Monthly Archives: October 2016

The 2003 Honda Nighthawk 750 Is The Greatest Motorcycle Ever Made And Yes, I Will Fight You About It

I have done it. I descended into the underworld, I crawled through a river of shit, I strangled a storm and defied the gods themselves, but I have done it: I have purchased a motorcycle.

The greatest motorcycle ever made. The most beautiful and relentless steed imaginable. The 2003 Honda Nighthawk 750.

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“What?” You sputter. “He’s talking about the Nighthawk? The Toyota Camry of motorcycles? The motorcycle whose most notable trait is that it is, indeed, a motorcycle? If you plotted every motorcycle on a graph and found the mean, it would be the Nighthawk — he’s talking about that bike?”

Yes, I say to you. Yes! If you’ve followed my struggle in finding the right bike, I know how this must seem: Like I went to a Chinese restaurant, carefully pondered all of the exotic options and house specialties, and then proudly declared “I’ll have the cheeseburger!”

But let me tell you something about the Nighthawk:

It does not let you down.

Parents, careers, life, humanity, escalators — all of these things will let you down. The Nighthawk is not one of them.

The Nighthawk does not have awe-inspiring power. But it does have solid horsepower, sufficient torque, and smooth, even delivery. It does not have balletic handling. But it ducks into corners with ease and keeps nice, steady lines. It doesn’t devour highway miles while wrapping you in a blissful cocoon of comfort. But it does handle sustained highway travel just fine, and it keeps you in a nice, neutral position. Brakes? Boy howdy, does it have them. It has two, actually. Even comes with calipers.

It doesn’t still your heart to look at the Nighthawk; the bike doesn’t catch the lustful gazes of other motorcyclists. Tell you people you ride a Nighthawk and you’ll get the ‘all right’ face: Inner eyebrows raised, lips set and turned down as if to say ‘huh. Good move.’ Not ‘great move.’ No exclamation point. Don’t get crazy.

It is the same face you’d get if, come December, your friends asked you to go Christmas shopping and you said “oh, I already got it done.”

Huh. All right. Good move.

Here’s why the Nighthawk excites me: They made the exact same bike, damn near unchanged, for twelve straight years. Reliability and ease of maintenance are off the charts, and parts are so ubiquitous that they’re practically free. That weird metal thing you found in the crawlspace, now sitting in your miscellaneous drawer? It’s a Nighthawk sprocket. You’ve tripped over a Nighthawk engine cover while running for your bus, you just didn’t know it. Look down right now. No, move your foot: You’re standing on a Nighthawk shim.

I can always find parts for this bike without breaking the bank, and that means I can make it look or perform however I want. I’m excited about that prospect: That was my favorite part about owning the 2012 Triumph Bonneville: Ripping their lovely creation to pieces and building my own hideous monster. Except with the Bonneville, doing so cost me a small fortune. With the Nighthawk, I can just go digging through my neighbor’s recycling and find all the parts I need.

And yet, for all that excitement about customization, I have no plans to change the bike in the immediate future. The one I bought came with a small smoke flyscreen and luggage rack. Those, I have sensibly installed. And that’s it.

Maybe someday I’ll get jaded and turn to perversion like a middle-aged couple trying to save their marriage —  I’ll strip her naked in public; plug all sorts of strange parts into her; make her dress up like a flat tracker and call me Bullitt — but for right now, I’m convinced she’s just fine the way she is. And I’ll tell you why:

We have been through hell together.

I picked the Nighthawk up in Seattle, a three hour drive from Portland. I carefully checked all the weather reports, right up until the morning I left. Clear and oddly sunny, statewide. Possibility of a light shower in the evening, lasting no more than an hour. That’s fine: I should be home long before then, anyway.

I am now a fair weather rider. I live in the Pacific Northwest. I have pretended at the rain game, and you know what? It’s a terrible game, and I just plain don’t wanna. I have sold all of my waterproof gear. I don’t even own cold weather stuff anymore. If it’s below sixty and wet, I put on my helmet and ride my office chair around the kitchen making engine noises. After double and triple checking the weather maps, I grabbed my ventilated leather jacket and gloves, my air-mesh kevlar long johns (worn with knee and shin guards under a normal pair of jeans), my summer riding shoes, and my helmet, complete with tinted visor. Gotta be prepared for that sun!

The Seattle sky was clear when I arrived. I picked up the Nighthawk and went to exit the guy’s underground parking garage, only to find that Thor’s girlfriend had apparently just broken up with him, and he was now drunkenly taking it out on the entire state of Washington. Catastrophic downpour.

