Sunday 26 January 2014

Then vs. Now

I've been wondering why motorbikes don't seem to have moved on in the way that cars have.  To that end I'm trying to find comparisons between 1960s (pre-oil crisis) vehicles and current vehicles.  In trying to keep apples with apples and find stats for similar vehicles.  The problem is a 1960s Cooper Mini doesn't have anything like the crash worthiness of a new Mini Cooper, and that crash worthiness costs weight, though not as much as you might think.  The real cost in weight is our expectations around size.  The new mini is significantly larger mainly because minimalist, small cars don't sell.

Our improvements in engineering efficiency are often overshadowed by our need for bigger, more plush vehicles.  My thinking is that this shouldn't be such an issue on a motorbike, it's not like our bikes have gotten much bigger in the way that cars have turned into SUVs.

An example, the Mini Cooper.  The new car has nothing mechanical whatsoever to do with the old one.  Other than the name and marketing niche, these cars are very much creatures of their times.

length3,054 mm (120.2 in) (saloon)
Width1,397 mm (55.0 in)
Height1,346 mm (53.0 in)
Kerb weight
Fuel Economy
617–686 kg (1,360–1,512 lb)
1275cc / 78hp (16.35cc/hp)

6l /100kms

Dimensions (LxWxH): 3723 / 1683 / 1407 mm
Kerb weight: 1150kg - 1185kg
Fuel Economy: 6.1 l/100kms
Horsepower:  1600cc / 121hp  (13.22cc/hp)
So the new car is:
18% longer, 17% wider, 4% lower
46% heavier all with the same mileage!
                                       courtesy of Mini.

So what you've got is a much bigger car that offers all the modern amenities in addition to more space that gets about the same mileage, and it does it with an engine a third larger than the old one.  Put another way, the new Mini is about twice as efficient as the old one (it uses the same amount of fuel to move almost twice as much car).  On top of that Mini needs three less cc to get a horsepower out of an engine.  It isn't much, but it's an improvement, unlike the bike below.

1969 Honda CB750


L 85 in (2,200 mm)
W 35 in (890 mm)
H 44 in (1,100 mm)
Seat height31 in (790 mm)
Weight218 kg (481 lb) [1] (dry)
491 lb (223 kg) (wet)
Fuel capacity19 L (4.2 imp gal; 5.0 US gal) [1]
Fuel consumption
34.3 mpg-US (6.86 L/100 km; 41.2 mpg-imp)
68hp  (10.82cc / hp)
Here is Honda's modern ode to the CB750:
The Honda CB1100A
Dimensions: 1490mm wheelbase
Weight:        248kgs  547lbs - wet
Mileage:       41mpg
Horsepower: 82.5 hp (13.8cc /hp)

At 1140cc, the new Honda is 390ccs larger, though follows the same engine layout as the old CB750.  They are within 3 cms of each other as far as wheelbase goes - bikes aren't significantly physically bigger in the way that four wheeled vehicles have put on weight in the past forty years, though cars seem to have done it while finding ways to get way more out of each litre of gas.   That new mini is a much bigger vehicle, almost twice the size of the original in terms of mass.  Bikes haven't grown anything like that, yet their mileage is pretty much the same.  

Keep in mind we were comparing a twelve hundred cc 1969 Mini with a 1.6l modern Mini, a 25% increase in displacement.   The new CB1100 has 33% more displacement on a heavier bike and gets the same mileage as the old carbureted one.  Why is the new bike so much heavier?  It's not like a car - it isn't larger than the old bike, it isn't carrying airbags and all sorts of other modern safety gear other than ABS.  To top it all off a carburetated 1969 CB750 used to use 10.82ccs to make a horsepower, the new one uses 13.8ccs to make a horsepower.  A lot of that could be tuning the engine for more torque, but here we are, 45 years later using more displacement to make less power?  What the hell is the point of fuel injection?

In 45 years of material development, the new Honda is 56lbs heavier.  The 1969 CB750 is within point one of a mile per gallon of the 2014 CB1100.  You might say it's not a fair comparison because they're not both 750cc bikes.  Honda's only current ~750cc bike is the NC750x, which is a parallel twin rather than a four cylinder.  Even with that disparity the NC750x tips the scales at 483lbs, still 2 pounds more than the 1960's 750 four cylinder.  And it's not like Honda isn't an engineering powerhouse.

