TIME PERIOD: May 1, 2005 thru May 22, 2005 (22 days)
A lot of time has passed since my last journal entry. Iím getting in to the "meat" of my ZZR ownership. Several things have happened. I had a lowside. My father bought a bike. I ordered and received a number of items for the bike and for myself. Iíve put in way fewer miles than I wanted to. Iíve learned to deal with some of the eccentricities of this bike. Letís get started.
MAINTENANCE AND SUPPLIES
I used the Pit-Bull rear stand for the second oil change. It went very smoothly this time. Fairing removal was a snap, and I found the missing bolt and screw from the last fairing removal. I tested the chain for adjustment by the book and found it in no need of adjustment. I fully cleaned the chain using WD40 and lubed it using Bel-Ray Super Clean. The Pit-Bull makes it easy, although itís a little precarious getting it up on the stand without assistance. The spools installed easily into the swingarm, and I used Loctite to secure them. I also gave the bike a full cleaning, including every part of the wheels. The Pit-Bull is still in Fort Worth. My next change will be between 2000 and 3000 miles.
Just today, I tentatively acquired a garage less than a football field away from my door where I can store the bike without having to uncover and recover it every time I want to ride and where I can do maintenance and modifications. I still donít have the key to it and havenít seen it, but I should in the next day or two. This is nice news.
I also received the Haynes service manual for the ZX600J, which is how my bike is officially designated (the J model was launched in 2000 and went through 2002, and now has been brought back for 2005, its fourth year, hence my bikeís ZX600J4 title). Itís a nicely done book, although itís a little lacking in diagrams, but the Ron Ayers site seems to have all the "microfiche" assembly diagrams for the bike Iíll ever need.
At 4000 miles, Iím supposed to check things like the spark plug gaps, the air suction valve, the fuel hoses, the chain, the brake pads, the brake fluid, the steering head bearing, and other minor areas.
I only ordered one tool, a hacksaw for helping with the fender eliminator installation.
GEAR AND ACCESSORIES
Iíve been wearing the FirstGear Mesh-Tex II jacket a lot lately, given the warm weather. It does a very nice job. Motorcycle Consumer News rated it first out of all the mesh jackets it tested a while back.
Now is a fine time to discuss my lowside. The date was May 9th at 3am. The location was a deserted tight twisty road in a tiny town called Bartonville. I had been riding FM 407 and decided to go exploring and ended up there. Causes? Ultimately, my mistake was riding on A) unknown B) twisty roads C) at night D) at a spirited pace. Take away one of those four elements and I would have fared better. The cause of the wreck itself can be described by five elements: A) decreasing radius corner, B) foliage (and darkness) blocking vision around the corner, C) large, loose, sudden gravel, D) target fixation on my part, and finally E) too much front brake without a clear idea of whether I was going to try to make the corner or stand it up and brake hard before the ditch.
Luckily, an extremely nice and understanding guy living only a couple hundred yards away helped me roll the bike back up to the street (at 3:30am!). Getting the bike back to neutral was tough, and starting it took a lot of work and a lot of hoping. But I got back home without incident. More on the bikeís condition later.
My Shoei helmet hit the ground. I didnít even feel a thing, but there was a large gouge out of the front of it and the faceshield was memorably scraped up diagonally. $400 helmet totalled. Head and brain oblivious. I was wearing sort of mild-build gloves, the cheap mesh/leather Frank Thomas ones. The left glove is ruined, but it protected my hand. However, I didnít slide all that far, and a little more pavement or speed and the palm would have worn through. Ugh. My new Oxtar Jupiter boots, which are excellent boots, protected my ankle nicely and held up well too. The mesh jacket slid on the ground but surprisingly held up very well. My left upper forearm had a bruise, but it would have been MUCH worse without the soft armor. I was wearing the Icon Recon blue jeans, and the Aramide saved a much worse road rash incident. The jeans part wore right through, but the Aramide didnít budge. I got a mild skinned knee. Unfortunately, the impact absorption isnít there, and I sustained a knee bruise that made me think about how much worse it could have been without actual armor. I will never ride without at least reinforced knees, and Iíve got various leg solutions on my shopping list for next time.
Some good came out of this. On the minus side, it was an expensive mistake Ė replacing my gear and bike parts is costing $1500 or so; it was a little painful (but could have been so much worse); it was scary being out there alone with a bike that wouldnít start that I couldnít even get to the road in the middle of nowhere in the middle of the night. On the plus side, it was a fine learning experience Ė not only could I have avoided this by not putting myself in this situation (i.e., by removing one of the four elements of the situation as stated above), but I could have made more competent tactical decisions at the point of attack Ė I probably could have ridden out the corner and survived unscathed given more confidence in and knowledge of the bikeís abilities. The bike is fine, Iím fine, in the end itís only money, Iím still vigorously riding, and this episode provides the impetus for me to start wrenching on the bike and doing the modifications I was planning on.
