Tweeks

Buying a motorcycle isn’t the end of something. That motorcycle is the beginning of a multitude of roads, multitudes of journeys, and a blank alloy canvas.

It’s a rare rider – if that rider exists at all — that finds a bike that is absolutely perfect exactly as it is found.

You know what I’m talking about. Handlebars that are just a tad too narrow, or too low, or whose grips are at just the wrong angle. Levers that need to be rotated, changed, adjusted for point of engagement. Pegs that are just a tad off.

There are a whole punch list of things that need to be done to make that machine fit you, to do the job you need it to do.

So it shouldn’t be surprising that the most recent resident of the Rolling Physics Problem garage – a  2017 BMW F800 GS Adventure – had its own wants and needs, and those needs needed to be fulfilled.

The basic motorcycle absolutely spoke to me – a middle displacement motor, making nice revvy power with a noticeable top end power hit – typical Rotax fare. The chassis itself is light and narrow, with rigid, long travel suspension at both ends. Out of the box, the bike was already accessorized so that there was little that it needed – it had the Adventure’s 6.5 gallon underseat fuel tank, LED driving lamps, and the factory’s Touratech-sourced luggage frames, expedition cases, packing straps, and lower crash bars.  

The big stuff – 98% of the work — was done.

The last 2% though, would be required to take the bike from good to perfect.

It started innocently enough.

I’d been looking at the foot of the GS’s sidestand, and thinking that for a motorcycle that was going to be parked off pavement from time to time, that the foot of the sidestand was perhaps not as large as it needed to be.

I‘m not the first one to have this thought – a search string of ‘sidestand foot enlarger’ on Amazon maxes the search out at over 5000 hits.

I waded though the 5000 hits until I found one that fit what I needed it to for what I wanted to spend on it.  It even matched the bike’s color scheme.

It showed up in my mailbox. I put it on. It worked.

It was like a little bit of Bike Jewelry. Zero drama.

Then, though, drama.

ADVRider – that forum/place/community/media locus or whatever the heck it actually is right now – it turns out, is kind of like Amazon for GS Parts. And the fact that I do not own the boxer version of same does not affect that in any way.

I was involved in an online conversation about people’s F800 GSs, and someone let slide that there were a lot of choices when it came to lowered saddles for the bike, and as a matter of fact, Said Someone had two that he was trying to sell after having traded his in on its bigger 1200 brother.

The F800 GS is a tall motorcycle.

I could manage it around town, but the reach to the ground had me on the balls of my feet, and it felt just precarious enough that sooner or later, it would somehow catch me out, and then it would be time to wear the GS for a hat. Getting one inch closer to the ground doesn’t sound like much, but that inch managed to worm itself into my brain – and got larger and more firmly attached until it would absolutely not unworm.

Said Someone and I traded a few private messages, and then cut a deal for a Touratech Lowered Comfort Seat, for roughly half of what Touratech gets for them.

I renewed my familiar imitation of Loyal Poochie Waiting for His Favorite Fed Ex Delivery Man to Appear.   

Which he eventually did.

After work, I took the new saddle out to the garage. I transferred the bike’s cute tiny toolkit – I think there are 3 tools which fit every fastener on the machine – and the owner’s manual pack to the new saddle’s base. The saddle engaged the rear mounting pins, mounting bumpers and lock just like factory.  

I swung a leg over, and settled in.

I remember, when I tested a MotoGuzzi V85TT, thinking that motorcycle had the firmest saddle upon which I had ever placed buttocks.

This, apparently, was firmer.

I did get a photo from the saddle’s former owner, Said Someone, that had the German Language item description on a label on the saddle pan – ‘Komfortsitzbank Sport Neidrig’ – which I believe translates to ‘Comfort Bench Seat Lowered Sport’.  I can only conclude from this very small sample size data that when a German Motorcyclist describes something as ‘A comfort saddle’, that he or she means something far different than I what I customarily mean. Still, if one assumes that this description is coming from the Dirtbike side of the motorcycling family, then it starts to make somewhat more sense – where firm support and ability to move the motorcycle with any of the motorcyclist’s contact points – hands, butt and feet – are all positives.

Komfortsitzbank Sport Neidrig

Riding the bike it made more sense – there really was good support and the contact with the machine was much enhanced. At stops my purchase with the ground was improved, and the rider triangle was almost unaffected – there was still plenty of leg room. As the miles rolled up some combination of my butt and the saddle broke in to each other, and I started to understand the old wisdom about motorcycle saddles.

An Old Wise One had told me once that a saddle that is comfortable in the showroom – soft, cushy – will be hellspawn on the road, whereas something that on first sit seems too firm, will reveal its virtue 4 hours in. This was clearly one of those.

Still, in the Immortal Word’s of TV’s Inspector Columbo, there was just one tiny little thing that was bothering me.

With my seating position lowered an inch, my relationship with the windshield had changed just enough that it was now the inheritor of the accursed brainworm inch.  The GS’s Previous Owner had supplied the bike with a Givi D5110ST replacement windscreen. The D5110ST is a great replacement shield if one is decidedly tall, which the Previous Owner was, and, alas, I am not, and not likely to magically become, either.

On the stock saddle, I could see over the shield when I adopted good posture. With an inch of altitude shaved off, looking over now required a bit more of a stretch. I had noticed some buffeting at the higher cruising speeds I seem to prefer, which the lower seating position actually improved nominally. The overall performance of the shield, though, left room for improvement, so I tried to improve.

In all fairness, the problem with windshields on enduro or rally style motorcycles isn’t the fault of any one manufacturer or any aftermarket supplier – without resorting to extreme measures, truthfully, they all straight up suck. The issue is one of simple aerodynamics – these offroaders are narrow motorcycles, with accordingly narrow shields. At any kind of sustained speed, in any even remotely suboptimal conditions – dirty air from other vehicle wakes, quartering winds, anything — and the upper part of the aerodynamic envelope – wherein, it should be noted, one’s head sits – collapses onto itself from the sides, causing awful buffeting.  An extended test of an original KTM 1190 Adventure that I did revealed a fantastic motorcycle that – at any speed over 65 mpg – was like being punched in the head over and over and over again.

Givi also makes a screen called the Airflow. The Airflow is a two-piece shield system, with a shorter main shield and an adjustable upper shield. The upper shield has a significant flow of air behind it – net result, very granular adjustability and smooth airflow around the rider’s head. I’ll be the first to admit that it looks like some form of Steampunk Nerdvana Contraption, but if I adapt the perspective of RPP’s Motorcycle Styling Traditionalist Cadre – Hi Bud! – that means it fits right in with the rest of the GS.  

Complex Aero Management That Works – it Glows In The Dark, Too.

Online commenters consistently said things like, “This is the best money I have ever spent on this GS…” so purchasing one seemed fairly low risk. In fact, it was so low risk that every single one in North America seemed to have already been purchased. The Internet, when faced with one of these little challenges, is a truly wonderful thing. After about 30 seconds of Furious Googling, I had identified an Italian Motorcycle Accessories business that apparently had no supply chain problems, and a crazily low price, even including shipping.

Click, click. Wait for delivery man.

Given the international order, no one was more shocked than me when the UPS man pulled up on the fourth morning after the order, coming out of a holiday weekend. Given that I was removing one Givi shield and replacing it with another, the installation was as close to trivial as anything motorcycle ever gets – remove six torx headed screws – one on each side and four in the center of the cockpit – and replace the new shield and torque down the four screws.   Once the base shield is secured, the upper, movable shield is inserted in the tracks and the clamps – which can be opened and closed by hand – are closed to secure the upper shield in position. I’m altitudinally challenged and summer in Maryland is coming, so I went with the lowest possible position.  

Total duration – about 8 minutes.

I had a little errand in Frederick that – unusual in these days – really required that my face be located directly in front of another face that had been failing to take a required action when contacted by any other medium – phones, text, e-mails – that could easily be ignored.  Given how frenetic my worklife has been lately, it was important that this errand be completed as efficiently as possible.  Translation – high rates of speed and no mucking about en-route.  Shame really, as muckin about en-route is a specialty of mine.

In short, though, the perfect opportunity to test a new touring fairing.

I leathered up, geared up, lit up the Rotax and headed to Frederick.

Rolling through Jefferson I was happy that the set up seemed stock – solid with no squeak or rattleage. The cockpit seemed calm, but almost everything does at 45 mph.  

Headed up 340 out of town, I wound the motor through the gears – only shifting into 6th after passing the ridgeline and heading down the other side.  Once in top,  I stayed in the gas – 80…85.

It was only then that I realized I had never closed the visor on my Shoei.

Ha!

Never let it be said that Certain Italian Motorcycle Engineers do not know how to make the best use of wind tunnels.  At my idea of an appropriate Interstate highway cruising speed the GS’s cockpit was quiet and calm enough to run with one’s full face helmet open – for longer days in the saddle, this is worth any amount of mere currency. For me to want to travel – really cover ground – on a motorcycle, it has got to be quiet, because noise equals fatigue, and fatigue is a wall that can’t be ridden though, or Iron Butt Rally Winners aside, I can’t ride through, without feeling that I am writing checks that eventually aren’t going to be able to be cashed.  

This Airflow screen had completely transformed this motorcycle. It was now really ready for any kind of speed and distance.

And you guys or gals out there with OG KTM 1190 Adventures, you really want to check one of these Givi Airflows for your bike out. Yes, they make them. I checked.  

Little tweeks. But these tweeks were completely transformative.

My Remodeled Office

Time to go for a long ride.

Still, there is this guy on Adventure Rider that has a nice SW-Motech aluminum replacement for the ludicrous plastic bash plate that BMW hoped no-one would ever notice…

Relativistic Rubber Band

Physics is a funny thing.

Some people think they understand it.

Others know they don’t.

***

Riders will tell you that a specific motorcycle is ‘fast’.

Certain mental images flicker.

Fenceposts blurring beside the road – field of vision telescoping down.  

It’s fast, alright, but it’s kind of impressionistic – not precise.

At Bonneville, shifting into 3rd gear of 6 at 130 miles per hour is fast.

If it actually had a speedo — which it doesn’t — a Ducati MotoGP motorcycle running in top gear at Mugello would display numbers bigger than 350 km/h fast.

Fast. What physics symbolizes as v – velocity.

For the vast majority of us, though, the opportunity to experience of running up really big velocities is a very infrequent event.  If not a never event.

Riding on public roads changes one’s riding frame of reference.

Running up big numbers on public roads leads directly to some unpleasant conversations with one’s local constables and jurists and the potential for dramatically reduced lifespan.

It is, in short, not a sustainable strategy.

In a world of speed limits, poor sightlines and drivers with smartphones, we don’t need fast – we need quick. Not v, but a – acceleration.

Since we can’t – or at least ‘prolly shouldn’t – go 180, one’s 40 to 80 split comes into laser focus.

So. We’ve got fast. v. Velocity.

We’ve got a a. Acceleration. The speed at which speed increases.

There’s a third variable in the motorcycle’s dynamic model. Information Technology guys think of this as latency. Latency is the speed at which the rider’s demand for an increase in speed results in speed actually increasing. Think of it as the measurable lag between asking for and getting.  

IT guys are used to measuring latency – how many milliseconds does this operation take – and as motorcyclists we’re at a strange inflection point in how rider inputs are executed – a great leap forward in the system’s latency.  

Take a motorcycle like a brand new Yamaha MT-09 and twist its throttle.  The rheostat under the throttle grip will send that request to an Engine Management Unit which will fire off stepper motors connected to throttle butterflies allowing air to rush through the throttle bodies, past the blasting injectors – past valves, suck squeeze bang blow – crunchy transmission gears yadda yadda, yadda yadda, chain, chain, chain. By the time the rubber at the rear contact patch deforms – indicating the arrival of driving force – you’ve clicked off well more than 600 milliseconds.

Do the same thing on an electric motorcycle – say, a Zero SR/F – and the number is closer to 60.   

Those two motorcycling experiences are – predictably – very different.

The engineers that designed the original Honda CB750 were reputed to have said that the response of their engine should be so smooth that every degree of throttle rotation should produce a predictable, linear response – 1 degree, this much, 17 degrees, 17 degrees much. The Honda Men were notably successful in this, but their Mother of All Universal Japanese Motorcycles peaked out at 44 pound feet of engine output, delivered through 5 sets of gears.

The Zero does the same thing, only with 140 pound feet. And ten times more quickly. With no gears. At any possible road speed or motor speed.

The electric riding experience focuses the mind. It teaches very quickly to be very precise with the throttle.

