Alanf’s blog…
Scattered thoughts

Wednesday, August 31, 2005

August \’05 Odds and Ends…

Author: site admin
Category: AMA MX/SX, MotoGP

Time to do another catch-up, this time a few updates about what has been happening in August that hasn’t warranted a full length write-up.

I think the biggest bombshell for August was the news that Valentino Rossi has signed a one year contract to continue racing in MotoGP with Yamaha in 2006. After a summer of rumors and press leaks claiming that Rossi was going to make the jump to Formula One car racing with Ferrari, suddenly Rossi is solidified in MotoGP for another year. This is great news for Dorna and the FIM both of whom will have the greatest living motor sports personality in their series for another season. It is also great news for Yamaha who will have motorcycle racing world’s greatest rider with their brand name smeared across the side of his bike in 2006. In contrast, this is devastating news for the other riders who were either hoping to sneak in one more shot at a GP title in 2006 before retiring (Biaggi, Gibernau, Barros, Bayliss, Checa) or the youngsters who are hoping to get their big break (Melandri, Hayden, Hopkins, Elias, Pedrosa). Expect the news for the 12 months to again center around Vale.

Speaking of Formula One, immediately after announcing his MotoGP extension Rossi then spent two days testing the Ferrari F1 car. It appears that this is still a pretty serious interest for the Italian though obviously not for next year. Rumors have now shifted to a possible link between Rossi and Ferrari in 2007. Perhaps Rossi is hoping to get a gig with the Italian powerhouse in ‘07 either as a full time driver or a tester. If that happens it will be a birthday, Easter, and Christmas present for the prototype cage racing crowd as they have struggled with boring racing carried out by boring personalities for years. Rossi would make a splash in the F1 world like tossing a elephant into a kiddie pool. Whether he can be competitive a whole different story…he has only been a few seconds off the pace in testing but finding those last few ticks of the stop watch is the difference between a good driver and a race winner. Still, just imagine an Italian driver in an Italian car racing in Italy where F1 racing is tremendously popular…the only thing better would be having him race a Ducati in MotoGP…

Speaking of Italians, it seems as if yet another Italian motorcycle company is struggling. Over the past half decade we’ve had Ducati’s woes (before being bought by American company TPG), Moto Guzzi’s woes (before being bought by Aprilia), Laverda’s woes (before also being bought by Aprilia), Aprilia’s woes (after running out of money and then being bought by Piaggio), MV Agusta’s woes (after being rejected by Piaggio and bought by Proton) and Bimoto’s multiple woes (the latest being resolved after being purchased by a group including members of the Ducati family). Well, the latest Italian motorcycle company to take a dive is Benelli which has apparently shut down production of all their models. Benelli, one of the oldest of the Italian manufacturers, was out of business for a long time after going under in the ’60s but revived in the 1990s. Now it looks like they are again having money problems and unless they can pull out of their nose dive the awesome looking TNT naked bike and innovative Tornado Tre sport bike seem doomed. It is also unfortunate since Benelli is one of the few companies in the past couple of decades that has been willing to go head-to-head with the Japanese in World Superbike racing. Lets hope they somehow manage to resolve their financial crisis and that Benelli continue to make their interesting motorcycles.

One rescue that has already taken place is that of the AMA Supercross series which has found a new home with SpeedTV after being cut loose from ESPN2. This appears to be a move for the better since it seems that Speed is going to make Supercross their flagship motorcycle program as opposed to jamming it in between semi-pro volleyball matches and bass fishing. Supposedly this is a multi-year contract so hopefully this will keep Supercross’s TV status assured for the foreseeable future. It remains to be seen what will happen with AMA Motocross TV coverage which is currently being shown on OLN.

To continue with the TV thread, how about the three Hayden brothers (Tom, Nicky and Roger Lee) who have been making regular appearances on the boob tube. First, Nicky was on the Today show back in June. Then in August all three brothers were on Leno and this past weekend all three were showcased on NBC’s Jeep World of Adventure Sports TV show. With MotoGP growing in popularity world wide all of this TV exposure will hopefully help give the sport a shot in the arm here in the US. I think this is quite possible not only because the sport is incredibly exicting but also because I can’t imagine better spokes persons for the sport than the three Hayden brothers. All three are talented, all three are very professional and all three are just plain nice guys. Keep those cameras rollin’.

One sport that could use some more press is the AMA ‘05 Endurocross race which is scheduled for November 19th at the Orleans Arena in Las Vegas. This sport is the bastard child of an unholy union between Enduro racing and Supercross. Its a fiendishly difficult track that includes many of the challenges commonly found in an Enduro race but built into a tight track that can be assembled inside a sports arena. In the same way that Supercross has shrunk the size and quadrupled the popularity of motocross the AMA is hoping the same will happen with Endurocross which brings the excitement of technical trail riding into a more physically concentrated location. Seems very cool to me and I’d love to see it get more press.

A final view of the KTM powered Team KR machine

Rossi’s 2006 plans isn’t the only MotoGP news this month. Another bomb that was dropped was KTM suddenly deciding to drop their support of the Team Roberts KTM/Proton project. KTM had been supplying engines to Team KR, as well as footing the bill for the top spec Michelin tires and covering the salary for rider Shane Byrne. Their abandonment of the project has left Kenny Roberts and this Team KR squad up the creek. For Brno last weekend they rolled out last year’s hand built V5 and brought in hired gun Jeremy McWilliams but teething problems with the motor ended their weekend early. It will be a miracle if they can scrap together the parts and funding to run the rest of the season. I had been forecasting that they would certainly be out of MotoGP by 2007 since KTM would be unlikely to build the 800cc motor necessary to meet the ‘07 rules but it looks like things are fizzling out even sooner. If anyone has $20 million or so to invest I think keeping Team KR in the MotoGP game would be a great investment…

With the 800cc rule solidified in MotoGP all the manufacturers are starting frantic development on motors to match the new format. Hot on heels of the press release of the displacement change came rumors that Honda is planning to built a V3 for the 2007 series. As with most bike rumors, only time will tell if that is true. If it is true expect Honda to go all out with a V-5 engined, RC211V based production superbike bike so that they can get some real sales benefit out of their investment in their MotoGP program. If a Hayden replica will be made just point me where to put down my deposit right now.

