Archive for February, 2007

Cafe Racer Retrospective: Quasi-Moto

Tuesday, February 13th, 2007

Weather: 13° F (-11°C) Under sunny skies.
Road Conditions: Mostly dry and salt encrusted.

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Honda CB/CL 450 “Cafe Scrambler”… aka “Quasi-Moto”.

In the course of researching today’s entry, I went back a few years in time. Going through some of my old “Diary of a Cafe Racer” columns, I found the fully documented history of the bike in the image above.

After a couple of false-starts, I realized that I had nothing new to add, and that it would be much more pleasurable for my readers to experience the original pieces, written fresh from the experiences described.

With that thought, I will direct you to the links below, along with a description of each one, and you can read them over the course of the next week, when I shall be on vacation.

Yes, I am finally taking a vacation from Rush Hour Rambling. We have another week of unpleasant weather to get through before conditions become favorable for Riding to Work again. Hopefully, by next Tuesday night, I will have a fresh adventure, maybe even a new Ramble Plan to share with you.

But for now, enjoy this Cafe Racer Retrospective on “Quasi-Moto”, the Cafe Scrambler.

“Cafe Scrambler”
-In which I introduce the concept of my project, and describe some of the process of putting it all together.

“Quasi-Moto Rides!”
-The triumphant saga of my first rides, and sorting out all the “niggles”…

“The Joy of Going Nowhere”
-Now fully sorted, Quasi-Moto proves to be the perfect mount for going anywhere, and nowhere, as the mood struck me.

“Dawn Patrol”
-This, I think, was my favorite DCR column ever. But you be the judge…

“The Sign of the Snake”
-Details what turned out to be Quasi-Moto’s last ride.

For those who have already read these, my apologies. For the rest of you, hopefully all this will tide you over until next Tuesday, February 20th, when I will be back in the saddle with Scarlet O’Baron.

Cycle World Show, Part III: Objects of Lust

Friday, February 9th, 2007

Weather: 9°F (-13°C) under clear skies.
Road Conditions: Snow and ice in patches, salty everywhere else.

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“New Blue”; an homage to the original California Hot Rod Ducati.

“New Blue” is a modern replica of the famous Ducati once built and raced by the Cycle Magazine team of Cook Nielson and company. Officially named The California Hot Rod, that formidable beast was soon christened “Old Blue” by the crew. “Old Blue” was a 1974 750SS, and it was the first Ducati ever to win at Daytona. I have the full story in print around here somewhere, and it is a fascinating read.

Objects of Lust. We all know what they are, though the definition differs from rider to rider. For some, they are rare or custom-built motorbikes which will be ridden rarely, if ever, but still lovingly cared-for and polished. Occasionally shown to the public at events like this, their owners live for those moments when a rider stops and stares, and gets that far-away look in their eyes. I’m not a big fan of them, but there are some you just have to stop and look at.

For others, like me, they are bikes which, though they may not be a practical everyday commuter, still fire the imagination with visions of wild weekend rides out on the back roads, or even the racetrack. In recent years, I have expanded my lust to include exotic scramblers and trials bikes, like the ones pictured below.

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Knobby-shod exotica, all in a row…

Though I am just beginning to learn about vintage off-road legends, I have a worthy instructor in the one we call Buster Brown. When he is not expounding on the virtues of ice screws, he is a veritable encyclopedia of ancient off-road lore. If he has a sufficient supply of Old Overholt Rye Whiskey, and there is a campfire going, you can count on lectures `til dawn.

Alright, enough wool-gathering. There were so many incredible examples of elite motorbikes at The Show that this blog is becoming impossible to download on dial-up. I apologize for that, but the images tell more than I could ever hope to.

Getting back to my area of expertise, I found this curious creature parked at the end of a long line of Royal Enfields, of the kind currently built in India.

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The Royal Enfield Continental, an old-school cafe racer.

Gazing at this gorgeous beast, my heart began thumping like the 500cc single mounted between it’s frame tubes. But then I did a little research. Although it has all the right cosmetic components and really looks the part, you would spend about five grand on the new Bullet, another twenty-five hundred or so on the Continental Kit, and still have a bike with only 22 horsepower.

“Sorry, mate, but that won’t crack the ton, unless you ride it out the backside of an aeroplane at ten thousand feet.”

No, I guess if I were to ride a Royal Enfield, I would opt for the Bullet Military. Is that not the coolest name in motorcycling? The Royal Enfield Bullet Military has no pretensions to speed, but features all-metal panniers and crash bars for those dangerous missions out there in banjo-country. I didn’t include it’s image here, because it might actually make a pretty decent commuter. This is going to require further investigation…

It just so happens that R.E. Headquarters is in the town of Faribault, some sixty miles south of Ton-Up Manor. As soon as the salt clears the roads, Frogwing and I are going out on a reconnaissance ride. Call it “Ramble Plan Bullet”.

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No “Objects of Lust” feature would be complete without The Shadow.

Staying in the British vein for a moment more, I had to include this venerable classic. While there was nobody present to tell me about it, and the plaque or whatever had not yet been displayed, I know the Vincent Black Shadow when I see it.

This bike goes beyond legend into the almost mythical. Only the Brough Superior can give it any competition as a classic motorcycle icon, at least to a relative layman like myself. And, as far as I know, the Brough doesn’t hold any land speed records. Local hero Steve Hamel and his Vincent just recently clocked one at Bonneville, and that’s why I included this photograph here. I don’t know who owns this example, but it is truly spotless, and absolutely breathtaking to look at.

Now, to get back to the more accessible lust objects, we have the current Ducati Sport 1000.

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Finally, a bike that faces left in the frame!

I’ve left this beautiful motorbike for last because it was the one that drew me most strongly. I could actually see myself owning one of these, if I were irresponsible enough to take out a second mortgage on my house.

