2011 Kawasaki ZX10

bjn70972By Neale Bayly

Photos by Brian J Nelson.

“It’s got a petrol engine son.” I’ve always imagined the moment in the future when my grandkid is in my garage asking me what the weird looking two-wheeled machine is in the corner. After all, by then we’ll probably be heading to work on hydrogen powered smart phones, if there are any jobs left. I’ve also always thought I’d like that bike to be the pinnacle of development for the internal combustion engine. The fastest, meanest, most evil fossil fuel burning production motorcycle ever built.

Howling over the blind rise coming out of Road Atlanta’s turn five with the front wheel two feet in the air, the speed the new Kawasaki ZX 10R had reached approaching turn six was making the hairs on the back of my neck stand up. Rolling off the throttle, skimming the brakes and clicking off a downshift, a light nudge on the bars had the bright green machine on its side as I pinned the throttle again. Repeating this procedure for turn seven, it was time to shrink behind the fairing and head toward the mother of all corners: Turn 9. Taken flat out in fifth gear, sixth if you are good enough, my onboard camera showed 176 mph on the digital speedometer on one pass. Making the hairs on my neck hairs stand up, I waited for my brake marker, squeezed the lever and started downshifting. This process is as mad as the acceleration that got this started, and I wondered for a moment if this might be the one?

First introduced back at the Homestead-Miami Speedway in 2004, Kawasaki’s Superbike has been evolving every two years, with a new model in 2006 and again in 2008. This year, however, the new ZX 10R has undergone a complete redesign for the first time since ‘04 and shares little with these previous models, as Kawasaki attempts to unleash the most powerful, sophisticated, intelligent superbike to date.

[singlepic id=112 w=320 h=240 float=left]It’s immediately apparent that the bike has some major styling changes and it certainly looks a lot sharper and leaner. Kawasaki is claiming the bike is more aerodynamic, presumably thanks to the new rounded edges on the fairing. The front air duct is moved lower to allow a smaller frontal area, and the tail section has been on an obvious diet. For those who will be riding on the street, it should be noted that it doesn’t come with a get out of jail free card. There are new line beam headlights, a nine-bulb taillight and LED-type turn signals in the fairing mounted mirrors. Also, the rear turn signals and taillight are attached to the fender for quick removal at track days.

The first thing I noticed about the new ZX 10R, apart from the obvious changes to its looks, was how light it felt. Sitting on the presentation model after the press conference, I was shocked when moving the bike from side to side. I have a CBR1000RR on test, and compared to the Honda, I wondered if the Kawasaki had some parts missing. Jumping in the saddle for my first session at Road Atlanta the following morning, the sensation was exactly the same, and a quick check of the specification sheet shows a weigh reduction of 22 pounds this year. This gives the Kawasaki a claimed weight of 436.6 pounds, which is very similar to the Honda, but it’s incredible how different the bike feels.

Starting with an all-new aluminum-alloy twin-spar frame, the weight bias has been shifted forward by reducing the rake angle 0.5 degrees and increasing the wheelbase by 10mm. The new design has a more direct route from the swingarm pivot to the steering head, and torsional rigidity has been increased by 7.4 per cent. Apparently this gives better rider feedback with increased cornering stability. At track day speeds, I’ve never really experienced problems on previous models, but talking[singlepic id=109 w=320 h=240 float=right] with the Japanese engineers I learned the new bike is significantly quicker around Kawasaki’s Autopolis test track than last year’s model. The chassis itself is now made from fewer pieces with less weld joints, and pivot area rigidity has been reduced. This allows the swingarm more flex for better corning, and this has been both lengthened and strengthened this year, while still managing to lose some weight. One of the benefits of this longer swingarm is the ability to alter the wheelbase for track use by up to 16mm. This can only be done with a race system installed, as the exhaust pre-chamber has to be removed.

Kawasaki has also changed the suspension this year. A Showa Big Piston Fork (BPF) is now used. It’s still an inverted 43mm unit, but no longer uses a cartridge inside the fork legs. This reduces the number of internal parts used and therefore weight is reduced. With the ability to use a much larger main piston, damping pressure is also reduced, while the force remains the same. Compression and rebound damping changes are made at the top of the fork, while preload adjustment is made at the bottom. One of the biggest benefits is “enhanced composure under braking.” I’m not sure if I could directly feel this, but did notice every time I approached turn 10A after braking from extremely high speed, it felt I could have left it later.[singlepic id=119 w=320 h=240 float=none]

The rear shock and linkage are now placed above the swingarm, which frees up space for the exhaust pre-chamber. It also allows the shock’s top link to be mounted further from the swingarm pivot, which improves frame rigidity and chassis balance. Featuring a piggyback reservoir, it has both high and low speed compression damping as well as the usual rebound damping and preload adjustment. Another benefit of its position is reduced heat from the exhaust system. The only changes I made to the rear shock were to add some preload to help keep the front end more connected with the floor under hard acceleration, and the changes we made greatly improved the ride.

Riding a bike of this nature and keeping the front end on the track wil be a problem to some degree, so you’ll be pleased to learn an Ohlins race-spec steering damper is used. Often lofting the front end around the track, it greatly helped my confidence how quickly any headshake was dealt with and there was little drama when the front wheel reconnected with terra firma.

Visually the brakes look the same this year, but there are some subtle changes to improve their performance. Coming bolted to new 3-spoke wheels, which are listed as 11 ounces lighter, the 310mm waver rotors still have four piston Tokico radial-mount calipers grabbing them and they now have four individual 30mm pistons. The previous model used pairs of 32mm and 30mm pistons. How this affects things I’m not sure, but I do like the initial bite and feel at the lever during trail braking. There are no complaints about overall stopping performance either, as it’s more than I’ll ever need. Rear brake remained unused during our day, but for those interested, it’s a single 220mm waver rotor with a lightweight single-piston caliper. None of the bikes we tested had ABS, but this will be an option by the time the bikes are available for purchase.

One of the big questions is the new ZX 10R’s power output. With BMW raising the bar in liter bike horsepower levels, expect the Kawasaki to be at the same level around 180 plus horsepower at the crankshaft. European models are closer to the magic 200 number, and a version of the bike with a full exhaust system and race ECU we rode, produced this sort of horsepower. Whatever this turns out to be, the Kawasaki is actually producing, it is wicked quick and has more than enough power for most of us mere mortals.

The engine is completely new for 2011 and designed so that this power is accessible across the rev range. During the test, as much as the phenomenal chassis package, first class brakes and highly sophisticated electronics package dominated most of our off track conversation, it’s the way the Kawasaki puts power to the ground that is most impressive. During a stint on the Yamaha R1 at Road Atlanta, to get my best lap times I changed from the full power mode as the throttle was just too sensitive in the tighter corners. Not so on the ZX 10R, with the predictable power delivery it was easier to ride. Talking with Kawasaki’s tuner extraordinaire, Joey Lombardo, it was obvious from the glint in his eye this is something he is really pleased about from the new ten.

Starting at the top of the motor, new chromoly steel camshafts open and close the four valves per cylinder.  These were previously made of cast iron, so presumably they are lighter as well as having less friction. Intake valves are larger, while the exhaust valves remain the same and tappet sizes follow suit. These have been redesigned to work with the higher lift cams and have a smoother surface this year and increased oil retention. All of this intense attention to detail is mind boggling to me, and amazing how much work and effort is needed these days to extract more power from production engines. Therefore it’s no surprise that the intake and exhaust ports have been redesigned to increase the volume and to reduce engine braking.

Continuing on this fastidious diet, the pistons have lost 3.5mm from the bottom of the piston skirt, and 0.14 ounces in weight, as Kawasaki’s engineers determined it served no purpose, other than increase engine temperature. They even reduced the width of the piston rings, the oil ring now 0.3mm shorter to reduce weight. With the new engine red lining at 14,500 rpm, compared to last year’s 13,000 rpm, less reciprocating mass screaming up and down is very important. These lighter piston rings have lower tension as the cylinders are bored with a dummy cylinder head in place, which makes for a more precision fit. Compression ratio is now 13:1. The connecting rods and crankshaft have been strengthened to deal with the higher loads, and there is a new secondary balancer that allows lighter handlebar weights thanks to less vibration.

The crankshaft is located higher with the input shaft now located above the output for improved mass centralization. The way the bike feels and how fast it transitions from side to side through the chicane at the top off the hill after turn two, shows Kawasaki has done a fantastic job with this. It still puts power to the rear wheel through a six-speed transmission, but this baby is now a cassette style that can be changed without draining the oil. For racing purposes, there are seven different gear configurations to choose from.

With more air making it to the air box through the newly positioned air intake duct, it\ has been increased to 2.4 gallons and the surface of the air filter increased by 48 % for better breathing. Further weight has been shaved with a smaller fuel injection ECU, which is now located inside the air box to help with mass centralization. With a massive 2.2 ounces being saved, I would think visiting the potty before getting on the bike might help more, but I guess it all adds up. There is a bank of new 47mm Keihin TTK47 throttle bodies with larger oval sub-throttle valves. Twelve hole injectors spray fuel evenly and it’s no surprise to learn these injectors have lost some weight also.

Once the mixture of fuel and air is burned, it passes through a new three-piece exhaust system. After learning about all the ounces lost here and there, this is like a biggest loser contestant dropping 2.6 pounds. Made with hydro-formed titanium headers, these pipes connect to a large pre chamber under the bike as part of the mass centralization program. This allows the ZX 10R to use a smaller muffler, and you can remove this pre chamber and fit a race exhaust without the need to change the headers.

While it’s obvious Kawasaki has put a massive amount of development into every area of the new ZX 10R, the electronics package the bike comes with has been creating the most buzz. Calling this all-new traction control system S-KTRC (Sport Kawasaki Traction Control) this highly advance package has been developed in Moto GP racing. It has three modes you can choose from, as well as the ability to disable the system completely. For my first session, I put it in TC3 and worked through to TC1. The system can be disabled if you wish, and unlike the BMW S1000RR, you don’t have to go under the seat and plug stuff in to do this.

