Monday 29 June 2009

Norton Commando 961 SE

007I have long had a weakness for the Norton marque. There was always something about the design of their bikes that caught and held my eye longer than any other. Perhaps it was that big 750 cc powerplant, sitting out there fully exposed for all to see and admire. Or perhaps it was the classic lines, the long, stretched out feeling of the bike. Or maybe it was just that  they were arguably the best handling motorcycles of their time. Whatever their allure it resulted in several Nortons occupying space in my garage over the years until the most recent, Black Beauty, and I parted company a few years ago (blogged about here).
And as any motorcyclist can tell you, the bike they regret selling the most was the last one. It was also their favourite, gaining in stature as every additional year goes by until, several years later, that bike’s qualities have reached mythic proportions. All of which are understated, of course, when it comes to Nortons.
Anyway I was slowly getting over this thing I have for the brand, and then …..
Norton Motorcycles announces the new Commando 961 SE. (The SE stands for Special Edition which in my mind is redundant in this case. I mean, just look at it.)
commando 961SE
Specs include:
  • 961 cc parallel twin
  • 10.1:1 compression ratio
  • 80 PS @ 6500 RPM (approx. 80 HP)
  • 90 Nm torque @ 5200 RPM (approx. 72 ft-lbs)
  • electronic fuel injection
  • carbon fibre wheels, front and rear fenders
  • Ohlins reservoir style rear shocks
  • Brembo front and rear brakes, and hydraulic clutch
All in a 400 pound package.
I tell you, the only thing saving me from doing something REALLY stupid is the $26,500 (US) price tag.

Thursday 25 June 2009

This one’s for Baron

It seems every time someone posts a picture of some incredibly ugly,overly complex, or just plain weird motorcycle or variant, Baron has a dissenting opinion. Amid a chorus of comments that include “ugly”, “bizarre”, “WTF?” , “Is this for real?”, or “Why would anyone do that?”, you can always find Baron’s “Well it looks kind of neat to me.”, or “Beauty is in the eye of the beholder.”
Well Baron, we’re starting to develop a picture here, and I’m not sure… well, I won’t go there.
Anyway, here’s the most incredibly ugly motorcycle I could find. Do your worst best.
(By the way, this particular bike weighs 400 pounds, produces a whopping 1.6 horsepower, and has a top speed of 20 mph.)
ugly motorcycle

Wednesday 24 June 2009

Roadside help

You know you’re in trouble when your leg gets all hot and wet and the oil light comes on. Doubly so when you’re in the middle of nowhere (well not really nowhere, just close to nowhere – northern Michigan), on a country road picked because it leads more or less eastward, and cell phones haven’t yet been invented. Of course I didn’t know that last bit at the time otherwise I would have invented them myself and be living in the lap of luxury today instructing one of my peeps to write this for me. But I digress.
The 550 Honda had done yeoman’s service over the past few weeks, carrying the two of us and enough gear to ensure basic survival across Canada to Victoria, B.C. and (almost) back home. With more than 10,000 miles behind us we were tired and the bike was tired, but being only two days from home we, like the proverbial horse, could already “smell the barn”. Perhaps that’s why I was pushing a bit harder than the old girl could stand with all the weight she was carrying on her back. So she finally said, “Enough!” and blew out the oil filter gasket and all her oil miles from the nearest town.
As we sat at the side of the road having a smoke (it was still socially acceptable then) and trying to figure out what to do next the first car we’d seen in over half an hour pulls up. My first thought was that I had accidentally clicked my heels together and Toto and I were suddenly in Kansas – er, Texas. The white Cadillac convertible had Texas plates and a set of steer horns embellishing the hood. The driver was a huge man, suitably attired in a Stetson and (I assume) the requisite cowboy boots, smoking a  cigar the size of an Oscar-Meyer wiener.
As he was coming from the direction we were headed, he pulled up on the other side of the road and called across.  “How y’all doing?” His voice matched the rest of the package – big and booming.
“Not so good. Blew an oil seal.”
“Y’all need some tools?” Now the offer was nice, but I didn’t think he’d be carrying too many metric wrenches in his trunk. Besides, I had tools. I even had a spare O-ring.
“No thanks. I have the tools and the parts I need, but I have no oil.”
“Well jump in. There was a station a ways back. We’ll go get y’all some oil.” He  pronounced it “erl”.
Liz Honda 2Now that was the best offer I’d had in a while, so I shouted “Thanks”, and he executed a 6-point turn to come over to our side of the road. Miz Liz decided to stay with the bike and all our gear, so I got in, being very careful to not get oil all over the white interior, and we headed back down the highway.
It turned out that “a ways back” was about 30 miles – 30 very comfortable miles. After days on a hard saddle, floating down the highway at 90, sitting on soft white leather, and smoking a good cigar (he was a very generous man) was a little bit of heaven on earth. Almost time-warpish. (“And with a jump to the left…”)
Soon enough we were back at the bike with fresh oil (and an extra quart as a spare). He stuck around while I made the repairs and topped up the oil, “just to make sure everything is okay”. An offer to pay for his time and gas was dismissed out of hand as totally unnecessary, and then with a wave and a hearty “Good luck” he was on his way.
I only hope that if he ever needed help someone was there for him. He deserved it.

