Monday, July 20, 2009

Spice of Life

Variety. What a world we live in that we have the option of hundreds of different makes, models, sizes, shapes, and colors of two-wheeled entertainment! My Dad just bought his first bike: a Yamaha Star-950, and graciously allowed me the opportunity to try it out. Before getting into the meat of this post, allow me to caveat that I am much more of a sport/sport-tourer guy than I am a cruiser guy. But beyond that, I am definitely a motorcycle guy. So onward...

My first impressions of the V-Star 950 were of its excellent ergonomics. The bike was easy to mount, the controls well-placed, and the seat height pleasantly low. The mid-size weight of the bike felt very manageable. My Dad got the touring package, so it included the side bags and windscreen. One minor negative was that the voluminous side bags are not large enough to hold a full face helmet. The windscreen seemed excellent for around-town use; most will probably want something a bit larger for heavy-duty touring.

A turn of the key and press of the ignition was rewarded by a very nice exhaust note. The sound is beefy and low without being obnoxious. I snapped it into first gear and pulled away smoothly. The clutch required very little effort and had a nice wide friction zone. The throttle response was a bit jerky at the slowest (walking) speeds, but quickly became steady at anything above that.

I was a bit hesitant on turns because I had heard that cruisers in general, and the 950 particularly, do not allow for very deep lean angles. But what I found was that the bike actually handles quite well. I made some pretty sharp slow-speed turns without incident. I did not try to get a knee down or anything, but also didn't have a problem scraping the floorboards.

What I ultimately learned was how fun it is to ride something as different from my normal experience as a cruiser. If you are in the market for one, I recommend you take a peek at the 950. It offers a great selection of features at a rather economical price point. And the new engine is fuel-injected.

Now who has a Ducati 1198 that they'd let me try...

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Scratch That Itch!

I have read many posts recently from motorcyclists who, due to injury, vacation, work, or other interruption, have to take time off of riding. They frequently lament the fact that riding is a crucial part of their lives -- one that is sorely missed when absent. I wholeheartedly agree! I find that if more than three days go by without riding, I start really missing it. I am a motorcycle addict.

But scratching the riding itch is not the intended subject of today's post. I refer instead to the most horrific condition known to the motorcyclist: the itchy nose. A herd of deer bounding into the road? Bah. Potholes the size of lunar craters? Who cares. The psych ward at Bellevue driving hummers and talking on three cellphones at once? A mere triviality. Going 65 MPH on the freeway and having an itch flare up on ones proboscis? Epic, monumental, tragedy.

I have tried all manner of solutions. The "jam fingers up the chin gap and waggle them around" technique is spotty at best, and impossible if you have a well-sealing helmet. The "throw open the visor, violently poke the itchy spot, and close the visor before angry bees or chunks of road hit you in the eye" approach often leads to temporary loss of eyesight -- and worse, the itch remains. "Letting go of the itch in a zen-like meditative state wherein you accept that suffering is a natural part of life" only seems to anger the itchy gods. And the whole idea of just "pulling over and properly dealing with the situation" is, of course, absurd.

So my helmet's off to those who wear the hard plastic yarmulke! They may be missing the front of their face when they have an unplanned dismount, but their nose will not itch.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Where Angels Tread

Father's Day! My Dad and I met for breakfast at a local eatery and then headed off on our very first excursion on the (in)famous Angeles Crest Highway. The day was absolutely perfect for riding: about 75F and partly cloudy. Our first stop was at the fork that leads to Mount Wilson Observatory -- locally known as "Red Box Road". There were a few other motorcycles with the same pitstop in mind, and we got to talk all things two-wheeled after lightening our load a bit.

Continuing along the Crest for another nine or so miles brings you to Newcomb's Ranch Restaurant and Bar. As can be seen in the picture, Newcomb's is a very popular place with the motorcycle set. We spent fifteen minutes just walking along the front looking at the enormous variety of bikes.

Inside the eatery was to be found cold soda and the Superbike race on big screens! What a terrific way to spend a Sunday afternoon.

The only blemish on an otherwise perfect day was an oncoming 900-pound full dress Harley that apparently thought of the double yellow line as more of a suggestion than rule. Thank goodness for quick reflexes.

Happy Father's Day!

Sunday, June 7, 2009

Sunday River Ride

My Dad and I took a leisurely sixty-mile ride up to the East Fork of the San Gabriel River and back today. The weather was overcast and cool, and the traffic was very light for a weekend. In short, perfect riding conditions! We stopped at the campground where the road ends and looked down on the river below for a while. We've gone fly fishing in the river in the past, though only caught planted trout in the 6"-8" range.

A nice ride back down the hill and we stopped for a soda at Williams Camp. Everyone -- from the rangers to the hikers to the store clerks -- were very friendly and welcoming. We waved at many other bikers as we passed.

I recommend the road as an alternative to the ubiquitous (and fast-paced) Angeles Crest.

