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              Similar shape. Purple hand, too. Devin Carraway

Motorcycles


This is probably about as shameless your average "my cat" page.

Honda CBR600F2

I bought an F2 sometime in 2001, when my GS500 started to wear out in several aspects, and I started wanting the experience of a stronger bike. I weigh very little (around 130lb with riding leather), so I'd had a good run on relatively placid bikes. When I started looking for a new one, I wanted to try something mainstream, or at least recently-mainstream. So I bought an F2. As I'd hoped, it's easy to get parts for, and enough people have them that it's also easy to get mechanical advice.

Good things about the F2: Good mechanical quality, cheap and accessible parts, easy to service. Ample power, very decent handling for the size, excellent brakes. Okay, there are faster bikes, and I've never ridden some of the 1100-and-up sportbikes. But I ride on the street, and by all reasonable and objective standards, I ride like a coward. For my purposes, it has all the power I could want -- there's always more power until way up on the right side of the speedometer where you shouldn't be applying any more anyway. It will out-accelerate most anything on four wheels, even uphill, which can be very useful.

I'll admit, though, that the F2 isn't as much fun as the GS500. Most folks will probably disagree, but most folks are bigger than I am and have more arm strength. The F2 weighs about 430lb, and although the balance is good, I really notice the extra muscular effort involved in getting it to move around, especially at low speed (admittedly, there's also a steering dampener on there.) It's also not as comfortable as other bikes I've ridden.

Suzuki GS500E

I drove a '93 Suzuki GS500E for a few years. It's a great little bike -- light, nimble, and cheap. Aside from the good handling (especially once the fork springs and stock rubber are replaced), it's a quite average lightweight sportbike. Suzuki calls it a "sport-tourer," which mostly means "no good for touring, but not too good as a sport bike either." It's not a racing bike, though there are a few racers using them -- I expect it'd be a fun bike to race, if you didn't mind getting passed a lot in the straights. It'll out-jump and outmaneuver most anything on four wheels, which is the main thing, for a commuter bike. Also mechanically simple without scacrificing anything important; hydraulic disc brakes front and rear (single disc on both, but it's not a racebike, remember), centerstand (I wish the bike makers would kindly stop leaving these things off to save weight or engineering effort), 6-speed tranny with a good ratio spread, DOHC. I haven't decided how I feel about the twin-cylinder factor. Runs rougher, but there's less stuff in the way when you need to work on it, and fewer things to go wrong.

Modifications to mine sofar, completed and in progress: Yoshi stainless-steel exhaust (before they discontinued the GS500 model), UNI foam replacements, windshield from a cruiser (short, but not as short as most fairings sold for the GS). Mostly a stock bike, really. Easier to maintain that way. Redline is 11,500 RPM; less than your common sportbike's ~17k, but quite enough for a light rider on the street. Around redline it makes a noise like a multi-orgasmic banshee. :)

The GS series has been in production a long time; it underwent a big redesign sometime prior to 1989 that reshaped it (at least in appearance) from a standard to a sport configuration. The GS500 is the smallest of them; above that can be found still in production the GSXR's, in 750cc and 1100cc models. There have been (may still be; I'm not clear on the point) 550, 600, 800 and 850 models in times past, some with shaft drive and other odd bits.

Honda Nighthawk 250

I gave up driving cars around the end of 1997. I replaced my ailing '78 VW Rabbit with a '93 Honda Nighthawk 250. The nighthawk was Honda's repackaging of fairly old technology into a new product. "Wet weight" (weight when fueled and lubricated) is less than 300lbs, ideal for my anemic little musculature. They're still being sold, in 250cc and 750cc twin-cylinder versions.

Good bits about the nighthawk includes good rust-resistant paint and chrome, and a fair amount of stainless steel in the engine. It's easy to maintain, largely because of the lack of parts -- all mechanical apparatus without hydraulics -- brakes, clutch, etc. Only one filter, an air filter that snaps in and out, and a fuel screen.

The bad bits included the little 250cc (really 233cc) engine, which would manage 70mph only if you had a long time to get there. It accelerated okay below 40mph or so, but keeping it at freeway speeds was a chore, and you had no power left for evasion. Also you can't get parts for the things -- in general the motorcycle parts market is pretty thin, and especially so for bikes that aren't popular. You end up buying parts from dealers, who tend to be annoying and/or incompetent cretins who overcharge you; there isn't much of a secondhand or wrecking-yard market for parts in my area either, so it's often a choice between paying a lot more or losing an entire day to go down to the wreckers in south SF.

I put 14,000 miles on the nighthawk in about a year. Dropped it twice (both times stupidly; you almost always feel stupid when you drop your bike, but I'll tell you about an exception later on), crashed it once.

Crashes

  1. #1 (Nighthawk) -- Made candidate for worst corner entry in the history of motorcycling. Hadn't yet caught on to how far over a bike can lean, and that leaning it into the ground is better than what happened half a second later in the front end of a toyota. Utterly my fault, of course.
    Bike damage: Bent fork tubes, front wheel cover, peg, assorted random scrapings. Parts took forever to find, then longer yet to arrive; one the parts appeared, had it all fixed up in two afternoons.
    Other-vechicle damage: Smudge on front bumper.
    Me damage: Jammed right wrist (on the brakes all the way in), sore lower back, twisted ankle. Not bad for a head-on against a cage. Felt really stupid and took a while to get my confidence back.
  2. #2 (GS500E) -- Rear-ended by a sport-utility while stopped at an intersection. Pushed forward a few feet and knocked over.
    Bike damage: Horseshoed brake lever, shattered turn signal, scraped up the freshly-refinished bar end.
    Other-vehicle damage: Smudge on front bumper. (detect a pattern?)
    Me damage: None, aside from general pissed-offness at the SUV drivers of the world who seem to be running a universal competition to spend the minimum fraction of their questionable total brainpower operating their actual vehicle.
    Brief rant: When I went to buy a new bar end, I found out that what Suzuki called a 93 GS500E bar end seemed to have changed, and now their version of the part included an unfinished lump of steel with a black plastic cover, instead of my own nicely finished steel (originally painted factory black, then repainted matte-black when the rust got to one of them). Needless to say it didn't match the existing one, and they cost $40 each, so I blew them off and ground off some of both bar ends to match, repainted (for the second time in a week), and left them on there, showering curses upon Suzuki and its Santa Rosa dealer. What's so hard about polishing a 1" steel cylinder a little and putting some paint on? Plastic scratches, cracks, breaks or falls off, and then you have to buy another one. On the other hand, that last bit probably explains it.
    Brief explanation: A "bar end" is a ~1lb lump of steel that goes on the ends of the handlebar, outside the handlegrip. Not all bikes have them, but many do in one way or another. Reportedly they're there for balance, and to assist turning -- when the bar turns, the inside end comes towards the bike's centerline while the outside end goes further out, thus counterbalancing the turn and moving weight more towards a spot directly over the tires (remember that the bike's leaned over) rather than offset. Or that's my theory, anyway. Corrections welcome.