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Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Rumors and Innuendo

I heard a rumor... and this is just a rumor... that VFR1200 with a Givi E55 top case installed on a Honda OEM rear carrier can do 200Km/h with a solo rider and exhibit no weaving or strange handling.

Just something I heard.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Givi E55 Maxia Topcase

My Givi topcase finally arrived today from Twisted Throttle. Since I already had the Givi base plate installed, it was a breeze to attach. It clicks into place, and the Givi Monokey system makes it easy to open, shut, secure and remove.

It's a finely-made piece of equipment.... I'm quite happy with the fit and finish. I had thought about painting the lid red to match the bike but it doesn't look too bad in matte black. It matches the black seat and silver rear cowls. I also purchased the optional back rest, which at about sixty dollars seems pricey, but is nicely upholstered and fits well. I'm not keen on the leftover Chrysler Sebring "tail lights" but they're not as ugly as I expected.

As I gotit all together I began to feel I should be cautious not to overload the trunk. It's the biggest topcase on the market so it would be easy to cram a lot of stuff inside... but it's a big box hanging off the back of an adapter plate, which hangs off the back of the luggage rack, which hangs off the back of the subframe. The pieces are all strong but there is a lot of cantilevered leverage at play. The Givi manual states not to exceed 120Km/h, which I doubt I'll obey but I do wonder about the forces of turbulence pushing and pulling at it. I'm curious if it will cause a weave at high speed. I'll soon find out.

Here are some pictures:

The big case almost looks like it belongs.
From behind. Givi offers a kit to make the brake "lights" functional. I think it's a good idea for safety's sake, given the way the bike's tail lights are swallowed up by luggage.
Instructions and template for the backrest. Requires drilling.
Backrest installed in a couple minutes.
Cavernous. The red box is a little storage tray. This would be a good spot for a first aid or roadside emergency kit. An extra pair of metal hinges support the lid.
The E55 easily gulps 2 full-faced helmets as advertised... with room to spare.
Looks not half-bad I think. As I've stated many times, this is what I love about the VFR1200: It works and looks good as a sport bike or a touring bike.

Saturday, July 24, 2010

A Response to the blog entry "Taking Shamu to the Track" on hellforleathermagazine.com

About a week ago the motorcycle enthusiast boards which I frequent lit up with links to an "article" posted on hell for leather. The opening statement is quite alarming.... "The VFR1200F is terrifying on a race track. As an owner of a VFR1200F, and someone who has happened to ride one on a race track (a terrifying race track!) and happens to have a bit of motorcycle racing experience, I immediately took exception.

I didn't take exception to the author merely criticizing the Honda; it is certainly deserving of some criticism. It can be called overweight, it can be called underequipped (in terms of high-tech gadgets) and it ought to have a bigger gas tank. Many have called it ugly, and they are entitled to that opinion... though I will emphatically disagree.

  Honda started building a head of steam in the boiler of their hype train over a year before the VFR was released. They promised to revolutionize the motorcycle World and instead just delivered a really excellent motorcycle. So I suppose they over-promised and under-delivered. Mind you a lot of the hype also came from fans of the Honda VFR series, which have a large and loyal following. Many were disappointed when Honda didn't deliver exactly what they were expecting. Forum trolls who make a spectator sport out of Honda-Hating lapped up the controversy. SEE I TOLD YOU SO was a common theme.

No, I didn't take exception to the fact that the author pooped on the VFR. My problem was the way the article was written. It reads as a hack piece. The author rode all of 5 awkward laps and drew some very strong and declarative conclusions about the bike. His opinions and criticisms could be taken at face value if only he had backed them up with some thoughtful analysis but they must be taken with a grain of salt. It seems clear that the conclusions were drawn well before "Shamu" ever turned a wheel. And some of the observations are just flat-out false! Why would a somewhat popular and respected (if a bit "tabloidy") enthusiast site turn out such a piece of shit? I've got a pretty good idea why...

