Author: Richard (page 3 of 10)

Plus Ça Change (Tweaking Part II)

I’ve had my Multistrada for just over a month now — time enough to find out the good, the bad and the incomprehensible about it. And yes, it IS as good as the reviews say it is (my own full review has been much-delayed by the simple fact that I’ve been out riding it!) but it ain’t entirely perfect, so here’s my thoughts to date on what can be improved in future and what needs to be fixed by Ducati right now. It’s a very short list, considering that this is a brand new bike designed to appeal to a much wider market than Ducatis of yore — and, by definition, a market less accommodating of Italian, ah, idiosyncrasies. But here they are, in all their ignominy — let’s see what Ducati come back with:

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Tweaking (Part I)

Whilst my natural inclination with a new bike is to start fiddling with its setup pretty much on the way out of the dealers, with The Raven I’ve been giving myself time to slowly get used to it, to play with the various suspension modes and generally suss it out until I understand it enough to start prodding at it. That does however assume that Ducati have pretty much got everything right to the point where, whilst I might want to tweak to taste, there’s nothing I can’t live with. So time to look at the figures.

The graphs below show the electronically adjustable bits of the system and the stock settings for each mode and load (for the Preload settings, the higher the number the greater the preload and, for damping, the higher the number the ‘lower’ the damping effect). Whilst there’s a mostly logical progression – increasing rear preload and commensurate increases, particularly to rebound damping as the load rises, there are a few anomalies in various modes that I’m still trying to work out. Also, rear damping is jumped right up in Two-Up+load in Sport mode – a bigger difference between any other mode and we’re finding that Touring mode is generally a little undersprung and damped and Sport mode slightly overdamped. I’ve a feeling that the rear shock might need respringing – I probably weigh a tad more than the target Italian norm…

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Gravity 1: Multistrada 0.

In my unending quest to bring enlightenment and knowledge to the world of the Ducatisti, I have taken one more tiny step towards Zen mastery (which must now put me on about the level of the average grasshopper) – this time to answer the speculation on various online fora about the potential cost of an off-road drop of the Multistrada 1200. Here’s the answer: zip. nada. nowt. bugger all. OK, that’s on a sample size of one: your mileage may vary. Turning around on a local forest track, I ran out of steering lock and decided to hop off to back ‘er up, only to discover that the ground was further away than I thought. A lot further away – I’m 6’, with 34″ inside leg, but it still went past its balance point, at which point, whether or not it’s 20kg lighter than a GS became entirely moot – it’s a big, tall bike, and it was gone. Having convinced a couple of passing deer that very bad-tempered bears had been reintroduced to the Highlands, I hauled it back upright. Not a single, solitary scratch, scrape or ding. Relieved, impressed and relieved, in that order. Now off to put an ice pack on my knee…

Dude, Where’s My Ducati?

For the last three weeks, I’ve been revisiting my childhood as the kid who can’t wait to get downstairs and open his Christmas presents, only to be frustrated by an entirely unreasonable (in my self-obsessed juvenile view) parental moratorium on leapings around before 5:30am. This time however the problem is not adult whim but the non-appearance of Santa’s sleigh — the one carrying my new Ducati. I’m fed up, the dealer is fed up and the ever-helpful Ducati UK are no doubt fed up with my plaintive — and no doubt still self-obsessed — phone calls. My bike was the second UK order and, apparently, was built as such, in the first batch of black 1200S Touring spec bikes. It was then loaded onto the trailers that were to go to the UK. No problem so far. What has apparently happened is that the shipping company have picked up the trailers in the wrong order. And, to judge by the 14-day lead time from Bologna to the UK, they bring them here via Central Africa. Guys, I could CYCLE from Bologna to the UK in less than 14 days…

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Firstly, a disclaimer: I don’t live in Humberside. Now that’s neither for nor against the place, simply a statement of elsewhereness. But hold that thought while I digress. I’m also a considerable fan of road safety, having desire to neither kill nor be killed on the public roads. But – and this is a big one – I’m like most of us, in that the more threatening and authoritarian the message, the more likely I am to start taking the piss. That’s not big and not clever, but is pretty basic psychology — engage with me and I’ll listen, behave like a fascist and I’ll start fomenting revolution.

Where I now live, things seem to be generally sensible: no fixed cameras, strong enforcement of urban limits and a high days-and-holidays police presence at biker gathering spots like the Green Welly, where they’re promoting Bikesafe courses and wandering around mumbling slightly abashed comments like, “Take care out there lads…”. Several plain clothes plodmobiles (cars and bikes) tend to be out and about at similar times, but I’ve seen relatively little bad behaviour or general numptiness by the local Police.

Go for a long ride though and, as you pass from force to force, you’ll see a wide variety of approaches: from the engagement-driven attitude of places like Durham and North Yorkshire (both of which have amongst the best safety trends in the country) to the outright hostility and bullying control freak mentality of places like North Wales and Northamptonshire. When I ride into the latter County, with its huge “You ARE Being Watched” signs everywhere, I am seized with a near uncontrollable desire to behave in a manner outrageous, illegal and undignified (not necessarily in that order). On the same ride, I’ll then cross into Buckinghamshire and find signs along the nicer roads that tell me what the accident rate for that road is for a given period. Thanks, you’ve treated me like an adult, given me information and I’ll act on it. All is then peace and light.

