Category Archives: Motorcycle Riding

Fast Mike’s Favorite Motorcycle Destinations, Part 2 (Races)


While rallies have a lot of offer sport-touring riders, there are some great motorcycle competition events throughout the nation that are worth making a stop on a tour.

Like my previous article on rallies, the list below is made up of events I have personally attended and recommend.

MotoAmerica (Road Atlanta, VIRginia International Raceway, Road America, Pittsburgh International Race Complex, New Jersey Motorsports Park, Barber Motorsports Park)

The United States’ professional motorcycle road racing championship holds several rounds east of the Mississippi River each year. For full disclosure, this is the series I cut my teeth in motorcycle journalism with, so I am a little biased toward it.

That said, the events are fun and family friendly and the on-track competition is often intense in all competition classes. Making the trip to the round at Barber Motorsports Park in Birmingham, Ala., also gives one an opportunity to visit the Barber Vintage Motorsports Museum (more on that to come).

Websitehttps://motoamerica.com/

Facebookhttps://www.facebook.com/MotoAmerica/

Springfield Mile (Springfield, Ill: American Flat Track)

If you’ve never been to a flat track motorcycle race, you’re missing out. Along with speedway racing, flat track is one of the most fan-friendly racing programs out there. And one of the most historic venues to see your first flat track race at is the Springfield Mile.

The one-mile clay oval is located at the Illinois State Fairgrounds in Springfield, Ill. The American Flat Track series typically holds two races on the mile each year. The track has been the scene of national flat track racing since at least the 1940s and was once the sole contest to determine the AMA Grand National Champion.

The track is egg-shaped than other mile-long tracks, with shorter straightaways and longer, more gradual turns. It is billed as the fastest one-mile oval in the world.

Websitehttps://www.springfieldmile.org/

Facebookhttps://www.facebook.com/Springfieldmile/

 

Lima Half-Mile (Lima, Ohio: American Flat Track)

While Springfield is one of the most iconic places to watch flat track racing, the Lima Half Mile offers an even better fan experience. The race takes place each year on the pea gravel half-mile oval at the Allen County Fairgrounds near Lima, Ohio.

The pea gravel surface offers faster motorcycle speeds than clay and the shorter track offers better sight lines for spectators. Racers take a lot of different lines around the track, which makes for exciting, bar-banging racing.

What impressed me the most about the 2019 event was the mix of motorcyclists who attended. Every kind of motorcycle and rider could be seen in the steady stream of riders exiting the fairgrounds after the race.

Websitehttps://www.limahalfmile.com/

Facebookhttps://www.facebook.com/LimaHalfMile/

 

Ricky Carmichael Amateur Supercross (Daytona Beach, Fla.)

I attended the Ricky Carmichael Amateur Supercross for the first time in 2019, and learned what the term, “full send” means. This amateur motocross event takes place during Daytona Bike Week at Daytona International Speedway for two days after the AMA Supercross race each year. The track is modified from the Supercross layout to be raceable for riders of all ages and skill levels.

What really struck me at the event was the stark contrast between riders of different talent levels. In motocross, riders are given a rating from A to C, with A being the fastest, most talented amateur riders. It was amazing to watch riders in the 450 C class gingerly negotiate steep jumps while some of the very talented riders on 65cc or 85cc bikes would attack those jumps, go flying through the air and nail the landing every time.

You won’t get into an event at Daytona International Speedway for much less than the tickets to the amateur Supercross, and you’ll get all the show you could ask for.

Website: https://racedaytona.com/

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/rcsxdaytona/

Monster Energy Cup (Las Vegas, Nev.: AMA Supercross Exhibition)

When this annual AMA Supercross exhibition race takes place in Las Vegas each fall, it’s the best show in town. While it’s not a points-paying round of the AMA Supercross Series, the series’ biggest stars and some of the best amateur motocross racers in the nation take to the track for this fall classic.

It was first held in 2011 and takes place at Sam Boyd Stadium, which also hosts a round of the AMA Supercross series. The event is operated by AMA Supercross promoter Feld Entertainment.

The event format is also different than a traditional Supercross event. The pro riders compete in three motos with a $1 million prize available to a rider who wins all three races.

Website: https://www.supercrosslive.com/

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/supercrosslive/

Fast Mike’s Favorite Motorcycle Destinations, Part 1 (Rallies)


Any new sport touring rider should know that there are plenty of top-notch motorcycle-related gatherings each year to fill up one’s calendar.

There is hardly a weekend that goes by during the spring, summer and fall that there isn’t at least one rally or race to attend or landmark or museum to visit that is within a day’s ride from most anywhere in the United States.

I went to write this series of articles as an email to a new sport touring rider about rallies, races and places he should check out. Then I realized it may be worth placing such a list somewhere that all new sport touring riders could find it.

This list is restricted to events I have attended or visited at least once. The following articles in this series will cover races, landmarks and other points of interest.

Geographically speaking, the list reflects my residence and upbringing in the northeastern and mid-western United States.