In lieu of buying a MotoGP based V5 sport bike then I wouldn’t mind picking up something from an auction of 130 classic bikes previously owned by Gilbert Tiger which will take place in Colorado Springs, CO on September 16th. I’ve always had a soft spot in my heart for 1960s era single cylinder bikes so the BSA and Ducati bikes in the collection look particularly nice. Still, I don’t think any of these will end up in my garage since I’m still struggling with the choices available for when I finally buy a new sport bike much less trying to get rid of something else to make room for a vintage bike…

My final August Odds and Ends item is the great news that money for a new motorcycle fatalities study has been tucked away in the 2005 transportation bill that was recently approved by the US Congress. Given that motorcyclists have been forced to use the ancient Hurt report which was done twenty five years ago as the basis for all discussions resolving around bike safety, a more modern examination of motorcycle accident statistics is long overdue. It will undoubtedly take many years to gather all the necessary data to get meaningful results but once this study is complete it promises to have far reaching impacts which will hopefully help with rider training, design of safety gear and a better focus of legislative action as it relates to motorcycles.

[image from the Team KR KTM/Proton web site.]

Tuesday, August 30, 2005

The pain in Maine…

Author: site admin
Category: Other Forms Of Racing

…comes mainly because of rain!

The recurring theme for the 2005 Iron Butt Rally has been water. The 1st leg bonus list was dominated by lighthouses from coast to coast, along with various other H20 related items like dams, hot springs and water falls. Prophetically, the riders that headed east encountered torrential rains both going and returning, meaning they undoubtedly had more water in the first third of the rally than they really wanted. Added to that was the dampening of their enthusiasm when the points were tallied and those long haul east coast visitors found themselves languishing outside the top ten while those that took the relatively conservative west coast loop earned almost double the points while riding a 1,000 miles or less that the east coasters.

The water theme continued in the second leg with the majority of the bonuses being various lakes from the southern edge of Canada to the southern states of the US. The riders only had two and a half days to get from Denver, CO to Portland, Maine so it would be difficult for riders to pick up many bonuses. Its a long way from the Rocky Mountains to the Atlantic coast and it seems all that much longer when you’ve spent the past five days churning out the miles on a motorcycle. Every convenience store along I-70 was probably sold out of caffeine drinks and sugary snacks last weekend! The goal set for these riders was to leave Denver at 9am on Friday, grind their way through weekend traffic on the east coast while trying to pick a route that maximized their possible points but minimized their running late and arrive in Portland at 9am on Monday morning. For every minute after 9am that they arrived they would lose points from their total. If they arrived after 11am, they were automatically disqualified. This is a nerve racking time for endurance riders but made all that much more difficult when the weather in the northeast was…yes, you guessed it, wet. If they weren’t soaked from rain, they probably were from sweat.

For those that made the Maine checkpoint, another list of bonuses was handed out and at 11am EDT Monday morning the Star Traxx web site showed the riders were again on the road. While we don’t yet know what the leg 3 bonuses look like, it is guaranteed it will again have a hydro-theme…if not because of the locations they will be visiting then because of the weather being brought into the central states by hurricane Katrina. If there are any bonuses located in the south, then it will only be the brash or fool-hearty who go after them. Southern Florida is without power and with roads that are still shut down from storm damage, New Orleans is flooded and Mississippi is reeling after being hammered by storms and record amounts of rain. The riders still in the rally that have GPS units appear to have split the storm…some hauling butt west to get into the mid-west before the storm blocked their path while others concentrated on the east coast, presumably hoping to head west behind the storm.

Information has been particularly slow to trickle out of Iron Butt central this year and data about the specifics of the bonuses are non-existent. I think most of the people following the rally were surprised to see that some crazy bonuses weren’t available in leg 2 with the stipulation that the Maine bonus could be skipped. This means that the big rally winning bonuses are in the leg 3 packet. Now the rally truly boils down to an endurance test…those that still have some shreds of energy tucked away in their body and can still collect their thoughts enough to ride hard for four more days are going to win. For the rest, its just a matter of dragging their tired bodies and tired bikes back to Denver with the hope they have enough points to qualify for a finishers award.

Jeff Earls' BMW in Maine

Among those that are going for the big finish is my buddy Jeff Earls. After the leg #2 points were tallied, Jeff was in second place 3,500 points behind Jim Owens and around 2,000 points ahead of third place Eric Jewell. So far he’s racked up 7.125 miles on his BMW R1150GS and even a direct ride from Maine to Colorado would put him in the neighborhood of 10,500 miles for the rally…impressive considering that is 11 days of riding, much of which was done in the rain. Even more impressive, Jeff has no plans to take the straight path back to Denver. Instead, he is off chasing one of the race winning bonuses. He should be one of the favorites if his bike holds together, his body can take another few days of punishment and his brain can deal with the sleep depravation just a little longer.

I’m heading down Friday morning for the finish and hope to have a final Iron Butt Rally report early next week. In the meantime, try not to buy any soda from the Denver area stores…there may be a rally rider that needs it come Friday morning.

[image from the Blackfly photo gallery web site.]

Monday, August 29, 2005

Picking up where things left off…

Author: site admin
Category: MotoGP

As I mentioned in my weekend race preview blog entry the big news for the MotoGP race weekend would probably center on Valentino Rossi. Well, I’m some what disappointed to say that I was correct…not because I dislike Rossi but because I always want to see a race series offer up exciting and competitive racing. Rossi’s four year MotoGP romp has become predictable…

Rossi rules at Brno

The break over the past four weeks have given the racers and teams an opportunity to regroup after a a summer in which Rossi has crushed his opposition winning eight of the ten races coming into Brno. The R&D departments at the various teams and tire companies have been working overtime trying to match the Yamaha/Michelin pairing but the lack of new equipment at Brno was someone surprising. Honda has some tests scheduled immediately after the Czech Grand Prix to try out some new parts on their V5 but didn’t race with any major new parts in the race. Bridgestone did bring some new tires and it was obvious during qualifying that the Ducati, Kawasaki and Suzuki teams found definite improvement in the new rubber. Otherwise, the bikes were mainly unchanged from what was wheeled into the garages at the end of the previous race at Sachsenring, Germany.

After a frantic qualifying session, Sete Gibernau put his Honda on pole ahead of Nicky Hayden and a resurgent Loris Capirossi. Rossi was next, joined on row two by Melandri and Checa. In addition to the two Ducatis, the Bridgestones also carried Hopkins to the middle of the third row with Barros ahead and Edwards behind. Gibernau looked strong all through qualifying, meaning this may actually have been his best chance of winning a race, something he desperately needs after being repeatedly beaten earlier in the season by Rossi at Jerez, Le Mans, Catalunya and Sachsenring.

With everyone hoping that Gibernau would have what it took to run with Rossi, the racers gridded up for the race. At the start, both riders charged to the front and immediately started to pull a gap over the following pack of Melandri, Hayden, Capirossi and Barros. By lap two, it was clear that the race would be another titanic struggle between the two bitter rivals. With each lap, the two riders exchanged the lead and steadily pulled away from the battle for third. There Hayden, Melandri, Capirossi and Barros all fought in a tight pack. These intra-rider struggles slowed the pace which bunched up the group a little but it also allowed a hard charging Biaggi to join the fray.

