Photos by me and Jeff Timblin
Biketoberfest '02 - KLRs Everywhere!
As you can see, the KLR650 was a very popular bike at the speedway during Biketoberfest. This is where JT's now famous KLR TBR pipe became a gleam in his eye. But at least one rider was onto something different. She was resplendent on her pink Harley, pausing long enough to allow me this photo of her stylish ride.
After my first visit to Bike Week. I was charged for Biketoberfest. The FZ-1 was no more, long live the KLR. Dick, Jeff and I headed out eager to reach the track and start the test rides. Dick was sporting 6 cylinders on the mighty CBX to our combined two as we left the gas station/Burger King at the highway 42/I-40 junction headed for Daytona Beach.
After a few gas stops we got to the speedway in time to sign up for Kawasaki demo rides the next day (Kawasaki Good Times Owners' Club perk) ensuring a fun ride on something cool before all the good stuff was full. Then it was off to the Harley paddock to test ride some Hogs. This would be my first ride on a Harley and after having heard all the talk about Hardley Ablesons I expected very little -- I expected to hate it. I was wrong.
Harley Demo Rides
Harley works things a little differently than most bike manufacturers at the demo rides. Instead of signing up for a structured demo ride lead and chased by a manufacturer employee Harley just gives you the keys and tells you to follow the orange signs. Rather than signing up and returning later for the ride you just get in line and wait. It doesn't sound like a very good system but they have lots of bikes on hand and the line moves along pretty well. The lines are segregated into Sportster, Dyna, Soft Tail and Touring lines (I'll get to the VROD in a minute). I got into the Dyna line hoping to snag a Dyna T-Sport. When a Low Rider pulled in from the circuit, awaiting a new rider, everyone ahead of me in line was willing to wait for something else so out I went on the Low Rider. The fat grips and the strong torque were pretty enjoyable, the only detraction being the dorky looking and awkward feeling buckhorn handlebars.
After regrouping with the guys after their rides on the Road King and something else we got into the Sportster line together. It is a miracle we were not ticketed during the Sportster ride. Riding a bike hard is fun, and while it may not be possible on an R1 or any other modern sport bike you can surely do it on an 883. Mine was decked out in champion racing colors, definitely my favorite Harley paint scheme. We ran bar to bar tearing around the airport and Embry Riddle campus hanging off the bikes like hooligan wannabe's -- I swear I saw Jeff's elbow drag the pavement at one point. I can see why someone might want to buy an 883 Sportster and bore the jugs out to 1200. Despite being fairly heavy this is a small bike with almost nothing ahead of you in your line of sight as you chug down the road. The center of mass feels fairly low to the ground and the bike is a hoot to ride as long as you don't expect high performance. I was surprised at the 'feet under your butt' standard riding position, pretty familiar for a dual sport kind of guy.
The only part of the Harley experience that requires prior planning is the VROD ride. you have to get in line to sign up for a VROD ride, and come back when your group is scheduled. These rides are lead and followed by Harley chaperones. It must be the performance gap between the rest of the line and the VRODS that spawns the concern as the Road King is easily more expensive than a VROD.
The VROD has a very sweet motor. It is smooth and fairly torquey down low, but rev's like a bike should. It will run about 60 in first gear, you just keep twisting the throttle. The bike is very low and pretty small. When you sit on it everything disappears except the instrument nacelle and the handlebars. Riding with my feet that far forward took a little getting use to, but the VROD will corner if you just lean it over. It has pretty good lean clearance and leaning your body more than the the bike allows for decent handling, although not sportsbike type handing -- this is a cruiser after all. I could see riding a VROD if the price were not so steep. I like the painted anniversary colors better than the brushed aluminum.
Would You Like Some Sauerkraut With That?
Harley was not the only demo game in town, and later in the weekend we made it over to the BMW tent to sample some of Germany's finest. Once under way BMW's ride has a unique feature that allowed us to sample more than one bike during the demo. Halfway through the ride we were led into a deserted business park, circled up and instructed to park the bikes. One of BMW's ride leaders then drives one of the touring models by the group at about sixty mph, and does a full brake emergency stop to show the effectiveness of BMW's antilock brakes. It was pretty impressive. It also allowed us to switch bikes and that point. So over two demo rides I got to try the R1150GS, the F650GS, the K1200LT luxo barge, and the R1150GS Adventure.
