Electra Townie 7D review

I said I’d never buy a bike with an aluminum frame again. I was wrong. I really have to learn how foolish it is to make all-or-nothing statements.

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Image used without permission

Until writing this, I believe I only had one other post about bicycles which focused on steel frames. For a forward leaning, aggressive riding position I maintain that steel is better than aluminum because it absorbs harsh road conditions. It’s worth the weight penalty for a nicer ride if you can’t afford full carbon fiber. So how did I wind up buying an aluminum bike again? Commuting to work.

When I was in the Air Guard, we had lockers, showers and changing rooms that made bicycle commuting easy and free exercise. Driving to work the first and last days of the work week allowed for carrying uniforms, etc. so the rest of the week could be bicycled. Ride to work, arrive hot and sweaty, shower, freshen up, pull on uniform, go to work.

Now that I’m a civilian, cycling into work presents different challenges. I don’t wear a uniform anymore so I can’t get by with fresh undergarments alone. While I might be able to shower at work, I don’t want my clothes wrinkled from being packed in a bag. So I needed something I could ride in work attire and keep my clothes clean. I also carry my laptop, meals, and any required books for the semester back and forth from home to the office. I prefer to carry my Brooks Brothers duffel than a backpack because I’m an adult and I don’t want to wear a backpack while cycling.

WorkCycles Fr8. Image used w/o permission.

WorkCycles Fr8. Image used w/o permission.

What I really wanted was a Dutch bike like an Omafiet. Unfortunately, good imported Dutch bikes are terribly expensive. Considering my job has me living in Fargo for now, I only ride half the year, which make it difficult to justify that expense. Electra makes the Amsterdam model that copies Dutch styling, but reports on its build quality have been mixed and they don’t make a step-through frame large enough for me. For whatever reason, Americans seem to think step-throughs are for women and men should have a cross-member high enough to risk very personal injury. The high cross member makes sense for frame rigidity on a more aggressive bike, but is completely illogical for relaxed riding.

I’d played around on Electra Townies before, and they always seemed like perfectly adequate bikes. Nice, easy to ride, decent handling, etc. I hemmed and hawed for quite a while and instead kept trying to fix my single speed’s ergonomics but eventually I had to relent. Finding handlebar risers to allow an upright riding position was an impossible task, and the steel frame that was fun for short rides had no braze-ons for luggage racks to make it useful over longer distances. The local bike shop didn’t stock models with internal hubs (or even know they were available), so I bought the “bird in the hand”- a moss metallic 7D pictured above. Because if I recall correctly, it was less than $500.

IMG_4297The ideal I was chasing was something like a Dutch bike, or the bikes used by American bike-sharing programs. A comfortable, upright riding position. A good chain guard to protect my shoe laces and/or pant legs. A maintenance-free internal hub for gear changes. Fenders, to keep my clothes clean if riding through damp conditions. A dynamo hub to run lights without the need for batteries. A strong and wide front rack to carry realistic luggage. Seriously, what do people carry on those narrow rear bicycle racks? A single bottle of wine?

IMG_0740As it happens, the only thing I really needed was the comfortable riding position. Almost everything else could be fixed, adjusted, or added later. The Townie is much more comfortable than my single speed ever was and I love riding it. It’s just an easy bike to roll around on. We added fenders, a small taillight on the seat post, a Burley trailer hitch, and ordered a wide front rack like a porteur would have. The world is my oyster on this thing. Originally, the rack had a raised rim, creating the effect of a very shallow basket. I took that part off so I could carry wider or longer cargo on a more stable base. The raised rim either compromised even support by lifting oversize cargo up on its edge, or could even risk damaging the cargo with that edge’s pressure once it was strapped down. That rack and the center of gravity are a good bit forward of the axle, so it’s a little awkward to move when walking and kickstand no longer works when the rack is laden with cargo. That aside, it’s easy riding, allows for much wider cargo than a silly narrow rear rack, and because it’s in front of me I can actually see it rather than wonder if it’s coming off-balance behind me. Some ratcheting straps may work better for securing loads than the elastic net  I currently use. If my duffle is particularly full it can impede the handlebar mounted light a tad, so under-rack mounted lights may be in my future. Otherwise, I couldn’t recommend this solution highly enough. It’s the only sensible way I can see to achieve my goal.

