Comparo – Honda, Yamaha, Harley-Davidson Fat Bastards Road Test, Part 1

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(Rob) One fine summers day it suddenly dawned on me that it would be just a dandy idea to do a road test of some of the larger cruisers (Fat Bastards as I

One of the many great roads in New England

like to call them) that have appeared on our ever tasty bike menu recently. Let’s see … we have the Honda Valkyrie, the Yamaha Royal Star and the ever present Harley Road King. Cool, that should do it.

A few phone calls later and the Vallerie and Royal Car were done deals but unfortunately the Toad Ding was unable to visit its home land of the U.S. of A. (insurance problems apparently). Yes, I wanted to take them down to visit Uncle Sam. Not because I wanted a free holiday at my Aunties pad in Cape Cod, oh no, but because I wanted to hit the mountains of New England and surrounding areas (believe that and you’ll believe anything).

A quick call to the ever accommodating guys at BMW uncovered their new R1200C cruiser thingy. I know, it’s not a fat bastard in comparison to the others, but it is a big capacity cruiser, and that’s close enough for me. So it was that on one fateful September day that I meandered out eastward on the Valkyrie to Larry’s farm, where he, his wife Pat and friend Steve would be waiting with the Royal Star and BM. The evening was spent sipping scotch, talking of days gone by (Larry and Steve anyway – bit on the crusty side those two) and planning the great adventure ahead.

Tuesday September 2nd (Lake Placid, NY)

So I awoke at 7am to the sounds of Larry and Steve scurrying around the house packing their gear for the trip. This was probably a good thing, because I was half way through a really bizzare dream. I spent the whole dream hopping around on a pogo stick, following my present mate who was being chatted up by my ex-wife’s new boyfriend ???? Freud would have had a field day. I just groaned, slurped on a coffee and drew deeply on a cigarette.

Must have been more disturbing than I remember because that’s about all I remember up until departing company with Larry, Pat and Steve in New Hampshire, where I continued onwards (solo) to Cape Cod. With this in mind, I’ll turn the next couple of days over to Larry, who is relatively free of trauma induced memory blocks. Oh yeah, any smart arse comments in italics are mine …

(Larry) We headed east toward Kingston across some reasonably well-paved county roads, then a short freeway squirt to Gananoque put us on the 1000 Islands Expressway. The bridge to the U.S. was a slight worry, since it was seriously windy and we all had visions of being blown off, but in spite of the big transparent sails up front, all three proved massively stable 70 meters in the air, probably the Valkyrie the most, then the Yam, then the BMW.

We stopped for gas and lunch in Alex Bay on the U.S. side and compared impressions. Pat was already gushing that the Valk was the most comfortable pillion seat she’d ever tried, and that for her the wind protection was better than on the Gold Wing we borrowed recently. Harris was a bit dubious about the Royal Star’s handling, said he’d noticed a pronounced weave when cornering at anything over about 110 km/h (yeah, I remember that. Damn scary). I’d noticed it, but it seemed worse for Rob; his additional avoirdupois, perhaps.

After lunch Steve took the Valk, Rob thoughtfully stayed with the Star, and I grabbed the BM. Actually, knowing the road ahead, I grabbed the BM first, heh, heh. It may look like a spare part from a Romulan starship’s engine room, but the R12C can really hustle down a twisty road. Route 12 east from Alex Bay is a pretty ride along the St. Lawrence, but heading south on 58 toward Gouverneur (the home of the original Lifesaver candy, and there’s a 20-foot Peppo-mint roll in the town square to prove it) and Star Lake, the road gets twisty-tight and gnarly in a big hurry.

The gruesome foursome (left to right): Larry, Pat, Steve and me (looking like a demented sod).

Popping out onto relatively major Route 3, it was soon coffee time in Cranberry Lake. Rob was even more insistent about the Yam’s wobbling (pleased with the ground clearance, though), but he was getting more and more happy with the comfort except he found the windscreen height wrong, with the edge just across his eyes, but then he’s a tall bugger anyway, at about 6’4″. Steve, who’d had the BM earlier, agreed that its much smaller windscreen buffeted you quite a bit compared to the Valkyrie’s, which was tall enough to look through comfortably (even for Rob) and created a huge hole in the air. He was uncomfortable with the bulk of the Valk at low speeds, especially with Pat on the the back, but couldn’t get over how well it handled and went. Remarkably accurate and stable, just don’t try to change line in a hurry!

The Royal Star thumped along nicely at cruising speeds, soothing Rob except when he had to downshift to keep up to the swooshing Valk and rumbling BM, at which time he cursed the heel-and-toe linkage. The Valk and the BM both have normal pegs and shifters, trannies a bit clunky, maybe, but since you can put both in top and forget them, even in town, it’s not a real issue. The bars on the Valkyrie had kind of a funny bend (both Rob and I got the tinglies in our throttle hands), the Star tried to vibrate your feet off the floorboards, and the BMW really needed a bigger screen for heavy touring duty. With the backrest (aka so-called passenger seat) up the BM is also a nice relaxed ride. (This is a really neat idea. The rear seat is hinged so that it doubles up as a back rest. Unfortunately I once again found that it had been designed for the little people and always pushed me too far forwards to be comfortable). You brace yourself between the pegs and the rest, and just roll the throttle on and off no matter how fast you want to go. On to Lake George! Well, it was getting late, so we decided to hit familiar old Lake Plastered, er, Placid instead.

Luggage!!

