• Category Archives My bikes and reviews
  • The bikes I have owned &/or ridden over the years. My thoughts on how they performed, their handling and design, and how I rated them for reliability, desirability, and any issues with long term ownership.

  • Honda RVF750 RC45

    In 2002 I decided that I wanted to buy a “proper” sportsbike. I had been riding my CBR1100XX Super Blackbird throughout Europe since 1999, mostly two up with my wife, and enjoying epic tours together, but missing the thrill a trackday or knee down riding can bring.

    I’d had a brief foray into “sports” riding, with the purchase of a Laverda 750S which I bought new and with several thousand off the list price after Laverda went bankrupt. This was the Zane version parallel twin with Piaoli forks and Marchesini wheels, a great handling bike, but ultimately one with the worst engine fitted to a bike I have ever had the pleasure to ride or own. Lumpy and prone to stalling, I sold it after only 3 months and started to look in earnest for its replacement.

    I had ridden an MV Agusta 750 F4 and had pretty much decided to buy one when Karel Van Loon suggested I try one again BEFORE I put down the 30,000chf cost of a new one. His logic was that my opinion may now have changed after several test rides on twins such as the Aprilia Mille, and Ducati 996 and 998 models. It wasn’t possible to get a test ride locally, so I had to drive 3 hours to Lugano to find an available demonstrator. This model turned out to be the fabulous silver and blue model with the special Arrow race exhaust fitted, itself a 4000chf option. The fuel pump of the VW VR6 I owned gave up the ghost just outside Lugano resulting in a hire car journey home, but that’s another story, the real story however was the test ride.

    Overjoyed at riding an MV again, I saddled up and rode gently out of Lugano centre, but unlike the very first test I ever took on my CBR1100XX, where within 20 yards I had decided I was going to buy it, this ride wasn’t going how I imagined. The first problem was the traffic, and a sports bike in traffic isn’t the ideal mix. Frustrated by the slow inner city speed, heat and tight steering lock, the outskirts couldn’t come soon enough and a chance to let it rip a bit, but that’s where the next problem came, the power was all at the top, by the time you’re at 10,000rpm you’re doing 140kph and already in licence losing territory, and no matter how I tried to convince myself the sound and thrill of the ride was all I needed, the more it became unrealistic to consider owning such a focussed machine. Returning the bike to the shop I left deflated and needing to reassess what exactly I wanted from a bike, as this hadn’t been it!

    Back home I came across some old UK bike magazines and started to thumb through them. My eye fell upon a review of a Ducati 916, Kawasaki 750, and Hondas RC45. Reading on it was clear that the RC45 was the winner of this review, excellent on track, and a bike that the testers noted could be ridden indecently fast on the road without ever feeling stressed, and a machine which you could take liberties on in total confidence, knowing the reserves of handling the chassis held, after all, it was a homologated race bike with lights for the road, built only to satisfy WSBK rules that there must be a road bike equivalent of the superbike race machines.

    I started to look for used models and soon found two relatively close by. One turned out to be an outright track bike with the genuine Honda equivalent of a power commander fitted and adjustable from the side panel. This bike handled like a dream but looked a little jaded, showing plenty of signs of the hard life it had had thrashing round race tracks. The second bike however was much more promising. It had clearly been on a track at some time, as there were numerous parts lock wired and the number 45 in large numbers on the rear number board, BUT, it was in good condition, sounded great, and ticked all the boxes, the best thing being the price. I agreed to buy immediately, and so began the start of a relationship which is still running today.

    Where do you start to describe such a bike? Well, first there is the sound. The V4 engine has a totally unique sound, a bit like a WW2 bomber, especially when fitted with a Micron open pipe. At track days it always draws attention as people don’t always know what it is, and ask lots of questions. What is it? How old is it? What engine is in it? How fast? Etc.etc. I never mind answering as it’s a piece of HRC history, and I’m an extremely proud owner.

    Handling- The bike has a very low seat height, which makes knee downs very easy. When on its side at speed it feels rock solid and inspires confidence. At the track it always has more in reserve than I’ll ever exceed, whilst on the road you will never get close to its limits. A journalist once wrote that you have to be riding at 100mph on the road to even start to feel as if you’re going quickly, it’s that composed. The bike also features a 16 inch front wheel which was in vogue back in the mid nineties (Fireblade) and a single side swing arm.

    Riding position- is quite forward, and remember this is an old school race bike. Corners require some muscling it round, and weighting the front in bends works well. This is a bike that almost demands you move off the saddle and get your knee down to make it work as HRC intended. Work with it, and it rewards you in spades. The suspension is plush and on track settings can be trail braked right to the apex, its best trick being the ability to dive under others in bends.

    Engine- As standard the bike didn’t make a huge amount of power, but I found a garage who used to race RC45’s in the WSBK series, and they were able to find another 10bhp after some fiddling with the ECU and fitment of the open Micron pipe mentioned earlier. Power is now 122bhp at the rear wheel, and acceleration improved, at the expense of outright top end speed, by the fitment of a 16tooth front sprocket.

