Category Archives: sportbikes

Crazy (in a good way) Bikers and Chili Peppers

Today is a heavy traffic day. And it’s hot… And there are a lot more trucks than usual. And did I mention the temperature? But every time I think it’s too hot to wear a jacket or too difficult riding a sportbike I think of this guy… See video.

There’s another guy, Nick Sanders, who’s going around the world (for the 7th time!) on a motorcycle, and I think he’s doing it on a R1. But Sjaak (“shock”) Lucassen was probably the first to try and make a trip like this on a sportbike…and he wears full leathers…in the jungle…on an R1. Now I think he’s crazy, but this has got to be the epitome of motorcycling. The sense of freedom. The sense that you can, quite literally, go anywhere.

Riding Tips: Which Leg?

Here’s a quickie that applies to all types of street riding, but is especially effective on lighter motorcycles and scooters… When you’re making a turn the right way (figure B), where should you put your weight? In the inner foot (the right foot in the diagram) or the outer foot?

Most people put their weight on the inner leg… But the key to bike stability (for light bikes) and proper riding position is to put your weight on the outer leg.

How come?  Two reasons.  One, in terms of handling it puts more of the weight in a spot where the suspension can handle bumps and lack of traction…  I don’t know exactly why this is the case…but you can try it out on spots like where the Grand Central goes to the Triboro Bridge – the grooves in the ground make lighter bikes and scooters chatter at speed.  But if you shift your weight to the outside, viola!  You probably won’t notice the difference on heavier bikes with better suspensions.

And in terms of posture it allows you to find the correct position A or B (in the first diagram) and not C.  Most people do C (a little bit) without realizing it.  Even sport riders who are aggressively trying to hang off (figure A) are surprised to see pictures of themselves on the track “crossed-up” (doing figure C).  Because when you put your weight on the inside leg, you will naturally push up against the turn.  But if you look at professional motorcycle (and scooter) racers, their outside legs are clamped onto the tank, while the inside leg is free of weight (this might also be why it’s so hard to get your knee down at first – you don’t want to drag your knee when all your weight is on it…)

So how do you do this?  It feels funny at first.  But try doing your regular turns while just keeping your toes lightly on inner peg…  So make right turns with your right toe lightly on the peg, and your weight on the left.  Make left turns with your weight on the right foot and your left toe just lightly on the peg – making sure you are straight in line with your bike (and not doing figure C).  It helps to realize that the actual turn (no most turns in the street) only last for a second or two…  You won’t be able to do this as well with slow lazy turns – but that’s a discussion for another time…

So that’s the tip – take it for what it’s worth.  Cheers!

Ducati-nomics: the Monster 696

One thing you’ll notice about Ducati’s new entry level air-cooled Monster is that no one tells you the price up front… Everyone mentions the $70k+ price tag of the Desmo RR and the discount prices of leftover 999’s – but you practically have to grab a reviewer by the ear in order to get the $8775 msrp price for the 696… Which doesn’t sound too bad for a sexy italian bike, but wait…did you say “entry level” “air cooled?” A comparable albeit much less stylish SV650 goes for $5899 msrp… and it has much better reputation for reliability, and less of a reputation for spitting up oil onto your pants… So how can we justify this (almost) $3k price difference?

Power - 80 hp at 359 lbs (dry weight) – that’s a respectable amount of power for an experienced rider, and more than enough for an entry level. It’s also amazingly light! It’s practically Ninja 250 light, but with more than twice the power. The SV650, by comparison is a little under 400lbs (more in the range of typical 600’s) with 7 fewer horses.

Replaceable plastic parts – Every Monster that I’ve seen parked on the street (for a while) have the handle bar dents on the tank from being knocked over. These are hard to fix and a fortune to replace. Alas, the tank on the new Monster is plastic on the left and right, covering the air intake and gas tank, and is easily replaceable (although I don’t know how much these things will cost). Brilliant! If I were buying one of these, I’d probably get a spare set just in case!

Tighter Turn Ratio – realizing that many Monsters spend their lives weaving through traffic, the Ducati designers gave the bars a few extra degrees of turn… Brilliant!