If you say the motorbike vs. car argument isn't fair, how about motorbikes to bicycles?  A Tour de France bike in the 1960s weighed about 22lbs.   Modern bikes are limited to 15lbs, though in 2004 Armstrong had a 14.5 lb bike and without the limit a 10lb bike is more than possible.  If bicycles have dropped 30% of their mass in the last 45 years, why not motorbikes?

If we look at this from an automotive/bicycle equivalent efficiency angle, the new Honda CB750 should have a 20% more efficient engine and weigh 30% less.  The 2014 CB750 happy memories bike should get about 80mpg, weigh 344lbs and produce about 82hp.  This bike would have a power to weight ratio of about 4.2lbs per horsepower, approaching what some of the fastest sports bikes in the world have.  The sensible choice then would be to make the bike a 650cc CB throwback, which still produces a  better power to weight ratio than the CB1100 and weigh even less with the smaller engine.

I asked before and I'll ask again, why haven't bikes advanced at the same rate as cars (or bicycles)? Why isn't the new ode to the CB750 a CB650cc bike that produces more power, uses less gas and rides far better than its prehistoric inspiration?  Motorbikes are stripped down, simple machines, in many ways still very similar to the machines made decades ago.  With that in mind, why don't we see the radical evolution in technology evidenced in the Mini and in racing bicycles in the past 45 years in the Honda CB750/CB1100?  If we aren't larding up bikes into SUVs (though some people are), the efficient burning of gasoline should have produced astonishingly high mileage numbers by now.  Where is the direct injection? Where are the intelligent drivetrains and engine management systems that have produced cars that weigh twice as much and still burn the same amount of fuel?  Where is my frictionless magnetic drivetrain with integrated brakes?  Where is my kers?

With an integrated kers system, I could be riding a 400cc bike that when the kers kicks in feels like a 1000cc bike, then recharges while I ride.  I could pull onto the highway or overtake on a super light bike that can feel like a one litre rocket when I need it and sip fuel like a 400cc machine when I don't.

Zero Motorcycles: all electric, but I don't know that we
have to go to that extreme yet, we're not exploring
internal combustion that well.
Because motorbikes are small and inherently efficient compared to cars, manufacturers haven't pushed engineering limits in the way that they have with other vehicles.  I'm looking for the future of motorbiking, and it doesn't feel like manufacturers are testing limits in a way that makes my choices feel any different than they were a decade ago, let alone four.

Saturday 25 January 2014

Snow Honda

Driving in to work I pass by this old CB750 (?) Honda every day.  As the snow has piled up and the temperature dropped I've watched it get buried.

It looks in pretty well cared for, other than the sitting in the snow in -30° winter.

My first urge is to leave a note on the door asking if they'd be interested in selling it.

While my Ninja is getting cleaned with a toothbrush, this old classic sits in the snow, it makes me sad.  I've been looking for a project bike.  This might be a bit more project that I was first thinking, but there it is.

I've been reading a lot of bike history.  The big Hondas were one of the first super bikes.  There was a time when someone brought this home and it was the bleeding edge of motorcycle engineering, it must have oozed cool.

Of course, these old Hondas make for fantastic cafe racer projects too...

Maybe one of these days I'll swing by and ask if they'd want to sell it.  I'd wait for a day with clear roads, get it going and ride it the few kilometres down the river to my garage, where it would get stripped down next to the Ninja and prepped for spring.

Everyday I go by it reminds me of fantasy art pieces of skeletons lying forgotten.  With the morning sun shining on it, I'd like to go with something other than the smartphone and take some serious photos of it - it strikes me as buried sculpture, a story slowly being forgotten, an opportunity being lost.

Thursday 23 January 2014

Yamaha's FZ-09: the universal bike?

Since having the dream of a stable of bikes mangled thanks to the cruel calculus of insurance companies, I've been thinking about putting my eggs all in one basket.  In looking over this year's offerings one really stands out for me as a bike I could develop a long term relationship with.

What I'm looking for is a bike that offers a standard riding position so it'll take to a variety of riding tasks.  I like the look of a naked bike and I'm a fan of efficiency, so light weight is a must.  So, an all-round naked bike that's light on the scales, fits a big guy well and is dependable so I can make some miles on it.