Just like in the first races of the season as the race progressed Hayden started to drop back while Biaggi surged forward. Unlike early in the season, Melandri also started to fade and Capirossi charged forward. A the laps wound down the battle appeared to boil down to a Rossi/Gibernau duel with a rapidly closing Capirossi tantilizing close to his second podium of the year. At the beginning of the last lap, Rossi made his move on Gibernau and again went into the lead. The Italian was able to pull a small gap but not the kind of unassailable lead that he was able to open in the rain in Britain. Gibernau seemed to hold the gap at around one second and clearly had the intention of making a lunge for the win at the final chicane. Unfortunately, he ran out of gas on the final 1/3 of the last lap denying him an opportunity to challenge Rossi. The post-race story is that there was a failure with the fuel injection system on Sete’s RC211V. From a psychological point of view this bike failure is sure to have confused things inside the Spainard’s helmet. One one hand, he was yet again denied a win and a win is the only thing that can restore Gibernau’s confidence. On the other hand, the mechanical DNF gives his battered ego an excuse after again being smacked by Rossi so his confidence may not have gotten any lower. Gibernau’s misfortune gifted Capirossi with a second place resulting in Ducati’s best finish of the season. It also rescued Biaggi’s race taking him from a 10th place qualifying effort to the final spot on the rostrum. With Biaggi’s future role at Honda still in doubt his third place finish goes a long way towards keeping him on the company payroll.

Another rider whose performance at Brno probably helped his chances for 2006 was Brazilian Alex Barros, who fought with Capirossi for the second half of the race, whose eventual fourth place finish was his fifth top five of the year. Hayden held on for fifth but his drift backward after running third in the early stages probably didn’t impress him or the Honda bosses. Likewise, Melandri’s inability to return after the summer vacation to the form he showed over the first few races of the season means he continues to slip down the championship order - falling to third behind Biaggi in the title fight. At the end of the weekend Rossi has expanded his lead to 132 points. Biaggi is three points up on Melandri who has a three point gap over Edwards. Gibernau is in fifth, with Barros in sixth and Hayden in seventh, these three riders separated by only three points.

The Czech GP was the last race on European soil until the final race at Valencia in November. This marks the beginning of the “fly away” races with the first being three weeks from now in Japan, followed one week later by Sepang, Qatar a week after that, Phillip Island in mid-October and finally Turkey a week after that. These non-European races test the riders, the teams and the tire manufacturers as they have to ship everything they need to these remote locations. There are six more races spread over the next 10 weeks. That means a total of 150 points are left on the board given that a win pays 25. Rossi only needs to win one more race this season to tie up his 4th MotoGP championship and his 7th GP title.

Whether it is returning from the break between seasons, between teams or just a month off between races Valentino Rossi always seems to pick right back up where he left off…by winning!

[image from the Gizmag web site.]

Friday, August 26, 2005

Wore slap out…

Author: site admin
Category: Other Forms Of Racing

There is a saying in the south to describe being extremely tired which goes ‘I’m just slap wore out”. Now I have no idea where that came from or really even what it means but I can tell you that there are some people in Denver tonight that are slap wore out.

This evening was the first checkpoint in the ‘05 Iron Butt Rally. Unlike past Iron Butts, where the riders rode to the four corners of the country (and often a whole lot more) this year the first leg started and ended in Denver, CO. To make sure that the riders didn’t spend four days eating peeled grapes and soaking in the Doubletree’s hot tub, there is a minimum number of points required at the end of the rally (also in Denver, on Friday a week from today) with the assurance that there won’t be enough points available in the second and third legs to meet the requirement. Thus the riders left Denver on Monday and have spent the past four and a half days chasing bonuses that were scattered around the North American continent (and even a bogus bonus further afield than that!).

Got light? Iron Butt Gold Wing

Over the course of today the exhausted riders have been trickling back into the Doubletree hotel parking lot. The zombies arrived tired, smelly, hungry and clutching tattered stacks of gas receipts. Waiting in the parking lots were friends and family all worried but still ready to help however necessary. (Check Bob Higdon’s daily report on the IBR web site for more on this.)

Before they could collapse and take a much deserved nap they had some important tasks to do. First they had to check in with the Iron Butt Association staff. This meant a half hour off going over their route and presenting all of the paperwork they had collected to back up their claims. Polaroid photos, gas receipts, signed affidavits and GPS tracks were all explained in excruciating detail…four days of riding condensed into 30 minutes and a half inch high stack of paper…Once checked in the riders then had to attend to their bikes. New tires needed to be fitted, fresh oil added, headlights cleaned and niggling little problems fixed. Some riders had a support network to lend a hand while others sat their exhausted bodies on a curb and broke out their tools. Bike’s attended to, the riders could finally stagger to their rooms and try to catch some shut eye. Then at 9pm the second leg bonuses were handed out and they started it all over again.

The first leg points standing were posted tonight and it looks like those that took the dramatic long rides to the east coast didn’t get much for their effort. Doug Chapman, whose star-traxx route looked so impressive on Tuesday actually ended up in 47th place. It was the guys that went west who racked up the big points while turning in lower odometer numbers and getting more rest in the process. Jim Owens leads the scorecard with 37,214 points, a stunning 50% more than Doug Chapman, while turning in nearly identical mileage. The riders that went to Oh Canada! cranked out over 5,000 miles but still came back with around 10,000 less points for visiting the News Brunswick light house than those that bagged lots of the west coast bonuses.

My buddy Jeff Earls currently lies third in the points with 33,090 from a 4,656 mile ride. Fantastic stuff, especially considering he had to deal with a flat tire in southern California this morning. He got to Denver around 3pm and had time for a five hour nap after check-in before the bonus packets were handed out. While he was sleeping, his friends John O’Keefe and Rob Scott were handling bike maintenance duties. He should start leg #2 well rested and with a R1150GS full of fresh fluids and a good rear tire. Go, Jeff, go!

[image from my photo collection.]

Thursday, August 25, 2005

Back to the grind stone…

Author: site admin
Category: AMA Superbikes, MotoGP

Normally, I would do my weekend race preview on Friday but with the Iron Butt Rally riders returning to Denver at the end of this week I thought I’ll pull the preview in one day so I can give another IBR update after watching some of the IBR riders return from the first leg.

