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Sunday, 31 March 2019

The Scalpel - one month and 1500 km down the track

By way of a brief recap, I wanted a lighter bike as a concession to age (and short legs) and for various reasons, my personal choice boiled down to the Triumph Street Triple or KTM Duke 790, nicknamed "The Scalpel" by the factory.  Having owned a Triple 675 for 6 years and briefly tried a 765, I knew what wonderful bikes they are and was pretty relaxed about owning either the Triumph or KTM as both would meet both my functional needs and importantly, touch my soul in a way that my GSX-S 1000 didn't.

The previous post detailed the test ride on a demonstrator Duke and the effect it had on me, actually laughing out loud inside the helmet.  I'd already done plenty of research on the Triumph and Duke and it was the fun factor and potentially wild nature of the Duke that sealed it.  Part of the research involved being put in touch with a Kiwi professional engineer, Rodney O'Connor; who had worked for both KTM and Triumph design teams whilst travelling overseas.  Rodney gave some great insights as to the workings of both companies which were extremely valuable.  However, the most valuable bit of information he gave was this (reproduced verbatim):

"It's not the way the coin lands that decides for you, but your reaction to the way the coin lands that will tell you the decision you want to make"

After riding the Duke, I did a mental coin toss simulating the Street Triple coming out on top.  I actually felt disappointed and that reaction clarified and sealed the decision to buy the Duke!  Amazing how a simple bit of advice made the decision so clear.  Thanks a million Rodney.... and Blair who made the introduction!  You really do need to listen to your heart as part of the buying process if you want complete satisfaction.

Sooooo....  here we are, one month in and about 1500 km on the clock.  Would have been a lot more had it not been for hosting UK friends we hadn't seen for 34 years, then copping a virus which laid me low for a week.  Thought I'd take the opportunity to detail my experiences and thoughts so far.  Naturally, these comments are personal for my particular needs.

Day 1... about to ride home from the dealer - laughing already

ERGONOMICS
Excellent for my 5'7" height.  At 825mm seat height, it's 15mm higher than my Suzuki but the shape of the seat is such that it allows my legs to be in a more vertical position at a standstill.  This amply demonstrates that both seat height and shape both have a bearing on suitability.   The seat is firm but surprisingly comfortable.  Longest day in the saddle so far has been 500 km with minimal stopping and whilst I've been aware of pressure on my butt towards the end, it hasn't been distracting.

No complaints about seat comfort

On the Suzuki, I fitted lowered footpegs to relieve the pressure on damaged knees.  There has been no need to do this on the KTM as it's even more comfortable than the Suzuki with its modified setup.  The upright riding position provides excellent all-round visibility - an important safety feature in traffic.

The KTM weight at 169 kg without fuel is about 40kg lighter (yep, that's one heck of a lot!) than the Suzuki and has a lower centre of gravity.  That's a massive benefit to my ageing body, particularly at low speeds, parking or just wheeling it about.  A lightweight bike was my No 1 criterion (coupled with performance) and the purchase has hit the spot in this respect.  Performance aspect shortly!

TECHNICAL FEATURES
The electronics package on the KTM is really impressive and is controlled through the TFT screen.  The basic riding modes are Rain, Street, Sport and Track with ABS and Traction Control being lean-angle sensitive too!  It also has launch control and anti-wheelie options if you're pushing the performance envelope but they will be features to play with a bit further down the track. A steering damper is standard.  Being a typical guy, I haven't read and memorised the manual from cover to cover yet!

The photo below shows the TFT display in its normal riding mode.  The black background is "night mode", designed to reduce glare.  In brighter light, it has a white background.  A sensor auto-detects light levels.  Some reviewers have found this feature a little annoying (e.g switching when riding under tree cover) but it doesn't bother me in the slightest.  The display shows all the normal stuff - distance covered, distance before next fill-up and so on.  Approaching the rev limit, the screen above the rev counter line starts flashing KTM orange as a visual cue that it's time to think about changing gear!

TFT display in low ambient light mode

One technical feature I do use is the quickshifter.  This could be easily dismissed as a toy for wannabe racers but not needing to use the clutch is surprisingly useful in a normal road environment.  Downshifts are silky smooth and very fast so that any disruption to the bike's drive/stability is minimal.  Smooth upshifts require a reasonable amount of throttle and for this reason, I still tend to use the clutch most of the time.  However, when gassing it, the benefits are the same as downshifting.  In any event, the gearbox is an absolute peach and engaging first gear in particular is the tiniest of "snicks", compared with the big clunk on the last bike.