What was interesting to me is technology might be marching ahead at high speed, but there’s no software to download into the brain to immediately accept this fact. Telling myself the wheelie control wouldn’t allow the bike to flip over backwards, I spent the first sessions testing the system ans trying to make myself keep the throttle wide open during wheelies. This just didn’t compute in my aging brain, and it was some sage advice from Kawasaki’s Jeff Herzog that fixed the problem. “Just ride it like a normal bike without traction control and electronic devices and let them do their stuff.”

Back out on the track in full power mode, with the traction control set on position one, it suddenly all made sense. Riding the way I always do, my laps times fell and my comfort levels rose. Jeff said that due to the predictive nature of the traction control, it’s hard to feel it. “Trust me, it’s working” he told me, after following me for a few laps while filming some video. I can’t say I could feel it, but as the day wore on my drive off the corners was way stronger without any spinning or drama, so it was certainly doing its thing.

The new system reads your throttle inputs and makes predictions accordingly. Rather than wait for the rear wheel to spin and cut power, multiple sensors read gear position, engine acceleration rate, wheel speed and amount of tire slippage to predict traction loss. Some wheel slippage is good, so the system reacts quickly and smoothly reducing power at these moments to ensure the bike is still making rapid forward progress. The S-KTRC monitors these conditions 200 times per second and adjusts the ignition for a seamless response to whatever situation it is encountering. There is a level meter on the LCD panel, but exiting corners hard on the gas on a bike making close to 200 horsepower my attention was always elsewhere, so I never saw how this worked.

Testing the power modes, the most restrictive setting “L” cuts the Kawasaki’s power to 60%. This would be great for learning a track or in the rain, but it’s no fun when you’ve experienced the bike in full power mode. The middle setting, “M” is a variable mode that cuts power to 75%. It does allow you to have full power on full throttle opening, but it still made the bike feel somewhat strangled to me. Position “F” is full power and the setting I used the majority of the time. With the Kawasaki’s brilliant power delivery and sophisticated traction control, there just seemed no need to use any other settings.

At the end of the day, looking over my lap times with Joey Lombardo, the story showed steady improvement all day and a high degree of consistency. While I didn’t break any lap records, the impressive thing was how easy the new Kawasaki made it to run these times, while being so exciting to ride. It’s such a complete package from the way it flicks into corners, deals with heavy braking, and then allows you to accelerate off the corners knowing the traction control is there to help you. It sounds like an absolute demon when you have it up close to the rev limiter and is my pick of this year’s liter bikes as the easiest and most fun to go fast on.

Priced at $13,799, $14,799 with ABS, the new Kawasaki ZX 10R is available in the Lime Green tested here, or Ebony. It’s a stunning machine to look at, and incredible to ride. With the possibility of 200 horsepower with the addition of an exhaust system and the race ECU, the only question I have left is whether this is the one my grandkids will find in my garage, as it’s hard to imagine a production sport bike better than this new Kawasaki.

Victory Throttles into 2011

Riding through the slot canyons around Gateway, Colorado, with the headlight of a good friend occasionally blinking in my mirrors, I’m once again reminded that I belong to a small tribe, at least when compared the number of people there are in the world who don’t ride. Realizing how incredibly fortunate we are to experience the thrill of a new landscape from the saddle of a motorcycle, I down shift the big V-twin beneath me and dive into the next series of bends. Reacting to the change of pace, my buddy adjusts his speed, as I also realize that the Victory motorcycles we are riding belong to a relatively part of this tribe in the big picture of the motorcycle industry. This makes the large presence and awareness they have already established for themselves since their introduction in 1998 all the more remarkable.
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Having arrived on the scene with their bikes being touted as “the new American motorcycle,” Victoryquickly began winning awards. Their 1999 V 92C took Cycle World’s “Cruiser of the Year,” with numerous awards to follow. Building on this success, “Fuel your passion” is now a new tag line at Victory to accompany the fifteen new models they have on offer in 2011. As we thunder alongside a breathtaking vista of deep river canyons and towering mountains, I’m having no trouble figuring out what it means.

Also, riding through some strange times in the motorcycle world with our current economy, it’s interesting to note the success Victory has been achieving in growing the brand. This is not so surprising, when you realize the Victory Motorcycle Company is headed by Mark Blackwell, the motorcyclist’s motorcyclist. There are few more qualified in our industry, and this is easily recognizable in the quality and versatility of the machinery and choice of machines he oversees. With the fat 250 tire models excluded, the have ridden put a premium on the ride experience, with great handling, braking and strong, useable power allied to superb fuel delivery. Realizing that while I’m not a fan of big tire bikes, many people are, and the Victory models certainly do a much better job than others I’ve ridden with this configuration. American Iron Horse has to be the worst offender, with Suzuki’s M109R coming a close second for honors in the most difficult to ride category.

With fifteen new models to potentially ride in one day, it seemed like a daunting prospect at first to give them a decent evaluation. But with all of the line up sharing the same basic 106 cubic inch, air-cooled V-twin engine, it actually wasn’t such a tough job. Starting with the one bike I know from the Victory line up, the Vision Tour, I learned this, the Cross Roads and the Cross Country actually have what is called the Stage 1 engine package. This gives the touring range engines milder camshafts and a lower maximum peak of 92 horsepower. With 109 lb-ft of torque, it’s man enough for the job, and I’ve made many a happy mile in the seat of a Vision in the past.

For 2011, Victory has made changes to the gearbox to quiet things down. Fourth and sixth gears have been worked over to reduce whine, and drive train lash has also been drastically reduced. After our day of testing, there was too much daylight and incredible scenery left for me to pack it in, so I jumped on a cruiser and headed out to shoot some photos. Paying particular attention to the gear whine, I was surprised how much noise there was and wondered why it wasn’t noticeable during the day. Well, I’ve never been the sharpest tool in the shed, so it took a while for the small, shriveled pea floating around inside the cerebral nut basket to register I was riding last year’s model. Enough said.

Visually there are few noticeable changes to the Vision Tour, which I personally think is one of the coolest looking motorcycles ever made, except new blacked out passenger handholds, redesigned muffler tips and new tubular handlebars. It does come standard with anti lock brakes this year though and will set you back $23,699. If you want something extra special, there is an Arlen Ness version, which is simply stunning to look at and retails for $27,999. As a top of the line luxury cruising motorcycle, the Vision Tour comes with all the bells and whistles, from capacious lockable storage to a fully integrated sound system and more. While I didn’t put any transcontinental type mileage on the new ’11, I did put enough miles on to remind myself why I enjoy this, comfortable, mile-eating motorcycle so much.

The Cross Country is a stylish bagger, with a large full handlebar mounted fairing that comes with a fully integrated audio system like the Vision, an MP3/iPod hook up and optional Satellite radio. It feels instantly lighter and more maneuverable than the Vision, but with a choice of hard bags or soft saddlebags, or the new accessory color-matched trunk you can make it perfect for long haul journeys. Comfortable and smooth, with a 4.8-gallon gas tank and cruise control, the Cross Country is going to easily live up to its name.

Braking is the same as the Vision, with a pair of 300mm dual discs up front using four piston calipers. A single 300mm disc is used in the rear, and unlike the Vision the system is not linked. Settling the bike well into corners, solid and predictable handling is certainly one of the Cross Country’s strong points. While it uses the same frame, forks differ from the Vision’s 46mm conventional units by using the same inverted 43mm units found on the Cross Roads. A single air assisted shock in the rear makes changes for passengers and luggage not only easy, but also as precise as you want to make it. Coming in a choice of three colors: Solid Black, Solid Imperial Blue Metallic and Two-Tone Pearl White and Vogue Silver. The base model is on showroom floors for $17,999. You can, of course, get a highly individualized Cory Ness version for $24,999, which comes with a host of Ness chrome and billet accessories, the cylinders diamond cut, a pair of beautiful sculptured billet wheels, custom suede seat and a Sun Set red custom paint job.

The Cross Roads itself comes standard with cruiser control and no fairing, although you can have the same lockable hard bags or soft saddlebag option as the Cross Country. Part of Victory’s Core Custom Program yhat allows the customer to choose their own color from a choice of Solid Crimson and Solid Black. They can also specify whether they would like the accessory windshield, different handlebars and either the soft or the hard saddlebags. There is the optional color matched lockable trunk from the Vision and Cross Country. This comes on and off the bike in seconds and requires no tools for this operation. Able to hold two full-face helmets with room to spare, it has two speakers for the passenger as well as a comfortable backrest. Added benefits are the high mount tail light, and if you want to accessorize it further, you can add a passenger arm rest kit and pick up a liner and a cargo rack for more luggage carrying capacity. It’s this attention to every detail that is so precise that really impresses me with the whole Victory experience. You can simply set the bike up exactly the way you want it before you ride it away from the dealership. Retail on this baby starts at $14,999 and there is a highly customized Cory Ness version for $24,999.

In the cruiser department, you have a mix of bikes centered on three models: The Vegas, the Kingpin and the Hammer. The Vegas Jackpot is one of the bikes that has a 250 series rear tire and a very skinny 90 profile, 21 inch front tire. Retailing for $18,999, it comes with a cool black and white paint job, with a glamour girl on the side panel. The bike is a real looker, but loses points from me for the rear tire and the very busy digital tachometer. Never settling at any one place, even when I tried to keep the throttle steady, it would need to go if I owned the bike. The engine is a peach though and with the same faultless fueling it has a little extra power thanks to the Freedom 106/6 Stage 2 engine, which gives a total of 97 hp and 113 ft-lb of torque. It also uses the newly revised six-speed transmission and a host of customizing options at time of purchase.

The Hammer and the Hammer S also feature this level of engine tune and the 250 series rear tire. Victory says they are “at the intersection of sporty styling and cruiser muscle” and with twin discs up front, an inverted fork and removable seat cowl, they certainly have some sporting attributes. A performance exhaust is available, as are lower controls, grips and covers. The standard Hammer retails for $17,999 with the S model coming in a little higher at $18,499. There is also the Hammer 8-Ball which is a more base line, blacked out version with less frills for $14,499.