I ordered two new jackets which havenít come in yet. I ordered the Gericke Triton jacket because I like the way it looks (and because Iím looking for a middleweight alternative to my Belstaff). I ordered the AGV Gamma as my first leather jacket. I think itís kind of a lightweight leather. Iíll get back to you on how these perform. I asked about heavy leather jackets, with extremely thick leather and massive armor, and folks were almost unanimous in saying "Vanson." But the Vanson Satellite jacket is a shocking $589! I want to get something like the Teknic Interstate, Fieldsheer Manx, or Joe Rocket Comet as a heavier/waterproof textile jacket (heavier than the Belstaff or the Gericke Triton) that will work in cool temps. I might order the Teknic Monsoon jacket, which looks like a smashing winter riding jacket for $350.
As mentioned, the Oxtar Jupiters are nice little low-profile mid-length boots. I also got Alpinestars Stunt shoes, for an even shorter-length choice. Theyíre mostly for the bicycle, for wrenching and then going for a quick test ride around the block, or for running to the store at two in the morning. I think I will order the Sidi B-One boots very soon Ė these are higher, more protective boots than my Dianese, although they donít have the level of support of true race boots. For the track, Iím going to get either the Alpinestars Supertechs or the Teknic Speedstars.
I went back to the store and bought another Shoei RF1000 to replace my dead one. Yes, the helmet is that good! I like the paintjob on this one even more. Itís a gorgeous product. The chin curtain really cuts wind noise! With earplugs in and the chin curtain installed, wind noise is held nicely in check. I also decided to order a backup helmet, and received it today. I got a KBC Force S. The difference is huge. I like the graphic design on the KBC, but just looking at it you can tell thereís a huge difference in workmanship Ė flaws all over the KBC, while the Shoeiís finish is immaculate. The KBC just feels cheap when you put it on, which it is. Sunglasses do not work on the KBC, so the dark shield (on back order) is a must for daytime travel. I got it for rain days or for when the Shoei needs to air out. I donít doubt its protective abilities, but everything else about it is subpar. Iím going to order the Icon Alliance Fusion one of these days, because I thought that helmet felt pretty good and I like the simple matte black and matte red look.
I ordered three new pairs of gloves since last time, and also replaced the Frank Thomas ones that got shredded. I got Icon Tarmac 2.0s and Icon Pursuits. Both are pretty lightweight, although they probably have more palm protection than the Frank Thomas (not as much knuckle protection though). Iím still waiting for Gericke Urban Leathertex gloves. You can never have too many gloves. Iím going to order the Joe Rocket Ballistic 5.0 gloves for cool weather and then the Tourmaster Polar-Tex gloves for the really chilly days (to go with the Monsoon jacket and a balaclava). For serious duty, the Joe Rocket Speedmaster 5.0s are looking good, but the Teknic Speedstar gloves will probably be used for the track.
I got the Icon Field Armor for my legs and went for a test ride with them. Theyíre reasonably comfortably, but they do interfere with my ability to grip the tank with my knees, and they cause my jeans to not be long enough to cover my boots. But they are a viable option for commuting. I got Icon SuperDuty pants (black), which are very much like the Recon jeans. Iím ordering the FirstGear Fuel pants, and the Teknic Chicane textile pants look good too for hot weather. The Teknic Chicane leather pants would make good track pants for zipping up with the Vanson jacket. Two weeks ago some photos surfaced of a guy who lowsided his R6 with nothing on but regular jeans and his knee looked like it had been cored. Heís going to lose the use of it. Leg protection is IMPORTANT.
I also got a Fieldsheer tank bag, which seems very good considering it was only $35 on closeout. Add some nice saddlebags and my backpack and I have a reasonable setup for a two day riding vacation. I got a Nelson-Rigg rainsuit for trips or for those times when I have to ride in heavy rain. It goes over armored gear.
MODIFICATIONS AND ADJUSTMENTS
Hereís the extent of the damage to the motorcycle: upper fairing scraped on left side, gouged a little; left turn signal ripped completely off and lens broken; left lower fairing cracked in two places, pushed in, scraped; left bar end scraped; left mirror perch scraped and mirror cracked; left engine case scraped. Thatís it. I got off so easy on the bike, considering it slid right into a shallow dirt ditch. Left slide protected the exhaust. Oh, the grab bar and rear signal housing both got some very minor rash and the stand spool got a little banged up. After the engine finally shuddered to life and had a chance to clear its throat, the bike itself (except for left turn signal) has run and felt just the same as it did before. No ill chassis or engine effects at all.
