Friday 26 March 2010

Are we ready for this?

 personal air conditioner
No, this rider does not have a weird medical condition, nor is he being felt up by a hitch-hiking space alien. And no, this is not the image for a caption contest (although that’s not a bad idea…).
This is the latest in personal environment control from the folks over at EntroSys – the motorcycle air conditioner. Delivering conditioned air (heated or cooled as required) through a special vest, the EntroSys Motorcycle Air Conditioning System promises to make those long rides in extreme conditions that much more comfortable. And a more comfortable rider is a safer rider, so what’s not to like?
Who would like to start?

Thursday 25 March 2010

A rookie mistake

There’s a point at which you become so overconfident in your own abilities that you stop thinking about what you’re doing. And that’s when the trouble begins.
Getting the Honda Ascot ready for the riding season involves a trip to a dealer to have it safety inspected so it can be plated. But first it needed new rubber. The mag wheels are intended to be tubeless, but with a 29-year-old bike that will be mostly ridden by the missus I’d rather be safe and put a tube in. So that’s what I did. New tubes. New tires.
After a major battle to get the old rubber off the wheels I was worried about what it would take to get the new tires mounted. But they went back together easily and so I thought I was home free. And I was, until I filled the rear tire only to hear that dreaded hsssssssssssssss. Crap.
Pull it all apart again and sure enough, I’d pinched the tube with the irons when reinstalling the tire. I haven’t done that in years and years, but because I’d done so many before and everything was going so well with the other wheel, I stopped paying attention and pfft – another trip to the dealer.  A rookie mistake to be sure, but fortunately the only cost was time, a few bucks, and the embarrassment of explaining to the parts guy why I needed another tube.
But there was value there too (this is the silver lining bit). This experience served as a timely reminder at the start of another riding season that while I may have lots of miles under my belt I mustn’t allow myself to be too confident for the first few rides lest I make another, much more costly, rookie mistake out there.

Wednesday 24 March 2010

Norgo or Yamaton?

I’ve always admired the Norton brand – even owned a few in my time – and have long lusted after a 60’s vintage BSA Lightning or Triumph Bonneville. There’s just something about those Brit bikes of that era that appeals to me.  Certainly they don’t hold a candle to even the poorest handling and most maintenance intensive bikes of today, but they have a character that is hard to describe. It’s as if the expression, “if I have to explain it you wouldn’t understand”, was coined specifically in response to the love of Brit bikes of the 50’s and 60’s.
Anyone who followed the British bike scene back then is aware that a popular past time was to marry Triumph engines and Norton frames (Tritons), or Triumph engines with BSA frames (Tribsas), or BSA engines with Norton frames (Norbsa), and so on. These hybrids were so common that after-market engine mounts and other bits were available for the DIY guy to make the job pretty much a weekend’s undertaking. And then of course the tuning would begin so you’d have the baddest Triton parked in front of the Ace Cafe.
But until now I’d not seen a Brit/Metric hybrid.
NorgoThis amazing example of the hybriders (new word) art currently resides in Florida and is listed for sale on ebay. According to the write-up, “The Banquer 920 is a Norton featherbed frame, Norton front end and Norton cosmetics with a Yamaha Virago engine and drive shaft. This combination gives you the best of both worlds because you get the great looks of a classic 50 year old Norton with the reliability, performance, and ease-of-maintenance of the Yamaha engine/drive shaft.” I just think it looks awesome, and I expect, sounds that way too with the 2-into-1 and the upswept reverse megaphone exhaust (very Norton’ish).
All of which is to say I was checking the bank balance when the missus, as perceptive as ever, walked into the office, peered over my shoulder, and said that one magic word that sends all of us back to dreaming.
Maybe I’ll just print an 8 by 10 colour glossy and hang it on the wall instead.