The rest of the Vegas family of cruisers restored Mr. Happy to the saddle as they come with a 180 series rear tire and a cool custom looking skinny 90 series 21-inch tire up front. The best selling motorcycle of the Victory line up, and probably the best known, it’s a distinctive looking bike that works really well over a wide variety of road conditions. Wide pull back handlebars, low seat and custom quality paint give it the right look, and with the basic 8-Ball starting at $12,999, it’s the lowest priced Victory of the bunch. You can spend up to $18,999 for the Zach Ness version, and there are a number of accessories available like performance exhaust, windshields etc, at the time of purchase for all the Vegas line up if needed.

Last but not least, and one of the bikes I put the most miles on during our test, the Victory Kingpin. With the larger fenders, inverted fork and eighteen-inch wheels, it has a distinctly different look to the others in the range. With the best handling package and the same silky smooth engine response, it was my favorite to ride. The seating position is pure cruiser, but not at the expense of any comfort, as the floorboards were nicely placed and the wide bars sat me upright without feeling strained in either direction. Base model 8-Ball starts at $12,999 and the straight Kingpin, with a choice of Solid Crimson and Two Tone Imperial Blue and White, hits $14,999. Clean, quiet and efficient belt drive is used as with all the models here, and like all Victory motorcycles it’s an extremely tight, well thought out package in every respect.

Heading home from Colorado, it’s clear Victory is extremely serious about their motorcycles and how to keep building on their success. The amount of options available for someone purchasing a new machine are bordering on the overwhelming, although I’m sure very exciting as you set about making your new bike just the way you want it. What started out as a confusing prospect, turned into a simple distilled realization that it doesn’t matter which of the new Victory models you choose, you are clearly not going to be disappointed.

Honda CBR1000RR – The Art of Deception

Honda CBR1000RR…by Neale Bayly. Photos by Neale Bayly and FS Enterprises.

Firing the 2010 Honda CBR1000RR to life for the first time, slipping into gear and easing out onto the road next to my home, I’m amazed by the lack of drama. Slotting into traffic, picking up the Interstate and dialing the big, four cylinders on 75 mph, it’s the calm that’s most apparent. Effortlessly rolling along at law-abiding speeds, I can barely hear any engine noise or sound from the exhaust. Surely this can’t be a fire-breathing Superbike making close to 160 horsepower through the meaty 190 series tire. This is a machine that is capable of hitting around 180 mph in the right environment and shredding a quarter mile in 10 seconds or less? Surely I’ve got a restricted model here.

A few hours later, all doubts evaporated as I exited turn 8 with the throttle pinned in third gear and the big CBR hits the red line before I ease out of the throttle for the kink that leads down to turn 10. It’s taken me a few sessions to find the spuds to hold the throttle open on the tight, technical Beaver Run racetrack, I feel like I’ve been strapped to a rocket as the Honda feels so sadistically fast.

As the last of the current crop of liter bikes I’ve tested, the Honda CBR1000RR is unequivocally, without a shadow of doubt, the most deceptive. Like all Honda sport bikes I’ve ridden, quiet, reasonably comfortable on the highway and highly civilized, it reminds me of its smaller brother the CBR600RR when I tested it with the other 600cc machines in the class some years ago.  The Honda was the “Plain Jane” of the bunch in terms of noise and flash, but the one I recorded my fastest lap times on. And reading how the CBR1000RR has been winning multi bike shootouts over the last couple of years, confirms my feelings it is just the same as its smaller sibling.

Spending some time with the CBR on the road before we took it to the track actually changed one of my bigger prejudices that it’s pointless to ride a liter bike on the road. The riding position is not going to fold you up like some Yoga instructor in a weird pose, and it doesn’t get brutally hot when you are sitting at traffic lights or stop signs thanks to the low exit Moto GP inspired exhaust system. The clutch is light and smooth and shifting is as slick and effortless as any motorcycle produced. Brakes are nice and sensitive to road inputs, and the throttle not so sensitive that small inadvertent moves will have you hurtling forward by mistake. Mirrors do a reasonable job of letting you know what’s trying to keep up, and the gauges are easy to read, keeping you fully up to date on how close to being broke you are if you get pulled over by the law.

I’m not so impressed with the passenger carrying capabilities. My usual passenger is five foot two and weighs around 110 pounds, and it was still difficult. The higher seat put her too far away and feeling disconnected. With the extra weight up so high, it also compromised the bike’s handling on the technical roads around my home. Not to mention you really need to be extremely careful if you use any of the power. Also, the pegs are so close to the small, plank like seat that it wasn’t really that comfortable. So unless you regular passenger is a featherweight gymnast with buns of steel, this bike is better ridden solo.

One feature of the new CBR1000RR that I really like on the road is the new anti lock brake system, called “C-ABS” in Honda speak. Coming as a missive from Honda’s CEO and President, Takeo Fukui, a few years back that by 2010 all bigger Honda motorcycles will have ABS, it’s the first time I’ve used it on a sport bike, other than the new system on BMW’s S1000RR. Adding around 20 pounds of additional weight, it allows the brake system to operate like a conventional set up until used aggressively. At this point, the C-ABS electronics detects a sudden large increase in fluid pressure, and combined with readings from the wheel sensors, modulates the fluid pressure to prevent the wheels from locking. A high speed servo and a device called a “stroke simulator” removes any pulsing at the lever previous systems exhibited. And, apart from a slightly vague feeling at the lever when it’s doing its job, it’s as normal feeling as you can want. The brakes are also linked, and a little rear brake is added when you apply the front. This keeps the bike settled entering turns from high speed on the racetrack, and I’m not going to complain about having additional stopping power with no risk. This rear brake set up is a 220mm rotor with a twin piston caliper, while 320mm rotors get four piston Brembo calipers up front.

During my track test, I spent most of the day riding with my good friend Julian Taylor from All About Bikes on board a BMW S1000RR. As riders of very similar skill levels, once I learned his home track, it was interesting to be able to see how the two bikes stacked up against each other. While I immediately thought the BMW would have a big advantage with its dynamic traction control it was actually under braking where it got the best of the Honda every time. Talking with a good friend of mine who is an ex racer and current track coach on a CBR, he told me this can be fixed by changing to a set of Vesrah brake pads, which I plan to installt before the next test.

During our day out at Beaver Run, we lucked into an impromptu race with a large group of lightweight super bike racers. It had been an interesting day of testing, as we would crucify the smaller displacement machines on the straights, to find ourselves sweating in our helmets to get our bikes stopped for the turns, while the lightweight bikes went by on the gas. Trying to battle with them through the technical top end of the track left me extremely impressed with the Honda’s chassis and suspension. The bike turns and changes direction extremely well, and it must have shocked more than one rider to be passed in this section by a pair of large street bikes with mirrors and turn signals. Exhibiting total stability leaned over hard on the gas through the fast section, there was no drama scrubbing massive speed and tipping into the uphill right. This leads you to the left flick before the front straight really had me feeling comfortable on the big CBR, as I kept dialing in more throttle. Also, consider both Julian and I were on street compound rubber, so I know there is more to be had from the Honda as we upgrade the tires.

Suspension on the Honda is conventional, apart from the electronic steering damper. A 43mm inverted HMAS cartridge fork comes with all the normal adjustments, and throughout the day Julian’s mechanic made a few changes from the stock street settings to limit front end dive, slow the rebound some and firm up the rear. This is a conventional HMAS single shock, which is also fully adjustable.  A few weeks later, working on the next part of the article, we decided to set the bike up to Sportrider magazine track settings, and it was interesting to see how close we actually came during the day. The Beaver Run track is certainly a tad bumpy in sections, but the suspension did a fantastic job of keeping the tires in contact with the asphalt at all times.

The fact the Honda handles and behaves so well is no surprise. It’s been winning tests for years for this and its silky smooth engine. Pumping out close to 154 horsepower and 77.63 lb-ft of torque at the rear wheel, the inline liquid-cooled four cylinder displaces 999cc. Double overhead camshafts open and close four valves per cylinder and pistons run a 12.3:1 compression ratio. It’s a relatively short stroke engine with a 76mm bore and a 55.1mm stroke, which allows the big four a 13,000rpm redline. Fuel is delivered via twin fuel-injectors and from street to track this is nothing short of perfect. At Beaver Run it took a real act of faith to allow the engine to pull up through the gears this high as it makes so much power, and I was able to make faster progress by short shifting through the upper end of the mid range at first. This allowed me to keep my skirt down long enough to learn the track and eventually enjoy the supersonic benefits of using the upper end power to try and keep Julian off my tail.

The bike also uses a slipper clutch, which is pretty standard fare these days, and operation at the handlebars via a cable operated lever.  Like the ABS this is a feature you don’t really notice until the moment you need it, and once you’ve experienced how it works, it’s hard to get comfortable on a bike without one. It was certainly doing some work as Julian and I fought with our racing buddies and its operation is super smooth.

Style wise the Honda has taken me some time to get used to. It’s not, as Julian and I would say in England, “my cup of tea.” But as we know, opinions are like…well you get my point. My unit is as black as it could be, and actually this is the only color available for the C-ABS model. If you choose the standard CBR you can have Pearly Orange/Light Silver or Red/Black. This option will set you back $13,399 and the C-BAS model tested here will cost an additional $1,000.

Heading home from Beaver Run gave me some chance to digest on a full day at the track with the new Honda CBR1000RR. It worked so much better than expected on the short track I was pleasantly surprised, just like I had been after the road test.  I don’t remember feeling so much at ease on Yamaha’s R1 and can’t remember the GSXR1000 being so user friendly. It certainly doesn’t feel as sharp as the new BMW, but in fairness I haven’t tested one that wasn’t all pre-tweaked on race compound tires. Julian certainly enjoyed a small advantage on the BMW having the traction control, as the Honda requires an extra degree of concentration to make sure you don’t spin the rear tire.  Exercise a bit of caution though, and the Honda is without a doubt one of the, if not the, most user-friendly liter bikes on the market, and I can fully understand now why it usually wins all the multi bike shoot outs.
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BMW GS 1200 & 1200 Adventure Test

The Magnificent Seven….

