Yamaha has taken the wraps off its latest-generation flagship sportbikes, the 2020 YZF-R1 and the track-ready YZF-R1M, with both featuring refinements to their CP4 crossplane crankshaft engines, an augmented electronic rider aids package, enhanced suspension and redesigned bodywork.
The 998cc inline-four powering the R1/M was already potent, and for 2020 it gets new cylinder heads, fuel injectors, finger-follower rocker arms and camshaft profiles. Controlling the beast is an all-new Accelerator Position Sensor with Grip (APSG) ride-by-wire system with Yamaha’s Chip Controlled Throttle (YCC-T) that eliminates throttle cables and reduces weight while providing smoother throttle operation.
A robust electronics package centered around Yamaha’s proprietary six-axis IMU now lets riders choose between two intervention modes for enhanced Brake Control (BC): BC1 is optimized for upright, straight-line braking and BC2 increases intervention timing deeper into the lean, for enhanced braking into corners.
A new Engine Brake Management (EBM) system also allows the rider to select between three levels of engine braking force. Both the BC and EBM are adjustable through the onboard Yamaha Ride Control and Yamaha’s Y-TRAC smartphone (Android only) and tablet app (Android and iOS).
Premium Öhlins Electronic Racing Suspension (ERS) has been a staple of the R1M’s chassis performance, and a new NPX pressurized front fork with a gas cylinder built into the front fork axle bracket, along with revised rear shock settings to complement the performance of the front fork, are features of the new 2020 model.
The 2020 YZF-R1 also receives suspension performance enhancements courtesy of a new KYB front fork with a new internal shim stack design and a KYB rear shock with revised internal settings. Together, the changes result in smoother suspension dampening paired with an improved feeling of contact and grip with the street or track surface.
Lastly, redesigned bodywork creates a claimed 5.3-percent increase in aerodynamic efficiency while reducing wind noise and pressure on the rider when in a tucked position, and improved comfort comes from smoother side section where the rider’s legs contact the bike. The R1M also gets a new carbon fiber tail cowl.
The 2020 YZF-R1M will initially be available in limited quantities exclusively through Yamaha’s online reservation system in a Carbon Fiber color scheme for $26,099. Dealerships will begin receiving reserved orders in September. To place a reservation, click here.
The 2020 YZF-R1 will be available in Team Yamaha Blue or Raven for $17,300, and will begin arriving in dealerships in September.
Raw and bare, stripped of all the arguably distracting bells and whistles that Bluetooth-connected, GPS-dependent riders have been coddled with, Harley’s new FLHT Electra Glide Standard is the epitome of simplicity. As a mid-year release, the bike signifies a back-to-basics, cut-the-fat approach geared to attract riders at a reasonable $18,999. Compared to the Electra Glide Ultra’s $24,589 or the Street Glide’s $21,289, the Standard is the lowest-priced offering in H-D’s touring line.
Described as a dressed down dresser, the Electra Glide Standard does away with the radio and instead depends on the ultra-smooth Milwaukee-Eight 107 V-twin to set the tempo. Importantly, the iconic batwing fairing with a clear, mid-height windshield and a single halogen headlight are retained, though its foam-covered speaker holes are empty as is the gaping slot for the LCD screen, which now serves as a phone or glove holder during pit stops.
The dished solo seat sits at 26.1 inches, which made it extremely comfortable for my 6-foot-3 build. With a minimalist amount of chrome, the bike maintains a sleek and intimidating look that will still turn heads with the purity of its black paint job (and it only comes in Vivid Black).
The Electra Glide Standard comes with large One Touch saddlebags. spacious floorboards and a standard shift lever in place of the usual heel-toe shifter. Its naked front fender covers a 17-inch black machined Impeller wheel that is accented by chrome fork skirts.
Handling was impressive at all speeds during a daylong press ride through Florida’s swampland near Daytona Beach. The fat 130/80 front tire meant I had to put a little more effort into steering it, but the still-nimble, 820-pound bike felt firmly connected to the asphalt. With 26 degrees of rake and 6.7 inches of trail, it provides stable, comfortable cruising for days, especially with the Showa Dual Bending Valve front fork and dual emulsion shocks in the back.
This no-frills bike is not for beginners, nor is it billed as such. It is an attractive and attractively priced piece of American iron that will appeal to a wide swath of financially conscious riders. It gives a rider the basics that matter to get them out on the open road or into a dealership. And it is prepped to be incrementally customized as riding seasons pass–a deliberate Harley marketing plan.
The streamlined beauty and Milwaukee-Eight power should hopefully make the Electra Glide Standard a lasting hit in Harley’s touring line.
