Friday, August 31, 2007

Kawasaki Versys™

NEW FOR 2008

Big Comfort, Long Travel Suspension, and Innovative Styling: One Versatile, Fun, Street-Savvy Motorcycle

The new 2008 Kawasaki Versys™ is a machine which occupies a hard to define sweet spot in the motorcycling universe. Is it a practical commuter? Long-legged urban assault vehicle? Sportbike? Light Tourer?

The answer on all counts is a resounding Yes! This isn’t a niche specialist but rather a jack-of-all-trades with user-friendly versatility as one of its many charms.

The 649cc parallel twin and the neutral handling and light steering chassis of the Ninja® 650R sportbike made the perfect starting point for this comfortable gridlock commando. A swoopy gull-wing swingarm, long-travel inverted 41mm fork, six-spoke superbike-inspired wheels, adjustable-height windscreen and a comfortable cockpit were combined to create a motorcycle that just begs to be ridden wherever the pavement might lead.

The compact liquid-cooled, fuel-injected, DOHC, 8-valve, 649cc parallel twin engine was modified for the Versys motorcycle so it delivers smooth power that’s well-suited for off-the-line acceleration and flexible torque in the cut-n-thrust of a rider’s morning commute. This engine’s overall characteristics are entertaining for even the most advanced riders, yet predictable enough to inspire confidence in less-experienced motorcyclists.

Its suspension offers the next level in sophistication: an advanced Showa rear shock featuring a free piston and two-stage damping valves for progressive compression damping which firms significantly as the shock moves through its stroke. This allows a longer wheel travel with a feel that is initially soft like a dual sport, but firms to near sportbike levels as suspension loads escalate. Of course, this advanced shock is fully-adjustable and connected to a beautiful aluminum gull-wing swingarm that is longer than average, thanks to a short/compact engine and chassis.

Up front, the Versys suspension continues the high-tech approach with a fully-adjustable 41mm tapered-tube inverted fork that combines the best of off-road and sportbike suspension action for a stiffness balance that is a perfect compliment to the chassis settings. In addition to a more-comfortable ride, the long-travel suspension’s soft-stroke allows easy control of the chassis’ running angle by shifting the rider’s weight.

Complimenting the able suspension is the carefully designed cockpit that features a two-piece seat constructed to provide optimum comfort to both the rider and passenger. An easy-to-read and informative instrument panel allows riders to quickly scan the gauges and get their eyes back on the road. Capping off the comfort list is an adjustable windscreen that can be raised or lowered to three positions in 20mm increments.

Unique features
Aggressive styling
Powerful parallel-twin engine
Compact size and weight
Long-travel suspension
Comfortable cockpit

649cc parallel twin-cylinder, DOHC engine is the most compact in its category.
The engine is considerably smaller than that of the Ninja 500 and helps reduce the dimension of the entire motorcycle
Tuned to deliver smooth, responsive power in the low-to mid-rpm range with exceptional roll-on response –ideal for negotiating city traffic
Triangular crank and transmission shaft layout makes it short front to back, a semi-dry sump oil system reduces overall engine height, and the narrow pitch of the chrome composite plated aluminum cylinders helps reduce engine width
Muffler with 3-way catalyzer and bullet-tip opening is mounted below the engine to help lower the center of gravity and aid weight centralization
180-degree crankshaft plus balancer shaft for extremely smooth engine operation
Oil jets on the connecting rod big ends spray oil on the undersides of the pistons to aid cooling

Liquid Cooling
Maintains consistent engine temperatures for long engine life and sustained power during hard use
Allows closer engine tolerances for more horsepower
Fewer external hoses because the coolant is routed through the engine cases

Digital Fuel Injection (DFI)
Utilizes 38mm Keihin throttle bodies with ECU controlled sub throttle valves for optimum performance and rideability
The sub throttles, located behind the main throttle valves, permit the DFI system a more precise throttle response, similar to a constant velocity carburetor
Automatic fast idle system makes starting and warm-up easy
Precise fuel injection plus exhaust catalyzer significantly reduce emissions

Digital Capacitor Discharge Ignition (CDI) System
Microprocessor controlled timing never requires adjustment and is ultra responsive to engine needs
Spark plug mounted “stick” ignition coils are compact and help reduce weight

