Thursday, December 25, 2014

Christmas Day Ride

It's not often I get out a road bike on Christmas Day but today it happened. The forecast for sub-freezing temperatures never materialized and the sun was out all day. I rode the SV650 to the bank a couple of days ago and figured that might be it for the year 2014.

I learned something about the planet we ride on today. I have always assumed that the latest sunrise and earliest sunset of the year occurred at the Winter Solstice -- the shortest day of the year. Not so. Because of the Earth's elliptical orbit around the sun, this year's earliest sunset occurred on December 10 and the latest sunrise will be on December 31st.

As often happens these days, we celebrated Christmas early as kids, grand-kids and brothers could massage their calendars for a trip to Wenatchee. This left us with a quiet, relaxing day to ourselves on the 25th. I started the day by smoking and cooking a couple of pounds of bacon on the Traeger grill. Bacon is always a good way to start out the day. Christmas deserves a special breakfast even if it's just us two at home. For me, that means waffles, fried eggs and bacon. I took Vicki's plate in to her for breakfast in bed while I ate mine out on the deck in the morning sun. It felt good to be out in the sun without a coat but the metal chair was cold.

We opened our gifts and put gadgets together. I felt a bit tired after all that breakfast wrangling so I did a little sunbathing on the guest bed with the low-angle rays streaming in. Sleep soon overcame me and I took a rare late-morning nap. It's Christmas! I can do what I want.

After a spell in the hot tub I was ready to do something. I think a day like this calls for a bike ride. Don't you? The thermometer read 47 degrees so I put on my ski bibs, Polar Tex gloves and neck warmer. The Tiger 800 was soon warmed up and down the canyon we rode.

The bike's ambient-air thermometer read 50° as we glided down Crawford Street and over the bridge to the east side. At this point the sun-drenched road up Badger Mountain was looking inviting. The closer I got the more I thought I might just ride on up over the crest. When I reached the plateau the temp was down to 35 so I wheeled around and headed back down. I rode through Fancher Heights where it was reading 45° and then on down over the new Eastmont bridge and across to Olds Station. Even at highway speed, having the sun saturate my clothes makes a noticeable difference.

Still feeling good and warm, I rode up Birch Mt. Road and over Rolling Hills to Crestview. A lot of new houses have gone up in that area. I hit Lower Sunnyslope Road and rode over Chatham Hill and then southward across Wenatchee to home in the canyon. Remarkably, my hands were never tempted to switch on the heated grips.

It was not a long ride but on Christmas Day in the brilliant sunshine it felt like real luxury.

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Laguna Seca

Laguna Seca Raceway  --  Monterey, California

I have been to Laguna Seca Raceway many times to take in the spectacle of world-championship motorcycle racing. The first trip was in 1994 when my friend, Dave, and I flew down to watch the Grand Prix of the United States. These were 500c.c. and 250c.c. two-strokes during the era of “black art” engine tuning. The 250s were ridden by the up-and-comers like Max Biaggi and Loris Capirossi. I brought home a large poster of Max doing a wheelie in his black Aprilia and still have it hanging on my office wall. The 3-time 500c.c. World Champion, Wayne Rainey had been permanently injured the year before and Kevin Schwantz had taken his place as Number One. I was hoping to see Schwantz race but he had been injured earlier and retired as the reigning champion. This marked the beginning of Mick Doohan’s 5-year dominance.

While I was rooting for American, John Kocinski, riding a Cagiva, it was Luca Cadalora who won the race. I will never forget the first time I stood alongside the track between turns 4 and 5 and experienced the speed and ear-splitting, raucous cacophony of the 500s under full throttle. My body reacted as if it was under attack and my heart rhythm seemed to be upset. I loved it!

Laguna's Famous Corkscrew

Grand Prix racing in America was halted with that 1994 race. In the succeeding years it was World Superbike and AMA Superbike that came to Laguna Seca.  As I was riding a Ducati at the time, I was following keenly the production-based race series. Champions like Doug Polin, Scott Russell, Carl Fogarty, Troy Corser and Troy Bayliss all came to Laguna and I was there several times to watch them.