    Speed- on track the bike is equally as frustrating as it is magnificent. A 14 year old 750 is now pretty slow against almost any modern 600, and I find myself being overtaken far more than I am ever able to overtake anyone myself. Forget 1000cc superbikes on the straights, they’re gone, but I sure as hell can make it difficult for them to pass in the corners, which is where this bike excels. I guess max speed would have been around 240kph before I changed the front sprocket, and each gearchange only drops the revs by 500rpm. Whilst it pulls well from low, 7000rpm upwards is where you need to be, changing at 10000 rpm and dropping just 500rpm with each change to keep it in the power band. Also frustrating is the ultra tall first gear, 120kph being available in first means I often find myself in bottom gear in slow speed bends.

    Reliability- It’s a Honda so is built extremely well with slipper clutch and titanium internals. I once had it stolen and the dented tank cost 2500chf to replace, and we were lucky to even find one as they are hand formed aluminium! Batteries, regulators and stators are the Achilles heel of this bike, not helped by the alarm which constantly drains the battery, requiring it to be permanently hooked up to an Optimate. Other than electrics which are costly to replace and to find the actual faults, the only things I have changed are tyres and brake pads, and I upgraded the hoses this year as the brakes were starting to feel a little spongy.

    Tyres- These don’t seem to last long as I always seem to mix road with track days. I have ridden on Pirelli Diablos almost exclusively as they are one of the few brands and models where the 16 inch front wheel size is available.  Fronts seem to last around 5000 kms whilst rears can be destroyed in as little as 3500kms. Worthy of note though is the traction available in the wet. Like the VFR800 I owned, the V4 engine puts its power to the road in such a way that grip seems there even when the road or track is under water. Several times at track days, I have been amongst the first out in atrocious conditions because of the feedback the tyres and suspension are able to give.

    Condition- The rear seat unit split, as so many do, but I have had this repaired and then repainted, along with the wheels which I had stove repainted in gloss black. I also fitted some new decals as some of the original (unlacquered) ones were starting to peel. It now looks in top condition again.

    I’ve allowed very few others to ride this bike, but those who have, always express their enjoyment of the ride and understand why I’ll never sell it. In truth I don’t ride it anywhere near enough, and countless times after track days where I’ve been passed a thousand times I threaten to stop taking it to the track, but I always go back, it was made for the track and deserves to be there, it’s better than me and the pleasure I get each time I ride it far exceeds that I get from my more modern machines. If you ever get the chance to ride one, grab the opportunity with both hands. I paid less than a third of the price of a new MV Agusta, and reckon I got a better bike!


  • Long term costs of owning a superbike- Honda CBR1100XX Super Blackbird

    Since 2004 I have owned a CBR1100XX Super Blackbird (my second), which I bought with 8,550kms on the clock. It now has 45,714 and I thought it might be interesting to share some figures for “Superbike” ownership.

    Since I bought it, I have bought 7 sets of tyres:

    Average front tyre life is 8,690kms

    Average rear tyre life is 7,253kms

    The bike came fitted with Michelin HPX which I changed for Bridgestone BT020’s which I had ridden extensively on my previous model.  I ran Michelin Pilot Roads for a short time but changed them early because I disliked the handling, and it is currently on BT021’s, although these are not as good as the BT020’s in my opinion.

    I have had it serviced as per Honda service schedule every 6000kms

    Brakes are linked and I have always fitted aftermarket Carbon Lorraine pads:

    Fronts were replaced at 10,345 and 32,300kms, and rears were replaced at 14,585 and 44,557kms.

    I have only replaced the chain and sprockets once, at 24,332kms. The chain lasts well because I use a Scotoiler lubrication system which can double the life of the parts.

    I fitted taper steering head bearings at 32,169 just to speed up the steering, not because the originals had failed.

    Other than regular maintenance the ONLY things which went wrong in the past 5 years have been the dashboard clock (which I hadn’t even noticed) and a breakdown of the stator at 43,007kms. This was an identical fault to one which happened on my previous Blackbird, although that lasted longer, failing at 55,000kms.

    I added an MRA double bubble screen for comfort and a Digi gear indicator, as the engine is so smooth you are always looking for a 7th gear! I also have a Maxton rear shock, which is 10mm longer than standard and which has been valved to suit my weight and riding style, which is a fantastic modification for the improvements in handling and confidence it brings.

    This has been, like its predecessor, an unbelievably reliable machine. The paintwork still looks like new on the main fairing, although there are a couple of cracks in the seat unit due to over tightening of the bolts, and the electric blue paint is nowhere as strong at resisting rubbing marks as the original black model I owned.

    Overall, I would have to give this bike a 9 ½ out of 10 as it just keeps going, doesn’t break down, and if you stay on top of maintenance it will give you years of reliable service. I sold my previous model at 72,000kms, only because I couldn’t import it into France, but I’m sure it would have gone round the clock without any problems.


  • MV Agusta- Myth or magic?