The bike itself is pleasant and comfortable. The combination of seat, tires, and riding geometry make the aluminum frame a non-issue when it comes to harshness of ride. The relaxed position makes hills a bit of a challenge, and the gearing wouldn’t be of much use in San Francisco. Luckily, North Dakota is so flat you can watch your dog run away for days. The 7D means it has a derailleur, which requires a little advance shifting for hills, but that and some momentum make everything here easy enough to handle without leaving the saddle.

My understanding is that the high and low gear ratios of the 3i are roughly equivalent with the derailleur models; the greater number simply gives the rider more options between. The internal hubs are also much more expensive. The 3i is $100 more than the 7D, and the 8i doubles the price of the bike! While I like the clean lines and low maintenance of an internal hub, I have no regrets getting the derailleur. Price and availability worked in it’s favor, and the extra gears aren’t a necessity but they’re convenient. A brisk commute to work or a relaxing ride with my wife are two different speeds, entirely.

My top speed seems to be about 14-15 miles per hour during my commute. Taking back roads through neighborhoods lets me bypass Fargo’s overabundance of traffic lights. The bike handles well, rides nicely and brakes sufficiently. I was a little hesitant of the color. I try to avoid anything reminiscent of the military and thought it might be confused for olive green, but the metallic flake paint job looks brilliant in sunlight. My photos don’t do it justice. About the only other modification I might try is to reverse the stem, or goose neck, to bring the handlebars back a few inches and let me sit even more upright. It might further compromise the weight on the rack, though. We’ll see. In the meantime, I can tow my son effortlessly and he seems to enjoy the ride, as well.

 

Since buying my bike, Electra has added an available EQ package that includes paint-matched alloy fenders and a hub dynamo to power front and rear lights. The $60 up-charge on internal hub models is a good deal, but the $110 required for a derailleur EQ seems excessive. If money were no object, today I’d buy a Balloon 3i EQ in brown metallic. That takes care of fenders, lights and gets you kevlar tires. Add a steel front rack from CETMA and you’d have a stylish gentleman’s city bike to rival most anybody.

On the Wrist- Seiko Recraft SNKN01

I’ve been itching for a cushion case watch for a few years now, but unable to justify $9,000 (USD) of scratch for a Panerai PAM00320. Luckily, Seiko brought out a handsome example with their Recraft collection and my lovely wife gifted me with one for Christmas.

IMG_0404I love my TAG, still lust after the Panerai, look fondly on Tissot, and may yet try to finagle a Montblanc Timewalker UTC into my collection, but let’s make one thing clear: Seiko is not a brand to dismiss. Sure, they may make too many models and/or variants, and keeping track of them all can be a mess. But amidst all that clutter are some real gems of innovation, a history of horological contribution including a long list of world firsts, and in-house movement manufacture. Even the Watch Snob regards Seiko well.

IMG_0409The cushion case makes listing the dimensions a bit awkward. The crystal covering the face is a conventional circle, and 38.5 mm in diameter. Because the case resembles a bulging square, I hope the rest of dimensions are adequately descriptive. The case (with crystal) is 11.6 mm thick, and measures 51mm diagonally. It is 50.2 mm from lug to lug, 42.1 mm across the “flats” of the case at their widest point, and 47.7 mm if you include the crown, which is 6mm in diameter. The leather strap is 24mm wide and 4mm thick.

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It’s a mechanical movement, so less accurate than quartz but a whole lot more interesting and fun. This is a watch you buy for love of gizmology. For the soft, rapid ticking like the titles of a 60 Minutes episode. My particular watch runs a bit fast- I’d guess it gains about a minute per week. It is also a “non-hacking” movement, which means the second hand keeps ticking away when you have the crown pulled out on its stem to adjust the time and it cannot be hacked to sync perfectly with an outside clock. The day-date function works well, and is set by pulling the crown out one click to its first position. Rotating the crown one direction advances the date, and the other direction advances the days, which can be set to either English or Spanish on my model. They alternate Sun-Dom-Mon-Lun-Tues-Mar-Wed-Mie, etc. Some models of Seiko apparently alternate day name and Roman numeral, which would have been cool but c’est la vie. It takes roughly three hours (from midnight to 3 am) for the day to transition through the alternate language and back to your setting of choice.

