30 Sept 2013

One lost, one found: introducing bike number 17, a Ducati Hyperstrada 821

The now stolen KTM during a mountain ride in Corsica, last August

This summer, on the way back from a week-long bike tour that included southern Corsica (which was great by the way), we awoke early in our hotel in Toulon, having gotten off the ferry around midnight, to find that my KTM Duke was no longer attached to its pole in the bike park outside our hotel. Travelers be warned : Toulon (and probably Marseille as well) are definitely not safe places for bikes and the thieves seem to be well equipped. After doing the rounds of theft declaration at the local police station, the assistance company did their job and found us a rental car to take us and our stuff home. Then started a series of boring formalities and a 21 day wait for the insurance company to reimburse me so that I could buy another everyday ride.

What was I going to get? What would be the ideal bike for the money I had available? I put some of the time to use by reading up all sorts of magazines and tests related on the web, trawling the web for recent second-hand versions of the machines that I thought might best fit my job description, and trundled around a few dealers to look, drool and discuss things. The brief was basically this: a bike that was fun to ride, handling well, with an engine having plenty of punch and character well integrated to an ensemble that was capable of occasionally also taking two people and some luggage on longish trips in almost acceptable comfort. No, we don't need armchairs yet! 

The new Norton Commando, taken alongside my now long-lost KTM during a previous trip. Looks good but is just 50% too expensive when compared with machines that do a similar job. And I have an old one anyway.

A big sports/trail bike?  They are certainly now sophisticated, fast and comfortable, but they are also ugly, mostly too heavy, expensive and their bulkiness just puts me off. I drooled a bit over the new Norton but it is fiendishly expensive and I am not convinced about its luggage capacity. I was tempted by the BMW 1200 R, a sensible choice and by all accounts a very good machine, but a bit pricey, especially with the necessary accessories, and even for a second-hand one. Another KTM? Yes, very possibly but not the 690 Duke again, which, although a lot of fun to ride solo, has an annoying lack of flexibility below 3500 rpm, vibrates quite a lot and can sound a bit tinny. Its carrying capacity is also limited and anyway I wanted to try something else. The twin KTMs, especially the 990, seemed like good options and KTM are one of the few manufacturers who deliver a decent tool kit. Not a sufficient reason I know, but it is worth mentioning. I was also very tempted by a Moto Guzzi 1200 sport, which can do bags easily and has character. I got as far as finding a couple of recent second handers at the right price but the weight of the thing made me hesitate a bit. I do adhere to Colin Chapman's adage of "add lightness". I looked at Triumphs Speed and Street Triples, which clearly fit the fun part of my brief but the luggage problem was not going to be solved there.

When I sold my Ducati Multistrada (the old model) in 2012, after a long series of mechanical problems, I had sworn not to return to Ducati in a hurry. Yet the Italian firm have recently brought out a version of the Hypermotard equipped with side panniers, a screen and a few other mods to make the thing a but more civilized for ageing bikers. And I read here an excellent series of filmed long-term test reviews of this machine in the web version of Motor Cycle News by someone who clearly has similar requirements to myself. This bike, which uses the 821 water-cooled Testastratta engine, seemed to fit the bill and, although I rather dislike the looks of it (that horrible duck bill!), I decided to have a try on one. I found a recent demo model at the Paris dealers that was just about in my price range and went for a test ride. Although the weather was wet and I couldn't quite figure out how to use the computer that allows you to programme engine performance, throttle response, brake locking and wheel spin (can you believe these modern machines and their electronics?) the engine felt really nice, surprisingly flexible and with plenty of grunt. And the thing felt light and handled like a Ducati should but with some added comfort. In a sense, it reminded me of the spirit of the old version of the Multistrada, with the advantages of a more modern mechanical set-up and, hopefully, greater reliability (Audi, the new owners, must surely be keeping an eye on this aspect at least). So, after some modest haggling, I bought the thing, then and there. It only had 1600 kilometers on the clock and had been properly run-in.

here she is...my Ducati Hyperstrada (what an awful name!) in the vineyards of Clos de Vougeot in Burgundy

I took final delivery last week and rode it down from Paris to Burgundy and back on an often wet 700 kilometer spin last weekend. It's clearly a very good bike and seems surprisingly versatile. The engine programme can be set to urban (which reduces power from 105 to 75 bhp), touring (full power but less rapid throttle response), or sport. And within these basic settings one can play with the degrees of ABS intervention and track control. I have yet to get the full measure of all of this technology but it seems convincing in its effects and the traction control seems useful in the rain. 

