Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Two Wheel Thrive: a retrospective

I started this blog when I decided to get a motorcycle, just over 3 years ago.  I kept it fairly religiously for about a month, maybe 6 weeks, then as riding the bike became a bit more routine it seems I ran out of things to say about it until I revived it after this last overnight trip away.  The three years of silence are a bit of a shame actually, since quite a lot went on, some of which might have been worth sharing in a forum such as this... so I thought I'd do a quick recap of the last three years of riding.

Bike #1: 2008 Suzuki GS 500
(Feb 2009 - Apr 2010; Odometer - 17,000km approx)

The Suzuki was a fantastic learner bike for me.  LAMS approved for learner goodness, but with enough capacity to still be able to accelerate out of danger when someone decides to merge into me on the freeway.  It scored a couple of upgrades along the way: a top box was added to the rear to replace the oh-so-stylish sports bag held on with a net; heated hand grips to keep my circulation working in the middle of winter.  It also scored a downgrade, falling off its side stand once and cracking that screen right off.

Lessons learned on this bike: oggy knobs are worth it; if you park the bike pointing downhill, keeping the engine in gear will stop the bike from rolling off the sidestand and falling over... until you put it into neutral to warm up the engine; naked bikes have less stuff to break when they do fall over; don't underestimate the value of a centre stand - you won't miss it till its gone!

Travelled 17,000 Kms in 15 months, with an average fuel consumption of about 5 litres per 100 Ks.

Bike #2: 2009 Kawasaki Z750
(Apr 2010 - Mar 2011; Odometer - 17,500km approx)

I loved my Z, I really really did.  She was a terrific upgrade from the GS, providing me enough umph to scare myself silly without actually being a stupidly powerful bike.  I love the iridescent green, the angry grasshopper styling, the black radiator cowling and the nice upright riding position.  Once again the wisdom of a naked bike lacking expensive fairings was proven when I stopped the bike to look at a used car, and tried to get off without putting down the side stand.  Oggy knobs for the win.

Not many upgrades for this one, just mirror extenders so I could keen an eye on what was behind me without having to cock my elbow up and look through the gap between arm and torso.  I didn't really appreciate how lithe and agile this bike actually is until I replaced it, but it was a fantastic little bike.

It has to be said though, the Z750 has two things working against it in my books: it had all the weight of a 1000cc engine with only the capacity of a 750 (they sleeved down the cylinders in the Z so in fact there is more metal in a Z750 engine than in the 1000cc engine they based it on) and the lack of ABS.  It was the desire for ABS that led me to upgrade off this bike, having locked up the back wheel while travelling downhill through Toolangi.  It was one of the few "oh serious shit" moments I've had while riding - knowing that I was approaching the corner too hot, trying to brake off some speed, and finding the rear wheel sliding sideways - but it made enough of an impression for me to upgrade.

Bike #3: 2011 Kawasaki Ninja 1000 (Z1000SX)
(Apr 2010 - present; Odometer - 12,500km and counting)

I was never a fan of faired bikes - I didn't think that they would be comfortable to sit on in that silly bent over racing tuck.  But when I heard that Kawasaki were planning this bike in early 2011 I started looking into it, and I was hooked.  I love the looks of this bike - I think it is aggressive and stylish and awesome all rolled into one.  I love the posture on this bike - it truly is a naked bike with fairings on, but if anything it is more comfortable than the naked Z1000 because they have marketed it as a sports-tourer, so the riding position is very upright and relaxed.

I love the power of this bike.  I seldom get a chance to really crank it up since it will do 100 in first if I choose to, but it has awesome (literally awe inspiring) torque and can pull away in any gear from pretty much any speed.  I haven't tried taking off in 6th from a dead stop but I reckon that with enough revs and slipping the clutch a little she'd probably manage it alright.

It has to be said that I found the stock exhausts (not pictured) to be a bit less than beautiful, indeed I reckon they detract from the smooth lines of the bike and are much better suited to the angular Z1000 from which they come.  These aftermarket Arrows look and sound a whole lot better than the stock pipes, and I'm told they allow the engine to breathe a bit better in the lower revs, which I can well believe just looking at the difference in the diameter of the pipes themselves.

Let's be honest, she is a thirsty beast.  In round town commuting I get about 7.5L/100km which is about the same as we get out of our Peugeot 308 station wagon... not a great advertisement for the improved fuel efficiency of bikes over cars!  But when I take her out touring that drops to about 5.5L/100km without any deterioration in the fun factor, in fact I find those fuel figures astonishing given the spirited and enthusiastic riding that Ali and I did while we were away.

I haven't pimped her up much... yet.  Apart from the new pipes the only thing I've added to her is a radiator guard.  Not even the much praised Oggy Knobs have made it onto this bike, though they have been ordered and should arrive and be fitted in the next couple of weeks.  By the way, if you're looking to dress up your bike I recommend going to where you can see what accessories they have that will fit your baby.  In addition to engine covers and a gloss black screen, there are a few luggage accessories I'd dearly love to add to her to lessen my reliance upon the tank bag for longer trips... of course if I'm going camping the tank bag is going to be essential, but I'll do a post on my bike-worthy camping gear another day, and then you'll see why.

So that's the story of the last 3 years: 3 bikes, no accidents, 45,000km and an ever increasing love affair with time spent in the saddle.  As an introvert, time spent alone inside my helmet is an invaluable thing, and when all your concentration is required to pilot 123 BHP of bike from corner to corner to corner, there's no room left in the head for the daily worries, doubts and self-recriminations with which many introverts have to deal.  In the terms of the psychology of happiness and fulfilment, riding allows me to experience "flow," where I get into the zone and all my concentration and awareness is distilled into each and every moment.  And that's about the biggest endorsement I could possibly give of motorcycling as a way of life.

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