Kali Kotoski is the Managing Editor of Rider’s sister publication Thunder Press.
This little charmer was in the first wave of Japanese bikes to enter the U.S. market, thanks to Hap Jones, a motorcycle racer and businessman of considerable note. Hap had been selling British bikes in the 1950s, and then decided to get out of the retail business, focusing on his more profitable distribution side. And the Japanese manufacturers were just getting interested in American buying habits, with Honda opening up for business in 1959, Yamaha in 1960.
So Hap got on the phone to Japan in 1961 and had a chat with the Tohatsu suits, who were undoubtedly very happy at the thought of getting into the burgeoning U.S. market, especially with a well-known and highly respected gent like Hap Jones. They arranged for a couple of 50cc Runpet models and several 125s to be sent over, a deal was struck and Hap introduced them to the world with a full-page ad in the January 1962 issue of “Cycle” magazine…quite unusual for a start-up to spend that kind of money. Then he had the good fortune to have a rider on a Tohatsu 125 win the lightweight Sportsman road race at Daytona, which gave him great publicity. Within a few months he claimed to have 300 motorcycle dealers and a number of sporting-goods stores carrying the Tohatsu line.
What was this little Runpet Sport? And this Tohatsu Company? The word is a combination of Tokyo and “hatsudoki” (engine factory), the origins going back to 1922 and the Takata Motor Research Corp., which made its reputation by building a small motor for a highly successful rail-track car. The name was changed to Tohatsu in 1939, and the company became focused on producing military equipment, including small motors to run little generators. War came and went, the factory survived, and it began selling these little motors to other companies building motorized bicycles. “Heck, we can do that ourselves,” some executive said, and Tohatsu began selling kits for bicycle owners to mount themselves, with gas tank, exhaust system and bracketry.
Better yet, it would build a sturdy bicycle, with a telescopic fork. In 1953 the Puppy appeared, powered by a 58cc two-stroke. Not a very attractive vehicle, but mildly efficient. In the mid-’50s the Japanese were all desirous of personal transportation and some 80 companies were competing in the motorized two-wheeler market. By 1956 Tohatsu was the biggest of the lot, selling 70,000 motorbikes, twice the number that Honda was. But competition was getting fierce, and the serious outfits like Honda, Yamaha and Bridgestone were busy modernizing their products, while dozens of the small operations were shutting down. Unfortunately Tohatsu’s success was followed by some major financial mismanagement, with lots of borrowing going on to keep the company afloat. In 1960 the government, through something called the Rehabilitation Act, arranged for Tohatsu to be bought by the Fuji Electric Manufacturing Corporation, the presumption being that this larger concern might be able to get Tohatsu back on its financial feet.
Motorcycles were just a part of the Tohatsu Company, with marine hardware, from bilge pumps to outboard motors, being more important. However, the two-wheeler R&D boys had been hard at work with new models now at hand, including the 50cc Runpets, the Japanese advertising saying in translation, “…with the accent on having fun!”
The Runpet Sport was indeed a sporty creature, with a highly tuned 49cc piston-port engine, fed through a TK carburetor that, like the Amals of the day, had both a tickler and a choke. A single-disc clutch connected to a three-speed gearbox. The factory claimed it put out 6.8 horsepower at 10,800 rpm and was capable of speeds in excess of 60 mph. Quite astounding for a street-worthy little single! It should be noted that 50cc racing was quite popular back then, especially in Japan.
Unfortunately Tohatsu did not get into developing automatic oiling, and owners had to do things the un-fun way, mixing the oil with the gas. As well as kickstarting the tiny terror. Tohatsu had put an electric starter on its basic Runpet with a lower state of tune, intended for the commuter and housewife, but the Sport was to live up to its name.
Chassis was simple, with a large tubular steel backbone frame from which the engine hung, two bolts securing the head; two more were down at the back close to the swingarm pivot. A telescopic fork up front. Two pairs of arms went back from the main frame to hold the saddle and places for bolting the tops of the two shock absorbers.
The 17-inch wheels had drum brakes, and the distance between axles was 44.5 inches. A 100 mph speedometer (rather optimistic) sat in the headlight nacelle, and a very small windshield served to enhance the sport look. A short saddle and no passenger pegs indicated that this was a one-up ride. But you could get the groceries, as there was a small luggage rack and two tiny pannier bags, made from the hide of a Nauga. Total weight was 135 pounds.
There were several options as to presentation, and this one has the scramblerish high pipe and small skid plate. Shiny chrome fenders and nice paint on the tank and side panels enhanced the image. The company was also putting out new two-stroke models, designed with American riders in mind, like a 125 parallel twin with four gears and 15 horsepower.
