Sunday, July 13, 2008

Duke vs. Shiver

Yesterday I found myself wandering aimlessly around the metro area west of the Cascades. Quite by accident I just happen to pass by bike shops in both Lynnwood and Seattle. Blinded by the intense sun and parched to near delirium, I mistook the parking lot of Lynnwood Motoplex for highway 99 and lurched to a stop just before ramming the curb. Lost and confused I walked inside and blurted out: "Could I take the KTM 690 Duke out for a test ride?" Well, I had to say something. O.K. Test riding motorcycles is one of favorite things to do. It was just a knee-jerk reaction.

Dagnab it if that little black & white Duke didn't catch my eye at last winter's bike show. The original Duke has always been on my hot list but this new one really looks cool. Highway 99 and the adjacent residential streets aren't the best place to put a hooligan bike through its paces but a short loop around the neighborhood and a buzz through an empty school parking lot gave me a feel for what the Duke might be like to live with, if not really discovering it's ultimate capabilities. I'm sure they are dangerously fantastic. The Duke ride is not altogether different from what I get on my DR650, at least ergonomically. The seat is wider/better and it has a more substantial, flex-free chassis and vastly better suspenders. The Duke feels expensive and is, at about $9000. KTM is proud of the power output of this little single and it plainly has more beans than my piped and jetted DR. In fact, in darting around at speeds below 60, I thought that its power fell somewhere in the middle between the DR and my Multistrada 1000. Being a single, this sensation would surely change if I had more open spaces to explore the upper range of it's speed where the bigger bike should walk off and leave it. But the Duke is not made to spend much time at high speed. It seeks the tight corner where it can be tossed to and fro, zipping in and out like a pesky gnat. It would be sacrilege to own a Duke and not develop some skill for wheelies and stopees. Maybe I'm getting too old for such antics but I know I could have fun on a Duke even if I didn't manage to leave a trail of black scallop marks on the road. The little Duke sounds throaty and good if you have any affinity for singles, and the Robo-bike styling would attract attention wherever it goes. But then, there are some types of attention I don't need. This thing could get me into trouble.

How I ended up on Aurora Avenue I'm not sure but I managed to swoop into the Aprilia / Moto Guzzi dealer for directions. Not sure of how else to help, they sent me out on a Aprilia Shiver to get my bearings. This bike looks fantastic as an Italian bike truly should. The 90-degree V-twin could sound like a Ducati but instead has a different tone; more staccato and not at all subdued for a stock exhaust. The first thing I noticed was the clutch engagement very close to the hand grip. The next thing was... Whooa! This thing wants to jump out of the gate. You want immediate action? Just crack the throttle and the crankshaft is making the leap to torque mode like it's already happened. I've never experienced such instantaneous throttle response. As the bike's speed builds, the Shiver provides a nice linear surge of power like you would expect from a modern 4-valve 750 twin. Nothing spectacular like the initial pop, but good and peppy. Like all bikes these days, the fueling is lean and could probably be made smoother in on/off throttle transitions with some remapping, but the experience is definitely sporty good fun with not much to complain about. When I returned, the salesman reminded me that this bike has "fly-by-wire" throttle and comes with 3 switch settings - sport, touring, and rain. I had only sampled sport. Momma mia! Bring it on. This bike can pop small power wheelies easier than the Duke and that is saying something.

In comparing the two bikes, I noticed they are about the same price. Hmm. The Shiver is a real motorcycle and would be a lot more versatile than the Duke, but then I sure wouldn't buy a Duke for versatility. It's a sharp and pointy fun-stick. Not that I wouldn't want to use it for short commutes and errand-running, but no ride to town on a Duke could be mundane. Yank those handlebars and poke that corner in the eye! Still, the Shiver is tempting. It is everything my cherished old Suzuki SV was and a whole lot more. Not insignificantly, it sounds much better than the Duke. The Shiver's fatal flaw for me might be that it is too much like the Multistrada that I plan to keep. A gorgeous and rambunctious Italian but with less torque, comfort and wind protection than the Multi. Fortunately, I'm not in a hurry to choose my next bike cuz it won't be easy.