AMA Vintage Motorcycle Days (Lexington, Ohio)

I call this one “the Woodstock of motorcycle events,” because it’s such a friendly and care-free atmosphere. A fundraiser for the AMA Motorcycle Hall of Fame, the event takes place once a year (usually in July) at Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course in Lexington, Ohio. It includes North America’s largest motorcycle swap meet (read: motorcycle flea market), along with bike shows, lots of different types of motorcycle racing and seminars.

Of all the events I describe in this article, this is the one that packs the biggest punch. Tickets are very reasonably priced and you can ride your motorcycle around the facility. The event attracts a wide range of motorcyclists and is very family friendly.

Web: www.amavintagemotorcycledays.com

Facebook: www.facebook.com/AMAVintageMotorcycleDays

 

Daytona Bike Week (Daytona Beach, Fla.)

2019 was my first year attending Daytona Bike Week and I was very impressed with the experience. The event claims to attract about half a million riders to the Daytona Beach, Fla., region, and is held annually in early March. While the majority of attendees appeared to be cruiser riders, you’ll see and meet riders on every kind of road-going motorcycle imaginable.

At night during Daytona Bike Week, riders gather along Main Street . The crowding of so many motorcycling enthusiasts along the Main Street strip delivers an electric vibe to the beach-side town, and there’s plenty of food and live music along the strip to keep everyone entertained all night.

In addition to the party on Main, there’s the midway at Daytona International Speedway that features plenty of vendors and demo rides, not to mention lots of racing taking place throughout the region (more on that in the next article). The weather can be brutal in parts of the country during early March, but if you can make it to Daytona Beach, it’s more than worth the trip.

Web: officialbikeweek.com

Facebook: www.facebook.com/officialbikeweek

 

Americade (Lake George, N.Y.)

Nestled in a picturesque little lakeside village in Upstate New York, Americade has been attracting motorcyclists to its scenic, history-rich region since 1983. It began as the east-coast rendition of the Aspencade touring bike (read: Goldwing) rally, and claims to attract 100,000-200,000 attendees.

The event location in the Adirondack Mountains means lots of opportunities for riding scenic, twisty roads, and there are lots of test ride opportunities, seminars, vendors and live music within the Village of Lake George. For history buffs, there’s the replica Fort William Henry (site of the events in James Fenimore Cooper’s Last of the Mohicans) that is worth a visit.

Oh, and there’s plenty of motorcycle parking. You’ll have a chance to meet riders on every type of motorcycle you can imagine in a fun, relaxed atmosphere.

Website: americade.com

Facebook: www.facebook.com/americade

 

 

MSTA Mail Pouch Fly-By (Marietta, Ohio)

This annual road riding event takes place in the heart of one of the best riding areas in the nation. Based out of the Best Western hotel in Marietta, Ohio, the now week-long event offers attendees the freedom to ride alone or in groups during the day and enjoy great company each morning and evening. Attendees are just a short ride away from some of Ohio’s best roads, including State Routes 26, 555 and 800.

The door prizes tend to be pretty good too. Those attending also can ride up to the MotoAmerica racing event at Pittsburgh International Race Complex for a day.

The event is associated with the Motorcycle Sport Touring Association.

Website: ridemsta.com

Facebook: www.facebook.com/groups/RideMSTA

 

 

International Motorcycle Shows

Each year, several International Motorcycle Shows events take place across the nation. The exhibition-style shows feature displays of the current or upcoming model year’s machines for several motorcycle manufacturers, as well as vendors, seminars and product demonstrations. Some shows also feature vintage motorcycle displays, test rides of electric motorcycles and more.

I have attended their show in Cleveland every year since at least 2011. While the show has gotten smaller the past few years, it’s still well-attended and allows enthusiasts to get their fix of motorcycling during the cold winter months in Northeast Ohio.

Website: www.motorcycleshows.com

Facebook: www.facebook.com/InternationalMotorcycleShows

 

AIMExpo

In a word, this show is “overwhelming.” It’s one of the biggest (if not the biggest) motorcycle expo in the United States each year. The show often features 500 or more exhibitors and covers every kind of motorcycle and part or accessory one could ask for. The first two days of the show (typically Thursday and Friday) are reserved for media and dealers to check out the latest and greatest motorcycle models and products. The remainder of the show (typically Saturday and Sunday) is open to the general public.

The location of the show has changed several times in recent years. For 2019, it takes place at the Greater Columbus Convention Center in Columbus, Ohio.

Website: aimexpousa.com

Facebook: www.facebook.com/AIMExpo

 

Handbuilt Motorcycle Show (Austin, Texas)

This is probably the most exquisite motorcycle-related event I have attended. It’s not tuxedos and ballroom dresses, but the year I attended it (2016) features a sophisticated ambiance that jived with the complexity, beauty and authenticity of the wide range of custom motorcycles on display. The event is normally held the same weekend as the FIM MotoGP Grand Prix of the Americas at nearby Circuit of the Americas, which helps bring diversity, culture and many different perspectives to the atmosphere of the show. It’s a motorcycle show that reflects the values and vibrance of its host city.

Website: revivalcycles.com/handbuilt-motorcycle-show

Facebook: www.facebook.com/thehandbuiltmotoshow

 

 

First Ride of 2019 (U.S. 23/U.S. 30 to Beaverdam, Ohio)


Ride Date: Sunday, April 28, 2019

The first ride of my 2019 riding season should have happened about a month ago, but it was nevertheless good to get back in the saddle.

