Things we think of while riding down the road

Archive for December, 2008

Getting around town

I don’t know about you, but I spend a lot of time on a motorcycle. My regular commute is over 50 miles round trip and my son used to commute 120 miles a day. We both do it on motorcycles. Now,we all know people that use their bikes as their sole transportation no matter what the weather. What do they ride? Would you ride a Ducati 916 on the freeway, in traffic, 120 miles a day? NO. How about a customized Harley with ape hangers? NO. Well wait, I’ve seen some that do..you see everything in Southern California.

So what does make a good commuter bike? Well, it’s got to be easy to ride, reliable as a rock, good gas mileage, easy to park and able to carry a small amount of luggage (your tank bag, briefcase and maybe a bottle of wine on the way home). What else does it need to be? Here in So Cal it needs to be freeway legal, you pretty much can’t go anywhere without getting on the freeway, being inexpensive wouldn’t hurt either.

So here are some of my thoughts.  Here in the good old USA motorcycles are mainly considered toys, throughout the rest of the world motorbikes are transportation. In Mexico your pizza is delivered on a specially designed Honda 125, the police ride 125’s too and your mail comes on a special little 125. In Europe scooters and small motorbikes are king. When I was  in Italy a year ago small bikes out numbered big bikes it seemed like 100 to 1. Why don’t we see that here? Yeah I know, it’s a big country, lots of wide open space etc. But I’m talking about cities and suburbs where a small, easy to ride, quick little two wheeler could make your life a lot easier. Again I’ll go back to the theory that here in America motorcycles are toys not transportation.tu250xk91

If you were going to get your self a commuter bike to scoot around town what is out there? Actually quite a few. I’ll focus on small bikes this time. They are all fun and easy to ride and pretty cheap for all you get.  Most seem to hover right around that $3500 range and get great gas mileage. The first one that comes to mind is the Honda Rebel and Nighthawk, little 250’s that have been around forever. If you want something a bit sportier, Kawasaki has revamped the Baby Ninja 250 into first rate little sportbike that would be fun for dodging traffic. Suzuki has their GZ and TU 250’s. Like the Honda’s, they come in kind of a cruiser style and a standard model. Hyosung i_gt250out of Korea (who does a lot of work for Suzuki…thats why they look similar) also has a couple great little 250’s. That’s actually a good selection. There are also some very good 250cc Dual Sport bikes that would fit the bill although a little pricier.

I know most people consider all of these motorbikes for beginners or girls, but for getting around town easy and cheaply, you can’t beat ’em. Some of them you could even take on a trip ( if you are into self abuse) they are capable. A few years ago while on a trip of my own, I ran into a couple on their way home from the Sturgis Rally in South Dakota, the wife was on a Yamaha Virago 250!! L.A to Sturgis and back on a little 250.

I think that as traffic gets worse, the streets get more crowded, parking is harder to find and more expensive these little bikes are going to start looking a whole lot better. They do in the rest of the world.

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The economy and salvage yards

thum_933495725b6bf0a9As you’ve read before, I’m starting work on a Cafe Racer project based on a 1971 Honda SL350. It’s going to be a very cool bike when it’s done but it’s going to need some surgery and odd parts. Off to the boneyard I go. I know the owner pretty well and I know he keeps odd hours, like you never know what days he is going to be open and for how long that day. Oh well. Knowing this, I decide to call first before making a fifty mile trip to find closed doors. No answer, call a couple of hours later, no answer, call the next day, you guessed it, no answer. So I call a friend who lives close by to see if there is a sign or anything that says when the place is open.  My friend calls back with some bad news. There is no sign about hours and it looks like a lot of the old bikes and stuff that you can see from the street are gone.  This is very distressing, time to open a beer.thum_933495725efe0a2b

When gas prices were at their peak earlier this year friends at motorcycle shops were telling me guys pulling old bikes out of the garage and and starting to ride again. Parts sales were pretty good, accessory sales were up and so were cheap used bikes. Not so with new bikes though.  With a lot of these old bikes being drug back out into the light of day you would think that the salvage yards might be doing a pretty brisk business, I mean a good part from a salvage yard is usually less than half the cost of new.