Friday, April 18, 2008

DR Hop Up

I am generally happy with the power characteristics of my bikes, but the Suzuki DR 650 is so mildly tuned and docile that I began to think it might be worth the expense to liven up the motor a bit. The big DR is much heavier than the smaller DRs and is somewhat hampered in the dirt by this weight. Mounting semi-knobby tires helps but it remains more impressive on pavement than in the dirt. While it has gobs of torque for off-road use, you can never have too much power on the street.

I ordered an FMF slip-on muffler from Jessie, the DR guru at His web site shows pictures of how to open up the air box for better breathing on the intake side. I simplified the procedure by using a hole saw to make a couple of large round holes in the box. I then rode down to Mike Kirkpatrick's Pro Tec Dyno to get the carburetion dialed in. This was my first experience with a motorcycle dyno and it is pretty impressive. Since all bikes come from the factory with lean jetting these days, opening up the breathing at both ends only makes things much worse and the carb must be re-jetted for maximum power and longevity of the motor.

What I didn't realize about modern dyno machines is that they have a sniffer that goes down the exhaust pipe to read the actual fuel-air ratio all the way up through the RPM range. The initial dyno run revealed lean burn that was off the chart. Mike's been tuning bikes as a hobby for decades and has such a feel for it that he picked the correct jet the first time on my bike. He says he got lucky but he obviously knows what he's doing. A couple of other tweaks to the carb and it was back on the dyno to check the result. Both he and I knew right away that this run was much different. Now the docile DR was really making power and spinning the dyno drum at a ferocious clip. The printout revealed a 7 HP increase and a truck-load of additional torque - especially in the mid RPM range - and my fuel-air mixture was now right where it should be.

I found it hard to explore all this new power in the city, as opening the throttle half way quickly puts the speed into the bad-ticket zone. Once on some twisty country roads it was plain that the old DR was now a bit of a beast. Whacking open the throttle makes a lot more noise with the aftermarket can, but there is also some serious muscle to go with it. It feels like it wants to tear the knobs off the tires. At first I was tempted to say that the 650 now felt like an 800 but that is not quite right. Before, it was a 650 with a pillow jammed into both ends. Now it feels like a hot 650 - at least by comparison. It really feels like a 650 version of my KTM 450 - still torquey and tractable but much more athletic than the dumbed-down stocker. I would say that an increase in power in the same bike pays out dividends in fun by a factor of two. A 20% increase in power yields a 40% increase in fun - and fun is what it's all about. I now have what amounts to a new bike for only a few hundred dollars. Money well spent.

There is another reason I went for the aftermarket pipe - weight, or lack thereof. My bike lost 7.8 pounds. I had my doubts that I would really notice the weight reduction while riding but I do. While roosting up the dirt road that links Cashmere's sewage treatment plant with Monitor's orchards, I felt the bike was handling better. It's not just the weight but where the weight is located on the bike that can make a difference. Sport bike designers are all aflutter over mass centralization these days. On the DR, those extra pounds were hanging high and to the rear - far from the center of mass - like an eight pound pan handle. When the bike wanted to twitch to the left, that old muffler wasn't done swinging to the right. The loss of weight can only benefit acceleration, deceleration and every other kind of motion. Money even better spent.

Friday, April 11, 2008

Ducati People Unite

When I bought my first Ducati in 1992, I was unaware of any other Ducatis in the Wenatchee area. Eventually my brother bought a 900ss and it was my belief that we had the only two in town. Then a yellow 748 appeared on the scene but before I could meet the owner I heard of a terrible accident. Over the years I have seen more Ducs running around, mostly Monsters. It has been my hope that we might find a way to get together as a group just to share the Ducati experience. Last Fall I posted a notice on Craig's List -- Wenatchee having its own section for motorcycle want ads. I got three responses right off the bat. I tried again this Spring and got several more. I now have a list of a dozen or so, most of them in the Wenatchee area.

