2013 International Motorcycle Show, San Mateo: Part 3 – The Demo Rides


( continued from Part 2 – The Bikes )

Those Sweet Demo RidesDemo rides

There were a lot of interesting bikes, motorcycle accessories and people to see at the 2013/2014 Progressive International Motorcycle Show in San Mateo. And the rear parking lot of the Expo Center was full of manufacturers offering demo rides on Saturday and Sunday. Only the San Mateo, Long Beach and Phoenix shows have demo rides available, I suspect because of poor weather when the other nine shows are in their respective cities. The participating manufacturers this year are: Can-Am Spyder, Harley-Davidson, Indian Motorcycle, Kawasaki, Star Motorcycles, Victory and Yamaha. A full listing of which bikes are available for demo rides is here.

My First Demo Ride
A first for me at the show was taking two demo rides Saturday morning courtesy of Kawasaki. My new mission is to learn how to ride off-road on a dual sport and my first step along that journey was to test ride a Kawasaki KLR650. The KLR is a beloved dual-sport machine that was introduced in 1987 and remained virtually unchanged until 2008, after which it received excellent upgrades without fundamentally changing the platform. Although arguably less famous than BMW’s GS series, the KLR has circumnavigated the globe just like Ewan McGregor’s storied ride in his excellent “Long Way Round” and “Long Way Down” TV documentaries.

My KLR650 Demo Ride

I talked to Danny and Roy an the Kawasaki booth Friday night and found out that signups started at the Kawi trailer at 8:00 A.M. Danny’s wife would handle the signups. It was great to meet and greet the Kawi crew the evening before the rides and then talk to them the next morning as I signed up.

I arrived at 7:30 and took advantage of the free motorcycle parking in the front parking lot, and was the only bike there at that early hour. Unfortunately, the show didn’t open until 9:30 and the demo ride trailers were all the way in the rear parking lot where parking was $10. That meant that I couldn’t walk through the show, but had to walk all the way around the San Mateo Expo Center. But, it was a beautiful morning and a 15 minute walk in the brisk morning air was welcome.

Kawasaki Demo Ride Signup

When I arrived at the Kawasaki trailer there was already a line of about a dozen riders ahead of me. There were plenty of bikes and ride-times to go around, though, along with great camaraderie which made arriving early a very pleasant experience. Coffee and pastries were offered by the ROK people (Riders of Kawasaki) for their members or new enrollees. As I waited to show my drivers license and sign the all-encompassing waiver, I noticed the sign below. It actually made me sad to think that this sign was needed at all, but such is life in a world full of squids.

I am sad they need this sign

I came to learn that Kawi limited demo rides to two per day per person, which seemed eminently reasonable. The way riders accomplished a second signup was to go to the rear of the line and sign up again when you got to the front of the line—a very fair system. After I secured my back-to-back demo rides for the KLR650 and new 1400cc Concours, I then waited for the safety briefing.

First Demo Bike: Kawasaki KLR650
Riding a new bike for the first time can be a nerve-wracking experience. Especially going from a 650 lb. top-heavy, 1000cc Kawasaki Concours like MyConnie, to a tall-in-the-saddle thumper like the KLR. I first needed to ensure my feet would touch the ground so I wouldn’t fall over at every stop. Like most dual-sports, the KLR has a tall seat height, and my 28-inch inseam legs worried me at first. I quickly found out that once my body weight was on the bike and the suspension compressed a bit, I could firmly plant my toes down on both sides to balance the bike. Or, I could plant my whole foot flat on one side or the other if necessary. It took me a little getting used to, but I checked the first item on my list: I could ride this bike even with my rhinoesque legs.

After the excellent safety briefing they made a big point of asking if anyone was new to riding on a freeway. I was surprised to find out that this was frequently answered in the affirmative, but not this day. Today we were all chomping at the bit to get on our steeds and out on the open road. A few moments later we were told to saddle up, start our engines and get ready to roll.

The Route
The demo ride route was much better than I expected. We received a 30 minute, escorted ride through town, 55 mph freeway, 65+ mph interstate, 35 mph back country roads and then back to the show. Each group of about 15 riders had an escort who wore high-visibility vests with one up front, one in the middle, and one at the rear. Here is a map of the route we took.

Map of Route: Google Map

Map of the demo ride route

My Impressions of the KLR650
The KLR was a lot of fun. Danny at Kawasaki told me that the KLR felt very much like what we all originally wanted to get out of motorcycling: a light, nimble and quick ride that can go anywhere. He was right. Since the seating was high I felt very different than when on my relatively low-slung Connie. Also, being a mostly naked bike, I was unaccustomed to having a lot of wind hitting my legs, torso and helmet. This wasn’t a problem, but it added a bit to the first ride jitters associated with getting accustomed to any new bike. After a few miles, though, I felt like had owned the KLR for years. What especially surprised me was how comfortable it was at 70 mph on the freeway, even with knobby tires! I could easily see a KLR in my future for motocamping trips, especially since they only cost about $6,200 brand new. There are also many available used online for a good amount less than that. As much as I would love to consider a BMW GS, it’s hard to rationalize the $15K+ price tag and oft-bemoaned service costs which helped coin the snarky acronym Bring My Wallet.

