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Single Track Mind – How Much is Too Much?

Thursday, September 26, 2013

There can’t be many Englishmen who are more at home in America than me. I owe much to the USA and this is why, two hours after landing in America, I am a fully integrated English American and feel as if I have never left your wonderful country. Even so, some parts of the American way of life still confuse me almost to the point of distress.


Reading MCUSA’s report of the new 899 Ducati Panigale I was reminded of a meal Carol and I had in the Midwest. We had met a lovely classic bike racer and he kindly took us to his favorite restaurant, well-known in South Dakota for the spectacular quality of its food – and its truly, no holds barred, “Eat All You Can Farmers Buffet” policy.


So Gary showed us how to heap our plates with fabulous pork ribs, mashed potatoes, steak, fried bacon, hash browns, beans, salad, sausages and goodness only knows what else.


Each item was truly delicious, and as good an example of Midwestern cooking as you will ever find, but Carol and I groaned. We’re hardly anorexics but the mere sight of another pile of food stacked up high turned our stomachs. Give us just a couple of the courses and we would have been in heaven – but too much was a turn off.


I don’t want to sound like a curmudgeonly old wrinkly but I am beginning to wonder whether motorcycle manufacturers have reached the “All You Can Eat” stage in terms of what they are serving to customers.



The 899 Panigale is pitched as an entry level superbike for those who don’t want to afford an 1199 or perhaps feel that the bigger bike is too much motorcycle for them. In itself, the idea that the 899 is somehow a “beginners’ superbike” is utterly and completely ludicrous. Without wishing to sound immodest, I can still ride a motorcycle competently and I struggle with anything much above 75 horsepower even on a track. The idea that 148 hp and 175 mph is somehow an easy option is a joke.


Ducati have to give you more pork ribs, bigger portions of steak and an ever higher mound of mashed potato with every new model to keep the sales coming so the 899 Panigale owner now has DTC (Ducati Traction Control); DQS (Ducati Quick Shift); EBC (Engine Brake Control) and full ride-by-wire as an optional extra.


The three standard riding modes comprise of Race, Sport and Wet and these not only modify the power delivery but also the ABS and anti-rear lift up. In fact, there are eight levels of traction control fully integrated into the riding modes. All this is wonderful but it doesn’t alter the fact that in MCUSA’s home state of Oregon the speed limit is still 55 mph – and it is enforced even in the most empty areas of high desert.


If this seems like an attack on the 899 it is absolutely not. First, to do so would be utterly hypocritical because if I were very rich the 899 would probably be my choice for a trackday bike. Spend another couple of thousand dollars on some dyno and suspension setup time, tape up the lights and you could have one of the great track bikes of its generation with science fiction fast performance which is still, more or less, useable by normal mortals. Even so, there would still be vastly too much handling and braking performance for me.


So, congratulations to Ducati in making their Farmers’ Buffet the biggest and best in the “Eat All You Can” motorcycling restaurant.


You might think that the Honda Grom is such an inferior motorcycle to the 899 that it shouldn’t even be mentioned on the same website as the Duc. For under $3k Honda will sell you a physically small, 9-hp, four-speed, single-cylinder, gizmo-free machine which ought to be barely more than a road legal pit bike. Yet, have a look at Adam Waheed’s video and see the reaction not only of our vastly experienced Road Test Editor but also of the superstars who rode with him. They were not having such a good time because they were fine tuning the suspension, or altering the power mapping, but because the Grom put them back in contact with the heart and soul of motorcycling.


Despite being a new bike for the US the Grom has already opened a door on what is becoming a closed room in the world of motorcycling: the joy of playing about with your bike in your garage.


The 899 is such a technical tour de force that no home mechanic can do anything to it except add some fancy decals – and then only carefully because the original Ducati ones are perfect!


There is absolutely nothing you can do to improve the engine without a dyno and a laptop – although as an aside, I do know a chap who spent his divorce settlement on installing a dyno in the backyard of his newly purchased slum house so there are always exceptions.


Further, not only are 99.999% of riders incapable of knowing whether the suspension on a Panigale is set-up for optimum performance but they lack the knowledge and expertise to change it even if they do understand what is happening.


