Monday, August 10, 2009

HNL Adventure

(Sorry all, but this is kind of a TMI diary entry. But since I no longer keep a diary, this is where I might keep a more permanent record of some of these doings. Feel free to skip. I'll also apologize about the even-worse-than-normal photographs, but I was only carrying my iPhone, which implements my bad picture ideas badly. I've come to see that it takes skill to get landscape photographs to turn out; the saying that a picture doesn't do the real thing justice--which is doubtless true--is really another way of saying "I don't know how to capture the real thing." Well, I don't. But the scenes are so stunning that one HAS to photograph them, and this is what the bad photos look like.)


Today's big adventure: a tour of Oahu... on a motorcycle!

(The view out my window as we are vectored in for landing. HNL in the foreground--with adjacent designated seaplane runways--and Pearl Harbor / Ford Island just beyond.)

Last time I was here I noticed a place down the street that rented Harley-Davidsons, and this time I figured with my long layover I might avail myself of this option. Honolulu is a walking-friendly place as far as it goes, but the heat and pounding sunshine make the beach a more likely choice for an afternoon than the extensive walking I typically do on layovers. But I'm not really a beach person, at least unless I'm actually in the water--something for which I did not equip myself. So renting a car and exploring the island seemed like the perfect thing to do, and when the motorcycle option presented itself, well it just seemed like a thing that needed to happen.

(Hotel room view, looking Southwest toward Waikiki Beach.)

The island is bigger than I imagined, but still something that can be circumnavigated in two or three hours non-stop. With stops here and there to look around, it makes a nice day on the bike. I was given several maps and lots of instructions and gesticulations about how best to get out of the gridlock of Waikiki (traffic is pretty bad here), but I mostly intended to just point in a particular direction and go. Part of the lure of the motorcycle is that the means IS the end, so there's really no such thing as getting lost (unless there's someplace a fella ought not to go). I was off promptly at 8:am, and by about 4:pm I had logged almost 200 miles; I was officially wind-whipped and sunburned and saddle sore. And I had a much better sense of Hawaii--or at least of Oahu--than if I had stayed on Waikiki Beach.

Out of Honolulu proper things take on a much more traditional island vibe, with warm-weather architecture and plants. Though there's surely less poverty, the non-Honolulu portions of Oahu remind me of the Caribbean islands. People seem to exist fairly well here without much money (and VERY well with money), as the climate is kinder on the indigent than our Midwestern winters. So there are parts of the island where dwellings aren't much more than glorified lean-tos. Oahu is a hilly place--mountainous, really--so much of civilization exists perched on a hillside. Roads are narrow and steep and winding, and there's much more stucco / adobe and tin in house construction and less brick and wood.

(Typical middle-class dwellings out of town, built on a hillside.)

Riding around the island reminds one that Hawaii is a young place with volcanic origins, so the land often rises almost vertically out of the sea. The sea breezes are always fresh, and there are little micro-climates everywhere. On the motorcycle, you feel the temperatures fall as you climb to cross the mountain ranges, and several times the road climbed up into, or near, the clouds. The tops of the mountains seem always to be in cloud, clouds formed by the strong winds and the abrupt terrain. I tried to photograph this a couple times, the views looking like something from Jurassic Park. Two or three times I rode from brilliant sunshine up into moderate rain, enough to get me thoroughly soaked, before I descended back on the other side into sunshine again, the 85° temps and motorcycle-induced 60 mph winds making short work of the moisture.

(The view Northeast from my hotel room. The hill neighborhood in the distance is the one I rode up.)

Looking out my hotel window, I can see a neighborhood that climbs up a mountain ridge a few miles to the Northeast of us, and after circling the island and making a couple crossings I decided to try and ride up there on the bike. Because of the hills and the non-grid layout of the streets, it's difficult to point to a distant place and go directly towards it. But after some trial and error, I did manage to make it to the neighborhood in question and up the hill. The streets are often a bit narrow and they twist and climb quite precariously, and the upper part of the climb would give anything in San Francisco a run for its money. (The whole time I kept instinctively wondering what driving on these hills would be like with snow and ice, before checking the absurd thought.) The views from the top were stunning. I'd guess I had climbed over 1,000 feet, maybe higher (the highest peaks on the island are around 4,000'). There were no dedicated viewing places, this being a purely residential area. But the views made clear why the neighborhood existed in the first place: there were hundreds of houses on just this hill with absolutely mind-boggling views. My pictures--big surprise--don't really do justice.

(This road is as steep as it looks. The retaining walls are close to plumb.)

(Looking over the airport in the far distance.)

Just for fun, on the way down I noticed a realtor placing open house signs by a driveway, and I pulled in for a look-see. Earlier on my drive down along the oceanfront, some miles outside the borders of Honolulu proper, I noticed a very modest house on a tiny ocean lot, right on the coast road, that proudly boasted its newly-reduced $1.7 million price tag. So I wondered about this much nicer house up on the hill with a spectacular view of 20 miles of shoreline, to include the HNL airport and all of Waikiki. It was a 3 bedroom, 2 bath semi-Spanish Colonial place of maybe 2,200 square feet, built in 1919 and recently updated. No garage, but a 2-car covered carport. Price? $1.3 million. Nice house, nice yard (though oddly-shaped and steeply raked on the hill so that it's not really usable for anything), unbelievable view; and a price to make it all moot. Ah well, it was fun to look around like royalty.