Letting the big GS drive the rear wheel without any throttle application, one hand covering the clutch, I watched ex Cycle World Chief David Edwards hit the ground in a split second just in front of me. Breathing deeply, fighting the anxiety welling up inside, the rear wheel slid sideways as I eased out of the seat to give it more traction. Sitting down to swipe at the snow piling up on my lightly cracked visor, I took a second wipe on the inside to try and clear the mist from my heavy breath. The temperature gauge was flashing 31 degrees, and passing cars lay abandoned at the angle they had slid to a halt as I squeezed the heated grips to keep some warmth in my frozen fingers. With my right collar bone broken from some earlier stupidity on the trails above Yosemite National Park, and the pain ripping through my shoulder feeling as if the back of my jacket was on fire I concentrated on keeping the bike in the rapidly disappearing tire track.

Bang! Another journalist went down in front of me with no warning and slid back into my path. Yelling at the top of my lungs for him to stop before we collided, Julian Taylor somehow managed to halt his bike’s descent and I made it past. With the rear stepping out, and knowing I couldn’t control the bike with my busted shoulder if this continued, I eased onto the pegs again to straighten it out. Now there was no one ahead. The Park Ranger wasn’t allowing anyone else up the road and climbing to 7,000 feet as the snow fell more heavily, I was alone.

Drawing on my thirty years in the saddle, and training by Paris/Dakas super human Jimmy Lewis on BMW GS machines, I pressed on. Deliberately keeping my speed low, I eventually noticed headlights as the only riders to make it caught up and passed me. Following them as we started descending, I’ve never been so happy to see 35 degrees on a temperature gauge. With the snow falling so hard now I could barely make out the bike in front we made the lodge. It was one of the wildest rides of my life with a broken collarbone, and I could have kissed my GS for bringing me through. I would never have made it without the heated grips, the traction control and the bikes incredible tractability. In fact, under the extreme circumstances it was the perfect bike.

Heading to the Tenaya Lodge, in Fish Camp, Ca, the day before, the ominous cloud cover and low temperatures didn’t bode well for the intro of the new GS models. Having ridden through two days of torrential rain and deep sand in the Ocala Forest in 2001 for the launch of the GS 1150 Adventure, I know any GS ride will be challenging. BMW builds these bikes to take people around the world, and isn’t afraid to prove they can go anywhere and deal with anything. I’m not sure if even they anticipated the crazy conditions.

Starting with a press brief by BMW’s North American VP, Pieter De Waal, I was interested to learn that the big GS range is responsible for around 30% of BMW motorcycles sold. Not surprisingly BMW is very focused on the GS lifestyle, and Pieter explained the training programs and facilities available to GS owners. Purchasing a BMW GS is a ticket to an adventure lifestyle that spans generations and continents alike. A lifestyle you can join and select what appeals to you personally. Never want to go off road, but like the comfort, styling and safety features? Want to take that round the world sojourn? No worries, there are 80 courses available in the US. Choosing this latter option would be my choice, as you can start at an event in your local area, improve your skills, or go all the way to 2010 BMW Motorrad International GS Trophy. Three riders selected from various countries compete on new R1200 GS bikes in an exciting off-road competition in South Africa.

What other bike or brand gives you the key to such a fantastic and adventurous club? With BMW GS riders making expeditions all over the world, to steal a well known BMW travel guru’s business name, the “Horizon’s Unlimited.” (I actually met this guy on his GS in a bus shelter in northern Norway during a rainstorm) And to prove this point, and the versatility of the big GS1200 and GS1200 Adventure, it was no surprise that BMW trucked us into the mountains around Yosemite National Park early in the year. They had no idea Mother Nature was going to make it more difficult than planned though!

The big news, apart from the lifestyle push, is the new engine. Without riding the previous generation, it’s not possible to make a direct comparison, but from memory this engine is a big leap forward. Torquey and smooth, it took till later in the day to realize I should try running it higher in the rpm to see how it performed. It was surprising how strong it felt, spinning-up quickly and smoothly while pulling effortlessly to the 8,500 red line. During these runs to redline, it quickly became apparent the exhaust note will be seducing gear heads and big twin aficionados the quickest though. Thanks to the external exhaust valve, it is crisp and throaty and it’s hard to think the bike is using a stock exhaust system.

Using new four valve cylinder heads based on their HP2 sport line, the new GS and GS Adventure are putting out five more horsepower and three more foot/lbs of torque this year. While this might not sound like a huge gain, the new engine makes consistently more torque and horsepower across the range from 2,000 rpm until around 7,000 rpm. At 5,000 rpm, it’s putting out 15 foot/lbs more torque and at 6,500 rpm close to ten more horsepower. So you can see why I got a surprise when I ran it up into the mid range and really found the power.

Inside the new cylinder heads, the valves are arranged in a radial fashion and both intake and exhausts are larger this year. There are new air-intake manifolds, larger throttle manifolds and a bigger air filter for more flow. Improvements have also been made to the combustion chamber and two new pistons take advantage of these changes.

BMW has always made intelligent motorcycles, and the new 2010 GS models have the choice to equip your bike with Enduro ESA (Electronic Suspension Adjustment) or Integral ABS (Anti lock brakes that are semi-integral on demand). These extras come in various packages that include the heated handlebar grips, saddle bag mounts, on board computer, fog lights and handlebar protectors. The standard package GS starts at $14,950 and goes up to $17,695 with all the bells and whistles. Start with the new GS Adventure and the entry price is $17,000, which of course gives the bigger tank, windshield, foot pegs etc. Choose every option and the price goes up to $20,245. There is a lot to think about at purchase time with both models, as all of the extras make a lot of sense for the serious rider who rides a lot of miles over a wide variety of terrain.

A point to note here is the Enduro ESA adds an extra six suspension settings specifically for off road riding, and these are activated on the fly. This gives the new GS range a total of fifteen settings, as the bike already comes with BMWs standard range of nine. On existing models you see an image of a single helmet for solo, a single helmet plus luggage symbol for riding with luggage and two helmets to indicate you are ready for a passenger. The initial spring pre-load settings must be made while the bike is stationary, with the damping settings, comfort, normal, and sport being changeable on the move. With these new Enduro settings you can toggle between moderate bumps and strong bumps. Three damping settings are available for both these choices, and you can also turn the ABS off when heading into the dirt for more control. For those not familiar with these functions they are easy to operate with big, obvious buttons on the switchgear, and a few minutes with your friendly BMW sales staff with have you immediately up to speed.

No surprises on BMWs typically weird suspension this year. A Telelever front suspension unit replaces the conventional fork system found on most other motorcycles, and a Paralever rear suspension system lives out back. Without going into great detail, the Telelever  eliminates dive under braking and makes setting up and entering corners a breeze, while the unique shaft drive eliminates unwanted jacking under acceleration and braking for smooth riding at all times.  No changes to the body style of either bike this year, with the GS coming in Magma Red, Ostra Grey Metallic Mat, Sapphire Black or Alpine White, the Adventure I available in my favorite Shine Yellow Metallic or Smoke Metallic Matt. BMW also offers a limited edition 30 Year anniversary edition on both platforms. These will retail for $795 more than the standard models and pay homage to the Paris/Dakar racing bikes of the ‘80s and look fantastic.

Starting my day in the saddle of the Adventure, it’s noticeably taller and heavier. Although this extra weight and size just make it seem more amazing, I was definitely able to go faster and with more control (until plowing it into a bank) on the straight GS. You can still do it all on the Adventure. It just takes more concentration to hustle the bigger bike.

The true test of the new BMW GS 1200 came climbing out of Yosemite at the end of the day in the heavily falling snow. In all my years on two wheels, I can’t think of any other time I wanted predictable fueling, wide bars, and a balanced motorcycle as I crept up the snowy mountain. The GS just delivered and then some. With cars sliding off the road, emergency vehicles struggling, I climbed up that mountain with all the caution I could muster. Letting the engine plod along with barely any throttle input to maintain traction, it was an extremely tense period.

Back in the warmth of the lodge as we waited to find out what happened to the rest of our crew, I had a chance to reflect on a wild day. BMW has done it again, further improving their globe trotting GS line with a fantastic new engine. It’s been thirty years since we saw the first R80 GS and wondered who would want a big heavy off road bike with cylinders sticking out of the side. After another day of amazement in extreme conditions riding the new big GS models, I’m left wondering who wouldn’t?

2010 Triumph Thunderbird on Test

Rumbling around the city of Charlotte late at night to avoid the oppressive heat of the day late this summer, a myriad of colored lights dance and play in the seamless chrome of the sculptured, headlight before flowing along the seamless gas tank. Unchecked air flows across the wide, chrome handlebars, and the rhythmic cadence of the smooth parallel twin beating beneath me transports me to the place we motorcyclists go. Tipping effortlessly into the next curve of the road, downshifting to feel the powerful engine pull me forward on the exit, there is no feeling in the world to compare with this sense of freedom. Comfortable, laid back, and built to mimic the classic American style and feeling we associate with cruisers, the new Triumph Thunderbird gives this and more, by bringing a few distinctly British traits to the table.

As I missed the initial launch of the new “T’ Bird,” Triumph’s Jim Callaghan kindly offered to bring one to Charlotte so I could spend some quality time on the bike over a few weeks. This would let me experience the bike in a wider variety of situations and get a more in-depth feel for Triumph’s first large displacement parallel twin.  More after the video

As the style of motorcycle I gravitate towards the least, the Triumph Thunderbird has done more to improve my appreciation for this class than any other cruiser, save perhaps Yamaha’s line of bigger Star machines. Displacing 1587ccs the new Thunderbird fits squarely between the Bonneville America at 865cc and the gargantuan 2294cc Rocket III. With the America barely making enough power to pull your Granny off the Mail man, and the Rocket III capable of ripping your arms out of their sockets and leaving your missus in the next county, the new Thunderbird is the perfect balance and addition to this cruiser line up.

