Things we think of while riding down the road

Posts tagged “suzuki

Baby Riders

I have spent the vast majority of my life on two wheels. From riding a Schwinn Stingray to school, throwing newspapers onto porches pedaling that same Stingray…well…occasionally the paper ended up on the roof or in the shrubs…”sorry Mrs. Cleaver…”. I wish I still had that Stingray…do you know much that would be worth on ebay right now??!! About the same time I started getting really interested in girls I also got the motorcycle bug. My friend Byron down the street had a Taco mini bike that we terrorized the neighborhood on for years but now, it just wasn’t cool enough. I needed a real motorcycle.

My first experience being on a real motorcycle was when my dad came home from Vietnam in 1966. The first things he did was buy a new car and a new motorcycle. The car; 1966 Chevy Impala SS, the bike; a brand new Honda CB160. Looking back I wonder…why did he buy a big Chevy with a really big motor, I think it was the either the 396 or the 427, and then buy a ‘little’ motorcycle? If you’re goin’ big go BIG…he could have gotten a Triumph, BSA or a Harley… and in the words of the late John Belushi…”But Noooooooo” he had to buy a little Honda.??!!

I was fourteen years old and I was spending a few days with my dad when he took me on my first driving lesson out at the Marine Corps base…I didn’t get to drive the Chevy, I drove my step moms VW, oh well, you’ve got to start somewhere. But then…but then…came, “you want to ride the Honda?”… “gee Dad, let me think about this a whilel, YEAH!!!” I may have called that Honda 160 ‘little’ but when you’re fourteen, sitting on that bike was better than kissing the prettiest girl in school. And what did I do??…I promptly rode into the rear bumper of my dad’s new Impala…yes, I Impaled the Impala…sorry dad. A rather auspicious start to a long motorcycle career don’t you think?

I was fourteen years old when I started riding motorcycles, started racing at sixteen and you know what I’ve learned of late? I was a late bloomer.

In my job as a Moto Journalist I have had the opportunity to interview and spend time with every type of rider. Racers, travelers, industry types, photographers and everyday riders…it’s a great job. There is always one common denominator, the love of riding a motorcycle. Where does that love come from? Usually it’s dad, an uncle or a big brother…sometimes all three and occasionally it’s a friend who goes through the “this is the clutch, this is the brake,shifter…one down and three up” ritual with you. Most women I have talked with got the bug from a boyfriend or husband…I think they got tired of looking at the back of his helmet or, more often, telling themselves they can ride ride better than him.

About a year ago at the AMA Grand National Flat Track races in Pomona, California I was walking the pits doin’ my job…talkin’ to racers. I usually don’t spend too much time on race reports, I like to get to know the racer and the question I ask of everyone I talk with is…”how old were you when you started riding motorcycles?”. Everybody has a fun story about when they first threw a leg over a motorcycle.

On the way home from the race, I was mentally editing the interview’s and one common thread came through…nearly all of the riders I spoke with started riding very,very young. Somewhere between Pasadena and Fillmore I started reviewing all my roadracing interviews as well and I came up with the same thread. I worked through my interviews…MotoGP, World Superbike, AMA Superbike, AMA Flat Track, Motocross and here is what I found. Most all these champion racers were barely out of diapers when they started riding and racing. Take a guess, how old do you think most of these guys were when they first threw a leg over a motorcycle? If you said ‘four’, you win the prize…that’s right, four years old. At four years old pretty much all they could spell was PW50 or JR50 which, were the two most common bikes all these racers started on.

So what have I learned from all this research? I was a racer of no renown because I started ten years too late and that I’m going to have get my grandson a PW50 in about three years. Now if I can just convince his mother…..

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Vintage values

There’s an old saying, “something is only worth what somebody else is willing to pay for it”. I write another blog about vintage motorcycles, www.vintagemotorcycles.wordpress.com and here is where I learn what people think their motorcycle is worth and I will say this right off the bat, some people have a very inflated sense of the value of their motorcycle or their 1970 metalflake helmet.