Quickshifter behind the engine

I've only used the headlight in twilight conditions as opposed to complete darkness but the LED light comes in for particular praise on road tests.  No reason to doubt it from what I've seen so far.  EDIT:  Have now tried it in complete darkness on twisty roads with no ambient light and it's perfectly acceptable.  I have completed 5 "Iron Butt" 1600 km in under 24 hours organised rides on various bikes.  They involve 10-12 hours of riding on minor roads in complete darkness and I would be quite happy to complete such a ride on the KTM without any form of lighting upgrade.

That's bright, that is!

PERFORMANCE (aka Wossit do, Mister?)
The engine
In the real world, brute horsepower isn't a good indicator of the ability to make progress on public highways.  Power to weight ratio, torque characteristics and handling all have significant influence.  Comparing the power to weight ratio of the KTM and GSX-S1000, they come out at 0.62 bhp/kg and 0.69 bhp/kg (dry weight) respectively so close enough not to really matter.  Sufficient to propel the KTM to a top speed of around 230 km/hr which is more than adequate for this old geezer!

The claimed torque of the KTM is 86 N-m compared with 106 N-m of the Suzuki but the KTM isn't having to accelerate as much mass.  From the perspective of owning both bikes, the Suzuki is definitely better but not by much under most conditions.  Snap overtakes at any speed in any gear are a breeze, aided by the quickshifter of course.

Sexy pipework!

The engine note is one of the features which I found attractive.  The standard muffler has quite a bark without attracting too much attention and pops a little on the over-run.  The "big bang" 435 degree firing order makes it sound a bit like a Ducati V twin with Termignoni end cans when revving.  At lower revs, it sounds more like a large capacity single cylinder trail bike.  In summary, I like it a lot!  One of the more well-known applications of "big bang" technology was on the 2 stroke NSR 500cc Honda GP bikes in the 90's which Mick Doohan and others rode.  Uneven power pulses made the engine power delivery easier to control, better traction and less tyre wear.  Maybe it applies to some extent on road bikes too!

Handling
In a word, exceptional. Very little countersteering required on bend sequences to point the bike where you want it to go - you can just chuck it around.  I guess this is a combination of the light weight and steering geometry.  Less fatiguing than a larger, heavier bike.  Everything I expected it to be.  Tyres are the purpose-designed Maxxis pure sport.  I've no complaints about them so far in warm conditions or even wet mixed with warmth in rain mode and they are now virtually worn to the edges.  However, in the colder, wetter months; they're probably going to exhibit lower levels of grip associated with pure sport tyres under those conditions.  When the time comes, they'll probably be replaced with Michelin Road 5's like I had on the Suzuki.  A great all-round tyre in both wet and dry conditions.  Another aspect of the handling I love is the turning circle - it's SMALL!  My Suzuki was so-so and the 2009 Street Triple was abysmal.  With the Triple, you couldn't make a complete U turn on a moderate width road (as I found out to my cost not long after buying it - only a broken front indicator cover but massive ego damage).

Brakes
Haven't really had to use them in anger but "adequate" is the word that comes to mind.  Damned by faint praise I suppose.  As time goes by and if any real shortcomings arise, I'll pop a set of EBC HH pads in as that's done the trick on both the Street Triple and GSX-S 1000.

Fuel Consumption
Before purchase, this was the aspect which bothered me a bit with the KTM having a 14 litre tank.  Living way out in the countryside, my journeys are usually several hundred km and having a reasonable range is important.  I've been pleasantly surprised.  If the instrumentation is fairly accurate, fuel consumption during the break-in period has equated to a range of between 270-300 km which is quite acceptable.

QUALITY OF FINISH
Too early to tell in the longer term but the paintwork, plastic and alloy looks really good with a lot of attention to detail.  Bolts are mostly normal hex head with the Torx 6 point star in the centre for better grip than either Phillips or Allen keys.  The toolkit provides various sized bits.

ACCESSORIES
I've always avoided accessories with purely cosmetic function but nonetheless, seem to have made quite a dent in my wallet in terms of aftermarket stuff from around the world to meet my particular needs.

The finished article (for now)

Starting up front, an Ermax flyscreen from France.  Minimal impact at low speed but at higher speeds, wind blast is moved up to the shoulder area.  One possible unintended consequence is that the screen disintegrates squishy bugs, then fires the pulverised remains across my visor with the accelerated slipstream.  Will have to see if my observation is correct.  Extortion clearly isn't the sole province of the Mafia.  The French manufacturer wanted over NZ$100 in shipping costs alone.  You know how it is when you desperately want something - grit your teeth and pay up!  That's exactly what I did.  Quality is excellent which takes some of the pain away.

