Thursday, February 26, 2009

Ducati Monster 696 Test Ride

So after reading copious amounts of web reviews on the Ducati GT1000 i decide to see if I could get some riding time on it. So on a sunny Sunday I give the Ducati dealer at Nerima a call and ask him if I could test ride the GT1000 in my bad japanese. He probably didn't understand 'テストライド’ so he just answered to the affirmative. 40min later I arrive only to find out that the GT1000 they have there was not available for test riding, only for gazing. What I could test ride was the 1098, the monster or the hypermotard. After expressing my dismay at the fact that they expect people to buy a bike without even being able to ride it, I settled on taking the 696 for a spin, just so that I wouldn't feel like I left empty handed. At first glance, the new monster doesn't do it for me. The looks are compact, and remind me of a bike with too much tank and not enough dash. The short stunted rear end made any promise of a comfy ride for a pillion impossible. The plasticky feel of the fuel tank made the who affair feel cheap. As I am a camera guy, the best analogy I could give is the bike was like a nikon D40 compared to the sturdy heavier and more solid D3, which would be the GT1000. Static impressions aside, once underway, the first funny thing was that when I kicked it into gear and was trying to pull out into the road, the engine just rev'ed without moving as I let the clutch out. I thought that I had mistakenly left the bike in neutral or something. I kick the shifter again to make sure that I was actually in gear and try again... nothing, just engine revs. What the hell? Turns out that engagement point of the clutch is insanely far out, close to the top end of the clutch handle extension. What's worse, the dealer said that the handle was not adjustable on the 696. Lame. I suppose it is something you can get used to, but coming from a KTM690 where the clutch is a DREAM with progressive engagement through almost the entire play of the clutch handle (supermotos need this apparently to have fine clutch control rear wheel sliding turns). Bad clutch aside, the bike was surprisingly fun to ride, when compared to others in this range and seat ergos, for instance, the CBR600, which had more of a gaspy feel in the low end rpms. The monster pulled smooth with that ducati thumpy feel with lots of torque in the low gears, and the posture was actually a lot more comfortable once underway when compared to sitting still. Being more low to the ground and forward pitched, it encourages bad behaviour and a little bit of speeding, and probably wouldn't be too great to hop around town when compared to a more sit up bike. That being said, the engine was quite addictive and its a bike where revving the engine while stopped at the lights is just hypnotic. Strangly enough, more so than the harley davidsons that I've tried (thanks to japanese regulations). I only got a chance to open up a little (80kph) on a longer stretch of the road, (sadly middle of tokyo streets is not a good place for testriding bikes) but when you do ask for power the 696 lump does deliver it with urgency, not the crazy urgency of my KTM, but more controlled and full. I think it has a lot to do with the forward posture that makes you feel a lot more in control in high acceleration, plus the fact that the KTM given its dirtbike ancestry has a very light flywheel and primary drivetrain, so much so that it has problems at low rpms keeping itself from stalling without proper clutch control. Conclusions: Great bike for speeding around town and weekend blasts. I'm not a fan of the build quality, nor the clutch though, but the engine is a fun lump, so if you are considering a 600ish cc bike that is light with excellent handling but a strong pull and acceleration when you want it. The Monster 696 is a good choice.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Harley's Euro Racer - Sportster XR1200 Test ride

So in my last article I posted about the nightster, which was quite a fun bike to ride. On this post I will address the other bike that u test rode on that day, which was the new harley euro inspired racer, the XR1200. On the surface it looks a little funny the front end is clearly harley but the back side looks like a clumsy tail of a giant duck or a yamaha from the 80's. The engne is sort of cool with its sand blasted finish, but the cool ends there. This bike suffers from serious identity crisis. As made apparant by it's dual analog tach with tiny digital speedo tacked on to the side of it. It can't decide whether of not it wants to be cool cruiser or racer and achieves neither in a horrible tangle of sheet metal lookng steel and plastic. The posture is more forward than most harleys, even the other sportsters in the line, made pronounced by the very far back placed pegs and controls. Like other harleys though the controls are hard to find if you are used to the ergonomically sound german or Italian or Japanese racers. The engine is not mistakenly harley as it pulls with crazy acceleration, but the handling while more nimble than a sportster due to posture, still feels luke you are driving a tractor. The controls are clunky and the clutch heavy and with the weight of the bike, the engine has to work hard, and the feeling is that it is generally inferior to any given standard bike, save maybe for the sound of the lump. (the cool vibes are gone as well ) In conclusion, this bike tried to achieve 2 different things, and manages to achieve neither.