While the salt has been off central Ohio roadways for weeks now, my delinquency in attending to my 2008 Yamaha FJR1300’s winter maintenance kept me from logging any riding time until Sunday. With the valves checked, fluids changed and new front tire mounted and balanced, Jadzia the FJR was ready for her first extended ride of 2019 on Sunday afternoon.

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My destination is located on old U.S. 30 (SR 696). It even has Sheetz-like made-to-order food. Click here for more info.

My destination was the same one I’ve used several times for my first ride of the year. When I lived in Delaware, Ohio from 2014-2016, I would ride my Bandit 1200, and later my first FJR1300 to a Speedway station in Beaverdam, Ohio, at the junction of I-75 and U.S. 30 and back. It was 160 miles round trip from Delaware, which was how far the Bandit 1200 would go on a tank of gas. I used the ride to burn the older, Stabil-containing gasoline and refill the tank with fresh fuel.

I used the same Speedway as the destination for my first ride in 2017, even though I was living 200 miles further away from it in Youngstown, Ohio. In 2018, Jadzia was in storage at Cycle Stop in Rochester, N.Y. until early May, so my first ride that year was the ride to Columbus.

I debated whether to find a new destination for my first ride this year, but decided the traditional destination still worked. I live about 30 miles further away from Beaverdam, which closely matches the FJR’s fuel range of about 200 miles per tank.

I also used the ride to stop at Freddy’s Street Food in Delaware, Ohio. It’s one of my favorite restaurants in the Columbus area.

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Dinner at Freddy’s Street Food in Delaware, Ohio. Pasta bowl with fries and a drink.

Route

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Freddy’s Street Food is located at 1165 Columbus Pike in Delaware, Ohio. Click here for directions 

I got on I-270 at U.S. 62 (Exit 2) and headed clockwise to Exit 17B (U.S. 33 West). I got off U.S. 33 at U.S. 42 and headed northeast to Delaware, where I got on the U.S. 23 expressway. I followed U.S. 23 to Upper Sandusky, where U.S. 23 overlaps with U.S. 30 on the Upper Sandusky bypass. At the U.S. 23/U.S. 30 split, I followed U.S. 30 to the exit for Ohio Route 696, on which the Speedway station is located.

For the trip home, I followed U.S. 30 back to U.S. 23, staying on U.S. 23 through Delaware to scenic Ohio Route 315 South. I followed 315 to its end at I-71, getting off at Frank Road and heading home from there.

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I forgot to reset my trip meter before I left, but Google Maps informed me that today’s ride was about 231 miles

Weather

It was a dry but brisk day. While the sun was shining for the entire trip, there was a strong, constant wind that was especially potent during the return trip. Temperatures were in the mid-to-high 50s.

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While the sun was out all afternoon, it was still a chilly ride.

This was a day when having my heated grips installed would have been nice. I was wearing a t-shirt under my riding jacket and its liner, and was a tad cold during the trip. Had I worn a long-sleeve layer underneath the jacket, I probably would have been a lot more comfortable.

Summary

Jadzia performed well on her first ride of the year. My feel for the clutch came back very quickly, and the bike got smoother as it burned off the months old fuel in its tank. The new front Dunlop Roadsmart II tire felt a little slick at first, but began showing great grip and feel after about 100 miles of riding.

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Jadzia the FJR performed very well on the ride. She’s now wearing Dunlop Roadsmart II front and rear for shoes.

There wasn’t a lot a scenery along the route through the plains and farm fields of north-central Ohio. One of the reasons I originally picked the route was because it’s two lanes in each direction and doesn’t handle a lot of traffic. That held true today, which helped get the break-in ride over with as quickly as possible. One site of personal importance I rode by was Route 30 Harley-Davidson, the former Thiel’s Wheels dealership where I bought my first FJR1300.

From determined newbie to sport tourer for life


Joshua Giannini’s first long-distance motorcycle ride

As the baby boomers, who lived through the “golden age” of motorcycling, begin graying out, the motorcycling community needs more riders like Josh Giannini.

A young man, and relatively new motorcyclist from King of Prussia, Pa., Giannini recently completed his first long-distance motorcycle trip.

Riding a small-displacement machine about 3,000 miles through sun, wind, rain and snow, Giannini never wavered in his determination to complete his journey, and in doing so found a life-long passion for two-wheeled exploration.

It is a passion that only those of us who ride to explore can understand, and it is something our entire community needs to do a better job growing if our lifestyle is to be carried on by future generations.

An interview over burritos 

I met Josh while I was having lunch on the patio at the Chipotle restaurant across International Speedway Blvd. from Daytona International Speedway during 2019 Daytona Bike Week. I was pounding out a story for work when I noticed Josh parking his Honda CBR300R. There are lots of small-displacement motorcycles running around Daytona Beach during Bike Week, but not many have soft saddlebags attached to them.