Monday, June 1, 2009

These Boots Were Made For Ridin'

I have owned this pair of Sidi Vertigo Air boots for nearly a year now, and with the sole exception of rainy days, do all of my riding in them. I have worn the boots 50-60 hours a week many weeks in a row with no discomfort. I love the fact that they are dead simple to put on (one full-length zipper and a top velcro flap), offer terrific protection, are breathable (have perforated uppers), have a built-in closable air vent, adjustable calf, and are comfortable on and off the bike. Truly a race-quality boot for everyday wear.

My Sidi Canyon boots have also been around for nearly a year, though have gotten a lot less use than my Vertigo's. I bought these for rainy days: they have a full goretex membrane, are very waterproof, and offer thick soles. The Canyon's are also very comfortable. They feel like they are much more solid than the Vertigo's due to the full-length velcro flap closure, cinch-down foot strap, and chunky sole. Unfortunately this contributes to less feel on the bike -- my feet are really insulated from everything, even the shift/brake foot controls. That being said, they are my go-to boots when the storms roll in without question.

Thursday, May 7, 2009

That's The Ticket!

The family went out to dinner last night at a local Italian restaurant, and seated one table away was a motor officer with the California Highway Patrol. I decided to take advantage of this situation and ask for an expert's summary of the laws involving lane splitting. The officer was delighted to help and spent ten minutes educating me on the law:

Lane splitting in California is defined as riding between two lanes of traffic. The first infraction is obvious: riding between the right-most lane and the shoulder. The shoulder is not a lane of traffic, so is illegal to ride on or split.

The second infraction is not so obvious to most: the car pool (ride share) lane is separated from the main freeway by two solid yellow lines. This means that it is considered separate from the other lanes -- it is a different road entirely. Because it is only one lane, there is no other lane to split with. It is illegal to ride between the car pool lane and the left-most regular freeway lane.

I hope this saves you a ticket, and leave you with this:

Q: Why don't ride share lanes go under mountains?

A: Car-pool Tunnel Syndrome.

Friday, May 1, 2009

One Bear, Two Wheels

I have owned numerous two-wheeled vehicles over the years, and my path to riding a motorcycle as my primary vehicle has been quite an unusual one. I thought it would be interesting to take a trip in the way-back machine and follow my two-wheel evolution:

My first experience with two wheels was astride a red banana-seat Huffy. This bike provided quite a taste of freedom to a budding eight-year old. I remember attaching numerous gadgets (farkle?) to it in order to simulate engine noises. I even mounted a water jug in the frame as a faux gas tank, and poked a small hole in the bottom so the 'gas' would run out as I rode! Good times.

The early eighties ushered in the age of the chrome-moly, mag-wheel, BMX. Mine was a surprise gift from my Dad -- a silver and black beauty of a bike. I felt unstoppable astride its thick frame. This bike carried me through the eighth grade before finally being retired.

My entry into high school was accompanied by a brown Schwinn ten-speed bike given to me by my step-father. Sitting perched atop its narrow seat took some getting used to, but the ten gears made it all worthwhile. My mom started sending me to the store for milk and such (a 14-mile round trip).

A long two-wheel hiatus into adulthood and I bought myself the cadillac of mountain bikes: a 2003 Cannondale Jekyll 1000. 21 gears, "Lefty" fork, hydraulic disc brakes, and all the trimmings. I even rode it a few times.

A coworker of mine brought his GoPed to work one day and allowed me a test ride around the parking lot. My initial nervousness melted instantly and I had to have one for myself. I even commuted on it during the summer -- my job was only two miles away. Can't beat 140 MPG, too!

The first GoPed with a true seat and chain drive was the logical upgrade for me. I commuted on this wee death trap for about a year. The GoBike was the cause of my most serious crash to date: I gunned the throttle at a green light, but was leaning back too far. The front wheel pawed the air and I was thrown off the back. Unfortunately, I was still holding on to the throttle and the bike dragged me across the intersection. Shorts did not provide much in the way of protection. Lesson learned.

The same coworker brought his Vespa ET-4 scooter to work and generously allowed me a test ride. The leap from 50cc glorified skateboard to 150cc full-fledged scooter was awesome. I immediately began looking for my very own. I prefer a more modern aesthetic than the traditional "Vespa" style, so ended up buying a Piaggio BV-200. I got my learner's permit and practiced on city streets for about nine months before getting my license. I later ended up selling it to that coworker.

At this point I was completely smitten by scooters and lusted after something bigger. Of all the options at the time, the 500cc Aprilia Scarabeo had the best features and style. I loved the larger wheels, the larger engine, the built-in topcase storage, and the classy look. Unfortunately, a change in my employment situation necessitated that we part ways.

I have always been attracted to innovation, and that is what caused me to purchase a Piaggio MP3 scooter. Riding one is quite an experience -- the two wheels up front provide an amazing degree of stability and traction -- yet it still leans like a traditional two-wheeler. While it was an entertaining reentry back to the world of scooters, my ownership was short-lived. Just a few months later Aprilia released the...

...Mana 850. Holy cow! An 850cc V-Twin mated with Italian style, faux tank storage, and an automatic CVT transmission!!! My dream "scooter". The Mana was an absolute delight in and around the city. I happily commuted the seven miles to work on it. Technically I still own the Mana, though I have loaned it to my Dad who recently got his license.