We often spent Saturday night on Cannery Row and strolled up and down the street that was packed end-to-end with interesting bikes. One night, Dan Gurney was there with one of his Alligator recumbent motorcycles. Another time, I met the curator of the Monterey Aquarium who had a Ducati 907 like mine. He had us come back on Monday morning and gave us a free back-room tour of the aquarium and then let us out front to see the public exhibits.

My favorite Laguna year would have to be 2005. The 2-strokes had been replaced by 1090c.c. 4-strokes in 2002. These bikes were torque monsters not much more manageable than the high-strung 2-strokes. Most were 4-cylinder motors but Aprilia had tried a triple and Honda was using 5 cylinders. I had read about the wild sound of these completely unmuffled monsters and was dying to hear them for myself. When Laguna was put on the calendar for 2005 I planned my trip.

We had just bought a new Mazda 3 and made a road trip of it, stopping at my wife’s class reunion in Ely Nevada. My son, Heath, who was in the Army and stationed in Virginia, flew out and we picked him up at the San Jose airport. As usual, we got a motel in Salinas for the weekend. The motels there are much cheaper than in Monterey.

Valentino Rossi

 Italian racer, Valentino Rossi, had won the 4 previous championships and was well on his way to a 5th.  American riders, Nicky Hayden and Collin Edwards were doing well and really gave us someone to root for.

Nicky Hayden

Arriving at the track, I stood at the same fence where I had watched the 500s blast past 11 years earlier. I was not disappointed by the incredible sound made by the 1090s. Extremely loud and fast! I love it. They did not sound at all like production 4-strokes. They sounded like angry bumble bees about to go super-sonic.
This was before the economy took a dive and Laguna was a huge event with endless vender tents and lots of extra entertainment. Jeff Arron was there to demonstrate his Trials-riding skills and stunt riders were showing off on the front straight. Supercross jumpers were hanging off the rear fenders 30 feet in the air. Ducati Island was full of gorgeous bikes, new and old.  An F-16 even did a fly-by. I thought it just couldn’t get any better but it did.

We had met Nicky Hayden at Laguna when he was just a kid moving up to AMA Superbike. I had also rubbed shoulders with Collin Edwards and seen him race many times. The man they had to beat was Valentino, who seemed nearly invincible and was worshipped as a kind of motorsports god around the world. Listening to the PA announcer during practice and qualifying, we were getting good news about Nicky’s fast times. He was putting his local experience to good use, but could he stand the pressure of the aggressive Italian in the heat of battle?

Watching Rossi chase Hayden and Edwards, unsuccessfully, to the finish line was just the greatest sports moment for me since Phil and Steve Mahre won Gold and Silver in the 1984 Olympics. In fact, it was so much better because this was my favorite sport and I was there to see it. Nicky came back around to the grandstand and called for his dad, Earl, to climb on the back of the bike with him as he took his victory lap, holding the American flag. The crowd went wild. I have since met Earl and his wife. What a great American racing family. This win gave Nicky a real confidence boost and he went on to become world champion the following year.

 Earl and Nicky Celebrate

Other than that one trip by car, I had always flown down for the races. In 2009 I had a Concours 1000 and a Ducati Multistrada in the garage and decided I’d rather pack a couple thousand miles on the old Connie with a bike trip to Laguna. I mounted up with my friends, Steve and Doug and headed for Weed, CA for the night, and then on to Salinas the second night. We had another great weekend at the races. My cousin Darrell had ridden down separately from Spokane and joined us at the track.

By then, Rossi had stiff competition in the persons of two Spaniards, Dani Pedrosa and Jorge Lorenzo, in the contest for the championship. These three were so dominant they had been called The Three Aliens, as if super-human beings from another planet. The races were again marvelous and Pedrosa took home the trophy. Nicky Hayden managed a 4th-place finish.

