Tuesday, 21 August 2012

Great Bikes? BMW R32, 1923

If there is one defining element of the BMW motorcycle, it has to be the famous ‘boxer-twin’ engine layout that steadfastly refuses to be deleted from the model line-up. But what are the origins of this venerable motor?

The founding of BMW was in aircraft engine manufacture; hence the ‘spinning propeller’ logo still in use today. Two companies – Otto and Rapp – were completely separate aircraft companies. By 1916, they had merged and, with the increasing emphasis on aerial warfare and the subsequent growth of the German Air Force, BFW (Bayerische Flugzeugwerke AG) as the new company was called, gained a reputation as engine builders of the highest order.

By 1917, they had gone public and taken the name of Bayerische Motoren Werke GmbH. The war helped the company to flourish, but with peace came understandable difficulties. In order to survive, the company was forced to divert materials originally intended for aero-engine production to other uses. In 1920, this included motorcycles.

Early motorcycles used proprietary engines and in 1921 a flat-twin 494cc engine was produced, mainly for sale to other manufacturers. By 1923, however, the bedrock of 20th century BMW motorcycle production was laid when Max Friz, one of the original directors of the company, drew up plans for the R32. It was hailed as a masterpiece at the Paris Motorcycle Salon of 1923.

The engine was a flat twin and capacity remained at 494cc, but now the cylinders lay transversely in unit with a three-speed gearbox driving through a shaft to the rear wheel. Despite being rigid, the frame’s twin-triangle layout was way ahead of its time and the bike as a whole was a design concept that was modern enough to last for the rest of the 20th century.

But why a transverse boxer-twin? Well, it’s not rocket science, really. The cylinder layout gives good primary balance and also sticks them out into the airstream for super-efficient cooling (something that was not always possible with V-twins, which were very popular at that time). In addition, transmission of power to a shaft rear drive is relatively simple, without the need for chains or belts. Shaft drive was deemed the best method of power transmission and the boxer layout allowed easy installation of shaft drive.

3,090 R32's were built between 1923 and 1926; its success launched BMW into the two-wheeled world and the modern BMW has a unique link back to the beginning of the line.

Tale of Two Bikes - BMW

Round One; BMW K1600GTL

Some bikes you are offered to test and simply don’t have the time or opportunity to get them into their element and do them justice; just pootling around town is a waste of effort and you learn nothing of their abilities in the environment they were designed for.
The very accomplished BMW K1600GTL

So it was with the BMW K1600GTL, BMW’s new super-tourer. I was really keen to sample it, even though a glowing report would inevitably lead to an even longer waiting list than the 18 months quoted by dealers at the moment. But the specification was enough to make a test essential for any self-respecting motorcycle journalist.

The situation looked hopeless and I resigned myself to the prospect of circling Johannesburg on the highways for a few hours to see what it could do. Then Cora Forssman of BMW Motorrad came to the rescue and issued an invite that couldn’t be refused; she invited me and the brunette to sample the bike on a trip to Grahamstown to attend the BMW Bikefest; an annual event that draws BMW owners from all corners of the country. I’ll touch on the event on other pages, but suffice to say that we accepted this amazing invitation and thus found ourselves at BMW HQ in Midrand early one morning looking over the K.

Love them or hate them, there is no denying that BMW do this sort of bike extremely well. The K wasn’t designed to necessarily beat any other on the market or replace any current model in the BMW line-up but, having conceived it, they realised they had to build it and, consequently, it raises the bar higher than it has ever been for a sports tourer.

Hang on…..did I just call it a ‘sports’ tourer? Well, yes, because, despite the bike’s size, it has all the sporting dynamics you could ask for in a very sophisticated and super-refined package.

Let’s start with the looks. There’s no getting away from the fact that it is a big bike, but it has such great lines that the size doesn’t threaten or intimidate. The overall sense of bulk isn’t helped by the front wheel looking a little over-dominated by the front bodywork on first glance, but this is only from certain angles. The prospect of riding it is a little daunting at first, mainly because I haven’t ridden anything so big for so long, but overall you can’t help but think how good looking it is, especially in the dark blue of the test bike.

Even the chrome trim, which could have been totally misplaced, blends in inoffensively. It just has a look of sophistication and integration that a Gold Wing could never hope to emulate in a million years of design adjustment.

Those six little holes let out one of the best sounds in
The view for the pilot is impressive across a dash that wouldn’t be out of place in a car; analogue speedo and tacho with a super-comprehensive digital panel in between. This latter can be programmed to give such diverse information as what radio station you are listening to (either through the on board sound system or Bluetooth connectivity directly into your lugholes), to tyre pressure or oil level or which of the seat heaters is turned on, to the suspension settings (comfort, normal or sport, single rider or two-up) or showing dynamic, road or wet condition traction control settings. The list goes on.

The hands have no less to do than the eyes. Rather, the left hand has plenty to do, in addition to the normal chores it carries out on lesser bikes.

The controllability and adjustment that can be effected on the fly is simply mind boggling. A menu button by the thumb scrolls through the whole menu – and it is a long one – and at each stop a knurled ring that sits between the hand grip and the switchgear cluster takes over and scrolls through the sub menu. A sideways push on the ring sets the selected item. In addition, the left thumb controls the hazard warning lights, screen height, fog lights and the cruise control.

All the right hand has to do is set the speed, unlock the panniers through the central locking button and set the traction control mode. Simple, really!

The seat is roomy and.…oh, sod it; I can’t not mention the engine for a second longer. You see, this is one of the most remarkable engines I have ever ridden. The smoothness is uncanny, the power is deceptive and the sound? Oh, the sound! It may be all sweetness and light at lower revs, albeit with a growl from the exhaust and gear whine from the motor itself, but rev the thing and it emits the most intoxicating howl. I couldn’t resist dropping down a gear or two at any opportunity just to rev it and listen.

The power delivery is almost linear and it feels like a turbine; it is never neck-snappingly explosive, but acceleration is relentless. It is so effortless that our cruising speed of 160km/h felt like 100km/h and slowing down to 120km/h gave the impression of walking speed.

If there is a downside to this, it is that, on a twisty road you find yourself entering a corner much faster than you thought and all your instincts tell you that a bike this big just won’t get round and out the other side in one piece.

