Bikes I’ve Owned and Loved (a lot or a little): 1992 Yamaha TDM 850

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94trip2The TDM and I had a long and profitable love affair. The above picture is of my bike on the way back from Steamboat Springs, CO. Sorry the clarity is so mediocre. This photo shows every accessory I had on the bike.

I bought my first TDM in March of 1994, in Denver, Colorado. I first rode a TDM during a Yamaha promotional tour, also in Colorado, in 1992. It was love at first sight and lust after that first ride. The TDM’s cost about $9,000 out the door, in 1992. That was so far out of my price range that it might as well been a custom bike. But by 1994, Yamaha dealers were blowing out TDM’s (along with a couple of other badly marketed flops) for as little as $4,000, new with full warranty. I bought mine, used with about 3,000 miles, at the beginning of the price reduction cycle for $4,200 with a set of Kerker pipes and a Corbin seat. It seemed like a good deal at the time, but the collapse of the TDM’s dealer value put a bit of bite into my usual buyer’s-remorse.

stdmI put fifty-some thousand miles on that bike in six years. Most of those miles came in the first two years. I did two extended trips on the TDM. Obviously, my days of using motorcycles as primary transportation were coming to an end. After moving to Minnesota, the “adventure touring” aspect of the TDM’s design became less a part of my motorcycling activity. Between becoming a grandfather and the long Minnesota winters, most of my motorcycling was limited to commuting to work and short weekend morning trips into the country-side.

I bought my second TDM in the spring of 1999. It had less than 8,000 miles and I’d hoped to start over with a less “seasoned” TDM. The problem is that this bike had been whipped long and put up wet. It had been treated with considerably less than loving care and, by the time I’d gone through the bike fixing abuse and neglect, I was less confident of this bike than I was of my original TDM. I sold it in early spring, 2000, and had planned to stay with my original bike . . . until the SV distracted me. I sold my original TDM, yesterday (as of this writing, June 4, 2000).

Weird tale of karma. The guy who bought my old bike managed to dump it in the road in front of my house. He bought it, anyway, which saved us both a lot of hassle. The next day, I dumped my new SV650 on a turn that I’ve made a few dozen times, with no effort or stress. I think I broke my foot in that wreak, which makes me wonder what happened when the TDM went away. Did I catch that guy’s karma or did mine infect us both when I let my old, dependable, bike go away? A ghost in the machine?

The “TDM List’s Website” (the reference above the picture) was a great resource for prospective TDM users. They’ve hung on to an unabbreviated article I wrote (Steamboat Springs 1997) for Minnesota Motorcycle Monthly (the short version), practically, since I wrote it. The list provided me with technical information, advice on repairs and parts, and friends. It must be one of the oldest motorcycling on-line groups around. The bike hasn’t been imported into the US since 1993, but these guys keep the memory of Yamaha’s great bike as alive as if Yamaha still thought Americans rode motorcycles for fun and practical transportation.

The TDM is a weird combination of a sport bike and a big bore dual-purpose motorcycle.  The bike has a much longer than typical suspension travel, both front and rear, a tall upright seating position, extremely stable handling, and a very narrow profile.  I rode my TDM down one of the sections of a Colorado regional observed trials and managed to get it between the rocks and trees with about as much trouble as some of the intermediate riders had with their trials bikes. That was one of my proudest moments on a motorcycle. The TDM gets fair mileage, about 46-50 mpg, and with it’s big tank you can get very close to 300 miles per tank on a long, moderate speed ride. I think I made a terrible mistake selling my TDM.

Post-Mortem: Seven years later, I’m still sorry I sold my TDM. I own a 2004 Suzuki V-Strom DL650 now. The V-Strom is close to the TDM, but it is not a TDM. The Yamaha is still the best street bike I’ve ever owned. A friend recently bought a 1992 TDM and, after considerable wrangling with the carburetion due to the bike’s having suffered improper long-term storage, is demonstrating what a great motorcycle the bike is/was. I’m jealous. The TDM is more fun to ride than the V-Strom. It’s quicker, skinnier, has a better suspension, a lower seat height, more ground clearance, is no harder to service, and is more stable on dirt roads.

