrong pants.

So, here I am happily proclaiming my wrongness. Buell is back, baby, and everything is great. Nothing to worry about at all.

And yet...

I do wonder what's going to happen after this initial wave of bikes is gone. In an interview with the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel in July 2015, Erik Buell said that in the wake of EBR's collapse it had bikes "just sitting there, covered in plastic, waiting to be finished."

One assumes the bikes coming off the line now are those same bikes that have been sitting on the shelf for roughly a year — bikes that are no different than when introduced in 2014.

Whereas two years is practically nothing in the pace of change adopted by most American motorcycle companies, it's a decent stretch in EBR's chosen field of sport/performance bikes. Two years ago, the 1190RX was almost as good as the Ducati Panigale 1199, according to many moto-journalists. But now the Panigale is a 1299 and the 1190RX lacks the ABS and Euro4 compliance needed for it to even be legal in the European market, where the largest concentration of sportbike riders is found.


However, even in Europe, the popularity of sportbikes has plummeted in recent years. Wherever EBR sets up shop (it's still trying to put together a dealer network) it will be selling an outdated product to an ever-shrinking crowd.

And once the current stock of bikes runs out, once those bikes from 2014 are sold off at firesale prices to sentimental patriots, what then? What happens when EBR has to make truly new motorcycles? Does it have the equipment, the resources?

Maybe it does. Maybe the promised 1190AX adventure sport model was close to being ready when EBR collapsed a year ago and can get off the ground quickly. Maybe the company didn't lose that model in the split with Hero Motor Corp. Maybe it has the supply network and wherewithal to produce that bike and seize upon the current adventure-sport craze. Maybe the 1190AX is good enough to compete. And maybe the 1190RX and 1190SX will be updated, as well, to put them more on par with their competition. Maybe dealers and consumers will get fully behind EBR despite previous stumbles. 

Maybe. Maybe. But that sure is a lot of maybes. And I just don't see it happening.

Liquid Asset Partners has said EBR has "financial stability," but in the same breath expresses an interest in "new partnerships or investment." It's entirely possible that I don't understand the business side of motorcycling well enough, but that doesn't sound like a company on solid ground.

I find it so difficult to be anything other than cynical when I consider the future of EBR. But that wasn't the deal two months ago. I can't move the goalposts. I didn't say I'd proclaim my wrongness as soon as EBR delivered new, desirable models and turned a profit. I simply said I would apologize if I was wrong about EBR being dead.

And it's not dead, so, again, I was wrong. Wrong, wrong, wrong. Wrongity Wrongman from Wrongtown. 

My apologies.

(Originally published on RideApart)

Friday, 18 March 2016

Gravity always wins


The other day, I read an interesting article by a motorcyclist going only by the name of Lobo, who wrote: "Motorcycles should pass the 'kick test.' You give them a kick and make them hit the ground. If you have no remorse and the bike is not broken, this is a good bike to travel to Morocco on."

I find that endearing, and it occurs to me that the kick test is a valid measure of a bike's worthiness even if you have no plans on riding to Morocco. Particularly if you're a new rider trying to decide upon your first bike.

Unfortunately — perhaps cruelly — I feel that's a mindset most people won't develop until after they've built up a few years of experience. I include myself among "most people." It was only recently I finally crossed the threshold.

The first time I dropped a bike was also the first time I took my wife out on a ride. At that point I had held my UK license for less than a month and was still getting used to the unusually top-heavy nature of the Honda CBF600SA I rode.

If you're new to this blog, you may not have heard of the CBF600SA. Effectively, it was a Hornet with its personality removed. I had chosen it because of familiarity, having used the same model in training for my license.

On one particular day of training, the instructor had taken myself and another rider to a parking lot to practice U turns, cones, and emergency stops. Every other time my fellow student attempted a U-turn she dropped the bike on top of herself, needing the instructor and me to help get her free. In one of these instances, as I was helping her to her feet, I allowed my internal dialogue to become my external dialogue and said aloud: "Man, maybe motorcycling isn't your thing."


It was at that exact point karma starting plotting my comeuppance.