My job moved from seven miles on surface streets to twelve miles on the freeway. At the same time, the lease on my car ran out. I was faced with a decision. And if you've read this blog at all, you know that I bought the first bike that replaced having a car for me: the Yamaha FJR-1300.

Who knows what the future holds?

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

On Any Sunday

Last Sunday was a spectacular day for riding! It was about 70F and the sky was blue with fluffy white clouds. My Dad and I started the day with a two hour ride up Azusa to the East Fork of the San Gabriel River. For those who aren't familiar, this is a winding mountain road that offers miles and miles of beautiful views and fun curves. There was a huge highway patrol presence there -- catching many squids who felt that the road was their own personal racetrack.

Returning home, my wife jumped on the back of my FJR and we sped off to a friend's birthday party. My Dad stayed home with the kids, and it was nice having the opportunity to socialize with other adults.

We left the party a bit early in order to ride to our local Ducati dealer who was having a BBQ party of its own to celebrate the Japan leg of the MotoGP tour. There is no finer way to enjoy the MotoGP than to do it surrounded by Ducatis. We were delighted to see Yamaha take first and second place, though we wish that Rossi would have won.

All in all, a terrific motorcycle-centric Sunday!

Tuesday, April 21, 2009


All The Gear All The Time (ATGATT)
The grand-daddy of all mantras: wear all the protective gear at all times. Even if it is 105F and you are just going a mile to the store. It is pretty much agreed that leather offers the best overall protection but nothing beats textile for versatility and features. I have covered some of my gear in previous posts, and will be filling in the missing bits soon.

Every day is an adventure!
This is a personal mantra of mine and is a reminder that some days just aren't going to go the way I expect. My attitude on those days is the most important factor in determining how well I make it through. Every single day offers the possibility to learn something new, meet a new friend, try new food, look at old haunts with new eyes, or just acknowledge the grandeur of the world around you.

The single best overall line to take through corners is to start from the outside edge of your lane, pass through the apex of the turn near the inside edge of your lane, and end up on near the outside edge again. This path maximizes visibility -- both yours of oncoming traffic and corner conditions, and theirs in seeing you. Coupling this with smooth braking before the turn, and a gradual roll on of throttle through the turn, and you are on your way to corner mastery.

The bike goes where you look.
I cannot count the number of times I have fixated on a pothole or crack in the road ahead, and ridden right into it. It takes conscious effort to note a hazard and then fixate my gaze at a distant point that takes me past it safely. This is also the reason the MSF classes tell you to rotate your head as far as it will go when making tight turns. If you fixate on the middle of the curve, you will run into it. Looking at your exit point will help you complete the turn.

Tight on the bottom, loose on top.
This was actually the first piece of advice after ATGATT that really improved my riding. It means simply to use the lower half of your body to grab the motorcycle, and keep the upper half of your body relaxed. I used to ride the exact opposite way and quickly wore out my arms as they bore my weight. If your arms are rigid, every single bump will jar your whole body. I have almost been thrown off the bike hitting a large unexpected pothole with stiff arms. Now I try to support my weight with my legs and abdominal muscles and ride much more smoothly. This is another one for the application of conscious effort. Periodically during my rides I try to take a moment to wiggle my fingers, check on the stiffness of my arms and shoulders, and grab firmly but gently with my lower half.

As with all advice -- take everything with a grain of salt and a pound of personal experience. The best advice of all is simply to remain open minded and continuously look to improve your riding skill. And wear the gear!

Friday, April 10, 2009

Split Personality

I am not the guy splitting lanes at 80 MPH. But I am definitely willing to take advantage of my single-track profile when traffic slows to a stop. And that is exactly what happened yesterday as I left my office to head home.

Bumper-to-bumper stop and go traffic for miles made for a rather onerous commute. I was delighted to be able to split lanes and just make progress. I also learned two important things: I can only split lanes for about a mile or two at a time before I have to pull into lane and rest. Splitting lanes is a rather stressful activity; cars cutting over without warning, the gap widening and narrowing without notice. So I take regular rest breaks.

The second thing I learned is that diesel fuel is quite possibly the slipperiest substance known to man. Forget teflon and graphite! Put a boot down in a greasy stream of diesel and you are suddenly the guest contestant in a game of keep-the-shiny-side-up.

The cause of my afternoon adventure eventually slid into view: a semi truck in an unnatural position. It was bad enough that emergency crews had sprayed the entire area with white foam. I gingerly navigated the last of the frothy obstacles and smoothly accelerated into the wide open road beyond.

I happily stayed in lane for the rest of my ride home.

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Protection x Infinity

One of my larger purchases arrived today: a Rev'It Infinity one piece touring suit. The suit is absolutely spectacular, lighter than a 'stitch, and loaded with the latest in space-age fabric technology.

The Infinity has four torso vents, two on the chest and two on the back. It does not have vents on the legs or arms. The zippers are TiZip storm-proof zippers.

