Review: 2017 BMW R1200RS

After spending the better part of two weeks in the saddle of a 2017 BMW R1200RS riding the Alps and Dolomites of Switzerland, Germany, Italy and Austria, I have developed a pretty good idea of what this bike is about.
The R1200RS is Beemer’s sport touring bike that uses the ubiquitous 1170cc boxer opposed twin motor. The RS is essentially the faired version of the R1200R naked roadster. Similar bikes include the Ninja 1000, FJ-09 and Suzuki GSX-S 1000F. Or even the Motus or Energica E-bike.
You can familiarize yourself more with the specs and details of the RS at the BMW Motorrad website.

Pricing

The base price of the RS is around $15,000, but you’ll quickly find yourself nearing or exceeding the $20k mark after adding the Premium package and luggage.
The bike I rented from Moto Mader in Oberentfeld, Switzerland was equipped with the Premium package that includes among other things, Dynamic Suspension Adjustment (DSA) and Gear Shift Assist. The BMW site says the bike retails for $21,125 as it was equipped on my tour. See the screen shots for the price breakdown and a list of goodies you get for the extra $3k.

Weight

At 520 pounds wet, the RS is on the heavy side. That’s the same as the Ninja 1000 but is almost 50 pounds heavier than the Suzuki. Add another 30-40 pounds for luggage (and mounting hardware) and you’ve got a pretty hefty bike. Heck, the touring RT version is 600 pounds with luggage, so it’s not that much lighter than the full-on RT tourer, which is arguably a better package.

Engine Performance

The R1200 motor is a tractor. It produces 125 hp at the crank and 92 ft pounds of torque, so it’s no slouch. And it pulls from under 2 grand (rpm). The motor vibrates a fair amount at highway speeds, but it’s character is quite appealing. It was happy motoring down the Autobahn at 100mph, as well as pulling us up the first gear uphill hairpins.
The fueling from the ride-by-wire throttle was spot on, except for a little bit of “hunting” on deceleration on long downhills. It’s not as bad as on my Tiger 800, but I did notice it.
Shifting is reasonably smooth and the Gear Shift Assist allows upshifts without using the clutch or rolling off the throttle. The system worked great from 3rd-to-4th, 4th-to-5th, and 5th-to-6th, but was too rough when shifting in the lower gears. Clutchless downshifts are also rough, because it does not include the auto-blip feature found on the S1000RR. Still, it was nice to rip through the upper gears like a roadracer.

Handling

One word describes the RS’s handling: stable. But that stability comes at the cost of agility. The RS handles sweeping turns, both smooth and bumpy quite well, but when the it comes to tight, slow hairpin turns the RS felt cumbersome.
And slow speed maneuvers had the bike feeling unbalanced. It took me a few days to get used to the slow speed manners of the RS, which is about 2 and a half days longer than it usually takes for me to adjust to a new bike. To be fair, most of the time I had my lovely wife, Caroline in the passenger seat, which added to the unbalanced slow speed feel.
One highlight is the ESA- (Electronic Suspension Adjustment) feature. The dynamic ESA really works and makes the premium package worth considering.
I selected the “dynamic” suspension setting using the handlebar toggle switch and managed to stumble through the complex menu to select the appropriate mode for having a passenger. The bike comes with the typical rider modes (Rain, Road, Dynamic and User) which are easily accessed by a button on the right control pod.

Two-Up Performance

As I mentioned, I spent most of my time with a passenger on board. The bike has plenty of power to handle two people and full luggage. But, the RS is not the best bike for passengering. In contrast, the RT felt perfectly balanced with Caroline on the back. Go with the RT if passengers are your thing.
Riding solo, the bike is much more predictable and nimble enough for me to rip down the Stella pass with confidence. See the video below. But, the F800GT I rode would be my bike of choice from the Beemer lineup for the tight stuff.

Comfort and Protection

I chose the RS over the naked R for the extra wind and weather protection. This proved to be a good move, since we experienced some rather epic rain over five consecutive days.
The wide and relatively flat windscreen provides a decent amount of wind protection. It has a high and low setting that created little buffeting at slower speeds but was very loud at highway speeds at the high setting. Keep in mind that I’m 5’9″, so your results may vary.
The seat is quite comfortable, allowing me to be squirm-free for most of the day. I did need relief after long days in the saddle, but overall, it’s quite good. Caroline was happy with the passenger seat.
The heated grips were terrific when we encountered torrential rain and 49 F temperatures for hours on end. I envied the RT riders who also had heated seats and greater protection from the Alpine rain.

Luggage

The $1,100 optional side cases are standard BMW units that open sideways. They held plenty of stuff and were waterproof. The latches are a bit cheap-feeling and a couple of the other riders had trouble with their topcase locks failing. We had no such problems.
Speaking of topcases, the small Beemer item was fine. But, at over $900.00 (I assume that includes the mounting hardware) I’d look for a bit larger Givi or Shad box for a lot less money.
The small BMW tankbag is secured with straps and costs a lot of bucks for what it is. It’s not waterproof, but has an inner drawstring bag to help keep things semi-dry. My recommendation: Get a SW-Motech /Bags Connection bag that is much sturdier and uses a slick locking ring system.

Compared with the RT

I switched bikes with another rider on the tour to see what the RT is like in comparison to the RS. I had been dismayed with the RS’s cumbersome handling and was a bit apprehensive about riding the even heavier RT.
But, to my surprise, the RT was much more balanced. Slow speed maneuvers and negotiating the tight hairpins is a breeze. And seeing the way the solo RT riders were hustling their bikes around shows just how capable the RT is with or without a passenger. At least one rider plans to buy an RT after they got home. I can see why.

Niggle

One little thing I found perplexing is that the self-cancelling turn signals stay on too long. Long enough that I didn’t think the bike had the feature. Come on BMW.

The Takeaway

The RS is a beautiful bike, especially in the blue and white color scheme. I like the way the exhaust looks and the asymmetric headlights are cool. The bike sounds great and the motor is powerful and grunty.
I could definitely grow to love the RS, but would likely opt for a lighter weight FJ-09 with it’s raucous motor and cheaper price.
I enjoyed my time on the RS, especially after I got a better feel for it’s awkward slow speed handling. The bike rails through fast and medium-fast sweepers and hustles down the highway comfortably. And even though it’s not great in the hairpins I managed fine. Here is a video of me on the RS descending the Gardena Pass in Italy.

Tell us your thoughts below.


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Review: Energica EGO Electric Motorcycle

The future of motorcycles? The jury is still out. But, the technology keeps moving forward. Battery range and charging capabilities are improving and you can expect usable performance. The weight issue still needs to be addressed.
Thanks to Adam at Rocket Moto in Nashua, NH for the loan.


Here’s a narrated video to see and hear what the bike sounds like. Details and more thoughts are below. Enjoy.


A few details:
$25,000 base price, $32,600 as tested – Price Reduced from original cost of $40k as tested!

MOTOR– Permanent Magnet AC, Oil Cooled

MAX SPEED- Limited at 240 km/h (149mph)
HORSEPOWER– about 135 hp
WEIGHT– About 580 pounds
TORQUE- 195 Nm (143 ft lbs) from 0 to 4700 rpm
RIDING MODES- 4 Riding Modes: Standard, Eco, Rain, Sport 1)
4 Regenerative Maps: Low, Medium, High, Off
PARK ASSISTANT- Reverse and Forward (1.74 mph Max Speed)

BATTERY CAPACITY-11.7 kWh
LIFE- 1200 Cycles @ 80% Capacity (100% DOD)
WARRANTY- 3 years / 50.000 km
RECHARGE- 3.5 h (0-100% Soc) Mode 2 or 3 Charge (220), 8 hours using 110,
30 min (0-85% Soc) Mode 4 Dc Fast Charge

The Energica website.


Street Tested

The EGO is in its element on the sweeping, twisting rural roads near my home in the Berkshire Hills of western Massachusetts. The EGO may have felt awkward and even a bit slow on the racetrack, but it comes into its own at street speeds.

Power

The Energica rips! At least it does up to about 80mph. After that it starts to flatten out significantly. But you’ll get to 80 very rapidly with all 143 foot pounds of torque on tap from the get-go. The motor spins up quickly and can take your breath away at first. Thankfully, the ride-by-wire throttle is impeccably controllable. The rush is amplified by the almost angry whistling sound that builds to a crescendo.  It’s hard not to notice the contrast of speed and sound coming from a bike that a moment ago sat in total silence.

Rider Modes

The EGO has 4 rider modes:

  • Eco- This mode neuters the power to the equivalent of a 500 Ninja and limits speed to just over 55mph. That may sound sucky, but I would be glad to have it when there is no power supply nearby and I still have miles to go to get to one. Eco mode would be absolutely fine for any city or suburban riding, with plenty of git up and go. Just be sure to witch to Standard , Wet or Sport modes before hitting the highway.
  • Standard- Now we’re talkin’. Twist the grip in this mode and hang on. The bike sharply snaps to attention, but is quite controllable as the power builds in a linear manner.
  • Wet- From what I can tell, Wet mode is a softer sibling of Standard mode. It still jumps forwad nicely, but the torque seems slower to build. Sounds like a good thing to have in rainy weather.
  • Sport- Gitty Up! This mode is the E-ticket ride. Sport mode seems more urgent and angry compared with Standard mode. Like the other modes, power still flattens out at about 85mph. No problem. The rush of getting there is enough excitement for most.

