23 Nov 2014

The extraordinary convergence of a name


The GS name was used in the automotive industry long before BMW’s famous line of bikes. From 1970–1986 French carmaker Citroën manufactured a small family car—the Citroën GS (and later GSA).

At first glance, this humble, plucky car would seem to have nothing in common with BMW’s contemporary range of dual sport bikes other than its name, but look more closely and a most extraordinary convergence appears.

Citroen GSA circa 1980

Bearing in mind the Citroën GS was launched in 1970, it was equipped with unheard-of technologies for its day. A hydropneumatic suspension system which, through mechanical means, self levelled and adjusted damping according to road conditions, and prevented the front of the car from diving during braking. A precursor to anti-lock brakes which linked the braking and suspension systems to distribute front/rear brake force according to load, helping to prevent lock-up under hard braking. Even the option of clutchless manual gear changes.

Many of its technological features are mirrored in the R1200GS, and a few in the F800GS—more than 40 years later. The table below compares some key features:

Citroën GS/A

R1200GS/A

F800GS/A

Air cooled boxer engine 1,000–1,300cc depending on version

Air/liquid cooled boxer engine 1,200cc

Liquid cooled parallel twin 800cc

Self levelling air/oil double wishbone/trailing arm suspension with anti-dive braking and mechanical adaptive damping

ESA semi-active wishbone/trailing arm suspension with electronic preload adjustment, anti-dive braking and electronic adaptive damping

ESA fork/swing arm suspension with electronic adaptive damping (on rear only)

All disc brakes with load sensing, pressure propotioning system linked into suspension to reduce likelihood of locking brakes

All disc brakes with load sensing, pressure proportioning system and ABS

All disc brakes with ABS

Optional clutchless manual shifting via C-Matic system

Optional clutchless manual shifting via Gear Shift Assist Pro system

n/a

Class leading aerodynamics, among the first vehicles to utilise Kamm tail design which used airflow to keep the rear window clear of water without the use of a wiper

Wind tunnel optimised design to optimise airflow, reducing the amount of spray reaching the rider/pillion when riding in wet weather and maximising high speed stability

Wind tunnel optimised design, maximising high speed stability

Unique design which set it apart from other vehicles of the era

Individualist design unique to BMW

Individualist design unique to BMW

Class leading fuel efficiency

Class leading fuel efficiency

Class leading fuel efficiency

Popular with more than 2.5m sold

BMW's top selling motorcycle worldwide

Popular bike in its class

However, the Citroën GS had one party trick up its sleeve that not even BMW’s latest can match—the ability for that hydropneumatic suspension system to balance the car on three wheels.

Citroen GS circa 1975 turning with a wheel removed

The point? Back in the 70s, tyre failure occurred at an alarming rate compared to today, and the GS remained perfectly controllable during a blow-out even at its top speed, enabling the driver to safely come to a stop.

In fact, the suspension was so stable, the car could negotiate a slalom on three wheels.



It’s interesting that the GS name represented such advanced technologies back in the 70s, and continues to do so today, albeit in a very area of the transportation marketplace.

What do you think? Let me know in the comments below.

Gear Shift Assist Pro—summary and myth busters


Two of the most-read posts on my blog are the ones relating to the Gear Shift Assist Pro (GSAP) system on the R1200GS which was launched earlier this year. Of note, the system was an industry first for road bikes with the ability to execute both upshifts and downshifts without using the clutch. However there was, and has been, little coverage by the mainstream motorcycle press.

If you’ve read the posts above you’ll know I couldn’t be more pleased with the system, so eight months on I’m revisiting GSAP from a functional side, based on questions asked in a number of forums.



Physical operation


  • The device is simply a sensor with a linkage which replaces the standard linkage between the shifter and the shaft on the transmission.

Electronic operation


  • During an upshift the system senses the movement on the shifter and when it passes a threshold, cuts fuel injection for 50–100ms to relieve torque on the driveline and enable the next gear to engage. 
  • During a downshift, the system senses the movement on the shifter and when it passes a threshold, adds enough fuel to relieve driveline torque, then readjusts fuelling to match the rev of the next gear down, which occurs over 100–150ms—basically the same principle as double declutching squeezed into a timeframe of about 1/10 second, or two virtually instantaneous blips of the throttle.

Clutch operation


  • Unaffected—the system does not integrate with the clutch in any way.

Shift feel/action


  • Subjectively, about 5–10% heavier than stock when shifting with the clutch—the geometry of the linkage/sensor is slightly different than the stock linkage which makes the shift action slightly heavier.
  • The shift feel is about 50% heavier when using the GSAP system (without the clutch). Gear changes using the system must be executed in a deliberate and committed manner—no half-hearted attempts.
  • Some people report that neutral is easier to find after the unit is installed due to this change in geometry (myself included).