Last weekend, I was able to get four of us together for our first group ride. We had a red 999, a yellow 748, a 620 Monster Dark, and my beloved red Multistrada. The day was cool but brilliantly sunny. We met in front of the old K Mart store and headed up the Cashmere valley. We took as many back roads as possible, starting with Chatam Hill, Lower Sunnyslope, and Sleepy Hollow roads. I love how my bike wants to leap into the air over the big hoops on Sleepy Hollow. After crossing the old wooden bridge west of Monitor, we were on the highway long enough to bypass Cashmere. Taking the third bridge to connect with the old Sunset Highway, we noticed our Monster rider was not with us. The other two riders turned back to find him while I waited briefly. I mistakenly thought I saw them head back into Cashmere and went to find them. After searching the likely places and missing them parked under the bridge, I decide to head to our next stop at the Timberline Motel in Peshastin. The owners have turned the little old wooden gas station into a motorcycle repair shop and Lizi counts a shiny red 900ss among her many bikes. The other riders were already there, as Seth was getting make-shift repair done to his bike's shift lever.

Unable to persuade Lizi to break away from work and join us on the ride, we headed up the Peshastin North Road toward Chumstick Valley. All these back roads are pure joy on a motorcycle. For the most part, the pavement was clean and dry. The Chumstick gets progressively better the further up you go until you switch back up over Beaver Hill. The far side of the hill is blessed with the most luscious set of tight curves. They are always a blast, whether running up or down the hill, but the lighter and more nimble the bike, the better. Stopping briefly in Plain to catch our breath, we headed out on the Chewawa Loop Road. This road snakes through the forest, undulating up and down. The pavement is not smooth and the vestiges of winter were evident in the debris and trickles of cold water running over the road in places. Not a fast road but a pleasure just the same.

Finding ourselves on the Lake Wenatchee highway, it was time to open the throttle for a fast run back to Highway 2. Seeing the road open up, the 4-valve bikes pulled the trigger and blasted past me like I was standing still. The open cans on the 999 sounded like a Howitzer in my left ear. It all ended too soon at Coles Corner but we were hungry and swung into the '59er Diner for some hot food and a little flirting with "Flo." (They're all named Flo there)

So, the Ducati contingent has met and rode and lived to tell about it. The weather is finally starting to warm and we hope to make this ride the first of many. It would be fun to get 6 or 8 Italian Stallions running together.

Wednesday, March 5, 2008

Definition of Spring

I've never liked the official definition of the "first day of spring." I'm always anxious for it to come as early as possible so I can get outside and do things, such as ride, ride, ride. That really depends on the weather, not the calendar. To solve this problem I have developed my own definition, which is: The first five consecutive days after February 15th when the temperature does not drop below freezing. This year, that day came on Feb. 24. The 24th was the first of the five days. With this method you can't know when Spring actually begins until the end of the five day period, but you can look back with fondness and remember what you did during those first glorious days of Spring.

Monday, March 3, 2008

Gloves for Cold Digits

I haven't had a proper pair of cold-weather motorcycle gloves -- instead relying on my ski gloves for seriously cold or wet days. They worked pretty well but had no abrasion protection and no gauntlet cuff. The mailman delivered my new Tourmaster Polar Tex gloves today, along with a pair of silk glove liners. Shipping on the Polar Tex would have been $7 but by adding the glove liners for $9.50 my order qualified for free shipping. My now $2.50 liners are so thin they fit inside of any of my other gloves. They feel great and are reputed to add noticeable warmth. If my dag nab work schedule will allow, I hope to try them out soon -- before the weather turns balmy. The top of Badger Mountain would be a good test.

Monday, February 11, 2008

Hibernation Comes to an End

A fifty degree day in February really brings things to life. All bikes that can run have now been ridden and their tanks filled with fresh gas. They are alive again and I am happy to be back in the slipstream. Today you could have seen the little Yamaha TTR 90 (normally dedicated to the pleasure of visiting grandkids) ripping around the field with a big gray-haired oaf burdening it's meager power plant. Actually it climbs the hill pretty well with a 220 pound load. The TTR has the "magic button" but needed a little help from the kick start lever and a lot of throttle blipping to to wake up. Vicki's Savage needed a jump from a car battery to rouse it's lumbering single cylinder. Even with frequent charges from the battery tender, winter is hard on these small bike batteries. I can relate. It's hard on riders too.