The engine is the star element for me on this machine. It is far smoother and more flexible than the KTM 690 (to be expected, moving from a single to a twin, but it is also quite a bit more flexible than was my old Multistrada), and it has terrific mid-range grunt and a pleasantly gruff bark when accelerating. It will easily lift the front wheel in almost any gear if you allow it. I have yet to test it at the top end since I am finishing off the running-in. The handling seems fine, neutral and steady and it also feels light and stable at low speeds. Useful in city traffic. Brakes are good too. The riding position is pretty comfortable on a long trip, although the dent in the seat, while holding you well, prevents you from shifting your butt back for time to time. The screen protects you a bit from the breeze and the rain, but a taller one could be an option. The control buttons take a bit of getting used to and will not be too easy to manage with winter gloves on. 

Ah, those digital display systems. Not crazy about them

I don't like the digital display system much, it is fussy and not too legible. It also lacks a gear indicator and a fuel gauge, although the reserve seems quite generous at about 4 litres, which, at legal speeds and out of town could give one close on 100 kilometers to come once the light goes on. And there is a distance counter that kicks it at that point. I found fuel consumption very reasonable on this trip at 4,5 litres per 100 kms, but then I was not revving it above 7,000 rpm.  Also on the practical side, it's been a while since I had a bike fitted with a centre stand and I found this useful, especially for parking with bags and when refueling. It will obviously make chain cleaning and oiling much easier too. The side bags are easily fitted and removed and can be locked  and the small package rack behind the seat is useful to tie on a kit bag. There is not real space for a U-lock and the tool kit is skimpy. However there are four fabric loops hidden under the seat and, when pulled out, one can slip in a U-lock which is then well held on the passenger seat when riding solo. A makeshift solution, so I guess I will have to make up a bracket to fit behid one of the side pannier supports. Why can't manufacturers deal with this issue?

The centre stand will probably limit cornering, especially when two up, but this bike is a handler alright

So yes, I am, so far, a happy new owner of this just second-hand Ducati that seems to be a very good compromise between the somewhat disparate criteriae that I had on my list. These are of course early days, but we are off to a good start together.

27 Sept 2013

Setting your password

A friend just sent me this. You may have seen it before, but in any event it very likely echoes many experiences we have all had in this wonderful world of virtuality and pseudo-security. When one thinks that Big Brother is watching everything anyway...And what on earth is he going to do with all this information, the sorting of which would require most of the unemployed in the world, and quite some training for them in the process.

Todd: Sorry, your password has expired - you must register a new one.
Did anyone discover my password and hack my computer?
Todd: Sorry, but your password has expired - you must get a new one.
Why then do I need a new one as that one seems to be working pretty good?
Todd: Sorry, you must get a new one as they automatically expire every 30 days.
Can I use the old one and just re-register it?
Todd: Sorry, you must get a new one.
I don't want a new one as that is one more thing for me to remember.
Todd: Sorry, you must get a new one.
OK, roses
Todd: Sorry, you must use more letters.
OK, pretty roses
Todd: Sorry, you must use at least one numerical space.
OK, 1 pretty rose
Todd: Sorry, you cannot use blank spaces.
OK, 1prettyrose
Todd: Sorry, you must use additional spaces.
OK, 1fuckingprettyrose
Todd: Sorry, you must use at least one capital letter.
OK, 1FUCKINGprettyrose
Todd: Sorry, you cannot use more than one capital letter in a row.
OK, 1Fuckingprettyrose
Todd: Sorry, you cannot use that password as you must use additional letters.
OK, 1Fuckingprettyroseshovedupyourassifyoudon'tgivemeaccessrightfuckingnow

Todd: Sorry, you cannot use that password as it is already being used.