Contrast this with the Grom. This is such a simple motorcycle that it begs to be played about with. Already, Two Brothers Racing have got a trick exhaust for the bike and you can be certain that the accessory business will be in overdrive providing a plethora of totally unnecessary bits and pieces which will provide endless pleasure for home mechanics.



Now we are getting to the heart and soul of motorcycling. If you want a practical vehicle to carry you in complete safety in every weather condition then you want a car. You don’t get wet in a car; you don’t get cold in a car and, unless something goes seriously wrong, you don’t get so badly hurt in a car accident.


But a car is a transport box which, when doing its job well, isolates the driver from his surroundings. My Nissan X-Trail diesel is as good an example of this as you can find. I get in it, set the air-con, switch on the radio and don’t expect to hear anything from the car for the whole duration of the journey.


The contrast between riding our V-Strom on the road, let alone a race bike, is huge. If I am not involved in the riding experience with our V-Strom I am very disappointed. If I wasn’t even more intimately involved with my bike when racing I would be upside down in the gravel!


There is an anthropomorphic relationship between motorcycles and their riders which is arguably unique in the modern world, where the thrust is to isolate everyone from any involvement with the equipment they use.


Yet the longing to be intimately involved with your bike still exists. By any sensible criteria cruiser motorcycles are horrible contraptions which are grossly overweight and have poor performance, exacerbated by appalling handling and dreadful brakes. Yet, go for a 200 mile ride even in sports bike mad Britain and 50% of the bikes you see will be cruisers in all their myriad forms.


It’s not only the very real fact that you will lose your driver license for riding at 100 mph – that’s when you pop your Yamaha R1 into second gear by the way – but it is also the stress of riding a modern sports bike. Merely not crashing one of the hypersports machines, let alone riding it hard on roads littered with near comatose car drivers talking on cell phones, tractors with no road sense, spilt diesel from trucks and a myriad of law enforcement devices, is an ever increasing achievement and so the attraction of chuffing along on a two-wheeled truck at 50 mph becomes ever more attractive.


I almost choke asking this question but are cruisers now more in tune with motorcycling than sports bikes?


This hearkening back to an earlier, simpler, life is reflected in the plethora of fake classics which is flooding the market. Retro is now cool – especially amongst the “30 somethings”.


There is a certain irony in this situation because wild horses wouldn’t drag the David Beckham lookalikes within a mile of a real classic bike – and with good reason. Groping around inside a classic bike engine, breaking beautifully pedicured finger nails is not nearly as cool as lolling against your 2013 Triumph Bonneville in a pre-faded leather jacket carrying a “Bell” logo.


But I don’t take the wrinkly purist’s view of fake classics. Bringing new motorcyclists into the family should now be our #1 priority. If playing the part of a Steve McQueen lookalike turns you on then why not? The key thing is that you are riding some form of motorcycle. Anyone who rides any motorcycle should be welcomed with open arms.


However, for us wrinklies there is sometimes an amusing distance between the mechanical, not to say electrical, knowledge of younger riders and their motorcycles.


This was recently shown in a quite graphic way on our local TV station. It was Saturday afternoon and one of England’s finest had consumed far too much beer. With the alcohol well in the driving seat of his brain, the young man staggered into his garden and threatened to burn down his, and all his neighbors’ houses with a single gallon of unleaded gas – not even race fuel which would have added a bit of class to the episode.


Now one could argue that the threat was more than hollow since causing a major conflagration with only one can of gas in a garden would be challenging but, regardless, the police were called.


We loved the wide footprint of the Groms road tires that roll on 12-inch cast aluminum wheels.
Fun to ride and $2999, the Honda Grom has generated plenty of buzz. Read more in MotoUSA's 2014 Honda Grom 125 First Ride Review.

With sirens screaming, a bike riding officer arrived on the scene and, being Britain, where there is a less than zero tolerance to threatening behavior, rather than simply walk across to the drooling trainee felon and remove the can of fuel from his hand the officer follows procedure, whips out his taser and takes aim.