Edward Turner introduced the first Triumph Thunderbird in 1949, so it’s illuminating that Triumph would hang this famous historical moniker on their new cruiser. It’s also interesting that it’s the first new from the ground up motorcycle to come from Triumph in a few years, with the Thunderbird appearing to share no common parts with any other models. As tested the bike came in standard form, but there are already a number of accessory items available to customize the Thunderbird to individual tastes. Just head on down to your local dealer or check online to see the options.

On first appearance the bike appears very neat and tidy. The lines are clean with nothing poking out interrupting their smooth flow. The bike is classically styled, and without any obvious Triumph logo shouting out what brand it is, which confused more than one person while I was out on my travels. What was immediately apparent to anyone with more than a passing interest in mechanical things though was the engine. There wasn’t a motorcyclist who didn’t comment on the parallel twin and want to know the size and the amount of power it made.

The 1597cc twin is quoted as producing 85 horsepower and kicking out 108 ft. lbs of torque at a lowly 2,750rpm.  This puts the Triumph a little down on power compared to Suzuki’s M109R and Star’s line of bigger cruisers, but up some when compared to the Harley Davidson collection. This displacement is achieved by an over square bore and stroke of 103.8mm and 94.3mm respectively. Making for basically two 800cc pistons with a 270-degree firing order, it’s necessary for the big twin to use twin balance shafts and a crank mounted torsional damper to keep unwanted vibes from taking the fillings out of your teeth.

As the largest production parallel twin on the market, there is actually a big bore kit available for those desiring more grunt. This enlarges the engine capacity to 1700cc, giving an additional 15 horsepower and 7 foot-pounds of torque. Personally, lack of power is not an issue for me, and I actually applaud the amount produced and the way it is delivered. It gives the Triumph an aggressive and sporting nature when you crank the throttle, and with a 6,500-rpm limit it doesn’t run out of power too early. For those still interested, the big bore kits costs $889 from your Triumph dealer and takes about a full day of labor to complete the work. For a significant power increase that comes by simply bolting on factory parts, it seems like a very reasonable deal.

Rolling through the city on my night ride with a light passenger on the pillion seat the Thunderbird is unfazed by the extra weight. It pulls 70 mph with just 3,000 rpm on the tachometer in sixth gear, and our ride is super smooth and slick with very low vibration through the pegs or bars. Below this point on the tachometer you are aware that there is a big twin beneath you, but the extra vibes are certainly not annoying or distracting. Fueling is very similar to the injected Bonneville I tested earlier in the year. Although, where the Bonneville is perfect on or off the throttle at any point in the power band, the Thunderbird gave the occasional minor hiccup. It came after running on a closed throttle any time I didn’t quickly pick up the throttle, and not happening every time it was somewhat difficult to pin point at first. Even then it needed just the right set of circumstances to manifest, so it really is a minor blemish on an otherwise excellent fueling system.

Taking the fuel and air into the big cylinders, via two inlet valves driven by an overhead camshaft, the Thunderbird uses two large 42mm throttle bodies. The EFI controls this mixture on each cylinder separately, and a pair of exhaust valves let the burned mixture escape after being opened by their own camshaft. Triumph is quoting the system as 20% more fuel efficient than the competition, but I’m sure that information is really more for the European market where near $8 per gallon gas prices are more likely to get your attention.

For the most part the city streets around Charlotte are in good condition, but there are some bumps and bangs to be found. The Thunderbird’s suspension did a good job of absorbing these when they appeared. Up front there is a conventional 47mm Showa fork with 120mm of travel. This is set up firmly enough to not fold under heavy braking, but soft enough to provide a supple ride. The fork is non-adjustable as you might expect on a cruiser. Under your bum there are a pair of chrome spring shocks with 95mm of travel. These are adjustable for five-positions of pre-load, and this operation is performed quickly with a spanner found under the seat. The ride quality is very good, and they deal with irregular road conditions as well as any other cruiser I have tested.

The Thunderbird rolls on an attractive pair of cast aluminum alloy wheels wrapped with specially designed Metzeler tires for optimum handling. With a 200-series rear Marathon ME880 tire in the back on the 17 inch rear wheel, the steering and maneuverability are better than I expected without that strange feeling of the bike revolving around the rear tire that you get on cruisers with big tires. The front wheel is a 19-incher using a 120/70 series ME880. Wheelbase is 63.6 inches, and the rake is set at 32-degrees with 5.95 inches of trail. Knowing how many miles Triumph test riders put on new motorcycles before they go into production, and on what sort of roads, it’s no surprise that the Thunderbird handles in such a competent manner. In my mind it is one of the best handling of the cruisers in this segment, and allied to the urgent response level of the engine, there is a definite sporting element to the Thunderbird you won’t find either in cruiser world.

When it comes time to slow down 2010 Triumph Thunderbirdor stop the 680-pound British cruiser, the non-adjustable front brake lever operates a pair of Nissin four piston calipers working over dual 310mm rotors. A single two-piston Brembo caliper grabs a similar sized rotor in the rear and adds some solid stopping power to the strong front set up. These front brakes don’t overwhelm the fork as I mentioned earlier and get the job done without any drama with a good firm pull on the lever. Overall the package feels a notch above all of the other cruisers, except maybe the Star line with their R1 derived package.

The rider’s eye view is clean and minimalist with chrome top triple trees, handlebars, and headlight being set off with smooth, black switchgear and front brake master cylinder. The whole package has a high quality look and feel and work in a conventional fashion with no surprises. The instrument panel sits in the 5.8-gallon fuel tank in tried and tested Harley fashion.. Accompanying the large analogue speedometer is a small tachometer that sits in the bottom of the gauge. It is hard to see these numbers for those of us who need reading glasses but not impossible.

The six-speed gearbox has a nice solid cruiser thump to it when you drop into first, and the engine note is robust, if maybe a little muted with the stock pipes. Clutch action is not so light it feels weak, but not so stiff it leaves you with an aching wrist in traffic, although I’m personally not a big fan of the wide bar grips. Shifting up through the gears is a smooth and simple task, and the bike pulls well in sixth gear if needed, even thought this is really an overdrive as the engine only drops 200 rpm when you make this last shift. Triumph has always made good gearboxes, and this one is no exception, with clutchless up-shifting possible for those who need it.

Seat is a cruiser low 27.6 inches with a nice, thickly padded seat. Legs stretch forward in typical fashion, and the wide bars fall nicely to hand with a fairly good set of mirrors attached. Styling is all Americana, but with the unique parallel twin engine setting the stage, the experience is different enough to be refreshing. Priced at $12,499 it’s certainly competitive, and the Thunderbird comes in a choice of three colors: Jet Black, Pacific Blue/Fusion White and Aluminum Silver/Jet Black.  While I doubt it will wrestle the Harley faithful away from the brand, the new 2010 Triumph Thunderbird is certainly going to make a viable and tempting choice when stacked up against the current crop of Japanese cruisers. It also might make me reconsider the thought of having a permanent cruiser in the Bayly garage. It’s that good.

Text and Photos by Neale Bayly

2010 Star Stratoliner Deluxe

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It doesn’t seem possible that five years have passed since I rolled out of the working class city of Portland, Oregon, in the saddle of the new Star Roadliner. Riding a Yamaha that wasn’t a Yamaha, well not by name anyway, and riding a cruiser with real performance, handling and braking, it was anexciting day. More importantly, it was a new direction for the company we typically associate with winning motorcycle championships at the highest level on both dirt and asphalt. By taking this passion, enthusiasm and dedication to excellence and infusing it into the new Star brand of cruisers, it hasn’t taken long for the company to make it to the number two position in the class. The giant from Milwaukee being the only brand to outsell them in this class.

Striking out in their own direction with the art deco inspired Roadliner, Star has taken some valuable clues from Harley’s success, using this initial Roadliner platform to spawn the touring focused Stratoliner and the more custom styled Raider. Working from this initial Roadliner platform, they were able to create three unique motorcycles without undertaking a major redesign each time. Continuing on this practical path, I recently sampled the fourth model in this line up, the Stratoliner Deluxe, over a full day of riding around the Yamaha headquarters in California.

Designated a “Bagger,” the concept for this style of motorcycle is fairly simple. Take a cruiser and make it more focused for traveling, without turning it into a full-on touring bike. Add a good-sized front fairing, some nice integrated saddlebags for carrying your gear, on board musics, a set of spacious footboards, and voila! One bagger to go. It’s certainly a trend that seems to have risen from the ashes of the chopper fad, with riders looking for more practicality and comfort from their ride, without losing the ability to customize and personalize their bike.

The heart of the beast remains the same, with two large cylinders housing 100 mm pistons sucking in fuel and air, and spitting out burned gases through a pair of inlet and a pair of outlet valves. Riding on a long 118 mm stroke, the compression ratio is a healthy 9.5:1 and helps the bike to make a claimed 91 hp. Thumping out an equally healthy 117 foot pounds of torque at 5,000 rpm, the Star motor is a thoroughly modern power house that provides a powerful grunt at low rpm or real sporting power as the rpm rise. It’s also a real air-cooled V-twin, not a faux finned water-cooled unit, and the four valves per cylinder are opened and closed by push rods. How old school is that? This allows the stylish engine to have large chrome pushrod tubes to further accentuate the style, and they certainly help make the Star engine look as much like a piece of art work as the rest of the bike.

Faultless fuel injection makes your riding experience a joy in whatever mood you are in from putting round town to carving canyons and twisty roads. This perfect fuel delivery is made possible by a pair of 43mm, twin-bore throttle bodies. These downdraft bodies have throttle position sensors (TPS) that make sure the response is spot on, no matter what you are doing with the throttle, or how fast the engine is spinning. An oxygen sensor in the two-into-one exhaust system makes it a closed loop system by reading the burned gases and adjusting the fuel injection system as necessary. In an interesting move, an EXUP valve, normally found in higher revving sport bikes, is also used to help boost low end power and provide crisper throttle response The system is a meaty looking affair and gives the bike a nice deep rumble on idle. There’s no wheezing when you twist the throttle either, and aftermarket pipes for more window shaking rumble are available from your local Yamaha dealer. Chatting with Dave Pooler, the man in charge of all Star accessories, he was very excited by the range of products available for the Deluxe. Some you will already know and some specific new ones. Furtherattention to the fueling is found with the 12-hole, 2-directional fuel injectors that ensure the cylinders get filled completely, and the twin spark plugs making sure combustion is complete. As with all modern bikes there is an idle control valve in place of the choke, and the bike fires instantly to life, cold or hot at the touch of the starter button.