The TDM had a reputation for being “weird looking.” Today, dozens of motorcycles from Japan to Europe are imitating the look of the TDM. An extreme example of this is the 2008 Benelli Tre K which is an absolutely knockoff of the TDM’s styling. Goes to show, what’s cool now was “weird” yesterday.

TDM Modifications and Accessories

Five-Star Centerstand
One of the dumbest things that’s happened to motorcycles in the last decade is the disappearance of centerstands. The Five-Star is/was made in Germany. Apparently, Europeans aren’t any more interested in centerstands than Americans. Five-Star quit making this part in the late 90’s and people have been digging for a substitute ever since. Some folks thought it lowered the ground clearance too much, especially on peg-dragging turns. I didn’t ever have a problem with that, but I’m not that adventurous, either. My experience with a pair of these stands was good enough that I wouldn’t be anywhere without one.

ClearShield Windshield
I bought the very first one of these ever built. I wrote it up in an article I did for Rider Magazine and I thought it did a good job for what it was intended. It provides decent weather protection from the neck down. However, it doesn’t decrease the wind noise for the rider.

Kerker Exhaust System
This came with my first TDM. The pipes are light and noisy as hell. I, eventually, sold them and went back to stock. I got tired of the evil looks I was getting from my neighbors.

Supertrapp Exhaust System
This came with the second TDM I owned. The Supertrapps were a lot less irritating than the Kerkers and equally light. For what that’s worth. Still, I’d rather have the stock pipes and be able to ride into my driveway with the motor on, late at night. I seriously doubt that any aftermarket company can improve a modern Japanese motorcycle manufacturer’s performance. But the weight is a big deal, for racers. Either the Kerkers or Supertrapps probably weigh a fifth of the stock pipes.

Carburetor Modifications
I did both the shim correction and the Factory carb kit to the two TDM’s I owned. Unfortunately, neither of the bikes were very similar when the job was done, so I can’t give you a report of which was the best setup. The TDM is a miserably difficult bike to work on, in some ways. The fairing, side covers, tank, and aircleaner have to come off to get to the carbs. I wasted most of a winter doing the Factory setup on my second TDM and I’m not convinced I saw any improvement. The shim correction, on the other hand, is well worth doing. Replace the emulsion tubes while you’re in there and you’ll see an improvement in mileage and low end performance.

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Bikes I’ve Owned and Loved (a lot or a little): 1986 Yamaha TY350 Trials

ty350For no good reason, I’d barely used this bike when I gave it up. I bought it in Colorado, when I thought I might take advantage of the nearby Ramparts Motorcycle Park. I didn’t. I moved it to Minnesota, where I built a small trials course in our yard. I’d probably used the bike a total of 20 hours in the six years I’ve owned it. I sold it in 1998, after wreaking a knee in my backyard (doing yard work, not riding). In retrospect, this was another bike that I wish I’d have hung on to a while longer. At the time, I was told I wouldn’t recover from the knee injury and would, probably, end up with a plastic knee. With careful exercise and Glucosamine, I discovered there was an alternative. Almost ten years later, my knees are fine; better than they were when I was 30, in fact. Now, I wish I had a trials bike.

If I’d have had a bike like the TY350 when I was young and actively riding trials, I’d have loved the sport much more. Since I had the RL250 at that time, I learned to love watching trials but sort of lost the drive to do it myself. After the knee injury, I let the TY sit in the garage, untouched for three years and, on a half dozen kicks, it fired up and ran like someone has been taking care of it all along. I bought a new rear fender and a pair of half-decent air filter elements, which brought all of the TY’s pieces up to decent standards. When I sold it, the bike looked great, ran strong, and started on the 3rd kick on a 35F day, once again after being left unattended for months.