In my years as a surf shop owner I spent a great deal of time helping people determine the value of the used surfboard they wanted to sell. A customer would come in toting an old surfboard that maybe they have had for years or they picked it up at a garage sale somewhere for a few dollars, either way it’s time to sell it. I would always start off the conversation by asking how much do you want for it? The customer would reply, “how much is it worth?”, next is me asking again how much they want for it, knowing that they do have a dollar figure in mind…getting that figure out of them is a very funny game of cat and mouse. This game goes on for just a bit and then I throw out a price of what I think I can sell it for (we sold surfboards on consignment for a small percentage). One of three things happen now, the customer is surprised in a good way, they’re offended or sometimes I get lucky and I’m right there with what they had in mind. At least half the time it’s door number two. If the offended one doesn’t walk out the door in a huff, I try to explain why I put the value on their board that I did. It comes from the knowledge of knowing what it will sell for, not what it may be worth. There is a difference.

The other difference I have to explain to people whether we are talking about surfboards or motorcycles, is the difference between just old and classic. What is the difference? To make it as simple as I can, a ‘classic’ is something that truly stood out in it’s time and has stood the test of time. A ‘classic’ is something iconic, something that helped define that time period, either technologically or sociologically. In surfboards, a 1967 Dewey Weber Performer is a classic, a 1967 stock production, no model name surfboard is just an old board. A Honda CM400A is just an old motorcycle, a 1969 Honda CB750 is a classic. A Kawasaki Samurai is a neat motorcycle but it’s just an old motorcycle, a ’72 H2 is a classic. You get my point here I hope.

I spend a portion of each morning perusing ebay for cool old motorcycles or interesting parts for my vintage motorcycle blog. If I find something interesting that I have some history with, I write a story about it, add some pictures then post it. If I find something interesting that I don’t know much about, I do some research and then write what I have learned..spread the knowledge you know. But here’s the best part of looking at bikes on ebay…the value a seller puts on the motorcycle. I catch myself laughing out loud every morning, I guess laughter is the best way to start the day. For some people the price is based on sentimental value, “I have had this bike since I was just a boy back on the farm in Iowa”, or, ” I completely restored this bike from the ground up, I have $7324.14 in receipts”, opening bid for this Honda CB350 is $7500. Here’s the deal folks, sentimental value does not translate in real world value. If you don’t want to sell it for a realistic price, then don’t put it on the market. If you spend $7324.14 on a CB350, well first, you should be institutionalized, then you have to realize that every dollar you put into it was for your own enjoyment. When you add accessories or do restoration work, the rule of thumb is that you can expect to get back around half of what you put into it. That’s the real world.

I put together a little list of bikes I thought fit in the “you must be kidding” category, ready…? A rusty, sidecover missing, fenders all scuffed up 1979 Honda XR80 for only $2000. How about a custom Maico dirtbike from the ’70’s for a paltry $7,000, or maybe you have fancy a dirty, banged up, yellowed gas tank, not sure of the mileage or hours on the bike ’88 Yamaha BIG Wheel with a starting price of $3500. How does a very nicely restored 1968 Suzuki T500 for $7000 fit in your garage? Now here is where the fun really begins. How can you turn down the opportunity to buy a 1969 Indian 50cc minibike in well used condition for only $2600. I don’t even think you could get that much for one of the Harley Clone Indians from a couple of years ago!?
And here is the capper for the day, a beautiful, 99% original 1978 Kawasaki Z1R turbo that will only lighten your wallet by $25,000, you can actually find a real nice one for less than half that.

What do all these bikes have in common? besides crazy prices, they have all been on ebay a while, and they all have zero bids. I wonder why.

So what was my point in writing this today, it’s not really to make fun of anybody or what they believe the value of their motorcycle is, the point was to take my experience in selling used goods for people and use it to help somebody think about pricing their Suzuki 250 triple that needs work, or that 1970 metalflake helmet to sell..not languish about on ebay. If you want to sell it, sell it. Get a fair price for it and be happy. Like my old friend Doug used to say, “buy it for $1, sell it for $2 and be happy with a one percent profit”


The Church of Speed

Welcome to Sunday morning at the Church of Speed. Everyone is dressed in their Sunday best; racers in their finest leathers, photographers with their cameras hanging around their neck like jewelry, journalists writing sermons, and spectators holding their beers like Holy Water. It’s a perfect Sunday for church in Utah; sunny, not a cloud in the sky, and no wind. All in all a perfect day if you have to spend all of it in church.

