• Category Archives My bikes and reviews
  • Triumph Speedmaster

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    Every now and again I toy with the idea of riding something other than my K1300GT which has now just passed the 90,000km milestone. I bought it intending to run it long term and i’ve already had it 7 years so far, but that shouldn’t preclude me from trying other bikes, should it?

    Sometimes I think the GT is a little large for the smaller roads I’m riding these days, and as I’m not doing long distance touring the thought of something smaller and lighter has some appeal, but would this new machine be a GT replacement, or a third bike to accompany the R1 trackbike? Hmm.

    Recently someone locally was advertising a Triumph Speedmaster, and I wondered if a feet forward slower machine might suit my needs, so what else was there to do other than to go and try it?

    TBH, I’ve not been too impressed with the Triumphs I’ve ridden to date. The first, a 1050 Sprint was, I thought, a very poor VFR800 copy, with soggy suspension and less than impressive engine performance for its capacity. The next model I tried was a friends 675, which initially I was unsure about, but once the suspension had been tuned to suit my weight it was transformed and I became a massive fan. It was, and probably remains, the best handling bike I’ve ever ridden. Number 3 was a Daytona 955 which I hated everything about. The steering was heavy, I found it hard to turn, the engine didn’t win me over with its supposedly charismatic sound and nature, and to add insult to injury, the chain came off, and all this within a mile of the bike shop I was testing it from. So with a chequered history, how would the Speedmaster fare? Read on.

     

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    This particular bike was the early 2004 790cc model rather than the 865cc cpacity which came on the following years model. With only 53.1bhp from its carburetted engine and a top speed of 103mph, clearly there was going to be quite a performance deficit compared to the GT, but hey, nothing to say it wouldn’t be a blast.

    Initial checks brought a smile as I surveyed the petrol stopcock, steering lock, and cable operated clutch. The petrol cap was non locking, and the ignition key was located below the seat behind your left leg. These “old world” details brought back some fond memories of my early bike ownership from the 70’s.

    Sue was horrified to see the perch she was going to be asked to sit on, and without the safety of a top box to lean against, she had to hold on tight as we set off on this new “old” riding experience. The clutch engaged first gear smoothly and quietly compared to the usual clunk of the GT, and it never ceases to amaze me how nicely chain driven bikes change gear vs the shaft on my BMW.  The first thing that immediately required attention and rapid adaptation to was the seating position. The Speedmaster is a cruiser style bike with its footpegs placed forward towards the front wheel. Whilst this is a surprisingly comfortable and natural feeling position once moving, it leads to some panic searching for the pegs when pulling away from junctions, as feet instinctively drop to the position you’re used to finding them in, only to realise they’re not there!

    The engine accelerates quite smoothly but not with any massive urge, as you’d expect though given the relatively low power output. Gears continued to mesh smoothly but I found myself hitting the rev limiter a few times before realising I’d not been using all of the 5 gears, which just goes to show how reliant I’ve become on the gear shift indicator on my bike, and how much concentration I was using on other things. I have to say that although the speedo is very clear and shows both mph and kph (UK import), I found myself searching for the neutral light, as it’s location isn’t in the speedo in your immediate line of vision, but instead is located on the petrol tank. I missed not having a tacho, and am ashamed to say I only realised there was one when I uploaded this picture of the tank mounted instruments and saw the rather large one dominating the head of the tank. How could you not see it you’re doubtless asking??? If I had then I’d have avoided hitting the rev limiter, oops!

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    The handling seemed to be adversely affected by having a pillion, as it seemed very wallowy at the rear. Doubtless this was because we hadn’t firmed up the twin rear shocks, and in combination with a rear tyre that felt underinflated, was giving a feeling from the steering that it was quite light. You’re not massively concious of the fact the wheel seems to be raked quite some way away from you, and to be fair it turned into bends well enough for the pretty low speeds I was riding at, but I wouldn’t have felt comfortable riding too much faster without some changes being made to both tyre and shocks.

    On the subject of comfort, we both got back after the ride complaining of back ache. The ultra low seat height forces a slightly hunched position for the rider, and Sue was really unhappy clinging on and being bounced around on the soft rear suspension.

    The nearest thing to this style of bike I’ve ridden before was a Yamaha Virago back in the 90’s, so it was interesting to try something new and different after so many years. Getting back on the GT afterwards highlighted the differences between the two styles of bike with even greater clarity, the GT feeling positively scalpel like in comparison, not something you’d ever expect to say about a 285kg behemoth, but sittting on rather than in the seat, as you do on the Triumph, really does massively affect the whole feel of the bike.

    You’ll have gathered by now I didn’t buy it, but it was an interesting experience, and if you don’t try you’ll never know eh? Maybe there’s something out there to tempt me but at the moment there are only two bikes that might interest me, the Yamaha MT-09 Tracer and the Kawasaki Z1000SX, but the Kwak allegedly has slightly strange handling and I imagine will feel a bit manic in its power delivery, and be similar to the BMW S1000XR I test rode a few months ago.  Still, no rush, after 7 years waiting a few more days, or months won’t hurt!

     


  • True costs of running a K1300GT over 7 years

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    Over the years I’ve posted several times about my K1300GT, it’s performance and issues, but given the recent costs and issues I’ve had with it and after an article recently published in MCN saying that the K BMW bikes are practically disposable items due to high cost of repairs and depreciating values, I thought it would be of value to share with others my experiences regarding running costs and residual values, ie the true monetary outlay required to keep it on the road. I’ve not included costs for insurance or petrol as these will vary massively dependant on the rider, their experience and where they live, neither have I included petrol expenses, although with the bike averaging 50mpg over 56,000 miles, a simple calculation shows that  I would have used around 1120 gallons.

