2014 Triumph Thunderbird Commander and LT Ride Review

wild ones

by: Scott Cochran
photos by: Alessio Barbanti, Paul Barshon, Tom Riles & Freddie Kirn

March 6, 2014: Maybe I was surprised because Southern California wasn’t on my motorcycle riding radar. Yet here I am, just north of downtown San Diego on Highland Valley Road, tearing past orange groves and palm tree farms, grinding the floorboards on this 2014 Triumph Thunderbird Commander less than 15 minutes from urban lunacy.

This past February, while the rest of the country was caught up in the grip of the latest “polar vortex” yours truly joined a select group of moto-journalists for Triumph’s world press launch in balmy Southern California.

It was hard not to feel sorry for the rest of my motorcycle riding buddies on the East Coast.

We’d seen images of the new Thunderbird Commander and Thunderbird LT when the bikes were unveiled at EICMA in Italy in November and were anxious to throw a leg over each to see how the “on paper” improvements affected the real world riding experience.

Now those statistics were becoming real to me as I wound through the Anza-Borrego Desert and up and over Palomar Mountain, pausing to take in the view of Salton Sea, the largest lake in California.

Sitting in the pre-ride briefing, waiting on the presentation to start, I find myself pondering the history of this legacy marque.

both bikes

It’s easy for the American “biker” to overlook this brand, especially the segment that leans towards Milwaukee iron.

Part of the reason is Triumph abandoned the “lifestyle” buyer years ago and (for better or worse) concentrated its efforts on the “performance” market.

Blame it on economics, or stubborn British management, but either way the brand that “invented biker attitude” with Marlon Brando in the movie The Wild Ones has been relegated to the sidelines while others cashed in on the hard core biker lifestyle as it grew into the largest percentage of North American motorcycle sales.

Upstarts like Victory Motorcycles and newly revived Indian have made some headway in courting the Harley rider, Triumph hasn’t had much success in infiltrating that segment.

So in 2010, when Triumph tapped Harley-Davidson and Buell veteran, Greg Heichelbech, as its North American CEO, observers expected the day would come when the Brits would shift the styling of their cruisers to resemble the “lifestyle” market that exists in America today.

That day has arrived.

 

T_Symbol_Standard_BlackOnWhiteMany people forget that In World War I, Triumph produced more than 30,000 motorycles for the Allies, the majority of those being the Model H, also known as Type H, or the “Trusty Triumph.”  Powered by a 499cc air cooled single cylinder, It was the first Triumph which did not have pedals making it a “true” motorcycle.  It is also considered by many to be the first “modern” motorcycle.  

Standing in front of a room full of American motorcycle journalists, Simon Warburton, product manager for Triumph set the tone when he said, “We believe we have a credible alternative to Harley-Davidson.”

Greg Heichelbech CEO of Triumph America followed that up when he stood up and the first words out of his mouth was “Triumph’s Back! And we’re getting back to our roots and the things we did in the 50’s, 50’s and 70’s.”

Heichelbech went on to explain, “The Thunderbird was the bike that put Triumph on the map and helped us become the number one import brand in the 50’s and 60’s” (when “biker” became synonymous with the bad boy image)

But a lot has changed since the 1960’s, besides the size of the engine. The early Tbirds boasted a class leading 650 cc motor and a seat that, while comfortable for its time, would be considered torture today. And we won’t even talk about drum vs disc brakes. Yes a lot has changed and it’s not lost on the Brits as Warburton confided later. “We’re not trying to be Harley-Davidson, but we think this bike will appeal to those riders who want performance, laid back styling and aggressive handling.”

After a couple of hours saddle time on both bikes, I can safely say the engineers in Hinckley hit their bulls-eye.

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Rather than replace the previous iterations, the 2014 Commander and LT are new additions to the T-Bird family and are fitted with the upgraded power plant making these the largest parallel-twin (1699 cc/103 cu in) in the world, producing 93 horses and 146 fp of torque, enough to satisfy even the most aggressive of riders.

Momentum isn’t just for sports teams, and as Sir Issac taught us; The momentum of a moving object increases with its mass and its speed. The heavier the object and the faster it is moving, the greater its momentum and the harder it is to stop. Both models are heavy cruisers, but with the LT (which stands for “light tourer” weighing in just south of 750 lbs, add a couple riders and gear and you’ve got close to a half a ton of accelerated momentum. Both models come from the factory with ABS standard equipment. The front brakes are twin floating 310mm disc brakes with 4 piston calipers and the rear brakes are single 310mm disc with Brembo 2 piston floating calipers.

Thankfully, the ABS on the Commander model I rode performed flawlessly. Since this was a worldwide launch, the Triumph representative leading the group had been on this same route 10 or 12 times in the last two weeks. He knew it like the back of his hand. Ahead of me was Bruce Steever from MCN who has the chops to hang with most anyone on the track and is local and has ridden the area numerous times. Behind me is Mike Vaughn, former CEO of Triumph, also a sport bike guy and who lives (literally) on the route we were riding.

While I’m not the fastest on track days, (hell, who am I kidding…I don’t try to ride on the track!) this was not the best place to be as a flat land touring guru, trying desperately not to be the “slow guy.”

So the inevitable was bound to happen. I came in way too fast and overcooked some of the more tortuous turns on the Mesa Grande highway near Lake Henshaw and grabbed a little too much brake lever.
On any other non ABS model, the result would’ve been ugly. Lowside get off at best, high side flip over at worst. But thankfully the only drama was a few chirps from the tires as the modulators kicked in and I was able to slow enough to lean over and stay in my lane without laying the bike completely down.
Here’s as good a point as any to mention the lean angle of both bikes. With a seat height of just 27.5 inches, both the LT and Commander are low slung and easy to maneuver at low speeds and parking lot dances. However, that becomes disadvantageous out on the twisties as the floorboards touch down way too early.

T_Symbol_Standard_BlackOnWhiteMarlon Brando rode a 1950 Thunderbird 6T in the movie The Wild Ones and in 1955 Ford licensed the Thunderbird name from Triumph for a new luxury car eventualy producing 4.4 million units, which ended in 2005.

 

However, the slide rule society at Triumph knew this would be an issue so they mounted wear plates under the boards which absorb the road rash instead of damaging the more expensive chrome and painted parts. Still it’s a bit disconcerting the first few times they scrub and downright sphincter tightening when you’re fully leaned over, heading into the oncoming lane and having to choose whether to stand up and apply the brakes or keep leaning and hoping that you don’t bounce into oncoming traffic.

My takeaway from that is this; know your limitations and those of your bike. Luckily I didn’t trash the Commander or lose any skin, and I didn’t make the same mistake the next day on the LT.

SUSPENSION

Simon Warburton made a point to stress that besides providing smooth acceleration and braking, Triumph engineers were keen on improving the comfort and handling of these new Thunderbird’s. With an all new frame and swing-arm, designers included the engine as a stressed member, which reduces the flex in the chassis and gives it a more stable footprint.commander and details

While the rake and trail are slightly different on the two models, the handling characteristics are essentially the same. Although almost every journalist I spoke to agreed that the Commander is the “sportier” of the two. Chalk some of that up to the extra weight *(saddlebags, seat, luggage rack, wheels) and that big piece of Plexiglas out front on the LT and the rest to the slight difference is in how the new shocks affects the bikes.

Out on the rear, Triumph installed a pair of adjustable dual rate spring loaded shocks. Designed to offer a cushy ride on long trips, the 4.1 inches of travel easily soaked up the occasional broken asphalt potholes and all too often irregular bumps on our two lane travel through the So Cal desert. In the mountain twisties, I did find myself wishing for a slightly stouter setup. Thankfully there is a five position preload manual adjustment on each shock when you need a little something stiffer.

tshirt

The handlebars on the Commander provide for a more “forward” lean than on the LT. This works perfect without a windscreen. I dislike cruisers which place the rider in a more upright position and forces them to “hang on” to the grips when going sans windscreen. Very uncomfortable and dangerous.

On the Commander, that little tweak to the position of the bars made all the difference in comfort and stability from other “naked” cruisers.

SEAT OF THE PANTS

Then there is the seat. It’s usually the first thing we all want to change out when we buy a stock bike from the showroom floor. To paraphrase a famous politician (and take it entirely out of context,) when thinking of the seat on these new T-Birds “The butt stops here.” Ok, I hear the collective groan from the peanut gallery but I needed something witty to highlight how impressive this new seat is.

Consider that Triumph designers created a seat with three layers of different foam densities and a lumbar support (almost 4 inches total) and kept the seat height under 28 inches, I’d wager the seat isn’t going to be the first thing you’ll want to change. Granted, we only rode for a little more than an hour on our longest stretch in the saddle, so maybe I shouldn’t be bragging on the comfort just yet. However, by the time you read this we will have an LT in the office garage and will have spent 6 or 7 hours straight in the saddle. I’ll let you know if it performs as good as it looks.T_LT_details016

Both the Commander and the LT are available in two tone color schemes. The LT’s Caspian Blue/Crystal White paint is the best looking (in my humble opinion) and it also comes in Lava Red/Phantom Black. (Retail $16,999) The Commander comes in Crimson Sunset Red/Lava Red and Phantom Black/ Storm Grey. (Retail $15,699)

We’ll have a long term test on the LT in the next few months.

Triumph purists may decry the new direction the company has taken with these T-Birds, but they shouldn’t.

The brand isn’t abandoning its performance heritage, the Brits have simply created two cruiser models under $17k with modern performance yet comfortable and classic styling,

If anything, Triumph fans should be cheering. The Wild Ones are back!

(more static and detail photos in the photo gallery after the obligatory group picture.

That's the Salton Sea in the background.

That’s the Salton Sea in the background.