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Josh Giannini and his 2016 Honda CBR300R

I was intrigued by the prospect that someone had toured their way to Daytona Beach on a single-cylinder, 300cc sport bike, but figured he wouldn’t have ridden in from too far away. I asked him about where he’d started riding from, and when he said, “Philadelphia,” my interest was piqued.

After allowing him to eat his lunch in peace while I finished what I was working on, I asked Josh if he could talk more about his trip on the record. Obviously, he obliged.

Love at first ride

Giannini said he began riding motorcycles in August 2018 and credits a close friend of his for getting him into riding.

“I knew I was searching for something in my life,” he said. “One of my friends learned to ride from his uncle and got a 2017 Yamaha R3. He got super passionate about it and taught me how to ride.”

Giannini said from the first time he swung a leg over his friend’s machine he knew motorcycling was what he had been looking for. He described the experience as, “love at first ride.”

Unlike most riders who gradually build up the tolerance for long distance riding, Giannini said he had about 1,500 miles of riding experience before embarking on his first-ever long-distance motorcycle ride.

“I think the longest ride I had done before this was from King of Prussia to Philadelphia,” Giannini said. “That’s only about 30 minutes.”

The trip was not supposed to be a solo effort. Giannini said he had planned the trip with a friend who was an experienced rider and had remained committed to the trip even after his friend backed out.

His said his parents were not exactly in favor of him taking the trip.

“My family is very against motorcycles, as a lot of parents are,” he said.

He didn’t tell them he was planning the trip until he was about to head out the door.

“They were very upset as first, but I think they realized how important this is to me,” he said. “They warmed up to it and are now super excited that I made it.”

Gettin’ ready for the open (and cold) road

To his credit, Giannini added some farkles to his little Honda that made his first touring experience a success. Realizing he wasn’t going to be able to fit everything he needed for the trip in a backpack, Giannini purchased a set of SW-Motech soft saddlebags.

He realized early in his trip planning that he would need something to combat the cold temperatures and a better seat, so he installed a set of heated grips and an Air Hawk seat cushion.

Giannini picked up his last farkle on his way out of town, riding to Cycle Gear in Allentown, Pa., to purchase a Sedici tank bag.

The long and snowy interstate

Giannini’s journey to warm, sunny Daytona Beach, Fla., began under adverse conditions.

He said it was about 18 degrees, snow on the ground and light flurries when he left the Allentown Cycle Gear parking lot and began heading south toward Daytona Beach.

He said the ride to Daytona didn’t end up being exactly the way he had envisioned it. He had hoped to take his time and ride as many scenic routes as possible in warmer conditions.

“When I was planning this December, I figured it would be a lot warmer this time of year, and it’s not,” he said. “I ended up trying to get here as quickly as possible and stayed on I-95. It was a lot more difficult than I was anticipating.”

He said the low point of his trip was the previous night. He was staying in a hotel in Jacksonville and was physically and mentally exhausted from putting in 600 interstate miles that day. Though his outlook on his endeavor had darkened, it became as bright as the sun when he arrived in Daytona Beach.

“I was really contemplating why I did this and was thinking it wasn’t worth it,” he said. “But when I saw that Daytona Beach sign, got off the highway, and saw all of these motorcycles everywhere, I realized this trip was worth every second of hardship.”

Giannini said he spent most of his first day at Daytona Bike Week in the vendor area at Daytona International Speedway and was planning to head over to Rossmeyer Harley-Davidson that evening. His plan was to stay in Daytona Beach for the weekend, but he was considering staying longer.

He said he was planning on taking three days to ride back to Philadelphia and was expecting the return trip to be easier than the ride down.

“I was worried about missing things going on down here and wanted to make sure I got to Daytona Beach in time,” he said. “I feel like I can take my time more on the ride home now.”

Advice and the future

For others who are planning their first long-distance motorcycle trip, Giannini’s advice is not to worry too much and just do it.

“I think I’ve proven a point here that you can do this on a bike that’s really designed for beginners,” he said.

The trip has also changed what Giannini is looking for in his next motorcycle. He said he was previously thinking of getting a bigger sport bike. With the desire to explore now firmly a part of his psyche, he’s now considering naked bikes that are better suited for long distance riding.

As for his next touring destination, Giannini said he’s interested in riding to Sturgis or exploring the old Route 66.

Epilogue

I saw Giannini again in Daytona Beach when I was covering the sights and sounds of Main Street the night of Monday, March 11. He said he had been having a great time at Daytona Bike Week since we met.

He said he took my advice and went to the Monster Energy AMA Supercross event at Daytona International Speedway on March 9 and had a great time at the event. He also said he was following through on his plan to leave the next day, but would definitely be back next year.

After I got home from Daytona Beach, Giannini sent me an email that said he made it home safely from Daytona. He said the trip ended up being about 3,000 miles.

“The experience was incredible and without a doubt one of the greatest things I have ever done in my life,” he wrote.

The Takeaway

Giannini’s story is a happy one, in that it ends with him discovering the passion to explore on two wheels, as well as an infusion of youth into the motorcycle sport touring community. While the challenges he persevered through on his first long distance journey are remarkable, his perseverance is the heart of this story.