Normal shifting (using the clutch)


  • Exactly the same as stock but with a 5–10% heavier feel as mentioned above. When using the clutch the GSAP system is inactive. The GSAP system takes feedback from the microswitch in the clutch lever which also deactivates the cruise control and/or the starter motor.

GSAP shifting (not using the clutch)


  • Upshifting requires the throttle to be open with the bike accelerating (even gentle acceleration). Downshifting requires the throttle to be fully closed with the bike decelerating. Any deviation from these two rules will result in a rough shift. 
  • Works in all gears on and off road once the bike is in motion—you must use the clutch as normal to move off and also when coming to a complete stop.
  • Once you are accustomed to the operation of the system it is particularly handy when riding in conditions which require a higher number of gear changes—for example, in urban areas or twisty mountain roads.

Learning curve


  • It took me about two miles worth of city riding to learn the system and have it executes shifts perfectly about 90% of the time. Eight months later, virtually 100% of shifts are executed perfectly within the parameters noted in the point above
  • Shifting from 1st to 2nd or downshifting from 2nd to 1st works as well as the other gears, but with experience you will get a feel about when it is appropriate to do this change using the system, due to the effectively higher engine braking/power while in such low gears.

System quirk


  • The R1200GS engine management cuts fuel flow during deceleration, but starts injecting fuel again in preparation for idle as the revs drop below approximately 2,250rpm. You can hear this on the bike as 1–2 slight pops from the exhaust. Downshifting using GSAP at or below that particular point will result in a rough shift.

Rider quirk


  • Most riders have ridden only manual bikes and it is very unnatural to keep the throttle open while executing a gear change. If you find the system rough on upshifts, it is nearly always due to an unconscious roll-on or roll-off of the throttle, even the slightest amount. It took months to retrain my brain not to move the throttle at all during upshifts which was resulting in the odd rough shift.

Do you have anything to add to this list, or any other questions about the system? Let me know in the comments below.

10 Nov 2014

BMW F800R updated


Along with the launch of the S1000XR, BMW announced their updated F800R at EICMA Milan 2014 on 4 November. I’ve taken a few days to digest the changes to this often underrated bike.

My first impression is that the updated F800R has lost a good chunk of its distinctiveness because of BMW’s decision to move away from the asymmetrical ‘winking’ headlamp unit in favour of an anonymous single headlamp which would look equally at home on any number of bikes from Honda, Suzuki or Yamaha to name a few.

While the new look is growing on me somewhat, the bike does lose much of its identity—however, the change is not as far removed from BMW as it may seem. The headlamp bears more than a passing resemblance to the Husqvarna Nuda—a bike based on the F800GS which was developed while Husqvarna was under BMW ownership. On both bikes, the headlamp is near vertical, giving an optical illusion that it is leaning forward rather than sweeping back. The bodywork has been updated to flow with the new headlamp.

The other noticeable upgrade is the front forks—the previous standard forks which have been replaced by less spindly-looking upside down forks which gives a more solid look to the front.

Other changes include a 3 hp increase in power and shorter gearing in 1st and 2nd gears to help increase acceleration. Front brakes have been upgraded to radial callipers and the bike rides on lighter alloy wheels compared to the previous version. Options now include ASC (traction control) and ESA (electronic suspension adjustment—as with the other F-series bikes it only affects the rear suspension).

While the F800R, subjectively, remains an attractive motorbike, I can’t help but lament the fact it has lost a lot of its quirkiness that made the previous version stand out.

F800R 2015

F800R 2015

F800R 2015 with BMW accessories

Husqvarna Nuda with similar headlamp styling. This discontinued bike featured some amazing design details (look at the front spray guard, for example) and was based on the F800GS, sharing much of the frame and many components, and powered by a 900cc version of the F-series parallel twin engine.

9 Nov 2014

Filtering (aka lane splitting): Yes, it’s safer


In most of the world, filtering (otherwise known as lane splitting) is not only legal and expected practice by motorbikes, it is often a component of the road test when going through the licencing process. Yet, this practice remains a point of contention with often strong negative opinions in North America where filtering is illegal (outside California).

Even in California riders tend to have strong and mixed opinions on the practice, despite studies on the subject which have consistently shown that fewer fatalities occur in areas where filtering is legal or tolerated.

I have more than 20,000 miles of inner city London riding under my belt (and many more long distance miles). During this time I would say someone has deliberately attempted to block me or endanger my life at most once every 3–4,000 miles because drivers here tend to understand that motorbikes reduce congestion which therefore shortens journey times for everyone.

Having lived and driven in North America extensively, I noticed a much higher level of aggression and road rage by drivers there compared to Europe—as though people are much more reactive to the perception that their rights are being infringed for any number of reasons, not least because another vehicle is able to squeeze through smaller gaps and is therefore able to make progress more quickly. The driving culture is very much ‘me, me, me’—if I can’t go, no one else should be able to go, it’s so unfair, so I’m going to block anyone trying to come through.