As gas prices started coming down and the weather stated getting a little cooler, the old bikes were relegated to the corner again. Even scooter sales that were doing so well started slowing. Motorcycles here in the U.S are looked at more as toys instead of transportation. Everywhere else in the world, small size motorbikes are a major part of the traffic scene. And with gas prices as high as they are in Europe and other areas of the world you can understand it. But, wait I’m getting off topic here, let’s get back to the boneyard.

Digging around some of the lists and forums I’m on, I’m finding that salvage yards are going the way of the DO-DO bird. They are disappearing.  Riders that work on their own motorcycles seem to be going away as well. Younger riders on newer bikes aren’t interested in crud covered old bikes and unless you have all kinds of computer stuff you can’t work on a new one.  So again, back to the salvage yard. With a bit more research and calling a couple of other salvage yards around the Southern California area, I learn that the value of all those parts is greater as scrap metal than parts. And with business slowing it’s better to send it to the smelter than to someones garage. A pretty hefty number of the motorcycle salvage yards in Southern California have closed over the past couple of years. Those of us that dabble with vintage motorcycles are find it increasingly difficult to find parts.

The econmy is hitting motorcycling in all ways, from the lowly salvage yard all the way to MotoGP. Just this morning, sources inside the Kawasaki MotoGP team leaked it that Kawasaki was pulling out of the 2009 MotoGP season. This is sending some shockwaves through the motorcycle racing world. American Honda pulled out of roadracing here in America citing economic woes. With two major players out of the game, I wonder who’s next.

Well, I think now I’ll go outside get on my trusty little Honda 350 and see if the salvage yard is open. If Greg isn’t there oh well, it’s nice day for a fifty mile ride.


A small story

Ed's BonnevilleAs Ed traveled along through the Arizona desert he started to think about why he took this trip in the first place. The vastness of the desert, the heat that rose up from the road and the sound of the motor lulled him away, back into his own memories. Ellen had left him and he simply wanted to escape.

Taking time off work was easy, getting his mom to watch the kids was even easier. Since Ellen left Ed wasn’t much fun to be around so the kid’s enjoyed being at Grandma’s a lot.

Car, train, plane, boat or motorcycle? Motorcycle. Out of the back corner of the garage came the ’69 Bonneville. Ed and the Bonnie had been together since she rolled out of the Triumph dealer brand new.

Whenever life seemed to get tough, time on the Bonnie cured everything. Ed had solved the world’s problems from the seat of that motorcycle. The Vietnam War? Ended somewhere between Lake Tahoe and L.A.. Over population in India? Easily fixed outside Steamboat Springs. Starving kids in Africa? Cured in Montana. Ginger or MaryAnne? That’s easy, MaryAnne. Now, deep in the Arizona desert, Ed had a new problem to solve.

The ride had been pretty uneventful so far. In the time between Reseda and Palm Springs, Ed had figured out that either his trusty old leather jacket had shrunk or married life had put a few pounds on him. He opted for the jacket shrinking. A short but expensive stop at Madman’s Motorcycle Mall and Ed was much more comfortable.

Tucson seemed to be a good goal for the first day, but a dinner stop would come sooner. Nyland, California. This is where you set your watch back, About twenty years. “Home Cookin’ and Cold Beer” said the sign outside Tiny’s Diner. Ed trusted the large number of eighteen wheelers and pickup trucks outside more than Tiny’s sign. Inside Tiny’s, the noise level was at last five times louder than Ed’s Bonneville. Truckers talking with each other as if they were on their CB radios, farmers talking loud enough to be heard over their tractors, cooks and waitresses yelling orders at each other and over all this was Johnny Paycheck sing “Take this job and shove it” on the jukebox. The smell inside Tiny’s Diner ranged from dirt to diesel to fried onions, except for Polly the waitress, she wore perfume that smelled like Gardenias.

