'Cool' has limitations

I've lost track of how many times I've been asked by someone, 'Which bicycle is best for me?' I usually reply with a couple of questions, the first of which is always, 'What kind of riding do you intend to do?' Most people don't know what kind of riding they'll be doing, but they've usually already got an idea of what kind of bike they want. Often times what they want, and what they want it for are not compatible. Rather than bike built for their intended purposes, they want a 'cool' bike. 'Cool' usually has limitations.

One thing that has always interested me is long distance, self-contained cycling. Touring. I AM interested in long distance competitions, such as the RAAM, but I know better than to aspire to that. Touring I can do. Consequently my favorite bicycle (for 18 years now!) has been my long distance rig: my Cannondale Tourer. Racks, bags, fenders. The works. It's not particularly cool, but it does everything I want it to do. My Honda ST1300 is becoming a similar bike.

This past Tuesday night I rode the ST down to Bakersfield for a seminar. From Fresno it's about 110 miles of long, straight, flat, dairy-strewn Highway 99. I've had the ST on a few multi-hundred-mile days in the three an a half months and nearly 7000 miles I've had it, but a good portion of those long days were mountainous and twisty. Fun stuff. This was the first opportunity I had to really see how I liked it (or it liked me) when the miles just droned on.

The short of it: Wheeeee! :)!

The long...

I filled the tank the night before anticipating the long ride. I took my usual 27 mile route to work and then left the office about a half-hour before rush hour. After I got out of town, and onto the ribbon of concrete known as State Route 99, I was able to settle into a grove. The stock ST does not have cruise control, or even a throttle lock for that matter. I know there are many riders who swear by their Audiovox CCS but I've found that in my part of the world, where it's long & flat for miles & miles, a throttle lock works fine. I like the throttle lock on my GS and use it frequently on long highway trips. The throttle springs on the GS are heavy and demand that you give your right hand a break after a while. You could either lock the throttle, or get off the bike every hour or so and practice the carpal tunnel exercise instructions usually included in new computer keyboards. I expected a similar situation on the ST but it was not to happen. When I first test rode the ST, I noticed how much lighter the throttle was. There's not a lot of pull coming off the fuel injector throttle bodies on the ST as there is on the GS's dual carburetor set-up. What that turned into on this long ride was a wrist that didn't get nearly as tired, nearly as fast. My hand and wrist still got tired, but it was from being held in one position, not from fighting with a heavy throttle.

However, the lightness of the throttle does have at least one drawback: it doesn't take much of a bump in the road to jiggle the throttle, even a slight bit, in a way that makes the bike lurch or hesitate. On uneven pavement, it can become quite difficult to hold the throttle steady. The ST is somewhat known for having a 'snatchy' throttle, but I wonder if the lesser resistance in the throttle may have something to do with it.

One thing I've found about the ST is how much aerodynamics play a role it the bike's being. On a bicycle, 75%-85% of a riders energy is used just to move through the air and to move the air around the rider. That percentage is dependent on speed; the higher the speed, the higher percentage of energy needed, used, or wasted (depending on your point of view). Motorcycles are no different. Especially with the ST and it's large frontal surface area. The dynamics of the windscreen positioning I'd figured out fairly early on. The higher it is, the lower the mileage is. Not a lot lower, but noticeable. I like the windscreen about 1/3 of the way up, most of the time. (When it's hot, I can't get it down far enough.) At 1/3 of the way up, it deflects most of the air and bugs over my helmet, but I can still easily see over it. In that position. I can open my visor most of the way and not have a face-full of wind. It also doesn't seem to affect the mileage too much.

The slipstream created by the very forward rear-view mirrors is hardly noticeable until you let go of the bars and pull your hand out of it. The handlebars are wider than the windscreen, but your hands and arms feel virtually no wind at all because of the mirrors. Put your hand on the tank or your lap and your upper arm gets a big helping of wind blast. There's also nearly no wind at all down near your legs. The space between the lower faring and the saddle bags seems to be void of any breeze. I'm sure that lack of circulation doesn't help remove any of the oft complained about engine heat away from the rider's legs.

One thing I noticed, completely by accident, was that dropping your feet off the pegs, drops the fuel mileage. On one particularly long straight stretch, I dropped my feet off and pointed my toes toward the ground, just to stretch a bit. At the 75MPH I was traveling, there was enough wind to keep my feet from touching the ground. (At 65MPH, my toes would touch down.) As I did this, I saw the fuel consumption-o-meter scrub off 3-4 miles per gallon! I thought it may have been a fluke, but I tried it four or five more times at different times through the ride, with the same results.

Also on the subject of ST aerodynamics: it doesn't take much of a headwind to increase fuel consumption. Likewise, a good tailwind decreases the consumption crazy good. Drafting near a semi-truck produces similar results, but taking an already inherently dangerous activity and making it that much more dangerous by riding in, or near, the blind spot of a semi to save a few pennies is just plain stupid. So, don't be stupid; leave the drafting in NASCAR.

At the end of the day, I'd gone 277 miles. From home, to work, to Bakersfield, than back home. I did it on one tank of fuel and still had plenty to get to work again the next day, getting 306.3 miles out of the tank before I filled it. It took 6.699 gallons for an average of 45.72 miles per gallon. I think it could have been better, but when you consider that I did most of the trip around 75 miles per hour, that number gets more impressive. (Even more so when you consider that it was California gas.)

The more I ride the ST, the more I WANT to ride it. It's not as exotic (or yuppie) as the BMW R1200RT I was looking at (and really wanted), or as flashy as a Yamaha FJR or new Kawasaki Concours (and, man, those are suh-weeet looking bikes). The ST is certainly not as 'cool' as the others, but it's is doing everything I want a bike to do for me.

And that's what's important.

1 comment:

irondad said...

You may remember that I have an ST1100. When it was time to get a new bike I was going for the ST1300. Somehow ended up with the FJR instead. I'm liking the FJR more and more but it's no ST. I don't think you can beat the Honda for just putting on miles.

I rode a few hundred miles on a friend's ST1300. When the windshield was all the way up it was like a barn door sticking straight up in the air. Always figured it would negatively affect the mpg rating.

The other thing I noticed is that the ST tends to wag side to side in a cross wind. It felt strange.

There's a danger here. If I keep reading your blog I'm likely to sell the FJR and buy another ST!