There are a few signs here in Montreal that signal for me that the end of winter is nearing. They are like the conditioned stimuli that get me salivating for spring. I’m referring to the Saint Patrick’s Day Parade, the return of Canadian geese, and the Montreal Moto Show, or as it’s called here, the Salon de Moto. So far there have been no geese sightings, and the St. Patty’s Day parade is still three weeks away, but last weekend was the Moto Show, the first sign that things are about to change. People come out of hibernation, and if you’re a biker, your first stop is the Palais des congres.
Last year was my first time going to the show. I went with my son and after some initial apprehension we got into the spirit of it and started climbing on bikes. This year we went with some members of my club, so it was even more fun, but thank God we had phones because it’s really easy to get separated from a group in a crowded showroom! You get stuck staring at a bike and when you turn around five people have disappeared into thin air as if beamed onto another planet. “Where are you guys?” was the common text sent about every half an hour. Then bike manufacturers become place names: “We’re at Honda,” or “We’re heading toward Harley,” and you have to decide whether to catch up or go it alone for a while.
I didn’t have any particular agenda this year except to look for a deal on that LS2 Pioneer helmet on my wish list. As it turned out, I could get it at the show for a little cheaper, shipped to my door, than online at the big superstore, so took advantage of the opportunity. I was also interested in the new BMW G310 and some 250 enduro bikes because now my son is talking about taking a course and starting to ride. As a parent, I have mixed feelings about this: I know riding is dangerous, but I also know it’s really fun, and the time to learn riding skills is when you are young and the brain is still plastic.
I thought maybe we could start by doing some off-roading, which would develop those skills better than any other kind of riding and is a lot safer than road riding, but while he says he could get into rally racing (the navigational aspect appeals to him), he’s more interested in using a bike to get around town. My second choice is for him to start on a small bike. As I’ve written in a previous post, I’m a strong believer in the European stepping-stones regulation system in which beginners start with a bike restricted to 20 hp, then after two years graduate to a bike with up to about 47 hp, and finally after another two years have no restrictions. It’s a little more complicated than that (okay, a lot more complicated) because age and power-to-weight ratio are also factors, but generally the idea is to start small and work your way up to heavier and more powerful machines.
So I was steering him toward smaller displacement bikes. He seems to have a fancy for naked bikes, so I suggested he sit on this Honda CB300.
You can tell a lot about a bike just by sitting on it. Climb on a sport bike and reach down for the grips, you’re almost lying on the tank. You’re tucked in behind a tiny windscreen, your knees are bent 120 degrees and you just know that a few hours in this position is not going to be good for your back or sex life. But you are one with the machine, your knees tucked into the hollows of the tank and you are ready for speed. By contrast, throw a leg over a touring bike and you’re weight is evenly distributed between your bum and your feet, you are upright, staring down the horizon, and the handlebars reach for you instead of the other way around. Oh yeah, and there’s a cup holder. Each bike is designed for a specific purpose, and you feel it right away.
Then there are more subtle aspects of design. I don’t like a huge tank dominating the cockpit, and some bikes feel like there’s a wall of plastic in front of you. Others have a seat that slopes down into the tank, making you feel crowded. Wide handlebars or narrow, digital or analog instrumentation, the width of the faring, position of pipes, etc. are all aspects of a bike’s design and comfort, any one of which can be a deal-breaker. Once in a while you come across a Goldilocks bike. You sit on it and everything feels just right, like when you find your soulmate and know after the first night that this relationship is a biggie. One bike that did that for me this year was the Triumph Street Scrambler.
It not only feels great but also looks really cool. Triumph have done a great job with their direction of putting out the modern classic bike, taking essentially the classic Bonneville design of the 60’s and building modern technology into it. Okay, the Bobber goes too far and is to my taste a bit pretentious, but this Scrambler looks like the quintessential motorcycle yet, according to reviews, for all intents and purposes rides like a modern bike. And with the rack on the back, you could tour with this, even do some light off-roading. I’m really happy with my 650GS, but if money were no object, I’d be heading to Triumph tomorrow.
There are some bikes that are clearly built to get attention, and others where practicality is predominant. On one end of the scale is this Victory Mello Yello, which is anything but mellow in its appearance.
Then there’s the Kawasaki H2, the most powerful motorcycle ever produced—and looks it.
This beast has 998 cc of supercharged power, and I’m not using that term euphemistically. It actually has a supercharger with an impeller that turns at up to 130,000 rpm and compresses air 2.4x atmospheric pressure. It’s also got something called “the planetary gear.” If you think that sounds like something from outer space, you wouldn’t be far wrong. This gear system was designed by KHI’s aerospace division and is incredibly efficient at transferring power. Yes, we humans are amazing tool makers, and we’ve come a long way from that opening scene in 2001 Space Odyssey where a tibia bone becomes the first tool when used as a club. One look at this thing and you have a pretty clear picture of our incredible tool-making ability. Unfortunately, for all that ingenuity, we haven’t figured out how to stop killing each other and share power and wealth. Maybe we aren’t that far from the bone-as-weapon mentality? We are in essence still children in a sandbox, unwilling to share a bucket and spade, even when those toys have evolved to harness 326 hp.
But back to my dilemma about what bike I would feel comfortable my son riding. Not the H2, that’s for sure. The bike I was most interested in him seeing was the brand new BMW G310. It’s taken five years of development to get this bike off the line. Apparently, the biggest hurdle was getting the manufacturing, which is done in a new plant in India, up to BMW’s standards. The result is an entry-level bike that is under $5,000, has all the advantages of the German engineering we’ve come to expect from BMW and, according to initial reviews, is super fun to ride! It’s light and nimble, and despite being only 313cc (35 hp) in size, can keep up on the freeway thanks to a sixth gear, which even my 650GS does not have. Did I mention she’s a beaut? BMW are going to sell a lot of these. Apparently the plan is to bump their annual sales from 150,000 to 200,000 worldwide with this machine and introduce the BMW brand to a new generation of riders.
It’s a single-cylinder, of course, liquid cooled, with ABS. Above is the R version, but an adventure GS model is coming in about six months. It would be fun to do some touring together and BMW says the 310GS is okay for light off-roading, so pretty much the same as my 650GS and would mean we would not be restricted to asphalt. They didn’t have the GS available at the show but here’s a photo of it grabbed off of Cycle World.
It’s got the distinctive BMW beak, an extra couple of inches suspension clearance front and back over the R model, adjustable rear suspension preload, and ABS can be turned off when you leave the pavement. That’s a lot of bike for a little over $5,000! Cycle World is calling it a legitimate contender for the mini-ADV crown. It will take Gabriel a year or more to get his licence if he decides to go ahead with this, and hopefully by that time there will be some aftermarket accessories, like a more comfortable seat (are you hearing this, Seat Concepts?) because I know from personal experience that BMW do not put money into the seat.
In the end, I’m in the uncanny position I put my wife in when I announced I wanted to ride. To her credit, she didn’t freak out and threaten to divorce me, as some wives would do. She has told me she didn’t because she trusts me, trusts that I’m going to do everything right to minimize the risk, and I guess I’m going to have to do the same with my only child. He’s 23 this month, so there’s not much I can do about it anyway.