Even if filtering was made legal across North America tomorrow, until this culture shifts to one of mutual respect, acceptance and understanding, filtering just won’t work in the states and provinces where it is currently banned. It’s not queue-jumping—it’s making full use of available space.

Of course, filtering is not carte blanche to ride like a buffoon—it is about moving with caution and prudence at a speed appropriate to the traffic and road conditions. Like most riders in the UK, I won’t filter on the motorway unless speeds have dropped below 40–45mph because common sense dictates that anything faster starts to become an unacceptable risk. And flying by slower or stopped traffic at high speed is a disaster in waiting—again, common sense.

I can’t really say it better than this article from Gizmag (follows below). I’d love to hear from readers in North America about why you are for or against joining this practice which works so well in the rest of the world.


Motorcycle lane splitting: Better for riders, better for drivers, and safer than sitting in traffic


Recent research has confirmed what many motorcycle riders have known for years. “Lane splitting”—or riding in between lanes of traffic—obviously saves riders a lot of time, but it's also considerably safer than sitting in traffic and acting like a car, as long as it’s done within certain guidelines, and contrary to what many drivers think, it actually speeds up traffic for everyone else on the road. Riders, please pass this information on to the drivers in your lives.

It’s time for certain drivers to get these thoughts out of their heads: “lane splitting is queue jumping,” “motorcyclists should have to wait in line like the rest of us,” “riding in between cars is suicidal.” While it’s illegal in most of the United States, it’s accepted in many other parts of the world, and evidence is mounting that lane splitting is safer for riders than sitting in traffic, and actually benefits car drivers as well as the riders themselves.

Filtering in Europe. Photo: Gizmag

Safety benefits of lane splitting for motorcyclists


One of the key arguments against lane splitting is that, to many driver’s eyes, it seems like a dangerous practice. From a rider’s perspective, this couldn’t be further from the truth.

The most common type of accident on the road is a rear-ender. These make up 40 percent of all accidents in the United States, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. And while most of these are minor fender benders between car drivers, there’s really no such thing as a minor fender bender if someone slams into the back of a motorcycle. By splitting between lanes, riders are able to put a shell of slow or stopped traffic around their bikes and protect against the inattention of other road users.

In a recent Berkeley study undertaken with the California Highway Patrol’s assistance, 7,836 motorcycle crashes were examined closely, with some 1,163 of these crashes having occurred while the rider was lane splitting.

Riders who were splitting at the time of their accident were significantly less likely to be injured in every category than those who weren’t: 45 percent fewer head injuries, 21 percent fewer neck injuries, 32 percent fewer torso injuries, 12 percent fewer arm/leg injuries, and 55 percent fewer fatalities.

This is quite possibly because the majority of those splitting accidents happened at speeds between 1 and 30 mph (50 km/h). The data also shows that the safest way to lane split is to travel at less than 30 mph, and less than 10 mph above the speed of the surrounding traffic. Injury rates leap up in all categories when both of these conditions are violated.

Motorcycle lane filtering: faster and safer for riders, plus it makes the journey quicker...

Benefits of lane splitting for other road users


Lane splitting is an unspoken contract between riders and drivers. Riders don’t wait for stopped cars, and in return, they don’t make the cars wait for them. Where many drivers get it wrong is that they see lane splitting as "queue jumping" that will cause each car to go one further spot back in the queue. In truth, a filtering bike disappears from the queue altogether, the only time a motorcycle holds a car up is when it sits in traffic and acts like another car.

Filtering bikes work their way to the front of stopped traffic at red lights, and accelerate away much quicker than the cars around them. When they reach the next stoppage, they disappear again between the lanes and no car is held up.

Certainly, this is a good deal for the rider, who arrives much earlier than the car driver. But every filtering rider has a positive effect on traffic flow that benefits every other motorist. A 2012 Belgian study found that if just 10 percent of drivers were to switch to motorcycles and filter through traffic, travel times would decrease for the remaining car drivers by some eight minutes per journey. This benefit would not exist if motorcyclists ignored the inherent advantages of their smaller, narrower vehicles and sat in line like cars.

The same study found considerable environmental benefits to lane splitting. Not because bikes emit less carbon (many larger bikes are as bad as cars), but because every bike that lane splits actively reduces the amount of time every other vehicle on the road spends sitting in traffic jams.

So the next time a rider wriggles past you in traffic, remember that it’s a win-win. The rider is saving time and money, and looking after their own safety, but they’re also making everyone else’s journey faster. So give them some space, for your own sake.

4 Nov 2014

S1000XR released


As expected, the S1000XR was released today at EICMA Milan 2014. The new bike is classed as an ‘adventure sport’ and is listed within the Enduro category on BMW’s international website (between the F800GS and R1200GS ranges). Its main competitor is the Ducati Multistrada.