    I’ve also not included around €725 of extras I chose to add (including derestricting it) as these are very specific to my bike and others will be unlikely to add the same parts.

     

    Here then are the figures:

    Purchase cost new in July 2009                        €19500

    Owned 2556 days    Current kms 89,678  = ave 35 kms per day

     

    TYRES

    15 pairs of tyres: ave life front 7484 kms, rear 6387 kms

    TOTAL                                                              €3329

     

    SERVICING every 10,000kms – 8 to date costing €3071

    but next service due NOW with likely cost of €500

    TOTAL  (incl. 90,000 service due now)         €3571

     

    REPAIRS             

    Switchgear (L) at 70,000kms                               €343

    Switchgear (R) at 87,000kms                              €161

    Radiator overheating & oil leak

    at 88,000kms                                                       €457

    TOTAL                                                               €961            

     

    CONSUMABLES

     Battery at 73,000kms                                           €121

    Brake pads ( originals plus 2 replacement sets)   €295

    Air filters (2) at 40,000 and 83,000                         €73

    Clutch at 80,000                                                    €739

    TOTAL                                                               €1228

     

     

     

    GRAND TOTAL                                                €9089 equiv 47% of purchase cost

    Current book value                                              €8780

     Remaining value in bike today                           €1631 equiv 4.1% of purchase cost

     

    Daily running cost equiv.                                        €3.56

    Running cost per km                                              €0.10

     

    Looking at the book resale values it would have been better had I sold it in 2012 after 3 years of ownership as at that time it would still have retained 75% of its value. After 4 years that drops to 68% then plummets after year 5 down to 55%, although in years 5,6 and 7, annual depreciation has droopped to just a few hundred euros per year compared to the €3000 it lost in year 4. I should also quantify my specific bikes value which is around €500 less than bikes which would have covered only 10000kms p.a, mine has done nearly 13,000 and is valued accordingly.

    Looking at the costs above it seems that the repair element is pretty low with the bulk of these costs taken up by switchgear replacements which BMW declined to assist me with despite me writing to them and complaining. They replied that the bike had been out of warranty since 2011 (only 2 years given in France) and had high miles, however should I choose to buy another new or used bike from their dealers within the next year they will look sympathetically towards the cost of that purchase or trade in.

    The bike has been run without extended warranty and has had the suspension relay brace recall, one set of switchgear, an ECU and two rear driveshaft bearings replaced under warranty.

    I leave you to make what you will of the above, clearly any future costs could potentially be high, the ESA suspension and driveshaft are a worry and I know others with lower mileage bikes have already had these replaced.

    My view is that the more you ride these bikes the better they perform and the less problems you have, keeping one as a weekend toy may keep daily running costs down but parts may not react well to being stood for long periods. I rode mine 1161kms within 3 days, 2090 within 7, 5140 in 28 days and 9091 within 60, not the norm by any means but its been ridden long and hard with huge amounts of time in the mountains in low gears driving out of hairpins so overall I reckon it’s not done too badly, trouble is I haven’t found anything I’d like to replace it with so maybe I just have to steel myself to potentially big future bills and run it into the ground, after all, don’t we buy these bikes expecting trouble free reliability and big mileages?


  • Is it still broken or fixed now?

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    Those of you who read my last post will know that the GT ended the day in disgrace after overheating and leaking oil during its last ride. With the following day being a Sunday and all bike shops being shut on Mondays, the earliest I was going to get it looked at by anyone would be Tuesday. Trying to get ahead of the game and salvage some riding time for the following week I sent an email to the garage I’d bought the bike from in Annecy, asking if I could take it in on the Tuesday. The shop there opened at 09.00 but I had a sceond option, which was to contact the local Swiss dealer in Crissier which was open at 08.00. Given the fact the Swiss shop was only 20 minutes away, I decided that I’d be better off paying higher Swiss labour prices than dragging the bike over an hour and a half away to the French dealer, so I phoned the Swiss shop as soon as they opened in the hope that they’d make a big effort to help a touring motorcyclist in trouble. Unfortunately when I rang the shop was full of riders booking in their bikes for services so I was asked to call back later. When I finally got through I managed to persuade them to take the bike in although they wouldn’t commit to when it might be looked at or returned. This turned out to have been the best option though, as by 11.00 the bike had been booked in, faults explained and left there, whilst the French dealer took until 14.15 that afternoon to write back saying bring it over and they’d look at it, but if it needed any work doing they didn’t have the time! No use whatsoever and a pretty poor response to an email which had been entitled URGENT, still, the bike was booked in now and all I could do was wait.

    Wednesday passed with no news, so when I’d still heard nothing by 10.00 on Thursday I figured they must at least know by now what was wrong regardless of whether it had been fixed or not, so I rang again. The radiator had been diagnosed as being clogged internally and I was quoted a price for fitting a new one of 750chf. Add to that the oil leak repair and the total bill was looking to be around 1300chf, not exactly a cheap fix. I was told if I confirmed the order within the hour there was a chance the part would be delivered and fitted for Saturday but I had to make a quick decision. I hopped in the car, drove to the garage and interrogated the service guy as to whether flushing the system would clear the issue, but he was less than positive about the success of that option. Unfortunately for me I didn’t have the cash immediately available for such a big repair, so I decided to get them to refill the system so that I could at least ride it back to the house and then trailer it back home to get it repaired at some future date. Although the oil leak hadn’t been fully diagnosed it was likely to be a simple fix, so it was agreed that on Friday I would return to collect it and take it away in the best condition it could be returned in, without the fitment of a new radiator.

