Victory Cross Country Tour

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

That was her first understatement of the day.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

That was her second understatement of the day.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Two Up on a Week Long Cruise:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sometimes the end is the best place to begin.

Mustang’s “Seats 101″ Course Goes Live

IRVINE, CA – June 26, 2011 – Mustang Motorcycle Seats is the latest leading brand to go live with an interactive online training program at Powersports University ( Unlike conventional sales seminars and training programs that require employees to leave the dealership, Powersports U enables staff to earn as they learn without missing work.

“We call this Motorcycle Seats 101,” explains Mustang’s marketing manager Marilyn Simmons. “Dealership personnel can now learn what it takes to sell the Mustang difference. Once you have an idea of what is involved in designing and building a motorcycle seat, you have a better appreciation of the importance of quality materials and the workmanship involved in creating a new seat for a bike.”

Mustang’s Seats 101 is divided into three distinct training sessions. Starting with “Birth Of A Brand” the first course provides a little history and the basics behind these world-class saddles. The second course elaborates on the features and benefits, highlighting the three pillars of seat building, starting with the seatpan, moving through the custom-molded foam and concluding with the cover. Course 3 answers the essential “why they buy” question.

“I’ll let you in on a secret,” says Marilyn. “Customers buy a Mustang seat because they sat on one! Our job is to get more butts on seats!” Of course, that is where the Powersport U program comes into play.

In addition to the three new Mustang modules, Powersports U’s roster of training courses currently includes Performance Machine, Progressive Suspension, Renthal and Vance & Hines. These programs also dovetail brand‑specific, technically-oriented field training, conducted by Mustang at major events and rallies across the country. is free to any user. To find out more and register, visit

Tornado Puts a Twist on Traditional Motorcycle Jackets

Scorpion’s Top Textile Jacket

Lake Forest, CA June 23, 2011 — Scorpion’s Tornado textile jacket puts a new spin on the traditional motorcycle jacket, combining top features with incredibly low prices. “This jacket has it all… waterproofing, CE-approved armor, you name it,” says Scorpion Sports Inc. National Sales Manager Jon Eide. “The range of features we have incorporated into the Tornado for a price well under $200 really does blow me away.”


Starting with durable 600-denier nylon, the outershell is then treated with polyurethane for true water resistance, no matter how inclement the riding conditions may get. Internally, the fully removable AirGuard liner helps prevent wind chill from becoming a factor. When things do warm up, Scorpion’s AirVent™ ventilation system kicks in. Consisting of two zippered high-flow air intake panels in the front of the jacket and two matching rear vents, airflow over the body’s core is maximized when the panels are unzipped. Should it get chilly, simply zip-up to seal out any unwanted airflow.

Speaking of sealing things up, Scorpion’s exclusive ExoStitch® seams not only improve the seal, but also keep cuffs from fraying or seams for giving way. “It is this attention to detail that really differentiates the Tornado,” claims Jon.

“Sure the AirVent system is cool, but this is a serious riding jacket, so we didn’t skimp on the EXO-Tec CE-approved armor inside the shoulder and elbow pockets,” adds Eide. Further enhancing the safety aspect is a full-length back protector pocket, complete with a P.E. temper foam insert.

The Tornado offers its own unique styling twists and technical features, including adjustable sleeve tension straps for a custom fit… and to keep things from flapping in the breeze. Large zippered hand-warmer pockets and NightViz reflective panel front also add to this jacket’s functionality.

Men’s Sizes S-XXL MSRP: $189.95 in Black, Red or Blue

Check out the Free Scorpion iTunes App, See the Preview Here:

Get Stung! Check out ScorpionExo™ Helmets and Scorpion Sports, Inc.’s complete ScorpionExoWear™ line at

Get the latest news from the Scorpion Facebook Page at Scorpion FB or via Twitter at Follow Scorpion on Twitter

For more information contact Suzie Kirby at:

About Scorpion Sports

Scorpion Sports, Inc. (SSI) is the home of the Scorpion brand supplying helmets and technical apparel directly to motorcycle dealerships. SSI imports a full line of unique dirt, snow and street products from their state-of-the-art production facilities. The brand is built on innovation and high quality. All Scorpion street helmets feature the exclusive SpeedShift® quick-change faceshield system, EverClear® no-fog faceshields and come with a washable, removable, moisture-wicking KwikWickII® liner. AIRFIT® is an air adjustable cheek pad system to personalize helmet fit, available on both street and off-road helmets. Another Scorpion innovation found on select models is the built-in SpeedView™ retractable sun visor designed to accommodate varying light conditions quickly without changing faceshields.


ScorpionExo, SpeedShift, EverClear, KwikWick, KwikWickII, ShadeShifter, SpeedView, AIRFIT, RaceCaseII, EXO-TEC, EverHeat, AirVent, ABRADIUM, EXO-Stitch, NightViz, AirGuard and the ScorpionExo logos are trademarks of Scorpion Sports, Inc. ©2011 Scorpion Sports, Inc.


2010 Sportster “Forty-Eight”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Ducati Diavel launched in Spain

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Words by Neale Bayly. Photos by Ducati.


The Everyday Bike for the Real World; 2011 Ninja 1000

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

2011 Star Stryker- Affordable Attitude

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Sedona on a Yamaha Super Tenere

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

“You motorcycle guys have got life figured out.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.
[singlepic id=27 w=320 h=240 float=left]
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.