IMG_0408So what’s it like to wear? Not as heavy as I would have thought, considering how much bigger it was in person than I expected. Because of how large it is, and flat on the bottom, I have to ensure the strap is well tight or it has a tendency to roll toward my pinky. That stainless steel case can put a lot of painful pressure on my wrist bones if that happens! And speaking of making sure the strap is tight, remember when I listed it as 4mm thick? Yeah, this thing took about two solid weeks before it could start to be considered broken in. They didn’t chintz out on the bracelet and I really like that. The whole package feels very solid.

Looking at the details of the design, this definitely strikes me as a retro watch. It looks like something out of the late sixties or more likely early seventies. I like the indexes to mark the hours rather than numerals- they’re raised, cut very precisely, and polished. One detail I didn’t care for are the white boxes visible underneath the indexes at 6, 9, and 12, but I figure this is historically accurate to how it would have been made “back in the day” and it strikes me as charming now. As with my 5, I wish Seiko would find a more elegant solution than printing black text on the underside glass since it’s mostly redundant information, but it’s not the end of the world since one rarely tends to gaze at the back of a watch.

This particular model is currently selling for under $150 USD on Amazon, but there are other face and case color options, along with other bracelets, too. There are also other styles within the Recraft Series, all with a distinctly retro vibe. If you long for the era of feathered hair and Roger Moore as James Bond, I highly recommend them.

Reckoning Universal Soldier

It’s been almost a year since I last typed up a movie review. Mostly because I haven’t seen anything that stirred me enough to do so. That changed last night, and I’m as shocked as anyone the movie was a Universal Soldier sequel.

I know. I know.

Universal_soldier_ver1The original Universal Soldier didn’t define the Carolco/’80s action genre, but it was paradigmatic of it. (Thanks to Chuck Klosterman for writing that same sentence about Skid Row so I knew how to phrase what I wanted to say.) The only thing it really had going for it was that it had two action stars of the day starring in it. It was an answer to one of the great debates we always had as kids: who would win in a fight between…? This was an era of comics and video games such as RoboCop vs. Terminator, Batman vs. Predator, the seeds for Alien vs. Predator were planted by a piece of set dressing in 1990’s Predator 2. And kids my age constantly debated who’d conquer a battle royale between Schwarzenegger, Stallone, Van Damme, Seagal, and Lundgren. The “vs.” and video game mentality was so prevalent, I remember Roger Ebert’s complaint about Universal Soldier on his show with Gene Siskel essentially being, “The fight at the end was just with an evil version of himself, rather than a big boss fight.” Boss fights are a video game convention, but it was everywhere in pop culture! Just to give you an idea how silly/wonderful the era was to grow up in.

But I digress. The point is, in an era that could be defined by action movies, Universal Soldier was noteworthy but not great. It spawned two straight-to-video sequels that were intended to start a television series. I can imagine where that would have been broadcast. Then, in 1999, Universal Soldier: The Return was released in theaters. It ignored UniSol 2 and 3 as a direct sequel to the first movie, and it’s difficult to put into words just how bad it is. I saw it in theaters, it had a budget of $45 million, and to this day I can’t figure out how they spent that much making it. The movie was so bad, it basically killed Van Damme’s already waning career. It would be ten more years before he’d see a theatrical release (in JCVD, which was honestly wonderful).

Basically, a movie that didn’t deserve a franchise in the first place had one that was in really bad shape. Then John Hyams got Van Damme and Lundgren back together for Universal Soldier: Regeneration. A direct sequel to the original film, it ignores the other entries and updates the franchise. It cost a third of The Return (even less, accounting for inflation) but looks better, has a decent plot, really good action, and was basically just better than it should be. It wasn’t great, feels like it was made in Prague, but it was at least as good as the first film and that was good enough. It was a solid action movie.