At this point a classic riding motorcycle Officer would have taken cognizance of all the facts. Fact one: 25,000 volts produces a jolly good arc across an engine’s spark plug. Fact two: Tasers hit with an initial 50,000 volts. Fact three: a fuel can with an open top emits flammable vapor. Fact four: a $9.99 track suit embroidered with a metallic Chinese dragon across the left breast will in fact generate a very adequate spark when struck with Taser probe. Fact five: even a slobbering drunk with very little brain sobers up extremely quickly when the fuel can he is holding bursts into flames.


Clearly, this proves that everyone under 50 years of age should be made to attend a classic motorcycling course before being granted a license to ride a modern motorcycle – or operate a taser in a public place.

Ducati Panigale 899 Photo Gallery
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Honda Grom Photo Gallery
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Recent Single Track Mind Articles
Single Track Mind: Staying Honest
Tired of seeing the history re-written, our man Melling takes vapid nostalgia to task with an honest evaluation of classic bikes both past and present.
STM: Melling Conquers LEnduro des Sables
Our man Melling recounts his poorly informed decision to enter the 1978 L'Enduro des Sables and the chaos that followed.
STM: Sammy Miller Motorcycle Museum
Our man Melling pays a call to the Sammy Miller Motorcycle Museum one of the world’s great collections of historic motorcycles.
Christmas Gifts for Your Loved One
Ye old Melling once again delivers his annual holiday gift guide for rider, which is certain to bring Yuletide marital bliss… or disaster.
STM: Storm Clouds on the Horizon
Our man Melling continues to ruminate over the future of professional motorcycle racing, and missed PR opportunities from the MotoGP ranks.
The Belgian Classic TT at Gedinne
The Belgian Classic TT at Gedinne provides a sublime road racing experience for those daring enough to take on the 3.14 miles of tight, twisting roads. Our man Melling accepts the challenge...
Single Track Mind: Is Marquez Too Good
Our man Melling wonders aloud if MotoGP wunderkind Marc Marquez is too good for GP racing. Then, ever the pragmatist, he comes up with an elegant solution to keep the Spaniard distracted.
STM: Greatest Motorcycle Racing Achievement
Our man Melling makes the case for the greatest motorcycle racing achievement ever, Jim Redman's triple win at the 1964 Dutch TT. Redman himself then steps in to recount the event.

