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Wednesday, December 7, 2011

The Honda Effect

Yesterday my January 2012 issue of Cycle Canada arrived and I've already read it cover to cover. I have to say I've had my reservations about this magazine in the last couple years but this issue has me believing again. The editor, Neil Graham has decided that this magazine will be more editorial-based rather than an American-style cookie-cutter press-release paraphraser. They tried that, and it didn't work. (mind you, the S1000RR article fits that mold, but I digress)

I like the direction he's taken things and I appreciate the free-form editorial that he allows.

Michael Uhlarik is a great addition to the editorial base. Though I often disagree with his opinions, he expresses them passionately and with industry experience and knowledge to back it up. He had a line in his CBR250R feature (a ride from Toronto to Halifax on said moto)  this month that I enjoyed enough to share it here:

"I hadn't ridden the Honda since the test ride in California nearly a year ago (in fact I hadn't ridden any motorcycle since) so it's worth mentioning that the Honda Effect took place. To those unfamiliar, it goes like this: 10 minutes into operating a Honda product you feel that you have always owned that Honda and you could ride it to the end of the Earth - or the Maritimes, which for most Ontarians is just as far.

Couldn't have said it better myself.  I am definitely not unfamiliar with the Honda Effect.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

2012 VFR1200F What's New?

The plight of the Early Adopter... For the privilege of being first you get to suffer through the teething period as an unpaid beta-tester.

Honda have just announced an updated and improved 2012 VFR1200F.

Changes include:

  • Increased range from a larger fuel tank
  • Improved low-end torque from 2000-4000RPM
  • Traction control
  • Trip computer
  • Improved comfort from an updated seat
  • Revisions to DCT transmission
  • LED indicators
  • New colours
  • Chromed headers

So what does this mean for owners of the 2010 and 2011 VFR1200F? How many of these updates can I take advantage of?

  • -Bigger tank: The increase is only about 400mL. That might mean an extra 4 or 5 miles. Don't bother.
  • -Improved low-end torque: Basically amounts to different mapping. With my de-restriction and PC5 I would gain nothing from this. If you don't have a PC5 and haven't de-restricted, Honda UK is offering a re-map to their customers which probably gives you the 2012 mapping
  • -Traction control: DAMN! I wish I had this. Not that I've really needed it, but it would be a great gadget to play with. I don't think it's going to be practical to try to retrofit to my 2010. I would likely need a new ECU, new instrument panel, plus the switch and module. It could turn into a hell of a project.... expensive too. I'm wondering if the 2012 still has the 1st and 2nd gear restriction or if they ditched it out of redundancy with the TC?
  • -Trip computer: Tells the rider average MPG and DTE (distance to empty). My 2010 gives pretty consistent range so I have no problem relying on my trip odometer for this information. Nice gadget but don't need it.
  • -Updated seat: It appears that the contour or foam haven't changed, just the surface texture. I like my seat just fine, don't need a new one.
  • Revisions to DCT: I'm sure this brilliant technology will just continue to evolve and improve. Mine's a 6-speed. ;)
  • -LED indicators: Probably an easy retrofit if you want to spend the money. Don't incandescent bulbs just feel so.... 20th century?
  • -New colours: I LOVE the new "Titanium Blade" metallic. It's sort of a sexy greenish-grey. The blue looks a little nerdy to me. Black is black... white is white. Unfortunately Honda Canada never gave me a choice of colours otherwise I would almost definitely have a white bike instead of red. If I ever crash my 1200 and need new plastics, it's going to end up as a Titanium Blade bike for sure. Even if I have to change the panniers. Or as my friend Dave Solo likes to say "They got this shit called "Paint"...
  • -Chromed headers: I've said here before, chrome has no place on this bike. I like my stainless head pipes and titanium muffler just fine.
Now I know how SP1 owners must have felt when the SP2 came out.

Traction control switch, located on top of left fairing. On/off only, no settings

Titanium Blade.... yummy.

Snippet from Honda's press release:

2012 VFR1200F
Refined 1200cc V4 Sports Tourer

Release date: 8 November 2011
Model updates: Increased engine torque; greater tank range; Traction Control System; revised styling; more comfortable seat; Dual Clutch Transmission (Optional); new LED indicators
Last updated: 16 September 2011

1 Model overview
2 Key upgrades
3 Model details
4 Colours
5 Model history
6 Optional equipment
7 Technical specification

1. Model overview
The distinctive VFR1200F has been developed for 2012. The engine now offers even greater performance, with significantly more refined torque between 2000rpm and 4000rpm. Changes to the PGM-FI fuel injection system, combined with increased tank capacity, mean the VFR1200F can now travel more than 186 miles on a single tank of petrol. The optional Dual Clutch Transmission has been improved, with new functionalities. The adoption of a reassuring Traction Control System and along with a more comfortable seating position, further enhance the bike’s all-round capabilities.

Launched in 2009, the VFR1200F was developed
to deliver a blend of sports and touring capabilities using the latest technologies. It was a clean-sheet interpretation of the ultimate road-sport machine – a concept driven by extensive understanding of customer needs and the adoption of state-of-the-art technologies.

In pursuit of heightened levels of control and feedback, the VFR1200F adopted the latest race-track bred technologies, adapted and evolved to create a machine that can be many things to many riders. The harmonic growl of the flexible and responsive V4 motor rekindles the emotions inspired by previous iconic VFRs, with its unique ‘heartbeat’ engine feel and an unrivalled level of refined performance.

2. Key upgrades

2.1 Engine 
Stronger torque NEW
For 2012 the V4’s already impressive torque has been made stronger still, with increased drive between 2000rpm and 4000rpm.

Traction Control System NEW
For 2012 the VFR1200F also benefits from Honda’s Traction Control System , which helps ensure the power is put down optimally, safely and securely, even on surfaces with limited grip.

Dual Clutch Transmission (optional) NEW
The VFR1200F was the first motorcycle to feature Honda’s innovative Dual Clutch Transmission, which has been significantly developed for the 2012 model.  Honda’s Dual Clutch Transmission ensures even smoother and seamless gear changes in any of its three riding modes. Using two electronically controlled clutches, the system offers the choice of manual gear shifting and two fully automatic modes, one for general use (D-mode) and another for high performance riding (S-mode). The VF1200F’s Dual Clutch Transmission also features new software logic with added functionality.

2.2 Ergonomic Design 
Greater comfort NEW
The new seat design features new stitching and a new coating finish for improved seat grip and improved quality.

3. Model details

3.1 Styling
Designed in Europe
The designers of the VFR1200F
drew on two threads of Japanese culture through the design process. The Japanese word ‘Ma’ can be described as ‘the space between things’. It is perhaps easiest to understand it in relation to music. If one thinks of the intrinsic importance of a measure of silence or the pause between movements in a classical symphony, and the effect on the performance if someone accidentally applauds or disturbs the silence. That illustrates the importance of ‘Ma’. The other concepttsuya’ describes the shine or vitality of an object, its charm, and the way it attracts and holds the eye. Focusing on tsuya gives a new significance to every line, curve and angle. Both these elements were of paramount importance to the design philosophy. The LED indicators used for the first time on a large capacity Honda motorcycle, ensures optimum visibility.