 

Suzuki GW 250; Great Beginner Bike

by: Walt Lumpkin

The Suzuki GW 250 is a ideal beginner bike or "refresher" for the returning motorcycle rider

The Suzuki GW 250 is a ideal beginner bike or “refresher” for the returning motorcycle rider

The newest bike in the Suzuki line is the GW 250 and it gives them a low cost niche in the starter motorcycle lineup. This lightweight bike is 248cc’s of two wheel fun directed primarily toward the first time rider. With an MSRP of $3999 it is affordable for most wallets and is a good choice for those who have no interest in purchasing a used bike and dealing with the pitfalls that usually come with such a purchase while perfecting the intricacies of learning to ride on two wheels.

The GW250 boasts a side by side liquid cooled twin cylinder engine delivering enough horsepower to the ground to satisfy most beginners. While twenty four horses may not seem to be adequate to those of us who have been riding for years  think back to the first time you straddled a  large displacement bike.  Now think about how daunting it’s power and weight can be to a novice rider.

This bike is not intended to be an long touring interstate highway cruiser but is plenty of motorcycle for those who need practice and transportation on surface streets and rural highways with double nickel speed limits. During our media test rides speeds of eighty plus miles per hour were obtained on I-4. Although the bike is not really in its element at those speeds it is good to know you have the capability if needed.

The GW250 seat height of just over thirty inches and narrow seat makes it ideal for the new female rider and male riders that are vertically challenged. The ability to place both feet flat on the pavement when stopped is one thing that builds confidence in new riders. The stylish GW250 also makes for a great bike for the college set that just needs affordable and fuel efficient transportation around campus. It is easier to park too.

Highway speed is easily accessible via the smooth shifting six speed constant mesh transmission and the hybrid ergonomic seating makes the ride comfortable for most riders. The positioning is somewhere between sport bike and normal mid controls. The seat and suspension is fairly comfortable even for a six foot two hundred thirty pound guy like me. Overall Suzuki engineers have hit the middle ground by focusing on the best of sport bike and cruiser ergonomics.

The chain driven GW250 weighs in at a very light four hundred and three pounds. It is equipped with front and rear discs brakes that are more than adequate to stop this lightweight chain driven looker. The dash contains both analog and digital gauges along with flashy indicator lights. The electric starter brings the 250 to life with an effortless press of the starter button.

The GW250 gives Suzuki an entry level bike that should appeal to a wide range of consumers and the twelve month unlimited warranty should give buyers the confidence in Suzuki to take care of their new offering to the US market.

What do you think?  Take the survey after the photographs

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Suzuki C90T BOSS Review

As I twist the throttle and lean into the curve, the brisk October wind slings a basketful of brightly colored Autumn leaves across the highway ahead of me. Colors so vibrant my nose sniffs the air searching for what my brain insists should be a host of complimentary fragrances.
With the speedometer reading 85 mph, I should be concentrating on the highway but instead I’m wishing I’d had the foresight to have a photographer stationed to catch that moment. In my mind I’m daydreaming about the missed photo.
This all black Suzuki surrounded by a swirling riot of orange, red and yellow. Such a photo would be shared by thousands on social media sites and bestowed with awards and honors. I would, by association, become an instant celebrity.
But, without a photographer, the only accolades occur in my imagination. But, at least I’m riding, so it’s still a good day at work.  Today is one of those days when the job is so enjoyable it shouldn’t be considered work.

More After the Video

I’m tearing down a sparsely traveled two lane country road on a 2013 Suzuki Boulevard C 90 T BOSS. The T designates the “touring” and the BOSS stands for “Blacked Out Suzuki Special.” A few hours earlier as I was picking up the bike from Statesboro Suzuki/Polaris, owner Mike Wallace told me he’d had the opportunity to put a few hundred miles on a BOSS earlier in the year and was confident I’d enjoy my time on this bike.
The C90T BOSS is new for ‘13 and (since the C109RT has been discontinued) is Suzuki’s largest “Boulevard” cruiser.
And it’s black. Not just the paint, but just about everywhere. From the paint, to the matte black forks, wheels, exhaust, frame and suspension. Pretty much everything they could black out, they did, leaving just enough chrome for contrast.
Other manufacturers have “blacked out” models but none do it any better than the BOSS. Our measure of how good a bike looks is by how much attention it receives when we ride it. The BOSS received a number of thumbs up, and more than a few head turns at stop lights and more than its fair share of female admirers. Of course, some of that attention could have been for the operator and not the bike.
The squat aggressive stance on the C90T is achieved by a 65.9 inch wheelbase (100 inches overall) and a 28.3 inch seat height. It’s a beefy bike, weighing in at 800 lbs, but drop the hydraulically assisted clutch too fast in first gear and you’ll find the 1,462 cc power-plant has enough oomph to lift the front wheel off the ground high enough for you to pucker up the seat.

 

TORQUE
Twist the throttle and the BOSS shows it’s sportbike DNA. Sharing the same throttle bodies as the Suzuki Gixxers, the engine pulls away so strong you might forget you’re on a cruiser, if not for the seat position.
In our tests (closed course professional rider) we hit the rev limiter at 80 in first gear, 95 in second and over the triple digit mark in third. We maxxed out at 107 mph.
But here’s where we have to bring up the biggest knock on the BOSS. The brakes are squishy. With a single disc in the front and rear, this bike begs for better brakes, ABS or at least as good as those on discontinued C109 which sported linked 2 piston front and three piston rear.
Although The BOSS has all the trappings of a serious tourer, including a large windscreen, in reality the bike isn’t one I’d choose for the coast to coast epic rides. For one, there’s no cruise control or heated grips and the hard plastic saddle bags are too small for anything farther than an overnight jaunt. To increase the baggage capacity you’ll spend $800 for the add on pillion backrest and luggage rack, and then you can add a Kuryakyn tour pack.

Comfort

Suzuki gets high marks in the comfort department. The seat and pegs set the rider in a natural and comfortable position for long haul days. Suzuki says they designed the seat to allow the rider to shift positions as necessary to eliminate pressure points on long trips. During our longest ride of 5 hours, we found the truth in that. The roomy floorboards also gave us plenty of room to reduce fatigue and adjust our feet for comfort. However, we were not a big fan of the heel/toe shifter, but that’s not a knock on the BOSS, we don’t care for them on any bike we ride.
Our passenger gave rave reviews for the pillion seat comfort as well, although she wasn’t too happy about the passenger pegs. As a female with a short inseam, she found it difficult to swing a leg over the bike to mount due to the width of the bike, and had to resort to placing her left foot on the peg and swinging her right leg over the back of the bike. Adding a backrest would make this maneuver all but impossible, forcing the passenger to mount up before the operator.
Kudos to Suzuki for their LCD gear display which shows the operator which gear the bike is in, even if the clutch is pulled in. Harley and Victory both should copy this bit of engineering as theirs only shows when the clutch is out, rendering it useless at stop signs and red lights, exactly the places where it would be the most useful.
The position of the analog speedometer could be improved as it’s located on the tank, far enough down so there’s no way to see it while wearing a full face helmet without taking your eyes off the road. Since most cruiser riders don’t wear full face helmets, we can certainly understand why Suzuki considers this a minor annoyance.

Overall
We wound up spending a week on the BOSS and putting close to 500 miles during our test. We found it to be a good looking, dependable, and powerful touring cruiser for that long day trip or weekend jaunt. Throw on the optional pillion backrest and luggage rack, score a bag from Kuryakyn, and you’ll have a decent mid-level touring bike for slightly longer cruises. Priced at $13,999, the BOSS is a great bike for a spouse who’s significant other has a big touring bike to carry the gear or the person who wants to ride 3 or 4 hours at a time and who mostly logs overnight or weekend trips.
But, I’m not thinking about any of that right now. I’m tearing up the back roads around South Georgia and hunting the perfect spot for a photograph.

bossboss2boss3boss4

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.

Victory Cross Country Tour

A mischievous grin split my face as I approached the empty intersection a mile from my house.  Poor planning years ago had turned what should’ve been a mundane 3 way city intersection, into a quarter mile twisty motorcycle launch pad.

I slowed slightly, shifting my weight to the left, and pushed the bike over into the left hand turn into a tight arch. Grinning wide, my right hand twisted the grip as I snatched the Cross Country Tour upright and I shifted my weight over to opposite side.   In one fluid motion (and with the mental fantasy of blasting around the track at Barber Motorsports)  I threw the big Vic with it’s all aluminum frame over to the right and tried hard to scrape the boards as I challenged its rated 32 degree lean angle before reversing my weight again to the left side.

Accelerating, the big Vic responded with the agility of a much smaller machine as I rode her into a left hander for another short turn before the pavement straightened, and the crest of the approaching hill and common sense demanded I ease off the throttle.  As the speedo slid below 70, I returned to my senses.  I was just a mortal magazine editor, instead of the super human professional racer I was pretending to be.

I had lost count how many times I’d pushed this Victory Cross Country Tour in this manner.   And, every time I marveled at how far it would lean before hard parts touch.  Approaching 2500 miles on this long term test, I had reached a comfort level with this bike that usually only comes with ownership.  I knew our relationship would end soon, but that was in the future, pushed to the dim recesses of my mind.

What was turning into a love fest with the CCT, began much differently.

As cliche as it sounds, this review almost ended before it started.

I should start at the beginning, in White Plains Maryland at Victory of Southern Maryland where I picked up the bike.  My arrival coincided with appearance of the remnants of Hurricane Earl.   A system that ultimately dumped record setting amounts of rain on the Mid-Atlantic States in a short 8 hour window.

I’d been watching the Weather Channel and knew I’d get wet.  I wasn’t too concerned.  I had the best gear that Victory, Aerostich, and Nolan manufactured.    My only real concern was fatigue.