The R&G crash protectors and Pyramid front guard extension came from the UK and shipping rates were pretty fair.  I had both on my Suzuki and knew what I was getting.  I've also fitted R&G anti-slip tank protection.  That's the matte finish area at the rear of the tank and it blends in nicely with the matte seat and matte plastic cover below the tank.  Wasn't really interested in the anti-slip properties and bought it simply for paintwork protection from being scuffed with my riding gear.  I also bought a CNC-machined attachment to increase the foot area of the sidestand.  The original foot is quite narrow and I could foresee plenty of scope for it sinking into a soft verge, followed by lots of embarrassment and ego damage!

Crash protection - R&G Aero

Nice alloy side stand pad

The best value for money accessory has been the tail pack on the rear seat.  It's waterproof, expandable (it'll allegedly take a helmet) and has padded straps to convert it to a back pack.  Bought via eBay from Hong Kong for NZ$60 delivered.  Given the price, I didn't have particularly high expectations about the quality but I can't fault it!

Fantastic value for money and looks like it was designed for the bike

A radiator guard is a possible addition to the accessory list but at least the front guard extension keeps the crap and stones from the front wheel pretty much away from the radiator.  At least with the accessory list more or less done and dusted for now, Jennie won't be scanning our bank statements and rolling her eyes!

NIGGLES AND DISLIKES
A bit early to tell but nothing major at present.  The chain clearance under the swingarm is pretty close which makes lubricating it somewhat more difficult, even using my ABBA Superbike stand.  Not a big deal though.  Of slightly more concern is correctly setting chain tension when the time comes because of the proximity to the swingarm - will have to do some reading about that.

Not much clearance between chain and swingarm

TO SUM IT ALL UP SO FAR
"Character" is a word which means different things to different people.  Modern bikes are normally so good that it's hard to separate one from another apart from looks.  In the case of the KTM, the engine note and characteristics, looks and overall performance all genuinely add a point of difference.  This is obviously personal to me and is also influenced by the bikes I've previously owned.

Do I still think I made the right choice between the KTM and the Street Triple?  Unequivocally yes.  I would have been happy with either but the Duke adds an extra dimension of excitement.  To go back to my slightly tongue in cheek comment in the previous post.....  the Street Triple is the smooth, sophisticated chick who is classy and exciting, perhaps a tad predictable but still delivers a great performance.  The KTM is the slightly dodgy chick, a bit wild and unpredictable and fun but delivers a sensational performance that lights your fire. Definitely wouldn't take her home to meet your mother!  Like the dodgy chick, the KTM encourages immoderate behaviour.  I can't sum it up better better than that!

A fellow IAM member took it for a short ride today.  When he returned, he had a massive grin on his face and his first words were, "If I owned this, I'd really be risking my licence".  Enough said!

More on the KTM after a bigger distance has been covered, but an update covering instrumentation accuracy and headlight effectiveness can be found HERE

Out and about on Bad Girl Lola!



Friday, 1 March 2019

When ageing bikers go bad......

Regular readers will remember past comments on this blog, some serious and some flippant; about ageing motorcyclists, risks and strategies to enjoy and safely prolong their riding.  My thoughts about taking the issue seriously was prompted by a series of email exchanges with US motorcycle safety guru and author David Hough.  Those exchanges were summarised in a post from 2011 HERE . 

The exchanges prompted me to raise my skills with the Institute of Advanced Motorists.  It not only gave me new skills but reinvigorated my riding enjoyment too.  It's also opened the opportunity to assist other riders of all ages to upskill too.

Now at 71, it's time to put the next part of the plan into action.  My Suzuki GSX-S 1000 is by no means a heavyweight at 210 kg dry but its centre of gravity is relatively high.  As I seem to be shrinking and am now 5' 7" in old money, a high C of G and being vertically challenged are not a good recipe, especially parking around off-cambers or uneven ground (don't ask me how I know!).

Clearly, it was time to consider a lighter bike but one with good performance, which I've been doing for many months.  As well as weighing up technical specifications, I've been careful to think about that very personal factor - emotional appeal.  The GSX-S was bought rather more quickly than prudent and whilst it's a great bike, it didn't have much emotional appeal.  A simple example is that unlike my old 675 Street Triple, it didn't get patted when I walked past it in the shed! 

Without going into all the reasons why, the two bikes which I thought would fill the technical and emotional sides of buying a new bike are the Triumph Street Triple 765 and the KTM Duke 790.  Time to do some test riding!

If I can draw a very non-PC analogy going back to my late teens or early 20’s, the Triple is equivalent to the smooth, sophisticated chick you meet at the pub. A touch expensive, reliable and predictable in many ways, but nonetheless exciting. Call it the "safe" option if you like. Then there is the slightly dodgy chick, a bit rough and wild, maybe a tad unreliable but is unpredictably exciting. Not the sort that you’d take home to meet Mum but we’ve either fantasised about the latter type or experienced one at first hand. That’s the KTM. (Can’t believe I’ve just written that paragraph but you get the drift and it is probably applicable to both sexes if we're honest about it so being offended is tough luck).

