Harley and BMW Owners Say Their Brands Are Less Reliable, but More Satisfying

moto mechanicConsumer Reports magazine has conducted their first ever motorcycle reliability survey and they say that a quarter of all Harley-Davidson owners reported experiencing a major problem with their motorcycle in the previous four years.  BMW owners reported their motorcycles are even less reliable, with 33% of owners reporting problems in the previous four years.  Japanese import owners reported fewer problems,.(10% or less)

The full report will be released tomorrow, March 28th.  In the advance release of the report, no mention was made of responses from Triumph, Ducati,  Victory or Indian owners.

Interestingly despite the higher percentage of owners reporting problems with their motorcycles,  BMW and HD owners reported being the most satisfied with their motorcycles.  An overwhelming number of Harley-Davidson owners, 75% told interviewers they would buy their bike again.   BMW and Honda owners also reaffirmed their purchase at 74 and 72 percent respectively.

“Reliability is one of many factors consumers might consider when purchasing a motorcycle. However, other factors like sculpted lines and rumbling engines also strike the right note among motorcyclists,” said Rik Paul, Auto Editor, Consumer Reports.

Among the bikes that needed repairs, survey respondents reporting having the most trouble with accessories, such as lights, instruments, switches, and radios (21%), brakes (20%), the electrical system (16%), and the fuel system (15%). Fortunately, most repairs were fairly inexpensive. Three quarters cost less than $200 out-of-pocket.

What about you?  Are you happy with your bike?  Take our poll below and tell us!

Did GEICO Consider Irony in Song Choice

The insurance company GEICO has been aggressively courting motorcycle riders.  Their latest campaign, Motorcycle Money Man, uses the song,  Midnight Rider  by the Allman Brothers.

The irony that an insurance company would choose a song from an artist who was killed in a motorcycle wreck to promote motorcycle insurance was not lost on many motorcycle forums and websites.

What do you think?  Should GEICO have used another song?  Tell us in the poll below. Video below the poll

2012 Harley-Davidson Switch Back

IMG_8502 Passing through the rust belt near Allentown Pa, I can see the black wall of angry storm clouds racing towards me from the southwest. It seems “thunderstorms and test bikes” are my constant theme in 2012.

First it was tropical storm Earl and the Victory Cross County Tour, then it was an unnamed but equally drenching early summer downpour on the Triumph Explorer, and now this dark ominous mass of 50 mph crosswinds, thunder, lightning and buckets of rain.

I’d left Bergen County Harley-Davidson in Rochelle NJ a couple hours earlier on a 2012 Harley-Davidson Switchback, with flight delays and a last minute rear tire replacement having shredded my carefully planned schedule. The storm was so close now I could actually smell the rain. For once, I had prepared for this inevitability by starting the ride with my textile jacket, Darien overpants from Aerostitch and full face flip helmet from Nolan.

Just as I’d made the decision to soldier on through the approaching wall of water, a mental flashback of a 3 minute sphincter tightening ride over the Potomac River during one of the aforementioned test rides jarred me to my senses and I ducked off I-78 in Breinigsville, Pennsylvania, coincidentally on the same exit where Sam Adams has a satellite brewery. Sadly it wasn’t offering tours, because I would have as soon spent the next hour and a half sampling Boston’s finest home-brews than leaning on an ATM machine in the local BP convenience store while I charged my cell phone (the only unused plug in the store) and searched weather.com to plan my next move.

I knew I’d made the right decision to wait out the storm as soon as I’d finished filling up the Switchback. Even before the full force of the rain arrived, the wind started whipping and twisting the street signs violently to and fro. I’d planned to hang out under the awning, but then the lightning started popping so close that the hair on my arm stood up and screamed at me, GET INSIDE YOU IDIOT!” As I waited for Mother Nature to exhaust her fury on the inhabitants of this Pennsylvania hamlet, I ran down a mental checklist of what I’d learned about the Switchback over the last couple hours ride.

New for Harley-Davidson in 2012, and designed for the rider who wants a “convertible” bike the Switchback can easily and quickly go from mid range tourer to sexy boulevard cruiser (ditching the “road sofa” stigma as well) in under 2 minutes. Thumb a few levers and the backrest is off. Open the hard saddlebags, turn a beefy plastic dial, and pull to the rear and the bags are off. The windshield is even easier. Pull the retaining clip from each side, grab it from the front and pull up and out, and it’s off. (This is basically the same windshield configuration that’s been used since the first generation Road King.)IMG_8984IMG_8517 You’ll spend more time storing the components, than removing them.

