Eastern Promise

Part One

As winter got underway, I started to consider whether I should get a second car. My reasoning was it would cut the mileage on the family Toyota (I don’t use the bike on snow or ice days, I might be British, but I’m not that crazy) and would limit inconvenience to the family when I had to take it for the day. Secondly, I wanted to take the strain off my Ninja 300, which was clocking up nearly one-thousand hard commuter miles a month at peak use. I really didn’t enjoy how much work it was in winter time; it isn’t the easiest bike to keep the weather off, and it’s surprisingly heavy on consumables like tyres and brake pads. Maintenance could be stressful if there were delays due to parts, my incompetence, or visits to the shop. It could really disrupt my transport arrangements, not to mention piss off my ever-supportive wife when I have the car for days on end.

I quickly dismissed the idea. I didn’t want to pay for another one; I could scarcely afford something decent, anything I could afford would become a maintenance money-pit (been there) and I would resent the thing for the majority of the year when I wouldn’t be using it and it would be sitting in the car park eating money.

I’d thought about a second bike, and reckoned I could make it work as long as it met some criteria:

  • It had to be cheap to purchase and run.
  • Simple to maintain and clean, the former more important than the latter.
  • Suitable for the rough winter pavement conditions present in Western Pennsylvania.

I’d been reading a lot about the various offerings from China, with the knowledge that you get what you pay for, and an awareness of the strong prejudice toward Chinese kit, but I’d been impressed by the commitment of CSC Motorcycles in California. They’ve built something of a reputation for selecting good bikes from Zongshen (a giant Chinese manufacturing concern) and applying some American customer service know-how with the proviso that the owner is part of the process (no dealer network, you wrench the bike with support from CSC). I’d been through a lot of wrenching with my Ninja, including the hell of shimming the valves, so I reckoned I could handle it with enough support and reading. CSC’s best-known offering nowadays is the RX3 Cyclone, a 250cc adventure bike which has carved out a market that was practically non-existent in the US.

However, the RX3 was not in my plans. It was a out of my budget (although clearly outstanding value) and a little too similar to my Ninjette in terms of my needs. I would probably replace my Ninja with something like an RX3, not supplement it.

No, I was looking at something like a dual sport. I liked the utility of it, and the fact that I could take it on some trails if the mood caught me, plus it would easily handle some bad back roads I had purposefully avoided beating the Ninja up on. Enter the CSC TT250

Here’s the TT250 as described by CSC:

The CSC TT250 dual sport motorcycle is rewriting the definition of affordable quarter-liter enduro riding! Featuring a digital speedometer (new for 2017), counterbalanced air-cooled engine and 5-speed transmission, the TT250 was identified by Motorcycle.com magazine as the best motorcycle value in the US! The lightweight TT250 has 18-inch rear and 21-inch front wire wheels, knobby tires, hydraulic front and rear disk brakes, inverted forks, adjustable suspension front and rear, a 300-watt alternator, handlebar-switch-controlled underseat accessory outlets, and more. The TT250 is perfect for riding around town or around the world on both paved and unpaved roads. When coupled with CSC’s free Service Manual and online maintenance tutorials, the simple-to-maintain and highly reliable TT250 is a great motorcycle!

I had actually toyed with buying a TT250 not long after they were released much earlier in the year, just for the hell of it, perhaps as a gateway drug into a different kind of riding. I hadn’t considered it would make a really good second bike in its own right.

I pulled the trigger one Saturday night over a few beers, and went for a great end-of-year deal. I’d considered waiting, but I didn’t know when CSC would get the 2017 consignment, and if they would have any issues – the 2016 model was now a known quantity. The snags had been worked out (minor things like the occasional wrong countershaft sprocket, or the odometer being in KM). Plus, it was nearly Christmas and my birthday, so screw it. Retail therapy.

One week later on a chilly December morning, a truck turns up outside and deposits a tidy-looking crate in a parking space I’d set aside for the purpose. I eagerly got to work hacking into the cardboard and freed the bike rolling it around to my patio. The bike ships ready to roll, with a small amount of petrol (I assume from a test engine-firing and drive) and a crank case full of 10w30 engine oil. You only need to attach the mirrors.

The CSC TT250
The CSC TT250, in the fastest colour.

First impressions? Build quality is good. I would happily say the fit and finish is as good as my Thai-manufactured Kawasaki. It looks the business. No loose fasteners, and the bike had been prepped properly. I wasn’t sure about the tyres, they had the look of ‘just good-enough no-name OEM rubber’ to me, but I’d soon learn that things aren’t always what they seem.