Fortunately Yamaha has come out with the FZ-09, and it checks a lot of boxes.  At a light-weight 414lbs and with a strong three cylinder engine, it's a step up in power from the Ninja without heading into litre-bike territory.  It's standard riding position offers much less lean and deeper pegs for my too-long legs.

While the 650R is a sport-tourer, it sill puts me into
much more of a crouched riding position.  I enjoy
the bike, but creak when I get off after a long ride. If

I'm carving up corners, it's a beast.  If I'm trying to
make some miles?  Not so much.
An almost 1 inch taller seat, barely any forward lean
(11° less than the Ninja), 4% less bent knees, and
14% less crouch.  An all purpose bike that

fits nicely?  I hope the FZ feels as good as it should.

That 414 lbs means the FZ-09 comes in 26lbs lighter than the Ninja, and it manages to do it while carrying one more cylinder and an additional 200ccs.  The FZ is even 16 lbs lighter than a KLR, which makes me wonder what a scrambler FZ might look like.  With some knobbly tires, wire wheels, longer suspension and guard, there aren't too many places it couldn't go.  RTW on an FZ?  Perhaps!

Is there such a thing as a universal bike, maybe the FZ is it...

And it even comes in orange!

There isn't much I wouldn't do for an athletic red-head...

Sunday 19 January 2014

Sonny Barger's Let's Ride

I just started Sonny Barger's Let's Ride.  I have to admit, I'd never heard of him prior to picking up the book.  He's evidently quite famous for uncovering the Hell's Angels in the 1970s in the U.S..

I'm only a couple of chapters in, but he is a straight talker who doesn't come off as weirdly particular about his motorbiking.  He's as hard on Harleys as he is on European or Japanese bikes.  If you're looking for an honest, knowledgeable review of motorcycling over the last half century in North America, this will do it for you.

I just got through his description of the British and North American failure to respond to the Japanese motorcycle invasion of the early 1970s.  He pulls no punches and his insight describes the sense of superiority and apathy that was rampant in non-Japanese motorcycle companies at the time.

Barger is an American patriot at heart, even if it means he had to spend three miserable decades riding under-engineered Harley Davidsons.  I sympathize with his loyalties, but don't share them.  I appreciate how he keeps saying that my own priorities in riding may be different from his.  He offers advice without limiting your ability to express your own interests in riding.  Sonny is a big 'merican bike fan, but he understands that people come to biking from a variety of angles.

One of my earliest motorbike memories was sitting out on
this corner when I was six or seven watching a parade of
old Triumphs, Royal Enfields and Vincents power through
Myself, I'm a complicated guy.  I'm a Brit who emigrated to Canada when he was eight years old and then paid off all his student loans by working in Japan.  I've been living outside of my native culture for so long I'm not even sure what it is any more.  My earliest memories are of watching old British bikes thumping down the road outside my grandparent's house in Sheringham.  

As a teen in Canada I was a giant anime nerd and loved Japanese motorcycle culture.  My dream bike was a Honda Interceptor because it reminded me of Robotech mecha.

So how do I take Sonny's advice?  With the realization that I'm getting into motorcycling from a very different direction than he did, and he seems OK with that.  I'm still finding his experience and explanations of biking to be very informative.

I'm enjoying the book so far, Sonny has a great writer's voice (especially when he goes off the deep end and gets really opinionated).  If you want a book that offers you an inside look at motorcycling, Let's Ride is an enjoyable, informative read.

Sunday 12 January 2014

More Moto-logo ideas

I did a round of name/moto themed logos, now I'm exploring some others.

I found some good fonts for this one.  Time to get a watch is a mechanical font that verges on art, very nicely done.  The other font was one included in Windows, but a nice contrast.  The mechanical sympathy concept came from a Guy Martin quote:

Wednesday 8 January 2014

Variations on a Theme

I've been playing with the idea of branding the garage.  Cafe Racer TV plays this card all the time, so why not?  I could totally pull off KingMoto, or Timoto, or I could name it after my son and go with MaxMoto!

In launching a school motorcycle club I put together some basic graphics for it and it got me creating variations (who said that time in art college was wasted?).  Here are some of them (made in photoshop):

The one for school (Centre Wellington DHS): a fairly nondescript naked bike,
I liked the idea of integrating the wheels into moto...
Dug up a pic of my grand-dad's bike for this one... 