I’ve been fortunate enough to have had a Zero SR/S as part of the RPP Test fleet for the last few months. And although the journalist previous to me seemed to believe that the SR/S was only good for burnouts, I’ve come to appreciate it as a unique kind of road going razor – as sharp as anything can be. 

Zero had finally made arrangements to come and collect their motorcycle, which results in me experiencing feelings of regret in advance, of knowing that a good thing is about to come to an inevitable but still somehow premature end.

I can’t help it. Some bikes speak to me. I bond, though I know I should not. Sue me.

There is, of course, only one remedy for such regrets, and of course I availed myself of it.

Think of it as ‘just once more before you go.’

I leathered up and lit up the Zero.

Conditions were Rolling Physics Problem Nominal – temps in the low 70s, clear skies, low humidity and calm winds. As soon as the SR/S’s systems finished self-check and presented a ready interface,  I pressed the bike’s ‘Mode’ button and dialed up ‘Sport’ mode – the SR/S’s primary state of charge display changes its interface to a nice improvisation in shades of a nice angry Orange.  With the stand pulled up, all the alerts on the display clear, and with a little throttle, the bike silently walks away.

RPP Labs has a road bike test loop that combines a just about every type of riding you can do on pavement, rolled into about 40 miles.  

Every time I ride the Zero, the overall directness of the thing, as a creature of engineering, is still somehow a shock. Working the bike to and fro underneath me, gently applying little hits of the throttle and absorbing the little hits of thrust that immediately result – it’s as if the boundary between me as a motorcycle pilot and the machine I ride has somehow been erased – there’s no lag, no perceptible response time – it’s literally ‘what I think is what we do’. If one puts in enough time – and I have – riding one of Zero’s electric motorcycles becomes like being part of an Ace Jam Band – its gestural, its automatic, its improvisational, fluid and its just a thing of wonder to experience.

My old classic bikes are big, interrupted, pre-meditated motions – working one’s way up through the gears is a big, torquey stairstep. There’s a lot of planning ahead to make sure one is in the right place, in the right gear, at the right speed at the right time. The electric, though, is just seamless – there is power absolutely everywhere, it’s one enormous rush that constantly asks ‘how much do you want and how much is too much?’.  The bike simply responds to whatever is asking of it exactly when you ask – the focus on the road instead the mechanics of the bike – torque curve, gear choice – enables a whole new kind of ‘cerebral MSF traction pie chart’ – there’s so much more attention bandwidth available for what the motorcycle is doing on the road.

I fully expected – as a committed manual transmission internal combustion gearhead maniac – that I would hate it.

I was completely wrong.  

Lander Road in Jefferson was likely designed in the earliest part of the 1800s as a way to get mules and cargo down to the C&O Canal. It is definitely not a two lane road – it’s one and a half at best —  and the closer to the Potomac and the Canal one gets the narrower, bumpier and more technical Lander gets. There are tree roots in that road that are likely older than my Dad.  And maybe his Dad. Lander is probably perfect for a 250 dual sport – any larger motorcycle on this stretch is administered a pretty stringent handling exam. There SR/S is not a small motorcycle, but pinpoint control of acceleration and engine braking allow pinpoint placement on the road – hitting the hairpin where Lander crosses a small creek the frame suspension and tires are positively working – I’m carrying lots of lean but there’s tons of grip available – by the exit I’ve cut in harder.  The next section is a series of short straights between corners that climb hills – little blasts and hard cuts.  For a Not Small motorcycle, the SR/S works amazingly well here.

Coming to the reunion with MD 464, I deliberately left braking late, because I wanted to hear them bite – the whirr of pads on the spiral holes in the ventilated disks. It’s an easy bad decision to make when one knows how well the Bosch Motorcycle Stability Control system works. It’s also amazing how loud disk braking systems are when there are no other sounds with which they have to compete.

Whirr

Banging right onto MD 464, and heading back down to US-15 and the river, the road is wide, straight and fast. I adopt a 75 mph cruise, and then slowly engine brake towards the circle at the bottom.  Traffic is relatively light this day, and I slide into the circle on the outside lane of the two lane wide circle. The car beside me applies heavy throttle – I hear their motor racket and see the body rise. I give a small flick of throttle and he’s in the mirrors and instantly gone.

US 15 south takes me across the Point of Rocks Bridge and The Potomac, where a quick right picks up Lovettsville Road – a lovely lass of a ribbon of pavement. Lovettsville is 11 miles of fast sweepers, broken up with up with 4 really hairy decreasing radius corners. The SR/S makes easy work of it all, having plenty of grip and plenty of chassis feedback that are well more than this road requires. The direct and delay-free control of the bike’s electric motor brings the phrase ‘steer with the throttle’ a whole new context – I can pick and adjust my cornering lines with extraordinary precision – if I want to be a half inch further outside of my current line a tiny increase in throttle position has me instantly there.  I’m running a nice 8/10s pace until I come up on two Harley Riders wearing colors about a mile and a half from Lovettsville – they’re exceedingly slow, do not seem to understand the concept of ‘lean angle’ and riding just far enough apart that I can’t vaporize them both at the one legal passing spot when there’s a Suburban coming in the other direction.   They don’t look like folks I should be going out of my way to antagonize – given their racket level they might not have even been aware I was behind them – so I hang back and wait them out. As we get into Lovettsville proper they make a left without indicating at just the right time, opening up the road as I head for the Berlin Pike and the bridge back over the Potomac into Maryland at Brunswick.

Berlin Pike – a pre-WWII artifact of the previous name of Brunswick – is about a 5 mile stretch of sweepers that descends smoothly back towards the river. It’s such a spectacular descent that a series of professional bicycle races used to go miles out of their way to be able to run those corners.  It’s one of my favorite stretches of two lane roadway – there’s a lovely rhythm of rights and lefts which tighten up progressively as one gets back down to the Potomac. With the Pirelli Diablo Rossos on the SR/S, I’m able to carry as much lean angle as I ever carry off a racetrack, and the bike makes it feel controlled and drama free.

The bridge back into Brunswick comes up far too soon – the view is awe-inspiring from 100 feet above the river – and once on the other side I work the traffic circle and head back up towards the Jefferson Pike. I carve the three traffic circles between the river and the pike, and then head west away from home and towards the village of Knoxville. This ride is way too much fun to turn toward home, and although there isn’t much to Knoxville itself, the Pike leading down to it has another series of downhill sweepers that echo those of the Berlin Pike. Both the SR/S and I are fully, immutably in ‘The Zone’.  

Those sweepers – while fun – aren’t what brough me down here. Mountain Road is.

Mountain Road is another Frederick County Goat Path of a road – again, only a lane and a half wide – with sharp changes in elevation, and decreasing radius corners that fall either at the tops or bottoms of hills.   The climb up from Knoxville is twisty and bumpy in the extreme – a bike with too much power and poor control would be a handful here – my Slash5 Scrambler and the Royal Enfield 650 Interceptor, with its Harris Performance Frame – are just about perfect.  I get up on the balls of my feet on the pegs and work the corners and twists with my entire body – the SR/S inhales Mountain Road and just eats it up. Mountain brings me back out just north of the circle that took me down the Jefferson Pike to Knoxville – it’s a little sub-loop that is so worth the detour.

I make a left up MD 17, following a Subaru Impreza up to the first bend, which sits astride the top of a ridge.  Once past the ridge top, there’s a long straight, and I blink my passing beams, and go wide open. I’m past the Suby in under a car length, and the SR/S accelerates from just under 60 to well over 90 in the time it takes for my eyelids to force themselves back open and for – another part of me — to unclench.  It feels exactly like being slingshot off an aircraft carrier deck – one millisecond you’re here, and the next millisecond you’re somewhere else entirely – the extraordinary violence with which one is displaced in space is almost impossible to reconcile with the utter silence of the whole affair.  There may be faster motorcycles out there somewhere, but the experience of lighting them up in nothing like the sensation of going Hyperspace on a Zero SR.

Maryland 17 heading north towards Burkettsville is the closest you will get to riding the Isle of Man without buying a plane ticket and air shipping your motorcycle. The farms that line this road and the oldest and most prosperous ones in Frederick County, having been first worked in the mid 1700s. The road is lined with hand laid stone walls and old growth Oaks, with long straights broken up with Colonial Property Line sets of 90/90 right/left corners. On a classic bike 45 is a good entry speed to these 90/90s – on the SR/S I never found out what the best entry speed was – 65 seemed fast enough – the bike is a better bike than I am a rider.

Coming out of Coatesville there are a few whoops in the road which are good for perfectly controllable feeling power-wheelies before calming down for the village of Burkettsville.   One needs to calm for Burkettsville because 1) The village has some serious speed bumps that want to achieve World Speed Bump ranking and 2) Burkettsville’s Mayor is a friend of ours, and I would never want her to get cross with me.  

On the other side of Burkittsville is the run up Gapland Road – it’s a familiar charge across big hills and multiple streams and creeks – past fertile fields, and past the straight empty half mile put there just to see what she’ll do. Where Gapland crosses Broad Run the road breaks right in a 90 degree straight down the hill toward the creek – across the short steel bridge and then climbs 90 degrees left up the opposite bank – success here involves staying to the far right far longer than seems prudent, then chucking the bike left into the corner and against the additional strain of the hill, and leaning well in and gassing it – the SR/S makes it seem like ballet – we’re right where I want to be on the road, and have to roll out as we reach the crest – we’re carrying too much speed for the volume of deer in this treeline at this time of year – it’s no place to be caught out and have to demonstrate again the bike’s Bosch stellar Motorcycle Stability Control System.

Coming off the crest there’s steep drop with a G-out at the bottom – the SR/S, to its credit, does not bottom the suspension at either end, and comes out of it having refused to get bent out of shape or knocked offline. Up again to the next ridgeline – at the next crest Gapland’s name changes to Broad Run Road —  and then steeply back down again, working two technical rights and then a left that leads down the steepest section of the road to the bridge across Catoctin Creek. The climb back away from the creek is a spot where most motorcycle’s peak power is required if one wants to increase one’s road speed – the SR/S, though, can gain speed and give it back on the face of the grade, 5 times if one wishes – the bike’s torque makes everything gravity can throw at it seem like fake news.    When the last crest is reached, the road straightens out and flattens out, and its two big sweepers and a flat out straight that leads back to the Jefferson Pike and RPP HQ.

If this ride is balm for the regret to follow, then this is ‘just one more time before you go’ – the famous final scene – leave nothing unexplored as there is no ‘next time’.

Trees line the right side of the road as it transitions from climbing the creek bank to running across the pastures that border town.    I’m on the balls of my feet – in as much of a tuck as my bulgy self will countenance — setting up for the first corner and the sprint to the line. As I shift my weight to turn in, I see it.

My friend the Red Tail had seen me coming.  He has leapt flat from an overhead branch and was dropping straight down towards the top of my head, wings folded tight, also in full tuck. In his clean configuration, he was almost a shadow, like something you’d imagined. Four feet or so above my head, though, he unfurled his wings to their full width and span. It was like hitting the airbrakes – downward progress stopping instantly. In the silence afforded by Zero’s electric motorcycle, I could hear the concussion of the wings opening  — a ‘woomf’ akin to the opening of a parachute. The hawk’s silhouette appeared clearly for just a millisecond before passing out of my peripheral vision and behind my head.

One of Space X’s Starships would be proud of such a maneuver.

There was no time to enjoy the display – I finished setting the bike up for the corner and the short chute that followed. With a slight flourish of the right wrist the SR/S leapt from the corner exit and set up in the road’s left wheel track for the final corner.

I leaned the SR/S into the right hander and very subtly added in the power starting just before the apex. Timing for this is something I had to learn – learn to stop adding the additional calculated lead time for the bike to respond, because there wasn’t any. Having a past Zero do exactly what I asked it to exactly when I asked it to taught a vivid, indelible lesson.  The current generation Zeros have the Bosch MSC system that will seamlessly intervene to save one’s rear tires, helmet and shorts, but the lesson was no doubt learned.  

On the corner’s exit, I stood the SR/S back up, got the bike back on the center of the back Diablo Rosso, moved my weight as far forward as I could manage, and rolled the throttle to the stops.

Seemingly everything happened all at once.

The response, as always, was instant. The rate of acceleration was something for which my current state of Calculus skills is not adequate – at any rate it was far more visceral than cerebral. G forces build and continue to build nearly instantly – arms and legs come under increasing load working against the acceleration. My measured half mile roll on test section was more than the SR/S needed – on barely more than 2 seconds the bike had warped from 60 miles an hour to well over a buck ten. I ran out of need to know well before the bike ran out of power or we ran out of road.  