For reasons obvious to anyone who reads this weblog, (all four of you ;)) I followed the launch of the VFR1200 very closely and digested every morsel I could sniff out. With all of the built-up hype generated primarily by Honda UK, the official launch was a big deal. Honda held it at the Sugo circuit in Japan... by all accounts a fast and technical track. Based on the specification of the bike (big, heavy shafty with a touring emphasis) the launch location seemed an odd choice but the reports from respected journalists all over the World read the same. Something along the lines of: "surprisingly capable on the track for such a big bike. Great engine, great handler, awesome brakes." And though the VFR1200F may not have lived up to the impossible expectations created for it, it has been very well-recieved by the moto press World-wide. It's a favourite of the very well-written and highly-respected BIKE magazine in the UK, who have put a lot of miles on new VFRs... 4 features in the last 5 issues if I'm not mistaken. They are downright gushy about it. In the most recent issue, they rode one to the Anglesey circuit in England in a light-hearted comparison with bikes from various genres. They found it to be "a breeze" on track. Quite a contrast from "terrifying".

Why does this article swim so vigorously against the current?

I feel a need to rebut some specific points of the article: (in italics)

I should have known when the Ohlins tech couldn't stop laughing while he was setting up the suspension. "You're not going to like this around here," he said, bouncing the rear end up and down to demonstrate the utter lack of rebound damping despite cranking that adjuster to max

I personally found the VFR to be over-damped. My sentiments are shared by a lot of owners who are posting on the message boards. Here is a simple video illustration to show the rebound damping of my VFR:
With rebound damping turned all the way down: (the squeaking is the front tire rubbing in the Baxley Sport Chock)

With rebound damping turned to maximum:

"First session of the day, second lap out and the pegs go down hard as I turn into the uphill right hander that's turn 10 on Beaverun's North Track. I thought I was still warming the tires before trying to ride it quickly."

With proper body positioning and racing lines, I barely touched the pegs down when I rode at my home track. And while I didn't ride it at anything near a race pace, I easily dragged my knee through a few different turns.

"Recover, point the bike back uphill and wind on full throttle. Rather than rocket down the short straight, Shamu just sort of thrums along, sportsbikes flying past left and right. 172bhp and 95lb/ft of torque aren't enough to coax much get up and go out of the 591lbs (wet) Honda"

You can't be serious. What gear were you in? You're talking about the bike that Tim Carrithers from Motorcyclist ran the quarter mile in 10.23 seconds at 136.8MPH. Only 90 thousands of a second and 5.5mph slower than his time on a freaking Hayabusa. Don Canet from Cycle World did it in 10.33. That ought to count as "get up and go"

"The suspension is too soft. Sure, with a 591lbs curb weight it's extraordinarily heavy, but stiffer suspension or at least a larger capacity for adjustment could make it corner. Instead, it dives, sinks and wobbles around all over the place."