But, this is where the amazing chassis and suspension of the K comes into its own. On straight roads, no matter what the surface condition, the bike simply floats along, feeling like a feather bed (with apologies to Norton). Then when the going gets twisty, as long as you allow for the fact that this is a big bike and set yourself up for the corner a second or so before you would normally do on another bike, you find yourself tracking safely around the corner. Even mid-corner bumps did not unsettle the composure, as long as you remember to set the suspension for two-up riding (if you are, indeed, two-up). Failure to do that can result in a few graunches from the side stand if the road is less than perfectly smooth.

So, what are the downsides? Well, none really. The brunette complained of a lot of wind buffeting on the pillion, regardless of where the screen was positioned which did get tiring at the speeds we were cruising at and there is no way a bike of this size and design is ever going to be completely unaffected by side winds. But as a technical and engineering tour de force, it is amazing.

It would be easy to see all the gizmos as excessive, but, overall, there is nothing on this bike that wasn’t a welcome addition; from the central locking for all three luggage boxes, to the tyre-pressure monitor; from the audio and communications system complete with Bluetooth and all bells and whistles to the adjustable screen; all not absolutely essential, but brilliantly executed and, once lived with, hard to do without!

So, this is the super-tourer to end all super-tourers. But, therein might lie its downfall to the majority of motorcyclists. You see, it is this very competency as a touring machine that makes it almost unsuitable for any other kind of riding; not that I’m saying for a moment that any other bike in this category – let’s mention the dreaded Gold Wing word again, shall we? – is any better in this respect. But this is a lot of machine to be enjoyed to the full on maybe only one occasion a year. As a town bike it falls completely flat, if only for the reason that it is so focussed on something else other than stop-start riding and the lights-to-lights drag racing.
This is the sort of bike you own to supplement a garage, not define it. But as the last word in engineering excellence and open-road riding ability, it is near-impossible to beat.

Round 2; 1200GS Adventure

It may seem superfluous to write about a bike that is already so familiar and for which South Africa is BMW’s largest market worldwide. Yep, that’s right; BMW sell more GS’s here than any other country. Quite surprising, isn’t it?
The BMW 1200GS Adventure

Until, that is, you get on one and ride it for any distance. Swinging your leg over it after being on the low-slung K1600GTL, you immediately know that this bike is as focussed in its own way as the K, but that you will just be able to do so much more on it than you would on the K. Could this really be the ideal bike for all occasions?

After the sewing-machine smoothness of the K, any engine is going to feel rough and the 1200 boxer twin is no exception. However, within that vibration is the sense that this bike will go on forever; it feels hard and unbreakable compared to the almost effete feeling of the K.

You sit high on the bike and the placing of the handlebars and foot pegs gives a feeling of complete control; standing or sitting, the bike feels completely planted, despite a top-heaviness that comes with long-range tank and full pannier sets. There is no getting away from the fact that this is a big and tall bike, but it doesn’t feel it when on the move, so well balanced is it.

In Adventure guise, the GS has a great screen which caused far less buffeting for the pillion than the K, which isn’t really as it should be, but it makes the GS great for two-up touring. All its handling and performance attributes have been well documented so I don’t propose to go into them here in too much detail; suffice to say that at no point did it feel as if it was struggling against road-only oriented bikes, even at the 150-160km/h cruising speed we were sitting at.

And the twisty bits were a joy as well, thanks to BMW’s ESA (Electronic Suspension Adjustment) system, which tunes the suspension to match the riding conditions and the weight being carried. It handles brilliantly and inspires confidence so you find yourself throwing it around with almost gay abandon. It’s no wonder that track day organisers have a special day for GS owners; this could be a cracking track bike.

And therein lies the secret to the GS; It really could be all things to all men. I know I have said that about other bikes that have been through my hands – most notably the Honda NC800X – but I have yet to see anyone attempt a round the world or cross continent odyssey on one of those. The GS has almost become the default machine of the serious adventurer and it is easy to see why; it is just so damned capable and feels absolutely bulletproof.

I am loathe to try and draw comparisons between the GS and the K1600 – they are such different bikes with such different goals in mind - but having ridden both for considerable mileages over the course of six days to Grahamstown and back, it is inevitable that I should be tempted to. However, it is impossible to simply because of their divergent natures. It’s like trying to compare a Rolls Royce to a rallying Mini Cooper; they both do what they do unbelievably well and the real joy is that they do it in areas in which the other will never think of competing so you could own both without doubling up.

It would be easy to consider the K1600GTL as a one trick pony and the 1200GS Adventure as the bike you could throw anything at and it would get on with it, without fuss. And to a certain extent, that might be true, but to dismiss the K in such a fashion is to do a great disservice to its enormous touring capabilities. The engine and chassis are just stupendous pieces of engineering and it deserves its place as one of the world’s ultimate motorcycles. The GS also deserves that accolade for being so versatile where the K1600GTL is so single-minded.

 At the end of the day, what you envisage your riding to be on any given day will dictate which bike you go for, provided you have both in the garage

Now there’s consumer advice for you; buy both and be done with it.

Tuesday, 14 August 2012

Test; KTM 990R Adventure

There is something about a KTM; it’s not that it intimidates, but you just feel that, if you don’t know exactly what you are doing, it will turn around and bite your arse; this is a serious bike, made by serious Austrians and sold by serious dealers for serious riders.

I’m not sure why KTM should have this reputation and, of course, it is entirely unfounded. Yes, the bikes are supremely competent but there is no reason why a novice shouldn’t climb on one; after all, he is the one who is in control of where the bike goes and how much throttle is used in getting there!

The first thing that strikes you about KTM’s 990R Adventure is just how tall it is! I’m a six-footer and, standing next to it, it rather overawes. The feeling is not dissipated in any way once on the bike; normally I have no problem getting my feet on the ground, but on this bike I was on tip-toe. This isn’t necessarily a problem on the road, but I can see a situation arising off-road – at which this bike is definitely aimed – if the ground by your feet was at all lower than the wheels. For the record, the 990R is 55mm taller than the sister 990S.

With no time (or skill enough) to go off-road, on-road performance is what we are talking about and the big KTM does not disappoint. The engine – a 75 degree v-twin developing 85Kw – spins incredibly easily with very little flywheel action. The gearbox is fantastic and clutchless changes are beautifully smooth although the gear lever position on the test bike was set up more for a standing riding position which meant lifting the whole foot to change when sitting. The performance is exciting, to say the least. A friend - who normally rides the BMW 1200GS - took it for a spin and came back with a grin from ear to ear and declared it a bike to have proper fun on, whereas the BMW was more staid in its approach. It might not have the solid, unburstable feel of the big GS (or even the sales figures), but the KTM is more exciting, by a long way.

