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New Trends in Motorcycling – Automatics!

It’s time for a major change in motorcycling.  

Really?  How many times have you heard that one. It’s interesting – over the years, motorcycles have experienced some amazing technological advances – ABS, Traction Control, Ride-by-Wire, Active Suspensions…even specialized protective gear. All of these technologies are aimed at providing extra safety for our riding pleasure. They’re all good.

Ridley Auto-Glide

But what technologies and inventions have you seen that make biking easier? Well, you might say, today’s advanced bikes are better balanced than yesteryear’s – and you’d be right. But I really mean ‘easier’.

- Easier to learn to ride, easier to ride, easier to cruise.
- Easier for novices and aged drivers alike.
- Easier for those who have never used a clutch.
- Easier for those who’ve never been exposed to the bare-bones riding elements, as we have.

Ergonomically? With changes in hand controls, brakes, electronic ride controls? Nothing.  
Oh, wait a minute!  Everything!!

Some manufacturers have made shiftless bikes – automatic or shift-free bikes using CVT transmissions. Great news!

And how have Canadians fared in this area?  Horribly. 

I wonder why. To start with, Canadians are getting older… here are some facts: 1 in 5 Canadians are now aged 65+, and by 2013, that will be 1 in 4*1. In fact, back in 2012, 21 per cent of Canadians were over the age of 60. By 2030, that proportion is projected to rise to about 28.5 per cent, and by 2050, 31 per cent — nearly a third of all Canadians*2. When these seniors want to continue motorcycling (with arthritis), it’s only a matter of time until their hands and feet find shifting tougher and tougher. Here’s another example, having nothing to do with age - You want to ride with your friend or spouse or mistress (good for you!), but he or she doesn’t want to learn how to use a clutch. Do you just give up, or get your friend or partner a scooter?

Well, you’ve seen my articles on next-gen scooters and how great they are, that’s one way to go.  But, some bikers only want motorcycles – and who can blame them for all they offer?  So, if you chose motorcycles, you now have 2 choices - ‘automatic’ (gas) motorcycles, or electric ones.

Automatic motorcycles aren’t new. Honda had introduced them some years ago, but because the bike was expensive and improperly weighted, it wasn’t a runaway success.  Either was the Aprilia Mana, or the Ridley Auto-Glide.  That’s too bad, as that early lack of success ruined the path for Honda’s revolutionary CTX-700N DCT model in Canada. Automatic motorcycles look, handle, and are as powerful as the motorcycles we’ve been used to. But when it comes to shifting, they use a CVT-like transmission, allowing the rider to concentrate on other biking essentials, such as balance, monitoring traffic and road conditions. Only upon very close inspection would anyone realize your motorcycle is shift-less.

Aprilia 850 Mana

Honda’s CTX-700N DCT

So, what choices do you have if you want an ‘automatic’ motorcycle in Canada?  Well, this is where the short-sightedness of various manufacturers has let us down.  It’s not news that Canada poses an issue to vehicle manufacturers – because of our unique vehicle regulations and inordinate taxes, we often get the dregs of their vehicles.  For instance, I had a MazdaSpeed 3 (great car!) and I didn’t get anywhere close to the interior goodies that Americans got - for a far higher price. The same principle applies to motorcycles. So, that’s one reason why we don’t get the same varied bike selection as our fellow Americans. The other reason is Canadian marketers – far fewer vehicles are sold in Canada, so analytically obsessed marketers must be sure those sales will occur. As a result, while American Honda dealers are seeing resurgence in DCT automatic motorcycle sales, we don’t even get the choice of being able to buy one. You can always buy one in the U.S. (this is OK with Transport Canada’s rulings), but you’d need to check with Honda Canada if you can transfer warranty. Regardless, you’ll pay a fortune in extra taxes & transportation.