Six-Speed Transmission
Cassette style transmission means the shafts and shift drum are in a compact layout that is easily removed as a single unit from the case for easier maintenance

Trellis Frame
High tensile steel trellis frame is small and light
Designed using 3-dimensional computer analysis to achieve the optimum stiffness balance for better handling
Narrow at the knees and feet for increased rider comfort and control

Single shock Rear Suspension
Aluminum gull-wing swingarm and offset, laydown single rear shock complement the frame design to create an integrated line flowing from the steering head to the rear hub
Short, compact frame and engine design allows the swingarm to be longer, which helps improve overall handling
Showa shock has adjustable preload and rebound damping and uses a free piston and two-stage damping valves for smooth action during initial compression that becomes much firmer near the end of the stroke for a more planted feel

Long-Travel Fork
41mm Inverted fork with stiff springs combines the best of off-road and sportbike-type suspension for excellent performance over a wide range of conditions
Tapered, relatively short outer tubes help provide the ideal stiffness balance to compliment chassis settings
Fork height, preload and rebound damping can all be adjusted to fine-tune the suspension to specific conditions or riding style

Triple Petal Design Brake Discs
Petal design rotors offer improved cooling and warp resistance
Same rotor design as found on the Ninja ZX™-6R and ZX™-10R supersport machines

Six-spoke wheels
Also found on the Ninja ZX-6R and ZX-10R; the six-spoke design requires much less material between spokes so that the rim thickness is thinner and overall wheel weight is reduced

Comfortable Cockpit
Each part of the two-piece seat was designed with a different thickness and firmness of foam to optimize comfort for both rider and passenger
Passenger seat and grab bars were designed to provide a natural seating position for added comfort
Easy-to-read instrument panel has a large analog tachometer and digital readout for the speedometer, fuel gauge, odometer, dual trip meters and clock. White LED backlighting provides increased visibility at night

Adjustable Windscreen
Three different settings, each 20mm apart, allows riders to adjust windscreen height to suit their preferences

2008 Harley-Davidsons

Harley-Davidson is celebrating its 105th birthday with 14 serialized, limited edition motorcycles with Anniversary copper and Vivid Black paint, special copper air cleaner covers, and exclusive badging.

Lost. Not only lost, but 2500 miles from home. I felt my heart pounding in my chest, my palms sweated, and my breath came in quick gasps. What to do? One simple solution. Roll on the throttle, let out the light and manageable clutch, and unleash a little more of the Twin Cam 96B's power. My worries faded like the blast from the exhaust coming out of the sporty shorty dual exhausts.

So why was I so excited about this particular bike when Harley-Davidson has 37 other 2008 models to choose from? Because the Rocker isn't your typical Harley. Stretched-out, slammed, with a fat back tire, wide rear fender and a look that pays homage to the hard tails of old, Harley-Davidson has moved away from its bread-and-butter style and rolls the dice with a motorcycle unlike any other in its vast stable.

A twist in fortune has taken me beyond the city limits of Baltimore, Maryland, and I've finally found some decent twisties to test the chassis of Harley-Davidson's 2008 Rocker. I was concerned that its 36.5-degree rake angle and 240mm rear tire would translate to sluggish performance in the turns. My worries were assuaged as the stretched out custom-styled bike with a 69.2-inch wheelbase stuck fast as I rode with rhythm, sweeping right, banking left, and giving it more gas. Getting separated from the pack of motojournalists ahead of me heading towards Harley-Davidson's York plant wasn't deliberate, but it gave me more time on the newest member of H-D's Softail family.

The 2008 Harley-Davidson Rocker has a fat backside like no other bike rolling off the York assembly line. H-D's intention with the Rockers was to create a bike with a slammed, hard tail custom look without the spine-jarring ride. Their first goal has been achieved. The wide sheetmetal rear-fender sits one inch off the 18-inch rear tire, so close that you can't stick a finger between the two. You'd think that the fender would scrape the tire if you hit a good bump, but it is attached directly to the swingarm, eliminating the need for frame supports. The fender is synchronized with the rear tire so that they "rock" together. And though they move in unison, it's still up to the hidden horizontal coil-over belly shocks mounted below the powertrain to soak up bumps in the road in typical Softail fashion.