So, there I was, about a month later, trying to show my wife how sexy I am by awkwardly ferrying her to the beach on history's most boring motorcycle. It was a beautiful day, and I decided to stop at a pub with outdoor seating for roughly 100 people. You can see where this is going, can't you?

The pub's beer garden was full. The only place I could find to park was right in front, on a potholed spit of gravel and uneven ground. I stumbled into the space, cut the engine, and, as my wife stepped off the bike, lost my footing.

I fought valiantly, but ultimately the 490-lb. bike came to a rest on its side with an unpleasant crunching sound. A sound immediately usurped by an ironic cheer from the drunken rugby team sitting 10 feet away.

My soul burned. I felt I was going blind from embarrassment. But the universe wasn't done with me. Out of nowhere, the world's loudest Australian appeared, dressed head to toe in Harley-Davidson gear. "LOOKS LIKE YOU DROPPED YER BIKE, MATE," he chortled. "YOU KNOW WHAT THEY SAY ABOUT A FELLA WHO DROPS HIS BIKE: HE'S A TW*T! HAHAHA!"

After muscling the bike up, I went to sit in a corner, refusing to even look up for half an hour. I would end up dropping that Honda again a few months later, in the rain, with no one looking, but the sting of embarrassment was no less acute.

I damaged my grip and snapped a brake lever when I dropped my Honda a second time.

There were a few incident-free years, then I got my Suzuki V-Strom 1000 and dropped it within a month of ownership — sort of. A brick wall "caught" the bike for me, but put a deep scratch on its much-ridiculed beak.

My initial response was one that has since become standard: shouting every combination of obscene words I know. (I'm still not at the point where I can drop a bike and think: "Ha-ha, silly me.") But within the hour, I was feeling dumb for having been so upset.

A motorcycle is a thing, after all — a jumble of metal and plastic and rubber. It is a thing you're supposed to use. And it is the nature of things that get used that they will endure scrapes and bumps in the process. My wife unwittingly helped me come to this realization by attempting to sympathize.

"It's OK to be upset," she said. "That bike is your baby, your precious thing."

Well, yeah, it is. But that's not something I want said out loud. So, I sucked it up and remembered the sage advice of 90s alterno-hippie band Poi Dog Pondering: "You should wear with pride the scars on your skin / To remember the adventures and the places you've been."

In my guise as a moto-journalist though, I've learned that accepting the reality of dropped bikes is so much easier when the bike you're dropping is someone else's. For example, when I dumped the Honda Africa Twin in some mud recently, I offered my usual screed of foul language to the heavens, but ceased caring almost immediately afterward. It's a bike. Bikes will drop. C'est la vie de la moto


But all of this does raise one question for me: Since tumbling to the ground is such an incredibly likely event for a motorcycle, why aren't more of them equipped to do so? We're expected to purchase all kinds of aftermarket bits and bobs — engine bars, frame sliders, etc. — but why don't these things come standard? Why aren't more bikes equipped with features like the tip-over protection on a Victory Vision? 

I accidentally tested that feature at a gas station in Switzerland a few months ago and as a result, my opinion of Victory shot up.

I realize not every bike can have awkward wings or engine bars, but it's interesting to me that more of them don't. Especially amongst classes of bikes targeted at new and returning riders. Those things should be far more durable.

Or maybe this doesn't really happen much to anyone else. Maybe that loud Australian guy was right about me. What's your experience?

(Originally published on RideApart)

Wednesday, 16 March 2016

The Octane PR fumble: What does Victory do now?


The initial backlash against the Victory Octane was so intense that most of the reviews I've read of the bike have felt the need to mention it:
  • Motorcyclist: "Maybe Victory set expectations unreasonably high... enthusiasts like us were hoping for a high-performance machine more in the standard- or naked-bike realm than another midsized cruiser"
  • Motorcycle.com: "(M)any... felt misled by Victory’s references to the Project 156 Pikes Peak racer... I can understand riders’ desire to see this powerplant in a more standard or sporting chassis"
  • Common Tread: "There is a large incongruity between the motorcycle that Victory’s marketing department hinted we were going to get and the Octane that is actually going to hit the showroom floors."
As I said in my own early comments, Victory's PR led a lot of people to hear things that weren't actually being said. I include myself in that group. I wasn't expecting a naked or standard –– the two "concept" bikes from Urs Erbacher and Zach Ness had made it clear the Octane was a cruiser –– but I was expecting more power and perhaps something that wasn't 100-percent cruiser.

