Monday, October 31, 2011

Slick roads and high-elevation colors

Friday afternoon I dashed out of the house to get a ride on Marmot Road before the rains came. The eastern half of the road had dust and gravel across both lanes because the road department had come along and scraped the side of the road (to kill weeds or something) and it pushed all the debris onto the road surface. They swept over the top of it but left a slick layer of dust and gravel.

I reached Lolo Pass Road and turned around for the return ride and the rain started. Within minutes it was raining hard and all that dust had turned into mud. Combined with a lot of wet, fallen leaves, Marmot Road became almost as slick as an ice rink.

I took my time and used very smooth throttle, brake, and cornering action and fortunately made it home wet but without incident.

Saturday the rain went away so I put my camera in my top case and headed up the Clackamas River Road, veering south onto Fish Creek. I stayed on fire roads and was soon traveling on gravel and dirt. My goal was to take photographs of the fall colors, but most of the road was lined with conifers and I didn't get any decent views of nearby mountains until I got above 4,000 feet elevation.

I stopped a few times and took some pictures, but most were uninteresting (which is why they aren't posted here). I made it back down to the main highway but hadn't had enough riding so I turned right and rode up to Ripplebrook Ranger Station before turning around and heading back home.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

It was a dark and foggy morning

When I left work this morning it was still dark and I could see the constellation Orion the Hunter hovering above me, standing on his head. The air was chilly, in the mid 30s, but wasn't cold, at least not to me. I was dressed appropriately as you might have guessed.

By the time I passed by the Highway 212 exit I entered fog. It smelled odd, as if it was mixed with wood stove smoke and a faint hint of baked bread. The mist swirled around me and blended with the light from my headlights and those of oncoming cars and I had the strange feeling I was in a music video or an episode of The Twilight Zone. It was enough fog to make the ride interesting but not enough to hamper visibility.

By the time I got to work my pant legs and jacket arms were wet from the mist, but I was still warm inside my gear and smiling as I unlocked the front office door to start my work day.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Comparison: Suzuki V-Strom 650 vs. Yamaha FJR 1300

Purists would claim that these two bikes are dissimilar enough to eliminate the possibility of comparison. That misses the point, at least for me. I'm trying to find out which bike is best for me so this is a subjective comparison based on my own criteria. Some of my readers may find this comparo to be irrelevant while others may find it to be the right stuff at the right time. Read on if you dare...

2007 Suzuki V-Strom 650 (model: DL650)

I currently own this bike. In fact, the bike pictured here isn't something I grabbed off of Google, it's my bike. I've put 43,000 miles on it since February 2007 when I bought it new. It cost $7,995 and I've put more than $2,000 worth of farkles on it, although the engine, suspension and brakes are all original factory equipment (well, I replaced the brake pads once). Only the tires, seat and wind screen are after-market brands.

The Good

This bike is very versatile. It can carve up the paved twisties, shoot me across unpaved deserts, and carry me on mountain fire roads all in the same day. It is inexpensive to buy, inexpensive to accessorize, inexpensive to insure, and inexpensive to maintain. Parts are relatively cheap and service is available just about everywhere I would choose to go. It has also been extremely reliable, with TPS sensors being the only part that's gone bad.

The Bad

Because the V-Strom is a dual-sport, by its very nature it is meant to be reasonably good at several different types of riding. Because of this it doesn't really excel at any of them. It excels at being versatile so it makes an excellent single bike (not everyone is rich enough to have a different bike in their stable for every riding style). The V-Strom can be modified with knobby tires, skid plate, etc. to work as a great adventure tourer, and if you were to specialize a Strom this is where it shines. But if your love lies on asphalt, this bike has a problem. It is very flickable and can carve up the twisties with the best of them, but it lacks in raw horsepower and off-the-line grunt. Top speed tops out around 110 mph and 0-60 performance isn't something that will make you say "Whoa!" anytime soon. The brakes are mushy as well. Unlike accessorizing the Strom for off-road performance, there are very few options to boost on-road performance and most only provide single-digit improvements in horsepower.

The Ugly

There really isn't anything particularly ugly about the V-Strom. It has no major faults or warts.

2011 Yamaha FJR 1300A

This is the bike I am currently researching as a possible replacement for my 2007 Suzuki V-Strom. It is Yamaha's flagship sport-touring model and is highly rated for its performance, comfort, and styling. The reliability of the FJRs has been excellent, with a few kinks in early models worked out in subsequent releases. Compared to competing models from BMW, Kawasaki and Honda, the FJR wins in motorcycle press shootouts time and time again.