Tubular Frame – and although I don’t know if I’d risk scratching the bright red paint on the aluminum frame, here’s one frame you can actually put a chain through! Perhaps in the future motorcycle engineers will realize that bikes need better ways of being locked up – it’s too easy to remove a wheel (front or rear) and carry bikes away wheel barrow style… But until then the most secure solution is to throw a chain around the frame – good luck doing that on a GSXR or Ninja… Here’s a bike you can really keep locked up… Although if you’re the alarm (or LoJack) customer – I don’t think you’ll find a secure place for one of those…

Style - last but not least, the 696 is probably the sexiest entry-level motorcycle ever designed. Monsters have taken over the streets of Europe, and the hearts and minds of Yuppies all over Greenwich Village. Most people get tired of their first bikes after a year or so (including SV’s) – but the 696 could quite possibly be a practical entry-level bike that you’ll want to keep around as a daily rider for a LONG time…

For those of us who are not willing to pay the Ducati premium (you can get more motorcycle for the buck elsewhere) – we will have to console ourselves with knowing that our Honda’s and Suzuki’s will probably never spit oil onto our pants (as air cooled Ducatis sometimes do), or become prone to broken speedo cables and shifters in the first few years… But I assure you – none of us non Ducati riders would turn our noses up at a riding one of these around for a few months…and we would miss it when they took it back.

Best Practices: Xena Disc Lock

Hey we’re in the middle of the motorcycle theft season… So if you have a type of bike that’s often stolen (in NY that’s most sportbikes…) then you always want to make it a little more difficult for would-be thieves… My usual practice is…when I park my bike on the street over night I’ll usually chain up the front wheel to a post using two OnGuard Beast chains and locks and on the rear disc I’ve used a little Bully disc lock (these things are cheap – $16 – and work great).  But recently I got a Xena disc lock – and if I had known how nifty these things were I would have gotten one sooner!  So here’s a little mini-review of the thing…

It’s pricey for a disk lock (but cheap for an alarm) at around $70 for the XR-1.  This one has a 6mm locking pin that fits into the holes in the brake calipers on most sportbikes.  It’s also small enough to fit under the seat of my 600RR (the other models run around $100 and are a little bulkier).  These sometimes look a little flimsy in the pictures but when you hold one you can see how solid it is, it seems heftier than the Bully…and the polished metal is cool looking…

The alarm comes with two sets of batteries and a hex wrench to get at the alarm component.  It arms itself when it’s locked onto something.  There’s a sensor in the mouth of the alarm that senses if there’s something in the mouth of the lock which arms the alarm.  This way you can store the unit locked or hang it off your passenger pegs without the alarm activating… Just locking the pin doesn’t activate the alarm, there has to be something in its mouth… This is a great idea – on the one hand you’ll never forget to arm your alarm.  On the other hand, you won’t set off the alarm just carrying it on your passenger pegs or trunk.

The alarm is NOT terribly loud – much quieter than a car alarm (and less annoying), but I can hear it from my apartment if my bike is parked outside…especially at night when it’s quieter.  And it’s not supersensitive: the wind hasn’t set it off, but tilting the bike does…  Also you can use the disc lock without the alarm (or if the batteries die – they’re supposed to last 8 months), and according to the company you can replace the alarm without replacing the entire disc lock.

So if you’re looking into getting a little added security for your bike – I give the Xena two thumbs up…  If you are riding a high theft bike – get some chains, and if you have money left over a Xena for the rear…  If you are a more sensible type and ride a bike that isn’t a common target of theft – then a good disc lock is probably all you need – but the Xena might give you a little extra peace of mind.  Cheers!

Moto-Myths, Part 1 (Size Matters?)

There are a few common (and understandable) misconceptions both new and old riders tend to have about our favorite pastime…ahem, I mean, responsible means of transportation… Here, the first in our mini-series is the question of engine size…

“How Big is Your Engine?”

Pop quiz: True or False

  1. A 650cc motorcycle is faster than a 599cc,
  2. A 800cc will easily outrun a 250?
  3. A 1200 Harley has more power than both a 600 and 1000cc sportbike…

The correct answer to all of the above is…”False!”

Most 600’s are much faster than most 650’s; Ninja 250’s post very similar times to 883cc Harley Sportsters; and a 1200 Harley twin (which puts out 70hp).

