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Saturday, May 1, 2010

Trip to Edmonton... second impressions

I almost drove the truck instead of riding the VFR. The purpose of the trip was to visit my sister, who is very sick. The doctors let her out of the hospital on a day pass and I knew it would mean a lot for her to see me. It meant a lot for me too.

It was cold as hell and there was still snow on the gound on Friday morning from the massive winter storm that hit on Wednesday night. At the last minute I checked the road report and weather forecast and decided it would be safe to ride the VFR. The roads were clear, and though it was only 6 degrees in Calgary, it would get a bit warmer as I rode north. How could I complain about a little discomfort when my sister had just endured a week of having chemo drugs pumped through her veins? This needed to be a motorcycle trip.

I considered this a good opportunity to test the claims of the Joe Rocket Survivor Suit that I purchased this winter. This is a piece of equipment meant for riding in all conditions, so I was interested to see how it handled the bitter cold and wind on the open prairie. I installed the insulated liner and donned my Alpinestars Drystar gloves and boots, and UnderArmour Coldgear neck protector.

The VFR felt great right from the moment I rolled it out of the garage. Honda have successfully designed and built a motorcycle that is wickedly powerful and quick while being completely unintimidating and effortless to ride. I felt confident in the grip in spite of the conditions. I rode a gear or two higher than I normally would and I enjoy the way I can roll on the throttle in 6th gear and pass a car or two or 5 with a rush of smooth torquey acceleration.... almost as much as I loved the look on car drivers' faces when they took a double-take of the lunatic riding a motorcycle in the freezing cold. The road shoulders still had snow and ice and the ditches were still littered with crashed cars and trucks from 2 nights before.

The Survivor Suit proved its worth immediately. With the insulated liner installed and all of the vents shut I was warm and dry and comfortable. I ordered the suit online and didn't have an opportunity to try one on, but luckily, it fits me almost perfectly. It's just a bit snug... I can wear shorts and a t-shirt underneath but nothing bulkier than that. When I first tried it on I was concerned that the legs were too long but once I sat on a motorcycle it made sense. Like my racing leathers, the survivor suit is tailored tofit best when in a crouched riding position. It's easy to get in and out of, with zippers that go all the way up the sides of both legs and down and across the front. The waterproof pockets are located conveniently but their small openings make it hard to get my hand in to retrieve my wallet, keys, camera, etc. Crash protection seems sturdy and the shell is indeed 100% waterproof as claimed. A front "storm flap" and back vents are meant to let air through and keep the rider cool on hotter days. On this day I would not need to test them. The Drystar boots and gloves were warm and comfy, but I doubt their ability to protect me in a crash. The gloves are sure to wear through quickly and the boots will probably come off. I plan to only use them if I'm riding in serious cold or rain.

I stopped for fuel in Red Deer and had a chat with a new Victory Vision owner. He liked the VFR's paint and its single sided swingarm. With his pudding bowl helmet and badass black leather, he was a different breed of rider... but we talked bikes (what else?) and he was as thrilled with his new Victory as I was with my new Honda. Well, I haven't been completely thrilled... I've been a bit frustrated with the limited range of the VFR1200FA and I grumbled to the "Visionary " that I had only achieved 233Kms on this tank of fuel. He threw a leg over his enormous motorcycle and casually replied: "she'll grow legs buddy, she'll grow legs". He cranked George Thoroughgood on the Vision's stereo speakers, and I didn't yet realize how right he was.

The more I ride the VFR the more comfortable it gets. The riding position, which felt a little awkward at first, is feeling more and more natural all the time. I'm re-training muscles that I haven't used in a while and the aches are subsiding. It's still not perfect though. After about an hour in the saddle I'm finding that my throttle hand is getting numb. The throttle effort is inexplicably high... why is a stiff throttle return spring neccessary when electric motors are opening the butterflys? Cruise control would be nice for longer rides. I suppose Honda are saving that for the rumored VFR1200T.

There are a couple of other quality "issues" that I'm somewhat disappointed with. The license plate light box doesn't fit tightly and wobbles around. And the paint is already scratching off the heel guards.

On the way home the motor seemed to "loosen up" almost instantly. It seemed the bars on the digital fuel gauge were not disappearing as quickly as before, and this was confirmed once I calculated the mileage. Very suddenly, the new motor went from achieving 30mpg to 37... and the last fill-up seems to be going even better. She's growing legs, just like the Visionary said. If the VFR will achieve 40mpg (US) when ridden the way I want to ride it, I won't be quite so bothered with the range anymore. 300Kms on a tank would be adequate.

 The VFR gets better every time I ride it. I'm glad I rode instead of driving. My sister is coping better than can be expected, and it lifted her spirits to see me. Maybe when she finishes her treatments I'll take her for a ride.

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