Stopping at Art Devlin’s Olympic Motel, the convenience differences in the luggage showed up at once. Steve just unclipped the BMW’s luggage and carried it into his room. Pat and I flipped up the hinged Valkyrie bags and pulled out the soft luggage we’d stuffed inside. Rob removed the Yamaha’s bag tops, looked for a safe place to set them down, then unloaded his plastic bags. BMW five points (even though it has the smallest bags by far), Honda three, Yamaha one. The Honda and Yamaha both need liners since the bags won’t lift off, and why the Yamaha’s tops aren’t hinged … they are on the smaller bags on the Tour Classic.

Wednesday, September 3 (North Conway, NH)

It pissed down for hours, but stopped in plenty of time to dry up before our departure. You gotta love that. We packed up and headed to a gas station to add some air to the Yam’s rear tire in case that was the problem; what a production! You have to get right down on your face in the dirt, and if you have an old pressure gauge that won’t hold its indicator needle in place when it’s off the tire (ahem) trying to read it is a serious drag. Still, we managed to squirt in a few more pounds of air, and off we went. Fabulous mountain scenery, empty roads, crisp air – you couldn’t have asked for better. I discovered the weave was maybe a bit less, but definitely there. I wouldn’t say it was dangerous (Rob would), but if you were travelling at higher speeds I’d be real cautious of it.

Larry “adding” some air to the Royal Star

South of Port Henry a superb art deco-ish sort of bridge takes you across to Vermont, where we screeched to a halt for breakfast. Rob and Pat were seriously pissed to discover that Vermont, home of the self-absorbed and self-satisfied green-of-mind, forbids smoking anywhere in restaurants and had to sit outside in the fresh air for their post-brekkie hit.

Yeah, but that’s okay. I just took my half cup of coffee outside with me to join Pat for my nicotine hit. After a couple of minutes, a very pissed off looking guy came out with a polystyrene cup. I thought that he was going to ask for spare change – cup outstretched as he approached. Okay, maybe I’ve just spent too long in downtown Toronto.

“There’s no china allowed outside”, he said, as I reached into my pocket for change. Oh I see, the cup was for me.

“Oops, sorry”, I replied, accepting the plastic cup to transfer my coffee from the hallowed china. I suppose you have to be careful of those dirty bikers stealing china momentos from Vermont. I should have refused. Would he then have called the police?

“You there. You with the china. Put down the china and step back with your hands on your head. Step away from the china”.

“No way man. I’ve got the china and I’m not afraid to break it”. Oh, the humour of the road. With one more non-biodegradable contribution to the local landfill later, we were back on our way to New Hampshire.

Heading east on Vermont 125 toward Middlebury, then across the Green Mountains to Hancock, was the road of the trip. We met a guy on a Honda SuperHawk (VTR1000 Firestorm in Canada) who said he rode up from Massachusetts at least once a month just to ride this road (lucky bastard’s girlfriend brought the luggage in a pickup truck). Rolling hills west of Middlebury, twisting mountain climbs and drops to the east, and one of the biggest girl’s colleges in the Northeast right in the middle (if you’re young and unmarried and male, you should seriously consider moving to Middlebury). The Middlebury Motorcycle Guide is go !!

Planning the route to Cape Cod

More great roads; 100 south to 107, then east to 14 and north to Barre and more coffee. Then as we started catching up to the rain, zounds!, one of my all-time favourites, 302 east to New Hampshire, then the fantastic 112 to North Woodstock (try the Road Kill Cafe, really – I DON’T make this up!) and across the spectacular Kancamagus Pass, eventually to North Conway, the Colonial Motel (okay, but there are better), and dinner at Horsefeathers (trust me).

Pat was still raving about the Valkyrie passenger accommodation (neither the BM nor the Yamaha had any, so her trip experience was limited. Still, she’s ridden on the back of many of the new bikes in the last decade, so she should know). The Yamaha got more popular with everyone the more they rode it; its relaxed rumbling engine and laid-back riding position seemed better and better the farther we went. The BMW seemed less and less to fit with the other two, it felt so much smaller and lighter and sort of mainstream. But it has a higher load rating than either of the monsters, and, we discovered, will actually blow the Valkyrie away in roll-ons in 4th and 5th gear. Now THAT’S fast! The BM stops like a sport bike (plus has the wonderful comfort of optional ABS, which we had), the Valkyrie not much slower. The Yam also stops well enough, but there’s an unnerving numb feel in the front lever (too much genuine Americana, perhaps?) and lifting your foot off the board to get to the rear is a bore. After a few attempts to include the rear brake in my emergency stopping procedure I gave up. By the time you’d found it, the emergency had either passed or turned into a real buttock clencher. The front brake was solely relied on from then on.

Everyone agreed that the windscreens on the Yamaha and Honda did a superb job in the chilly air, that the front end of the BMW felt a bit vague on turning in but stuck just fine – no doubt those two or three meters of handlebar have something to do with it – and that the Valkyrie had no right at all to not have any obvious faults (as long as you parked it where you didn’t have to back it up to get out).

Thursday, September 4 (Stowe, Vt)

After a visit to Whitehorse Press, the bike publishers (nice folks, buy your bike reading here), and Pat’s obligatory time in the Christmas store (more packing problems…), Pat, Steve and myself headed north from North Conway on 302 into the White Mountain National Forest and onto Canada.

This is where I departed from the others. Since the Valk was the only bike with real passenger accommodation, Larry took that so that Pat could ride on the back. I was left to choose between the BM and the Royal Star. By now I’d gotten used to the R.S.’s high speed cornering anomalies (well almost), and figured I’d concentrate solely on that. Besides, I’d never really got a feel for the BMW so I figured Larry could do all the blurb where it was concerned. So we said our found farewells, planned our respective routes and, for me, Cape Cod and the Atlantic beckoned….

Next week, part II of the Fat Bastards saga – Cape Cod and the return journey. Plus our impressions of each of the bikes.

 

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