The riders are running their practice session right now, the pits are in a flurry and the sound of engines warming up is like the cacophony of a thousand church bells ringing at once. The riders go out for a few laps then dive back into the pits, talk with the mechanics, a few quick adjustments are made and the rider heads back out. Four or five laps later this communal ritual will be repeated. The mechanics are like the brothers in a monastery of exotic high speed machinery, the crew chief is the priest who controls all that happens in his church, and the rider is a mere minion. The congregation is starting to file into the church now.

The congregation, the faithful, will receive their reward in the form of ‘Superpole’. This a sacred ritual that determines which riders sit in the front pews and which listen to the sermon from the back of the church. The faithful watch this ritual with great anticipation knowing that the rider who can read the passages the fastest will gain favor with the monsignor and recieve his blessing, pole position for the race.

Today is the Sunday school before the Mass. This weekend Mass is actually going to be held tomorrow, Monday, because of Memorial Day. Often times though, Sunday school is more exciting.


Race Day delay

So that means that I have time to pass on a few notes to you. We’re out here at Auto Club Speedway in Fontana California for the first of the West Coast rounds of AMA Pro Racing. Yesterday, Friday, was a truly beautiful Southern California day.All the teams are here, the garages are humming and the track is alive with sound of motorcycles but, we’re here to work. Interviews to do, photo’s to take and stories to write, who has time for watching practice and qualifying?

Our day was full right from the moment we got here, following up on past interviews, scheduling new ones and figuring how we were going to work it all in. Work,work,work…

We started the morning with our friends at Roadracing World Magazine, lining up our interview with MotoGP and Superbike star John Hopkins.

Next was over to Jordan Suzuki for a visit with Rich Alexander, technical manager and former champion road racer himself about running the Michael Jordan team.A quick hello with Aaron Yates, which who, later in the day set the fastest lap times in qualifying.

Time to sit down with John Hopkins for an interview that I have been looking forward to for a long time. We had a great visit about his life and career.

Wandering around the pits a month or so ago during Superbike testing, I met Danny Eslick, 2009 Daytona Sportbike champion. This young man always had a smile on his face and was usually laughing, and in general having a great time. We didn’t get a chance for a full interview so we planned for this race. We met up at the Geico Powersports trailer and for the next thirty minutes or so we had one of the most entertaining interviews we’ve done.

At 3PM the first round of qualifying got underway and from there until the end of the day, no more interviews so we really did get to watch. It’s always fun to watch the racers we have interviewed, you get to know and like them so naturally we cheer for them.

After qualifying we met up with Ducati Superbike pilot Larry Pegram for an interview. Now, Larry is a really cool guy and a great racer, but…he’s not much of a talker. We like him anyway.

We finished off our day in great style, a half hour with sixteen year old Elena Meyers, super fast, super nice and cute as can be. Oh, she had the wildest toenail polish I think I’ve ever seen.

At the end of the day we had a recorder full of interviews and a camera full of photos, a great day.

That was yesterday. Today the wind is howling, blowing so hard that all track activity is stopped for riders’ safety. It’s hard just walking around much less riding a motorcycle at over 165 miles per hour today. So, a couple more interviews, edit photo’s and update you all.

Our first get together this morning was with young Chris Clark riding a Yamaha R1 Superbike for the Pat Clark Motorsports, a Yamaha satellite team. Another very talented and entertaining young man.

To give you an idea of how hard the wind is blowing, while we were doing the last interview,the giant team hauler was rocking side to side to the point of making almost all of us seasick!

So here it is 1:30 in the afternoon, the wind is still howling, riders are huddled up in their motorhomes and we’re hiding in the media center. If no racing soon, we’ll be back tomorrow.

2:30 pm update..the wind has calmed down a bit, the AMA is sending the Superbike riders out onto the track for an evaluation of the safety concerns..if the riders feel they have raceable conditions…thirty minutes from now the green flag drops.


A strange marriage?