There are two races this weekend and both have something in common. Both venues are defined by their terrain as both are built in rolling hills. Second, both are classic courses making them among the best visited by their respective series. Finally, in both cases the main news for the weekend focuses on the two championship leaders. In fact, if the headlines on Monday aren’t focused on the two title favorites, then you can bet the biggest news will in fact have something to do with them anyway! In this case, the two events are the MotoGP Grand Prix of the Czech Republic at the Autodromo Brno and the AMA Superbike Suzuki Big Kahuna Nationals at Virginia International Raceway.

The Grand Prix weekend at Brno should be the most interesting of the two as the MotoGP riders are returning to the final third of their season after a four week break. This means that injuries will have healed, which is especially important for John Hopkins, Makoto Tamada and Tony Elias, and the tired bodies are rested. The riders that have been struggling have had some time to find motivation, those that have been under the pressure of Rossi’s mind games have had a month off to rebuild their shattered confidence and the engineers back in the R&D labs will finally have a chance to try out their latest miracle fixes for whatever ails their non-winning machines. Going into the break, it was obvious that Rossi was in the cat bird seat as he currently holds a 120 point lead over Melandri after winning all but two of the races so far this season. With 25 points awarded per win Rossi only needs two more race wins from the remaining six in order to clinch his 5th premier championship title.

The battle for second place in the championship race couldn’t offer more of a contrast compared to the battle for the lead. While Rossi is running away out front there are six riders all within 15 points of each other in the fight for the runner up spot. Currently Melandri is at the front of the scrap but only by one point over his teammate Gibernau. Another spot and another point behind them is Edwards who is then trailed by a single point by Biaggi. When four riders are spread only a single point apart you know there will be some fireworks over the next few races. With Barros and Hayden tied for sixth a further 12 points behind Biaggi it really is anyone’s guess on how the final title points tally will look.

The last three races (Laguna, Donington and Sachsenring) have shown that Rossi is the only rider with any consistency what-so-ever. The riders that have tried to build some momentum, like Hayden, Edwards and Biaggi, have all struggled during at least one round. Hayden was the golden child at Laguna with his amazing win and was equally impressive taking the third step on the Sachsenring podium but then fell off in the rain at Donington in between those results. Edwards was 2nd and 4th in the US and UK but then slipped to 8th in Germany. Biaggi has a pair of fourth place finishes but also got bitten by the rain in Britain. The only other consistency has been with DNFs. Melandri fell twice in a row before bringing it home in seventh at the Sachsenring. Likewise, Checa and Bayliss have two falls each, though the Spaniard was fifth in the wet and Bayliss was 6th in the California sunshine. Gibernau is the only rider to show improvement, going from a Laguna 5th to a DNF to second. None of these guys have put together the kind of mid-season charge needed to beat Rossi on track and none have had the consistency to stay close in the points. The final rider news is the big fat question mark that will be hanging over Shane Byrne’s head given the recent melt down between KTM and Team Roberts. I think it will be a miracle if the TeamKR bike can even take to the track since the engine, rider and tires are all in doubt.

Aerial view of Autodromo Brno

What is certain is that the 3.36 mile Brno circuit should, as it has done for nearly 20 years, provide some great racing. As I mentioned back in my Brno World Superbike race preview back in July the track is what all motorcycle race tracks should be: fast, challenging, safe and scenic. It is laid out on the hills outside Prague and the resulting elevation changes give the track a distinct character. Imagine Assen with its high speed turns and off-camber turns but laid out in the Czech hills rather than the plains of Holland. The track is filled with bumpy high speed sweeping down-hill turns which means that riders need to have near telepathic communication from their front tire. With the track being unusually wide this also means that those with confidence in their bike setup and with a bucket load of courage will have plenty of passing opportunities. Roughly half the track is taken in third gear or faster which means a bike will average over 100mph over the course of a lap and will top out over 180mph on at least two different sections of the track. This is a seriously cool track!

The AMA boys double header at VIR, in contrast to the MotoGP race, marks the penultimate round of their series with only a double header at Rd Atlanta in one week remaining. Also unlike the MotoGP series, the points battle in the superbike championship is far from decided. Thanks to two DNFs (one a mechanical failure and the second being taken out in someelse’s crash) Mat Mladin has a narrow nine point lead over his Yoshimura teammate Ben Spies despite having put on a commanding performance so far this season with eight wins. Also unlike MotoGP, the contest for the second place is more spread out with the recently resurgent Eric Bostrom trailing Spies by 54 points and Aaron Yates a further 18 points behind Bostrom. This means that Spies has enough of a cushion that he can afford to go for the broke at VIR in an effort to beat Mladin.

It is consistency that has kept Spies in the fight, especially over the last three races where he’s had a 4th, a 2nd and a 3rd, but he needs some wins in these final races to really have a shot at the #1 plate. Mladin had a second at Laguna and a first at Mid-Ohio before being torpedoed by Yates in the second Mid-Ohio race and so is still the favorite coming into this weekend…only a fool would bet against him. The fight for third doesn’t look good for Yates as it is Eboz that has earned the most points over the last three races with two wins and one third. Yates was on the podium at Laguna but then he threw his Suzuki into the dirt in both Mid-Ohio rounds which allowed his Ducati mounted rival to jump ahead of him in the title hunt. The stats would indicate that Eboz is on a roll and has the upper hand in the fight for third.

The stage upon which this end of season drama will take place is a beautiful 17 turn, 2.25 mile laid out on the the hills near Danville, VA. The venue is a classic road race circuit, unlike the NASCAR oval infields which fill out a third of the schedule, and thus one of the better events on the calendar. It is made even better because, like the Suzuki Cycle Fest that I attended last weekend, it is being promoted by RPM. They understand how to make an event successful by providing a variety of things to do above and beyond the racing. In this case, those attending the VIR event will not only have the opportunity to watch the AMA races but we also see a go kart event comprising teams made up of AMA racers, moto-journalists and fans. If the racing doesn’t do it for you SpeedTV will have a huge display area, there will be screening of the movie Faster, a motorcycle stunt demonstration team will be performing, there will be live music in the evenings and a vendor area for those interested in shopping for motorcycle gear. This is a seriously cool event!

Not a bad weekend of entertainment, whether you’re watching a great GP race at Brno on TV or if you’re lucky enough to be attending the AMA superbike weekend in Virginia.

[image from the Autodromo Brno web page.]

