2.2 Other People’s Expensive Motorcycles

DemoDay Crop2

I had years of riding experience and some legitimate miles under my belt before I moved back East, but had only ridden a couple of different bikes, since my slightly uncool motorcycles didn’t allow me easy, automatic access to any hip riding fraternities and my somewhat wallflower nature combined with my relative newbieness to keep me watching from the sidelines.

But when I returned to the East Coast, one of my gearhead buddies found out about the demo  rides that were held at a local BMW/Ducati dealer in Jersey.

So now I’ve ridden modern Ducati Monsters, Diavels, and 1198’s, Triumph Thruxtons, Speed Triples, and Rocket3’s, the BMW K1300S, and the slightly ballistic 1000RR.

Prior to the Keith Code School, a demo day was my first encounter with the ballistic RR.

The first time I rode the RR, prior to the Keith Code School, a huge transport truck showed up in Metuchen full of new bikes and BMW support staff.

I signed up to ride the new 1000RR because I kept hearing so much about it in the motoring press and, hey: how often do you get to ride a 450 lb, 193hp motorcycle dripping  with superlatives like a race-replica with sponsor stickers?

Especially one that you don’t own?

I had just one question: “Do you have one in Acid Green I could ride?”

The 1000RR is not pretty, for sure.  Purposeful, weird and asymmetrical, you’d never mistake it for a Japanese bike.  Actually, you’d never mistake it for a BMW, except by process of elimination, since it couldn’t be anything else.

A hyperactive, middle-aged track-rat gave us a walk-through of the bike’s starting procedure and features.  A buddy of mine had noticed her slugging her third can of Redbull earlier.  She scowled at him when he suggested she maybe had a bit of a problem…

I noticed the bike started you out in Rain mode, which reduces horsepower to 150, sets the bikes ride-by-wire throttle at a more gentle setting, and has the ABS and traction control settings at their most conservative.

So of course I asked, “Will you be letting us use Sport mode?”

“Oh sure,” she says.

And launched into a description of each mode and their steadily reduced levels of electronic nanny-ing.  Honestly, I was fine with the ABS and traction control.  I just wanted the full 193hp and the razor-sharp quarter-turn throttle setting.

She also warned us about the quickshifter.  “Don’t use the clutch, don’t let off the gas.  Just bang it through.  It’s smoother than you are.”

And she was right.

The motor was way more raucous than I’d been expecting: it rattled and grumbled at idle. With no counterbalancer at all in a big motor, it was surprisingly vibrate-y for a four, but in a characterful way.  Very German.  And the stock muffler was pretty loud.

We took the bikes out in a pack, four of us on 1000RR’s, the rest on a variety of other sporty BMW’s.

Apparently, there’d been a spate of warranty claims when the bike was released: idiot owners working the motor before the break-in period was over.  So new bikes have a governor that keeps revs below 9000rpm for the first 800 miles or so.  My bike had about 650 miles on it, but it didn’t matter: there was no way I was getting near the 14k rev limit on that ride.  I barely got over 7k and at wide-open-throttle, the power at that point was savage: your eyeballs squish and that traffic that seemed way in front of you is suddenly right there. I kept trying to hold the throttle open and see more revs, but I kept running up the backside of riders/cars/trucks in front of me.

There’s footage on YouTube of some guy running one WOT somewhere in New York State.  Pretty wildly stupid, but the video is also hypnotic. Even on track, it was basically impossible for me to use all of the available power…

Overall, the bike was amazingly confidence-inspiring, with brakes that made the ones on my Ducati Monster feel like I stole them off an old Schwinn; first time I grabbed them at a light, I almost sprawled myself across the tank.

The bike was surprisingly comfortable and, with all the electronic gizmos, you could easily make this your only, all-weather bike.  Just buy it in your choice of color.

