Wednesday 26 November 2008

I thought I was over it.

Back in the 70’s, when I was still riding Japanese iron, there were 2 Harleys that would never fail to make my heart do a quick little two-step. One was totally impractical (and not generally available), and the other was way outside my fiscal capacity at the time. But that’s no reason for a young man to stop lusting, right?

So right up there along with a ’70 Hemi ‘Cuda on the dream shelf (no one has ever accused me of having cheap dreams) were the XLCR 1000 and the XR 750, two of the most beautiful machines ever to come out of Milwaukee in my opinion. Especially the XR 750 which to me was the epitome of function over stripped down form. Beautiful, spartan lines, with a honkin’ great hunk of iron for a heart. It was just mean and I loved the looks of every last inch of it.

Years pass, life gets in the way and dreams fade. I’ve long since given up on the Hemi ‘Cuda – no car is worth 6 figures – and my ‘74 Commando beat the cafe racer urge out of me, or more precisely, convinced my aging body that it was time to stop playing Kenny Roberts. And the XR 750 got relegated to the far recesses of memory as just another “it woulda been nice, but...”

Then this happens! The rumour mill is rife with word of the imminent release of an American version of the XR 1200 that has been available in Europe for some time now. At least one dealer is already taking pre-orders in advance of any official announcement from H-D, which is expected to come on December 5.

And so the dream is rekindled.....

Monday 24 November 2008

Motorcycling families not welcome in Ontario

This past summer, I met a family of 4 riding a Kawasaki Vulcan (I think it was) with a sweet little sidecar rig in which their two children (aged about 3 and 5) sat side by side while mom rode pillion. The kids were helmeted, belted into individual seats, and the sidecar had a cover to protect them from rain, wind, road dirt, etc. They had a radio and lots of colouring books and other diversions to keep them occupied when not watching the scenery go by. It was safe, comfortable, fun, and possibly soon illegal in Ontario.

The Government of Ontario has a Private Member’s Bill, Bill 117, in process that would prohibit any licensed motorcycle operator from carrying anyone under the age of 14 years as a passenger. If enacted, taking your son or daughter for a ride before s/he reaches the magical age of 14 will get you charged. Going for a family outing with the wee ones in a sidecar will get you charged. Teaching your kids responsible motorcycling will get you charged.

There has been surprisingly little attention paid to this in the mainstream media, but the Toronto Star did give it some good coverage
here. The e-zine Motorcycle Mojo also carried the story and a number of bloggers have taken up the fight with online petitions and entreaties to contact the Provincial Government to condemn this bill.

This all came about because a total of 199 children (up to age 15) were injured in motorcycle “accidents” over the course of a 10-year period ending in 2005. There is no breakdown of the nature of injuries, so they could include anything – a burned leg from a hot exhaust pipe, scrapes from falling off dad’s bike in the garage, riding the family dirt bike off the dock at the cottage. In fact, there have been NO statistics reported that show any significant incidence of young passengers, riding with their parents, being injured while on a motorcycle. In short, THIS IS NOT A PROBLEM!

Lest non-Ontario readers suspect that the province is currently the wild west of motorcycling where anything goes, there are already laws in place that require the wearing of a suitable, properly fitted helmet, as well as some reasonable restrictions such as all passengers must have foot rests and be able to reach them.

However, politicians, like nature, abhor a vacuum and
this politician discovered that, gasp!, there was no law in place to restrict carrying passengers under the age of 14. “The legislation is silent on the topic of motorcycle passengers," she said. So rather than worrying about the economy, or Ontario’s auto industry going down the tubes, or the fact that Ontario is one of the heaviest users of highly-polluting coal-fired power plants in North America, or world peace, she decided to jump right in there and correct this terrible, terrible oversight.

My letters to
Dalton McGuinty, Helena Jaczek and my local member of parliament have already gone. Add yours to the list.

Friday 14 November 2008

The customizing bug hits...

People buy motorcycles for a wide variety of reasons. For some, a motorcycle is simply inexpensive transportation – cheap to buy and operate, easy to park, and if it’s a bit of fun too, then that’s a bonus. You can thank this crowd for the recent increase in scooter sales. For others, their motorcycle is a means to get out and enjoy the ride. Function trumps form for these riders – their bikes are generally purpose-built to meet their individual riding styles and preferences whether that is off-road, back-road, or twisty road. Then there is the third group, the group of riders for whom a motorcycle is simply a blank canvas upon which one makes one’s personal mark. Of course they ride their bikes – a lot – but when the buying decision is made the anticipation of what it could become often eclipses the reality of what it currently is.

While there are always exceptions, this latter group can most often be found looking at, modifying, or riding Harley-Davidsons. And whether it was customer demand or H-D marketing that caused the customizing craze to explode – the classic chicken and egg scenario – there’s no doubt that the mother ship has fully embraced the concept, publishing a 600-plus page dream book of “genuine Harley-Davidson” accessories that will allow you to customize your bike to your heart’s content, or until the money runs out, which usually comes first. Then there’s J&P Cycles’ Catalog – 1100+ pages of geegaws, doodads, and whatsits, all designed to give your ride that personal touch. And there are hundreds more suppliers out there, all jockeying for your customising dollars, all sending catalogues to any H-D mailing list they can get their hands on.