All to no avail. Bankruptcy was declared in 1964 and the motorcycle side was shut down. We don’t know how many Runpet Sports were sold by the 300 dealers Hap Jones claimed were carrying the brand, but there don’t seem to be many in the used-bike lists.
You probably wouldn’t think that new riders looking for a cheap and unintimidating starter bike would have much in common with budget-minded veterans who neither need nor want the expense and complexity of new models. But the requirements of both often seem to converge around middleweights from the mid-1990s. At the center of this particular Venn diagram is Yamaha’s Seca II, a bike whose modest specifications belie its versatility, and whose used price is such a bargain you almost can’t afford to not buy one.
The Seca’s 599cc engine has dual overhead cams, two valves per cylinder, four 28mm Mikuni carbs and a six-speed gearbox. There’s little in that list to make a sportbike rider’s heart beat faster, but that wasn’t what Yamaha was after. With 61 horsepower on tap, the 452-pound Seca is sufficient to introduce novice riders to the heady joys of acceleration while keeping the transportation-focused ones from becoming hood ornaments on the freeway.
What the Seca lacks in sheer excitement it makes up for in practicality, usually as a backup for your hot-blooded sportbike or your elephantine tourer. The Seca won’t take up much of your weekends with maintenance or repair; the understressed engine routinely sends the odometer past the 50,000-mile mark with little more than regular oil changes and the occasional chain service. Some high-mile engines sound like they have a dollar’s worth of loose change in the crankcase, but synching the carbs and adjusting the valves usually clears it up.
One very large red flag is if the starter spins without turning over the engine. A stripped idler gear might be the cause, and it’s not an easy fix–the crankcases have to be split to get at it. Leaky valve-cover and clutch-cover gaskets are common but easily fixed.
The Seca’s chassis mimics the engine’s no-big-deal philosophy. The tubular-steel frame has a 38mm non-adjustable front fork, a single rear shock with preload adjustment, a 320mm single disc brake and a 245mm rear. Cast wheels are shod with a 110/80-17 front tire and 130/70-18 rear. The seat is 30.3 inches off the deck and, while not actually built for touring, is tolerable for one or two riders on day rides. Mileage is typically in the 45-55 mpg range, depending on how you load the bike and how hard you flog it.
The fairing does a decent job of blunting the wind. But like all plastic parts, and especially those on older bikes, it’s expensive to replace, so look closely for cracks around the mounting points and the windscreen, and be prepared to lower your offer substantially depending on what you find. Also inspect the fuel petcock for leaks. Faulty ones let gas drain into the engine, leading to the aforementioned starter idler gear losing its teeth as it strains against flooded cylinders.
The Seca’s reputation for reliability is sometimes its downfall, as owners neglect necessary chores in favor of more road time. Check used examples for leaks, loose steering-head bearings and crash damage. Shine a light in the tank and look for rust caused by water in the gas. The Seca is notoriously cold-blooded, but if it can’t be ridden cleanly off the choke after 10 minutes something’s up. Book prices range from just under a grand for a 1992 model to $1,300 for a ’98.
Yamaha XJ600 Seca II
Pros: A solid and reliable middleweight that won’t keep you up late at night in the garage. A learner bike worth keeping.
Cons: All the flair of vanilla ice cream. Gets you there with little fuss, and less excitement.
Specs: Displacement: 599cc Final drive: Chain Wet Weight: 452 lbs. Fuel capacity: 4.6 gals. Seat Height: 30.3 in.
Nice little bike. Great for commuting, but entirely capable of a cross-country trip. This model was an answer to problems in the global economy. The dollar was devalued in 1971, with President Nixon taking us off the gold standard, meaning we had less money to spend on foreign products. Also, Congress was upping the import tariffs on lots of things, trying to figure out how to pay for the war in Vietnam. In response, Kawasaki decided to build a factory in Lincoln, Nebraska. This was not a real manufacturing facility, but more of an assembly plant, as the import duties on bits and pieces of a motorcycle were a lot less than bringing in a whole one.
Kawasaki had been looking at the success of Honda’s little four-stroke twin, the CB350, which had modest performance but all the amenities Americans seemed to like, including an electric starter. Kawasaki’s R&D backroom boys put their heads together, drew up plans and came forth with a very efficient, if rather uninspired, 398cc vertical twin, with a 360-degree crankshaft, an overhead camshaft and an electric leg. In June of 1974 the first KZ400 rolled off the assembly line in Akashi, Japan, and a number of them arrived in the United States. But that was just the beginning, as the factory was turning out a lot more parts than those assembly line workers could use. Crates of them were going to Nebraska. In January of 1975 a KZ400 rolled off the Lincoln line with “Made in the USA” on the ID plate.
