Wednesday, July 15, 2009
Word on the street was Honda had an MD test unit lying around the warehouse. I had an in with the California Superbike School, and for once it’s not all about me. It’s about my 15-year old man child itching to step up from his already-outgrown Suzuki RM85 supermoto bike. He fits the MD too, even though he’s suddenly a bit taller than I am, at around 5’8” and growing. Why not have him do double guinea pig duty, testing both the Moriwaki and the California Superbike School’s Level 1 program?
Naturally we rolled our eyeballs a little at the thought of old pro’s like ourselves having to be instructed by a guy who’s only written three books on roadracing and runs schools in like 20 countries, but the first riding session on the little Moriwaki—with its too-soft suspension and instant reactions—convinced my child it would be a good idea to pay close attention. Throttle Control is Lesson One at California Superbike School. Keep the Moriwaki’s little motor purring along and it’ll carve up the Streets of Willow like few other motorcycles. Be jerky with the gas, and you can run off the inside of the turn if you’re not careful. The Moriwaki is the perfect trainer for Keith Code’s “no-brakes” drill too. Instead of rushing up to the corner and panic-braking too much, like what goes on at many track days, the no-brakes drill has the opposite effect of raising cornering speed. With about 99 percent of its design brief being cornering, the MD250H couldn’t be a better fit for the Code curriculum. Another early lesson is the need to Relax and let the bike do what it’s built to do: The little Moriwaki reacts to every twitch and seems to actually monitor sphincter tension. Like all motorcycles but even more so, it goes best when governed least.
After lunch the lessons continued and my spawn continued to go visibly faster/smoother as his teen worldview segued from whatever, into what-do-I-have-to-do to do this again? Code’s patented two-step method says look for your tun-in point (a yellow X marks the spot), then for your apex. Simple and effective.
Code’s school is pricey compared to a track day, but student/teacher ratio is off the charts at just three students per (highly trained and carefully chosen) coach (the ratio is 2:1 at two-day camps), and if Levels 2 through 4 are as effective as Level 1, I understand why the CSS has so many loyal followers. And I understand why so many of them are kids--most of whom are the best little roadracers in America.
As for the Moriwaki, what a great little training tool for the spoiled little bas, er, kid who has everything (or a fun trackday ride if you’re a smallish adult), and maybe even a good investment if one of the things the kid has is great speed: Honda is serving up a $110,000 contingency program for an 11-race series for the little bikes in the USGPRU (usgpru.net) this year. That’s $2 K for a win! And another $200 if you’re rolling on Bridgestones or Dunlops. What a fine thing for America’s youth, lessons in racing and free enterprise all rolled into one. Why not pick up a couple of Moriwakis today? At selected Honda dealers for just $11,699 each.
Monday, May 18, 2009
Just like Suzuka but Smaller...
Motocross was cute when my kid had the 6-year-old bobblehead thing going on, but now that he’s 14 and faster and taller than me, the cute has left the building, and it’s actually a little frightening to see your spawn sailing through the air like a pubescent Wizard of Oz monkey complete with cackle. In fact I think it scares him a little too, so the Suzuki RM85 I bought him a couple years ago mostly gathers dust. Still, I’d rather spend a day at the track telling other people how to ride while nursing the cooler than just about anything. Hmmm, what can we ride that’s fun and non-threatening?
Turns out my friend Kristi had been riding NSR50s a lot with some people at various local kart tracks, and mentioned they were putting on an 8 Hour Endurance race at Grange, a cute little shrunk-down kart track out in the desert outside LA. I rode an NSR exactly once for a few laps, just long enough to find out they’re a lot of fun—all the thrills but not so many of the chills of roadracing at about 60 mph, and no “sick air” at all if all goes well. Naturally my boy Ryan had zero interest when I broached the idea of him doing the 8 Hour. Maybe I pushed him too hard to ride motorcycles? Maybe it’s all my fault he only wants to watch YouTube all day and shoot things with his best friend, Mr. Solid Snake? Damn the guilt…
But his best moto-pal Rylan (whose parents added the “L” to differentiate him), whose teen angst is not as advanced as my own child’s, was way into the 8 Hour idea when I threw it out there. Peer pressure rules. Rylan twisted my kid Ryan’s arm, and the race was on.
The kids seem to be in it for the accoutrements here in SoCal, so I said I’d try to get them some matching leathers and cool gear in time for the actual race, knowing of course that was highly unlikely. But the lure of swag set the hook—and in the meantime it was shocking to learn that my old leathers fit them not so bad—lengthwise anyway. We went out to practice one Saturday not knowing what to expect, and was surprised and giggly with glee to see the kiddies take to “road racing” like ducks to water their very first time out. After a couple of 15-minute sessions, they were dragging their little knees around and running lap times competitive with adults who’d been on NSR50s for years, no doubt helped out by their 50-pound weight advantage over most of them; “Team Motostorm” was born. The next Saturday they were begging for more, and the one after that too, until finally it was May 17, race day.
