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Saturday, May 21, 2011

VFR1200F Fairing Removal

Since I was peeling the left side of my VFR to hook up the GPS, I thought I'd produce a short video to explain how the fairings are removed.

This video only shows removal of the under cowl and left mid cowl. The right cowl comes off identically to the left so it would be redundant to show both. And it goes without saying, but installation is the reverse order of removal.

I also didn't bother to show the removal of the tank covers, but it's very obvious and simple once the mid cowls are off.

It isn't actually neccessary to remove the under cowl to get the mid cowl off but I prefer to do it this way.

I hope someone finds this helpful:


Garmin GPS

I bought my wife a new 4Runner which came equipped with a satellite navigation system, so it only seemed fair that I would inherit the Garmin Nuvi 250 dash-top navigation unit that used to reside in her FJ Cruiser. There are better options for motorcycle navigation.... TomTom makes a rider GPS and Garmin has their Zumo series... but they're pricey and I'd only be installing it for fun. I probably won't use it that much.  The Nuvi works just fine and was paid for a long time ago.

I had been reading a lot about Ram Mounts and they seemed to have the right product for mounting a GPS to a motorcycle so I ordered a steering stem mount, arm, and cradle directly from their site. I also ordered a bag of connectors to hook the unit up to the Honda quartet harness which I installed this winter.

Warning: Hackjob alert...

I'm too cheap and lazy to try and source the proper cable to hook up a GPS so I hacked up the 12V USB car charger cable. It's just a coaxial cable with positive and negative leads, but inside the plug is a little circuit board which corrects the voltage and current for the garmin unit. I smashed open the connector and with some splicing and a lot of tape, I turned the coaxial cable into a stereo cable and crimped the ends into the connector.

Yeah it's ugly. So what?

 I plugged into the quartet harness on the black plug.

I fished the appropriate length of cord through the frame and out the conduit at the front of the headstock, leaving just enough slack to turn the bars from lock to lock. I wrapped the excess cord around my Stebel horn compressor and tucked it all in under the retainer.

I'm impressed with the Ram mount. The arm is made out of metal and is much sturdier and secure than I imagined it would be.

 Now I just need to travel far enough from home that I will actually need this thing!

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Another Day at the Track Pt II: additional notes and photos

Additional notes:

2008 CBR1000RR
My friend Rob let me take a few laps on his nicely upgraded Fireblade. I've always been interested in Honda's fastest bike so I was excited to try one out. Rob's is a particularly nice example. He's got it de-restricted and custom mapped to a very rare hand made "Ladybird" titanium full system brought in from Japan. It spun the Redline Motorsports dyno up to 165hp and 82 lb-ft of torque. Rob is a bit of a suspension guru for some of the local racers, and he outfitted his Honda with an Ohlins shock with custom valving, as well as a 30mm Ohlins cartridge kit modified to a "big piston" setup with compression damping on one leg and rebound damping on the other. What a ride... It is probably the most nimble motorcycle I've ever ridden, and flicked from side to side like a toy. The power was simply awesome, both in quantity and quality, with a progressive delivery giving good grunt, midrange, and top-end power. I was impressed.

2010 Yamaha YZF-R1 Rossi Replica
Brad's sponsor Bow Cycle has kindly loaned him a Rossi Rep R1 as an instructor bike for his school. He offered to let me ride it and warned that it might feel weird at first. He also warned me that I'd be out 13.5 grand if I yarded it. I was excited to experience Yamaha's unique crossplane engine, which I've read and heard a lot about but hadn't really seen in person. I might have been heard calling the bike ugly when I first saw pictures, but in person it's quite stunning so I take it all back. In pictures it looks bulky and awkward, but in the skin it's quite tightly packaged. It has a wide tank and tail section with the dual silencers, but the seat and centre of the bike are narrow giving it a sexy "wasp waist" proportion. Brad wasn't kidding when he said it would feel weird at first. The riding position is very aggressive, even more so than the ZX-10R I rode last summer. The rider sits high and looks down at the front wheel. The power delivery feels nothing like any inline-4 bike I've ridden. It has a steady flat "pull" that drops off suddenly at redline just when it feels like it should be giving a top-end hit. Like my VFR motor, it's deceptively fast... you're always going faster than you think you are. Strange as it may sound, the bike that it most reminded me of was the RC51. I fought it for a couple of laps before I could find any rhythm but after the initial climatization it felt smooth and accurate. The sound it makes is intoxicating. I was leaning my head in closer to the tank going down the straight to listen to the intake honk. Really cool motorcycle.

