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

1 comment:

jetson said...

glad you found the perfect bike for you. It was a fun day test riding those wonderful bikes