Second Demo Bike: Kawasaki Concours 1400 ABS
Right after returning the KLR to the demo area, it was time to saddle up for my next ride on the new Connie. I’ve heard a lot about this successor to my bike from the other members of the Concours Owners Group (COG). I knew that at 1400cc, it had 40% greater displacement than MyConnie and almost double the horsepower making it good that it also had ABS brakes. Last year, a 70 year old Connie rider in the show parking lot told me that the variable valve timing made it so fast that his son’s Suzuki Hayabusa had to work hard to keep up.

Kawasaki Concours 1400 ABS Demo ride

What I noticed after mounting this supersport touring beast was that the speedo went to 180 mph. Humm-baby! But even though I had great anticipation of feeling those ponies beneath me, after firing up the Connie the first thing I did was turn on the heated grips and adjust the temperature to “microwave” to take the chill away from my previous ride. Sport tourers are so much more civilized than canyon racers.

Demo ride on a Kawasaki Concours 1400 ABS

My Impressions of the Concours 1400 ABS
Pulling out of the parking lot felt much more natural on the Connie than on the KLR. It was  more like MyConnie in how it handled. But I soon found out that the similarities between this 1400cc model and my current ride were few. Surprisingly, the new larger Connie handled very well, and felt significantly less top-heavy than my 2001 version. There was no time where I felt uncomfortable in terms of handling the bike. It seemed to have less wind protection than the older Concours but the electric adjustable windscreen was neat. I preferred riding with the screen in the lowest position which placed my chest and helmet into the wind. At its highest position, the wind still hit me mid-helmet, so I would imagine achieving a full tuck to get out of the rain would be difficult, but not impossible.

Except for the demo rider in front of me who decided that 60 mph was the right speed for the freeway, I had a glorious time on the new Connie. This would be a fantastic bike for touring, camping, commuting, canyon carving…or whatever. But, with a MSRP of $16,199, MyConnie doesn’t have to worry about being replaced by MyConnie II anytime soon.

The Kawasaki Crew
I would be remiss if I didn’t mention what a tremendous group of people the folks at Kawasaki were. I spent a significant amount of time talking to the different folks, especially Roy and Danny, and I have to tell you that they made attending the show a fantastic experience. Having been a veteran of trade shows myself for over 30 years, I know it‘s their job to do so. But they went above and beyond the call of duty getting me interesting in what was going on, answering my questions about the different Kawi models, and demonstrating their personal enthusiasm for motorcycling. I guess the people at Kawasaki really do let the good times roll.

Up Next: Part 4 – The Show

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Me and MyConnie: First Year, First 10,000 Miles


One Year Down, 10,000 Miles in the Mirror
This week I’ve reached the one year anniversary of my getting back into motorcycling with the purchase of a 2001 Kawasaki Concours which I named “MyConnie.” Over the past year I’ve learned many things. Not the least of which is how much enjoyment I’ve been missing in the intervening years since 1990 when I sold my Suzuki GS750LX. I thought this would be a good time to reflect back upon the last year and what I’ve learned about motorcycling…and myself.

What I’ve Ridden
I’ve only owned three bikes in my life: a 1967 Honda CL350 Scrambler, a 1979 Suzuki GS750LX Cruiser, and my current ride, the 1,000cc Kawi Concours. I’ve only ever ridden three others: a 2010 BMW R1100RS that I rented, an 80s-era GPz550 I rode at Laguna Seca during Keith Code’s California Superbike School, and my friend’s 2009 Triumph Speed Triple. But it was the advice of an ex-CHP friend of mine that steered me towards the Concours, and I’m so glad he did.

My limited experience with different motorcycles hasn’t allowed me to have much of an opinion about other bikes like v-twins, dual-sports, or the like. In fact, all I really know is Japanese iron with one luscious weekend on a German boxer. So when I reflect on the specs of the rides I have owned, it shows me the following:

What this also tells me is that in terms of power-to-weight ratio (HP/LBS), my Honda was loads o’ fun—something I already knew. But even at a more sedate PTW ratio of 0.16, MyConnie will still impress any Porsche Carrera driver off-the-line, considering their PTW ratio is 0.19. Still, comparing motorcycles to cagers is a fools game as any biker knows. What got me thinking about the past year’s travels was more what I’ve learned, where I’ve gone, and where I’m going.

What I’ve Learned
One think I learned was how healthy it is riding a motorcycle. You read that correctly…healthy! That is, of course, assuming that I keep the rubber side down and don’t get too near the surrounding traffic. What I mean is that when I’m on MyConnie, I’m not trying to make my commute productive by scheduling conference calls in the car. Nor am I stopping on the way to work at Mickey-Dees to get a coffee or whatever other concoction passes for breakfast. And whenever I’m riding, whether on my commute or on the weekend, with helmet on head I’m not likely to be stuffing my face. Plus being in a tuck in the cool morning air does wonders for my abs while burning calories to keep warm. All in all, I’ve found that riding is quite an effective weight management tool.

