Jan 31

The Court House on the square in Magnolia, Ark.

My wife and I took a quick ride Saturday to Magnolia, Ark. The temperature was in the upper 60s by noon and the sun was shining. We hadn’t been on the bike together in months and despite the list of chores needing to be done, we hopped the bike and hit the road. I was amazed that less than seven days earlier, we still had snow on the ground and that in less than 5 days, we would again be under threat of winter weather with bitter temperatures. On this mild day with the sun shining from an azure sky, it was hard to believe we were actually in the depth of winter, or at least what East Texas produces as winter.
We had no destination in mind. The intent was to simply burn some gas and get some wind and sun in our faces. We just headed east on U.S. Highway 82 and, after a little more than an hour, found ourselves pulling into Magnolia. We parked on the square and started sightseeing.
As we wandered into an antique shop, I soon had reason to be thankful we’d come on the motorcycle. Had we been in the pickup, I’m sure we’d have hauled several large pieces back with us. As it was, we had to moderate our shopping to accommodate the remaining capacity of the trunk and saddlebags. We already had extra clothing with us in case the weather turned cold, so we could only buy as much as we could stow in the remaining space. We secured our treasures, then decided it was time to start back home. We weren’t sure exactly when the weather might turn on us and wanted to be home before the sun went down.
We put about 120 miles on the road that day with three hours of saddle time. Out of shape and practice, this short ride left us stiff and tired but happy. The day had the magical feel of an Indian summer. It was wonderfully renewing, after hiding inside from the winter weather, to be free on the road with the wind in our hair. There was a timelessness to the day, possibly because it was so incongruously crammed between two winter storms. And perusing relics of times past in an antique store on such a day simply added to the ethereal and ageless feel. The souvenirs with which we returned are from another time as well as another place.
The motorcycle on this day was far more than a simple mechanical conveyance. It became a magical machine that took us on a timeless journey to a place that exists more in the heart than on the map.

- Guy Wheatley

Jan 28
Mod or Rocker?
icon1 Guy | icon2 Small Talk | icon4 01 28th, 2011| icon32 Comments »

Me in a coat and tie on my Valkyrie. Am I a Mod or Rocker?

I recently ran across a reference to Mods vs Rockers. I’d never heard of this before and was surprised to discover that this “conflict” was well documented and considered an important cultural event. There are even clubs today active in major cities, including Dallas. The Dallas Texas RockervsMod website has rally photos going back to 2007.
The thing that caught my attention when I first ran across an online reference to the mods was the photo of a slender young man wearing a neat, dark suit with the typically narrow ’60s tie sitting on a scooter. Roddy McDowall came to mind. I was surprised to discover he was apparently a typical member of a feared gang. There were numerous news accounts of them going toe to toe with a precursor to the England’s Hells Angels motorcycle gang called the Rockers. The image brings to mind the rabbit with “really big teeth” in “Monty Python and the Holy Grail.” First of all, what in creation would entice a neatly dressed young man in suit and tie riding a Vespa to throw down on a leather -clad future Hells Angel?
It turns out that while there were a few physical confrontations between the groups, most of the actual furor was from a bored press. The two groups occupied different territory and rarely came into contact. The most famous conflict was on Easter weekend 1964 in the English seaside city of Clacton. The fight resulted in several broken windows and the destruction of some seaside huts. Several newspaper accounts however painted images of large -scale rioting and complete breakdown of public order.
The Rockers looked the part dressing in jeans and leather, riding motorcycles, and listening to rock ’n’ roll. The Mods presented an incongruous picture puttering up, neatly dressed and groomed on their Vespas or Lambretta GT200s. They carefully cultivated an image of snobbishness. Their music of choice was blues, soul and R&B. I gather they were drawn to these genres more by its rarity at that time than any actual love of the music. As those styles became popular, the Mods quickly abandoned them for other forms, such as Jamaican Bluebeat.
As amusing as this image seems, I was suddenly struck by a view of myself riding to work in tie and sport coat. As I write this, there is a mix of Celtic and New Age music wafting from the speakers on my desk. Maybe those guys weren’t so odd for their time after all. I can’t handle a scooter though. I’ll take my Valkyrie over a Vespa any day.