The bike’s height does make negotiating traffic a doddle but at no point could I rid myself of the feeling of being a bit top-heavy, so high up do you feel. The seat is very flat and I suspect would leave you feeling a little numb after 250kms. But there were no issues with the riding position and the mirrors were really good. Brakes, Brembo front and back, are excellent although ABS is not available on the 990R as it is on the 990S, which is a surprising omission. The back brake, in particular, is very easy to lock. I would have thought that a switchable ABS would have been the logical route to take, but then, what do I know?

It is a superb looking bike, if a little slab-sided, which only adds to the impression of size. Fit and finish is excellent and there is an air of quality about the engineering. The engine can sound a little highly-strung and fussy and the standard exhaust note is a bit uninspiring, but it isn’t unpleasant or too quiet. I suppose the main problem is that it doesn’t sound like a V-twin as we expect it; it’s far more sophisticated than that.

Overall, a KTM always gives the impression that it is a bike for the expert rider, especially if you want to do justice to its abilities. It is rather like a thoroughbred horse; beautiful to look at, but not for the beginner. My feeling is that off-road you would have to be very experienced to manage the size, weight and power without issue. On-road, it still demands much to get the best, not least of which is a tall rider!

But there can be no doubting that the 990R is a serious rival to the BMW GS, if completely different in nature. The other contenders in this category - the Yamaha Super Tenere, Ducati Multistrada and Suzuki V-Strom 1000 - lack the absolute focus that differentiates the KTM. The BMW might have more real-world/average-skill rider/everyday practicality, but it can’t touch the KTM for personality; even though that personality is completely mental at times!

Test; Honda VFR1200F

It’s easy to knock Honda for making slightly soulless bikes; a completely unjustified criticism if to be as near perfect as possible is seen as a bad thing or that anything other than perfect is somehow a good thing when it comes to a machine as potentially dangerous as a bike. Not everyone wants to have to change their underwear after every ride.

I try never to be judgemental with regard to a manufacturer; doesn’t always work, mind! Whether you are partisan to a particular make is up to the individual, but to criticise another make just because it’s not a favourite is to be blindfolded to potentially brilliant machines. And this Honda is brilliant. Not only that, but it does have soul!

I have to admit that when I arrived home to find the VFR1200 parked in my driveway (Honda very kindly deliver bikes for test) I was blown away by its looks. The deep red paint covering the remarkably smooth and uncluttered fairing was stunning and I had the initial impression was that here was the best-looking bike I had seen for a long time. Again, that’s a subjective view, but there is no denying that it looks fabulous.

It’s not perfect; the positioning of the headlight makes the front seem a little squashed-in and the standard silencer is hardly a thing of beauty; but, then again, which current bike straight off the showroom floor is any better in that latter department? But the way Honda have hidden all the fairing fixings is very clever and allows for a really smooth appearance. The fairing is actually a double-skinned job; the outer skin channels cool air to the legs whilst the inner skin channels hot engine air around and out through the bottom of the fairing.

The VFR can be bought with Double Clutch Transmission (automatic to you and me) but, whilst that is a novelty, I tested the manual version. The double clutch arrangement is fairly common on cars but Honda is the first bike manufacturer to develop a system small enough for a bike. In essence, gears 1, 3 and 5 have one clutch; gears 2, 4 and 6 another. So, whilst you are in an odd gear the next even gear is engaged but the clutch isn’t. A flick of the handlebar-mounted paddle merely switches the clutches and, hey presto, next gear engaged. It can also be run in fully automatic mode.

The engine is a beauty, too. A 76 degree V-Four, it is cleverly designed so the rear pair of cylinders run inside the front pair on the crankshaft, which means it is narrower at the back than at the front, allowing for a narrow cockpit; you don’t feel like you are straddling a pregnant horse. If it feels a bit uninspired under 5,500 rpm, that’s because the exhaust-mounted power valve has not been actuated. Go above this and all hell breaks loose!

Gone is the familiar V-Four rumble, however. Whereas the old VFR800 had a 180 degree crank, the new 1237cc motor has crankpins that are offset 28 degrees, which, combined with the cylinder angle, gives the motor perfect primary balance, thus negating the need for a balancer shaft, but also changes the sound completely; it sounds much harder and more metallic and not at all like a Vee engine. But it’s still a great sound.

The big news doesn’t stop there. Shaft drive is a first for Honda on a sporting bike, with all the attendant benefits of that arrangement. And then there are the brakes. I found them to be the most reassuring and massively powerful brakes I have encountered on a bike. ABS is fitted, naturally, but the rear brake is linked to two of the six pistons on only one of the front brake rotors. However, it works only from rear to front and pulling the front brake lever won’t actuate the rear brake.

This HAS to go!
Handling is predictably fantastic, or at least it was at the normal speeds I was achieving. The bike feels really planted and secure and no doubt could be made to feel even more so if the full adjustment of the Showa suspension was taken advantage of. It just inspired confidence no matter what the riding conditions.

Riding position is quite aggressive for a supposed sports-tourer, with a lot of weight thrust onto the wrists by the low mounted bars, but seat comfort was good and the overall position was roomy. And, for once on a Honda, the seat covering was not too slippery!

If you’re looking to spend in the region of R170,000 on a bike you really should take a look at this. Maybe Honda has its fair share of detractors, but for once the usual engineering quality has produced a bike that moves away from the dull, super-competent image and adds a good dash of spice to the mix.

When the Gods Were Not-So-Young

Mike Hailwood and the Isle Of Man, 1978

Imagine this; the greatest bike racer of his generation – some would say all time - has been retired for 11 years. He stopped at the peak of his profession and went car racing instead. He didn’t do too badly. Then he had a bad accident and that was the end of his racing career.

Four years later rumours start to circulate that he is going to make a comeback at the greatest, most difficult, most deadly circuit there is; The Isle of Man TT. The rumours turn out to be true. He does come back. And he wins; beats some of his old adversaries and all the new bloods who have assumed his mantle in the intervening years.

To prove it wasn’t a fluke, he comes back again the following year – without having ridden competitively in the interim – and wins again. This could only be the story of one man; Mike Hailwood.

Practise in the rain at Oulton Park on the Sports Motorcycles
Ducati 900SS
At the end of the 1967 season, Honda, for whom Hailwood was riding, announced their decision to pull out of competition; they had achieved all their goals, won everything. They paid Hailwood to not ride for any other manufacturer and thus drew the curtain on a stunning career; 9 world championships, 76 GP wins and 14 TT wins.