I was a little disgruntled to learn there would also be a couple of full-sized motard bikes in the race, which I was worried would have way too much closing speed down the straights, but the “race officials” assured us it was no big deal since there were only a couple big bikes, just one shortish straight--and the little NSRs actually do corner just about as fast as a CRF450 Honda on slicks. Motorcycling being a cozy little world, one of the guys riding one of the big Hondas turned out to be former World Endurance Champ Doug Toland. The kids gave each other the sideways smirk when I told them to wet themselves down before going out on the bike so as to stay cool (it was 100 degrees plus in the Mojave that day), but when Toland strode mightily over later and suggested the same thing, they nearly knocked each other out trying to stick their heads in the cooler simultaneously. And it boosted our confidence a little more to have DT adjust the clickers on our NSR50, which surprisingly enough sports a fully adjustable shock.
Promptly around 11:00ish, give or take, 18 NSRs and quite a few other bikes screamed and thumped slowly away from the grid as planned, a few serious teams including Tokyo 1 and Team MAX, also a team of really fast kids at the ripe ages of like 9 and 11. I was stoked to see little Rylan come around on the first lap, ah, third of the 50s (kind of hard to tell, really, because there are about five classes mixed up out there, including modified 50s). Lucky for us, the organizers had provided transponders to keep track of who was who was doing what when. Kristi had used her feminine wiles to recruit both a male NSR team—the Tarzans—as well as a female team—the Janes, and my team of kids was spanking both of them. (Please don’t bring this up to Kristi: Who knew she was so competitive?)
Things were going absolutely swimmingly. We’d got a little digital clock at the quicky mart to stick on the top triple clamp, and Ryan and Rylan were pretty much pulling into the pits to swap on the hour and half-hour, which freed me up to keep hydrated instead of messing with a pit board, even though an NSR is the perfect bike for long messages including footnotes. We’d started off on fresh tires that morning, which on an NSR should last until at least Christmas. And our bike was burning a gallon of pre-mix about every hour out of a tank that holds two.
Then tragedy struck: Baby (I still call him Baby, sniff) ran into the back of a crasher in a tight right-hander and slud off the track. That wouldn’t have been a big deal, except the hot setup is to not bolt the tailsection plastic on an NSR because if you do it’ll just break; better if it flies off, then you just stick it back on the subframe and keep going. This we did not know at the time, however, and my child looked—over there on the far side of the track with the tailsection in his hands—like one of the monkeys in the experiment where they fit sections of stick together to reach the bunch of bananas. Eventually he did figure it out, bumpstarted the bike and got going again. But it cost us a couple laps dammit.
The kids put their heads back down, rode their own race, were doing very respectable lap times, and we were right back in the thing. Then tragedy struck Baby again: Going through a fast left with a supermoto on his tail, he lost the rear and actually managed to highside himself (leading me to believe me he had some help losing the rear from the supermoto on his tail dammit). This time the bike was jacked, with a stuck throttle and a snapped-off right footpeg and possibly even a mild concussion for my offspring judging from his even-greater-than-usual detachment--and the gouge in my favorite Nicky Hayden replica Arai helmet DAMMIT!
Quick and skilled work by our buddy Rey got us back on track, but by the time we pushed young Rylan back out we were down a bunch of laps, and even worse Baby was suffering a crisis of confidence and had lost his will to go on.
“I’m not going back out,” he croaked from his folding chair, “I’m done.”
“What? You’ve gotta go back out there, we’ve got three hours to go.”
“I’m skeered, Dad…”
“You don’t want me to have to take off these shorts and put on those leathers do you?” I asked him, “because I frankly can’t remember if I’m wearing underwear.”
It really was bloody hot out there. I wandered off for awhile to let him contemplate that and to check if I was wearing underwear (yes!), and when I came back he said, “I just feel bad, like I’m letting Rylan down.”
At last, a chance to swing into Ward Cleaver mode (a solid `50s American sit-com father). They don’t come around so often.
“Listen kid, you’ve gotta get back on the horse that bit you,” I told him. “What are you gonna tell the kids at school Monday when they ask `how was the race’? If you don’t get on that bike now you’ll regret it. Maybe not today, maybe not tomorrow… but soon, and for the rest of your life…”
An orchestra swelled someplace. A few minutes later, after another Monster energy drink (product placement!) the kid pulled himself out of his lawn chair and pulled on his too-big leathers, and when Rylan V pulled in, he did get right back on the little NSR, and I was seriously about as proud of him and happy as I can remember being as I pushed him back out. Ah, the sporting life….