For someone who comes from the Brit bike world where accessorising involved deciding whether to go flat bars or clip-ons, or if feeling really adventurous, adding an oil cooler and an electronic ignition module, this is all somewhat overwhelming. Especially when flat bars or clip-ons was a major decision, mulled over for days (I went with flat.) So now I have this – except for a back rest, rack and windshield – stock ’07 Low Rider and an urge to do something with it. I don’t know why, I guess it just goes with the territory.

Now I know the money will run out long before the ideas do, so prioritizing is essential. A rational plan would have rideability and comfort at the top of the list, performance somewhere in the middle, and “coolness” down at the bottom. But rationality has nothing to do with it, so the coolness factor keeps creeping up the list, forcing decisions between options such as buying a Tallboy™ seat to make the ride more comfortable or installing chrome switch box covers. Forward controls or custom paint (I think the factory Metallic Gold was created just for the Low Rider!). Saddle bags or ... Well, you get the idea.

Of course, the downside of all of this is that with so many choices, the easiest decision is to do nothing thus saving yourself the agony of making a choice and not an inconsiderable amount of cash in the process. But that doesn’t satisfy the human desire for change, so you leave yourself open to the temptation to simply trade up to something newer and/or bigger and certainly much more expensive.

So on second thought, perhaps I’ll go with the seat -and- custom paint. Or maybe, saddlebags -and- forward controls. I wouldn’t mind replacing the hand grips.....

Monday 10 November 2008

C120 Renaissance Fighter

My first thought when I saw this latest model from the Confederate Motor Company was, why?

It may be great art, but my butt hurts just looking at the C120 Renaissance Fighter. The forward controls position coupled with the low handlebars means you'll be riding bent over double, whacking your elbows on your knees at every turn. There isn't even a rear fender to hang a plate on although the company claims it's street legal.

My second thought was, because...
- because there are only 45 being made.
- because there are still people out there who can afford the list price of $110,000. - because Neiman Marcus has an exclusive for their Christmas catalogue.
- because they can!

Saturday 8 November 2008

Two foot-itis

Two foot-itis is a well known but little understood malady that affects boaters of every stripe. The symptoms of anyone suffering from two foot-itis include the view that no matter what boat they have right now, one that’s two feet longer would be infinitely better. Or in bovine terms, the grass is always greener....

While I don’t know what the motorcycle equivalent is, I’m sure there must be one as the sickness also affects us. Virtually every rider I have ever met will profess great love and respect for their current ride, but that passion is always tempered by a desire for something bigger, newer, older, chromier, louder, quieter, red, black, or faster. In fact if we had our way and limitless funds we’d be changing bikes as often as we change our socks, or better yet we’d simply do a “Leno” and collect one or more of everything our little hearts’ desired – a custom one, a jet-propelled one, a V-8 powered one, a three-wheeled yellow one.....

But there, protecting us from our own baser instincts, are the spousal unit, the banker (often one and the same), the kids and the mortgage, so we dream away hoping for that lottery win or pay raise that would enable us to indulge our little fantasies. And what makes it all bearable is the sure knowledge that every other rider of our acquaintance is in the same boat – or at least we thought they were.

Which brings me to the point of this story. The brother, a proud (and I thought happy) owner of a 2000 Road King, just announced he’s traded up to a brand new ’08 model.

This is a very strange occurrence because I haven’t heard of any relatives dying recently, and even if they did, none of them have any money to leave behind. Or perhaps the lottery finally paid out, although I haven’t seen his picture in the paper recently holding a big check. I also know for a fact that his wife has not been on an extended vacation in Basutoland so this must have been done with some prior knowledge and acceptance but, like all good Presbyterians, her arms are just slightly shorter than the depths of her pockets so this was not likely a birthday present (besides his birthday is in April).

Perhaps it was the old mid-life crisis line – “Well dear, the way I see it I can either get a new bike or a mistress. What do you think?” Naw, probably not. Didn't work for me either.

Regardless, however he managed such a stunning coup I can only look on in envy and say, “Well done. When can I take it for a ride?”

Friday 7 November 2008

What a difference a week makes!

This photo was taken from the car when driving home from Washington D.C. last Wednesday. This in spite of weather forecasts that were predicting temperatures in the mid-teens Celcius (high 50's Fahrenheit). At the time I was sure I had seen the last of any decent riding conditions and would be putting the Lowrider (she really needs a proper name) away for the season.

But then the weather changed, as it is wont to do on occasion, and turned absolutely beautiful - Indian Summer may have been late this year, but when it came it was glorious.

So today, under a clear blue sky and with the mercury hovering around 20 degrees C, I got in a rare November ride. The leaves are all off the trees and the sun is getting low in the sky, but the lads (and lassies) were out at the golf course en masse (I doubt the parking lot has been this full all summer), straggler flocks of geese were heading south, and blaze orange was the fashion of the day as it's the middle of the deer hunt right now. And I wasn't alone. Hooked up for a few miles with another rider on a late model Indian (don't know the marque that well, so no idea what model it was), and then got blown off the road by a couple of young fellers on sports bikes trying for a speed record along our narrow country lanes. Good for them. If I was still riding my Commando we might have had some fun.

But now I have a problem. The original excuse for the ride was to top up the gas tank for winter storage, but it was such a nice day I didn't come straight home but instead wandered around the countryside for a bit. Result - I now have only a 1/4 tank of gas, exactly what I had when I started out. I wonder if this weather will hold another day?