And though Harley claims that it's supposed to deliver a smooth, comfortable ride, the shocks are stiff, making the ride taxing on the tail bone. I hopped up and down on the springs with my 215 lbs while the bike was in motion, but the rear suspension's 3.4 inches of travel barely budged. Because the angle of the seat is sloped more than other Harleys, it left me riding on the back of the saddle. The end of the leather seat is curved up to form a pocket for riders, but it also forms a lip that pushed against the base of my spine. By the time I completed the 60 mile trek to York, my backside tingled like it had fallen asleep. But long-distance hauls isn't what the Rocker has been made for. Cruising down the avenue and turning heads while you're doing it is more its style.

How do I know it's a head turner? Because both times I stopped, the guys I asked directions from couldn't take their eyes off of it. The questions came out me fast. "That's a Harley?" "How's it ride with that big back tire?" "What year is that?" The guys asking the questions were from vastly different demographics. One was early twenties, almost certainly single since I didn't notice him wearing a wedding ring, and the other was a man approximately 60-years-old driving a pick-up. But their big-eyed reactions were equally enthusiastic.

The 26.2-inch seat height gives the Rocker a low center of gravity. That low altitude sacrifices a bit of lean angle and it doesn't take much to scrape a peg. The forward foot controls felt ideally placed for my 6' frame, but reaching for the hand controls left me without much bend at the elbow. The independent V-Bar handlebars sitting on five-inch curved risers place the hand controls easily within reach, but the ergos left me leaned back slightly and that required me to ride stiff-armed. First, my arms had to work a little extra to support some of the weight of my upper body. Second, I had to flex a little muscle and hold on tight because the Rocker has a strong pull on the low end of the powerband. The rigid-mounted 1584cc powerplant with H-D's ESPFI helps the bike launch off the line with a hearty growl exiting the chrome shorty dual pipes that let the cages know that I was rolling by.

Besides the hard tail look, the 2008 Rocker has other eye-catching styling cues you may not notice at first glance. The finned cast-aluminum oil tank below the seat is a modern spin on a classic look. The five-gallon fuel tank has been stretched so it is thinner and longer. Even the trademark logo looks different on the Rocker. The H-D Bar and Shield sits slightly recessed in the tank, giving the embossed logo a 3-D effect. On top of the tank sits a low-profile console with a speedo mounted on it. The housing for the speedometer is speed-shop style and was much easier for a rider to take a quick glance at while rolling down the freeway at 70 mph than flush-mounted speedos used on other Harley platforms.

On the backside, there's no center tail lamp on the rear fender. The Rocker instead has a pair of multi-purpose bullet-style LED turn signals mounted to the side of the rear fender that serve as stop, turn and taillights, a trend that follows the lead of custom show bikes I've seen before. I speculated whether the signals would be visible enough from behind until I followed another rider on our way back into Baltimore, but when they signaled or stopped, the LEDs were bright and easily seen.

H-D didn't overdo it with the chrome on the Rocker. It's a Harley, so of course it's got a fair share of the shiny stuff, like the pipes and air cleaner cover. The motorcycle has a slew of powder coated components in what Harley-Davidson calls Satin Stainless Metallic. The list is long - fork lowers, triple clamps, bullet headlamp nacelle, handlebar riser, swingarm, hand controls, belt guard, oil tank and engine trim. It's not bright and shiny like chrome, but it's not meant to be. H-D wants the bike to have a rawer finish.

By Bryan Harley

2007 GSX-R750 vs Daytona 675

What does the Triumph Daytona 675 and Suzuki GSX-R750 have in common with Lindsey Lohan and Britney Spears? Besides that we all want to dress up in leather body suits and flog them mercilessly. Bad jokes aside: At one time or another they've all been the toast of the town during their heyday but now find themselves' cast aside with no place that they truly belong. We can't help our fallen gal-pals but we can run an intervention for the bikes. Think of this test as a sort of rehab we'll call Asphalt Anonymous.

Twenty-two years ago the GSX-R750 defined the modern day sportbike. In the decades that followed the Gixxer seven-fifty, as it is known by true Suzuki enthusiasts, collected numerous race wins within both the amateur and professional road race ranks and tallied four AMA Superbike championships at the hands of Yoshimura Suzuki's Mat Mladin.

