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.