As in most forms of racing, the top few teams were seriously competitive. After 7 hours and 48 minutes, Team Japan1 and Team Max were on the same lap, putting on an endurance-racing clinic worthy of Suzuka, running ironman (and ironwoman) long stints and seamless pit stops. Then the beautifully smooth and fast Jason Takamoto (Team MAX) ran into the back of a slower bike exiting a fast corner, actually launching himself spectacularly heels-over-head into the air (against a lovely setting sun) and earning a broken scapula on the dismount. The humanity...
That left Team Japan1 to take the win, with veteran racers K. Kagiya, A. Takeichi, Y. Sato and cute and way-fast girl racer/piano technician/marathoner Yoshi Nakamura. Team PDF, the bunch of fast pre-teens, took second. (Team MAX was DQed for hopping back on their bike without returning to the pits first.) In the end, Team Motostorm wound up 5th out of 14 50cc Stock teams that began the race, not too shabby. The kids were stoked to finish, felt like they’d accomplished something big and I think even decided I am maybe not that big an idiot after all, just like in the old bobblehead PW50 days.
Good training? I think so. Last time I was at Grange a few years ago, a kid named Ben Solis won one of the best motorcycle races I’ve ever seen—on a pocketbike. Little Benny is currently running up front in the Red Bull Rookie Cup. Also a cute kid named Tommy Aquino, who finished seventh in his first AMA Supersport race last May in
At the end of the 8 Hours, there was still a splash of pre-mix in bottom of my five-gallon jug. If we’re looking at Peak Oil, minimoto is definitely the wave of the present if not the future. And when it comes to getting in a little practice, a day at Grange is $30. Hello. We’re busting the RM85 out of the shed and rounding up some slick tires. Look out world. We are back in this thing dammit.
most fotos: Brian Reynolds, Caliphotography.com
Monday, May 11, 2009
Does it seem too obvious to point out that a key difference between a “road test” in one of the newer moto news outlets, and an older one like Cycle World, is the depth of experience of the tester? Paul Dean, who’s been at Cycle World for like 25 years, knows where the bodies are buried. (And why not? He buried a lot of them. Matter of fact, when I’d been working at Cycle magazine for just a few months in 1989, the posse that arrived to shoot down Phil Schilling and end the
And it still is. PD was Editor in Chief at Cycle World for five years or so in the `80s. Now he’s on the masthead as VP/Senior Editor. I think he was Editorial Director for a long time but he’s a perfect example of a guy whose title really means nothing. PD does it all, and one of the things he does is write road tests. And when PD is doing the testing, you are in for a ride, buddy. When I broke into this business 20 years ago, the competing magazines really took pride in doing thorough tests. Now I fear, with many publications, what we get are rehashed press releases, thinly veiled fawning and toadying to keep the ad dollars and press launch invites coming.
Off we go on the new BMW K1300GT and Kawasaki Concours 14, stopping for a bite of lunch at the Screaming Squirrel before attacking
Will we ease gently into the curves on these big sport tourers and let our tires warm up a little? Hell no, we will attack the road like rabid badgers descending on a burning truck of hamburger. Jesus God, every now and then I’d catch a glimpse of PD way far off in the distance, hunkered down and on the gas like Casey Stoner. Oh I get it, emphasis on sport this time, not so much the touring. Then, on
To my credit, I must point out that I did keep him in sight on Highway 58, a favorite of mine. We got to Paso Robles earlier than we thought for some reason, so decided to keep going on over to Cambria, via Santa Rosa Creek Road. I hopped on the
I think it’s true what they say. In fact, I read a British study the other day that confirms it: Riding motorcycles keeps you young. Riding them fast, especially. I know I don’t do anything else in the course of the typical week that focuses my brain and body, and gets all systems coordinating to promote self-preservation like riding a big, fast motorcycle down a deserted backroad, dodging wild turkeys and despondent chipmunks. We hammered right back southward again the next day, riding like the wind back across the 166 and 33, to 150 over to
PD says he is 68 years old. He also says he doesn’t know how much longer he can keep doing this. Well, ahh, I think you can keep doing it for a long time, Paul. More importantly, now I think I can keep going for another half-century or so myself. Heck, I’m only 49. Thanks for the ride buddy!
Tuesday, May 5, 2009
Mar. 20, 2002
(originally written for MOTORCYCLE.COM)
From the desk of Johnny B:
Heck, there just isn't much pissing me off to write about these days, unfortunately. The race season's started, the wife hired a gardener, the hole in the boat is fixed, spring is here. If not for George Bush wanting to issue nuclear hand grenades to our troops, I'd be a reasonably content hominid, if I hadn't been flipping through my new Road & Track and read this letter from one Bob Tindel of beautiful Redlands, California.