Tuesday 23 March 2010

RIP Bill 117

Some time ago a Member of the Legislative Assembly of Ontario, Helena Jaczek, tabled a private member’s bill, Bill 117, that would have removed a motorcyclist’s right to carry a passenger under the age of 14. To say that the bill was based on dubious statistics would be overly generous. In fact it was based on misleading statistics and factual inaccuracies – of which the bill’s sponsor was fully aware. And both she and the government itself heard about it loud and clear.
(For those unfamiliar with provincial governance, a private member’s bill is a bill tabled in the Legislature by a member of the Legislature, but is not necessarily endorsed by the government of the day. As such, and without the full support of the government, they are rarely enacted into law. However in this case, Bill 117 seemed to have a lot of support across both parties, and actually got to committee, where it was on the agenda for consideration.)
Now here’s the good news. I just had it confirmed today that with the prorogation of the Legislature to start a new session in March, Bill 117 died on the order paper. It’s now history. If Jaczek or anyone else wants to re-introduce the bill or a variant of it, they need to start from scratch – unlikely given the heat members from both parties received over this one.
So kudos to one and all who took the time to make their views heard on this nanny-state initiative. You all helped to ensure that biking families are still welcome in Ontario.
RIP Bill 117If you’re interested in the background, there’s more here, including links to other sites for discussion on this issue:

Monday 22 March 2010

John Deere taking a run at Harley-Davidson?

Recently there have been rumours that John Deere was planning to branch out of farm and home implements and get into the motorcycle business. The latest news is that they have a new trike under development that is expected to hit the market some time in 2010. Company officials refused to comment, but at least one photo has been smuggled out of their test facility.

The picture shows an innovative looking trike, painted in John Deere’s trademark green and yellow, of course. It’s powered by what appears to be an in-line 4 cylinder powerplant driving a pretty beefy rear end. In keeping with J-D’s rural roots, the springer front end has been treated to a custom headlight unit designed to look like a steer’s skull. And the horn is … well, horns. Our inside contact indicates the cow’s bell will only be available as an option.

Rider comforts have not been ignored either, from the footboards to the 16” apes to the fully padded head rest.

Our source tells us the initial release of this new trike will be limited to Saskatchewan and Oklahoma, where it is expected to be very successful.

saskatchewan trike

Sunday 21 March 2010

Have Harley, will golf

As I’m sure most of my readers are aware by now, my two favourite summer pastimes are riding and golf.
Unfortunately I’ve never been able to combine the two for the simple reason that carrying a set of clubs on your bike is not an easy proposition. Until now that is.
gogocaddyGo-Go Caddy have entered the market with a golf club carrier designed for Harley-Davidson motorcycles. According to their web site, “Go-Go Caddy, the easy-on, attractive and rugged golf club carrier, makes use of the same mounts used for a detachable backrest which already exist on the bike.”
Priced at $499, the Go-Go Caddy is available in any colour you want, as long as it’s black.
While it’s an interesting concept I’m still having some difficulty reconciling the image of a tattooed guy in plus-fours tooling down the highway on his loud-pipes-save-lives Fatboy emblazoned with flames and airbrushed skulls while leaving a trail of errant golf balls and tees behind him because he forgot to zip up a  pocket or two. Besides it just looks wrong.

Back to stock

Last July I switched my Dyna to forward controls. I really liked the look of them and the highway riding position was very relaxed. But I never really felt comfortable with that configuration, always feeling like I had given up a lot of control. I even re-installed my original pegs to have an alternate place to put my feet, but with the controls up front that just confused me (and my feet) even more.
Feedback to my earlier posts had been pretty much universal, that I should give them time and I’d end up loving them. So I persevered to the end of the riding season but by then had still not fully adapted to forwards.  For me this had become a classic case of form over function – they looked good, but felt wrong - so I decided to take them off over the winter.
Of course by the time I got around to it there were several feet of snow on the ground and I hadn’t ridden in months. And so the memories of how they felt faded quickly into the background as the ever-present image of how good they look took over. I changed my mind, deciding to give them another go.
Then I went for my first ride of the season on pot- holed roads with loose gravel in the corners and other roadway challenges and I remembered why I didn’t like them. So form be damned, function wins and they’re now off.

Friday 19 March 2010

2010’s first ride

The last of the snow and ice on our road finally succumbed to the week of sunshine and record-breaking temperatures yesterday. So that meant today was… Ride Day!

