Tuesday, April 05, 2005

Buell Firebolt, the Next Thousand Miles.

This was not published by ThunderPress, for obvious reasons.

The Firebolt is a wonderful motorcycle. Don’t get me wrong, I love it, but it makes a lousy dirt bike. I won’t tell you some tall tale about the Montana Highway Patrol having a Blue Light Special behind me, forcing a high speed chase down a gravel road. The truth is more prosaic.

Montana has ten times as many gravel roads as paved ones. It seems that everybody, who does not live in town, lives five miles up a gravel road. Lots of parties are held in remote camp grounds, again up a “maintained” county road. Some events are located up a Forest Service logging road, which is a step down in width and upkeep from the county roads. Therefore, an all-round Montana bike should be able to negotiate pea gravel, ruts, mud and snow. The Buell is adequate on hard dirt surfaces, but it is squirrelly on mud and ice. The fat rear tire does not grip like a narrow knobby. The front fork’s abrupt steering is not conducive to confident rut jumping and pot hole bouncing. The forward riding position puts too much weight on the front half of the bike. This makes the front wheel wash out before the back one. Don’t think about using the front brake. The throttle is so sensitive that small bumps will cause sudden surges of power at the most unexpected and unwanted moments. Ye Haa! I have heard that war is 90 percent boredom and ten percent sheer terror. In the dirt, the Firebolt is the same thing.

Last time, I wrote that the Firebolt is a “babe magnet”. It still is, but this spring, some how, the magnetic polarity was reversed. Now I repel the women I hoped to lure into my net. Perhaps it is the white mustache that pokes out from under the full-face helmet, or the look of desperation in my be-spectacled eyes. No matter, the bike is still fun, even without a passenger clinging on.

During solo rides, I tend to push the limits of my skill. Compared to my younger companions, I am still a curve weenie. I brake harder in front of a sharp blind curve than my buddies do. There are several reasons for this. The first is that I witnessed a near-fatal crash recently and the second is that I started my motorcycle career on an ancient Harley 45. My first bike had a lean angle of about 15 degrees, before it ground off structural parts. It also had equally-ancient hard-compound rubber tires (five bucks each in 1976). They would skid at the hint of moisture on the road. Finally, the bike had brakes that were either barely adequate or locked up. None of these factors inspired confidence in a novice rider. In contrast, the Buell has a lean angle of about 87 degrees (well, I am exaggerating, but if you look at the magazines, you will get that impression). It has incredibly sticky tires, although short lived. I have managed to wear down a set of Dunlops in 2,500 miles. The tires on my old Harley 45 lasted about 25 years. The wheels rusted out before I had to replace the rubber.

I am trying to learn how to ride the Buell to something near its capacities. To this end, Pete and I have taken our nearly identical Firebolts to what is euphemistically called “The Prairie Path”. The name requires some background explanation. Our county government vowed that there would be no motorized racing within the borders of our fair community. An enterprising fan of speed and curves (no dummy, motorcycles) bought a chunk of rural land and graded a two-thirds mile course on a piece of the prairie. He then applied for a permit to lay asphalt on the property. The “powers that be” asked the purpose for said pavement. He said he was putting in a “path through the prairie” so that people could enjoy the native flowers and grasses in a wild and undisturbed setting. Of course, the pavement was to allow access for the “persons with disabilities”. We can imagine that previously mentioned “powers that be” thought he was talking about wheel chairs and bicycles. The Prairie Path can accommodate six pedestrians walking abreast or three wheel chairs in a row or a gang of pedal pushers in formation. The path has several hairpin turns, a down hill left that quickly swoops right and up to a crest, which is followed by a short straight away. The course is so tight that the average rider will shift between first or second gear. A skilled rider can catch air before accelerating to a hundred on the straight. The rider must brake strongly before the chicane and hairpin or their speed will carry them into the flowers and native grasses. Wheelies and stoppies are common when the Ducati and Kawasaki guys are on the track (I mean path). I ride so slowly that I haven’t scraped a knee puck yet. I haven’t crashed yet either.