I am 5' 11.5", 185 lbs., and have a 36" waist. The XL fits me perfectly. My local store was able to order one so I could try it on before purchasing. Unfortunately, the one they ordered was the all-black suit. Besides not wanting to roast in the California sun, I wanted much higher visibility. So I plunked down my coin (well, $1200 anyway), and they ordered the light grey suit for me. In my opinion, it is very stylish. My wife's reaction upon seeing it for the first time was: "Why don't they make these for women???" Good question. Anyone at Rev-It want to answer?

Here's another pic of me on my bike:

It takes about twice as long to put on the Infinity than just putting on my Cayenne Pro riding jacket, but considering it is offering the same level of protection for my legs too, I am not disappointed.

Is the Infinity expensive? Hell yeah. Is it worth it? A much harder question to answer; I hope to never find out.

Sunday, March 29, 2009

All In

... borrowing a phrase from America's favorite inactivity, I am "all in" with my FJR. I have committed 100% to it as my primary mode of transportation. For the first time in ten years of riding, the motorcycle is not a second vehicle -- it is the only vehicle. This has caused a significant shift in my own riding psychology.

Poker players take great risks when they go all in. But the potential rewards are equally great. So it is with motorcycling. Every time I put on the gear, shift into first, and roll back on the throttle, I am making a calculated risk against the pot of sheer exuberance that it returns. But also like those gamblers, the risk is not one made lightly or in ignorance. The player scrutinizes his opponents reading the potentially hidden potholes, oil slicks, and oncoming cars in their visage. He takes in the knowns -- the flop, turn, and river of corner radius, velocity, braking, lean angle, and weather conditions. All of these factors are carefully weighed; the potential returns are computed. And then the player commits.

Every decision on every ride is a balance of risk versus reward. And sometimes folding is the better part of valor. Deciding to wait out a rainstorm instead of riding through it. Choosing to pull over and rest instead of pushing on. Holding back in the lane at 65 instead of splitting lanes to gain that small advantage. Only a significant accumulation of seat time can grant that insight. You have to pay to play.

"I'm all in."

First Farkle

There are a few inexpensive goodies that I purchased within weeks of getting my FJR. I had frame sliders installed before I rode off the first time. These ones from Puig stick out a bit farther than others I have seen:

A friend turned me on to Premiere Cycle Accessories and their great selection of FJR farkle. The first thing I ordered from them were a set of side bag retroreflective stickers. These stickers look black under normal light, but when lights shine on them (i.e. headlights), they glow like the sun. A rather nice visibility increase for a measly $20.

I had a clear tank protector installed at the dealer as well. I love the paint job on my FJR, so clear was just the ticket. Most of the time I don't even notice that it is there. But it saves my tank from the rigors of various zippers, belt buckles, and snaps that invariably make contact.

Premiere Cycle Accessories also sells a terrific set of Yamaha decals in reflective silver. I added a Yamaha logo to my fender that adds a bit of style and visibility. I also bought a 'carbon fibre'-look aluminum license plate frame; much nicer than the plastic dealer frame and only $10.

So that wraps up wave one of FJR Farkle. The second wave is already in the mail and will be blogged very soon.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

One Hand Steering Fu

I love to read, and collect books in a rather compulsive manner; especially those related to my passions. Motorcycling is no exception to this. I plan on posting details of my complete motorcycling library at some point, but for now I wanted to share an absolutely excellent piece of advice I recently read.

In the book Total Control: High Performance Street Riding Techniques, Lee Parks says: "It is my ardent belief that when cornering, you should use only your inside arm to steer. This includes pushing and pulling when appropriate. I recommend this because it's extremely difficult for both arms to put reverse inputs into opposite ends of the bars in precise unison while simultaneously allowing enough 'give' in the steering for gyroscopic precession to do its thing."

I began testing this on my own a few days ago. What I have found is that by consciously focusing on using the inside arm and relaxing the outside arm, I was able to steer much quicker and tighter than usual. I realized that I had unconsciously been working against myself -- applying opposing pressure with my outside arm as some sort of steadying force. In truth, I was having my arms fight against each other, making steering harder than it needed to be.

Experiment for yourself and see if One Hand Steering Fu can help your technique.

Friday, March 20, 2009

First Blood

I had my first accident today. Because friends and family are no doubt reading this, let me start out by saying that both me and the bike are just fine. No injuries. No damage. It of course happened in the least expected way.

There was a single car ahead of me before entering the intersection as the light turns red. The car pulls out too far and stops, partially blocking the intersection. I am about six feet behind them, and another car is (naturally) right on my bumper. We are all at a complete stop at this point, and I sit up on the bike to rest my hands. The car in front decides that they don't like having the front end of their car sticking out into the intersection, so shifts into reverse and starts backing up.

I immediately start frantically waving my right arm while smashing the horn button over and over, and the lady just keeps backing all the way into my front fender. I am dumbfounded that anyone would do this. So we pull over.

I get off the bike and inspect the whole front end with an electron microscope. Fortunately, the only damage is a 1cm scratch right on the front edge of my fender. Her first words (drumroll please): "I didn't see you." I was stopped, dead center of the lane, sitting up on the bike, wearing a white and red jacket, silver helmet, broad daylight. She didn't see me.