- Guy Wheatley

Jan 20

FGR 2500 V6 motorcycle engine running on a test platform

A new V6 motorcycle is coming from the Czech Republic. Faster and Faster reports on the FGR Midalu 2500 motorcycle as weighing roughly 600 pounds and producing 240 hp. While the bike is not for sale yet, it seems to be past the concept stage. Youtube video shows the engine mounted to a frame, with gearbox and rear wheel attached. The Faster and Faster article has images of a completed bike, but these may be CGI or a mockup.
As with the V4 from Motus, this bike is primarily a sport bike. While I’m fascinated by the engine, I just can’t get my head around putting it in a 600- pound frame. One guy on a biking board commented that they’d need a special back tire to keep from shredding to pieces when the rider opened the throttle. With the chain used in the engine test and in the mockups, I don’t think the tire would have time to disintegrate because there would be chain links splattered all over the place.
Let’s do a little comparison here. The Bugatti Veyron also requires special tires. They can only be mounted at a special place in France and will cost you a sweet $70,000 per set. That is because the Veyron pours such punishing energy into the tires that they were purpose built to aircraft standards specifically for the Veyron. At roughly 4,477 pounds, and producing right at 1000 hp, the car has a power to weight ratio of approximately 447 bhp per ton. That horsepower is transferred to the ground by two 14.5-inch wide tires creating a contact patch 29 inches wide.
The roughly 600 -pound FGR producing 240 hp will have an insane 800 bhp per ton. Assuming a commercially available tire, it will pour that power into a contact patch that is less than 7 inches wide. I just don’t understand that much power in a light sport bike. I don’t see how physics will allow all of it to be converted into acceleration. And at top speed, you’ll probably have to take relativity and the possibility of time travel into consideration.
Maybe the test pilot can go back to the start of the project and suggest putting that monster power plant into a heavy cruiser. I know some Valkyrie riders who would take a serious look at a bike like that. We love our Valkyries and Rocket IIIs, but we don’t expect them to hang with Hayabusas. With 240 horses, they might.

- Guy Wheatley

Jan 14
Instant classic
icon1 Guy | icon2 Bikes | icon4 01 14th, 2011| icon33 Comments »

The famous 1997 “Slider” commercial from Honda that
introduced the Valkyrie.

In the the early ’80s, folks were snagging the Mustangs built through the early ’70s. They were after the models made before the style change in ’74.
In 1980, a 1971 Mustang had virtually no value according to Kelly Blue book. But in the Little Rock, Ark., and Memphis, Tenn., markets they started being hard to find. I had customers traveling to California to pick them up at 3 times blue-book value. (Maybe this was a regional issue. I’m not an antique car buff, so can’t say with any authority.) I’m only familiar with it because when they came in to insure them, they wanted to be sure they were protected for a real value, not blue-book value. If I remember right, a car had to be 13 years old to qualify as an antique at that time. Most of the Mustangs didn’t
Within a few months, the insurance companies I worked with recognized these cars were something different. (Travelers and Commercial Union were two of the largest.) I was able to insure then as “Cars of Particular Interest,” for more than blue-book value.
When I bought my Valk, it was the best price I’d seen in two years. The bank insisted I was paying more than its listed value, even though I couldn’t find a Valk valued for any less outside of Kelly Bluebook. It just brought back memories. Is the Honda Valkyrie headed down the same road as the Mustang? Probably not.
The Mustang represented a paradigm shift. A muscle car for the masses. That made it standout and stick in people’s memories. They were the first in the line of V8 muscle cars that would live in the imaginations of young drivers, and on the streets for the next 3 decades. I don’t think the Valkyrie is hitting as broad a market as the Mustang did. The only other bike with the flat-6 power plant is Honda’s Goldwing. There were no follow-up models to the Valkyrie. I’m counting the Rune as a Valkyrie.
Most bikers are going for the Harley V-twin look. Valkyrie riders are growing increasingly rare, but few seem to notice. Honda made these power cruisers from 1997 to 2003. The Valkyrie Genealogy board lists production figures of 29,390 Standards, 9,420 Tourers, 9,610 Interstates, and 3,940 Runes. So we’re looking at a total of 52,360 Valkyries ever built. That is just more than half of the 100,000 Mustangs sold during the first four months it was offered. There just aren’t that many Valkyries in existence, and that alone should help them hold and even build value. But the demand for this line of bikes is too rarefied for it to become an “instant” classic. The Mustang of motorcycles will be something with a V-twin in it’s heart. Still, I look for the Valkyrie to become a true classic in the next couple of decades. There is no other production bike like it. The fact that it was produced by a major manufacturer will set it apart from other machines like the V8 powered Boss Hoss.
I hope to be still riding mine when that day comes.