Regenerative Modes (Engine Braking)

There are 4 modes to choose from that controls the amount of regenerative engine braking the bike produces.

  • High- Close the throttle all the way in this mode and you’re launched forward. The blue lights on the instrument cluster tell you that you’re recharging the battery when this abrupt deceleration occurs. That’s good, but I can envision times when having that much engine braking could cause loss of rear tire grip, so it’s smart to select a softer setting in the rain or on gravel. That said, It’s a great setting for helping to control speed on steep hills with hairpin curves thrown in. Uphill hairpins are better handled with the Low mode.
  • Medium- This mode is a good compromise between charging your battery and abrupt deceleration. his mode feels most like a conventional 2 cylinder internal combustion motorcycle.
  • Low- This mode was great on tight uphill hairpins where gravity already provides enough force to slow the bike. This mode feels most like a conventional 4 cylinder internal combustion motorcycle.
  • Off- You can turn off the regenerative feature, which would be my choice for slippery surfaces where it’s better to rely on the brakes to manage traction.

Brakes

What’s to say, except Brembo makes the best brakes out there. It’s good to have these babies on board to slow down this relatively heavy, fast machine. Feel is good and controllable. That is all.

Handling

Handling on the street is great. It’s stable and precise with no tendency to stand up mid-corner and when trailbraking. Keep the tire pressures at the 42/42 and you’ll be happy.

Ergonomics

The riding position is sporty like a small 1990s Ninja ZX-11. Or maybe a cross between a ZX-11 and my old 2005 ZX636. Yeah, that’s it. The bars are low and the pegs are high. The seat is hard, but not too bad for the amount of time and riding distance the battery will afford. It feels compact with the small windscreen that deflects wind only away from your mid-chest.

Battery Life

One thing you’ll have to get used to is energy management. Think about having a bike with a 2-gallon gas tank and then imagine not having any gas stations readily available. And then imagine needing hours to fuel the bike. That’s what you need to think about when you ride an electric motorcycle.
3.5 h (0-100% Soc) Mode 2 or 3 Charge (220), 8 hours using 110-  You can recharge if you carry the somewhat heavy charging cord with you all the time and can find an available 220 power outlet while you’re putting a burger in your pie hole at some rural lunch spot. But don’t rush because with a 220 charge, it takes 3.5 hours to get a full zap. Normal 110 takes 8 hours!
30 min (0-85% Soc) Mode 4 Dc Fast Charge- If most of your riding is in suburbia where you have Tesla charging stations hanging around, you can get recharged to 85% in about 30 minutes. Unfortunately, the are no Fast charging stations where I ride, so I’d need to carefully plan where to turn around to make sure I can make it home.
The range is claimed to be about 100 miles (120 on Eco mode). I did about 70 miles and used up 70% of the battery, so maybe that’s fairly accurate. To be fair, I did several full-throttle bursts and only a little Eco mode riding.

The Nutshell

I really enjoyed my day on the Energica. The more I rode it the more I like it. My neck and wrists were tired after using up 80% of the battery, but the buttery smooth power offset that discomfort. It’s a lot of jingle, but if you want a really cool looking bike that is unique and a ball to ride, maybe the Energica will charge you up.

Updates

Energica reduced the cost of the EGO significantly since I tested this bike. The base price is now $25k with the premium Ohlins suspension, carbon kit and OZ wheels upping the price to $32,600. Still a lot of money, but not out of line with other premium models still being propelled by internal combustion engines.
Also, Energica announced that they will be the sole supplier for the upcoming FIM Moto-e World Cup starting in 2019.

Track Tested

I was able to do a couple of laps on the Energica Ego. The bike is a terrific street bike, but felt heavy at track speeds. Part of the issue was that I lowered the tire pressures to a typical 30-rear/30-front and the bike didn’t like it. The bike handled better with 35 pounds, but would have been even better with the full street pressures that would better support the weight.
Also, I apparently used up enough juice to limit the top speed from the 110 mph of the first session to a maximum of about 80 mph during the second session. A recharge is needed to keep access to the top speed.
Besides that, the bike was a hoot to ride. Take a ride with me:

 


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Long-Term Review: 2016 Triumph Tiger 800 XRx

2016 Triumph Tiger 800XRx
2016 Triumph Tiger 800XRx

The 2016 Triumph Tiger 800 XRx has spent this past summer as my instructor bike (both on-street and off-road), sport tourer and general go-to machine. After putting almost 9,000 miles on the ODO since March, I can now offer an in-depth review of this bike.
As a contributor to Motorcyclist Magazine and lead instructor at Tony’s Track Days, I have the opportunity to ride lots of different motorcycles. However, I get only a short amount of time in the saddle of these bikes.
During a on-day press launch or track session I get immediate impressions of power delivery, suspension compliance, fit and finish and ergonomics, but that’s about it. After putting 9k on the Tiger in all sorts of conditions I can share a comprehensive review.

Why the Tiger?

dual-sport-static The Tiger is versatile! It is capable of crossing the country, commuting, scratching around at a track day and riding on some pretty gnarly dirt roads and trails. While the 800 is a Swiss army knife, it is a compromise. The Tiger is a fun street bike that can keep up with most supersport bikes in the hands of a good rider at reasonable speeds. It is also a comfortable traveler that can handle a decent load of luggage and even a passenger.
As an off-road mount, it is best suited to mostly graded fire roads, but is surprisingly capable managing rocky trails. As with all heavy ADV bikes, you’ve got to be smart about what you’re getting into. I tackled a rather steep and rocky bit of single track trail that I handle easily with my KLX250s, but was a handful on the Tiger. I made it, but it coulda been ugly if I had fallen, since I was alone with no cell service.
The Tiger encourages discovery. The Tiger expands the number of places I can ride, by a huge margin. The 800 is totally at home navigating the many unimproved roads and tight paved byways that snake through Western Massachusetts where I live. I can ride 100 miles of mostly dirt roads and stay within one hour of my house! Lucky me.
There are other machines that also fit the bill; the BMW F800GS, Kawasaki KLR, the super-sized BMW R1200 GS or the new and awesome 2016 Tiger 1200 Explorer.  I chose the Tiger 800 for it’s features, lighter weight and reasonable.

Why the Roadie Version and not the XCx?

Mitas-poseI debated getting the more off-road worthy, spoke wheeled and taller XCx. But, I opted for the Road version (XRx) because I thought the bike would be spending 90% of its time on pavement. I also knew that the XR would be more than capable of the dirty riding I planned to tackle.
Since I am spending more time off-road than I expected, I probably should have gone with the XC. The XC is perfectly capable of long street miles and more importantly, it comes with adjustable WP suspension. Also, the XC comes with many of the things I’m ending up buying for the XR anyway, including engine, sump and radiator guards. Also, the spoked wheels and the 21 inch front wheel are more off-road friendly and more durable. Although, I’m happy to not have tube tires.
Here’s a long video review of the Tiger.


Let’s break down the review into components.

Engine

I love the power characteristics of the three-cylinder motor (based on the Street Triple motor). It has a nice combination of spunk and character with just the right kind and amount of vibration that tells you you’re straddling a machine. The vibes are never annoying. As a matter of fact, the bike is surprisingly smooth…smoother than my 2012 Street Triple R.
The whistling/snarling sound of the motor is unique. While an aftermarket exhaust will decrease weight and make for a nice sonic impression, I am perfectly happy with the way the stocker looks and sounds. Besides, I’m a proponent of quiet exhausts and I have better things to spend my money on. Read about all the accessories I put on the Tiger.
The triple is a terrific street engine, but it’s not so well suited as an off-road motor. It’s a bit too RPM-needy compared to a twin, like a F800GS. While the motor is easily controllable, it doesn’t exactly plod along the way you need an off-road motor to do from time to time. I found the Explorer 1200 to be better at slow speed plodding than the 800, partly because the ample torque was always on tap, whereas the 800 needs some revs. I’ve gotten used to it, but it is the one area where a BMW might be a better choice.
The engine has given me zero trouble, and if my Striple is any indicator, it will be reliable as a stone.

Power Delivery

As far as power delivery goes, the ride-by-wire throttle is super-light and takes some getting used to. When I first got the bike, I struggled to calibrate my right hand to keep the throttle steady. I’ve since learned to manage the sensitive throttle just fine, but I wish there was a simple way to increase throttle tube resistance.
Part of the reason the light throttle isn’t a big problem is because the fueling is very good. One of my pet peeves is snatchy fueling and this is a big reason why I rejected the FJ-09 as a contender. One area where the Tiger’s fueling falls short is when descending long hills, the fueling “hunts” while decelerating under engine braking. It’s not that bad, but it annoys me.
The Tiger comes with Traction Control (TTC) that can be set to either “Road”, “Off-Road” or “Off”. Road mode enables full TTC, whereas Off-Road mode allows more wheel slip. Sometimes even the Off-Road TC can intervene too much when climbing rocky or washboard surfaces. Thankfully you can turn it off. See more about Rider Modes below.