I keep my words to a minimum in order to avoid saying anything unpleasant, and mutter that she can go. As she starts to leave, she turns back around and says: "Well at least my car got more damage than your bike!" (her bumper had a 6cm vertical scratch on it) I don't even know what to say to this. Is she expecting me to be happy?

So remember folks: you aren't just inconspicuous on your bike, you are invisible.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Date Night!

My wife and I were granted a date night sans children yesterday thanks to my Dad. She decided that we should take the FJR, so we donned our protective gear and sped off into the night. There is something magical about a motorcycle as choice of date night vehicle: you can't take kids; it isn't even an option.

Parking at the restaurant (despite it being St. Patrick's Day) was a breeze. I had emptied the side bags so we were both able to store our helmets and gloves on the bike. Like most things with motorcycles, planning ahead is everything. It was a rather warm evening -- ~80F -- and we were glad to be given a larger booth so our jackets would have a place to sit too. I wore my Rev'It Cayenne Pro, and she wore her Vanson Cobra III.

After dinner we decided to hit a local bookstore. Again parking was trivial, but the jackets became a hinderance. We didn't feel comfortable leaving them on the bike, they were too cumbersome to carry, and wearing them in the heated store became stifling in very short order. As I am sure that this issue will only increase in frequency as we approach Summer, I would like to figure out a better solution.

Our final stop of the evening was at a local game store. We both like to play games, and are fortunate to have a local store that reserves half of its floorspace for open gaming tables. It was very relaxing to sit in the store, socialize with the other customers, and play.

The ride home was markedly different from the earlier departure. When we left I rode fairly aggressively -- urging the bike away and into the night. The return trip was relaxed and calm. Motorcycles make terrific date night transport.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Commuting & Chantry Flats

I have been really enjoying commuting the past two weeks on my FJR. There have been a few mornings when I didn't feel like putting on the gear, but as soon as I was on the bike I was instantly happy. I think that those difficult mornings are more about where I'm going (work) as opposed to how I am getting there. On the other hand, I always enjoy getting on the bike to come home.

Traffic has been relatively manageable. I love splitting lanes when traffic is at a complete standstill, but prefer staying in my own lane when the cars start moving. The occasional shower has not been much of an issue. I am not sure how I feel about wind -- I don't yet have a sense for how much of a real affect the wind has versus the psychological reaction to the roar and buffeting. Experience should bear that out.

Weekends are another matter entirely! Nearly all my weekend riding is for the pure joy of it. Destinations become a distant second with riding being its own reward. My Dad recently got his motorcycle license and we've been getting together to ride on Sundays. Short jaunts to help him gain experience on the Mana 850 I've loaned him (great learner bike, by the way).

Today's ride took us into the foothills to the Chantry Flats campground. The road leads up from a nice residential neighborhood and becomes about five miles of scenic mountain road. The sky was grey and brooding, with misty clouds squatting on top of the mountains. Needless to say, it was an absolutely wonderful ride. We parked at the top and enjoyed the views; after a while we pulled the gear back on and headed down the mountain.

Riding is a complete joy. Being able to share it with friends and family is a gift.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Unscheduled Maintenance

When I purchased my FJR, a check of the VIN showed that it did not require the ignition switch recall. Apparently the VIN range was extended because I got a call last week telling me to bring it in. I decided to also have the clutch plates soaked in engine oil as well in order to (hopefully) resolve my rough clutch at start issues. So I rode over to Pasadena Yamaha and placed my bike in the expert hands of Tom.

I had read about others having the recall done, and that it leaves them with two different keys or the option of paying a locksmith to rekey the cylinder. This was my expectation as I arrived to pick up the bike. But Tom did not think that the owner of Yamaha's flagship should have to deal with two keys; he took a metal saw to the security bolts of the original ignition unit, pulled the cylinder, and installed it into the new unit. Now that's service.

I asked about my clutch plates. When the plates were removed, he noted that one of them was darker than the others. He said that functionally it looked fine, but he didn't want to take any chances so he replaced the plate. My FJR's clutch is now smooth as butter.

The finishing touch was that Tom decided to swap out the default oil for 'the good stuff', and while he was there do the complete 600 mile service just to be sure. Total cost to me: $0.

I don't work for Pasadena Yamaha -- but I am damn glad that Tom does.

Monday, March 9, 2009

Underseat Accessories

I love gadgets. A lot. The FJR's standard side luggage is a terrific way to carry lots and lots of gadgets, clothing, helmets, etc. But there are times when I want to go streamlined. There are a few items that I consider essential, that I do not want to leave behind when I shed the side cases. Fortunately, there are several little pockets of space under the seats that can be used for this purpose.

It should be noted that two factors limit the amount of space available to me under the seats: 1) I have the automatic clutch version of the FJR, and some of the main seat's storage is taken up by this system; and 2) I have my seat in its lowest (of two) positions. Despite this I have been able to fit all of the things that I consider to be must have accessories. It did take a little creative Tetrising...

