Archive for the ‘All Posts’ Category

Mike’s Vincent Ride

Sunday, November 8th, 2015

I was out the other day. Here’s the video.

2014 Seattle Motorcycle Show

Thursday, November 27th, 2014

Here are a few select bikes from the 2014 Seattle Motorcycle Show. This author’s favorite: the Ducati Monster 1200S, compact, lightweight, powerful (145hp) and with crisp styling. For sheer brute power and innovation, the Kawasaki turbocharged H2 stole the show.

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2015 Ducati Monster 1200S

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2015 Yamaha Star Raider

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2015 Yamaha Star Bolt

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2015 Yamaha V-Max

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2015 Ducati Scrambler

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2015 Honda CTX 1300

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2015 Honda CB1100

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2015 Honda Grom Wing

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2015 Kawasaki H2 Turbo

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2015 Kawasaki H2 Turbo

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2015 Kawasaki H2 Turbo

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2015 Suzuki GSX1300 Hayabusa

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2015 BMW R1200RS

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2015 BMW R1200RS Cruise Control

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2015 BMW nineT

Classic Vintage Motor Bikes Grand Opening

Sunday, July 1st, 2012

June 30, 2012, Portland OR: Enthusiasts of old British bikes got a boost this weekends with the Grand Opening of Classic Vintage Motor Bikes on Sandy Boulevard. Triumph, BSA, AJS and others were represented with some nice examples for sale.

The new store will restore for sale, repair and sell parts for vintage British motorcycles with the strong suits being in Triumph and BSA. While motorcycle stores were often on the route for riders between home and cafe, they are now becoming an impromptu clubhouse and social destination for those loyal to the enterprise and its wares.

As of today’s date, the CVMB website is under construction. The store’s address is 3602 NE Sandy Boulevard, once home to Cycle Hub (aka the Sandy Bandit), owned for many years by local bike legend, Cliff Majhor. Cliff has no connection to the new store and its inventory did not come from the old.

As CVMB gets going, look for more coverage and photos of this exciting new venture on the Portland classic motorcycling scene.

Mods & Rockers Event – April 20 / 21, 2012

Sunday, April 15th, 2012

The first Portland Mods & Rockers event, sponsored by PDX Moto, CycleTune and Club 21 starts on Friday, April 20 with a followup event on Saturday.

2012 Portland Mods & Rockers

Ed Milich at Cascade Moto Classics

Friday, May 20th, 2011
 
Ed Milich at Cascade Moto Classics

Ed Milich reads from his new book 'Fueled'

Wednesday, May 18, 2011: Put on at relatively short notice, Ed Milich, contributor to GuzziTech and a number of other web and paper publications, read from his new book of poems and short stories at Portland’s Moto Guzzi dealership, Cascade Moto Classics. Only a handful of people were there although Janice & Kelly, the proprietiors, had taken their usual trouble to set out hors d’oeuvres, soft drinks and cookies and plenty of chairs for the show.  

Liz from Cascade helped Ed set up his movie show on the store projector screen and the show got going right around 7:15pm.
 
For those who don’t know Ed, he’s a tall, boyish fellow with perpetual enthusiasm for the world he inhabits, which is mostly track, track and more track interspersed with episodes of tragi-comedy in his shop where he prepares improbable machinery for vintage motorcycle racing victory.
 
Ed likes to set the mood with video from the cockpit of his various rides such as a $600 Moto Guzzi V65 with more or less standard frame and a tweaked engine and a Ducati Pantah. He reads selections from his first book ‘Wrenched’ and his latest, ‘Fueled’ to the background din of these two bikes howling their guts out around Willow Springs about 80 miles north of LA. You’d be forgiven for thinking that Ed is prouder of his bikes’ voices than his own as he generally likes to keep the video sound track running while he reads to the audience.
 
‘Fueled’ comes in two parts, first the free verse, prose type poems followed by a collection of short stories that he claims are just a tad too long for a book reading, but can be enjoyed at your leisure if you acquire his book afterward. Subjects cover the addictive sights, sounds and smells of vintage motorcycle racing, the colorful characters among the track junkies and their volunteer support staff and the ups and downs of horsetrading, preparing and racing the machines on which he competes. He confesses he’s nuts about motorcycle rallies, too and even fell in love at one. He finishes his poem ‘Rally Lust’ with the following: ‘Rally Lust, though compelling, is nowhere near as strong as Rally Love’.
 