Form follows function
To a large degree; pure function determined the VFR1200F’s form. Mass centralisation, consummate rider control and aerodynamic efficiency provided the key underlying design criteria and from this starting point the machine’s form evolved. The remarkably narrow cylinder heads and clever cylinder spacing allowed a very narrow waist, effectively lowering the seat height and thus making it easier for the rider to place both feet flat on the ground at rest. This wasp-like waist also gives the rider the feeling of being ‘in’ the bike rather than perched on top – crucial for feedback and control. The fuel tank’s elegant yet complicated contours support and assist the rider to add extra elements of control and heightened levels of feedback whatever the riding situation. The ergonomically styled fairing works in harmony with the fuel tank to provide extra support and efficient weather protection for the rider and pillion. Even the hand controls and switchgear are engineered to ergonomic advantage.

Layered fairing technology
The patented layered fairing design of the VFR1200F is a perfect match of form and function. Designers and engineers worked together to create a uniquely beautiful shape and, at the same time, optimal air flow and heat management. The fairing design incorporates two layers, which harnesses the benefits of flowing air to the machine’s dynamic and mechanical advantage. This has two functions: air entering between the layers and through two oval-shaped spaces in the front of the fairing is channelled in exactly the directions needed to enhance the bike’s stability at higher speeds. Secondly, by effectively increasing the speed of the air by channelling it through smaller apertures before it reaches the radiators, engine cooling is optimised and the hot, exhaust air is channelled away from the rider and passenger. The heat generated by the powerful V4 engine is also channelled away to keep hot air away from the rider.

Attention to detail
A balance of positive and negative surfaces gives the front of the motorcycle a light, open look while also creating a profile that slices through the wind with minimal resistance. A strongly defined X-shape characterises the front of the machine. Concave surfaces direct the eye and air up towards the windscreen, which incorporates another air-directing aperture at its lower edge. Even the edges of the screen have been crafted to enhance stability at speed. The light from the powerful single line-beam headlight streams into two tinted LED-look strips that frame it, increasing the feeling of lightness and space.

The cowl and body are fused together, creating one smooth, unified, aerodynamic surface. The compact rear tapers upwards, emphasising the bike’s lightness and dynamic shape, while the tail-light and rear indicators subtly mimic the frontal design.

Luxurious finish
The 2012 machine continues to benefit from painting technologies specially developed at the hi-tech Kumamoto factory, focused on creating top-quality colouring with the most uniform coverage. A deep clear-coat finish enhances the bodywork colour, creating a luxurious, high-class shine. The mirror-like surfaces create a sharp, memorable profile that attracts attention even from a distance.

3.2 Engine
Even stronger midrange performance NEW
The VFR1200F engine was designed to provide its rider with strong power and torque, for a power delivery that is both responsive and exciting. It also delivers the invigorating engine sound and feel that have characterised Honda’s previous V4 machines. The VFR1200F has already established a reputation for delivering both effortless travel and an invigorating riding experience;  the V4 engine’s performance has always been most impressive at the engine rpm that matter most, in the low and midrange, making it possible for the rider to simply roll on and off the throttle while powering through bends. For 2012, low-rpm torque has been made stronger still, with increased drive between 2000rpm and 4000rpm to make the bike even more fun to ride.

Improved fuel efficiency NEW
For 2012 the VFR1200F’s advanced PGM-FI fuel injection has been revised to improve fuel efficiency. This, in conjunction with an increase in tank capacity of half a litre to 19 litres, means the VFR1200F can now cover more than 186 miles on a single tank of fuel.

Smooth delivery  
There were several challenges involved in tailoring the strong V4 power for use in an all-round machine that can be used for weekend enjoyment, commuting and long-distance touring. Key elements of the VFR1200F’s power characteristics are its response and strong torque delivery. To allow full enjoyment of the engine’s power while still providing a high level of comfort, vibration needed to be carefully managed.

A unique cylinder layout was developed for this purpose. Instead of the traditional V4 cylinder configuration, with the cylinders evenly spaced front-to-rear, the VFR1200F adopts an ingenious solution in order to centralise mass and at the same time achieve a compact, space-saving solution. The rear cylinders are placed side by side but close together, while the front cylinders are more widely spaced. This layout allows for a slim, compact ‘waist’ that fits comfortably between the rider’s legs. It also supports mass centralisation, thus contributing to the bike’s balanced feel and ease of control. With no right-left couple imbalance, the need for a balancer is eliminated and friction is reduced.

A Phase-shift Crankshaft complements the advantages of the cylinder layout. Operating with a 28° throw, it effectively reduces primary vibration and noise, eliminating the need for a power-sapping balance shaft. The V4 is characterised by very strong low-rpm torque. To allow the rider to comfortably take full advantage of this torque, delivery is smoothed by four drivetrain dampers, which further eliminate uncomfortable vibration and backlash.

Racing technologies  
The VFR1200F utilises the UNICAM single overhead camshaft cylinder head design from the world-class CRF off-road machines. The logic was straightforward: in an environment where space, performance and weight are at a premium this technology was perfect for a project where mass centralisation and ergonomics were prime design criteria. Also borrowed from the CRF range and the RC211V MotoGP racer is the sealed crankcase system that reduces the pumping loss created through piston movement, and air density. This system had never been used on a road machine before but the gains for the rider are identical - electrifying throttle response and improved fuel consumption.

Refined control 
A throttle-by-wire system maximises the rider’s feeling of connectivity with the VFR1200F. Providing light, precise fuel metering at all engine parameters, this highly developed system gives the rider heightened levels of control, whatever the situation. To aid control under intense deceleration a slipper clutch is fitted, similar to the system on the CBR1000RR Fireblade. When the rider downshifts early the clutch is designed to slip, thus preventing the rear wheel from inadvertently locking up, allowing the rider to stay firmly in control.

Innovative transmission layout and ground-breaking shaft drive system  
A compact transmission layout contributes to high-speed stability with good handling and excellent traction capability. The highly developed shaft drive system features an offset propeller shaft and a pivot that expands vertically as well as a sliding constant velocity joint that takes up any variations in length during the rear wheel’s arc of travel. At the output shaft a clutch damper absorbs backlash effectively. Thanks to the rigidity of the pivot, stability is improved and throttle-to-drive delivery is much more direct.

Unique exhaust and exhilarating sound  
Engineers and designers alike focused not only on the engine’s power and delivery, but also on its feel and sound. They chose a configuration which would emulate the briskness of a typical inline-4 engine’s performance but deliver this with the beat and feel that are pure V4. The exhaust layout was made as compact as possible with the assembly of catalyser-containing exhaust pipes placed on one side of the sump and the exhaust pipes of the rear cylinder bank placed on the other side. On the bike’s right flank a triangular-shaped muffler highlights the styling lines of the bodywork.

The combined induction and exhaust notes create a raw, compelling sound that is authentic Honda V4 and distinguishes the VFR1200F from any other motorcycle. At idle it pulses smoothly, hinting at the engine’s huge performance potential. Each twist of the throttle releases a burst of instant V4 aggression that becomes a thrilling howl as it rises quickly through the revs. The sound and beat of this engine contribute to the unique character of the machine and are as essential to the design as the bodywork or riding position.