With the bike world closed to him he turned to four wheels. He was good, too; in Formula 1, Sports Cars, and Formula 2. Then came the accident at the Nurburgring in ’74 which smashed his right foot and ankle and that was it.

Living in New Zealand and bored as hell, the seed of a mad idea started germinating in his mind. He was still fit, young – only 38 – and possessed of a desire get back to what he did best. There was only one place to do this; the Isle of Man, where the legend had been built all those years ago.

By 1976, the Isle of Man TT was gasping for air. Top GP riders, such as Agostini and Sheene, had boycotted the race and the FIM finally revoked its World Championship status, leaving the TT as a shell of its former self. The organizers were quick to realise that the re-appearance of Hailwood would be the lifeline they sorely needed and lost no time in agreeing terms for his return.
Mike practising on the 500cc Yamaha

With a minimum of fuss, wheels were set in motion. Bikes had to be found as a matter of first importance. The year before, 1977, a Ducati 900cc twin had come within a whisker of winning the Formula 1 event, entered by a small Manchester bike shop called Sports Motor Cycles. They were denied victory only by the poor timing of a decision by race stewards to halt the race following torrential rain.

Cautiously, Sports Motor Cycles were approached; would they be interested in providing a bike for Hailwood? You bet they would and it would be the best decision they ever made. Yamaha were also approached and agreed to supply a 350cc, a GP 500cc two-stroke and a fearsome OW31 – the TZ750 two-stroke.

News of Hailwood’s comeback spread like wildfire and record crowds made their way to the Island for TT week. Hailwood’s appearance had already paid off, no matter how he did in the races.

But, whilst there were those who knew he could still do it and would win, there were just as many who feared that he was going to make a fool of himself. The bikes had changed out of all recognition since he last raced; the power they developed; the handling; massive advances in tyres and brakes. Even the circuit had changed. He might as well have been riding on another planet.

Until official practice on the Island, no-one, except perhaps Mike himself, knew if he could pick up where he left off – winning. ‘If he finishes any higher than fifth in any of the races against the current lot of TT riders, I’ll be very surprised,’ said Steve Parrish. Tommy Rob, one of Mike’s old adversaries, had a different view; ‘He’ll go well, I’ve no doubt. And I fancy him to take the Formula One race on the Ducati.’

After the first practice sessions all doubts were dispelled and his rivals knew they were up against it. On the 500cc Yamaha he broke the official standing start record by nearly a second; on the Ducati he lapped nearly two seconds faster than main rivals Tom Herron and Phil Read, both on Hondas. Neither rider felt they could go any faster without sticking their necks out further than they wanted.
The moment of the 1978 F1 TT as Hailwood closes on Read at
Parliament Square

For one practice lap, Mike pushed off the line in company with Mick Grant, holder of the lap record and favourite to take the Classic on the 750 Kawasaki. Grant was following closely in Mike’s wheeltracks when, approaching the sharp right at Ballacraine, Mike suddenly sat up and grabbed the brake a good thirty yards before he needed to. Grant was so surprised he nearly rammed him. Something must be wrong, but it happened again and again; ‘It took me some time to realise that he had no idea of braking points,’ said Grant later. ‘He was riding as if the machine still had drum brakes, and here we were on the most sophisticated discs, the best stoppers you could get.

‘It suddenly dawned on me just how good his riding had been all week if his braking was so bad…..I couldn’t get over how he had got round so quickly….on machinery worlds apart from that which he used to ride. All of it underlined to me just what a genius of a rider he was.’

TT week involves several races across all capacities; the Senior for bikes of 500cc – Grand Prix class; the Formula One race for bikes up to 1000cc; the Classic, which is a free for all plus several smaller capacity and sidecar races. The Formula One race was first on the agenda and was the setting for one of the best races in TT history.

During the 1978 Senior TT on the Yamaha
A TT race is not like a short circuit race. Riders set off in pairs at 10 second intervals and race against the clock, not side by side on the track. Mike was due to set off 12th, with main rival and reigning Champion Phil Read, on the factory Honda, setting off first, 50 seconds ahead. Immediately, it was obvious that Read couldn’t match his practice pace, but Tom Herron, on a privately entered Honda was looking threatening. Hailwood played himself in gently, but not too gently; he was the fastest man on the track from lap one! Then, as they crossed the start/finish line for the second time, the news everyone yearned for came from the timekeepers; Mike was 9 seconds ahead of Read, albeit 41 seconds behind him on the road.

Disaster in the 1978 Senior. Mike stops at
Parliament Square with a seized steering damper. 
By now, Hailwood was flying and at Ramsey, halfway round the third lap, the crowd got what they wanted; Read and Hailwood within yards of each other. Read had no idea Mike was so close, but when he saw the crowd at Parliament Square erupting in mad delight, he knew it could only be one man.

‘To say I was surprised when he caught up with me,’ said Phil, ‘is putting it mildly.’

Mike’s comment was; ‘It was lovely to see him just ahead of me…I followed him uphill out of Ramsey towards the mountain. We passed and re-passed each other [but] I wasn’t too bothered about rubbing it in or trying to get away too far.’

He had no need to. He was now effectively 50 seconds ahead of Read and, although Tom Herron had closed to within 4 seconds of Hailwood, he was out on the next lap with mechanical troubles. The race was Mike’s unless the bike let him down.

Champagne to the victor of the 1978 F1 TT
‘I couldn’t see anything to stop him,’ said Read. ‘I could not have gone any quicker…I was right on my limit and there was nothing, not a mile an hour more, left.’ The only way to stop Mike was to try and break him. In a last desperate bid to force the Ducati to go faster than it wanted, Read sent the tacho needle of the Honda way past the red-line and dragged a burst of speed out of it that it was not designed to give. An oil seal blew and the bike clanked to a halt, spewing oil and blue smoke. Hailwood was too old a campaigner to fall for Read’s tricks and went serenely on his way. He crossed the line 2 minutes ahead of second placed man, John Williams.

‘[That last lap] was by far the longest lap I’ve ever known at the TT,’ said Hailwood afterwards, ‘I couldn’t wait for it to end…as I got closer to the chequered flag the tears started to stream down my face. I was so full up with the emotion of it all… I couldn’t help myself….I’ve had some wins, here and in the rest of the world, but for sheer emotion this beats them all.’

