Sunday, June 5, 2016

An Unexpected Motorcycle

So Scooty-Puff Sr was making some transmission/clutch noise when pulling away from a stop. Luckily it was still under warranty, and with a few weeks to go before my Reno trip I figured it would be a good time to drop it off at the shop and get it fixed up. Apparently, though, BMW has different ideas about how quickly such repairs could take, and poor Scooty-Puff is still in the shop as I write this.

This left me with a bit of a conundrum. I needed a mighty steed to convey me to my destination, and yet my chosen mount was not available to carry out its duty. I had a few options, the most mundane of which would have been to take the Pedovan. A bit too far on the other end of the adventure scale would be to take ANGRY BEES. Somewhere in the middle would be to borrow a friend's touring bike. Way over in the "it would make a better story" section would be to buy a cheap bike off Craigslist just a few days before my trip and ride that, then sell it again when I get back.

I like good stories.

I set my budget at $2500 and gassed up the computer. The first candidate that came up was a Suzuki Bandit, which had apparently only been messed with a little. The Bandit is a bit notorious for people trying to mod it into a drag bike, so the idea of trusting a 600 mile round trip to such a "tinkered" ride didn't sit well with me.

The next candidate was a BMW K75 which was listed for only $1900. The K75 is a great bike, reasonably modern and so on, which made the price tag seem a bit suspicious. It could be that the bike is at its classic-vehicle-nadir, where it's too old to be a nice used bike but not old enough to be a nostalgic classic. But more likely there was some bad news hiding between the lines of the Craigslist post.

The next and eventually successful candidate was a BMW R65 from 1982. Old enough to be classic, but new enough to be reasonably reliable. It also had the bonus of being a bit of an odd duck model, generally hiding in the shadow of the more popular full-size airhead boxers of the day. So I packed up in the van and drove up to Napa to give it a quick test ride and bring it home. My initial impression of the bike is that the suspension was annoyingly soft, the throttle was annoyingly stiff, and the engine annoyingly stalled at idle. Other than that, and the fact that it was somewhat underpowered, it was pretty much perfect. It came with the original panniers too, which was a pretty sweet bonus.

The bike started life as an R65LS, but had been written off in the 90s some time in a low-side accident, then rebuilt into a half-faired frankenbike of sorts that, to be fair, looked quite good. That write off also gave me the opportunity to bargain the price down from the $2500 asking price to only $2000. I wrote a cheque and signed the title and the bike was mine. All that stood between me and Reno was 300 miles of twisty mountain roads.

It's like riding a chainsaw, basically

The same day I test rode the XDiavel, I also dropped by the BMW dealer to check out an S1000XR. It was a model that was on my contemplation list to serve as my commuter/tourer bike, but after the test ride I put it safely in the "not for me" bucket.

First off, the XR doesn't suffer from the motorboat style dive and squat that the Multistrada did, so that's a good start. The suspension felt solid in all of the various modes, to the point where I really couldn't feel much difference between the modes at all. At least they all felt pleasant.

The engine modes were much the same story: couldn't honestly tell the difference between them, and they all delivered a delightfully absurd amount of power. That said, I found the engine's snarly, raspy character to be completely unsuited for something I would want to tour on. I feel like the engine would have been better off left in the S1000RR and R.

The bars were of course far too wide for me, and the whole bike was pointlessly tall, both in the fine tradition of adventure bikes. In the end I wasn't particularly thrilled, it felt more like a BMW response to the Multistrada (and I feel like it edges out the Multi in a few ways, especially the suspension) than a winning formula in and of itself.

The Cruiser Life

So a few weeks ago I tried out a Ducati XDiavel at the demo day in La Honda, and figured it was about time to write up my thoughts.

First, to answer the most important question: it is not the bike for me. The cruiser seating position is an exercise in pointless absurdity, and does not lend itself to relaxed, comfortable riding.

I also found myself a bit disappointed with the attention to detail. The bike felt like it was about half way there, they did a decent first pass of cleaning up and hiding all the unsightly bits of mechanicalness, but it fell far short of being the rolling sculpture I was hoping for.

In terms of riding experience, the wide rear tire makes for very curious handling. It tends to feel like the rear of the bike is the end steering you into the turns, though the rest of the bike seems to be well engineered to compensate for it.

The engine was quite well suited for the bike, though we were riding in the 100hp "urban" mode due to wet roads, down from the usual 160-something hp in full power mode. I feel like it's a much better match for this bike than it was for the Multistrada. That said, I did feel like the engine, and the bike itself, were just too big: you could easily shave 20% off the bike and engine size to make a midsize cruiser and end up with something that, for me, would be a much more appealing package.

In the end, I find myself still searching for my next-next bike.

Wednesday, April 6, 2016

An Uplifting Experience

So I'm riding home on ANGRY BEES today, because on Wednesdays we ride motorcycles.


I pull up to the NHRA simulator onramp meter from Shoreline onto 85. The traffic is reasonably light and the road is clear ahead of me. The light goes green, I let out the clutch, and pour on some throttle.

Everything is going smoothly as the revs start to climb, and I keep the throttle pinned as I wind things out. Then the front wheel also starts to climb. "Oh, hmm," I say to myself, "I should probably go ahead and set that back down."