I've not experienced any diving, sinking or wobbling. In fact, the VFR's standard suspension setting is way too stiff. That sentiment has been expressed almost universally from owners posting on enthusiast boards. When I brought mine to the track, my friend and instructor (an expert racer who owns and operates an established local racing school) rode it and said the same thing. I've dialed back my front and rear rebound damping to make the ride more bearable.
"It's got zero ground clearance. Even after decking out the pegs hard and repeatedly, there was at least 1cm of unused rubber on each side of the rear tire. "
Zero clearance huh? Wow that does sound terrifying. I rode my VFR right to the edge of the front and rear tires (no chicken strips left) and had no real trouble with the pegs.
I wedged a piece of cardboard under the tire and folded it up to the footpeg to illustrate the clearance. Now granted, the suspension and tire will be compressed in a hard corner, reducing this angle... but does this look like "zero" clearance?
"The controls are unpredictable. The fueling is seriously bad, like early Honda fuel-injection bad. It surges when you don't expect it to and the twist grip just doesn't have a linear relationship to engine power."
I'll partially agree here. The relationship from twist grip to engine power is definitely not linear in first or second gear, where the torque seems to be heavily mitigated. I liken it to a crude form of passive traction control and it bothers me. But the fueling is excellent. I've experienced no surging or stumbling or any of it. Very very smooth, even compared to my 2007 CBR600RR racebike. The controls are unpredictable? Horseshit. They are very easy to use and forgiving.
The brakes, too, are snatchy, something that's not helped by the linked arrangement.
The brakes, while being extremely powerful, are child's play to use. Still, if you truly found them "snatchy" as a subjective observation, your remark about the linked arrangement is completely unfounded. The linked arrangement is very mild and only linked from back to front. The rear brake pedal provides about 15% braking power on the front and the brake lever has zero effect on the rear brake. You have to stomp on the brake pedal to really notice any linking effect. I don't know how you ride at the track, but stomping on the back brake is generally something I avoid.
The ergonomics are poor. The wide seat, low pegs and huge tank make it hard to hang off in a conventional manner and, once you are off the side, the slippery seat makes it hard to stay in one spot.
Again a declarative strong opinion with not much to back it up. The riding position (bar to seat to peg) is virtually identical to that of previous generation VFRs which were widely considered to offer a perfect compromise between sport and comfort. The seat is wide at the back for good support, but very narrow at the front where it meets the tank which makes it easy for short guys like me to stand flat-footed. Hanging off does feel a bit awkward with the saddle-like contour of the back of the seat (which keeps the rider firmly in place during hard accelleration) but this is not the type of bike you're meant to hang off of.
It kind of looks like a rival for the BMW K1300S, but that bike would run circles around Shamu in a corner and feels notably quicker.
Except it isn't, and it doesn't. (see Motorcyclist, Cycle World, motorcycle.com, motorcycleusa.com, BIKE mag and Motorrad mag which in comparisons found the VFR to be nearly as quick in a straight line but way faster through curves)
Maybe track-riding whippersnappers like us are the wrong audience for the VFR. Maybe it's really for old guys that want to look like they're going fast, when really they're just cruising around on a Lay-Z-Boy; who want to feel fast when really they're five under. They can keep it.
I am a track-riding whippersnapper, and maybe I'm not the target audience, but grab whatever bike you want and meet me at any twisty road  in North America. I'll bring my VFR1200 and we'll see who is trying to look like they're going fast. Oh and I plan on keeping it a long time.
So why would a somewhat popular and respected (if a bit "tabloidy") enthusiast site turn out such a piece of shit? Seems obvious. The VFR1200 is a controversial machine which, while it has been almost universally praised by testers and owners, has been polarizing among discussion groups in the moto web community. This article is the equivalent of a radio shock-jock or Fox News commenter arguing a hardline position on a topic they're completely ignorant about. It takes a contrarian position on a controversial topic to get attention and it shouldn't be taken seriously... but I'll bet it's driven a hell of a lot of relevant traffic to one dark pissy corner of the World Wide Web. And here I am, wasting my time writing a rebuttal, stirring up the coals.
Hell for Leather posted a follow-up piece (of shit) which featured a road "test" of the VFR and a lot of backpedaling to respond to the comments on the first article. It's past my bedtime and I don't feel like addressing every point but there was one smoking gun statement that fully and completely implicates this article as a crock:
First gear is too tall. You need to use it up to about 25/30mph and you're slipping the clutch up to about 15mph.
Now you're just making shit up. The VFR1200 is geared too damned short! At 60mph it is bouncing off the rev limiter in first. My 04 CBR1000RR would do 95.
I made a few crude little videos to drive the point home... Speedometer is in Kms.
Here I am taking off from a start UPHILL simply by letting the clutch out slowly:
(you'll need to turn up your volume here)
Here I am taking off in 2nd gear with barely a twitch of throttle or clutch slip:
Now I'm just being cheeky:
I bet she'd pull 4th too but I didn't try. First does not need to be used up to 30mph. At 30mph in first it's wailing at 5500rpm. And I was able to fully release the clutch by about 10mph in THIRD!
If there's anyone out there who's interested in the VFR1200 but is sitting on the fence... go out now and test ride one. You'll probably like it. If you don't, well, draw your own conclusions but don't let this bad joke of an article have any bearing on your decision.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Panniers and Tank Bag

With a rare day off work today, I had planned on exersizing my muscles in my home gym but instead ended up giving my soul a workout with some motorcycle maintenance.

