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CR-MotorcyclesThat is, according to Consumer Reports.

You know, the independent, consumer-oriented not-for-profit organization, replete with consumer activists.

Recognized as an automotive quality and value authority, Consumer Reports branched out and started reviewing motorcycles last year.  They published the first-ever report on the most reliable motorcycles from five of the biggest brands — Harley, BMW, Honda, Kawasaki, and Yamaha.  For some odd reason, Polaris’ Victory and Indian brands didn’t make enough of an impact in the market to attract Consumer Reports attention by the time of the survey.

percentage-of-bikes-with-problems_largeFrom its research Consumer Reports discovered that quality varies “significantly” among brands — and the best brand, Yamaha, is about six times more reliable than the worst, BMW.

Only about one Yamaha motorcycle in 10 has experienced a major problem or required a serious repair over the past four years, according to the 4,424 motorcycle owners surveyed by Consumer Reports. In contrast, about one BMW motorcycle in three has suffered from such a complaint — and one Harley in four.

Consumer Reports found that major, big-ticket repairs were few and far between in its research. Regardless of bike and regardless of brand, only about 3% of all problems reported to Consumer Reports involved a motorcycle’s engine, only 3% a transmission, and only 7% a clutch. More common were issues with a vehicle’s brakes or electrical or fuel system, and with the accessories.

Overall, Consumer Reports noted that about 75% of the repairs reported to it were performed for $200 or less.

Photo courtesy of Consumer Reports.

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Cut-Away of 103 cu in “Twin-Cooled" Engine

Cut-Away of 103 cu in “Twin-Cooled” Engine

The ideal heat exchanger design and cooling calculations have been a major topic in the Harley-Davidson motorcycle community for some time.

The rumors that Harley-Davidson was eyeing a liquid-cooled motor design have been circling for years and now with the introduction of the 2014 models, it’s the first time (sans V-Rod), that the company jumped into the “water” with their touring models.

There were a number of changes which came out of the RUSHMORE project, but on the new touring models, the core ethos of change seems to start at the motor itself, where Harley-Davidson calls it “Twin-Cooled” cooling.  BMW calls their new partially water-cooled boxer engine setup “Precision Cooling.”

Backside Cut-Away of 103 cu in “Twin-Cooled” Engine

Backside Cut-Away of 103 cu in “Twin-Cooled” Engine

This is a little like the rabbit calling the donkey “Big Ears”… what’s in a name?!

Well everything if you’re a marketing jock.

You have to admit that “Precision” cooling implies something better and has a certain performance connotation attached to the name vs. “Twin-Cooled or the alternative “Partial” liquid-cooling.

The fact of the matter is that Harley-Davidson patented the clever way of adding liquid-cooling to its iconic V-twin motor design back in 2009.  Some elements of the design date back to 2007 when Erik Buell had a hand in the process.

Some of the patent specifics can be reviewed at:

  • US 2011/0114044 A1 – Nov 18, 2009 (File Date) May 19, 2011 (Publish Date) – CYLINDER HEAD COOLING SYSTEM
  • US 7654357 —  Jul 2, 2007 (File Date) Feb 2, 2010 (Publish Date) – Buell Motorcycle Company Radiator coil mounted on a motorcycle
  • US 20090008180 —  Jul 2, 2007 (File Date) Jan 8, 2009 (Publish Date) – Erik Buell Resilient mounting arrangement for a motorcycle radiator
Lower fairing coolant piping diagram

Early patent filing of lower fairing coolant diagram

At any rate, the “Twin-Cooled” system is thermostatically controlled, and uses an electric pump to circulate coolant.  The liquid coolant, is based on glycolethylene, the same coolant blend as in the V-Rod – a 50/50 premix that uses long life coolant.  It is routed through the cylinder heads, which is the most thermally stressed parts of the engine and in the area around the exhaust valves.  It’s then ducted to heat exchangers located in the left and right fairing lowers.  The new dual radiators are compact and the V-twin iconic barrel cooling fins remain.

Liquid-cooled Heads

Early patent filing of Liquid-cooled Heads

The expectation of this new setup is that riders won’t feel the crotch-melting temperatures in slow traffic because cylinder head temperatures are lower and the reshaped fairing lowers improve venting of cooler air to the rider and passenger.

Important to note is that the V-twin engines still use air/oil cooling for the barrel assemblies which to a certain “degree” retain that heritage of Harley’s air-cooled technology.  And the air cooling still does the heavy lifting.  Meaning it remains as a high percentage of the total cooling formula of the system.