Fuel Economy
I'm getting very respectable fuel mileage on the road with my VFR, but on the track with the throttle held wide open it was dismal... as should be expected. In each 15 minute session it guzzled about a quarter tank of fuel.

Action shots
This morning I purchased some action photos from a photographer that attended yesterday's event.

I think this is the entrance to turn 6. Two of my 3 students are visible behind me. Ric on the R1 and Tanner on the ZX-6R. I'm shadowing a third student. There is a lovely landfill visible in the background.

Same location on another lap. That's Ash on the 954

I think this is turn 4. Looks like the student's body positioning is better than the instructor's...

I picked this image up from a different sports photographer. This is turning in to the carousel:

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

VFR1200F... Another Day at the Track

I spent most of the day today riding my VFR1200F at Race City Speedway and I couldn't be happier with the way things went.

Earlier this week my friend Brad Gavey called to ask if I could help out as an instructor at his school this week. He was short of staff and it would be a good opportunity for me to regain the feel for my VFR and build some confidence after a long winter. I couldn't refuse. He assured me that I would be assigned to a slower group of students so I could take it easy on my big sport touring bike.

I arrived at 8am to start setting up. The VFR got a lot of strange stares as I unloaded my gear from my enormous Givi top case... most people had never seen a VFR1200 before, especially not at a race track. My old racing buddies didn't miss their chance to take pot shots... "Hey do you want me to stand behind and direct you while you back that thing up? "Can we use that thing to haul all the students out to turn 3 for the fly-bys?" It was all in good fun. A few of the other instructors were genuinely concerned about my safety on the Dunlop sport-touring rubber. By the afternoon though, everyone was genuinely surprised by how quickly I could hustle the big girl around the 2 mile road course. I was most surprised of all... My first visit to the track last year amounted to dipping my toe in the water. Today I jumped in head first.

This is the first time I've ridden a bike to a track day. I've always brought one on the back of a truck or trailer. If for no other reason but that it guarantees a ride home if I should huck the bike into a swamp or concrete wall. There was no way I was calling my wife to load up our 3 month old daughter and bring me home...

I'll admit I was a bit intimidated. The logical part of my brain kept telling me that the ride down Deerfoot trail to the race track was statistically more dangerous than anything I'd be doing on the circuit, but ego defies logic. I would need all of my focus on the track. I would have to set a good example to educate my students. I could not allow myself to crash. What state of mind would I be in? How would I cope? Would I get in over my head and push too hard trying to catch up with other riders?  Would I have confidence in the bike and the tires? I couldn't afford to get myself in a funk early and fight the bike all day.

What I needed most were LAPS! 

I went out early by myself before the classroom let out so I could shake the rust off. IMMEDIATELY I  felt more comfortable and confident on the VFR1200F than ever. My confidence level hit a new high. Within 2 laps I was nailing apexes and driving out of turns with a consistency I don't recall having in my racing days. I was trailing the brakes deep and putting my knee down in every turn. My body and mind were relaxed and free of fatigue. The VFR doesn't "flick" from side to side, but it inspires massive confidence on the brakes and will allow the rider to set it up for any type of turn and rail through any line you choose with smoothness and consistency. While it requires more effort to change direction than a supersports bike, it transitions smoothly and predictably. And if you get it wrong, it forgives ham-fisted line mid-corner changes and braking. As odd as it sounds, I felt like I could race it... not that I ever will. Race City was in pretty rough shape, with some new patches that were boucing riders out of the seats of their CBGSXZRs. I just blasted through them wide open with my cushy suspension and long wheelbase.

The students were divided up based on skill level and assigned to instructors. (3-5 students per) There were 2 sessions... Group 1 and 2... slow and less slow. Brad had reassured me that I would get one of the slower platoons and ride in group 1 so they gave me students with limited track experience.Things didn't quite go as planned. While my students may have appeared inexperienced on paper, their skills were much higher than anticipated. While they each needed some coaching, they all had good control of their motorcycles, and they had fast motorcycles.

