September 20, 2013

Indian Chieftain Riding Impression

Just like the real motorcycle blogs YAOGB test drove the brand new Indian Chieftain  as resurrected (for the umpteenth time) now it is Polaris' turn.   Based on my ride, this attempt may have a future.

A tweet from Cycle Works, the Edmonton Alberta Indian dealer announced that the demo fleet would be here on September 20th and 21.  I dropped by about 1:30 on Friday,  there was hardly anyone there, no problems signing up, the ride, we left 10 minutes later, just me one other demo rider, the lead rider and the chase.

Before we left I looked all the bikes over.   Polaris certainly got the looks right.  Just as an unblinged Heritage Soft Tail has captured the looks of the hard tail Pan Heads of the 1950's, and Road King that of the  Electra Glides of the 1960's, Polaris has matched the look of the last Springfield Chiefs. If Hank Williams came back from where ever he might be, he would recognize it immediately never realizing that the last true Chief rolled of the line in 1953.  I am somewhat ambivalent about making an Overhead Valve motor look like a Flathead, as Indian chose to do with the "111" motor, a reason,  perhaps the main reason that Indian went bust was their antique engine.  Flathead motors are performance impaired, but I have to admit the Indian's motor (the original) was nice to look at, and so is the new one.

The chosen route for the demo followed fairly busy, limited access, fast moving arrow straight well paved roads, with speeds mostly in the 100 to 120 Kph range (60 to 75) mph, some four lane with traffic lights, some on and off ramps, mostly fairly smooth pavement.  The weather was sunny and warm (20 C - 68 F), but fairly heavy crosswinds along the route.

The Chieftain is a heavy bike, as are all cruisers, but handles well, even at very low speeds as well as high.  The only tricky bits are the few milliseconds between  almost stopped and full stop.

The Chieftain is a touring bike, it comes with a stereo, handlebar fairing, hard bags and floor boards. It is also the top of the line price wise.  Apparently the Chieftain also has less rake to the front end, which is why I chose it for the demo ride. 

The Chieftain has an absolutely gorgeous sound.  I assumed it had some kind of 'off road' mufflers, but the demo guys swore it was the stock factory muffler.  If so, anyone who tosses the stockers for life saver pipes is an idiot (but perhaps that statement is redundant).  Or maybe they were lying to me, as I see there are slip on pipes advertised on the web site.

The suspension handled the jolts of expansion strips and discontinuous concrete paving well.  The suspension feel was similar to a large German sedan, or high end domestic SUV, stiff but not harsh.   You never get the impression that this is a sport bike, but sense that it can handle anything the superslab throws at you. 

I rode to the demo on my well under 400 pound KTM, for me  cruisers are terra incognito, or better, terra infirma.  One thing I liked was the absolute feeling of security it gave me when surrounded by semis, jacked up over sized pick up trucks then mix it all up with some stiffish crosswinds.  I would have preferred a less cruiserish riding position.  The original high mounted saddle on the 1940's Indians would have looked great IMHO.  Maybe Polaris Indian will make a Police version with better ergonomics, sign me up for that one.

Everything on the Chieftain is electronic, just like your Caddy or Lexus, and there are practically as many things to play with and get distracted by.  Displays, ABS, fly by wire throttle control, cruise control, stereo, every display you could imagine, blue tooth, electric windows (screen).  Controls for all the gimmickry are on the left grip and are somewhat similar to a game controller, old time Nintendo players will likely have few problems making everything sing and dance.  For me there is a learning curve.  I did not play the buttons, if did and tried to ride the bike at the same time I would end on top of the trunk of the car ahead of me, so I left them alone.

The accessory and function display was also difficult to see in the bright light, but the important information, speed, RPM, signals were easy to see.  The adjustable windscreen was great, crank it all the way down for slow, raise it juuuust enough to match whatever speed you are traveling.

Power was, as Rolls Royce used to say 'adequate' The redline was not very much, but it did not matter, any speed any gear, pick one, any one, shift it just to make exhaust music.  The transmission has 6 speeds which I did not find out until well into the ride.  The maximum speed limit (110 in Alberta) can be achieved in all the upper gears, I was having a great time in fourth and fifth then decided to see if there was another, and like an Easter Egg, there it was.  Sixth was definitely the overdrive gear, and while it pulled OK from 100 Kph (62 mph), the Chieftain had a lot more poke in fifth.

Brakes were excellent, I am by habit a one finger on the front brake at all times rider, and I had no problems hooking my solitary finger over the brake lever and doing most of the braking with it.  The rear brake is very powerful, I suspect it is linked to the front, based on the way it instantly slowed the bike down.  I would have preferred to have that power on the front brake lever, but I could get used to using the Chieftain foot brake.