Back to Honda – they’re way ahead of the crowd with the CTX-700N DCT. The ½ Honda Fit power-plant’s low-slung’s centre of gravity makes riding and balancing this bike easy, especially for beginners. All controls are within easy reach and quite ergonomic – sit on one and you’ll know what I mean. Its suspension is competent; its street manners are near-perfect. By no stretch of the imagination is this a street rocket, but it’s not meant to be. Pricing is within just about every biker’s reach. This is a thoroughly modern bike line, so kudos goes out to Honda for their foresight. But… we Canadians don’t get to celebrate. And Honda wonders why the standard (ie shift) models in Canada are selling fine, but not wildly! Honda – you came so close – but no cigar for your Canadian market managers.
Suzuki used to have an automatic model, the 1982 model 450, but discontinued that a long time ago, and Honda had a 2-speed model also – they were way too early for the world to embrace them.  The other well-known Japanese manufacturers (Kawasaki, Yamaha) have shown little interest in getting to this market area, but if they watch the world markets, they should.  


Zero S

Now, onto electric bikes. Yup, you’re going to pay a premium for ‘going green’, but you have a few choices – Brammo or Zero. These belong more to the crotch-rockets than cruiser type, but they can still do the job.  Watch out for any range-anxiety long-distance trips, but for cruising around your neighborhoods, they’re quick, effortlessly powerful, and…wait for it… ridiculously quiet. In a way, they’re safer than any other type of bike, as you can literally hear all the traffic around you.  The problem is – they can’t hear you. So, now you have a dilemma, in deciding if you want a Harley-type noise-maker rattling your brain, or a quiet-as-a-green-forest glider that those 4-wheeler drivers can’t hear. The unfortunate part of this decision is that you’re not looking at any high-volume motorcycle manufacturer, nor are you looking at any firm with head offices in Canada – so getting parts will probably be lengthier and pricier than normal. But, they’re electric, clean, reliable, and … so cool!  These 2-wheeled versions of Teslas will attract any crowd – they may be the ultimate ‘pick-up’ bikes!
Again, Canadians lose out, unless you find that the ‘electrics’ are becoming more prevalent and well-supported closer to home.  When was the last time you saw one on the streets?

Regardless of your choice, every motorcycle maker should be trying to increase their market breadth and reach, and realizing world demographics and aging and those growing wants and needs, going automatic is the fastest way. Hopefully, they’re listening, for both their financial rewards, and our biking enjoyment into our golden years. In Canada.

*1: Canada GDP Growth, Standard Of Living Could Take A 20 Per Cent Hit From Aging, Says BoC; Posted: 04/ 4/2012 6:01 pm Updated: 04/ 5/2012 8:42 am

*2: CBC - How Well Is Canada Dealing With Its Aging Population?  October 1, 2013

2010 Atlantic Motorcycle and ATV Show - A pictorial

This year marked the third year for the Atlantic Motorcycle and ATV show in Moncton. Produced by Master Promotion, owned by the Motorcycle and Moped Industry Council (MMIC) and Canadian Off-Highway Vehicle Distributors Council (COHV) - the event appeared to be the popular spot for motorcycle enthusiasts to be in Moncton the weekend of Feb 12-14, 2010.

I haven't heard about the numbers that came through but there were roughly 15,000 last year. I don't know that it was quite as busy as last year but if you're a fan of motorcycles you wouldn't have minded - it just meant it was a little easier to get through the crowds and there'd be a better chance you'd get to sit on a few more bikes.

Most of the big manufacturers were there showing off their newest 2010 models.  There were a few standout bikes for me; notably the new Honda VFR1200, the BMW S1000RR, a Ducati 1198R, and Patrick Trahan's Dakar prepped Honda.

We took a few photo's and thought we'd share.  More content about the show is coming soon.

Kawasaki Concours 14 - The Ultimate Touring Machine?

Kawasaki Concours 14 - The Ultimate Touring Machine?

