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—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...


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.