    It was love at first sight. When the Agusta first appeared in the pages of the bike magazines, I joined the ranks of those who believed this to be the most beautiful bike ever made. I first saw one, two in fact, in the flesh, at Kyalami in South Africa at the first Superbike round of the Y2K season. I took a photograph of one parked next to a Ducati 996, in itself a bike held in high esteem amongst the worlds cogniscenti, and it made the Ducati look plain and understated in comparison.

    I am lucky enough to own what many would consider amongst the ultimate machines available, the Super Blackbird, but along with most other bikers who aspire to a machine they don’t own, I still look at other machines, but only one has a genuine interest, the MV Agusta. Seduced by the design, and the fact that there are not thousands on the road, nor probably never will be, I dream of one day owning one.

    At Boffa Bikes in Morges, I found an all silver one, which I quickly sat on to size up, much to the dismay of the shop owner, who rushed over to find out what I was doing.  He seemed appeased that I might be a genuine potential customer, when I advised that I was the owner of the Blackbird parked outside, and travel in excess of 25,000kms p.a. The things that immediately struck me were the diminutive dimensions, and that fact that the seat was just a piece of lightly padded foam and very hard! It featured the famous Ducati style whip up sidestand, so I was grateful for his grabbing the bike and putting it on the stand for me, before it got dropped! The first time I actually saw an Agusta on the road, was in Italy on my tour to the Passo de Stelvio in August 2001. I was stopped at the side of the road, as the Agusta and two other machines had sped past, and I decided to set off in pursuit to try and listen to the famous tuned exhaust note, and to see how it handled. Unfortunately for me, I had trouble catching up! They had home advantage, knew the roads, and were riding very quickly, so after 5 minutes, I disappointedly gave up the chase.

    Time passed, and I tried riding a couple of alternative bikes.  Karel’s Moto Guzzi, and then the Honda Fireblade, but there was only one bike I really wanted to try! Karel listened to my comments with amusement, he favours twin cylinder machines, and I four. Having listened to my scathing criticism of the Blade, and my comments regarding handling and lack of torque, he believed that the Agusta would prove to be just another slower, smaller version of the same thing. His big mistake however, was in saying that he knew that the owner of Speedbike had his own personal Agusta, which he might be prepared to lend for a test. With winter rapidly approaching, I badgered Karel to exercise his influence to try and get me a test, and in the hope that this would kill off my incessant desire,  he came through with the eagerly awaited confirmation, that on Saturday 27th October 2001, I could have a test ride for a couple of hours. I had been travelling on business in Scandinavia the week before, and only returned home on the Friday evening, but here I was, awake bright and early on the Saturday morning, rushing around and getting ready to leave Sue, who was none too pleased that I was going out so soon,  and yet again, placing a bike ahead of her! The morning starts off cold, and I’m concerned that these are not ideal riding conditions for such an expensive machine. As I wend my way through Geneva to the bike shop in Carouge,  thoughts turn to cold tyres and potential lack of grip, and concerns that this may spoil my enjoyment.  Despite it having been only moderately cold and dry in Scandinavia the previous week, it had rained at least once a day in Geneva, which meant that my planned test ride up the Col de Faucille would be damp in places. It’s only just over a week since I took out a Fireblade on test, and I had been deeply unimpressed, but Karel’s note that the Agusta is 150ccs smaller, weighs more,  makes less power, and probably needs even more revs to ensure swift progress, can`t dampen my enthuisiasm or sense of expectation. Can the sheer magic of Italian flair and design, really overcome the sterile perfection of Japanese bikes? It’s a nagging question, but I’ll soon find out. scan0023

    The bike is started in the garage, and wheeled out with its cold engine warming up. As it appears, I’m a little disappointed straight away, as instead of the red and silver beauty I was expecting, this bike was all red, and had Speedbike (bike shop name) logos on it. As the engine was stopped, a small wisp of smoke crept out and upwards from the rear of the centre pipes, cool! With the formalities of photocopying my licence over, the owner explains the controls to me. Restarting the engine shows the  speedo dial hand sweep round to the 17,000rpm limit mark, yes, you have read that correctly, 17,000!!, and as the temperature increases incrementally on the digital display, I note it flashing  through 38 and 42 degrees as the engine starts to warm up, before reaching full temperature and being able to switch off the manual choke. I ask what revs I should change gear at (not so dumb as it sounds!), and am told 8000rpm for normal riding, and 11000+ rpm for real speed.  Sitting astride the bike I note the missing mirrors, no way to check for pursuing police (!),  and the race numbers on the screen and fairing, and the transponder mount on the lower fairing, give clear notice this bike is obviously quick and used for track days, but more of that later. With a final warning about lack of steering lock around town, I edge off the forecourt and into town.

