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Yesterday I picked up the Rocket’s replacement at Ferracci’s. I considered a lot of different bikes – too many – and ultimately decided on the bike I’ve wanted in my stable and pined after since last summer, the venerable Suzuki V-Strom 650.

This is a big departure for me in a lot of ways:

  • My first non-Triumph. Both bikes I’ve owned since getting my license in 2008 were Triumphs, first the America then the Rocket III Touring. As a result, I’ve got dozens of items of Triumph garb and all my motorcycle helmets have Triumph stickers. My name on at least a dozen online motorcycle forums is PersonalTriumph (a reference to both my allegiance to the Triumph marque as well as some personal accomplishments.) When I decided on the ‘Strom it was hard to face the fact that I would not have a Triumph in my garage. I suspect at some point in the future I may have another though.
  • My first non-cruiser. Both bikes I’ve owned since getting my license were cruisers. The ‘Strom is my first sport bike.
  • My first dual sport. The ‘Strom is designed for light-duty off-roading. I’m going to do some research and find some fire roads up in the Poconos to give this a shot. I’ve already experimented with a lap around my yard. (Don’t tell my landlord though!)

My first impressions after about 24 hours of owning the ‘Strom are extremely favorable:

  • Twitchy. This bike handles like a dream. I think about turning, and it seems to turn. I’m sure other sport bikes handle better, but coming as I do from the land of cruisers this is a really welcome change.
  • Fast. I was worried that going from the 2300cc Rocket to the 650cc ‘Strom would leave me longing for the days of plentiful roll-on power. It’s a non-issue. In fact, the ‘Strom feels faster than the Rocket. I was on the highway this morning, cruising along at what seemed like a comfortable and reasonable pace. I looked down at my speedometer and I was going…well…way too fast. I need to be careful.
  • Light. After ‘rassling with the 900+ pound Rocket for the better part of the past year, it’s such a nice change to have a lightweight machine that I can easily roll around.
  • A bargain. I bought my V-Strom used. It’s a 2007 with around 10k miles on it that I got for less than $4,000. (Bonus: I was able to bank several grand after liquidating the Rocket.) But a brand new leftover 2011 with ABS and a warranty can be had at your local Suzuki dealer for around $7 grand. Even a brand new 2012 is just over $8 grand. It’s a fantastic machine for the money.
  • Its good to be in love again. After spending the past year falling in and out of love with the Rocket (and even feeling vague trepidation about it during the good times) it’s wonderful to once again have a bike that gets my heart pounding and my pulse racing every time I look at it.

There are a lot of folks who love the Rocket III, so don’t let my bad experience color you if you’re considering the bike. In fact, I think my friend Art will ditch me when I tell him the swap-out that I made, because he is so enamored with the Rocket. One of my fellow Rideitors on the Reddit motorcycle forum stated it best: “although you did enjoy it for a while I think you have eliminated a lot of the things you don’t want in a bike because they don’t fit your riding style. Its a little like dating the hot girl who turns out to be a superficial, high maintenance pain in the ass.  Well said, my friend. Well said.

If you’re a new rider, definitely put the V-Strom on your list of bikes to consider. I’ll keep you all updated as I get more experience with this bike.There is also a lot of help online at Stromtrooper, the V-Strom owners forum, which I have found to be one of the most comprehensive, active, and friendly motorcycle forums on the internet since I started lurking there last August.

Well my year-long love/hate relationship with the Triumph Rocket III Touring is officially over. I had posted it for sale back in February on Craigslist and had exactly one person come look for it about a month ago. He lowballed me and I declined. I never heard back from him (or anyone else) and had pretty much decided to just ride the bike for another year and give it another chance.

Then out of the blue on Wednesday the guy called me and told me he was ready to buy and would pay my asking price. He and a buddy came last night with a cashiers check, put it on a trailer, and its gone.

Better times.