Manuals. I have a Ziplock freezer bag with my bike's manual and warranty, plus the manuals for my on-bike gadgets (like my Cardo Scala Rider O2 communications pod).

Tire Repair/Maintenance. Under the manuals are a CyclePump air compressor and a cordura zip case with the contents of a comprehensive tire repair kit (based on the 'sticky strings' variety). Do not plug the CyclePump into the 12V accessory socket in the front storage compartment! That circuit only has a 3A fuse and will blow instantly. Instead, I use the Battery Tender lead coming off the battery (with appropriate fuse, of course).

Tools. I replaced the placeholder tools provided by Yamaha's Department of Humorous Gags with a complete set from Cruz Tools, the Metric M3. This roll-up had to be flat-folded into thirds in order to fit under the passenger seat.

Miscellaneous. In the front storage compartment, I keep the bike registration and insurance papers in a Ziplock. I also have a set of Rok Straps in a small Ziplock. Finally, there are five sets of foam ear plugs in a small Ziplock and the pod to my Cardo Scala Rider O2.

Here are some additional pics of the details:

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Why I Ride

This was written about a month ago (pre-FJR)...

I had a fairly stressful day at work and was looking at the likelihood of an equally stressful day ahead as I drove home last night. After kissing my family hello, I went into the bedroom and began systematically putting on my gear. I call it the "Mr. Rogers Effect": any activity that requires changing clothes and/or shoes is one in which it is easier to leave the stresses and minutia of 'regular life' behind. Golf is another example; when you switch to your golf shoes, you are able to leave your work self in the locker and really enjoy the sport.

It was an absolutely beautiful night... somewhat overcast, clear, cool (but not cold)... I could feel my stresses melt away as I engaged the starter and felt the rumble of the engine spring to life. A smooth twist of the throttle and I sped away into the evening.

I had absolutely no goal except to ride. The bike decided that it wanted to cruise through the foothills to the northeast. I obliged.There were moments of speed... a nice 60 MPH sprint up a mountain road, for instance... but I was equally happy going 25 through winding residential streets. The bike and I were one entity seeking the freedom of the road and the quiet solitude of the night.

At some point my internal compass shifted and I automatically gravitated toward home again. I pulled into the driveway, turned off the motor, and sat for a moment in the stillness. Words could not express the joy and peace that riding has brought to me. With a much lighter heart, I backed the bike into the garage and went in to the warmth of my home and family.

Rainy Commute

This morning as I pulled open the drapes while brushing my teeth, I noticed that it was indeed raining. The rain decided my wardrobe: Rev-It Cayenne Pro jacket and pants, Sidi Canyon boots, and my usual Held Phantom gloves. And I tried out my latest clothing purchase as well: a Rev-It Titan one-piece oversuit. Slipping on my C3 helmet completed the astronaut look: I was ready for take-off.

The bike handled excellently in the wet weather. And the windscreen kept most of the wind and rain off of me as I negotiated the 12 mile commute. I was definitely over-cautious in my riding; I kept my speed down and was particularly careful on turns. It was not cold enough to warrant turning on the heated grips, so that will have to wait for another day.

Riding in the rain was certainly an adventure. It became immediately obvious that the most important thing is to not be in a hurry. Everything -- from dressing to riding -- would just take a bit longer. Having appropriate riding gear made the difference between a wet and miserable ride and a warm and dry experience. One particular note: the wiper blade attached to the left forefinger of the Held gloves is a magnificent device!

I was passed at one point by a motorcycle cop. Seeing him out there 'in it' put my own excursion into perspective: it is his job to ride in this weather, whereas I would spend most of the day in a heated office building. They have certainly got my respect.

Every day is an adventure.

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Most Important Accessory

I've kept you all in suspense long enough. The most important accessory is probably not what you are thinking. It is simply: a bike for your significant other. That's right! A bike for them is the best accessory you can buy for you. I don't know of any better way to get a spouse interested in the sport of motorcycling than putting them on their own bike. It is quite hard to be critical when you can't wipe the grin off your own face.

I was lucky in that my own wife was due for one of those 'milestone' birthdays. She has the license already -- she has been riding a Vespa GTS-250 for about nine months now. I realized quickly that I had an opportunity to help her reach the next level. Diamonds might be forever, but picking out your own bike has got to be 100x more exciting than a trip to the jewelry store.

After a rather lengthy debate, she chose the Yamaha FZ6R. An 80HP, 600cc, relaxed sport bike (bars are upright, seat is lower). It had been very difficult to find a bike that she could fit well; she is after all only 5'2" tall. Most bikes with their 32"+ seat height and 500+ lbs can be rather intimidating. The FZ6R seems to be a perfect fit. The only other serious contender was a BMW F800ST -- and that was $4K more for not that much more bike.

So she gained a motorcycle, and I gained a riding partner. How's that for accessorizing?

Schuberth C3 Helmet

Forgive me, for I am about to gush...