Clutch and Transmission

The clutch is light and progressive for easy launches and the transmission is flawless (it is sourced from the Daytona). I can launch smoothly from a stop and perform clutchless upshifts with ease. The ratios are just fine for street riding with the engine spinning around 5k in top gear at highway speeds, allowing plenty of zip when accelerating. The clutch lever is adjustable and neutral is easy to find. Not much more to say.

Brakes

The twin piston Nissin brakes are nothing special. They aren’t radial mount 4 piston units found on higher end machines like the Street Triple R, so they don’t provide exceptional feel and aren’t terribly powerful, but they don’t need to be. Instead, they are well-suited for the mission of slowing a 500 pound ADV bike with predictability and control.
The Tiger comes with ABS that can be set to either “Road”, “Off-Road” or “Off”. Road mode enables full front and rear ABS, whereas Off-Road mode disables ABS at the rear wheel and allows more wheel slip in the front. I don’t fully disable ABS. I like ABS.
The front brake lever is adjustable for reach and of course you can rotate the perch on the tubular handlebar to get the right angle for your primary use. I position my lever slightly low for street riding (sitting), but it ends up being a bit too high when standing off-road.
The rear brake has decent power and control and the pedal has a step up on the inner edge to allow easy use when standing up. Just rotate your right foot inward (pigeon toe) to use the tab.

Foot Pegs

The Metzeler Tourance Next tires did okay on the track.
The Tiger did great on the track, especially after I took off the peg feelers.

The foot pegs are positioned perfectly for sitting and standing. The peg size is broad enough for reasonable comfort and stability when standing. The rubber inserts can be removed by simply pulling them off. This helps for off-road conditions where you need the metal serrated teeth to grip into your boot soles. Getting them back on takes some fussing.
The Tiger has one strange design flaw. Surprisingly, the passenger pegs are mounted to frame brackets that are welded to the non-removable subframe. This means that a tipover or crash could break the bracket and ruin the whole frame. The Explorer 1200 has bolt-on passenger peg brackets.
The pegs are located low enough for all sensible street riding, but are a bit low for more extreme cornering. I rode the Tiger at a track day at Loudon and after a few sessions of grinding the peg feelers, I removed them.

Suspension

The forks are the weak link in this bike. As I mentioned earlier, I really wish I had the adjustable WP suspension. It’s not that the non-adjustable upside down Showa forks are lousy, it’s just that I’m a bit of a suspension princess and non-compliant suspension really annoys me.

Yankee Beemers grass Moto-Gymkhana
Yankee Beemers grass Moto-Gymkhana

The bike manages bumpy roads and off-road surfaces just fine and is always stable, in control, and handles nicely in corners. So, what’s the problem? Well, the forks tend to jackhammer over ripples and small bumps on smooth pavement. Either the forks have a lot of static friction (Stiction) or the compression damping is too high to allow the forks to respond to these small irregularities.
Off-road, the suspension is great. It manages sharp rocks fine at a moderate pace and handles front wheel lofting, but expect serious bottoming if you plan to do any sweet jumps. At the Yankee Beemers Rally, I participated in the grass Moto-Gymkhana where the fast perimeter course included a jump and the inevitible landing. Also, the landing off the teeter totter resulted in significant seismic activity.

Rider Modes

screen-shot-2016-11-17-at-9-49-41-amI mentioned ABS and TC settings above, but there are also Power Delivery (MAP) Modes to discuss. The Tiger has 4 MAP Modes: Rain, Road, Sport and Off-Road. See the pages from the Owner’s Manual on the right for details about how they differ.
To change various modes you have to reach to press the “M” button on the dash and then close the throttle and squeeze the clutch for it to take. FYI, the off-road mode will revert back to the last road mode if you turn off the key, which is why I often shut off the bike using the kill switch if I’m going to stop for a minute to, say, take a photo.
screen-shot-2016-11-17-at-9-49-51-amFrankly, I could do without the MAP modes. Sure, there is a slight difference between each mode, but it’s subtle. I tend to keep the bike in Road Mode most of the time, even in the rain, and the Off-road MAP seems no different than the Road MAP. The fueling on the Tiger is so well sorted that I find it unnecessary to switch to a “softer” setting.
And the “Sport” MAP is not really that much sharper than the road mode. I would not consider the base XR, because I couldn’t do without adjustable/switchable TC for off-road riding.

Comfort

The Tiger features the ideal comfort package; high tubular handlebars that are adjustable for angle and height; a “Comfort” seat that is one of the best I’ve used; great legroom. Yet, I’ve never had more trouble being comfortable on a motorcycle.The thing is that I get a nasty cramp between my shoulder blades almost immediately.
I added Rox risers, rotated the bars in every conceivable way, with no improvement. It was only recently that I determined that it is my personal anatomy to blame. Not only is my hunchback posture a likely problem, but also I broke my collarbone last year which seems to have messed up my symmetry enough to cause this cramping. The cure is to stretch the pecs to regain the symmetry and strengthen my upper back. Stay tuned.
When standing, the side panels at the rear/bottom of the tank cause my knees to splay out more than I like. This causes a slight imbalance that I have to make up for with my arms and back, which is tiring after about 6 or 8 miles of rough off-road terrain. The Explorer 1200 is better because the area where the seat meets the tank is narrower.
The Tiger 800 is a tall bike. Its adjustable seat height is 33″ at its low setting and 33.8 ” at the higher setting. (a Low seat version is available with a range of 31.1″ and 31.9″). I am 5′ 9″ with a 32″ inseam and am able to touch with both feet touching.

Miscellaneous

Electronic cruise control is cool. It’s useful on highway trips and when I want to zip a vent with my right hand without stopping. However, I don’t use it as much as I thought I would. It’s very easy to use and works perfectly, though. Pro Tip: use the rear brake to disengage the cruise control to avoid the abrupt deceleration that occurs if you twist the throttle off to shut it off.
The Adjustable Windscreen works really well for me. Some people complain that it wobbles a lot and doesn’t manage wind as well as they’d like. I have no problems at all with the stocker. The screen is moderately adjustable, but not too much, so I added an adjustable MRA Spoiler blade, which makes the stock shield more versatile.

Accessories and Luggage

I wrote an article on accessorizing the Tiger. Read it Here.

Tires

tiger-mitas-oem
Mitas 50/50 tire on top. Metzeler 90/10 tire on bottom.

The stock Metzeler Tourance Next tires are fine for most people. I did a track day on them and they stuck, but delivered very little feel. This is expected because a 90/10 tire is designed to handle the rigors of rocks and such and is typically stiff with less emphasis on pavement performance.
For the last 6,000 miles, I’ve been rocking the 50/50 Mitas E-07. I wrote a review of the Mitas E-07 50/50 tires. In a nutshell, these tires are great and allow me to go places I never thought I could. For the Tiger Roadie, order the 110 front tire to avoid the ridiculous oversteer. Order the standard (not Dakar) version for the 800.

How is it to Ride?

Slow speed Maneuvers
The Tiger is mostly easy to ride but is cumbersome at a standstill. Once you get the bike rolling at about 5 mph, then all is well, but as soon as you go below that speed, the bike turns into an awkward, top heavy beast. Unlike ADV bikes with a lower center of gravity, the Tiger carries it’s weight up high. The engine is mounted high to give ground clearance. Mounting the 5.3 gallon fuel tank on top of that doesn’t help. This all makes for a bike that wants to topple over at standstill. It doesn’t help that I have a top box and tankbag.
That doesn’t mean the bike can’t do tight U-turns. It absolutely can. You just have to get up to at least 3- 5 mph and keep it there. 7 mph is better. The higher speed means you have to lean the bike over more to tighten your arc without slowing down. Learn how to ride slowly by reading this article.

Steep, slippery and rocky...a bit difficult for the Tiger.
Steep, slippery and rocky…a bit difficult for the Tiger.

Off-road
The Tiger is an absolute hoot on dirt roads and dual-track trails. I’ve done some bony hill climbs and rocky descents and tackled terrain I didn’t think possible on a 500+ pound motorcycle. But, the sheer size of the bike makes me a chicken when riding in sand, slimy muck and deep loose gravel. The fact is that the high weight causes the front tire to plow into the soft surface. The solution is to be on the gas. That’s why big ADV bikes tend to struggle when descending and are better at ascending where you’re on the gas.
The problem is that all that weight has inertia that will get you into trouble real quick if it starts heading in the wrong direction. A mistake on a 250 pound dirt bike can go almost unnoticed, but not with these ADV beasts.
Stay away from really mucky, loose terrain and you’ll have a blast. Oh, and be sure to ride with friends in case you get horizontal. And learn how to pick up your bike by yourself, as well. I strongly recommend you get some off-road training before venturing off road on your ADV machine.
Corner Scratching
The Tiger is a little bit dirt bike and a little bit sport bike. Even with the 50/50 tires, I can pretty much keep with any sportbike ridden by an average rider. I had a great time on Deal’s Gap and at a track day. While it has it’s limits, the bike railed through the turns with good stability and decent precision. The 19″ front wheel helps with high speed pavement stability compared with the 21″ front wheel on the XC.
Traveling
The Tiger is a champ on the highway. I rode the lower half of the Blue Ridge Parkway and put on several highway miles. Mount a tankbag, sidecases and a windscreen spoiler blade and off you go.
The Tiger 800XRx has proven to be a terrific motorcycle that has expanded my riding immensely. I hunt for roads that I’ve always wondered where they went; roads I never would have ventured on with the Sprint.  I’m happy that I own the Tiger and will always have an Adventure bike in my garage.
I did a bit of two-up riding with my wife, Caroline while in NC. We decided to spend a day doing the “Gravelhala” that mostly parallels the Cherohala Skyway. Since her z750s wasn’t a great off road bike, she jumped on the back and we took off. Overall, Caroline liked the flat, wide seat and the large grab rails. The rubber footpegs we nice, too. She really enjoyed having the top box to lean against for the bit of road riding we did together. Overall, it’s a good mount for a passenger.