25 Sept 2013

The beauties of Granada (1/2)

No, this article is NOT about Andalusian ladies!

The Alhambra (in the background, with the Sierra Nevada range beyond) from the top end of the Albayzin district, which is the old moorish part of the city

I recently spent a couple of days in this Spanish city, partly working, partly just wandering about. Granada is the capital of the eponymous province within the region of Andalusia in southern Spain. It is certainly most famous for having been the last capital of the moorish colony in Spain, under the Almohad dynasty that was finally defeated by the catholic armies in successive battles as they gradually advanced south between 1212 and 1248. Anyone who doubts (and current affairs sadly lead to such doubts) the extent of refinement to which some forms of islamic culture have engendered, would be well advised to visit the Alhambra, not to mention reading the works of such as Averroes, which is the latinized name for the philosopher, poet, mathematician, astronomer, etc., whose full name was Abu'l-Walid Muhammad ibn Rouchd of Cordoba, usually shortened to Ibn Rouchd.

A 19th or early 20th century painting of one of the inner courtyards of the Alhambra palace, seen in the fine art museum on the first floor of the Charles V palace that is now part of the Alhambra complex.

The best-known visible legacy of this cultural high-point of muslim culture is of course the Alhambra palace, a place of immense refinement and beauty which I had visited a few years ago during a bike trip to the region. This time I did not revisit the Alhambra as such visits need to be booked ahead and queued for. And I dislike queuing intensely. Anyway there is so much else to enjoy and admire in Granada and this is my subject here.

Doors are a constant and beautiful features of many old buildings (this one of a church currently being renovated along the Darro river)

Another one that mixes cedar (the mouldings) and walnut (the main panels). I love old doors. This one to what may well have been a former merchant's house, again along the Darro river.

Granada is also an significant student city in Spain and this is apparent from the high proportion of younger people walking or bicycling around the streets. There must be almost as many students as there are tapas bars here. I will return to the latter subject in a while. Geographically speaking, Granada lies in the north-eastern corner of the region of Andalusia, at the base of the Sierra Nevada mountains where one can ski in the winter. The water resources that result from this are what made the construction and plantings of the Alhambra possible, as Granada is built, at an altitude of just over 700 meters, at a point where three rivers flowing from the much higher Sierra Nevada range converge: the Beiro, the Darro and the Genil.

a good tapa dish, served free to bar patrons

The practice of tapas, however irregularly it may be followed throughout Spain and even Andalusia, is to me a joy of refinement and a sign of true hospitality on the part of the bars that maintain this tradition of serving a free small dish of varied foodstuffs, often quite elaborate, to customers who order a drink. It makes me want to stay there and order some more, which indeed I always do. A proper tapa is more than a few olives or, God forbid, some rancid peanuts or horrible crisps. Shown above is a typical example of a good tapa dish : small broad beans in olive oil with some soft red peppers and ham cooked with them.

water destroys roads. Just imagine what it does to your intestines

the 1 pm rush hour at Castaneda. hard to find a slot at the bar before 2, when they all go to lunch

The essence of a good tapas bar is ambience, a good selection of wines, and varied tapas dishes. A dose of humour also comes in handy 

Tapas bars in Granada may be traditional, like this excellent one above, Bodegas Castaneda (and a big hello to Alan S who introduced me to this place on a previous visit), or more modern, like this one, called Mariscal, next to the Corte Inglès department store.

and, if you turn around, you will see this fabulous collection of hams and other delicacies forbidden to muslims, as the bar backs onto a major delicatessen in which I saw people queuing up for hours to do their shopping.

Walking in Granada is a constant joy, partly because the city has managed to keep motorcars out of much of the centre and the many narrow streets that naturally discourage our 4-wheel friends. But also on account of the often beautiful pavements made of small stones hammered into sand and then cemented into intricate and functional designs.

Manhole covers look good too...

A biker can find occasional solace by checking the machinery parked outside some bars, like this KTM 1190 RC8R. A ride up to the Sierra Nevada? Just miss the manhole covers on the way out of town.