Not one of his rivals begrudged him the victory. All were magnanimous in defeat; ‘It’s a pleasure to be beaten by a man like that,’ shouted John Williams, stepping up onto the podium. Phil Read; ‘He deserves it; there was nothing lucky about it. Even if I’d kept going there was no way I’d have got away from him.’
The Senior was an anticlimax. At Mike’s suggestion, the mechanics had fitted the steering damper from the big Yamaha onto the 500. Running fourth on lap two, the damper seized and he could only trundle back to the pits, falling two minutes behind the leaders in the process. He rejoined, but ran out of fuel on the last lap, eventually finishing 28th.

Mike beats Read again at the Post-TT Mallory Park meeting
So the 1978 TT drew to a close. Mike was happy; but was there more he could have achieved?

Part 2, to come; keep an eye out.

Land Speed Record, Part Two

The 1920’s; The British Take Over

World War One had naturally interrupted the quest for speed on land, but in its wake it had left great advances in internal combustion technology. The development of the aero engine, in particular, had huge implications on the course of the LSR.
Parry Thomas and Babs at Pendine in Wales

Despite having started the whole speed affair back in 1898, the French virtually abandoned pursuit of the LSR after the war. The Americans were always busy and captured and held the record for a year in 1928 – recognised internationally this time - but in the end, over the next 40 years, the LSR was the pride of one country alone; Great Britain.
Thomas attends to Babs' Liberty Aero engine

Kenelm Lee Guinness, of KLG spark plug fame, set the ball rolling for the British when he took his 350hp Sunbeam to 133.75mph (215.24kmh) in 1922. It was this car that was to launch the record-breaking career of possibly the most famous exponent of the LSR a couple of years later.

In 1924, the French had their last hurrah when Rene Thomas, driving a Delage, took the record at 143.31mph (230.62kmh). Six days later, Ernest Eldridge in his monstrous 21.7 litre FIAT, took it away from him with 146.01mph (234.97kmh). Then, at the end of 1924, Captain Malcolm Campbell, in the 350hp Sunbeam, broke Eldridge’s record by just a tenth of a second. He was off!

'The Slug', Segrave's 1000hp Sunbeam, under construction
It is interesting to note that, throughout the history of the LSR, it has always happened that there has been a great battle between two protagonists in any one era. In the 1920’s that battle raged between Campbell and his arch rival, Major Henry O’Neal De Hane Segrave, with a bit part played by J.G. Parry Thomas.
Whereas Campbell was to abandon the Sunbeam in favour of a self-constructed special, Segrave aligned himself to the company and its brilliant designer Louis Coatalen. Both men held the water speed record at one time or another, although Segrave held both the Land and Water speed records simultaneously, something Campbell never achieved.

The more scientific of the two American challengers; Frank
Lockhart and the V16 Stutz Blackhawk
In the 350hp Sunbeam, Campbell broke the magical 150mph barrier in 1925, recording 150.76mph (242.61kmh) at Pendine beach in South Wales. The Sunbeam’s aero engine displaced 18.3 litres, but the car that Sunbeam built for Segrave was a much more scientific design. Powered by a four-litre V12 supercharged engine, it developed more power than Campbell’s car but weighed half as much. With this car, Segrave snatched the record with a speed of 152.33mph (245.14kmh). But it was becoming clear that to go faster, more power would be needed and that meant only one thing; monstrous, belching aero engines in specialised chassis. Things were about to get interesting.
American Brute Force; The White Triplex Special,
powered by 3 Liberty Aero engines

Parry Thomas was a brilliant engineer but lacked the Campbell fortune and the Sunbeam company’s resources. Count Zborowski had built a car called the Higham Special to race at Brooklands. A 400hp, V12 Liberty aero engine drove the rear wheels via huge chains and was fitted into a custom chassis. After the Count’s death, Thomas bought the car because in it he saw the makings of a potential record breaker.
He set about modifying and re-engineering the car in his workshop at Brooklands and named the car Babs. At Pendine, Thomas blew away Segrave’s time and recorded 169.30mph (275.22kmh) only to go even faster the following day. But he knew that Campbell was preparing an all-new purpose built Bluebird and Segrave and Sunbeam were working on a new monster with not one but two aero engines. Time was not on Thomas’ side.

Over the winter of 1926 he modified Babs to improve its streamlining and, after Campbell had nudged the record to 174.88mph (281.43kmh), he hurried to Pendine just as Segrave was sailing for Florida and Daytona Beach with the impressive new 1000hp Sunbeam.

Feeling unwell, Thomas had worked up to 180mph when the car crashed violently and Thomas was killed. Grief stricken, his team dug a large hole in the sand and buried the car. It was exhumed years later and the cause of the crash was found to be a collapsed wheel and not a broken chain as had initially been thought.
As his car also used chains to transmit the power, Segrave was understandably nervous as he arrived in Florida but with the minimum of fuss that characterised his record attempts, he shattered the record and the 200mph barrier with 203.79mph (327.95kmh). Campbell was sporting in his congratulations but realised that to stand still in development was to be left behind. Work continued apace on Bluebird.
Golden Arrow, which took the record with almost absurd ease,
Segrave aboard. 

When Campbell sailed for America in 1928, awaiting him were two separate American teams with wildly different approaches. Ray Keech’s White Triplex consisted of three Liberty aero engines in a converted truck chassis. It was brutally simple and crude and sported only rudimentary streamlining. Frank Lockhart was a mechanical genius and produced the beautiful Black Hawk Stutz, a fully streamlined projectile powered by two supercharged Miller straight-eight engines linked to form a V16. Calculations suggested a top speed of 330mph.

When both hit problems, Campbell set a new record of 206.95mph (333.04kmh) and left for England. A month later Keech returned and set a new record of 207.55mph (334.01kmh). Lockhart also returned but when a tyre burst at over 200mph the car was pitched end over end and its driver was killed.
Campbell and Bluebird at Verneuk Pan
Whilst Campbell was struggling at Verneuk Pan in South Africa in 1929, Segrave sailed once more for Florida with the stunning Golden Arrow. With a single 930hp Napier Lion engine the fully streamlined car needed merely 20 miles of running to push the record up to 231.44mph (372.45kmh). Campbell had spent thousands of pounds on his attempt but Segrave’s new record negated every effort and he returned home disappointed to further modify Bluebird.

By 1931 the modifications were complete and now there was no stopping Campbell. But his great rival was gone. Whilst attacking the water speed record on Lake Windermere, his boat, Miss England II, hit a submerged log at speed and capsized, killing Segrave and a crew member. The way ahead was clear for Campbell.