A couple of days ago, it was time to test the Duke 790, nicknamed "The Scalpel".  169 kg, 435 degree “big bang” motor, lean sensitive traction control and ABS, launch control, adjustable wheelie control, track, sport, road and wet weather modes, quick shifter, slipper clutch, steering damper – motorcycle porn for a techo. What’s not to like?

Rocked up to the KTM/Suzuki dealer in Hamilton to find that the dealer principal had just fitted Bridgestone Battlax RS 10 tyres.  This is in anticipation of a trackday he's doing next week.  They are not really a road appropriate tyre as you could almost spread the soft compound with a butter knife.  I think life will be in the hundreds of kilometres!  However, a hot, dry day and the dealer telling me to go and enjoy myself........ what could be better?

Introducing the KTM Duke 790 - aka "The Scalpel"

This bike is deceptively small but the ergonomics are perfect for me.  Just like my old 675 Street Triple, everything is instinctively in the right place.  The seat is about 15 mm higher than the Suzuki but as the seat profile is more rounded, my legs are more vertical when on the ground.  Coupled with the light weight, it's really confidence-inspiring for a shortarse.

No time for heroics on the first outing so "road" mode was selected from the TFT display and the motor started.  There's quite a bark from the standard muffler and you probably wouldn't want it a lot louder to start drawing attention to yourself.  Some nice pops on a trailing throttle too. 

Sexy pipework!

Pull away from the dealership into the traffic and everything feels good.  Leg position feels perfect for my stuffed knees and the seat feels perfectly comfortable,  Great all-round vision too.

Dive down a side road and out into the country.  I'm not sure what I was expecting in terms of performance but crikey, this bike really picks up her skirts and accelerates!  The perfect example of a great power to weight ratio and not needing massive horsepower to get stunning performance.  The clutchless quick shifter works a treat when you have the throttle pinned but is a little more vague at low throttle openings ,  Downshifts using it are universally good. 

I love the engine note but don't quite know what to make of it as it's almost unique.  It's not like a conventional twin because of the firing order.  Sometimes, there's a hint of V twin and at other times, it feels like a stonking big single.  Yet another point of difference compared with the opposition.

Into the twisties and the reason for the nickname "Scalpel" becomes apparent.  It eats corners with virtually no input from the rider other than getting the entry position right.  Getting entry speed right seemed less critical - just lean it a bit more!  And boy, do those RS 10's stick!   

Evidence of an enjoyable test ride

In fairness, I didn't push as hard as the state of the tyres might suggest.  The dealer principal had already given them a good workout to and from his home and I just added to that.  With the coarse chip of the roads I took it on (compared with a track) and air temperatures of around 30 degrees C, it wasn't hard to start making inroads on their life.

For most roads out in the countryside, the first 5 gears were more than adequate and at the legal limit of 100 km/hr, 6th gear felt a bit like an overdrive.  That was probably exacerbated by the motor still being a bit tight.  It felt better at higher (illegal) speeds and as it's capable of around 230 km/hr, you wouldn't want to engage the higher gears too early unless you're in economy mode.

Looks like a preying mantis with its LED headlight - skinny too

After some enthusiastic riding in the countryside, I realised that I was absolutely fizzing - genuinely taken by surprise as to how good it was and how much I was enjoying it.  Modern bikes, excepting the odd lemon, are universally good.  I guess this can mean that they can be a bit "same old, same old".  The Duke breaks this mould and the experience is incredibly refreshing.  It adds a genuinely different experience.

I put it in sport mode on the edge of coming back into the city just out of curiosity and it was significantly more sensitive to small changes in throttle opening and skittery.  It may settle down as the motor beds in but in reality, it's no big deal to keep it in "road" mode.  

Coming back into the dealership, my feeling was almost identical to the time I first took a 675 Street Triple out after owning the Blackbird for 8 years.  That feeling can be summed up as " I want it and I want it NOW".  A deal was quickly done as I've used the dealer for servicing my bikes since 2001.  As of next week, the Suzuki will be no more and a KTM will grace the shed.  Remember the rough chick analogy?  Exciting times ahead and will report back with a more thorough review in due course.  Experiences like this are what keeps us young!

As with my old Street Triple, the KTM is the sort of bike which encourages immoderate behaviour.  I'm going to have to watch that!

Oh, the black and silver colour scheme as opposed to the traditional KTM orange is partially down to Jennie.  She doesn't like the orange which I think partially translates as an old fart on an orange bike doesn't look right!  No problem with this as the black and silver matches my leathers and hopefully will draw less attention of the wrong kind!

Addendum: 1500 km update HERE

The smile says it all!