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Nothing for Years…

Now things have changed. A lot. Motorcycles are very different from what they were in the early Noughties, as is my life. They’re faster, more sophisticated and more expensive. My life is has probably managed two of those three, but with a complete transplant from the depths of the overcrowded Home Counties to the wilds of a Highland Glen. New life, new places, but still with love and mammals. What hasn’t changed is that I still live on some of the finest biking roads on the planet, so the basic need hasn’t changed:

I still want a SPORTS tourer. More than ever I need the virtues of comfort, adaptability and a decent tank range — the last of these being utterly essential, given the distances between filling stations hereabouts — Highland Scotland is several times the size of Wales, but with the population of Cardiff. That makes for a lot of empty roads, motorcyclists for the entertainment of…

And heated grips have gone from being a luxury to a necessity.

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Lots More on the A84…

I’ve mentioned before that I live next to one of THE great biking roads, the A84 from Callander to Killin. That’s all of 20 miles of fast, wide sweeping bends that every so often turn into narrow, bumpy, twisty complexes that test machine set-up and rider anticipation, skill and basic sense. And far too bloody many people are failing that test: we’ve just had what (I think) is the third biking fatality of the year — and all of these on the mere eight miles between Callander and Strathyre, particularly through the twisties of the Falls of Leny, just North of Kilmahog and at the notorious “Doctor’s Bend” a couple of miles further North.

The consequences of this aren’t just limited to the motorcyclist and his or her (almost always ‘his’) family and friends but affect the local community: firstly, this is the only road South from here (without a 50-mile detour), so when it’s closed for most of a day it has a real local impact. Secondly, and mostly importantly, people here are genuinely upset about the sheer bloody waste of life that’s going — I haven’t spoken to a single person who’s anti-motorcycling in any way, but to many who are affected by the knowledge that another life has been needlessly lost on our doorstep and who genuinely feel the sense of lost humanity. While writing this blog entry, I’ve been approached by several friends and neighbours, each asking me if there’s anything at all I can do to raise awareness of the specific risks of this road. So here it is.

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A821 Dukes Pass

Today I should most definitely have been working — too much to do, too little time, yada yada… But by 11 o’clock the temperature was about 23° and not a cloud in the sky. I also tripped over my Arai on the way to make a coffee, which was an omen not to be ignored, so the concept of ‘early lunch break’ had its definition rather stretched. Besides, I wanted to test out a new toy — a little Sony GPS that records everywhere you’ve been — the downloaded results then being used to tag the photos you’ve taken along the way, before mapping them in Google Maps or Google Earth. And where should I go to test this but a second (and third) pass at a road I discovered last weekend — the A821 from Kilmahog (I kid you not) to Aberfoyle, via the Duke’s pass. That’s the Duke of Montrose, not the Duke of Bologna, which would have been so much more appropriate. This road is something else — it starts with a couple of fast sweepers that throw in a decreasing radius 120° corner at the last moment, then into a switchback straight which has self and machine airborne at anything over about 70mph, even with the new suspension. A large number of sump gouges and suspicious stains along this stretch tell their own tale. The road is a mixture of old and broken surface (with the occasional pothole and patch of loose gravel) and brand new shiny tarmac — overall, not too bad by Belgian standards, and less than brilliant by anyone else’s.

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Pass Wide and Slow — Bikes and Horses

Here in the National Park, we’ve got pretty much every category of road user — bikes, bicycles, cars, walkers, horses and the occasional tap-dancing Pine Marten, all trying to do their own thing at their own speed, and often at the same time. While there’s a wider concern about how all of these can share the roads (in like peace, light and harmony, man…) the technique for passing large, hairy quadrupeds does seem to cause some stress amongst all parties. So here, reprinted with the author’s permission from our local community rag is a small plea on behalf of horsey folk everywhere:

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“Honey, I Spent The Aga Budget…”

Time for a new toy. My old faithful STealth — my ST4s — has served me well for four years and it’s a keeper, as a supremely capable all-round machine, so I’m looking for something more specific and more focussed for play on the local roads. Which is where the first of many dilemmas kicks in — which toy for which roads? Around here there are ballistically-fast, sweeping A-roads with sudden sections of tight twisties: that’ll be a Ducati 1098S then. Then there are the smaller glen roads – rising and falling, twisting and turning back on themselves as they follow the edges of the lochs: much more Monster or KTM SuperDuke territory. Finally, there are bikes that seek the best compromise for all of these, plus my kilometre of potholed Belgium-on-a-bad-day drive: possibly a Multistrada 1100S – in fact if the Multistrada had the Testastretta engine, it would have been a shoo-in – I’ve ridden the earlier incarnation enough to know just how good a chassis they’ve got. But hang on, we’re not talking about looking for an all-rounder here: we’re looking for the maximum of engagement, hoot-inducing fun and the ability to get from A to B, usually via C to Z, with as much flair as possible and a decent tank range, given the distance between filling stations hereabouts. So I’m off to Ducati Glasgow to sample a selection of their range.

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