 Ducati Island

We decided to take the scenic route home, taking Highway 1 north of the Bay Area, through Fort Bragg and joining Highway 101 at Leggett. This is where I began to regret bringing the Connie instead of the Ducati. I didn’t know which was more spectacular, the seacoast scenery or the luscious curves of the road. The last stretch of Highway 1 running from the coast inland to Leggett was simply the best motorcycle road I had ever ridden. I’ve been hankering to get back there ever since.

We continued up the Oregon coast and met Heath riding down from Corvallis to meet us and lead us back to his home there. I was impressed with the road from Waldport heading inland, and a little-used country lane twisting through dense forest to Alpine, Oregon. Heath let me ride his Aprilia Tuono there. Wow!

The final day of the trip, Steve took us through the Gifford Pinchot National Forrest on FR 25 to Randle. This was another road I knew I had to get back to on a sportier bike.

Riding a motorcycle to a motorcycle race is always going to be the preferred method of travel. No mater how you get to Laguna for world-championship racing it is going to be great fun, but I knew I was bound to get back there again on two wheels. Doug and I have been thinking about a return trip pretty much nonstop since 2009. 2014 was the year to make it happen. To be continued…

Monday, March 3, 2014

To Beak, or Not to Beak?

Adventure bikes: What are they? They are very popular, for one thing. I ride one myself. Many a magazine article is being written testing them, describing them, and attempting to define the category. The manufacturers must think we need a little help in recognizing one when we see it. The so-called "beak”, hanging elevated over the front wheel of a road-going motorcycle having some off-road aspirations (real or pretended) has become fairly ubiquitous in what we call the Adventure category.  I have always associated them with the BMW GS models but we now find them on many Adventure bikes, including Suzuki’s latest version of the V-Strom 1000 -- a model obviously intended to stay on the tarmac 99% of the time.

The question naturally arises: Why a beak? Does it perform any function? I have long marveled at these appendages which add weight and complexity (albeit small) to a motorcycle but appear to have no useful purpose.

When originally employed on the BMW 1100GS “oil head” model, the beak was said to be useful in directing fresh air through the oil cooler mounted under the headlight.

 But since then they seem to have become little more than a styling cue to identify a model as being adventurous.

What I did not know until reading a recent magazine article is that the beak first appeared on a Suzuki back in 1987, that being the DR BIG 750. These monster singles were popular in Europe and later enlarged to 779cc in the DR 800.
Notice the wheel-hugging front fender. Unlike the DR650, the BIG was obviously not serious about navigating thick mud. So, why the long face?

For the origins we need to go back to see where Suzuki’s inspiration came from. That being their own factory racers built to contest the Paris – Dakar rally. These custom race bikes have typically had fairings not found on production models. They punch a big hole in the air because of their huge fuel tanks and tall rack of navigation equipment. We can see an effort to streamline the front of these race bikes using a clear lens over the headlights and blending it with the windscreen. The DR BIG appears to pay homage to the racer with a non-functional beak.

The Suzuki DR-Z racers

BMW’s 1000GS “airhead” of the time could be had with either a high-mounted dirtbike fender or the wheel-hugging, road-oriented fender -- but no beak.

It was the 1994 1100GS that gave us the enormous proboscis.
Notice the smaller front wheel - better for street use.

Here, a Dakar racer from 2004 has a high fender but no beak.We do see a visual resemblance, however. 

The beak may be used on Adventure bikes to suggest a high dirtbike fender while the real fender does the dirty work for street duty where most of these bikes actually spend their time.

Honda CB500X -- The mini-beak offers a whiff of adventure

Amazingly, there are adventure bikes that get along somehow without a beak -- like the original adventure bike that started it all. A high fender wanted no beak.

 This GS owner thought his 1100 might look better without the duck bill.

 KTM has never felt the need for the attachment. Here is their latest -- and quite a handsome bike to my eye.
KTM 1190 Adventure

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Whitey "Hacksaw" Hartman

                           Host of the Apr├Ęs-Ride Watermelon Bust - the illustrious Mr. Hartman

 Great Uncle to my kids, Whitey is a most exceptional individual and my cherished friend. He is more than 80 years old now and still riding motorcycles.