There are several characteristics and features about the FJR that appeal to me. It has a very sporty engine that is powerful yet manageable. Unlike liter-class sport bikes such as the Suzuki GSX-R 1000, the FJR won't get out from under you because you gave the throttle the tiniest extra bit of unintended twist. Despite it's 670 pound wet weight, the FJR is surprisingly flickable, especially at low speeds, and this has made it a strong player among mounted law enforcement agencies.

The riding position is somewhat sporty but still upright enough to allow high-mileage multi-day rides without requiring frequent visits to the chiropractor. The seat and handlebars are height-adjustable as well. The wind screen is power-adjustable and the fore- and aft-seat densities vary, giving pilot and pillion their own appropriate level of cushion.

Hard side cases with removable soft bag liners are included and after-market top cases are readily available, including offerings from Givi, a brand I've grown to love. The grips are heated as well. The drive train uses a low-maintenance shaft drive and oil changes are a snap. The styling is dramatic and appealing without looking gawdy.

Because the FJR puts out close to 140 horsepower and has a top speed in excess of 150 mph, insurance rates are relatively high. It has a 6.6 gallon fuel tank but only gets around 40 mpg, so range is about the same as it is for the V-Strom -- which is more than adequate. The purchase price is also around $14,500 so initial cost is twice that of the Suzuki. My insurance agent told me the FJR will cost $140 more per year for the same coverage I currently have on the V-Strom.

At this point in my research, need to find a dealer willing to let me take an FJR for a test ride. If none will, I need to find a rental shop that will rent one to me for a day. I'm not willing to buy a new bike without test riding it first.

Monday, October 17, 2011

In the zone, and wanting more

Saturday I went on a mid-day practice ride on Marmot Road, but it was far too short. I wanted more. Sunday, mid-afternoon, I tackled the NF46 run to Detroit to make up for it. My bike was running good, the conditions were excellent, and I was in the zone.

And I wanted more.

It was the fastest, smoothest run I've had on that route to date and it felt incredible. I found myself feeling as if I was beyond the capabilities of my bike. The Suzuki V-Strom 650 has been described as "perhaps the most shockingly competent bike" available by the press, and for good reason. It is very capable and versatile, and in my opinion, the single best value in motorcycles today.

Part of the problem with that versatility is the tendency to become a Jack-of-all-Trades and a master of none. The V-Strom can be customized to be an outstanding dual-sport machine, rivaling the BMW GS series in capabilities -- at substantially lower cost and arguably better reliability. It can't be customized to be a true road machine, however, at least not in comparison with some other bikes that are available. Horsepower is the biggest limiting factor. You can add a few hp here and there but nothing substantial. Suspension upgrades are rather limited as well.

I am finding that I get a lot more smiles from carving up a run of paved twisties than I do taking my V-Strom off-road. In fact, riding off-road makes me somewhat nervous and I ride rather cautiously, mostly from lack of experience (it's not the bike's fault, in other words).

So despite putting 43,000 wonderful, trouble-free miles on a fantastic bike, I'm feeling the increasing desire to switch to a more road-oriented bike.

Right now I'm researching the Yamaha FJR 1300. More to come...

Monday, October 10, 2011

Possible new blog design

I'm toying with a new blog design, so please pardon my dust.

Last time to Detroit for the year?

After being off of two wheels for nearly two weeks, mostly due to being sick, I finally got a chance to ride over this past weekend. Saturday was a gorgeous Fall day, with increasing sunshine to dry off the wet pavement from the previous week of rain. Late morning I headed out, gassed up in Estacada, and made my way up the Clackamas River to Ripplebrook Ranger Station before turning south on NF 46 to Detroit.

I stopped at the mini-market in Detroit and grabbed a snack, and while suiting back up a guy on a silver 2009 V-Strom pulled up and stopped to chat. Lance was on his way from Stayton to Estacada to visit his son and had never been up NF 46 before. We talked for nearly 30 minutes about our bikes and riding styles and experiences before deciding to motor northward.

Lance followed as I led the way. I pointed out several side roads that provided dual-sport riding opportunities, something Lance enjoys. We had to pass a few slow cagers but did so adequately and without issue. We stopped in Estacada and said our goodbyes and promised to stay in touch and schedule another ride together in the future.

Here's the route on Google Maps.