Test Ride: Ducati Hypermotard
Ducati had its own campaign in full swing this year, promoting the Hypermotard with a nationwide test ride tour. I had the good fortune of attending the test ride on Southern California's famed Angeles Crest Highway. Ducati had set up camp at Newcomb's Ranch (the official Angeles Crest Highway restaurant/bar/hang out) and all that was needed was a valid CA driver's license with an M1 motorcycle endorsement. Sweeeeeeet...
I'm not the most knowledgeable supermoto guy so this was something new for me, although the Hypermotard is not a typcial supermoto bike. It's powered by a big 1100cc L-twin engine, albeit the air-cooled 2 valve per cylinder type (as opposed to Ducati's liquid-cooled 4 valve per cylinder superbike engines). I won't go into anymore technical detail as that's been covered by countless publications, so let's move onto the test ride.
We pulled up to Newcomb's Ranch to see Ducati's big truck trailer, tent and about 12 Hypermotards ready to ride. I got ride an S model which features upgraded suspension, brakes, wheels, tires and exhaust. The test ride had two proctors, one at the front and the other at the back. When it was our turn, we took off up the mountain for the test loop. It's about 13 miles east from Newcomb's Ranch to where Angeles Crest Highway is currently closed from storm damage in 2005.
The seating position is bolt-upright but comfortable; the bike feels tall but light. You feel like you're flying because you can't see any part of the bike if you're looking straight ahead. The wide, flat bars provide superb leverage and the bar-end mirrors are easily the most usable I've ever seen on a motorcycle (you might wanna tuck them in if you're doing some lane splitting though). The ride pace was surprisingly brisk for a manufacturer-sponsored test ride, so we got a decent feel for what the Hypermotard could do on a great stretch of twisty highway.
The first thing that hits you is the low-end torque. There's plenty of it but it's surprisingly easy to use. The big engine does run out of steam rather quickly toward the top of the rev range, but it has extremely usable and sweet-feeling power (there was none of that abrupt on-off jerkiness I was expecting). It's surprisingly soft for an 1100, but then again it does only have 2 valves per cylinder and is air-cooled. Hustling it through the turns is a somewhat numb-feeling compared to a supersport 600 (to be expected), but enjoyable in a whole different manner. There's a lot of suspension travel so you need to be smooth on the controls, but if you are you're rewarded with a turn-sticking experience so unlike anything outside the supermoto realm. The wide bars make turning a breeze and rolling on the throttle coming out of the turns is all smiles.
Our test ride was drama-free and over way too soon. I would've happily ridden it all day and taken it to the coast, but had to grudgingly give the thing back after our 26 mile canyon run. The lead proctor was very cool and would've let us do another run if we waited for the next opening, but by that point it was time to head home. The funny part was getting back onto my R6 afterwards. The R6's angled clip-ons felt all wrong after using the Hypermotard's wide, flat bars. The Hypermotard was loads of fun and comfortable to boot. $12,000+ worth of fun? Depends on your budget I guess.
Labels: ducati hypermotard, hypermotard
Michelin Pilot Power 2CT - Overrated
You know that chant you hear at college basketball games sometimes, when the visiting team's star player is having a bad game and the home crowd is chanting in unison, "OVER-RATED... OVER-RATED..."? Unfortunately that's how I feel about the Michelin Pilot Power 2CTs.
When I first ditched the stock tires on my 2005 R6, I got a set of the original Pilot Powers. I liked them a lot and did my first 2 track days with them. Although I was just getting started at the track, those tires gave me enough confidence to get some decent lean angles and push myself. After that I bought 3 straight sets of Dunlop Qualifiers, which I liked even more (although after 2000 miles and a couple of track days they would get rock hard). I got to the point where I wanted to try something a little stickier at the track, so the 2CTs seemed like a decent compromise without having to make the jump to DOT race tires. The whole dual-compound, softer-rubber-at-the-shoulders marketing thing got to me.
Fortunately I got a good price and threw them on the R6 for a couple of track days. For whatever reason, but most likely the more triangular profile of the front tire, I never got comfortable on them. I never achieved the same lean angles I did with the Dunlop Qualifiers. On top of that, they actually felt less predictable than the original Pilot Powers and the Qualifiers. They were really sticky, but I just couldn't get a good feel for what they were doing.
Interestingly enough, Sport Rider did a tire comparo back in 2006 (I think) and actually lapped faster on the Dunlop Qualifiers (single compound) than they did on the 2CTs (dual compound). That's not to say they're not good tires, because they are. I just think they're overrated and Michelin should get a lot of credit for developing a tire that their marketing team could really sink its teeth into. For my money though, I won't buy them again. Fool me once...
Labels: 2ct, motorcycle tires, pilot power
Keith Code's California Superbike School
Wow, has it really been that long since I posted? Yikes. In any case I wanted to write about my experience with Keith Code's California Superbike School, which I attended last weekend as a level 1 student. I've been riding now for 4 1/2 years and prior to the class had done nine track days (I think). Keith has an impressive list of motorcycle racers that he and his staff have coached, so when some members of my riding club signed up I figured it was a good time to go.