Friday 19 June 2009

Road hazards of the natural variety

deer jump A couple of days ago I blogged about a rider near Lanark who hit a bear on the road. Well that prompted one reader to send this link along, which I just had to share.
As the story goes, this encounter occurred on the Needles Highway near Sturgis during the 2007 rally.

To HOG or not to HOG?

I’m sitting here with my annual Harley Owners Group renewal papers in front of me, trying to decide whether to spring the $60 for another year’s membership.

hog logoI’m not much of a joiner and I’m not big on the group ride thing, so the camaraderie part of HOG membership is not a huge selling point for me. And frankly I don’t ever anticipate riding into a strange city and tracking down a HOG meeting like an alcoholic looking for AA. Call me antisocial, but that’s not in my genes.

Sure there are other benefits such as the roadside assistance (which duplicates what I already have with CAA) and preferred rates for motorcycle shipping, but in reality the only value I’d get out of renewing is a few issues of a thinly disguised Harley marketing magazine and the odd pin when I do happen to attend a signature event (which ends up in a box in a drawer with all the other assorted pins and badges collected over decades of riding).

Then I got thinking about what HOG would have to do so rejoining was a no-brainer. In my opinion, the biggest benefit an organization like HOG can  bring to its members is to be an advocate for motorcyclists with politicians and business leaders who all, at various times, take advantage of bikers because we are a small community who rarely speak with a common voice.

Places to start.
Motorcycle insurance is a largely unregulated business and consequently rates are often excessive, arbitrarily applied, and wildly inconsistent between companies. Having an organization like HOG use the power of its numbers to sort through the chaff and identify the true motorcycle-friendly insurance companies out there, and perhaps negotiate group rates, would have me back in the fold, pronto.
Legislators of all political stripes, and at all levels, seem to spend an inordinate amount of time coming up with creative ways to unfairly and unreasonably target the motorcycling community. Bill 117 here in Ontario that would prevent a parent from offering a ride to their under-14 son or daughter is but one example of many. An organization representing thousands of voices (and voters) has better access to the corridors of power than any single rider.
A very few jurisdictions take motorcycle awareness seriously. If HOG and others were more active in encouraging states and provinces to use (for example) electronic highway signage to increase motorcycle awareness among the driving public, or even to advise motorcyclists themselves of highway conditions that may be extra dangerous to two-wheelers, our safety would be improved significantly.
Certainly there’s a place for rallies and social clubs, but in my opinion we, the riding public, would be better served if our organizations spent more time tackling issues that are limiting access to our sport and our safety on the roads.

So let’s see now… how much bling can I get for that $60 I just saved?

Wednesday 17 June 2009

Will ride for ice cream

Between work, family obligations and lousy weather this spring, the opportunities to just go for a ride have been almost non-existent. And since riding to work would involve putt-putting down the hallway from the kitchen to the office (having done it once, the practice is now frowned upon by the spousal unit), the bike has been pretty much sitting in the garage, all polished up, with nowhere to go for weeks it seems.
Well yesterday the stars and the moon all aligned. It was a beautiful day. My work was all caught up. The chores were more or less complete. And I had a couple of free hours before dinner. Just enough time for an ice cream.
Pakenham is a small community on the shores of the Mississippi River here in Eastern Ontario. (Yup, we have one too.) Population is probably in the 3-digit range, with a few shops, a bank, a couple of Pakenham bridgerestaurants, a furniture and butchery (go left for sofas, right for steaks), and a great ice cream stand. Oh yeah, and a “world famous” 5-span stone bridge dating back 100 years or so. Very picturesque.
It’s also 30 kilometres away which makes it the perfect destination for a nice, short, just-to-get-away ride.
So it was that I found myself heading down the Waba Road, going way too fast, in anticipation of that Pralines ‘N Cream cone. And nothing happened! The road was clear, there was no traffic, and I and the bike felt like one. Perfection!
Stopped at Scoops for my ice cream (mmmm, delicious), picked up a couple of packages of extra hot pepperettes at the butchery (furniture store), gassed up and headed home. The long way. With a big fat-assed grin spread across my face.
That’s what it’s all about. 