As easy as they are to remove, I wondered more than once over the course of the 30 day test ride, why HD didn’t incorporate some type of simple locking system to deter thieves but, more on that later.

The Switchback is built on the Dyna frame, and features the Motor Company’s 103 v-twin powerplant and six speed transmission. Power is delivered to the 5 spoke cast rear wheel via a belt drive from the air-cooled fuel injected 103 inch v-twin engine. Spent gases are evacuated through the two-into one chrome exhaust on the right side of the bike.

Speaking of chrome, the primary drive cover on the left side of the bike stands out, and not in a good way, as it’s one of the few parts not chromed from the factory. It would look better with flat black denim paint than polished aluminum, but most owners will probably opt for a chrome upgrade from the dealer. The seat is firm and pretty standard as factory seats come. I would eventually log over 9,000 miles on this test ride, with 3000 of those being two up and I learned the seat isn’t adequate for long distance riding. To be fair, the manufacturer never intended the Switchback be used as a serious touring bike. It’s more for weekend tours and short overnight hops.

Of course, I’m stubborn and prone to want to do things I’m not supposed to do, which gets me in trouble often. Watching the weather radar on my Android, it became obvious I wasn’t going any farther this night. I’d hoped to make Gettysburg and take in the haunted battlefield tours but sadly the ghosts would have to wait for another trip. But, not all was lost as it gave me time the next day to stop in Hershey PA for a few photos and still tour Gettysburg and even spend an hour or so farther south in Antietam Maryland, the site of the bloodiest one day battle in the history of American warfare. (yes, even bloodier than D-Day in WWII because EVERY soldier killed was an American.)

Check another line on my bucket list.

Leaving Antietam I headed south to pick up the Blue Ridge Parkway in Waynesboro Virginia. It’s at this juncture where the Skyline Drive and Blue Ridge Parkway connect. The Parkway heads south and Skyline Drive heads north. I would ride the Skyline on the return trip.IMG_8988

The Parkway would be the first test of the Switchback’s cornering manners. I’d read other reviewers who said the Switchback didn’t have the clearance of the Road King or Electraglide, and on paper they might be right, but it’s a non-issue because try as I might, I was only able to scrub the floorboards a couple of times.

A few weeks later, riding two along the twisty black ribbons in the Black Hills, I did grind a few more times, but I still disagree with the other reviewers. Despite having less suspension than its big brothers, the Switchback has more than adequate cornering clearance.

Fast forward two weeks, and it’s me and my bride on the Switchback heading to Sturgis. This is all interstate riding. The saddlebags are stuffed full, with a big Kuryakyn bag strapped on the luggage rack. Storage capacity has been sacrificed at the altar of style, as the saddlebags have less capacity than its big brothers. The bags latching system is a bit buggy and will require careful attention to properly secure before riding, as I discovered when I thought I’d latched the bag, only to have it pop open at highway speed. That and the backrest rattles when you’re riding solo (without a bag) so you’ll probably want to take it off for short hops around town.

We leave late (after 5:30pm) and we’re busting our hump to make it as far as we can before stopping for the night. After a couple hundred miles, I notice the rear suspension needs adjusting. We’re hitting bottom at every change in road elevation. With 3.8 inches of travel in the front and 2.1 inches in the rear, suspension setup on the Switchback is adequate but slightly less comfy than HD’s tourers. (The Road King has almost an inch more on both the front and rear.)

IMG_8984The next day we stopped at Four Rivers Harley-Davidson in Paducah Kentucky and despite the service department being busier than a one arm piano player, Robert , one of the service techs took a few minutes with a hook spanner to dial up the setting on each shock a couple of notches.

The retro looking chrome cigar rear shocks are easy to adjust as long as you have the proper tool. Harley claims the nitrogen charged, 5 setting pre-load emulsion shocks perform better than traditional coil over shocks and compliment the redesigned front end suspension.

Compared against the other Dyna models, I’d have to agree with them. Out front, both front 41mm fork tubes use the triple rate springs, but the left features a cartridge assembly instead of a dampening rod which gave HD engineers a way to upgrade the front suspension without the increased weight of dual cartridges.