A great thing about the school is that you can rent one of their motorcycles for the day if you don't want to haul yours or don't have one suitable for the track. You can also rent all of the necessary riding gear like leathers, gloves, boots, etc., so it's a great way to get introduced to the track without having to purchase everything that's necessary to do so. The motorcycle you can rent is the 2007 Kawasaki ZX-6R, and I understand they get a new fleet every 2 or 3 years. I'm always keen to try different bikes, so I opted to spend a little more cash and rent one of the ZX-6Rs.
That morning I woke up and drove toward Rosamond with a buddy in the pre-dawn darkness. We arrived at the Streets course at Willow Springs just as the sun had come up, around 7:00 AM. It was a chilly 38 degrees F, but at least we knew the high would eventually reach 85 or so. As we parked and walked (freezing our asses off) toward the meeting room to register, we were greeted by the school's two huge truck trailers emblazoned with the school name, pictures and sponsor logos. One transports all of the bikes, the other has the riding gear and a kitchen (food is included with tuition). We got ourselves registered and eagerly checked out the bikes we would be riding later that day.
The first thing that happens is an orientation with Keith himself, which bleeds into the first lesson of the day. Keith is an excellent speaker and is passionate about teaching the school. He's obviously worked on his presentation skills and really cares about seeing his students make progress. This was made very clear to me when he told a slightly distracted student, "Young man, I need your attention." He presents his ideas clearly and effectively while engaging everyone in the class. His son Dylan alternates with him on teaching the classroom sessions and is also a very effective communicator. I've listened to plenty of fast guys and racers try to teach racing and track riding concepts, but being good at something and being able to teach it are two different things.
The class is broken down into 5 classroom sessions, each followed by a track session. They give you one concept to work on per session, then you hit the track and work on that one thing. Each student is assigned to a track coach (about 3 students per coach when I went). The coaches find you as you're circulating the track, follow and observe you, then have you follow them as they demonstrate the techniques. Immediately after the track sessions are over, you meet with your track coach for a few minutes before heading into the next classroom session. It's a very effective format.
Of the 5 things that we worked on, 2 were big revelations for me. I won't go into detail because I'll just muddy the concepts, but I definitely feel I got my money's worth. Those 2 exercises have boosted my confidence and given me something concrete to work on. The others in my riding club all came away with similar impressions and feel that the class is well worth its cost. We all plan on returning for level 2.
As we sat in the classroom for the wrap-up, Keith was still full of energy and concerned with whether or not we thought the class was worthwhile. He had us all fill out an evaluation form (which says a lot about how seriously he takes improvement), gave us completion certificates and sent us on our way. I stood up, shook the man's hand, thanked him and headed off for crispy chicken something tacos at Chili's. It was a terrific day and well worth my hard earned dough.
Labels: California Superbike School, Keith Code, trackday
Dunlop Qualifiers - 2nd Try
Right before my last track day I bought a new set of Dunlop Qualifier tires for my 2005 Yamaha R6. The set of Qualifiers I had on there before were worn down and rock hard, courtesy of three track days and a few thousand miles. They had survived two track days at Willow Springs with good performance, but their third track day at Pahrump, NV was too much to ask and my speed suffered. Riding the canyons on those things became a challenge; the bike just wouldn't grip and turn like it's supposed to.
Armed with brand new sticky rubber, I hit the big track at Willow Springs again and pushed the tires near their limit thanks to my growing familiarity with the track and some tips from AMA Superbike racer Jason Curtis. It was definitely the hardest and fastest I have ever ridden, and the tires definitely paid the price. There was one session where they simply got too hot and started sliding on me (I am by no means comfortable sliding the tires).
It's starting to dawn on me that tires will become the biggest expense of my track day addiction. Willow Springs is really hard on the right side of tires, and the way I rode last time out I'm not sure I'll use these tires again for another track day there. Some people have suggested I try using the Michelin Pilot Power 2CT, a dual-compound tire with softer rubber on the shoulders. They definitely won't last longer, in fact they'll have a shorter life, but maybe they'll handle the heat a little better.
The $$$ brakes on Valentino Rossi's 2006 Yamaha M1
During my last ride I was able to practice braking on a deserted strip of desert road. It's something I don't practice often enough, but after re-reading Sport Riding Techniques by Nick Ienatsch I was reminded how important it is. I did multiple passes from two speeds; 50 MPH and 80 MPH (I picked 80 MPH because that's a speed I often find myself going on the freeway).
On my first 50 MPH pass I was able to get the bike stopped in a decent distance. After I stopped the bike, I turned around and looked at the distance between me and my braking marker. I thought to myself, "Hey that isn't too bad." On my first 80 MPH pass, it seemed like an eternity before I got the bike stopped even though I was pressing the bike to the limit. After I stopped the bike this time, I turned around and looked at my braking marker again and thought to myself, "Damn... that is really far away."