One should add that the price of gas went up 45 percent between 1973 and 1975, from 39 cents per gallon to 57 cents. Could there be a better time for a 50-mpg econo-bike to hit the market?
The frame was a simple double cradle having dual downtubes, with a big, fat backbone tube meeting up with the cradle at the swingarm pivot, a very solid affair that avoided any notion of flexiness. Front fork was by Kawasaki, very much like a Ceriani, and on the inexpensive, non-adjustable side. Five inches of travel was good, with a 27-degree rake and trail of approximately four inches offering a very middle-of-the-road stance. The swingarm ran out 20 inches, bouncing along on a cheap pair of Kawasaki shock absorbers having preload adjustability and three inches of travel. Too soft, reviewers said.
Spoked wheels were both 18 inchers, the front carrying a 3.25 tire, the rear, 3.50. Braking was done by a single 226mm (10.91-inch) disc on the front, a 180mm (7.09-inch) drum on the back. As a polite reviewer might say, adequate. But this was not intended for sporting riding like the Z-1, and the brakes worked fine for commuter use. Distance between the axles was 53.3 inches.
The wet-sump engine was straightforward, being slightly oversquare with a 64mm bore, 62mm stroke. Of minor note was the chain-driven counter-rotating balancer system down in the crankcase, called “harmonic” by one reviewer. It did not smooth out all vibrations, but for anyone happy to ride at two-thirds of redline (9,000 rpm) it was entirely adequate. Commuters, the intended buyers, were not known as rip-snorting riders.
The four valves, two per cylinder, were pushed down by a single overhead camshaft, and 36mm Keihin CV carbs fed high-test gas (preferred) and air into the combustion chambers, where it was compressed 9:1. The engine was rated by the factory at 35 ponies, which was usually measured at the crankshaft, not the rear wheel; on a dyno it was closer to 29. Respectable; good for an honest 90 mph. In 1977, with the fuel crisis in the headlines, the carb size was reduced to 32mm to enhance mileage figures a little. And the compression was raised to 9.4:1, which served to create roughly the same power output. Ignition was by battery and single two-feed coil. Starting was by button, except a kickstarter was there as a backup, as many Americans did not yet fully trust electrically powered gizmos.
Primary drive was via a Hy-Vo chain, and then through a wet clutch to a five-speed transmission and chain final drive. The long, flat saddle was great for one person, a bit crowded for two. Looks were OK, with shiny chrome fenders and nice paint on the 3.2-gallon gas tank and side panels. Curb weight was a shade more than 400 pounds. The only complaint seemed to be about occasional oil weepage coming from around the head.
The number of KZ400 models expanded. The D series, the essential KZ400 that we have here, went from ’74 to ’77 and cost $1,170 in ’74. The cheaper S series, with a drum front brake and no electric starter, went for $995 in ’75. And for one year, ’77, there was the A model, with small handlebar fairing, saddlebags and luggage rack.
For ’78 the D designation became a B, with a redesign in the head, a slightly different gas tank and mufflers, an extra gear in the transmission and the fuel tap getting a diaphragm. The low-price version stayed with five speeds and had a two-into-one exhaust. And there was the stepped-saddle LTD “custom” model, with cast wheels.
This modest motorcycle was also a modest financial success. Kawasaki ran a lot of entertaining ads focused on the commuter, one saying, “More fun than any car I ever drove.” This ’76 model, in the same family since new, is quite stock except for the MAC mufflers.
For 1980 the engine was bored out to 67.5 mm, a 10 percent increase in size, and received a new KZ440 designation, giving the basic design four more years of life.
Last SeptemberI participated in the Three Flags Classic, an endurance ride from Mexico to Canada totaling more than 5,000 miles (read about it here), and had my pick of motorcycles on which to do it. I needed something comfortable, of course, but also wanted some cornering clearance for when things got twisty, plenty of luggage space and an athletic, upright riding position in case we encountered gravel or dirt (which we did). Then Senior Editor Drevenstedt came home with a new Yamaha Tracer 900 GT, which he’d ridden back to SoCal from the launch in Washington, and I had my mount.
Before I left, however, we needed to address some minor touring shortcomings and prepare the bike for its adventure. So off the Tracer went to Yamaha to be outfitted with a Yamaha accessory comfort seat and taller touring windscreen, along with a set of new Dunlop Roadsmart III tires and some DP Brakes sintered pads that would offer better bite and feedback than the stock pads. When it came back a couple of weeks later, we discovered Yamaha had gone above and beyond by also adding a radiator guard, front fender extender, engine case guards, a larger rear rack and a full Yoshimura exhaust system.
