30 September 2010 – RAT

Random thoughts for the week.

1. I’m printing the draft of the book to go to the editors this weekend. The odds are I’ll still make a ton of changes on my end, but if I don’t send it out for review I’ll keep screwing with it and adding stuff. It needs to get published.

2. I’m riding Sat and Sun early if anybody wants to go. Leaving the Ark at 0630. I’ve already started to rotate through the bikes. It’s not water-cooled desmo time yet, so the 2-valvers will get some seat time.

3. Good comments on my last post and the last post by Ken was well thought out. I called Ken to chat and we conversed about things Ducati. First, with regards to belt drive, like Dink, I’ve only seen one belt failure, and it was due to a seized roller rather than a bad belt. I’ve toured all over the US on belt drive Ducatis and have never had an issue. Belt drive, chain drive, gear drive – it doesn’t matter. There’s no such thing as a bulletproof motor, but I wouldn’t hesitate to tour on any of the three designs. Second, there’s no such thing as too much horsepower. The 1198 is stupid fast for the street, but so was the 998. When I say a bike has too much power, you’ll know I’m crazy. I’m guessing that 200 rwhp would be enough to crack my neck for me and save me a trip to the chiropractor, so I’m looking forward to that threshold in power. Third, the aftermarket will prevail eventually. Bazzaz’s new fix for the Streetfighter is a good example. It fixes the F/I issues on the bike, and took 2 years to get it to market. Just steer clear of the first year of any design and you should be able to purchase your “fix” when you purchase the bike. And if you say “my 90s era 900ss is idiot-proof and didn’t have issues”, think again. I’ve spent WAY more on my ’92 900ss to make it “right” than I ever spent on new Ducatis to make them “right”. Plus I spent about several hours this week trying to coach Seth through how to start his M900 with the new flatslides. That’s more time than I’ve ever spent trying to coach somebody on how to start a fuel-injected bike.  In terms of technology that you don’t want, I hear you. I don’t want traction control, fly by wire or ABS for that matter, but they’re here to stay. If enough people hate the stuff, the aftermarket will provide a cure. It always does.

4. The weather has been gorgeous and I’m looking forward to the Fall Rally. I have no idea who plans on attending, but I will need a show of hands for the food. I’ll be getting barbeque based on headcount.

5. My venerable 2000 ST2 has been purchased by a good customer in Vancouver. After 9 years of ownership it’s time to let somebody else ride it. I’m only really itching to sell 2 more bikes — the Gran Canyon and the ’98 ST2. I’ll be riding both of them this fall to the branch campus when I teach there. That’s what sport tourers are for I suppose.

6. A few new products enter the fold next week. I stumbled across some bling billet grips that are similar to the pricey ones from Rizoma at about 60% of the cost.

7. I scored a NEXX Xr1R Carbon helmet to test for MCN. It’s supposedly the lightest full-face helmet on the market, weighing in a few ounces shy of 3 pounds. It’s damn light. I asked for a tinted shield too but that didn’t arrive yet. I don’t do the sunglasses inside the visor thing anymore, so testing the helmet will have to wait until the tinted shield arrives.


26 September 2010 – My Next Ducati (Ken)

I have been hesitant to jump into the discussions of the upcoming superbike because there is much in me that doesn’t figure this line of motorcycles, which now include the multistrada, into my personal fleet. I’ve mentioned previously that my 2007 999S was traded for a 2006 Paul Smart and I really can’t be much happier with that exchange. I’m familiar with the engine, have the tools already at hand, and the bike is content to sit as art for long stretches without worry about the coolant congealing or other gremlins popping up (the ECU being upside down and sitting below the battery on the left side of my 999S caused me no amount of cursing – who thinks this is a good place to put this stuff?).

I’ve been interested in the development of the next model superbike more out of curiosity than anything else; however, there might be some design elements that will pull me back into a showroom if certain conditions are met.

1. The absence of a traditional frame and the engine used as a stressed member could make maintenance much easier if someone on the design team keeps easy access to the valvetrain in mind.

2. Rotating the engine backward to gain addition clearance for the front wheel while moving the remaining rotating mass further forward for better weighting of the suspension might mean split radiators (like the RC-51) and further expose the parts of the motorcycle that require the most maintenance.