Ed’s writings are a little like a new piece of music. You are not sure you like it as much as something else you know or the artist’s previous works; then, on further exposure, it grows on you and takes its place as the new favorite. I parted with $20 for a copy of ‘Fueled’ (as I also did with ‘Wrenched’ at an earlier reading), partly to support a fellow motorcycling nut and put a few gallons in his trusty F150 for the trip to his next gig, but also to be able to enjoy his work in quieter surroundings.
 
Whether you like to ride track or you just spend time tinkering with your Moto Guzzi, you’ll find in Ed a fellow traveler whose skinned knuckles, seared flesh and face full of WD40 (read his poem ‘Tears’) may poignantly remind you of your own shop and roadside dramas. Keep on trackin’ Ed !  

‘One Crazy Ride’ Oregon Film Premiere

Saturday, December 11th, 2010

December 11, Brooks OR, USA: The Oregon premiere of ‘One Crazy Ride’ took place today at the NW Vintage Car & Motorcycle Museum in Brooks, OR. It was introduced by Tom Ruttan, Vice President of the society. The film features five intrepid riders: one woman and four men whose passion is to follow the road less traveled in remote parts of their native India. They were: Nicolitta Pereira, Vinod Panicker, Sanjeev Sharma, Gursaurabh Singh Toor (aka ‘Sobi’) and Gaurav Jani who directed the film. Sobi was in the US touring with the film and was available after the showing for Q&A.

The area in question is Arunachal Pradesh, a little heard of corner of northeastern India, east of Bangladesh and north of the state of Assam, famous for its tea plantations. The region is politically and geographically remote and the subject of a more than fifty year old dispute between India and China. China believes the area to be essentially southern Tibet.

Sobi with the author at the NW Vintage Car & Motorcycle Museum

Sobi with the author at the NW Vintage Car & Motorcycle Museum

It is largely Buddhist and it is fair to say that the indigenous population looks racially closer to their neighbors to the north and further east, China, Myanmar, Thailand, Laos and Cambodia.

The journey begins in Guwahati, Assam where five members of the Mumbai based 60Kph Club gather to start their journey on Royal Enfield motorcycles. These are current versions of the classic 500cc four stroke single cylinder machines that had their heyday in post second world war Britain and survive today manufactured exclusively in India. Laden with everything but the kitchen sink, the troupe sets off in the west of the state headed for its easternmost drivable point.

The riders might be characterized as the product of India’s burgeoning professional and middle classes: smart and educated with lively minds, opinions and a very necessary robust sense of humor. The challenge is no small one: to safely complete and visually document a journey through an often trackless terrain without maps, GPS, film crew, support transportation or the usual trappings of ‘reality’ documentary.

The result was huge success. Some 90 hours of filming were condensed into just under an hour and a half of gruelling jungle and back country riding on machines ill suited to the purpose. The journey is a roller coaster ride over apparently insurmountable physical obstacles, flimsy suspension bridges constructed from jungle biomass, dejection brought on by failed engines and the unconditional hospitality of some of the world’s materially poorest souls.

For this filmgoer, who grew up with the original British ‘one lungers’ and once spent a day riding a small four stroke into the jungle north of Thailand’s Chiang Mai sans map or companions, I felt a lump rising in my throat. Here was forgotten territory: times when all care was cast to the wind, when progress depended on a fortuitous meeting or lucky timing, when something ventured paid off in spades. This last is the point that the film’s director and narrator makes during the journey’s closing moments: departure down a road filled with apprehension can often lead to new and immensely rewarding experiences – the opium of travel addiction.

But bravery comes in many shapes and sizes: each and every rider on this adventure gave up jobs to ride not once, but twice in the state of Arunachal Pradesh. Especial kudos goes to the one female member of the gang, Nicolitta Pereira, who missed her brother’s wedding to make the trip and risked opprobrium from a society that still has deep misgivings that a woman should be in any state other than at home, barefoot and pregnant.

‘One Crazy Ride’ is beautifully filmed and edited. We are not talking OmniMax here. The video camera was oftentimes handheld, subjected to appalling treatment and failed at least once. The digital media were at risk of submersion in muddy rivers, general exposure to the elements and potential theft by criminal and terrorist elements that hold sway in the more lawless areas. People, their possessions and perseverance made it through; this is their story.