Just the way you can’t tell how sporty a car is by the “cc’s” of automobile engines, you can’t tell how fast a motorcycle is by its engine size…(think about it, most minivans have “bigger” engines than a Lotus Elise)

“How come? ” Like automobile engines, motorcycle engines come in a variety of different configurations… For example a 599cc (we round up and call then 600’s) sportbike is usually a high revving in-line 4 cylinder that produces over a 100hp. But 650cc bikes are usually low-revving v-twins that produce a little over 70hp (comparable to the output of Harley 1200cc cruiser engines).

Not only are there different engine configurations, but motorcycles can also drastically differ in weight. A 250 weighs around 300lbs, whereas a Harley Sportster weighs aroung 600lbs… You can do the math. Even though a Ninja 250 has less than half the horse power of an 883, it also has half the weight which makes up for its lack in power. I’m not saying the Ninja 250 is “better” than an 883 Harley, it’s not…but it’s just as fast. And if you had to take them to the racetrack, I’d put my money on the 250. Also, this is why, even though you can buy the flagship Kawasaki 1400cc (190 hp!) sportbike, or a 1300cc Hayabusa for the street – the fastest MotoGP race bikes manage to do more with 500-990cc (over 250 hp!)…

So let’s put this Moto-Myth to bed – especially for street bikes: it’s not the number of cc’s, it’s what you do with it. Really.

Time Waster: Which is faster?

Ah…the age old question: Which is faster, a car or motorcycle?  Here are two takes on this…

Ducati v. Lamborgini

Porsche Carrera 4 v. Yamaha R1 (with snarky comments from the Top Gear host)

Review: The Amazing (Super-Fantabulous) Ninja 250

Okay, if there was ever a bike that got no respect, or no respect equal to its value – this is the one. People who have never even dreamed of riding a motorcycle will say, “it’s ONLY a 250…” No one says, “it’s only a Harley Sportster” or it’s only a “Porsche Boxster”… What people don’t realize is that a stock EX 250 will give either of those a run for its money – and still get upwards of 50 mpg.

Outright speed aside, the automotive equivalent for the EX 250 is probably either the original VW Bug or the Mazda Miata… Like the Bug, the little Ninja is fuel efficient and reliable as anything on the road (owing to its incredible simplicity). If you want to spend next to nothing maintaining a motorcycle, the 250 is a good choice. If you do need to repair something, parts are cheap and plentiful. And also like the Bug, the little Ninja has an almost cult following (Ninja 250 Riders Club). Ninja 250 worshippers are more devout than almost any other group out there next to Harley riders and Ducatisti. And even 250 agnostics wind up having good things to say (a review I linked to in a previous post). Like the Miata, the 250’s strength is in its light weight and handling. Knucklehead riders who just like to go straight real fast (!) will never be able to appreciate what the 250 is good at: tight turns and amazingly quick turn-in that makes you feel like Valentino Rossi before you even get to the parkway.

Since there are plenty more Google searches you can make to get the facts about the EX250, allow me to present a simple first person non-professional impression of the bike…

Some Initial Thoughts…
Sitting on the Ninja, the 250 feels shockingly light (about 100 lbs lighter than an R6). Give it a little choke, hit the starter and it starts right up. The pegs and bars are pretty much in a “standard” position, which is fine considering the low seat height.

Once on the street in normal traffic, the Ninja turns (amazingly) quickly and easily…It’s skinny, and easy to squeeze between cars and trucks in traffic. On swifter roads body position makes a big difference. Hanging off in turns makes a drastic impact on lean angle. Every body movement gets transmitted to the tires. By the same token when a passenger shifts on the seat that gets transmitted to the wheels as well. All this can be attributed to its super low weight.

The low seat height and super light weight makes this a popular bike for beginners, but at the same time, this is not necessarily an easy bike to ride. Its super light weight that contributes to good handling also makes for a bike that “feels” unstable at times, and vulnerable to being knocked around by wind gusts. This is a motorcycle that can help an intermediate rider hone his or her skills on the road. I managed to slide the rear out at intersections (and scare myself) a few times… The upside to this is you CAN slide the rear out on a pretty regular basis at speeds around 30-40 mph without being a total menace on the road. In that sense this bike reminds me of the Miata (or the old MR2’s) that can four wheel drift at low speeds. To fix the instability, 250 aficionados recommend changing the rear shock (a 10 minute job) to an EX500’s, and upping the tires to slightly larger Dunlops. I think the better tires alone would make a huge difference in handling. I can see how the Ninja 250 can set some track lap records.