3. Gear or chain-driven camshafts will most likely become part of the crankcase oiling system, so the belt covers of today will most likely give way to more utilitarian systems. My personal choice would be gear-driven, but as these do give a certain amount of “whine” they might not be selected despite their superior timing accuracy (chains are great, but tension to hold them steady creates a wear item and it is one more thing to fail).

4. Protected electronics that include multiple O2 sensors and other miracles of the modern world that can give real performance without sacrificing the need to pass emissions are not beyond the reach of motorcycle manufacturers. BMW’s S1000RR is a monster right out of the box, and you don’t usually hear of BMW riders having to get a bunch of work done on their bikes to make them behave after purchase. The “Harley Tax” of yesterday has become the “Ducati Tax” of today and it needs to stop.

5. The lack of a traditional frame could make for revolutionary ergonomics on a motorcycle of this type. With the weight of the bike naturally over the front wheel, the need to place the rider into a “falling forward” riding position is unnecessary for all but the most extreme homogenization “R” models. The ability to ride more comfortably would surely have the bike racking up more miles, while also increasing the safety of riders who are less fatigued while riding what more resembles a motorcycle and less resembles a torture rack.

6. Displacement need not be the defining factor of this motorcycle beyond that required for homogenization. Extremely light weight, both scale weight and perceived weight, could be Ducati’s new mantra across the product line. Produce a motorcycle that drops ten or fifteen pounds from the previous model, a massive amount in today’s competitive brands, and power need not be increased to push this motorcycle far beyond its competition.

7. Continuous improvement should be Ducati’s promise to its customers. While I’m sure we’ll see at least a minor improvement in the engine as this next model goes into production, if only from the raising of piston speeds on a production motorcycle from the more accurate timing of chain or gear-driven camshafts, it seems that refinement of existing production, as seen by the EVO-badged motorcycles, ends up giving the consumer more for less as the current line continues, and should be the model that the brand continues to follow.

8. Accessories that increase the utility of motorcycles across the brand. With the economy sitting where it is, it might seem a joke to suggest a superbike that is capable of mounting side cases, but what better way to justify the purchase a new Ducati than being able to justify the utility during the week beyond wearing a backpack or a tank bag? The same should go for the Monster, Hypermotard, and existing Superbikes. There are enough companies out there making extremely good easily removable hard luggage that Ducati giving all of five minutes thought to mounting it (aftermarket of course) could bump sales of bikes and accessories to very respectful levels. Consider it sacrilege if you will, but I’m positive that more than one person lusting over a Ducati bought a BMW instead because it could mount side cases.

As always, your mileage may vary.


22 September 2010 – A Good Day for Ducati

Above- Stoner’s Post Victory Wheelie in Aragon

I enjoyed watching the Aragon race from this past weekend.  I knew the results ahead of time and kept waiting for Hayden to pass Lorenzo. I can’t believe he made such a gutsy move and secured a podium on the last part of the last lap. I guess he got tired of finishing off the rostrum. I wish Rossi was healed enough to compete with the front-runners but I’m sure he’ll be good to go by next year. In the meantime, it was just nice to see Ducati finish 1st and 3rd in a MotoGP race. Speculation is whether Rossi will pack it in early this year to get his shoulder surgery. It’s obvious that it isn’t getting any better, and he looks bored with only being able to finish in the top 6.

Above: Ducati’s patent for a frameless Superbike

The last time Ducati came out with a Superbike the expectation was that the bike would be revolutionary. Actually the hope was that the 1098 would lose the visual cues inherent in the 999. Ducati achieved that, but the bike was hardly revolutionary. The traction control was a nice addition and the EVO engine was better, but the rest of the bike just picked up on old designs – such as the single-sided swingarm (albeit a better one), and undertail exhaust. I think the 1098 looks good, but it isn’t as beautiful as the 916 or as revolutionary in terms of design compared to the 999. I think the next one will be revolutionary, if only in terms of motor/frame architecture. The frame is a pain in the ass from a maintenance standpoint anyway, so I won’t shed a tear over its departure. Whether the new motor has a cam chain in lieu of belts doesn’t matter to me. I just want to know how easy it will be to shuck the skin for maintenance, how cool-looking the bodywork will be, how much it will weigh, and how it runs out of the box.  The 1098 is already amazingly light, but the lack of a a frame should save an additional 10 pounds. Any new Superbike will have multiple ECUs like the MTS1200, have different map settings, run hopelessly lean, and be tempermental for the first year or so until the factory finds fixes for poor running conditions. If the bike is cool I’ll get one provided the motor is decidedly different, but I’ll wait for an “R” next time and won’t buy a new one. That means at least 3-4 years for another Superbike. Heck, maybe by then the economy will be a bit better and a 40K R-spec superbike won’t seem so expensive. Yeah, right.