Was there any China showing? Not really. Some of the plastics like the muffler guard and the fork covers appear a little shiny and cheap, but they are sturdy. A couple of design details are telling,- the rear brake master cylinder and pedal assembly is a bit clumsy, the shift lever is long and ungainly-looking, and some welds though solid enough look a little rough to my untrained eye. Generally though. this is a well put-together bike. The hand controls and switchgear are well made; the levers have no slop or play, and the throttle action is superb. The engine looks gorgeous with its smooth black finish.

As ever, paperwork is the boring part, and a nice lady at CSC does the hard work for you and sends you everything you need to make registering the bike as painless as your state’s bureaucracy allows. I hadn’t done this before, and I ended up going through a tag notary, sucking up the fairly high fee as the cost of getting it done quickly. I got my plates same day, and was ready to ride. More of that in part two!

Here’s Johnny.

December 12th, 2016.


Groundhog Day

Last year, we were blessed with winter staying almost entirely within bounds; a late December to February even, most severe in late January. This year the lake-effect weather system, resulting low temperatures (10F!!!) and snow started early.

I also got the seasonal man-cold a couple of weeks ago. Any medical professional recognises the seriousness of this condition, for those unfamiliar it is outlined in this documentary:

This coincided with the final November weekend which wasn’t utterly freezing, coincidentally the occasion I’d planned to weatherproof my bike. This involves taking the mid-fairings off (an utterly tedious job that entirely encourages my tendency to procrastinate) and drowning everything that isn’t a brake component in ACF-50. As this didn’t happen, I’ve been reluctant to use the bike much, so I’m just going to have to put on my big-boy pants and do it, even if it causes my extremities to shrivel up and drop off.

That being said, over the last weekend a couple of inches of snow fell, the local authority dumped its customary million tonnes of salt and sand everywhere, but it warmed and rained, and today felt almost like early March; not particularly cold, and very damp. Don’t worry though, by the end of the week it’s going to be utterly freezing, again.

frigid
Oh ffs

I’d forgotten how much crap is on the road surface at times like this. It’s a godawful mix of mud and grit; occasionally very slippery, and I can hear it scrunching on my rotors every time I pull the brake lever at low speeds. Everything gets covered in this fine coating of brown mist that looks a bit like raw sewage. As usual, the most dangerous part of my commute are the hundred yards of road in my apartment plan, which despite the sterling efforts of the property managers, remains unusually slick in poor weather.

For the winter rider, I think this thawing condition is every bit as hazardous as black ice when freezing. In similar circumstances I nearly dropped the bike last January:

Losing the rear
Wet road from melting snow, mixed with mud/sand.

Smoothness is key, but if you’re going over, there’s not a lot you can do. It is also at these times I dislike the abrupt throttle transition on the Ninja 300; it can cut suddenly and unsettle the rear end.

So why do it?

For me it’s a mixture of practical and emotional. I really love riding, I love the challenge and discipline of it in difficult conditions. I desperately do not want to buy a second car; it’ll cost a fortune (as cars do) and I’ll resent it sitting there and devouring money I need while it’s barely used for most of the year. When the weather’s really severe, I take the family Toyota. It is a matter of enduring about 10-12 weeks. It’s not terrible.

Any other winter riders there? I know there’s a few. Share your experiences!

Dan Gold’s Honda CB650 Custom Artwork

Motorcycle Live 2016, Birmingham NEC, England.

London-based tattoo and multi-disciplinary artist Dan Gold went to the Motorcycle Live show at Birmingham’s NEC to work on a CB650 (Honda’s middleweight naked), painting the plastics and fuel tank


Working through design ideas before the show. Photo credit: dangoldtattooclub


The fuel tank design takes shape. Photo credit: dangoldtattooclub


Work in progress on the whole bike during the show. Photo credit: dangoldtattooclub

It’s time-consuming work, with the plastics and tank taking around four days, allowing for distractions due to the show.

Zack Courts Monstering Monaco

Memories of a similar bike in a different place.

I was rather taken with this. Motorcyclist Magazine’s senior editor Zack Courts rides a 2017 Monster 1200 S around Monaco. I got a chance to ride the 2016 model in Summer, albeit around semi-rural Pittsburgh suburbs.

I wrote about my Ducati adventure here.

Ohiopyle in Autumn

Ohiopyle is about forty miles from me, as the crow files. It’s a phenominal motorbike ride, which is interesting because in the year I’ve been riding, I’ve never bothered to do it, due to the constraints of time and the fact I can get lost in my own apartment. Despite the relatively short distance, I had this preconception it was a bit fiddly to get to. I was wrong.