In conversations I've had with Victory folk since the Octane's launch they've quietly conceded their initial enthusiasm may have been just a little over the top. Fortunately, for Victory all the actual ride reviews have been positive. So, it's not in the position as Harley-Davidson was (is?) with the Street 750, where it said "Look at this amazing bike!" but delivered a stinker.


Instead, the general consensus is something along the lines of: "The Octane is a really good bike that isn't quite the huge leap forward some people thought it would be." 

From Victory's perspective, that's not an awful place to be. They have a solid platform they can build upon. And it's a platform they can be pretty sure will be profitable.

Which is an important thing to remember about Victory (and Indian) –– it's a business. Victory doesn't make motorcycles as an act of social good; this isn't some massive community service project. And Victory is a motorcycle business that operates first and foremost in the United States, where (much to my persistent confusion) Harley-Davidson sells roughly half the street bikes larger than 600cc.

I can't find any figures on what the rest of the market looks like, but by simply travelling around the United States it would appear the next biggest market segment is: "cruisers/big V-twins that aren't Harley-Davidsons." Let's imagine that makes up 30 percent of sales. Maybe even 35 percent. That leaves a not-so-big field of play for everything else.

Which is why I don't think Victory is ever going to completely abandon the cruiser market.

But, Polaris is an international company and it is already familiar with the idea of offering different products in different places. That's why we lucky Europeans still have the Judge. It's why the Octane (and Judge and Gunner and High Ball) is ABS-equipped, despite the feature not even being an option in the United States.


So, Victory could build a bike targeted more at markets outside the United States. And I suppose that's what I was hoping for. I had hoped the Octane would be a Victory Judge that lived up to the ambitions of a Judge. Apparently a flop in the US market (it only lasted two years there), the Judge was designed and marketed with a muscle car motif –– similar to what we've seen with the Octane.

The Judge has midset pegs, cool 5-spoke cast wheels, and an overall bad-ass look that I love. It remains one of my favorite motorcycles, but for the fact its single front disc brake isn't up to the task of stopping all that weight. The Judge weighs more than 700 lbs. sans rider. 

Plus it has a 33º rake, 16-inch tires, and 82 hp. It doesn't really live up to its "Modern American Muscle" tag line. 

But the fact it still sells in Europe is sign riders in Not America like the idea –– folks here are open to the concept. I had thought that since the Octane's engine was first unveiled in Milan and its first "concept" delivered by a Swiss builder, this would be a model aimed partially at the wider world. I pictured a lighter, more powerful Judge with dual front discs and tighter steering.

And, that may happen still. The Octane is sort of there already in some aspects (more powerful than the Judge, with tighter rake), and there are rumblings that Victory plans to expand the platform very soon. So, maybe we'll get an Octane S, similar to the way Victory offers a Hammer and a Hammer S.

But even if that doesn't happen, I've been thinking that building the Octane I want might not be impossible.


The first step, I think, would be to get my hands on some modifications from Lloydz Motorworkz, who have managed to boost the Octane's oomph by 16 hp and 14 ft.-lbs. of torque. That means 108.72 hp and 84.86 ft.-lbs. of torque, measured at the rear wheel (if you want to use Victory's at-the-crank numbers as a base, you could claim 120 hp and 90 ft.-lbs. of torque). That's a solid amount, I think; plenty for me.

As soon as I did that, though, I'd want increased stopping power. I'd want to equip the Octane with upside down front forks and dual front discs. I don't know how hard this is, but the fact Urs Erbacher did it in less than two weeks (that's the amount of time Victory gave him for the build) tells me it's entirely possible.

Lastly, I'd improve the suspension, possibly boosting travel in the rear by an inch. Though, I wouldn't want to do something so excessive it affects handling. Shame I don't know a damn thing about chassis dynamics.