- Guy Wheatley

Jan 12

A light snow blew in and dusted everything in the carport.

I built a carport a couple of years ago. Despite firm proclamations and assertions that this edifice would be used to keep our automobiles protected from the elements, my wife’s car , my pickup and the Tahoe all sit under a cap of snow in the driveway.
The tools and benches that should be in the garage I’ve haven’t built yet take up one side of the carport, and a bar table, chairs, and swing that my wife insisted on putting out there line the opposite wall. There would be room to squeeze in one car, but I don’t think you could get the doors open to get in or out of it. On the plus side, there is enough room to get the bikes under it and still have a little room to work.
Because the carport sits in the only access to the back yard from the front, I built it tall enough to pull the camper through. I haven’t put doors on it yet. They will be 13 feet tall, and will have to swing out of the way so that I can pull straight through. I have openings then at both ends, 13 feet tall and 14 feet wide. That’s easily large enough for snow to drift all the way to the back. I can pretty well keeps things dry from the rain, but the snow was a different story. I’ve got a light dusting of it on top of every thing in the garage. Fortunately, I had covers on the bikes, so they stayed dry.
Too cold and nasty to ride, this would be a perfect time to get in some serious bike maintenance. Unfortunately, I’ll have to shovel the snow out of the carport first. Also, there is no way to heat a space that large and open at both ends, so for this winter I may be dry, but I will be cold as I work.
I want to ride this summer, but I need to work on the bikes first. To work on the bikes, I need a place to work. I need to knock down the useless old tool shed in the back yard and build a nice heated garage. But it’s too cold for that now, so I’ll have to do it this summer, when I’d like to be riding.
It feels like not eating my cake, but still not having it

- Guy Wheatley

Jan 4

My Magna VF750 getting a new rear tire.

Tires are literally where the rubber meets the road. A tire will have a greater impact on the handling of your motorcycle than any other single component. I’m surprised then at how little I hear about tires on wrenching boards compared to things like oil or spark plugs.
I’ve seen discussions in which guys adamantly defended one brand of oil over another. I remember the old cigarette commercial from decades ago that claimed their customers would rather fight than switch. The same goes for oil. There can be a real passion associated with oil selection.
While oil is important, it won’t likely make the difference in keeping the bike upright in a tight spot or out of the ditch. You will probably not go flying down a mountainside because of an oil failure. But the performance of a tire is often the difference between life and death.
Most of the posts about tires on the boards I frequent are about using a car tire. I’ll ignore that subject for this blog and focus only on brand loyalty. Also the boards I belong to are for cruisers. I’m not sure these observations hold true for sport bikes or dirt bikes.
Most tire-related posts begin with somebody about to change a tire and seeking advice. Most of the responses will be tentative compared to those for oil. Usually the suggestions will involve only a couple of brands. Rarely somebody will suggest changing to a different profile. And it seems to be a much smaller percentage of the members willing to join in the discussion. It seems a lot of guys simply haul their bike to the dealership for the tire “that goes on that bike.”
And that may well be the answer to my observation. Folks aren’t as passionate about something they don’t do themselves. Changing the tire on a big cruiser is no simple matter. It requires a lot of muscle, confidence and some fairly heavy-duty equipment. You’ve got to support the bike while the tire is off, break the bead on the old tire, wrestle it off the rim and the new one on. Then there is the issue of balancing the tire. If you’re not a believer in Dyna-beads, then you’ll need a tire balancer. It seems only a small percentage of cruisers are willing to take on those challenges. Many of those who do also ride dirt bikes on which there may be more willingness to do your own tire change, and that carries over to the other bike for these riders.
I’ve seen video posted showing people changing tires using things like garbage bags or ratchet straps to ease the procedure. The tires being changed in these videos are usually for sport bikes or dirt bikes, again leading me to think cruisers are less likely to venture off down this path.
All riders might benefit from an increased interest in tire technology. At the moment there seems little incentive for tire manufacturers to improve motorcycle tires. Too many folks simply let the dealer install a “recommended” tire every 10,000 miles or so. The same passion for oil, applied to tires, might generate enough consumer pressure to get manufacturers to produce motorcycle tires with increased life and more versatility in tread design and profile in the cruiser market. As cruisers, we ought to be more active in tire design. After all, we’ve got a lot riding on them.

- Guy Wheatley