A while back, we here at Motoworld Central reported on our podcast the news that Volkswagen had bought a good portion of Suzuki. At the time it was a bit of a surprise, but global companies swap dancing partners all the time. For one day it was big news in the automotive world, but today…not so much. Suzuki wanted a bigger part of the world market and VW wanted a a stronger place in the Asian market…so getting into bed with each other seemed the right thing to do. A few of us (not me of course…) have woken up in the morning wondering “what was I thinking?”

While scouring the internet the other day I found the offspring of this marriage.This photo is proof positive that some mergers really do work well and the future of motorcycling is in good hands.


Under appreciated motorcycles

Over the years of interviewing racers and travelers, authors and magazine editors, and everyday riders I often ask about their first motorcycle or a memorable bike from their past. The answer usually comes with an interesting story, and stories I love. The other day I had the pleasure of sitting down with Mitch Boehm, publisher of Moto Retro Illustrated magazine talking about his motorcycling life.

As with all good motorcyclist’s meeting for the first time, the first stop is the garage. A couple of motocross bikes, a newly acquired early eighties Kawasaki GPZ750, a beautiful 1970 Honda CB750 and a ‘getting ready to head for restoration’ Suzuki GS1000S. While in the garage talking about motorcycles, and skateboards (yes, Mr. Boehm is a skateboarder, it’s amazing the trouble your kid’s can get you into…) I discovered that Mitch has developed a passion for the GS1000S. After our visit, I got on my old BMW and rode down to visit my kids, and grand kid, in San Diego. During the next two hours of droning along the freeway, thinking about Mitch and his magazine, my mind wandered a bit, kind of like that Dodge minivan in the lane next to me, to motorcycles that not too many people have a passion for…the under appreciated motorcycle.

There are iconic motorcycles that every motorcyclist knows of, has owned or lusted after; and there are motorcycles that riders wish they had never bought. Motorcycle manufacturers are really no different than us…they have motorcycles that they know are legends, or going to be legends and some, they sat back scratching their heads saying to themselves, “what were we thinking?” And then…there are some motorcycles that are really wonderful rides that just went, shall we say, under appreciated. While riding, I started thinking about motorcycles that are really good but for one reason or another just didn’t strike the motorcycle buying public’s fancy. From Laguna Niguel to San Diego one bike seemed to crop in my thoughts over and over…The Suzuki RF900.

The Suzuki RF900 had a 5 year life span, 1994 through 1999. It was a ‘Sport Tourer’ with a little more ‘Sport’ than ‘Tour’. It wasn’t the most svelte motorcycle for the time at around 450 pounds but it also wasn’t the heaviest in it’s class. The RF had good handling, solid and stable…necessary for a sport tourer, a strong bulletproof motor and had to be comfortable to ride all day. All those characteristics the Suzuki had in spades. The motor was based on Suzuki’s GSX1100R, the oil cooled workhorse that you couldn’t kill if you tried. The 937cc engine put out about 125 horsepower, would easily see the other side of 150 miles per hour and could haul (and I do mean ‘haul‘) two of you with all your luggage across the country without breaking a sweat. All in all a great motorcycle I think, so why does it fall into the class of under appreciated?

We motorcyclists can a fickle bunch. If you’re a sport rider it’s light weight and ton’s of horsepower. If you’re a touring rider, you want comfy and loads of carrying capacity…”what do you mean this thing doesn’t have a cup holder and how do I work the CD changer?” Then there is styling and ‘WOW’ factor. Unfortunately Suzuki dropped the ball in both cases with the RF900.

Do you like the look of the Ferrari Testa Rosa? Well then you probably like the look of the ‘fish gills’ on the RF’s fairing. The RF wasn’t as sleek as the Honda VFR, (it’s primary rival at the time) as a matter of fact, it looked a bit porky by comparison. The bike handled well, not sportbike ‘flickable’ but still good enough for ninety percent of us out there. The RF got added suspension adjustment upgrades as time went along that helped add to the ‘sport’ in sport tourer.

And then there is the motor. What’s wrong with the motor you ask…nothing. What’s special about the motor you ask…nothing. And there my friends is the beauty of the RF900…it simply works and works well.