If I was looking for a bike to ride on  highways rather than byways, the Chieftain would be on my short list, and fairly close to the top of it.
But all that weiiight...........

August 08, 2013

The kids are allright

When I was 15 or so I fell in love with the Honda S90, I wanted one.  It was affordable, unintimidating, had a top speed that matched the then maximum speed limit, or so they said.  For my 15 year old self it represented freedom.  In my daydreams I rode that S90 everywhere with my imaginary GF on the pillion.  Life got in the way, I never did get that S90, my motorcycle career had to wait until I was 18, but the hook was set.

Motorcycles had no interest for me BISH (Before I Saw the Honda).  My Dad, who I listened to up till I was 15, had frequently pointed out that motorcycles were large, dangerous, noisy and ridden by thugs and criminals.  I knew this was true, because all the bikers I saw were greasy, tattooed, scary individuals.  The papers were filled with the antics of the BDRs (Black Diamond Riders), and their infamous president, Johnny Sombrero.

Honda's genius was to suggest to people like my 15 year old self there was an alternative motorcycle lifestyle with their 'You meet the nicest people on a Honda' advertising campaign. An affordable ride which did not involve having to be familiar with weapons and tattoo parlors.  It worked spectacularly well.  Honda made the bikes, and a far sighted advertising agency made the connection.

The problem was that with such a large cohort of baby boomers, and their even more numerous younger brothers and sisters, Generation X, all the motorcycle industry had to do was to keep churning out product for the converted as they got fatter and older.   Now that we boomers are approaching the last ride one wonders where the future bikers will come from.

Not from the mainstream motorcycle industry, where 'entry level' is a 400 pound machine capable of speeds well past 100 mph, or even more bizarrely, a 600 plus pound V twin ground pounder.  Such may appeal to the adventurous extreme sports wannabe or lumberjacks, but what about the nerdy skinny kid and his size 2 girl friend?  To be fair, the big 4 do have token 250s, but at most dealerships they have the same status as Cinderella when the Prince came to call, and they are not paper route affordable.

Fortunately our sport does have a future, and once again it looks like a collaboration of an astoundingly abundant overseas supply, and a few smart people who are able to see beyond can be found in the typical dealership. 

China is now the world's largest producer of motorcycles.  Just like Japan post World War Two, the Chinese motorcycle industry grew out of an internal demand for cheap motorized transportation, which quickly grew beyond its borders.  The Chinese are already flooding motorcycle markets in Asia, Latin America, and Africa.  Just like Japanese products of the 1950's Chinese products have a reputation for poor quality and ripping off the designs of the more established industrial zones.  Which, by the way, is the reputation shared by every newly emerging manufacturing zone, including North America, when it first emerged.

It will be interesting to see if the established industrial zones will make the same mistake of underestimating how the new guys will end up dominating complacent old guys.  The international industries have already climbed aboard the Chinese juggernaut looking for cheap manufacture of their traditional or home designed products.  Wonderful, but the next step will be for China to turn the old boys on their heads when they come up with stuff nobody has thought of yet.

One small example of what is coming is the bike in the pic above, which is either a CCW or a Xerox copy.  (CCW or Cleveland Cycle Works hints that they are an American manufacturer, but in truth their bikes are as Chinese as chopsticks, and that is not a bad thing in either instance.)  What we have here is a  street legal chopper about as in your face as a stuffed teddy bear.  Brilliant, instead of overpriced underfunctional excrescence from the likes of the now thankfully bankrupt OCC boys, a cool (well, maybe luke-warmish) chopper a kid can actually ride to school or the local music shop.  More is on the way.   Chinese bikes comes in all flavours, sport, DP, cruiser radical chopper, even standards, usually with a 200 cc engine that closely resembles either a Suzuki or a Honda, with a price tag beginning at about 2K NA bucks.  Which compares favorably with the 200 dollar Honda Cub of the early 1960's. 

I am looking forward to the coming moto rennaissence.  Not all Chinese bikes are clones, they have some weird and wonderful designs that will not be seen here until our importers lose their timidity and start bringing them in.  They will sell like a 1965 Honda Cub (or S 90) in 1965.

What you are missing....

Not sure what this is, but you have to admire its audacity

definitely better in black - black is slimming

Chinese Choppers in Chile

Little DPs are hugely popular in Latn America

Can't put my finger on what this is supposed to be a copy of and I like it

How many new bikes can you buy for a hundred cans of synthetic 10W40?