In Day of Reckoning, things just got way out of control. How does a bad franchise wind up making a great film? The first two paragraphs of this review make a strong case for considering Reckoning to be a secret masterpiece. The reviewer states, “Reckoning is the most exceptional movie of 2012 in part because it has no right to be as good as it is” and  “it was too disreputable to be talked about during awards season, but that’s okay. Anything this unusual deserves its own conversation.” Both statements are dead-on accurate. Heh. I just said “dead-on” discussing a franchise about reanimated dead soldiers. Even The New Yorker liked it.

I’m not sure if Day of Reckoning is a sequel, or a re-imagining of the entire franchise. Lundgren and Van Damme have about 5% of the screen time each, despite their lead billing. The real star of the movie is Scott Adkins. His best known role is likely Deadpool/Project XI at the climax of X-Men Origins: Wolverine, but after seeing him in Reckoning I’d like to see him replace Karl Urban in every role Urban has ever played except Bones. Reckoning is part detective story as Adkins tracks down Van Damme for killing his family, but then it has turns of horror, questioning reality, and even subtext about fate vs. free will. When the action finally starts happening, it is incredible. None of the shaky camera work to hide bad choreography like the Bourne film series- the fights are well done, and the filming techniques highlight how hard they’ve worked at it. This is some of the best action I’ve seen since Tony Jaa burst on the scene with Ong-Bak. Most notable were the car chase, fight in a sporting goods store, and the entire finale after the head-drilling scene. The beginning and head drilling are horrific, the other scenes make you cheer…

Colonel Kurtz?

Van Damme echoes Colonel Kurtz

It should be a dumb action movie. It should be a bad straight to video crap-fest. But it winds up being so, so good if you give it a chance. Does Adkins’ character take Van Damme’s place at the end? Are they really free, or do we always fall into a fated balance of power? If something’s not real, does that mean it doesn’t matter?

The horrific parts make this something I can’t recommend to just anybody. It’s very R-rated, and some scenes aren’t for the squeamish. But kind of like Drive, if you can handle an odd mashup of action and art (or if you like David Cronenburg movies), I think you’re the perfect audience for this flick. It may be a narrow scope of appeal (and I could be wrong about that), but within that audience this will be seen as a great movie.

My Trophy

My Wunderlich Trophy fairing came in and I’ve installed it on the motorcycle. It performs well, reducing wind noise on the highway, and gives the front end of the bike a simpler look that aids the “classic” motif despite the modern intrinsic design of the bike itself.

Trophy fairing 01The most common aftermarket windshields I see on BMW R****R bikes are from Cee Bailey’s and they’re so ugly I’d rather sell the bike and ride something else. Seriously. Thankfully, there are other options and I’ve found this one. The wind noise isn’t as perfectly quiet as it could be- standing on the pegs still puts my helmet in cleaner and almost silent air. But it’s livable now and much quieter than it was, pushing more air than one might expect. My torso is fatigue-free and the wind hits my helmet right around visor level instead of a massively loud blast at the base near my neck. I wear an Arai XD3 and removing the peak will likely change the noise level. I’m 6’0″ with a 33″ inseam and further tinkering of riding ergos like the bars and seat will all have their effect, as well.

Trophy fairing 02What really blew my mind is how difficult it is to install; my wife said it took around three hours. The instructions aren’t clear at all, neither are the pictures, and all the included bolts are hex-socket despite all the bolts on the bike being Torx (so it requires two separate sets of tools). Behind that clean and simple looking fairing are brackets to reposition the blinkers, a few hours’ stress over how parts are supposed to align, tears of anger at instructions’ poor translation… And I had parts left over: two small bolts and some washers. I assume because BMW’s sport flyscreen was installed and Wunderlich has the kit designed and written for a naked bike. But eventually we got it fitted correctly and it is rock-solid. The difficulty in getting parts aligned and installed correctly comes from how precisely it is designed to fit. The fairing looks and feels so much like an OEM part that the only betrayal of aftermarket origin is the headlight can’t be adjusted while it’s installed.

