Sunday, August 27, 2006

"Husky" used to be a size of pants for heavy kids

And now it's a damn good supermotard.

Mr. Bannon was kind enough to loan me his 510 today, and I was kind enough to give him an excuse to perform another oil change and to exercise the power-washer. I rode over to Bannon's on the SV, Girl Wonder riding pillion. On the way I was sort of marveling at the smoothness and excellent manners of the SV. The temperature was perfect, and the scenery fantastic. It made me want to catch I-5 South and pull a "Ward"(1) -- maybe not stopping until I hit the Mexican Border. Of course, we ended up in Mill Creek instead.

Bannon had his bike all prepped and ready. GW took over as captain of the SV and I planted myself on the seat of the Husky. I wanted to see what this bike was like on the highway, so we took I-5 south and then I-405. After 5 minutes of riding at 75, I thought that the vibes were intolerable. Of course, I had just come off the SV, and I had just been marveling about how smooth it was. We then took I-405 to Route 9 North, and worked our way to High Bridge Road.

I have to tell you all that I am bored stiff by the roads around here. After having ridden plenty of non-stop race-track-like curves in the Mediterranean, Washington State is a big yawn. There are a few nice roads here, of course, but you have to make a day trip on straight roads to get to them. High Bridge is one of the better roads within an hour of our place, and I haven't ridden it for a while. I have a love/hate relationship with it; It beckons to be ridden hard and fast, but it's rural-residential. IOW, it's impolite and dangerous to be treating it like a track.

Despite my stab at responsible maturity, I found that the Husky eats this road up like Kirstie Alley at an all-you-can-eat buffet. Unfortunately, I couldn't figure out how to ride the damned thing. Yeah, I was winging my way through corners and leaving GW in the dust, but the bike suffers from an identity crisis. Do you ride it like a dirt bike or a sport bike? I felt a bit awkward trying to figure it out. Part of this is because I haven't been riding street bikes very much lately -- and part of it is because the Husky is so very different.

Next up on the Husky's menu was Ben Howard Road. I had the same feelings as I did on High Bridge, but I did glance down at the speedo while entering a turn with a cautionary speed limit of 20 and noticed I was carrying 47mph. The husky is deceptively fast; I felt like I was doing about 15 mph. And speaking of fast, I could pull out of corners so quickly that I needed binoculars to locate Girl Wonder in the buzzy mirrors. You can step into a corner really hot, and then pull out of it like a jet-fighter. This bike can move.

We stopped at the Sultan Bakery because GW forgot to bring the liner for her jacket. At the corner of route 2, she was shaking more than the Husky. So we stopped and had a cup of coffee to bring her up to room temperature. I was glad to stop too, because at 41 miles, my ass hurt as if I had been on the wrong end of a college hazing ritual. It was over coffee that I suggested we head to Leavenworth. The previously unacceptable vibes were eclipsed by the feeling I had been prison-raped, but I was quickly becoming addicted to this torture ritual. I wasn't going to give up until tears filled my eyes. Besides, when you are busy cornering, you completely forget about how bad your backside feels.

We kept up a serious pace all the way to Leavenworth. It seems there is some disagreement in speedometers. The Husky said I was going 65 mph, and GW said I was going 80. I think that the Husky's meter is a bit pessimistic, and the SV's is optimistic. We were probably doing 72.

There is nothing new in Leavenworth, so I won't bother telling you about my bratwurst lunch. Basically, we landed, we ate, we refueled, and we got on the throttle. One hour later, and 13 miles from Goldbar, my ass felt like it had been beaten with a fence post... and then the engine cut out. I pulled over asap and spent a minute or so figuring out how to set the petcock on reserve. I recall Bannon's warning about 21 miles on reserve and sought the first gas station I could find. Seems I was getting about 35mpg... although I had been pushing the bike pretty hard.

We retraced our earlier route, doing Ben Howard and then High Bridge. Having figured the bike out a bit, I completely lost GW. Still, when I was banked over in a corner, I had this feeling as though my helmet was going to whack tree branches on the other side of the road. The Husky feels really tall. I am sure it's partly due to my perception, but it still has a serious effect on my comfort level.

All in all, I thought the bike was excellent. The vibration is really a non-factor after you get used to it. It is only bothersome when cruising over 80mph. And I was very surprised that the wind is also a non-issue. That little dirt bike number plate deflects quite a bit of the airstream. If it weren't for the seat, I could have done another 200 miles.

The seat probably works well at the track. I found it's uniform flatness to be a big plus when moving from side to side while setting up to hang off in the turns -- not heroic knee-down hanging off -- just a little knee pointing to heal that puppy over. The motor delivers plenty of power, although the transmission could use one more gear for highway riding. Then again, it's not intended for that. The bike is a perfect motard package and it doesn't require a home equity loan to perfect like a lot of the conversions I've seen. I think it's pretty close to perfect for use as a track bike and back-road scratcher.

As I discussed with Bannon post-ride, my preference would still be the Suzuki DR-Z 400 SM -- but that is because I want to take the occasional passenger and I'd want to outfit the bike with bags or some means of carrying cargo. The tamer suzuki engine probably gets better mileage too. The SV got 50 mpg today, which is what I expect out of any modern bike. I suspect the Suzuki SM would get something in that neighborhood, in a moderate state of tune.

But... If I weren't seeking an all-a-rounder in a motorcycle, the Husky scores pretty damned high. Since it's definitely more of a race bike, it lacks some of the rubberized comforts of something more pedestrian. Rubber-coated pegs and thicker grips would really help diffuse the vibrations, for example. The motor is in an excellent state of tune -- even if it surges at steady throttle at 40mph-ish -- and it looks exceptionally simple to work on. Nice bits all around, and I really like the brakes, even if I couldn't figure out exactly what to do with them when cornering. I think Mr. Bannon scored on this one.

BTW, the surging seems to go away at anything over 50. I think a different needle, or shimming the needle will solve that. There were lots of big insects out there today too. Bannon's bike is covered in protein. And boy does that rear tire get hot and gooey... Fortunately, it sticks like glue.

(1) I have a friend, who we'll refered to as "Ward," and he manages to disappear on his bike for months at a time. He recently spent a few months in Mexico.