Giannini showed great poise in his preparations for the trip (adding the heated grips and seat cushion) and remained committed to the journey despite all of the unknowns he faced. He had very little riding experience and rode his undersized machine on roads he may have never seen before.

He was willing to do all of that. Not many other riders may have been willing to take that leap. While I am happy to welcome Giannini to our community, it is imperative we realize that we cannot depend on having people like him come along and replace those who are graying out.

Each of us needs to take a more proactive role in helping new riders have positive experiences like Giannini did in Daytona Beach. We need to make them feel welcome, teach them what we have learned through trial and error and show them that there’s so much to learn and explore and experience as a sport touring rider.

For us, the journey is never over. There’s always something more to see, to learn, to do. Giannini now knows what we knows and his life will be ever better for it. It’s time that each of us did more, even just a little more, so that the passion and the happiness only we know reaches as many people as it can.

Ride Report: Columbus to Portsmouth via SR 104


Introduction 

On June 30 I took a ride with a co-worker and his buddy to Portsmouth, Ohio, to attend the Portsmouth Motorcycle Club’s 125th Anniversary Celebration. My co-worker Rob suggested taking Ohio State Route 104 to Portsmouth instead of U.S. Route 23. I had ridden/driven U.S. 23 several times for a previous job and was happy to give another route a try. Both routes follow the Scioto River and I was not expecting the alternate route to offer much more than U.S. 23 does. The route turned out to be very enjoyable and I am sure I will be riding it again sometime soon. 

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Route 

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Route Map: Port Side to Portsmouth

The ride began the same way many good motorcycle rides do: with a delicious, hearty American breakfast. I met up with Rob and his buddy at Port Side Café II and Catering on U.S. 23 near Lockbourne, Ohio. After a western omelet, home fries, and toast, the three of us started riding south on U.S. 23 and turned right onto SR 762 west. We rode for a couple miles until we reached SR 104 and turned left to head south toward Portsmouth. 

We stayed on SR 104 until we reached Chillicothe, Ohio, where we turned onto East Main Street (signed U.S. 50) and then got on the U.S. 23 expressway. We followed U.S. 23 (which SR 104 duplexes with just south of Chillicothe) to Waverly, Ohio, where we stopped for gas and water. SR 104 splits off from U.S. 23 in Waverly and we followed the SR 104 alignment from Waverly to where it duplexes with SR 73. From there we followed SR 73/SR 104 into Portsmouth. The Portsmouth Motorcycle Club’s clubhouse is located on Front Street. It looks out on the Ohio River and is one block south from where the SR 73/SR 104 bridge over the Scioto River connects with Portsmouth’s downtown. 

For the return trip to Columbus I decided to take U.S. 23 to compare the routes back-to-back. 

 

Weather 

The ride featured sunny skies and hot conditions on the way to Portsmouth, as well as on the way back to Columbus. Temperatures were probably in the high 80s or low 90s with moderately high humidity in the afternoon. I was sweating pretty good when I was stuck at red light after red light in downtown Portsmouth on the way home.

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Analysis/Summary 

I was not expecting SR 104 to be any better to ride than U.S. 23 considering both routes mostly follow the relatively flat Scioto River valley. I was pleasantly surprised by SR 104’s undulations, scenic views, and ties to Ohio transportation history. 

There was very little traffic on the rural sections of SR 104 during the ride. The section north of Chillicothe offers some scenic views of the agricultural fields and some foothills. It is a nice, low-stress, low-traffic volume alternative to the four-lane U.S. 23 highway.  

The southern portion of the route (south of Waverly) begins with a neat section of road atop a dam embankment on the southeast side of Lake White. The remainder of the route features some minor elevation changes but few scenic views due to both sides of the road being tree-lined. 

The most exciting part of the ride for me was the sighting of an old canal lock adjacent to the route. Further research has determined SR 104 by-and-large follows the routing of the Ohio and Erie Canal. I only saw the one preserved lock on the ride but will be researching the route further to determine if there are any other remnants of the abandoned canal to be visited. I am also really interested in going back to the preserved lock to see how its dimensions compare to those of the Genesee Valley Canal and Enlarged Erie Canal locks in Western New York. 

There was also a fancy-looking dirt speedway on the southwest side of SR 73/SR 104 just before the route enters Portsmouth proper. The facility is called Portsmouth Raceway Park and appears to be well-manicured for a short dirt oval. I may have to head back to Portsmouth sometime soon to see the track in action. 

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FJR1300 Comparison: 2003 model vs. 2008 model


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Introduction

For those in the market for a used sport touring motorcycle, I could not recommend the Yamaha FJR1300 enough. It is a great bike for long-distance riding that is still enjoyable on twisty roads and is generally bulletproof reliable.

I have owned both a first-generation FJR1300 (2003-2005), and currently own a second-generation model (2006-2012). I am writing this post to help sport touring shoppers who may be trying to choose between a first-generation and second-generation FJR1300.

The FJR1300 first arrived in the United States for the 2003 model year. The first generation ran from 2003 (2001 in other parts of the world) to 2005. In 2006, the bike was given some significant updates, though many parts of the bike remained unchanged.