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Adventure Accessories for the Triumph Tiger 800

Mitas-bike-2The arrival of the newest addition to the RITZ garage is a Phantom Black 2016 Tiger 800 XRx. The Tiger has proven to be a true all-arounder. I have toured on it, done a track day, conquered Deal’s Gap and navigated some pretty gnarly roads and single track on the Tiger.
See my LONG-TERM review of the Tiger 800 XRx
I bolted on some accessories (“farkles” to you ADV guys) to help increase the Tiger’s versatility. My friends at Twisted Throttle took care of getting me all the best accessories I needed. They have some of the best Adventure bike accessories. Here is what I installed.

Bike Protection

SW-MOTECH Crash Bars
SW-MOTECH Crash Bars

SW-MOTECH Crash Bars
SW Motech is a German company specializing in top-shelf bike protection. Their crash bars are seriously beefy compared with others I’ve seen, including the Triumph branded bars. The trade off is weight. The SW bars add some pounds to the bike, with much of it held high where the upper loop is located at tank level.
The advantage of the high loop is the protection offered to the fuel tank. But, realistically, a low bar that protects just the engine is a fine option, partly because if the tank makes contact with the ground, it is the plastic side panels that get nailed, and those are only about $60.00 to replace. An good engine guard alternative are the R&G Engine Guards.
Another problem I found with the high SW bars is vibration. It seems as though the setup acts a bit like a tuning fork. Although I noticed the vibes on my first ride with them installed, I no longer notice it at all so this should not be a deal breaker. If you want maximum protection, the SW-M bars are the way to go.
Skid Plate/Sump Guard
SW-MOTECH Skid Plate/Sump Guard

SW-Motech Skid Plate (Sump Guard)
The Tiger comes with a decent plastic skid plate, but it is not beefy enough for the type of abuse the bottom of the engine and frame will be exposed to so I ordered the SW-Motech skid plate. It mounts easily and covers much more of the vulnerable underparts not protected by the OEM plate, including the oil filter, lower exhaust canister and frame rails. It’s quite satisfying to hear the sound of rocks pinging off it’s surface. Money well spent.
R&G Radiator Guard
Putting a hole in a radiator from an errant stone  will end your day real fast and is an expensive repair so I installed the R&G rad guard. R&G makes a heavier duty stainless steel guard, but I went with the lightweight aluminum unit. It installs easily and looks great.
I need a Hugger
R&G Hugger

R&G Rear Hugger
A Hugger is a rear fender that mounts close to the rear tire to help keep your rear shock clean. The R&G hugger bolted on perfectly and gives a custom look to the Tiger’s rear end.
Pyramid Fenda Extenda
The Fenda Extenda mounts to the bottom of the front fender to help keep crap from flying onto the front of your engine and radiator. It requires some drilling, but is easy enough to install.

Luggage

Side carriers and crash bars
Side carriers and crash bars

SW-Motech Hard Bag Sidecarriers
I already owned a set of DrySpec D20 drybag saddlebags and wasn’t planning to buy hard cases until I realized that the soft saddlebags needed to be supported by a side carrier to avoid drooping under the rear fender and seat. I went ahead and bought the SW-Motech side carriers for use with the D20s but then decided to go for some side cases after all (see below). These carriers are awesome. They quickly release from the bike with just a twist of 4 Zeus fasteners. And the quality is top-notch. They carry all brands of side cases with the proper adapter kit.
The Givi E-22 side cases look good and are narrow and light.

Givi E-22 Side Cases
There are a lot of side cases to choose from, including the Trax Boxes and cases from Givi and other manufacturers. But, I chose the most lightweight and inexpensive hard case option; the Givi E-22. The 22 is an updated version of the basic E-20 that has been around for years. The new shape looks great and it is just big enough for my needs. Their small size means that the width of the bike when they are installed is fairly narrow.
The cases open at the top so my contents don’t go spilling onto the pavement when I open them. At the low price of less than $250.00 for the SET, you don’t get premium construction, but they have held together just fine and I expect them to perform well for many seasons. FYI, I mount mine backwards from what is intended because I like the way the rearward slop looks on the Tiger.
Bags Connection City tank bag with Quick release ring.
Bags Connection City tank bag with Quick release ring.

Bags-Connection City Tank Bag
The BC tank bags are pricey, but are also well made and highly functional. The quick-connect tank ring is really easy to use and is totally secure. I ride the roughest roads with the small City bag and it has never flown the coop. For Tiger 800 riders, you want to mount the top ring as far back as possible on the bag so it doesn’t interfere with your man (or woman) junk when standing, especially on uphill climbs.
You can opt for the electrified tank ring version that gets power inside the bag just by mounting it to the special tank ring. I chose the non-e setup and feed a Euro plug-to-SAE cord a SAE-to-Cigarette socket through the front cord port to get power from the Triumph power socket to the tank bag. I charge my phone, Interphone Bluetooth Comms and whatever else needs juicing up during a ride.
tiger-steelrack
The SW-MOTECH Steel rack mounts over the stock luggage plate.

SW-Motech Topcase Steel Rack
I already had a Coocase topcase from my last bike, but I needed a way to mount it to the Tiger. I could have drilled the OEM luggage plate and rigged up the Coocase to it, but I decided to do it right by buying a SW-M Steel rack. The rack is super-strong and mounts over the plastic Triumph plate for a rugged mounting solution. You can opt for the slightly lighter Alu-Rack, but I like the look of the Steel rack and the lower price.
BDry Spec Drybag saddle bags with SW-MOTECH side carriers and City tank Bag.
Dry Spec drybag saddle bags with SW-MOTECH side carriers and City tank Bag. The Coocase top box is mounted to a SW-MOTECH Steel Rack.

DrySpec Saddlebags & DrySpec Duffle
A lot of ADV riders opt for Hard Cases, like the SW-MOTECH Trax Boxes or the GIVI Trekker Cases. I went with more street-oriented Givi E-22 Side Cases for road and touring. But for real off-road trips, I opt for soft side luggage for two reasons. One, the DrySpec Saddlebags will not get damaged in a fall, and two there is no risk of getting a leg crushed underneath the boxes in a fall or having my calf come in contact with the front of a box when I have to dab my foot while in motion.
The DrySpec Saddlebags & DrySpec Duffle are both totally immersible and sturdy enough to over-pack. They are small, but that just forces me to pack light. The integrated mounting straps are really secure and easy to install.
Tool Tube
Tool Tube

Tool Tube
The space between the side carrier and the right side of the Tiger is occupied by the exhaust, but there is lots of space on the left side for something. That something I chose was a Tool Tube. I put extra tools, a small can of chain lube and a few other items in their for safe keeping.

Comfort

MRA Spoiler Blade and GPS Mount.
MRA Spoiler Blade and GPS Mount.

MRA X-creen Sport Clamp-on Air Spoiler
I get a ton of questions about the spoiler blade I have mounted on the Tiger’s stock windscreen. A lot of people have replaced the stocker screen with MRA or Givi screens, but I like the look of the stock screen, and with the addition of the adjustable MRA X-creen spolier blade, I am perfectly happy with the way it manages wind. I wrote a complete review of the MRA X-Creen earlier when I first mounted one on my Sprint RS. A great option.
roxROX Bar Risers
Standing is a big part of off-road riding. The stock bar mounts were okay, but the reach when standing was a bit far and I was also hoping to find a better bar position that alleviated the cramp I get in my upper back. The ROX risers are nicely made and offer a wide range of adjustability with two points of rotational movement. Now, I can stand naturally when riding off road, but the back cramp is still there. I just can’t seem to find a position that helps this problem. I will continue to work with the ROX risers to find that solution.

Electronics

RAM Mounts and X-Grip Phone Holder
RAM Mounts and arms reliably hold my GoPro, iPhone and GPS. There are so many options that it forces you to get creative about where to mount the RAM ball and then which RAM arms to use for your particular needs.
The X-Grip has proven to be a secure and easy mount for my iPhone 5 and 6, even when riding single-track trails on my KLX. Just be sure to use the RAM Tether on rough terrain.

GPS Holder with RAM ball.
GPS Holder with RAM ball.