Just swapped out text for this one, easy to do in layers on photoshop

A bit more graphics work on the Royal Enfield used in this one
With Ninja - nice to have my current bike in there.

Variation on the Ninja theme

All the fonts I used are freely available online.  The CW fonts are New Motor (the modernist font used in moto) and Rugged Ride (the tire font in the background CW). The jagged looking font in Tim Moto is My Underwood, modelled after the classic typewriter.

A tire track's a tire track, I couldn't find any bike specific ones, but this one is a nice piece of work.
Nice modernist font with a bit of motoriness in it!

Another motorbike related font I found was Yamamoto

Nice font, couldn't find a place for it but I'm keeping it on file
Even if you only have a word processor (Openoffice is a great free one), you can throw together a decent looking logo using these fonts.  If you want to get fancier with the graphics it wouldn't take you long to get handy with a graphics editor and layer in something interesting.  Finding clean side shots of motorcycles is easy on Google.  If you've never used one before, The Gimp is free and quite intuitive to use.

If any moto-inspired types are interested in messing around with logos contact me through Twitter or Google+.  I'd be happy to cobble something together for you.

Sunday 5 January 2014

North American International Motorcycle Show

Hey NAIMS, you coulda had my wife there... a master's degree,
great job, but you're not appealing to her demographic...
My son and I went down on Friday morning in -25°C  temperatures for our first ever motorcycle show at the International Centre in Mississauga.  My wife didn't come because the advertising on the website (which also had a complete lack of social media) put her off.  I suspect you'll get a better class of customer with more in their pocket if you appeal to educated women interested in the sport.  I'm not sure who you cater to with the twinkies, but I suspect they aren't great customers.  You'd also bring in many more younger riders (I think the average age at the show was about 50) if you embraced social media.

Old white guys & twinkies, it's a weird,
backwards, and kinda creepy
dynamic, time to change it up
Since it was my first time at a show like this I was a bit worried that I was bringing my son to a de-tuned strip club, but I was pleasantly surprised.  There were a few other families there and the crowd represented a typical Canadian cross section.  With the bike clubs on hand, the variety of bikes on show and the various supporting retailers, this wasn't a biker bar scene at all - it's a shame that the advertising doesn't show this for what it is.

There were little herds of Harley aficionados trying too hard in their leathers and badges, but they were a minority.  On our way in from the parking lot an older fellow we were walking in with gave us a discount coupon, and the people in the show were encouraging, accessible and not at all snobby (which is nice when you're a n00b).

We spent the better part of four hours walking around and missed an entire hall.  The amount of material was prolific, from the gear to the bikes themselves.  Two brands really stood out for me and the others were generally a disappointment.

You'd normally be hard pressed to get me interested in a
Harley, but they make it easy to like them, and what a
good looking bike!
I'm the furthest thing from a Harley Fan, but Harley Davidson Canada put on a great show.  They took a good chunk of floor space, had a lot of room to try out bikes and were more than willing to focus on developing a relationship with their customers rather than leaving it to dealers who are only interested in moving units.

Having dealers take care of your brand loyalty is like have the tigers at the zoo do the job of the zookeepers.  If they can drum up any customer relationship building at all they're only pretending, all they really want to do is feed themselves a sale.

I ended up throwing a leg over a bunch of Harleys and I'm much more curious now than I was before, well done HD.

Shows like NAIMS are an ideal opportunity for manufacturers to develop a relationship with their customers, and I was surprised that so few did.  I want to be a Triumph fan, I'm from the UK, I love their bikes from a design point of view, but they were only there through a local dealer who parked the bikes so close together that it was impossible to sit on many of them (which was no doubt the idea).  The special 'deal' on Triumph t-shirts had them on 'sale' for $60... for a t-shirt.  Between the inaccessible bikes, the over-priced merch and the dealers rolling their eyes whenever your kid wants to try and sit on a bike, we didn't spend much time in Triumph land.

After the show I'm reconsidering how and why I might become attached to a specific make, or even whether I should (though motorcycling seems particularly intense in its tribal approach to brand).

Beautiful naked bike, the Z1000... it's got me
Another manufacturer who didn't take my loyalty for granted was Kawasaki.  My first bike was supposed to be a Honda or a Suzuki and it ended up being a Ninja. It's been a great first bike and the KLR has long been on my mind as an alternate/multi-purpose bike (though the insurance chat later is making that unlikely).  Kawasaki has been good to me so far, and the show only made me more of a fan.