And that was the end of a lovely relationship.

With the press of the kill switch, the SR/S sat silent in my driveway – no IC cooldown noises, no exhaust contraction – just as silent in repose as it is in action.

I’d wash the bike in the morning – it had seen more than its fair share of road mung, and it wasn’t thoughtful to provide the bike to the next journo in the state it found itself in.  I’d put it back on the charger in the morning, as RPP Lab’s solar array was coming online – better to use free power than have it provided into The Grid.   

Soon I’d be back on Suck Squeeze Bang Blow Antique Machinery, wondering why everything felt so awfully slow.

I was going to miss this bike, for sure.

We’d always have hyperspace to remember, though.

PT

Sitting at home for more than a year has affected humans in so many ways.

Hearts and minds, waistlines and relationships were all strained in ways we never could have predicted.

Certainly, no one foresaw the most serious casualty of the quarantine.

Butts.

“Butts?” you say.

Yes. Butts.

I’ve written previously about the issues I was having with pain in my back and legs – it had been making riding motorcycles increasingly challenging.  Doing Modern Life’s expected Medical Googling, I discovered clusters of a post pandemic condition doctors were calling ‘Dead Butt Syndrome’ – whose rapid rise in numbers was attributed to people in lockdown literally sitting down until their buttocks – specifically the Piriformis muscle – atrophies, gets inflamed and then compresses nerves that run down the legs. Despite the comic potential of a serious malady known as ‘Dead Butt Syndrome’, I took the high road and left it out of my yarns.

Well, until now.

After getting my second vaccination, I made an appointment with my local physician – I was generally suffering from about 5 different kinds of deferred maintenance – who in turn referred me to the local health system’s Physical Therapy department.

On the appointed day, I fired up the LT – which, ironically, as my most ‘comfortable’ motorcycle, and the one fitted with a fully custom saddle that had been made by someone whose day job was actually an Orthopedic Nurse – was the bike that was causing me the most discomfort – and headed over to the Frederick Health System’s Crestwood Campus facility.  

Riding up toward the main building, a parked motorcycle caught my eye.   

It wasn’t just some motorcycle, though.

It looked to be a vintage Harley Sportster, or at least it had started out as one. The bike had been chopped, stretched, slammed, and had a lovely multicolor paint scheme – it looked like it had just popped out of some wormhole that led to San Francisco in 1966.

“Man, that’s pretty. But who, in their right mind, is actually riding a Chopped Sportster – with a raked out, overstock front end, a front drum brake, and drag pipes – on Americas Highways in 2021?”

I got my bike on the stand, masked up, and went inside.

After the avalanche of paper- and tablet-based forms was dispatched, I paced around in the waiting room until the door to the back of the treatment suite opened and my name was called.

“Greg, this is Derek, your therapist. He’ll be taking care of you today.”

Derek was a fairly big guy, maybe 6’ 4”, muscular, shaved head, nice blue scrubs. He looked at my feet.

“Whatcha ridin’?”

“I’ve got a K1200LT for a daily.”

“I know exactly what that is. Cool.”

“I’m guessing the chopper in the corner of the lot outside the window would be yours. Did it start out as a stock Harley or did you get a custom frame?”

“It’s a stock HD. I got it inspected so it was certified to be safe. Right after that I started cutting and welding, probably making it….”

We both laughed.

My new buddy ran though his assessment, with me describing my symptoms, which mostly mapped to which of my motorcycles I was riding. Both leaning backward – the slouch one adopts on a big tourer – and leaning forward on sporty bikes with high footpegs – which kept my knees sharply bent – basically both postures at the opposite extremes of motorcycling – were the ones that produced the most pain.

It was astoundingly great to have a Physical Therapist that genuinely understood the mechanics of riding. I related Peter Egan’s old story that his R100RS was better than a trip to the chiropractors, and that I had been able to demonstrate the truth of that with my R90S.

“Yup. Balancing support of your weight on legs, thighs and arms.”

After taking history and specific measurements of my (utter lack of) skeletal flexibility, Derek announced a deterministic result.

In my head, I distinctly heard the single ‘Ping!’ of a desk bell.

“We can definitely fix this. No guys with knives.

I’m going to give you some homework, and I’m going to want to see you twice a week for about a month. Let me show you two stretches to loosen up that piriformis muscle, and when it does, it won’t be trying to strangle your sciatic nerve.”

So yeah, Dead Butt Syndrome.  Really.

After only a day or two of stretches, I already feel much improved. An hours ride on my new GS was entirely twinge-free. My relief knows almost no bounds.  

I’ve done PT before – once the routine is established, the need for supervision diminishes pretty rapidly.

But I rode past the Health Center today, and there was a different Custom in that corner parking space.

I might go to a few more appointments, anyway.        

Less

I’m beginning to see riding life as a perfect sine wave – a lovely symmetric form that ends up exactly where it began.

The entire beginning of my riding life has been the quest for More.

More power. More torque. More traction – smoothness – braking – fuel and gear capacity – road lighting – more everything.

More brought more stuff still along with it. Greater power meant greater weight – more mass brought with it bigger brakes.  More mass and more speed brings control electronics, powered windshields, active suspensions, infotainment – it’s like an arms race – once one takes that first tiny first step towards More the speed at which More multiplies goes vertical fast.

My ‘daily rider’ – the motorcycle I ride when I need to cover ground fast, take my stuff with me, and be quite sure I will get to my destination – is a 2000 BMW K1200 LT. There are a few motorcycles that may be ‘More’ than a K12LT – but there aren’t many of them.  The LT has a slightly more than ½ size replica of one of BMW’s Formula 1 Auto Racing Engines that was subsequently run through more than a decade of additional development as a motorcycle engine. It sits on its side – heads on the left boot, crankshaft on the right – running in line with the frame. It’s got electronic fuel injection, four valve heads, water cooling, five speeds with reverse, shaft drive and cruise control.

More (now with more included Dirt)

It will ride at 85 to 90 mph for 270 mile tank to the next 270 mile tank for as long as you can – upon minimal reflection – probably well longer than you can.   

With a full tank of fuel, the LT weighs over eight freaking hundred and fifty pounds.

And with that as a frame of reference, one can understand how my thoughts might have ventured out in search, well, of Less. 

Not every ride requires the capability to vaporize multiple time zones.

Some do.

But most don’t.

***

Why is it that The Motorcyclist – viewed as an archetype – is inherently drawn to More? Not every ride is Turn 8 at Misano, Route 50 in Nevada pulling a buck ten into the last third of some Twisted Blast to LA, or the chewiest middle of nowhere somewhere along The Dalton Highway. In the back of the head of almost every rider I know, though, there is some form of Maniac with a Throttle that has the thing wound wide freaking open man, fighting for traction and looking to see what she’ll do.

But for every little WFO Red Devil on one shoulder, on the other there’s also a little White Angel – probably wearing a White Satin Gold Winger’s Jacket – One of those Nicest People – that would like you to join him on your Cubs for a little putt down to town – It’s such a pretty evening  – just to grab a half gallon of Breyer’s and a box of sugar cones.

And both of those things, by the MotoGods, are perfectly fine things to do.

As long as one’s motorcycle leans over in corners, gives one a little boot in the seat of the pants when one opens the throttle, and allows the wind to rush by one’s face, we are brothers and sisters of the road, regardless of your choice of machinery or the form that it takes.

Most riders I know started out with something like that Cub, or perhaps a little dirty bike – something with one very small air-cooled cylinder and likely, a high tolerance for a borderline abusive lack of proper maintenance. As an 11 year old, I thought Yamaha’s Mini Enduro was the coolest thing I had ever seen. My bud’s Honda Trail 70 – you know, the bike that was seemingly made of one large diameter frame tube – was a close second.  

Eeeh? Eeeeeeeh?!?

My dad, however – having seen a rider and his pillion killed on the Autobahn when he was in the service in Germany – was more than a little moto-averse. This meant I had to sneak away to ride my friends’ little trail bikes and make sure not to let on why I’d come home smiling goofily.

This made me somewhat of a Motorcycle Late Bloomer.

Having ridden other people’s tiddlers, my first serious motorcycle was a BMW Airhead — a Toaster Tank /5 that had one combined analog instrument and two completely unlabeled and symmetrical handlebar switches.

If You Were Looking for Some Form of Help Here, Forget It – You Either Know How to Operate These Controls, Or You Don’t

Air cooled. Pushrod valve train. Opposed twin.

The Slash 5 is a simple small motorcycle – easier to adjust valve clearances on and tune up than most of my lawn mowers.

The Toaster is happiest between 45 and 65 mph, with a well-controlled, compliant long throw suspension and a chassis that responds nimbly to full body-english riding. A BMW motorcycle is not – for the most part – the choice of a speed crazed maniac. It goes around corners pretty well, but it substitutes a certain torquey charm for genuine hairy chested speed.   

Being in the blush of youth and far from the satisfaction of wisdom, I tried to hot rod the /5’s way to More – not understanding that the virtue of its design was balance – that increasing anything was to somehow break everything.

***

Many of my more chronologically gifted riding friends have extolled the virtues of Less – in some cases, radically and emphatically less.

As riders age, they will, in most cases of necessity, seek out motorcycles that are simply easier to handle and move around garages and parking lots.  If the goal is to keep riding – and it absolutely is – there are stages of Less though which one can progress.

Motorcycles like BMW’s F series, the modern Triumph Bonnevilles and other heritage twins, the Yamaha FZ-7, Honda’s NC750 are all lighter, simpler, less powerful motorcycles that emphasize a lower, and potentially slower approach towards riding – admire the roadside butterflies, rather than splatter them – on the road, it is better to be immersed in the experience of the ride rather than trying to Tardis one’s way though it – arriving somehow before one had left.

When someone had offered me a chance to purchase their F800 GS, Less was primarily on my mind. While not comfortably capable of the K-bike’s sustained over-the-road speed, the GS could provide me with enough room to carry all my travelling kit and gear, was arguably a more comfortable place to sit — lots of legroom! – seems to actually enjoy terrible surfaces – oh, and it weighs more than 350 lbs. less than the K-bike.      

Still, 800 ccs is, objectively, not that much less.

The motorcycle market, though, is actually beginning to provide some excellent options for folks that want a sweet spot of machine mass and power.

Royal Enfield seems to understand this more than most manufacturers – their 650 Interceptor and Continental twins are simple, sweet riding motorcycles. Their 441 Himalayan is the mountain goat of adventure motorcycles – light, simple and agile in a market marked by massive battlewagons.  Their new Meteor platform – likely to be retooled in multiple models to replace the aging Bullet 350 – makes use of a purpose-built small displacement engine designed to provide friendly and non-intimidating power in urban use.

Both Honda and Kawasaki also have small displacement offerings that are also designed to appeal to people that desire low mass and simplicity. Honda’s CB500 Twins – in F, X and R guises – and CB300 Singles are capable small displacement motorcycles. The RPP garage includes a CB500F – reserved for use by my youngest son Finn – and despite its more modern, MotoGP echo styling – is a classic Honda in every way – light handling, high revving, with an engine character that recalls the CB350s and 450s of the 60s and 70s. The CB300 singles – recently ‘Punched Out’ from having been CB250 singles – highlighting an actual oddball displacement arms race in the small displacement segment – are not to be regarded as some lightweight non-serious motorcycle. Friend of RPP Bike-crazy Uncle Joe – a Charter Member of the Four-stroke Singles National Owners Club (FSSNOC) – has ridden his CB250 (along with his wife and her CB250) Coast-to-Coast (and back) twice now without a hiccup. Kawasaki has joined Tiddler-geddon by punching the former Ninja 250 out to a 400, and by replacing the old KLR250 dual sport with a Versys 300 adventure bike. The Versys 300 – like the Himalayan — has received a lot of praise for being an Adventure Motorcycle that is light enough to be reasonable in the event you manage to ride into an Actual Adventure. 

Even the manufacturer of my 850 pound plus battlewagon wants in on the small motorcycle action – committing its single cylinder G310 series singles to the fray.

KTM offers several bikes based on its 390 cc single – although, like all things KTM – they somehow manage to make their 390 ccs seem like More.

And in case these smaller displacement motorcycles are still not small enough, light enough or low enough, there are always motorscooters. Don’t think for a second that these modern step-thoughs lack the capability to be ridden with enthusiasm and verve, though.