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AreWeThereYet   October 1, 2013 02:17 PM
ps piggie it's not so much MotoGP or WSBK territory as it is the tire territory. Maximum lean-angle is a simple function of tire-grip, nothing else.
AreWeThereYet   October 1, 2013 02:16 PM
I think that you just enjoy complaining.
Poncho167   October 1, 2013 01:29 PM
The Honda Grom is too much $$$.
dutchie2   October 1, 2013 11:09 AM
Talking about complexity, I forgot my passwd and had to create another account. If you use OpenID in a site, the login can be automated... Now answering AsDumbAsMe. I think some remarks were quite insulting. And NO, I was NOT part of Ronald Reagans team of advisors. I am an engineer. But you are right. I should talk Dutch on this site. So from here I motivate my points in Dutch. Ga je ooit naar de races? Ik ga regelmatig. Als ik kijk naar de toeschouwers, dan zie ik niet veel mensen aantekeningen maken of praten over de technische details. Wel praten ze, en worden ze opgewonden vanwege de race en de inhaalacties. Daarom denk ik dat niet veel toeschouwers echt iets geven dat de maximale hellingshoek van de MotoGP en de WSB respectievelijk 64- en 61 graden is. O ja, MM raakte wel degelijk DP een beetje. Kijk maar op www.racesport.nl, daar staat een foto. Like it so far? I continue. Oh no, I am not AsDumbAsYou.
AsDumbAsMe   October 1, 2013 02:53 AM
"The JSF / F-35. Complexity is problem nr. 1, caused by wanting a Jack Of All Trades. The result: 20 mln lines of C++ code, price explosion, and the plane is still not fully tested." yeah that has a lot to do with a Ducati superbike. I guess that's why they cost $15k and still can be wrecked by a noob. Again, you're just wrong. The main problem with the F-35 is simplicity, not complexity. When you're dealing with the military procurement system as a sole customer as well as a developmental partner with two well-established defense-contractors as the competing suppliers, in a post Cold-War defense environment, this is what happens. When you have more competition and a "buy or walk" choice for the consumer, you don't have these problems. For one, nobody tells you how many lines of code are in the ECU of a contemporary sportbike. Because you don't need to know to make an intelligent purchasing decision. Again this is the Pentagon we're talking about here. Or maybe not. Depending on whether this article is bout the F-35 or the Ducati 899. Seriously let's talk about the ISS, Hubble, the Mars program, whatever actually supports your argument.
AsDumbAsMe   October 1, 2013 02:43 AM
@dutchie, by the way, seriously, you are like a 50-part play in being wrong. Were you on Ronald Reagans' team of economic advisors? Your comments not only make no sense, they actually make anti-sense. How do you, as a native Dutch speaker, get on the Internet and complain about drowning in the complexities of life...in English? What's the difference between a seamless-shift transmission and a standard automatic transmission? Do you know? Then, again, you fail. Either way. What car racing series worth watching does not have cars with some aerodynamic enhancement to reduce lift if not increase downforce? Do you know? Then, again, you fail. Either way. Do you really think that MM just merely "touched" DP's bike and broke the cable to the rear-wheel speed-sensor? You consistently bring up these technical issues as if they actually prove your point when they in fact prove the OPPOSITE. You are aware of these technical issues but you don't understand them. That doesn't make the world "too complex". That makes it beyond your understanding. There's a huge difference. Maybe the answer is for you to stop trying to understand everything about all the tech out there and just try to understand something about some of it...and admit that you just can't be reasonably expected to do more than that?
AsDumbAsMe   October 1, 2013 02:28 AM
The best thing about being a Luddite is the total conviction that you are absolutely right when you say that nobody cares, at least no one important cares, at least, nobody who really matters cares, at least...well, you get the idea. Whatever you say must be true because no one who disagrees with you really counts. Because you say so. And there aren't that many of them anyway. And surely none of them would be among the 100,000 people who attend a MotoGP race. Or follow it on the Internet. Look, plain and simple. You think that a Ducati 899 is too complex? That's you'd get lost in all the settings? That the Grom is the epitome of motocycle artistry? Just turn the Ducati on, get on it, start it and ride it. You can do that, you know. Just like you can with the Grom. And then maybe one day say 5 years from now when you've put 50k on it you can use one of the other buttons besides the horn and the turn-signals. Likewise if you think that MotoGP isn't interesting because of the advanced technology and performance of the bikes, then just go sit by your local freeway on-ramp and watch the traffic. You'll be happily entertained. Forget about all the advanced technology and all the lines of code running the cars and bikes that you are watching. Just watch their gleaming bodies pass you by. Don't be one of those people who constantly talk in detail about how life has gotten to be too complex to for any of us to enjoy much less understand. Just don't worry about it and enjoy the simple things in life, that are all around us in abundance. Start by walking away from your computer, your cellphone, whatever it is that you use to get on the Internet and complain about how there's too much technology now.