The weather held at about 45 degrees and partly sunny so there was no question 2010’s inaugural ride was going to take place as long as I could get away from the desk for a couple of hours. Fortunately it was a quiet afternoon so I hung up the “Gone Riding” shingle and off I went.

With lots of snow in the ditches and the fields and trees bare of any hint of green, the landscape was still quite desolate. But the critters were up and about with skunks making their presence felt (smelt?) along with deer, raccoons, and the ubiquitous groundhog. Traffic was light as I explored the countryside, just randomly taking turns down side roads, some of which I’d never been on before. And except for some drama with winter sand that was still spread across the roadway in places (usually in a corner or at an intersection) it was a great ride.

Soon enough two hours and the better part of a tank of gas had gone, so it was time to figure out where I was and head home. A couple more turns and I was back on familiar ground with just a few miles back to the barn.

Now, like the first ride every year, muscles unused for the past 5 months are rebelling, letting me know that having a heavy full-face helmet atop my neck is not normal and that sitting with arms and legs outstretched is really an unusual position to hold for 2 hours.  But that all goes away after the first couple of rides as muscle memory returns and riding skills and confidence improve, allowing for a more relaxed and enjoyable ride next time. Which may not be for a week or so as they are forecasting rain and snow for the next few days.

But that’s okay. I’ve now had my first ride (8 days earlier than last year!) and I can use the time to try and get the other two bikes roadworthy before the riding season begins in earnest.

Life is good.

Monday 15 March 2010

Now that’s a bar stool!

Motorized bar stoolSome months ago I blogged about this guy who was charged with DUI while riding his motorized bar stool home and I made some comments about looking for an old lawnmower base and a well-used stool to make my own just like it.  

Well that just won’t do any more as I have now seen (and sat on) the holy grail of powered bar stools.

One of the places I always head to at any rally is the Boss Hoss compound to check out their latest models. I have no intention of ever purchasing one of these pumped-up motorcycles but I am always interested in things mechanical and I remain intrigued, both by the bikes themselves and the people who ride them. (Last year I met a couple on matching Boss Hoss bikes – his was a two-wheeler and hers was a trike – with identical  custom paint jobs. Other than riding $120,000 worth of hardware, they actually seemed quite normal.)

So one of the requisite stops at Daytona was the Boss Hoss trailer. I wish I’d brought my riding gear because they were offering demo rides and I’d like to see how (if) one of these things actually handles. I can’t imagine that 1700 pounds of motorcycle wrapped around a 450-horsepower V8 would be all that nimble and easy to ride, but here was a chance to find out and I wasn’t equipped. (Note to self: Don’t let that happen again.)

DSCN2741-for webBut I digress. The point is that at the Boss Hoss compound they also had a Hoss Fly. Smaller than your average go-kart, and V8-powered, the Hoss Fly is another of those curiosities that people build (and buy) for strange reasons, but having one in the garage that could be used to get to the local watering hole would be very cool. (Imagine explaining that purchase to the missus!) Sadly I didn’t get to take it for a test spin, but I did get to sit on it for a photo (with permission). I had to hold onto my cigar as there was no ashtray, and that immediately soured the deal. Besides it really wasn’t that comfortable so a seating upgrade would be in order.

Thinking that the Hoss Fly would be the ultimate bar stool racer, I checked out their website only to find the Hoss Fly has a maximum speed of 25 mph. That wouldn’t even get it close to the current 53.557 mph record for bar stool racers posted at Bonneville Salt Flats – and that was a battery-powered machine. Perhaps that’s why internal combustion powered bar stools can’t compete in the barstool class at Bonneville – embarrassment that a 12-volt battery provides more forward momentum than a small-block Chevy.

It really is a vehicle that is totally impractical and that no one needs, but the WTF? factor is unmistakeable, as is the testosterone surge that accompanies the thought of riding one of these things with the speed limiter turned off!

Sunday 14 March 2010

Is 4 wheels really better than 2?