I still want a Ducati Panigale, just because it’s wilder and I love the cruelty of it, want the surging push of Ducati’s V-twin.  But it’d be very tempting to just get that BMW…

Anthony approaches the BMW 1000RR with caution.
Anthony approaches the BMW 1000RR with caution.

2.1 Spontaneous Deceleration

When I made up my mind to finally buy a bike that would work on track, my desire to have something slightly unusual still won out: I bought a first generation Triumph Daytona 675.

It’s a beautiful charcoal grey machine, very subtle, and it came with through-the fairing frame-sliders, Woodcraft case guard, tank-protectors, a cool little shark-fin chain-guard, and suspension already set up for someone my weight.

It’s a great bike, with a hugely flexible motor that revs out happily to 13,000rpm. I’ve really done nothing to it except change the oil and tires.

But my track time is pointing up a weakness I didn’t expect: the brakes. They’re strong enough, but they lack feel, in spite of being bled and new pads fitted. This is especially disappointing because I found that I’m able to make up significant ground braking for corners versus faster liter bikes.

I’d been planning two upgrades for the bike: a set of Woodcraft rearsets since I found myself dragging  my toe in a couple corners at Pocono Raceway, and a new Brembo master cylinder to replace the stock Nissin to see if that might help.

My good friend and track riding buddy came through with the latter, and got me a completely gorgeous Brembo RCS adjustable master cylinder for a combined Christmas/birthday present. The adjustable ratio I’m especially excited about: my old, injured right hand gets pretty fatigued toward the end of a session and a more sensitive setting might be great on track.

1.11 Suspended Animation

Snow doesn’t really stick much here in Jersey: it turns spattered black within 24 hours, churned up by cars and trucks and plows spraying whatever salt-analogue/deicer they use these days, melting and refreezing to trap debris like grim, urban amber.  A million years from now, “Homo Sapien Park” will depict evolved reptiles trying to recreate us from DNA lifted from cigarette butts found deep in the re-frozen arctic ice…  But, instead of running amok, our naked descendants will scamper off into the shadows and begin breeding our scaly rediscoverers to death

So I hang here, suspended in a layer of ice, diverting myself with cold-weather hobbies.  One of which is, of course, scheming my summertime hobbies.  My budget for these things took a hit when I transitioned out of sales, although prospects for the long-term improved.  So my ongoing Ducati Monster ride-and-build has been scaled back.  My dreams of a seriously upgraded clutch full of lightweight aluminum has been reduced to a simple clutch and plate swap: it’s making a ton of clanking noise because of wear to the tabs, but it’s not actually slipping yet and that money can be better spent on other things.

I did purchase a new tank on eBay that supposedly has been repaired and is “ready for paint”, but it’s sitting at my parents place, waiting for me to come and inspect it.  My current tank is shiny, but has matching dings on both sides.  I’ll be using Ducati’s 1970’s logo, set in either the original red paint or a simulated brushed-aluminum look.  But that will have to wait.  If I can find the money to do the timing belts, fit a new chain, paint the top triple-clamp black, and maybe paint the wheels black this summer, I’ll be ecstatic.

Plans for the Daytona?  Don’t crash it at the track, replace tires and change oil as needed. I bought it with almost all the bits and bobs you might want, excepting carbon, which I don’t really care about for this one.  It’s there to be thrashed on the track and look cool if I’m riding it on the street, and it’s pretty much perfect right now.

The truck needs to get sold asap to fund repairs to my Volvo.

So I’ll sit around, daydreaming about weird, fun cars I could buy and take on ill-advised road trips to places that would most definitely not have spare parts for a 1980 Renault-Alpine A310.

Buried deep into the winter months, I’m asking myself for the 128,432nd time since moving back to the East Coast, what I’m doing here.

Look, I’ll be honest. I know exactly why I moved back here.

I needed a break from LA’s endless desert.  And it is a desert there, really.  People don’t seem to know that: if you turned off the taps, the whole city would dry up and just blow away like a cloud of ash.  And I wanted to reconnect with my family.  It hasn’t even been very cold, past couple of years.  And the change of seasons was refreshing at first.  But now it’s December, and I’m already champing at the bit, growling in the dim mornings, ready for Spring.