Wednesday, August 24, 2005

Push it…

Author: site admin
Category: Other Forms Of Racing

“Ah, push it - push it good
Ah, push it - push it real good
Ah, push it - push it good
Ah, push it - p-push it real good”
— Salt-N-Pepa

As I mentioned on Monday the Iron Butt Rally participants shoved off for their eleven day torture test at 10am on Monday morning. I’m writing this at around 10pm on Tuesday night, a mere 36 hours into the event, and already interesting things are happening. Now, I’m not a long distance rider and make no claims to being one. I’ve been known to cross one of these big, wide western states for a weekend trip and the thought of riding to, say, Yellowstone or Zion National Park doesn’t particularly have me quaking in my combat touring boots but I’m very aware that I have neither the endurance or desire to push myself like the Iron Butt riders. Last night I went to bed with visions of my morning walking around the Doubletree parking lot and then woke up this morning refreshed and ready for work. So imagine my surprise…nay…my complete disbelief when I checked the Star Traxx GPS tracking system web site for thirteen of the the Iron Butt riders and found that one of them was already south of Atlanta, GA! As if that wasn’t amazing enough, two others were outside Seattle, two just approaching Atlanta, one was in San Diego and two others damned near to Toronto. To me a weekend ride is to Wyoming or Utah. To these guys, its the opposite coast!

Now whether or not you are a motorcyclist take a moment to let that sink in. Someone got on a motorcycle Monday morning and then casually rode somewhere on the order of 1500 miles in 24 hours. That is an average of around 62 miles per hour for an entire day. I’m willing to bet Doug Chapman, the rider that reached that astounding distance in so short at time, took at least a short nap in there so that speed average is actually a bit faster. Not impressed yet? Well Bob Higdon, one of the sadistic maniacs behind all this craziness, wrote in his nightly rally update that the weather in eastern Kansas last night consisted of hard rain and hail. Okay, lets say you’re still tapping your finger and waiting for something that will really awe you…After turning in that 24 hour blitz across the country the FJR continued on. When I checked at 4:00pm this afternoon, 30 hours after the start, he was in Miami and now, 36 hours in, he is slogging his way down the parking lot that is the Florida Oversea’s Highway and is almost to Key West. That’s over 2000 miles in 36 hours. Come on, even the chronically blase’ have to awestruck by that kind of performance!

Doug isn’t alone in racking up some big mileage numbers in such a short time span. The Star Traxx web sites show that two riders chose to head north to New Brunswick, Canada. As of right now, they are pushing 2000 miles and are nearing their destination. Those that headed west, rather than east, have a different challenge ahead of them. Where the east coast only had a few possible bonus locations each worth a lot of points the west coast had lots of smaller bonuses sprinkled from Washington state to southern California. Additionally, there is an added restriction that these are “day time only” bonuses which means large chunks of time each day can’t be used for accruing the much needed points. Those that chose to go west have to ride like hell during the day and then use the night for rest and positioning themselves for another points grabbing run the next day. This means some big mileage numbers may yet be turned in by these riders but probably nothing on par with those who started chasing the morning sun on Monday.

This first leg, like a well played game of chess, means that the first decisions may well end up determining the final outcome for the riders. Those that chose to chase the big points on the east coast must make it back to Denver by Friday or be disqualified for missing the mandatory check point. If they have to turn back before reaching the bonus location, they can’t collect many other points on their way back to Denver in order to make up for their failure and may well be out of the running for the overall win. If, on the other hand, they grab the big bonus and get back to Denver they’ll be exhausted but probably ahead in the points tally. Those on the west coast have to carefully construct a route that maximizes their points while still finding the time to rest up. Their best bet is to get back to Denver with enough points to still be in the game but hopefully more rested than those returning from the east. Then they can make a big push in the second or final leg to try to win.

Then, as if all that strategy isn’t confusing enough, they have to wait and see what Friday’s second leg bonus packet looks like. The Florida Keys and New Brunswick bonuses may be back but with altered points values. Or, even more challenging, there may be bonuses in far flung places like Baja Mexico, northern Canada or Alaska that can be attempted while forfeiting the Maine checkpoint on August 29th. Will Doug Chapman find himself early next week once again swimming through a Kansas rain storm en route to the Florida Keys?

Jeff Earls still looking human

As of the first reports there is no update yet on my buddy Jeff Earls. When I spoke to him Monday morning he had his game plan and seemed confident in his decision. Since he, along with almost 80 other entrants, don’t have GPS tracking systems there is no way yet to know where he is located right now. Jeff is a shrew rally rider: this is his third Iron Butt, so he now ranks among the vets in the event. He was set for a top seven place in 2003 when his BMW’s final drive failed and he has been a regular in the Utah 1066 for five or so years. I’m confident he is doing what he needs to do in order to be a contender. I’ll be heading back to the Doubletree on Friday so I’ll give an update then if nothing about him shows up in Higdon’s reports for the rest of the week. For now, he’s just one of the many unknowns.

In fact, it is so easy to be excited by the highly visible progress that Doug Chapman has made that we may forget that any one of the 77 riders not being tracked at Star-Traxx could be doing even better. Perhaps someone has been busy sucking up bonuses in the southwest and is ahead in points. Maybe the Minnesota Team Strange gang are bettering their fantastic 2003 effort and have even mileage on their odometers than anything we can see online. What if someone took the sucker bet of a Panama Canal run and is right now closing in on Honduras. Who knows what further wonder these riders will bestow on us as the rally unfolds. One thing that is already clear is that all of these riders are pushing hard from the very start. Pushing *real* good.

[image from my photo collection.]

Tuesday, August 23, 2005

Stormy weather…

Author: site admin
Category: AMA Supermoto

As I mentioned in my Friday evening blog posting, this past Saturday I rode up to Copper Mountain for the first day of the weekend long Suzuki Cycle Fest. I headed up with just two things in mind: To participate in the Suzuki GSXR 20th Anniversary event and to watch some Supermoto racing. I’m happy to say that I was successful on both accounts!

I got up early on Saturday so that I could do some work on my old GSXR 1100’s hydraulic clutch system. I didn’t have the parts needed to repair it properly but some judicious application of teflon tape and RTV, along with some re-torqueing of all the bolts and thorough bleeding, managed to get some pressure back into the clutch lever. I checked the weather before leaving the house and found that rain storms were expected in the mountains in the afternoon. With some spare tools and brake fluid to deal with possible roadside repairs thrown into the tail trunk with my rain suit I headed west into the mountains. The GSXR is still a hoot to ride especially with a properly functioning clutch but the suspension that I fully rebuilt recently is set up horribly. It somehow manages to pogo and bottom (too soft?) while transmitting each little bump straight into the bars (too hard?). Back to the drawing board…

It started to rain just before I reached Copper Mountain but once I arrived I found the first thunder claps had already occurred. First, the GSXR events were already in full swing. Unbeknownst to me, a free lunch was available for GSXR owners as well as the customary swag: T-shirt, pins, stickers, posters, etc. I also got to spend some time talking with ex-Suzuki GP star Kevin Schwantz, mainly hearing how dedicated he has become to bicycling and how enthusiastic he is about the Kevin Schwantz Suzuki school. I opted to skip the dyno shootout and the parade lap through the Copper Mountain village as I figured I’d have enough trouble getting home on the GSXR clutch *without* any added abuse!