‘One Crazy Ride’ is available on DVD from Dirt Track Productions. A trailer can be watched on YouTube.

A Morning in Mandello

Sunday, December 5th, 2010

February in Portland, Oregon likes to play a little trick on its residents. The sun comes out, temperatures reach for the seventies, then rain and gloomy skies set in once again, dashing hopes of release from winter’s grip.

No surprise, then, at the return of the recurring dream in which my wife, Ann and I sip a capuccino on the shores of Lake Como, Italy, with motorcycle history but a stone’s throw away. In the real world there are usually some logistics on the way to realizing a dream, so it was time to get out the maps and surf our options on the Internet.

Eventually September rolled around and the excitement of the June 2010 MGNOC National Rally in John Day, OR was already fading into history. I needed another fix. The plan was to ride from England through France and Switzerland then drop into Italy and stay two days in Como, some 25 miles from Mandello del Lario, onetime home of the Moto Guzzi marque. Another two days in Bolzano would allow us to take in the legendary Stelvio Pass and the Dolomites to the east.

Our entrance to Como at around 7:30pm was a little dramatic. A massive alpine storm had gathered to the north as night fell and we crawled in heavy traffic to the Italian border where the heavens opened and a downpour of biblical proportions began. As if by magic, we found the exit to the city by the lake and descended onto its streets. The waters were a sheet of gray steel in a plasma sphere of lightning bolts. The surrounding hills loomed in the distance, every tiny light on their slopes defying the aerial attack.

Next morning, we pulled back the drapes to cloudless deep blue skies, the pink and ochre pastels of neighboring houses strong and serene in the new day. With an inner ‘Yeah, baby !’ we breakfasted and made our way through the hills and corniches to the fabled Mandello and our first port of call, the Agostini Moto Guzzi dealership on Via Statale, the main road through town.

A lone Breva stood on the concrete in front of the store – nothing unusual here. Then I noticed a gentleman standing by what I thought to be a Falcone. I asked him if the bike was his and he admitted proudly that it was. It was an unrestored but functioning 1951 Airone. Not yet having had the time, money or opportunity to work on bikes of this vintage, I’m more novice than connoisseur and Herman, of Club Merelbeke in Belgium, told me about the bike in fluent English. ‘Are you here to go to the factory museum ?’ he asked. I told him I was and that I figured it was one of the high points of the trip (the next one being the Stelvio which was slated for the following day). ‘Well, you might want to take a walk down the road first. They have the fairing off one of the 500cc V8’s that was built in the 50’s. They are loading it on the truck about 12:30pm to go to a demonstration track day in Assen, Netherlands’. I thanked Herman for his time and his tip and told him I’d best be on my way. ‘Don’t worry, you will see it. This is Italy… nothing happens on time !’

Nevertheless a few minutes later I strode off in the direction he had indicated, oblivious to the trucks and cars bearing down on me on the sidewalk challenged (read: none) Statale. My better half reined me in and said: ‘Let’s go together !’. This would take another couple minutes but I conceded and soon I was standing in front of an unassuming shop that appeared to be full of commercial vehicle tires.

Giuseppe & Francesco in the shop with the Otto

Giuseppe & Francesco in the shop with the Otto

About halfway back inside the building was a typical motor trade workshop office. Receipts, grease stained work tickets and other paperwork lay left and right, the walls decked in the promotional posters for the oil and spark plug products of yesteryear. A lady office manager sat behind the desk; to her left a lad I thought to be in his late twenties reclined on a chair, apparently on break.

My Italian vocabulary running only to the usual ‘please, thank you and another glass of wine’, I blurted out something about ‘Moto Guzzi ottocilindri’ and asked if they spoke English. The young man said ‘Yes, but not good’ but he understood why I was there. ‘Pino !’ he shouted to the back of the shop. Moments later, a fellow clearly in the middle of an involved mechanical task came to the office, smiled and asked ‘Can I help you ?’. I repeated my request by asking if he could spare a few minutes and let me look at the V8. ‘Of course, this way, please’ he replied.

What followed was an in-depth description and history of a classic motorcycle perched regally on its oily pedestal some 6,000 miles from the place I now call home. Pino told me how only six were ever made, that the machine went from drawing board to prototype in four months and a slew of other technical information that clearly came from living in close proximity to its origins and many hours wrenching on the type.