Brakes & Transmission

The front brakes are excellent (they give as much feel as what you’d find on a CBR, R6 or ZX6); and the rear brake is adequate (in other words it feels mushy mushy mushy until it locks up – just remember to keep it locked until you come to a complete stop and you’ll be okay).

The shifter is fine…nothing to write home about. The clutch lever is super-light, as would be expected on a small engine bike. This is nice in traffic. As with most sportbikes, you don’t need to use the clutch to shift (except for first to second), but something about the gear ratios made it nearly impossible (for me) to get smooth upshifts without the clutch. Clutchless downshifts, on the other hand, were easy… Usually it’s the other way around: most people only need to use the clutch for downshifts.

Power

You don’t buy a Ninja 250 for its power – for it’s handling, yes; for its economy, etc… But having said that he power is amazing compared to any other 4-stroke 250 out there. The one catch is you have to rev it (and keep it revved) above 8k in order to get any power. This works just fine for city riding: low revs keep it quiet for the slow drives, and you can rev it up for spirited driving. There’s just enough power to power-wheelie coming over the crest of a hill – or to clutch it up in second on a flat piece of road.

The power can come on a bit suddenly (around 8k) just to remind you that this thing means business. There’s a strong drive-lash when you crack open the throttle, which makes the 250 feel edgier than you’d expect; it takes a little work to be fast and smooth on this thing. For spirited riding, you have to really keep the rev’s up more than you would on any other bike. If you don’t keep the rev’s up, you won’t have enough torque to pick the bike up at the end of a turn (especially if you’re heavier, or riding two-up). Once again, the EX250 is a great bike for beginners because of its weight, price and ergonomics, but it’s actually not an easy bike to ride well.

Riding two-up on the Ninja 250 is reasonably comfortable depending on your size and weight (it seems to be made for people under 6ft, under 150lbs). The passenger seat is almost level with the front making for a comfortable rear seating position (my wife prefers this kind of seating over the raised rear seats on most sportbikes). You have to keep the revs up even on local roads in order to have enough torque to move around traffic. Also, due to the lightness of the bike, a passenger really changes the way the bike feels and turns at local speeds… On the highway, is a different story.

In my opinion above 50mph is where the little 250 really shines. It doesn’t give you the jolt a supersport can give you in third gear at highway speeds – but it is comparable to the kind of power you’d find in say a Harley Sportster…only with a geekier attitude. Yes you can ride this thing all day at 100 mph without any problems (except for the police)…and still get 50 miles per gallon. Two-up riding is also a lot better on the highway than it is on local roads. Whereas the extra weight makes local riding a little more work, on the highway the extra weight doesn’t seem to get in the way. In fact, it seems to add a bit of stability…

Personal Conclusions

I don’t think the Ninja 250 is right for everybody to ride long-term, but I think everyone could benefit (and have a blast) riding it for a year. These things are in such high demand that you can buy one for under two thousand, ride it around for a few months and sell it (probably in a day or two) at around the same price you bought it.

Things that make this a great city bike:

  1. Dependable
  2. Fuel Efficient
  3. Cheap to buy and maintain (+ it’s NOT usually a target of bike thieves)
  4. Zips through traffic, but can also handle itself on the open road

Things that make this less than perfect for a city bike:

  1. No fuel injection (carbs need to be cleaned from time to time, and have trouble in cold weather)
  2. Retro-80’s styling that’s not quite old enough to be cool yet.
  3. A little tight in the seat for two-up, (although that’s not always a bad thing!)
  4. Not good for folks with low self-esteem…for those who need to compensate for something, go get yourself a Ducati 1098 (low self esteem should have its rewards too!)

Time Waster: DMV Road Test

Whenever a young hot shot asks about the DMV or MSF road test, I like to point them to this video.