The 999cc 4-cylinder engine is a slightly modified version of the 160hp S1000R engine, with the same power but a 2,000rpm lower redline. It is available (as standard or optionally) with BMW’s usual electronic aids including dynamic traction control (DTC), up to four riding modes, and their implementation of bank-sensitive ABS (ABS Pro). It should move, too, with slightly lighter weight (fuelled wet weight of 228kg) than the Multistrada and similar power (but slightly less torque).

Clearly this bike is not intended to take mud-bogging (let’s face it, most GS owners don’t take their bikes off road either) but it does combine longer travel suspension (compared to the other S-series bikes) and an upright seating position—features which make adventure bikes so comfortable on tarmac of any condition.

The frame is interesting—at the front it is similar to the other S-series bikes using a perimeter frame, but the rear frame appears to be a bolt-on type similar in concept to the R1200GS. Drive is by chain, not a driveshaft. Suspension is conventional using upside down forks up front and a two-sided swing arm at the rear.

Styling is similar in concept to the S1000R with asymmetrical headlamps and left/right fairings, but with a few GS details thrown in, such as a tiny beak and contrasting bodywork between the top and bottom fairings.

Lighting is still halogen as with all of BMW’s current range apart from the R1200GS, but an LED daytime riding light is available. I’m quite surprised BMW hasn’t migrated to full LED lighting as they release new models, considering the popularity of this option on the R1200GS (I have yet to see an example of this model in the UK without the LED).

Admittedly I’m not the biggest fan of ‘adventure-style’ bikes with no off road capabilities—BMW themselves have made no mention of taking the S1000XR off road. I have made my thoughts known about Honda’s perpetual release of road bikes in pretty frocks and jacked up suspensions, but the S1000XR seems to take a different route with its bespoke frame and near-superbike specifications.

I’m looking forward to reading upcoming reviews, and also doing my own review once my dealership has one available for a test ride.

Now that the S1000XR is ‘official’—what do you think? Let me know in the comments.




Photos






2 Nov 2014

It’s come a long way...


I started this blog on Tumblr in early 2012 when I purchased my F800GS, before migrating it to Blogger a few months later in May. How do the stats measure up over the last 29 months?


Page views


Page views are the number of people who visit or revisit pages on the blog.

  • Overall 22,997 people have visited my blog, or just under 800 per month
  • Until February 2014 I was averaging about 400 visits per month after which interest increased substantially
  • July 2014 (following my crash in the Czech Republic) was the busiest month with 3,169 visitors

Top 5 posts


I was surprised that my article about travel gear made it into the top 5. Not as surprised by the Gear Shift Assist Pro as there was virtually no coverage by the motorcycle industry of this device’s application on boxer models. Likewise, there was so much confusion about the discontinuation of the British tax disc, people were looking for information from any available source. Finally, it seems you are a bloodthirsty lot with the post about my crash near Prague making the list!

How people find this blog


Most people find this blog via Facebook, followed by Google and Twitter. All my posts automatically syndicate to these three services. After the big three, Advrider and BMW GS Club Netherlands round out the list.

Where people live


By far, the majority of visitors live in the USA and UK with 8,067 and 5,744 visits respectively. Canada, Germany, France, Netherlands, Belgium and Russia are unsurprisingly in the top 10, but I was somewhat surprised to see quite a following from China and Turkey.

Devices people use


This is where things got quite interesting for me. Top of the list were Windows and Mac users (43% and 25% respectively). Linux users came in at 9%.

The remainder were almost exclusively mobile users on smartphones and tablets. Despite Android phones and tablets dominating the market (around 80% if I recall correctly), iOS devices (iPhones and iPads) account for 15% of visitors, compared to a surprisingly low 4% for Android.

The outliers which do not register as percentages are the 7 visitors using Blackberry devices and the 5 visitors using their Playstation gaming consoles.

People’s preferred browsers


Safari tops the chart at 32% (desktop and iOS versions combined). This is followed closely by Chrome at 31% (desktop and iOS/Android versions combined). Firefox and Internet Explorer come in at 19% and 11% respectively, their popularity waning in recent years.

A few last thoughts


Some of these stats were a bit unexpected. With some purely unscientific analysis I would come to the following conclusions:

  • The people visiting my blog generally own or have an interest in BMW GS bikes and tend to have enough disposable income to buy premium devices—this may explain the high percentage of Apple computer and mobile device users.
  • Blackberry is screwed as a company—7 out of 23,000 visitors!
  • My efforts should include making better use of hashtags for Facebook and Twitter, and meta tags for Google so this blog will feature more prominently in search results.
I enjoy maintaining this blog and welcome feedback and even contributions from readers if anyone feels so inclined. And don’t be shy—let me know your thoughts in the comments below!

26 Oct 2014

Update: BMW S1000XR coming soon?


Update 2

Thanks to Stefan from Facebook for these—they appear to be official photos of the upcoming S1000XR... is BMW letting leaking photos as a marketing tactic? They are usually as tight as Honda or Apple with new products... 