One day while blasting my LT down the Interstate – headed to Baltimore – I saw a fairly substantial looking royal blue scooter with seriously rocketship styling slicing through westbound traffic like the proverbial hot knife – hitting all the holes and leaving everything else on wheels for dead. It was a masterful display of roadcraft – and from some scooter, no less.  It was so stuck in my head that I hit the Internet upon my return home to eventually ID what turned out to be a Yamaha Majesty motorscooter.  

The next day I was in a local dealership – picking up some parts as a pretext for a social call with Paul . Paul – who was generally regarded as someone who was magic behind any set of handlebars, all but indestructible and likely immortal – was starting to experience the — delayed in his case — but completely normal effects of aging.

Paul turned out to be off that day, so I ended up talking with our mutual buddy Drew.

“Did you know Paul traded his GS on a Scooter? A Yamaha Majesty.”

“Yeah. I knew.”  

***

The dawning second age of electric transportation is also fundamentally a game of Less.  

The battery for a highway-capable motorcycle – like some of my Zero test bikes – weighs well more than 150 pounds. To move that battery around requires enough motor, structure, suspension and brakes to accelerate and decelerate the mass of that battery.  The resulting motorcycle comes in at just under 500 pounds ready for the road. At a certain inflection point, the majority of the energy expended by riding the motorcycle is actually used to move itself, rather than the rider.

To increase power to weight, and to drive efficiency, the smaller an electric motorcycle can be made, the better the power density and overall efficiency math works.  Motorcycles like Cake’s Kalk and Osa weigh in under 200 lbs – with their battery accounting for around 35 of those pounds – and while sacrificing top speed, they gain in range per kWt of battery capacity and in their ability to efficiently accelerate themselves and the rider.

And this is where things start to get definitionally fuzzy – because continuing to make the cycle itself lighter continues to drive additional dynamic riding and power efficiency. And it’s at these sizes – bikes like Super 73’s S2 – which is technically an e-moped, at 73 pounds – and e-bicycles – like Yamaha’s Civante – at 43 pounds – all start to blur together.

For getting around your town, getting to work, running errands, such definitionally fuzzy bikes are less expensive to buy, operate and maintain, and are a blast to ride. Turn whatever control knob there is up to ‘Turbo’ and please try not to eat bugs while you’re laughing convulsively.     

And lest you conclude that these little e-rippers – because they have pedals — are somehow not motorcycles, I direct your attention to the 1903 OG Harley Davidson Model 0 prototype and the Model 1 production model, which, by a modern technical definition, are clearly mopeds.

Publicly stating that Harley Davidson Serial Number 1 is not a motorcycle is the action of someone that is just looking for a fight.

Electricity and electronics make even smaller rides not only possible, but these days ubiquitous.

The One Wheel XR is a gyroscopically stabilized, electric motor powered, one wheeled skateboard – seeing one ridden is to make a gumbo of old B.C. comic strips, Segways Gone Wild, and the Jetsons. The One Wheel is Finn’s Current Ride of Choice – getting way more love than his CB500 – and watching him blast down the street past the RPP Office window – half levitating and half blasting – its easy to see why. With a battery pack roughly double the size of the one in the laptop I’m writing this on, the XR will go 15 miles at speeds up to 20 mph.  Anyone who thinks that isn’t fun either hasn’t ridden or seen one ridden – first time One Wheel witnesses put the Gob in Gobsmacked.

And fun is really the whole point.  

Anyone that was a witness to Honda’s recent Press Launch event for their new Trail 125 saw piles of tough motojournalists giggling like children while blasting, jumping and sliding an updated version of the old CT110 trailbike over an offroad course.  Those guys were clearly miserable – having the time of their lives on a small displacement trailbike whose single cylinder is half the size of each of my road burner’s four pots.

Displacement may have its uses, but there are other times where it just gets in the way of a good ride.

I’ve pondered going road racing – but I don’t want a S1000RR, I’m jonesing for a seriously built CB160.   

Finn’s CB500F is the smallest displacement, lightest motorcycle out in the garage, and it just might be the sweetest.

Get the CB out in the green tunnel of Saint Marks Road, with its revs up and the suspension working – its gearshifts slick and more precise than that of any of the German bikes in the garage – and all is right with the world. The engine has just enough throb in its parallel twin rev signature to let you know it’s a motorcycle – it’s making all the lovely high rev sounds — and she accelerates just enough for this road this time.

So don’t let anyone tell you that your bike needs to be a certain size – you don’t have anyone to answer to but yourself.  With certain notable exceptions, motorcycling isn’t a competition – it’s a meditative activity.

Burt Munro famously said that one could live more in five minutes on a motorcycle than some people might live in their whole lives. And Burt’s personal preferences notwithstanding, that moment of enlightenment is just as likely to materialize at 35 as it is at 105.

I’m got a serious thing for one of the new Honda Trail 125s –  seems like a machine that could take me back to right to the fun where I started.

Sure looks like fun to me.

The Question

There is Death, there are Taxes, and there is The Question.

“It’s electric – how far will it go?”

I know, with absolute surety, that The Question is one of motorcycling life’s Identities – in mathematics, the identity is a result which is unvarying and immutable.

As I rode the grey Zero SR/S around town, every light at which I had to stop, repeated the same script – a Youth – usually in some form of hot-rodded internal combustion auto – would look at the Motorcycle, and then look directly at me.

“How ‘come that motorcycle isn’t making any sound – is it electric?”

“Yes! It’s made by a company called ‘Zero’ – they’re from Silicon Valley California…”

“How far will it go?”

Personally, as a committed and committable motorcycle enthusiast, my preference is not how far it will go, but how it feels while it is going there, but no matter.  It might not be MY question, but it is clearly nearly everybody else’s.

I have a lot of saddle time on Zero’s motorcycles. They’re all dynamic bikes that deliver acceleration in a way which is completely different from everything in the petrochemical-powered world that came before.  

Everyone that rides one for the first time comes back giggling incoherently – unable to form even the most basic intelligible English words.

It’s something I never get tired of witnessing – it’s as funny the 200th time as it was the first.

Either that or I’m very easily amused.

My last experience with a new Zero – the SR/S – a fully faired and luggage capable motorcycle – had broken a streak of absolute peak motorcycling experiences. Zero had delivered the bike leading into December, and My Maryland decided that this would be one of the 17 times in a century when she’d deliver us an Actual Winter. We Marylanders are Winter Weenies – winter precipitation New Englanders won’t either notice or even slow down for will paralyze the entire state for a week.  And we were getting a storm like that every three or four days for three straight months.  

And in case the snowfall and lack of traction weren’t enough, when the pavement was visible we had well below normal temperatures, to boot. Low temperatures, it should be noted, that the Zero – really didn’t seem to like.

But even coming out of the Unique 2020 Experience, Spring comes to all eventually.

When it finally showed up in Jefferson, though – in the form of a snap 71 degree day that fell right after a 38 degree one – I went straight for the Zero key.  

I spent a little time playing with Google Maps – looking for an open route where sustaining steady speed wouldn’t be a problem, and where the round-trip duration was extended but not aggressively so.  I had tested a previous generation Zero’s battery pack to destruction – — and I really had no desire to deliberately induce that kind of extreme range anxiety again, thank you very much.

Once aboard the SR/S, after turning the key, the on-board computer systems lit up and went through their diagnostic routines and a brief animation before eventually displaying Zero’s primary information display.  The motorcycle was displaying a stored 12 Volt subsystem fault – with the ‘Universal Yip’ symbol familiar to most computer enthusiasts. The SR/S has a 12 volt DC subsystem which provides power to the bike’s onboard computers, the Motorcycle Stability Control (MSC), display and road lighting systems. The system makes use of a very small battery, and during operation in very cold weather, it can require both thermal heating and charge delivery from the main powertrain battery before it delivers stable enough voltage to allow the computer controls to work reliably – the motorcycle basically requires a brief electric warm-up before it is ready to be ridden.

This error – though – was a transient fault saved from a previous cold weather ride. I navigated down through the bike’s menuing system until I was able to display the source of the fault and then clear it.  With the SR/S’s computers in an error free state, the display presented the green circle with an arrow icon – we were armed for ‘Go!’. A gentle roll of the throttle grip produces an gentle whir between the rider’s heels, and the bike’s clutchless direct drive system produces precise, controllable and instant torque.

Roundtree Road is the most efficient way to hit the highway leading east from Jefferson – and just under a mile of arrow straight pavement is a wonderful place to confirm everything good I remember about the SR/S.  The bike’s overall chassis composure is an absolute treat – working the chassis back and forth underneath me to warm the tires yields a precise, compliant handler with excellent suspension control that is just a touch less firm than the SR/S’s streetfighter cousin, the SR/F.

US 340 leaves Jefferson heading east toward Frederick and then Baltimore, heading over a steep ridgeline that has given rise to its nickname of ‘Dynamometer Hill’ amongst my motorhead friends.  Even with the SR/S’s ‘Street’ mode selected, coming off the end of the on-ramp at about ¾ throttle is still an eye opener. The power delivery of electric motors is completely unlike that of their internal combustion predecessors – where most IC engines tend to be weak off the bottom and deliver increasing power as the RPMs rise, the electric motor hits hard right off, and delivers almost linear power right up the point where it signs off. Whack the throttle at 10 mph and the Zero crushes the rider back against the saddle’s substantial bum stop. Whack the throttle at 80 and it does exactly the same thing.  Consider that the Zero is direct drive – one gear, no clutch or transmission – and that gets even harder to wrap one’s head around.  Coming off the end of the ramp I rolled out way early – coming back off a series of IC motorcycles one really needs to recalibrate the organic riding sensors – and just shuffled up about 3/4s of the hill. Knowing I had some heat in the tires I then gently rolled the throttle to the stop and was well past the ton in about a quarter mile of steeply graded highway, with nothing but the hissing of the tires, the sound of wind around my helmet, and that big, big number on the display to give any real sign of the rate of forward progress.

Coming off the top of the ridge, I did my best to get into a comfortable tuck and make myself as aerodynamic as it is possible to make a 5 foot 8 inch tall animated Michelin Bibendum replica.  Guys like Marc Marquez – who at 5’6” and 150 lbs. – are naturally aerodynamic, have a substantial comparative advantage when it comes to measured Riders Drag Coefficient. Short of sanding off my glutes and gut, there’s just a limit to what I can do.

Coming through Frederick on I-70 I spent a little time dicing with aggressive traffic and looking for clean, open air. Whatever reduction in power I might have experienced in 30 degree weather was well and fully gone now – I was once again able to pick and place my openings in traffic at will – just think it and you’re gone.  East of town I settled into a defensible speed cruise of about 75 – in morning rush that would be far too slow to parry approaching traffic, but on a weekend afternoon it would do. At that speed the SR/S was relaxed – nearly serene. My body, on the other hand, was experiencing some organic system difficulties. The last 14 months or so of sedentary life during quarantine had well and truly taken a toll – I was experiencing a lack of core body strength that was causing some nerve impingement that was most noticeable when I was in the saddle – the higher the footpegs are on any motorcycle, and the closer my upper legs are to horizontal, the more noticeable the problem becomes. Given the Zero’s moderately sporting riding position, and my attempts to stay in a reasonable tuck, my status was falling somewhere between moderate discomfort and excruciating pain. The problem – in the interest of clarity – had nothing to do with the Zero – the design issue was strictly one affecting its pilot. Standing briefly on the pegs would bring relief – returning to the tuck would quickly allow the pain to return.

So much for Bibendum’s feeble attempts at remaining aerodynamically clean.

 

The Test Loop

My first waypoint was in Lisbon, MD – about 35 miles out from Jefferson, at the intersection of Maryland route 94. 94 is a rural highway that heads through open farmland up to Liberty Road – Liberty offers one the opportunity to either head to Randallstown and West Baltimore, or to head back west toward Frederick. My job was to resist the strong temptation to ride like a knob, and to maintain a reasonable and steady cruise speed, in the interest of not too adversely affecting range and battery consumption.  With little else to fixate on, I spent some quality time trying to tighten my back and core muscles – doing little in-saddle mini-crunches – and much to my surprise, after about 25 minutes of this, my discomfort began to recede. That lesson was clear and easy to understand – my next several days would consist of as many sit-ups and toe touches as I could casually slip in between all my other activities – I needed to work on whipping Bibendum into some kind of shape other than ‘Stack of Tires’. With some strength and agility returned, though, I was ready for the rural two laners that made up the other two legs of my test loop.