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    The seating position is quite forward on the machine, but not uncomfortably so. At the first few sets of traffic lights, I encounter the usual Italian game of hunt the neutral gear position. I only found this some miles later when the engine had become warm, and found the best way to actually engage it, was by going up from first to second and then back a notch. Being forced to hold the clutch in however, didn’t cause the aching wrist muscles, that the same exercise on the Ducati had caused. As I turn onto the same motorway entry that I had taken two years earlier on the Ducati, and been impressed how it had carved around, I didn’t get the same positive feedback on the Agusta, it felt as if it needed more steering input. Initially I tried not to read too much into this, different bike, tyres, temperature, etc etc, and would have scored one up to the Ducati, if scores were being kept, but in hindsight, and as later bends were to prove, I realise it was quite the opposite. The bike could turn much quicker than I had attempted, and so I had misjudged the effort needed. A little disappointed by the exhaust note so far, I decided to see what all the press praise had been about, and arriving at the first of a couple of tunnels, I dropped a gear or two and accelerated, hard! The reward was instant speed, and a noise that bounced off the tunnel walls in an aria of sound. To try and describe the noise is impossible, it created a stirring in the groin, and if you likened it to anything, would be like the excitement felt during the most amazing sex you have had in your life. It wailed harmoniously, and I was only at 8000rpm. I did the same through the next tunnel, same thing. Like a drug  which is taken to stimulate the senses, this was providing a real high. I wanted more, and throughout the test, I kept dropping gears for the hit, and sheer joy, of listening to that exhaust note.

    The motorway was a little boring, as speed is low to avoid the many radars, and turning off for Ferney en route to the Col de Faucille, I was horrified to see a great queue of cars waiting to pass through customs. I couldn’t wait, the expectation was building to fever pitch, so I dashed up the empty inside lane, and arrived at the head of the queue. Ignoring the obviously blatant race numbers and lack of mirrors, I was waved on through, and set off for the real test! The appearance of the sun meant that both the roads and the temperature were rising, great! Once on real roads I quickly found that dropping gears to be constantly around 6000rpm+ gave me instant acceleration, as below this was nothing special, and cruising at 3000rpm in top on the motorway had shown that there was a noticeable delay before the power came in again. Riding with higher revs not only gave me speed, but that sound again! Like the Ducati, which gave instant low down punch, and encouraged rapid spurts of acceleration, so it was on the Agusta, although the corresponding revs were much higher. I found myself launching into rapid bursts of acceleration to take advantage of small gaps in the traffic, just for fun. Aware that I only had 2 hours maximum before the bike had to be back, I arrived at Gex, at the foot of the Faucille, and was overjoyed to see an empty road ahead. The town clock said 10.40am.

    Lets go!

    First real bend and the bike turns sweetly, very sweetly, in fact much faster than I would have imagined. I very quickly find that I only need to move a partial bum cheek off the seat to assist turning, the rest is effortless. The bottom of the hill is a little rutted, which was felt through the forks, but they seemed very well damped and moved only a little. Annoyed to find a couple of cars further ahead, I blasted past in a flash. Dropping gears to keep above 6000rpm as I exited bends, gave the drive I hadn’t found on the Blade. It positively flew out of them, and all the time accompanied by that seductive howling exhaust. I found myself deliberately taking the full curve of each bend, rather than cutting across their apexes as I would on the “Bird”, knowing that the speed of turn and capability of the bike would get me round without drama. The technique of turn late and hard is the complete opposite of the “Bird”, but it came naturally, very impressive! I imagined what it must be like to be on the hill somewhere, and hear this cacophony of sound reach you. To my mind and ears, the sound far exceeds the dull booming of a Ducati,  itself music to the ears, and again, the only way I could think to describe this, was in some form of sexual connotation. I would imagine that the use of Viagra to prolong an experience, must be the same as the effect the Agusta has on you. You become enraptured by the aural stimulation, crave the noise, and deliberately hunt for the higher reaches of the rev range, but if you thought that was special, wait, there is even more to come!!  So far I have only been in the 6000-9000 rpm bracket. Finally, as the road straightens a little, I reach 11000+, here the note changes and you truly reach orgasm. The change is fantastic, and by the time you hit 14000, and the rev limit light flashes to tell you to change up, you’re in the throes of ecstasy, you need it to go on, and on, and on. Please don’t let it stop!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    I arrive at the summit of the Faucille and have to stop, I want to get off and take a couple of photos, but looking at the stand, and how quickly it seems to want to retract before even being put down, I decide against the idea. I pause and consider the ride up. I realise I have been very impressed. Superlative handling, with effortless cornering , and no nasty surprises anywhere. Maybe the ride has been a little slower than I would have hoped for, tempered a little by the semi-damp conditions, but I never had any cause for concern.  When really opening up, it’s best to sit at the rear of the seat, press your butt against the backstop and just let it rip, as you take advantage of the optimal crouched position behind the very effective screen, noticeable as the noise generated at speed on the motorway had been well muted,  certainly in comparison to the Blade, and had kept most of the wind blast off. The seating position position, much the same as the Ducati had been, seems to be perfect for me, although I noticed that my left heel sometimes rubbed on the swingarm as it moved up and down, even though my shoe  size is small. The tank is as small as the Ducati’s, and frankly, you almost ride the bike without realising it’s underneath you.