Its old fashioned drum brakes aren’t up to doing modern trials tricks, but they worked well enough for a plugger like me. The TY350 seems to be indestructible, based on the abuse I’d given it, something I’m definitely not. I needed a time machine and 25 fewer years on my joints. The engine is obsolete, a throwback to the slow rev’ing, high torque days of trials engine design. The bike is way over-weight, by modern standards. The engine didn’t rev instantly, launching the bike up a vertical incline like a wheeled cougar, but I could putt up my backyard pile of rocks with confidence. The brakes weren’t 1-finger tight, but I could control the TY350 on a downhill slide into a creek bed.

The suspension is equally backwards. However, all of the parts worked together pretty well. I might never be able to hop a trials bike, but I can get over a 4′ tall log. With all that, I might have been a half-decent novice rider on the TY if I’d have known I’d be getting my knees back.

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Bikes I’ve Owned and Loved (a lot or a little): 1983 Yamaha XTZ550 Vision

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vision83Like the ’82, this Vision was a great bike. For some reason, the ’83 Vision didn’t sell at all in CA until 1985. Once they left the showroom floors, you couldn’t find one, anywhere. I watched for an ’83 right up till I found one in 1988. I bought the bike, rode it for my last three years in CA and took it with me to Colorado.

The ’83 was an especially terrific Colorado touring bike, the fairing’s heating system added about two months to my riding season in that state. While friends were hiding in their cages, I rode for all but about two months of the first two years I was in Colorado. The fairing provided great coverage, some storage, and the heating vents worked so well that I can’t figure out why more bikes don’t do it. The Vision was way ahead of its time. Too much vision?

The only downside to the bike was that the added weight of the fairing seemed to overwhelm the brakes, slightly. The ’82 Vision had strong, positive feeling front brakes. The ’83 brakes were slightly mushy and not nearly as powerful. Plus, the front end tended to sag under rough road riding. Still, it was a decent motorcycle and it served me well for more than 50,000 miles.

The Corbin seat (in the picture) was a custom design that I drew up on CAD and shipped to Corbin, along with the stock seat frame). It worked pretty well, but I got carried away with my attempt to lower the seat height and the Corbin slightly cramped the riding position with no advantage. For whatever that’s worth, it was a fairly cool looking seat and really comfortable for a passenger.

The Vision was so versatile that I only took my XT350 out of the Colorado garage one time, and ended up selling that bike a couple of months later. If the TDM hadn’t come along, I might still be riding the ’83 Vision. I can’t say enough about what a great bike this was.

I put about 50,000 miles on the ’83 before selling it to a guy who came all the way to Colorado from Southern California (in the winter) to pick it up. It was still in great shape and ran flawlessly. The guy didn’t even want to test ride the Vision. I started it for him and we loaded it into his truck and away he went. I took this picture a couple of days before it left my life. I didn’t want it to escape my memory the way the CX500 and others had. The new owner seemed more interested in the stock seat I’d kept in like-new condition, so maybe he was more of a collector than a rider or could see that the Corbin had some design problems.

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Why I Don’t Care What Financial Analysists Say

First, to be upfront and honest with you, my youngest daughter has been some kind of financial analysist for most of her career. She absolutely resents my belief that only rich people give advice worth listening to. Because her unemployed husband spends money faster than the Denver Mint can print it she will probably never have enough money to fit my model. Second, I’ve blown off the jabbering of most of that class of employable talking head beause their use of the English language is too imprecise for me to take them seriously. A couple of years before the last crash (they will be coming a lot quicker in the near future until we stay crashed) those nitwits often said, “Home ownership is at an all time high.” The only person I’d known who actually owned his home was my father. The rest of us just rent from banks instead of landlords.

s1.reutersmedia.netSo, now those geniuses are predicting a bad year for Hardly, “Harley-Davidson officials worry economic and political uncertainty globally lowers spending for their products. Plus, HD’s most ardent fans may be aging; young riders may not replace the older fans.” “May be aging?” Now shit, Sherlock. What planet do you yokels squat on? Hardly’s fans are not just aging, they are petrifying. Buying a Harley is the kind of thing a guy puts on his bucket list when the bucket is too fucked up to hold water, eggs, or sandwiches. Hardly and Indian are betting the farm on the oldest segment of an already ancient demographic. For years, the MIC has been pretending the average age of motorcyclists is holding steady at something between 48 and 60, depending on the study and the state and who the results benefit. If my own observations amount to anything, I’d bet the average new motorcycle buyer is closer to 60 than 40 and had a crap load of money (at least $85k annually, according to a couple of recent surveys).