Wunderlich calls this fairing the Trophy. Merriam-Webster doesn’t give a perfect definition for the twist I want to put on the end of this post so I’ll take liberties and use a synonym. I like the fairing a lot, but the real treasure is my wife who supported such an expensive bit of farkle and spent the aforementioned three hours helping me install it. The part has a price tag, and installation time is billed at an hourly rate. A wife who is supportive and understanding and helpful? She’s priceless.

Starting out with a fountain pen

The past few days I’ve spent off the blog have been whiled away reading Neil Peart’s Ghost Rider: Travels on the Healing Road. It’s a long depressing, repetitive book I won’t recommend, but to be fair it was likely a long, depressing and repetitive chapter in Mr. Peart’s life. I’m determined to finish it, but then also start something fun and frivolous immediately after to keep the spark alive for my love of reading. I remember all too well how Neil Gaiman’s American Gods killed my desire to read novels for about a year…

But the other thing I’ve been doing is keeping up with writing my wife a letter a day (mostly) and filling out my journal with stories of the things I’ve seen on this trip. Thanks to Goulet Pens I’ve got a great assortment of ink samples, a few new pens, and three tablets of different stationery and matching envelopes to keep her letters varying and always something new. But it struck me that while I posted about my Lamy 2000 love previously, that’s not what I write to her using. While changing out my ink every three days I use two different pens for a better idea of how good a job I do cleaning them, and avoiding color contamination for each new vial of ink.

So here are the two pens I’ve been using most lately- and they’re much more affordable than a 2000.

Image used without permission from Rick Conner at penspotters. Note the red cap of the Z24 filler.

Image used without permission from Rick Conner at penspotters. Note the red cap of the Z24 filler.

The first is a Lamy Vista, which can usually be had for around thirty bucks. It’s got a triangular section for your fingers to grip toward the nib as you write, and I really like its physical profile. They’ve also got some flat edges to the round profile so they won’t roll off a desk. The Vista, Safari, and Al-Star pens all share the same profile, and are more budget priced to keep them affordable and friendly to students (apparently they find a lot of use in the hands of European kids, opposed to the disposable Bics most American children know and, well, probably loathe). The Safaris are plastic and come in different colors whereas the Vista is clear and the Al-Stars are aluminum bodied. Safaris are Al-Stars also release a limited edition color each year, for those of you who care. They come with a stainless steel nib that I don’t like as much as the 14k gold nib of my 2000, and I’ve heard Lamy nibs can be inconsistent (read a better review here). It’s designed to be used with a replaceable cartridge, which makes inking these clean and easy, but there’s also a Z24 piston converter for using with conventional inkwells. I like the converter in the Vista for a couple of reasons:

  • I love Lamy’s ink bottles, but I’m not really in love with any of their actual ink.
  • The red knob on the Z24 adds internal color to the translucent body.
  • Filling from an inkwell makes it easier to change colors day-to-day.
  • The piston facilitates flushing water in and out of the pen when cleaning.

And it’s this last point that brings me to recommending clear pens for a beginner.

Fountain pens work through a combination of gravity and capillary action, so to really get it clean between different inks you have to flush out the feed (the perpendicular cuts in the internal structure that control the flow). Once I push the remaining ink back into its respective jar, vial, or wherever I got it from it’s time to flush it with water. I just fill a glass (or here, a paper cup) with water, then draw it into the reservoir and flush it back into the cup. Repeat three times, then dump the glass out and refill it with fresh water. I do this for about 3 different clean glasses of water, but between each glass of water I get all the moisture out of the feed that I can. A bunch of nice absorbent toilet paper and a clear body make this part easy.

You can actually watch the feed empty into the absorbent paper.

You can actually watch the feed empty into the absorbent paper.