I finished another 2 chapters worth of pictures. Only 2 chapters remain. I should finish just in time to start wheeling out the bikes for the upcoming riding season. The M900 and 1000SS will be the first torpedos out of the tubes.


18 September 2010 – Perspective (billg)

This past weekend I had to take a ride up to Athens, Ga to have the tank on my S2R1000 inspected for the dreaded expansion problem. I thought I had dodged that bullet, but that was not to be. While everything was fine during my last valve adjustment and the installation of the new Exact Fit belts LT is selling, I was having some issue with restarting the bike in warm weather. So with some adjustments to the air bleeds and the fuel trim, everything was back in order…. until I tried to lower the tank back down.  It was not the same tank it was a few days earlier. I could barely latch it and the right side rubber baby bumper that sits on the frame was half the distance outboard of the frame rail.

I contacted NPR Ducati and set up a visit to have it inspected and photographed for replacement.  Under EPA regs, Ducati has to make good on the expanding tank issue, even outside the “unlimited” two year warranty. The tank issue is alive and well even for some StreetFighter owners. So far nothing with my SF-S is showing signs, but that is no comfort to the list of bikes that fall under the same tank specs.

With all that said, this is not a post about negative comments on the situation. There is nothing I can do about it, so I’m not wasting emotions on it. Rather this is a post about perspective. And you gain perspective by comparison. In this case the perspective is in how three different bikes bring something different to the table in terms of  ride and power delivery.

For the past two weeks I had been riding the Hyper to work. A well suited bike for short commutes. Very agile and almost too responsive. This may be a case of when you ride something else and you jump on the Hyper, you bring with it all the memories of that former bike. The high vantage point seating is an advantage over traffic except for the damned SUVs. The pegs take some getting use to being they are of the dragon toothed dirt bike sort. I don’t have the plastic inserts, so maybe that makes them more agreeable. I would rather have street pegs all things considered. The motor is gagged and needs to be opened up by dropping the Cat. Apart from that, a flatter more pan like seat would be a must.

So after two weeks of riding the Hyper, I felt that I was ignoring the StreetFighter too much and took it to work on Thursday. What a wake up call! I did not realize the rearsets on the SF were so sporty. I just know they are more relaxed than my S2R. The motors of the Hyper and the SF could not be any more different. It’s no wonder why I took the Monster up to North Carolina. I was not done tuning the SF, and I imagined the Monster would be more enjoyable on the slow twisty roads. The SF needs more open roads.  The SF enjoys speeds in excess. I’ve ridden the SF to Athens as well. On the gentle sweeping roads from North of Macon, it is a joy. The state roads offer many opportunities for passing and getting the SF from light cruising at 70mph to passing in the triple digits, only takes the time to lean it out across the dashed yellow lines as you give the throttle a twist. For some reason the throttle seems connected to the smile muscles. Each time you twist, your grin grows exponentially. The biggest trouble with the SF is restraint. It took a good bit of time to grow conscious of what speed you were at. It feels slower than what the speedo is telling you. I imagine the same is the case for any of the super bike class bikes.

While I have only put about 300 miles on the Hyper and about 8000 on the StreetFighter the mileage winner is the Monster with 20,000. By far it is the bike my mind is more wrapped around. Lots of hours, lots of tires, lots of gas, and lots of road have been shared on the black beauty. While long rides such as to Athens and back means eight hours on the bike, it is the fact that spending a long day on any ride will reward you with feedback. Feedback from your body on what hurts. Feedback on how the suspension is at hundreds of turns. Feedback that you can’t buy from a magazine or even a silly post from some guy on a bulletin board talking about “Perspective”.