When the MD 94 exit came up, I held on to much of my highway speed and sliced nicely through the exit ramp, making sure to stay on the inside edge of the pavement, and then braking hard as I came to the Stop sign at the intersection with the highway. The SR/S’s J Juan radial mount calipers – which bear a very strong resemblance to the Brembo Stylemas that have become nearly ubiquitous on new motorcycles these days – provide tremendous initial bite and stopping power, accompanied by a very pronounced whirr produced by the pads sweeping the holes in the brake rotors. That whirr – I should point out — is always there on any motorcycle, but given the utter lack of any sonic competition from any kind of motor sound – it’s far more pronounced and noticeable on the Zero than it is on an IC bike.

If Its Got This Much Go, It Prolly Oughta Stop, Too

After I came to a stop, I pulled some data from the SR/S’s instruments. After covering a little more than 30 miles at a reasonable Interstate cruising speed – averaging about 75 – I’d consumed more than 40% of the battery charge. While the SR/S’s fairing was intended to lower the bike’s Coefficient of Drag – Zero pointed to an 11% reduction from their wind tunnel measurements – in the range of speeds where one would reasonably expect that to make the most difference, while the difference might be measurable, on the road, it really wasn’t material.

Maryland 94 is a perfect motorcycle road – it’s in open county, with good sightlines, low traffic, and nice rolling rhythm of hills and curves that are a rider’s delight. Posted speed limits vary between 35 and 55 miles an hour, and here, the SR/S was in its element. Nearly perfect levels of suspension compliance, the track spec Pirelli Diablo Rosso III tires, and a communicative trellis frame allowed the bike to be placed and kept in any desired inch of roadway – with no transmission or revs to worry about, or for that matter, noise to dilute mental bandwidth,  it was easy to be in and stay in The Zone – that perfect state of rider’s focus.  There was more good news – the slightly reduced road speeds were producing lower rates of battery consumption – the roughly 1.2 % per mile at 75 looked more like about .8% per mile at 60.

At least getting home was not looking like it was going to be high drama.  

At Liberty Road, I turned west back towards Frederick and home. Liberty runs across a series of successive ridges, then comes into open country about 7 miles outside Frederick. The Zero absolutely ate up the sweepers on the initial section of the road – picking lines with precision and holding on to them with tenacity – making all the uphill grades feel insignificant, inadequate in the face of the SR/S’s instant shiploads of torque.  I should also like to apologize to the driver of the blue vintage Corvette who – like me – was enjoying that first top-down day of spring. The stink-eye I received as I went very briskly by on the first legal passing zone on the flats outside Frederick was a pretty good clue that he was nowhere near as impressed by the Physics Miracle of electric acceleration as I was at the time.

Offing that Corvette, though, handed me the key to one of those shining motorcycle moments – ones where time itself telescopes down – and the ride seems to slow down more the more you don’t want it to end. The run into town proved to be wide open – I had, inexplicably, the pavement to myself – one with a series of sweeping corners as we crossed the pastures out on the flats working our way towards Frederick’s vista of the ‘Clustered Spires’. The Zero was working on that road in absolutely every way – suspension working,  tires providing perfectly linear corner entrances and perfect mirror images of them on the corner exits – brakes were never touched – speed and placement on the road could be precisely controlled with the device formerly known as the throttle.  

Despite a lot of willing time dilation, though, Frederick arrived – though unwanted – anyway. The transition from golden-lit motorcycle backroad porn to urban congestive sprawl was a subtle as a punch in the face on the return to US 15. Suddenly I had a lot of company – company I really didn’t want – but the Zero gave me enough squirt in traffic to pick my neighborhood and go ride there.

Only one exit south, I came up on the 7th street exit, realizing that a target of opportunity was right beside the highway. Sweet Doris from Baltimore has a new favorite treat – they’re Ginger candies made by the nice folks at Newman’s Own. I know this, because she’s been eating all of mine.

Newman’s ‘Ginger Mints’ are not an easy thing to find, but Frederick’s Hippy Organic Food Coop – the Common Market — has always had them. And the Common Market has a brand-new 7th Street store.

Turn signal – brake hard – snap right into the exit lane. Roll in and carve the ramp – brake hard for the traffic light.  After two lefts I trolled into the Market’s parking lot – taking extra care for the drivers and pedestrians that have no sonic signature to key off to know that a motorcycle is there. Hippies are generally environmentalists, so the pair of electric vehicle chargers in the front spaces of the new Market’s lot wasn’t really a shock.  I pulled in at sub-walking pace, sidestanded it, and walked forward to the change unit. It was a standard J1772 Level 2 Charger, which is what the Zero uses, and it was complimentary for the use of their customers.

I love hippies.

63 miles. 73% consumed.

Knowing I was about 11 miles from home, the math showed I was going to complete about an 75 mile ride, with about 15 indicated miles of range in reserve. The Zero had been set in the bike’s standard ‘Street’ mode – both ‘Eco’ and ‘Sport’ were more and less efficient available options – and my riding had been enthusiastic, while falling short of Utterly Knobbish. Since I had free supply of electrons in my hand and the day’s required test result really had been obtained, I connected the charge head and listened as the bike’s onboard charger fans did their power-on self-test spin, relays snapped shut, and the chargers started pulling juice and powering up until the Zero’s dash indicated we were pulling 56 amps of charge power.

Daddy had some Ginger Mints to buy.    

Get Yer Electrons Here.

After a short sojourn in Organic Food Heaven, I came out to a motorcycle that had managed to suck down another few percent of charge. Since I had already completed a battery range projection test run, I swung a leg over, powered the bike back up, and changed the power delivery mode to ‘Sport’. I resolved to extend the run home to take me over a few more backroad miles, and to ride in a manner that was just a Little Knobbish.

I mean, one has to have some fun.   

I headed back down US 15 South towards the Potomac, and then headed west on Mountville Road. Mountville takes one over to Ballenger Creek Pike, which is a very old road that runs through old estates and farmland. Old Roads – at least in Frederick County, Maryland – mean tight, technical and usually bumpy, as the roads were designed to follow topography and run between the property lines of extant farms – in short, the old roads were simply plopped in between stuff that was already there – a complete reversal when compared to modern dynamite, bulldozer and scorched earth road construction methods.  As a motorcyclist, given a choice between old roads and new ones, I’ll opt for the old ones every time.

The Pike is nothing less than totally gnarly, dude. It isn’t straight anywhere. It isn’t flat anywhere. And it isn’t smooth anywhere. If one has some skills as a rider, and is fully engaged and paying attention, it’s a whole lot of fun.  If any one of those elements is missing, however, it’s a great place for unplanned non-scientific corn sampling, causing bovine psychic trauma, or random tree modification.  The SR/S – with its precise suspension and communicative frame – manages all of the whoops, bumps, grades and decreasing radius corners with aplomb.  Applying just a little more whip than strictly necessary is a good way to verify the claim that Zero’s engineers deliberately elected not to implement the Bosch Motorcycle Stability control’s ‘wheelie mitigation’ function. In ‘Sport’ mode the access to immediate torque everywhere makes roads like this a complete giggle.

What’s Another 11 miles among friends?

Upon our arrival at the bottom of The Pike, I negotiated the traffic circle that takes one back west toward Jefferson. I had deliberately chosen a route home that extended my ride by roughly 11 miles, and selected a power mode that traded thrills for efficiency.  Coming out of the circle on MD 464 I latched on to the back of a fellow rider who appeared to have just picked up a new Kawasaki K900RS.  He was fairly conservative going up the long grade that climbs west toward The Valley, but as we crested the ridge, he discovered the throttle, and rubber banded onto the next dimension, where, much to my dismay, I apparently could no longer follow. Despite my few extra state of charge points provided by the hippies, with 8% remaining showing on the display, the SR/S’s battery pack was no longer able to deliver enough current to get into the upper portion of the engine’s output. Both my bike’s electric snap and the Z900 were just gone, daddy, gone.

I cruised home the remaining 3 miles, rolled the SR/S up the driveway, sidestanded it and hit the kill switch.  You can add to the list of Electric Motorcycle Weirdness Items the utter lack of any thermal cool down noises, hot smells or other hot IC motor behaviors. With a Zero Motorcycle, Off is Just Off. This silence was even more silent than sound that the bike makes on the road.  

It had been a wonderful ride – spirited, focused, thrilling.

A 2021 Zero SR/S – with a fully charged battery pack – driven in normal ‘Street’ mode at what passes for a level of roadgoing aggression displayed by a lifetime BMW rider – a day ride of 84 miles at either Interstate or secondary highway cruise speeds – and a tiny 10 minute top up charge – and I’d come home with single digit charge remaining, and a battery pack that was not able to deliver anything close to peak power for the last 5 miles of the ride.

I certainly had one answer to the question people had been asking.

And Sweet Doris from Baltimore had her Ginger Mints.

And maybe, just maybe I’d be able to enjoy at least a few of mine, now.   

Stiffed

I don’t know about you, but last year I got stiffed.

And in a big way, too.  

There were big trips I was supposed to take.

People I wanted to see.

Places I wanted to go. Deals that needed to get made.

And it all got shut down. It all went away.

The whole year just seems to have disappeared.

Days – weeks – months all seemed to blur. My sense of time and my place in it just drifted away.

It seemed like my entire existence telescoped down to the path between my home office and my aged and no longer comfortable Ikea couch, with an infrequent N-95 double-masked raid thrown in on my local grocery supercenter.

One day I was riding more than 500 commuting miles a week – with more travelling and sport miles on the weekend – and the next day I was couchbound, zoomblind.

Rallies, Races, Vintage Meets that just didn’t happen. The First Barbara Fritchie Motorcycle Classic that hasn’t been held in a 100-year plus run. Some events are already cancelled two years in a row.  

My Teardrop Camper Club – The TearJerkers – just evaporated, too.

What I wouldn’t give for a draft beer – with you, pal.

The Stiffed, though, is a double – or maybe a triple — whammy.

Its bad enough that one misses all of the activities, events, the people, that make you you. Its worse still that the sudden removal of all that stimulation makes one just a bit slower on the uptake – finding words or mental synthesis of available data seems to take just a tick longer than it used to.  And if you stare at it harder, even the length of that tick seems to keep stretching out the longer you look. How many hops is it from here to all the way stir-crazy? There’s no way for anyone to know.  

The Third Part of The Triple Whammy is that being sedentary takes a price that is far too high.

People ask me if I work out.

“Nope.” I say. “I work.”

All the motorcycling, camping, bicycling, splitting firewood, and maintaining trucks and bikes and campers makes use of all one’s muscles – keeps upper body, core and leg strength in tune.  Sit on the couch for a year plus though, and bad things begin to happen.

I used to suffer from sciatica when I was younger. Two things had aggravated my condition.  One was sitting on my wallet, which the discovery of cargo pants fixed forever. The second was an unplanned exit from my CB750 after it was removed from underneath me by a left turning rookie autoist, said exit causing me to fly down the road in a standing position for about 60 feet at the end of which I landed like Superman – stuck the landing! – which isn’t great, apparently, for the disks in one’s lower back. Whenever my Sciatica flared up, any lack of core fitness or muscle tone made the situation that much more dire – the only way out of it was to bull right through it – the more active one was the sooner it healed up – laying off only made it worse.  

I’m thinking that a more than a year’s worth of layoff can’t be helping my physical fitness.

Some days I am not the stiffed but the stiff – my back is sore, my overall sense of strength seems reduced, and my legs hurt.

Peter Egan used to joke that his R100RS was a therapeutic, chiropractic motorcycle – when his back went out, and he was in too much pain to even consider swinging a leg over anything else, that a ride on the RS would align him and set him aright.

Things had gotten desperate enough, after my sedentary year, to grasp at any straws, no matter how Egan they might be.

My poor, long suffering BMW R75/5 sat like me – dormant — in the garage. The oldest and most established of my alloy and non-alloy Girlfriends – ‘Mojo’ had been around even before Sweet Doris from Baltimore – we’d first dated on that bike. Lately it had been subjected to all manner of indignities – an actual stream of newer, faster — even REDDER – motorcycles. There’d been the Zero electric ones – and even an oddball Freakishly Tall newer BMW (C’mon!) that came to stay – all trying to get what the Slash 5 had always had – that place in my heart as the first one of all.

I looked at the Toaster the other day, and realized I needed to ride it – that absolutely nothing else would do.

As I moved the CB500 to gain a route out into the light, Finn OneWheeled up the driveway.

“What’s shakin?”

“You wanna witness a rite of springtime?”

“Let’s see it.”

The abject chaos and lack of any time sense meant this motorcycle hadn’t gotten any kind of winterized – no fuel stabilizer, no carb drainage, no nothing. One day it was summertime, and another day it wasn’t.