I checked the weather again. That morning it said: “Whoa, weirdly sunny! Can you believe it?” Now, it said: “OH FUCK BUILD AN ARK YOU GATHER CHICKENS I’LL GET SOME SQUIRRELS SANDRA YOU’RE ON OSTRICH DUTY-”

No choice for it, though. I loaded up the weather page on my phone and spat on the screen a few times, just for spite, then left. I immediately hit bumper to bumper traffic on the highway that lasted for a solid hour. Remember: My gear isn’t waterproof — in fact, it’s downright thirsty. If I had been miraculously teleported to Senegal ten minutes into my ride, the locals would’ve hailed me as a god and drank from my leather jacket until they died from water intoxication.

Two hours in, I stopped at a Shari’s to try to warm up for a few minutes: I stripped down in a bathroom stall and wrung my clothes out into the toilet. I tipped my shoes and poured out a full cup of gray, standing water. From the sound alone, the guy next to me must have presumed I was dying from dysentery, or had foolishly ordered the seafood stew.

Back on the highway. I use the term loosely. I-5 is the bad side of town where cars don’t go. That’s trucker territory, you fool: They cut sedans in the face just for kicks over there. And motorcycles? Jesus. That’s like unicycling into Mosul wearing nothing but a stars-and-stripes thong.

Every truck that passed me kicked up a fun-size tsunami. Ever stood at a crosswalk and been splashed by a car driving through a puddle? That car was going 25, and it had four wheels. The trucks were doing 90 and had eighteen god damn wheels, each of which hated me more than the last.

Wait, why was I letting them pass me? Why didn’t I just speed up? Because I was already surfing unsteadily on the tiny rivers formed by Washington’s terrible highways — hydroplaning in a mad and unending skid, wiping the water from my stupidly tinted visor with gloves so waterlogged that they squirted jets out the vent-holes whenever I made a fist. I was doing 70 — the speed limit — and that was already insane. Truckers have training, experience, large, capable, dry vehicles, a place to be, and enough speed in their system to down a rhino. They can do 90 in those conditions. I can’t.

The three hour drive took six of the most uncomfortable hours of my life. I went crazy partway through. It was so bad it became funny. I started singing, loudly and off-key, just to hear something else besides my own teeth chattering.

“EVEN RODE MY MOTORCYCLE IN THE RAIN!” I scream, pointing at the gawking family in the station wagon. “AND YOU TOLD ME NOT TO DRIVE, BUT I MADE IT HOME ALIVE. SO YOU SAID THAT ONLY PROVES THAT I’M INSANE. YOU MAY BE RIGHT. I MAY BE CRAZY. BUT I JUST MAY BE THE LUUUUNATIC YOU’RE LOOKING FOR-”

A monumental gout of water from a forty ton land-train piloted by a man named Big Bobby who hasn’t slept in six days, and whose blood is equal parts truck stop crank and Slim Jims, sends me wobbling.

I laugh, smear the black water around my visor until I clear a tiny portal of visibility, and start up again.

“WELL I BEEN THROUGH THE DESERT ON A HORSE WITH NO NAME IT FELT GOOD TO GET OUT OF THE RAIN IN THE DESERT-”

When I finally made it home, every muscle in my body was cramped from the cold. Every piece of gear was sealed to my skin like a licked envelope. I weighed three times more than I had, when I first set off. My wife kindly skinned the gear off of me, I sat in the hottest shower possible — knob cranked left until it hit stop — and drank bourbon out of a wine glass. Careful not to let the shower water get in it. I take my bourbon neat.

And the Nighthawk got me through that. It never sputtered, surged, or stalled. It gave me all the power I wanted, whenever I wanted it. It started up every time, no matter how much I secretly prayed it wouldn’t, so I’d have an excuse to get a motel room. It stayed stable in turns, no highway death wobbles — even on the Washington stretch of I-5, which could death wobble an elephant on a clear day — and altogether performed like Morgan Freeman in a Michael Bay movie: The only solid point in an otherwise ridiculous ordeal.

Adversity builds character. Me and the Nighthawk are violently spewing character from every orifice right now.

If you want to love a new bike — truly and dearly love it — do what I did for my first ride: Wait for a tropical storm, don all of your summer gear, then challenge an entire highway to a game of chicken for six straight hours. If you make it out alive, you’ll be bonded forever. You’ll be war buddies, sharing the kind of solidarity only soldiers can know, but can never explain.

Or you’ll hate the damn thing like it killed your dog and made your cat watch.

It’s a toss up.

 

 

And now, the pain review: You don’t need to read this part unless you sat on a prized canary and its gypsy owner cursed your assbone. I have coccydynia — undiagnosable tailbone pain — and it made riding my old bike impossible.

I did all of my research. I carefully evaluated what, exactly, aggravates the tailbone pain. I even rented a few bikes to test and refine these theories. I went and sat on even more, back to the research, and finally figured that the latest generation Nighthawk was, ergonomically, the best bet for me. Taller bikes with flatter seats were an option — the Triumph Scrambler was the ideal, with most vintage UJMs also fitting the bill — but either I’d have to spend a small fortune for a new bike, or every weekend swearing at seized bolts for an ancient one. I didn’t want to do either. Of the newer, more reliable and affordable options that I thought I could ride comfortably, the Nighthawk was the best.