A key element in the raw emotion of this V4’s sound is the exhaust system. Engineered to provide excellent cornering clearance and minimal intrusion to the rider’s and pillion’s feet position, the high-volume, twin outlet high-chrome muffler produces an unobtrusive but fantastically stirring note. At low revs the noise is off-beat and bass-rich. Further up the rev range, once the servo-operated valve is opened, the noise changes to a truly inspiring, hard-edged V4

3.3 Suspension
Peerless handling and stability
The VFR1200F frame, suspension and drive components are brought together in a unique configuration that facilitates both sports bike power and smooth stability. Its strong aluminium twin-spar diamond configuration frame is both lightweight and rigid. The swingarm and driveshaft length are optimised without extending the overall length of the motorcycle. The long swingarm contributes to balanced, confident manoeuvring and exceptional high-speed stability.
The swingarm is complemented by a compliant Pro-Link rear shock absorber with adjustable rebound damping. At the front, sturdy
upside-down 43mm telescopic forks with adjustable preload provide smooth and assured control. Together, these systems ensure a comfortable ride, even with a pillion and luggage on board, and add to the overall feeling of total control.

3.4 Brakes
High-performance braking systems  
The VFR1200F is equipped with Honda’s highly-developed Combined Antilock Braking System. Powerful six-piston calipers for the front and two piston calipers for the rear act on large discs (320mm at the front and 276mm at the rear). The Combined Braking System creates the optimal balance of front and rear braking forces. The addition of a standard-fit compact and lightweight Anti-lock Braking System supports both the motorcycle’s sports riding potential and its touring proficiency.

3.5 Ergonomic Design
Comfortable dual-seat seat NEW
For 2012 the seat of the VFR1200F – a supportive, vacuum-moulded dual-seat design – has been re-designed to offer improved seat grip with new stitching and improved quality with a new seat coating finis.  It features a flat and expansive seating area, with the space to adopt a range of different seating positions. This improves comfort during long days on the road. For the pillion, easy-reach grab handles and footrests ideally positioned for comfort, help create a reassuring sense of security.

Instrument panel  
The VFR1200F instrument panel combines sophisticated styling and practicality. Shielded and at the same time displayed by the tilt of the aerodynamic windscreen, its elegant design fully complements the airy and spacious feel at the front. It also adds to the sensation of total rider control.  A large, sporty analogue rev counter and a digital speedometer are surrounded by LCD readouts which now include actual, average fuel consumption as well as remaining and range of fuel and Traction Control System activation (On/Off). The display also includes a clock, ambient temperature display, HISS indicator and ABS indicator.

Pannier mounts  
To enhance the touring potential of the VFR1200F, the rear is equipped with integrated luggage mounts. These mounting points are unobtrusively cast into the injection moulded under-seat area and pillion footrest mounts. They allow easy installation and removal of specially designed optional panniers without interrupting the motorcycle’s clean styling.

Ergonomic hand controls  
The VFR1200F features a state-of-the-art ergonomic design of the handlebar and switch layout. The designers focussed on meeting the rider’s need to reach controls comfortably and for ease of operation, particularly considering the hand position during cornering. As a result, the VFR1200F received new handlebar switches and a new layout with reversed horn and indicator controls. The indicator switch shape is designed around natural thumb movement for effortless operation.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

ASV Unbreakable Levers

I was drunk when I ordered these

I stayed up and finished an extra bottle of wine

And stumbled into solomotoparts.com like a drunk might stumble into a whorehouse

They're well-made and all, but they serve no real function and they were expensive.

I guess they look pretty good though.

Kaoko Throttle Control

On my road trip in August I decided that I HAD to have some sort of throttle lock or cruise control if I ever wanted to take a ride like that again. (which I do)

I initially decided that I would look for a Throttlemeister, as I like the size and weight and feel of them. Unfortunately, ordering one wasn't easy, as their website is very amateur and doesn't offer any sort of order system. They want you to print an order form and mail send it in with funds. They're also expensive, so nevermind.

There are alternatives though. After a bit of research I chose a Kaoko throttle lock from twistedthrottle.com. It's not as beefy-looking as the Throttlemeister, but it's well-made (in South Africa) and quite a bit less money.

Installation wasn't the 5 minute ordeal I was expecting. I had a bit of trouble getting the bar-end weight out of my clip-on and the Kaoko didn't want to go in. I realized that the internal diameter of my Helibar clip-ons is very slightly smaller than that of the stock ones. With a little grease and some "encouragement" from a precision tool (claw hammer) I got the device into place where it remains solid and secure. A little tightening on the friction nut and this sucker isn't going anywhere.

My wrists will surely thank me.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Winterize.... again

With 9111 Kms on the clock my VFR1200 was given its 4th oil and filter change. Though the fall weather here has been good, there's a possibility the bike won't be ridden again until spring 2012 and I like to keep it parked with clean oil in it.

With the last service at 4400Kms this is the furthest it has gone on a single oil change. The oil came out quite dirty, but still with a slight greenish tinge from Motul 300v full synthetic. The recommended service interval is 7500 miles but I'll probably never go that far without a change. It's worth noting that this engine has used not a drop of oil since new, and this summer saw some hard use, with a 3600Km mountain tour, a trip to the dragstrip and 2 trackdays.

A new filter went on and 3.2L of 5w40 Motul 300v double ester replaced the dirty 10w40 300v that was drained out. I didn't deliberately switch to 5 weight, it's just what the dealership happened to have.

While I was at it, I changed the final drive oil again with another 200mL or so of Motul full synthetic hypoid oil. I'm well short of needing a final drive service but its an easy task to perform and only took a few minutes. The oil came out clean but with strings of black slime marbled throughout. I added some StaBil to the fuel, put the bike on stands and hooked up a battery tender.

There's no such thing as too much maintenance.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

The Last Track Day

I spent Sunday afternoon at Race City turning laps at the last ever scheduled event at Race City Motorsports Park. Next year, the facility will be demolished to make room for an expansion of the neighbouring landfill. 

I normally participate as an instructor, but this time I decided to ride as a "customer". I paid my fees and was free to ride in all of the groups, at my own pace, as much as I wanted.  The VFR handled beautifully.... predictable, stable, fast, and with surprising grip from the Pirelli Angel sport touring tires. Being ever more confident with the bike, I pushed it quite a bit harder than the last track day, grinding out my pegs regularly and spinning the tire coming out of 2nd gear turns. The ABS was a bit frustrating, forcing me to brake way early for turn 1. (or otherwise risk blowing past the turn-in point when it kicked in) I passed a few intermediate riders on litre bikes and supersports who were surprised at how fast the big girl could be hustled, and admittedly, I also got in the way of a few racers who were probably wondering what the hell I was doing riding in the fast group. :)
I'm sad that Race City will be gone, but grateful for all the memories and friends I've made there. 

A debt of gratitude is owed to my friend Brad Gavey who introduced me (and hundreds of others) to the sport. Brad kept his school and track days going through thick and thin, sometimes at great personal expense, out of pure burning passion for the sport he loves.Thanks buddy.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Lego Motorcycle (non-VFR related)

Lego was my favourite toy as a kid. It was all I wanted for christmas and birthdays. I wasn't very good at "playing" with my creations, I just liked building them. I read recently that the founder of Lego is a billionaire and the wealthiest Dane. I guess I'm not the only kid who liked it.

I found myself in a toy store on Sunday and I couldn't stop myself from buying this kit. It's a fully functional streetfighter motorcycle with working suspension, a 3-cylinder motor with functioning 180' crank and pistons, primary drive, transmission countershaft, final drive and functional roller chain. The kit also has alternative instructions for a chopper-style bike, but fuck that, choppers are dumb.

I bet with an unlimited supply of technic parts in front of me I could build a wicked VFR1200... V4 engine, shaft drive and all.