I find myself thinking about all this so much that I plan to look into the expense of having it done. Exactly how much would it cost for me to have the Victory I actually want? Probably a lot, since I don't have the tools or knowledge to make any such modifications myself.

Obviously, the better solution would be for Victory to deliver an Octane S that has these features (to save on cost, I'd be willing to miss out on the engine mods). And after that, I'd like to see the Octane platform used to build a spirited tourer –– a kind of American version of the BMW R1200RT. A boy can dream. 

It feels Victory is on the verge of something really exciting. I hope that turns out to be the case.

Monday, 14 March 2016

Ride review: Zero DSR


Here are some words strung together: interior permanent magnet, surface mount permanent magnet, graphene matrix. You'll hear words like these when someone tells you about a Zero motorcycle. But if you are like me, your eyes will glaze over because those words don't create pictures in my mind of what part they will or won't play in my sitting on a motorcycle and shouting: "Wheeeeeeee!"

After all, that's what really matters: The joy of being on a motorcycle. If you want technical words, go read someone else's review. If you want to know about the incredible "Wheeeeeeee!" that the Zero DSR delivers, read on.

The Past and Future of Motorcycling

My experience with the DSR starts in Birmingham, England, which is home to Zero's only UK dealership, Streetbike. Birmingham has strong ties to the glory days of motorcycling. Triumph, Norton, and BSA are among the brands that started in "Brum." They've moved on, but motorcycling still runs deep. Birmingham is home to the National Motorcycle Museum, and the UK's largest motorcycle show, "Motorcycle Live."

There's symmetry in the fact that Zero, a manufacturer many see as representative of motorcycling's future, has found a home in a place so intricately linked to the motorcycling past.

Birmingham is a sprawling urban area, and I don't really know how many miles I'm going to rack up today, so I set the DSR on Eco mode. The DSR has three riding modes: Eco, Sport, and Custom. Eco helps conserve energy and thereby ensures longer range. Sport allows you to enjoy the full whump of the DSR's 106.2 ft. lbs of torque. Custom is set with a smartphone app, allowing a rider to choose speed, torque and regenerative brake settings.


The DSR is a twist-and-go bike— no clutch, no gears to shift —and it takes a moment for my head to wrap around this concept.

"Am I moving?" I ask aloud.

The lack of engine noise has also confused me. I touch my feet down, feel them drag on the street. Yes, I'm moving. I glance in one of the bike's well-placed, decently sized mirrors... there's a Land Rover there. I hop the bike up a curb onto the sidewalk, and give myself a chance to regroup.

"OK, it's a motorcycle," I tell myself. "It will go at motorcycle speed. Let's pick up the pace."

Off the curb and back into traffic. Eco mode neuters the DSR noticeably, but twist the throttle all the way back and there's the oomph to beat most cars off a stoplight. This mode reminds me of a 125cc commuter. That's not a ringing endorsement, perhaps, but there's enough here for city traffic.

It doesn't take long to get used to the absence of gears and clutch. Soon it's feeling natural. Feeling fun. I mean, golly, is this thing ever fun! With a claimed weight of 418 lbs., the DSR isn't featherweight, but its bulk is distributed evenly and the bike is well-balanced. I wouldn't use the word "flickable," but on this bike, I feel comfortable hitting some pretty tight gaps as I lane split.


BSA's Beginnings

Birmingham's Gun Quarter is so named because it was once a bustling hub for arms manufacturers— one of which was the Birmingham Small Arms Co., or BSA. The company expanded into motorcycles in 1910 and by 1951 had become the world's largest motorcycle manufacturer. BSA had a devoted following, but not so devoted that the company could survive managerial bumbling. And by 1972, it had given up.

No one's making guns in the Gun Quarter these days and all the old alleyways are gone. It's just office buildings and there's no sign of where BSA might have been. Again, I ride up a curb onto the sidewalk. I step off the bike and take a moment to really look at it, to take it in.