It was a stark reminder that braking distances increase on a steepening curve in relation to speed. In other words, the stopping distance from 80 MPH is not simply twice the stopping distance from 40 MPH - it's a lot more. To illustrate, here are stopping distances for the 2006 Chevrolet Corvette Z06 as tested by Road & Track magazine:
60-0 113.0 feet
80-0 196.0 feet
60-0 109.0 feet
80-0 197.0 feet
That extra 20 MPH of speed added 83 and 88 feet, respectively, to the 60-0 braking distances. Keep that in mind next time you're barreling down the road, in your car or on your bike.
Labels: brakes, motorcycle
Willow Springs Trackday #3
I was starting to go through crackday, I mean trackday, withdrawals lately and finally got my butt and trusty R6 out to Willow Springs (the big track) for the 3rd time and my 6th track outing overall. This was also my 3rd trackday with Cal-Sportbike, whom I strongly recommend to those who enjoy a more relaxed experience.
For those of you who've never done a trackday, they run a good trackday school at no extra cost. I highly recommend it as a first trackday for anyone who feels they're ready for the challenge of the track. Most trackday organizers will break up the riders into 3 groups (novice / intermediate / advanced), but Cal-Sportbike uses only 2 groups so everyone can get more riding time in.
Good ol' turn 4
Prepping the bike took a couple of days. I had to get new tires (Dunlop Qualifiers again) and my radiator fluid hadn't been flushed in a while. I hate flushing the radiator because taking the fairings off and putting them back on just plain sucks. The rest of the prep - taping lights, removing mirrors, disconnecting the headlights and tail lights - takes just a few minutes.
Transportation was no gimme this time either. I had to borrow a friend's car (hers is set up for towing) and rent a U-Haul trailer. I was also hauling another friend's bike, so I had to get a larger trailer with enough room. I rented the 5x9 ramp trailer from U-Haul, which is excellent for hauling bikes. It has an easy ramp for loading/unloading and tie-down loops at all 4 corners.
the bikes loaded in the trailer at 5:30 am
My day started with a brutal 3:30 am wake up call, but that was because I had to:
hook up the trailer to my car
drive to where my bike is stored and load it
drive to my friend's place and pick him up / load his bike
drive 90 miles from my friend's place to Willow Springs at 55 mph (trailer laws)
Shockingly we had enough time to stop at Mickey D's for breakfast and still made it there in time. Our other two friends arrived a little later and we set up camp in the parking lot. The weather was perfect. We finished taping up our bikes, got them through inspection and went to the rider's meeting.
Our pit area
Finally it was time to get on the track. This was my first time riding in the fast group so I was a little curious about the speeds. To my relief I was able to hold my own but there were definitely a few really fast riders. One of those riders was Jason Curtis, AMA Superbike racer. He was insanely fast around the track and smoked me repeatedly. He hosted a Q & A session late in the morning, which I have to say was really helpful in giving me a few things to work on. More specifically, his comments about his braking points and how far into the specific turns he was trail braking really gave me something to measure against. I worked on trail braking the rest of the afternoon and really made some good progress.
Jason Curtis, AMA Superbike racer, about to spank me
By the end of the day I felt like I had improved quite a bit on the big Willow track. I was definitely braking later, deeper and smoother, and I definitely picked up a lot of speed in a couple of areas of the track that gave me a hard time before. At the very end of the day I rode my friend's Suzuki SV1000 for a few laps to capture some onboard video (she's got a really cool little video camera hooked up to the nose of the bike). I eased up to make sure I didn't crash her bike, so those of you familiar w/ Willow Springs will notice I'm downshifting and braking a little early in places. That was really fun though. :) Enjoy the video, and some more pics are below.
Labels: motorcycle, trackday, willow springs
Highway 33 - My 2nd Favorite Motorcycle Road
I do a lot of solo rides on my R6 to unwind, rarely less than 100 miles even though a supersport 600 is one of the least comfortable rides around. Yesterday was one of those days that required a lot of unwinding, so I hopped on the bike and just started heading north without any real destination in mind. The weather was good and I was looking forward to the fresh air.
Somehow I ended up meandering through some of so cal's back country roads to Ojai. I stopped for lunch and by the time I was through, it was about 2:30. It's been chilly around here lately and it rained a few days earlier, so I wasn't sure if hitting the canyons was such a great idea. However highway 150 on the way up to Ojai was pretty clean, so even w/ the chilled air and descending sun I decided to jump on my 2nd favorite motorcycle road, Highway 33 north of Ojai.
My "what the hell" attitude was rewarded by excellent conditions for this time of year. Except for a couple of spots, the road was in superb shape and debris-free. There wasn't a single cloud in the sky nor any wind. There was hardly any traffic at all and I was free to soak up all the super fun turns and twists that 33 has to offer. The weather was so clear that I could easily see the ocean from certain view points.
Highway 33 ranks so high on my list for many reasons. The good parts are never that crowded. The road is mostly in terrific shape. It's a long ride. The scenery is beautiful (it's in the Los Padres National Forest). Ojai's a great staging point. There's only one thing I don't like -- the long ride home on the 101 freeway.
Labels: highway 33, motorcycle, ojai