SW-Motech GPS Mount
This Mount positions your GPS (or other device) right smack dab in the middle of the windscreen, just above the instruments using custom bracket and a RAM ball and arm. It’s a perfect solution to prevent having a GPS cluttering your handlebars. It is high quality and mounts easily.
Tank Bag Power
Click the title link to see various electrified tank bag options. I mentioned the tank bag system I have that uses a Euro plug-to-SAE cord a SAE-to-Cigarette socket to power the tank bag. Either option is a good one. Having power in your tank bag is a necessity in today’s e-world.

Tires

tiger-mitas-oem
Mitas 50/50 tire on top. Metzeler 90/10 tire on bottom.

Mitas E-07
I wrote a complete review of the Mitas E-07 50/50 tires. In a nutshell, these tires are great and will allow you to go places you never thought you would. For the Tiger Roadie, order the 110 front tire to avoid the ridiculous oversteer. Order the standard (not Dakar) version for the 800.
Mitas Terra Force
I have not mounted these 90/10 dual sport tires yet, so keep an eye out next year for a full review.
 


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Review: Motus MST-R – American Made

The  Motus MST-R is an American hot rod. Its push-rod “baby block” motor hearkens back to the days of monster V-8 Cobras, GTOs, Trans Ams, Z-28s and Dodge Chargers. Badass. The Motus also hints at the exotica of a Ferrari with its high-end components and sophisticated styling.

Engine

The centerpiece of the Motus is the 1655cc longitudinal V-4. Firing up the Motus is like awakening an angry beast. The mechanical raucousness from the push-rod motor is a bit unsettling until you realize that it’s supposed to sound that way. Jokes about needing to add more oil should be expected. The racket smooths out significantly once underway and transitions to a song of badassness coming from the carbon-fiber exhaust.
The motor is well controlled but is also kind of a brute at the same time. The combination of mechanical sensations and gobs of torque make this a bike that gets attention.
With a claimed 180hp and 120 ft lbs, power is plentiful (the regular MST makes 165hp). Acceleration is less urgent than a pure sports bike, like an R1, but the Motus sure can get up and go. And the always-available torque means it pulls like a freight train.
180-ish horsepower can be intimidating, but the Motus delivers the power in a controlled manner and right from the bottom of the rev range. Rev it to the 8,000rpm redline (push-rods limit RPM) and the landscape rushes by with immediacy.
Thankfully, the bike can also lope along at legal speeds. It just doesn’t really like to. The fueling is fine, but I suspect it is the motor that causes the bike to surge at steady low-range RPM where it hunts for a calm and steady pace. Get on the gas and the motor is happier, just keep an eye out for the authorities.

Fueling

The Ride-by-Wire throttle meets modern standards and is easy enough to control, but there is a slight amount of surging that is reminiscent of a system that is not 100% sorted. Like many OEM FI systems, a bit of re-mapping may smooth things out. That said, the bike is controllable enough to make tight parking lot maneuvers, but it takes some extra skill to do it smoothly.
These days, we expect electronic nannys on our premium bikes, but the Motus does not have Traction Control or ABS. Next year, I’m told.

Transmission

The 6-speed (with overdrive) tranny is kinda industrial. It reminds me of transmissions found on big cruisers. Clutchless upshifts are possible, but not recommended. The clutch is easy to control when leaving from a stop and I never missed a gear, so it’s all good. Finding neutral is a chore, though. The full color LCD instrument cluster includes a helpful gear indicator.

Handling

It puzzles me when a bike ships with the best available shock and fork components, but is not set up very well. This is the case of the Motus. The fully adjustable Ohlins TTX36 and NIX30 forks will allow the right settings after some fiddling.
Jim Hamlin of Hamlin Cycles noted that the shock spring rate is also too soft for most riders. The resulting low rear ride height causes some awkward handling characteristics and hinders feedback, making me apprehensive to push it too much.
The bike turns in fine, feels reasonably neutral mid corner, and is stable. Like the motor, the suspension works best when is being worked hard. But, that’s when the too-light rebound damping showed its head. Four clicks of added rebound damping put it in the ballpark, but more tweaks will be necessary to get this sorted.
The forks seemed fine, so I’d concentrate on getting the shock set up first.

Comfort

The MST-R comes with a Sargent seat. It’s supportive enough around the sit bone area, but becomes too narrow at the front. I give it a 5 out of 10.
The windscreen is adjustable, but the stock touring screen that is fitted on this bike created a lot of wind noise at the taller setting. Apparently, the sport screen is the same height, so I don’t see that as a solution. I hear some riders have cut down the stock screen to try and get the wind to hit closer to shoulder height. Your results may vary.
This particular bike was fitted with adjustable Heli-bars. They reach back toward the rider and feel like ape-hangers to me. I would opt for a more direct connection to the bike and a position that is lower and more forward.
You’ll may want to buy some asbestos-lined riding pants, because the engine heat is pretty intense.

Brakes

Brembo makes top shelf braking components that offer good feel and controlled power delivery. They are not overly powerful, which suits the task of this bike. The rear brake is controllable and well placed. But, no ABS. Really?

motus-poseOverall Thoughts

I was grateful to my student John for letting me take his ultra-cool sport tourer out for a spin. The bike reminds me of an angry Moto Guzzi. The transverse motor rocks side-to-side when you blip the throttle at a standstill and the chassis has that lazy, yet sporty feel to it, like a Norge.
So, who would love this bike? I’d say it is someone who wants a unique experience over refinement. Those who love visceral feedback and a bully-like sound from their machines will be happy. Honda ST riders will likely not be able to get past the relative coarseness.
The Motus is a tough guy, but is not an unshaven bully who hangs out in dark bars. Instead, it’s more like a well-dressed mobster who is polite and charming. It’s just the thing for those who like living large and don’t mind some rough edges.

Value

At over $30k the Motus is expensive. It performs well, but is a bike that takes getting used to…like so many things worth owning. Is it worth the money? For a lot of folks, it is. It would be a tough sell for a frugal Yankee like me.
Motus Motorcycles


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2016 Triumph Speed Triple R Review

Ken-Speed Triple-road-sm
I recently returned from Spain after testing the 2016 Triumph Speed Triple R. Take a look at the short video to hear some of my thoughts.

But, first, some history:

Way back in 1994, Triumph introduced the Speed Triple. This bike was the first real mashup of sportbike performance with the naked styling and practicality of a universal “standard” motorcycle. This new Streetfighter genre helped redefine the Hinckley based company as a serious player.
Over the years, the Speed T went through an evolution that saw increases in motor displacement, as well as upgraded suspension and brakes. In 2011 Triumph jettisoned the classic round “bug-eye” dual headlight arrangement for the current love ‘em or hate ‘em oblong-shaped beams. That year, ABS was first offered as an option.
Ken-Speed Triple-track-sq-smIn 2012 Triumph introduced the uprated “R” model that included Öhlins suspension, Brembo brakes, lightweight forged aluminum hoops and bits of carbon fiber trim. To this day the Speed Triple has remained one of the most well-rounded and exciting bikes on the market, earning Motorcyclist’s “Best Naked Bike” award in 2011 and 2012. A lot has happened in the naked bike segment since then and Triumph knew the Speed Triple was in need of some serious love if it is to rise to the top once again.
To get a feel for the new Speed Triple, we rode in the coastal hills an hour south of Barcelona and ended the day riding on the tight and technical Carafat Circuit.
So, how was the bike?

The standard “S” model is priced at $13,200. Add $1,700 to get the “R” version’s top-shelf Öhlins suspenders and carbon bits for a total of $14,900.

More video


Turn 4, Calafat Circuit, Spain

Catalan hills

Read my review at MotorcyclistOnline.com

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Truths About Electronic Stability Control

Bosch-CornerABS-rain
Grab the brakes or whack the throttle while leaned, Bosch has your back. Rain or shine.

The newest Ducati Multistrada has super sophisticated Bosch Traction Control and ABS electronics. These rider aids will make it a whole lot harder to crash! But, are they all they are cracked up to be?
The Bosch electronics I tested at the Bosch proving ground near Detroit included updated ABS with Combined Braking Systems (eCBS), Ducati Wheelie Control (DWC), Lift (Stoppie) Control, Ducati Traction Control (DTC) and Cornering ABS, aka Motorcycle Stability Control (MSC).
The straight-line ABS is nothing particularly new, but the introduction of corner sensitive traction control and Corner ABS certainly is. The brain behind this technology is the Inertia Measuring Unit (IMU) that can detect angles of roll, yaw, and pitch. With this data, the ABS and Traction Control systems can intervene to prevent many crashes caused by over-exuberant braking or throttle inputs. Without the IMU, TC and ABS cannot detect and then intervene to arrest traction loss that includes a lateral slide. With the lean-angle sensitive IMU, it can bleed engine torque or brake power if it detects abrupt changes in pitch, lean or direction. Cool, huh?
Wet tile with ABS OFF.
Wet tile with ABS OFF.

Disclaimer: The system I am reviewing here is the latest technology found on only a few 2014-2015 machines. Older and less sophisticated electronic aid packages without the benefit of a lean-angle sensitive IMU will not perform the miracles I am about to describe.