The bit of news that rained on my day was hearing that Yamaha rider Doug Henry had started the day as the fastest rider but then crashed in practice and was sent to the hospital. During the early laps of practice, Suzuki rider Travis Pastrana was making a triple jump out of a section of two small kickers with a low table top in between. Henry successfully followed up with his own triples through that section but then came up short on one attempt and cased the bike on the final kicker. He got thrown over the front and then his YZ450 threw a pile driver onto his chest. The result: a broken pelvis, broken ribs and a collapsed lung. Ouch! Doug’s weekend was done.

This is, of course, proof that the proverbial lightening of supermoto bad luck can in fact strike twice. Last year’s supermoto races at Copper Mountain started out great for Henry but then turned sour when his bike had a mechanical failure while he was leading the second race. As a result of the DNF, he handed the lead in the title chase over to his then-teammate Jeff Ward and was never a factor in the 2004 championship battle again. Well, Doug came into Colorado leading the ‘05 AMA Supermoto title chase and left with *four* DNFs (this weekend was a double header and each day had two Supermoto races) and with Ward once again in the points lead. If the physical injuries are an “ouch” then the quadruple goose eggs in the score column is the mega-ouch.

Supermoto racing at Copper Mountain

As for my view on the racing it mirrors my view of supermoto overall. First, it is spectacular stuff…moreso even than supercross, motocross or road racing. In fact, the only other motorsports that I find so immediately breathtaking are trials competition and mile long flat track races. Watching riders pitch a bike sideways on pavement and surf it to the apex of a corner is just astounding. Throw in some jumps, a wide flat-track style corner and some high speed paved sections and you get a lot of “Wow!” in a very small space.

Additionally, the AMA has done a fantastic job of getting factories involved. In just three years, the event has grown from a few small vans and some 10×10 canopies to full factory semi-trucks, hospitality areas and teams of mechanics. Having this kind of professional presence gives the series instant credibility both with sponsors and fans. It also helps that so many different manufacturers are jumping in: KTM, Honda, Yamaha, Suzuki, Kawasaki, Husqvarna and Husaberg all had at least some presence in the Copper Mountain pits. This is amplified even more because RPM does such a phenomenal job with their events. At Copper Mountain there was not only the racing and the Suzuki event but also the Red Bull Freestyle Motocross demonstrations, stunt riding show, trials exhibition, demo rides from multiple manufacturers and an ATV test ride area. Nice!

Finally, the AMA series already has a great depth of talent, including big name riders like Doug Henry, Jeff Ward and Travis Pastrana. Most of the riders are older and have a lengthy history of success in other forms of AMA pro racing. This means the series has instance fan appeal while waiting for new riders to grow into stars specific to this form of motorcycle racing. To give the series even more credibility and an international flavor, there has been an effort by either the teams or the AMA to bring in some talented European riders like Jurgen Kunzel, David Baffeleuf, Alex Thiebault, Troy Herfoss, Ivan Lazzarini and Massimiliano Gazzarata. All of these riders are top notch and all bring more to the weekend’s program than just an unusual name. They bring the prestige of international riders coming to compete in a US series.

As a side note there were two women riders who were attempting to qualify for the races at Copper Mountain but unfortunately neither turned fast enough laps in qualifying to make the mains. Hopefully both will keep trying because getting some fast ladies mixing it up in Supermoto will go a long ways towards breaking the gender barrier in motorcycle racing. Anything that can bring greater diversity, both in terms of gender and race, to the motorcycle racing community is definitely a good thing.

My only complaint with the AMA Supermoto race series is that it seems to to have very little actual dicing. I don’t know if this is because of the style of tracks used in the US, the varying quality of the riders or just the reluctance of Supermoto guys to mix it up but the races are often too processional. Every Supermoto race thusfar held at Copper Mountain has basically been a romp by the eventual winner. The last ingredient in the Supermoto recipe has to be finding a way to prevent these run away wins and develop track designs and rules that result in tight racing. Watching someone like Ward back a bike into a fast corner is very cool but it would be exponentially cooler if he backed that bike in underneath another rider on every other lap while involved in a battle for the lead.

To Sum up the weekend’s racing: The old guys were sticking it to the young guys. The international riders were running near the front. But in all classes the winners inevitably ran away with the win. Forty four year old Jeff Ward went four for four in the Supermoto class, each of those wins being by a substantial margin after initially battling with guys nearly half his age. In the Supermoto Lites, Yamaha’s Mark Burkhart went two for two, both times leading Kawasaki mounted riders Joel Albrecht and Brandon Currie across the finish line. The Unlimited class was another sweep with 18 year old Australian Troy Herfoss putting his Husqvarna atop the podium in both races. Just as Henry had a disastrous weekend at Copper Mountain, so did Unlimited points leader David Baffeleuf. He crashed his KTM on the rain dampened track Saturday and injured his knee. He missed the restart of the first race and then couldn’t ride on Sunday, giving him a double DNF. Worse yet, his accident was caused by a run-in with his KTM teammate…things were probably pretty stormy in that pit Saturday evening!

Travis Pastrana never fails to grab attention wherever he goes. In this case, he was continually improving all weekend and was the fastest person in the dirt during the Supermoto races. Unfortunately, as is Pastrana’s MO, he was a little to fast which resulted in a crash on Sunday while running near the front. I guess I can’t really call him inconsistent anymore, since he is pretty consistent in his ability to crash motorcycles. Travis will always remain an enigma!

Perhaps a more interesting story is the comparison of the old guys versus the youngsters. The four Supermoto podiums were topped by old man Ward but his young teammate Chris Fillmore was second twice and third once in the four races. Also upholding the honor of the class rookies was Cassidy Anderson who came in second behind Ward in the first moto. Italian Massimiliano Gazzarata too the second place spot in the last race of the weekend. Seasoned rider (and KTM team boss) Kurt Nicoll once again put in an iron man performance with two third place finishes in Supermoto. Jurgen Kunzel filled out the final podium spot with a third in the second moto on Sunday. In this class, the old guys clearly still hold the high ground though a couple of guys half their age are steadily improving.

After a day of watching great racing, dodging rain showers and enjoying an overload of Suzuki GSXRs I headed back home. Like the rainbow breaking through a cloudy sky, the GSXR got all the way back home without a single clutch problem. Now, if only the crappy suspension action would mysteriously clear up!