Whitey "Hacksaw" Hartman:
"I've won over one hundred trophies but I've never been a racer. I never thought I had to beat the other guy. If I see a guy wants to overtake me, I say 'go ahead, live it up.' Either you are better than me or you think you are. If you're better than me you deserve to be out front. If you think you are, I'll pass your wreckage along the way."

 Whitey thought it would be fun to enter the cross-country motorcycle race at Orfino, Idaho at the age of 80 — and do it riding the very Sachs Hercules he won that race on 50 years earlier. He didn't win this time around but if you look carefully at the above photo you see that the octogenarian is, in very fact, passing someone's wreckage. Needless to say, the man is my hero.

                                                 Visitor parking at Whitey's house.

 No, he is not listening to Snoop Dogg, Pink Floyd, Glen Miller or Vivaldi on his ever-present headphones. His hearing is all but gone so he uses a pocket amplifier and mic to pick up voice transmissions.

                                                     The lovely Suzie agrees to be interviewed
Whitey: "Do you trust me to lead this group ride down into the extremely treacherous Grand Ronde River Valley, on the gravel-strewn road they call The Rattlesnake."
Suzie: "Ah. Well. Ah."

This is classic. After successfully leading a bunch of power-mad muscle-bikers down the treacherous switchbacks, guess who gets stopped for speeding on the only safe stretch of road. Your man in blue is there to save us from ourselves should we dip into unsafe velocities above 35-mph. Hooligan Hartman gets a vigorous talkin-to. He could almost hear what the flapping lips were saying after donning the headphones. Give me a break, buddy! And how about that nice family in the mini-van I saw caught in your money-grubbing snare on our way back home.

Hacksaw at speed. Astride his beloved Yamaha 225, he's going so fast I couldn't keep him in the frame. Truthfully, he is more interested in grace on two wheels than speed or power.
"Most of my life I have always ridden the lightest bike I could get by with, rather than the fastest."
"I choose itty-bitty bikes but choose really twisty twisties to enjoy them on."
"Rather than compare myself to others, as one would while racing, I concerned myself only with enjoying riding near the peak of my own talents, just for the fun of it."

 As a young man, he once rode a Yamaguchi 55 (forefather of the Hodaka) from Cheyenne, Wyoming to Sacramento, CA.

 He claims to have owned over 250 motorcycles and I can't imagine how any of them escaped modification. I have personally seen him completely change the ergonomics and steering geometry of a motorcycle in less time than it would take me to repair a couple of flat tires.
Another time, we were changing wheel sizes on a bike and needed longer spokes to fit the new 21" rim. Whitey walks over to a group of drawers containing spokes of various lengths. He sized them up visually, grabbed a handful and said: "These ought to be about right." They were exactly the right length.

                           A Yamaguchi 55 is transformed into a tiddler trials bike named Li'l Ballerina

                            Grand Nephew, Heath, goes for a backyard putt and "cleans the section."

  I think of him as a bit of a mechanical genius as well as a tireless improver of his little corner of the world. Nearly everything he comes in contact with that could possibly be considered a machine gets the Whitey Touch — improved for his personal use. Even the keys in his pocket are modified for less bulk. A chair is his machine for sitting. A shoe is his machine for walking — it gets modified.  His workshop is full of innovative tools he has reworked or made from scratch.

                          A wheel truing jig, made from fork tubes, triple trees and a few adapted parts

                                                      A shop chair gets Whitey-ized.

                                            Why not apply the same magic to the kitchen chairs

                                          Even the toilet gets appropriate modification.

I wonder if Whitey might have worked as an elf in Santa's workshop?

            Upper left is a copy of a German Unimog truck that Whitey whipped up in sheet metal.
                                             The crawler tractors run on moving chains.

                    Let's see. Today, I think I'll fabricate an entire orchestra out of sheet metal and wire.
                                                         I'll call it the Ill Harmonic.
Too bad you can't see all the fun details (like the conductor's wild hair) in this photo.