One of the best things about rallies is the variety of customizations on display, combined with the opportunity to talk to the folks who actually produce some of the weird and wonderful examples of motorcycle creativity.
Daytona was no exception with a wide range of stunning customs along with a few that would lead you to question: Why?
This is one such example.
Hannigan Motorsports have been around for a while and are known to make great products, especially in the area of trike conversions. But now they’ve taken it a step further and created a front-end kit which, when combined with their trike conversion turns your Honda GL1800 into a … car.
Goldwing quadThe fit, finish, and workmanship were all fantastic, but I was left with the sense that this was a solution looking for a problem. Why would someone take a $20,000 motorcycle, add a $10,000 rear trike kit, a $6,000 front trike kit, and paint it all to match when they could just as easily buy a nice little Miata convertible for a fraction of the cost?
The car advantages are obvious – no helmets required, a trunk to carry your stuff in, a roof to put up when it rains, cheaper insurance, and usable year-round. The Goldwing Quadracycle advantages? Honestly, none that I can think of other than novelty. Perhaps for some that’s enough, but for me it’s clearly not a motorcycle any more and if I wanted to enjoy the wind in my hair (what’s left of it) on 4 wheels, I’d be looking at something with a steering wheel and trunk.
To each his own, I guess.

Road hazards, interstate style

Well I’m back after a whirlwind 2-week trip to “supposedly” warmer climes. Supposedly? Let me just say this: on at least a couple of days it was warmer back home in Ottawa (which is, according to the calendar, still in winter’s grasp) than it was in Florida. However the weather did cooperate when it was important, like the couple of days we spent at Bike Week. The rest of the time the wind, cold, and rain made me very glad indeed that we were on four wheels and not two. Wimps, I know. But in my defence, trailers heading into Daytona outnumbered bikes by at least 20:1, and the few riders I did talk to at rest areas on the interstate were questioning their own sanity in deciding to ride. It was miserably cold!
It wasn’t only the weather that made me glad I wasn’t on two wheels. I have been driving since I was 13 (a long, long time ago), on three continents, on both sides of the road. I have driven vehicles of every type in all sorts of conditions on all sorts of surfaces. I have driven fast, slow, and mostly in-between. But nothing prepared me for the sheer number of idiots on the highways – I-81 in particular.
Just one example. Coming up through PA we hit heavy, heavy fog for about 30 miles. Visibility was down to 4-5 car lengths and there was lots of traffic, including the ubiquitous 18-wheelers. I’m tucked in behind one truck in the slow lane that was travelling at about 70, hoping that all his flashing lights and mine would offer sufficient warning to anyone coming up behind. While we convoyed through the soup at a speed still too fast for my liking we were passed by a steady stream of cars whose drivers must have thought they were running the Daytona 500. Bumper to bumper at high speed with absolutely no visibility. And usually with no lights. They were driving totally blind, putting themselves and others into incredible danger because if anything happened – anything at all – they were going to drive right into it at 80+.  Fortunately we made it through unscathed and didn’t see any evidence of a massive pile-up, but I question the sanity (and morality) of those morons who cared more to save a few minutes than possibly a life – their own included (although that would just have been another good example of Darwin in action). And there’s no way I would have ridden that on two wheels – a 200-mile detour would be preferable.
And then there were the shredded truck tires. In all my US travels I don’t ever recall seeing the same number of shredded tires on the road. Over 3000 miles on the interstates and I don’t think there was a single one of those miles that didn’t have pieces of truck tire on the road. They would appear suddenly from under the car in front, or be on the shoulder lying in wait for anyone who needed to get off the travelled portion of the highway. Is no one responsible for picking up these road hazards and ensuring US interstates are safe to drive?  Hitting a large chunk of rubber at 70 or 80 miles per hour would be bad enough on four wheels, but on two it could get pretty ugly real fast. Just one more thing to be on the lookout for that we shouldn’t have to worry about.
Now lest you think the trip was entirely negative, it wasn’t. We had a great time (although short) at Bike Week in Daytona (more on that later), thoroughly enjoyed Charleston, SC (a beautiful city with incredible history), took a 3-day cruise to Nassau (which has an H-D dealership right at the cruise terminal), got in a round of golf in Tampa, and even had good experiences crossing the border – on both sides. So net it all out and it was a great trip and an excellent get-away for a few days. Now it’s back to the real world.