Power is taken to the rear wheel via belt drive through a five speed gearbox. This belt drive system is clean, quiet and close to maintenance free. The Deluxe comes complete with big cruiser clunking on first gear selection, but shifts very smoothly once on the move. A heel/toe shifter system is employed, and it works as well as it looks. It’s not my system of choice, so I find myself shifting in the conventional manner, but this causes no problems. The floorboards are roomy, and don’t force your feet into one position which is a great benefit on longer rides. And this is a lot of what the Stratoliner Deluxe is going to be all about, packing up and hitting the highway.

The lightweight fork mounted fairing not only looks stylish but also does a reasonable job of fending off the oncoming breeze without making the steering heavy or cumbersome. A fact I appreciated while carving along the Ortega Highway during our test ride.

One of the best parts of the new fairing on the Deluxe though is the watertight MP3 compartment which hooks your device to a pair of five inch speakers with easy to use controls on the left handlebar above the usual switches. These take some familiarizing with to scroll through the various artists, play lists, and sound levels etc, so it’s not a bad idea to get fully familiar before you hit the road.

The Stratoliner Deluxe handles extremely well for a bike with a curb weight of 810 pounds. This is achieved with the combination of a low, sculpture seat and the wide, easy to reach bars. With a comfortable straight up and down seating position, there’s no doubt I could certainly log many pain free miles in the saddle of the new Deluxe.

Thankfully, the Star crew avoided the trend towards packing the largest back wheel possible under the rear fender. The attractive twelve spoke alloy 17 inch wheels gets a sensibly sized 190 series tire, complemented by a 130/70- 18-inch front. While this is hardly cutting edge sport bike sizing, it works perfectly on the big Star, and with the aforementioned wide bars, the steering input is always light and precise, not something you would initially expect from such a big looking bike. The Deluxe is also easy to pull up from the side stand, and is easy to maneuver in tight spaces. With a combination of light controls, easy fueling, and low seat height, you won’t be sweating and straining to get out of congested parking lots.

The front fork is a beefy conventional 46mm affair with no provision for adjustability. Thankfully the Deluxe comes with what I consider the best braking set up in the cruiser world; a pair of 298mm rotors and R1 styled mono block calipers. Not sprung too softly to collapse the forks under heavy braking, they are not so hard they give a harsh ride. In the rear a single shock is used and there is provision for pre-load adjustment. This is useful when you add a passenger and luggage to keep the bike on an even keel. The single disc out back is actually slightly larger at 320mm and also uses a four-piston mono block caliper. With heavier cruisers, the longer wheel base means you can use a lot more rear brake, and this allows the Deluxe to scrub excess speed quickly and safely when needed. A point to note here is that there is no ABS, which might or might not be a deal breaker for someone looking at a bike in this class. During our ride time it’s not something I felt detracted from the Deluxe, as the brakes have such good feel at the adjustable lever.

One of the more visually stylish elements of the new Star is the saddle bags. Color matched to the bike’s paint scheme, they are more integrated than the smaller ones found on the Stratoliner, and as practical as they are attractive. Capable of holding close to seven gallons of luggage per side, they are nice and easy to open and close. Something that can’t be said about all motorcycle saddlebags.

The controls, gauges and instruments are all the same as previous Star models, and this means high quality. Easy to read analogue gauges are nice touch for us older riders who still struggle with hyperactive digital read outs, and all the usual data is presented in typical format. The level of finish with all the painted and chromed parts is extremely high, with the machine giving off a very custom feel, even in standard trim. As usual, Star custom guru Jeff Palhegy was along for the ride on his own personal Deluxe and it was breathtaking as you might imagine with its beautifully painted fairing lowers and custom parts.

Priced at $17,490, the new Stratoliner Deluxe makes a great addition to the existing Star line up, and a very unique one at that fits with the other offerings in this class. Capable of giving long distance touring comfort and convenience if needed, it’s still a super slick looking ride for posing down the high street and taking short jaunts on your favorite roads. During our test ride, I was able to reconnect with the reasons I’ve always enjoyed the big Star line up. Unique styling, great power, competent handling and braking, wrapped up in a modern package that’s a blast to ride. The Stratoliner Deluxe certainly doesn’t disappoint.

BMW K1200S

While not really an all-new motorcycle, the 2010 K1300 is based on BMWs previous K1200S, the larger engine capacity and multiple upgrades ensure this isn’t just a make over of last year’s model, even if it appears almost identical to the untrained eye. The upper fairing section is slightly narrower; the cockpit trim is new, while the speedometer and tachometer have been redesigned. New side fairings, new LED taillight, and a more compact muffler complete the visual changes, with the big news happening under the vast expanse of bodywork.

Quoting figures of 175 bhp @ 9,250rpm and 103 ft-lbs of torque at 8,250rpm. It’s no surprise that the new K1300S is packing some serious German muscle when you twist the throttle. These figures relate to around a 7 ft-lb increase in torque from as low as two thousand rpm all the way to eight thousand rpm, although without the old bike to compare it wasn’t possible to really notice the difference. Both bikes have enough power to send you to jail in less time than it takes to write this sentence, and with top speeds on the north side of 165mph, these figures are a tad academic when riding on a public road. What this incredible amount of power and torque does though, is make the new K1300S even more effortless to ride at any speed than its predecessor. Want to overtake, go faster, or shoot some adrenaline through your veins? Well, just twist the throttle anytime you like and hang on.

To gain this extra capacity and power the original bike’s 1157cc displacement was increased to 1293cc. Enlarging the pistons by 1mm and lengthening the stroke by 5.3mm achieved this substantial increase, and these new larger, lightweight, high-compression pistons feature an extra short piston skirt and thinner rings. Every thing else inside the compact motor appears the same, and it remains one of the most sophisticated inline fours in production.

One thing that both journalists and customers complained with the K1200 range was the fueling. I had a long term K on test and had it back at the dealer on more than one occasion to try and smooth things out. It did get a lot better, and I’m happy to announce the new K1300S suffered none of these problems. Some of my peers were experiencing a small fueling issue coming off a closed throttle during our test which I talked about in my K1300GT review, but try as hard as I might, I never really noticed it on my particular unit. This is due to an all-new engine mapping system aimed at improving partial-load situations, and kudos to BMW for both listening to the complaints levied at them, and for fixing them. The bike now uses dual throttle cables, replacing the single one previously used, and revised exhaust valve timing. There is also a new metal idle control valve to replace the previous plastic version, and a re-designed airbox and ram-air ducts all revamped to help improve the fueling situation.

Anti lock brakes have been with us for a long time now, and the BMW system has come a long way. I have very vivid memories of putting the system to the test on an old “flying brick” back in the mid eighties and wondering if I would lose my lunch or a few fillings when it went into it’s manic lurching behavior after I yanked on the lever at 80mph. I’m please to say the new system is nearly flawless, with little annoying pulsing when it’s activated. It is also possible to turn it off if you don’t want to use it. This operation has to be performed at a standstill, and the system is always on unless you turn it off.

Anti-Spin Control (ASC) is used to stop the rear wheel from spinning in a straight line. It also stops the bikes from pulling wheelies, which is probably a good thing with the amount of power the BMW has on tap. Unlike the ABS, the ASC can be turned on or off on the fly and is a safety feature I’m sure all bikes will come with one day. It mustn’t be confused with traction control that we are used to in racing, but think about pulling away from a traffic light and getting in a diesel spill or some stray oil. These situations, or applying too much power leaving a gravel parking lot, can spell disaster on two wheels without ASC.

Finally, with my report card reading a passing grade, we came to the ESA II. This is an electronic suspension adjustment system. While it’s not new to BMW, this is the latest version from the German manufacturer. I should point out that this is an option and doesn’t come standard on the $15,259 base model K1300S. It does come on the premium package that includes the ABS and the ASC that will set you back an additional $2,250. Basically, at the push of a button located on the left handlebar, you can set the suspension to one of three modes: Sport, Normal or Comfort. Each of these positions has a choice of three settings to give nine different pre sets. It’s not a new system, as most of you will be familiar with it from the previous K series, but it has undergone some fine-tuning to make it even better. Now, in sport mode the settings are a little more aggressive, and in comfort mode they are more relaxed. This allows them to be noticeably different from the normal mode that sits in the middle.

The K1300S uses the same frame, but the front Duolever suspension uses a lighter aluminum control arm for more sensitivity. I am a big fan of BMW’s radical front end. The lack of dive under heavy braking is very comforting when coming to a rapid halt from high speed, and I have never had any problems at extreme lean angles. Some people obviously did complain, so the spring weights were firmed and the trail reduced by a fairly substantial eighth of inch. Taking part in the usual Journalist GP out on the deserted Californian roads, both front and rear ends get two thumbs up from the Big Nosed one.

Ever the quirkiest company in the two-wheeled world, BMW also has a racer style quickshift system this year. Allowing clutchless up shifts at full throttle, the way you do on a race bike, it is an option that comes directly from the street/race HP2 Sport. I used it all the time and it works flawlessly from short shifting to running hard through the gears to maximum rpm. Saving you precious time on your up shifts. At the very least it should get you to the coffee shop on Sunday mornings a few seconds ahead of your buddies.

Ultra fast, slick, and comfortable, BMW got it right with the new K1300S. No more niggling fuel injection issues and more of what made the old bike so popular. Wind protection is excellent, and typical BMW options like heated handlebar grips and electric gear hook ups make it as versatile as you could want for extended riding duties. Heck. It even comes with conventionally operating turn signals for the first time. What more could you ask for?