[image from my photo collection.]

Monday, August 22, 2005

Kickin\’ Butt…

Author: site admin
Category: Other Forms Of Racing

Back in January I did a blog entry announcing that the 2005 Iron Butt Rally would start and stop in Denver this year. Well, the time is now upon us.

This past weekend a small army of Iron Butt contestants, staff and volunteers descended upon the Doubletree Hotel Denver. Just before 10:00 in the morning on Monday, August 22, 90 endurance riders will be given their rally packets and, after a short time of frantic map reading and bonus point calculations, will hit the road. For the next 11 days, the riders will ride a minimum of approximately 1,000 miles per day. In the past, their route has taken them to the four corners of the US and often times into places like Alaska, remote regions of Canada and even into Mexico. This year the rally route will be somewhat different as it starts in Denver, has a checkpoint back at the start line 4 1/2 days later (Friday August 26 between 7 and 9pm), then another checkpoint 2 1/2 days later in Maine (Monday August 29 between 9 and 11am) and finally returns to Denver four days after that (Friday September 2 between 8 and 10am).

What is all this about? Well, the rally itself was first started in the mid-80s and is only held every two years. Riders with prior experience in other Iron Butt events or with demonstrable endurance riding experience may apply. The 90 or so riders who will actually take part in the event are chosen roughly 18 months before the start of the rally by random ballot selection. (A few riders are approved directly by the IBA staff but the vast majority go the ballot route). After a year and a half of preparation, everyone travels to the start location to begin the rally.

At the start of the rally, the Iron Butt Association staff of rally masters (aka, the Rally Bastards) of Bob Higdon, Mike Kneebone and Lisa Landry pass out the route packets. These folders not only contain the details of required checkpoints but, more importantly, also contain the initial list of bonuses (additional bonus listings may be given out throughout the rally). The most basic requirements for the rally is simply to start on time, hit all the required checkpoints within the two hour window they are available and make it to the finish within its 2 hour window. Accomplishing this, while sustaining the grueling physical strains imposed by eleven straight days of endurance riding, will earn the rider a Iron Butt Rally (IBR) finishers medal. However, the bonuses are what really change the Iron Butt from merely being a test of stamina to being a strategic game of survival. The bonuses are various locations that can be visited by the riders which earn bonus points above and beyond those awarded for hitting the checkpoints on time. Some of these are small and easy, others are nearly impossible but very rewarding. It is up to the rider to make the necessary decisions about what bonuses are achievable without missing the checkpoints. The more bonuses a rider can snag the greater their points tally. At the end of the rally, the rider with the most points wins. Sounds simple in theory but in practice it is fiendishly difficult especially when paired with the toll already exacted by riding such long distances over so many consecutive days.

“What?!?! Are these guys insane?” I can hear you thinking. Well, on that particular topic I am neutral. Like the Isle of Man, top speed runs on the Bonneville Salt Flats or motorcycle Endurance roadracing, organized long distance rallies are undoubtedly dangerous. Then again, riding a bicycle at 50 miles per hour in a measly pair of spandex bike shorts for hours at a time is dangerous as well (just witness all the crashes in this year’s Tour de France). Ultimately, some people will always find ways to push themselves to the limit. It isn’t any one’s job to baby sit riders, so long as the consequences of their actions are no worse than those that any other vehicle can impose. As for the riders themselves, I don’t think they are reckless thrill seekers. There is a quantifiable difference between people that take calculated risks and those who are downright stupid. All the riders in the Iron Butt know exactly what they are up against and they spend an inordinate amount of time preparing for it including skills training, bike preparation and self assessment. All that said, I think there are three basic categories of riders that compete in the Iron Butt Rally.

First, there are those just out for a finisher’s trophy. Many of these riders are on “odd” machines…small displacement bikes, vintage motorcycles, bikes of questionable build quality, etc…and are going to do the minimum mileage possible while still hitting all the checkpoints. In the end, they will have the satisfaction of knowing they completed the Iron Butt Rally and will probably have the tales of a lifetime for having done so on something everyone thought couldn’t possibly survive such a harsh trip. Surely these people are pushing the boundaries by simply being in the rally but they are the most conservative of those involved even if their choice of bikes would sometimes indicate a questionable level of mental stability.

The second group are those that are going to push themselves a little harder by going after some bonuses but realistically know they aren’t going to win the rally. Some of these riders are just practicing for future rallies or are just out for the satisfaction of knowing they will have pushed themselves to their personal limits. All of these riders are somewhere on the “‘unusual” end of the spectrum of motorcyclists but hardly suicidal in nature.

Paul Taylor's Iron Butt GS

Finally, there are the big dogs. Riders like 2003 winner Paul Taylor who went after a seemingly absurd bonus in Prudoe Bay, Alaska but still made the required checkpoints. The pool of potential winners are pretty easy to spot. First of all, they have specialized bikes with auxiliary gas tanks, enough wattage in their head lights to turn a deer into venison jerky, more navigational aids than the space shuttle and more accessories on their bike than a typical Harley has shiny chrome bits. Many of these riders have long lists of sponsors who help defray the costs of these bike modifications and nearly all of them have prior history at competing in the IBR. As for these guys, a year or two in serious therapy should probably go along with a winner’s trophy!

Me, I’ll be watching longtime ‘net acquaintance Jeff Earls who will be competing again this year. Jeff had a DNF last year after 7773 miles. In 2001, he finished 16th with a total of 11,241 miles. In 1999, his first IBR, he finished in 24th with 10,906 miles. That is two “gold medal” finishes in three starts. Not bad! If you’re so inclined, you can follow the daily reports which will be posted on the IBR web site by Bob Higdon and watch Jeff’s progress throughout the rally.

[image from Martial Mason’s motorcycle photos web page.]

Friday, August 19, 2005

Super moto weekend…

Author: site admin
Category: AMA Supermoto

This coming weekend is the 3rd annual Suzuki Cyclefest at Copper Mountain. This event was started in 1993 by Colorado’s Race Promotion Management, aka RPM, and features a wide variety of attractions including demo rides, a market place, trails riding demonstrations by Geoff Aaron, two rounds of the AMA Supermoto series and organized rides in the Colorado mountains. Something for everyone!