Leaving home at 3:30 am, I boarded my flight out of Augusta at 5:30.  A short hop to Charlotte NC and a connecting flight to DC, put me on the ground at 9:30am.  I arrived just about the time Earl and his outer rain bands came knocking on the Capitol doorsteps.  After an hour’s cab ride to the dealership,(and a very interesting cold war history discussion with the Ukraine cabbie) I was more or less on the self-imposed schedule I had set for myself on this trip.

I planned to fly up, get the bike and make the 614 mile trip back home in less than 24 hours.  Along the way I’d stop in Fayetteville North Carolina to see an old girlfriend.   That sounds more salacious than it is.  Kelly is a female friend of both my wife and I, and while technically she’s a “girlfriend” I doubt she’s ever referred to me as a “boyfriend.”

Wave after wave, tropical storm Earl was pounding the DC area

Woody Allen said, “if you want to hear God laugh, tell him your plans” and I think God was chuckling that day because as soon as I walked in the dealership, the proverbial bottom fell out of the clouds  and what had been a moderately steady rain, suddenly became a good old fashioned frog strangler of biblical proportion, threatening to completely wash out my plans..

The pounding on the roof was so loud there was no use yelling at the employees on the other side of the parts counter, so I stood there a few minutes, smiling at Melinda Torreyson as we waited for a break in the storms fury.   When it eased, I identified myself and told her my mission.  I could feel her sizing me up as she eyed my blue jeans, tennis shoes and short sleeve shirt.  I guess she hadn’t noticed my bag that I’d dropped by the door.  Oddly I felt compelled to explain myself.  “I’ve got all my gear in that bag” I said, pointing to the entrance.  She laughed and said, “That’s good, because it looks like you’re going to need it.”

That was her first understatement of the day.

As if on cue, the storm intensified into a deluge that would’ve made Noah proud.  The television in the customer lounge was tuned to the Weather Channel.  Fast moving green bands with pockets of yellow and orange storm cells were streaming off the Atlantic heading north, one wave coming right after the other, forming a seemingly impenetrable barrier between me and the clear skies of Richmond Virginia, only 90 miles away.

As I cooled my heels and waited for a break that never came, Melinda gave me a tour of the facilities and checked me out on the new features of the Cross Country Tour.

Melinda was well into her spiel before I realized I was daydreaming about taking my bride on one last extended road trip before winter’s arrival.  I hadn’t been giving her my full attention.  That’s what forgetting to take your ADD medicine will do for you.

I’d tested a Cross Roads last year, and knew a little about this line of bikes.  Introduced in 2009, the Cross Country immediately became Victory’s top selling touring bike, and helped move the Minnesota company from 5th to 2nd in the battle for supremacy in the heavyweight cruiser market.

The (previously optional) tour pack was now standard, and included rear speakers and integrated passenger backrest.  Additionally highway bar mounted lowers with a glove box on each side and IPod / IPhone connectivity.  Integrated in the lowers is what Victory calls its “Comfort Control System” of vents and air scoops, designed to channel air flow into the lower cockpit area, or block it out entirely; more on this later.

The windshield is 8 inches taller this year, and is non-adjustable.  Victory engineers designed it that way and included a set of clear rounded hinged louvers below the fairing to reduce cockpit turbulence. For that, the system is flawless. Overall I liked the taller setup, but I’d have to cut the windscreen down if the CCT moved into my garage permanently.  The reason?   At 6 foot, I’m l looking through the windshield, instead of over it.  There is some room on the fairing for manual adjustment, but the mounting system would need to be modified.

Melinda showed me how and where to adjust the rear air shock to set the bike up for transporting a passenger or bags full of gear. With 4.7 inches of available travel, this bike can comfortably transport a companion and all the gear necessary for a week on the road.  With 41.1 gallons of storage,(most in it’s class with hard side bags, tour pack and glove boxes) the space is there, how you fill it is up to you.

Throw a leg over the saddle and you sink down onto the plush padded seat 26.25 inches from the ground.  On touring bikes, lower is better, and the CCT setup instills the confidence and stability you get from having both feet firmly on the ground.

When not on Terra Firma,, the driver rests his or her feet on generous floorboards. Victory wisely decided against putting a rear shifter on this model, leaving ample room to shift feet positions slightly on long distance hauls. The passenger floorboards are adjustable for different height riders.

Approaching noon,  it was time for me  to poop, or get off the pot, as my daddy liked to say.  With no break in sight on the radar, I decided my best course would be to trust the big front end of the CCT to keep the worst of Earl’s fury at bay.  I figure I’d ride gingerly south until I escaped the squalls coming in from the coast.  I gauged I’d be out of it in 50 miles, or just over an hour assuming I could average 40-45 mph.

You know what they say about assuming anything.  (Cue the jackass sound effect.)

At that moment, as if to highlight the folly of my decision, (or maybe it was a cosmic punch line) a bolt of lightening stuck close enough for the simultaneous thunder to dislodge a glass framed picture sending it crashing literally at my feet.   Staring at the shards of glass on the floor, I was reminded of a quote from Voltaire, “God is a comedian playing to an audience too afraid to laugh.”  I wasn’t laughing either.

But, it was either spend the night, or suck it up and ride. Underestimating nature’s fury, (or overestimating my abilities) I said my good byes and struck out south towards I-95 into the most nerve wracking hour of my professional motorcycle testing career.

Melinda had warned the first big sphincter tightening moment would come 15 miles from the dealership as US Hwy 301 crossed the Gov. Harry Nice Memorial bridge spanning the Potomac River.

That was her second understatement of the day.

I’ve made a few bad decisions in my time, but crossing a metal decked bridge on a touring bike with a fork mounted fairing and big rear tour pack in the midst of a tropical storm tops my list. Or at least my “I did this completely sober” list.

Cresting the top of the span and creeping along at 25 mph it happened.   A sudden gust from the west  whipped the handle bars so violently, my left hand came complexly off, and with the input from my right hand still on the bars, the bike leaned right, heading straight to the concrete guard rail.  Amazingly I had time to wonder if the impact would flip me over the barrier, plunging me and 860 pounds of aluminum, steel and fiberglass into the dark churning water, four stories below.  Thinking back, I’m still amazed at how calm I was when the grim reaper appeared.

But, just as quickly, the wind settled, the reaper vanished and I regained control of the bike well before impact.  Had the gust come from the opposite side, I could’ve been pushed into oncoming traffic.  Thankfully my mind was too occupied with the immediate task of survival to dwell on the painful outcome of that scenario.

Reaching the opposite shore, the recklessness of my decision was highlighted by the dozen or so cars pulled over on the shoulder on the opposite shore to wait for a break in the storm.  I can only imagine what idiotic labels they mentally pinned on me as I inched along, straining my neck to get my eyes above the top of the windshield for a better view of the road ahead.

Approaching the northern suburbs of Richmond Virginia, the rain slacked off and the wind evaporated.   With surprisingly light traffic, the worst was behind me, and I removed my gloves to test the stereo system on the CCT.

I’d brought an IPod and before leaving had plugged it into the Apple jack located in the left side glove box.  Once auxiliary input is selected, the Victory logo displays on the player and functionality is transferred to the convenient left side handlebar controls.  I never quite mastered the ability to change the play list, although I fiddled with it quite a bit.  The dock is fully powered and will keep your IPod or IPhone charged during use.  There’s also a separate accessory plug to charge other phones, although there isn’t a corresponding jack for stereo input. Bummer for anyone with their music on non-Apple devices.

With the tunes fired up, I entered Richmond Virginia just as Gregg Allman’s voice came through the speakers “Virgil Cain is my name and I served on the Danville train…til Stoneman’s calvary came and pulled up the tracks again…In the winter of ‘65, we were hungry, just barely alive….”  “how appropriate” I thought) a song about life in the last days of the Confederacy just as I’m entering its capitol.”

Settling back, I turned that Southern classic up louder than necessary and set the cruise on 80 mph, shifted deeper into the plush seat,  and spent the next few hours falling in love with this Cross Country Tour.

Soon after the September sun faded I stopped for supper. Pulling into the parking lot of a chain restaurant, the big round gauges illuminated the cockpit in a soft blue glow.  In the stressful beginning of the ride, I hadn’t been able to get acquainted with anything on the bike.  Before dismounting, I ran through the various functions of the controls.

A slight stretch of the LEFT index finger reaches a pull switch to cycle through the on board computer.  Overall odometer miles, miles per gallon on average, fuel remaining, average speed and current speed are displayed digitally, in addition to the large analog style circular gauges with RPM, speed and fuel.  An sensor relays the ambient temperature to the display, although over the course of the test I discovered it was consistently 2-5 degrees higher than those big display thermometers on the bank signs.

There’s a gear indicator in the middle of the digital readout, and while that’s handy, I noticed it disappeared when I pulled the clutch, which I almost always do when I approach intersections to stop, and while sitting at red lights. If that wasn’t a glitch limited to the test bike, I’d recommend Victory’s engineers redesign this so a quick glance will let you know if you’re in the gear you want to be in.

A toggle switch just below the instrument cluster activates the heating elements in the grips.   I came to appreciate this feature the deeper in fall and the first few weeks of winter.  There’s also heated seats, with those switches located on the left side under the passenger seat.  I’m not a fan of heated seats on any brand.  For me, if it’s cold enough to turn them on, I’ll be wearing something insulated, so all they do is make my rear end sweat, and a sweaty butt on long rides isn’t something I’m fond of.

Out front in the fairing sits a big slightly oval shaped High Intensity Discharge (HID) headlamp Victory claims it’s four times brighter than halogen and lasts 10 times longer.  I agree that on “bright” it punches a sizable hole in the darkness, but I didn’t like the short range on dim. There’s probably an adjustment to raise it up so it throws the light a little farther down field.