    Friday came along with a bill for 497chf. The oil leak had been traced to a bolt which seemed not to have been tightened properly when the clutch had been replaced, although this had been almost two years earlier at 80,000 kms.  Perhaps the overheating had exacerbated the problem and caused the gasket to leak some 8000kms later, who knows?

    The radiator had been pressure tested, purged, and refilled with coolant. I was told it was unlikely to blow up but to watch how it performed under load as they couldn’t guarantee the problem wouldn’t resurface again and for sure it wouldn’t get any better, so I had the bike back but with no idea how reliable it may be in the future.

    The 20 minute ride back showed the coolant level at the “normal” levels, but as it was getting motorway speed air blasting through to keep it cool and wasn’t under any load in slow moving traffic or at altitude, it wasn’t really any indicator of how it might perform in the future, so I’m left with no option other then to take it for a “proper” ride later in the week and see what happens, so as per the ending of the last post, watch this space for the latest.


  • Riding in the Dordogne and unleashing a derestricted GT

    Posted on by Paul

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    Living down in the Dordogne is a great pleasure in many ways. Beautiful scenery, good weather (although it’s been as wet down here as most places in Europe this year), cheap wine, and sparsely populated roads out of tourist season. We’d not had visitors for a while, so when Andy asked if we were free last week and did I fancy showing him some of the local roads, it was a great opportunity to catch up and enjoy the local area, especially given the weather forecast was promising sun and up to 27C.

    Andy has recently bought a new S1000XR, and after a six and a half hour ride down the mileage had doubled to the stage where the first service was now due. Realising that by the time we’d ridden for a week and he’d returned back home the bike would have more than doubled the miles on it again, we looked to try and get it in for a first service at the local dealer in Perigueux, and luckily they were able to squeeze not only his first service, but also the derestriction of my K1300GT, anyway, more on that later.

    During the week we visited the martyr village of Ouradour sur Glane, and after swapping bikes for a brief 15 minutes I was reminded how much “get up and go” the S1000XR has, with almost instant acceleration sweeping the rev counter swiftly round to the  7500rpm rev limit (imposed during the running in period), and it’s relatively high feeling seating position. My GT felt really low in comparison, but the biggest difference between the two clearly being the lines that can be chosen/taken in a bend. The XR being light and flickable affords the luxury of making changes mid bend, whilst the GT requires a considered entry, after which it holds it’s line well but moving off it is harder work.

    A couple of 300+ km days allowed us to explore the regions roads, passing by many chateaux and castles using the smaller side roads as links to the well surfaced and largely empty main roads and their well tarmaced surfaces which make the UK roads look shabby in comparison.

    On the final riding day we awoke to find damp roads after some unexpected overnight rain. The route to the BMW dealer for the service for Andys bike was drying out, but at that state of semi-dampness where you’re never sure how huch grip there is, so we had a slightly less spirited ride to Perigueuex than normal, but one that allowed us to enjoy the scenery more. Arriving just before our 10.00am appointments, the bikes were booked in and soon they were being ridden round to the garages at the rear of the premises, leaving us to have a look around the dealer showroom which they share with a Honda dealership, an open corridor allowing passage from one side to the other. 40 minutes later the GT was back in the car park and my carte grise was copied and will be sent to BMW for them to send documentation with the new COC (certificate of conformity) showing the bike is now 160bhp not 100. After 30 years of being forced to ride castrated power motorcycles in France there is now a mad rush as people seek to get them derestricted (legally). The dealer tells us that in the two weeks since the law was changed they have already derestricted 28 bikes, which at €250 a time is a nice little earner for them. The next stage is for the owners to take their new COC document to the equivalent of the DVLA to get a new carte grise (V5 equiv.), but it seems that BMW is overwhelmed with the work this is creating, because as yet none of the 28 bike owners have received their new documentation.

    Within the hour Andys bike reappears, he pays and we ride two minutes round the corner to visit Dafy Moto and the Yamaha dealer that it shares the premises with. Here are some pics from the Yamaha side, anniversary speed block yellow being a popular colour for the R1 and VMax, whilst the grey bike is from their Faster Sons Yard built range.

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    Once we’d wandered round the shop it was time to head off and for me to see how much difference having an extra 60bhp would make. Leaving Perigueux I opened it up climbing a hill only to hear Andy on the intercom telling me it was smoking. Ok, “stop winding me up” I said, but he assured me it had smoked a little, but as it didn’t do it again despite severe provocation during the rest of the day, we decided it was just evacuating a little surplus oil from the airbox.

    I have to say that the new engine map they loaded combined with removing some excess play in the throttle has turned the bike into a competely different animal. Gone was the utilitarian two up plus luggage bus, here was a highly responsive motor which literally had me hollering inside my helmet as I revelled in the instant acceleration and throttle response, no longer boring but a real smile inducer. We found some fantastic roads that morning and even managed to plan the ride so we were back in time to watch the MotoGP race.

    So the week ended having ridden 862kms in mostly glorious sunshine. Sharing riding experiences on great roads with your friends is a great combination and I had a great week, the only downside for Andy was that he then had that 6 1/2 hour ride home to do the next day in what turned out to be blustery conditions, and it turns out that despite removing the rev limiter being the second item on the service list for his bike, it hadn’t been done, which means he’ll have to drag to his home dealer and ask them to remove it.

    I’m really looking forward to riding the GT a lot more now that it’s character has changed, what a shame I’ve had to wait 7 years and 86,000kms before I can appreciate it fully!