                                              Note To Self on Whitey's bulletin board

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Tiger Luggage Options

Those who rode with me on overnight trips this summer may remember that I was using some smallish, black soft-luggage that I have used for years on various bikes. These were made of pack-cloth nylon and were not waterproof. They came with slip-on rain covers that always made me nervous as they flapped in the wind. While riding in a heavy downpour near Coeur d'Alene this summer, one of the covers finally blew off on the freeway and was gone. I needed a better luggage solution.

I have a bulky, armored coat for cool-weather riding and a mesh jacket for hot weather. We often encounter both on these summer trips where morning rides over a mountain pass can see temps down close to freezing while afternoon temps on the same day could reach 90. In the past I would often leave my heavy coat at home for mid-summer rides and layer-up with my heated jacket-liner and PVC rain gear if things got really cold. I often wished I could take both jackets but had no way to carry the big one in my minimalist luggage while wearing the small one. I needed a better solution.

Last Spring, while I was considering the possible purchase of the Triumph Tiger 800, I investigated the available luggage options for that model. A problem with most of these Adventure-type motorcycles is the protrusion of the high-mounted muffler into the space we would like to use for saddlebags. I could either buy hard bags mounted wide enough to clear the muffler or buy a more expensive set with a reduced-capacity, right-side bag formed to clear the muffler. The wide-mount solution is so absurdly wide that I find it unacceptable on a skinny little bike like the Tiger. The total assemblage ends up being wider than any full-dress touring bike. The expensive bags, on the other hand, are still pretty wide, as well as grinding against my sense of economy. There must be another solution.

On our group rides I have noticed how handy a tail-mounted hard-case can be as we make a quick stop along the road. They are waterproof, hold their shape, and make it so easy to access a map, water bottle and snack, or a change of gloves. You could put a bag of fragile potato chips in there without fear of them being reduced to crumbs. I swear one of my friends had half a mini-mart in snack foods in his. Unlike some of my riding buddies, I like to pack pretty light. This is especially true when I have chosen a motorcycle for its lightness and sprightly handling. The problem I saw with the tail case is that its high, rear-mounted placement is the worst place to carry much weight on a motorcycle. Being so far from the rotational axis of a cornering bike, this is the opposite of mass-centralization and not conducive to nimble handling. I decided I could only give in to the convenience of a tail case if it was small and light.

I discovered that Coocase (sold by Twisted Throttle) makes a small, 28-liter tail case that appears to be equal to the popular Givi products and is considerably less expensive. It is very light and I will try to avoid placing heavy items in it when I am going to be chasing corners. It snaps on and off the rear rack in a flash. It doesn't look very racy but I like having it. I've even used it occasionally to haul tools and parts on my electrical service calls.

 To carry my cold-weather coat while wearing the mesh jacket, I bought a waterproof, roll-top duffel bag, of the type used on canoe trips and such. It's big enough to hold the big coat plus a few more articles of clothing that I don't expect to need until I get to the motel. It sits on the seat behind me, tied down with those groovy ROK straps every motorcyclist should own. I won't always need more capacity but when I do I can use a small, end-load waterproof bag strapped to the left side of the bike. This seems to compliment the muffler residing on the right side. I also have my trusty map-top magnetic tank bag, good for holding rain gear, gloves, camera, etc.

 Of course these bags are not lockable but they come inside with me overnight and can be secured with cable locks in the unusual paranoid circumstance. The Coocase and waterproof bags together cost less that $200, which gently massages my sense of frugality every time I think about it. The whole package is very light and compact, leaving my skinny little Tiger skinny still, and carving corners like a scalpel.

Friday, June 8, 2012

Lightning Strikes and a New Bike Apprears

Buying used vehicles makes a lot of sense when you’re living on a budget, but every now and then a factory-new machine appears to have your name on it.  This kind of enticement only comes up about every 10 or 15 years for me. It has always been a new model that hasn’t been around long enough to accumulate on the used market. Something about it promises a significant leap forward in styling, utility or performance. Given my passion for bikes it is surprising that I have only been sucked into the motorcycle dealership showroom with my pocketbook three times now in a 46-year riding career.  