Perspective is like dirty water. Your first look into the water and everything is murky. You think you see things but until the dust settles, your imagination is making you think things that may not be there. And when the muck has settled to the bottom and you finally see what’s on the bottom, you are rewarded with knowledge, experience, confidence and hopefully satisfaction.  Perspective is also something personal. We listen to others’ perspectives on a daily basis. We put weight into what others say. We also ‘dis those who we disagree with.  My perspective on perspectives is that you have to leave yourself open to adapting, changing and reevaluating your perspective and to the perspectives people espouse. So while I talk about three different bikes, I cannot say which is best. I can only say that each bike offers perspective on the others.

13 September 2010 – The Late Summer Mountain Trip (Mark)

LT couldn’t join us so I mainly write this brief narrative to share with him, anyone else that reads it can enjoy as well. Just click on any of the pictures for a larger view.  Nine of us met up in Blue Ridge, Georgia for 5 days/4 nights of riding adventures. I rented an extremely nice cabin (yes, we all agreed!) for us up at the top of a hill in Mineral Bluff, Georgia which is just north of Blue Ridge. It was a three story affair with 3 master bedrooms and slept the nine of us comfortably. I honestly never felt cramped. It had everything from breathtaking views to a game room complete with pool table…which Brad got schooled on by Hal. 😉

Thursday was mainly a travel day and Brad, John, Hal and I traveled together via my truck and Brad’s motorcycle trailer.

Thursday afternoon’s arrival ride was a nice trip to dinner in town nearby. Friday morning we were up and out fairly early. Unfortunately for my brother, he crossed some rough railroad tracks with some speed, bottomed out his 999S and cracked open the oil screen housing on the bottom of his engine. The dry sump paid off as we didn’t stop until about 15 minutes later at a fuel stop and discovered the Ducati draining oil at an alarming rate. Dead right there.
I gave him a ride back to the cabin (an hour away) to drop him off so he could complete his rescue with his truck and trailer. His day was over but fortunately he had his Buell Ulysses with him as well so the weekend wasn’t a wash. I sped up to Deal’s Gap and met up with the boys for lunch. Tasty! Daryl, Bud and Hal did a Gap run prior to my arrival so after lunch we all just headed out Southbound and down.

Saturday my brother, Hal, Daryl and Bud headed out on our own. A very twisty day was had and all were victorious and quite proud of our individual heroics. So much so that we feasted in Franklin at the Motorcity Grill.

Saturday was a day for my brother and I to visit relatives in Maggie Valley so we headed out on our own for a grand adventure. We even hit Deal’s Gap late in the day on our return for a dinner with everyone. We each saluted the gap in our own unique way…

12 September 2010 – … for the benefit of science.

I’ve been busy taking pictures to replace the place markers I left when I wrote the draft of the book. This past week I knocked out another 2 chapter’s worth of pictures, including the Clutch and Electrics chapter. I was dreading the Electrics chapter because I needed to tear into the M1100 so that I could take a picture of the Siemens ECU. Actually, truth be told, having access to the Siemens ECU is the reason I bought the M1100s. I’ve used more flimsy excuses before to purchase bikes. I bought the carbon bodywork for my Mh900e before I ever bought the bike, then had to purchase the bike so that I would have something to mount the bodywork on. The Siemens ECU is beefy. It’s about  three times the size of the Marelli 5.9 ECU and is almost the same dimensions of the old Marelli 15m, which probably means nothing to any of you.

If the M1100 was like earlier Monsters, it would have been a simple matter to remove the seat and tilt the tank up on it’s hinge. But noooooooooooo… Ducati decided that was too simple. Now you have to remove at least 20 fasteners to pull the tank side panels, and then the tank mounting screws. To do a valve adjust, the only troublesome  valve is the horozontal intake. To get at that, the oil cooler and shroud have to be moved out of the way. In the end, it took over an hour just to get one picture taken for the book, but it had to be done for the benefit of science. On a positive note, you don’t have to pull the shock on the M1100 to do the vertical exhaust valve. I don’t know about the M696, but because it has a double-sided swingarm, I’m guessing the shock is in the way.  These valve adjust worries have been dissipating anyway. Ducati has used improved metalurgy to extend the length of valve adjusts and the settings from the factory are pretty damn good.