The topic--and pardon me for coming back to it again--is deadshits holding up traffic in the left lane of the freeway. Take it away Bob... "I recently retired from 32 years with the California Highway Patrol and have written many tickets for these violations. Unfortunately , a driver moving at the speed limit on a multi-lane freeway is not in violation and has no duty to move over and let traffic pass."
This sent me in a huff (may have been a minute-and-a-huff) straight to the California Vehicle Code at the local library. I flipped around the index, found passing and overtaking, and spent a total of maybe five minutes in coming to Section 21654--Slow-moving vehicles:
(a) Notwithstanding the prima facie speed limits, any vehicle proceeding upon a highway at a speed less than the normal speed of traffic moving in the same direction at such time shall be driven in the right-hand lane for traffic... except when overtaking and passing another vehicle proceeding in the same direction or when preparing for a left turn at an intersection or into a private road or driveway.
(b) If a vehicle is being driven at a speed less than the normal speed of traffic moving in the same direction at such time, and is not being driven in the right-hand lane for traffic or as close as practicable to the right-hand edge or curb, it shall constitute prima facie evidence that the driver is operating the vehicle in violation of subdivision (a) of this section.
(c) The Department of Transportation, with respect to state highways, and local authorities, with respect to highways under their jurisdiction, may place and maintain upon highways official signs directing slow-moving traffic to use the right-hand traffic lane except when overtaking and passing another vehicle or preparing for a left turn.
Seems pretty clear to me (except for the "notwithstanding" opening of paragraph (a), which means in spite of, or although--which means never mind the speed limit.) I don't know whether to blame former-Officer Tindel, or the people who trained him (or failed to), or to crack another Natural Light and cry. I mean, if I can look this up in a few minutes, you'd think at some point during his 32-year career, especially if it bugged him, Officer Tindel might've checked it out himself? What do they do during all those gruelling weeks at CHP boot camp anyway? (Personally, I'm picturing a man in a neatly trimmed mustache using a pointer to identify the various nmembers of the donut family. "You've got your cruller, your glazed, your cake....") Apparently they're not wasting time reading the Vehicle Code.
All I can repeat is what I've been told by others sworn to uphold the manifold laws of the land: Ignorance is no excuse.
We at MO are dedicated to spreading enlightenment wherever possible. Forward this to ten people, chain-letter style, and you will be rewarded with a less stressed commute. Fail to do so, and a bitter little man on a motorcycle will pass you while honking his horn.
Sunday, May 3, 2009
CC foto: Brian Blades
Friday, May 1, 2009
Piaggio held a little open house at their Costa Mesa training center a couple weeks ago, well-attended by all the usual motojournalist suspects. Piaggio makes more scooters than any other manufacturer in the world, or sells more in the U.S. Or something like that. Anyway, Piaggio sales are said to be up in the U.S., a trend that can only continue if you ask me. While there's no denying SoCal is a spread-out place, I think many, many of us who live here have learned to not stray too far from home too much of the time. And as we catch up to the downward economic spiral of the rest of the third world, scooters will be huge.
Piaggio owns Vespa (the Rolls-Royce/Cadillac/Mercedes-Benz of scooters thanks to the all-steel chassis and historical cache), along with Aprilia and Moto-Guzzi. Let's be friends?
Not only did the Piaggio people serve some excellent meatballs, we made off with a nice bottle of extra virgin olive oil and a most excellent, 300-plus page book VESPA Italian Style for the World, from which I took the liberty of lifting the four photos below... prego!
Also, the client hates puns and “plays on words” of any kind. So don’t do it.
Every year I’d spend days coming up with ideas to convey the spirit of Christmas, Hanukah, Kwanza and Ramadan in one punchy line that also encompassed the excitement of the company’s full line of motorsports equipment, being careful all the while to not let any sort of double entendre or wordplay slip in by accident. One year they went for a card with lots of snow and a quote from the great Sioux chief Black Elk, about life being a big circle or some holy man stuff like that, but nobody’s heart was much into it.
One year we did a nice Norman Rockwell-esque card, Grandma hoisting a big turkey onto the table while jet skis cruised through the gravy bowl and ATVs and dirt bikes roosted through the mashed potatoes. Matzo ball soup? Hummus? Nowhere in sight. Is it just me, or does a big turkey seem a little Christian-oriented? What the hell, at least it's not a ham.
Last Christmas, er, Holiday Season, the parameters were hammered home yet again: Non-denominational! No puns!
And after hundreds of man hours and spent brain cells, the client signed off on:
The payoff line inside? Something about Rossi being unaware of the gift-giving CLAUS in his contract. Claus, clause! GET IT?!
I give up man. Actually I got fired. There's a lesson in there somewhere.