    The digital display is great, and the rev counter rushes round its gold fascia with effortless speed. Strangely, I never once thought about lack of torque, again the total opposite of the Blade, although here I became a little circumspect. The Blade was taken up St Cergue,  which has more bends and is tighter, which would show up a deficit very quickly, whereas the Agusta was having an easier time up the relatively open curves of this road, plus, I had learnt the important lesson of riding and utilising lots of revs, which I hadn’t the previous week. There were however, greatly differing sensations, the Blade was sterile and boring, the Agusta a non-stop pleasure seeking ride of sound and involvement.

    Downhill next, and here I have yet to fully master braking without linked brakes, but without the drama of the Blade I descend. I am conscious I seem to have developed a braking style that appears to differ from the “Bird”. I change gear on the Agusta as I brake, which seems to settle the handling, somehow offsetting the dive of the forks, even though there is not a great amount anyway, whereas on the “Bird” I tend to change down first, then brake separately. It sounds weird, but there are subtle differences. The brakes were powerful and confidence inspiring on the occasions I needed them. Continuing the descent,  I discover another Agusta trait, backfiring on a closed throttle. 10,000rpm shut-offs create a beautiful popping from the rear on the overrun, can it get any better? Gear changes slot in beautifully both up and down the box, and really you just concentrate on riding, the controls just do everything you want, almost telepathically. Back on the level, I take the fast roads back to Geneva, trying to stay at 11000 plus. Exiting Gex and the roundabout, I blast through the right left right combination under the bridge, as if on rails. Exhausts howling, I mentally note that the suspension action is sublime, perfect for me. I also decide that it wouldn’t matter if it were slower than a GSXR750, as the mags point out, the joy is in the sensations of the experience, the uniqueness of ownership, the superlative handling, and  the soundtrack that accompanies you everywhere. To me,  these are all the things that make biking the sensory, uplifting experience, that differentiates it from other more mundane activities. With my mind constantly evaluating all aspects of the ride, I have a last full speed blast, and hit 200kph just before arriving at the roundabout at the border, and then resign myself to the boring low speed return through the city to the shop.

    In town, a young Aprillia rider hurriedly arrives alongside, and excitedly asks what the bike is. Proudly I point to the MV Agusta logo on the tank. Is it Italian he asks? How many cylinders? I rev it loudly to demonstrate its fantastic sound, not bothered by what the startled Geneva public must think about such socially inappropriate behaviour. At the lights the temperature reaches 94 degrees as I wait, and the fan cuts in to keep the bike cool. (Apparently the latest model has an additional fan for this very reason). As I ride through the city centre. I take a couple of glances in the shop windows, and am rewarded with the image of myself perched atop this Italian beauty, and decide we make a great pairing. Finally back at the shop I dismount, having decided that the correct and safest method to do this safely, is to get off the side, and then put the stand down, don’t put the stand down first!  I return the keys to the owner, and discuss the ride.

    It appears that this bike is a little special, and although I knew it was the owners personal bike, I had not appreciated it was the exact bike that he had earlier finished 7th out of 40 in an endurance race at Magny Cours.  The rear seat was a special carbon fibre lightweight unit, and the exhausts were in fact Arrow, which looked like OE, but gave extra power, and accentuated the aural pleasure!! I was glad I had brought it back in one piece, it must have been an act of faith to let such a valuable machine out to an unknown!!!! He asked if I had reached the upper reaches of the rev range? Of course, I replied, and we both smiled, knowing the performance in that area.

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    Thanking him for allowing me to take this test, I took the MV sales brochure and CD, and got back on the “Bird”, which now feels like a super cruiser in comparison, and on the ride home I really notice the difference in weight distribution and size.

    In summary, however I judge the ride, (which must surely rank as one of the most enjoyable sessions of my biking career) the overriding sensation is one of ease of use, quality, and an aural soundtrack that if you could turn into a drug, would sell by the tankload. It has desirability beyond belief, and its beauty and uniqueness will haunt me until I get one. Unfortunately for Karel and my friends, that may take some time, but I must have one,  and will keep it as a second bike for sunny weather only, safe in the knowledge that I will own a classic of the future. When the weather is bad, I will take pleasure in just looking at it, or polishing it. For me, MV ownership would be a pinnacle of bike ownership, I’m not sure in biking there is anything any better!

    I dedicate this review to my good and dear friend Karel VanLoon, without whose assistance in arranging the test, this report and experience would not have been possible, and for this I give my sincere thanks.


  • Moto Guzzi 1100S

    In the past, Karel has called upon my services to help him take one of his bikes back up to his French home in the hills, for the winter season. This is no hardship for me and I am quite happy to assist, as last year this gave me a chance to ride his Ducati 996.  Despite finding it less easy to ride, and less confidence inspiring than I had found the earlier 916 model to have been, it was interesting to compare the differences between the two, and note the development of the bike in both feel and engine performance. It’s not every day someone offers you the chance to ride such a bike,  and I guess that the fact you have someone’s pride and joy under you also affects how you ride, but with winter approaching, Karel contacted me again with the same request, but this time the bike was to be his Moto Guzzi 1100 Sport.