The DSR is proper-sized: it looks (and feels) like a motorcycle. For some reason, I had been expecting a glorified mountain bike: small, rickety, whining like an RC car on Christmas morning, but no, this thing is solid. You don't have to apologize for it. Zero's models seem to suffer the Honda curse of not being photogenic. But in person, build quality is good. Fit and finish is up to snuff, and all the components look sturdy. It doesn't look plasticky or cheap, and the Pirelli MT-60 tires make it look kind of...cool.

I'm not a fan of the swingarm, and I'm concerned the tiny tail light, which seems to attract road muck, may— like the headlight—not be bright enough. The digital dash is simple and easy to understand, and switchgear is intuitive.


Because there's no need for gas, the DSR has a storage compartment where the tank would be. It holds my bottle of water, camera and map of Birmingham, but wouldn't fit a full-size helmet. The compartment's lid is of the soft luggage sort— accessed via a zipper that keeps getting stuck.

It's better, then, to fill that space with Zero's optional Charge Tank, which allows you to use charging stations at IKEA. In Europe, IKEA's charging stations are free for customers. If I owned an electric vehicle I would eat lunch there every day: "These meatballs are payin' for themselves!"

No More Norton

I throw a leg over and get ready to head to my next destination. At 6'1'', I have no problem putting both feet flat on the ground. The DSR might not be ideal for shorter riders though: to my knowledge, the seat's 33.2-inch height is not adjustable.

As I zip around corners and weave through clogged city traffic I develop a real love for the lack of engine noise. I feel more alert, more connected, and more at ease. And being able to make better use of my hearing seems to heighten other senses. As I roll toward the site of Norton's original HQ, my olfactory nerves are working over time.

Norton set up shop at 320 Bradford Street back in 1898 and began building motorcycles four years later. Pretty soon, the company was racking up wins at the Isle of Man TT, an event that Norton would dominate into the 1950s. But it, too, went south in the '70s. After several decades in limbo, and some hefty UK government investment, Norton now seems to be back, sort of, producing high-priced boutique bikes in low numbers.


But 320 Bradford Street is just a gravel parking lot in a part of town that my nose tells me is home to a number of spice warehouses. Birmingham is one of Britain's most culturally diverse cities, and that means amazing food. Residents are particularly proud of the Indian food found here, and the smells surrounding me help decide what I'll have for dinner.

But first I want to travel to Meriden, the village where Triumph got its start.

Triumph in the Center of England

For centuries, Meriden proclaimed itself as the exact geographical center of England. In 2013, geographers remeasured and gave the title to a field in the middle of nowhere. Now Meriden is just a suburb village near the Birmingham airport.

Triumph set up shop here in the late 1800s. The company followed a similar trajectory of success and failure to BSA and Norton, and for a while even shared the same boneheaded management. Where Triumph excelled, however, was in the US market. Triumph gained a strong enough following that its name weathered decades of poor quality, bad decisions, and financial misery until falling into the hands of businessman John Bloor in 1984. These days Triumph is again a premium brand, arguably on par with BMW.

In the center of Meriden is a small village green, which I decide is a good place to take pictures. As I ride onto the grass, I'm struck by a particular advantage of an electric motorcycle. No noise, you see, means bystanders aren't upset by its presence. An old couple on the green doesn't care that I'm here—they even offer a convivial hello as I ride past.


Can you imagine doing this with an internal-combustion-engine motorcycle? They'd be phoning the police! This thing is awesome.

Back on the road, it gets more awesome when I click the DSR into Sport mode. This is the "Wheeeeeeee!" part, and all 106.2 ft. lbs. of torque are delivered almost instantly. Power delivery is smooth, to such an extent I'm unable to get the bike to wheelie (better riders than me could manage it), but ohmygosh does it accelerate quickly. REALLY quickly.

I find some quiet road and open up, accelerating from 0 to 88 mph in just seconds. The DSR is apparently limited to a 90-mph top speed, but I can't ever crack 88. Something appropriate about that: the Delorean in Back to the Future had to hit 88 mph in order to time travel. I'm on the future of motorcycling.

And when you sit on a bike that accelerates this quickly, this effortlessly, that doesn't feel like hyperbole. This is the future. Heck, this should be now. Why are we wasting our time with noisy, smelly, clunky machines?