I have owned an Arai Corsair RX-7 helmet for eight years. It has been a great helmet during that time -- perfect fit, excellent comfort, two visors (smoke and clear), and light weight. But as any helmet manufacturer will tell you, these things should be replaced every 5-7 years. Something about the protective foam breaking down over time, or profit margins or something. So in honor of my FJR, I decided it was time to replace the Arai.

I first looked at a new Arai. After getting over the shock of the increase in sticker to $800, I realized that it was not significantly different from my original. I also realized that I was very tired of changing shields over and over. It was a guarantee that whenever I wanted to ride, I had the wrong shield on. A flip-down sun visor would be awesome.

I was not looking for a modular (or flip-up) helmet at all. But it seems that with very few exceptions (like the HJC IS-16), getting the flip-down sun visor means getting a modular helmet. In reading all the reviews (special shout out goes to WebBikeWorld for their excellent helmet reviews), I realized that one helmet stood out above the rest: the Shuberth C3. The main downside: it isn't available in the United States.

I deliberated a ton on this one. Buying a helmet without being able to try it on is a Bad Idea. What if it doesn't fit? I don't want to have to return the thing across the pond. Argh. In the end, I decided to have my wife very carefully measure my skull and take my chances. A twice-checked measurement yielded a skullsize of 58.25cm. Schuberth's Large is for 58-59cm heads. I chose silver for high visibility and pressed the order button from Bikers Direct UK.

To my astonishment, the helmet -- ordered Thursday -- arrived on Monday! Score one for Biker's Direct. I pulled it carefully out of the cloth bag, and gingerly tried to put it on my head. And tried again. My eight-year-old helpfully suggests that maybe it would be a good helmet for her. Then I realized: it is a modular helmet. Lift the chin! And the helmet fit perfectly. Absolutely perfectly.

I had to ride in this morning on my naked 850. Slipping the C3 on, I sped off to work. My first impression was the panoramic view; it was like a theater buff experiencing IMAX for the first time. Huge visibility and crystal clear distortion-free visor. I flipped the switch on the left side to lower the sun visor, and did a virtual dance of happiness. Light and glare were instantly cut to manageable levels. All with the flick of a switch. The C3 also includes a Pinlock anti-fog insert. The entire ride I kept my face shield closed, and had zero fogging.

The second thing that I noticed as I eased up to 60MPH on the freeway was that I literally felt that I was already wearing earplugs. The helmet was so quiet it was actually eerie. I found myself in a state of calm as I negotiated the morning's traffic. I cannot overstate how quiet this helmet is.

So that's my tale. I hope it was helpful. And sure, the C3 is not endowed with the mystical DOT seal of approval, but I am willing to bet that the Europeans value their lives as much as us Americans.

Monday, March 2, 2009

Why Automatic Clutch?

Nearly every time a fellow motorcyclist finds out that I just purchased a brand new FJR-1300AE, the very next question is: "Why did you buy the automatic clutch version?" There are a few basic reasons for this:

Convenience. I live in Southern California; Los Angeles, to be clear. Land of millions of people traversing a finite and aging road system with limited public transport. Traffic. I like being able to control exactly what gear my bike is in at any given moment. I love not having to pull in a clutch to do it.

Perks. By choosing the "AE" model, I also gained heated grips and what is without a doubt the most gorgeous color combination Yamaha has produced for the FJR's. Critical? No. Cool? Yes.

Non-traditionalist. Coming from a cutting-edge scooter background (a later post will cover my past history of bikes), I am very much a non-traditionalist when it comes to two-wheeled transport. I like technology -- I've ridden numerous full-auto bikes, bikes with two wheels up front, bikes with storage where the tank usually is. I am not concerned with being different, and don't mind taking advantage of the latest developments.

To be clear, I would not have chosen the automatic clutch version of the FJR if it was associated with a torque-robbing CVT transmission or other performance hinderance. The FJR has five very real gears and never shifts for me. Just the way I like it.

I Love This Bike

This post is long overdue, but as you can imagine, it has been hard to find time to sit down and write; I have a brand new FJR afterall! As a teaser for my next post, I'll just say that I did not ride at all on Sunday -- I was busy purchasing the most important farkle you can get. More to come on that later.

Ergonomics. I have spent four months sitting on FJR's at various dealers. Seeing where the controls are, how comfortable is is to reach the bars, and imagining how it would be to be riding down the highway on one. You learn more in 30 seconds of actual riding than you can possibly learn in a lifetime of sitting on a static bike, though. I am delighted to say that in those first dynamic thirty seconds, I learned that the FJR is fantastically comfortable, and matches my personal ergonomics perfectly. For reference, I am a fairly average 5'11", 180lbs. My concerns before purchasing the bike had been largely whether or not I would be able to comfortably handle the weight (I had nightmares about dropping the bike at the dealer!). Would the bike be easy enough to back up and maneuver when parking? Again, my fears were instantly put to ease as I gained personal experience with the bike. I have no issues with the weight; I pull into the parking garage at work and back into the motorcycle zone without incident.