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The first FJR1300 I owned was a 2003 that I bought in January 2015. The FJR was only available in silver that year. It is easy to tell the 2003 models apart from all other FJRs, as it was the only model year to feature the “stalk” turn signals.

I logged over 30,000 miles of experience with the 2003 model from the start of riding season in 2015 to April 2017. I took the bike on two multi-day tours in the time I had it. The first was in April 2016 when I rode from Columbus, Ohio, to Austin, Texas for the MotoGP race. In July 2016 I took the bike on a six-day tour that included stops at the Johnny Cash Museum in Nashville, Tenn., the Barber Vintage Motorsports Museum, the former Turner Field in Atlanta, Ga., and the Tail of the Dragon/Cherohala Skyway. Sadly, the bike was totaled when I was rear-ended at a stoplight in April 2017.

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My bought my current FJR1300, and black 2008 model, in December 2017. I had purchased a 2009 Ninja 500 to get me through the remainder of the 2017 riding season but knew I wanted to back to a true sport touring machine.

I was strongly considering giving a BMW a try but I got a deal on the 2008 FJR1300 that I could not refuse. I only have a few thousand miles on it so far, but now have enough experience with it to make an informed comparison between the two bikes.

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With regard to accessories and modifications, both of the FJRs I owned came equipped with the factory top case (not standard equipment on an FJR). The 2003 model had been outfitted by a previous owner with aftermarket heated grips (which I later replaced).

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The 2008 model was not equipped with heated grips at the time of purchase. I changed out the heated grips on the 2003 model for BikeMaster heated grips (big improvement) and added a voltmeter. I plan on making the same modifications to the 2008 model in the near future.

Similarities

Engine 

The most noticeable unchanged characteristic between the two models is the engine. The liquid-cooled, four-cylinder, 1298cc mill churns out excellent power and torque on both models.

Tire size 

The 2003 and 2008 models are equipped with a 120/70ZR17 front tire and a 180/55ZR17 rear tire. The standard sport bike/sport touring tire sizes make it easier to shop for replacement tires.

One thing that did change with the 2008 model is the recommended tire pressure. On the 2003 model, 33 psi is recommended in the front tire, and 36 psi in the rear tire. For the 2008 model, 39 psi is recommended in the front tire and 42 psi in the rear tire. This was probably in response to the cupping issue that plagues the big sport touring motorcycles like the FJR, Honda ST1300 and Kawasaki Concours 14.

Drivetrain

Both models are equipped with low-maintenance shaft drive. I have not experienced any shaft-jacking with either model. The final drive assembly on both models is relatively easy to remove for U-joint maintenance and spline lubrication.

Luggage

The luggage remains unchanged in terms of construction and dimensions between the two models. The orientation of the top case’s handle and latch are annoying, as is the fact that half of the storage capacity of the top case is in the top of the case. It makes it very easy for things to fall out if the top case is tightly packed.

The saddlebag interiors are somewhat oddly shaped but provide ample room for storing clothes, tools, and the like. The saddlebags are not large enough to fit a full face helmet, though the locking mechanism and ease of mounting/dismounting make up for it.

All three of the cases have excellent water tightness. I have never experienced a problem with rain or condensation getting into any of the cases in nearly 35,000 miles of riding.

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Differences

Transmission gearing 

The first distinction I noticed while riding the 2008 model was when I got on the freeway. The gearing on the 2008 model is a lot taller. On my 2003 model, I was at 4,000 rpm when riding at 70 mph in fifth gear. On the 2008 model, 70 mph is around 3,500 rpm.

While the lower RPM sacrifices some throttle response when trying to quickly accelerate to pass freeway traffic, it helps a bit with fuel economy. The 2008 model’s main tank is slightly smaller than the 2003 (an extra 0.2 gallons was reassigned to the reserve tank), yet the 2008 model gets the same fuel range as the 2003 model.

Instrument changes 

Other than the revised bodywork, the next most obvious visual change to the bike is the instrument cluster. Like the 2003 model, the 2008 model sports an analog speedometer and tachometer. The analog gauges appear to have been enlarged, through the numerals on the gauges appear to be smaller and somewhat harder to read.

The 2008 model’s digital display contains the same gauges as the 2003, plus a gear indicator and ambient air temperature. The appearance of the fuel and water temperature gauge was changed for the 2008 model but remains easy to read.

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Windscreen

My 2003 model was equipped with a stock windscreen. In the fully raised position, the 2003 model’s screen would push the air to the crown of my helmet. The 2008 model is equipped with a much taller windscreen than the 2003. Despite the larger dimensions, the air is not pushed much further over the crown of my helmet.

One of my biggest disappointments in the 2008 model is the flimsy construction of the windscreen. On the 2003 model the screen did not wobble or move with the wind. The 2008 model’s taller windscreen moves and shakes a fair amount. The movement is more pronounced near the top of the screen. The movement is annoying and distracting and may have had a hand is causing my E-Z Pass to fall off the windscreen during a ride.