Thanks to the quick service this stop didn’t eat into our schedule and we were back on the road heading towards the great plains. The difference in ride was immediately noticeable for both me and my passenger. Having stiffer rear shocks lessened the overall comfort for her, but it made the bike less prone to hitting bottom at the overpasses. It was an acceptable trade-off for safety sake.

For us, Sturgis is roughly 1500 miles from home. We factor in two and a half days to make the trip. We soon developed a pattern of stopping every 150 miles for fuel. With a 4.7 gallon fuel tank, and averaging between 30 and 35 mpg, the low fuel light consistently appeared at 120-130 miles, giving us another 30-50 miles before we’d be walking.

Iron Butt riders may be laughing up their sleeves at our candy-arses, but the stock seat and stiff suspension had us both ready for a short 15 minute break every couple of hours. Combine that with the 98 degree temperatures we encountered from St. Louis all the way through Sioux Falls SD, and the frequent breaks were necessary to stave off heat exhaustion.

Speaking of fuel, a frequent complaint in the HD forums is the fuel gauge HD uses in the Dyna’s and Softail models. Located in the left side faux fuel cap, the gauge is almost impossible to read unless you lean up and sight directly over it. A simple (but probably not cheap) solution for HD would be to flip the gauge so the arch is an inverted U. I doubt that will happen as electronics has all but replaced mechanical gaugesIMG_8982.

On the Switchback the mechanical fuel gauge is actually unnecessary as HD’s engineers included an electronic information / diagnostic module built into the big round speedo on the tank. This electronic gauge can be cycled through current time, current gear and RPM, two different trip odometers, overall odometer, and estimated miles remaining of fuel at current rate of consumption. It’s large numbers easy to read for this 50 year old without reading glasses.

One of the big concerns I’d had when planning this trip was excessive engine heat. It’s no secret that the Twin Cam engine has gotten its fair share of negative press about the heat coming from the rear cylinder. Thankfully, HD didn’t incorporate its Rear Cylinder Cutout function used in other models to this one, as I never liked it on the other models I tested. In the little bit of stop and go riding I did during this test, I never felt the rear cylinder heat was an issue, although it was noticeable (and uncomfortable) during a mile or so duck walk wait to pass through the “Needle” on the Needles Highway in Sturgis, but I’m sure any air cooled V-Twin would have had the same issue.

Up front the headlamp assembly is all new. At first glance you might be mistaken to think that such a large lamp would affect the Switchback’s center of gravity. You’d be mistaken. Milwaukee’s designers went with an all aluminum chrome plated nacelle style housing, instead of heavier steel and it works. The low speed handling of the SB proved flawless with no drag from the headlamp.

The light itself, however, could use a bit of improvement. I don’t know if my test mule just wasn’t adjusted right, but the dim setting was as bright (at night) as the high-beams. In fact the way the high beams “split” the road, I was more comfortable using the low beams at night.

Switches on the SB use the new CAN, (controller area network) hardware upgrade. CAN reduces the complexity of the wiring harness and provides improved support for real time data transfer for critical applications such as the ABS. On the left handlebar are the trip, horn, lights and left turn signals. On the right are the flasher activation, engine kill switch, start button and right turn signal. There’s no radio or cruise control to complicate the switches. In lieu of an electronic cruise control, I’m happy to report the standard Harley throttle lock (one of my favorite features) remains located under the right switch housing, where its easily engaged with the right thumb.

A nice feature that isn’t obvious is the addition of ABS, standard on all Dynas for 2012. It’s a simple but effective system utilizing a single 300mm rotor/4-piston front caliper combo, and a 292mm rotor with IMG_8988single 2-piston caliper for the rear. I had the unfortunate opportunity to test it’s ability when a cellphone to ear driver, passing me on the left, suddenly swerved and occupied my lane on the interstate near Council Bluff Iowa. Without time to think, I grabbed a handful of front and a full foot of the rear and gave it all I had, hoping for enough inches to save our arse.  The front end dived a little, and I felt the ABS kick in and pulse for what seemed like a full minute, but could only have been a second or two. I still don’t know how we missed her but we did. Without the ABS, that panic stop would have locked up the rear, and more than likely caused me to go down at 80mph on a busy interstate. You can picture the rest.

The remainder of the trip proved uneventful but extremely enjoyable. In every other way the SB proved a capable steed with enough power at highway speed to blow by big rigs when desired and a low center of gravity that kept me from feeling overbalanced at stop signs with a passenger and fully loaded.