Less than a half decade has passed since Superbike championship grids around the world were dominated by 750cc In-line Fours. In 2003 the 1000cc big-bores crashed the 750cc Superbike party and replaced their smaller siblings in the premier AMA and FIM World Superbike series. Fortunately for consumers, Suzuki has continued to develop this amazing platform, updating its once dominant steed even though there is no longer a top-tier professional class for it to compete in.

The Suzuki GSX-R750 is the sole survivor of that extraordinary era of racing but there is another great motorcycle that has suffered a similar fate - the Triumph Daytona 675. Only a year ago the tenacious Triple swept almost every Supersport comparison conducted in America, including our own Supersport Shootout IV, only to be left out of all but one test the following year. First it was banned from competing in Supersport competition, then it was blackballed by the media for one reason or another. Suddenly, it seems as though the Triumph has fallen from grace.

Although the descent of the Daytona is not as notorious as the demotion of the Gixxer, it still represents an injustice to those who have sampled the goods and know what the bike is capable of. We are all aware of what it did against the Supersport class but how would it fare against a 750? Last year the Triumph enjoyed a displacement advantage which left the competition feeling a bit slighted when the results came in. In the interest of keeping things fair we've tossed it into the mix with the only legitimate 750 sportbike on the market today: The Suzuki GSX-R750. With no clear class to call their own we created one for them. Ladies and gentleman, welcome to our inaugural Exiles Comparo between the 2007 Suzuki GSX-R750 and the Triumph Daytona 675.

Although these once mighty warriors may have exiled to a purgatory of canyon rides, club races and track days there's no reason to pity them because they are still two of the best motorcycles on the market. Infineon Raceway, in the hills of Sonoma, California, and a multitude of backroads surrounding our Southern Oregon HQ would serve as our playground while we sampled these forbidden fruit from Triumph and Suzuki. The streets around MCUSA HQ would allow us to compare their goodness as daily rides, while the 12-turn, 2.22-mile road course would be the ideal locale to see if the Hinckley, England-made Triumph has what it takes to topple its larger veteran Japanese rival in a controlled environment. To ensure a level field of play, we slung on Dunlop 208GP-A spec race tires which would enable us to extort the full knee-on-deck performance of this dynamic duo during an afternoon at the track with Pacific Track Time.

By Adam Waheed

2007 Superbike Smackdown IV

You've heard the names before: Suzuki GSX-R1000, Yamaha R1, Honda CBR1000RR and Kawasaki Ninja ZX-10R. You've seen them at race tracks around the world, on television or maybe even in person. They have passed you on the freeway or the back straight at a trackday, usually on one wheel but occasionally on two. The howl of their motor is intoxicating and the allure of their legendary power-to-weight ratio is hard to resist. They are called the open class sportbike and it's important to give them the respect they demand or you might not walk away.

That's where's Superbike Smackdown IV comes in to do the dirty work for you. If all goes as planned, this bike review should shed some light on both the inherent technological goodness and inescapable performance decadence that literbikes exemplify. These 150-horsepower brutes are enjoyable to ride, though newbies and small animals alike tremble at the mention of their name while others like yourselves are drawn to them like a bug to the light. The prospect of wringing one of these bikes out on a favorite back road is too much to resist and because they are designed for maximum racetrack performance, they're the closest thing any of us mortals will ever get to riding a true Superbike or MotoGP machine. Unfortunately, the majority of riders will never even scrape a peg-feeler on the street, unless it's that regrettable moment just before low-siding into the ditch and that really is a shame.

Engineers labor for years, paring away grams of unnecessary material from every single chassis component as they eek another couple horsepower out of the lightest, most compact engine designs in history, so it's only right that we give them a proper flogging on the track as well as the street. In the previous three Smackowns we used trackdays for testing and received some grief from the readers and OEMs for not using a controlled environment to conduct our evaluations. Honestly, we agreed with everyone. This time around we're stepping up our game and bringing in not one, but three guest testriders who helped us push the bikes harder and farther than we ever have before.