I was contacted to help prototype a new part for the Ducati aftermarket, and I’m going to participate. I can’t mention the part for fear of the cloning companies taking note. We’ll probably have about 6-9 months of a competitive advantage with the product before the Chinese clone it and begin selling it on ebay. At least we’ll be the poineers of the product. It’s one of those products where you slap yourself in the forehead and utter “why didn’t I think of that”.

Next week I’ll continue to plug away on the book. I’m not setting a target date, but should have the draft out to my editors by the end of the month.

The next DD will review the motor and frameless architecture of the next generation of Ducati Superbike.


6 September 2010 – The M1100s

The past few mornings the heat hasn’t been present. In fact, Saturday night it actually went down to 66 degrees, so I prepped the M1100s and wheeled it out for an early morning ride yesterday. I haven’t ridden since late May, so it was nice to twist a grip in anger. The M1100 won’t win any beauty awards. I think it’s cool looking, but I wouldn’t go so far as to say it’s nearly as good looking as my ’96 M900. I haven’t measured, but it sure feels a lot wider than the previous generation of Monster. What it lacks in beauty it makes up for in functionality. It’s an incredible machine. The suspension and frame give great feedback that entice a rider to strafe any corner without fear of weird things happening. I did a blitz run of Blackwater, and other than a doe deciding to cross the road in front of me, the ride was relaxing and uneventful. It takes a special bike to be able to go at warp speeds yet emit a yawn from my throat. I don’t know why anybody would need more power. It’s got gobs of grunt for corner exits and roll-on power is substantial. And I don’t think I need to say anything else about the elegance of the Desmodue architecture. I was having some starting difficulties with the M1100s, but after removing the charcoal cannister, they seem to have gone away. I think the M1100 is also sensitive to air bleed setup. Comparing it to the Streetfighter would be an interesting head-to-head. I’d give engine and looks to the streetfighter. I’d give everything else to the M1100. Another thing I’m noticing on the newer Ducatis is that I have to change out fewer parts to make the bike “right”. Other than slip-ons, rearsets and my usual clutch mods, the bike is pretty much ready to rock and roll. Of course, there’s the usual crap stock seat, but the aftermarket takes care of that. I’m still amazed that manufacturers can put so much technology into the bikes and such little thought into the seat. Of course, what would Corbin and Sargent do without crappy stock seats?

I saw the MotoGP finishing order, took note, and little else. I was surprised to see Haga’s result in the 2nd WSB. I need to download that race and see how he managed to ride that well. I’m still disappointed at no factory WSB for next year.

It’s been a good weekend. We stayed away from crowds, had a good time and enjoyed the holiday. I hope you did as well.


2 September 2010 – Fall Italian Bike Rally

There isn’t much to report. The boys are heading to the mountains for some riding, and I’ll be here enjoying a quiet weekend in Pcola. I was looking at heading to a B&B for a night, but this isn’t the weekend to be doing any last minute looking for a getaway. Everything is booked.

I’m going to host a Fall Italian Bike Rally on the 23/24th of Oct. The event is open to all brands of Italian bikes. Heck, I don’t care if it’s a Euro bike. I like Triumphs and BMWs as well. The previous weekend I’ll be in the mountains and the following weekend is Halloween. November is already booked up for me, so that’s the only weekend I can do it. I’ll have a bar-b-que on Sat afternoon and rides Sat and Sunday morning.  While there will a lot of bike gawking, I’m not planning any bike show. I just want to enjoy the weekend and not be tied to a long list of events. I’ll put up a webpage with the details in the coming weeks. If you can make it fine, if not, I may have one in the Spring. No maintenance seminars this Fall. I’ll contact Dink to see if he wants to participate in the Rally. He’ll probably be tied up at the shop on Sat but maybe he can join us on the Sunday ride.

Bill, did I read that right you bought a Hyper? Details details pls.

That’s it for the coming weekend. Enjoy your Labor Day. I’m looking forward to mine.