In any case, to my eyes it looks good—almost like the offspring of an S1000RR and a Ducati Multistrada. The front appears more symmetrical than most of BMW’s models. It appears to share a few components with the R1200GS, such as the mirrors and hand guards. It will be interesting to read the official press information once the model is released to get a better idea where in the market BMW intends to position this bike.

I recently lamented about how all of Honda’s recent ‘adventure’ bikes were just road bikes in a fancy frock, aimed at riders who never intend to leave the tarmac. This begs the question—is BMW doing the same with this bike? 



Update 1

A reader of my blog Eric from Facebook has emailed to note that the Italian BMW Group PressClub website shows a baseball cap, t-shirt and keyring specifically branded ‘S1000XR’. See the end of the article for photos.

BMW S1000XR coming soon?

Found on BMW Motorrad’s Instagram feed—it’s not like BMW to effectively confirm the existence of an unreleased new model...


The S1000XR is rumoured to be a competitor to the Ducati Multistrada as a high powered road biased dual sport bike—and to a lesser extent the KTM 1290 Super Adventure in terms of power.

A test mule has been photographed in Germany but, as with the R1200GS mules, this may or may not reflect how the production model will look. It would be safe to assume the new model will run standard road wheel sizes of 17” front/rear, unlike the GS range (19” or 21” front, 17” rear)—and a version of the 4 cylinder engine from the S1000R/RR, possibly retuned for less power and more torque.



Below is German magazine Motorrad’s artist conception of how the model could look.


What is interesting is that the bike doesn’t fit within any of BMW’s current categories as it seems to fit directly between the Sport and Enduro ranges—and this is reflected by BMW’s inadvertent (?) confirmation that the bike should be called the S1000XR (and not S1000GS etc). Probably a good move as the GS community would likely be up in arms at the thought of a bike completely unsuitable for off road riding being marketed within the GS range.

S1000XR merchandise

S1000XR cap. Photo: BMW Group PressClub Italia

S1000XR keyring. Photo: BMW Group PressClub Italia

S1000XR unisex t-shirt. Photo: BMW Group PressClub Italia

24 Oct 2014

A bit of DIY for a non-DIYer


The rear brakes on my F800GS were making a bit of a grating noise on the way home from work today. I had a look when I got home and noticed the pads, which were last replaced in Austria in 2013, were down to the metal. Fortunately there was no scoring on the disc. It’s not like me to have things like this go unnoticed—I check the pads regularly but I don’t remember them being anywhere near this close to the end of their lives.

Admittedly the F800GS chews through rear pads like a fiend because the soft front forks require a healthy dose of rear braking to help counteract the front end diving under braking and keep the bike balanced. Lesson learned—check the rear pads a bit more thoroughly and a bit more often.

These (tiny) plumptious beauties do all the stopping at the rear of the F800GS

I called the dealership to have them put aside a set of pads and rode there straight away without using the rear brake at all. Although I’m in no way a mechanic, it had to be done immediately as my R1200GS is in getting the crash damage fixed and one more ride probably would have permanently scored the disc. And who knows when the next available appointment at the dealership would be, since a lot of people are having their bikes serviced for winter storage this time of year.

Set of pads: £34
Time to replace: 17 minutes (with a little practice, 5 minutes would do it)
Satisfaction of a job well done: High

I found the following excellent instructional video on YouTube which I watched twice before heading downstairs with a few tools and a pair of surgical gloves (my soft, office-worker hands wouldn’t take kindly to being accosted by toxic brake grime).



The Brembo brakes on the F800GS provide incredibly easy access to replace the pads—removing a single clip and a pin enable the pads to come out, with the caliper still bolted in place. The old pads were at about 0.5mm on the inside and less than 0.1mm on the outside. Shame on me.

The new pads took a little bit of manipulation to get in (compressing the piston and being careful not to disturb the tension spring) but everything went back together just as easily as it came apart. After a two mile ride the brakes already felt bedded in, having lost the ‘wooden’ new pad feeling quickly.

The disc is a different matter—it will need replacement once these new pads wear out, as it has developed a bit of a lip on the edge and is no doubt at the limit of its safe specification. While BMW’s pricing is reasonable for the pads, they want a thieving £200 for a new disc. Brembo, who actually manufacture the brakes, only want £66 for the same part (68B407C0) which is indistinguishable from the OEM version (incidentally, the pads cost the same from Brembo and BMW).

Feeling quite proud. Call me indolent, but normally I can’t be arsed to faff about when I can pay someone else to do things like this for me. Indeed, my dealership only charges £50 altogether to replace the pads which means I only saved £16—however, £16 is £16, and now that I know how easy they are to replace, I have no excuse to be lazy in future.

13 Oct 2014

R1200RS and S1000RR at the Mondial de l'Automobile 2014


I spent a few days in Paris this week, popping over on the amazingly efficient Eurostar (2:15 door to door and no airports with which to contend) to see Mondial de l'Automobile 2014, otherwise known as the Paris Auto Show.