I’ve also learned that the old saying that “you’ll never see a motorcycle parked in front of a psychiatrist’s office” is really true. Spending a minimum of 1.5 hours a day riding to the office and back has given me the ability to shed tension like no other activity. Seeing the beautiful sights and smells when I take the back roads to the office has put me in the best frame of mind of my entire working career. I can’t even believe I’ve missed out on this for the past twenty years.

And I’ve learned—no…remembered—how great it is to take up an activity that has a huge learning curve with resulting stellar rewards, and also serious penalties. There is no greater learning than putting yourself in a situation where you will be tested. I think it is that, more than all the rest, that I enjoy the most. To challenge myself and see whether I will rise to the occasion, or fall down trying…only to get up, and try all over again. Call it my own “hero’s journey” of sorts. But one where there is no brilliant flash of heroism, only the warm glow of satisfaction that comes from mastering a complex endeavor.

Where I’ve Gone
I’ve spend the last year exploring the wonders of Northern California including the golden passes of the High Sierra, the windswept bluffs of the North Coast, and the twisty backroads of San Francisco Bay. The sheer magnificence of our natural surroundings is something that you take for granted when driving inside a cage of steel. Air conditioning masks the smell of eucalyptus, tinted glass dulls the glow of aspen groves, and soft suspension separates us from the hand-hewn roads originally carved by rough men across our great land. More than just a vehicle, my motorcycle has been the vehicle through which my five senses have been reignited.

How I Learned
I’ve approached re-learning the craft of riding through friends, through practice and by reading and watching the experts in print and onscreen. If I had the time and money, I would have preferred to take a Motorcycle Safety Foundation course…and may still. I would also like to repeat the course I took at Laguna Seca with Keith Code. But with the realities of budget and workload, I’ve settled for a do-it-yourself course of learning which has taken some discipline.

There has been an incredible amount of information that has helped me from an unlikely source, the Concours Owners Group. Besides being the quintessential knowledge bank for the Kawasaki Concours motorcycle, the group also represents hundreds of years of riding experience through its members who share their wisdom freely, with good humor and camaraderie. Their motto: “Join for the bike, stay for the people” couldn’t be more true. And besides the colloquial wisdom of serious amateurs, there is also a potent community of motorcycle professionals within the ranks of COG, both vendor companies like Murph’s Kits and regular people like Shoodabeen Engineering who have raised the level of home wrenching to an art form, and a business that Kawasaki could learn a few things from.

The Path Ahead
I have found in life that it is never good to drink your own bathwater. Meaning, all of the skill I have regained in the past year has really only served to make me more dangerous by potentially becoming too cocky. Now that a year has passed, it’s time to take stock and plan for the next year of learning, and trying to get rid of that last inch of chicken strip that defines my contact patch like bookends. A few predictions…

I predict that I…
– will watch Keith Code’s A Twist of the Wrist II DVD another 4 times…at least.
– will re-read David Hough’s book, Proficient Motorcycling to bone up on what I missed the first time.
– will continue to take my secret commute to Silicon Valley to work…every once in a while,  taking the long way.
– will start doing overnighter rides where I camp instead of staying in a motel.
– will do a dozen farkles to MyConnie.
– and I predict I will only increase my love for riding and hopefully my skill level, as well.

Until then, I’ll be the one flashing two fingers to you as we pass each other by…but only if you are on two wheels.

That’s Me on MyConnie

Let’s ride.

Connie Fever?


I don’t know if I meant my blog to have this effect on people, but I received an email from an old friend of mine who said “he was looking to get back into motorcycling.” He was looking at a used Kawasaki Vulcan at a dealership because he wanted to not invest too much until he proved to himself that this was something he wanted to get deeply into.

I told him all about my adventures with MyConnie, including buying it without taking a proper test ride (see previous post), and the consequences thereof. About a week later, he told me that the Vulcan was sold out from under him, and that he found a Connie on CraigsList. A few days later, I received this photo of the red Kawasaki Concours with him saying, “In taking a lesson from you, I have purchased the bike sight unseen.”

Mike's Connie on the left, that's me on the right

Oh Lord, have I started a wave of “Buy first, ask questions later?” I certainly hope not. But I welcome my friend Mike to the ranks of Connie ownership and look forward to seeing his journey back into riding alongside my own.

Kawasaki Concours: Hot Links


Here are some great links that I’ve found in my research that led up to my buying a Connie. However, this will just get you started. Be sure to join the Concours Owners Group for the definitive body of knowledge of all things Connie. (I will update this post as I find other notable links)

Performance Parts and Upgrades:
Murphs’ Kits (upgrades and parts)
 Holeshot Performance (upgrades and parts)

Conversions and Upgrades:
• Shoodaben Engineering (specialty carb & drivetrain upgrades)

Reviews:
 Rider Report review of the 2005 Kawasaki Concours
Motorcycle.com review
Powersports Network Rider article

Connie Photos:
Shoodaben,
 winner of the best engineered Concours award
• Elvin Rivera’s fantastic Connie photo site