On the left, dangling below the standard set of switches reside the stereo controls.  On the right, in the same position reside the controls for the cruise control.  Nothing out of the ordinary to report here, so let’s move along.

While ABS isn’t standard on most cruisers, it’s on the CCT from the factory.  The rest is common fare for cruisers, such as dual 300mm floating rotors and 4 piston calipers on the front over the 130/70R18 Dunlop Elite 3 tire.  The front brake lever has a 5 position adjustment. Whether you like your front brake pull hair trigger strong, soft as marshmallow, or like me, somewhere in the middle, there’s a notch that suits you.   Out back, a single 300mm rotor with 2 piston caliper rules over a 180/60 16 inch radial from Dunlop.  Front to back the wheel base measures 65.7 inches with 108.1 inches overall parking space needed.

The remaining 7 hour ride was blissfully uneventful, and thanks to the superb acoustics of the CCT stereo system, the highway tunes banished the boredom normally associated with such a long slog.  I pulled into my garage 23 hours after leaving, tired but thankful for having come in under my self-imposed deadline.

Two Up on a Week Long Cruise:

A few weeks later I had the opportunity to load up the CCT with gear and my bride and take an extended weekend trip to Panama City Beach Florida for the autumn Thunder Beach motorcycle rally.  She doesn’t normally have the opportunity to ride the test bikes.  Since the CCT was designed for just this type of trip, It would be a real world test and one that should highlight any flaws that I might miss riding solo.  .

Packing the CCT, in many ways, reminded me of a 7000 mile trip I took in 2008 on another big Victory Cruiser, the Vision.  With the voluminous hard saddle bags and the (easily removable) rear tour pack, my wife and I fit everything needed for the 5 day mini-vacation.  That included my IPad, camera gear, and laptop.  With a washer/dryer at the condo, I only carried 3 days’ worth of clothes.

The weather was unseasonably warm at the start of the trip and I removed my jacket a couple hours into he ride.  By rearranging the contents of the tour pack, I was able to stuff the bulky jacket in with space to spare.  Not much space, mind you, but the trunk closed and that’s what’s important.

And speaking of closing, the lids on the hard saddlebags are designed in such a way that they’ll close without the latch being fully engaged.  I had been warned that the bags, if not properly latched, had a tendency to fly open at highway speed.  If this happens, expect to see your dirty underwear or whatever else you carry, spew out on the highway behind you.  With the temperature reaching into the 90’s, I remembered why I didn’t like bikes with a lot of plastic up front.  The engine heat, combined with the ambient air temperature really started doing a number on my legs.

In fact I got so hot under my arse that I wondered if I’d accidentally flipped the seat warmers on.  Then  I remembered Robert Pandya from Victory telling me that I’d need to “adjust” the lower and upper vents for the best airflow.  Robert cautioned that wide open was not always the best setting to evacuate the heat.  After a bit of trial and error, I found that by cracking  the left side lower vent  about halfway and keeping the right side alt 25% open and doing the opposite with the uppers, the cockpit was more comfortable.

But, in the middle of summer, when the temperatures approach triple digits, there isn’t much you can do on any motorcycle to escape the heat.   With its multiple power outlets, the CCT is the perfect bike to test the efficiency of those electric cooling vests.

The weather for the rest of the weekend turned out gorgeous.  After spending a couple of days in PCB for the rally, we headed west to Pensacola to visit a friend and eat at the Grand Marlin Restaurant we’d heard so much about.

Waiting on our friend to arrive, my bride and I compared notes and agreed we were sold on the Cross Country Tour.  For comfort, handling, and styling, no other bike, including the Vison, was as appealing to us as the Cross Country Tour.  And just like the saying goes, “When mama’s happy, every one’s happy.”  On this bike, mama stayed happy the whole weekend and that made the journey better than the destination.  There’s no doubt this would be our next purchase.

Our little mini vacation was ending the next day and it had turned out to be one our favorite trips.  So many highlights come to mind that it’s hard to know where to start first, or how much to include.

Watching the sun set on the horizon, hundreds of miles from home, while nibbling on lobster fingers and BBQ oysters is a treat in itself.  Add in a two piece band, a cold bottle of Michelob, and the warm ocean breeze and you have a magical evening spent with people you love the most.

Sometimes the end is the best place to begin.


2010 Sportster “Forty-Eight”

It was a perfect fall day . . . not a cloud in the sky, with the temperature around 70 degrees.  The colors of the trees were just reaching their peak, and the red maples wore their crimson red leaves with pride, and the full palette of fall was on display.  And to make, matters even better, there was that feint sweet aroma of burning leaves all along the rural roads of Woodstock, Bull Valley, and Harvard.  The only way to ruin a day as magnificent as this was to ride a Harley-Davidson Sportster “Forty-Eight”.

The Sportster “Forty-Eight” is one of Harley’s newest additions to the “Dark Custom” family, a group of factory customs that add some bling pieces, and give the engine the black-out treatment for additional attitude. You also get chopped fenders, side mounted license plate frame, low profile handlebars with the mirrors mounted below the bars, bullet holes on the fork brace and tank mount, a slammed rear suspension, and a “Peanut Tank”.

The “Forty-Eight” moniker refers to the year that the 2.1 gallon “Peanut Tank” was first used on a Harley.  Forty-Eight should refer to the maximum amount of minutes a rider can spend on the bike before desperately wanting to get off the thing.  And at least another forty-eight minutes before you’d want to drag you body back on it again.

Like all big bore Sportsters, the “Forty-Eight” uses Harley’s 1200 cc, fuel injected, air-cooled Evolution engine.  Harley claims 79 ft. lbs. of torque @ 4000 rpm.  But without a tachometer, you’ll just have to wait until you feel the power fall off.  The engine has a nice torquey feel, and with its tall gearing, accelerates the porky 567 lb. motorcycle away from stops lights with ease.  The penalty for that power, however comes in the form of vibration.  Lots of vibration.  Despite being rubber mounted, Sportsters are still paint shakers.  Maybe Harley didn’t put a tachometer on the “Forty-Eight” because once you get past the mid rev range, your numb fingertips and toes will tell you it’s time to shift gears.  One nice thing about the engine, however, is the sounds it makes coming out of the dual chrome slash cut mufflers.

The 5-speed transmission shifts with a palpable clunky mechanical feel and noise.  Clutch pull is heavier than necessary and has an abrupt take up.  Silky or smooth are not words that can be attributable to anything about this bike. While Harley has improved the transmissions operation on their Sportsters, they still have a long way to go before it compares to their Japanese or European competition.

The brakes were a mixed bag.  Up front there is a single disc with twin piston calipers, and while the feel was inconsistent, the brakes did their job fairly well; some of that being attributed to the chubby MT90B 16 72H front tire, mated to a spoke wheel with blacked out rims.   The rear brake, however, was not as easy to use. The single piston set up was easy to lock up, and hard to modulate.

The seat sits a low 26” off the pavement, which is obviously great for short legged riders like me.  But in order to get that low seat height, Harley had to chop the dual shocks, leaving less than 2” of travel.  And those two inches don’t offer much dampening over bumps, potholes, pavement cracks, or even just expansion joints. If you rolled over a dime with the rear wheel, you can probably tell if it heads or tails.

The riding position is fairly upright.  Despite the compact nature of the bike, it can still be a bit of a stretch to reach the handlebars.  The mirrors are mounted below the bars, like the Fat Boy Low I recently tested, and like the Fat Boy, they worked well, offering the rider a decent view of what is going on behind you.  Unlike the Fat Boy Low which also had chopped the rear suspension travel, the Sportster’s ride is almost as punishing as riding a hard tail.  The Fat Boy’s ride was merely stiff, yet very tolerable for long rides.  And the “Forty-Eight” puts the foot pegs in a forward position, so you can’t even stand up a bit to let your legs absorb some of the shock when traveling over large bumps or railroad crossings. And the rider’s right leg will be in constant contact with the air cleaner cover, which is another irritant.

A few years back, when Harley revamped the Sportster line to rubber mount the engine, they set the bar low and still missed.  With this “Forty-Eight”, they took a bad bike and made it worse by giving the bike almost no suspension travel, in the name of cool styling, which the “Forty Eight” has.  It also has excellent fit and finish, like all Harley-Davidsons.  But cool looks and fit and finish aren’t the primary traits most motorcycles strive for.  Most motorcycles are made for the purpose of having fun riding them.  And the Sportster line is supposed to be the sporty bikes as compared to the rest of Harley’s cruiser bikes.  But with the suspension chopped and the seat so low, it means that there’s not a lot of lean angle to use when trying to get some sporty riding out of the bike.  The pegs have pavement feelers, and those will be scraped down to the nubs in no time, and long before the bike should run out of clearance.

You’d think that they would have at least made the seat on the “Forty-Eight” comfortably plush in the hope of taking some of the burden off the suspension.  But I think they just laminated some leather over a cinder block and bolted it on to the frame. Trust me, this seat will upset your junk more than any TSA airport screener will.   Fortunately, it’s only a solo seat so there is no opportunity to cripple a passenger.

You may have read reviews of this bike that extol the virtues of the “Forty-Eight”.  I’ve read them, too, and they are mostly found in magazines that blindly, genuflect over all things Harley, and rely on Harley and aftermarket Harley accessories for their ad dollars.  Other magazines worry about offending their readers who may own Harley’s, so they play up the Harley heritage and  sound much like the Harley advertising literature, and bury two sentences about the harsh ride, and seat, and cornering clearance, and make it sound like that’s part of the charm.  Trust me, it ain’t charming.

Riding a motorcycle should be a pleasant activity . . . one to be enjoyed, not endured.  I look at a gas stop as an annoyance to my riding gratification, not as welcomed relief to my suffering.  Any other manufacturer would be ashamed to put their name on this bike.