                                                                  Honda S90

My first new bike came only one year into that career after starting out on a Honda S90. Many hours had been spent absorbing every visual and factual detail found in my Bultaco literature collection. The pent-up desire for the 250 Matador was enough to make my teeth ache. Used ones could be found but they were pretty beat up. A new one made sense even on the tight budget of a 17-year-old kid.  It was the perfect bike for me at the time and money well spent.

                                                                 Bultaco Matador

                                                               BMW R60/2

Fast-forward a whole 24 years before I felt flush enough to consider the luxury of a brand-new motorcycle.  By now I am 42 years old and realizing that my youth was slipping away. After riding my BMW R-60/2 for 19 years, the “standard” street motorcycle had given way to more specialized models like cruisers, touring rigs and sport bikes. Wanting to sample a performance motorcycle before my body dictated otherwise I was drawn to blood-red Ducatis with their pounding V-twin motors and torque-rich power curves.  I rode out of the dealership on a new 1992 Ducati 907ie. Designed by the legendary Massimo Tamburini, it spoke to me in ways that nothing on the used market did and I have never regretted the choice.

                                                              Ducati 907ie

Twenty more years and many used bikes came went before lightning struck again.  This time it wasn’t passion but safety that provided the impetus. I have learned the hard way that unexpected obstacles jump out at you occasionally if you ride a lot. If they appear while you are leaned over even slightly in a curve you can’t afford to lock-up either wheel even momentarily.  Modulating braking pressure isn’t so hard when you have half a second to think about it. But in a panic situation hitting the brakes is so instinctive and modern brakes so powerful that, given a limited reaction time measured in hundredths of a second, things can go wrong before you have time to think. The pavement is hard and your day is ruined.  BMW pioneered the development of ant-lock brakes on motorcycles in the ‘80’s and they have become fairly common on the latest models from most every manufacturer. After last month’s run-in with a dog I decided that I would only buy bikes that had ABS.  It won’t cover every situation but it is one less hazard and in my experience is worth insuring against. One spill saved will more than pay for the extra expense.

I’ve had multiple bikes in recent years, each one especially good for a certain kind of ride. Current favorites in my garage include the Suzuki SV650 and Ducati Multistrada 1000.  The SV is used primarily for short rides around town and up local canyons but proved its worth last year on a 900-mile ride over some of Washington’s twistiest roads. I love the SV for its small size, light weight, eager, quick-revving motor and ease of use. It may be small but the grin factor is huge.

                                                               Suzuki SV650

The Multistrada was designed to handle the often bumpy, pot-holed mountain roads of northern Italy. We have a few roads like that around here and they tend to be my favorites. McNeil Canyon near Chelan, before it was “improved”, comes to mind. The Ducati’s long-travel suspension soaks up bumps without drama and the massive low-end torque launches the bike out of corners like a cannon. Because of its size and rangy, upright ergonomics it is supremely comfortable on an all-day ride. But the Multi is lumpy at low RPMs, too tall for my short legs and drastic overkill around town. As much as I have loved both of these bikes they do not have ABS and will have to go.

                                                               Multistrada 1000

Reducing my stable of street-bikes down to one or two makes a certain amount of practical sense.  They take up space in my garage and require annual renewal of license tabs and insurance policies. During winter months they call for the constant shuffling of battery chargers. It has been heart-warming to look over a menagerie of two-wheeled fun machines but lately I am in the mood to simplify. The quest to find one bike that would cover most of my pavement-riding bases began in earnest about a month ago. This kind of pursuit is always fun. Although my first choice for a new bike might have been the new Multistrada 1200 with ABS, it is simply too expensive. I would rather not get that kind of money tied up in one bike, especially one that would serve as a daily driver and errand runner.

Suzuki has been selling another 650 with the same motor as found in my trusty SV. The smaller version of the original V-Strom 1000 has developed a cult following among those who value function over panache. Affectionately known as the Wee Strom, the 650 V-Strom has earned accolades that approach the unbelievable for a budget-priced bike. Consider these words from the Sept. 2006 issue of Cycle World: “…the V-Strom is absolutely unreal in that regard (cornering). It lays into a corner so easily and holds its line so effortlessly that surely the laws of physics have been suspended and counter-steering is no longer needed. Not the case, of course, but there is some kind of magic going on here.” I have never heard such praise lavished on a production motorcycle.