Like Harley, Kawasaki showed up instead of only being there through dealers.  The reps they had on hand were friendly, helpful and approachable.  The bikes were displayed in a way that encouraged you to try them out, and Kawi also brought the bling (which I immediately put up in the garage).  

Kawasaki was never on my bike lust list when I was younger (I was all about Interceptors and Gixers), but as an adult buyer they have my attention.  Well done Kawasaki!

The rest of the bike show was a whirlwind of gear and meet and greets.  Two Wheel Motorsport was there, and I had a quick chat with my motorcycle course instructor (while getting a great deal on a Bell Helmet for my son - I'm all about Bell helmets since seeing Rush).

I had a chat with Riders Plus Insurance.  They insured me in my first year of riding and were helpful and efficient.  This time round I was curious about how insuring multiple bikes work.  They told me that buying a second bike means you're doubling your insurance payments.  This doesn't make a lot of sense to me as I can only ride one bike at a time.  I expected something like you're insured at the rate of whatever the highest cost bike is plus 10% for the paperwork on the other bike.  What I was told was that you get a 10% discount on your second bike and pay another full set of insurance on it... which makes owning multiple bikes not really financially viable, so that dream goes down the toilet.

I was looking for Motorcycle Mojo as we wandered about since I've been emailing with the publisher, but couldn't find them!  This show really is huge.  But I did find The Widow's Sons.  After a round of secret handshakes I got some contact information.  A number of guys in my lodge have bikes but don't ride with others.  I'm wondering if I can start a local chapter, or perhaps join the Grand River Chapter.

My son and I both really enjoyed the show.  It let us throw our legs over a lot of bikes and talk with a wide variety of people in the sport.  It was a wonderful thing to get excited about riding again even as the temperature outside turned truly arctic.  Kawasaki & Harley both get nods as my favourite manufacturers of the show.  Their stand up showing has me questioning brand loyalty based on some weird sense of belonging rather than a manufacturer's interest in genuinely developing a relationship with their customer.  As a new rider I'm looking to be wooed.  Harley & Kawi both did some quality wooing.

My suggestion?  Get yourself out to the North American Motorcycle Show and bring your family along, they'll have a great time and maybe even get a sense of why you love riding like you do.  

I hope the show will reconsider the marketing angle and get away from the twinkie/biker thing on the website and embrace social media next year.  If they do, maybe I can convince my wife to come along with us.

Some pictures from the show.

Wednesday 1 January 2014

One Bike To Rule Them All!

I think I need 3 bikes, a road bike, an off road/scrappy bike and a touring bike that lets me 2 up easily.  The wee garage would easily swallow this stable.  The Ninja was $3500.  I think I could cover the other two for $4500.  Keeping the bike stable at half what our cheapest car cost seems reasonable.

The Ninja is the sport bike... $3500

This Kawasaki Concourse was $2500 in the summer.  With a pillion seat-back it would make a great long distance shared riding bike.

If I could pick up a good dual purpose bike for under $2000, I'd be able to fill out the stable for about $8000 (£5000).  This KLR fits the bill, though I'd be longing to paint it (not a problem).

Unless I can find a way to throw legs over as many bikes as I can, I can't see another way to get an idea of how various bikes ride.  Finding a bike that does everything is a fool's errand.  Bikes that claim to do this are a series of compromises.  The key to riding a variety of styles is to ride a variety of bikes.

The first bike that would suffer in a diversified garage would be the somewhat sensible all round Ninja.  In its place I'd be looking for a naked streefighter... a Triumph Speed Triple would be on my short list.

Motorbike show NOTE:  I had a chat with Riders Plus Insurance.  They insured me in my first year of riding and were helpful and efficient.  This time round I was curious about how insuring multiple bikes work.  They told me that buying a second bike means you're doubling your insurance payments.  This doesn't make a lot of sense to me as I can only ride one bike at a time.  I expected something like you're insured at the rate of whatever the highest cost bike is plus 10% for the paperwork on the other bike.  What I was told was that you get a 10% discount on your second bike and pay another full set of insurance on it... which makes owning multiple bikes not really financially viable, so that dream goes down the toilet.