The sun had already set when Ed left Tiny’s. Fill up the tank, put on the new jacket and head for Tucson. In the dark, the desert is even more vast and desolate. Distances between towns seem to grow and the number of cars and trucks gets smaller. At one point Ed just pulled over and stopped. He shut off the Bonneville’s motor. The dark and stillness of the desert night covered ed completely. No matter how many stars there were in the sky his world was totally dark. Why did she leave?


It’s a Holly Jolly Christmas

0511-0812-0117-2209_santa_riding_a_motorcycle_clipart_image2It’s been a wet Christmas here in Fillmore..We’re going to take a ride up the canyon and check on the waterfalls and then do the tour of friends and family. I hope you all have a wonderful Christmas and Santa brought you everything you wanted….
…a new motorcycle (Ducati 1000GT), some new tyres for your old bike, a new copy of ‘On Any Sunday’, your wife (Mrs.Claus) paid your racing license for next year, a subscription to your favorite mag, a new helmet, a warm jacket, if you are a long distance rider, a new GPS…
Whatever you wanted for Christmas I hope it was under your motorcycle..well, not an oil leak…
Happy Christmas to you all


Racing and the Economy

If you’re a racer, you know how expensive racing can be. Heck, racing a little ‘ol Honda 500 Ascot out at Willow Springs could cost upwards of $500 a weekend, and that’s if nothing broke and I didn’t crash. Now imagine you’re part of a team…Big bikes, sponsors, big truck and trailer, motorhome…you’re racing in style. That’s a whole lot of money, you need big sponsors. Let’s step it up one more time, you’re the factory or the importer of the motorcycle. Now you have all the other stuff plus…the riders salary, a couple of mechanics (at least two or three) they have to be paid too, BIG trucks, a motorhome a bit above your average Winnebago, a caterer….you can see the dollar bills just flying out of the exhaust pipe.

In Europe, motor racing gets large, no, huge crowds. Two or four wheels, it doesn’t matter. On The Continent they love their racing. Fans show up wearing leathers just like their favorite racer, their bike is painted in the same livery…they love racing. Racer’s are gods. So, why is racing shrinking? As a former President of the USA once said, “it’s the economy stupid”

Check out what is going on. We’ll start with a small but significant event, ‘The Legend of the Motorcycle Concours’ held at Pebble Beach California, has been canceled for 2009. Why? The economy. Next up on the ‘Hit List’, Craftsman (Sears) pulls their sponsorship of the NASCAR Truck Series…Why? The economy. NASCAR teams are shrinking because sponsorship is drying up. Audi, the most successful team in the American LeMans Series, has pulled out due to economic concerns and Honda has pulled out of Formula One racing altogether. And, even though Honda is citing global economics and it’s effect on Honda as the reason they have pulled out of AMA Pro Racing for the 2009 season, I think there is more to it than that. That is another post as well.

Car sales are down, motorcycle sales are down, of course the factory’s can’t continue to spend gazillion’s of dollars on racing. It’s simple stuff. Valentino Rossi is going to have to sell one or two of his houses around the world. Dani Pedrosa will have to order off the value menu on Tuesday and Thursday and Ben Spies can’t have Texas Barbeque flown in fresh each week.

But here is the Silver Lining to that cloud. Scooter sales are up world wide and I’m working on a plan to set up a World Scooter Racing program. Can you see it?? Vespa vs Kymco vs Honda vs Lance. It’s gonna be great. We’ll be on network TV all over the world..we’ll have screaming fans wherever we go…we will be the new gods of racing.

Excuse me, I have to go take my medication now.


Weird times in roadracing

Yessiree gang, we have got some strange times heading our way. Professional roadracing in America seems to be taking a detour. I have written and podcasted about the changes happening and the dissatisfaction that riders and manufacturers have about those changes.

