Saturday, November 30, 2002

California Trip - December 2002

I just returned from ten days in California. Halfway into the trip, T Bear dropped me an e-mail that began, "Hey Caliboy, did ya dye yer hair blonde yet?"

The location was Willow Springs International Raceway. A dozen or so of us slightly weathered journalists had gathered to enjoy the clean air and warm sun of California's high desert and to spend some track time with Ducati's Redvolutionary 999: the slipperiest, slickest and speediest Duc Bologna's ever sold.

I'll call it an early holiday gift from Ducati, only because when I call it work, people groan. Thanks Ducati!

Many, many laps and couple of days later, I was in a rented Saturn with my friend Mike Salisbury, motoring to Streets of Willow Springs for a day at Keith Code Superbike School. My lap times fell from 3:45 to 2:11 in one day, thanks to Keith and his team, especially my instructor, Nancy "the Perfect Carrot" Montgomery, a strawberry blonde with piercing blue eyes. She would blow by me just close and fast enough to get my attention, then turn around and point to her tail, the universal signal for "follow me." As if there was ANY chance I wouldn't!

The setting sun signaled time for our good-byes. Mike navigated while I piloted the Saturn back to Venice Beach for a couple days touring the bike shops, surf shops and ethnic restaurants of Santa Monica. Ah, California, where life's a beach.

I had been in contact with the guys at Wild West Motorcycles, some two hours' ride away via freeway, and Mike had a Yamaha FJ1300. One Yamaha, two hours, and a handmade power cruiser sounded like an excellent recipe for mischief to me.

The Yamaha was fast, but I like my license and everywhere I looked were motorcycle-mounted police, mostly on BMWs and Harleys, but some local cops were riding Kawasakis. I gingerly toured toward Escondido.

The Wild West Motorcycle Company might as well be the "Hole In The Wall Gang Motorcycle Company." The factory, if you could call it that, is hidden in an industrial park, standing out only for its lack of signage. Wild West built about 100 bikes this year, each motorcycle made to order, like a Bentley. Engines balanced and blueprinted. Billet wheels measured for run-out and only the best accepted, combined with the most incredible fit and finish I've seen. All the work is done by hand. One man builds one bike.

I rode a Wild West Peacemaker as the sun sank in the west. Some guy in Atlanta had to wait an extra couple of days to take delivery so I could ride and photograph it, so I didn't ride it far. I felt bad for the guy.

I've got to thank the folks from Biker's Dream of Atlanta and offer kudos to Jason Orsborn, who built this Peacemaker. The next time I'm in Atlanta, I'll stop in and buy your customer lunch and a beer, but it'll cost you another ride.

Back on Mike's Yamaha and headed northwest, I took the longer ride to Venice Beach, where I had dinner in yet another restaurant of unknown ethnicity.

Flying home I started recording my impressions of the motorcycles and racetracks I'd experienced. It was time for the real work of motorcycle journalism.

When I reached the baggage claim in Newark my bag was the first one out of the chute and onto the carousel. I picked it up and suddenly I felt the urge to dye my hair blonde.

Sunday, September 15, 2002

Wild West Custom; Making Motorcycles the ol’ fashion way-one bike at a time!

Back when I had all my hair and a gallon of gas was two bits, muscle cars and Brit bikes were our chariots of choice. Motorcycles were one step below dependable (except for those nice people you met on a Honda) and though the cars were basically reliable, we worked real hard to make them run as badly as our bikes, then we worked at making the bikes run even worse. All in the name if individuality and the need for speed.

We took Brit bikes and Jap bikes (and some of us Harley’s) then tweaked, twisted, welded, raked, and stretched any part we could so that our sleds would look like the Billy Bike and take off like a banshee. Some shade tree techs got what they wanted, we all blew up lots of motors. And thanks to those years of distinct effort by demanding individuals, a new genre of American motorcycle came into its own; the Custom Cruiser.

Today you can buy a brand new bike and before you’ve taken delivery have all the hot whiz-bang-do-dads you like added on. Chrome, powder coating, custom paint and then there’s cams, carbs, and stroking. You can even get on a dyno and have a custom computer chip burned specifically for your bike’s setup.

Or you can just buy a Wild West custom, and have all you’ve dreamed about, lusted for and drooled over, straight from the crate, that I if you’ve got a spare 35 grand stashed under the mattress.

The location of the Wild West Motorcycle Company is anything but wild. They’re tucked away in a non-descript commercial building on a dead-end street in an industrial park in Poway California. Which was a two-hour freeway extravaganza from where I was staying in Venice Beach (and after making the trip I understood why no-one else wanted to go with me). Fleeting freeway flyers on cell phones and my New Yawk pedigree aside, I was well received by the Wild West folks in Poway, right about the time the sun started a dive toward the horizon. Andy Paluczak, Wild West’s Sales and Marketing Manager, gave me the nickel tour then pushed a Vigilante out of the plant’s freight entrance.

