Wheel alignment

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!


  1. A great write-up and a very nice looking bike. I like the black/silver better than the orange normally associated with KTM.

  2. Thanks Richard! I still find it both fascinating and intriguing that an inanimate object can rekindle a whole range of emotions and enthusiasm!

  3. A KTM with small wheels...

    I bet it will be a real hoot Geoff! I love my torquey twin - even it weighs 260+kg...

  4. I'm pretty sure that it will be a hoot Andrew!

    A mate dropped round yesterday with his brand new Africa Twin. Bloody hell, i'd need a stepladder AND trainer wheels to ride that!

  5. Excellent post mate. Those RS10 are the bomb for performance, but I only managed 2700km out of them before they were done. Great at the track almost like a slick. I cant wait to see which bike you choose. Mmmm big bang you say......

  6. Hi Steve,
    Brilliant tyres but I'd hate to ride on them in the wet on a public road!

    Err...... did you actually read the article before you had a Friday night beer? It's pretty clear what I've bought 😁

  7. Oops well that's pretty embarrassing. I'm on my phone and missed the last paragraph. I'm blaming to booze and my inability to operate a smart phone.

    Great choice mate the Ktm is a great choice

    1. All good mate - it is Friday night 😁

  8. Geoff, I could have told you in advance that the old man ends up with the 'wild chick'. You are so clichΓ©, buddy ;-)

    I have been contemplating the KTM for a while now. Maybe I'll give it a try. To me the bike looks more like a 'wild boy', you know the rugged looking one in frayed jeans and leather jacket that you better not bring home. (Now, does my desire for a young looking bike make me a cougar...?)

    Congrats by the way, and many miles and smiles. Please keep us posted about your experience.

  9. Hi Sonja!
    **Hangs head and blushes**. You know what it's like with engineers - always trying to make the sensible decisions. This time, it's an opportunity to own a wild child before I'm too old 😁. Haha! I couldn't possibly comment on your question but be assured that Jennie would be the same as you!

    I will indeed post how I get on and look forward to see you test riding one!

  10. Being of the same vintage I should probably be thinking about trading in the Road King (365kg wet) for something a bit lighter, but, damn, I just like it too much. Besides I'm not really sure what I'd replace it with. The only bikes that catch my eye these days are the retro models - 900 Kawasaki, Triumph Bonneville, Honda CB1100 - and they're not particularly good for running errands, getting groceries, etc. I don't know. I'll probably stick with what I've got until it's really too much and get a Burgman or something. Decisions, decisions.

    1. Hi David,
      At least the Road King has a fairly low seat height and as long as you can handle it just fine and clearly love it, why not just keep it?. Fitness for purpose and all that jazz. I road a low spec Bonneville demonstrator when I was having the bike serviced a couple of years ago. Really liked it but it didn't quite suit everything I wanted from a bike. Larger capacity scooters are great but again, do they suit everything you want from two wheels? When i stop riding motorcycles, I think it will be an electric bicycle for me. As you say.... decisions, decisions!

  11. Huh, so you took the slightly dodgy chick home to meet Mum?!?

    I had to test ride the Suzuki GSX-S 1000 when you bought yours and considered buying one; now you go out and pull a foolish stunt like this?!? What's a guy to do after reading such a great review?
    Yep, already checked the local dealer's inventory online... now praying for warmer weather.

    Nice write up, and that last picture does say a thousand words. Good for you!
    Looking forward to reading of your bad girl affairs ;)

    1. Hi Brad,
      I hope being involved with a bad girl doesn't bite me on the bum 😁. I want to have something genuinely exciting rather than "safe" this time. Overall, reports from the forums are great. However, for some reason, North America has had a few cases of error messages on their TFT display. Haven't heard of the problem anywhere else so fingers crossed. Pick it up next Wednesday.

      Happy hunting and may your weather be kind to you!

  12. Congrats on the new bike Geoff. It sounds as though all the witty comment shave been said so I will just say that your smile says it all.

    Having bought a bike by the numbers and not on emotion I understand when it is just a tool and doesn't get patted on the way by. My Versys is the same way. Serves a purpose though.

    Looking forward to hearing of your adventures with the nw mistress. Let's hope she doesn't leave you handcuffed to the bed. :-)

    1. Thanks Brandy! I surprised myself writing that but it seems to have,got the point across 😎. It's not a stunningly attractive bike but it has that je ne sais quoi in spades. Don't ask me to explain it any more than that.

      Hmmmm...... I should be that lucky 🀣

  13. Wow, that bike sounds a hoot to ride!

    Look forward to reading about your experience with it.

    I am always tempted to get a smaller naked bike but have long highway haul to reach the fun roads.

  14. Hi Warren,
    I'm looking forward to a long love affair with it - hope it doesn't end in a messy divorce ;-) . I went to naked bikes after my Blackbird to slow me down a bit as it's too easy to go fast on a faired bike. Did the annual 1600 km in under 24 hours organised ride on my naked Street Triple in pretty mixed conditions and it was the most comfortable of all the bikes I've done it on! I now feel more "connected" with the environment on a naked bike.

  15. OH, YES!!!
    Great choice mate! I am frothing just looking at it. Can't wait to see where she takes you (out the back of the pub into a darkened alley hopefully ;-O )

    1. Thanks Dave! Knee-trembler out back eh? I've never named a bike before but this one is definitely Bad Girl Lola :-) . Riding it the 160 km home today was magic, especially up the twisty coast road - couldn't stop laughing out loud, even if I was being careful with the new tyres!

  16. I am not a KTM fan, but this model looks awesome!

  17. I have to agree with you Kofla. Didn't think I'd end up with a KTM either but it was such a joy to ride that I just had to have it!