So ends this saga. I was enraptured last spring by the notion that bigger is better. I tested the R3T at a demo day and decided I had to have one. A few twists and turns later I had the big, powerful, head-turning bike I wanted. I hated it almost from the beginning:

  • It was hot. And not in a good way. The 2300 cc engine generates a crap-ton of heat, and made the bike wickedly uncomfortable to ride in the summer months. I’d arrive at work after my morning commute drenched in sweat. If I got stopped at a red light I would literally have to turn the motor off. I’m convinced that Triumph de-tuned the demo bikes at its demo events or richened up the fuel mixture to make this less noticeable because the demo bike I rode (and I took 2-3 turns on it) didn’t run hot.
  • It sucked gas. Ask any Rocket III owner or Triumph dealer what the MPGs are on this bike and they’ll say, “Oh, about 40 miles per gallon.” It’s bullshit. This thing drinks gas like a drunken college fratboy drinks beer.
  • It was expensive to own. My premium doubled the day I bought the bike. My gasoline bill went up by at least 40%. Tires and maintenance were expensive. It goes on and on.
  • It was heavy. Backing out of my parking space at home became part of my workout routine.

I should have known all these things. I lost sight of it though after getting drunk on the notion that bigger is better when it comes to motorcycles. My very expensive lesson learned: it isn’t.

The Rocket added insult to injury when the shifting mechanism failed in August, leaving me stuck in third gear permanently. The repair cost me three weeks of ride time during the nicest time of the year. To Triumph’s credit, they covered the repair under warranty even though the manufacturers warranty had officially expired a month earlier (big assist to Steve, the service manager at Manayunk Triumph, who facilitated this and who tolerated my daily calls for a status update.)

There were good times too. My trip through West Virginia and North Carolina in October was an absolute blast on the Rocket. The bike was just flat-out built for rolling up miles on the open road. There were times when I would twist the throttle and that 2300 cc beast would spring to life and I would feel nothing  but…joy. Ultimately when the dude called and told me he would take the bike, I decided it was an opportunity to reset and pick something else.

Tomorrow I’m going to pick up its replacement. It’s already paid for. Stay tuned…

Ignore this post. I need a place to host these pictures because I’m trying to sell the bike. I’ve had a hankering to try something adventure-sport oriented that can occasionally go offroad and have my eye on a nicely-farkled V-Strom 650 that’s for sale pretty close to my house.

By the way, the bike DOES have baffles. I’m not of the “loud pipes save lives” mindset. Loud pipes may save lives but they also cause politicians to create new laws that none of us like.

Also note that even though one of my ‘beats’ for this blog is the first time rider, this bike is most definitely NOT for first time riders. It’s a 2300 CC beast that requires an experienced pilot. I’ve actually gotten criticism for this: “You have a blog for first time riders and ride a Rocket III??? WTF???”

It’s that time of the year. Sometime tomorrow evening we’ll all be singing Auld Lang Syne, embracing our loved ones and friends and wishing Happy New Year to all. And over the past week, journalists from every beat have done their “Tops of 2011” lists. So without adieu, here are my favorite motorcycling memories from 2011:

Rider Insurance comes through.

Smoke rising from the underground fires of Centralia, PA; one of the spookiest places on earth.

It was a weekend late in the summer. I had no plans. The weather looked good. So as a lone wolf like me is apt to do, on Saturday morning I loaded up the camping gear and headed out on the Rocket towards Central PA. I stopped at Hermys to peruse the inventory and test out a few bikes, then headed up 61 through the ghost town of Centralia (spooky, spooky place) and then West and North with no particular destination in mind. Just a plan to ride until I was tired, then camp somewhere, and head back on Sunday morning.

It was a perfect day, the Rocket was humming, and my spirits were high.

 

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Love/Hate. Currently Love.