Our friend Wrecks (who shall remain otherwise nameless for various reasons that involve the arcane world of zoning and land use), has— after a fashion— actually provided a recreation area for persons with disabilities. The riders on the path are certifiable “sport bike nuts”. Were it not for the nature trail, these mentally disturbed riders might be more physically disabled. A curve weenie like myself has discovered that I can lean over at previously absurd angles and live. This has of course, encourages me to go faster into curves on the highways through the Montana Alps. It has also given me the confidence not to panic and ride into the ditch. I call this the “oh crap moment”— when you freeze at the controls and head straight for what ever has scared you. Rider confidence has shortened this moment, allowing me to regain control and turn more sharply to stay between the painted lines.

Back to the subject of “sport bike nuts”, as I have stated previously, the Firebolt is not perfect. After 2,500 miles in the saddle (an apt analogy since the seat has about as much padding as a western saddle and is similarly shaped), I have discovered a few more quirks. First, the early kickstands were not that well designed. The cast steel stop does not allow the stand to extend far enough past its center point. Twice, the bike has rolled forward and fallen off the stand onto its left side. The second time around, the windshield and seat were scratched. The result was much cursing and eventual use of a grinder. This was not a little Dremal, but the big Makita with carbide disk. Sparks flew as I hacked at the kickstand stop. Normally, I can barely restrain my perverted desires to chop a bike up and remake it in my image, once I get a grinder or torch in my hand. (You should see the BMW dirt bike I am building.) I was sorely tempted to smooth off the welds on the gas tanks. Fortunately my lusts were satiated with just a few nicks on the kickstand. Whew!

Later, I discovered that Buell had a recall concerning some aspect of their kickstands. I took the bike into my local dealer, Montana Buell – Ducati - Harley-Davidson for some other warranty work. The speedometer ceased to measure speed at 2,200 miles. The shop technicians generously repaired the damage to the high beam dip switch caused when the bike’s kickstand went on strike and walked off the job. Here is a plug for MT-HD. They have always offered cheerful, prompt and courteous service to me and Western Montana’s motorcycling public.

Sorry — I got off the subject — of sport bike nuts. I say sport bike, instead of the politically incorrect term “crotch rocket”, because as my friend Mad Matt says, “A crotch rocket is in your pocket”. A sport bike is what your crotch rocket sits on”, which is the gist of the problem. I suffer from a malady that I call “Buell Balls”. I found it is not just me; other senior riders are physically configured in such a way that their genitalia fall asleep when they ride the Buell or other sport bikes. To elaborate my experience; after a long ride this spring, I climbed off the bike, stood up stiffly and then started to feel a sensation that would, in the past, suggest that a trip to the free VD clinic was in order. Eventually, after hopping up and down and doing the funky chicken, full consciousness returned to that sensitive portion of my anatomy. I understand that mountain bike riders suffer from the same disorder. This is caused by the narrow seat pushing against and constricting, the artery that pumps blood to the rider’s groin. In some ways, letting my little friend sleep peacefully allows me focus on riding instead of daydreaming (about all the women that I am not meeting). None the less, the awakening can be very dramatic. It can be as intense as the thawing of frost-bitten fingers or toes. People stop and stare or cover their childrens’ eyes when they see me gyrate in pain and grope myself at the gas station.

When will Corbin make a seat for the Firebolt? I ask you, in the name of public decency, please make a softer seat for us old guys who are trying to retain or regain their youth. Please!!!


Blogger mtmudlark said...

A Buell huh? The Harley Davidson version of "Buffing the Turd"! But mrmoto and the legends know my attitude towards Bacon Bikes. As a Contrarian it looks like your basic POS marketing idea to me.
Up until the 1970's most popular bikes could competently handle any sort of road with a little adjustment of riding style. After the Japanese entered and the development of "niche" marketing it became difficult (it's now nearly impossible) to purchase a generalist motorcycle that you could take anywhere. The problem is: sporty handling will kill you on unpaved roads-The so-called naked bikes are generally too top heavy for good dirt running. Some BMW's were all-road capable even with saddlebags and passenger until the early nineties and some of the Harley line was unpaved road competent as well( Probably still are with care) For the japanese, you have to buy an enduro/dual purpose glorified dirt bike which lacks comfortable general riding characteristics. Maybe that's why I ride 70's era BMW's. Relatively cheap, reliable even after 20 years, and I can ride them anywhere I want to go paved or unpaved.

8:50 AM  

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