Will JWD look this clean, neat and matching on his return ? I think a before and after comparison will be in order.
Will JWD look this clean, neat and matching on his return ? I think a before and after comparison will be in order.
There is a weird process that you go through with a brand new bike which is very similar do you want to go through with a second hand bike but slightly different because it’s an unproven quantity.
Well, a couple of days ago I took Ginko, my Africa Twin, out on what I would consider to be her first real ride and I was mightily impressed. You might be thinking ‘oh, he’s been waiting ages for this bloody thing, of course he’s going to love it’.
No. I was expecting some kind of slightly more refined thumper that does everything kinda okay, but what I got is something that is pretty darn incredible for 95% of people who will throw their leg over it. I know a few people who can ride a sports bike until it’s pegs are ground to dust and a lot of people who can whip a 40ft motorcross double and I’m not talking about them. They’re the very ends of the bell curve who need a precision tool but for pretty much everyone else, this bike will rule every scenario.
Uncovering her, turning round, and rolling off the deck into the garden, I wiggle past the gate into the alley and click the key. The dash lights up displays CRF (just in case you forgot you were riding Hondas primo off road tool). At this point I always get a little thrill from the fuel pump making that weeeeezt noise, then something slightly more unusual happens. The bike clunks the gearbox into neutral. Then I pause and press the other end of the engine kill switch and she’s instantly alive and at a slow idle. With a flick of the throttle an aural treat in the form of a deep v-twin growl meets you. Also odd because the engine has no letters in its configuration.
Once aboard, the stand up you press the gear selector twice, to engage sport2, and the gearbox responds with the normal clunk you’d get from a conventional bike and it very gently rocks forward. With a positive throttle input you are quickly away and bumbling along in second gear before you have even noticed the cats ambling with heads cocked to the weird intrusion on their battlefield. At the end of the alley a slight rise meets the road with a blind view to the pavement. Here you don’t even think as the bike senses your trepidation and slightly firmly engages first gear and you slow to an uphill stop. It’s useful, I think, to point out the subtle nuances of the bike’s brain. I suspect the Honda engineers spent months, years even, not on the blindingly quick headline “it shifts like a formula one car” but rather the delicate situations like gently slowing down uphill and pulling out from an alley with nursery school murals enlivening the walls.
I flip my dark visor down and firmly grab some throttle, sweeping confidently into the yellow morning light. This process, I quickly learned, needs to be positive because with such a tall bike you don’t want the gearbox to be at all hesitant and bleed off power.
Montreal, I’ve said before, has some of the worst paved roads of any city I have traveled over. Yeah, I’ve lived in Switzerland but I’m talking more on the third world end of the scale of pavement. This in itself would be the perfect excuse to own a bike with competition level off-road suspension, but for me it’s just a welcome symptom of the situation. In another world I would have bought a Panagali or a VFR and I’m sure glad I didn’t. Like any vehicle here it would just get ruined.
Through the empty 6am streets there is just that blissful smug feeling of being awake to appreciate the quiet as the bike gently moves from light to light. The real thing I miss, to be honest is being able to make vroom vroom noises with the throttle. I tried when I got the bike, by selecting neutral whilst rolling to a stop, but she (the bike) just made me look like a 16 year old trying to wheelie a 50cc scooter. The gearbox really doesn’t want you to be in neutral whilst moving.
When I bore of bumbling from light to light I press the little manual bottom and, instead entertain myself with the deeply satisfying noises of the two 500cc pistons on overrun. To non car nerds that’s when you decelerate whilst in gear, that very low noise trucks make when slowing down. Satisfying.
Accelerate press + button, press – button; irritate everyone.
Then comes the magic part of owning any bike past 20HP. Onramps! The Africa Twin has a lot of torque, the advantage of having two large pistons, which one can make full use of on the lead up to a highway. Unless you have owned a bike, or a very fast car, you’ll not know the pleasure of passing motorway speed traffic in such a short distance. The great thing is, with the silicone brained gearbox, you just pin the throttle and the bike decides how many gears to drop then you’re away. At quite some speed.
The rest of the highway experience is fairly conventional. Comfortable, fast overtakes and the ability to cruise at an easy 150km/h (or just under a hundred for you metrically challenged out there). There is some buzz through the bars compared to my VFR800 and the ‘screen is juuuust a tad low for my 5’11” (in cubans) frame. This means adopting a cruiser style slouch for long stints to prevent head buffeting from turbulence. I’m yet to see what fuel consumption really is because of random usage (read: Jason using way too much throttle at very inefficient times) and, of course, the tightness of a new engine.