The R1150GS always surprises me when I ride it. It looks like an angry 800-pound hornet. But at 10 mph it becomes light and easy to handle. The Adventure model felt even lighter and more nimble. Its Continental TKC80 semi-knobbie tires accelerate the turn in and make the bike seem much lighter. I like it a lot. I was even surprised at the K1200LT. Don't get me wrong, it's a huge barge, but I was surprised at how willing it turned. It was very easy to ride.
Kawasaki came through as well providing rides on the ZX12R and the Vulcan 1500 Mean Streak. I lucked into the ZX12R ride when the teen who was signed up for it thought better of it and asked to trade for my ZX6R. The ZX12 was immensely powerful but miserable for me -- its very racy riding position outweighing any enjoyment of extra performance. Some folks love the thing; that's why they make all kinds of bikes. More to my liking was the Mean Streak, although I can see why one print mag suggested it might be better labeled the "slightly grumpy". It is a well balanced and comfortable bike with pretty good get up and go, but no stretch your arms out torque. You expect that sort of thing from a power cruiser. One vendor displayed a hop up kit that bumped the dressed up Vulcan to 100hp and 100ft-lbs of torque. That's more like it - but no rides on the modified bike were forthcoming. Suzuki added to my demo package with the V-Strom adventure tourer/standard and the DRZ400S. The Strom was a kick, big and torquey. The DRZ's narrow seat numbed my unmentionables on the ride of just 20 minutes.
The Beull tent works like the air cooled Harley lines, you get in line and wait. It was the end of the day and we thought "what the hell, all the other rides are full, we might as well stand here just in case." In about a half hour we were pulling away on XB9R Firebolts, a bike I had only seen thus far in magazine pictures. This thing is really small. It is the most compact riding position I have ever found comfortable. The seemingly mismatched sporting nature and big twin rumble was fun. I enjoyed riding the Firebolt and would conside owning one as maybe a third bike. The sharp geometry worried me that I would be unstable on the ride but the bike was very well behaved.
Bright Lights, Big City
After a hard day of bike ogling and demo riding a fellow needs to be replenished. We headed east in search of solid and liquid sustenance. Our manna was found at the conveniently located Boot Hill Saloon. Standing by the fence on Main Street is an excellent vantage point. You can watch the bikes parade by and enjoy grill cooked food and a wide variety of beverages. We did the Main Street parade decked out on our dual sports and late 70's hardware later but garnered little attention compared to the stretched customs on hand.
Bike week is a tough audience. Fellows rode by on VRODS, very rare at the time, only to be ignored in deference to products of the now famous garages you see on the Speed Channel and Discovery, whoops, I mean DSC. If you don't like noise, bring your ear plugs. All the pipes are loud and some are nasty. The nastiest pipe I heard was a straight header on a on Kawasaki 900. There was no pipe to speak of.
There were also hogs of another type roaming the sidewalk and wowing the crowds. I saw all kinds of people wearing all kinds of clothes and some people had left some of their clothes home, wearing instead airbrushed paint or perhaps cake decoration gone awry -- hey, let me get that for you ...
After our parade lap of Main Street we were compelled to take a ride in the country, ending up a little bar that had sprouted a big tent, known as Sopotnik's Cabbage Patch. The Patch is famous for its coleslaw wrestling which always seems to take place on a Wednesday, usually the day before we get there. Sopotnick's little bar never disappoints - the bands they get are good every time I've been there. I had expected the Patch to be a rough and tumble sort of place but I've only seen one punch thrown in all my visits, quickly quelled by an alert bouncer.
Back at the speedway the next day a previous world champion trials rider put on a show of amazing agility. He rode his trials bike up and down steel screen ramps finally ascending to a platform a couple stories off the ground. He also mugged for the crowd hopping over his helpful narrator who kindly laid on the ground waiting to be leapt without a ramp. It was a great show and holds up trials riding as a great way to practice balance, momentum management, and all the other things that make good riders good. It looks like a lot of fun too.
A lot of people from a lot of places make it to the Daytona events, as you can see from the "Where are you from board" under the Kawasaki tent. I pushed a pin into the board to represent our trek from the Triangle, and I look forward to doing it again next year.
The hotel is reserved, vacation has been requested and Bike Week this year has only sharpened my appetite for more demo rides during Biketoberfest. I have my sights set on the Yamaha Road Star Warrior, and a Ducati in October. Hopefully Ducati will show up with plenty of Multi-Stradas.