Almost 5,000 miles later, I was grateful and impressed with everything…with the exception of the exhaust. Its sporty, aggressive song became tiring and abrasive, even with earplugs, after eight-plus daily hours of high-speed droning. Everything else, though, made a good sport tourer a great one. While I never tested the engine guards (thankfully), Yamaha’s comfort seat and touring screen kept me comfortable, the big rear rack made it a breeze to attach the dry duffel holding my camping gear and after miles of loose gravel in Montana, the radiator guard had proved its worth. The Dunlops especially impressed me, proving to stick faithfully regardless of temperature or road condition, including rain, sleet and slush, and even after my ride they were only just starting to square off and had plenty of tread left.
Some have complained of a bit of buzziness generated by the Tracer’s 847cc triple, but I had no issues; perhaps the comfort seat helped, and I made judicious use of the cruise control, which worked very well. My only remaining niggle is that the footpegs are set fairly far back, resulting in a sporty knee bend that could get tiresome. Otherwise, though, our kitted-out Tracer turned out to be a solid sport-touring machine that inspires me to wonder: where shall I go next?
How four military veterans made history with the motorcycle trip of a lifetime.
There’s no wind in your hair or sun on your face when riding your motorcycle through a whiteout snowstorm, especially in November when it’s -16 F on Alaska’s Dalton Highway. No, the only warmth you feel is the electric heat of your Arctic riding suit running off your bike’s battery, especially if it catches fire and melts the inside of its weatherproof fabric, which happened to Wayne Mitchell on the sixth day of his 6-month journey last year. Too bad it wasn’t the worst of his team’s problems that week.
Five days later, near Burns Lake, British Columbia, Rich Doering was steering clear of deep roadside snow banks, leery of catching one with the wheel of his sidecar, when a white Chevy Impala tried to pass him, spun out of control and crashed into Doering’s left side, pinning his leg against the bike. The 59-year-old Alaskan was shaken and in pain. Not even two weeks into a journey two years in the making, Doering’s trip was in jeopardy of ending before barely getting off the ground. Fortunately, his X-rays were negative and the crew of veterans rode on, not wont to leaving a fallen man behind.
With a few other roadside spinouts and mechanical failures, it was a dicey start to the Where The Road Ends team’s 19,000-mile continuous motorcycle journey from the origin of the northernmost road in America to the southernmost tip of Argentina. The four riders, plus one photographer and one videographer, had all served in the U.S. military and jumped on this opportunity to offset the boredom and void that so often come with reintegration to civilian life.
Retired army combat engineer Wayne Mitchell, the leader of the band, was a National Park Service employee in Colorado and the only rider with a wife and kids back home. Administrative office life was making the 43-year-old stir crazy, “like a Border Collie in an apartment,” and the prospect of another high-risk, seemingly impossible mission was all too tempting.
Simon Edwards, 54, had spent 20 years in the Special Forces as a medic before working as a physician’s assistant, though his own heart was on the mend from a bad breakup before the trip. Having raced in the Mexican 1000 Rally and set speed records at the Bonneville Salt Flats, he was the strongest rider in the group.
Gruff and bearded was Mike Eastham, 50, who served with Mitchell in Mongolia and now worked construction jobs in rugged Alaskan environments. He’d often talk about rekindling his youthful “cowboy and Indian days” of wild military exploits.
And then there was Rich Doering, the former satellite systems engineer who longed for the military’s camaraderie. At 59, Doering may have been the most intellectual of the group, but was definitely the slowest rider.
After the accident, the team cruised south along the west coast of the United States without any major hiccups. Once they hit the Baja peninsula in Mexico, the sense of freedom and adventure ramped back up as they sped down the empty coastline, making good time and taking in the warm glow of western sunsets. Mitchell’s father used to regale his son with tales of riding motorcycles through Baja and now here was Wayne Jr., feeling the hum of his own engine, with waves of salty air crashing down onto hot asphalt. Ironically, the end of the Mexican leg coincided with the end of Mitchell’s father’s life. Mitchell got the call from his family and ultimately decided that his dad, who suffered years of dementia, would have wanted him to complete the mission in lieu of the funeral.
Navigating sporadic roadblocks and long lines at border crossings are par for the course in long-distance adventure riding. But the team was preparing for a rather atypical speed bump. Instead of taking the usual ferry from Panama to Colombia around the roadless, lawless, 80-mile break in the Pan-American Highway system–known as the notorious Darien Gap–they planned to ride their 450-pound Kawasaki KLR650s right through the heart of the beast, though “riding” would soon take on a new meaning.