dutchie   September 30, 2013 12:58 AM
@Piglet2010, yesterday at Argaon it was 61deg. But as I said before, who really cares? Motorbike riding is completely different from driving a car. Yet the manufacturors would like to build in an airco if it would fit on a bike. As Frank Melling mentioned: Nobody is really capable of enhancing a bike like this. It's too f**king complex. And please don't say we all need the technology. If you look at the Formula 1, the main ingrediënt for more spectacle is not a technical feature. It's a cheap ass fender placed on the back of the car that is able to flip and so increasing / reducing drag. It's got nothing to do with technology. Going back to MotoGP, the million dollar gearbox of Honda is only a benefit for, indeed, Honda. But to compete you have to have a gearbox like that. Is this gearbox ever placed in a production bike? Why? Do we need one? Take a look at what happened yesterday on Aragon. MM touched DP and broke a sensor. In that same turn, DP opened the throttle and it caused a highsider. Euhh traction control? Yesterday I also watched dirt speedway. Single engine, no brake. The formula is very, very old. And it still works. Lots of spectacle. And take a look at the HD XR1200 series. But the problem with (Dorna and national) motorcycle racing is that it's too complex. Caused by a lack of rules. Next year you can lease, not buy, a "production" Honda in the MotoGP. Don't we have enough Honda? And the price... wait... 1 mln a year. Without the expensive gearbox of course. (please don't correct me with exact numbers, it's about the picture, which IMO is wrong).
jokermtb   September 29, 2013 11:38 AM
Also, I can't remember where I read it, but someone mentioned that they find it incredible, that engineers can design the most intricate engines/chassis, yet somehow, designing a truly comfortable and functional seat is beyond the scope of engineering ability.....
jokermtb   September 29, 2013 11:35 AM
This article has me thinking "what will become of all these electronic riding aid/computer throttle/computer suspension/etc. motorbikes in 10, or 20 years?" Really - the exponential increase in complexity is really something that you wonder if we really need. The manufacturers tell us we need it, for it's on all their new wunderbikes. Just think of all the parts that are on a motorcycle, and throw in a load of computer/electrical riding aids into the mix, and it's really a small miracle that the things even work. Care to even entertain the idea of diving deep into the guts of a Honda Goldwing (got a spare week of time to remove all the body panels?) My Vstrom is about as complicated as I'd like to go - good thing I don't have the even more complicated dual-plug version!
Piglet2010   September 29, 2013 11:26 AM
@ dutchie - A MotoGP bike has a maximum lean angle of around 64°; 61° is more WSBK territory.
dutchie   September 29, 2013 07:14 AM
Complexity is killing I am a Dutchman and English is not my main language. Sorry in advance for any language / spelling errors. Why is complexity killing? Because you can drown into it. It takes away the attention of the main problem (which by itself is hard enough to solve). And it's a mindset, teached on every university. This means that every (most) professional has this mindset. That's also why it's so hard to get rid of. I think the main reason for the financial crisis is complexity, caused by lack of legislation. Greed is second. The JSF / F-35. Complexity is problem nr. 1, caused by wanting a Jack Of All Trades. The result: 20 mln lines of C++ code, price explosion, and the plane is still not fully tested. Take a look at this link [https://medium.com/war-is-boring/5c95d45f86a5] “What you don’t do is hold up complexity as a desirable attribute” --Air Force Lt. Col. Dan Ward Motorcyle racing. The history of motorcycle racing. After WW2, the motorbike is powered with a 500cc single 4-stroke engine. Nowdays the MotoGP bike is powered with a 4 cylinder 1000cc 4-stroke engine, with massive electronics. Who cares that the MotoGP bike has a lean angle of 61deg? Apart from the manufacturers and some geek, nobody. We want to see a race, a battle! Who cares that these bike go 350km/h? Who cares about the data logging? I never met a spectator who was excited about the datalogging capabilities of Rossi's bike. But as a manufacturer you have to if you want to win a race. I counted the number of Honda engineers surrounding Marc Marqez alone in the Assen race. 10, including a Bridgestone guy. 5 of them taking notes. None of them working on a bike. I think that's the main reason that the first 7 bikes on the starting grid are from Honda and Yamaha. How can we get diversity back to the MotoGP? The answer is very simple. Get rid of complexity.
motousa_adam   September 28, 2013 03:20 PM
Cool article -- and no mention of Cal Crutchlow !!! hahaha
WhatNext   September 27, 2013 07:24 PM
eh. When he talks about MotoGP he demonstrates that he's just irrational. When he talks about contemporary motorcycling he demonstrates that he's just an irrational Luddite. Luckily for him, there are a lot of irrational Luddites out there. Luckily for most manufacturers, they can dumb-down their cutting-edge products to meet both the degree of technical sophistication and the spending-power of just about any market. There's a supplier for anything if there's real money to be made selling it, and even without money to be made there will still be suppliers because there will always be suppliers who dream of running their own business making products that won't sell. So it really doesn't matter. 50 years ago they talked this way about horses. Now they talk this way about bikes. C'est la vie.