Engine Left

The engine’s left side. Two sets of four points. An expert takes 75 minutes to time the ignition

The centerpiece of the ‘Otto’ is a 90 degree V8, double overhead cam, two valves per cylinder, watercooled, four stroke engine. Each cylinder is fed by its own 21mm carburetor and ignition is via eight coils energized by two sets of four breaker points driven off the ends of the intake camshafts. The front and rear cylinder carbs alternate, cheek by jowl, between the two cylinder banks; each has its own aluminum intake trumpet. The cylinder heads are made from a specialized copper-aluminum ‘Y-alloy’ and have no valve seats, using the same technology as the Merlin engine that powered the British Spitfire WWII fighter plane. Intake valves are 23mm, exhaust are 21mm. Bore is 44mm, stroke is 41mm, slightly oversquare. The crank is a work of art and assembles using keyed surfaces that mate with one another. Each of four journals supports two tiny side-by-side connecting rods. Simple math determines that each piston displaces around 60cc and under race conditions there’s a lot going on within a confined space, so failures were often no surprise. There are two power bands, of which the main one is at 9,000 RPM. Valves start to bounce at 14,000 RPM. Transmission is dry clutch driving a 5-speed gearbox and the engine will start with a turn of the rear wheel in first gear. Dry weight is 135Kg (237 lbs), oil is in the frame and top speed is a claimed 294 KmH (183mph).

Crankshaft

The Otto’s multipart crankshaft. The keyed mating surface is to the left

The bike normally wears a drab, light green fairing as did a number of others in the shop. Suddenly the livery of the modern day, limited edition V11 Sport Tenni made sense – this color scheme is clearly a tradition. Pino shared that the similarly clad nearby 350cc single provided much more rider feedback than the V8 as he found when the latter bike took him into a field at an Isle of Man demonstration some years ago. ‘All you feel is the wind’ he told me as he pointed to the ribs and collar bone that then too made themselves felt as that particular ride came to an abrupt end.

Two other gems in the shop were the above mentioned 350cc and a 1946 Falcone predecessor. Guzzi designers, engineers and test riders came up with nicknames that expressed the character of each machine: ‘Dondolino’ (Rocking Horse) and ‘Gambolonga’ (Long Legs).

The ‘few minutes’ I had asked of Pino had by now turned into more than an hour. Francesco, his accomplice, had brought me a flat piece of wood, pen and paper to write down the torrent of detail. More than once I felt like Moses on the mountain: ‘Hang on, what was Number Four again ?’.

Early Falcone Sport

1946 500 Falcone Sport predecessor

Now it really was time for the bike to go on the truck and I asked Pino for his full name and e-mail. He knew Portland and had been there on business a number of times over the years. ‘My proper name is Giuseppe’ he told me. ‘…Todero’. I did a quick double-take and asked if he was related to Umberto Todero. ‘Yes, he is my father’. I recalled that Todero senior, an engineer employee of Moto Guzzi for more than 60 years and a legend in his own right, had passed away some five years ago. At that moment a lot of the last 90 minutes fell into place, as did the last 30 years since I bought my first Guzzi, a 1975 850T.

Within half an hour I was walking beneath the 15 foot high poster of Sean Connery astride an Eldorado in the entrance to the factory on the nearby Via Parodi, then up the stairs to the gallery where icons of Moto Guzzi’s past were being admired by other visitors. ‘Huh’, I thought to myself smugly, ‘if they only knew…’.

1956 350

1956 350 Single in race garb. Recognize the ‘Tenni’ style green paint and white number roundel

My heartfelt thanks go to Giuseppe and Francesco for their hospitality and the time they took from their day to spend with a stranger and indulge his passion for all things Moto Guzzi.

Afterward, Ann and I stopped at a little café to enjoy the dreamt of capuccino and a snack before heading back to Como. ‘Aren’t you going to wash your hands ?’ she asked. I told her: ‘After shaking hands with those guys, I likely won’t be washing them till we get back to the States !’

Postscript: A few days later the Otto did indeed show up in Assen as witnessed by a video on YouTube. A minor correction to the above article. Things can and do happen on time in Italy, except when an Englishman steps in and causes a delay !