I pushed the ignition pin down, and the /5’s combo Speedo/Tach’s idiot lights all lit up. I swung the engine-mounted enrichener lever downward and then pressed one of the bike’s two available buttons and very large parts slammed together metallically and slowly began to move. The first run produced no action – the second a hesitant chuff. I cracked the throttle a little and the third time produced combustion – the old boxer swung quickly to an 1800 rpm high idle – and as some heat began to build I gently walked the choke off and worked hard to keep the engine from stalling as the mixture leaned out. After two minutes or so an reasonable idle was achieved.

Winterization is for the weak.

“It liiiiives!”

“It does indeed. I never had any doubts. Look out – we’ll see you a little later.”

Rolling down the driveway, I toed the bike down into gear, the clutch bit, and all of the years aboard this bike came flooding back and crashed on me like the biggest of waves.

The rest was as it always is – I headed for the dirt of Poffenberger Road as fast as is prudent on a motorcycle this old.  The big bore 900 with the 750 heads still produces punch that is hard to top – in the dirt it’s a bit of a hooligan with no electronic nannies – just knobs and maybe some common sense to determine whether it’s hooked up or throwing dirt. There’s something about the riding position of these old standard airheads that recalls being on horseback – one splits one’s weight equally between well positioned pegs, the old Denfield Police Saddle and supportive dirt bars – and that position works muscles in my body that apparently haven’t been worked that way in some time.  

I stretch out the ride as long as I am able – running the Heidenau Scouts I recently fitted on the pavement they finally seem to be breaking in – their turn-in behavior is either not as weird as when they were first fitted or I’m just getting comfortable with weird. I arrive back at the shop just as the sun ducks under the ridge.  

My physical pain is gone. All of my muscles are singing. This was apparently just what I’d been needing.

Give my regards to Mr. Egan.  

Not All That Scramble are GSed

Yes, Doctor

Shamieh’s Shop does not operate, on average, like a Doctor’s Surgery.

There are no bright lights, clean hands, latex surgical gloves, complex electronics, sterile fields or highly trained and certified surgical nurses. 

The average factory trained BMW mechanic – accustomed to a world of bright white pegboards with Bavarian blue outlines of factory tools, would likely throw up a little in their mouths at the sight of my workshop – replete with territorial oil stains, the large rubber-faced mallet in its place of honor, the black steel pipe cheater bar, my collection of shim and lever purposed hunks o lumber, and the tool of last resort, the factory frame jack from my long-departed 1971 Cadillac Sedan DeVille.

An actual Surgeon, requiring a still higher level of sterility and organization, would likely have a stroke.

I am a devout adherent to Kevin Cameron’s creed that an organized workbench is a sign of a disorganized mind.

Despite that bit of hard-won self-knowledge, indulge me in a little production of the Rolling Physics Problem Theater, entitled The Freakishly Tall New Baby’s First Oil Change.

“Good Morning, Team.”

“Good Morning, Doctor”

“First, we will remove the F800’s questionably effective bash plate.”

“Yes, Doctor”

“13 mm rachet drive socket.”

“13 mm socket.”

The 4 bolts that rode on rubber mounts came loose and were removed with minimal drama.

“Next, we will remove the old oil. Drain pan.”

“Drain pan”

“6 mm Allen-head rachet drive socket.”

“6 mm Allen socket.”

My first run at it resulted in a bruised hand and a very stuck drain plug. Apparently South American BMW Dealership mechanics had either not received or had been unable to interpret the rather detailed instructions contained in the Bavarian Book of Torque Settings.

“3/8 inch gymbal headed breaker bar and padded work glove, right hand.”

“3/8ths breaker and work glove”.  

A little more leverage and bit more concerted effort resulted in the drain plug breaking loose with an audible ‘Bang!’. The old oil, which was clearly pretty thrashed, flowed into the drain pan with a whoosh.

“Rachet Jaw oil filter socket”.

“Oil filter socket”

I placed the jaws of the tool onto the flats of the oil filter and started to apply torque – to absolutely no effect.

Our South American Mechanic was nothing if not consistent.  BMW specs call for filters to be applied by hand – tighten the filter until the gasket makes contact with the machined sealing surface – tighten ¾ to 1 full turn by hand – no more. One should, in theory, be able to remove the filter the same way – by hand – if it is properly installed. Not here though.

Long ago, I had a riding friend who, sadly, has become lost in the mists of time. He, it should be said, shared one truly regrettable habit with our Mystery South American Mechanic. This bad habit resulted in his name being changed into an adjective (a gerundive?!?) – any fastener or oil filter which had been so egregiously over-torqued so that it required breaker bars, tap and die sets or dynamite to remove was forever, in his honor (or dishonor, depending on one’s perspective) said to be ‘Walted’.

This oil filter was well and truly ‘Walted’. I’d run into this before – usually with newly obtained cars or motorcycles — and it required restraint, judgement and a skilled hand to avoid making things much, much worse before they got better. I swapped out my short Craftsmen rachet for the breaker, took extra care in setting the jaws, and gently started applying torque slowly, steadily and gently increasing effort. After about 40 seconds or so, the filter began – almost imperceptibly – moving incredibly slowly. After it had spun a full revolution and a half, it was finally at the correct torque value where it could have been removed by hand.   A few seconds later, it had been placed into the box from which the replacement Bosch filter had already been removed, and the rest of the oil in the filter galleries slowly joined its former co-workers at the bottom of the drain pan.

The dynamite, it seems, would not be needed this time.

Composing himself, the Doctor faced his patient, and called for the next instrument.

“OBDC-II Bluetooth Interface. Android Phone.”

Say what now?

This is where, clearly, things just get wiggy.

If you have a certain type of not quite state of the art motorcycle, one needs an ODBC-II interface and a SmartPhone App to perform an oil change. 

Yeah. There’s An App For That.

We here at Rolling Physics Problem apologize for the previous uncontrolled snark outburst. We will make good faith efforts not to repeat this poor behavior until next time.  

Let’s just say that this addition to my toolbox – after most of a lifetime with only older motorcycles to maintain – seemed just incongruous enough to spring the threshold on my irony monitor alert.

In the case of my newly acquired F800 GS Adventure, the oil service interval is programmed into the bike’s instrument panel computer, and if one exceeds the service interval on either time or mileage, the computer takes offence, which it expresses by displaying the word “SERVICE”. In capital letters. In the center of the information display.

It’s supposed to be obnoxious.

It succeeds in that.

If you had a current technology motorcycle – for example any Indian with their ‘Ride Command’ display – one would be able to use the diagnostic functions built into the display – literally mousing through a menuing system – to navigate to the service indicator and clear it.

If, though, you have any one of a more than two decade long string of BMW models, the design requirement was that you – as the user – would just throw money at the mechanism, and pay your dealer to have them do it.

Nope.

A Software Developer in Germany — Wladimir Gurskij – wasn’t having it either. Wladimir decided to create MotoScan, which is able to communicate with all or most of the embedded computer systems in most of those BMW motorcycles and read and change a surprising percentage of the stored values and settings in them.  Want to change a bike from miles to kilometers? Cake. Want to get your 24 hour clock to read like a 12 hours one? Nyet prablema.  Clear Oil Change service indicator? Trivial.

MotoScan in the first Android app I’ve spent money to get.  $27 and worth every penny. Twice.

There are other BMW-specific tools that do this. The GS-911 is the best known – but it costs nearly 4 Franklins – and the consensus seems to be that Motoscan works better, and that the developer is responsive to bug fixes and feature requests.    

MotoScan works by communicating over Bluetooth to an On Board Diagnostics II interface – in this case a OBDLink LX – that is connected to an ODBC-II connector under the motorcycle’s seat.  Older BMW’s – like my 2000 K1200LT, for example — make use of a proprietary round ODBC connector – my 2017 was the first year the industry standard connector was used – that is supported via an adapter cable.  Getting things set up the first time is a bit Tecnho-Fiddley, but Techno-Fiddley just happens to be a specialty of mine.

MotoBluetooth

Removing the saddle provides access to the ODBC connector, which is secured by a stationary socket designed to seal it away from your customary road mung. Removing the ODBC II connector from its dock allows one to connect the ODBCLink LX interface.  The ODBC Link is powered by the motorcycle, so I turn the ignition on to ensure that the unit is powered and all the bike’s systems are online.  First, I pair the unit with my phone via the Bluetooth pairing process. The ODBCLink comes with its own app, which is designed to speak to most automobiles. Configuring the included app to connect to the ODBClink allows the unit to be queried and then to download and install the most current firmware, which is a requirement for the MotoScan software.

Booting up the free downloadable – and non-functional — version of MotoScan then requires that it be configured to talk to the ODBC Link interface, and, after selecting the correct model motorcycle, the F800’s systems could all be viewed and queried. Changes, though, require a licensed version, which I was able to obtain through the Google Play store. After a slight delay of 3 or 4 minutes for Google to forward the license key to my phone – not an uncommon issue, as I understand it – I was able to both view and change the settings in my motorcycle — resetting the ‘SERVICE’ indicator and the service interval from the default 10,000 miles down to a more plausible 6,000.  I turned the ignition key off and on, and the obnoxious ‘SERVICE’ was no more.  

Tech Processes thus concluded, I replaced the F800’s drain plug and oil filter and refilled the cases with 3 quarts of Castrol 4T 10w-40 motorcycle oil. The 4T is a new oil I’m trying out – the distinctly recognizable whiff of sulfur – it’s like it wants to be Gear Oil when it grows up — clearly indicates that the Castrol has the wear metals that newer automotive oil standards have long ago removed from those formulations – and given that it’s kept in stock at most auto parts stores at less than half the price of the BMW-branded or Spectro oils I’ve been using in my K-bike, this is likely to become my go-to bike oil.  I replaced the dipstick in the Rotax’s fill port, and set about cleaning up the work area and my hands.

I always check my work.

I pulled on my jacket and helmet and climbed aboard, using the ‘California Highway Patrol Regulation Mount’ that Ryan from Fortnine demonstrated on one of his excellent YouTube videos and that several of my fellow Adventure Riders confirmed was the hot ticket for getting on and off a freakishly tall, expedition case equipped adventure bike.  If you have been throwing your hip out trying to swing your leg over your head to mount a tall bike and haven’t seen this demonstrated you really need to – the technique involves stepping up onto the right side footpeg —  the side opposite the sidestand —  and then swinging a leg over.  It sounds like a method that ought to bury you underneath the bike, but if one leans in toward the bike’s centerline, it is really tremendously undramatic in every way – and having the better part of a foot less altitude to have to step over makes it easy, no matter how altitudinally challenged one might be.

Pressing the starter button yielded a smoothly running Rotax with markedly less top end clatter than before the change.  The Rotax twin is nearly flywheelless – the response to rolling in some throttle is instant and without hesitation – tiny blips – even on a unwarmed motor – snap the tach needle upward in dramatic fashion.  I dropped the bike into first gear and headed off toward the Jefferson Pike for a short test blast.

Once there was the tiniest bit of heat in the engine it was clear how much the service had been needed. I’d received a pretty complete package of documentation with the GS, including some dealership service receipts. If they were complete, then the bike had been a couple of K overdue for service – given the slightly chaotic life the bike had lived, it was understandable how motorcycle maintenance might not have been a singular priority. With some clean oil in it, though, the operation of the gearbox was dramatically improved – shifts were crisper and more deterministic – and clutch engagement and feel was improved as well. The F800’s engine was revving faster and revving higher, vibration was reduced, and power appeared to be well up – on the charge up out of the bottoms on Saint Mark’s road the GS demonstrated a new quality of which all riders of actual dirt bikes are already aware – when a motorcycle’s riding position is already way up there, wheelies aren’t as far away – with the revs up in the engine’s happy zone any rise in the pavement was enough to have the bars go weightless as the big front wheel went airborne.

The dirtbike I always wanted when I was a kid may have made a late appearance, but it’s here now.

Coming back up Broad Run Road towards the shop I hit the measured half mile that I customarily use for roll-on testing – starting out in 5th gear before shifting up to top, the F800’s Rotax continued to build power the higher it was revved. The GS’s engine is a weird gumbo of brutality and refinement — the power delivery is a lot like a mutant overgrown chain saw – there’s a ripping quality to the exhaust note and a buzz of vibration as it revs – and it doesn’t feel like its accelerating hard – until one looks at the speedo. Given the large print top speed warnings inside the OEM BMW expedition cases, easily punching through The Ton with plenty left told me all that I needed to know. Of course, now that I think about it, every factory BMW saddlecase I’ve ever seen – going back to Airhead Krausers in the early 70s – had some sort of top speed warning decal in it, and I never gave those a second thought until right now.