My '88 GSXR1100

For me, there are only two attractions. First, Suzuki is using CycleFest as one of the stops on their GSXR 20th Anniversary Tour. As a result, GSXR owners get free entry into the event, preferred parking, a free T-shirt and various other perks. I’d intended to ride my old ex-Team Hammer ‘88 GSXR1100 to the event but have been having problems with the hydraulic clutch getting air into the slave cylinder. I ordered clutch master cylinder and slave cylinder rebuild parts from Colorado Powersports two weeks ago but this week found that they ordered the wrong parts. They ordered a brake master cylinder kit instead of the parts to fix the clutch slave cylinder. (Since I had to re-order anyway to get the correct parts I went ahead and ordered a stainless steel line to replace the 17 year old stock line as well). At this point I’ll either ride the GSXR and just plan on bleeding the clutch numerous times or I’ll have to ride the Beemer. We’ll see how much of the GSXR 20th Anniversary celebration I get to enjoy.

The second thing on my list for the weekend is to watch the AMA Supermoto race on Saturday. I have plans for Sunday so I’ll only be able to watch half of the weekend’s double header. The track at Copper Mountain is the shortest of the tracks on the Supermoto calendar (surprise, surprise, another rinky dink track in Colorado) but it appears they have lengthened the dirt section this year so RPM is clearly making an effort to improve that shortcoming. Now they just need to make the paved back straight a little longer so that the guys with a roadrace background have a chance to show their stuff with some really fast sections…

No matter what the track looks like the racing looks like it will be good. For one thing, the AMA has added a new class this year. In addition to the Supermoto and Supermoto Unlimited classes, there is also a Supermoto Lite class for 250cc four strokes. Given that this weekend is a double header and that the Supermoto class races twice each day there will be a total of *eight* races spread over the two days. That is the best race value of the year! Add in the big names racing in the series like Doug Henry, Jeff Ward, Jurgen Kunzel, David Baffeleuf, Alex Thiebault and Thierry van den Bosch. The rest of the field, while not as well known, is also packed with talent. Returning from last season are: Mark Burkhart, Chris Fillmore, Ben Carlson, Leonardo Bagnis, Alex Thiebault, Kurt Nicoll and Micky Dymond. Even the new comers add excitement with European stars and talented new comers like Andrea Bartolini, Massimiliano Gazzarata and Troy Herfoss joining the seriers. Perhaps the biggest change for this year’s Copper Mountain event will addition of two female riders with Michelle DiSalvo racing Supermoto and Erin Normoyle racing Superrmoto Lite . That is guaranteed to increase the popularity of the event!

There are still a few things that need to be improved with CycleFest. For one, the demo rides fill up first thing in the morning so if you get to Copper Mountain after 8am you aren’t taking a demo bike for a ride. Second, the market place area has been a little short on quality vendors for the past two years. The first year I got a chance to meet Malcom Smith since he had a booth for MSR but otherwise the vendor area has mainly been booths selling sunglasses and metal polishes. Hopefully, as the event gains popularity it will also draw a wider variety vendors for the market place.

Even if the event is still in its growing stage, having a chance to ride into the mountains on a weekend and watch some racing makes it a “must see” event. I’m looking forward to being there this coming Saturday and hopefully I’ll be there on my old GSXR!

[image from my photo collection.]

Thursday, August 18, 2005

Product Spotlight #4: Jesse Luggage

Author: site admin
Category: Product and Company Reviews

It has been awhile since I did a product spotlight blog posting. I’ve once again had the opportunity to deal with one company in particular and have once again been impressed so this seems like as good a time as any to do another posting. In this case, the company in question is Jesse Luggage.

Jesse Odyssey bags for the R1150GS

When I bought my R1150GS in 2001 I decided to forego the stock BMW bags and look for something better. Based on talks with friends, various web postings and some magazine articles I decided that Al Jesse was making the best luggage for the big adventure touring bikes. I bought a set of his Odyssey saddle bags, a rear compartment and a 45 liter top box. Once I received them I found they were easy to install, were very rugged and had roughly twice the storage space of the Beemer bags. I particularly liked the rear storage compartment, since it gave me a secure place to store little things like a security cable, a spare quart of oil and some bungee cords.

As I’ve mentioned before, my product spotlights generally focus on companies because of their service as much as for their product. Here is where Al Jesse really blows the competition out of the water.

About a month after I installed the Jesse bags I rode in a particularly hard rain storm and noticed a little bit of water in one of the saddle bags. I called Jesse Luggage and ended up talking with Mr. Jesse himself. He explained that he had changed vendors for the rubber gaskets that seal the cam locks and that some of the first Odyssey bags went out with the earlier version. Since my bags may have gone out with the earlier model he decided to ship me the new model of the gaskets…for free. The new parts showed up and, once I installed them on all the bags, haven’t had a single leak since. At the same time I bought the optional lid racks and installed those as well. They are a great addition to the luggage both because they offer additional tie down spots and because they work as great carry handles.

About six months later, I had a problem were one of the pins on one of the hinges on the right saddle bag worked its way out. I once again called Jesse Luggage and again ended up talking directly with Al. He said that he’d found that the hinge design contained a pins which were pressed in place and that they were prone to working loose over time. He had come up with a new design which uses rivets rather than the press fit pins. He popped one of the new hinges in the mail to me…again for free. It installed easily with some stainless steel rivets that were supplied with the kit and for the past three years has worked great.

Fast forward another two years to last summer. Once again I had one of the hinges, this time on the left saddle bag, have a pin work its way out. Same issue, same story. I called, spoke directly to Al and again had a new hinge show up without my having spent a dime.

Then this summer I had one of the mushroom nuts, used to latch the saddle bags onto the luggage rack, back off while riding on rough dirt roads. I picked up the phone and decided to try another approach for a change. Instead of even mentioning that something had happened to my saddle bags I just ordered one of their cam lock kits. In addition to making an excellent product, Jesse also has a full list of spare parts that you can order individually. After a quick phone call and a couple of days wait, the cam lock showed up and only took about 5 minutes to install. Had I just asked I wouldn’t have been surprised to find the mushroom nut show up for free but I felt this was my fault since I’d noticed the nut was loose earlier but hadn’t made an effort to fix it back up.

So one thing that has been drilled into my head over the past four years is that Al Jesse definitely stands behind his product. Most products come with a warranty and most companies will stand behind that. Maybe its for six months, maybe its a year or maybe even longer. But Mr. Jesse takes a different approach. He seems to understand that the best way to improve his product and the best way to earn loyal customers is working with them to fix their problems. Now I’m sure that Jesse doesn’t always give away repair parts for free but in this case he decided that some of his original components weren’t as reliable as he’d like. In addition to making constant efforts to improve his product, he went one step further by upgrading his customers when they hit problems. That is a level of commitment that can’t be touched by any other company.

The Jesse bags are a great product but the real reason I encourage people to consider Al Jesse’s product is because of the way he will support his products after he’s sold them. If you need bags, give ‘em a try.

[image from Jesse Luggage web page.]