kz1000st   September 27, 2013 05:27 PM
I totally agree. Bikes that do 185 mph are really incredible, but not for me. I had the 600 pound superbike for years. It was fun, loved every minute but now I get my kicks on smaller rides. The thrill is still there and I'm loving every minute. The Grom will be the bike that creates fabulous riding adventure stories. A cross-country story will most likely arrive very soon.
antbrown   September 27, 2013 11:09 AM
Excellent article. I've be dismayed at the rising cost of motorcycles the last few years and Euro bikes are leading the charge with more and more electronics. Who has the money for all of this or the skill to ride bikes with 160+ HP?
Don't get me wrong, they're cool to look at and all the tech is fun to see but the cost of these bikes are getting out of control.
I live in Canada and a fully loaded Panigale costs CDN$33,000. I don't think I've ever seen one on the road. People are spending that much on the family car. It's insane in my opinion.
I'd like to see the manufacturers put as much effort into ergonomics as they are into the HP and electronic wars.
Every bike should have some easy method to adjust the handlebars, footpegs, seat, windscreen. Something that a rider can do without going into the stealership.
I bet the lack of adjustability is one of the main reasons why riders don't like a bike even if they don't realize it. If you can't ride for more than an hour without pain then chances are you won't like the bike even if it's pretty like a Panigale.
Would most people buy a car that didn't have adjustable seats?
Comfort would be way more important than eight levels of traction control for bike riding enjoyment.
mchale2020   September 27, 2013 08:28 AM
I bought a like new 2009 R1 earlier this year and about four months later I got into riding on the dirt through a KX100. I sold the KX and bought a YZ250F once I cut my teeth on motocross bikes. All told, I've probably spent more time this year riding off road than I have on-road whilst my R1 remains dormant. I kind of get this feeling riding off road is a return to what makes bikes so great in the first place, bar a private track day. The weight and power of a modern sports bike conceals the joys of riding on public roads with its complexity and the attraction it garners from the police, so just short of landing yourself in the local newspaper's obituary or recent arrests, they are quite dull to ride 95% of the time and mentally exhausting. Conversely, a dirt bike makes a fraction of the power and weighs roughly half of a litre bike. You can ride out to a grass lot and become acquintanted with just how physical it is to ride a bike in anger with speeds never reaching 50 mph and void of expensive painted fairings and speeding tickets to worry with. Also, the drama and possible consequences of being on the verge of losing control of a dirt bike is toned down exponetially as opposed to an open class sports bike, especially in consideration of riding on public roads. Now, my next goal is participating in a local flat track community, and as far as American motorcycling is concerned, that is the epitome of going back to its origins. It's also a shame motard bikes don't get as much exposure as motocross bikes and sport bikes...
curley   September 27, 2013 07:36 AM
Fun vs Technology, the proof in the pudding is how it tastes...with the economy still upside down in the MC world, it seems the marketing types have finally figured it out. Less is more (fun) and the only place you can (really) use the dyno/laptop bike is at a track day. Some of the dyno/laptop technology is filtering down to the fun bikes (suspension, tires, and brakes) which is great, but I'm afraid the governments of the world will stop any aftermarket industry a major resurgence or any new version of a DT-1. For you under 30 types find a fun and affordable bike (like the new Yamaha triple) and go riding!
Scorch   September 27, 2013 07:06 AM
Finally! Yes, there is a place for high end exotic bikes that almost none of will see or can afford, but the main problem is the disproportionate amount of coverage the moto-press gives them. Let's get back to regular motorcycles that allow a rider to make a 200 mile cruise in comfort and can handle nicely--that means standards, not crotch rockets or hippobikes.
WilCon   September 27, 2013 03:52 AM
Awesome. I do think bikes are becoming too much. I recently bought a Tiger Explorer, 135HP, electronic everything. I enjoy it immensely, I get on and ride anywhere I want. This year everything is coming with 150HP, requires premium fuel, and costs even more. Part of me wants to buy a simple Suzuki DR650 and ride into the middle of nowhere.
guambra2001   September 26, 2013 10:24 PM
Couldn't have said it better myself. I get a lot of flack for riding a "beginners" bike, ninja 300, during my meets. But what they don't realize is that I've had expirience at the track, long distance touring, canyon carving, off road, and even touring, and while not perfect the 300 meets my needs and excels at more than a few. I also own an S1000RR and while it's a marvelous machine I will almost always take the ninja 300 out before the 1000 simply because it's much more fun (and cheaper). All I have to say is think about your type of riding and make an educated decisions based on that.