  • BMW R1200RS

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    I have a confession to make, I don’t much like twin cylinder bikes!

    Although I’ve ridden some rather fine ones such as Ducati’s 851, 748, 916, 996, 998 and Multistrada, the BMW HP2, an Aprilia RSV Mille, and the Guzzi Stelvio and 1100 Sport, I have to confess I’m not a fan. Of the 65 bikes I’ve ridden only 17 have been twins, so what’s the problem? Well for some reason I don’t seem to have mastered downshifting on twins, and the resulting wheel locking didn’t do my confidence much good. Combine that with some Ducati rides where the bikes stood up on the brakes when I really wanted them to turn into the upcoming bend, has meant that my overriding impressions have been less than favourable, and so, like most things in life that haven’t proven enjoyable, I’ve chosen not to revist them, hence for the past 20 years I’ve owned and ridden 4 cylinder machines, with only a three month interlude on a Laverda 750 S (parallel twin) and a VFR800 and my beloved RC45 (both V4’s) breaking up my long term multi cylinder love affair.

    Other than the occasions where the BMW servicing dealer has offered a twin as a loan bike, and some very brief bike swops where I tried out Marks R1100RT and Andys GS, I’ve shied away from them, with one notable exception, the BMW HP2 which was available for a test ride on a BMW open day, and I just couldn’t turn down a chance to ride such an interesting bike.

    So given my stated inability to “get on” with twins, and knowing that the subject of this post is the BMW R1200RS, a bike with only two cylinders, you might be wondering what has changed? Well, an hour or so to occupy whilst my GT has a new wheel carrier fitted at the BMW dealer is what. I’ve ridden quite a few of BMW’s range, in fact 11 different models, the most recent having been the new S1000XR, and looking at the current range I’m strangely drawn to the R1200RS which looks rather fetching in blue and white, so with the GT booked in at 14.00 and having some time to kill, I’ve taken the plunge and decided to see what’s changed in the world of half my favoured number of cylinders, and booked a test ride for the afternoon, read on for what I thought……..

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    Arriving just before my 14.00 appointment I spot the RS outside and it’s in my favourite blue and white colourway. After booking the GT in, I then go through the formalities of signing the test ride forms before being given a demonstration of the controls which are pretty much the same as on my GT, and my Zumo 660 even fits into the fittted GPS cradle which is useful.

    With the engine running I mount the bike and immediately am struck by the fact I’m sitting in rather than perched on the seat. The cold engine  is lumpy but the gear snicks in like a knife through butter, first is engaged and I’m off. The first few kms pass gently as I acclimatise myself to the bikes idiosyncrasies. Firstly the gearbox is super smooth, unlike the cliunky affair on my GT. No major clunks or bangs, and the quickshifter pro assist means that upward shifts are really smooth, although I’ll add the caveat which seems to apply to any quickshifter, it works better the higher the revs and speed. Using the clutch a couple of times to upshift at speed only disrupted the gearchanges and upset the balance of the bike.

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    The motor got less lumpy once warmed up and it will pull comfortably from as low as 2000rpm in 5th which surprised me. Down changing wasn’t the unsettling affair I remembered of old, but it was a little strange to find the forks dive on the brakes, nothing too dramatic but there’s no duolever front suspension here, just good old telescopic forks.

    The brakes were very strong and although I adjusted the lever span all the way out I found the lever travel to still be more than I would have expected, and I’ve got small hands! Nevertheless, they worked well enough.

    The seat was comfy, the riding position very natural, and the handling quick and intuitive. The Pliot Road 4’s did an excellent job and enabled effortless and confident bend swinging on the unknown roads I was riding. I  do wonder though whether this was down to the tyres, the fact the bike weights a mere 231kg (which is a massive 54kgs less than my GT), because the roads were billiard table smooth with predictable bends, or because on this occasion I was riding without my better half, so the suspension was having an easier time? Normally Sue comes with me when I take test rides but today she had abstained, so if I want to try one again it’s important that she comes with me so I can get a better picture, and as I’ve ridden only and not on any height at all, I’ve got no idea how it would perform at the alpine altitudes I like to ride at.

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    The mirrors whilst small, are easily adjustable and give a good view of what’s behind, so can’t quibble too much on that score, and since I’m unable to recall any issues with the adjustable screen and wind noise or flow, I’m going to have to say that it worked well enough. I can’t recall too much about the exhaust noise, although it does increase nicely when the speeds increase, but it’s pretty quiet as per the euro norms these days, maybe a slightly louder pipe would add to the experience even more?

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    One thing I did notice was that there are a lot less revs to play with than I’m used to. It’s all too easy to hit the rev limiter if you’re not paying attention, and the clocks, whilst containing a lot of info tend to have you focusing on the massive sized gear indicator rather than the much smaller speedo which is actually slightly out of eye line and to the left of centre.

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    What didn’t I like? Well there is always something that doesn’t quite gell. In this case it was the quality of the plastics and the luggage which comes with it. Flicking the plastics reveals they are super light and although not flimsy, they aren’t a patch on the super quality items on my GT. The available luggage is the same quality as the fairing and appears to be much smaller in capacity than the GT  with the top box looking at least half the size. This is all well and good if you don’t tour much, but I’ve not yet hung up my touring spurs and I’m sure we’d never get a weeks worth of stuff in the RS luggage, two days would be about it!

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    After an all too brief test ride I returned the bike and on the way home started to garner my thoughts and then put them into the words you’re reading here.