Monday, 13 August 2012

Test; Honda NC700X

On the surface, this bike is a bit of a conundrum; it’s not easy to identify what it is trying to be. It has the practicality of a scooter, with its storage capacity where the petrol tank should be, but the blandness of character of an everyday commuter bike, which is the exact market to which Honda is pitching this bike.
It must be said that this is the sort of machine that Honda does very well; well designed, beautifully built but, at the end of the day, just a little bit soulless and almost too efficient. It’s almost as if they gave it a bit of schizophrenia to add something that the engineers couldn’t.
It’s hard to see the market for such a bike being very large. For those who consider the step-through seating arrangement of a scooter too cissy, this would be the perfect bike, but then if you are going to swing your leg over something, why not do it over something that has more competency than just being used to get to work and back?
That’s not to say that it does anything badly; on the contrary, it is competent as a modern bike should be. It’s just that the answers to the questions about why it exists in the first place are not immediately apparent.
To see the point of the bike you have to look at the engine. A 670cc, long stroke parallel twin is not necessarily that radical. What is significant is that it has been designed and tuned specifically for fuel economy over high-revving performance. It is steeply inclined to the front and produces 38.1kw at 6250rpm and 60nm at 4750rpm, with a 6,500rpm red line. In essence it is half of a Honda Jazz four-cylinder engine, utilising that engines cylinder dimensions and combustion chamber shape which emphasises low-rev burn efficiency as opposed to absolute volume of gas flow.
On first acquaintance with the bike the low rev ceiling seems unnatural and it takes a while to learn how to ride the engine; almost like jumping out of a petrol-engined car and into a turbo-diesel; you don’t need to head into the red line to get anywhere – the torque is all low down. The more you think about it the more it makes sense; how often do you really go to the 15,000 red line of your sports bike?
But it is a smooth engine for a parallel-twin design, helped by a balancer shaft (only one, so it does leave a little bike-like vibration) which doubles up as an oil-pump drive. The single overhead cam also doubles up as the water-pump. Both inlet and exhaust ports are siamesed so there is one 36mm throttle body and one exhaust header.
There has obviously been a lot of thought put into the engine. The exhaust headers are integral with the cylinder head, allowing the catalyst to be closer to the engine, warm up quicker and therefore be smaller. Likewise, the water pump is so close to the radiator that the plumbing is a third of what it might be and allows the engine to warm up quicker due to reduced coolant levels.
Hope you can turn the computer sideways
So, what’s it like to ride? Well, once you have got used to the engine characteristics, it’s a pleasant bike to ride, and I use that word advisedly. It’s never going to set the world alight but it does the job it was designed for, I suppose you could say. The seat covering is far too slippery; alright when you are the pilot but terrible for the pillion. The brakes have a very wooden feel, especially the back brake and, in this day and age of ABS it takes some second thought before you anchor on hard. But then this was never going to be a back lane scratcher or a track bike. The riding position follows that of adventure and super motard bikes by being upright and comfortable with broad bars that give good manoeuvrability. Naturally, the standard exhaust gives a very muted note which is a shame as I suspect the engine would have a nicely gruff noise if allowed to breathe a bit more freely.
The suspension isn’t the most sophisticated around and it shows on bad surfaces or in mid-corner bumps, but again, the rider who buys this bike is not necessarily going for foot-peg scraping antics. What they are going in for is practicality and for this, the false tank hides a useful stowage bin that can easily take a full-face helmet or plenty of odds and ends. The petrol tank is accessed from under the pillion pad; a bit of a mission if you have luggage strapped on there but otherwise not a problem.
You could call it a budget bike, coming in at around R65,000, but there is nothing in the fit and finish that is anything less than Honda’s best. They have chosen to build the bike in Japan, as opposed to farming it out to cheaper-labour factories in Thailand or India and this is an indication of the importance Honda attaches to the bike.

Engine: 670cc liquid-cooled four-stroke parallel twin.
Bore x stroke: 73 x 80mm.
Compression ratio: 10.7:1.
Valvegear: SOHC with four overhead valves per cylinder.
Power: 381.kW at 6250rpm.
Torque: 60Nm at 4750rpm.
Induction: PGM-FI electronic fuel-injection with 36mm throttle body.
Ignition: Computer-controlled digital transistorised with electronic advance.
Starting: Electric.
Clutch: Cable-operated multiplate wet clutch.
Transmission: Six-speed constant-mesh gearbox with final drive by chain.
Front Suspension: 41mm conventional cartridge forks.
Rear Suspension: Pro-Link with monoshock, adjustable for preload.
Front brakes: 300mm petal disc with twin-piston floating calliper.

Rear brake: 240mm petal disc with single-piston floating calliper.
Front tyre: 120/70 - 17 tubeless.
Rear tyre: 160/60 - 17 tubeless.
Wheelbase: 1540mm.
Seat height: 830mm.
Kerb weight: 218kg.
Fuel tank: 14 litres.
Fuel consumption (claimed): 3.6 litres per 100km at 120km/h.

2WD For Motorbikes; Has the Dream come true?

No matter how sophisticated motorcycles get, there is always some bright spark working on something new and amazing. The best of it all is that it’s not only the major manufacturers who are doing the inventing; often it is small companies beavering away on some pretty significant stuff that could change the face of motorcycling.
The Christini Frame
Probably the most significant problem that has fascinated engineers is the issue of 2-wheel drive for bikes. As with 4WD systems for cars, the benefits are obvious but the engineering is vastly more difficult because of the layout of a motorcycle or, more specifically, the situation of the front wheel, which has no obvious direct path along which to transmit the power.
Drive to the headstock
Yamaha and Ohlins have been working (and spending) hard on a system that uses a hydraulic motor to drive the front wheel (called the 2-Trac) and KTM has patented a system that uses an electric motor in the front hub but there is nothing to suggest that we will be seeing these systems on a production bike any time soon.
Similarly, a look at patent applications shows that many of the major manufacturers have been working on 2WD research and development, but have just kept very quiet about it. Quite why, it is hard to understand as the improvements in traction, handling and safety under low-grip conditions have to be the holy grail of any wheeled vehicle design.
However, the veil of secrecy only extends to road bike development. For off-road applications, the manufacturers have been much more open and possibly the only reason that things haven’t progressed further is that major sanctioning bodies for motorcycle sport have banned 2WD from motocross and enduro events. And that can be for only one reason; because it works!
Secondary chain takes drive to top of frame

Step up, Steve Christini from America. The system his company has developed might be the most old-fashioned, relying as it does on a system of mechanical linkage to the front wheel in the form of chains and drive shafts but it seems at this point in time to be the most viable.
Drive to the hubs
The system works like this. A second chain (the rear wheel drive chain being the first!) takes drive from the gearbox countershaft up to a bevel box mounted on the top spar of the frame. From here a drive shaft takes the drive underneath the petrol tank to more bevel gears which direct the drive down the steering stem to the lower triple clamp.  Two small drive chains in the clamp transfer power out to a pair of telescoping shafts, running parallel to the fork legs.