I changed the oil on my 250X dirt bike, made some suspension and handling changes and cleaned and lubed the chain. I then re-installed the Givi adapter plate on the VFR... I wasn't happy with the way I had it attached so I repeated the process with some different hardware. Looks much better now.

Right around the time I finished that up, the UPS man rang my doorbell and dropped a big box from David Silver Spares. Remarkable... It only just shipped out of England on Monday.

The box contained my genuine Honda tank bag and panniers plus all the hardware and instructions. I'm very impressed with David Silver. I'll definitely continue buying from them for as long as the exchange rate favours it.

The panniers are superb. They clip to the VFR's mudguard in seconds. They're latched in place and removed by folding the bag handle and they're opened and shut with an additional latch underneath the handle. Everything works very well, fitment is perfect. Somewhat unsurprisingly, the paint finish isn't immaculate like the bike, but these weren't painted in the clinical conditions of the Honda factory. They look great.

The same is true of the tank bag. A cover goes over the centre exposed strip of the gas tank and the bag clips to the cover. I like that the exposed part of the tank is covered because it is painted a very deep glossy black and shows scratches readily. The bag isn't very big, but it looks smart and it's very functional. I'm quite pleased with it so far. Besides, I don't enjoy riding with a bulky tank bag. It lacks a map pocket, but the designers probably figured that the owners of this bike would have a GPS.

It is now quite clear to me that Honda designed the accessories at the same time they designed the bike. Everything just integrates so perfectly. Smart move on their part... They knew what people would use the bike for but they didn't pigeonhole it as a touring bike. That's why I bought it... it is a sport bike and a touring bike. It looks and works well in either role.... as BIKE magazine describes it: "The Definitive Sports Tourer".

The panniers are designed to be "mono-keyed"  to the bike, meaning that they are locked and unlocked with your ignition key. Included with the kit is a semi knock-down lock cylinder and instructions on how to pair it to your key. It comes with several tiny bags of lilliputian lock tumblers and microscopic springs in different varieties. It was a little intimidating at first for someone who doesn't know a sniff about locksmithing. The instructions were good though, and I had the first cylinder banged together in about 10 minutes. The second one took a fraction of the time. As a bonus, I learned something new today: how the hell a lock cylinder works. I'll bet I could also figure out how to pick them now! ... but I promise to only use my powers for good, never evil.

A few photos:

Here is the lock tumbler kit:

This is the base pad for the tank bag. It's anchored at the back to the axle for the tank hinge.

The tankbag mounted:
The tankbag opened:
With included rain cover: (it also includes a shoulder strap so you can carry it around like a metro Euro man-purse)
Easily unclipped and lifted up to allow re-fuelling:

The Definitive Sports Tourer:

Monday, July 19, 2010

Rear Carrier and Givi Adapter Plate

My rear carrier finally arrived today so I decided to mount it up. It's a nice unit... heavy and sturdy-looking. The only problem is that it's a proprietary design and not really meant to carry anything other than the genuine Honda accessory top trunk. I decided to go with a bigger Givi trunk so I had to buy a Givi universal mounting plate and figure out a way to make it fit. The brackets that come with the adapter plate are designed to mount it to tubular luggage racks. The Honda rear carrier is an odd-shaped triangular cast aluminum design so I had to improvise.