This, I suppose, I will have a lot to say about in a month’s time but for now all I can tell you is that the bike feels very light when on the pegs, compared to when hefting it around with the engine off. On her second day I decided to forego the usual preening that happens with a new possession and just give her the dirt. I found a gravel road and gave her the beans, covering the poor thing in a layer of fine dust. The traction control really doesn’t like being on III when on the loose and makes the engine sound like a stuttering oaf trying to say ‘dominos’. The weirdest thing is seeing the ‘Navigation Tower’ (the bit with the instruments and screen on it) yawing back and forth as the rear wheel slews around and the front wheel points where you’re going. After that I ventured out onto some ATV trails and got very muddy. The stock tyres are really quite scary when in the gloop and you really remember you’re aboard a 220kg 1000cc bike when it lunges to the side and you try and dab it upright. In doing this one also encounters the passenger footrests; with your calf muscle. The things stick out a huge amount and now I have a large bruise on my leg. I would have taken them off, except they provide a very good sticky outtie bit at the back for the foregone topple.
Sand is a similar story to the mud. On Scotch Road, about 30min West of Montreal there is a great sandy playground. I powered into it, got on an off-camber part and stopped. Then tried to continue and the tyres refused to provide any traction so I did what any self respecting nerd would do and got off to take a photo.
Now exiting a pretty rough road on to one of the finest pieces of twisty back road around here is a weird experience on this machine. One moment you’re whooping through dirt troughs and sliding around gravel corners and the next you seem to be on some kind of street carving monster with such fantastic power delivery that the grin never ceases. I know a lot of people complain about the suspension on the road, but to me it provides the perfect platform for rough back roads. I’m never scared about bottoming the suspension on a fast corner and being high-sided off. That in combination with the DCT gearbox thrusting you out of corners and downshifting aggressively for thight bends as you brake makes for a special back-roads carver. I doubt if a litre sports bike would gain much ground.
One thing I’m really not used to is having such an advanced computer on the bike. It basically has an odometer and two trip computers. The trips are connected to separate MPG readers that show the MPG over the period of the current trip until you reset it. I am keeping one as a kind of fuel meter at the moment and the other for more specific trip related stuff, when I have a specific destination that is. Both these are re-setable by holding the ‘SET’ button clustered in the myriad buttons on the left. I have found that, on occasion, I have been randomly flashing people with the lights rather than cycling up the computer’s functions because the buttons for the high beam are very closely located.
There is also a curious countdown odometer Honda call ‘subtraction trip’ which is a bit of a pain to set. presumably it is a service countdown?
The ‘SET’ function cycles through the clock, weird countdown odometer, whether you want an immobiliser light flashing, units (km/h, mph etc) and really irritatingly. the brightness of the display. I like it to match the GPS so tend to fiddle with this whilst riding. To do that you have to press the ‘SET’ and ‘DOWN’ buttons simultaneously, which is possible but a chore.
Returning home to the alley I scrape open the rear gate and ride Ginko up the 10″ step to the deck. Sometimes it feels like I’m going to go right through the window into the kitchen but she settles, I kick the stand down rest her for the night.
It’s a great, great bike. I put her cover on whilst thinking I wish I had the income to treat her as a raucous plaything that I could ride like I stole. But I paid what is, to me, an awful lot of money so it will take a bit of time until the responsibility of that massive purchase tarnishes enough for me to treat her like the beast she really is. We’ll see on the TAT?
The problem with motorbikes is you can’t really drink a latte whilst driving with your knees and texting with the other hand. This general problem is exacerbated by the issue of navigation. It’s all very well sticking your phone in some cheap cradle and jabbing at it between glances up at the irritating cyclist chicane in a car but on a motorcycle you have gloves on and, of course, that $10 mount that keeps falling off the windscreen would be fatal to your device on a motorbike.
Of course Touratech make an amazing solution. Think of a motorbike problem and the inventive Germans have already come up with a shining (stainless steel) doodad that does the job perfectly. Fine for the empty nesters with a savings plan and a house load of cash but I’m not really prepared to spend the same amount of cash on a bracket as the actual magic compass.