Production Version of the Twin-Cooled Engine

Production version of the 2014 “Twin-Cooled” Engine

Harley-Davidson has yet to provide specs on the increased weight of the new cooling system vs. the previous air/oil cooling system.  But, it’s projected to be in the 10+ pound range, however, when has H-D been concerned with weight on the touring bikes given all the chrome dripping off those models.

There are a couple of oddities with the new liquid cooled change.  The first being that liquid cooling has no effect on service intervals.  Harleys with Twin-Cooled or standard air/oil cooled engines require service after the first 1,000 miles, and 5,000 miles thereafter.  And unlike oil and air-cooled engines which adjust timing to avoid spark knock as temperatures increase, Twin-Cooled engines retain the same timing.  I’m not sure what’s behind the thinking on this.

In addition, you might think that Harley boosted engine output.  They did, between 5 and 7%, but it wasn’t all due to liquid-cooled heads.  They also applied new cam profiles with higher lift and duration, which aids overall performance on both the standard and Twin-Cooled engines.

I’ve heard some rumblings from a riding buddy with contacts at the Arizona Test Track, that Harley-Davidson is having some issues with the 110 cu. in. Twin-Cooled ability to truly keep the heads cool(er).  This might be a first year implementation issue, but I believe Harley’s Twin-Cooling system is here to stay, and will likely expand throughout their lineup of motorcycles.

Photo of cut-away engine taken by author at 110th Anniversary factory tours, all others courtesy of H-D.

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BMW - HP RACE Data Logger

BMW – HP RACE Data Logger

Data recorders, known as a black box are viewed by professional racers as a key method to becoming a better rider on the race track.

The device captures and the software allows riders to analyze motorcycle and riding data such as road speed, corner braking, engine speed, lean angles, throttle grip position, brake status front/rear, gear, longitudinal acceleration, banking position, engine temperature, GPS position and GPS speed, ABS control range, DTC (Dynamic Traction Control) control and a number of other critical pieces of data along with the actual layout of the race track.

Professional racers rely not just on gut instinct, but also on facts and figures. The data recorders act as a “virtual coach” and are precisely what helps pros further improve their riding style (line, braking and throttle points) or adjust their motorcycle to their personal riding style and adapt to the relevant race track and tires.  The data can be saved and subsequently read out onto a laptop and analyzed.  Even the riding line on the track can be displayed and reviewed in detail in conjunction with Google Maps using the data recorder software.

But, what if your motorcycle insurer uses the data from a black box to increase your rates or have the ability to record data that can be used against you in a civil or criminal proceeding?

That would never happen, right?

Well, not so fast… currently, no federal law exists that clarifies the rights of vehicle owners to ownership of the recorded data.  The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) has issued a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking requiring black boxes in all cars manufactured after Sept. 1, 2014. The NHTSA already has disclosure requirements, but U.S. Reps. Mike Capuano (D-Mass.) and Jim Sensenbrenner (R-Wis.) are introducing the Black Box Privacy Protection Act that will protect motorcyclists rights.

The bill will require dealers to prominently disclose to consumers if an event data recorder (“black box”) is installed in their motorcycle, the data collection capabilities of such a device, and how such data may be used. The bill clarifies that the owner of the motorcycle owns the data and it may not be accessed without the permission of the owner. Furthermore, the bill requires that manufacturers provide consumers with the option of controlling the recording function in future automobiles or motorcycles that are equipped with black boxes. In other words, the ability to turn the black box on or off.  This bill will give consumers an even greater choice and enhanced privacy protections.

If you’re concerned how the data from a black box will be used on your motorcycle, then I urge you to contact your state representative and ask them to support the federal legislation.  The American Motorcyclist Association (AMA) has made it easy to do so with a pre-populated email form letter HERE that automatically locates your state representative.

Easy enough and I hope you fill out the form and forward this to your motorcycling buddies.

Photo courtesy of BMW.

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HCMR-BakerCityHere is what you need to know.

From June 22nd through July 27th there will be a SIGNIFICANT increase (thousands) of motorcycles on the roads and motorcyclists visiting the state, attending various rallies and riding the famed Oregon highways.

Yeah, those roads.  The ones with bumps, holes, cracks and gravel bits peppering riders.  And don’t forget the lane ridges and rises.  Or the grooved surfaces and mix-matched joints on bridges.  Even the best roads in Oregon have imperfections that a motorist may not feel, but to a motorcyclist these seemingly simple hazards can be dangerous or life threatening.  If you’ve traveled Highway 217 in the last 6-weeks you can instantly relate.  Vehicles bounce and weave around like they are doing the “NASCAR bump.”