New for the 2008 model year lineup is a blisteringly fast and powerful touring machine - the Kawasaki Concours 14. Don't mistake this bike for a dull touring machine - It knows how to go fast and do it in comfort! One need only look at the power plant to see why this is a go fast machine; the C14's power plant is borrowed from the ZX-14 sport bike and is good for about 156 hp in the C14! The C14 is not just a ZX-14 with bags strapped on though. The Engineers at Kawasaki tweaked the 4 stroke, 1352 cc inline 4's (16 valve DOHC - digital ignition and liquid cooled) power output to smooth out the engine to make those long haul adventures a little more bearable (you still get a slipper clutch though!) The engine uses variable valve timing (first in its class) that adjusts the cam profiles, making its power delivery smooth and linear. Despite the standard issue touring bags which will fit a full face helmet - the cornering bank angles are comparable to the ZX-14. The slipper clutch helps eliminate lunging on downshifts and should be a well received feature.

This bike has a lot of really great features so settle in - I'm going to cover them as briefly as possible but the "Neutron Silver" body panels disguise a bit of engineering bliss.

First up and one of the most obvious features of the bike is the fact it's got no chain - it's a shaft drive. More specifically, it uses a four-shaft design which Kawasaki refers to as a "Tetra-Lever shaft drive system" which is said to significantly reduce driveline lash. Driveline last is caused by slack in the driveline. If there's a lot of it you'll feel or hear a clunk in the transmission. Kawasaki says the Tetra-Lever system delivers the same ride quality as a chain driven bike. Initial reviews seem to indicate the system works well.

According to reviews, the ride is distinctly sporty but there are also many rider focused creature comforts too:

- The windshield is electronically adjustable.
- Body of bike is aerodynamically designed to make wind "flow" around the driver and passenger.
- KI-PASS system (Kawasaki's Intelligent - Proximity Activation Start System) so you can leave your key in your pocket!
- Optional non-linear ABS system.
- Cigarette lighter style DC power outlet in the cockpit to power accessories such as GPS systems.
- Standard panniers are slim and close fitting for mass centralization.
- Tire pressure sensors (front and rear) with an instrument panel display.
- Small glove box on the fuel tank cover.
- 4-2-1 exhaust on the right hand side (gives you a nice view of the tetra lever on the left).

From what I've read you can leave the key in the bike and forget about it basically - you've got a small transponder fob that goes along with the key. When the transponder (with its unique corresponding signature as the key) is within 5 feet of the key you can start the ignition. When you walk away from the bike with the fob in your pocket the bike will go into lockdown mode when you get out of the 5 foot range. It's becoming a common feature in automobiles and it's beginning to find its way onto high end motorcycles.

MSRP is $17,799 w/o ABS or $19,099 with it.

The frame is monocoque aluminum that wraps over the engine. It looks pretty high-tech! The C14 is not a light machine but respectable for this category at a dry weight of 275 KG without ABS (ABS adds an extra 4 KG bringing it up to 279 KG). The tank is 22 L and the seat height comes in at 815 mm. The suspension in the front is an inverted cartridge fork and in the rear you're got the Tetra Lever with a single gas-charged shock with rebound damping and remote pre-load adjustability. The C14 has a 36 month warranty but you can pay for an extended "Good Time Protection Plan" warranty for additional peace of mind. Tall riders may want to spring for the taller windshield that is 70 mm taller than the stock windshield and offers approximately 22% more surface area.

The only negatives I've been able to find out about the bike is that it is a little heavier than some of it's competition; the BMW K1200GT and the Yamaha FJR1300 for example but it's also got a bit more horsepower than both those machines too. Some may find the mirrors don't give them a really clear view of what's behind them, noting that one reviewer seemed to indicate that they could see the panniers really well but that's about it. I've also been reading that the bike kicks out some heat! You'll need to wear proper gear (no shorts on this one!) to keep comfortable apparently.

2010 Update: It looks like Kawasaki have been listening and they've made some key changes for 2010. They made sure to address the heat and mirror complaints that many people had. 

The mirrors have been adjusted in 2010. They've been raised up 40 mm.  New bodywork too - this helps dissipate heat much better than before according to Kawasaki.

70mm taller windscreen, and wider too. It's also got memory so once you've discovered a sweet spot you find comfortable you can program it into the computer so that it returns to that position automatically when you re-start the bike.

But as a whole the bike seems to be a great machine that's going to have a lot of touring folks lining up at the Kawasaki dealerships!