When the bike was new it cost just a bit more than a 600cc sportbike and a lot less than a 1000cc sportbike. Today a good used Suzuki RF900 is a great value for the rider that wants a bike that you can take for a Sunday ride on your local twisty road, Monday take you to work and when vacation time comes around, across the country. In my view, if you are one of those riders I just described, looking for and finding a Suzuki RF900 will be very rewarding. And you probably won’t see one at every Sunday morning bike hangout.


In the blink of an eye

The ground shakes almost to the point of having to hold onto something, your heart pounds as the sound vibration goes through you and even wearing earplugs doesn’t deaden the decibel level that much. Welcome to NHRA Drag Racing.

I decided to go out to Pomona for the season Finale of the NHRA / Full Throttle drag races because, well, hey…we are called The Moto..WORLD…and I figured I need to get away from just focusing on road racing don’t you think? I lined up a couple of interviews for our podcast, set up some video cast time with a friend on another website, loaded up my ‘studio in a bag’ and off to the drags I went. Oh yeah…Southern California traffic…at the Pomona Drag Strip, 1/4 mile takes a few seconds…on the 210 Freeway that 1/4 mile takes about a day and a half. Maybe I’ll get there before dark.

I go to motorcycle races all the time, usually they are two to three day events and the first day is generally just racers going through practice and qualifying and if there are fans there, it’s because they’re collecting unemployment and have nothing better to do or they’re part of the media…wait, they’re one and the same…Not so with drag racing. I arrived at Pomona Raceway to a full parking lot, stands packed and people walking the pits and vendors row like it was main event day. All I could think was this is very cool, and…it’s only Thursday!!! What is Sunday going to be like?

At most big time motorcycle races you need to buy a pit pass (or trade one back and forth with your friends) to get anywhere near the race bikes…actually seeing the racers is a rare added bonus. Here at the drags, your ticket in put’s you within touching distance of 300 MPH cars, 200 MPH motorcycles and the pilots of these machines. No wonder the fans love it. I was caught up in the whole atmosphere the minute I walked in.

As I walked around looking for my friends, my neck and my camera were getting a serious work out, so much to see and hear. Everytime a dragster was being fired up a crowd would gather, everybody putting their hands over their ears and holding their nose. If you have never been six feet away from the exhaust pipes of a Nitro Methane fuel burning, 7000HP…yes, I said ‘Seven Thousand’… horsepower motor… well, you just haven’t lived…and, now your sinuses are cleared for life.

After wandering, I found the Harley Davidson Screaming Eagle pits but my friends were nowhere to be found…I was a little late…remember LA traffic??…well, I made the best of it and spoke with racer Andrew Hines, son of Vance and Hines performance parts co-founder Byron Hines. The Hines family has quite a history in drag racing. Byron and partner Terry Vance won many National Championships, Byron’s older son Matt won more and now young Andrew is keeping the family dynasty alive. We had a great visit with promises to get the whole family together for a podcast interview.

I couldn’t wait any longer, I had to go over to the track. Ok, it’s only a quarter mile of asphalt…big deal?? Well, yeah it is. I got there in time for Pro Stock Qualifying, Alcohol Qualifying ( by the length of the lines at the Budweiser stands, I think most of the race fans qualified) and the reason I was there…Pro Stock Motorcycles. Walking through the staging lane at Pomona reminded me of the time I had Deja Vu’…Hmmmm…Ive been here before…but last time it was on salt not asphalt. It seems to me that the choice of motorcycle to go fast in a straight line whether it’s the quarter mile or a flying mile, comes down to two…a big Harley or a big Suzuki. I got a chance to speak with pilots of both and the feeling is the same for both…it’s the adrenaline rush baby.

Being a racer, I know the adrenaline rush…you spend days or weeks preparing for a race…the bike, your body, your mind…all you want to do is be on the track. Racing is what you live and breath for, your significant other either embraces it…(read, finances it…), accepts it…(how much was that part??!!) or maybe just tolerates it …(Ok fine go racing just don’t get hurt…) but it’s in our blood and it doesn’t go away. While standing in the staging lane and on the starting line, my heart started racing, my brain was focused and I could feel my clutch hand twitching. God I love racing.