March 22, 2013

Keeping a low profile

(thanks wingnuts)

I recently read a great story on the internet by this retired guy who was riding in Mexico with a group of riders, who narrowly avoided 'un robo' when gun toting bandits  ambushed them all when they left town.    I was never got robbed during my six months on the road aside from having a few things taken from my room when I stupidly left it unlocked.   Horror stories make interesting tales to tell after you are safe at home, whereas my story was more boring, but boring is probably better when you are actually on the road for six months.

I might just have been luckier, but I intentionally took precautions to keep me out of this kind of trouble.

I mostly avoided tourist destinations or districts.

I took Spanish lessons, and carried dictionaries and some MP3 recorded common phrases that would be useful to me.

I chose a motorcycle and gear that I thought was going to be similar to what the local motorcyclists would have.

And I travelled alone.

Travelling alone may seem counter intuitive, but bear with me here.

After many years of careful observation and hands on experimentation, I can positively say that when riding motorcycles with a group, the whole is definitely not greater than the sum of its parts.

I don't think I need to explain this any further to any one who has ridden with a group of friends.  Stupid group behaviour on a road trip goes beyond being stupid on the road, it will be stupid in the hotel, in restaurants, on the bikes and off the bikes.  You and your friends are gonna piss people off and you are gonna stand out.  You may become a target.

If you are still having trouble with this concept, envision this scenario.  You are at your favorite watering hole or hangout and a single Russian guy walks in.  He is having some trouble communicating with the wait staff, but he seems like a harmless guy, so you invite yourself over, try to help out, buy him a few beers and enjoy his company.  
Now picture this, instead of one Russian, 6 walk in.  They don't speak English, but they don't seem to care to either, they are talking and laughing amongst themselves, you don't understand what they are saying, but you are pretty sure they are poking fun at you, your friends your hangout, your town.  As the night goes on they get louder and more obnoxious, you and your friends are getting fed up with them.......  

¿los Americanos feos?

Learning  the language does not have to be a big deal, and all you need is enough to get you started.  You can do lessons on line,  attend a class, choose one of the many options available for travellers, you don't need college level ability, you need to be able buy a few staples, get directions, find hotels and restaurants etc. you can even take lessons along the way, take a break and take a class, Google will find it.  Even if you are a totally incompetent linguist, your hosts will appreciate the effort.

Learn something about the culture.  It is easy to be rude when you don't know you are being rude.  Every time a 'foreigner' pisses you off at home, consider that the person may not be trying to be intentionally rude, they just did not bother to learn what acceptable behaviour is 'over here'.  Still  rude is rude, and ignorance is no excuse, so try to make sure you do not step on any toes when you are away.  

Being familiar with ordinary customs will also ease frustration,  people in Latin America eat their meals at different times than in North America for instance, it can be very frustrating trying to find a restaurant when  they are all closed and you think they should be open.

And never forget that when you are travelling, wherever you are travelling, you are a guest, and guests have responsibilities as well as hosts.

Another thing I did was research the kind of bikes people would be riding in Central and South America.   I wanted a bike that would blend in, and I wanted an adventure bike that could handle any kind of road or no road at all.   I also wanted a bike I could pick up easily by myself after it fell over.   My choice was a KTM 640 Adventure, which was probably not the best choice.   Before I left, the KTM met all requirements, dealerships in every country, good reputation for providing service and parts to travelers, excellent off road capabilities, so so for highway touring, but easy to pick up after it it falls over.
What I failed to account for was KTM's 'ready to race' characteristics, best re stated as don't hitch a thoroughbred to a plow and expect it to be happy about it.  Crappy gas, hit and miss maintenance take a toll over 30,000 kilometers.
A better choice would have been a KLR 650 or a 650 Vstrom both of which were fairly common sights on my trip.   Once you arrive in Mexico anything bigger than a 250 is overkill unless you plan to stay on the toll roads or on the Baja peninsula.  An excellent Mexico bike, if you can find one, is the street legal made in China 250 cc dual purpose bike.  They are cheap and nasty, but they run for ever, and every tiny town you come to has mechanics who can keep them going with bailing wire and chewing gum.

One thing that did work out well, few people know what a KTM is, but it does resemble the aforementioned no name  department store Chinese dual purpose bikes which are as common as fleas in Central and South America, as the Chinese factories copy KTM styling, so somewhat ironically, the rarely seen KTM looks just like the  flood of KTM imitations.   Keeping it mostly unwashed was also a deliberate strategy to deflect attention, as well as appealing to my lazy self.

Avoiding el distrito turĂ­stico was more of a personal preference, I was not interested in them or what they had to offer, I was more interested in finding out what Mexico and the rest of Latin America was like for the people who live there, but as it turns out, it was also a lot safer.  Lets face it, if you want to make a living robbing people, you should go where you find the most cash, and where nobody knows you.  In other words, no mierda en la cama.