The other pen I just started using today and now see why people love it is the TWSBI mini. It’s a short barrel, so to write comfortably I have to post the cap on the end, but it was designed to do so and the cap actually screws on both ends of the barrel. How cool is that?!?! Mine is also completely clear, and the huge internal reservoir looks really cool when showing off your ink’s hue. And it’s got a more traditional exposed nib and feed. I haven’t changed out the ink or cleaned it yet, but it writes really nicely (maybe because the stainless steel nib is longer, allowing it to flex more?) and is just plain good-looking. Also a bargain, it can be had for $50-$60 USD and so far appears to be much nicer than its price would suggest. This may be my new favorite pen and warranting another write-up here in the future after more use.

2011 BMW R1200R Classic owner’s report

One of the very first blog posts I ever wrote up was going on about how many great motorcycles there were (and a lot of them were BMWs), but when I actually finally bought one, I forgot to mention it! This post is to correct that oversight.

Red_R850RI’ve been in love with BMW motorcycles since cutting class back in high school. Looking back, it seems somewhat apropos that my dad told me motorcycles were for rebels and those were the shops I most wanted to frequent as a truant. The best of them was Iron Horse Motorcycles. Around 1995-1996 I simply couldn’t stop daydreaming about owning and riding a green R850R. Sure, the 1100 had more power, but what did I know about motorcycles? I wouldn’t be able to use all that “oomph” anyway and an 850cc motor just sounded so strange and intriguing to me. And the 850 was cheaper, so easier to imagine affording someday. (Later my daydreams dropped in scope to an MuZ Skorpion 660cc single cylinder because it was only $6000 and even closer to being attainable.)

Anyone who’s read my other motorcycle posts knows that Harleys have just never done it for me (though Buells did). They’re too dime-a-dozen, or appear that way because of Japanese knock-offs, and bolting on Arlen Ness or factory parts is a cheesy way to call it “custom”. But BMW? It was just so… odd! And delightfully so, with a long heritage of building tough and reliable bikes. I was hooked, and I’ve never kicked the desire to own a BMW R-series bike since then. (I should probably go for the full effect and listen to some old Pearl Jam or Weezer’s blue album while I type this.)

So now that I own one, what’s the verdict? Is it everything I hoped for and more, or have years of dreaming about one led to the reality becoming a let-down? The truth is, it’s a little bit of both, so let’s dive in.

The bike itself is great as an all-around bike. I’m not a moto-journalist and can’t tell you how it handles or performs any better they’ve already done here, here, and here. What I can do though is talk about what it’s like to actually live with. Where I love it, but also where BMW Motorrad got it wrong.

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I bought this bike when I was living in Las Vegas, NV because I wanted a standard motorcycle and this was the best option. I don’t care for feet forward cruisers because I want better control for tight turns in mountains and canyons, but my commute was 40 minutes of straight and boring highway so a sport bike was ruled out for luggage limitations and wrist strain. With no Triumph or Ducati dealers in town (Bonneville or Monster) and all the Japanese bikes looking rather garish, the only other option that appealed to me was Haley-Davidson. I came very, very close to buying one, but the only bikes without forward controls were Sportsters with fuel tank issues; they were either too small for my commute to be practical, or plastic and had issues with warping in the XR1200.

The ergonomics and power on the R1200R made it a no-brainer.

HP2head

The HP2-derived “hex” head.

Air head, oil heads, & original hex head.

Air head, oil heads, & original hex head.

The 2011 R1200R got a revised head based off the HP2 and it makes plenty of power. BMW’s “1200” is actually 1,170 cc and slightly smaller than Harley’s 1,203 cc motor, but it makes far more horsepower and torque (which Harley always touts). But this does come at a price, as Harleys tend to get better gas mileage and I only average 42 mpg (USA). Not bad (gas mileage and tank size are why I opted against a Diavel), but for my Vegas commute I’d have appreciated even better. The power is addicting though, and the number one reason I hesitate when I start thinking about trading it for something else. I don’t feel a real need for more power though I wouldn’t call the Roadster overpowered either. I’d just hate to knowingly get with fewer ponies because twisting the throttle to escape any car I choose on the Interstate is immensely rewarding. And a big reason I bought this bike was the power and the sound of the exhaust- it was perfect just as delivered from the factory. I love that it’s not too loud and obnoxious (seriously, I hate loud, obnoxious pipes), but it’s got just the right amount of snarl. I refer to it as the Gentleman Hooligan.