All motorcycles have positives and negatives, with the positives far outweighing the negatives. The uncomfortable ergonomics on most sport bikes is far outweighed by the blistering power, performance, brakes, and handling.  The lack of crisp handling and the heavy bulky weight of large cruisers are outweighed by the comfort they offer on the open road. Dual Sport adventure bikes are too tall for many riders, but they offer the benefits of both on-road prowess and off-road capability.  The “Forty-Eight” only offers hot looks, attitude, and build quality, but have way too many negatives in the riding portion of the equation. If my hair was on fire, and I was being chased by a gang of outlaw bikers with buckets of gasoline, I’d rather jump on a bicycle to make my escape than the “Forty-Eight”.

I know I’ll get a lot of mail about this article, but before you run to your computer to fire off a heated missive and question my IQ, patriotism, or parentage, please keep this in mind.  I have favorably reviewed dozens of Harley models.  I would gladly welcome in my garage, current and past Road Kings, a Deuce, a Street Glide, a Fat Boy, V-Rod, and my favorite all-time Harley, the discontinued Heritage Springer complete with fringed saddlebags, seat and floorboards..  And it is perhaps because I enjoy so many Harley bikes that it irritates me even more that the Sportster line is so lame by comparison.

The “Forty-Eight” lists for $10,499 in black and $10,789 in colors.  There are at least a dozen other cruisers on the market that are far superior for that kind of money.  Check out Triumph models if you’re looking for heritage.  But if you must have a Harley, and you only have ten grand to spend,  you’d be better served by looking at a 2 or 3 year old pre-ridden Dyna, or Softail, and enjoy the sport of motorcycling, along with all the heritage and mystique of Harley-Davidson.

 

Ducati Diavel launched in Spain

With my feet tucked up in a semi-race position, arms stretched out in front of me like a Streetfighter, and the Spanish road dividers beside me traveling backwards at over 120 mph, it feels more like being in the latest Tron movie than out on a test ride. Futuristic electronic gauges feed me information, as we carve effortlessly through the Andalucía countryside. Big fat tires, loud, raucous engines and a pack of leather-clad riders around me fuel the excitement, as we blast along the interstate heading for the slower, more scenic mountain roads that will take us towards the town of Rhonda. Riding on the all-new Ducati Diavel is like nothing I have ever experienced in over a decade of testing motorcycles around the world, and my brain is in stimulation overload.

It’s a naked standard. It’s a custom cruiser. It’s a sporting muscle bike. No amount of shuffling and juggling with existing motorcycle terminology is going to help me adequately pin a definition on the latest Ducati. That the world Diavel is an Italian derivative for Devil is about the only thing that makes any sense, as I peel through a triple-digit sweeper and let loose all 162 horsepower again to keep pace with my group.

For the launch of their radical new Diavel, Ducati picked the town of Malaga in the south of Spain. As a central spot for the world’s press to converge, it affords beautiful views of the Mediterranean ocean with challenging climbs up in the mountains that frame out the coast in this area. With fast, open interstate sections, slower crawls through town, and a couple of hours bend-swinging as we made our way for coffee in the mountains, Ducati gave us a chance to test the Diavel in a wide variety of different conditions.

The Ducati launch wasn’t just essentially dealing with new graphics, styling, or minor upgrades like a lot of intros lately, and the press brief was enough to make my head spin. Jet-lagged and on some weird time schedule, and sitting in a warm, dark room is normally the kiss of death for staying alert and attentive. Not so this time, as the Ducati designers, engineers, and marketing staff told their stories. The new Diavel is so totally new and fresh, and jam-packed with such a plethora of advanced electronics, it actually ended up being a fairly long affair as we learned all the intimate details. From anti-lock brakes, to multiple-position traction control, different ride modes, keyless ignition and all the custom parts, the connection to the Tron movie actually started before I even rode the bike.

While the majority of the espresso-bar conversations about the new Diavel are undoubtedly going to focus on the styling,     the most impressive part of the beast to me was the engine. Using what is called the, Testastretta 11 referring to the degrees of crankshaft rotation during valve overlap it’s also a lot more civilized than Ducati’s own Streetfighter: a machine that is darn right unfriendly on an open throttle unless you are on a deserted road. This doesn’t make the Diavel less exciting, as the big desmodromic twin is still kicking out 162 Italian stallions, it’s just able to mind its manners at low speeds before you get too rowdy with the throttle. Now get that throttle pinned and you had better be holding on, as the Diavel can apparently accelerate from 0-60mph in 2.6 second. I’m told it feels very similar to the new Multistrada, but I’ve not ridden it yet so can’t comment.

I have no reason to doubt this acceleration claim, as yanking open the throttle pins you back in the seat and demands your full attention. Using Ducati’s Ride-by-Wire (RbW) system this acceleration is immediate and flawless and it really starts to build once you get past 6,000 rpm. There is a choice of three different maps, or riding modes, and if you don’t want this full-power version, you can step down from this sport level to a touring mode. This will still give you the full 162 horsepower but with a more progressive delivery. Finally, there is a city mode that limits the Diavel to 100 horsepower, and after letting loose all the horses in the full-power mode, trying it out just didn’t feel like fun so I never used it again.

Besides, the new Diavel comes complete with full traction control, so worrying about putting too much power to the floor is never a problem. The sandy Spanish roads near the coast were as slick as anything I’ve ever ridden on and were almost as polished as a concrete floor in places. Twist the throttle any time and the traction control immediately kicked in, keeping the Diavel moving forward without drama. You know it’s working, but you also know it’s not spinning, and that’s very comforting with so much horsepower on tap.

Called DTC (Ducati Traction Control), there are eight levels of traction control to choose from. These are set for one being the least invasive for sport riding, with eight being the most invasive. The DTC is pre-set to a specific level in each of the three riding modes, but you can easily change this to suit your needs, or you can access the set-up menu found on the lower display and custom set each mode to your desired level of traction control. If you want to leave your choices, that’s fine, or there is a default option available that puts everything back to the factory pre-sets when you turn the bike off.

The secondary display molded into the fuel tank uses TFT (Thin Film Transistor) technology to show you which riding mode you are in and what level of traction control is active. It also has a gear-position indicator as well as mileage and trip counter. You will be familiar with TFT from your experience with cell phones and computer screens and the display is so incredibly vivid you wonder why no one has used it before. Of course, in keeping with the futuristic nature of the Diavel, the display will adjust between a black and white background depending on the light available.

While we are talking lights, there is no departure from the unique for the Diavel with either the headlight or the taillight. Up front a large aluminum body houses high and low beam double reflectors, with an additional strip of LED positioning lights for extra night vision. Once you’ve seen the Diavel coming at you, you’ll never forget it, or mistake it for any other bike. In the rear, you’ll find two clear vertical LED strips for tail light, braking light, and turn signals, and these are integrated into the under seat paneling for a cleaner look and greater visibility. This part of the bike looks somewhat similar to my buddy’s Desmosedici, but as much as I tried to like it, while following the group of Diavels around all day, it just always looked unfinished to me compared to the rest of the bike. Just my two cents, but I heard it from a couple of other scribes during the day, so clearly I’m not alone in my thinking.

For the more mundane stuff, like how far over the speed limit you are and how close to the rev limit, there is an attractive LCD display attached to the handlebar risers. This also houses all the usual warning lights as well as the time and temperature. It requires fairly good eyesight to keep up with the fast-moving electronic display, but it will be very familiar to existing Ducati owners. These risers also hold a set of wide, tapered aluminum bars that hold a pair of forged aluminum mirrors. It’s all very sparse and minimalistic and the mirrors actually let you see most of what’s going on behind, minus the usual amount of elbow. The switchgear took me a while to get comfortable with as you have to slide the kill switch cover up to engage the starter button the way you would use a trigger catch on a gun. The turn signal switch also doubles as a scroll button for changing the riding mode above and as a navigation tool for the control panel below.

The last time I rode toward Rhonda, it was pouring with rain with the clouds so low we couldn’t get out of second gear for lack of visibility. During the Diavel launch, there was barely a cloud in the clear, blue sky, and the air was so fresh and clean it felt sharp enough to cut. Swinging through one perfectly manicured bend after another, with the accompanying sound track of the booming V-twin engine and the occasional sound of the hero blobs marking their territory, the Diavel threw the next set of pre conceived ideas out of the window. Even though it has a 62.6-inch wheelbase, and a 240-series rear tire, it can really hustle through the curves. Now a sport bike it is not, and you always have to remain conscious you have a long bike to turn, so more thought is obviously needed. But as we carved our way up the beautiful mountainside, I realized I’ve never gone faster on a bike with this sort of riding position and comfort. My friend Arthur Coldwells, the owner of Ultimate Motorcycling, was riding with me, and we’ve put on some crazy miles around the world together. So when we arrived at the coffee stop, after profusely manifesting that we absolutely weren’t pushing it, his big shit-eating grin was all I needed to back up my feelings about the Diavel’s excellent handling.

Heading back down the mountain, we were taking it just as easy as I left progressively more foot-peg metal on the Andalucía tarmac. This gave a wonderful opportunity to put the brakes to test.

Looking like they were lifted straight from Ducati’s Superbike, there are two 4-piston Brembo Monobloc calipers up front clamping down on 320mm discs. Fluid makes its way to the pad via a radial-pump master cylinder stored in a uniquely styled reservoir. The lever is adjustable and the setup is not so strong that it overwhelms the front fork when you get aggressive. It lacks the initial bite of something like the 1198, but that’s fine for the street. It’s also got a nice sweet-spot for trail braking with all the power you need for getting the 456-pound Diavel under control when you pull a little harder. The rear brake is also very strong, and this setup comprises a two-piston Brembo working on smaller 265mm disc.