Let’s do a quick recap; AMA sells off the racing division to Daytona Motorsports Group figuring they can do a better job of promoting racing. Who is DMG? For one, they own NASCAR. NASCAR is second only to the NFL in popularity here in the states. DMG changes the name to AMA Pro Racing. APR proceeds to talking about changes in the class structure and rules. The Big Four (Honda,Kawasaki,Yamaha and Suzuki) cast a wary eye and start backing away. Some riders are quite upset at the structure, we all know that Matt Mladin is pretty peeved and has said he won’t ride under the new structure and others are just hanging around to how the dust settles.

Next, final class structure and rules are set out. We all know that Suzuki was not happy from the very beginning, the other three were still somewhat sitting on the fence. Dunlop becomes the the only tyre supplier to AMA Pro Racing, that’s OK, spec tyre rules seem to working for World Superbike and Formula One..it’s been adopted by MotoGP…so that’s the trend. No big deal. But wait..there’s more?!

Every December, Dunlop holds the Annual Tyre Test at Daytona Motor Speedway. Everybody that uses Dunlop shows up and works with the newest latest and greatest from Dunlop. Factory teams and privateers. New bikes in plain clothes, test mules and young hot shots hoping to impress the factory teams, a big event in American roadracing. This year was a little short on participants. Kawasaki decided they didn’t like the new rules and decided to boycott the event, Honda and Suzuki went along. Only Yamaha committed to the event. Recently I had spoken with a representative from Yamaha and he was a little concerned that Yamaha had stuck their neck out pretty far. Eventually Honda decided to go. But…Honda factory pilots Miguel Duhamel and Neil Hodgson didn’t have contracts for the 2009 season, Erion Honda Superbike rider Jake Zemke was there riding with a ‘Gentleman’s agreement’. Weird huh?

A week later Honda announced that they were pulling out of AMA Pro Racing for the 2009 season! Honda cited economics. They said they would continue support of the Erion Racing and Corona Racing teams, but as a factory team they would not be racing. Do you really believe that ‘Global Economics’ is the reason Honda has pulled out? I don’t. I think it is an easy way make a statement, to thumb their nose at AMA Pro Racing.


Let the show begin

This blog-post is being powered by ZZ-Top today. And… Marshall Crenshaw, Cream, The Kinks, John Hiatt…I believe all of them are bikers at heart. This kind of work environment drives my wife crazy but it works for me.

This last weekend was the Cycle World International Motorcycle Show in Long Beach. I love going to the show..whether for work or fun. I always run into friends,
see the new bikes and all the goodies I would love to have. This is when my credit card is taken away from me before I go. Wives..spoilsports that they are.

Friday morning is the start of Media Day at the show. Even though Long Beach is not the first show of the season, a lot of new bikes are unveiled there. The logic is simple..Southern California is the main market and this is where the magazines are located..gotta have press coverage you know. That’s why The MotoWorld is here.

My good friend Michael and I survived the L.A traffic and arrived at the show looking forward to some good interviews, checking out all the newest,latest and greatest in the motorcycle world, seeing old friends, meeting and talking with people who you know their names,their writing, but not their faces, and making new friends.

Between Michael and I, our day was full with interviews, photo’s and the basic media circus. Can’t complain at all. The new Harley XR1200, some very cool Cafe Racer’s from roadracer turned custom bike builder Roland Sands some vintage Cafe Racers from local guys…I need to blame my friend Erik for my newly rediscovered love of this genre of bikes…remember he and I have a contest for building the coolest Cafe Racer out of a Honda 350…there was a really neat little Honda 160 all cafe’d out a couple of beautiful Guzzi’s and a waaaay trick CB750.

All in all a great day…but, I have to say, even though there are a lot of technical improvements in new motorcycles, they all look the same, feel the same and…well, I don’t know…for me the show was more about the people. Industry types and regular riders. I guess that really is the essence of motorcycling, the people that ride.
So today, go out and ride your motorcycle…cruiser,sportbike,cafe racer or scooter, just go ride.