And I was right!

My ride on the Nighthawk was six straight hours  of misery, and every muscle in my body hurts from clenching against the cold. But the tailbone pain didn’t become agony until maybe four or five hours in, and it has settled back to normal (well, what passes for it) after only a night’s rest. This is with the stock seat, as well — and I’ll definitely be modifying it. Like I stressed earlier, Nighthawk parts are everywhere: I found a spare seat for thirty bucks on eBay, after maybe two minutes of searching. If you’re struggling with the same issue and got here by googling ‘why does my butt hate motorcycles,’ give something like the Nighthawk a shot. It doesn’t have to be the same bike, but I found that flatter seats, slight forward lean (reclining is awful, even straight up is bad, and surprisingly, too far forward is also agony), and a hip/knee angle of more than 80 degrees was the magical formula. I used to own a Street Triple, and the significant forward lean combined with relatively cramped leg angles seems like it would minimize impact on the tailbone, but it actually stretches the nerve somehow, making the pain worse. If you’re searching, you can compare those exact ergonomics against most other bikes at cycle-ergo, a hell of a site that pretty much saved my riding life. I always found their info spot on, and it was vital in figuring this problem out.

And now, for more shower bourbon. I call it a “Kentucky Spa Day.”

The 2016 Triumph Bonneville Standard Is Incredibly, Excessively, Unbelievably Standard

I continue my journey to find a motorcycle that won’t torture me straight in the butt, and so I have rented a late model Triumph Bonneville.

 

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In my last review, I said the 2016 Indian Scout was the motorcycle that sad old white men dreamed about, as they puttered down the highway in their mid-list minivans, gazing at me and my lean retro bobber with open lust, their watchful wives glaring on as I smugly whisper, “that’s right: I could have him any time I want.”

Well, the Bonneville is the bike those guys actually used to own.

The new Indian Scout isn’t an accurate memory; it’s a cartoon. It screams nostalgia, sure, but there was never a production bike that actually looked like that: the tank sheared off on the sides, the engine blacked out, the rear lowered beyond all reason. It’s a comic book fantasy of a motorcycle. If you were asked to draw the old Triumph Bonneville from memory, you’d come close to the new one. If you were asked to draw the bike of the guy that stole your high school girlfriend, got her pregnant, and then skipped town, you’d draw the Scout. They’re both similar approaches — retro charm without retro problems — but wildly different executions.

It sounds like I’m being hard on the Bonnie. Maybe I am, but only because she can take it. She’s got her shit together. For instance, here’s my review of all late-model standard Triumph Bonnevilles:

“They’re fine bikes. Well balanced, usable power, no fuss, and they look pretty good, too.”

End of review.

Now I will instead talk about a different model of the same bike, the Bonneville T100, because you are not the boss of me and I’ll write whatever I want. But mostly because when I talk about the standard Bonneville with anybody, I first have to explain why it’s better than the upscale T100 option. I do have authority on this matter: I used to own a 2012 Triumph Bonneville T100. Here’s a picture of it.

 

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You may recognize that is not a motorcycle. You may recognize that I am a notorious liar. Both true, but I’m actually going somewhere this time. Here’s the T100 for real:

 

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The Triumph Bonneville T100 is a well-maintained, bone-stock 1968 Chevy C-10 pickup truck. It’s not a suped-up sleeper in a campy retro shell. It hasn’t been chopped, lowered, fitted with an LED kit, or painted bright purple with orgasming skulls on the hood. If you see that truck stopped at a gas station, you might tell the owner “nice truck!”

You would mean it, at the time.

But you would forget about it within minutes. The image of a bone-stock C-10 won’t keep you up at night, dreaming of the possibilities. It is what it is, and it is entirely at home with that.

The Triumph Bonneville T100 is a functional motorcycle. It is on the light side of heavy. On the agile side of sluggish. On the slow side of fast. On the plain side of pretty. There are a slew of other models based on the same platform, and all have their personalities:

The Scrambler is a machine specifically designed to humor your Steve McQueen delusions. “Yes, honey” the Scrambler says. “I see you. You’re Bullitt. That’s very nice.”

The Thruxton is for guys who ride in wingtips.

The stock Bonneville (lighter and louder trumpet-style mufflers, lighter mag wheels — smaller one in front for better handling — lower center of gravity, more forward seating position, sans special decals and superfluous fork gaiters) is that same 1968 C10, but with an overhauled suspension, drag-stanced, and with all the badges removed: a classic updated with touches of modernity, both for improved performance and a new look. The T100 is a 1968 Chevy C-10 in exactly the same shape as it was when it rolled off the factory floor. Well, okay, not exactly. It is reluctantly fuel injected. But don’t worry: Those throttle bodies actually look like carburetors, so none will know your secret shame.