Handlebars

The 2003 and 2008 models both feature adjustable handlebars. On the 2003 model, the handlebar “towers” (for lack of a better descriptor) could be mounted in one of two positions and made for a very upright riding position. On the 2008 model, the bar adjustment system is very different and allows the bar towers to be mounted in three different position. The bars on the 2008 seem lower, flatter and more wide-set than the 2003 model. I have not tried adjusting the bars on either model, so I cannot comment on that aspect of the bars.

Fairing pocket 

One of the most convenient new features on the 2008 model is the fairing pocket. The 2003 model had room for a fairing pocket, but instead left a void beneath the work within the upper left fairing. The pocket on the 2008 model is not huge, but large enough to fit a small smartphone or some charging attachments.

The pocket is also equipped with a 12-volt accessory outlet for charging electronics. The outlet only works when the key is turned to the “ON” position, so there’s no leaving a phone or power bank to charge off of the battery while away from the bike.

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ABS 

The 2008 model is equipped with ABS whereas my 2003 model was not. I have not had the ABS kick in yet, so I cannot comment on its functionality.

I had replaced the stock lines on my 2003 with stainless steel lines, which made a huge difference in terms of braking performance. I am planning on replacing the 2008 model’s brakes lines with stainless steel lines as well and will write a follow-up post about it.

OEM Seat 

The first generation FJRs had a different seat design to the 2006-present models. The shape of the stock seat on the 2003 model was wider than the OEM seat on any of my previous motorcycles but still became uncomfortable after an hour or two. The way the top of the 2003 stock seat tapered in toward the bike would cut off circulation to my rear end and legs. I replaced the 2003’s seat with a Sargent seat in 2016, which was a big improvement.

The 2008 model’s stock seat is much more comfortable that the 2003 models and appears to be a little wider. It feels like I have plenty of room to move around the seat and can ride almost three hours before it becomes uncomfortable. I may replace the OEM seat with another Sargent model next year but am happy to keep the OEM seat for the 2018 riding season.

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Heat management/radiator 

One of the biggest problems with the 2003 model was engine heat management. The bike would generate a lot of heat inside the lower fairing, which would could easily be felt by a rider’s legs in hotter conditions. Without purpose-built riding pants the heat would become unbearable.

The 2008 model seems to have largely solved the problem. I have ridden the 2008 model in 90-degree heat and did not experience any problems with feeling excessive heat escaping from the lower fairing.

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2009 Kawasaki Ninja 500 Review


Introduction

My short time with my Ninja 500 began with near tragedy. I was rear-ended on my previous street motorcycle in April 2017. I was very fortunate to have walked away from such a severe impact, though I did break my collarbone in the crash. While I was waiting for my collarbone to heal (and was down to one, track only motorcycle) I had time to consider which motorcycle I wanted to buy next.

I knew in the long-term I wanted to go back to a dedicated sport-touring bike. My deceased 2003 Yamaha FJR1300 had given me a taste of the comforts of touring on a true touring bike. I had found that I greatly enjoyed its touring-oriented features like shaft drive, hard saddlebags, and wind protection.

However, my budget and healing collarbone made buying another heavy, dedicated touring bike not feasible before peak riding season was over. Determined to not miss any more riding time than I needed to, I started looking for smaller, budget-conscious motorcycles I could afford that would also work for long-distance riding.

I decided to view my misfortune as an opportunity to try something different. I had been riding 1200cc or larger motorcycles since 2009. I decided it was worth taking a step down in displacement for the first time in my riding career.

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The Ninja 500 was one of the bikes on my list from the start, along with a Suzuki GS500, Kawasaki Ninja 250, Suzuki SV650, or Kawasaki 650. After 10 years of riding four-cylinder motorcycles, I definitely wanted to give a twin a try. I wasn’t interested in finding something that had lots of creature comforts. All I was looking for was something that could be used for long-distance riding by adding soft luggage.

After a couple weeks, I found the all-black 2009 Kawasaki Ninja 500 that I would settle on. The old owner had bought it new off the showroom floor and said she hadn’t had time to ride it much. Other than a crack on the right side of the upper fairing from a tip-over, the bike was in cosmetically good shape.

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The bike’s motor was also relatively fresh with just under 10,000 miles on the odometer. Because the bike hadn’t been run much, it had some trouble idling smoothly but seemed to run okay when the throttle was applied. After getting the bike home, I pulled the carbs out and gave them a thorough cleaning. I also did a valve adjustment that was overdue and re-synched the carbs when I re-installed them. I also changed the oil, oil filter, air filter, brake pads, and coolant, and installed stainless steel brake lines on the front and rear. I also adjusted the choke and throttle cables and changed the brake fluid for both braking systems.

After doing the above preventative maintenance, I rode the Ninja for about 4,000 miles from July (when I was medically cleared to ride again) to the end of September. I traded the bike for another FJR in December 2017.

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Engine/transmission

The engine power and performance were my biggest concerns when I bought my Ninja 500. While I was buying the bike in part to try a smaller displacement motorcycle, the Ninja 500’s engine was a lot smaller than what I was used to. At 498cc, the Ninja 500 is the second-smallest displacement motorcycle I have owned, and the smallest since 2007. My first motorcycle was a 1982 Honda CB450T, and that bike’s mill did not churn out a lot of power. Since May 2009, I had not ridden a motorcycle smaller than 1157cc.

