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.