    This bike was no ordinary Guzzi, so knowing the performance I had seen Karel extract from it on our Marchairuz evening, I was quite looking forward to it, although not without a little trepidation, but as I rode it,  I instinctively felt a chapter in my book stirring, and here is the story.

    “I’ve tried it, and it sort of runs ok” said Karel as we walked towards the bike. That’s a good start I thought, “you’ll need to keep the revs up a bit to keep it going” Karel continued.  Suitably warned I set off after his new Volvo S60, and at the second junction as I have to stop, sure enough the revs fall. Holding it at around 1100-1200rpm is essential, otherwise it drops to under 1000rpm and rapidly tries to stall,  As Karel flies through the traffic and across the junction down to the lake and the city, I follow too slowly to get to the lights before they turn to red, and sit holding the throttle listening to all the strange noises underneath me. The seating position puts you a lot closer to the front wheel than I would initially have expected,  and the tank seems small under you, almost Ducati like in its small stature. You can see through the bodywork to the engine covers, but cannot see any of the idiot lights as the screen covers them all! Something I noticed even before this though, was the braking. Applying the brakes for the first time, I thought sh*t, they aren’t linked! Its quite difficult to pass judgement on a non-linked braking system, when you have ridden on linked systems exclusively for over 50,000kms, everything else is odd! I am however almost as sensitive to braking as I am to handling. 7 years of mountain biking where you barrel downhill at up to 60mph, with only small levers and some wire cables to stop you, focuses your attention. Whilst braking I had the distinct impression that the front moved a little and didn’t stop in a straight line, and further up the road and needing to stop rapidly as the traffic stopped suddenly, showed there was power there, but again with a little movement at the wheel. Maybe it’s a combination of weight transferring to the front, and at the same time the engine is slowing and sending strange pulses through the frame via the shaft drive.

    KAREL GUZZI

    Next I become acutely conscious of my surroundings, as the bike is noisy and I feel a little embarrassed in the city traffic, but I catch Karel and we cross the bridge, or rather he does! I know where I want to be and choose the lane to cross in, but the bike doesn’t have the same game plan. Something strange happens, as I make what I expect to be the necessary actions to turn, but I don’t get the anticipated response. Luckily I’m only going slowly, but I drift into the adjoining lane and across the bows of a car, bit worrying to say the least! So, with this gentle warning and new example of how Guzzis are different, I carry on.

    Next lights, and another surprise. Revs increase to 1300rpm without my using the throttle, and remains there until I pull away. It never did it again, but it was a little bizarre, and with less than 5 minutes and one or two kms covered, I wonder what’s coming next? Out of the city and we can accelerate a little harder. Below 4000rpm and I feel as if very little is happening, 5000+ and it starts to move and make nice V twin noises. Handling quirks make themselves known, as braking into a turn just doesn’t work. Brake first, then turn, is the correct way. The brakes themselves had good modulation and stopped efficiently, with the small movement at the front mentioned earlier, but the real key for me was using the rear! You can’t brake and turn with the fronts on, but dragging the rear is perfect, and can be used to great effect to assist turning, and you rapidly learn to utilise this particular piece of equipment quite extensively!

    Changing down a gear as you do on an inline four is greeted with a reaction from the rear wheel, unless you give the throttle a big blip to balance the engine speed with revs, no half measures allowed. I encounter numerous false neutrals going both up and down the box! Moving on the seat to assist bend swinging is no use whatsoever. I couldn’t   understand why Karel never moved, now I know, it just upsets the balance. The front feels strangely active (in comparison with the “Bird”) but planted, and gives you lots of feedback, enhanced no doubt by the amount of weight over the front wheel, whilst the back feels very plush, as you would expect from an Ohlins shock. Grip from both ends felt secure and bends were taken almost as if on rails, and I never once had any sensation that there was a problem here, except of course when you make clumsy downchanges and upset the rear.

    Bends are initially encountered with a little hesitation, as I’m not sure the best way to enter them, but as we near Karels home I seem to have found the answer. I begin to be impressed by the ease and lightness of the steering, and I realise it doesn’t give any impression of weight at all, even though its around the 200kg+ mark, and I remember saying to myself “sweet”,  on one corner where I had eventually got both line and entry speed correct. With the final bends traversed, I get off the bike a little grudgingly, and allow Karel to put the minuscule sidestand down, as I can’t even see where it is!

    Interested to get my opinion, the best I can offer Karel is a big grin and the comment, “its different”. I told him I thought it would be better if the bars pointed straight ahead in the yolks! He hadn’t even noticed they weren’t. As I review the ride again in detail in my mind , I realise that despite all my expectations to the contrary, I had been starting to really enjoy the experience, but it requires 110% concentration, and when Karel advised that it is now much easier to ride since the work was completed, I shudder to think what it was like before.! This was what had caused his accident, a split second without full attention, and you’re off!