Tuesday 16 June 2009

Just one more thing to worry about

While city and interstate riding certainly have their challenges, riding in the country can be no less exciting.
Out here we not only have to contend with farm equipment on the road, local lads who feel that stop signs offer but the merest hint of a suggestion to slow down, and city folk gawking at “the scenery”, but the critters as well.
Dead skunks, even when given a wide berth, will fill your full-face with their olfactory presence for several minutes. Hitting a live skunk extends the pleasure for weeks. Turtles the size of a small boulder will suddenly appear from between the wheels of the car in front of you. And deer seem to have a genetically programmed death wish to cross the road in front of every passing vehicle. (I can imagine them bragging about it later. “Hey did you see that? I left fur on his bumper. Bet you couldn’t come that close.” “Bet I could. Watch this!”)
Now the bears are on the move in search of new homes and food.
Black bear on roadSaturday, on one of my favourite riding roads a rider hit a bear with predictable results – rider injured (fortunately not too seriously), bike damaged, bear injured and most likely dead.
This particular road is favoured by local riders because of its (as the story says) “scenic curves”. It’s also lightly travelled so the chances of getting stuck behind Ma and Pa Kettle for 10 kilometres at 20 kilometres per hour are slim. For both reasons, riders tend to push a little harder than usual and assume the road will be clear around that next blind bend. I know I certainly have, and probably will again, but this story just serves to remind us that when riding anything can, and will, happen.  And always when least expected.

Tuesday 9 June 2009

Blogger Friends Award

awardblogI admit it, I have been remiss in my duties as a responsible blogger. In my defence I do have an explanation – summer. But it’s pouring rain outside right now, the bike is all polished and ready to go when the sun comes out, the garden is planted, and bass season doesn’t open here for another week yet. So I’m all out of good excuses.
A week or so ago I was honoured to be awarded a Blogger Friends award by not one but two fellow bloggers – Baron and Danny. Thanks guys, it’s appreciated.
Now the deal here is that the recipient of this award is expected to find 8 other “friendly bloggers” to whom they pass on the award. That’s an omission I will now correct by sharing my good fortune with others.
But first of all, the rules (there’s always rules).
“Each recipient of the award is expected to pass it on to 8 other bloggers (including the “rules”) selected according to the following criteria:
1. These blogs are exceedingly charming.
2. These kind bloggers aim to find and be friends.
3. They are not interested in self-aggrandizement.
Our hope is that when the ribbons of these prizes are cut, even more friendships are propagated. Deliver this award to eight bloggers who must choose eight more and include this cleverly-written text into the body of their award."
Following the rules, I culled my list of favourite blogs down to 8. And if I have re-awarded someone, too bad. It just means more than one fellow blogger really likes your work and it’s more free promotion. (Actually I did try to not re-award, but if I missed one or two – sorry.)
So here’s my list. These folks all have great blogs. If you haven’t visited them before, pop in for a look and let them know you stopped by.
Better Motorcycling
Allen Madding's Musings
Mr. Motorcycle
Ms. M's Place
The Many Thoughts of Harley Girl
Dr. Wrench
The Harley-Davidson "Mystique"
Arizona Harley Dude

Golf on two wheels. Life is good.

It isn’t often that I get to talk about my two favourite summer pastimes in one blog – riding on two wheels and golfing. It’s now happened twice this year, so I am indeed blessed.
So the brother is down in Scottsdale at a conference and sends me a link to this resort and golf course – The Westin Kierland Resort and Spa – that uses Segways as golf carts! How cool is that? If it wasn’t for the fact  that a round of golf costs more than a room at the resort (~$200 during peak season), and it’s 2,000 miles from here, it would be worth it just to zip around on one of those scooters for a few hours.
kierland golf 2It turns out Segway actually has a model, the X2-Golf, designed for just such a purpose. With a maximum speed of 12.5 mph and a range of 14 miles, I figure I’d have the battery well and truly drained by the time I was done. (The manufacturer claims 14 miles is enough to complete 36 holes of golf, but they haven’t seen me in action playing my version of army golf – left, right, left, right, aw shit, right, left….)
imageUnfortunately the colours are pretty boring. It seems to come in one only – shades of grey – with a single jaunty red stripe across the back. However that could be fixed with a few flames here and there, whitewalls, and perhaps a skull or two. Now if there was only a Segway equivalent to J&P Cycles we’d be able to add on all kinds of chrome doodads and bling letting everyone know the rider is truly someone to be reckoned with on the course.
Yup. I could see having one of these in the garage.

Friday 5 June 2009

From the “Why would you want to?” file

Do you want to own a piece of television history? If so, and you have a cool $29,500 US burning a hole in your jeans, you could have your very own Batcycle stashed in your garage secret cave.
Whether fighting crime or just impressing the neighbourhood kids, this 1966 Yamaha Catalina 250 will turn heads wherever you go, especially if you’re wearing a nifty cape and mask. And your sidekick will surely attract attention when he/she powers up the sidecar go-cart and chases down that ne’er do well who just stole Mr. Murphy’s newspaper. Powered by a 50cc engine, the sidecar could probably keep up with just about any pre-teen on foot.
The ad further claims “The plexiglass windshield and futuristic fiberglass body were specially constructed for the bike”, which explains why you haven’t seen a lot of these on the road. Either that or you live in a crime-free zone, never needing the “plethora of Batman gadgets” or, presumably, Batman himself to save you from dastardly deeds done by The Joker (the other Joker) or Mumbles.
This unit is REALLY, REALLY RARE. Time to assess just how friendly your banker is… yeah.