1.10 Der Panzerwagen

It was too good to pass up.  It is probably a Terrible Idea.  It will probably break me.

I bought a car, a silver 1998 Volvo V70R AWD.

Which, I’ve quickly learned, is not the version to buy: the all-wheel-drive limits your choice of aftermarket parts.  Downpipes, springs, exhausts…  All these normal bits won’t fit the AWD version.

Oh well.  Maybe I should just swap in a manual gearbox and ditch the AWD…

So I really don’t need four wheels, most of the year, since I commute by train to my job in Manhattan and I stash a bike near my apartment in warmer months.  But I love cars, and I’m very, very bored with my faithful Dodge Dakota.  So I made the mistake of telling my buddy Ciro Papi from CP Car Detailing that I was thinking about buying an old Volvo 850 Turbo.  Preferably the T5-R, but they’re pretty hard to find.

Why a Volvo wagon?  Well, I’ve always liked the way they look, they’re very practical, reasonably fast, handle well, and not especially valuable.

Basically, it’s the cheapest car I’d actually want to own.

Ciro is like part of the car-culture mafia in this neck of the woods: he’s connected. A week later, he found a car for me, at a price that made it worth braving the truly terrible drivers that frequent the New York Thruway worth it.  It needed work, but the body and interior were in pretty great shape.  It had been sitting for a while, so now the calipers are blue.

Volvo Brakes

Next, it needs new axles, a trailer hitch, and a refresh of all the fluids, but that will have to wait until I sell the truck.


1.09 Fashionably Armored

Look, I get it: you want to look cool and, let’s face it: bikes are pretty dangerous by nature, what with everybody on cellphones, texting away and the lack of crumple zones and all… And the argument about economy pretty much goes out the window the first time you loose a month in the hospital and wipe out your savings…

If your goal is to look cool and you’re actually pulling it off, that’s okay too, see: Brooklyn hipsters sporting skinny jeans and a sparkly half-helmet to show off a stubbly jawline.  Even the guy I saw years ago on a 900 Monster with high-pipes, sporting a “for novelty use only” puddin-bowl helmet and yellow-tinted sunglasses [Hello Bono!] somehow looked weirdly badass.

But if your idea of “stylish” is a pair of stonewashed jeans and some New Balance sneakers, why the hell NOT wear some actual protective gear?  You look like a goon out there anyway.

I’m sorry, Rich Urban Bikers, but that OC Chopper look is SO over.  If your bike is cool and it’s whole purpose of the purchase was just to look cool, classic, epic, that’s great.  But what are those bikes for, since they’re no longer in fashion?  They’re not cool, not comfortable, don’t handle… aren’t really fast.  And don’t go on and on about your 2000cc S&S built motor that makes a 180 hp and 180 ft/lbs of torque.  It’s motivating 800lbs of iron, so your average GSX-R1000 will eat it alive in any measurable performance measure, except maybe a 20mph, sixth gear roll-on…

Or maybe cougar-hunting.

1.8 Tribes

As an inveterate car and bike geek, maybe the single most difficult thing for me when I moved from Los Angeles to the East Coast was getting used to the lack of easy-access to weird and wonderful car-culture.  I mean, it’s here, but you have to work way harder to find it.

On any weekend in LA, you can drive around and see 1960’s Ferraris parallel-parked with the meter running down in Hollywood, Porsche Carerra GT’s whipping along PCH, Vincent Black Knights and Bimota VeeDue’s ticking as they cool at the Rock Store.  If you don’t see anything cool on the road, you can just swing by The Garage Company, with its showroom full of well-used classics and a back lot full of works-in-progress, the walls covered with endless shelves full of random bike parts, vintage helmets and racing posters.