Suspension is a mix of Marzocchi forks up front and a Sachs shock in the back. A black-bodied 50mm inverted fork comes equipped with pre-load, compression and rebound settings, and is held in place by a beautiful, cast-aluminum, slash-cut triple clamp. These are blacked out and certainly add to the Diavel’s looks. In the rear, the spring holding your butt off the wheel is mounted horizontally under the chassis. It features an external adjuster for setting pre-load as well as compression and rebound damping adjustment.

Ducati quote figures of 28 degrees for rake, and 130mm of trail with a 24mm offset. Somehow, the people who have recently won a MotoGP world championship and more World Superbike championships than any other manufacturer have figured out how to juggle the numbers to achieve the impossible here. They have made a long wheel based, fat-tired motorcycle handle way better than it has any right to, better also than I had expected from looking at the spec sheet before our ride.

Parking the Diavel for coffee and sitting back to enjoy its visual footprint, I couldn’t help being attracted to the custom 14-spoke wheels. Looking more like something Bobby Fisher at Roaring Toyz would accessorize one of his custom bikes with, it’s going to be a tough job convincing people they come stock on the Diavel. The rear is a massive 8×17-inch rim, while the front is a more sporting 3.5×17. Of course the bike rolls on some specially designed Pirelli Diablo Rosso II tires. With a more rounded profile than a traditional cruiser tire of this width, they no doubt contribute heavily to the bike’s handling manners, and it’s nice to know you have such high levels of grip available when riding with Mr.Coldwells at speed.

The two exhaust pipes hanging out off the right-hand side of the Diavel, beg to be removed and replaced with something smaller and more compact. Ducati already has this covered and we got to see a  Termignoni carbon full exhaust system on the full-carbon display bike in the hotel. A must for new owners I’d say. This fully accessorized Diavel adds $3,000 to the $16,995 entrance price of the standard Diavel; if you can call a bike like this standard?

The bike uses keyless ignition: just put the fob in your pocket, hop on the bike, press the starter, and go. It comes in a choice of red or black, and Ducati are seeing big things for the Diavel in the American market. It’s wild, futuristic, and like nothing I’ve ridden before, and that’s what’s going to make it so appealing to the lucky few who buy one.

Words by Neale Bayly. Photos by Ducati.

 

The Everyday Bike for the Real World; 2011 Ninja 1000

“A purpose-built sport bike for the street.”

So you are getting older and your knees and back aren’t what they use be but you love sport bikes. You grew up with your wrists down, rear end up, and as far as you are concerned it’s how a real motorcycle should be. They were built for carving canyons, applying liberal doses of adrenaline through the vascular system when needed, and need to look like they are doing 100mph at rest. Sure, you can get a bike like the ZX 10R, and enjoy ten-year-old Moto GP quality performance on the street, but there is a price to pay in the levels of comfort, especially when you want to go somewhere or take a passenger for a ride. Up till now the choices have been a little slim lately. Move over to a sport touring machine, put a bikini fairing on a naked standard, or like the guy you saw at Target the other day in his jogging pants, just give up, and head out to buy a cruiser.

Well, if you find yourself at this life threatening crossroads, where waking up each morning allows you to replay the memory of all the accidents and injuries you’ve had over the years, Kawasaki has come up with a new form of therapy called the Ninja 1000. Looking like a sport bike, behaving like a sport bike when you twist the throttle or dive into a sweet series of fast corners, it’s designed to be ridden for long periods of time. Handlebars are high enough to not put any stress on your wrists, the foot pegs are low enough you don’t need a prescription for Celebrex to go for a weekend ride, and the seat comfortable enough to let you sit for longer than a 20 minute track session without pain. You can also add soft luggage and a tank bag, which will give you the ability to go sport touring. And I wouldn’t mind betting with some suspension tweaks and a stickier set of tires, it would do quite well at your local track day.

While Kawasaki is introducing this an all-new machine, the concept of this style of motorcycle has been with them for many years. Way back in 1983, they had the awe inspiring GPZ1100 and have carried on with a number of bikes like the GPZ 900R, the ZX-11 and even more recently the ZZR1200. They also had a bike called the Ninja 1000 back in ’86 which came during that odd period when someone thought 16 inch wheels were a good idea. It was never a bike I liked and seemed like a poor replacement for the Ninja 900 to me, but that’s all in the past, so let’s get back to the future.

For our test ride we headed to the mountains roads outside of San Francisco, and full marks to Kawasaki for giving us such a variety of conditions. I was amused to listen to one moto scribe who was not happy with the tight, twisting and bumpy roads in the morning. Partially strewn with pine needles and rotten branches I could see where it could have been a nightmare for someone who obviously did too many laps at the bar the previous evening. Allowing me to marvel at the wide bars, the superb balance, and excellent control available from the precise fueling, I was absolutely in heaven. Diving between fallen branches, swerving around piles of leaves and pine needles, and rattling up and down the gear box like a sax player practicing scales, I did a lot of bonding with the Ninja during this part of the day. “It’s a sport bike for the real world,” says Kawasaki’s Karl Edmondson. This was the real world, and the new Kawasaki Ninja 1000 was certainly living up to my expectations.

The suspension did a fantastic job all day, compliant over bumps, while also keeping the bike composed at speed. The Ninja started moving around speeds reached into the illegal zone on some bumpy sections of road, but it was more of a slow down signal than an alarm bell. Don’t start thinking of your old 1980 Z1000 trying to tie itself in knots when you past its limits. This is more of a gentle oscillation that says we are approaching the limit so back off. Imagine one of those gentle electronically generated female voices saying, “It’s time to slow down,” not Flo the insurance gal yelling at you to back off. Parking my Ohlins shod personal bike the day before riding the Kawasaki, I was most impressed with the way the bike would settle after hitting a bump or series of bumps. As one area of testing that always shows the quality of a suspension system, the Ninja gets extra bonus points as it was on stock settings.  For the technically minded, the Ninja uses a 41mm inverted fork featuring stepless compression and rebound damping with adjustable pre load. The rake and trail are 24.5 degrees and 4 inches respectively, and the bike rolls on a 56.9-inch wheelbase. To put this in perspective, the ZX 10R uses a 56.1-inch wheelbase. In the rear, the single shock is mounted in a horizontal fashion with just stepless rebound damping and pre load adjustments possible.

The new Ninja 1000 is highly deceptive in the weight department, feeling a lot lighter than its listed 502 pounds. Moving a liter bike around the garage manually or at low speeds with the engine running in a parking lot, reminds me of why track days can be so tiring on a bike of this capacity. These things are still pretty heavy. Performing the same maneuvers on the Ninja, you would bet money it’s 100 pounds lighter than the pure sport bike thanks to the wide bars, and low, narrow seat.

And it’s easy to maneuver, too. Turning for photos at a point where the road fell away from us, it was no problem to come to a rolling stop, let the bars fall to the steering stop before rolling down into the turn. Finding myself able to keep my feet on the pegs, with some juggling of the light clutch and throttle, it really put a smile on my face every time I turned. This can sometimes be a challenging part of the job on narrow roads when riding a heavier bike. It’s this balance and poise that made the day of sport riding on the California roads so much fun. I distinctly remember riding similar roads on Ducati’s Streetfighter, and feeling like I was a novice at a track day struggling to find my way. It was that difficult. The Kawasaki by comparison with its upright and set back bars, allows for super light input on these transitions, with no compromise to the bike’s stability. Never any nervousness, just precise, predictable handling.      Ride position is comfortable and apart from a 10mm change in the individual clip on bars, it’s the same as the Z1000, or Kawasaki’s naked standard that this bike is based on if you are not familiar with the model. After a long day in terms of riding hours not necessarily miles, the seat was starting to feel a tad firm, but nothing a quick stretch and a walk around wouldn’t fix.

The view from the saddle shows a very well finished and clean cockpit without any clutter. The gauges taken from the ZX 6R work perfectly, with a nice big analogue tachometer to let you know what the engine is doing and an adequate digital speedometer. There is a good fuel gauge, easy toggle through odometer, trip counter and sensible practical switchgear that’s not clever for the sake of it. Plus a manually operated three-position windshield that is easy to operate, but it must be done while you are parked. This is part of the full fairing, which actually leaves a fair amount of your body out in the wind. Raising or lowering the windshield gave a small change in airflow, but nothing drastic. The mirrors are good, with the usual head and shoulder routine showing only half of what’s going on behind.

On paper the bike is identical in horsepower and performance to the Z1000, but with a slightly lower final gear ratio and a more slippery aerodynamic profile. The Ninja will get to its marginally higher top speed quicker. I gushed about the 1034cc engine in my review of the naked Z last year and still feel exactly the same. The fuel delivery from the 38mm Keihin throttle bodies is as seamless as anything I’ve ever ridden, and allows perfect on-off-on throttle response. It’s just so predictable at lower throttle openings. It’s not going to land you any trouble, especially if you unexpectedly hit a bump mid corner. And it differs from a sport bike with three power modes, where the lower power option, or rain mode as some people call it, feels like someone pulled a plug wire. The Ninja engine just feels right all the time and will pull cleanly from 2,000rpm. You can drop to around 35mph in top gear and still pull away smoothly if you are not into dancing on the gear lever in town. In 6th gear out on the highway with the engine spinning along minding it’s own business you are doing a comfortable 70-75mph. Dropping the bike into fifth gear gives a 500 rpm increase, so clearly sixth gear is just an overdrive. This makes for a nice relaxed feeling at highway speeds, with none of the dry mouth, anxiety associated with Superbikes under these conditions. To me, it seems like I spend the entire time all wound up waiting to just yank the throttle and take off and stressing about the potential problems it could cause. Not so on the Ninja.

Gear changing for the most part is very good and precise. I did have a couple of times where I was left waiting for it to be ready for the next up shift, but there were no false neutrals during downshifting or clutch-less up shifting. Clutch lever pull is sharp; engaging soon after the lever leaves the bar. It should be noted it is non adjustable, where the front brake lever has six position choices depending on the size of your paws.