Friday, February 1, 2008

Ride 2 on 2/1

Living to see February roll around on the calendar is definitely a milestone worth celebrating as we survive a long, and unusually cold Northwest winter. Day dawns with a cloudless cerulean sky. What to do today? Drag wife down to a new gym for an exploratory workout. Check. Make sausage and eggs. Check. Take care of some profitable business. Check. Do a few runs on the ski hill. Check. Soak in the hot tub and then roll in the snow before climbing back in the hot tub. Check. Take the KTM and the DR650 out for a short ride each. Check. It's cold but it feels good to get the throttle back in my hand. Filled the DR with a fresh tank of gas. I could have ridden road bikes but there is still some slush on the road in shady places. Don't dare ride something heavy with slick tires. I wonder what the groundhog will bring us tomorrow? I'm getting an itchy clutch finger.

Monday, January 14, 2008

1098 vs. 848

After reading several test reports on the new Ducati 848, such as this one

I may have to revise my "wish list" just a little. The biggest, most powerful bike is not necessarily the most fun. Unless you are actually racing to the finish line, speed is only one means to the true end, which is fun. If two bikes provide an equal amount of fun and one is slower than the other, it only makes sense to choose the one with the better risk/reward ratio. In the case of the 1098 vs. the 848, the smaller bike may not really be any slower on a twisty road, but it does sound more fun. In this case, part of the risk is in the hard earned dollars one must shell out to make the purchase. More fun on a bike that is $3000 less expensive sounds like a better risk/reward ratio to me. Add the 848 to my wish list.

Wednesday, January 2, 2008

Ted's Tips for the Street Rider

Riding on the street is a calculated risk, which is what makes it so engaging and so much better than sitting on the couch. It's not like a video game or a carnival ride. Learning to ride well on the street is more like learning to fly an airplane. It might offer a type of relaxation at times but we should never loose sight of the fact that it is serious business. It demands our highest physical skills and situational awareness. The following are a few of my personal tips for happy survival in the asphalt jungle.

Keep your eyes moving and scan the scene ahead. Like a fighter pilot in enemy skies, there are possible threats that must be anticipated and planned for before they materialize. Deer, dogs, rocks in the road, almost anything could unexpectedly present itself and you will have almost no time to react. Cars and trucks represent the greatest danger whether oncoming, merging, or entering from a cross street. The road you will be riding in the next few seconds is your battlefield. Identify every possible threat and be prepared.

Position yourself in your lane to allow the greatest possible time to react should something turn against you. When oncoming cars approach, I like to ride to the right. When passing a cross street with a waiting car ready to enter or cross my street, I move away from the car. When entering a blind curve, move to outside of the curve where you can see further down the road.

Overtaking slower cars on a bike is part of the fun, but watch out! If there is a crossroad or driveway on the left, your slowpoke may be planning a left turn. Wait until after you pass by that possibility. The more maddeningly slow your roadblock is, the greater the possibility that he is planning to do something – but what? Ask yourself why he is going so slowly. Be ready for anything, including a U-turn.

Keep a finger or two draped over the front brake lever. The smallest fraction of a second in reaction time could save your life. Your front brake is much more effective than the rear as weight is transferred to the front tire.

My personal advice about the rear brake may be controversial but I am a believer. Unless you are on a heavy cruiser or touring bike, the rear brake can get you into a lot of trouble and is seldom much good in a hard emergency stop. The rear tire may even lift off the ground. I never use mine except on slippery surfaces where I very cautiously modulate both brakes. The danger is that in an emergency stop your foot will automatically press hard on the pedal, locking and sliding the tire. Unless you are traveling in a perfectly straight line, the rear will step out to the side. Then, if you react by releasing the brake, it will suddenly snap back. This can result in what is known as a “high side” crash where you are flung through the air. Ouch!

If you get into a corner too hot, don’t give up on your bike. Wait for it to give up on you. Chopping the throttle or braking in a corner will upset the balance of the bike and reduce ground clearance. Modern tire technology will probably allow you to successfully make that corner. Even if it doesn’t, you are much better off falling down to the “low side” and grinding metal to the outside of the turn. The other two deadly alternatives are, giving up and riding right off the road at speed, or lock-snapping the rear and flying though the air.