    I only rode it for around 50kms and for less than one hour, but already I could feel the character coming through, and understand the skill and difficulty involved in riding such a machine well. I think that given a full day to learn the bike, I could have had a lot of fun, but since I only seem to ride twins once a  year, I was just satisfied that I got it back in one piece, and resolved that my next purchase would be another in line four, probably an MV Agusta, and leave twins to the real bikers!

    What the critics said:

    “I’ll surely keep this one (report). Absolutely marvellous piece of bike reporting. You are indeed remarkably sensitive to behaviour, tyres and suspension”

    Karel Van Loon

     


  • The lure of Italy’s finest- Ducati 851 & 916 test rides

     As my experience grew, I became a little more dissatisfied with the VFR800. Despite having handled the rigors of a fully laden tour round Europe admirably, it still lacked that little something which made the experience enjoyable. I never got the buzz of excitement I wanted when I rode it, and all too frequently when riding with Ian (R6), or should I say trying to keep up with him, I felt the bike was holding me back. The suspension is set up soft as standard and offers a superbly comfortable ride because of this, but if you want to really press on, on the sort of roads we were now riding at ever faster speeds, it was getting tied up in knots. I remember riding one evening over the Col de Faucille with Ian and Karel (who also had a VFR like mine as his commuter bike), and being amazed how quickly Karel gave up trying to keep up with Ian, stating that he’d  kill himself trying to ride at those speeds on that bike! So here we had it, vindication from a very experienced rider that the VFR had in his mind (and mine), some well defined handling limits. This also, from the man who during our Tour de Mont Blanc, had stated that I’d slowed down in the afternoon trying to keep up with him on his 996, now perhaps he understood my problem more clearly?

    Karel and I share a common love of biking. Like me, he too is something of a fanatic, the main difference is he has the money to ride Ducatis finest and have a VFR to commute, where I use one bike for everything. We met one evening for a meal and a chat, one of too few such meetings, as I enjoy his company, and know that the information and advice he dispenses is well considered and can be trusted, backed by years of experience and first hand knowledge. I asked whether he thought I could improve my VFR to the level of handling for solo mountain riding I wanted. In a nutshell he said no! Talk turned to what other options were available, and I learnt of his earlier days where he had owned and ridden great distances on a Ducati 851. This bike had been modified with race cams, and all manner of other costly tuning for both engine and handling, to try and get the ideal machine he wanted. He told me this bike was for sale in Ducati Geneve along with a beautiful black 916, and why not go for a test ride?

    I didn’t take up this proposal immediately, but having gone to the Ducati garage one Saturday and seen the black 916, which was as special as he’d told me, I arranged a test ride for both that, and Karels old 851, the following week. On 9th October I duly arrived at Ducati Gèneve , to see the 851 standing outside waiting for me. It looked just like the photos, classic styling, purposeful stance, and LOUD, when started. The bike boomed on tickover as the salesman explained the controls to me, before I gently eased off the forecourt and onto the street.

     My first mistake was in not knowing the quickest route out of town, so I dragged through the early morning traffic of Planpalais, arriving some 15 minutes later at the douane on the Swiss/French border, before crossing and setting off towards St Genis. Completely unable to find neutral at any stage through the city traffic, my wrists had very quickly started to ache from holding in the heavy clutch. The seating position is radical in comparison to the VFR but not too uncomfortable. Free from the confines of traffic I started to up the speed, and was surprised to see 120 appear without any effort at all. The French Gendarme stopping vehicles, looked as I boomed past, and he misses the opportunity to slow my progress. Things aren’t right though. Gear changes show frequent false neutrals, and already thoughts turn to the character displayed in such older machines, rather than the slickness of the modern day standards we’ve become accustomed to.

    I make probably the slowest ascent, ever, of the Col de Faucille, as I attempted to make the beast turn. The rear tyre seems to have a side to side movement that I’ve not experienced before. Is it the power? Is the tyre just skinny in relation to the 180/55 I’m used to? Is the swingarm flexing? Whatever the explanation it feels odd. I wanted to turn back soon after I start, but forced myself to continue, and was surprised to find the harder I pushed the better it got. Still, I decided to return before reaching the top, convinced this is one bike I can never master. I began to understand how Karel had gained his experience, having ridden this for any length of time must have been character forming to say the least! I made another discovery through the tunnels back to Carouge, it holds a perfect line on fast sweeping bends, AND, it has a long throw throttle cable which I’d not been using all of! Just as well though, I’d have been in even more trouble if I’d tried. As I stop at the final set of lights before turning into the garage I have a major success, finding neutral for the one and only time in an hours ride!!!!!

    Returning the bike I explained my thoughts to an English speaker there. No idea if he worked there, but he understood what I was describing to him. He is interested to see how I’ll get along with the 916. This bike was drop dead gorgeous in black, a colour you never see on this model, and was ridden in as I returned with the 851. I lusted after it immediately!  Still, I had made a conscious decision to test the old before the new, to give a true comparison, and see the difference years of development had made to the marque.