Putting the DSR into Sport unleashes the hooligan in me. I'm whooshing ahead of traffic at every light. No, I'm teleporting. I'm like Nightcrawler from X-Men and I'm having a ridiculous amount of fun. This thing is so easy to ride and it's...So. Much. Fun. This is the crystallization of the motorcycling experience: all of the "Wheeeeeeee!" accessed just by twisting the grip.

The DSR has plenty of "whoa" to counter that go. Regenerative braking helps return energy to the battery and will feel natural to a V-twin rider. Single discs front and rear provide more immediate stopping power. ABS is unobtrusive.


Toward the end of my day, having spent several hours on the bike, my keester is alert to the lack of padding in the DSR's seat. Not all-day comfortable, but this isn't a bike you'll be riding all day. So, padding's not really an issue.

Whereas the question of battery range will be an issue for some. Zero claims this DSR model (the ZF13.0) is capable of covering up to 147 miles on a charge. Based on my experience, I would expect less—perhaps 120 miles, which is still pretty good. No, you can't ride the Trans-America Trail on the thing, but you know, that's also true of a Harley-Davidson Forty-Eight. It's ideal for urban and suburban use.

Without the optional Charge Tank, it can take roughly eight hours to get a DSR from empty to full. You do that simply by plugging it into a wall socket, just as you would a TV or any other appliance. With the Charge Tank, time is reduced to a little under three hours.

Belt-driven and lacking gears or any engine bits, the DSR is about as low-maintenance as a motorcycle can possibly be. Zero claims the power pack has a lifetime use of at least 331,000 miles.

In the United States, the DSR starts at just shy of $16,000. That's not exactly easy on the wallet, but federal tax credits can take away some of the sting and reduce the price to $14,395. Whether that's a fair price is up to the individual rider. I wouldn't scoff at someone willing to pay it, but I can't help but observe that one could buy a Suzuki V-Strom 1000 Adventure for $400 less.


They're not really comparable bikes, but the latter is the one I personally own — the one I rode to Birmingham on. The one I've returned to now as I start toward home.

"Wait, something's wrong with my bike," I think as I start it up. "Something not right."

After a second I realize what the "problem" is. The 'Strom has an engine, and it's making noise.

(Originally published on RideApart)

Friday, 11 March 2016

An Iron Butt a day: Meet world traveller Urs ‘Grizzly’ Pedraita


On a tram in Zürich – en route to see native son Urs “Grizzly” Pedraita unveil the modified Victory Cross Country Tour he will use to try to break the world record for traveling around the world – I spot a newspaper on the seat next to mine. I don’t speak German but flip through it and find a story about the Swiss-Moto show, where Grizzly will be greeting the public before heading to Daytona to begin his record attempt.

In the half-page story, I manage to pick out only two names: Grizzly, and burlesque sensation Zoe Scarlett. It’s at this moment I realize Grizzly’s kind of a big deal.

“Normally, I’m that guy who likes to sit at a restaurant and just observe. I prefer being alone,” Grizzly tells me later. “But I don’t mind the attention. I’m going to be spending 100 days alone, so it’s good to meet the public and express my appreciation to sponsors.”

Admittedly, we are on Grizzly’s home turf. Switzerland is a tiny country – you can ride from one end to the other between meals – so, it makes the most of its heroes. If you haven’t heard of Grizzly, he’s planning to ride around the world, hitting every continent on its longest axis, in less than 100 days.

That’s different from simply circumnavigating the globe (which Grizzly has also done – in 16 days) and involves more than 60,000 miles of riding. The current world record holder for this sort of route is British adventurer Nick Sanders, who managed the journey in 120 days and 2 hours.

“I’m aiming for 99 days, 23 hours and 59 seconds,” Grizzly jokes. “But if I do it in 119, I’ll still have the record.”


The Swiss, as you would expect from a country famous for watches, possess a surreal punctuality. If a Swiss says he will meet you at 3 o’clock, he’ll be tapping his watch at 3:01. So, I don’t doubt Grizzly will accomplish his stated goal of 100 days. If that is, indeed, his goal.