The wrecking crew for SSIV embodies the same impudent attitude which makes these open classers simultaneously the most misunderstood and most coveted sportbikes on the market. Headlining our entourage is two-time AMA Superstock champion "Top" Jimmy Moore, with AFM road-racing championship contender and owner of Pacific Track Time Michael Earnest along with US Stunt Riders' front man Brian "BS" Steeves rounding out our crew of specialists. This trio of pros joined your two favorite MCUSA Joes, Duke "Big Daddy" Danger and your's truly for a week of apex-strafing, brake pad-baking urban lawlessness and seriously felonious canyon-carving misconduct as we immersed ourselves in clutch roasting debauchery that will forever be known as Superbike Smackdown IV.

This quintet of riders put a quartet of liter bikes to task on two different race tracks and unleashed their fury on a variety of unsuspecting roads in search of the answer to the most significant question of this riding season: Which of these unruly beasts is the superlative Japanese superbike on the market today?

The first track action took place at the famed Buttonwillow Raceway (check out track map here), for the second consecutive year, with Racers Edge Performance tire service on hand to keep fresh Michelin Pilot Power Race rubber on our test units. OEM buns were spooned on for our street ride, which took place on two separate roads. Highway 58 outside of Buttonwillow, California, afforded an opportunity to avoid the city sprawl, while a run up Malibu Canyon gave us a mid-week taste of the Santa Monica Mountains with only one real poseur struttin' his stuff for us at the Rock Store. Then we spun a few more laps during a Fastrack track day at California Speedway just to make sure we didn't miss anything important.

Three-Wheeled, Hybrid Scooter: 170 MPG

Vespa is almost synonymous with scooters these days. So when Piaggio, who makes Vespas, decides to go hybrid, it's a very big deal. But it's a bigger deal when the hybrid technology is doing things that we've never seen before.

We've been anxiously awaiting more news and especially an estimated arrival date for Piaggio's hybrid scooters, which include scooters from the Vespa brand as well. Perhaps Piaggio was reading our last post on the subject, because we've noticed more and more news on the HyS (hybrid scooter) models. Now, we can share a few pictures with you as well. Best of all, Cycle World is saying that they have been told by Piaggio that the MP3 HyS will be in production by the end of 2008!

Although Piaggio has been testing a version of the MP3 hybrid which sports a 250cc engine, the production model is expected to use the 125 instead. However, that is not all bad, because the electric motor adds up to 85 percent better acceleration and possibly a bit more on the top end too, at least we hope. There is a cool switch on the dash of the scooter which allows for more economic travel or for more performance. Currently, three 12-volt lead acid batteries are being used, but lithium ion batteries are being tested as we speak.

Also of note is the 50cc version of this powertrain, which is installed in the Vespa LX model. This beast gets only 24 volts of power, but can still perform like its 125cc larger sibling. Best of all, the machine can return up to 142 mpg while emitting only 40 grams of CO2 per kilometer. The 50cc model can travel at 15 mph for 12 miles on electric power alone while the larger 125cc version can do 25 mph for 12 miles on battery power.

This is great news for anyone who's been waiting to purchase one of these vehicles. Waiting until the end of 2008 could prove to be a challenge!

Scooters are fuel efficient all on their own, so when you add in an advanced regenerative and plug-in hybrid electric system, you should expect some serious results. And that's what we're seeing. Based on the way these scooters are driven, they can achieve up to 170 miles per gallon of gasoline. Because the electric motors can be programmed to produce various amounts of torque, the new hybrid scooter system (HyS) from Piaggio can also be molded to individual preferences.

The scooter can be run in one of three hybrid settings, allowing for various levels of acceleration or efficiency, and the scooter can also be run in a much less powerful all-electric mode. The electric batteries will be charged via regenerative breaking as with most other hybrids, but they can also be charged via a wall outlet, allowing for up to 12 miles of travel on electric power alone. When used in concert with the gasoline engine, the electric engine boosts acceleration by 85%. The batteries can be fully charged in about three hours.

The HyS system will be available in the Vespa LX, the Piaggio X8, and the supremely awesome MP3. The MP3, a leaning three-wheeled scooter, allows for superior traction and much higher speeds than Piaggio's other models, making it an excellent option for folks who are actually interested in replacing their car.

Unfortunately, Piaggio hasn't released any information on price yet. But we're waiting patiently, as this is one of the coolest scooters we've seen in a long time. And as plug-in hybrids with zero-emissions modes go...this one might beat a lot of major manufacturers to the punch.