At the front hub, a Sprague clutch – similar to the freewheel mechanism in a bicycle’s rear hub – transfers power to the front wheel when rear-wheel speed exceeds front-wheel speed by more than a prescribed ratio i.e. when there is wheelspin.
Any system that applies positive torque to the front wheel in a turn makes the bike lean in. That “steer-torque” complicated handling enough, so Christini decided to minimize the torque effects of his own system by using counter-rotating shafts, which cancelled each other out. Those two shafts also provide an unexpected benefit: they act as gyroscopic steering dampers, reducing the bump steer effects produced by other front-hub motors.

Drive at the headstock
When you buy a Christini kit, you get a complete new frame, including front fork and wheel, onto which you bolt the mechanicals of your existing bike. There are kits available for Honda and KTM enduro and dual sport models with kits for Gas Gas and Kawasaki in final testing. A kit costs around R35,000 with complete bikes available for R35,000 more (prices converted from US$).
The big issue is not whether 2WD is the future of motorcycling – on- or off-road – or whether it matches ABS as a significant advance in motorcycling, but rather how long we will have to wait to see it on showroom floors.
For more information and to watch videos, go to www.christini.com

Great Bikes? Honda Super Cub

Recently, my friends and each other challenged each other to nominate the greatest bike of all time. My choice was derided as too obvious but there can be no doubting the significance of this little bike on a number of levels.
Soichiro Honda had been marketing a 50cc motorbike in Japan long before he turned his attention to the American market. A fan of the four-stroke, he built a 49cc OHV engine with the cylinder lying flat and pointing forward. Extremely reliable, it produced 4.5hp at 9,500rpm.
Primary drive was by gears to a 3-speed gearbox with centrifugal clutch to permit clutchless changes. The drive chain was fully enclosed and the leg shields kept road grime off the rider’s trousers. But the real innovation lay in the chassis and bodywork. The front fender and leg shields were made of plastic; just as good as metal but lighter and cheaper to produce. The frame, leading link front forks and swinging arm were made of pressed steel; again, cheap and light.
This was the bike that established Honda’s reputation in the USA. Helped by a clever marketing strategy (‘You meet the nicest people on a Honda’) the little machine appealed to non-motorcyclists as non-threatening two wheel transport, ideal for urban conditions. It was no road burner, but that only added to its appeal. Even the need to use a kick starter did not dampen enthusiasm for the bike; this bike changed America’s perceptions of motorcycling and showed them that you didn’t have to be a ‘biker’ to enjoy the benefits of two wheels.
Rival manufacturers were not worried by the success of the Super Cub in markets where they had previously been dominant. Edward Turner of Triumph/BSA welcomed the bike as it would introduce people to biking who would not normally have considered it and these people would then graduate to larger capacity machines, which the Japanese did not make at that time.
Unexciting it might be but there can be no argument that it has brought mobility to millions who would otherwise have to walk or bicycle. With production passing 60 million in 2008, there is no doubt that the Super Cub is the most significant design in motorcycling.

Friday, 10 August 2012

Editorial - Don't Reinvent the Wheel, Just Perfect It

Being a motorcycling journalist, you are in the fortunate position of being able to ride a wide range of bikes without having to fork out for them. All very well and good, but the trouble comes when you have to think of something to say about them.
The problem is that, in this day and age, there is no such thing as a bad bike. They all do what they are designed to do very well; with nothing much to differentiate between bikes in the same category. Every aspect of a machine’s components has been refined over the years so now there is no excuse to have a bike that stalls, or has flat spots or that doesn’t handle well, that doesn’t stop quickly and safely and doesn’t shake itself to bits, or leaves its calling card on the garage floor.
Ever increasing levels of electronic sophistication are changing out of all recognition the riding experience of even the simplest commuter bike, whilst improvements in materials and engineering techniques have had dramatic effects on bike longevity and service intervals.
But the basic concept - that of an internal combustion engine driving the rear of two wheels – remains the same and this concept can be traced back to the very beginning of motorcycling. Naturally there have been a few attempts to reinvent the wheel – look at the German Megola with its radial engine inside the front wheel, or the Neracar from America (slogan – ‘Motoring on Two Wheels’) but they never took off because they were either too different and scared people off or were just too plain daft.
It has been argued that we have reached a point now where the motorcycle is being refined, not reinvented. But hasn’t that always been the case? Has any manufacturer ever really stuck their neck out and tried to reinvent the wheel (or, at least, tried and survived?). They long ago ceased to introduce anything radically different as they know that the buying public will not go for it. We are like a flock of sheep and are terrified of being seen to be too different. How ironic that we who choose to ride motorcycles are afraid of being seen to be different!
That’s not to say that innovation is stagnant. Look at the increasing presence of the electric-powered bikes on road and track. Until recently, the development of electric bikes was left to small, independent manufacturers such as Quantya or Mission Motors, but now BMW, Yamaha, Honda, etc, are all making serious noises about future electric bike production and KTM have released the Freeride e electric off-roader.
But is this reinvention or simply more refinement of the original concept? Personally, I’m not sure, but I don’t care. As long as there is something ‘new’ in the world of motorcycling it means that the manufacturers are looking at ways of surviving and that means that motorcycles will be around for a long time to come.

Keep it between the ditches, rubber side down.