Dear Santa: Please bring me a Lego Technic Unimog kit for Christmas. I've been a good boy and I promise to leave you gluten-free cookies and nonfat milk.

467 pieces, took about 2 hours total

Coming together nicely. You have to build the chain from individual links

Finished. I left out the corny decals

Yellow pistons, rods and crank are visible here

Yup... pretty badass

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

VFR1200F at the Dragstrip

I always wanted to try dragracing. Race City provides an easy and cheap introduction with their Friday night grudge racing known as "Secret Street". Every Friday night at 6pm in the summer, anyone can bring their car, truck or motorcycle to the strip, pay $25.00, go through a brief tech inspection and get 3 passes down the quarter mile, complete with time slips. It has a lot of support in the city, as it keeps the racing off public streets, and the enthusiasts love it because it sorts out the bullshitters.

I went out of curiosity with zero experience so I wasn't expecting to break any records but I wanted to run respectable times. My friend Brad wasn't able to go faster than 11.0 at 134MPH on his 2010 ZX10R and a little over 12 flat on his 2011 R1. The VFR doesn't have as much power as those litre bikes but I figured it would be easier to launch, with its long wheelbase and short first and second gears. I decided I would be happy with low 12s on my first try, and I'd be happy to be any faster than that.

There weren't many bikes around when I arrived, but soon an experienced drag racer with a heavily modified CBR1000RR showed up and was happy to give this first-timer some pointers. I didn't get his name... let's call him "Cletus". First and most important: Don't wait for the green; go when the bottom yellow is lit. There are four tenths of a second between the bottom yellow and the green; this is where your reaction time is measured. If you even see the green, you waited too long. He had never seen a VFR1200 before, but based on the large engine size and a lot of torque, he suggested that I would want to launch at about 3000RPM and feed the clutch out smoothly rather than pop it open. He showed me how to stage and where to do my burnout. I decided I wouldn't bother with a burnout. Tires are expensive and burnouts are messy.... I like to keep my 1200 clean. A burnout might gain me a couple tenths, but I wasn't here to compete, just for fun.

Bikes line up separately from the cars, and have to cut in when it's their turn. All of the bikes race at once, then the cars come back on.  Eventually another bike showed up (CBR600RR) we got our turn. Cletus said he would go first solo, then I would race the guy on the 600. He didn't think it would be a good idea for me to line up with him on my first try, because he would do a big burnout, and his bike would make a lot of noise which might "intimidate" me. I smiled and nodded... I appreciated his concern. (#rolleyes)

Cletus did his burnout with his wide drag tire and extended swingarm, staged, and laid down a 10.56. He said he could have done better, and he generally runs low 10s.

I lined up next to the guy on the 600RR, who had dragraced a few times before. I staged, held the revs at 3000, and when I saw the bottom yellow light fed out the clutch quickly and smoothly and fired off the line. The surface was sticky so I didn't spin much, just a little fishtail, and I didn't wheelie. I didn't see the green light, so I knew my R/T was good, and I didn't see the other bike, so I knew I beat him. I missed my shift and banged off the rev limiter in second so I knew I probably wasted a few tenths. I also shifted into 4th as I crossed the timing trap when I could have probably just over-revved a bit in third. The display board in my lane wasn't working so I couldn't see my time until I picked up my timeslip at the tower. 11.03@126! My "opponent" ran a 12.4. I was very pleased and it was a hell of a rush. I was excited for my next run.

Cletus looked in disbelief at this rookie's slip and decided that when we got our turn again he would line up against me. Some other bikes had shown up, mostly 600s and 750s. He told me that it's more fun to race someone with similar times, and while he would still "leave me in the dust" it would be closer than if he were to race the other bikes.

Our turn eventually came and I lined up against Cletus. I held the revs slightly higher (maybe 3300) and had another good launch, though I did spin and fishtail slightly more than the first run. Cletus didn't have a good launch. I saw him wheelie out of the corner of my right eye. Not a little wheelie where he floated the front end, but an out-of-control silly tire-spinning wheelie up over 45 degrees from the horizon and crashing down hard as he shut the throttle. If you've never witnessed a motorcycle with a stretched swingarm do a massive wheelstand, it's quite something to behold.  I held the throttle to the stop, kept my head down and  blasted through 400 metres. I kicked his ass! My time was 11.07 and his was 14.8. Granted, he made a big mistake but it still felt great. I think he wanted to teach this rookie a lesson and he got a little carried away.

When I circled back to the lineup Cletus was a bit humiliated and didn't really want to talk to me. I didn't want to wait around another 45 minutes for a third pass so I quit while I was ahead and went home with a sense of smug self-satisfaction.

I understand how people get addicted to this sport. It's not just a cheap thrill, but a precision contest between perfectionists, where every thousandth of a second counts. After only 1 pass, I was thinking about where I could have shaved tiny fractions of a second.

I had a great time trying a new sport and I exceeded my expectations. I like to imagine that the spectators (there were a lot) were bewildered at how this big red shaft-drive sport-touring bike was going faster than all the "crotch rockets". The fact is, the VFR1200 happens to have a few qualities that make it very quick in the quarter mile. Long wheelbase, short first and second gear, great traction, awesome power that builds quickly and a relatively aggressive riding position. If I could do 11.03 with no experience, no preparation (other than letting a few pounds of pressure out of the back tire) no burnout and a hard-compound touring tire, what could I do with some practice and sticky rubber? I think low 10s would be very achievable. That achievement, however, will remain in the realm of bullshit, because I don't plan on doing much more (if any more) drag racing on this bike. I really enjoyed myself, and the bike was quick, but I have to think that this is pretty brutal on the drivetrain and I don't want to subject the VFR to the abuse.

Still... I wouldn't mind seeing a "10" on a timeslip.

Tech Inspection
Waiting for other bikes to show up
long lineup of racers

Time Slips (I'm number 90)

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

The Skalkaho Pass

I finally got around to producing the footage of this crazy road from my trip last month:


Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Air Filter Change / Resonator Removal

It would ordinarily be a bit premature to change the air filter element, but my recent trip had me concerned. I rode on a number of dirt roads through a bunch of fine dust and I suspected that my filter would be clogged up.

The local Honda Powerhouse wanted $120 for a new filter which I found flat-out insulting, especially as someone who has recently bought a new motorcycle from them. I ordered it from Ronayers.com for less than half that price. I had to wait a couple weeks to get it but I didn't have any riding planned in that time. I will always give the local retailer the first opportunity to earn my business, and if it is even reasonably close to what I can pay online, even within 25%, I'll buy it locally. When the price is 100% higher, I'm afraid I can't justify buying local.

Lift the tank

Take the airbox cover off... here's the old filter.

Old filter on the left, new one on the right. It doesn't look especially dirty, but it was obvious by the weight. The old filter felt like it was at least double the weight of the new one. Its folds were packed with fine dust. I'm convinced that stock paper filters do a much better job at picking up fine dust than the oiled cloth filters from K&N, etc. You'll never see a K&N in one of my vehicles.

While I had the airbox open I decided to remove the resonators. As far as I can tell, they're there to tune the induction noise. From what I know of similar systems on cars, they are meant to reduce the "sucking" sound when the throttles are opened.

They came out easily, 2 small screws each. I took my time to clean the airbox, scoops, and velocity stacks, wiping up any residual dust and oil and even sucking up debris with a vaccuum cleaner.