More about Granada and its attractions quite soon.....

24 Sept 2013

The Sorrows of an American, by Siri Hustvedt

I think that I may well have written before about one of Siri Hustvedt's books and probably it was What I loved, which was marvelous and deeply moving. I have just finished, and for the second time, this book called "The Sorrows of an American".

The fact that I was able to read the book twice within a couple of years and still consider it to be a constant journey of discovery speaks well enough of the density and richness of this book, as of the quality of the writing.

Hustvedt is clearly deeply fascinated by and knowledgeable about many things to do with the brain and its complex workings, as well as the part played by memory and various obsessions on our conscious and unconscious existences.

As a woman writer, she is also able to place herself in the shoes of a male narrator without any difficulty, and she also navigates constantly and interestingly between reality and fantasy, past and present, drama and comedy. The book and its subject matter is intense and yet s easy and fascinating to read. It is often beautiful and moving.

The commentary that can just be seen on my photograph of the cover, by Salman Rushdie, is totally warranted, so, to make it easier for you, I will reproduce it here : "Hustvedt is that rare artist, a writer of high intelligence, profound sensuality and a less easily definable capacity for which the only word I can find is wisdom". I agree with him.

Go for this...

and read on...

20 Sept 2013

The tortoise and the hare

Like the tortoise and the hare analogy? This one's for you.....
So take it easy on that road?

16 Sept 2013

Suzuki café racer, aka number 16, aka "Silver Bullet"

I have always admired the massive, sculptural quality of the oil-cooled Suzuki engines, whether in their 750, 1100 or other formats. I acquired this bike in June 2013 from the modified and collector Suzuki GSX specialist in the Paris area, KMP (http://www.kmp.fr). 
This KMP Suzuki GSXR thus became the 16th machine I have owned at various points in time, hence the number 16 in the title.

It has since returned to KMP for some minor modifications, including carburetors and a different rev-counter/speedometer, which is now sheltered behind a small headlamp cowling that probably still needs a small cut-out to be made to improve visibility of the dial when riding as I am sat a bit further forward when ensconced in the machine than this photo shows. Anyway, progress being made in this project that started when I saw a picture of this machine in a slightly different state in the excellent French magazine Café Racer.

So I gave this silver bullet a spin yesterday and am beginning to like it. It feels business-like, solid and chunky. It looks good for sure, makes all the right noises (quite a lot of noise actually and I will need earplugs for longer trips for sure), but it will take a while for me to adjust to the crouched riding position, the energy required to lean it over when cornering (even with the right pressure in the tyres it takes quite an effort to make it turn) and the very full but linear delivery of the engine, which has a 1340cc capacity, Yoshimura cams, and just seems to go and go without any gap in the power-band. I am not used to four-cylinder bikes and keep finding myself searching for an inexistent 6th gear as the pitch of the engine rises!

So here are the full specs:

The basis is a 1990 GSX-R (frame and engine)
Front fork is from a more recent GSX-R (I think)
Engine, initially of 1100cc capacity, is now of 1340cc and has Yoshimura cams fitted
Carbs are from a Suzuki Bandit 1200
Wheels and discs are from a Ducati 1000
Rear brake is Brembo
Front brakes use Ducati discs, Billet calipers and a Nissin master-cylinder

Tyes are Metzeler
The swinging arm is a reinforced piece from Formula and the rear shock is by Fournalès
Crank-case covers are Vance and Hines
The aluminium exhaust and twin silencers are from Hindle
The all-in-one rev-counter, speedo, trip and indicators is from MotoGadget
Plastic bits are mostly produced by KMP, as are the small cylinders on the bars for clutch and front brake, and the rear-sets.
The fibre-glass tank has a transparent slot in it to show fuel level 
The seat can be converted to take a passenger but there are no passenger foot-pegs as yet and may not ever be! I have an alternative single seat as well.
The rear-view mirrors, wherever they come from, are not too great and are hard to adjust.

That's about it. Good to be back on this blog of mine and please forgive me for a long absence. The call of summer was too strong. More about that soon folks!