Shifting Gears

I haven’t decided yet if it is a kind distraction or a cruel joke that the motorcycle industry chooses the cusp of winter to introduce the next batch of “must have” bikes to the hungry riding public. You see, motorcycles are a lot like food; no matter how good and satisfying the last meal was, give it a couple hours and your stomach starts growling, looking for it’s next meal. Always searching, always dreaming, whether it’s the next great ride or which of the new bikes introduced at this year’s EICMA in Milan you can’t live without.

Like everything else being manufactured, motorcycles are continually advancing in technology. They are not only lighter and faster, they are now offering many car-like features, such as traction control, ABS brakes and on the fly electronic suspension adjustments. BMW, KTM and Ducati seem to be determined to take these advances even further. When Ducati offered up the Multistrada 1200, it came with the ability to change riding modes: Sport, touring, urban and enduro. By doing so, the rider controls the amount of horsepower delivered to the rear wheel, as well as adjusting the suspension setting accordingly. This option is being adopted by more and models and manufacturers every year. If that weren’t slick enough, along comes the KTM 1190 Adventure. Aside from ABS, traction control and riding modes, the new KTM comes with Bosch’s MSC: Motorcycle Stability Control. If I understand it right, this sensor continually feeds information regarding lean angle, etc, to the other safety feature…traction control, ABS, in order to help create what they are calling, “the world’s safest motorcycle.”

Riding motorcycles always has been and always will be a choice of measured dangers. While I am the kind of guy who usually embraces technological advances, I have mixed emotions about how far I want manufacturers to go when it comes to “controlling” my bike. It’s the same reason I don’t ride as a passenger on other people’s bikes…I’m the only one I trust! However, I have owned a few bikes with some of these features and I can tell you that ABS brakes has covered my foolish ass more times than once. I’ve had a bike with traction control as well, but I’m not sure if I ever engaged it, which either means I was being sensible, or it worked so well that I didn’t even know it.

In the end, I’m more than willing to give these advances a go. Truth is, I’m getting older and my response time is likely slowing down. Maybe I need a little computerized help. But let’s be clear about one thing: I don’t want no damn automatic transmission!

I started riding as a first grader. I had one of those one speed mini-bikes. Twist the throttle and off it goes. No manual clutch, no shifting. A couple years later, on my birthday, I got my first “real” motorcycle: a Honda SL70.Honda-SL70-Left-Rear-Qtr

My friends were all getting Honda CT70s, 3-speed automatics. Not me. My bike had 4 gears and a clutch…and I had no idea how to ride it! Fortunately, my brother-in-law was a rider. He had a BSA and I saw him absolutely destroy our gravel driveway every time he came over, flying sideways, balls to the wall, on the verge of being out of control. My hero…he and “Bronson.” Who better to teach a little kid to ride, right? It didn’t take me long to get upshifting figured out. I did, however, make the engine howl on more than one occasion while trying to understand the clutch and throttle control of downshifting. But once I got it down, riding was never the same again. I learned to dump the clutch, spin the tire, wheelie and basically became a ten year old terror on wheels.

45 years later, I’m still shifting gears. If you want an automatic motorcycle, more power to you. Go for it. But leave me out. Bring on all the technology you want, but the minute Ducati or KTM or BMW starts offering their bikes in automatic transmission, so that I can free my left hand to sip my latte’ or whatever, I’m out. I’ll be just another grumpy old man, riding a vintage machine, trying to reconnect with the past.

Later,

Shep

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