In steps my great mate Adam. The man who can make art of marshmallow sticks and hew a very convincing Dread Pirate Roberts sword from some scrap aluminium. In the usual ‘men standing around motorcycle drinking beer’ moment Adam figures a solution and the next day a custom Honda Africa Twin Garmin 695LM bracket is on Ginko, after a little light hacksawing of screws. I just
hope that sword isn’t a couple of inches shy of some aluminium! The great thing about the solution is the GPS is pretty much on the same plane as the bike instruments, not jutting out like some giant technological carbuncle or, as Garmin would have, attached to my non-existent clutch lever hovering in the air on a RAM mount.
The other great problem was the bloody massive nest of cables that is on the back of the Garmin mount. I reckon the target market must be those massive Harleys with the HUUUUGE fairings because there was literally two meters of wire and connectors for speakers, microphone, power and a USB connection for the XM radio receiver that I intended to keep. All that was neatly entombed in a rubbery casket at the end of this massive cable. Out came the scalpel and hacking away at the block I went, eventually separating all the tiny hand soldered joints contained within. That was quite some job, but I wasn’t in the humour to re-join all those cables and I wanted to keep the USB length because I planned on putting the XM antenna on the back of Ginko, away from the GPS, so really needed that extra cable length. All the other cables I beheaded because I don’t plan on blasting Purple Rain from my Harley’s external speakers for the world to enjoy. Why do they do that?
I wanted to wire the GPS and the USB socket up to the original accessories socket behind the front fairing. This meant buying a special connector from the excellently named Eastern Beaver in Japan and disrobing Ginko of her front plastics. After which I jammed everything in there and hope like hell that none of the fuses blow because getting the fairing back on is some kind of Japanese logic puzzle that I don’t really want to have a go at in the middle of the desert!
It all seems to work well, but in retrospect I wouldn’t get the Oxford USB socket for the Africa Twin because the cap is a pain in the ass to remove and it really is not at all waterproof when the cap is off. In fact it will probably fill up with water and short out the whole proceedings, leaving me to fend off banjo wielding pig fetishists.
You know when you’re just into your work on a Monday morning? You’ve looked at all the crappy email and stupid Facebook posts then work tasks and juuuust started past the procrastination? Yeah, I was there and my phone rings. Well.. last week my friend Pierre pranked me on the phone by trying to make out he was the dealership and the bike was here. But this time it was the dealer.
The work I needed to do seemed to take a solar cycle, then I got hold of my boots, jacket and helmet and headed to the bank for the giant cheque; walking down the street like a vagrant in flip-flops trying to hold a really awkward, heavy leather jacket over one arm and a backpack, boots in a crappy plastic bag and a helmet in the other.
The bank queue was… … have you seen the situation in Zimbabwe with lines for US Dollars going from the town to the bush? Then I stumble out the bank clutching all this crap and try to hail a cab. I hate taxis. Nearly as much as waiting to pay at restaurants. For some reason the whole interaction really irritates me. Uber is so much of a better service.
I get to Excel Moto was shown the giant box, introduced to the charming, professional, charismatic and incredibly tolerant of idiot customers who want their toys, Franklyn, the chief wrench. Why do they call them ‘techs’ in the ‘States? They aren’t ‘technicians’ they are mechanics. I have to apologise to poor Frank because I asked him about himself then got totally distracted when we approached the box and started ignoring him!
The video serves the story, but the TL:DR is:
Opened box, removed frame, forklifted bike to workshop, lifted bike with winch on ceiling, fitted front fender and wheel, fitted screen, laughed about ridiculously small tool set, fitted stupidly difficult to install battery, filled with fuel and started. With glee.
I handed the cheque over, did the paperwork and Ali l asked me if there was anything I didn’t know about the bike as that was normally the point where he would brief customers about the bike. The man knew by then what a total nerd he was dealing with. A nerd who had already read a scanned version of the manual online. I slung my gear on, pushed Ginko out, fired her up and wobbled off whilst trying to work out what the computer was doing with the clutch.
Karma is a funny thing. I emailed the dealer wanting to know if my lovely new bike was going to come at the end of the month or the end of the summer. Nothing. Not a word. So I get all paranoid and start looking at the classified ads on Kijiji. Continue reading I nearly bought a BMW
Having passed the, really quite difficult snd stressful, theory test a few weeks ago I got to hang around in a car park of a government facility with a gaggle (what is the collective noun for motorcyclists?) of downy feathered noob ducklings and their instructors. Truth be told, a fair few of these blokes ain’t that green because a few of them have been riding around on their new toys already. Naughty! I felt a bit of a fraud in my fly encrusted Dainese leather jacket and battered Sidi boots whilst they had all this shiny new kit on.