It was a good thing I found my confidence so quickly in the morning because from the first session it was clear that my students belonged in the faster group. After lunch we were "bumped" and yet even in the faster group we repeatedly passed the other squads and got faster still as the afternoon went on. I even had the pleasure of witnessing one of my students get their knee down for the first time.

At the end of the day we went out for our last session and got split up early trying to filter through a slower group. I decided that my ducklings were safe to leave the nest on their own so I dropped the hammer and put my fastest laps in of the day. I started charging deeper into turn one and braking harder and for the first time felt the ABS engage on dry pavement. It was a strange sensation. At maximum braking with the lever almost all the way back to the bar I could feel the system pressure up and actually push the lever back out against my squeeze. While it did this it would reduce the braking power just slightly. It was simultaneously unsettling and reassuring. The sensation was strange but it was also nice to know that the safety net was there if I ever needed it, and now I would know what to expect. I can understand why people wouldn't want this system on a track-focused bike. The newer digital systems (newer CBRs, S1000RR, new ZX-10R)  probably have much higher limits.

The Dunlop Roadsmart sport-touring tires began to show their limitations as I upped the pace. The back tire started to wriggle and squirm around under power in the corner exits, but it never really "let go". It approached its limit predictably and progressively. The front tire never gave me any loss of grip while leaned over, but slipped enough at maximum braking to engage the ABS.

With sticky tires and the right suspension setup, the VFR1200F could be a very fast bike on the race track. Personally, I don't ever intend to prove it, but today I had the chance to safely explore the bike's limits and bank a stack of confidence for the riding season. It was a great day.


Fish (whale?) out of water
 2 of my students' bikes. A heavily upgraded 2000 R1 and a 2010 ZX-10R (which took a rock to the radiator in the morning, putting it out of service for the afternoon.)
 A Dunlop Roadsmart that spent a lot of time on its left edge.
 My students

 Rider's meeting at the end of the day. Everyone recieves certificates. Nobody crashed.
 Hero blobs ground off

Friday, May 13, 2011

2011 VFR1200... Niche market boutique bike?

Someone may eventually write a textbook for marketing students on "how not to launch a new product" and base its tenets on Honda's mishandling of the VFR1200.

Yes it's a great motorcycle and all, but Honda gave loyal fans unrealistic expectations, and then stoked the fire for over a year with outrageous statements from an over-the-top web site.

I'm sure they learned their lesson...

Now Honda Canada has done something unusual. After the cocked up launch of the VFR, they allowed inventories (however small and exclusive) to rot in dealer showrooms for months without any real advertising and few opportunities for test rides. Eventually, they introduced a rebate of $1800 to the $18299 sticker price... which may or may not have worked. And now the strange part: they've released the 2011 VFR1200 (in dead sexy black and silver) and INCREASED the sticker price! It now lists at $18699 (plus freight and assembly) http://hondacanada.ca/MCPE/Motorcycle/Models/ModelOverview?L=E&Type=Sport&Year=2011&Model=VFR1200FA11

Is this a marketing move to position the VFR as more of a premium offering, or is it a general symptom of the global economy, with a high Yen and supply issues in tsunami-ravaged Japan? Both?

One thing I can say for certain is that Japanese manufacturers must be finding it more and more difficult to be the price leaders compared to their European competition. Building bikes for Euros and selling them for Dollars must be more favorable than building them for Yen and selling for Dollars. If the Jap4 can't be price leaders, I think it would do them well to position their products as superior, premium offerings.

On a completely unrelated topic, I have a question for the experts: Does the "A" in VFR1200FA identify it as a 2010 model, or identify it as an ABS-equipped model? I've been losing this argument on the UK VFR club board. I maintain that the A represents ABS. My opponents insist that the A designates 2010 model, and that a 2011 VFR1200F is known as a VFR1200FB. Here's where I get confused: Honda Canada refers to a 2011 VFR as a "2011 VFR1200FA" They also add the "A" suffix to other ABS-equipped models. They offer a CBR1000RR without ABS and a CBR1000RA with ABS.

Who can settle this?

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

VFR1200F Sighting in Calgary

I saw my first VFR1200 in the "wild" today. Up until now I was convinced that I had the only 1200 in this town. It's cool having a rare motorcycle!

In case you ever visit this site, I saw you heading northbound on Blackfoot around Heritage at about 1pm today. Please share your comments on this site and I hope you find some useful information here.