Leaning way over in a turn is great fun but don’t max yourself out on any curve unless you have just ridden it and know that turn well. This is what track days are for. Go in slower than you think you need to and open the throttle once you have the turn made. Roaring out of a turn is more fun that braking into a turn anyway.

Practice counter-steering. Yes, on a motorcycle we steer left to turn right. You can flick the bike left and right with great effect when you consciously apply aggressive counter-steering. When you need to dodge an obstacle in the road quickly, you don’t want to be waiting around for your bike and body to get into a lean. Practice tightening up your line mid-corner, as if you suddenly realized you are in a decreasing radius turn. Counter-steering forces are necessary to maintain a tight line once leaned over. Practice.

Read Twist of the Wrist - 2 by Keith Code. His explanation of our natural “survival reactions” and how they can work against us is the kind of information that can save your life.

Wish List - 2008

Now that the 2008 models have been introduced and I have had the opportunity to sit on many of them at the Cycle World show in Seattle, I thought it was time to concoct another fanciful wish list. Last time I did this I concentrated mostly on street bikes but now the dirt bikes I am really interested in can be had with a Washington license plate so this list will include them as well. Since I have not had the opportunity to test ride some of the models on this list, there is a certain amount of guesswork involved. As before this list includes only new motorcycles available on the American market at this time. There is nothing realistic in the prospect of purchasing several new 2008 machines at one time, but this imaginary possibility does reveal the current market choices and how they align with my personal taste in motorcycles. The idea here is to identify which bikes I would choose if given the constraints of selecting one bike, or two, or three, and so on.

One bike: KTM 690 Enduro
Having only one bike in the garage is simply unthinkable but here we go. As much as I love to ride on an asphalt snake at higher speed than is sometimes prudent, I love a good mountain trail even more. Today’s dual-sport bikes are better than ever and accounting for the obvious compromises a do-it-all machine must make, I suspect that the new 690 KTM could work for me in that role. It uses the new, improved LC4 motor and should be smooth enough on local road rides and still get me into the mountains for some very fun trails. The choice of tires will be a key factor and the traction on pavement vs. dirt will be the pointy end of the compromise. This model is so new I haven’t even read a test on it yet but the listed 305 lb. dry weight is not much more than my old Suzuki DRZ 400. The new LC4 is said to be the most powerful single on the market and has much-reduced vibration. It would be hard to live with only one bike but this one might ease the pain.

Two bikes: Ducati Multistrada 1100S; KTM EXC 450
Having lived with the Multistrada 1000 for nearly a year, I can say that this bike really satisfies. The Multi offers a degree of all-day comfort one would never expect from a Ducati and combines it with fairly serious sport-bike handling prowess. The wide dirt-bike handlebars make it easy to cut up a curvy road like a carving knife. The big L-twin motor speaks my language like no other and gives a muscular boot when cranking open the throttle. The 1100cc motor is more powerful and yet smoother than my 1000. If it supplied no other sensation, I would ride one of these all day just to hear the motor.

The KTM EXC just seems to be the perfect bike for the trails in our steep mountain terrain. I love the way the motor goes pop, pop, pop, and transmits an irrepressible power-pulse into the ground. What could KTM do to make it any better? They now are fully street-legal at a listed dry weight of only 250lbs. This is all we have asked for so many years – a serious, lightweight dirt bike with the minimum necessary equipment to legally ride the street. It’s no longer necessary to haul the bike into the woods.

Three bikes: KTM 690 Duke; Ducati Multistrada 1100S; KTM EXC450
The single cylinder Duke has been on my wish list since first introduced many years ago. It was the original “hooligan” bike. Like the Multistrada, it is a cross between a dirt bike and a sport bike but much lighter and more nimble. More nimble than the Multi? I would need to take Dramamine before riding the crazy thing. With so many super-motard type bikes on the market now it surprises me a little that the new Duke finds it’s way onto this list. The black and white color scheme actually makes this a handsome street bike and I have never been tempted to say that about any KTM road model before. I‘ll bet that if I had this combination of three bikes, the Duke would get the most frequent use by far. I can only imagine what fun it would be on Sleepy Hallow Road or Halverson Canyon. I would toss on my soft saddlebags and use it to run errands around town. I would need to tie them on tight because this bike was made to wheelie. With 65 HP and only 327 lbs., the Duke is calling my name again.