Track Day at Oregon Raceway Park

Sunday, December 5th, 2010

October 16, 2010 ‘Better born lucky than rich’ my old Dad used to say. So it was at the October 2010 Portland RAT (Rider’s Association of Triumph*) Club breakfast when Rob Burch, Director of Motofit Group, pulled my name from the pitcher for a free track day at Oregon Raceway Park. I’d met Rob at previous breakfasts where he’d talked enthusiastically about the new venture and the benefits of improving road and track skills in a controlled environment.

Two weeks of work separated me from the morning of the breakfast and the day of reckoning. Those too passed, but man, they dragged ! Right up until the end of the second week, I agonized over which of two bikes to take along. To me it was a ‘Triumph’ event, because without my RAT club association I wouldn’t have won the ticket, so I felt obliged to take the Rocket. Then a small red guy with horns appeared on my left shoulder and whispered ‘So, gonna take a knife to a gunfight, are we ?’

Ride Position

Rob Burch giving ‘hands on’ instruction on rider positioning

Oh dark thirty on Saturday morning found me rumbling eastward on I-84 at a steady clip on my 2002 Guzzi V11 Sport. The lights of Crown Point hung in the inky blackness above the freeway like a UFO ready to abduct and it wasn’t till Hood River that silhouettes of the basalt bluffs gave a clue to my surroundings. It was 40F and I broke my journey there at Bette’s Place restaurant on Oak. Coffee and a pancake helped to stave off the desert chill as the sun came up over Biggs Junction and I headed south into the canyon to Grass Valley.

First stop was to check in at the track entrance kiosk to sign a waiver and pick up my wristband for the day. Then on to the pits to put the bike through Tech. Tires, pads and hydraulics checked out OK. Lights and indicators were taped off for safety. Kara Burch completed my registration and I went to join some 40 other eager bikers gathered to hear Rob’s welcome and orientation from the deck of the track offices. ‘No wheelies, no stoppies, we leave them on the street’ (yes, officer, he was kidding…) Rob quipped, but he was being serious about track protocol. Safety is a recurring theme at the Park and those not willing to recognize it risk being shown the gate.

Next we learned to decode the flags that the track marshals would wave at us during our session, the rules of entry onto and exit from the track, passing distances and so on. Groups are divided into three colors: Green (Beginner / First Timer), Blue (Intermediate), Black (Advanced). Rob introduced his fellow instructors, recognizable by their orange vests. A nicer bunch of guys you could not wish to meet – no prima donnas here.

Raceway Park Track Layout

Raceway Park Track Layout

Marshals are all in radio communication with one another, the first of whom controls entry onto the track which takes place at Turn 1 at the southern end of the pitside straight when ridden clockwise. Depending on machine and rider, bikes on the track will be travelling anywhere from 70 to 140mph before braking for the turn, so you are politely but firmly asked to stay on the outer edge of the track until Turn 2 which will slow down even the fastest riders as it’s a tight ninety. Then comes the westside straightaway that blind crests before dropping down into a series of dips, turns and corkscrews that will deliver the best fun you can have with your leathers on.

The first lap session was somewhat crowded as some folks got used to the track. I found myself coming up on a string of bikes I wished were running a little faster, but patience paid off. Later in the day there seemed to be less bikes on the track and there was plenty of space to let it go, receive instruction and to have one’s clock cleaned by other more able participants.

After roughly 20 minutes on the track, Green group reassembled back at the track offices. Rob had us sit on his Gixxer 750 while he demonstrated correct body position and stressed the importance of relaxing the arms ‘chicken-wing’ style and letting the running gear do what it was designed to do. Pat McGill, another ORP ‘veteran’, chimed in with his advice on being a good passenger to the bike.

Scura in the turn

Moto Guzzi V11 Sport Scura in the turn

Having drunk from the firehose of information thus far, I set out on my second session trying to do what I was told and made a real pig’s ear of it. It appeared the much anticipated epiphany was going to have to come later. I leant the wrong way, dropped one too many cogs and unstuck the back tire, early apexed and headed for the rough stuff – you name it. But I learned to love my bike with greater passion than ever before. It braked, handled and powered me out of my mistakes and Session 3 went much better. Rob was kind enough to spend a couple laps with me. I was shocked when I saw how aggressively he tipped is bike in on the last right hander before the home straight, then realized I might just have done something similar as I followed his line – I like to think – turned and pinned it up the hill with a massive grin on my face.