Some views from my ride:

(Dole pineapple plantation.)

(Notice the gaggle of young boys jumping off the rock into the impossibly blue water.)

(The land rises precipitously into the mist, and the frequent rainfall keeps everything lush.)

(From beach to jungle in a few minutes' drive.)

One other thing. The buses seem to run all over the island, and I saw bus stops on every road on which I drove, and there were usually people waiting at the stops. So public transport seems to work here.

And lastly, my mount for the day. After looking at the Harley rental place yesterday, I searched on my iPhone for motorcycle rental and found seven or eight places within a mile or so of the hotel. So I spent the afternoon walking around and checking things out. Everybody has Harleys for rent (well, the big-bike places; there are a bunch of places that rent just scooters), and each place usually has a few other odds and ends. One place had a Triumph Bonneville, another a Yamaha R6, and another the new Harley XR1200 semi-sportbike. And at the sixth or seventh place I found a new BMW F800GS for rent. That one took the cake, and it was 33% cheaper than the Hogs to boot. I've been intrigued with this bike from magazine coverage, with its new liquid-cooled Rotax-built parallel twin cylinder engine with oscillating-weight counter-balancer under the crankshaft (an interesting technology if one cares about these things), and here was my opportunity for a very lengthy test-ride. Add in BMW's legendary attention to detail, spacious ergos and standard ABS and you have an intriguing machine.

And after nearly 200 miles, here's my assessment.

  • The Rotax motor is wonderful: nicely torquey, with a great rorty snarl and plenty of power, especially for a single rider. Vibration is controlled for the most part, but it grows with RPM, and becomes a bit intrusive at highway speeds. (This vibes-climbing-with-revs thing is standard, of course, but kind of the inverse of my Buell, which shakes down low in the rev range and then smooths out the higher one revs.) The engine is dead-smooth at idle, and in city driving the vibration is a non-issue. (I see on an online forum that the bike's vibration at highway speeds is an ongoing issue.)
  • The cable-actuated clutch is light and very linear, and the steering is responsive but not terribly quick; it's a good, stable mount and would be good with bags and a load on. It's a tall bike, with a fairly high center of gravity, but the bike is quite light, so no worries.
  • I was less impressed with the gearbox, which reminded me of the clunky transmission on my last BMW, the 2004 R1150RCK. This one was better than that, but still not as good as my Buell gearbox (which, frankly, astounds me). Especially when I coasted up to a stoplight and forgot to get back to first gear as I slowed, it was a cumbersome process requiring feathering the clutch to do it. Under way the shifts were good, so I'd just have to be vigilant about getting my downshifts out of the way while I was still rolling.
  • The bike feels quite spacious in its seat-to-bars and seat-to-pegs dimensions. The bars themselves are wide, and the instruments are placed out in front of you (a good eight inches forward of the handlebars rather than on top of the triple clamp), making the bike seem even bigger than it is. But the seat tended to scoot one forward up against the tank, so that there was really only one riding position. The seating position was comfortable, but the seat seemed to have ridges at the sides that kind of dig in after a while, and without being able to make small adjustments to one's pressure points as you rode, one's posterior inevitably becomes fatigued. So I was pretty stiff and sore by day's end, moreso than on days of twice this mileage on my Buell.
  • The brakes are powerful, but a bit grabby and a little noisy (the bike had about 7,000 miles on it). I love the ABS, which is noticeably (and, I think, inexcusably) absent from all Buell products, and I love BMW's instrumentation. Basic analog gauges with well-implemented warning and indicator lights, and a multi-function LCD display with fuel level and coolant temp and a big gear indicator.
  • One last thing. This bike has a wide powerband, pulling strongly from below 2,000 RPMs all the way to its redline at 9,000+. This is a considerably wider powerband than my Buell, and yet the Buell has only five gears and the BMW has six. A gear indicator is nice anyway, and especially nice with six gears; but I don't see that the Beemer needs six speeds, especially when the final gear brings minimal RPM reduction and no relief from vibration. The bike shudders just the same in either gear.
In the end, it's a bike I would happily own and recommend to others. I'd put a different seat on it, and I'd load it up with BMW's factory bags, and it would make an excellent all-r0und bike. As it is, I have double-fond memories of my exploration of Oahu.


Dzesika said...

Motorcycle layover: AWESOME idea!

wunelle said...

I thought so! It seems sick and wrong, but the motorcycle itself kind of trumps everything else on the layover. Now I kind of wish I tried to rent a bike in CGN a couple weeks back.

Maybe this will be my new layover thing! (I hear my wife groan at this; it's a good deal pricier than just seeing a movie.)

Mr Tim said...


Nice post. Brought back fond memories of Mary and I's visit to the island to see her brother, that lived there for a couple of years. The weather was a bit crazy. Hope the weather flying is better than forecasted. Cheers. From a new Buell owner.

wunelle said...

(I've heard that Buell owners ROCK--as a general rule! ;-)