That was my first and only look at the bike in the daylight, which was fast becoming a scarce commodity. I could have stared and photographed it all day, the reflection of setting sun in exploded over the yellow tank with orange flames. The finish was impeccable, the welds smooth, and not a burnished fastener in the lot. But it was time to ride.

I confess; I’m not a cruiser rider. I’m partial to having my head tucked in behind a sport fairing and scouting for the fuzz, so every time I get on a bike that wants me to put my feet out in front of me and drag my bum along the pavement, it takes me a bit to get into the groove. That first time I let the clutch out I was waiting for the bike to tell me off, but it didn’t. I eased the lever out and the throbbing S&S twin and I rumbled out to the road.

Hands down, no argument, the Wild West Vigilante is the most solid motorcycle I’ve ever ridden. There isn’t any resonance, at any RPM. No buzz no boom, just seamless power. I’m sure the oil-in-the-frame protocol can be thanked for that. Coupled with the fact that Wild West doesn’t take the S&S engines out of the crate and bolt them to frames. Each motor is balanced and blueprinted, and Wild West’s tolerances are tougher than most, few parts make the grade. Ditto on the wheels, while they’re bought from another manufacturer but tested and only the best accepted. Stay tuned, they’ve recently installed a huge CNC machine and are testing designs for their own wheels.

Mounted on the Vigilante’s rear wheel is a 250 tire. Probably the only piece of over-the-counter rubber that could transmit the throbbing 105 horsepower to the pavement, other than a drag slick. I expected poor handling due to the rake and resplendent rump of a tire but was proven wrong. Again the proof is in the engineering, the Vigilante is perfectly balanced, take your hands off the bars (which took a ton of testosterone to try, the bike does cost 35 grand!) and the sucker tracks straight as a laser.

Wild West credits the Baker RSD (Right Side Drive) transmission for that. By switching the drive pulley to the right they’ve eliminated the need to offset the drive train. The result, perfect balance, and rolling along a mere 21 inches above the pavement balance become a noticeable issue.

It doesn’t surprise me that a small company of a dozen or so people with sales of about a hundred bikes a year would set a benchmark for quality construction and design. Distinctly American in concept and execution, the Vigilante lives up to its name, it takes no prisoners.

Motorcycle Courtesy of: Biker's Dream of Atlanta, 9560 Highway 9, Alpharetta, GA 30004
Owner: Don Parkinson
Phone: 770-752-9160
Fax: 770-752-9156
Web address:
Our bike builder: Jason Orsborn
Ideas for media kit-

Vigilante - Specifications

Frame: Steel tube cradle frame with integrated oil storage in 2" O.D. backbone and seat post tubes
Engine: S&S 107 ci – roller rocker arms, forged pistons, 600 cam, 9.6:1 compression ratio, 4.0 in bore x 4.25 in stroke, 105 hp, engine finish: polished
Carburetor: S&S Super G
Transmission: Right Side Drive - 5 speed, constant mesh, backcut gears, by Baker
Primary: Polished inner primary, chrome outer primary, double row chain drive
Clutch: Rivera Pro – 9 plate heavy duty wet clutch
Fenders: Rear - IST™ (Integrated Support Technology) strutless carbon fiber
Front - carbon fiber
Tank: 4.0 Gallon
Fuel Cap: Aircraft style, flush mount, polished aluminum
Forks: Inverted, 54mm, polished
Shock: Progressive with adjustable rebound damping
Wheels: Performance Machine forged aluminum, polished. Choice of Wrath, Trinity, Villain, Vintage, and Trespasser.
Brakes: Performance Machine 4 piston billet calipers, polished, 11.5” rotors
Tires: Avon – 250/40 x 18 rear and 90/90 x 21 front
Exhaust: Drag pipes with baffle, chrome
Rear Axle: 4140 chrom-moly
Seat: Leather, by Corbin
Belt: Gates HTD Polychain
Battery: Absorbed Glass Matt (AGM) – sealed, no maintenance
Handle bars: 1 1/4", internal wiring
Speedometer: VDO – electronic pickup, digital trip meter and odometer
Oil lines: Stainless steel braided lines with aircraft style fittings
Starter: Compufire – 1.5 kw, chrome
Grips: Arlen Ness - billet aluminum, chrome, with bearings
Forward Controls: Performance Machine – billet aluminum, polished
Paint: Tank/Fenders - level 4 custom paint,
Frame: matched powdercoat

Tuesday, June 18, 2002

Yamaha Road Star Warrior – Power Cruiser for the Vertically Challenged -

June 2002-HALF MOON BAY, CA. Buying a motorcycle is an emotional purchase tempered with minor bursts of reasoning. But for an experienced rider who’s inseam sends them to the kids department for jeans, the emotional element completely loses out to reasoning. Despite suspension lowering kits and techs that will install them, usually with some sort of liability waiver or disclaimer, short riders keep riding and keep falling over at stoplights.