The instructions said max load of 6 pounds! Is that a joke? I suppose the lawyers force them to publish a low weight to absolve themselves of any liability if someone overloads it and has an accident. It's a heavy, sturdy rack which bolts up to a heavy, sturdy subframe. It looks like it will be fine with much more than 6 lbs.

The carrier ships in 3 pieces. I used a bit of red loctite to help secure the bolts that hold it together. It came with all of the neccessary hardware and a good set of instructions.

The old grab handles need to come off

Rack goes on... 4 big bolts plus the 2 little cowling bolts:

Next I mounted the Givi adaptor plate. It's a bit of a kludge but it's secure.

And with the little Givi cover to tidy it up:

My panniers and tank bag recently shipped out from David Silver Spares in the UK and should be here in a couple of days. The Givi box will be here from the US soon as well. I'm excited to load the big bitch up and see how she performs as a tourer.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Suspension Settings

I took a nice long ride today, but before I left I adjusted and recorded the suspension settings. The default suspension settings on the VFR1200 are too stiff for me. Both front and rear suspension are adjustable for preload and rebound damping. Compression damping is static. I have been riding it at the default setting up until this point. I reduced preload and rebound damping both front and rear. I made fairly significant changes... they paid off. The VFR was much less harsh over the bumps and had a lot more natural feeling to me after the changes.

These are my notes, scrawled in the back of my shop manual. The default rear rebound damping is set at the maximum level... WAY too heavily damped for rough roads, or any roads for that matter.

I took a route that I tried but only partially finished about a month ago. From Calgary I went west on the 1A through the Stoney Indian reserve, Exshaw, and then stopped in Canmore for lunch. After lunch I went east on the Trans-Canada to the Kananaskis Trail (AKA highway 40 AKA Highwood Pass) which curves west deep into the mountain range through the Valhalla-like Kananaskis valley, approaching the BC border and climing to the top of the Highwood pass at 7700 feet before looping back east and meeting highway 22 (Cowboy Trail) at Longview.

You may recall from my post a month ago that I had to stop and turn around where the road was closed; it's been open since June 15th so I rode the full loop. Without going into elaborate detail, it was absolutely gorgeous. Traffic was light and I only had to stop twice for rocky mountain sheep crossings.

A few pictures....

This is the big Lafarge cement plant in Exshaw, just southeast of Canmore:

Now entering Kananaskis Country:

The summit of the Highwood Pass:

And a big "D'OH!!!".... I mounted my Vholdr cam on my helmet and took what I thought was some spectacular video of the 1A through Stoney and the Kananaskis Trail... When I got home and uploaded it I discovered that the camera was aimed at a 6-foot patch of asphalt right in front of the bike. All the footage was completely useless. I guess I'll have to do this ride again!

Monday, July 12, 2010

Ordered some stuff

In preparation for a big 2-up roadtrip to the west coast in September I've ordered some touring kit for the VFR.

I've got the Honda luggage rack coming from the local dealer. They were able to give me a decent discount but they can't guarantee availability. The item shows on their system as "extended backorder". Hopefully it gets here in time.

I ordered a Givi E55 Maxia top case with backrest from Twisted Throttle. It won't look as good as the genuine Honda colour-matched case but it's nearly twice the size and still looks pretty good. It's the biggest and best case Givi makes. I can always have it painted to match.

Honda tankbag and panniers are coming from David Silver Spares in the UK. It was actually cheaper to have them shipped out from the UK than to order locally or from the States. The Pound must be down a bit... Also the availability of the genuine Honda accessories is a lot better in the UK... this stuff has been slow to make its way to North America.

I've got a Givi inner bag for the topcase and a universal Givi adaptor plate coming from 2nd Gear Motorsports ebay store, which ironically is actually a local motorcycle dealer that I know quite well... I bought my CBR954 and CBR125 from them, as well as a lot of parts. Supposedly they have agreements with their suppliers to sell the givi product on ebay only... they don't offer it at their retail store.