I doubt that removing the resonators will make any performance difference whatsoever, but I do know that I haven't seen them in any of the supersports bikes I've owned. They do take up a lot of space in the airbox and probably generate a lot of turbulence. I started the engine up and cracked the throttle a few times to see if I could tell a difference in the sound. I'd like to think I can hear more of a "ssschwissshhhh" with the resonators out but would I be able to tell the difference in a double-blind scientific test? I'm not sure.  If I don't like it I can always put them back in.

I wonder what Honda's genius engineers would think of all the hacking up this roundeye bumpkin has done to their creation? I'd love a chance to talk to them all about it. If anyone from Honda reads this, my passport is up to date and I have some vacation days to use up this year. You're invited to fly me to Kumamoto for an all-expense paid tour VIP of the factory, as well as an exclusive meet and greet with the engineers where we will eat a bunch of sushi and get drunk.

Arigatou Gozaimasou (bows deeply)

Saturday, August 13, 2011

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Power Commander V

While I was on holiday a package arrived from Bayside Performance. I've been interested in installing a PC5 on my VFR and I finally got around to ordering one.

What does it do?

It overrides the motorcycle's fuel injection system to alter the air/fuel ratio. It can be programmed at small incremental throttle openings in each gear.

Why install one?

Modern fuel-injected motorcycles must meet emissions standards and therefore have "lean spots" in the air/fuel map in order to pass the tests. A Power Commander with a proper map will eliminate the lean spots for an ideal air/fuel ratio and therefore improve performance and make the bike run more smoothly.

Fairings come off again... getting pretty quick at this now.

Honda left a perfect spot under the seat for a power commander

You need to pull the axle out of the tank to run the wires under it.

Plug and play.... almost.

This little hot-tap splices in to the throttle position wire.

Here's the fun part: installing the 02 optimizers. The rad needs to be partially removed to get your hands in there. The plugs can be dismounted from their frame bosses which makes them a little easier to work with.

I'm running the "jardine slip on, stock air filter" map from Dynojet. I can't imagine my Leo pipe really needing much different mapping. Maybe this winter if I've got money to burn I'll have a custom map done up. As long as the lean spots are tuned out I doubt anyone can tell the difference.

I went for a quick ride to try to feel the difference. It seemed to pull harder and more cleanly from lower revs, and the throttle reponse seemed crisper between 2500-5500RPM. I'll need to get it out for a proper ride to really evaluate the difference.

I have read some reports of the 02 optimizers throwing a fault code. Basically all they do is short out the 02 sensor signal to the ECM. Evidently, the VFR's computer is a little more sophisticated than they were expecting and isn't fooled by the optimizers. If I run into this problem I'll just hook the 02 sensors back up. My concern is that this will cause the PC5 and the ECU to "fight" over the fuel ratio and cause a surging. We shall see...

edit:  You'll probably need to zero out the throttle position on the power commander. Mine thought the throttle was open 5% when it was closed. CLick on "power commander tools>calibration tools>throttle calibration. Whatever the voltage reading is with your throttle closed, set that as the minimum. I think on mine it was 0.708 or something.

Saturday, August 6, 2011

Tour of the Inland NW USA

A few months ago some friends and I started roughing out some ideas for a 4 or 5 day motorcycle trip through the NW United States. The plan was to make a loop that would take us on the best motorcycle roads that Montana, Wyoming and Idaho had to offer. I wanted to ride the Beartooth Pass, Chief Joseph Scenic Byway, Going to the Sun Road, and the Lolo pass, and all the best motorcycle roads in between. We sketched out a route, agreed on dates, and made reservations.

This would be the first real trip I would take on the VFR. I've done long day rides but nothing that used more than a tank of fuel. This is the reason I got the bike and this kind of trip is what it was designed for. I was going sport-touring on my sport-tourer. On Sunday morning it was finally time to go, and I was vibrating with anticipation. Up until now my VFR has been treated as something of a treasure or prized possession. I had been very careful to keep it in pristine condition and I could point out to you where each of its 3 stone chips were. 5 days and 3600Kms from now I would feel very differently about the machine.

Day 1

Calgary to Red Lodge

Up at 4:30, leave the house at 5:30, collect Rob at 6:00 and hit the road. I didn't even need to set my alarm.

The first few hours were dull, slogging down the freeway towards the border, me on the VFR, Rob on his 1200GSA. We crossed at Carway, a little off the beaten path, west of I15. We would be taking US89 most of the way down, which would be more interesting than the interstate. The weather was perfect, starting at about 12 degrees when we left and warming up to the high 20s and then low 30s as we got further south.

The first great motorcycle road we came to was US49 or "Looking Glass Hill Road". It's a detour a little to the west of the main highway and runs down outside the eastern edge of Glacier Park. The first half of the road curls its way over some foothills, snaking up one side and down the other through a series of switchbacks and sweepers. The jagged peaks of glacier park provide a landscape oil painting backdrop to the right. The track day I attended a few weeks ago allowed me to learn the limits of the VFR, and this is the first road I've been on since that has let me approach those limits safely and confidently. I had no trouble railing through the s-bends and hairpins... fast, but smooth and safe. It felt great. The second half of the road winds its way alongside a mountain, with a steep drop-off to your right and no guard rails. The road is in rough shape, with washouts and patches of gravel on its edge. In this case it adds character and makes it more exciting. Pay close attention, because if you put your wheel one foot off the line you're going for a long tumble. There was almost zero traffic here. A couple bikes, a couple tourists and an old Grand Prix with 8 indians inside, the driver with a can of Black Label beer in his hand. He politely pulled over to let us by.
 2nd half of Looking Glass Hill Rd US49

We made our way back to US89 and the next few hours were pretty dull. We had lunch in a pretty little town called Choteau and shuffled our way southeast to Great Falls. From there we re-joined US89 and headed further south to the next good section of riding through the Lewis and Clark forest and over the King's Hill Pass. This road re-invigorated us after a long straight hot slog through the plains. It's about 70 miles of sweeping curves on great pavement through a wild forest. It reminded me of highway 40 through Kananaskis, except without the traffic. We saw few other vehicles here.

We fuelled up in White Sulfur Springs and continued south. Most of our riding up to this point was a fast cruise between 80 and 90mph. I had been consistently topping up with less fuel than Rob was using in his GS. Later on when the riding was slower, the GS had the advantage in fuel economy. This confirms what I've suspected, that the VFR1200 is happiest in top gear between 4500 and 5000RPM, which puts about 140km/h on the speedometer. (130 on the GPS) Fuel economy suffers a bit with the panniers and Givi E55 topcase. I can tell there is a lot of drag because when I close the throttle at speed the bike decelerates as if there were a parachute behind it. Over the entire trip I got 39-41MPG US. The next hundred miles consisted of more boring straight roads through Livingston and down to Gardiner, dropping in to the NW entrance of Yellowstone Park. The buzz from VFR's clip-ons makes my right hand numb after an hour or so of this. Remind me to order a Throttlemeister when I get home.
NW entrance to Yellowstone

Yellowstone is truly spectacular to see, but doesn't rank highly for pure riding roads. We were greeted in Mammoth Hot Springs by a massive herd of elk, as well as a massive herd of Japanese tourists. The road through Yellowstone is narrow, with low speed limits and a lot of traffic. There were certain parts where we could enjoy the curves, but it was better to just slow down and enjoy the scenery. We only needed to cut through the park to get to US212 and the Beartooth Pass. As we rode out of Gardiner it started to rain lightly. By the time we turned on to 212 it was raining quite heavily. I didn't pack rain gear because my Joe Rocket Survivor Suit was marked "100% WATERPROOF".  As it turns out, it's about as waterproof as my cat. I was wet and cold. I've decided that the 1-piece suit is not for me... even if it actually was waterproof, it's too hot below the waist. The front vent lets plenty of air through the torso but the legs have no ventilation at all and it gets quite uncomfortable. I would rather ride in armored jeans and a vented textile jacket, with a rain suit packed away just in case.