Enter the Yamaha Road Star Warrior with its 28-inch seat height. While taking the trophy at a limbo contest was not what the Warrior’s designers had in mind when they started the project it is certainly a major benefit to a large part of the motorcycle market and for those of you not vertically challenged the low seat has another benefit; you can really raise your ass off it, far enough that your head is above the smoke from the burnouts you’ll inevitably be doing.

One part muscle bike, one part streetfighter and one part cruiser the Warrior is the two-wheeled embodiment of the timeless icon that seduced so many before it: the classic, all-American Hot Rod.

It’s 102 cubic inches translates into a 1670 cc of air-cooled V-twin engine that produces 79.9 horsepower at 4,400 rpm and 103.8 lbs/ft of torque at 3,500 rpm. The air intake system is comprised of two intake boxes, their combined volume is a massive 7.5 liters. Offering a 115% increase in volume while lowering the intake resistance by 70% when compared to earlier Yamaha cruisers.

The engine has been bored from 95 to 97 mm increasing the displacement from 1602 to 1670 cubic centimeters (stroke remains the same at 113 mm). The cylinders feature a new high-volume, two-piece head (vs. the Road Star’s three-piece head).

An engine this massive has its worst drawback when it isn’t running and you want to start it. Ever watch a guy try to start an old Harley that’s been stroked? It takes a lot of power (leg or electric) to crank that sucker, so Yamaha added the same engine decompression system as on the Road Star. Simply put it releases the valve a bit during the start-up sequence. While this works just fine the bike makes some unfamiliar sounds when you press the starter, but you’ll get used to it, after all, it’s the sound power to come.

Fuel and air are mixed in the two 40 mm downdraft throttle bodies. The mixture then passes into the cylinders via a revised cylinder head design that offers a straighter intake path. Cooling fin area has been increased to keep the Warrior from getting hot under the collar.

The muffler weighs in at 8.3 kilograms. That’s 1.6 kilograms less than the standard Road Star muffler, while increasing internal capacity by 1.8 liters to 11.5 liters. The engineers also managed to keep the front and rear manifolds on the two-into-one system within and inch and a half, balancing the back pressure close to perfect. The exhaust looks large… it is but it sounds great, offering up a note that will please the most die-hard cruiser addict.

All this engine technology is managed by a seven sensor EFI system that tracks everything from barometric pressure to front and rear cylinder temperature, the most sophisticated EFI system on two wheels. An ECU works with a throttle position sensor to meter the fuel. Three-dimensional digital CD ignition mapping ensures that the spark ignites at just the right moment, delivering crisp throttle response. This system provides a power curve that rivals high performance sport bikes.

The engine is mounted in a newly designed and stiffer double-cradle design frame, 71% stiffer and 10.5 kilograms (Warrior frame weighs 17.5 kg) lighter than the standard Road Star frame. The engine is also rigidly mounted to stiffen the frame up even more.

Just as important to the handling as the new frame is the 41-mm, R1 inspired front forks, which are adjustable for preload. In the rear a preload adjustable mono-shock connects to an all aluminum cast, extruded and rectangular pipe swing-arm that also boasts an R-1 inspired pedigree.
Power is transferred to the super-fat 200-section rear via belt drive adopted from the original Road Star but shaved to 8.5 mm and 5-speed, wide-ratio, with multi-plate wet clutch transmission.

As the daylight began to wane the instrument cluster took on a light of its own. Traditional incandescents have been replaced by LEDs and that goes all the way to the taillight, which looks ineffective, until you grab the binders. A grand prix style digital bar graph tachometer sweeps across the rev range while the speedometer is nestled in a very retro looking brushed finished housing.

Looking for excellent stopping power Yamaha’s designers lifted a set of calipers from the R-1 and ditto for the diameter of the master cylinder. Sumitomo calipers bite into the two 298mm diameter front discs easily scrubbing off those few illegal mph’s you might, scratch that, WILL accumulate when you get lost in the Warrior’s personality. The single rear disc boasts similar specs. None of this will matter at all when the rubber meets the road.

While the Yamaha Warrior isn’t the first Japanese power cruiser that’s made it to our shores it has set a new standard for cruiser performance and handling.

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