In short: The Triumph Bonneville T100 is not remarkable. It does not want to be your fantasy.

And you know what? That’s awesome. The guy who owns that bone-stock C-10 knows exactly what he’s doing. His name is Gus. He wears faded Levi 501s and New Balance sneakers. A plaid button up, always tucked in. He sees a chopped C-10 sleeper rocket past him on the highway and he just shakes his head.

“Shame what they’ve done to the old girl,” Gus says.

In the Home Depot parking lot, Gus pulls up beside another truck — the exact same model as his — but this one sporting an ostentatious custom paint job.

“No accounting for taste,” he chuckles.

He stops beside a drag-stanced, de-badged C-10 at the gas station and gives the other fella a nod, but not a very deep one.

“What happened to the badges?” Gus asks. He doesn’t listen to the explanation.

Gus isn’t on the cover of any romance novels. Gus has never won a street fight. He’s never even been in one. Gus has a solid retirement plan, and has since he was 25. Gus is entirely content with who he is, and it’s just fine by him if you aren’t.

I think Gus is fucking rad. I want to be Gus.

I am not Gus. When I bought that 2012 T100 Bonneville, I loved it. All the aesthetic beauty of retro bikes without the existential despair of stripped bolts. What’s not to love? But when a Honda CB1100 soared past me in the curves, I died a little inside. When a Moto Guzzi V7 Racer parked next to me in the garage, its mirror-paint showed me a warped version of my own reflection, twisted and haunted by lust. When a Scrambler or a Thruxton cruised next to me on the interstate, I fantasized about leaping onto their seats like a highway pirate, hurling their riders aside, and revving away into the sunset — certain that the T100 would ghostride on without me, steady as a rock, eventually rolling to a controlled stop outside the office of a Notary Public who would glance out of his window, lock eyes with it, and give one single, solitary nod of approval.

Gus is a rock. Gus knows who he is, and has no interest in changing. Gus doesn’t buy self help books. Gus is not going to take up yoga. Gus is the best. I aspire to be as content as he is, but for now I’m just too petty, vain, and fickle. Gus is the Triumph Bonneville T100, and I think he’s a great guy, but I don’t want him in my garage. He brings over beer, sure, but it’s Coors Light and he looks at me funny when I shotgun it.

But if you are Gus — if you look down right now and survey a majestic field of flannel, the belt like a river of brown leather separating rolling plaid from the gentle glow of ancient denim, all capped off by a pair of worn, December-gray New Balances — the T100 is everything you’re looking for, and not one extravagance more.

 

 

And now, for the pain review. You do not need to read this if you have been blessed with a fully functional ass.

Long story short: I have coccydynia (that’s doctor-speak for ‘your butt-bone sure hurts a lot but we don’t want to admit we don’t know why’), and I had to sell my last bike when I could no longer ride it comfortably for any length of time. I am now renting motorcycles, searching for one whose ergonomics hurt a bit less, so I can justify burning more perfectly good money on yet another motorcycle that I objectively do not need.

And with the Bonnie, I think I found it!

See, I sold the T100 before this pain started. I had to go back to check on it again, and see if it now worked for me. The rental place actually said the model they had was a T100, so I had to condescendingly explain the difference between trims to the bike-jockey, who very kindly refrained from slapping me right in the mouth, as he should have. I wanted the T100 for everything I just complained about in the review: Higher, flatter bench seat, larger front wheel to minimize forward lean, more pull back in the handlebars, etc..

All that makes for a worse bike, but a better butt-platform. I still took the standard Bonneville, and it caused me some discomfort… but not much worse than just sitting normally! I rode for about two hours without the pain ever escalating into agony, walked around and stretched for half an hour, then another two hours home. I was very sore afterward and needed the night to recover, but was mostly back to what passes for normal the next day. One night of pain is an acceptable trade-off for spending all day blasting around on my own private roller coaster.

After returning the Bonnie, I went and sat on a Triumph Scrambler, a BMW 1200, and a Tiger 800 (adventure bikes were the other style of ergonomics that I was considering) while the pain was still fresh. As I thought, the flat seat and taller stance of the Scrambler was even better. Surprisingly though, both the Tiger and the 1200 did not work for me. I thought adventure bikes would be my solution, but the seating position was angled wrong, and apparently too much length between seat and footpegs is also a trigger for the pain. But if the Scrambler works, a lot of vintage Universal Japanese Motorcycles may also work.

I got me some hope!

It is a fragile and weak hope, but I’m going to sit on it like a nesting hen and, supposing that doesn’t hurt my ass too badly, eventually nurture it into something beautiful: A motorcycle.