So what I decided to do this time was replace everything. I ordered a new upper and left lower fairing (thanks Ron Ayers!), aftermarket bar ends, a new left mirror, a carbon fiber left engine case cover, two low-profile aftermarket signal lights for the front (Iíll move the two good turn signals to the rear and install the clear lenses and keep the housings stock). Now that I have a garage I can get to work installing that and also doing the fender/mudflap/airbrake eliminator, the aluminum footpegs, the clear taillight, and finally removing the big catfish lower lip from under the nose of the bike. Oh, and the tank protector finally came from Tricktape.
Iím still undecided on engine mods, but Iím actually leaning toward not doing much. I could do: needle shims, jet kit, velocity stacks, ignition advancer, KLEEN removal, exhaust (slip-on or full system), high-flow air filter, larger rear sprocket/aluminum sprockets/520 chain, cams, synthetic oil, carbs perfectly synced, high strength clutch, port polishing, dyno tuning, etc. Or I could leave it stock. Just a cheap stainless steel slip-on would cut several pounds, improve the looks, and immeasurably improve the sound quality of the engine note (and improve my aural visibility on the road). But the stock engine note (which I canít even hear most of the time) doesnít wake up the neighbors (or cause them to complain). Iím kind of settling into the groove of what this engine does in stock form, including all its crappy low end/low throttle responses. Itís not a real strong engine in stock form, but it can do about what I need or want it to do most of the time. Being lean and light helps. Itís a nice medium between "enough" and "too much." (Then again, Robertís 636 is so awesome, and Iíd love to approach that on this bike.)
Even a "simple" change like shimming the needles would take me a long time to accomplish. This mod is said to improve low end response for just $10. Changing the two short velocity stacks to the same height as the long ones would improve midrange. Removing the KLEEN emissions crap is said to improve the directness of the throttle and the speed of response to inputs. The ignition advancer also beefs up the low end throttle response. A larger rear sprocket would improve driveability and simplify starts. Synthetic oil improves shift quality, helps the engine run cooler, and reduces wear. Having the carbs synced would improve power and smooth out the engine everywhere in the rev range (itís well known most carbed bikes arrive from the factory with poorly synced carbs). But all that costs money and takes time and expertise. This time of year, my bike might be out of commission for a month and a half if I brought it to a place like Southwest Superbikes for work. If I tried to do it, it might never run again.
And these are just the engine mods. What about better brake lines or pads, better suspension, or upgraded tires (thereís hardly a tire still on the market in these sizes that wouldnít be an upgrade, the D207 Sportmax being ancient by now)? Well, for now Iím just going to try to get the bike back to where it should be cosmetically.
I got the book 101 Sportbike Performance Projects, and between that, the net, and the Haynes manual, I have as much material as Iíll ever have. I would still need many tools though.
I finally got a spanner wrench for adjusting rear preload, but I havenít done it yet. The only suspension change Iíve made is to the front compression damping, turning it up a half turn on each side.
TRAINING AND TECHNIQUES
I got Total Control: High Performance Street Riding Techniques. Itís a great book, with some very valuable advice on a wide variety of topics. I like its approach better than that of Sport Riding Techniques. I think I will learn a lot from implementing some of these drills and ideas and mechanics.
Iíve stepped up my parking lot practice. I had a cop come over and question what I was doing there at 1am, but after showing him my insurance and license and explaining that Iím just working on "learning to ride," he let me keep going. Iíve been working on doing endless loops around the whole lot (NASCAR style, although I go the opposite way as well). Each turn has its own character Ė tight turn, off-camber turn, long sweeper, etc. It helps to repeatedly encounter each corner over and over, working on body position, smooth throttle application, loose arms, looking ahead through the turn, countersteering, entry speed, corner apex, etc. Itís a neat feeling to hang off some in a corner and feel your weight increasing the contact patch and helping the bike turn harder.
I did my first small stoppie while practicing quick stops. Iím thinking about getting some small cones in order to gauge my imrovements in braking and also to facilitate having a course to ride around.
One of the things Lee Parks writes in Total Control is that lots of riders seem to fight against the bike in corner entrances by keeping the outside arm rigid, making the bike much harder to turn and making it feel much heavier than it should. From Sport Riding Techniques, I was trying to use a "rowing" motion, pushing on the inside bar while pulling on the outside one. But Parks recommends unweighting the outside bar completely. On right turns, for instance, the left hand can be completely off the handlebar, while on lefts, the right hand should be supporting no weight, only operating the throttle.