No one had ever done a continuous north-south motorcycle journey from Deadhorse, Alaska, to Ushuaia, Argentina, through the Darien Gap in one uninterrupted trip. The absence of any road going through the thick, overgrown jungle is enough of a deterrent, as are the deadly snakes and insects, paramilitaries and guerillas, drug and human traffickers, and desperate migrants.
Yet the crux of the whole operation hinged on getting permission to even attempt the crossing of the gap from Senafront, Panama’s border police force. At a fortified compound in Panama City, with armed cadets lining the perimeter in camouflage and toucans squawking from the treetops, a giant, menacing eagle statue glared down on the team as they shuffled inside to plead their case. One ornery official in an off mood could stymie the entire venture, derailing the premise of their film and letting down their sponsors and the fan base they’d amassed along the journey.
Fortunately, they and their gifted bottle of a fine liqueur were greeted with a smile by Subdirector General Oriel Oscar Ortega, a decorated, stocky man who had surprisingly little reservation about giving the team permission to cross into the Darien Gap, despite the potential for political fallout if anyone were to get killed.
“There is peace with the Colombian FARC,” he said, referring to the armed revolutionary guerilla movement in conflict with the Colombian government since 1964. “All is quiet, so you can go. But [once you get to] Colombia, it’s your problem….Welcome to Panama.”
As soon as the Pan-American Highway literally ended in the seedy town of Yaviza, Panama, the gap began smacking the team with setbacks left and right. Isaac Pizarro, their Guna Indian guide, wanted more money for his services than originally agreed. The Senafront soldiers stationed in the river town of Paya did not get the memo to let the men pass and would have turned them back were it not for a satellite phone call from their superiors. “Muy peligroso,” one said. “Bien viaje. Muchos mosquitos.” The dry season that the riders had aimed to hit by leaving Alaska in November never came and the jungle was one giant mud pit under a lush canopy of treetops.
Doering was the first rider to burn out his clutch trying to ride up a hill while sinking his tires straight into the mud. His spokes, sprockets, chain and brakes repeatedly caked with thick sludge, dirt and vegetation, completely locking up the rear wheel. He made the tough decision to abandon his bike in the jungle and retreat back to Panama City before rejoining the others later with the support van.
The troubles continued. Food and tools went missing as the young local porters–hired to cut a path with machetes and carry camping supplies–slowly disappeared into the bush. By the afternoon of day two, the other riders had burned out their clutches and drained their batteries trying to navigate the steep ravines with slick roots and unstable ground. They ended up having to push, drag and cable-hoist their bikes the rest of the way through the jungle with the help of enthusiastic-yet-disorganized porters while torrential downpours made regular appearances. “Getting one bike up this hill could take 16 people, let alone four,” Mitchell said at one point.
“Just a few more hours,” Pizarro kept assuring them. “Then Colombia is all downhill.” Neither statement was true. The men spent three more days trudging alongside their lifeless bikes, the most physically intense thing any of them have done in at least 10 years. Bugs devoured them through the undersides of their hammocks at night. Mitchell’s blistered trench foot was so bad that he could barely walk. After countless Africanized bees’ (a.k.a. “killer bees”) nests, paralyzing bug bites and pricks from long black thorns, they managed to find even more bees, bugs and black thorns. Each day was stickier, sweatier and itchier than the last.
Once they made it to the other side of the gap in Colombia, where a network of rivers would carry them out via dugout canoes called piraguas, there was trouble looming with a local paramilitary group not keen on surprise gringo visitors. Fortunately nothing escalated.
The Cacarica River and Atrato Swamp were so low that they had to spend a day pushing bikes through shallow water while shoveling mud out from under the heavy piraguas. After eight days and 80 miles of grueling jungle slog, they found themselves recovering in the port town of Turbo with three mangled bikes awaiting new parts from Kawasaki.
Having conquered the greatest objective of the ride, they still had an entire continent to cross on rowdy South American roads. While triumph reigned, frustration and broken down communication among the team chipped away at the stability of their mission’s leadership. Spending six to eight hours on a motorcycle staring at the horizon brings a lot of time to ruminate on personal quips. A few group separations and mechanical issues occurred, causing delays.
They cruised through the scenic roads to Machu Picchu, and ripped across sand dunes under the wide-open skies of the Atacama Desert before climbing up in elevation to mountainous landscapes where they once again encountered snow. In Chile, they took the famously scenic Carretera Austral coastal road with three large ferry crossings. They lucked out with pleasant weather for a few weeks until it switched to incessant rain in March.