In Zürich there is a rumor that Grizzly’s team has codenamed this effort “the Jules Verne project,” and he is, in fact, hoping to do it in 80 days. Feel free to guess how I would manage to pick up that rumor amid a throng of German speakers.

Regardless of whether he makes it around the world in 80 or 100 days, though, his record (assuming he sets it) will be hard to beat.

“How many miles a day do you think you’ll be travelling?” I ask.

“It depends on terrain, but 800 to 2,000,” he says.

“You mean kilometers?” I ask. “800 to 2,000 kilometers?”

“No. Miles.”

“Yikes! That’s, like, an Iron Butt ride every day.”

“Ha. Maybe they will give me a badge.”


Grizzly will leave during Daytona Bike Week. By the time those who bid him farewell are waking up to hangovers the next morning he’ll likely be in Mexico. Then it’s through Central America and all the way down South America. A boat to Antarctica to frighten a few penguins then back the way he came to Santiago, Chile.

A flight to Sydney, Australia, and a circuitous route to Perth before catching another flight to Cape Town, South Africa. Up through the African continent, passing through a number of countries with ongoing armed conflicts or that have been the target of attacks, such as Kenya, Ethiopia, Sudan, Egypt and Libya.

A ferry from Tunisia will get him to Italy before doubling back to Southern Spain. In Europe he’ll swing as far west as Ireland, then push north and east through Scandinavia and thereafter across the vast expanse of Russia.

He’ll skirt China before making it to Singapore and a flight to Anchorage for his final stretch. Running diagonally across Canada to get to Toronto and then, if there’s time, spanning the United States via Route 66 before hustling once again to Daytona.

“The magic word is constance,” he explains. “I will be making use of cruise control, trying to keep as much constance as possible. No, consistency is the word I mean.”

Both words work in my opinion. He will need to be consistently constant, constantly consistent.


“At the start there will be a learning process,” Grizzly says. “Training my body to do this every day, to overcome the physical pain that comes with tiredness. I have to go through a sort of ‘sleepy portal’ and it’s hard. That’s what concerns me most.”

“Not warlords or terrorists?” I ask. “Because, that’s what would concern me most.”

“I’m in denial,” he smiles. “But I will have some help. I’ll always be in contact with people who can let me know what’s up ahead. Members of the French Foreign Legion will be giving me advice in North Africa. I can always change route; I’ll trust my gut. If anything happens, though, I’ll run. I’m not going to pick a fight, but I’m not going to surrender. The bike is faster than anything they’ll have and there are a few extra things on it to help me escape.”

One of these things is a canister full of tire-piercing road tacks, which can be seen by the bike’s left exhaust. I press for details on any other tricks Grizzly may have up his sleeve, but he prefers to keep to them to himself. I don’t imagine there’s anything too exotic, though, because Grizzly will be passing through a lot of countries. And border officials, regardless of nationality, are a famously unforgiving bunch.

Grizzly’s riding career started on a moped at the age of 14. When he was 22, he bought a brand new Yamaha FJ1200 and set out to see the world. He eventually wandered to southeast Asia, where he spent a number of years bouncing between Thailand, Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos.

“That’s where I really learned to ride,” he explains. “I would deliver medical supplies and the like to faraway villages, and often the roads were terrible. If there were any roads. Thailand has hundreds of islands and some have no roads at all.”


Now 52, he’s making a name for himself as a long-distance traveller, uniquely choosing to do so not on a BMW R1200GS or some other bells-and-whistles adventure bike, but the Victory Cross Country platform.

“That chassis just makes sense,” Grizzly explained. “The first time I rode the bike everything felt right.”

Grizzly’s first Cross Country, which he used to circumnavigate the globe in 2014 was pretty much stock. But the Cross Country Tour he is using for this attempt has been heavily modified. Dubbed Daytona1, the only aspects of the bike that have not been changed, according to Grizzly, are the frame and engine.

“I’ve increased the amount of air that gets to the engine,” he says. “But nothing else.”