Session 3 was followed by further instruction which covered other techniques we’d want to try as we gained in experience – a glimpse into the world of the Blue and Black groups, if you will. Working out is recommended and yoga breathing techniques have their place. There’s no definitive regime; what I heard was that it pays to keep an open mind, give every technique a try and pick out what works for you. Recognize that though you’ll always be subject to the laws of physics, you can learn to harness them and get a kick out of what mastery you achieve.

Rob and his team have done great things with MotoFit Group out at the Park. I’d characterize the operation as a diamond in the rough, but strides have been made and no effort is spared to make it a fun and safe experience. They welcome feedback and are constantly looking to improve. At times some of us were not sure when and where the groups were meeting and when the next track session would start, though there is one blast on the horn for Green, two for Blue and three for Black. It’s easy to get caught in animated conversation with a fellow enthusiast or be listening intently to an instructor in an informal aside and miss cues for the next step. Mounts Hood and Adams are visible from the track and you just might find yourself at the north end of the pits daydreaming into the blue yonder with the howl of motorcycle engines in your ears and thinking it just doesn’t get any better than this.

Daydreaming, of course, has little place out on the tarmac. If you’re not used to riding track – other than a very pedestrian courtesy lap at PIR, it was my first time – you’ll slake your thirst on a heady elixir of concentration, tunnel vision, sound and silence, physical exertion, anticipation and situational awareness, defeat and victory that helps you understand why some folks sell their homes to do this stuff.

If you want to learn more, visit the website at www.motofitgroup.com or take a ride out to Grass Valley one weekend when there’s a motorcycle event on and do a little spectating. Watch a YouTube video from the day. Per an announcment from Rob at the December 2010 breakfast, there will be other track days to be won by RAT members next year. Don’t wait on Lady Luck, though – carpe diem, seize the day !

* RAT or TRAP (Triumph Riders Association of Portland) is sponsored by Cascade Moto Classics, Triumph and Moto Guzzi dealers at 13705 SW Farmington Road, Beaverton, OR 97005. Tel: 503 574-3353

Electric Motorcycle Encounter

Saturday, March 27th, 2010

Brammo Enertia Electric Motorcycle

Zero Motorcycles DS Model Electric Motorcycle

March 26, 2010: Friday evening I stopped by the Portland Expo Center to discover the meaning of ‘better living’. Among the many offerings of low environmental impact cosmetics and devices to convert pedal power to a yard irrigation system were a couple exhibits more down my boulevard. One was the Zero S series of electric motorcycles and the other the made-in-Oregon Brammo.

I sat on the Zero S. Compared to my regular rides it felt like a cigarette paper that had undergone extensive origami. I could almost have picked it up and walked off with it. Of the two competing machines, the Zero is the more aggressively styled and the only one I was ready to be seen throwing a leg over. The seat is slim in profile and less than generously padded. I have a sawing horse in my garage that I’d rate a little more comfortable and the seat height comes in at 35″. I am not convinced the front suspension was road ready. It felt like a Shenzhen special: looked the part but didn’t behave like it. For a 55 mph machine however, it was probably more than adequate and the promo video inspires with scenes of desert dirt riding that I’ll bet was fun and more than eco friendly.

Green is good, don’t get me wrong. Sniggering at the beginning efforts of a new industry is uncharitable at best and as manly as laughing at a toddler trying to stand up and run across the room. Conventional fossil fuel machinery is still so much more pulse quickening and pleasing to the senses, but it’s hard to ignore the appeal of clean and silent operation of electric motors and their fabulous torque.

The Zero comes in street and offroad / dual sport versions and the price tag is a hefty $9,995. The Brammo lands at a more affordable $7,995. Recently introduced federal tax credits apply and total cost of ownership might be a big plus for either of them. Oil and gas go away and the claimed cost per mile is right around 1 cent for the Zero. Claimed ranges are 42 miles for the Brammo and 50 for the Zero.

I didn’t take the time to get astride the Brammo.  I wondered if riding it might be easier than looking at it. It reminded me of bicycles brown brogued schoolmarms would ride to work in the 50’s, complete with pleated polythene wheelcovers to prevent the lady’s windblown skirt tangling with the spokes. The Brammo has no such accoutrements, but it kinda looks like they wouldn’t go amiss. Still – early days – give the kid a chance !