Four bikes: Honda ST1300; KTM 690 Duke; Ducati Multistrada 1100S; KTM EXC 450
A touring bike in my garage should provide comfort as it’s primary benefit. That goes for both me and my wife - otherwise I’ll be riding alone. This is just a guess since I’ve never ridden one, but I believe the Honda ST would offer all the stability and comfort I need for two-up touring. The Multistrada is not so good with a passenger and wasn’t made to carry heavy loads of people and baggage on boring super-highways. The Gold Wing would be an alternative but my choice is always to go with less weight. The Yamaha FJR1300 made my last list and still merits a test ride. I have ridden the new Kawasaki Concours 1400, but only solo. It would surely be more fun and may have the stability but probably not the comfort of the ST.

If I had the four bikes listed above, I could do most of what needs to be done on a motorcycle. However, where bikes are concerned, you can never have too many. BMW has a new parallel twin, 800cc GS model that really looks like it might be the best all-round adventure-touring bike on the market. Large enough for serious touring yet much lighter than the 1200cc boxer-motored GS. You can’t overstate the importance of lightness for riding in the dirt. Although I wouldn’t find a real sport bike comfortable, I would miss that special feel they have in the twisties if I didn’t have one. When leaned over in a high-speed sweeper, one becomes instantly oblivious to any pain in the wrists or knees. For this kind of speed therapy, I choose Ducati’s new 1098 superbike. It deserves a place in the garage based on looks alone. Like Steve Martin in the movie The Jerk, this is all I need. Six bikes… plus a Montesa trials bike and couple of nice vintage bikes and a little 230lb. road racer and a sidecar for my old BMW and an Aprilia SVX supermotard and…

Tuesday, January 1, 2008

Cold Brown Dirt with White Frosting

I wouldn't want to give people the impression that I give up on riding entirely once the mercury dips below the freezing mark. There are some notable exceptions. My skiing season is interspersed with occasional cross-county desert and dune riding. A few mid-winter rides in the Mattiwa and Vantage areas have become expected. I was even coaxed into riding in a blinding snow storm last year. That was a trip!

One ride that persists in my memory occurred just over a year ago in November. It was the last trail ride of the season with the temperature hovering right around the freezing mark. My friend Bob and I trailered our bikes to the Sand Creek campground, just off of the Mission Creek road. Fall had firmly set upon the forest and the ground was covered with broad leaves and a sprinkling of pine needles. We had recently received our usual fall rains, turning the soil just a bit muddy. Snow blanketed the higher elevations so we thought we would sneak in one more ride on the Red Devil trail. This trail runs from Sand Creek to very near the Devil's Gulch trailhead. Rather than climbing up and over the mountain as The Red Hill trail does, it stays relatively low, traversing the face of the hills near Mission Creek. Trail riding requires just enough body english to generate a little extra heat, coupled with lower speeds and less wind chill. The crisp fall air was invigorating and altogether quite pleasant. Red Devil is not a difficult trail but one must pay attention. The focus is on the terrain ahead with an occasional glance to the side to enjoy the surroundings. The trail itself was beautiful that day. The mud had stiffened in the cold and little rain puddles had frozen over. The thin ice cracked under our tires and our knobbies bit into the rich, brown earth. Traction was abundant, with just enough squirm to communicate the interplay between lateral forces and soil cohesion back to the rider. Shaded areas were coated with pure white crystalline frost. We could hear our tires on the trail even over the putt of our motors. I couldn't help but think that my fiends who commute to Arizona at the first of November had left too soon. This day was as lovely as any in the simmering warmth of summer. When we arrived back at Sand Creek I told Bob that this had been one of the five best rides of my entire life. Surely it was so as it lingers in memory so sweetly now.