I’ll post the highlights separately, but there was a little surprise at the BMW exhibition—one each of the brand new R1200RS and updated S1000RR (sadly the R1200R was missing). I had a seat on the R1200RS, which felt very strange being accustomed to the riding position of the GS from which the engine and some of the mechanical bits are donated. The telelever front suspension, however, is absent—the new R/RS models use forks based on the ones from the S1000R/RR. This enables the bikes to use a singe, centrally mounted radiator in the space where the wishbone for the telelever resides on the GS/RT (these use two tiny radiators on either side).

My thoughts from the whole two minutes I had on the bike—it feels compact with a slightly more forward biased seating position than the GS, similar to a standard or naked bike. Distance to the pedals (and ground) felt about the same as the GS with the seat in the lowest position. The windscreen does away with the fancy height adjustment knob mechanism from the GS in lieu of a simple pull/push system (which can be done easily with one hand while seated). The instrument panel is a greyscale LCD panel with an analogue speedometer which looks less ‘expensive’ than the ones fitted to the GS and RT. The slightly asymmetrical headlamps are standard halogen units with an optional LED daytime riding light bar between them.

All in all it looks and feels a quality product but doesn’t feel quite as special as the GS. I think the sport-tourer market is quite conservative, so this may be entirely deliberate, and nevertheless I’m looking forward to having a test ride—Lottie are you reading this? :)

UK pricing has yet to be announced, but I would expect the R/RS to start slightly a few hundred pounds lower than the GS due to the less expensive front suspension, simpler windscreen height adjuster, single radiator, and less complex instrument panel.

R1200RS

R1200RS—comfortable

R1200RS—checking out the windscreen height adjustment

Updated S1000RR

5 Oct 2014

My love-hate relationship with Honda


At Intermot in Cologne, Honda displayed an updated version of its sport-tourer in drag, the VFR800X, or Crossrunner. It’s attractive and no doubt engineered as finely as a Swiss watch, packed with enough technology to land a rover on Mars. But it annoys me because it is a fraud. Why? Read on.

2015 VFR800X (Crossrunner)—pretty to look at, safe to assume it’s well engineered. But that’s never going off road, so why the pretence? (Photo: Honda)

Let’s rewind a little bit. Over the years, Honda has acquired somewhere in the region of £60,000 from me in the form of three shiny new cars and two motorbikes. Each was engineered and built to perfection—each was a joy to operate. Among these vehicles I amassed somewhere around 400,000 miles. Only one (bike) left me stranded, in this case due to a manufacturing defect with the clutch kingpin which was resolved swiftly and somewhat humbly by the dealership (not even Honda is perfect).

Suffice it to say I have spent more money with Honda than any other manufacturer (of anything!) and so I feel quite justified to be annoyed and have a strong opinion. So why the love-hate?

Quite simply because they seem to have lost their innovation—the thing that used to make Hondas feel special, right down to their everyday cars and low end scooters. Honda engines always feel like they’re exceeding the 100% mark of their specification... they feel willing and eager. Honda chassis are tight, manageable and always predictable, endowing even the lowliest Civic with handling from much sportier classes of cars. The simple, basic Hornet (CB600FA) felt like a sport bike despite soft, basic, non-adjustable suspension and a sticker price less than two-thirds of the CBR600RR. From the 70s through to the mid-90s, Honda set new standards for design—although a common sight on the roads, Hondas always looked good, like a well-pressed, tailored suit.

1988 Civic—styling/proprotions ahead of its time
Corolla from the same era—awkward
Since then, however, it feels to me that Honda have been relying only on their peerless engineering and forgetting about the other things that used to make them special. The latest 9th generation Civic, for example, already looked out-of-date before it went on sale (the 8th generation was an exception and remains, in my opinion, the most progressive and innovative design from Honda in decades)—in fact, there was so much hate from the automotive community that Honda redesigned the 9th gen within months... worrying...

8th gen Civic—balanced
9th gen Civic—ungainly
Over to the bikes. Honda’s Africa Twin (XRV-series) has achieved almost cult status because it was functional, innovative, capable and reliable. Nothing has directly replaced it since production ended with the 2003 model year. The Transalp/Varadero (XL-series) was a similarly well-loved range with similar credentials, but production ended with the 2013 model year. In fact, as of 2014, the only real dual sport bike in Honda’s range is the highly rated, dirt bike based CRF250L which might do for a (lightly packed) solo journey, but is not designed to transport two humans and their worldly belongings. We will disregard this excellent bike as it not a ‘heavy’ adventure bike.

Africa Twin—pin-up adventure bike
Transalp 700—fit for purpose on and off road
Honda’s heavy ‘adventure’ range (in the UK) now consists of a number of beak-endowed road bikes with ‘X’ designations—the CB500X, the NC750X, the VFR800X (Crossrunner) and the VFR1200X (Crosstourer). All use tarmac-oriented 17” wheels front and rear, apart from the 1200 which has a traditional (for dual sport bikes) 19” front/17” rear combination.