Anyhow, after grabbing the necessary paperwork the first confusion started “Where is your attestation from the riding school that you have taken the course?”; I didn’t need it… paperwork… bureaucracy.. etc.
Sooo… the ‘Closed Track Test’ consists of testing basic motorbike skills with seven tasks and is introduced by a lovely examiner who, after wheeling various sensors around and setting up, the proceed to describe each task at great length with hilarious anecdotes. None of which I understood because of his incredible accent. Oh and because I can’t understand a word of Quebecois.
Despite getting there 20 minutes early, due to the whole missing attestation thing I ended up almost last to hop on the weird belt driven 650cc cruiser that the very lovely Morties Driving School rented me. Actually, thinking of it… $110 is the most I have spent on a ride that lasted less than five minutes. The money, for Morty, is really in having four brand new bikes and an instructor hanging around all morning. You can use your own bike, but you’d have to ride it there and that would be illegal; not that I have a bloody bike yet, nor any idea when it will arrive. How come I can buy a pair of earbuds from China for $4.99 and get notified if the package handler in the Chicago depot farts but no-one at Honda Canada knows where the massive box containing my hugely expensive motorbike is?
Back to the tasks… On the weird cruiser thing, have a go with the clutch; brakes seem nippy and scoot off to your man toting the clipboard and massive control box with the aerial. He could have been a crane operator in another life. Seemingly cool with me not understanding a word, he repeats what seemed like very verbose French instructions in curt friendly English.
“Second gear and stop by the red” – Off we go through the little flappy tabs glued to the asphalt, second gear and stop.
Scribble scribble “Now slalom! Second gear by the yellow tabs then slalom” says examiner man. Second gear left right left then back to the start down the middle.
“Now slow test!” The idea here is you go through these sensors that measure in, out and time in the special zone. I must say; cruisers are weird. Having your feet in front of you really doesn’t do balance any good. Hence why the theory test had so many questions about counterbalancing. So you ride up to the sensors, lower your speed and have to ride between two points in five seconds or longer.
“Go round here and come back” – A mildly tight 90º corner and back to the same spot.
“So now round in a fast circle.” – Just imagine riding round the perimeter of a tennis court in second gear. That’s what I did.
“20km/h look at the arrow… go that way”. He points to a light box at the end that looks like this [<-O->]. When you have reached 20km/h the arrow left or right arrow lights up randomly. You go that way. One of my compatriots went the opposite way and he was still fine.
“Same thing as before; now stop when it’s red!” He nods, I do the strangely alien (as there is nothing for tens of meters around us) check left, right, left drummed into us by Mortie’s instructors and set off to my 20km/h and slam on the anchors.
Mr 80s electronics then cheerfully tells me I aced it and that “You’ll pass the road test no problem” and sends me off with a pink paperclip fastened bundle of papers where I negotiate the multitude of weird foreigners attempting to get Quebec driving legal in the SAAQ hall of red LED hieroglyphics displays.
Two hours later, after waiting ages then chatted to by a lovely teller who was very apologetic, I leave lighter of wallet, mildly confused with another test booked for a week’s time.
I suppose, at least I get to miss all this BS…
Update: here’s a video showing the whole thing
Quebec has really shit roads. Worse could be had when we went to visit my Dad on base in Mom’s MG-B, but that’s because every time we saw a pot-hole we thought we were literally going to die. Landmines do that to you. Rhodesian Army had a vehicle called a Pookie, which was a great testament to our engineering brilliance, but I digress. Quebec has worse roads than most third world countries I have been in. So why would you ride anything other than an off road bike?
There has always been something in me that needs a motorbike and because of the these reasons I chose the Africa Twin: Continue reading Africa Twin
There are a few bikes that all the nerds that occupy the myriad of web forums agree on, bikes that are known by most experienced motorcyclists as dependable and well engineered. The VFR800F is one. Yeah it might have a bit of a 90s look to it (which I love), but the engine is based on an incredibly well engineered endurance bike with gears driving the camshafts. Gears! Most cars have some kind of elastic band driving the uneven rods that spin half the speed of the engine. Not the ‘F’. You get metal meshing gears.
In all my time owning and being a total brain sponge nerd about various VFRs I have never heard of an engine failure. Awesome. Then Honda stuck a chain in there. Aah well. Better than a rubber band I suppose. Continue reading Interceptor