Good-Vib09But, road conditions are the least of the concerns. If you’ve driven any local freeway lately you’ve likely notice numerous examples of drivers who are distracted – texting, using cell phones, eating/drinking, talking to passengers, grooming or adjusting the car stereo bass knob.  These are not infrequent occurrences or isolated incidents.  Distracted driving is commonplace in Oregon!

When drivers are not giving 100% of their faculties or attention to the roadways while operating motor vehicles along with thousands of additional motorcycles/motorcyclists on the road – a perfect storm of circumstances for injuries or fatalities exist.

It’s been a while since there have been so many Oregon events all packed into the same date range.  The specific events I’m referring to are:

Harley-Davidson World Ride – Everywhere – June 23-24 – Attendee estimates are 1000+ of motorcyclists state-wide
Hells Canyon Motorcycle Rally – Baker City, OR – July 12-15 – Attendee estimates are 1000+ motorcyclists traveling east
Good Vibrations – Salem, OR – July 12-14 – Attendee estimates are 1000+ of motorcyclists in Salem/Keizer area
BMW MOA International Rally – Salem, OR – July 18-21 – Attendee estimates are 5500+ motorcyclists in Salem and surrounding area
Run 21 Rally – Tygh Valley – July 19-21 – Attendee estimates are 500+ motorcyclists
Oregon HOG RallyRiding The Wild West – Pendleton, OR – July 25-27 – Attendee estimates are 1000+ of motorcyclists traveling east

Pendleton-ORMost all of these events have an implied or are specifically being advertised as a celebratory rally and a huge party.  Nobody is supposed to talk about this, but it doesn’t help to avoid it when we know that “bottles to throttle” don’t mix.

Accidents will happen on roadways.  But the likelihood that they will occur shouldn’t be increased by vehicle distracted driving, motorcyclists misjudgments or funding to make the roadways safer for motorcycles.

I’ll get to the point and off my soap box.

If you are an automobile driver then you have a duty to put down the cell phone (one in every 10 fatalities on the road is distraction-affected crashes), set the radio or apply cosmetics in the driveway and keep an eye out for motorcyclists during this high traffic period.

If you’re one of the thousands of motorcycle enthusiasts visiting or attending an Oregon rally – a hearty welcome to our great state – but, you have a duty to ride sober and with the utmost care.  Travel safe.

Photos taken by author.

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Purpose-2012With a cocktail of high-strength steel, aluminum, magnesium, rubber and plastic Harley-Davidson adds flexibility, functionality and refreshed paint schemes to their model lineup each year.

By the numbers, 2012 was a pivotal year for Harley-Davidson.  Earnings per share up 16.7%, revenue growth up 6%, $280M annual savings from restructuring, sales outreach with the 18-34 demographic grew at twice the rate of core customers, but in the first ever Consumer Reports’ motorcycle reliability survey, conducted by the Consumer Reports National Research Center about 1-in-4 owners of Harley-Davidson motorcycles reported experiencing a major problem with the motorcycle in the previous four years.

Twenty-five percent had a major problem!

H-D Executive Leadership Team

H-D Executive Leadership Team

It turns out that BMW motorcycles were even less reliable than a Harley-Davidson with about 1-in-3 owners reporting problems in the previous four years.  How did the Japanese manufactures perform?  Only about 1-in-10 Yamaha owners experienced issues during that time, followed closely by Kawasaki and Honda.

However, reliability problems don’t seem to affect the satisfaction scores of owners and their bikes.  When asked whether, considering everything, they would buy their bike again if they had to do it over, 75% of Harley-Davidson owners said definitely yes, closely followed by 74% of BMW owners and 72% of Honda owners.  In contrast, only 63 and 60% of Yamaha and Kawasaki owners, respectively, would buy their bike again.

Both BMW and Harley-Davidson riders have segments that skew more toward the enthusiast and hardcore, meaning they tend to keep bikes longer and I wonder if this says something about the riders than the bikes.  Could H-D riders be more critical about problems?

AZ Proving Grounds Video

AZ Proving Grounds Video

In 2012, the average U.S. retail purchaser of a new Harley-Davidson motorcycle had a median household income of approximately $89,500. The Company defined its U.S. core customer base as Caucasian men over the age of 35 and its U.S. outreach customers as women, young adults, African-American adults, and Latino adults. (Sources: 2012 Company 10K and 2012 Annual Review)  The motor company no longer provides data on age demographics which had been rising in recent years.