I roll off the throttle a bit as I kick the gear up, and the front wheel delicately settles back onto the pavement, at which point I wring it out the throttle again because why waste a perfectly good onramp pull?

Prior to swapping sprocks, ANGRY BEES had just the right amount of torque to make the front end very, very light under hard acceleration in first gear, so I had a reasonable expectation of being able to power it up after doing the -1/+3 conversion. And, lo and behold, that's exactly what has come to pass.

This brings up something that's been bubbling beneath the surface for a while. Ever since I got into motorcycling, and certainly ever since I got ANGRY BEES, I've been contemplating taking a wheelie course. Not so much for the hooligan factor, but just so I have a reasonably safe environment to get used to controlling wheelies so that I would have some experience to fall back on should my front wheel suddenly decide to slip the surly bonds of earth and dance the skies on laughter-silvered wings. Of course the hooligan factor isn't exactly a negative...

I'm not honestly sure what direction today's experience has swayed me. On the one hand, it's brought the theoretical possibility of an unexpected wheelie entirely into reality. On the other hand, I didn't have any trouble with controlling it, so it hasn't left me riddled with fear and uncertainty.

I suppose I'll just have to ponder it a bit more.

Tuesday, March 22, 2016

To the Ocean! Or not.

So on Saturday I decided I'd make another attempt to escape to the ocean. I failed. This time I saddled up on ANGRY BEES and headed up over Page Mill, down Alpine, with a thought to take Pescadero to get to the sea.



When I got to the top of Page Mill I started to get a bit concerned about how much gas I had left in the tank. I rolled out with half a tank and the bike was being a bit thirsty on the way up. Thankfully there's a gas station in Pescadaro itself so I wasn't too concerned. Pictured above is ANGRY BEES at the bottom of Alpine where it meets up with Pescadaro road. If you look really hard you can probably see the low fuel light on.

So I continued along Pescadaro road, thinking I was home free, up until about a mile out of town when I came upon a tiny little speedbump in my plans...



The above should usually look more like this:



So you can see the issue. And sadly, there are no alternate routes around this rather unfortunate choke point. Like, none. Nada. Zip. Zero. Bupkis.

With no other reasonable option, I turn myself around and head up to La Honda, hoping to find a gas station there. Nope. Turns out I need to ride all the way up to Alice's to get gas, and luckily I had just enough fumes left in the tank to make it up there and pay Alice's somewhat premium prices for fuel. I mean it's only got a 4 gallon tank but it's the principle of it.

I had a nice ride back along Skyline and down 9, but I failed to reach the ocean once again. Que sera, I suppose.

Monday, March 14, 2016

A travel blog maybe?

I'm starting to think I should repurpose this blog as a travel blog of sorts, especially since I'm planning to ramp up my touring quite a bit once I get my new motorcycle this fall sometime. In that spirit, here's a short entry for today's travels...

I was feeling a bit of cabin fever on the way home from work today, riding Scooty-Puff Sr south on 85, so instead of taking a left on the Stevens Creek exit I decided to take a right with the thought of hopping over the hills to go see the ocean. You know, just look at it for a few minutes, then ride back home.

As it turned out, even though it was a balmy 20c down here in the valley, the air was quite a bit chillier as I rode up Stevens Canyon and Redwood Gulch, so I decided to make it a shorter ride and just go across Skyline to Page Mill to make a loop.

About part way up Highway 9 the traffic ground to a halt, and I split past the cars to the head of the line to see an accident had occurred, a perfectly aligned  head-on collision between a car and an SUV, with a sufficient impact force to origami-weld the two cars together. Thankfully the local authorities were quick to clean up the mess and I continued along my merry way. I considered snapping a photo, but I didn't know if that would be considered impolite?

Anyway, the ride across Skyline was delightful despite the somewhat wet and dirty roads. There were quite a few places where mudslides had encroached onto the pavement, though they'd been cleaned up sufficiently such that they weren't impeding traffic. I should mention that Stevens Creek was a whitewater torrent, and the Stevens Canyon Reservoir was nearly bursting its banks. Drought is over, everyone start wasting water again!

The ride did serve to remind me why I'm replacing Scooty-Puff Sr though, as my butt started to go numb for the last 15 minutes of the ~1hr ride.

Thursday, November 27, 2014

Changing things up, because that's just how I roll

Yesterday marked my last day on the Android Email/Gmail team at Google, now that Email is fully folded into Gmail. I think I'm leaving the project in really good shape, and certainly in a fantastically better spot than just a year and a half ago when I first joined the team and Google as a whole. It's been a hell of a ride, but it's time for something new.

Next up on my plate is AndroidTV, where I'll be working with my old buddy Chris McKillop again. I'll be brining my familiarity with Android development along with me, but other than that I know basically nothing about the project, which is exactly how I like it. Life is boring if you're too well prepared.

That said, bringing my Android experience with me is perhaps more than I'd like for taking on a new adventure, so it remains to be seen how long this team will hold my interest. I think a lot of it will depend on what sort of projects I get to work on and what direction the platform develops in.

I had initially set my sights more broadly throughout Google, but since Android is the new hotness it's a lot easier to find a seat in an Android team rather than somewhere else, and I ended up getting declined by teams who wanted me to join but didn't have an open space for me to fill.

I suppose I can at least look forward to a relatively easy transition.