I haven’t bothered to get a RAM mount for the bike for a phone, or gone to the trouble of wiring in any power outlets (honestly, I can’t be arsed, and it doesn’t really fit the bike’s main job), so navigation on the bike for me is the old fashioned way; meaning using my memory, but mostly my miraculous palm-held computer that can tell me precisely where I am in the world, and how to get pretty much anywhere. So, little difference between me and and T.E. Lawrence, clearly…

After some map study I realised I could take a familiar back road almost all the way there, and left fairly early on a Sunday morning, intending to be back by lunch. The ride was absolutely breathtaking; sunny, unseasonally warm, and the Autumn colours were glorious. Perhaps the best of all, there was little traffic, and the small number of slow cars (I couldn’t begrudge anyone wanting to admire the scenery) were easy enough to get past. I felt for a few fleeting moments that I had my own private road. And, I didn’t get lost

I didn’t spend quite as much time as I should of enjoying the scenery, mindful as I was of needing to be back by lunch, but I got a lot out of the ride and it felt like one of those perfect moments you imagine having when you take up riding.

The bike used just a half-tank of petrol for around 100 miles of running, which is a great thing about the Ninja 300, but I again had the feeling I’d have liked something physically bigger, with a bit more punch and longer gearing. On the way out (it’s in the video above) I spotted a GSXR and had a moment of benign envy at how much fun a supersport would be on those roads; but I also felt the same looking at the people on their cruisers. They looked a hoot.

I experience this every time I take my bike out for a ride longer than fifty miles, which is my typical weekend sprint. This little bike that I ride daily, rain or shine has been perfect for me and makes a dull commute a joy, but as motorbikes start to consume more of the my attention, time and money, I think about what I’d like next to an almost obsessive degree.

Perhaps the perfect bike, isn’t one bike…

As If Right On Cue…

The weather has started it’s Autumnal swings. 36°F this morning. 36 is an interesting temperature for this rider, as last year I realised that is about the lowest I can tolerate without heated gloves. I don’t get numbness, just very sharp pain that I’m guessing precedes the numbness.

Oct 14th 2016
First frost of the year.

Of course, the afternoons are still too warm for a proper winter jacket, which is frustrating. Even with the full liner, balaclava, and sweater it is a little nippy, but will still be uncomfortably warm later. Also, the forecast is very warm (80°F, fuck yeah!) next week, so plenty of good riding left.

These last few days have got me thinking about wind protection more. I really like naked bikes but I’m wondering if they’d be good for my riding needs, if I had to have just one bike.

Next post will have idle speculation about what I want next. I thought I knew, or at least had a very good idea, but that seems to change weekly…

…And Winter Is Coming.

Predictably on the tails of my last entry, and because I am British, I’m going to moan about Winter. I live in Western Pennsylvania, and while it’s hardly Minnesota, it’s a somewhat harsher experience than my British homeland. The average January high for Pittsburgh is 37°F(US Climate Data, 2016); that is the average low temperature for January in my old hometown on England’s South coast(Met Office,2014).

The stats don’t tell the full story – it may be viciously cold when the sun goes down, but it’s usually tolerable for the morning commute, and crucially, usually quite dry, so there’s no frost to worry about, and a little less risk from ice.

What got me thinking about this is the last two days have seen cooler than average temperatures for my morning commute, around 50°F. I had to break out my waterproof mesh jacket liner (it traps heat), my Oxford neck warmer, and switch my Winter gloves for my thirteen-mile commute to work. I started to get that characteristic slight fogging of my face shield around the pinlock that the cold air causes.

There’s still a good four, maybe six weeks of good riding left for the normies; after that, the bikes get prepped for winter and put away, perhaps breaking them out on the odd sunny day, but generally, that’s it until April.

But not me.

Last October 19th, the morning temperature dropped to an unusually low 29°F. It would be the first time I had ridden in temperatures below freezing.

Ninja 300, 19th Oct. 2015
Below freezing, warming the donk up.

It was a rude awakening. The three mile stint on the highway caused my fingers to become, well, not quite numb, but extraordinarily painful. The wind blast forced its way past the gasket in my face shield, and hurt my eyes. My kneecaps hurt. I had real difficulty warming my gloved hands up again, and resorted to pressing them on the clutch and stator cover at traffic lights, which possibly gave the appearance I was attempting to mate with my bike.

I’d received a hard practical lesson in windchill, the theory of which I was only vaguely aware – this table tells the simple story, and it doesn’t even show figures above sixty mph.

NWS wind chill chart
Wind chill chart. National Weather Service

I was a bit despondent as I’d already bought some expensive winter gloves, but I now knew with certainty they wouldn’t be enough. The problem was the highway. I’d need something heated, either grips on the bike, or my gloves, but that’s another blog entry…