I’ve written a bit about my love/hate relationship with my current ride, the Triumph Rocket III Touring. On a positive note, it’s a fantastic long-distance cruiser that eats up long mileage days with nary a complaint from my posterior. I love the cool factor of the bike and the fact that it can kick in the teeth of any old Harley on the road. And as my friend Art says, “You get the classic American bagger look, but with that 2300 CC engine…”

 

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It’s the last day of November and it’s getting cold in Philly. I had a fantastic ride on Sunday with a group of guys I meet up with a couple times a year, came home, and stowed the bike for the winter.I know some die hard riders who never put their bikes away and ride year long, but I’m not one of them. For one thing, I’m a ski patroller at a local mountain and so that’s my focus during the winter months. For another thing, I’m getting shoulder surgery on Friday which will put me out of commission for a month anyway.

I was going to write a blog post on how to winterize a bike – something I had to learn by trial and error the first season I owned my bike – but then yesterday I found a great article on the subject. So no need to duplicate the effort.

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As I mentioned in my first post, I spend a lot of time on weekends visiting local motorcycle dealers and testing out new bikes. I’m grateful that most of the dealers in my area support test rides and will let me take a spin. I’ve even been honest with them: “I’m not looking to buy.” They seem to get it. Maybe I’ll take a ride and just have to have the bike. This has happened recently. Twice this season, in fact.

So as the season winds down, I’m going to list the bikes I tested this year and provide a brief blurb on each. When I put this list together, I was pretty shocked. I’ve ridden a lot of different bikes this year.

With my Rocket III Touring on the Blue Ridge Parkway, October 2011. The Rocket was made for trips like this.

1a. Rocket III Touring. Numero Uno on this list is the bike I currently own. I rode the R3T a number of times at a demo day at Eurosports back in May. I liked it so much I ended up shopping for one and bought my current ride from Hermy’s later that month. Since then it’s been a love/hate relationship. In summer, on a 90 degree day, in traffic, I hate this bike. It is like riding a convection oven, it throws off so much heat from that 2300 cc powerplant. When I’m filling it up with gas, I hate it. I’ve averaged 30 miles per gallon this year and more often than not been in the mid 20’s. But when I’m rolling up heavy miles and cruising along on a nice twisty, or passing a tractor trailer on the slab, I absolutely love it. When I’m on a trip with my friends and hauling my camping gear, I love it. When I park it on Main Street in New Hope next to about a dozen ElectraGlides and the peeps walking by stop to look at my bike and ignore the Harleys, I love it. Read the rest of this entry »

Ever since I could remember, I wanted to ride a motorcycle. As a kid, whenever I saw myself as an adult in my minds eye, it was on a motorcycle.I can remember in third grade, looking out the window daydreaming while a guy rode past my school on a Honda CB 750 and thinking, “That’ll be me. When I grow up, that’ll be me.”  But it was a long-lost childhood dream, drowned in a sea of credit card bills from Nordstrom, or Macys, or wherever my now-ex-wife wanted to shop and a litany of disappoving glances whenever I paused in a parking lot to look at some other guy’s bike.

I had a minibike as a kid, a little scrambler with a Briggs & Stratton lawnmower engine, and a Puch moped in high school when mopeds were all the rage, but as a grown up, I never took the action of learning to ride, getting an M-class license, buying a bike. There were always reasons: I didn’t have the money for a bike, my wife wouldn’t support the decision, I didn’t have the time, etc. etc.

But in early 2008 none of those things were true. Now 43 years old and fresh off a divorce, I could call my own shots. If I wanted to ride, there was nobody telling me not to. If I wanted to go into debt to buy a bike, that was my business. And suddenly, I had free time to do the things I wanted to do.

The writer on his first day of motorcycle ownership, with his brand new 2008 Triumph America.

A motorcycle-riding friend explained the process of getting a license, and encouraged me to sign up for a class from the Motorcycle Safety Foundation. Within a few months, in May 2008 on Memorial Day weekend, I got my first bike, a 2008 Triumph America. Pacific Blue and New England White. 865 cc’s (which seemed like a lot at the time.) A couple of tasteful upgrades like saddlebags, a windscreen, a sissy bar and a passenger backrest. Riding that bike made me feel like a million bucks, and every time I threw my leg across the thing, I felt like I was about 7 feet tall. I felt like…a man. Read the rest of this entry »