I am clearly not the target audience for lawyer-mandated safety stickers.  

Arriving back at the shop, the GS went up on the centerstand, and as soon as I shucked my helmet and elkskins, I grabbed a shoprag to check the oil level. The F800 GS Adventure has more than a couple of deterministically odd personality traits  — ever hear of a bike whose fuel gauge only provides information on the bottom half of the fuel tank? – and an oil level that can only be checked at full operating temperature is another member of that oddball club.

I rested the cleaned dipstick on the edge of the fill port – it’s always been how BMW has done this – and laid it onto the rag to read. The level was spot on the ‘Normal’ mark. Nearly surgical precision.

As a much younger man, I was entertained and thrilled by the motorcycle racing tales of Jim Roche – who went by the ‘Nom de Zoom’ of ‘Dr. Curve’.

‘Dr. Physics’, I think, has a certain ring to it, and would look perfectly cool embroidered on the front of a lab coat.

My mother always wanted me to be a doctor. I’m not sure she saw this coming, though.  

All Together Now

Really, it all came down to The Hooptie.

Now, I know you’re disoriented and scrambling to understand how some old beater of a car could have anything to do with this Motorcycles-only view of the universe.

Because its not that kind of hooptie.

It’s this kind of hooptie.

It’s This Kind of Hooptie

The Prophet Zappa posited that ‘Cheepnis’ was one of the universe’s organizing principles.  I am fuzzy on the details, but have a hunch that one of Frank’s cousins worked in the Finance Department of BMW Motorrad.

You may have noticed – I certainly have – that the BMW way is to proceed in model development in an agonizingly methodical manner – slowly improving and evolving models and their features in a way which does something we call in Information Technology, “bleeding out one’s assets”.  BMW will always endeavor to reuse as many parts of a vehicle platform for as long as humanly possible. If the mission or design requirements change somewhere along the way, the Legendary Motorcycle Engineers of Germany will start with what they already have, and add on in a way which makes maximum use of what already exists.

It’s a very special and unique kind of ‘Cheepnis’.

My new F800 GS Adventure is, of course, the perfect illustration.

The F800 GS, the F700 GS and even the single cylinder F650 GS all share very similar, if not identical chassis and bodywork.  These GSs have fairly short flyscreen type windshields – think about 9 or 10 inches high – that mount to an ABS-reinforced thermoplastic frame that also supports the motorcycle’s headlamp and instrument housings. This setup works perfectly.

If, however, one decides one wants to make a GS Adventure variant – for which the design brief requires a taller shield – it doesn’t work at all – you’re boned as there’s just not enough support to keep the larger shield from flexing.

Enter The Hooptie.

To create a secure support for a much taller and wider shield, BMW created a tubular steel structure that attached to the flyscreen’s original mounting points, and extended new mounting points upward and outward to which the larger screen was attached. 

It’s brilliant, really.

Cheep, perhaps, but brilliant.

And this might have completely managed to escape my attention, had I not purchased an F800 GS Adventure that had experienced a ‘little mishap’ before coming into my possession that resulted in the motorcycle originally presenting with a new, uninstalled windshield, a ziplock sandwich bag of assorted hardware, and no steel support.     

And if you’ve ever spent any quality time looking at a BMW parts diagram, you’ll know they’re reasonably useful in identifying what part one might need to obtain, they don’t offer a lot of assist in figuring out how they come apart or go back together.

I spent a goodly long time staring at BMW’s online parts ‘e-fische’ before I placed an order for the hooptie and a handful of other hardware, erring on the side of having a few extra of any bolt, spacer or fastener I had any questions about – a strategy that BMW parts prices makes for expensive insurance. As a general principle, I’ll purchase a consumable supply of bodywork fasteners for any motorcycle I expect to hang onto for any length of time – there’s almost nothing worse than trying to button back up after routine maintenance and having some body hardware decide today is a good day to die – leaving one with a freshly serviced cycle with some fairing or other flapping around like a dying fish.  

Having sacrificed a small mammal, made the sign of the cross, and crossed all of my fingers for luck, I pressed ‘Place Order’ and hoped that this part wasn’t one of those that would need to make the trip to the RPP Skunkworks starting at some warehouse in Germany.

There was nothing to do but wait.

***

10 days later, a UPS man left an inexplicably enormous box on the RPP Skunkworks front porch.

After doing my best Kid at Christmas impression, and digging through more air bag packing dunnage than I’ve ever seen outside a Shipping and Receiving Department, and then an inner carton with still more dunnage, I finally held in my hand the long desired Hooptie.  I walked out into the garage bay where the F800 has been doing its best to wait out Maryland’s uncharacteristic actual winter, and positioned the support where I knew it would have to sit in order to support the Adventure windscreen. It was pretty clear where the support would tie into existing structures – but given BMW’s characteristic mélange of bushings, spacers, washers and clip nuts, what wasn’t so clear was exactly how it all went back together.  It’s relatively easy to reassemble something you’ve just disassembled – reassembling something you’ve never seen is another game entirely.

Unless I have succeeded in boring you into total somnambulance, you should recall that BMW produced the ‘Adventure’ variant of the F800 GS Motorcycle by engineering a support structure that tied into the existing screen support of the Regular GS. This stratagem had not escaped unnoticed by owners of Regular F800 GS and even F700 GS motorcycles. A fair number of them, as it turns out, had bought their own Hooptie, and mounted the ‘Adventure’ shield on Normal GS Motorcycles.  And one of them, Bless Him, had taken detailed pictures of the hardware and assemblies, and posted them on Adventure Rider.

What I could see, I could reassemble.  I was off to the races.  

I rolled the GS out into the driveway and the sunlight – sunlight that would allow me to see down into the nooks and crannies where all these threads needed to arrange and engage. First order of business was to fit the F800 with a battery charging pigtail, since the battery isn’t somewhere where it can be easily accessed – I removed the faux tank top panel, and the disconnected the battery to install the Battery Tender SAE ring terminal plug. After taking a look at all of the possible routes out of the battery compartment, I decided to zip tie the tender plug to the clutch cable in the center of the cockpit. I then took the opportunity to replace a plastic spacer that I had fumbled the first time I jump started the motorcycle, and replaced the ‘tank’ top panel. I had also noticed that the handlebars on this F800 seemed to be just a little out of skew – although there were no obvious signs of whatever had broken the windscreen – no scraped bar ends or handguards – I just assumed they had taken some form of shot at the same time as that damage. Search of online F800 riders’ sites yield lots of ‘my handlebars are wonky’ posts – it seems to be a pretty standard issue for the rubber mounted clamps that are used on this model. I simply loosened up all of the fasteners on the bar clamps – Torx fastener sockets are apparently an F800 Owners’ Mandatory Item – applied a little strategic thump, and then retorqued the clamps back down. While not absolutely perfect, they were so much improved that only I would be able to tell, and certainly am not going to tell a soul.

I then proceeded to the windshield mount —  lining up the two uppermost mounts with their corresponding spots on the thermoplastic arch that supports the instrument cluster and the normal GS flyscreen. With the application of minor amounts of body English – remember, the original screen and support had, at some point, gotten crunched – I was able to get the first pair of mounts lined up and partially threaded together, but not torqued. I was pretty confident that a fair number of things would also require some enthusiastic adjustment before everything was back together, and in this situation, a little slop is definitely your friend.

It was at this point that I heard faint and distant noises of distress coming from the back of the family’s Ram pickup down in the bottom of the driveway. Sweet Doris from Baltimore, it seems, was doing a little improvisational reconfiguration of the cap camper set up we had built together, which serves as Sweet D’s mobile art studio and home base for recumbent trike adventures. The camper has a twin bed with underbed storage on the driver’s side of the cap, and a teeny tiny Westphalia-style galley on the right – with small sink, water handpump and water tanks, and a place to sit a camp stove on top, with pots, pans and other kitchen what have you underneath. The door for the galley follows the model of our earlier teardrops – substituting fabric and Velcro for wooden doors. The whole build took us about 3 days, and since then, she’s taken it everywhere.

Sweet D, though, was now in the process of questioning some of her prior engineering decisions, and was really determined to move the galley forward – with the intention of creating some critically needed space around our Thetford camping toilet.  And that would have been really easy, had the galley not been essentially built around the wheel well that protrudes into the interior space of the truck bed.   This was an immediate requirement for open source co-operative (re-) engineering, and the interrupt-driven structure of that process had just quiesced whatever I had thought I had been doing a minute before.  

“I think we’ll need to build a new, shorter galley. I got some 2 x 2s…”

“If the wheel well wasn’t there, where would you want it to sit?”

The galley was repositioned. The wheel well has some distinctive flat spots built in which are designed to provide a place for lumber to be positioned when supporting a tiered load.

I had an idea.  I also have a reciprocating saw.

I took a carpenter’s crayon, marked off the height and depth of the wheel well, freehanded the curve, and then sat the galley on the tailgate – Sweet D held it in place while I revved up my cordless saw.  I hit the corner of the galley square, and went slicing through the cabinet – both the 2 x 2 framing and the plywood skin – laughing all the way. Did a pretty fair job – for a guy that prefers threaded fasteners and rachet wrenches to power tools and lumber – neatly splitting the crayon line with no major cut bobbles.  We sat the galley on top of the wheel well – it fit almost perfectly. Laughing maniacally, we refastened the lanyards that hold the galley to the truck’s bed tie downs.

I love reciprocating saws.

Winter days are short though, and as efficient as that camper mod might have been, it was beginning to look like I’d re-allocated 40 minutes of sunlight that I was probably going to need.  

Moving back to the F800’s bodywork mounts, I built up the spacer stack and, again, just pinned the assembly in place without torqueing anything down – the bolts would need to be removed to mount the shield.

The tough bit was the lower rear brace positions – one needed to position a clip nut so it was captive in a recess in the frame. This is the type of part I almost always drop, and usually lose, sometimes repeatedly.  This is why, if you were wondering, why I buy spare bits of hardware, but today was not like any other day – both rear braces threaded up with minimal coercion. I was pretty pleased with myself.

With the Hooptie in place, I picked up the Givi shield that came with the bike. There are captive rubber isolators already in all six places where the shield is retained, so it was just a matter of positioning the shield and placing and tightening the six bolts.

The first one always goes well to lure one into a false sense of competence. The second mounting location on the new bracket proved to have a minor manufacturing fault – the captive thread wasn’t properly installed when it was welded in place and the last thread of the insert was fouled by the surrounding steel. I recognized what was happening, and since I don’t have an M5 tap in my toolchest, repeatedly tightened and then loosened the bolt – without applying too much force – until the threads of the bolt finally cut through the steel and allowed me to tighten down the shield.

Moving to the fairing sides, I unthreaded the bolt and spacer stack and then threaded them through the isolator in the shield. Again, I left everything loose enough to float. Finally, I threaded up the fasteners that were in the middle of the shield, that mounted to the base GS’s original shield mount and, astoundingly, really, everything lined up and threaded in.  I completed two laps around the bike running all six fasteners down to snug, and then taking them up to the recommended torque.

We were back together.

With the entire bike finally there to look at, its really rather amazing what a protective cockpit BMW (and Givi) managed to make out of not a lot of acrylic material. The screen flares at the bottom so that the flow over the handguards and the rider’s hands is already headed away from the rider and bike when it gets there. Coverage of the lower body from the faux tank and radiator shrouds is surprisingly good. The Givi shield is a little on the tall side, but let’s see how it works in practice – I could use something beside my mother working to get me to sit up straight.

Not A Bad Rider’s Office

A short test blast around the neighborhood passed basic quality checks – nothing fell off, and nothing was rattling or loose – underway, there was nothing but the customary BMW quality – everything behaved as if it had been carved from a single block of metal.

After wrapping up the job, I went to order a further supply of the M5 x 25 torx headed bolts and M5 clip nutz to replace a few that seemed a tad tweeked, and to have some routine maintenance spares. After finding that BMW’s dealership network was going to charge $23 for 4 sets of the M5 nuts and bolts, I went to McMaster-Carr and got 50 bolts (in stainless) and 10 clip nuts for $18. When the shipment showed up the next morning, the clip nuts had been made in a small factory in Kentucky, and the box even cross-referenced the BMW and VW part numbers.  

That afternoon, it started snowing again.  Tonight, two weeks later, after we had finally melted out, we’re expecting another foot over the next 48 hours. Oh yeah, and some ice as it wraps.  