    From my perspective I’ve done a massive about turn on my thoughts on twins, I loved the ride, the experience, and riding something different. The major thing here is that I’d like to ride one again as I actually had a blast riding this bike. I loved the drive out of the corners,  the consumate bend swinging ability, the gearbox that didn’t clunk, and the overall experience had me grinning and thinking that light bikes must be the way to gain maximum pleasure? I also like the looks and the colour scheme, understated but smart. My only hope is that the experience is equally enjoyable two up, we’ll have to wait and see!

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  • HM Quickshifter

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    One of the upgrades I’d always fancied for my R1 track bike was a quickshifter. Not you understand for the milliseconds it saves per gearchange, although I’ll take anything that helps lop a little off my lap times, but mainly because they’re a cool add on, which along with a quick action throttle and stomp grips would complete my add-on shopping list.

    Some stars aligned recently, and I found myself in a position where a mint condiition HM Quickshifter Plus came winging it’s way through the post to me, and whilst I waited for it’s arrival, took the time to surf the net for videos of how to mount it.

    HM has a pretty good set of “How to” videos, and I assumed, incorrectly, that the coil caps to which the wiring loom needed to be attached would be underneath the airbox, as per their instruction video. I set about removing the bodywork, the tank cover, the airbox lid, the air filter, and the lower airbox housing, only to find a sealed metal floor housing the regulator rectifier. WTF?

    I went back to the HM “how to” video, and came to the obvious conclusion that my R1 has access to the coils in a different location than that shown in the GSXR demo bike film. Mystified as to how to progress, and with half the bike in pieces, eventually the phrase “the internet is your friend” rang in my head, so I went to the yamahar.com forum and posted the question, “how the hell do you attach a QS wiring loom to the coils if it’s not below the airbox?”

    Simple was the answer, “you’re approaching it from the wrong side”. Seems if I dropped the radiator, no need to remove it, just let it hang on its hoses, access to the coil tops is then available, DOH! With my new found knowledge and with just 3 bolts needing undoing, (other than the fairing panels), I was quickly able to plug in the new harness.

    I took advantage of having the bike in pieces to redo some cabling runs, so I hadn’t completely wasted my time, but once I’d reinstalled the radiator bolts and reassembled everything, I checked my handiwork and realised that I wasn’t happy with the way the cabling was hanging. Cue redoing the whole thing again, and then a third time as I wasn’t happy with the cable runs. Eventually I got it right, set the shifter unit to compression, tested it, and all seemed well.

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    Then followed an exchange with Andy where he asked, “are you sure it’s compression and not extension you need for the setting?” I’d looked at the net prior to setting it, and to be fair the HM UK site wasn’t too exact in stating which setting it should be. The information I had been able to find on the HM Australia and KTM sites, both said if you have road shift then it should be set for compression, which is what I’d done, but now the seed of doubt was sown, and after sending Andy a video of the shifter in action, he again told me I’d set it incorrectly.

    Next, a call to HM, where the very helpful sales guy talked me through it. Listening to me tell him the rod was a through the frame road shift pattern, and then describing which way it moved when I shifted gear, led to the crushing news that it should be set for extension not compression, so now I needed to go back and remove all the bodywork again, as the wiring is hidden away underneath the tank.

    Determined not to have to remove anything else again, I made a final change to the cable routing so that I could access the unit from underneath the frame if necessary, re-set the unit to extension not compression, added 5 milliseconds to the kill time, and then spent 5 minutes mercilessly hammering the gears up and down the box, before finally deciding all was now ok to reassemble.

     

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    I’m looking forward to seeing how it works in anger on track at Catalunya.

     

    Watch this space!


  • Bitubo shock and TW Suspension Tech set up- update

    A lot of the fun in life is searching for things you want then getting them, this I’ve found especially true with bikes or bike parts, and so it was with the Bitubo suspension I’d had fitted to my R1. Having identified what I wanted, I bought it, had it fitted and a full suspension set-up done, and all that remained was to go out and test it.

    No apologies for showing this image again, lovely isn’t it?

    I booked a trackday at Donington, my 4th this year, and impatiently waited for the fortnight to pass before the date arrived, but with the weather having embarked upon a seemingly long term wet and windy downturn I was worried it would mess up my days testing. The forecast seemed to change daily and even hourly in the days before and things weren’t looking great for the day.

    Like every event I’ve gone to this year it had rained the night before, and sure enough it was today too. Setting off at 6.15 in pouring rain, I resigned myself to the fact that that if it didn’t stop I wouldn’t turn a wheel all day as I’ve only got slicks.

    Donington was, you guessed it, wet. Installed in the garage at 07.15 the rain I looked forlornly outside at the grey skies and driving rain which finally abated at around 08.20 in time for the riders briefing, but with a soaking wet track I didn’t ride either the sighting laps or the first two sessions. Thankfully the rain held off, the sun made a welcome appearance, and by the time the third session of the day came round the combination of sun and strong breeze had dried the track enough to allow me to go out.  So how did I fare? Read on.

    First impression came immediately exiting the pit lane, accelerating hard on warmed slicks it struck me that the ride was “plush”. This was the first word that sprung to mind. No drama, no bite and go, just pure drive. The first lap was one of acclimatisation so not that fast, but after that one lap I was able to push and was immediately rewarded with a turn in that I’d not had on the original OE shock.

    As each lap passed I found myself able to turn harder, pick and choose lines, and accelerate harder and earlier, but most importantly, do it all feeling 100% secure in what the bike was doing.

    A strange by product was that I found myself entering the Melbourne loop and onto the Wheatcroft Straight in first gear. I never use first gear! Entering the straight I was able to hold a line to the left of the track having turned in tightly, stand it up and accelerate early, instead of drifting out wide to the right.