Then time became a factor. Mitchell’s request to extend his leave of absence at Rocky Mountain National Park was denied. If not back in time he’d lose his job, which he needed to support his family, including his mother, whom he’d just found out was diagnosed with cancer. He’d be cutting it very close to get to Ushuaia in time to make it back to Buenos Aires to catch a flight home hours before work started. The others were running out of money and needed to get back to work themselves. As real life came knocking, they were all reminded of just how much we sacrifice for the feeling of freedom that riding motorcycles around the world gives us.
Along with the relief and accomplishment of finishing the ride came a mounting fear of the inevitable comedown–the empty purposelessness of not having a complex expedition to coordinate every hour of every day. Edwards considered turning around and driving back just to have something to do.
While no one left the trip claiming to have uncovered the meaning of life on two wheels, the ride instilled in them a realization that it all might just be about making it over the next hill, taking things one turn at a time, no matter what the destination.
When they finally reached the anticlimactic parking lot at the southern tip of South America in Tierra del Fuego on March 27, they gazed farther south across the Drake Passage, wondering what was next to come. After some silence, Mitchell pointed out, “Nobody has ever ridden motorcycles across Antarctica before.”
The 2020 Suzuki Katana is a modern interpretation of the Hans Muth-designed 1981 GSX1100S Katana, an icon of late 20th century motorcycle aesthetics. The new version has edgier lines and is built on the GSX-S1000 naked sportbike platform. We traveled to Japan to ride the new Katana on Kyoto’s Arashiyama-Takao Parkway, and you can watch our video review below. Or click the link at the bottom to read our complete First Ride Review report.
Since its launch in 2004, Triumph’s Rocket 3 has boasted a lot of “mosts”: most torque, most muscle, most…well…for lack of a better word, presence. With its signature three exhaust header pipes curving off the right side of the massive 2,294cc in-line triple, hulking 6.3-gallon gas tank and gaping twin megaphone silencers, nothing about the Rocket 3 has ever been subtle.
It was always essentially an overgrown cruiser, however, and the lone traditional cruiser in Triumph’s 2019 lineup. But now there’s a new Rocket 3 in town, badged as a limited edition Triumph Factory Custom, or TFC model, and rather than being just an accessorized version of the existing bike, the 2019 Rocket 3 TFC is an entirely new machine.
It boasts an all-new 2,458cc liquid-cooled in-line triple, the largest production motorcycle engine in the world, with the highest peak torque at a claimed 163 lb-ft and the most horsepower of any Triumph to date, a claimed 168. Details so far are scarce, but we do know that it features state-of-the-art components like titanium intake valves that allow for quicker, higher revving, and new Arrow silencers.
Final drive is via shaft, housed in a new single-sided aluminum swingarm that, combined with the all-new aluminum frame, engine refinements, carbon fiber bodywork and other lightweight bits, make the new Rocket 3 TFC a whopping 88 pounds lighter than the standard 2019 Rocket 3. If Triumph’s figures are correct, that would put its dry weight in the neighborhood of just 648 pounds.
Helping to make such a beast a bit more rideable, the Rocket 3 TFC includes some modern tech like cornering ABS and traction control, four ride modes (Road, Rain, Sport and Rider-Configurable)–notably these all appear to be full-power and only adjust throttle mapping and traction control settings–Triumph Shift Assist (clutchless up- and downshifting) and Hill Hold Control to prevent the bike from rolling backwards when stopped on an incline.
Other features include full LED lighting, electronic cruise control, keyless ignition, a tire pressure monitoring system (TPMS) and a USB charging socket. The display is a new TFT instrument that is rider-configurable and can be optionally set up with Bluetooth connectivity for GoPro integration, turn-by-turn navigation and music/phone operation.
Suspension is by Showa front and rear, with an adjustable 47mm cartridge-style USD fork and adjustable single shock with piggyback reservoir. Brakes are high-spec Brembo M4.30 Stylema 4-piston radial-mount calipers gripping 320mm discs up front and a Brembo M4.32 4-piston caliper in back squeezing a 300mm disc, and new wheels are twenty-spoke cast aluminum with a beefy 240mm rear tire.
As a TFC model, premium details abound, including plenty of carbon fiber, a leather interchangeable solo and twin seat, and TFC badging with gold accents.
Only 750 Rocket 3 TFCs will be produced worldwide, with 225 slated for North America. Each will be individually numbered and will include a letter signed by Triumph CEO Nick Bloor, a personalized custom build book, a leather TFC rucksack and a Rocket 3 TFC branded indoor bike cover.
The 2019 Rocket 3 TFC won’t be available until December, but orders are being taken now at your nearest Triumph dealer. One can be yours for an MSRP of $29,000 ($33,000 in Canada).