                                                                     Suzuki V-Strom 650

I sought out a ride on the Wee Strom and came away very impressed.  The steering is delightfully light and effortless.  The SV’s peppy V-twin motor is there and the whole bike is the epitome of practicality.  To make this bike even more appealing, the new 2012 edition is improved in several significant ways, including standard ABS. Not only that, but Suzuki was offering them at zero down, zero percent interest. They were practically giving them away and it seemed a shoe-in as my next bike.  So why didn’t I get one?

Practicality has its place but is of limited value in my world of hot-blooded motorcycle passion.  Perusing the 2012 Motorcycle buyer’s Guide I noticed a bike I had ridden a year earlier – the Triumph Sprint GT with ABS.  It came in dark blue – a most enticing color.  I was looking at the Sprint with a new eye when my friend Doug suggested a trip to the Triumph/Honda dealership in Issaquah. He had been swooning over the Honda VFR1200 and hankering for a test ride. We noticed the Triumph Tiger 800, a new model last year, also came with ABS.  Re-absorbing everything written about the 800, it also came to the fore as a bike in bad need of sampling.

Adventure touring is the latest craze in motorcycling and bikes offering some pretense of off-road ability are selling well both here and in Europe. Never mind that most buyers never venture off the pavement, they do offer comfortable ergonomics and real-world performance on imperfect roads. These are the very characteristics that drew me to the Multistrada.

The Tiger 800 is available in two versions; one has a 19” front wheel and the XC comes with a 21” front and wire spoke wheels. The XC is the one to choose if you have real off-road aspirations, which I don’t. No way am I going to spend big bucks on a shiny new bike and thrash it in the boonies; I have a KTM dirt bike for that. The standard 800 (sometimes called the “roadie”) will handle a dirt road at cautious speeds – all the adventure I anticipate.

                                                               Triumph Tiger 800XC

Frank, at I-90 Motorsports in Issaquah, is an amiable salesman and not stingy with the test rides, allowing Doug and I to take out three bikes one day last May. The Triumph Street Triple is a very fun little naked bike in the same vein as my beloved SV but has no ABS. The Honda VFR1200 offers a frightening amount of forward thrust in an otherwise ultra-refined package. It made me feel drunk with power but this is not really the direction I need to go as I am trying to slow down and protect my aging bones. It is also too heavy to serve as my daily runabout.

The Tiger 800 was such a pleasing ride that we each rode it twice.  It has the same magical lightness-of-being as the Wee Strom but with more power, better suspension and a more aggressive look. It was also a Triumph – a legendary British brand that I had never owned. Although most of the bike is black, the gas tank and front fender come in a choice of three colors: black, white and something approaching metallic snot. White should be good. So, will it be the uber practicality of the new V-Strom or the more sophisticated, two-wheeled British Spitfire?  I don’t make these decisions impulsively and it took a few weeks to collate all the data and impressions floating around in my brain.

I only have a few miles on my new Triumph Tiger 800 ABS but the impressions so far are very positive. The state-of-the-art in motorcycling continues forward with every decade and the Tiger is certainly the recipient of that progress. Compared to the bikes of yesteryear it feels more like a gazelle than a tiger. It feels smaller and lighter that my Multi, with a more youthful athleticism. Like mixing in a little SV with the Ducati, it is a delicious blend of my two favorite bikes.

I will know more about the comfort after my first full day in the saddle but it feels good so far. I’ve already ordered a new MadStad windshield system for it. The clutch pull is lighter and mounting up easier than on my tall-horse Multi. The Tiger’s three, much smaller, pistons run smoothly at all RPMs and pulling away from a stop is shudder-free. Although I will miss the booming thunder of the big twin’s exhaust, I think the easy smoothness and broad spread of power of this triple will grow on me. Sometimes it just makes perfect sense to purchase a brand-new vehicle.

                                                            Tiger finds a new home