For example, NHTSA says that the average age of motorcycle riders killed in crashes was 42 in 2014. Since you’d expect a good number of motorcycle deaths to be the clueless “youth death squad,” that means a boat load of that age offset must be coming from the way-over-50 crowd. That’s one way to thin the herd. From the experience of several hundred beginning motorcycle classes, I’ve often suspected that Hardly was a secret Republican plot to eliminate a lot of Social Security costs. Admit it, that’s not much different from the Republican healthcare plan, “Just die, will you?”

082415bottomOne thing I have always believed about predictions of all sorts is that nobody knows anything. I have given up trying to figure out what kind of idiot choices and fads humans will follow off of a cliff next and I wouldn’t put my money on shorting Harley Davidson. I wouldn’t buy a Harley, either.

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Bikes I’ve Owned and Loved (a lot or a little): 1986 Yamaha XT350 Enduro

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1986-Yamaha-XT350-White-Red-5173-0Again, a bike for which I’ve had to steal a picture. This pic is for a 2000 XT, which is not even a little bit different than the 1986. Just replace, in your mind, the blue bits with red and you’ll be looking at the ’86 XT.

I owned my XT for 6 years and loved it for most of that. The TDM and my old age finally eliminated my need for the bike and it sold for what I’d paid for it. XT’s don’t show up, often, for sale because they’re such terrific bikes. In California, I watched for one for two years, when I found it I got into a bidding war with three guys who hadn’t even been out to see the bike yet. I was the winner because I was there with cash. When I sold mine, I was on the other end of the same situation in Colorado.

I used mine, mostly, for commuting in Southern California, along PCH between Costa Mesa and Long Beach. Because California drivers are practically talentless and most are mental cases, I wanted a bike that could jump off-road without hesitation. The XT suspension could take a curb as well as most bikes can roll over smooth highway. I can’t guess how many times I left the road and ran for the safety of someone’s front yard, while commuting to school in Long Beach. I watched as two to a dozen cars, then, piled into each other, burying the spot I’d vacated a few moments earlier. Once, I decided the air must be too thin for the average Californian’s pollution-damaged brain and I rode nearly five miles on the sidewalk paralleling PCH. The place is a nutbin, but the XT350 was my way to escape joining the wacko bloodbath.

The other great advantage was in parking. CSULB would let me park my XT by the bicycle racks. I could practically ride up to my classes and step off the bike into my classroom.

Being a lazy bonehead, I allowed a little tuning to get between me and using the XT regularly in Colorado. Moving the bike, which was perfectly tuned in California, to Denver resulted in major jetting problems. The XT always ran way too rich in Colorado and a trip to Ramparts highlighted how far away from prime the tuning was. I had a miserable weekend trying to keep the 350 running in the 8,000 foot altitude of the motorcycle park. I couldn’t even keep the other guys in sight, while I fought stalling, loading-up, and the other symptoms of a super-rich fuel-air mixture. Locally, I got some terrible jetting advice from the Yamaha Aurora shop and the twin carburetor low/high rev system defeated me. Out of disgust (mostly with myself), I quit trying to figure out the bike and sold it. The moment my buyer loaded the XT on to his truck, I knew I’d made a mistake. 

I’ve been looking for a replacement, even an exact replacement, for the last 15 years and nobody appears to be getting rid of their XT’s.  I wish I’d have never sold the one I had. 

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The Dominoes Are Falling?