I'm looking forward to getting everything installed and taking the VFR for a proper long ride through the mountains.

Saturday, July 3, 2010

Flapper Mod... follow-up

I went for a quick ride tonight through the city to test my new modification.

The de-restricted exhaust sounds much different... At idle it makes some rude noises; burps, coughs, rattles, etc. In motion the difference is very noticeable. In the stock setting, the VFR sounded like a Jetson car under 5500RPM... bbbbbbwwweeeeeee... Now it sounds like more substantial and satisfying, like a V4 sportbike ought to. It isn't obnoxious... still relatively subdued but with a throaty growl that can be felt in the bones. I like it. I'll keep it this way until I feel saucy enough to drop 5 or 6 bills on the Akrapovic pipe.

It felt a tiny bit stronger and smoother at lower speeds as well, but the lag still exists in 1st and 2nd gear. I'm 100% certain that this is due to the mapping of the ride by wire. The Honda engineers must have decided that the VFR1200 motor hit too hard at low speed and they dialed things back to soften the blow. Maybe they found that the tire spun too much? Maybe the main drivetrain damper in the side gear case wound up too tight and unloaded like a rubber band. Without knowing what the mapping looks like, I'd guess that the throttles will only open 55-65% (with the accellerator in the fully open position) in the restricted zone. (evidently first and second gear below 5500RPM) I'm sure they spent a lot of time getting it right, but I'd really like to experience the raw unfettered power of this motor. I'm sure smart people somewhere are working on a crack.

I need to plug the hole where the flapper cable went into the top of the muffler. Exhaust gasses puff out like a little chimney. I need a thick bolt with fine threads. My junk drawer had no such component.

Friday, July 2, 2010

Flapper Mod and Front Reflector Removal

There's a lot going on in that big goofy goiter hanging off the side of the VFR. To meet noise emissions testing a bike like this needs a quiet muffler. A quiet muffler is a restrictive muffler and a a restrictive muffler restricts performance. So they defeat the noise testing by fitting a muffler that is quiet within the testing range only (usually up to 50% of max RPM... 5000rpm in this case) The way they do this on the VFR is by using dual exhaust outlets. There is the small outlet on the bottom, no more than 2cm in diameter that exhaust gasses flow through below 5500RPM. Then there is a larger upper outlet that allows more exhaust volume to flow above 5500RPM. The flow is controlled by a "flapper" valve that is opened up using an electric servo motor, allowing exhaust to move through the larger outlet. Honda designed a sort of "failsafe" on the VFR1200 where they reversed the manner of operation. The default position of the exhaust flapper is the "open" position, and the servo motor actually holds it shut in the noise testing range. Due to this design,  you can disable the system and the flapper will stay in the open position. The flapper is located in the end of the muffler, and the servo motor is located under the seat. They are connected by a cable. The easiest way to disable the system is to simply disconnect the cable. I went one better and removed the cable altogether. If would be nice to bin the servo motor as well, but it has a built-in feedback system to assure the ECU that the valve is in the correct position... if you remove the servo motor, you trip a fault code in the fuel injection and the bike goes into a "limp-home" mode with a flashing engine light.

Here's how it went:

Seat comes off:
Another example of quality... little rubber washers for the bolts that hold the cowl down
Side cowl comes off. The servo motor can be seen with the cable coming out the bottom.

This is the flapper in the closed position:

Remove the cable from the bell crank.
Now the flapper can be seen in the open position.
Just for the hell of it I decided to pull the heat shields and covers off the muffler to have a look.

The muffler swings away so the wheel can be removed. I took the cable out.
I also decided to remove the front reflectors. Before:
After. The reflectors are on  brackets that help mount the fender. I had to replace them with some spare "tophat" collars. Looks a little cleaner now.

I started the bike and it definitely sounds better. More throaty and deep sounding. I'm looking forward to taking it for a ride and seeing if this helps improve the low-end torque.