Reliability is only one of several factors buyers consider when purchasing a Harley-Davidson motorcycle.  Among the bikes that needed repairs, survey respondents reporting having the most trouble with accessories, such as lights, instruments, switches, and radios (21 percent), brakes (20 percent), the electrical system (16 percent), and the fuel system (15 percent).  Most of the repairs were fairly inexpensive, but for a company whose reputation relies heavily on the quality of its products the 1-in-4 number is perplexing.

The survey results can be viewed by subscribers at the ConsumerReports.org web site and in the May issue of Consumer Reports.

Photos courtesy of H-D.  

H-D Executive Leadership Team photo: (Left to Right — Tonit Calaway (VP, Human Resources); John Olin (Sr. VP and CFO); Keith Wandell (Chairman, President and CEO); Lawrence Hund (President and COO HDFS); John Baker (GM, Corp Strategy and Business Development); Joanne Bischmann (VP, Communications); Paul Jones (VP, General Counsel))

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The 2012 Progressive International Motorcycle show will soon hit the northwest on December 16-18th at the Washington State Convention Center in Seattle.

Attendees can check-out new bikes from Aprilia, Beta, BMW, Brammo, BRP, Darwin, Ducati, Erik Buell Racing, Gas Gas, Harley-Davidson, Honda, Husqvarna, Indian, Kawasaki, KTM, Moto Guzzi, MV Agusta, Norton, Star, Suzuki, Triumph, Victory and Yamaha.  There will also be the latest aftermarket parts and accessories.

Not only will there be new bikes, but the show is jammed pack with other events and activities.

There is the Learning Curve – an interactive stage with industry experts presenting a variety of motorcycling topics for both new and experienced riders including adventure riding, motorcycle maintenance, increasing bike performance, seminars for women riders and more.   There will be Demo Rides for licensed motorcyclists.  There is the Custom Bike Show – where motorcycle builders will showcase elite-level custom motorcycles competing for a piece of a $90,000 cash purse prize and a chance to compete in the U.S. Championship, at the Daytona Beach Motorcycle Show, in March.

The Smage Bros will have a motorcycle trials stunt riding show and attendees will also get a chance to create their own motorcycle design at the Kawasaki Design-A-Bike kiosk, featuring a brand new digital spray-painting technology available only at these shows.

See you there!

Photo courtesy of Progressive.

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Apple II Ad

Steve Jobs has passed away and what we’ll find over the next couple of weeks will be planned storylines about the life of Apple’s co-founder and his time in Oregon attending Reed College.

I had an article ready to post about the letdown of the iPhone 4S launch.  Given all the hyperbolic speculation and secrecy leading up to the launch I’m not sure expectations could have ever been met, but it all just feels off. Like way off today.

I did a blog post HERE last year about Steve riding on a BMW, nostalgia and my early Apple experiences.  I have very clear recollection of Apple when living in North Dakota attending college.   For awhile I worked part-time at Team Electronics (Store #30) in Bismarck.  This was circa 1977 and I distinctly remember when the first Apple II computer showed up at the store.  In college we were learning how to write BASIC programs for an Intel 4004 CPU (4-bit).  No one knew what to do with the Apple II (8-bit), but soon enough we figured out how to spent hours playing a Star-trek game (loaded by cassette tape).

Whether you love or hate Apple–or fall somewhere in between–it’s hard not to acknowledge that Steve Jobs was a remarkable and brilliant man. He’s also a man who we don’t really know a lot about in his personal life. But he’s also a man who changed a lot of lives.  Mine included and I wanted to thank him for that today.

Wozniak and Jobs in the early days

Steve Jobs clearly loved what he did and I’ve returned several times to his 2005 Stanford commencement speech, where he said:

Your time is limited, so don’t waste it living someone else’s life. Don’t be trapped by dogma–which is living with the results of other people’s thinking. Don’t let the noise of others’ opinions drown out your own inner voice. And most important, have the courage to follow your heart and intuition. They somehow already know what you truly want to become. Everything else is secondary.

I didn’t really know what my reaction would be until the moment actually came.  I’m profoundly sad today on the news of his passing.  Steve’s remarkable ability to touch every person on the planet started in Minneapolis and for me it started in 1977.  My heart goes out to his family and many friends.

Photo courtesy of Apple.

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