    Carving down Craner Curves as if on rails I found myself able to exit from Old Hall under harder acceleration up to McLeans.

    The rise on Starkeys Straight which used to lift the front was despatched as if it wasn’t there, and although normally I’m in 3rd here, now I was grabbing 4th.

    The Esses were more flowing, and I had a crazy tight line into Melbourne loop as the bike just instilled confidence everywhere.

    Teut (TW Suspension Tech) had also changed the settings at the front, and both braking and turn in were superb, the whole bike now functioning as one unit rather than the poor rear following the front ride I’d had with the old shock.

    I’ve no real idea of times as somehow I’d managed to switch the lap timer onto an incorrect program, but my wife was timing me on the iphone and she saw 1.57, which was my best there last year, so clearly the bike was handling well, which I have to say is a huge understatement! Although a little disappointed not to be able to say I’d carved seconds off my times, the feeling the shock and set-up gave me were superb, and makes me wonder why the hell I didn’t make the changes earlier? I have no doubt once I get 100% used to this new found improved handling my times will improve, but even if they don’t the riding experience it’s given me has been well worth it. The shock was amazing, and the set up too. I’d tried to contact Teut at TW Suspension to let him know how things were going but he was busy when I called, so I left him a garbled message telling him how pleased I was. To my surprise he rang me the next day to discuss how I’d found things in detail, how many companies will give you that level of service?

    A huge thanks to Teut then, and here’s one rider totally converted to the fact that an investment in suspension is the best place you can spend your money!


  • TW Suspension Tech / Bitubo XXF31V2

    When it comes to spending money on my bikes, mountain or motor, I generally know EXACTLY what I want. I research  the market, read lots of reviews, compare prices on the net, decide what I want and then spend my money with those I believe will offer a good service. I take my time to decide what those parts will be, and part of the process is in justifying the expenditure to myself. With the price of the shock running to hundreds of pounds and with a requirement for high performance, my research had taken a few days.

    Most of my friends had bought Ohlins and I nearly went down that route, but having “missed” a couple of used Ohlins shocks on ebay at the start of the season which were around the £600 mark, I was now looking in a different direction. Given that any used Ohlins would likely need to be serviced and perhaps also resprung to my weight, the initial purchase cost while “reasonable” would likely end up at a figure closer to £1000, so I decided to forego the bling of a gold spring and sticker on the bike and buy something else.

    With a budget that certainly wasn’t running to 4 figures, the direction I was going to take would mean not following the crowd. There’s a lot to be said for individuality, but I didn’t want cheap and cheerful either, so after lots of reading and google searches I’d got my considered choice down to 3 options, Nitron, Bitubo or Wilbers.

    I discounted the Wilbers, and then  it was a simple choice of the least expensive option, the Nitron, or the Bitubo, which is an Italian marque and priced in euros. The current favourable exchange rate to GBP meant it represented excellent value but I needed to get validation of my choice. My Google research had landed me at the site of TW Suspension Tech who were offering most major brands, and as it’s run by an ex BSB suspension technician Teut Wiehn, I figured he would certainly be able to point me in the right direction.

    My initial enquiry for prices to him via email was responded to almost immediately, a business trait I always like, and he was extremely helpful when I rang him to discuss the options and ask which he would recommend. After understanding my riding level and expectations and listening to his advice I quickly settled on the Bitubo, with one of the positive points being it would be sprung to my weight.  Teut then had a couple of questions about my weight and that of the bike. He wanted to know whether it was a pure track bike or had any road paraphanalia such as lights still fitted, and also the weight balance front to rear? I had no idea on the bike weight question so I had to make a quick trip to Argos for some cheap mechanical scales, which revealed a 52% front 48% rear split which was deemed ok. My weight including riding gear was noted, and even the fact I’d had the front springs changed went into the mix to create a full picture. Once the pro forma was received and money transferred, I just had to wait a week or two for delivery. The only downside being that as it was coming from Italy, and the country famously shuts for the month of August, the end of month trackday at Donington I’d hoped to take looked like it might not happen.

    Two weeks is a long time when you’re waiting for something but Teut kept me updated on likely delivery time and sure enough 16 days after placing the order Teut contacted me to say it had arrived. One of the things TW offer is a full ride in ride out suspension set-up, and he had recommended I do this once the shock was fitted, but as it’s a four and a half hour round trip for me to his base in Preston, I asked if it were possible for him to fit the shock there and then do the set up afterwards. Luckily he had a time slot available, and so the bike was loaded onto the trailer and I headed off to Preston.

    First impressions are good. Teut is a really nice guy, gave a great welcome, and took me into his workshop to show me the box below containing my new shock. It’s a Bitubo XXF31V2 with hydraulic preload adjustment, rebound, high and low rebound compression, and shock length adjuster. It had looked good in the pics on the internet but is even better in the flesh!

     

    I was offered a cup of coffee and then work started on removing the old shock, then the new one was fettled and made ready to be installed. Here Teut is about to add 3mm to the shock length vs standard, as one of the things I always felt the R1 needed was a higher rear end to promote faster turn in.

    As he worked his phone rang a few times as racers and track day riders called in to ask advice on changes to make or give updates on performance, with one guy over the moon he’d dropped 5 seconds off his lap times!  Teut has worked with the like of Buildbase in BSB and is a mine of information, and recounted countless stories of riders he has worked with and their successes, and the more time I spent listening, the more certain I was that I’d brought my bike to the right place.