Read more about Zero Motorcycles at zeromotorcycles.com and Brammo at brammo.com

Book Review – Riding Man

Saturday, March 27th, 2010

Riding Man by Mark Gardiner

RIDING MAN – BOOK REVIEW 

A couple months back someone tipped me off that there’d be a ‘literary event’ at Portland’s Ducati / Aprilia store, Moto Corsa. Apparently some guy had sold all his possessions to fulfill a lifetime ambition to ride in the Isle of Man TT and he was going to read from his new book about the adventure. 

That guy was Mark Gardiner, known to many in the motorcycling community as a regular contributor to motorcycling publications, but not to me, so I came to the event with few preconceptions. As intense as the TT must be, his reading could be nothing if not a personal account and after all, who doesn’t enjoy the narration of a good old fashioned hare-brained scheme ? 

Gardiner is Canadian and shows a natural affinity for that curious British amalgam: eccentricity, shoestring projects, support of the underdog and the unshakable belief that it will eventually stop raining. It’s no surprise, then, that his ‘bookish’ childhood draws him to a kid’s encyclopaedia where he homes in on a map of Britain with a motorcycle emblem indicating the Isle of Man. 

Fast forward forty years to the year 2000 and the author is in England to scope out the Isle. There’s drama in London with a sister diagnosed with cancer. She lives near Upper Street, coincidentally the scene of one my own two wheeled dramas when I worked in the area. If there’s any central theme to ‘Riding Man’, it’s the exhortation to realize your dreams now or risk the regret of missed opportunity. One suspects his sibling’s misfortune spurred as well as saddened him. 

By profession Gardiner is an advertising creative director and copy writer. His way with words is what makes his book so readable and appealing. True to ‘ad man’ form, he sets out his storyboard early on, explaining that the sequence of the chapters is thematic rather than chronological. I am routinely confused by things which are described out of order, but in this book, it was never a problem. Recall, for example, the images and thoughts that course through one’s mind even during a one hour solo ride – any order ? any logic ? – probably not. So it is here: motorcycle history mixed in with corvine superstition, Zen reflection, beer nights with strangers and friends in old Manx pubs, lonely, critical and self-critical moments out on a road that giants of short circuit racing once rejected as too dangerous an imposition on their season’s agenda. 

Followers of the sport will not be disappointed. There are familiar names that even a motorcycle racing dunce like me would know: Geoff Duke, Giacomo Agostini, Mike Hailwood and Soichiro Honda who made the machines Hailwood rode to success. There are dozens more;  many no longer with us as their legend and legacy begin with a fatal crash on a bridge or corner somewhere with an exotic name: Cronk-Y-Voddy, Creg-ny-Baa, Ballacraine and so on. 

A lifelong interest in the TT has made Gardiner somewhat of an authority on the subject which certainly ups his street cred when on the Island and soliciting the support of local motorcycle businesses and craftsmen. His amateur racing credentials help here too, along with the readiness of the course authorities to welcome international competitors and encourage their participation. Near to the end of his qualification to race in the final event, Gardiner agonizes over the possibility that he is being cut more slack than others because of his newcomer / foreigner status and journalistic connections. He need not have worried, he made the grade regardless. 

In 2002 Gardiner goes to the Island with a plan to film the proceedings and to write a book about the experience – nothing ignoble about that. It’s a credit to him that he did it with so little money in racing terms and he readily expresses his gratitude to the friends and businesses that made it possible. The DVD is professionally produced, but not too slick to lose the personal touch and is definitely worth watching. 

Arguably ‘Riding Man’ has it all: a dreamlike quality, good anecdotal (and factual) information about the history and players in the TT, an excellent grasp of the magical nature of the venue whether he’s talking about fairies under bridges or the sights, sounds and smells of the pits or the open road. I’ve never set foot on the Isle of Man but I’ve ridden closer than I’d like to many a dry stone wall in the very similar terrain and weather of northern England. Failing that, Gardiner’s book will take you there in your armchair and perhaps encourage you to re-examine your inner journey or, just for once, get out of that chair and do something… 

More information about ‘Riding Man’ and its author: 

ridingman.com / bikewriter.com: Gardiner’s book website 

onemansisland.com: website with excerpts from the DVD 

jaylenosgarage.com/video/clips/the-riding-man/1137648/: Leno interviews Gardiner about Riding Man 

www.markgardiner.com: Gardiner’s professional website offering his creative ad services