Cooke City marks the beginning of the Beartooth Scenic Highway. I pulled over to change to my winter gloves. It was raining hard, I was wet and cold, and I figured that if it were raining at the bottom, it could be snowing at the summit. We had come all this way to ride this road and we wouldn't have the weather to properly enjoy it. In spite of all that, there was a sense of adventure swelling within me, and in a strange way I hoped that we would ride through snow. It would be a character-building experience and a great story... an adventure.

As we pressed eastward, the road went from gentle sweeping turns to slightly tighter curves to 90 degree curves and then we started climbing... and climbing... and climbing. The road just kept going up. There was a moment earlier on where I was beginning to think that maybe the Beartooth Pass was a bit over-rated and that we came a long distance for something... forgettable. And then right as that seed was starting to take root, the skies suddenly cleared and the rain stopped. And then the switchbacks started. Climb climb climb, left hand hairpin, climb climb climb, right hand hairpin, climb climb, quick glance to your right and look down the canyon, climb climb left hand hairpin. It goes on like this for miles. The pavement is flawless. The air gets thinner, the trees get smaller, and soon you are above the treeline, and instead of trees there are lichen-covered boulders, scrub brush and pretty little alpine flowers. Your spine tingles and your heart swells with the overwhelming spiritual sensation of riding over the top of a mountain. Climb climb climb, left hand hairpin, climb climb right hand hairpin. You're no longer looking up at a huge mountain to climb, but looking down at a huge mountain below you, and beautiful peaks, emerald lakes, chasmic cliffs and little glaciers in every direction. You start to sense that you're at the summit well before you arrive. When it seems like you can't climb any higher the road just keeps going up and up and finally to the barren summit. Pictures can't capture the humbling sense of absolute majesty.  And then you get to do it all again riding down the other side. Over-rated? Absolutely not. Forgettable? I'll never forget it. This road lives up to it's hype and then some. Montana is the "Treasure State" and this is it's treasure.
 Lookout point about halfway up
 Pollard Inn, Red Lodge

We pulled in to Red Lodge around 7pm and checked into our hotel. We rode just under 1200Kms. Red Lodge is a great town. It was a booming city in the coal mining days of the 19th century and has been preserved as a bike-friendly tourist destination which hosts dozens of motorcycle meets and rallies throughout the summer. Our hotel, the Pollard Inn, was built over 200 years ago. It's the perfect place to stage a tour of the nearby roads. Our friends Brian and Tommy had arrived slightly earlier and rode over to our hotel to have dinner with us. They arrived wearing shorts and t-shirts and shades... no helmets. I had almost forgotten that helmets aren't required in Montana. It looked funny to me. Brian rides a Ducati Multistrada 1200 and Tommy had his MV Agusta 750 Brutale, outfitted with soft luggage and a small windscreen. Our group contained four very different motorcycles with 4 different types of engines. A 1200 V4 Sport Touring bike, a 1200 V-Twin adventurish sport-touring bike, a 750cc inline-4 streetfighter and a 1200 air-cooled boxer adventure touring bike. Oddly, all of them have their rear wheels bolted to single-sided swingarms.

We had steak and beers and ice cream and planned out our next day. We would go back over the Beartooth, turn southeast over the Chief Joseph Scenic Highway in Wyoming, lunch in Cody, then back into Yellowstone Park at the southeast entrance and over to our hotel in West Yellowstone.

Day 2

Red Lodge to West Yellowstone
Leaving Red Lodge in the rain

I had a terrible sleep. Our hotel was charming and historic, and therefore came with charming and historic tiny room. It didn't help that the reservation got screwed up and Rob and I ended up with a single queen bed to share. We drank a bunch of strong rum and cokes in the hotel pub before bed but that didn't make us any more attractive to each other. It was hot and stuffy and claustrophobic and my brain was still steering a motorcycle through the turns. It didn't matter because we had plenty of great riding ahead of us and I had no trouble finding energy and inspiration.

We were up for breakfast by 7:00 and on the road by 8:30. It was raining and the forecast indicated that we were heading into worse weather. Miraculously, the rain stopped and the road dried for a brief 20 minutes or so right as we hit the bottom of the Beartooth Pass. I attached my helmet cam and chased Tommy to the top. We both knew that this might be our only chance to really ride our bikes hard all day so we charged up the slope full blast. We had a great ride, but as we neared the summit it started raining again, and this would continue for most of the day.
Summit of Beartooth Pass

Riding through the rain just west of the Beartooth

Beautiful scenery between Cody and YP

We turned southeast towards Cody on the Chief Joseph and rode nonstop for what felt like several hours. The Chief Joseph Scenic Highway might have been the most beautiful and perfect motorcycle road of our entire trip but sadly we weren't able to properly enjoy it because of the constant pouring rain. There are all types of curves..... long fast sweepers, s-bends, hairpins plus thousands of feet of elevation change and breathtaking scenery. It's the type of road that, in good conditions, we might have spent all day riding, backtracking and taking dozens of pictures. I need to come back some day and ride it in the dry. We had lunch at a diner in Cody and stopped at a laundromat to dry our soaked gear.

 View from the lower falls lookout

Kelly Inn, Wet Yellowstone

The rain let up as we made our way west back towards Yellowstone. We took our time in the park, weaving our way up to the falls, where we took a hike down to the scenic viewpoint, and then looped back down to see Old Faithful. Right as the geyser finally erupted, the skies went black and we got hit with a big thunderstorm. After waiting probably 45 minutes to see the eruption, we only watched the first few seconds of it, getting our "money shot" and then sprinted to our parked bikes to beat the traffic out of the visitor's centre. We rode the 60 or so miles to West Yellowstone in the dark in pouring rain. We were exhausted and starved when we finally checked in to the Kelly Inn. On the desk clerk's recommendation we walked over to Buckaroo Bills for something to eat. It was a shithole. There was nobody there and we were lead into a back room dining area. The waiter was mopping the floor and the tables were done a in chintzy covered wagon theme. One by one, the staff poked their head in and winced at the sight of 4 more stupid tourists sitting down to eat at 9:30 when they were trying to clean up and go home. It smelled like mothballs and piss. Tommy asked what kind of non-alcoholic beers they had... the waiter's reply: "root beer". Rob asked what they had on tap. The waiter's reply: "water". We got up and walked out. It was a good decision because we ended up at the Beartooth BBQ which had great food, a great selection of beer and friendly staff. We waddled back to our hotel and I slept like a stone.