     

    As I sat on the seat my back twinged  for a second, but the position was exquisite. Where had the tank gone? You sit on the seat and wrap your knees round the miniscule tank and become one with the machine. Leaving the forecourt I pop an involuntary wheelie, all of 3 inches, and quickly make a mental note that the throttle input goes very directly to the rear wheel! Easing out of town I had to stop at traffic lights, and this time neutral engages perfectly. A guy on an old 250 stopped alongside and looks admiringly at the 916 , and tells me I’m a lucky guy to be riding such a machine, I nod my head and agree, I know! 

    The ride starts for real as I peel onto the sweeping 40kmh bend that tightens as it joins the motorway, but there is no drama, just perfect tracking and lean stability. Seriously impressive stuff, and I’ve not even started properly yet!

    I’m having so much fun,  that I miss my original intended turn off point to go back up the Col de Faucille, but the salesman had said take it up St Cergue for a proper test, something that would have filled me with fear trying to attempt on the heavy turning 851, but on the 916 I can’t wait. The motorway section is only 10 minutes or so, but I find I am very comfortable and very little wind gets to me past the low screen. This means quick progress and very little wind noise rushing past the helmet, which in turn means I get to hear more of the booming exhausts behind me. Turning off the motorway I surge past cars as the power comes in strong, responding immediately to the smallest turn of the throttle cable. Two minutes later I arrive at the foot of the 800m climb up to St Cergue and the tricky first bend which is an off camber right hander, but as I gently eased my way round this and the lower level bends feeling my way, the bike was sending signals back  to me saying “don’t worry”. It was almost as if the bike had been set up for me. Bends were devoured with consummate ease, lean angles laughed off with a stability unknown to me as a VFR pilot. Damn! I’d reached the top, surely it’s not that quick normally? The whole run had been utterly stress free and felt as if I had been riding the bike forever, such was the confidence and feedback it gave. I was massively impressed, now I needed to find out if it was as good going downhill.

    Setting off back down I found myself peeling into bends with a speed I would never have managed on the VFR. Care was required though when changing down gears and braking hard simultaneously, as the back wheel would lock and hop! Still, I learn that lesson quickly and continue downwards, being wary of the dried cow droppings still on the road after the previous weeks Descent des Alpes (where the farmers bring their herds down to the lower level winter pastures ). Stability on the final sweeping bend at the foot of the hill is equally impressive, its hard to believe that handling can be so radically different between different types of machine, but the proof is here.

    I take the long way back to the garage in Carouge, less than keen to return the keys. The salesman beams at me as I gush out my excited comments and promise to get back in touch, I’m sure anyone who test rides one of these must come back with the same feelings. I return to mount the VFR and nearly drop it, its so heavy, and the seating position feels like an armchair in comparison to the Ducati! The nearest comparison is when I took Sue out on the Goldwing, the difference is so great.

    Everything written about these bikes is true. The experience was exceptional, and I loved every minute of it. The position,  the handling, the noise, the surging acceleration, all create a mood that says “ride me”. Anyone who rides one of these machines and is not moved by the experience has no soul. My only regret is that when I had finally made up my mind to buy, it had been sold, and the only thing to console myself with was that I had saved some expensive servicing costs! Not really the point though. You buy one of these and you start a passionate affair, you lavish time, attention and money, and only you, or a fellow Ducati owner, knows the return you will get in terms of a truly rewarding riding experience! 


  • Bikes ridden

     

    Here is a list of bikes that I can remember riding! I will from time to time post up ride reviews and thoughts on some of these, perhaps some of the older ones will bring back nostalgic memories?

     

    Aprilia– RSV Mille

    Benelli- Tornado Tre 900

    BMW- F650CS,F650GS,R1150RT, S1000RR, HP2 Sport, R1200RT,GS1200,K1200GT,K1200R Sport, K1200S, K1300GT

    Ducati- 748, 851, 916, 996, 998, Multistrada

    Honda- CB125T,CB250/400N Superdream, CBR600FS, CBR600RR, Hornet 600, VFR750, VF750 Magna, VFR800, RC45, CBR900 Fireblade (929), CBR1000RR, VTR1000 Firestorm, SP-2, Varadero 125/1000, CBR1100XX Superblackbird, GL1500/GL1800 Goldwing, VFR1200F

    Kawasaki- GPZ600, ZZR600, Z1000( GEN 1 &2), ZX-10R

    Laverda- 750S

    Moto Guzzi- 1100 Sport, Stelvio NTX1200

    MV Agusta- F4S 750

    Suzuki- GSX600F,  SV650, GSX750F, GSXR1000K2/K4, GSXR1100

    Triumph- 1050 Sprint, 675 Daytona

    Yamaha- YZF125R, Virago 125/535, RD250, XJ600, R6, 900 Diversion, YZF1000 Thunderace, R1, FJR1300