I have to say the engine power and performance were one of the bike’s strong points. The motor was certainly not an FJR mill where I could pass interstate traffic with a slight twist of the wrist. However, I found the power just fine for all types of riding. My Ninja 500 would show 6,000 rpm in sixth gear at 75 mph, which was less than 2,000 rpm more than my 2003 FJR would do in top gear. Engine vibration was minimal and throttle response was excellent. I did have to get used to shifting a lot more with the smaller motor, as the engine did not put out the kind of torque I was used to. The additional shifting actually made riding a more involved experience did not detract from the bike’s fun factor at all.

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Suspension/steering

The Ninja 500 comes with non-adjustable front forks and a single rear shock with pre-load adjustability. The front and rear suspension settings were a tad on the plush side. The bike absorbed bumps in the road smoothly with little headshake

The bike’s biggest drawback was its handling. I couldn’t determine whether the problem was the front suspension, bike geometry, or the ancient Bridgestone Exedra tires that came with the bike.

One of the things I was really looking forward to with a smaller bike was quicker turn-in and better flickability. Instead, I had little-to-no confidence on the front tire and found myself taking corners I was familiar with even slower than I did on my old 600-pound FJR1300. I wish I had had more time on the bike and had been able to change the tires out for Bridgestone BT45s or Pirelli Sport Demons. However, without more seat time and different shoes, I have to report the handling was sub-par and disappointing.

Another problem with the bike was is susceptibility to crosswinds. The bike would become noticeably unstable when passing tractor-trailers or when there was a strong crosswind. I could not tell whether this was due to the bike’s weight (relative to my previous motorcycles) or a geometry issue. Either way, I found myself having to fight to keep the bike in line in heavy wind conditons.

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Brakes

The brakes were another weak point of the bike’s overall performance. Despite weighting in at nearly the same dry weight as the Suzuki SV650, the Ninja 500 only has one front brake. Before I even rode the bike, I sensed that the single brake may not provide enough power in emergency stopping situations. I replaced the front and rear brake lines with stainless lines from Galfer.

While the stainless steel lines had the positive, consistent feel that I was used to from the Spiegler Brake Lines-equipped FJR1300, the overall stopping power was not enough for me. In emergency situations the front brake did not stop me as quickly as I was used to. Nor did the combination of front and rear brake provide the stopping power I was looking for.

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Comfort

The bike’s ergonomics were good for a medium-sized sport bike. The clip-on handlebars were mounted to risers that produced a slight forward lean from my 6’2 frame. I did not experience an abnormal discomfort in my wrists. My legs were a bit cramped with the bike’s sport-oriented pegs. I eventually adjusted to them though and found the pegs to be acceptable in the end. Wind protection was acceptable from the small windscreen, and I did not experience any ill effects from wind buffeting.

One aspect of the bike I could not adjust to was the seat. It was awful. I could only ride the bike for about an hour and a half for the first fuel stint, and then only 45-minutes to an hour after that. Had I kept the bike as a back-up touring bike that would have been the first upgrade I would have made.

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Long-distance riding

Comfort issues aside, the bike performed much better as a touring bike than I had thought it would. The 4.2-gallon fuel tank and the 55-60 MPG fuel economy allowed the bike to tour 180-200 miles before hitting reserve.

I was able to mount soft luggage to the bike with ease, and the extra weight of the loaded luggage did not noticeably change the bike’s handling.

The chain drive requires regular chain maintenance. The little space between the bottom of the swingarm and the chain made chain lubrication somewhat difficult. The bike comes with a centerstand as standard equipment, making chain lubrication much easier on a long trip.

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Ease of maintenance

Overall the bike was relatively easy to maintain. The single front disc makes accessing the front wheel’s valve stem easy. The centerstand makes is also a big help to performing maintenance.

The bike’s turn-and-locknut valve adjusters are not real difficult to get to. The only annoyance is having to remove two coolant tubes in order to remove the valve cover. Removing the tank is relatively easy, as is removing the front fairing. The rear bodywork is moderately simple to remove as well.

The oil drain plug, oil filter, coolant drain screw, radiator cap and coolant reservoir are relatively easy to access. The air filter is an older foam design that needs to be coated with air filter oil before being installed.

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Conclusion

Overall, the mid-sized Ninja is a great budget-conscious bike. I would have liked to have kept it as a back-up bike and outfitted it with a better seat and better tires. Unfortunately, my budget and available garage space did not afford me the luxury of having more than two bikes at a time. Even with its several weaknesses, I was very impressed overall by the Ninja 500.

It is an ideal bike for new riders, re-entry riders, urban riders, or a rider who is looking to give long-distance riding a try on a budget. The bike’s bulletproof engine, strong engine performance, ease of maintenance, and ergonomics make it an ideal bike for a young person who wants to take up the motorcycling lifestyle.

While the Ninja 500 is an older design that was phased out of production in the late 2000s, many Ninja 500s are available in the used bike marketplace. New riders or budget-conscious motorcycling enthusiasts looking for an affordable, high-value bike would be well-served by the 500’s ease of maintenance, low maintenance costs, and adaptability.

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