At $15,999 the Switchback is an affordable entry level sporty cruiser tour package which should appeal to the “boomerang” re entry motorcycle owner looking for an alternative to jumping out on a bigger (and heavier) Road King, Street Glide or Electraglide. It’s also an obvious choice for the svelte female rider who wants to tour with her husband but also doesn’t want the heavier full dressers. The aging baby boomers (whom I fit into) might also decide this is the bike that fits their mid-tourer aspirations.

One thing is for sure, the Switchback, while built for short hops and long weekend tours, isn’t afraid of the “epic” rides. After 9000 miles in 30 days, I can attest to it’s adaptability and dependability on any adventure, however long you want it.

The Bad Boy of Bike Building Makes it Number Four

Alexis DeJoria and Jesse James at a race in Ennis, Texas, on September 23. (Mark J. Rebilas/US Presswire)

The internet is abuzz about reality show, bike building celebrity Jesse James and 36 year old, Alexis DeJoria who rumors say were married over the weekend in Malibu California.

Jesse hasn’t officially confirmed the rumors, and his manager isn’t responding to the press inquiries, but OMG is reporting the pair were hitched on the estate of the bride’s father, John Paul DeJoria, the Paul Mitchell hair care products billionaire businessman.

Reportedly Jesse asked DeJoria to marry him this past November after dating for two months.  He’d previously proposed to Kat Von D after 5 months of courtship.  Von D split from James in September 2011 after she claims he cheated on her with as many as 19 women.

DeJoria is a rookie in the professional ranks of the National Hot Rod Circuit and met James in Ennis Texas in September 2012 when he sponsored a mutual friend’s team.

 

James and DeJoria, who drives the Patron Nitro Funny Car on the drag race circuit, reside with their combined brood in Austin, Texas, where he recently relaunched West Coast Choppers after a four year hiatus.

You have to give it to Jesse, he never gives up.

 

Bill Would Add Motorcycle License Requirement in Alabama

1_test_paperLegislators in Alabama, the only State in the Union that doesn’t require adults to take a test to obtain a motorcycle license, are considering a bill to change that distinction.

In Alabama, anyone 16 and older with a regular driver’s license can also drive a motorcycle in the state, said Capt. Guy Rush, chief examiner of the Driver License Division for the Alabama Department of Public Safety.  Rush said an oversight in the 1990s led to the gap in the law and DPS is supporting legislation to remedy that mistake.

The Alabama Senate has already passed a bill requiring a Class M endorsement, however a similar bill in the House of Representatives failed during the first half of this legislative session.

The Senate bill originally required all motorcycle operators to pass a knowledge test for the class M endorsement, however, the bill was amended to limit the testing to only those under 19 years of age.

Rush said he supports a mandatory skills test but observers say that’s not likely to happen anytime soon.

As of 2010, 40 states required a skills test for a motorcycle license, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.

As for the Class M endorsement on the license, many Alabama drivers already have the designation and might not even know it. Rush said when new driver’s license classes were assigned in 1995 those who already had licenses were “grandfathered” and given the M endorsement.

Those who don’t have the Class M endorsement are only legal driving a motorcycle as long as they are riding in Alabama, Rush said.

When lawmakers return April 2nd, they will have only 15 meeting days to reconcile the two bills and present a measure to the Governor for his signature.

Political insiders say the bill is likely to reach Gov. Bentley’s desk who is expected to sign it into law.

 

Man Risks His Life To Save Bike Containing His Brothers’s Ashes

Monson MA  March 20, 2013:  (excerpted from The Republican)    Billy Fountain told the local newspaper there was no way he was letting his brother’s 1992 Harley-Davidson Fat Boy burn up in the fire that broke out near the barn where it was being stored. ”Hell or highwater, I was getting the bike out of there,” Fountain said.

The reason? Encased inside the handlebars of the turquoise and blue bike were cremated remains of his brother, Harold E. Fountain II, who died in an accident on the bike in Orlando Florida in 2004.  Besides his brother’s ashes,  his likeness is painted on the tank and Billy said the bike means everything to him.

“Things like this, it doesn’t matter to me as long as I got a place to sleep,” Fountain said of the fire – and, as long as his brother’s bike was OK. “I had to get that bike,” he said, swiping a tear from his cheek.

