Friday, September 9, 2005

Why My Wife's Life is Hell

I have owned something like 25 cars and 11 or 12 motorcycles over the years. This is either really cool or a source of profound concern, depending upon whom you consult. I try to hang out with the former group, but I have the otherwise-happy habit of marrying the latter. Thus I assimilate the stresses this subject begets in my spouses (yes, there have been a couple) when I might otherwise go blithely thru my days shopping, test driving, trading, spending (ah, the halcyon days of bachelorhood). My days of new vehicles on the 12-month rotation are over, I’m afraid.

What I have learned to do instead is shop for my next motive purchase continuously and voraciously, and to carefully space out my visits to dealerships so as to balance the desire for at least a weekly test-drive of something with my need not to be labeled by sales people as a time- and resource-sucking pain in the ass who will never buy ("Me, never buy?! You fool!" I want to scream. ...Yet this is what I've become). It helps that I live among a string of cities with a lot of dealerships. Also, my job takes me away a fair portion of the month, and divvies up my work days between a couple places, thus adding greatly to the dealerships at my disposal. And it helps that my interests range over a fairly broad spectrum: trucks versus cars, Japanese versus German versus American, sporty versus comfortable, expensive versus cheap, etc. While many people are, say, Porsche fanatics, and pour all their enthusiasm into a single marque, I am a generalist: a machinery fanatic. I’d be a boat and small airplane nut as well (and was headed in that direction some years back) except that I learned that there just isn’t enough money to dance down all these lanes at the same time.

Lately I’m all about motorcycles. I don’t race, but I’ve ridden for years, and I think that the things that make for an effective race bike--good brakes and sticky tires and stiff chassis components and engine refinement and light weight and economy--are all things which benefit a normal street rider.

I’ve never owned an American motorcycle, having had mostly Hondas and BMWs. The only real American option in my lifetime has been Harley Davidson, which, while I mean not to pee in anyone’s pool, is to me an exercise in nostalgia and the antithesis of everything I admire in motorcycles. A Harley is a fashion statement. (The idea that one’s riding posture on the bike can be cool or not seems so junior high.) But a motorcycle is a machine. It should be graded almost entirely on function.

So I rode an American bike a couple days ago that I’m damn tempted to make my next purchase. This, to me, is news.

The Buell Ulysses XB12X is an all-purpose bike with Erik Buell’s performance emphases as an integral part of its DNA. I’m fascinated by a lot of things on this bike, but I’m primarily taken with how well it works. It seems an improvement on almost everything about my current late-model BMW (and that’s not an assessment I was expecting to make!), and seems carefully assembled out of high quality components. It’s fascinating to me that a small shop--a single guy, really, though he has surrounded himself with other talented people, of course--can still innovate and end up producing a product which will honestly hold its own against the products of gigantic industrial and design enterprises. And it's not just American, but Wisconsinite; the bike is designed and built about two hours from my house.

This bike has a number of really noteworthy and functional features not found on other bikes I’ve looked at. First, it’s very light weight. Erik Buell knows that weight is the enemy of any performance machine, and of any motorcycle, regardless of its genre or purpose (other than as a boat anchor), and this bike is ingeniously designed to be feather-light while retaining its rigidity and integrity. It must be 50-60 lbs. lighter than my BMW Rockster, which is also a naked bike, and BMWs are not known for being portly. (By contrast, a typical Harley is a good 100-150 lbs heavier than my bike.) Second, the front brake--the single most important feature of any motorcycle, in my opinion--is unique in motorcycling. Instead of two discs fanning out from the wheel hub and grabbed from the outside, this Buell has a single huge disc around the inner perimeter of the wheel rim, and it’s grabbed from the inside. Ingenious. It has a large swept area and greater leverage than standard brakes. It’s a huge weight saver and functions as well as any brake I’ve tried. Third, Erik keeps the exhaust system tucked under the bike out of everyone’s way and in a location to do the least harm from a C.G. point of view. It also doesn't toast your bum or burn your legs, and it stays out of the way of saddle bags. Very smart.

And he has lots of other innovations as well: the fuel is carried inside the frame; the oil is carried in the rear suspension swing arm; he uses a belt drive which is warranted for life--no noise, no maintenance, no driveline slop. If he is handicapped by anything, it's having to use an engine which is not as technologically advanced as what the foreigners use (since its genesis is trying to please people whose motorcycle enthusiasms are about 50 years ago). It just seems less refined; but for all that, it makes more power than my BMW and though it vibrates like the dickens at idle, it's smooth and tractable under way. So, in the end, no complaints.

None of this innovation would count for much if the bike didn’t work. But it rides beautifully. It’s comfortable and fast and seems really versatile. I could happily ride this very long distances, and I could see keeping it for years (not that I’m inclined to do that...).

Anybody looking for a good deal on a beautiful used BMW?


Joshua said...

Have you checked out the Saturn SKY yet? The obvious model was the Z3 roadster, but it has a price range more attainable. And I have a thing for saturns; they speak to my Boy Scout side (they used ot market to us)

As for cycles, I think you are spot on about Harleys, which is sad, because they used to stand for everything opposite to what they now stand for.


wunelle said...

Funny you should mention Saturn. I've owned two, our current being a VUE. I was so taken with the general buying experience that when it came time to replace our L200 we opted for another Saturn, even though I was inclined toward a Honda Element.

We've been toying with maybe a used Miata, and a SKY is right along the same lines. I'll have to take a look.

Are they out yet?

Joshua said...

Spring 2006 they come out. I like the SKY over the miata for a couple reasons. First, and I put this delicately, the SKY doesn't have the "social stigma" attached to it. More importantly, though, it is larger. Miatas always gave me the feeling of being on a go-cart track. I am only 6 foot, 190, but I felt like a football player inside one. Also, they tend to be a bit squirrelly, though I hear the new incarnation fixes that.

Anyway, if you come across a test model (some larger dealerships should have them) let me know what you think. We will be buying a second car around May, and that is on my short list.


wunelle said...

Actually, I have the same space concerns about the Miata, and about my first choice in the genre, the Honda S2000. I'm not very tall, but at 220 lbs the Miata cockpit seems a bit confining. In general, the older I get the more I appreciate comfort and space.

Ah, the "social stigma!" Are you saying you would... question my *manhood* in such a vehicle? Is there a reason my wife is pushing for this option? I have been a bit oblivious to this effect!

Joshua said...

hahahaha. It might explain why pimps all drive cadillacs, no?