Brakes are full on sport bike equipment, with a radial pump master cylinder, sending fluid to a pair of radial, four piston calipers. Wave petal rotors are standard stuff these days for Kawasaki sport bikes, and at 300mm, they are a tad smaller than the all out sport bike. Nothing earth shattering about the components or their action, just good solid equipment that gives all the stopping power you need. If I was being really nit picky, I would like the initial bite to be stronger on such a sporting bike, as I’m not comfortable having to apply so much pressure to the lever when the pace gets hot.  The rear brake is useful to keep the bike settled in the faster stuff with the more softly sprung front end. It can take a good, firm push before locking the rear tire, and this adds a degree of confidence during the fast braking process. The front wheel appears to be lifted from the ZX 6R and came wrapped in a sticky 120/70 ZR 17 Bridgestone BT100. This gave superb feel and grip, as did the 190/55 ZR 17 rear, so no surprises here.

The new Kawasaki Ninja 1000’s styling is certainly interesting. The front fairing has quite the beak, and coming from one who has a large personal fairing thrusting off my face, I feel qualified to comment here that it could be a love it or hate it feature. The rest of the fairing seems well integrated, and uses the side panel design to channel heat away form the engine with its unique rounded shape. During our test day the temperatures around the San Francisco Bay remained cool, so it never got hot enough for me to tell if they were doing their job as intended. It also seems to draw attention away from the stylish triangulated mufflers, which look larger on the naked Z1000. These are the last part of a 4-into-2 pre-chamber-into-2-layout with main and pre-catalyzers keeping the stuff we breathe cleaner.

While Kawasaki is touting the Ninja 1000 as an all-new bike, not a Z1000 with a fairing bolted on, in truth most of the bike is the same. From the lightweight aluminum frame to the five-gallon gas tank, both bikes share the majority of components. Priced at $10,999, the new Ninja 1000 is ready to be shipped to dealers and will be available by the time you are reading this. There are a number of accessory items in the works with saddlebags, frame sliders and a larger windshield already on the list. This will probably be one of the big attractions to this real world sport bike, as you can pack up and go away for a weekend or more in comfort. As one of the aging demographic that can’t tolerate long days in the saddle of hard-core sport bikes too often, the Ninja 1000 is talking my language.  Compliant suspension, a powerful torque loaded engine, and heaps of low down grunt, it has more handling and braking capabilities than you realistically need on the street. And, of course, looks to match. Reminding me very much of Kawasaki’s Ninja 900 and GPZ1100 from my early motorcycling years, Kawasaki has created another exciting adrenaline inducing motorcycle that is going to make a lot of sport bike enthusiasts very comfortable. Pun intended.

2011 Star Stryker- Affordable Attitude

Sitting in the press meeting at the historic Driskol Hotel in Austin, Texas, preceding the first ride of the new Stryker 1300, there are familiar faces wearing Star shirts. Long-term employees and lifelong motorcyclists, I’m among designers, product planners, accessory specialists, road testers, media staff and more. A closely-knit team of highly qualified and dedicated people, all directly responsible for the way the new Stryker’s styling, character and how you can customize it to your own personal preference.

This is a machine built for the American riding public, designed, refined and styled after much time and effort spent interviewing current riders, cruiser and non-cruiser. Then long periods of time riding and evaluating and improving, until the motorcycle you see here is ready for sale. And just in case you think Yamaha slipped a bottle of Scotch in a goody bag before the introduction, take a quick look at Star’s sales figures. As the motorcycle company that sits second in number of units sold, and the company that is nipping away at Harley’s heels, it’s clearly this cohesive mix of home-based knowledge and talent, blended with Yamaha’s pursuit of excellence that is making the Star brand excel.

Just looking at the Stryker outside the Driskol on the morning of our ride confirmed all these feel good thoughts from the previous evening’s launch. The bike sits low, with a lean, muscular stance and has plenty of chrome and deep luster custom-look paint work. It has the chopper style with the wide bars, raked out front end and big rear tire, but swinging it up off the side stand, it thankfully doesn’t have the chopper feel. Bikes with extended front ends have the heaviest and least precise steering of any motorcycle produced, but not so the Stryker. The somewhat lazy rake and trail of 34 degrees and 109mm extend the wheelbase more than two inches longer than the V Star 1300 at 68.9 inches. Like its bigger brother, the Star Raider, it deals with it extremely well. Sure it’s not quite as sharp at speed on very twisty roads, but for the majority of riding situations it’s barely noticeable. The 21-inch front wheel allows the front end to become skittish on very rough pavement, and the somewhat basic suspension will send big bumps directly through to your vertebrae, but when ridden on smoother roads and at sensible speeds, the Stryker performs just fine.

Built on the V Star 1300 platform, a bike that’s been with us since it replaced the venerable V Star 1100 in 2007, there are a few changes to the over square 1304cc, 60 degree, V-twin engine for 2011. The Stryker engine gets a slightly higher lift camshaft and roller rocker arms for a little more power, and the ignition and fuel injection have been changed to work with a larger three-liter air box to complement these changes.

The 100mm pistons use a conservative 9.5:1 compression ratio and run in 83mm ceramic composite cylinder sleeves. The engineers have worked hard to give the engine character, but not at the expense of unnecessary vibration. A bike we think of as mid size, the Stryker has plenty of power from idle up to the 6600 rpm red line. It’s not going to rip your arms out of your sockets when you crank the throttle and put the 40mm Mikuni throttle bodies to work, but it certainly has some good, healthy grunt. I liked not having to down shift to overtake on the highway, and the bike’s ability to rumble along at low rpm and accelerate without any fuss if needed, can be credited to the excellent fuel injection.

With a weight wet of 646 pounds, the Stryker is no lightweight on paper, but it’s cleverly disguised the by the low 26.4 inch seat height and wide bars. Yamaha fully expects a third of it’s Stryker sales to come from female riders, so this is a good thing, as it will certainly be a confidence booster. The ability to put your feet flat on the floor, not needing to wrestle the bars to turn the wheel like a conventional chopper, will make life a lot more pleasant not only for the ladies, but for newer riders stepping up to their first full sized bike.

The chopper theme is certainly evident with the wide 210/40R 18-inch rear tire and 120/70 21-inch front, but the Yamaha team has done their homework with their tire choice. Where conventional choppers use a very skinny front tire, the wider one used on the Stryker calms things down and makes the bike steer a lot better while improving stability. While this set up is not my cup of tea, overall the combination does a much better job in all areas of road holding than I would have thought initially reading the press literature.

The Stryker comes with regular forward positioned foot pegs. The six-speed gearbox makes light work of shifting gears, and power is taken to the back wheel by a clean, quiet maintenance free belt drive system. A single disc brake is used up front, and this is a generic looking two-piston caliper lightly massaging a 320mm single disc. There is a one-piston caliper in the rear with a 310mm disc, and to stop in a hurry, you will need both of them in tandem, as they are somewhat modest in their performance.With a bike of this nature though, I would hope you wouldn’t be doing too much sport riding as the Stryker is about good looks, great feel and the custom cruiser lifestyle. The paint quality on the four-gallon gas tank is first class and is carried over on the fenders and side panels. Fenders are deliberately made of steel so they can easily be modified or repainted to your own choice once you start accessorizing. The stock pipes have a very custom look as delivered and certainly compliment the bike’s looks.  Star is always quick on the draw with their tag line, “We build it, you make it your own,” but this really is the perfect way to describe the accessory options available for the Stryker. Chatting with the man in charge of these accessories, Dave Pooler, I learned there are a plethora of items already available, sixty to be precise. You can choose from billet covers, performance air filter kits, custom seats and back rests. There are mounts for saddlebags and a choice of windshields for traveling, so whatever your taste, Yamaha dealers have you covered.

Riding the stock bike, there’s no windshield, so the view over the chrome handlebars is very clean. There is however a small, centrally mounted console with a conventional analogue speedometer that sits in the center of the bars. All the usual warning lights, neutral light, trip counter fuel gage etc are located in the panel, and all work as intended. Switchgear is plain and functional, and a pair of conventional chrome mirrors let you get a fairly good view of what’s behind. The relationship of the bars to the seat and the foot pegs make the riding position relaxed, and during our day in the Texas hill country it was certainly very comfortable.

At the time of purchase, you can choose from a chrome trim or a more mean looking blacked out package, and the base price of the new Stryker is $10,990 for the Raven and $11,240 for the Impact Blue or Reddish Copper version. It comes with Yamaha’s normal one-year factory warranty. Parking back at the Driskol at the end of the day, I had a chance to spend some time with the Yamaha guys and see their passion and enthusiasm for the tight, competent,  and fun middleweight custom Star Stryker. They have done it again.

 

Sedona on a Yamaha Super Tenere

By Neale Bayly. Photos by Tom Riles and Brian J Nelson.

“You motorcycle guys have got life figured out.”

I heard that while talking with a corporate executive the other day.  His short statement caught me by surprise.   He no longer rides a motorcycle but he looked at me, shook his head, and hurried off to the next thing important people do, leaving me lost for words.  That doesn’t happen often and I felt a tad awkward. Perhaps my talking about riding this new Yamaha Super Tenere  in the amazing countryside around Sedona, Arizona, wasn’t such a good idea? Especially when it has to rate as one of the single best motorcycle rides I have taken.

Arriving at the small airport outside of Prescott, Arizona, on a clear, cloudless day,  I was greeted by a line of brand new Yamaha Super Tenere motorcycles and an assortment of  my colleagues heading to the motorcycle press brief.  I joined them for the introduction which brought us all up to speed on the technical aspects of this exciting new motorcycle for Yamaha.