Speaking of gentlemanly behavior, my bike has anti-lock brakes and traction control, both great features. BMW has now made ABS standard across all their bikes, and I applaud them for it, because despite the protestations of old know-it-alls the fact is a panic stop is exactly that: panic. Grabbing a fistful of brake and not losing control in an emergency is invaluable. Traction control can be turned off if I feel like lofting the front wheel in a “display of speed and power” (the ticket written for wheelies in Tucson), but the reality is it kept me from going ass-over-teakettle on some remarkably slick roads in Las Vegas. It may be more computer controlled complication, but they’re sure nice to have and safety features are hard to bemoan.

Another of my favorite aspects to the bike is how well designed it is. The rails for the panniers integrate almost seamlessly and the quick-release for them is great. On and locked or off the naked-looking bike in 30 seconds and it looks natural in either state. Harley made a big deal about this capability (and named yet another motorcycle, the Switchback, after one silly feature) that BMW has incorporated for years. I like being able to rest my feet out on the cylinders on the highway, but have my engine stay cool when stopped in the desert because the jugs are actually out in the wind to be cooled. I like the dash display more than many other bikes, and liking the looks of the dash is important since it’s the part of the bike you should be seeing most often!

BMW R 1200 R (11/2010)

BMW R 1200 R (11/2010)So why does trading it in for something else cross my mind every now and then? Mostly the aesthetics of the Classic trim package. It looks good at first blush, but before long it begins to feel like it doesn’t really fit with the character of the bike. Frankly, I think the bike looks more genuine in a flat, more modern color and wheels. In particular, pay attention to the hand rails of the tail section, and the taillight- there’s just no way to vintage-ify it. The angles there and on the frame are just… Well, wrong for a “classic” motif. The sharp angles cut into the tank for riders’ knees and the telelever front suspension (the part with the spring behind the forks)… In the darker shade they blend better, but the bright paint in Classic trim just shows how modern it is and conflicts with the rest of the bike’s theme. (I also think the frame should have stayed black, rather than drawing attention to itself.) Look back at the R850R picture and you can see how much softer the whole look of the bike is. It would just lend itself to the paint scheme, chrome, and spoked wheels so much easier. One of Dieter Rams’ ten principles of good design states “Good design is honest”, and the classic package on this particular bike just doesn’t seem very honest at all. Such a modern design splashed with affectations of yore rings false.

R1200R_2011_064

Look at the above photo of the post-2011 all kitted out and it seems natural. But a tank bag on the Classic package would cover the only visible (to the rider) part of the racing stripe. I suppose if I add the rear top case I could repaint it and continue the racing stripe there…? I jest, of course, and I realize quite a bit of riding a motorcycle is suiting one’s vanities at the expense of practicality. The Classic just strikes me as a bit too far since touring would leave only the wheels, front fender, and exhaust to truly stand out.

There are two options to correct what I perceive as a grievance- either strip it off to resemble an un-optioned bike or take the retro theme even further. I’m opting for the latter, because it’ll look good and be less expensive than buying a new set of cast wheels and exhaust.

crashbar1Finding chrome valve covers for the post-’11 hex head is tricky and they’re $350 US each. Ouch. I’ll opt instead for this retro looking crash bar that’s half the cost of a single cover and looks like it came straight off an old R60. It’s from Wunderlich, a company with the sole focus of creating products for BMW motorcycles, and the chrome finish should compliment the exhaust and mirrors, while it’s simple line looks perfectly at home next to the broad white racing stripe.

trophyclassic1Speaking of the racing stripe, the bike simply needs more of it! Since the tail section doesn’t have a rear fender like more classically styled (or truly vintage) motorcycles for the flash of contrasting paint to display itself across, this front fender also offered by Wunderlich looks like the perfect device way to be a little more showy even when using a tank bag. With a truly clear windscreen it should display the continuing stripe much better, it gives the bike another much more pronounced retro nod to the cafe racers of yore, and should provide some more wind protection than my currently fitted “sport” shield pretty handily. Which leads to my only other real gripe…