Honda needs to do some soul-searching and start leading the market again, instead of playing catch-up, or worse, putting out tangible apathy.

Let’s talk wet weights (with all fluids plus 3/4 full fuel tank)—dual sport bikes should be as light as possible, right? People routinely criticise BMW for making heavy bikes, so how does Honda do? The range is decidedly porky—CB500X (196kg), NC750X (219kg or 229kg with the dual clutch transmission), Crossrunner 800cc (240kg) and Crosstourer 1200cc (275kg or 285kg with the dual clutch).

Compare this to BMW’s ‘heavy’ adventure bikes—G650GS (192kg), F700GS 800cc (209kg), F800GS (214kg), R1200GS (238kg). Adventure (long range) versions of the F800GS and R1200GS weigh in at 229kg and 260kg respectively. Each BMW is about the same weight as the equivalent Honda from one engine class lower (Honda does not offer long range versions of their bikes). BMW engineer the GS range to be dual sport bikes from the start, whereas Honda adventure bikes are now just tarted up versions of regular, road-going bikes.

Dressing up doesn’t change what’s at the core, Honda! (Photo: Daily Mail)

Where is the innovation? Slightly taller suspension, a few plastic bits and a good PR department do not constitute innovation and shames the mantra of the late Soichiro Honda—‘Believe in your dreams and they will believe in you’. Perhaps most telling is that adventure parts company Touratech currently only offer 20 parts for the Crosstourer, 2 parts for the NC700X (predecessor of the NC750X) and no parts for any of Honda’s other bikes in this class—out of their range of literally thousands of parts for other adventure bikes (their catalogue is nearly 2,000 pages).

I know Honda is capable of innovation, but was this mostly due to Soichiro Honda’s genius and vision? An excellent example is the 50cc Honda Cub—tiny, underpowered but utterly charming and packed with innovation in its day—more than 60 million of these were sold worldwide. In the 70s, Honda’s CVCC engine cut emissions through innovation. In the late 80s, Honda’s NSX shook up the supercar scene due to its (comparatively) low cost and class-leading performance and handling. Also in the late 80s, the Civic set new standards in the economy car class with race car style double wishbone suspension and (then) futuristic styling.

Since Soichiro’s death in 1991, Honda has become a shadow of its former self. Nothing truly groundbreaking has come from them since—they have lost their magic. The products and features which made them special have slowly disappeared from market. Civics now use bog-standard strut and multilink suspension systems—gone are the wonderful double wishbones at all four corners. Their once shining examples of adventure bikes died away, leaving ‘me too’, late-to-the-party, jump-on-the-bandwagon exercises in styling in their places, in a half-hearted attempt at stealing a bit of the pie from BMW and others in this class. Honda has become Sony—solid, well-engineered products that excite about as much as white goods... I can’t remember the last time the thought of a new dishwasher raised my pulse. Poor Soichiro is rolling in his grave.

There are noises in the media about a replacement for the Africa Twin—but they remain just that... rumours... vapourware. Honda needs to do some soul-searching and start leading the market again, instead of playing catch-up, or worse, putting out tangible apathy. No one will replace Soichiro’s genius, but of the 5 billion humans on this planet, chances are there is someone out there to supplement and progress it.

How some believe a new Africa Twin could look (image source unknown)

Come on, Honda, pull a finger out and start doing you own thing again. Show me some magic (again) and I’ll show you my wallet (again).

Agree? Disagree? Tell me in the comments...

Postscript


I think it’s important to mention what I believe to be Honda’s hits since the 90s—but the list is short, considering the number of products they produce. Mentioned above, the design of the 8th generation Civic. The hugely popular N-Box series in Japan (bring them to the UK please). The European Accord Type R from 1998–2002. The MSX125/Grom (aka the new Monkey Bike). The 7th and 8th generation European Accord (Acura TSX in North America). The VFR1200F with the first available dual clutch transmission in a mainstream motorcycle. And their ‘whisper quiet’ diesel engine range which set a new standard for smoothness and low vibration.

And that brings me to the Paris Auto Show with Honda’s main attraction—the imminent new Civic Type R ‘Concept’ (in usual Honda fashion, this concept is practically production-ready). They have done a good job giving a lift to the dowdy standard hatchback’s looks by flaring it out and redoing the rear end with a novel spoiler integrating the rear lighting. It’s unmistakably Honda and unmistakably Japanese—it has identity.

The new Type R is the most daring effort from Honda in years, polarising public opinion and not playing it safe for once. It’s over-the-top, showy, over-styled, perhaps even crass—and I love it for that.





3 Oct 2014

But aren’t motorbikes dangerous?


Yawn... I've heard this question so many times it has become an utter bore.