Iíve found activities to do while droning on long straight stretches too. If Iím alone, I work on quick upshifts and quick downshifts with throttle blips over and over. I work on smooth throttle control by rolling on and off while trying to keep the suspension level, varying my speed by 10 or 15 mph. I work on effective weaving left to right and feeling the difference between 35, 45, 55, and 65 mph as far as the weight of the bike and resistance to turning goes.
Following my last post, I had a week of training at work, which included waking up five hours earlier than my usual time and studying at night, so there wasnít much riding time the first week. Then there was a lot of rain. Monday of the second week was my lowside. I didnít ride much for a couple of days afterward. On Sunday the 15th I went riding with my father. He bought a leftover (brand new) 2004 red ZRX1200R. I love the bike. It may be "heavy," but it feels small and centralized and light-steering when itís moving. It may have a huge, torque-laden engine, but itís extremely controllable, or at least it was on my short test ride. Far from resembling an untamed, wild liter bike, it actually feels more tame than my ZZR due to slower revving, better carburetion, and very user-friendly throttle response. The upright, dirtbike-like riding position is lovely. It does slow speed/u-turn stuff much much easier than mine. Itís also a beautiful machine. We did a lap through the edge of Benbrook and Southwest Fort Worth with a few curves, but his tires are still wearing in and the engine is deep in break-in (and heís doing a "by the book" gentle break-in), so speeds were low. He doesnít wear any riding gear (other than a helmet), which bothers me. Quite fun ride though.
Since my lowside, Iíve ridden my twisties (the ones Iím familiar with) at night many times. They repaved one of the bad sections, and that stretch is now great fun to wail around (in the car, too!). Iím trying to learn to translate what I learn in the parking lot to riding on the street, including when to pick up the throttle, body position, and looking through the turn. Four of the curves are so tight but fast that you get the roller-coaster feeling halfway through, and thatís where my fear kicks in, so Iím working on getting more comfortable with what the bike feels like at that point so any panic response is pushed back. If youíre going fast around a tight curve and feel you may be in too hot, the safest course of action is NOT to try and stand it up and panic brake before the edge of the road. The best action is to shift weight inside even more, countersteer more, go easy on the throttle, and keep looking through the turn.
Iíve identified two different kinds of tuck. Thereís a medium tuck I do which is pretty easy on my neck and cuts about 60% of the wind noise. The full tuck cuts 100% of the wind noise but really is a full tuck, with the attendant neck strain. Itís comfortable but for the fact that Iím basically looking straight up.
I ordered a map set called Roads of Texas, but itís on back order until the second week of June. Itís supposed to be the best guide to motorcycle riding in Texas on the market. Iím anxious to do a short trip down south and west of the metroplex. Highway 4 seems to be a nice goal for beautiful scenery, twisty roads, great surface quality, and low law enforcement.
The engine seems to rev more freely now. Itís loosened up a lot. Also seems a little louder, but the engine note is still poor and uninspiring.
I would say Iím getting comfortable with the quirks and strengths of this stock motorcycle Ė the fluffy throttle response, the sort of mushy brake lever feel, the somewhat harsh suspension, the slightly top-heavy feel, the lackadaisical torque, the slippery tires, etc. Itís such a far cry from a 636 with thousands in upgrades, but itís right where I want to be right now.
The other night I ran out of fuel. I was surprised at how quickly the engine died, but the main problem is the fuel tap is in an impossible position (the ZRXís tap is much better, but none compare to the VF700ís ease of use Ė the tap was right there on the left side of the tank, as a large dial) and itís very hard to turn. Need to work on this more. It happened in a non-threatening situation, and I was actually expecting it, as I was right at 150 mile on the trip odometer. The trip odometer is not quite as good as a good fuel gauge, but I donít think many bikes have GOOD fuel gauges. The gauge in my Corolla is very accurate and steady, but I think itís an afterthought on bikes that are blessed with the gauges. Anyway, if I can get right about 150 miles before reserve, every time, thatís almost better than a fuel gauge. In fact, maybe a smarter thing to do would be to leave it on reserve all the time, and just get new fuel at 150-160. That avoids the possibility of running low on fuel supply in a crucial situation, but it also means if I donít pay attention and let the thing get to where itís sputtering, then Iím stranded with no reserve at all.
The Suzuki DR-Z400SM blows me away. That looks like a hell of a fun bike, and actually better suited to what I currently do with my bike than the ZZR is. But I heard a rumor that the Honda 919 is being revamped for 2006 with a 998cc engine and better suspension. If this is true, I may buy that bike next year and then convert the ZZR over for my expected full schedule of track days for í06.