2010 Kawasaki Concours

There’s no denying the impact Kawasaki made on the sport-touring world when they introduced the new Concours 14 just two short years ago. Ballistically fast, thanks to the lightly revised 1352cc ZX 14 power plant lurking under its’ slick, stylish skin, the new Concours took the performance envelope in this class and ripped it up. With it’s superb handling and braking abilities, allied to an all-day comfortable touring package, it was a quantum leap forward from the Concours 1000 that had been with us since 1986. But near perfect as it came out of the gate, Kawasaki felt they could improve it and set about interviewing owners of the new bike to see what they were thinking. By listening to what was being said, and coming up with a bunch of fresh ideas themselves, Kawasaki has taken the Concours 14 to an all-new level. Not only is the bike just as fast and responsive, possible a little more due to new tire technology and revised suspension settings, it is now a whole lot more sophisticated. Packed to the brim with a host of new electronic rider aids, as well as some extra wind protection and heat dispersing changes to the body work, the new Concours has got every base covered, and then some. Heading out of Palm Springs, California on a crystal clear fall day, where the lack of clouds made the sky appear as if it went on forever behind the ridge of mountains we needed to climb, I couldn’t help being impressed with Kawasaki’s interactive and progressive approach.

Swinging through the first set of challenging bends, I settled in behind the adjustable fairing. Bigger this year to the tune of 2.75 inches taller and a tad wider, I set it on its lowest position to allow the cool, morning breeze to find it’s way into my helmet. Later, as we gained elevation, I would raise it back up to the highest position and switch on the heated grips as the temperatures hovered around the low ‘40s, but for now the crisp air felt good. Coming this year with a program that defaults the screen to the pre-set position the rider chooses, it also moves up and down at the touch of a button in step-less fashion. If you feel you need it, the smaller screen on last year’s model it is available as an accessory at your dealer, but in my motorcycle mind, down means hot, up means cold, and I can see no reason for change. While we are talking step-less adjustment, it would be a good time to note the standard fitment heated handlebar grips use this system also. This makes it fantastic for fine-tuning when the temperatures drop, as there is nothing worse than being stuck with set positions that either bake your digits or allow them to stay cold.

Making the long and steady climb up to Idlewild, with a couple of photo stops in between, gave us a great opportunity to revisit the handling characteristics that make the Concours 14 so competent when you use the sport side of it’s intended equation. I have heard minor complaints about the previous models handling, but for a bike weighing around 670 pounds built to take you and your missus cross country in style, I think it does an incredible job. Sure it takes a little more thought than an open class sport bike to ride fast, but would you expect any different?

Not to rest on their laurels though, Kawasaki fitted new Bridgestone BT021U tires. With thicker rubber they are said to last longer, a situation that should maintain consistent handling for longer. There is also a little more oil in the front fork and between the two changes the overall consensus of opinion during the launch was better handling. It still takes a fair amount of body language to initiate faster, or tighter, turns, but the big Concours can be a lot of fun on tight, twisting roads as we found out after lunch. Diving off the mountain, and out onto someflatter more open country, we put the new bike to the test. Handling the high-speed chase with aplomb it systematically annihilated the long straights we found at the foot of the mountains.

One of the major concerns listed by Concours owners was the amount of heat coming from under the bodywork. Using detailed computer drawings to show us how the rider gets affected, they then showed us how the new model dissipates the heat to keep the rider a much cooler. Using restyled bodywork, there is improved venting in the front panels and a new seal between the engine and the fairing. This latter change is aimed at keeping heat away from the rider while at traffic lights, or at low speeds.  Riding in a mixture of warm to cold weather we were never stuck in traffic to really see for ourselves, but with all the work that’s been put into improving things I have no doubt it’ll be a lot better.

With so many changes and improvements being found on the new bike, the most important area in my mind is the new electronics package. The bike still uses Kawasaki’s Kipass ignition key system, but this year there is a second fob you can hide on the bike that doesn’t activate the ignition until it is a few centimeters away. I’m not a big fan of the system that requires you take the fob with you in your clothes, and personally would prefer to see a regular ignition key that doesn’t require batteries. But it’s back for 2010 so it mustn’t be too unpopular.

Something I am in complete favor if is the all new for 2010 KRTC traction control system. An all-new system for Kawasaki, it is not only highly sophisticated, but it works really well. In fact, Kawasaki are so confident in its abilities they let us loose on a temporary skid pad on a bike equipped with outriggers. This made for an interesting ride as I basically pinned the throttle as soon as I rolled onto the slippery surface and moments later rolled safely off it at the other end, with just a few wiggles through the bars. The bike tracked smoothly forward and no amount of abuse on the throttle would change it. Trying the same move without the system engaged produced some hilarious results. I had the bike pretty hacked out sideways before it plopped onto the outriggers, but one enthusiastic journo actually got the bike to spin through 180 degrees.

With the sensors that read rear wheel spin also being used for the ABS, thesystem adds no weight to the Concours. As soon as the ECU senses the rear wheel spinning faster than the front it cuts the ignition time, the fuel delivery and the airflow through the secondary butterfly valves. Where other systems rely on two methods of control, Kawasaki’s Jeff Herzog told me using three makes things a lot smoother. Having only experienced this type of traction control on BMW’s big touring bikes, he’s not wrong, as it is definitely smoother than Kawasaki’s Bavarian counterparts. Another positive to the system is the ability to turn it on or off on the fly. There is a large button on the bottom of the left hand switchgear marked “KTRC,” imagine that, and a quick press lets you make your choice. One thing to note here is this is not a full traction control system, so don’t go cranking on the throttle when leaned way over expecting to do a Casey Stoner style drive off the corner. It also prevents wheelies.

Making things safer when it comes time to slow down or stop, the Concours comes with an updated, linked ABS for 2010. Listed in the press blurb as 20% smaller and 30% lighter, unlike the traction control it can’t be switched on or off. You do have a choice at purchase time to buy the Concours without ABS and KTRC though, but for just $700 over the base model’s purchase price of $14,599 I can’t see too many people not opting to have this option. Coming this year with a choice of two settings, it is accessed by an orange button on the left hand switchgear marked K-ACT. In standard mode the amount of front braking is less than in high mode when you operate the rear brake pedal. There is no change in the ratio front to rear when you operate the front brake, and the new system allows you more control for the type of riding you want to do. For sportier duties the choice will be standard, and during touring duties it can be changed back to high.  When you do use the brakes hard enough to activate the system, the amount of pulsing is very minimal and like the traction control we got to put it to the test on the skid pad.         Coming quickly safely and smoothly to a halt, it certainly earns its keep.

Forcing the ABS into action, the Concours uses the same radial mount front calipers as last year, worked on by a multi-adjustable lever operating a direct action master cylinder. Squeezing the pads against 310mm wave rotors, the system is extremely powerful, but don’t worry about it being touchy or difficult to modulate. Immediately giving you feedback as you start to pull on the lever, it just keeps getting stronger either activating the ABS or giving you the stopping power you were asking for. No surprises from the single disc rear set up, with plenty of lever travel and control before a light pulsing tells you the rear tire would be smoking if you didn’t have ABS.

Style wise the changes to the Concours are fairly minimal, with the wider fairing lowers being changed for heat dissipation in mind. The exhaust canister has been shortened 40mm and gets some trendy looking end caps to give it the appearance of being more compact and that’s about it. Always a looker, the deep gloss paint is stunning, and the bike is available in Candy Neptune Blue only for some reason. It certainly gives the bike a sophisticated look to go with its new technological advancements, but it seems like it would be nice to have a color choice.

I doubt there was much complaint on the subject of comfort on the previous model, and with the adjustable fairing it can only be improved this year. The foot peg to handlebar relation is certainly on the sporty side of the touring equation, but it doesn’t put any stress on knees or shoulders. View from the flight deck once underway is impressive. Two practical looking analogue gauges with black faces and white numbers keep the pilot informed of ground speed and engine behavior. The onboard computer’s LCD screen sits top and center and is flanked by the usual neutral light, turn signal and oil lights etc, to the side. There is a plethora of information available from the digital screen, from average mph to average mpg, so planning fuel stops and destinations is going to be slick and easy whilst in motion.

Not content with the grocery list of improvements and innovations, Kawasaki has also added a fuel saving device to the mix. Called the “ECO” it is activated by the mode switch on the left handlebar when you want to switch the Concours to a leaner mapping circuit. Once activated it works at less than 30% throttle or under 6,000rpm. The system will also let you know when you are being conservative on the throttle by displaying the ECP symbol on LED screen. I’m sure we have all had to ride like this after misjudging a fuel stop out in the middle of nowhere at some point in our riding careers, and now you can purposefully ride like this to conserve gas if that’s your aim and the light will let you know you are doing it right.

With revised storage compartments that lock themselves once you are traveling over 2mph, lockable hard bags and plenty of room for attaching luggage to the rack on the rear, the new Kawasaki Concours 1400 has quite simply got all your touring needs covered, and then some. As a bike that seriously impressed me the first time around, it has evolved into an even more sophisticated and highly competent motorcycle. All it needs is a built in tea maker and it will be perfect.

Down at the Crossroads, A review of the new Victory Touring bike

Settling into the sculpted and surprisingly comfortable stock seat on the Victory Crossroads,  I crack the throttle and the 106-cubic-inch (1731cc) 50 degree V-twin motor responds with immediate power and the bike almost jumps forward.  Quick and nimble is not quite what you expect from such a big touring cruiser like the Crossroads but satisfying nonetheless.