Suzuki GSR600 Road Impressions

I might as well get this out of the way at the beginning; when I first rode this bike, I didn’t like it. Actually, let me rephrase that; I didn’t like the engine. It represented everything I don’t like about smaller capacity in-line fours; no torque low down the rev range and needing to be revved ridiculously to get anywhere.
That was at the beginning. However – and let’s also get this out of the way at the beginning– by the end I was really sorry to see it go. It’s all a matter of learning how to ride the engine and, once you have learnt, this is a really nice piece of kit.
Whether it is nice enough to take sales away from Honda’s Hornet or Yamaha’s FZ6 is another matter and I’m not really concerned with that here.
It’s a bit of a parts-bin special, with the engine coming from the 2004 GSX-R600, brakes from the 2000 GSX-R750 and the styling taking many cues from the B-King concept of 2001 but they come together with more success that would at first seem possible from such disparate sources.
Taking the rolling chassis first, this is a really comfortable bike to ride. It looks small but, when sitting on it, it feels compact and nimble but not cramped, even for my 6-foot plus frame. It’s a horrible phrase but the controls really do ‘fall to hand’ and the instruments are sensibly laid out and clear. Maybe I’m getting old and forgetting how to count but I do like the inclusion of a gear indicator on the dash. But the bike feels instantly controllable and very easy to ride; it’s light and the seat seems to hold you in position very well. The point is; it’s not an intimidating bike to ride.
The suspension is supple but controlled although the front forks are too soft, leading to too much dive and not enough control on the rebound, making it feel a little bouncy. But this only rears its ugly head at the upper limits of the handling and not something that the everyday rider would necessarily notice. But it needs to be pointed out as some owners might see the bike as dual purpose – commute during the week and track toy or country lane scratcher at the weekend.
The brakes are lacking in bite and feel, which just goes to show how things have progressed since they were the brakes of the moment back in 2000 on the GSX-R750. Bu they do their job in an unobtrusive way, being neither terrible or particularly outstanding.
And so to the engine. The whole problem with road testing bikes is that one minute you might be on a torquey twin, the next a four-cylinder superbike, followed swiftly by a scooter. How do you form objective opinions on any of them when they are all designed to different parameters to fulfil different design briefs and satisfy different riding requirements?
So it was that it had been a while since I had ridden a 600cc-four. I had simply forgotten how to ride them. But, once it all came back I started to enjoy myself. Yes, you have to rev it to get anywhere, but why is that a problem? The only one as far as I could see is that I had been used to twice the amount of torque at half the revs for too long – I had got lazy!
Keep the motor above 6,000rpm and it moves along nicely. Take it above 10,000 (it peaks at 14,000rpm) and it shows its heritage and things really start to happen, despite being re-tuned for torque rather than top-end power. OK, so it won’t pull your arms out of the sockets but isn’t that a great safety feature? But it will shift if you want it to and, just like the chassis is benign and forgiving, so the engine matches that mood by not being so lairy that you frighten yourself silly with every twist of the throttle.
The only conundrum is why, with the GSX650F and the SV650S, Suzuki needs this middle-range bike in the first place. Seeing as how it has been around since 2006, however, they must know something that we don’t.

Suzuki DL650 Test

It has to be said that the Dual-Purpose, or Adventure, bike segment is becoming as crowded as the small capacity superbike segment was a few years ago, with every manufacturer wanting a piece of the action.
Not that you can blame them, with the market in general moving away from hyper-sport road machines to something that is not only more comfortable but a whole load more practical and likely to be bought by a wider cross section of customers.
As with any category of bike, there is a machine to suit every pocket. That is, if you have particularly deep pockets; these machines start at Not Cheap and go all the way to Eye-Wateringly Expensive.
So, what do we have here? Well, the other trend within the Adventure bike market has been to offer a smaller – or sometimes larger - brother to the main model; the Triumph Tiger 800, BMW F800GS and Kawasaki Versys 1000 spring to mind.  
So it is that the DL650 is the baby version of the 1000cc V-Strom.  And, personally, I am not sure that it is enough. It can be no coincidence that BMW chose to plug the gap in their range between the 650-single and the 1200GS with the F800 parallel-twin and that Triumph chose to go no lower than an 800. If you are to try to keep up with bigger bikes, the DL650 is left gasping and working harder than it feels comfortable doing.
Whilst that is a problem when riding with others, as Adventure bikers often do, it would be unfair for that to be the defining criticism of this bike. At the end of the day, as usual, this is a bike that does nothing wrong but does it do enough things right to warrant the nearly R90,000 price tag?
It is a good looking bike, although the test bike’s colour was a bit too ‘city’ for my liking. What is noticeable, especially when sat alongside a Kawasaki Versys, for example, is the long wheelbase which does lend a balanced look to the bike. But it is not a machine that is going to stand out in a crowd, not least because it is very hard to tell exactly what it is! Badging comprises a simple ‘S’ on the tank and ‘V-Strom’ embossed onto the seat and that’s it; in this day and age of shouty graphics it is almost shockingly bland. It’s as if Suzuki is a bit embarrassed about the bike so decided to not make it too obvious!
The engine is beautifully smooth and performs perfectly adequately but I would prefer more grunt for less heart-stopping overtaking when two-up. Add a full complement of luggage to the bike for a long trip and the engine would start to struggle and riding would become very tiring as you would never have a reserve of power to deal with any situation.  
One-up and it goes perfectly well – on road, that is. However most of these bikes leave a lot to be desired when travelling off-tarmac and the Suzuki is in this group. The great majority of Adventure bikes are a triumph of style over substance and there is just no way that I am going to go blasting down a dirt track on one of these machines. Quite apart from not wanting to find myself spread-eagled in a ditch with 200kgs of bike on top of me, I’m not sure I want a R30,000 repair bill for cosmetic damage.
Going off-road? Then get an off-road bike or fork out for a KTM. For the 10kms out of every 1000 that the average owner will do, there is simply no point buying one of these bikes for serious dirt riding. In the hands of an expert, maybe a different matter, but how many of us are experts?
Unless you like the style, that is. And I do. For road work, I love the riding position which allows you to see over traffic. For the most part they are supremely comfortable and the Suzuki scores well on this front. The seat is well proportioned for rider and pillion and everything ahead of the rider is laid out in normal fashion. The digital display is clear and comprehensive and I really do like a gear-indicator, which this bike has.
The only gripe is that the menu button for the digital display is where the headlamp flasher is on most other bikes – on the back of he left hand switchgear unit for use by the left index finger – so that in an emergency, you find yourself scrolling furiously through ‘odometer, fuel consumption, trip A, trip B, range, etc, etc….’ whilst the car continues to pull out in front of you! That will show him!
I really enjoy the handling of these bikes – maybe it is something to do with the fact that they are tall – and theDL650 does not disappoint. You can throw it at corners, heeled right over, and it tracks round with no fuss whatsoever. It really imparts confidence and feels very stable. The brakes, whilst not spectacular, are perfectly good enough.

So, do you choose this over any of the others? In this day and age, when there is no such thing as a bad bike, it surely comes down to brand loyalty, aesthetics or price. The Suzuki DL650 is well made, the quality of materials is good and it rides well. But, like many of the bikes in this category, it is too road-focussed to be competent off-road, which is not to say it wouldn’t grace any garage in which it sits.