    Before the old shock was removed he had checked the overall set up and wasn’t too impressed. The rear wasn’t putting enough heat into the tyre, the spring was confirmed as being way too soft, and even the front wasn’t felt to be great, with too much compression and too little rebound leading him to ask if I’d really been riding it this way?!

    Above and beyond the call of duty I thought, here Teut is cleaning off my old shock so I can refit if required when I have the new shock serviced.

    Teuts wife kept a flow of coffee coming and even provided a bacon sandwich as it’s lunchtime now. Many thanks, what a service!

    Once fitted and the technical bits start. Teut religiously measures and notes all the settings, but surprisingly doesn’t take any rider sag settings. Knowing that both front and rear have the correct weight springs means it’s not necessary, so he concentrates on setting the static sag instead. A little more preload is added and then the bike is bounced to check rebound settings. Again tiny adjustments are made until he’s happy with the feel. Then he makes a couple of small changes to the front too to make the balance between front and rear correct. The beauty of this set-up is that he provides a spec sheet showing all the settings which can be used a baseline. He doesn’t expect that I’d need to change the preload setting but suggests as I get used to things I might want to make some small changes to either the compression or rebound, but not to worry I’ll mess things up as I can call him anytime when on track, explain what I’m feeling from the bike, and he’ll advise what changes to make. He does say that perhaps in time I may start to find that the front is now not performing to the same level as the rear, and that ultimately the spring change won’t be sufficient and that a cartridge kit for the forks will be the way to go, but for the meantime he recommends I stick with the slicks I have on now, go back to a track I know, and see how it feels.

     

    So now it’s mounted I have no excuses and am about to book my next trackday. I have to give a big shout out to Teut and TW Suspension Tech. It’s great to find genuinely knowledgeable people with such a passion for their work, and a real nice guy to boot. It was a pleasure to meet him, the job was done efficiently, every detail explained and nothing was too much trouble. Add -in coffee and bacon sandwiches and what more could you ask? I’m really looking forward to seeing what difference the set up makes, but knowing there is a back up just a call away is a big plus.

    Thanks to Teut, and watch this space to see how I get on!

     


  • R1- Suspension issues

    Since the rebuild of my R1 after an off at Donington last year I’ve changed a lot of things, some out of necessity, others from a desire to upgrade. Suspension falls into both categories as it hadn’t been touched since I’d bought the bike 3 years ago.

    I’d  bought the bike  from a guy who weighed around 10kgs more than me, and contrary to a friend with an identical bike who had problems with bottoming his forks under hard braking, I’d never had any such issues, and had wondered whether the previous owner had swapped the springs for some uprated heavier ones?  My friend had fixed his issue by having his forks serviced and new springs fitted by an ex Tech3 mechanic, and in combination with changing his OEM shock to an Ohlins, had been very impressed with the improvement in handling and performance the changes brought, so when I told him I was thinking of having my forks overhauled he thoroughly recommended I do so.

    Looking round for somewhere to service the forks and check what springs were actually fitted, I found Revs Suspension in Halesowen, a local K-Tech service agent, and after some discussion I took the bike in and had the forks stripped, oil and seals replaced, and the OEM progressive springs replaced with 9.5 weight K-Tech linear ones.

    The springs that came out were checked and found to be very light weight 7.5 items, totally unsuitable for my weight, or the previous owners, and they reckoned the reason I’d not bottomed them was because of emulsification of the oil.

    Less than two weeks after the work was done I had a chance to check them out at a Donington track day. Unfortunately as so many other things on the bike had been changed, seat position, clip ons, slicks etc, the whole feeling of the bike felt alien and I couldn’t really figure out what aspect of the bike was changing what, and came away a little perplexed that there had been no “quantum leap” of improved feel. One thing I did do afterwards though was to read a load of articles on suspension, and it seems my dislike of front dive at the end of straights had led to me setting the forks up with close to full compression settings to limit this. In fact I’d changed Revs settings back to those I’d had on the old springs as I felt they were diving too much, but reading more about it, it became obvious that I’d made a mistake and that dive is good, so I changed the settings back to theirs, and lo and behold at the next track day the feel from the front, ease and speed of turn and feedback had improved, which led to the next problem………, the rear.

    The more I rode the bike the more I got the impression the front and rear weren’t quite working together, and knowing the forks were fine, attention turned to the rear OEM shock. I knew something was odd when I could only get correct sag settings with the rear preload on full, and although having it set that way allowed me to drop my times by two seconds a lap, clearly it’s not ideal having it set up so hard. My diagnosis that the rear spring was too soft for my weight was backed up after a chat with 100% Suspension at Donington. I described the handling issues I felt I was experiencing to them, and after the rear was bounced a few times and settings checked, it was confirmed that indeed it was too soft, and that Yamaha were known for putting soft springs on this model. I was advised replacing the spring only was pointless given the age of the shock, so armed with the knowledge that I needed to spend some money to fix the problem, it’s fast forward to the end of August, and I’m on my way up to  TW Suspension Tech in Preston to have a brand new Bitubo XXF31 shock fitted.

    STORY TO FOLLOW:-

     

     


  • BMW S1000XR

    Today is an opportunity to kill two birds with one stone. The GT is in for a service (50,000 miles), and I’ve arranged a test ride on the new top of the range S1000XR to see whether BMW’s much lauded new steed is good enough to persuade me to part with “old faithful”.

    The sales guy isn’t sure initially how to set up the ESA for rider and pillion, or whether the quickshifter works on both up and downshifts, but a quick check of the users manual confirms which button to press, and now the suspension is showing the familiar two helmets for rider and pillion settings, which I need as my better half is along for the ride too, as no purchase of a bike will ever go through unless she’s comfortable on it!