Testing, Testing: ABS

To test the traditional straight-line ABS I made several high and low speed runs on gravel and wet and dry pavement. The ABS never let me down. Riding on a wet tile runway with ABS switch off caused the bike to slam onto the sturdy outriggers with just the touch of the brakes. It was possible to apply the brakes without skidding, but it took all the brake feel and control I could muster. With ABS switched on, I was able to grab the brakes and the bike remained balanced on two wheels.

Wet tile with ABS ON.
Wet tile with ABS ON.

Riding on the gravel course further confirmed the effectiveness of the ABS as the bike to remained upright even when applying copious amounts of front brake pressure. Set to Enduro mode, rear brake ABS is disabled to allow direction changes using a locked rear wheel …fun, but not something I recommend on a 511-pound motorcycle with street-biased tires.

Testing, Testing: Cornering ABS

Testing the Cornering ABS (what Ducati calls Motorcycle Stability Control or “MSC”) required me to grab the brakes as hard as possible while fully leaned in a corner. Really?
It was nearly impossible to toss aside decades of instinctive emergency corner braking technique and common sense to do this test. Normally I would reduce lean angle before (or while) applying the brakes. Instead we were told to jam on the brakes and hold lean angle as long as possible.

Demo of Cornering ABS.
Demo of Cornering ABS. Bosch photo.

I held my breath and headed for the curve before I leaned hard and went for it. It worked! Not only did the MSC manage the available traction, it also allowed me to slow rapidly while maintaining the path through the curve; no more crossing into the oncoming lane or hitting a guardrail in an emergency corner braking situation.
Trying this on dry pavement was unnerving as hell, but a passing shower meant that I got the chance to test this mind-bending system in the rain. This maneuver went against all of my instincts but once I trusted the system I was sold!

Testing, Testing: Traction Control

After the MSC test, I set out to further tax my nerves by testing the Ducati Traction Control (DTC), which consisted of whacking the throttle open in second gear at 37+ degrees of lean. Instead of a nasty crash, the rear drifted controllably with the rear tire slipping and gripping predictably. Look at me, I’m Valentino Rossi.
But, the TC isn’t foolproof. During one run, I made a particularly abrupt throttle input while dragging the footpegs (crazy, right?) that caused the rear tire to swing a bit farther than comfortable, prompting me to instinctively reduce throttle enough to regain grip. The next time, I was determined to stay on the gas to see if the system would sort things out. I can’t be 100% sure whether I was a bit more cautious or the electronics reacted quicker, but this time the bike remained in control as I blasted out of the corner.

Smitten

At the end of the test, I was compelled to express my sense of awe with my friends on Facebook: “OMG. Bosch has defied physics with the corner ABS and Traction Control. I just grabbed a handful of front brake at 37 degrees and whacked the throttle WFO while dragging my foot peg IN THE RAIN!”

Debate

Somewhere in there are a bunch of electronic doo-dads that I hope can stand the test of time.
Somewhere in there are a bunch of electronic doo-dads that I hope can stand the test of time.

These electronics are awesome, but there are some valid concerns circulating about how traction and stability control is going to influence traditional methods and attitudes. Here are the major concerns and my responses:

  1. Reliability: Motorcycle electronics seem to be the Achilles Heel of reliability, so skepticism about reliability is understandable. But, consider that solid state technology has no switches, relays or moving parts to fail compared to mechanical devices, and connections are designed and tested to prevent dust and water infiltration. Also, other electronic units, like ride-by-wire throttles, have no cables to break. In the event that a fault does occur, “limp-home” mode will allow you to get home. Will it fail? At some point, probably. But will it render the bike useless, probably not.
  2. Electronic intervention will interfere when I don’t want it to: Older, less sophisticated systems have fewer options and have been known to get in the way. But, with the wide range of intervention levels to choose from with the latest systems, it’s hard to think there isn’t a setting that suits almost any rider. It’ll take time to really learn what these systems are capable of and to find your perfect setup.
  3. Electronics will interfere with the essence of riding a motorcycle: Contrary to what a lot of Luddites and Skeptics think, these systems can be set to lurk in the background, never impeding with normal riding situations. I believe these systems enhance riding and can be set to your liking to never (or rarely ever) get in the way of riding enjoyment.
  4. Advanced traction control make advanced rider skills obsolete: I don’t see rider technique becoming obsolete any time soon. To avoid close calls and crashes, riders must have strong control skills and effective survival strategies. You can still careen into a Buick or off a cliff, just like before. While TC will manage traction loss from clumsy braking and throttling, riders will soon learn that getting the most out of their motorcycle comes from smooth, well-timed rider inputs and not electronics.
  5. Electronic aids will encourage bad riding: It is possible that these electronics can encourage risky behavior as people discover just how competent these systems are. What’s to stop someone from relying completely on the TC to manage grip while powering out of a turn, or letting the ABS manage grip as he trailbrakes hard into a turn? TC and ABS may help prevent a crash, but will not to lead to better riding skill or faster lap times. Good technique still trumps electronic aids. Just ask the Moto GP guys. And remember, electronics cannot fix stupid.
  6. Electronic aids can lead to false confidence: Yes. I can personally attest that a false sense of confidence is possible. After fully testing the MSC, ABS and advanced traction control I was somehow fooled for one moment into thinking that the bike was not crashable. Of course, I was wrong! It’s important to remember that these systems manage available traction under braking and acceleration; they do not create more traction! You cannot expect to magically lean onto the edge of your tire over sand or dip into a corner over gravel and come out unscathed.
Despite looking like a Star Wars console, the Ducati interface is quite easy to use.
Despite looking like a Star Wars console, the Ducati interface is quite easy to use.

Safety

One of the most important selling points of the Bosch rider aids is safety. But, these systems cannot influence all crash factors, nor are they able to correct for bad decisions like excessive speed or bad lane position.
Riders must still rely on good technique and judgment to prevent most crashes from occurring. The smartest riders will never need these systems as they continue to use traction management techniques like smooth, progressive brake and throttle application.

Practice

Whether you have new-fangled IMU-based electronics or basic ABS, you should take time to practice maximum braking to the point where ABS kicks in. Without finding that limit, you will never trust that you can brake as hard as the system allows and not likely use the total amount of stopping power available when you need it most. Braking that hard is unnerving at first, but trust me the system will intervene.


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Ride Review: 2014 Indian Chieftain

Indian-pose1Recently, I attended a Stayin’ Safe two-day training tour. Because the tour was happening 500 boring highway miles away in Ohio, I decided to drive the Crosstrek and then borrow a 2014 Indian Chieftain from a friend.
The Chieftain is not a motorcycle I would have chosen for the tour whose route included mile after mile of undulating tarmac with blind hill crests and moderately tight switchbacks. That’s because the Indian is a large motorcycle with a very long wheelbase and a dished out seat better suited to upright riding than deep cornering.
For the highway sections, the Chieftain was great. The engine thrums along lazily and the bike is dead stable. Roll on the gas and the Indian accelerates briskly when passing at highway speed. Even though the big Indian is intended primarily for straight-line riding it performed reasonably well when the road bent and turned.

Indian-pose2Engine

The Chieftain is powered by the 1818cc Thunderstroke 111, delivering a rumbling 119 lbs/ft of power that totally suits the character of the big bike. Twist the throttle and the bike lunges forward with authority. The finned-tipped “Stage 1” exhaust is a bit loud but makes all the right sounds. Pulling power is abundant for any situation. Just twist the grip and the bike launches forward.
Sixth gear on the highway sees the tach hover just over the 3,000 rpm mark. On the back roads, I kept the bike mostly in third gear with an occasional need for second gear when accelerating out of slow uphill turns.

Fueling

Staying SafeThe ride by wire throttle controls the predictable fuel injection. I did notice some hunting at slow speeds and a weird on-off surge when keeping the throttle closed during extended-duration engine braking while descending long, steep hills. And there was a bit of abruptness when performing tight parking lot maneuvers, but mostly it was good.

Transmission

I’ve ridden a lot of motorcycles whose transmissions range from butter-smooth to notchy and imprecise. But, I haven’t experienced a transmission as agricultural as the Chieftain’s since I had to learn to double-clutch a 1960s International Harvester truck as a teen.
Shifting the 6-speed Chieftain was always positive, but it literally sounds like a sledge hammer slamming into the sidewall of a pickup truck bed. Whack!
Needless to say, you shouldn’t expect rapid shifting maneuvers on this motorcycle. I tried a clutchless upshift at one point and quickly gave up any future attempts. The tranny was much smoother with a deliberate quick-shift technique (keep the revs up while upshifting and blip the throttle when shifting down).

Indian-cockpitComfort

For reference, I’m 5’9″ tall and weigh 155 pounds. While my somewhat lanky physique is in the average range, it is not large enough to match the ergonomics of the long Indian. My legs must stretch a bit too far to reach the rear brake and shifter and my arms are not long enough to allow full lock steering without moving far forward on the seat. If this was my bike, I would go for Indian’s “shorter-reach” seat option.
The leather seat is dished out nicely but is not padded enough for my boney butt. It wasn’t painful, but it wasn’t exactly comfortable either.
The temperatures hovered in the mid-80s during our tour and I wished I could have had less wind protection from the wide handlebar mounted fairing and windshield. The protection was welcome at highway speeds though.
The windshield is electrically adjustable, but the lowest setting was still too high for me, causing me to look through the screen even though I wanted to look over it. The visual distortion below the top edge made me chose to put the screen in its highest position where there was little distortion. Indian offers a lower screen option which would solve the problem.
The air cooled engine puts out a lot of heat and was uncomfortable when in traffic. Even my Macna Silicum mesh pants couldn’t flow enough air to combat the engine heat. But, once underway, I didn’t notice it.
The large diameter handlebar caused my smallish hands to cramp a bit, but the electronic cruise control provided relief on the throttle side.