Then we then ate lunch, changed into our riding gear and hit the road for Sedona. Rolling along in the early afternoon sun, with warm air and wide horizons around me, I turned off the evaluation software in my brain and just rode. With a full day ahead to analyze the bike I settled in to enjoy this ride.  It was short and sweet, but it did involve a nice section of off road riding as the sun was sinking lowtoward the dusty horizon.

Arriving at our hotel I was excited for the day ahead of us.

The Tenere is a bike that has been around in Europe in one form or other for nearly 30 years, starting life as a 600cc single in 1983. As a penniless bum in those days riding an old XT500, it was a machine I lusted after for many years. At that time most of my world travels were done with a back pack and my thumb out, so I would often stand outside my local Yamaha dealer’s window at night when home, dreaming of riding one around the world someday. The bike evolved over the years and by 1989 had grown into the XTZ750, a twin cylinder machine that would go on to win six Paris/Dakar races. By then I had graduated to old, used bikes with old bags strapped on with bungee cords, and ridden from Florida to Alaska as well as around Australia, but home in the UK in the summer of ’89, it was like Déjà vu outside the same motorcycle shop.

Now, the bike that has been ridden and raced all over the world for more than a decade has grown up and come to America as the Super Tenere. It has a much bigger engine, displacing 1199cc, but the core of the machine remains the same, a comfortable, practical, on/off road, adventure traveling machine that can take you anywhere you want in the world, on just about any kind of road. It was actually released in Europe for 2010 and won’t be available in America until May 2011 as a 2012 model, but judging by the excitement generated in the media, its arrival here is long overdue. To purchase a new Super Tenere, Yamaha is taking $500 deposits until March of next year. The sooner you get on the list, the earlier you will have your bike, and Yamaha will only bring in limited numbers, so it could be a case of he who hesitates is lost here if you delay.

Large dual-purpose motorcycle sales only make up about six percent of all bikes sold in America. But over the last ten years this segment of the market has grown rapidly, and it’s actually the area least affected by the current economy. With so many motorcycles evolving into ever narrowing niches, the Super Tenere appears to have a lot more to offer. As the type of motorcycle that can serve a wide variety of different functions, from long distance touring to commuting, world traveling to weekend off road fun, the only question is does it live up to the hype?

Waking up to a perfect morning in Sedona, we saddled up early and rode up into the surroundingmountains. Pulling strongly and smoothly as we climbed, the biggest first impression is from the all-new 1199cc twin, which is so incredibly smooth. Featuring a unique 270 degree crank rotation, that allows both the 98 mm pistons to fire very closely together, the characteristics of the engine are more like a big single cylinder than a conventional twin, although there is none of the accompanying vibration thanks to a two-axis primary balancer. This sits in front of the engine and also drives the water pump. The water-cooled engine is very compact thanks to a dry sump, which allows the bike to use a narrow chassis, and the radiator is mounted sideways to take advantage of this. It’s producing around 108 horsepower spread nicely across the range, with plenty of low down pull and a good strong top end.

Lightweight magnesium cylinder heads house twin spark plugs, four-valves per cylinder and double overhead camshafts. A downdraft fuel injection system uses two 46mm throttle bodies with 12-hole injectors controlled by Yamaha’s YCC-T fly-by-wire system, which we first saw on the R6 sport bike back in ‘06. It’s hard to find fault these days with modern fueling systems, and the Super Tenere’s is no different. Providing predictable power delivery in every situation from picking our way over rocks and gravel in first gear, to running up to triple digit speeds on open sections of highway in sixth, it’s without fault. There is also a two position power mode setting similar to the system found on pure sport bikes these days, and this gives you the option of the “T” mode for touring and “S” mode for optimum performance. As you would expect, the “T” mode gives a more muted ride, andwill undoubtedly be useful in rainy or exceptionally slippery conditions. It can also be adjusted between these two modes on the fly if you need to, which is a nice feature.

As we ride into an ever more sophisticated world, it’s no surprise to learn the new Super Tenere comes with traction control. There are three choices here, with a button on the side of the gauges being depressed to turn the system off, or the choice of position one or two if you don’t disable it. In the least invasive setting, the rear tire will spin briefly before an amber light flashes on the dashboard, the traction control kicks in, and forward progress returns. In “TC2” you can let the wheel spin more to control the back end before it stops the spinning. I was actually very surprised how much grip the Bridgestone Battle wing tires gave before the rear tire would break loose, and for the dirt portions I preferred to turn the system off. The tubeless tires are a good street/dirt mix and come wrapped around spoke wheels. The front tire is an 110/80R-19 inch, the rear a 150/70R-17 inch, and the bike will come with these Bridgestone Battle wings or Metzeler Tourance EXPs.

About the only thing I wasn’t so positive about was the anti lock brakes, not that they don’t work well, but because officially there is no provision to turn them off. Having this ABS activated full time is not a problem during street riding, but in the dirt I prefer to be able to lock the rear if I want, especially on a heavier bike as the Tenere. It works extremely effectively on the road though, with minimum pulsing when it activates, and no sense of the bike freewheeling before it continues with the braking process.  This braking system itself is very good, with a pair of mono block four piston calipers working with 310mm floating wave rotors. There is a single piston caliper squeezing a 298mm disc in the rear, and the Yamaha uses a linked system that uses the front and rear together. This unified system is highly sophisticated and uses a pump under the seat that is operated when you use the front brake. Depending on how much weight you have on the bike, it will add the correct amount of rear brake pressure to settle the chassis. I liked the feel at the lever both on the road and in the dirt, and the linked brake certainly eliminates some of the fork dive under heavier braking on the street, a situation that can be a problem on a softly sprung machine with long travel suspension.

The inverted 43mm fork is fully adjustable for spring pre load, as well as rebound and compression damping. With a full 7.5 inches of travel, it is more off road focused, but this isn’t a problem as it makes for a more compliant ride on the street. The rear shock has the same amount of travel and a hydraulic pre load adjuster that doesn’t require tools. It has no provision for compression damping, but does allow you to adjust the rebound settings for more control. During our full test day, we rode through some fairly challenging dirt sections, and the suspension soaked up most of the bigger bumps if we kept the speeds on the sensible side. For more serious stuff or higher speeds, it’s going to be challenged as the bike tips the scales at 575 pounds with a full 6.1 gallons of fuel, and that’s a lot of weight to be throwing around in the dirt.

Rolling out onto a section of graded dirt road that ran through a peaceful, picturesque Coconino National Forest, I stopped thinking about the technical aspects of the Super Tenere and started absorbing the moment. With the majority of my group running a faster pace ahead, I found myself riding with Yamaha’s Kevin Foley in a more relaxed fashion. With the big twin purring effortlessly beneath me, and shafts of golden light bursting through the trees as we rode, it was the perfect application for the big Tenere. Floating over any bumps we encountered, I stood up and gripped the tank with my knees, let the bike go a little loose through the corners and tried to keep a  massive grin  inside my helmet. All the bigger, lighter, faster rhetoric had evaporated into the clear, crisp air as we engaged in the act of motorcycling. Exploring an exciting new landscape in the saddle of a comfortable, competent machine with a good friend by my side, there are few finer experiences to be savored on two wheels.  We had ridden here on a mixture of tarmac, rocks, gravel, and dirt, and the Super Tenere had handled it all with aplomb. In fact, I felt like loading up my tent, sleeping bag, a couple of weeks of gear, and not stopping, as the smell of pine trees permeated the air. Yamaha has created a bike to get out and ride, and one that is going to be equally at home on fire trails or asphalt, whether it’s for a day, a month or a year.

Back on the tarmac, I recognized the landscape, having ridden here a couple of times over the years, and we engaged in a spirited ride on the deserted highway. The adjustable windshield deflects a good portion of the high-speed breeze, and the riding position is all day comfortable. The well-padded seat is adjustable, with the tallest position putting you a full 34.3 inches from terra firma. A low seat option is available for $240 that takes this down to 31.9 inches for those with shorter legs. The saddle is fairly narrow, so even on the highest setting I found the bike easy to maneuver and confidence inspiring while stopping and posing the bike for pictures on the rocky mountain roads.

The cockpit is clean and tidy, with an attractive, easy to read instrument console. An analogue tachometer sits to the left of a digital speedometer with all the warning and information lights to the far left of the console. The digital display informs you which traction control setting the bike is in, as well as which power mode. There is also a power outlet just below it for any electrical gear you might want to plug in. Switchgear is elegantly simple, mirrors work just fine, and there is a four-way adjustable brake lever.

Writing a review about the Tenere without making some comparisons to the BMW GS1200 is difficult. Retailing at $13,900 compared to the $17,835 you would need to spend for a BMW with ABS, spoke wheels and traction control, the Yamaha is certainly an attractive proposition. I don’t think it’s as competent as the BMW when the going gets really rough off road, but in every other department it holds its own. BMW has done an awesome job creating a lifestyle around their GS models, and Yamaha doesn’t have this on their side yet. But with solid luggage, heated grips, engine guards, skid plates and headlight guards already available, the Super Tenere already has all you need to embark on your next round the world adventure.

Rolling back through Sedona, after a long and varied day in the saddle, I didn’t want the ride to end for so many reasons. The Super Tenere had taken me back to why I became a motorcyclist; the friends, the camaraderie and thrill of experiencing a new landscape from the saddle. It had seduced me into lusting for the open road and instilled me with a desire to find places to explore where the tarmac ends  (working on a trip to Labrador as I type). It just works so well for such a wide variety of applications and does so without the ego boast of being better, lighter or faster than another brand. Sure people will want to compare it to the BMW as I mentioned, but in my mind the Super Tenere is no competition at all. It’s just a welcome addition to the segment of the motorcycle market that’s got it right, and it definitely lives up to the hype.