Elsewhere, however, the list of changes runs long. Some of the ones that stand out are:
  • Increased ground clearance
  • Upward-angled exhaust (which sounds amazing)
  • Larger fuel tank
  • Custom seat
  • Passenger accommodation and luggage removed (which Grizzly says has reduced weight by 110 lbs.)
  • LED fog lights
  • A cockpit littered with GPS, tablet and phone units
  • Multiple cameras 

His personal preparation is a little less complicated: physical exercise, eating right. Grizzly drinks coffee as we speak but says he will cut it out of his diet in the week or so before he sets out.

“I don’t smoke,” Grizzly says. “And when I’m not on a race like this I only have coffee once in awhile. On the bike, the effect of that sort of thing – the up and down of your mood – messes with your mind over long distance. Energy drinks, too. Plus, they can be bad for your body. It’s better to just stop and have a power nap.

“In those final two or three days, when I know I’m so close to the end, and the psychological weight of this thing – two years of planning – is the heaviest, I might have a cup of coffee. We’ll see.”

Grizzly got his nickname in part because his real name, Urs, means “bear,” and grizzlies are apparently some of the more reclusive in the bear world. But he’s not as gruff as the name suggests. Although Grizzly claims to prefer his own company, he possesses an easy, welcoming nature. When people stop to say hello, he offers a two-handed handshake. He laughs easily, with the full of himself, and when he tells a joke he slaps me on the knee. He is instantly likeable.

As we speak, a translator sits with us. This despite the fact Grizzly’s English is strong enough that we are able to communicate directly – strong enough, in fact, that he playfully makes fun of the translator when she incorrectly translates the concept of torque as “high power” – but when I ask about the challenge of staying focused on such a long ride, he drops into his mother tongue.

On this subject he speaks passionately. I can tell that he’s speaking eloquently. I’m enraptured, despite the fact I can only pick out a few words. His translator is also clearly captivated and allows Grizzly to say far more than any translator would ever remember.


“He, uh, he connects with the universe,” she says, offering more a summary than direct translation. “All the animals, the birds, flora and fauna – he connects with everything. He’s there completely in that moment, aware of everything around him but not needing to think about it.”

Grizzly tells a story of riding in Siberia, on a tediously straight road where he has seen no one for hours. Far ahead of him, he spots a Eurasian eagle-owl gliding just a few feet above the ground. An enormous animal with a wingspan of more than 6 feet, it is flying directly at him. Grizzly doesn’t steer away, doesn’t duck. Somehow he is connected with the eagle-owl, knows the creature sees him and will move when it feels inclined to do so. And, at the very last moment, the bird angles up and soars over Grizzly’s head.

I get it. Probably every motorcyclist does. For him, motorcycling is a means of connection. While others find their place through mindfulness courses or Buddhist chanting, Grizzly finds it amid the drone of a 1731cc V-Twin. After all, a motorcycle, despite its mechanical parts, is the most human of things.

And yet, on this trip there will be more than just connection with the universe. He will, of course, be connected to his team – a close-knit crew that behaves like family – who will be helping him keep on top of things like weather and road conditions. But also, thanks to the bike’s extensive satellite and mobile communications gear, he is hoping to stay in touch with, well, everybody.

During the course of our conversation, Grizzly mentions several times the fact that people can track his progress via his website, www.grizzlyraceteam.ch (Incidentally, if you’re like me and are confused as to why the Swiss domain extension is CH rather than, say, SWZ, it’s because the country tends to refer to itself by its latin name “Confoederatio Helvetica”). He encourages me to download a mobile-friendly version of the site, called GrizzlyTracker, that functions as a sort of app, allowing you to see his most recent location, as well as send messages of encouragement.


You can connect, also, via Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. And once the trip gets under way, there will be daily uploads of video taken from the four cameras mounted to the Daytona1 bike. All that sounds a bit cheesy and over the top when I write it. But when Grizzly tells me about it, I get the real sense of a person who wants to be able to take everyone on the journey with him. He wants every person he meets to be able to hop on the back of the bike with him and experience the same feelings of connection and clarity that he has when riding.

His enthusiasm is infectious. At the end of our conversation I tell him I’m half-inclined to just hop on my bike and join him on his trip.

“Sure,” he laughs. “But you’ll have to keep up.”

(Originally published on Motorcycle.com)