    I don’t know the roads or area around by the dealer, but get lucky when I spot that the GPS mount is for BMW’s equivalent of my Zumo 660, and sure enough my GPS slots in perfectly. The only negative is that it isn’t operable via the thumb wheel on the left bar, but hey, at least I can find my way back now.

     

     

    Sitting on the XR for the first time I’m taken by how tall the seat height is, I’m on tiptoes to hold it upright. Next to hit me is the bar position,  it feels like riding a chopper in comparison to my GT. The bars seem high and wide, but the benefit of this position is soon evident in the ease with which nudging them drops the front into bends. The bike itself is quite slim, the seat slightly dished and very comfy, and my knees fit perfectly into the cut-outs on the tank, so ergonomically it’s ticking all the boxes.

     

    The ride starts with some 40mph limited town roads leading to a roundabout and onto a dual carriageway. Turning onto it, I’m shocked, and so is Sue, with the ferocity of the acceleration as it leaps forward, taking us both by surprise and forcing Sue to hang on for grim death. Taking it up through the gears the speed increases rapidly, but I’m surprised to see that although the red line starts at 11,000rpm, and the shift light starts flashing at around 8ish, at 9000 it’s banging into what must be a rev limiter.  I’m going to assume this is because the bike only has 993 miles on the clock and is still being run in, so perhaps limiting the revs during the running in process is the reason for this restriction?

    Tired of the limitations of 40mph A roads and lines of traffic, I’ve overshot a promising looking turnoff down a small country road. Signalling to pull over into a layby to turn round, I’m suddenly faced with a combination of seat height and high bars which make doing a turn back a somewhat less comfortable proposition than it would have been on my lower GT, back pedalling on tip toes doesn’t feel very reassuring!

     

     

    Once onto the small lane I’m immediately comfortable, entering unknown bends quickly but feeling in full control and comfortable with the excellent light handling. The bike turns in nicely and gives a lot of confidence, and it turns out it’s wearing the same Bridgestone T30’s as my GT, so perhaps this helps? What isn’t so great for me is the brakes, or rather the diving on the brakes. I’ve ridden for 7 years and over 100,000kms on BM’s tele and duolever forks which all but eradicate dive under braking, so suddenly finding the front dipping and Sues weight sliding forward is a bit of a shock.

    Deciding to switch from Road mode to Dynamic, I had the sensation that the power delivery was smoother, but for some reason the feel and handling seemed to change too, and not for the better. The confidence of throwing it into the bends I’d enjoyed a few minutes earlier had evaporated and I have no idea why, but I felt more at ease once I’d switched it back to Road.

    I was finding the suspension more compliant than my GT (which gives the impression of steamrollering over bumps), but it wasn’t the case for Sue, the ride translating into a choppy one for her on the back. She also wasn’t too comfortable on the seat either, which was digging into her inner thighs a little. Whilst higher speed road suspension for me as a rider is fine, the lower speed isn’t quite as good. Round town later on I find the front is crashing over manhole covers, giving another example of how the bike operates better at speed.

     

     

    The engine is the thing everyone will talk about. It is a little rough at tickover but will pull from as low as 2000rpm in top. I tried it down to 1500rpm and it didn’t like it, but add just 500rpm more and it pulls away cleanly. In fact it runs better at this artificially low 2000rpm in 6th than it does in 4th or 5th, which I reckon is because in the lower gears it just wants to rev its nuts off and disappear into the distance! Late in the ride I managed to set off onto a roundabout in second instead of first, only spotting it when I saw the gear indicator, so more proof it’s a smooth and flexible engine. I’d heard some complaints of  vibration, but I only felt this once at around 6000rpm but couldn’t replicate it.

    One slightly negative point is that at 70mph on the motorway, with the the rev counter showing 5000rpm, the motor feels as if its just coming onto the cam and wanting to pick up and go, so you either need to slow the pace a little or take it past this point to get a smooth ride, either way you’re not going to want to hold it at that speed.

    Whilst the engines growl and acceleration will keep you involved, there is another noise which intrudes a little. Round town I’m aware of a humming coming from the tank in front of me, which turns out to be the fan which seems to activate at around 90 degrees, which it will constantly run at, or higher, in traffic or moving slowly. In all honesty, town riding isn’t where this bike works best. It, and the quickshifter (which does work both ways up and down the gearbox), work better the faster you’re going. Using the clutch for downshifts confuses the gearbox, it just take a little getting used to to not use the clutch when going down into first! Generally the quickshifter is great, although I have to say the shifts were not always super crisp or consistent, but the fact you only need the clutch to pull away in first is a real boon, I need one for my R1 racebike NOW!

    Finally it would be remiss of me not to mention the ever present wind noise. The low screen does a pretty good job deflecting wind, but it isn’t going to offer you a silent ride.

    So what are my final thoughts? Well if I were looking for a bike for myself only, I’d probably buy one, but I’m not, it needs to double up for two up riding, and this is where it drops a few demerit points. I have to say from my perspective it was ok, but Sue was less than impressed, a fact backed up by the sales guy who informed us that those who rode it solo raved about it, those who rode it two up universally didn’t rate it.

    The engine is great, the quickshifter a useful addition, the GPS mount and luggage fittings well made, the plastics a touch thinner than perhaps you’d expect, but acceptable nonetheless, and it handles extremely well. I was very happy riding unknown roads at a fair old lick, which is indicative of the confidence the bike instills.  Overall I’d rate it as an   8 1/2 / 10, but if I hadn’t come from 8 years of riding a duo lever suspension bike without fork dive, it might have had a 9!