It's true—a motorcyclist is more vulnerable than someone in the air conditioned, acoustically dampened safety cage of their car. But that vulnerability also results in greater alertness and awareness which comes from being directly exposed to the environment.

On a motorbike you are acutely aware of the sights, sounds, smells—and sometimes even tastes—around you, not to mention the uninsulated sensations of being sat almost directly on the frame and engine of the bike. This awareness enables greater anticipation of things to come and helps to build intuition—seeing and hearing with 360 uninhibited degrees of clarity. The small size and high performance of motorcycles means a greater chance of avoiding a crash.

There are roughly 35 million registered vehicles on the roads of our little islands—more than one vehicle for every two people of all ages. A few notable stats—40% of all vehicles are registered to women, just over 50% of all vehicles are diesel powered, and the average fuel consumption of all cars registered in 2012 was 49 mpg (41 mpg US). The UK is a country which appreciates motor vehicles, while at the same time—due to EU regulations or otherwise—is somewhat conscientious of the environment. The US and Canada have some catching up to do with an average consumption of 28 mpg (24 mpg US) in 2013...

Despite the numbers of vehicles and relative density of traffic, we have a somewhat enviable road safety record in the UK—only 1,713 people died in vehicles in 2013, 331 of whom were motorcyclists. On a level playing field this translates to 4.8 deaths per 100,000 population, or roughly 1/3 the fatality rate of the US (13.9 deaths per 100,000 population). Stats from the World Life Expectancy and GOV.uk websites.

The level of danger associated with riding motorbikes is of course linked to the overall level of safety in a given country—but how does it compare on a broader scale? This is where the stats begin to get more interesting—and where they begin to please my mum.

Selection of cause of death Number of deaths in 2013
Heart attack 92,299
Stroke 55,919
Flu 37,348
Lung cancer 35,845
Breast cancer 14,343
Pancreatic cancer 7,954
Diabetes 6,682
Suicide 4,660
Falls 4,450
Diarrhoea 3,081
All road traffic accidents (incl. pedetrians, cyclists etc) 3,073
Skin cancer 2,947
Poisoning 1,805
Drug use 1,247
Alcohol 862
Violence 703
Fires 380
Motorcycling 331

Not all crashes end in tears (Photo: BMW GS Trophy)

Suddenly motorcycling seems a whole lot safer when considering I am 113x more likely to die from something as innocuous as the winter flu—ok, not really. In reality, those dying from flu tend to be the frail/elderly or the very young. And in reality only 2% of the population rides a motorbike (and therefore would be susceptible to dying on one), whereas 100% of the population is potentially susceptible to the flu virus. Still the numbers compare favourable—2% of flu deaths equates to 747 people, or more than double the number of motorcycle deaths.

Nevertheless the stats give an overall sense of the dangers of everyday life—the dangers of riding a motorbike are far down the list. My mum can now sleep better at night.

However, stats are only the beginning—stats mean nothing when you make bad decisions, ride when overly tired, go too fast for the conditions, misread road surfaces and on and on. Riding a motorcycle is about focusing and being responsible for your own life—part of this is wearing appropriate gear (take it from me, I know). Doing away with other distractions. Viewing all other road users as potential killers. Focus and awareness are key to avoid becoming another statistic.

Thoughts? Comments? Let me know below.

30 Sep 2014

The ‘water boxer’ family grows with new R1200R and R1200RS models


BMW today announced the new R1200R and R1200RS models which use the same 125hp boxer engine as the GS and RT models. The R version is a rather tasty naked bike and the RS a quite attractive, faired sport-touring version.

Unlike the GS and RT models, the R and RS skip the telelever front suspension, using a conventional fork set-up related to the S1000RR. Also of note is the use of a single radiator where the GS and RT use two tiny individual radiators (presumably to accommodate the telelever mount).

The R version borrows heavily from the design of the Concept Roadster shown last May, incorporating much of the detailing, but in a more toned down, mass production sort of way. Sadly, in doing so, it loses some of the litheness (and visual lightness) of the concept, but still (to my eyes) ends up a good looking bike.

Both bikes get the usual assortment of electronics familiar to the GS and RT, such as riding modes, stability control, traction control, anti-lock brakes, semi-active electronic suspension adjustment, keyless ride etc. The instrument panel consists of an analogue speedometer with a customisable TFT panel.

I have to say, I’m tempted to take a test ride once these appear at the dealership...

I won't regurgitate the press releases, so straight to the photos (from BMW Group PressClub Global website).

Concept Roadster
New R1200R
‘Basic’ R1200R
‘Style 1’ R1200R

‘Style 2’ R1200R
‘Basic’ R1200RS
‘Style 2’ R1200RS
Instruments (day mode)—standard configuration
Instruments (night mode)—standard configuration
Instruments—sport configuration
Instruments—minimalist configuration
R1200R with LED parking/daytime running light
R1200RS with panniers
Read the official press kit articles here:

Thoughts on these new bikes? Why not leave a comment?