Indian-closeHandling

The Chieftain was dead stable and feels much lighter than its 848 pounds when at speed. The heft became more obvious during slow speed maneuvers. The bike behaves well enough, but it doesn’t take much to feel unbalanced. Once, making a tight u-turn, the 130mm front tire rolled over a rock causing the bike to drop into the turn…not enough to cause a tipover, but disconcerting nonetheless.
This tendency to bump-steer reared its head a couple more times while rounding tight hairpins when rolling over bits of gravel.
Ground clearance was pretty good for a long and low cruiser. The floorboards hit first during pretty aggressive cornering. Positioning my boots on the rearward edge of the long floorboards allowed a sporty and more balanced position where I could use my boot heels as corner feelers as they graze the pavement.
But I kept lean angles sane since the bias ply tires gave little feedback. Indian marketing man and FB friend, Robert Pandya noted that the Chieftain is sensitive to tire pressures. It had occurred to me during the ride that tire pressures could probably help the handling, so make sure you have the proper pressures.

Lance Oliver photo
Lance Oliver photo

Brakes

The ABS-equipped brakes are strong and controllable. The rear brake pedal is huge with a forward surface that must contribute to a fair amount of wind drag at speed.

Value

At almost $23,000 the Chieftain costs as much as my Subaru Crosstrek. It’s a mighty fine motorcycle, but for that kind of money, I’d want a smoother transmission, less engine heat and maybe a locking fuel cap. But, the bike is lovely (from most angles) and has a lot of nice features, including the great looking electronically locking saddlebags that provide a decent amount of waterproof capacity.

Overall Thoughts

Indian-rainThe more I rode the Indian, the more I liked it. But, I couldn’t get used to the cumbersome slow speed handling (note to self to double-check tire pressures). The engine heat is somewhat bothersome and the “big and tall” ergonomics don’t fit me.
I’m a sport and sport touring rider, but I get why people like these bagger motorcycles. If the bike were a bit smaller, with a better looking fairing and more agility, I could probably be convinced to have one of these in my garage. Maybe a Scout would be just the thing.


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Ride Review: 2015 BMW S1000RR at COTA

Kevin Wing Photo
Kevin Wing Photo
This is Part 2 of a series documenting my experience riding the new BMW S1000RR during the North American Press launch at the world-famous COTA racetrack in Austin, Texas. Check out Part One if you’re interested in learning about my first experience as a jetset moto-journalist.

Early last February, I got a text from Steve Lita, editor of Motorcycle Magazine-Rides and Culture asking me if I was available to attend the 2015 BMW S1000RR media launch. Why yes, I am.

COTA-track-informationThe Circuit of the Americas

The opportunity to ride the 2015 BMW S1000RR is certainly huge. But equally huge was the fact that I was going to ride the Circuit of the Americas (COTA) where the official North American Media launch was to take place.
When I flew into Austin, I got a birds-eye view of the 3.4 mile track with its 251-foot viewing tower and sweeping turns bordered by massive amounts of red, white and blue paint. What I wasn’t able to see from so far up was the 130 foot change in elevation. Photos and on-board videos do no justice to the hill approaching turn 1.
COTA_airThe track is fast with many triple-digit corners and a 3/4 mile back straight where I saw 175mph on the digital speedo. Many people say that the track is difficult to learn. I found it not too challenging (I found Barber to be trickier).
It took me two sessions to get the turn 2-7 series of Ss figured out, but I never found consistent reference points in the turn 8/9 blind chicane and the turn 17-18 segment confounded my lack of discipline to stay wide until just the right time. Another two sessions would have done wonders (we had 4 sessions, total).
In the end, I got along with the track just fine. My lap times weren’t great, but hardly embarrassing either. And I didn’t crash…not every journalist was able to say that.

Screen Shot 2015-03-18 at 12.08.47 PM
Uber-fast guys, Nate Kern and Roland Sands (yes, THAT Roland Sands) pass underneath me.

Know Your Tester

Anytime someone shares their impressions of a bike’s performance you should find out a bit about who is doing the reporting. Without the context of the rider’s experience, you may end up with a false impression based on biases or lack of real-world knowledge. A reporter who has little experience on a supersport machine will come to conclusions that may not be useful or accurate. On the other hand, reading a review written by a professional road racer may not be meaningful if you never plan to take the bike to the track.
I am a street rider, track day instructor, occasional road racer and motorcycle safety professional who focuses primarily on advancing riders’ skills. This means that I’m able to evaluate a motorcycle from many different angles (pun not intended) and convey the bike’s capabilities, not only as a track bike but also as a potential street mount.
Since this was a racetrack launch and performance review, I needed to ride the S1000RR hard enough, but not risk tossing the $19k machine down the track. I had ridden S1000RRs before…the one I crashed (read Part 1) and another one that I didn’t crash. I’ve also ridden a handful of top-shelf liter-bikes on racetracks on the East coast, but nothing approaching 200hp.
I may have been seconds-slower than the faster guys, but the data on the instrument cluster indicated that I was using a decent amount of deceleration force and the fancy lean angle gauge said I achieved a respectable 54 degrees of lean to the right, but only 51 degrees to the left.

BMW_S1000RR-DynoRiding the S1000RR

The S1000RR is both a wolf in wolf’s clothing and a sheep in wolf’s clothing. The headlights, turn signals, heated grips and cruise control say “streetbike”, while the space shuttle power, ultra-light throttle action and racey geometry say “race weapon”.
Thankfully, the 2015 RR is a sweetheart when it comes to power delivery. The fueling is impeccable and linear. Still, we are talking about a 199hp (claimed at the crank) bike that weights 457 pounds soaking wet.
Compared to the first two generations of S1000RRs, the 2015 model is a comprehensive redesign of engine, frame, electronics and performance. The Pirelli SuperCorsa SP street/track day tires took a couple laps to warm up in the very humid 60 degree Texas morning air, but then provided confident grip and stability.
Screen Shot 2015-03-11 at 6.17.29 PMThe first time accelerating down the long back straight took my breath away. 160, 165, 170. Holy shit. And the throttle wasn’t even quite fully open. Subsequent laps saw the speedo top 175 mph and there was more power that I was leaving on the table.
The Gear Shift Assist Pro helped me reach this lofty speed with clutchless upshifts delivering uninterrupted power from second gear to 6th. The clutchless downshifts are a RR exclusive for 2015 (others will offer this feature very soon, I predict), allowing me to bang down on the shifter (or up for GP shift) as it auto-blips the throttle for mostly seamless shifts.
The upshifts worked great once I stopped pre-loading the shifter (it confuses the electronics). But, the downshifts were less cooperative no matter what I tried with one of the bikes not downshifting without doing it the old-fashioned way. Also, the shift lever felt vague, causing me to wonder if the tranny actually made the downshift or not. The transmission is buttery smooth, BTW.
Here’s the on-board video:

Good Brakes, Thank goodness

OK, high speed runs are exhilarating but don’t hold my attention for long. The 2nd gear hairpin at the end of the straight…now THAT got my attention! At that moment, my focus was 100% on braking power and stability.
Thankfully, the Brembo calipers (and 320mm rotors) provide wonderfully powerful and precise lever action, allowing hard, fade-free braking as well as precise trailbraking control and feedback. The RR is so stable under hard braking that it felt almost like cheating. The electronic Race ABS surely plays a role in instilling confidence, but it’s the ABS in concert with the anti-lift (stoppie) control, slipper clutch, semi-active electronic suspension damping and the superbly balanced chassis that really raises the bar.
Not that I ever really noticed any of those things…not because I wasn’t pushing hard, but because these e-aids are so finely tuned. I did notice when the anti-lift control was shut off as the rear tire skimmed the tarmac during one particularly aggressive corner approach. Race ABS and anti-lift can be set for various levels of intrusion using either the rider modes or by selecting a’ la carte under User mode. More about the electronics can be found below.

Screen Shot 2015-04-05 at 9.54.17 PM
Kevin Wing photo

It Handles, Too

Swinging a leg over the RR immediately reveals a lithe package. Once underway, the bike felt to me like a slightly heavy R6, and at 457 pounds (wet) it’s only 40 pounds off. That seems like a lot, but the power and chassis engineering mask that weight. The agility became apparent in the fast Ss, the blind chicane and the switchbacks. The chassis was dead stable when trailbraking and cornering at fast, knee down speeds.
The fully adjustable suspension on the base model is more than good enough for most people. But I’d spend the extra dough on the Dynamic Damping Control. It responds in milliseconds to changes in braking, cornering, accelerating and road surface. It’s like having an on-board suspension expert tweaking the clickers as needed for the best grip, drive and stability.