I’d very much like to change the oil and do a chain service on this new to me bike, but I haven’t been able to, yet.

Is it too much to ask to be able to ride this motorcycle?

Apparently, it is.

I will have to resort to some more of the motorcyclist’s standard acts of superstition in an effort to hasten the arrival of perhaps the most desperately needed springtime in my lifetime of riding.

Nobody will miss one more small mammal.    

Kind of Attractive, In a Deliberately Ugly Kind of Way

Zero Electric Motorcycles in Winter

I would be the first one to cop to being a Electric Motorcycle Enthusiast — my Zero test bikes have provided some of the most spirited and enjoyable riding experiences I can recall.

So I was not prepared for what I encountered when a test bike was provided to me in early December, and as I’ve continued to ride it — weather permitting — through the winter.

The complete story can be found at Revzilla’s Common Tread — Cold realities: Testing a Zero SR/S in winter – RevZilla.

Earlier Zeros — which were simpler machines without multiple computers running dash displays and stability control systems — just had to cope with reduced range and ability to deliver current in cold weather. The newer bikes use a small 12v battery to run those systems, and if it isn’t supplying stable voltage, the bike simply won’t go.

At all.

Most of the year, the new SR/F and SR/S are brilliant. Below 35 degrees though, not so much.

Hot Bike — But Maybe Not in Cold Conditions

The New Freakishly Tall Baby

So for a couple of weeks, we had more cold, more darkness, a smattering here and there of ice, of snow, and generally, as we had been doing for the last long time, we kept to ourselves, and we hunkered down.

It was even worse than being a normal kid at a normal Christmas  — I knew I had a new bike – I just didn’t really know when I would eventually see it.

On top of that, Pop Pop, whose garage the GS was sleeping in, was feeling somewhat poorly. He’d ended up having an unplanned run-in with another doctor with another set of scalpels and sutures, and it had left him laid up with a foot that was temporarily out of order.  Getting Pop fixed up and back on the road became a lot more important than what I was doing my best to avoid getting fixated about.

Sweet Doris from Baltimore even spent Christmas morning – on a holiday where we’d thought we wouldn’t get to see The Folks at all – in town helping to patch Pop up and to learn a whole pile of new medications and delivery methods while I shot the sheet with Finn and stepped up from Sous Chef to ‘Yes, Chef!’ to keep our Christmas Dinner on the rails.

All that aside, we ended the day tired, grateful for those many blessings we did have, and sharing a nice meal.

I hope you were able to do the same.

***

A few days after the Holiday, though, Sweet D needed to head into town again to help Pop get to several doctor and lab visits – she asked me if I wanted to ride along, and take advantage of the opportunity to run the GS back to the RPP Skunkworks. I yanked my phone out of my pocket and pulled up a weather report.

“Partly cloudy…. High of 36 degrees…. 15 to 20 mph Westerly Breeze… Sure, Hon, sounds like a great day to recover a motorcycle.”

I’ve got a ‘Stich, with its 11/10s GoreTex wind resistance.  BMWs have heated grips. I’ve been cold before. I’d warm back up, eventually.

***

So later that afternoon, I found myself standing in the driveway outside Pop Pop’s garage with a BMW key in my hand.  After the door went up I carried the replacement windshield for the bike and the bike cover that I’d stacked on the parked machine down to the Flex for transport back to the shop. Don’t let anyone ever tell you that a GS with aluminum expedition cases doesn’t make a wonderful shipping pallet that just happens to be mobile.

I got myself back between the GS and the wall that had caused me such grief when I’d stashed the bike, eased it off the sidestand, and rolled it backwards into the light.  Whether it appeals to you or not, one has to admit the appearance of the GS – which looks like it got loose from the flight deck of the Star Wars Resistance – is an impressive, rugged and technological-appearing thing.

It sure ain’t no R27, Brothers and Sisters.  

I spent a few minutes with my mini-compressor checking tire pressures – due to the cold they needed a few pounds. I put on my license plate – pleased with my upgrade from the previous breadloaf twist-ties to actual zip ties.

I’ll admit that I had concerns about the bike starting. When I’d test driven it, the battery had been flat enough to require a jump, and being a modern motorcycle, battery access was a lot less friendly than just turning a key and lifting the saddle.

In preparation for that possibility, I’d brought along a new BatteryTender pigtail, a BatteryTender mini, an extension cord, my jumper cables, and the few tools I knew I needed to access and service the battery. Heck, I brought everything short of a new battery and/or a complete replacement motorcycle.

I needn’t have bothered.

I climbed aboard the GS, turned the key, waited a few seconds for systems to initialize and for stepper motors to stop stepping, and then pulled in the clutch and pressed the starter. The engine spun up briskly and fired on about the third compression stroke.  I played with the throttle for a few seconds – revved gently a few times – and hrummphed as the engine stalled when I let the throttle close.

No matter.  Apparently the 30 or so miles I’d put on the bike three weeks of freezing weather ago had been enough to put a usable charge on the battery – astoundingly, a battery that despite being repeatedly ignored and mistreated, it looked like I wouldn’t have to replace.  There was clearly enough charge for the bike to start again.

It was time to gear up and head west towards home.

***

My in-law’s driveway is steep enough and its concrete busted up enough that there are certain conditions under which it’s not a good idea even on foot – A BMW GS motorcycle makes it seem trivial – I rode down at walking speed, standing up and covering the rear brake until the big front wheel rolled into the street.  I shot Sweet Doris a wave, cut right towards Harford Road, and gassed it.   

I deliberately cut through the neighborhood on the West side of Harford Road to get a little heat in the engine and make sure everything was in working order.  This neighborhood isn’t much on pavement, and the GS’s long throw suspension was tracking it well. After working my way across to Perring Parkway, I activated the heated grips and then ran through the gears as I headed out toward the Beltway.  With the GS’s Rotax twin warming, I stretched third and fourth gears out – it’s an almost flywheeless motor that just loves to rev – as the rpms rise so does the power. With the revs up the 4 valve heads move mixture, and on top there’s a fair amount of power for the 798 ccs of displacement.  BMW claims their use of a 360 degree flywheel – the parallel twin configuration favored by the shakiest of the traditional British twins – was selected to mimic the one power stroke every rotation cadence of BMW’s beloved boxer. The F800’s connecting rod type counterbalancer takes the worst of the parallel twin’s vibration out of the picture while leaving enough to still know it’s a motorcycle. In many ways, the engine behaves like a somewhat more muscular version of Finn’s CB500F – a bike I also like a lot. The F800’s claimed ‘boxer-ness’ is probably why it was talking to me enough to let it follow me home – it was pressing all of my deeply imprinted neurological preference for boxer vibration buttons.

Any Questions?

Setting up for the Beltway onramp, I snapped a shift down to third – wrangling the 21 inch front wheel through corners requires a bit more deliberation, but the wide handlebars give one the required leverage, and once on line, the GS can carve. We’re still flying, it’s just at a higher altitude.

I caught a break by catching a break in traffic, and was able to braap my way into the left lane in one big rush – only snapping up into sixth gear to after picking up cruising speed. At 70 to 75 miles an hour the GS was dead comfortable, and there was enough top gear punch to move through traffic at will.  Long leggedness is a signature BMW quality, and it lives here, too.

10 miles – seemingly vaporized in a single thought – brought me to I-70, the turn to the west and directly into that chilling headwind. Truthfully, I was a lot more comfortable than I’d thought I’d be – Aerostich gear flat out works, and my Roadcrafter was doing a stellar job of keeping the wind at bay and keeping my core temperature up without the capability to resort to electric heat. My elkskin gloves, on the other hand, were a little challenged – working in concert with the GS’s cranked electric grips — in keeping my hands warm with anything more than a 90 mph wind-chill factor. Resolved – we’d end up keeping a slightly slower slab cruise speed than usual – the bike wasn’t the hold up, though, the rider was.

Coming out past US 29, I was pleased with how relaxed the GS seemed at interstate speed. The stock saddle is firm, but supportive. The wide flat handlebar is just perfect. The bike has more leg room than any other motorcycle I’ve ever ridden. I’d be the first to admit that the bike – given its mission profile — is geared a little short for hyperspeed touring. The CB500F – for comparison — is turning 6000 rpm at 70 mph, and that feels a tad on the busy side – the GS is turning 5000 at an indicated 75, and it feels like it could run tank to tank there.  I had to dispatch a few ill-mannered four wheeled motorists at that speed, and it pulled away smartly with no need for a downshift.

A 60 mile run between cities, though, is a complete doddle. My moto-yoda Paul used to talk about performing ‘An Italian Tune-up’, which consisted of taking a stored or laid-up motorcycle to the road and basically wailing the shit out of it – this GS seemed nothing but happy about 50 miles of top gear, high speed operation – throttle response and power were both markedly improved.  When I got west of Frederick I dropped off onto the secondary roads. There was nobody waiting for me on the other end, so efficiency was not a priority – I went off in search of some curves and some dirt.   

I exited US 340 at Jefferson Technology Parkway – my absolutely favorite ironically named road – ironic because my home town, Jefferson, barely has any more technology than sits in my home office. The street name is an artifact of a venal, now soundly defeated and driven from the public field, attention-grabbing politician for whom the road’s name was part aspirational, and part pure flim-flam. If, someday in the future, Jefferson has more tech startups than it has certified dairy cows, I will gladly offer a sincere apology. For now, though, every time I see the exit sign on the highway or ride the road I will likely be on the verge of laughing so hard as to impede proper motorcyclic directional control.  JTP – ironic nomenclature aside – is very twisty and bumpy and still under construction making it a nearly ideal GS road.

Home of Moooooo.com

I sliced though the Parkway’s three traffic circles and seven or so corner combinations laughing all the way – not because of the name but because of the bike, which was going it’s darndest to convince me it was a slightly oversize Schwinn Sting-Ray that had somehow managed to escape from my childhood.  

I doglegged up The Jefferson Pike, and then headed up Teen Barnes Road to cut across the ridge and into The Valley. Teen Barnes is entertaining – climbing steeply up one side of the ridge, cutting hard all the way – and necking down to a single lane where it runs through the woods over the crest and down the ski jump crazy grade down the other side. Another dogleg put the GS on Poole Road – another one lane farm road with minimal sightlines – and I felt utterly comfortable with the bike and its handling. Poole is a road where one needs to be able to put the bike right where one needs it, and this GS allowed me to pick my inch, put it there and keep it there.  

And then there was Poffenberger Road – my most familiar bit of crushed limestone – a road my family actually lived on, before our current home was built.  I toggled the bike’s off-road ‘Enduro’ drive mode on, and rolled into the dirt.  I’ve had more than a few scrambler and dual sport motorcycles down here – none felt as sure footed on the gravel as did this GS. After going through the switchbacks by the Lewis Mill, running by the creek I was able to open the throttle a bit and to slide a corner on the gas – it felt as serene as such a thing can feel.

After one more pavement run though the woods on Saint Mark’s Road – good, tight bumpy stuff with the sun filtering through the trees – the GS finally found the sidestand and silence at its new home.

Mr. GS Goes to Jefferson

I spent a few minutes in contemplation of the new machine. Upon reflection, it really needed a wash.   

It would need to spend the night outside while I plotted a little reorganization.

***

After coffee the next morning, Sweet Doris from Baltimore was with me eyeballing the state of the shop. The state of the shop was not good.

There were artifacts and debris from camper construction, motorcycle maintenance, car and truck maintenance, bicycle projects, tool chests, power tools, camping equipment, stacked kitchen cabinets salvaged from our recently completed kitchen rehab, oh, three of my motorcycles, Finn’s motorcycle, a Zero SR/S test bike, and one 4×8 teardrop camper.  

“Let’s do this. Let’s clear it out, pull down the shelves, put the cabinets up, and get this mess right.”

“You think we can get that all done by sundown?”

“Yeah. Get me some boxes.”

And we were off to the races.

The garage shelves were demo’ed, contents and bikes moved out to the driveway. We cut and put up a ledger board to align the cabinets over the workbench, and cut a stilt to position the cabinets that would mount on the wall beside the work area.  Four hours into it, the cabinets were all securely mounted to studs, and by seven hours the new cabinets were reloaded, the motorcycles were reorganized, the doors were down, and it was past time for an ale.

I might not have been sufficiently caffeinated initially, but I had to admit the shop looked a great deal better.

And the freakishly tall new baby had a new home.

There’s One More You Can’t See

And to those friends of mine that have been suggesting that I should be able to fit a seventh motorcycle – no problem – your suggestions are in no way helpful.