The Sport 1000 combines all those elements that get my motor running; rearsets and clip-ons, cafe saddle, sexy, sculpted fuel tank, and a naked front end. The stance, proportions, and attitude are all perfectly suited to my vision of the Cafe Racer. The robust, modern components ensure high performance and reliability, while the whole bike harkens back to an atavistic age, when cracking the ton `round a curve in the rain was the ultimate challenge to the young Rocker, on his way to the Ace Cafe.

Maybe if I took up Yoga again, I could ride one to work every day.

Triumph’s Bonneville Thruxton might give this bike a run in the parking lot, but certainly not on the road or the racetrack. And that’s where our dreams live, when we are talking Objects of Lust. Triumph never made it to this show, and shame on them. It was left up to my friends at Motoprimo to carry their water. I’m going to make some calls and get to the bottom of this. I like Triumph, and I can’t stand to see them absent from this, our biggest event of the Winter.

So that’s it, the end of my Cycle World International Motorcycle Show coverage. It’s still bitterly cold outside, and there’s plenty of black ice on the roads, so I won’t be riding any time soon. Let me know if you like the Cafe Racer Retrospectives, and I’m sure I can come up with another one next week. Quasi-Moto, my 450 Honda Cafe Scrambler is up next. But only if you want it.

Cycle World Show, Part II: Commuters

Tuesday, February 6th, 2007

Weather: 5°F (-15°C)
Road Conditions: An inch or two of fresh snow.

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Add lights and turn signals, and you have the perfect Winter commuter!

Ah, commuter bikes. They can be anything we want them to be, really, depending on the length, weather and terrain of our Ride to Work. But primarily they are our constant companions, and sometimes partners in crime. I have had some great ones, over the years, but today I want to talk about what’s new out there, as witnessed at The Show.

The ATTRAX KTM pictured above would not be a street-legal commuter anywhere I know of, unless you live in the trackless wastes up above the Arctic Circle. Still, roll this rig out of your garage in, say, Embarrass, Minnesota, and chances are the local cops would let you go by without any hassle, as long as you didn’t spray snowy roost all over their patrol SUV.

I want one! But then, I would end up saying that a LOT at this show…

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Staying with the KTM theme, we have “Super Duke”!

Can you imagine that ATTRAX rig attached to this hoary beast? The 950cc, DOHC V-Twin Super Duke is a prime example of overkill in the commuter role. Don’t get me wrong here; I’m not saying that’s a Bad Thing, in and of itself. It’s just my own knowledge of the Bad Things I would be tempted to do, should I find myself in the saddle of one. This is the Urban Guerrilla on steroids, the bike I could only dream about back when I was…

Oh, never mind. All that is behind me now. I have to buy insurance these days, you know?

Motoprimo displayed this magnificent motorbike in the absence of an official KTM exhibit. Kudos to Jonathan (pictured right) and the crew for stepping up to wave the orange/black banner.

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Buell Ulysses, the stuff of legend?

I really wanted to like the Buell Ulysses. Here is a motorcycle company who is not afraid to innovate! Fuel in the frame, oil in the swingarm, the whole “mass centralization” concept… These are all things which warm my engineering heart.

But they have shackled themselves to the air-cooled, pushrod-actuated, Harley V-Twin. This means design compromises which limit them from competing on technical merit alone.

Granted, it is a high-output V-Twin, but I have to wonder at it’s longevity. Then there is that belt drive and muffler location to consider. These would be pretty vulnerable in the places I like to ride. Is this truly a capable Adventure Tourer? Or is it more of an “adventurer alternative” to all the cruisers parked outside the local Harley Hangout – the motorbike equivalent to the Range Rover or Jeep Grand Cherokee?

I would love to take one out for a weekend and find out for real. Are you reading this, Mr. Buell?

On another note, I found the Buell Blast rather intriguing from a “budget commuter” perspective. This is a classic, single-cylinder motorcycle in the tradition of the early postwar British commuters.

Shortly after World War II, BSA, Norton, Triumph, and a host of others put out economical, simple motorcycles for the working man. The Buell Blast seems to have been created in that same spirit. What the Blast offers to the accomplished motorcyclist is economy and simplicity, the better to pile on those commuter miles while saving the “fancy” bike for the weekends. And it was purpose-built for the novice.

Especially if you are of the “All American” persuasion.

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If my commute were much longer, and my paycheck much larger…

Here we have the new/old Ducati GT. The new 1000cc, twin-plug desmo engine in a classically styled chassis with a geometry and riding position suited to the spirited moto-commuter. This bike would deliver me to work with a smile on my face, yet still able to walk fully upright afterwards.

The Ducati display at the Cycle World Show was the most lavish and well-designed of them all, which dovetails nicely with their position in the market. I met the man who transports and helps set-up this display, and we hit it off immediately.

Mike Johnson has been the Ducati corporate truck driver for thirteen years. He takes care of shows like this, does the Ducati demo rides, and whatever else the company asks him to on contract. While this sounds like a pure business arrangement, I quickly became aware that the relationship was deeper than that. At least skin-deep…

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How many “contract workers” tattoo the company logo on their arms?

Mike typically rides sweep on the demo rides, astride the 620 Multi-strada, which he tells me is a “sweet bike”. He can do this all day long, over the same route, and never get tired. How many Ducatis, throughout the years, can you say that about?

Kind of gives a whole new meaning to the phrase “Ride to Work”, doesn’t it?

I know I missed a ton of other “commuter bikes”, but as I said up top, this category can encompass whatever you want or need it to be. My space here is limited. I just wanted to give you a small sampling, and encourage you to go to the show when it gets near your own hometown.

Next time, Objects of Lust!