A Possible Street bike?

I didn’t get the chance to ride the bike on the street, so I can only speculate on how the RR will perform as a day to day companion. But, in my estimation I bet the combination of light weight and impeccable balance will make the RR a sweet day-to-day mount.
It wasn’t long ago that I would think someone was crazy who suggested that an almost 200hp bike would make a decent street bike, but the S1000’s fueling is so good and the power so controlled that it is indeed viable.  It has all the right features to make a fine street machine…gobs of easy-to-use torque, a ton of electronic stability aids and a reasonably comfortable ergonomic package. The cruise control and heated grips also help.

BMW_DDCLiving with Electronics

Electronics have become a huge part of modern motorcycle engineering and the RR has ample amounts of e-technology. The RR has Lift (stoppie) Control Stability control and Race ABS to help going from 175 to 35 an almost drama-free experience. More intervention happens in Rain and Race rider Mode (This should be called Street Mode, IMO) and very little interference in Slick Mode (the mode I rode in most of the day).
Stability Control (base model) and 14-step Traction Control (Standard and Premium Packages) also intervene appropriately to match the 3 (Base) or 5 (Optional) rider modes. The Premium packages include “User” mode which can be customized almost infinitely to combine rider modes, TC and ABS settings.
All this manifests into a very sophisticated machine that can mitigate (and mask) the consequences of some mistakes. This gives a lot of confidence, but make no mistake…you can still crash this bike, so don’t get too cocky.
With this number of electronic options comes a learning curve. It will take a dedicated and savvy owner with about a season of track time to discover all the potential of the RR. I also wonder how the electronics will fare over many miles of normal exposure to weather and time.

Kevin Wing photo
Kevin Wing photo

In Summary

Buy one. You’ll spend $15,500 for the base model, which is a good value for an excellent machine. For $16,795 you get the Shift-assist Pro, cruise control, heated grips and upgraded TC. But, I suggest you fork over the $18,695 for the DDC and forged wheels. It may mean you eat spaghetti out of a can for a while, but you won’t regret it, especially if you ride on the track.
Please look for the article I wrote for Motorcycle Magazine-Rides and Culture where I go into greater detail about the electronics and features.

BMW S 1000 RR COTA PRESS LAUNCH from mybmw on Vimeo.


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Living the Life of a Moto-Journalist

MotorcycleMagazine-coverEarly last February, I got a text from my newest best friend Steve Lita, editor of Motorcycle Magazine-Rides and Culture asking me if I was available in March to attend a new bike launch. Um, sure. Tell me more.
It turns out that Steve and all of his go-to editors were previously engaged and he needed someone who can both ride and write. I can do that. A few more texts later, I learned that the press launch was for the 2015 BMW S1000RR uber-sportbike and was being held at the Circuit of the Americas (COTA) world-class racetrack in Austin, Texas! Be still, my heart!
Since I write the monthly Street Savvy column for Motorcyclist Magazine, I wasn’t sure that Editor-in-Chief, Marc Cook would give his blessings. It took a tense 5 minutes for Marc to return my text giving me the okay! It looked like I was going to finally live my dream of being a motorcycle journalist who gets to ride other peoples’ bikes in cool parts of the world…and get paid to do it!

Living the Life

I’ve been writing safety/skills articles for 15 years for Motorcycle Consumer News as a freelancer, but this job never included riding new bikes in cool places. Like many of you, I always wondered what it was like to live the life of a jet-set moto-journalist. I was about to find out.

Pre-Event Nerves

Even though I have total confidence in my ability to ride, there was a part of me that couldn’t help thinking how much it would suck to either be the slowest guy on the track and/or crash a $20,000 motorcycle in front of the most well-known journalists in the industry.
As a track day instructor, I am often asked to give the newest model a few laps to see what I think, so I have a lot of experience riding other peoples’ bikes. I adapt quickly to new machines and have never had an issue with control. Except one time. I was riding Twisted Throttle’s brand new 2010 S1000 when I tucked the front tire on a cold and slightly damp turn 11 at Loudon. It took me months to shake off that embarrassment and I wasn’t about to let it happen again.
AGVIn the coming weeks, I read up on the S1000 and watched on-bike videos of COTA and waited for brand new leathers, boots and gloves from Alpinestars and an AGV Corsa helmet to arrive. Understandably, gear manufacturers are eager to have their riding gear on the cover and in the inside pages of national magazines whenever possible. Dainese sent me boots and gloves for the event, but didn’t have leathers available, so we went with the full A-Stars setup. Product reviews of the riding gear will appear with the S1000RR review.

The Junket

Apparently, not all press junkets are created equal with some little more than a basic track day or a street ride that includes lunch. The BMW S1000RR junket was going to eclipse these austere events in a big way. Arrangements were made for flight, hotel, meals, and airport drop off and pick up. No, I did not get first-class seats, but I did stay in the posh 4-Seasons hotel in Austin and ate very well.
COTA-ScheduleArriving in Austin, I was greeted by Matthew, my limo driver who handled my luggage. Thankfully, my Ogio gear bag appeared on the conveyor in no time and Matthew drove me to the hotel while I sat dutifully in the back seat where all self-important people sit. A porter carried my bags through the lobby and up to my room. He refused my tip, saying that BMW was taking care of everything. OK, I’m starting to get it.
Often, the marketing people from the bike manufacturer give out nice SWAG bags…not this time, but I did enjoy the gift basket. Yum…beef jerky. Seriously, not having sweet SWAG was fine with me. I was more than happy just to be treated to the venue and first-class treatment. Thanks, BMW!
I wandered around the hotel and then got ready for the welcome cocktail party. I nervously descended the stairs to find about 30 people sitting and standing around an outdoor patio open bar, chatting about this and that. Since many of these men and women are regulars on the bike launch circuit, they know each other well enough to ask about their spouses and kids and get caught up on recently discussed professional matters. At first I feared being the proverbial wallflower, not having much previous contact with these folks. But, a quick glance told me I would fit in just fine, being acquainted with maybe 6 or so others in attendance.

COTA-cocktail
Kevin Wing Photo

An hour or so later, we were escorted to another room where we sat for a presentation highlighting the notable new features for the 2015 RR. Some introductions were made, including the attendance of special guests; Keith and Dylan Code (California Superbike School), Roland Sands (ex-250GP star and custom bike builder), Jesse James (West Coast Choppers), and singer Lyle Lovett who would join us the next day.  Nate Kern, BMW’s S1000RR ambassador-extraordinaire, gave some insight into the significance of certain features that he wanted to make sure we paid attention to.
Dinner was then served in a private dining room. Ari Henning (Motorcyclist) and I had the absolutely delicious Salmon. Unfortunately, Ari had a rough night as his system struggled with the fish.
COTA-present-1
Kevin Wing Photo

After the presentation, the bar was re-opened, but I know better than to consume much alcohol before riding on the track so I went off to bed. I, thankfully, slept remarkably well.

Launch Day

We were instructed to be in the breakfast room early to grab some chow before getting on the bus to the racetrack. The bus driver was stuck in traffic, so we got a late start. After a 30 minute drive we were deposited in the paddock where our gear was moved to a changing area in the garages. The journalists were escorted to a classroom for the marketing/press briefings on the new line of BMW riding gear and another presentation on factory accessories available for the S1000. A fully-kitted RR was on display with over $11,000 worth of goodies.

COTA-present-2
Kevin Wing Photo

We were divided into two groups. Looking around, I could see that I was put in the “slow” group. That was fine with me…and understandable. As a first-time freelancer I’m an unknown quantity to BMW and it meant that I would be one of the faster riders on the track. Besides, it ended up that the guys in the other group were ripping faster than I was willing to go.

Suiting Up

LyleAfter the presentations, we got suited up. This is when things got a bit bizarre. Here I am wrestling to put on a set of brand-spanking new Alpinestars leathers when I glance over to see Lyle Lovett wriggling into his custom “Lone star of Texas” Vanson leathers. “Hey, I know you.” Lyle is world famous and one of my favorite all-time musicians, but today we were just two guys getting ready to ride.
Go-Pro was there loaning out cameras and attaching mounts to the bikes. There was also a drone hovering around with a camera as the first group set out for a session of follow-the-leader behind Nate Kern. All but two journalists had ridden COTA before, so we were mostly in the same boat.

COTA and the S1000RR

This is getting mighty long (for the Internet), so I am splitting this into two parts. Read Part 2 where I will reveal my thoughts on COTA and riding the 199hp 2015 S1000RR.

Final Thoughts

In the end, this was a fairy tale experience. But like most things, there are ups and downs. Listening to the seasoned journos talk about their struggles with travel and time spent away from home, I realized that apparently it’s not all fun and games.
Watch this video interview of my new acquaintance, Jeff Buchanan, talking about what it’s like to ride for a living.

After all was said and done, I had a great time meeting new industry peeps, getting reacquainted with not so new acquaintances and living the life of a real moto-journalist for a couple of days. I hope people enjoy the article (look for it in a mid-summer issue of Motorcycle Magazine-Rides and Culture). I also hope more offers to test bikes happen in the near future. It sure was fun. I’ll be awaiting your next text, Steve.


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