Day 3

West Yellowstone to Lolo
Kids fishing pond at Virginia City

With the aid of our trusty Butler Map, Tommy plotted a route through southwest Montana that would offer the best curvy roads available and avoid the interstate. It wouldn't be a direct route but that wasn't the point. It was still raining as we left Wet Yellowstone, but the skies cleared up as we passed alongside beautiful Hebgen Lake on hwy 287. The road twisted along the north side of the lake, with the Madison mountains forming a majestic backdrop. This stretch gave me flashbacks of riding through the Kootenays in BC... the scenery and roads were eerily similar. We continued alongside the Madison river to Ennis and then west to Virginia City and Nevada City, two old west towns with main streets preserved like living museums. Very quaint and pretty. We continued on 287 to Sheridan and Twin Bridges before turning south on 41 to Dillon and then west again on 278. From 278 we turned north on 73, which became 484, a windy pass through the Pioneer mountains that was some of our best riding of the entire trip. There was virtually zero traffic to interrupt a beautiful fast flowing ride twisting through the woods, following Rob who demonstrated the very surprising abilities of the 1200GSA on gravel-rated Metzeler tourance tires. The surface of the old chipseal road was even and grippy as long as you stayed away from the gravely shoulders. I gave the VFR a great workout. Its long wheelbase and creamy suspension had no problem flying over bumps while leaned way over. The ride was so fast, smooth and fun that we all stopped at the end and high-fived each other. We continued north to Wise River, went northwest on 43 and turned north again on 569. Through this bumpy unmaintained twisty stretch we did a little swapping and tried all of each others bikes. I only did a few minutes on each but here are my initial thoughts:

Brian's MTS1200:
Very cool high tech machine. I couldn't have picked a better ride for the bumpy parts. Great suspension with computerized modes. I switched from sport to "touring" to take the edge off the bumps a bit. Awesome power in that deceptive v-twin way that never really feels like you're going as fast as you really are. I felt like I was just casually enjoying the potholed broken road but I looked down a few times and saw 85mph on the clock. Sounds great. High, wide bars make it easy to snap the bike over from side to side with little effort. Feels very nimble. The riding position is very comfortable but locks the rider into a fixed triangle and leaves no room for shifting around. Lots of legroom, especially compared to the cramped legroom of my VFR. Center stand tang doesn't allow you to position your left foot properly. Tallness gives it too much teeter-tottering weight transfer under acceleration and braking for my liking. Feels more like a fast dirtbike than a tall sportbike. 

Tommy's Brutale
Hard, sharp, high-strung tiny little pissed-off machine, kind of like Tommy. Extremely cramped riding position, insanely short wheelbase, engine that needs its nards revved off. Really sexy bike but about the last motorcycle I would choose for long trips. Tommy's assessment of my VFR1200: "a big, very fast, very good handling couch... awesome brakes"

Hwy 484... moo

Rob's R1200GSA
Front end feels weird. Bouncy, cushy, torquey, smooth. Doesn't dive under braking but the front end pops up when you accelerate and squats under compression braking. Great wind protection, great seat. Probably the most comfortable bike I've ridden. I can see why they are so popular; it would be very easy to ride long miles on this bike. Rob is already looking at sport-touring bikes because he wants to ride faster. He'll probably end up with a K1300S in the stable beside his GSA.

Potter's Corner

 Skalkaho Pass summit

We turned west on highway 1, fueling up and getting a sandwich in Anaconda. Heading northwest out of town, we ran through a great little canyon and turned at Potter's Corner to go west through the Skalkaho pass of the Sapphire Mountains into Hamilton. I knew the route wasn't paved but I didn't realize I was heading towards one of the most intense motorcycle rides of my life. Approaching the Skalkaho, several signs warn of a narow winding gravel mountain road and caution trucks to turn back. 16 miles in, the narrow paved road turns to narrower gravel one and climbs to about 7300 feet. I cautiously followed Rob on his GS up the switchbacks. I've ridden over gravel roads on the VFR before, but not like this. It was steep and narrow, clinging to the side of the mountain with a steep drop into the valley to the left and no guard rails. I used only 2nd and 3rd gear with a gentle hand on the throttle and brake. We stopped at the summit and waited for Tommy and Brian to catch up. It had started to rain lightly, and as we got moving down the other side it started to pour. The red clay of the road was drenched and greasy and it was impossible to see the gravel ridges and find a smooth line. I had to keep my speed high enough to keep the bike stable, but slow enough that I could safely steer around the switchbacks. The ride got a lot easier. Riding the rear brake through the turns applied just enough front brake to effectively slow the bike without causing the front end to dive and over loading the front tire. Eventually we made our way to the bottom. The gravel turned back to pavement and the sun came out. We sped triumphantly through a series of sweepers and hills, the air turning immediately hot and dry. We stopped in Hamilton to compare our filthy bikes. I had several hundred miles worth of bug guts, road spray, rain and now mud all over my formerly pristine VFR... and in a way it looked better to me. The filth had a story to tell and provided proof of our adventure. I might have left it that way, but the wheels, brakes and radiator were full of mud so we rode to the nearest car wash to clean the mess up. I might not choose to deliberately ride that road again, especially in the rain, but I never regretted the decision for a second. I was proud of myself for getting through it and more confident in my motorcycle than ever. That was the end of our adventure for the day, but it wasn't the end of the gravel. Highway 93 was under construction and the ride from Hamilton to Lolo was a long one. We needed a good rest for the next day, which would take us on a big detour from our intended route.

My next helmet will be a modular. Super convenient for touring.
Skaklaho Pass and aftermath

Day 4
Lolo to Whitefish St Maries

Our day began with one of the biggest highlights and most anticipated roads of the trip: The Lolo Pass, Hwy 12 from Lolo Montana to Kooskia Idaho. The sign at the entrance reads "Winding Road Next 99 Miles". Take that in for a moment... think of your favorite section of twisty back road... the one you go play on every Sunday. How long is it? The Lolo pass is a series of intense curves of every type that goes on for 99 miles. At a quick pace on a sportbike it takes close to 2 hours. The actual "pass" part is over early. You climb up to about a mile high over some tighter turns and a few switchbacks, then more of the same down the other side and the rest of the road consists of 3rd and 4th gear sweepers alongside a river. Some of them feel like they just go on forever. You lean the bike over to the right and carve a giant fast semi-circle. The VFR1200 is perfect for a road like this. You just pick a line, lean it way over and roll on the throttle through to the next turn, fast, smooth and stable riding a wave of rumbling barking V4 torque. The road is in great shape and the weather was perfect. We stopped at a little cafe near the end for a break. Nearly 2 hours of constant curves demands a lot of mental and physical stamina. It was intense and exhilarating.
Lolo Pass
Fantastic cafe at the end of the pass

We fueled up in Kooskia and that's where Brian noticed he had a screw in his back tire. It was holding air but something had to be done about it quickly. Our original plan was to ride back through the Lolo Pass and into Glacier park to our hotel in Whitefish. The night before in Lolo we plotted a "plan B" that would give us a loop through the panhandle, crossing back into Montana on the St Joe River Road from St Marys to St Regis. We had considered going as far west as Lewiston to ride the "Old Spiral Highway" but ruled it out. As much as we wanted to ride our motorcycles on that brilliant piece of road, it amounted to a 2 hour detour for a 6 mile ride. By chance, we would end up riding it anyway as part of "plan C".