 

 

No More Rainsuits? Introducing the Rainrunner

rooffortwo-01A South Asian company, Roof For Two, has developed a novel approach to that pesky problem of sudden downpours ruining an otherwise enjoyable motorcycle commute.  Introducing the Rain Runner.  A portable, fold-flat, quick deploying, rain cover for a motorcycle. You’ll still need something covering your lower legs, but watching the video, it seems to be a functional alternative to those hard to struggle into rain suits. Not to mention the aggravation of summer showers where you suit up, ride through the rain for 20 miles and have the pop out for the next 30 miles turning your rainsuit into a sauna.

The prototype has been in the works for over a year while the company applied for the patents.  It’s a neat concept, but we gotta say it amps up the dorky factor by 10, so we doubt it will get much play here in the US.

But we’re not the target market. In the Asian market, motorcycles are more utility vehicles versus recreational and function is far more important than how cool you look.

rooffortwo-02

No Colors Allowed

no colorsby.  Editor Scott Cochran

I didn’t see the notices taped on the front of the entrance doors to the Charlotte Convention Center when I arrived early Saturday morning to man our booth at the Easyriders Bike Show this past January.

Sylvia was in Atlanta working a different show, and I was working Charlotte.

It wasn’t until late that afternoon when I saw them. I made a mental note to investigate the reason for their posting before the show ended.

However, working the booth by myself, I never had that opportunity and, as far as I could tell, the dress code (no colors) had not caused a decline in attendance.

I did think it was ironic that you could get in with a Sons of Anarchy t-shirt but nothing else that appeared to be “club related.”

The following week it became apparent there was more to the story than what I’d assumed.

I reached out to a source inside Easyrider and was told, “This is not a matter that needs any input from the general public or rights groups. If someone is not involved in this it would be best to MYOB.” (mind your own business.) Easyriders Events are neutral ground, we do our best to serve the lifestyle, cultures and subcultures of the motorcycle world. Easyriders Events does not get involved with club business, our only concern is for cohesive coexistence between the general public and the subcultures during our events.”

A few days before the big Columbus Show, Easyrider Events issued a public statement that said in part, “Easyriders Attorneys have been able to provide us with the approval to ALLOW COLORS for all clubs except ONE. The Club that is not allowed knows who they are and will not be admitted into any Easyriders Events………ever. “

For the record, Easyrider Events has been an advertiser in this magazine. I’m friends with the promoter and several of the writers for the magazine. This is a small industry and everyone knows just about everyone.

But, that’s not why I’m taking Easyrider’s side on this one.

The reason is their 40 years of unwavering support for the biker lifestyle.

The motorcycle landscape has changed in the four decades since Easyriders first hit the newsstands in the 70’s. Some of the progressive changes can be credited to its founder Joe Teresi and the magazine’s staff in the early days who gave the “tattooed, long haired bikers” a magazine they could call their own. A magazine that celebrated the rebellious freedom of the two wheel lifestyle.

All that, and a fair amount of incidental nudity. But that’s what goes on in this lifestyle among consenting adults. They didn’t create it, they just reported it.

More importantly, Easyrider Magazine was one of the few, if not the only newsstand motorcycle magazine who aggressively supported motorcycle rights, and helped galvanize MRO’s into formidable opponents of overzealous McCarthyish state and Federal lawmakers.

Joe Teresi himself testified in Congress against laws that would have made it illegal to modify motorcycles.

Teresi and others worked to establish and support fledgling A.B.A.T.E. chapters across the country, often paying their expenses with profits from the magazine, out of pocket, or with donations from advertisers.

Easyriders customers are the hard-core “biker” lifestyle readers and riders. The guys and gals who attend ABATE meetings and have been discriminated against time and time again, in one form or another.

So there’s no doubt in my mind that posting a “no colors” sign was a decision that was made to protect the general public first, and the organization and brand second.

Probably the most outrageous (and stupid) accusation leveled against Easyrider Events is their decision was “profit motivated.”

Think about it for a minute. Easyrider Events took a public relations black eye to protect the moms, dads and kids who attend their events. They knew a small but vocal group intended to stir up trouble and disrupt attendance, (and possibly become violent) but they made the tough call, and I respect them for that.

I’m glad I wasn’t the one who had to make that decision.

Until next month, ride safe, and always take the road less traveled.