Honda motorcycles opened for business in the American market in 1959, when the four-stroke 50cc Super Cub came on the market. And over the next 10 years the company acquired a very positive reputation, well deserved, for having high revving, hard hitting, highly dependable products, especially with its 305 series, like the CB77 Super Hawk and CL77 Scrambler.
But, as we say about horses, the 305s were getting a bit long in the tooth. What to do? Shouldn’t cost too much because lots of money was going into the carefully kept secret–the four-cylinder CB750. Having a different number would be good, from 305 to 350. The bore was increased from 60 to 64mm, the stroke reduced from 54 to 50.6mm, the true size of the “new” engine being only 325cc. No matter, as minor exaggeration is considered to be quite acceptable in the advertising world.
Honda used it in three models, the 1968 CB Super Sport and CL Scrambler, and a year later the SL Motorsport. All told, more than 600,000 of these 350s were sold in the U.S. over the six years of production, which means a lot of them are probably still stashed in old barns or forgotten behind the junk in the back of the garage. Here we are dealing with the Scrambler version, better characterized as a street-scrambler, having only minor pretensions to being competent off the pavement. It was a styling thing, much like the “adventure” bikes of today, with the rider liking to think that he can dash across the Gobi Desert any time he wants. Or, more likely, he wants other people to think that.
The essence of the scrambler style were those upswept pipes, curving individually around the left side of the cylinders and ending up in one large muffler that held a permanent spark arrester. Which was covered by a black heat shield for the first two years, and then the shield was chromed. Interestingly, the shiny header pipes were pipes within pipes, the ostensible reason being that the owner would not have to put up with the inevitable bluing that arrived with time. A secondary reason, which should really be the primary, was that the actual pipes carrying the exhaust were quite small in order to maintain a high exhaust-gas velocity that was essential to the tuning system.
This whole CL exhaust shebang weighed a substantial 24 pounds, and was responsible for a loss of several horsepower compared to its CB sibling, which had a longer, more efficient exhaust. Power was 33 horses at 9,500 rpm in the CL, compared to the CB’s 36 at 10,500, despite the engine internals being identical. CL owners usually ignored the redline on the tachometer dial.
Another Scrambler notion was the larger front wheel, 19 inches as opposed to 18. This was more about looks than performance, with the more serious off-roader, the SL, having a 21-incher. Front fender was slightly abbreviated, and the gas tank held 2.4 gallons, almost a gallon less than the CB’s. There were also rubber gaiters on the CL’s fork legs, always good for the daredevil look.
Those were the differences, now for the similarities. Looking into the powertrain, the parallel twin used alloy cylinders with iron liners, and the oversquare engine had lots of possibilities for revs–10,500 of them! In 1968 street-going four-strokes were not known for spinning ten thousand times a minute, and the less knowledgeable thought that this would mean a brief lifespan. But ten grand! How did they achieve that? First, there was a single overhead camshaft, spun by an endless chain between the cylinders. And the camshaft itself was a solid piece of work, weighing some three pounds.
But how does one get valves to seat properly at that speed? The valves all had dual coil springs, but the springs themselves were wound progressively, so that there was relatively less tension when the valve was seated, increasing greatly as the valve got pushed down. Carburetion was a pair of 26mm Keihin constant-velocity units using neoprene diaphragms.
The crankshaft, with four main bearings, spun using a 180-degree firing order as on the 305, but was a lot smoother due to excellent balancing. Primary drive was via straight-cut “paired” gears that were both efficient and quiet. Honda knew that the popular helical gears were quiet but not overly efficient, and came up with this mildly complicated system. A multi-disc wet clutch passed power through a five-speed transmission (up a gear from the 305) and out via a chain running along the left side of the rear wheel.
The chassis was not a notable construction, but suitable for delivering a good feeling to the rider. The backbone was a pressed-steel stamping, which was falling out of aesthetic favor at the time, though inexpensive to make. Fortunately it was hidden beneath the gas tank, and the viewable bits were mostly tubular, a single tube coming down from the steering head to spread into a double cradle.
Suspension was adequate, with a telescoping fork at the front and a pair of DeCarbon-type shocks at the back. A 3.00-19 tire was on the front wheel, 3.50-18 at the back. A double-leading shoe drum brake did yeoman’s service at the front, a single leading shoe at the back. It had 52 inches between the axles, and a wet weight of around 370 pounds.
The saddle, about 32 inches high, was long and flat, while the upswept handlebars had the mandatory cross-brace, part of the scrambler look. The rider saw separate speedo and tach above the headlight. Fenders were chromed, with excellent paint on the gas tank and side panels. And the essential electric leg for starting.
Price was $700, less than half that of the 750 four. Which is why these middling bikes outsold the big one…though we can only presume that quite a few 350 owners upgraded to the 750.