Brian, not wanting to spoil anyone's trip, was prepared to call his son in Boise to bring the truck and drive him home so we could carry on. We wouldn't allow it. We came here as a group and we would leave as a group. We weren't leaving our friend high and dry. The nearest import motorcycle shop that could change his tire was in Clarkston. (twin city to Lewiston, across the river on the Washington side) We cancelled our reservations in Whitefish and made new ones in St Mary's. We stopped at a tire shop in Kamiah where they removed the screw and installed a plug, then headed west to Lewiston. A plug may have been an adequate fix but couldn't be trusted with the demands that Brian, an expert club racer, would place on the tire. Even if the plug held up, he wouldn't have had full confidence in the tire and absolute confidence in your tires is paramount to riding fast on a motorcycle.

I had absolute confidence in my Pirelli Angel ST tires on any surface at any temperature, wet or dry. I am very pleased with these tires and they are perfect for the VFR1200. I love the way they handle, they never run out of grip and after nearly 4000Km they're showing very little sign of wear. 

Some old bullshitters in the tire shop warned us that highway 12 to Lewiston was under construction and recommended detouring across 64 to Highway 95 instead. It was 36 degrees and we were sweating our bags off so we would avoid waiting in traffic at all costs. What the geezers failed to mention is that our detour would take us up a narrow spiraling grade through the Nez Perce Indian Reserve out of the valley which turned to rough gravel at its treacherous summit. It was another adventure in itself and a great little ride.

We had lunch while Brian had a new tire fitted and headed over to the Old Spiral Highway. This brilliant little piece of civil engineering was the original way out of the valley to Highway 95 and winds steeply up the slope in a series of tight hairpins. It is no longer a necessary route out of town, but has been preserved as sort of a functional relic. A few wealthy folks have built homes along its 6 mile length and the road is basically their driveway. It is kept in impeccable shape with perfect black asphalt and freshly painted lines. The hairpins are banked dramatically and can be taken with surprising speed. We only ended up there by chance, but if I were planning the trip again I would still include it. It may only be 6 miles but it's the funnest 6 miles you'll ever ride. I recorded videos going up and back down. It's much easier to climb a grade like this than descend it... I confidently carved the curves on the ascent, and awkwardly wobbled through them on the way down.
On Top of Old Spiral, all covered with cheese

From Lewiston we wound our way north to St Maries on Highway 3, which was just about as perfect an afternoon motorcycle ride as you can imagine. This road is a sweetheart, full of great curves, challenging but smooth and forgiving, and providing short straight sections to give you a little rest as it weaves over high plains farmland and down through forested coulees. The VFR and I were working as one... as though my nervous system extended itself through the bike directly to the road. It felt great. It was a very hot afternoon and after checking into our motel we walked down to the St Joe river for a swim in the cool, clean slow-moving water.

Here is my summary of St Maries Idaho: as we pulled into town we stopped at a red light and a woman turned in front of us riding an ATV with a Coach handbag in her lap, with a chihuahua sitting in it yapping at us. Say no more...

Brian's punctured tire spun us off our intended course and our trip was better for it. This type of unexpected fork in the river is what can make an adventure truly memorable. I went to bed early as I would need plenty of rest for the last day of my trip.

Day 5

St Maries to Calgary

Our original plan had us staying in Whitefish and riding the "Going to the Sun Road" before splitting up and going home but after our detour we decided to skip it. I would have loved to ride this road but we had better options. GTTSR is a crowded tourist destination and while its views are breathtaking, you may never get your bike out of first gear. I've got the rest of my life to try it. Instead, we had two of the best roads I've ever ridden ahead of us: The St Joe River Road and the Koocanusa Lake road.

The St Joe River Road took us back across the Idaho panhandle into Montana and the town of St. Regis. It follows alongside the St Joe river through a beautiful canyon, with very little traffic and a million opportunities to stop and take great photos. Brian described it as a "slower Lolo Pass with a better view" which is quite apropos. Instead of the 4th and 5th gear sweepers of the Lolo pass, it takes you through tighter 2nd and third gear turns, with the occasional fast sweeper or hairpin. The pavement is mostly smooth and there is very little traffic, just the occasional campground and the odd truck stopped with a fly fisherman nearby. We all needed to make a lot of miles today but couldn't resist making several stops for photos... it was just too pretty. The road is only maintained for the first 60 miles or so, then it turns to rough pavement and then gravel. Of course it couldn't just be a straight gravel road, it had to be another winding gravel pass over a mountain, my 4th one of this trip.
St Joe River Road

The ultimate Honda on a perfect road
 Brian rumbles by on the Mutley
 I scrambled up the craggy slope for a few shots

Gravel portion of SJRR

We stopped for fuel and food in St Regis. While I was pumping gas, a gentleman probably in his 60s approached me with great interest in my kitted-up filthyVFR1200F. "An honest to goodness roadtest of the VFR1200F" he exclaimed. He knew a lot about the bike and I was happy to bullshit at length with him about it. He had been considering buying one and I may have talked him into it. For a brief pause I considered that I might be riding an old man's bike but the thought was fleeting. This distinguished gentleman had a 919 Hornet and a ZRX1200 and was probably a quick sport rider. I wouldn't have chosen any other motorcycle in the World for a trip like this. I don't feel like I ride an old man's bike, but I do recognize that I am maturing as a rider.

Our next destination was the Koocanusa Lake road. The ride there was a bit dull but would be more than worth it; this would arguably be the best ride of the entire trip. Koocanusa is a reservoir of the KOOtenay river, crossing the border of CANada and the USA. Get it? The 400 foot high Libby dam at is south end is an impressive structure, but not as impressive as the road that runs along the lake's west valley wall. The eastern side has a great road too, but with a lot of traffic. Much of the east valley is developed into cottage country, but on the west side there's nothing.... nothing but a road. It's narrow but has been kept in reasonably good condition, save for some tar snakes and bumps. Its sharp curves weave along the valley with a beautiful view of the lake below and here's the best part: no cars. Since there's nothing but a couple of little camp sites on the west side of the lake, there is very little reason for anyone to drive there... which makes it a perfect playground for motorcycles, especially a bike like the VFR with its smooth ride and stable handling. We had the whole road to ourselves. The four of us sliced through its hundreds of turns at a quick but safe pace and gathered at the bridge which spans the lake just south of the Canadian border. It was a perfect final chapter in our adventure but a bit sadly, this is where we would split up and head in separate directions. Brian would head east and then turn south to go home to Boise, Rob and Tommy would head northwest to play on the roads of BC's Kootenay range, and I would head northeast to the Alberta border and home to Calgary.
 Dam it
Time to say goodbye. Fast fact: Brian always turns his Ducati around so he can photograph the wheel side of the single-sided swingarm.

The rest of my ride home would be a bit of a grind, heading north to Highway 3, then east to the Cowboy Trail, and north again through Longview and Black Diamond to Calgary. Eager to get home to my wife and daughter I rocketed up through the lonely plains at full throttle, punching through the atmosphere at escape velocity and smashing a few million mosquitoes. I had a couple of hours to reflect on what an incredible 5 days of riding I had just experienced, with 3 of the best friends I could ever choose to go on a trip with, on the best motorcycle I could ever choose to take it on. My VFR motorcycle metamorphosed from a polished ornament to a loyal old dance partner.... we knew each other's style and habits and worked beautifully as a team. I relied on it and it never let me down no matter what the challenge. We turned a scribble of lines on a map into a tapestry of experiences and fond memories.

I got home, parked my VFR in my garage, stepped off and took a look back at it. It was covered with dust and tar and bug guts, and its paint job was blasted with stone chips. The filth and chips told the story of a great ride. It had never looked better.