I was on out on the 2 lane country roads getting familiar with the feel of one of Victory’s newest touring cruiser.  The Cross Roads, along with the fully faired Cross Country were released by the Vee late last year for 2010 and according to initial dealer reports are a big hit with consumers.
After 10 minutes in the saddle, I completely agree.  While the bike  has a few knocks which I’ll get to later, the overall first impression is a smooth, powerful and quite comfortable machine set up to haul your gear and your significant other and look pretty darn good doing it.
A few days later I’m heading East on Interstate 16, with my bride of 22 years on the pillion; our destination?  Savannah Georgia, the city that Sherman found too beautiful to burn.
We’d planned this weekend trip around her birthday, and initially the plan was to take the car and enough clothes and shoes for a 2 week stay.  You married men will understand what I mean by that.  Most women to have the innate ability to fill up whatever luggage space is available. Give them 12 cubic inches and they’ll want to take 13.  If the bag expands, they’ll test the limits of the zipper.    My wife’s motto is, “”I can make it fit.”  Truth is, she usually does.
When I’d picked up this press bike at my local Victory dealer, Bellamy Motorsports in Swainsboro Georgia, the passenger backrest and luggage rack was not attached.  Most press bikes are not two up ready because most moto-journalists don’t ride a passenger on press launches.  And, since the Crossroads is so new and dealers are having a hard time keeping them in stock, there wasn’t another one on the showroom floor to steal, er, borrow the needed accessories from.
A quick note to Manny Pandya at Victory got one headed our way but it would not arrive until after our  trip to Savannah.
No luggage rack meant we’d have to pack only what would fit into the two hard saddle bags and the little we could stuff into a Saraceni bag that would strap onto the outside of the windshield.  But what most concerned me was the absence of a passenger backrest.  My wife, to my knowledge, has never ridden any distance without something to support her back and provide a feeling of security.
I was sure she’d be in a foul mood after 90+ miles of worrying about falling off the back.  And you know when mamma’s not happy; she makes sure you’re not happy either!
But first, I’d need to tackle the luggage issue.  Having taken a Victory Vision on an extended road trip in 2008, I’d had some experience with Victory’s saddlebag setup.  The Vision’s saddlebags are deceptively small and I expected the same with the Crossroads.  But once I had time to take a  good look inside, I was surprised by how much storage these bags provided, as compared to the Vision and other bikes in its class.   The specs claim 21 gallons of cargo room.   By comparison the Harley-Davidson Road King offers 16.9 gallons cargo space.
Now, unless you’re planning on emptying a beer keg in the bags, I’m not sure why you’d care how many gallons the saddlebag holds, but that’s one of the quirks common to all the manufacturers.   You’d think it would be simpler to use cubic inches but because most bags are not perfectly shaped and often contour around the bike frame and components, getting a hard measurement would be difficult.
With luggage a non-issue, there was still the backrest situation to deal with.  Short of strapping my bride to me with multiple bungee cords, the only thing to do was promise to be extra careful on the throttle.   I assured her I had no desire to sport one of those “The Bitch Fell Off” t-shirts.
Somewhere halfway to Savannah, my wife’s voice comes through the headset in my helmet with, “The way they’ve set this seat up, and with my legs over the saddlebags I feel ok back here.  This isn’t nearly as bad as I’d thought it would be.”
Ahhh, the sweet sound of marital bliss!  I was mentally checking off the brownie points in my head.
But enough about my marital shenanigans, you’re interested in the Crossroads or you wouldn’t be reading this review.
Having entered their second decade of motorcycle manufacturing, the designs coming out of Medina Minnesota have improved tremendously since their first “cruiser” the V92C in 1999.  In fact one reviewer of that early model called it a “self propelled compressor.”   Even the diehard Victory faithful couldn’t dispute the brand needed a makeover.
With input from custom bike builders and willingness to start from scratch, today’s models are sleek and visually appealing, built with an eye towards giving the brand its own unique look and the bikes a “customized” look right out of the factory.
The Crossroads styling remains true to the brand and shares some of the styling cues found on the Vision, but the  “Jetson” style is toned down quite a bit.   Beginning at the front, the HID (high intensity headlight) is housed in a sculpted chrome cover and dominates the 43mm inverted telescoping front fork.  The wide handlebars frame the aerodynamic but slightly less angular and graceful, sweeping curved backbone and rounded top saddlebags which flow the eye toward  the built-in long tail/brake light combination on the rear fender and LED turn signals.   The sculpted front fender hugs the tire and the drivers seat, as in other Victory models, is scalloped into the tank giving that “customized look” lacking in the competition.
Compared against non-faired touring cruisers, the 106 cubic inch single overhead cam power plant is smaller the Star Stratoliner S, (113 cubic inch) but larger than the Harley-Davidson Road King (TC 96 cubic inch)   and serves as a stressed member of the   two-piece, sand-cast aluminum frame, much like its cousin, the Vision.
Gearheads will understand that the overhead single camshafts and self-adjusting cam chains in the Freedom V-Twin’s  solid-mounted engine are more noticeable than the push-rod technology used by the others in its class, but to the average rider it’s indiscernible.
On paper the Crossroads delivers 92 hp and 109 ft-lbs of torque, which again is ahead of the Harley-Davidson but less than the Yamaha Star Stratoliner.   While I didn’t have the opportunity to run the Crossroads on a dyno, there was a slight lag in throttle response at a very specific lower rpm range.  At first I attributed it to dirty fuel, but it remained after several fill ups; however most owners and riders probably wouldn’t notice it.
On the scale, the Crossroads weighs in at a curb weight of 780 lbs, lighter than both the Road King (812) and the Stratoliner S (802) lbs. Interestingly enough, because it lacks the fairing of its sibling, the Cross Country, the Cross Roads is rated for 20 more pounds of cargo carrying.  (580 vs 560)  That’s including both driver and passenger and their gear.
The week after the Savannah birthday ride, the passenger backrest and luggage rack arrived at the office.  Manny assured me that installation would be quick and simple.
Having been in this business over a decade, I was skeptical, as
but again I was surprised at the simplicity of the design.
The backrest and luggage rack are engineered to work together but while you have to have a passenger backrest to have a luggage rack, you don’t have to add the luggage rack if you don’t need it or want it.  If you do, installation takes 15 minutes, maximum.  8 minutes spent reading the directions, 2 minutes for wondering if it can really be that simple and scanning the instructions again because you’re sure you must have missed something and then 5 minutes of actual installation.
I was impressed at how easily the saddlebags and backrest can be removed for that stripped down bagger look. Less than 2 minutes and you can remove bags and backrest.  5 minutes more and you can remove the windshield.  If you’re concerned about theft, lock the bags and they can’t be removed.
One other issue we found during our test is the top loading bags will open at highway speed if they’re not securely snapped.  Which means you must be careful how much you stuff in the bags, and be sure the latch engages.  A good rule would be to always lock the bags while riding and you won’t lose rain suits or hats.
After installing these accessories, we took the opportunity to test the Crossroads fully loaded on a ride to a family reunion.  We loaded the saddlebags with rain gear, leather jackets and added a Kuryakyn cooler bag to the backrest/luggage rack and stuffed it full of drinks.
Stopping this fully loaded two wheel limousine falls to Victory’s proprietary brake system.  Dual 300mm floating rotors and 4-piston calipers on the front and a single 300mm floating rotor, 2-caliper arrangement on the back.  Unfortunately the brakes are not linked, as is the Vision.  But, to be fair, neither do the Stratoliner S or the Road King, which are its directcompetitors.   In our tests, the front brake is more than adequate, but as you would expect the back locks up easily.
I’m no engineer, but my advice to Victory would be to link the brakes and add an ABS option.  Of course if the National Institute for Highway Safety, funded by the insurance industry, has their way, ABS will be required standard equipment on all new bikes in the future.
It was on this trip where we took most of these photos, which meant plenty of opportunities for low speed turnarounds.  The Crossroads has excellent manners in this department with its lower center of gravity and 26.3 inch seat height. The passenger sits a few inches higher, which accounts for reasoning for the higher than average windshield. Otherwise your passenger would be left with a sore neck having fought the wind the entire ride.
While the highway bars are there to protect the paint in the event of a tip over, happily we didn’t have to depend on them during our test.
The Crossroads features an air adjustable rear shock which is probably another reason my wife fell in love with the bike.  Fully loaded with gear and passenger will most likely require adding air to the rear suspension to keep the suspension from bottoming out on railroad tracks and in spirited leans.
Our fuel mileage varied depending on the load and how it was ridden, as you would expect.  Overall the best mileage we got was 41.8 mpg with the least being 35 mpg.
The addition of a true six speed overdrive is an excellent feature and one that increases the comfort level on long rides.  I personally wouldn’t consider buying a touring bike without a sixth gear overdrive.
The instrument setup is clean and uncluttered with a single windshield mounted speedometer / tach combo gauge.  A finger switch behind the left handlebar grip rotates the multi-function display to indicate total mileage, rpm, fuel gauge, battery charge, time and resettable hour and trip meters.  If the wide handlebars and comfortable driver floorboards seduce you into long extended ride times, there is a light on the easy to read, soothing blue, backlit speedometer gauge to warn you when you reach a gallon of remaining fuel.
Our time on the bike was right at the beginning of spring when South Georgia temperatures can fluctuate as much as 40 degrees in a 12 hour period.
On one test day the temperature started out at 45 degrees when we rolled out of the garage, climbed to 85 during the day and ended back at 52 when we parked it.   Fortunately this provided a nice contrast for testing the comfort levels of different real world temperatures.
The large stock windshield and lower deflectors do a better than average job with the cool wind and pesky bugs.  When things heat up in the summer, comfort would require a change.
The battery is housed in the front, hidden behind a cowling and combine that with the lower wind deflectors and on a 95 degree mid-summer day, the heat produced by the engine will make for an uncomfortable ride.  Removing the lower wind deflectors would probably go a long way towards evacuating the heat buildup under your legs.
My only other complaint is on the clutch lever.  As far as I could tell, there isn’t any way to adjust the clutch as there is on the brake lever.  And on my test mule the clutch lever was  4 inches from the back of the grip.  No problem for the highway as the pull is easy (for a non-hydraulic setup) but it quickly become noticeable in stop and go riding.   For me it was about an inch too far.
It’s no secret the Crossroads and the Harley-Davidson Road King are competing head to head for the same rider.  If you’re using HD as the gold standard for American touring bikes, the Crossroads surpasses the Road King in luggage and horsepower and fuel economy.  If the Star is your gold standard then the Crossroads beats it in luggage capacity, fuel mileage and capacity.
Available in solid black, MSRP $16,000 (CA  $16,249) and midnight cherry $16,599 and $16,849 in California.