Monday, February 23, 2009

Harley Nightster XL1200N reviewed

I never would have guessed it three years ago when I started riding bikes that I would have thought of harley davidson bikes as anything more than an armchair on wheels for fat Americans. Most of them are. But on a sunny Saturday afternoon, I decided to ride out to machida where there was a large harley shop and give them a spin. As I walked into the vast store, I felt as out of place as a deer in a walmart. The large and ugly touring models glared at me like large elephants sizing me up and deciding whether or not to squash me. I gravitated around the cooler models like the blacked out nightrod and the new 'racer' xr1200. A salesman finally came over and asked if I had amy questions. I breifly thought to ask why harleys looked so damn ugly, but held my tongue and asked to tryout a the sportster instead. Out of the HD lineup the sportster nightster is the coolest of the bunch. Blacked out metal and none of the goddam chrome bits that make the bikes look dated. Also the sportster is actually a pretty bike, if you discount all the wires that hang off the engine. Since I didn't know the roads around there the guy offered to ride along with me which turned to be a good idea as I could free my mind to just the bike and not looking fir the directions every intersection. So the first thing that I notice is how the mid mount pegs seems to get in the way of my feet when you want to move around while stopped. Very irritatingly so. And in true HD style the pegs don't pivot in any sort of sane way, so if you are backing up, good chance you can hurt your shins as the peg plows 250kgs worth of bike into snapping your ankle in two. The next thing that I noticed is how difficult it is to move a 250kg bike around at low speed. It is akin to riding a reluctant donkey, you sort of have to coax it into turning, without dumping you off. Once you start running at speed though, things change, and the free spinning engine and smooth throttle is really a pleasant change from the abrupt and jerky on/off performance of my KTM supermoto. It feels like you are riding a Cadillac, smooth acceleration, and terrible braking. In fact the brake performance (or lack thereof) is what keeps you riding at legal and safe speeds, for fear of not being able to stop the freight train if perchance a small child were to dart onto the road. So what is the upside? Well, riding at such muted speeds, you really start to relax, and begin to enjoy the environment around you. The world seems to open up and your take in sights and sounds as you sit there in the comfortable seat, listening and feeling that lump of an engine jiggling below you like a caged animal in its rubber and steel prison. Its quite addictive. In fact, I started to really enjoy revving the engine just to get the noise while stopped at a railroad crossing. On my regular bike, I would have been exceedingly annoyed at the wait. Instead, once you really 'get it' then riding takes on a whole different experience. The low seat height also adds to the laid back feeling. On the negative side, due to Japanese regulations, the Nightsters side mounted nameplate is replaced with a traditional one, and the pipes are not the cool slash cut ones that Mr Davidson insisted on, and instead is the muffled regular shaped ones that other Sportsters in the range share. They are also baffled to meet the max decibel level of 97db that bikes must adhere to here in Japan, which means that the idle speed 'potato' is replaced with a soft purr. That was the biggest disappointment of them all, though not the fault of HD. All in all, after my ride, I think I finally understand what HD is all about, and I ceased to see these bikes as twisted tangles of wires and ungainly lumps of hard steel welded together badly, and instead a chill bike with attitude in a class of its own. As with all other things American, the difference between 'junk' and 'character' is a story, an attitude and some first hand experience.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

2 degrees

Spoke too soon. It's fricken freezing today. Global warming has really fuched ip the weather.

Saturday, February 14, 2009

22 degrees

Either it's an Indian spring or global warming cause it's downright warm today in Tokyo. Winter is over in mid february! So the weather reports predicted 16 degrees, but by some freak chance we got 22 instead. It feels like we skipped spring and went straight to summer. Time to dust off my motorbike which incidentally was only stowed away for less than a month since January 17th !

High class Japanese food

Rotabata dinner. The chef sits behind the counter in a little cooking space and never leaves. All the food is in front of you, and is cooked as you choose them

Warm valentines day

It's twelve am here on valentines day and it's 17 degrees. Insanely warm. gotta love Tokyoま。

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Today I refilled my karma bank

( please forgive the back picture apparantly the iPhones camera sucks donkey rocks for subjects closer than 2 feet ) So yesterday I got on the morning bus only to find that I had no money except for 10000 bills which the bus driver apologetically told me that he couldn't change. So I had a total of 60 yen in my suica card 140 short of the required 200yen fare. The driver half out of kindness and the other half out of the desire to stop me from holding up the line just told me that it was fine and to just pay back the rest next time. I managed to stammer a 'thank you' in Japanese and offered what small change I had. I sat down on the bus confounded at the level of trust and kindness that he showed, indeed he probably broke procedure in doing so. Upon deeper introspection I suspect that the rule of being on time with his bus schedule was more important to him than a mere 160 yen he would pay out of his own pocket. Anyway today while walking to the bus stop I decided to pay the driver back ( who knows if it was the same driver) to be honest a good part of me was thinking to just rack up the gain as good fortune and profit. But thankfully, some part of me still felt the urge to return the kindness. Now that I have, I realize that I have not been completely dessecated of humanity of the moral and ethical optimism and goodness that I once, nay, that we all once possessed before working at a über capitalist corporate bank drained most of it out of us. Turned us into dried out husks of zombie like money and greed driven vampires willing to sacrifice so much for gain. Of course, I generalize unfairly. It is mostly those of us at the bottom half of the ladder that burn those midnight hours and turn away friends and other healthy Human interactions for the firm. Those of us who like Dr Frankenstein, working away obsessed with our creation that we end up losing what we are trying to achieve. Maybe it's just me. But today, I am human again.