Performance. Holy crap. Even babying the rpm's for the break-in period, the bike pulls from any speed with a vengeance. The power is incredibly smooth, controlled, and vast in scope. The bike handles like a dream. It falls naturally into corners, holds a rock-solid line, and feels 150 lbs lighter in motion. Braking is solid and sure; I have yet to have to brake hard enough to engage the ABS -- again, trying to be careful during the break-in period -- but the bike has no qualms stopping on a dime. The nose does not dive very much even during aggressive braking; I think some of this may be due to the linked nature of the brakes.

Amenities. Between the up-front storage with 12V socket and the underseat storage (both rider and passenger), I have been able to store my Cardo Scala Rider pod, ear plugs, maps, Rok Straps, Cycle Pump, real tool roll (ditched the included one), manuals, and complete tire repair kit. Adding the side bags is pure luxury! At the moment I use them to store rain gear and my helmet while parked, and still have tons of room left over. The seats are very comfortable. My wife likes the grab rails that surround the pillion seat -- they stick up about 1.5", and provide just enough support that she doesn't feel like she is going to fly off the back of the bike. Heated grips are a wonderful luxury. The ability to pull the side cowlings out, drawing engine heat toward your legs is also a nice winter touch; close them and the heat is directed away. The adjustable windscreen is really nice; it isn't perfect -- at freeway speeds the highest position does not shut the wind completely off for me -- but it does a decent job of deflecting the elements under most circumstances.

Issues. The only issue I have had so far is that on occasion when accelerating from a dead stop, the autoclutch seems to engage/disengage a few times in a "chunk-chunk-chunk" manner, as if it is momentarily confused. Most of the time the clutch is completely smooth from takeoff. And I have no issues when shifting into other gears or downshifting. I will take it in and have the dealer look at it if the problem persists.

Conclusion. I am completely smitten by my FJR. It is a fantastic bike: powerful, comfortable, flickable, convenient, gorgeous, and economical.

Saturday, February 28, 2009

Photo Shoot

It is a gorgeous 80F day today in Southern California. I rode down to the dealer and had the Battery Tender leads installed, and then rode around the foothills for a while. When I arrived home, I pulled the bags off and took some beauty pics. Enjoy!

Friday, February 27, 2009

Taking Delivery

I took delivery of my FJR on Wednesday. I was hoping that I would be able to witness the complete assembly of the bike, but as it turned out it was assembled at the warehouse. I was able to take pics of the dealer prep.

My first impression was right as they pulled the bike off the truck: it is not black! The bike is actually a metallic charcoal color that is absolutely spectacular.

They wheeled the bike into the shop for dealer prep. They basically check the entire bike, fill it with fluids, make any adjustments, and attach all the extra bits. The dealer was terrific to work with (Pasadena Yamaha).

The side bags come in a separate box, and include a 3rd lock cylinder matched to the rest in the event that I get a top case later on. A set of soft bags are also included that fit inside the hard bags. A set of clear stickers gets attached to the parts of the bike that might get scratched due to the bags. The dealer spent about thirty minutes making sure that the stickers were perfectly placed. I love that kind of attention to detail.

I had them adjust the bars to their farthest back position. There are four possible positions. It is important to note that you have to loosen both sides before you can move them -- they are attached underneath by a common bracket.

I had them install a set of frame sliders. I've been told that just dropping the bike at a standstill could result in $2K in damages, so these seem like cheap insurance to me. Fortunately you don't have to cut into the fairing to install them -- they just bolt on.

And here is my FJR's first ride. I was both delighted to see it speed off, and also jealous that it was the mechanic and not me doing it. But my turn came soon after.

My next post will cover my first impressions on actually riding the beast!

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

It's FJR Day!

Today is the day! My FJR will be traveling from the warehouse to the dealer and I will get a call (hopefully soon) to come on down. My digital camera is ready, my riding gear is in the trunk of my car, and I am as excited as an eight-year-old on Christmas morning.

I admit to some trepidation. Until you twist the throttle for the first time, you really have no idea just how powerful the bike will be. It's like lighting the fuse on an explosive you cannot see, and hoping that you are standing far enough away.

My sense of excitement has vastly overtaken my fear. Today is the day that I officially begin my grand experiment: trading a perfectly good automobile for the motorcycle equivalent of a cruise missile. No more wimping out because a few drops of rain are falling from the sky. No more filtered climate control. But I gain the pure, concentrated joy that only being out in it all can bring.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Before I get things rolling, I want to give a shout-out to a forum that has helped me tremendously in the process of deciding on the FJR: I highly recommend this community -- there is a ton of well-organized information, and a very friendly and welcoming group of people.


Welcome to FJR Life -- a personal blog about living with a sport-touring motorcycle as the primary method of transportation. I take delivery of a brand new 2009 Yamaha FJR-1300AE tomorrow that will replace my Mazda RX-8 for all daily commuting and regular travel. Southern California is handy in that it offers a 12-month riding season. The downside is that all of this sunshine attracts a lot of people: traffic congestion is a fact of life.

In the coming posts, I will be covering such topics as why I chose the FJR, motorcycle gear, experiences commuting in LA, travel, pros/cons of giving up my car, family impact, and more.

So fasten your gear, secure your helmet, and join me as I begin the adventure.