The bike itself is fairly quiet and pleasant, but the wind noise is bizarrely LOUD. The little sport windshield does a wonderful job of keeping wind blast off my torso and making a ride comfortable, but the noise roaring in my helmet is insane. I’ve taken the shield off, and it’s better at times but then I feel battered at speed. A Triumph Bonneville is still dead silent at the same speeds, so all I can figure is it’s being caused by turbulence coming off the instrument cluster. On my long commutes to and from Vegas it wasn’t uncommon for me to actually stand up on the pegs just to get my helmet into clean and undisturbed air for some silence. Hopefully a new windshield will correct this.

The only other quibble I could muster is the hard luggage. I love the quick on-and-off and that it’s keyed to the ignition, but the shape could use some tweaking. The bags are designed to accept a full face helmet and seemingly nothing else- they’re very wide, but despite the massive volume I can’t fit a 15″ laptop into them except at bizzare angles that take up most of the usable space. They’re a very poor physical profile for city commuting.

This seems somewhat long winded for only two real gripes of aesthetics and wind noise (bags can be taken off or replaced) and not nearly enough praise for a wonderful motorcycle. In standard paint, and for a different length torso or windshield this would very likely be the perfect all-around bike. Add luggage and handlebar-mount GPS for touring, the bike comes stock with power outlets for heated clothing. Strip it all off and blast through canyons at top speeds I’ll not admit to seeing. Or simply enjoy riding a unique and good-looking European bike as you strut around town to various coffee shops.

I don’t own any of the pictures used and I’m not advertising anything, these are simply my observations. But I can teel you this: finally owning a BMW R-series bike after years of fantasizing hasn’t been a let down at all, and if anything has only strengthened my affinity for the brand.

BMW. Das schnellste Motorrad der Welt.

Lamy 2000, my pen of choice.

The internet has slowed to a crawl here in Afghanistan due to foul weather interfering with our satellite reception. Because of this, the post I had intended to publish yesterday is still being researched and supplemented with photos at a snail’s pace. Maybe tomorrow… So in a desire to publish something, I’m taking the cheater’s way out and linking to some other fantastic reads instead.

I’ve mentioned writing longhand as a lost art and advocated for it recently. But part of what has made my rediscovery of cursive (or script) writing so pleasurable has been my Lamy 2000 fountain pen. I use a fine nib, and typically stick with Pelikan 4001 Royal Blue ink. On truly white paper, it just pops and looks really nice. (I’m also a proponent of using some really nice paper. My folio is stocked with Southworth 25% cotton fiber linen, and I have some A5 stationery tablets from G. Lalo and Original Crown Mill of classic laid and pure cotton. Remember to get matching envelopes for the full effect.) My pen should appear as the featured image above this post, actually.

My own quick thoughts about this pen can be summed up with a love for all the details. For such a simple, modern design, it’s very thoughtful. The 14k gold nib writes smoother and nicer than the cheaper stainless steel nibs I’ve dallied with in other pens. The makrolon barrel has a pleasant texture and appears to age well, but also hides fingerprints and smudges that would appear on glossy black plastic. The aluminum stainless steel section toward the nib allows ink from a bottle to wick right off after filling and clean easier. The pocket clip is inflexible steel, and is hinged and sprung. It’s heavy enough to feel like something of substance and importance without being burdensome. I love the windows built in for viewing the ink level. And it disassembles for cleaning easily.

In short, I began my interest in fountain pens wanting a Montblanc Meisterstuck 149. After being talked into trying the Lamy 2000, I want nothing else. Any other pen I collect is now just for whimsy. I’ve found the only pen I really need.

So without further ado, here are some more in-depth reasons you should try a Lamy 2000 fountain pen and enrich your own writing experience.

And they can be had for a good price from Amazon.com (though I recommend someone like Goulet Pens who specializes in the field). Now get writing!