Erik-EBR-1900RXOnly a short while after Polaris announced the Victory Motorcycles are goners, Eric Buell Racing gives up, again. In their January 28 press release, the company said, “The company, which is the sequel to Buell Motorcycle Co. that Harley-Davidson Inc. owned for more than a decade before dropping the brand in 2009, says it will begin a wind down of production operations next week.” And “This difficult decision was based primarily on EBR facing significant headwinds with signing new dealers, which is key to sales and growth for a new company. In addition, EBR has had limited production in 2016 and 2017 that was under goal. The combination of slow sales and industry announcements of other major OEM brands closing or cutting production only magnified the challenges faced by EBR.”

Well, nuts. That is about it for US production of anything resembling a world class competition motorcycle.

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Losing the Travel Thing

All my life, “getting away” has been a theme. I grew up in western Kansas and anyone with any sense at all wants to escape that hell hole as fast as possible. I got started with a lifetime of “camping” there when I snuck out Saturday nights with a canteen and a blanket or a Cub Scout’s sleeping bag to hide in the basement ruins of a Catholic college that had been wiped out by a tornado. If I made it out unseen, I could get out of 2-4 hours of Methodist sermons and Midwestern religious hymn-howling. My motivation for making my great escape was pretty great and getting away has been a theme of my life since.

For most of my adult life, my “career” was a collection of low-to-moderate income, high-pressure repair or engineering jobs with a fair amount of middle and upper management thrown in to extract any fun my job might have provided. Managing most people is about as entertaining as herding chickens and managing management is even more painful and unrewarding. Add to that a house full of girls and women, two daughters and a wife, and I regularly needed to “get away.” For a couple of decades my getaways were off-road motorcycle racing and backpacking into remote areas.

CaliforniaMoveFor the move to California in 1983, running from the Reagan recession that pretty much wiped out non-military/industrial jobs in the Midwest, I bought my first street bike since I “borrowed” my brother’s Harley Sprint in 1963 and stripped it down for flattracking. The trip to California in late March of that spring was my first adventure tour, since I rode through 400 miles of sleet, snow, and ice storms to get to southwestern Texas where the winter weather finally let up. It was an adventure, for sure. I probably shouldn’t have survived that trip, since I knew practically nothing about safely riding a motorcycle on pavement. My CX500 was poorly setup, marginally ridden, and completely inappropriate for the places I forced it to go. That ride and that motorcycle started a whole chain of events in my motorcycle life, though. I didn’t really think of myself as a “motorcyclist” before that first 2,000+ mile long late-winter/early-spring slog.

At least 250,000 miles later, I’m beginning to lose that identity. This past summer, I rode my V-Strom to Colorado and back. For the first time in all of the years I’ve been touring, I did absolutely no prep work on the bike before I left. I didn’t even do a needed oil change. I have no excuse. I was looking forward to the trip, I think. I knew how long the trip would be. I’d done a fair amount of work on the bike the previous year and, then, barely rode it at all. So, I had some false sense of security that somewhere, sometime I’d already done the prep, but I knew better. I just didn’t come up with the motivation to crawl around the bike doing the things that needed doing. The end result was a fairly high-tension trip with the only real fun moments coming off of the bike when I was hanging out with a friend at various Colorado hot springs.

There was no “escape” in that trip. I had lots of work to do at home, none of which I dreaded or needed escape from. I’ve been everywhere I went on that ride and there was almost no adventure to the trip, except for the tire failure in Nebraska and that wasn’t particularly entertaining. I even avoided a short dirt road section in Colorado, opting for pavement to preserve my too-many-miles chain and sprockets, while my friend took the high and unpaved road. I skipped Pike’s Peak on the way back, something I never imagined I’d do. Other than doing long miles on the interstates, my ride to and from Colorado was totally atypical for me. It didn’t really qualify as an adventure and I didn’t at any time feel obligated to turn it into one. Honestly, most of the time I just looked forward to it being over and being back home working on my projects.

I suppose Trump should be inspiring some motivation to get away, but even he and his band of merry Brownshirts are not doing it for me. For the last three years, I have been talking to a company that specializes in South American motorcycle tours.I sort of had Peru on my bucket list, but even that just seems like more hassle than fun these days. I think might have lost the travel thing.

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