The Wednesday-night Ducati bike night in Venice was full of characters of all ages and styles.  They had diverse jobs, strafed the canyons on weekends, and loved to talk about their bikes: modding bikes, riding bikes…  Basically anything about bikes.  We had 996’s, Monsters of all years, the occasional Aprilia RSV, a Kawasaki Z1000 [later traded for a Speed Triple], an old 860GT painted all tricolore-y, and a Honda Magna ridden by a guy whose Monster 800 was waiting for a new crank.


I went to a few bike nights in Central Jersey when I got back to the East Coast, looking for the same sort of vibe, the same sort of enthusiasm, a sense of history, but was sorely disappointed. While burnouts, wheelies and chrome spikes screwed into perfectly nice sportbike fairings are amusing distractions, that sort of laughing-at-you thing gets old pretty fast.

I filed conversations like, “Yeah, we just got back from a group ride for my buddy’s funeral.  Good guy, but maybe he shouldn’ta run from the cops on that stolen R1.” And, “Yeah, the cops threw down a spike-strip, but I wheeled over it” away for later retelling to my friends.  I worked with a guy who rode his nearly brakeless, battered R6 in flip-flops, claiming that wearing protective gear made you more likely to crash: “If you think you might crash, you will crash,” sort of an inversion of my “hope for the best, plan for the worst” philosophy.  I met a bunch of nice guys at those bike-nights, but none I wanted to ride with.

Then I nearly got clipped by some TapOut tank-top, shorts, and cross-trainer wearing meathead blasting through the parking lot and I started thinking, “Maybe this isn’t my scene.”

Which was followed quickly by, “Where hell is my scene, anyway?”

Brooklyn, it turns out.

Kawasaki Patina

I managed to trip over the New York Vintage Motorcycle Show a few years back and have made it a must-do event.  It recharges my batteries and reminds me that there are young people who ride who don’t love plastic-bodied Japanese missiles, who ride even though they don’t have a ton of money, just because it’s cool to ride anything.

Sachs Rat

They run this thing rain or shine: it poured last year, but the turnout wasn’t much different than the previous year.  It happens at the end of August and it’s highly recommended.  There’s music, performance art, and a roast pig.  Moto-gear and tchotchke vendors.  Lots of tattoos, skinny jeans, moto tee shirts, and beards.



1.7 Killed by Death

I really would love a literbike.  Not because this is a good idea: I’d also love to have a pet great white shark, and I think that’d probably be much less dangerous.

But there’s something built into the motorcycle mystique that involves strapping yourself to the biggest, most dangerous, thing within reach and just hanging on for dear life.  I’ve ridden a few BMW 1000RR’s and they’re eyeball-stretchingly fast.  I didn’t get anywhere near redline until I got one out on the track at the Keith Code school.  And really, all that power can cover up for a lot of sloppy track riding.  So what’s the point, if you ride mainly on the street?

Tad KeithCode

My good friend and riding buddy recently made me very happy.  We’d made the decision recently to become track rats and needed bikes suited to that.  I picked up a Triumph Daytona 675, he found a Yamaha R6 with a lurid “Rossi Fiat 500” paint scheme that hurts your eyes if you stare at it too long.

It’s weird, how two machines with ostensibly the same design brief could look and feel so different.

This spring, as we’re prepping for the upcoming season, he told me that he “just can’t imagine needing anything faster than the R6.”  Which is interesting, because the bigger bikes do make passing slower traffic much easier, since you can do it on the straights, instead of having to you know: use actual skill to do it in the corners.  Just a quick twist of the wrist, grab the brakes a teensy bit late, and boom, you’re past.

But I agree with him: the 675 has a pretty wide powerband and I never even run it past 10k on the street.  Twisted to the stop, it’s a shockingly fast machine.

But used MV Agustas are pretty cheap, unless you count maintenance costs, and they are so very pretty.  Except for the instrument cluster: I kinda hate that.  And the symmetry of having two, three, and four-cylinder bikes is weirdly appealing.