Trizzle’s Take – Millennials and Motorcycles

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My dad is what you would call, very “old school.” Mention carburetors, throttle cables, and distributor caps, and you have his full attention. Though he was more a car guy than a bike guy, talk about the “good ol’ days,” and he’ll regale you with tales of his youth — when roadside repairs consisted of bubble gum and a screwdriver, or when “garage mechanic” had a more literal meaning. As soon as the conversation drifts to such 21st-century items as ride-by-wire, traction control, and electronic fuel injection, a look of disdain fills his face, followed by a scoff at such newfangled, “complicated technology.” It’s a minor miracle I even had a digital calculator when I was in school.

This year marks the tenth year I’ve been riding motorcycles — likely a relatively short amount of time compared to many of you reading this. Pops was against me riding a motorcycle during my childhood and still isn’t thrilled that I do it now. But as we all know, it’s hard to keep a determined teenager down.

I discovered this sport towards the end of the analog period of motorcycles and learned all about them by wrenching on my first two specimens, a 1990 Yamaha FZR600 and 2000 Suzuki SV650 — two distinctly analog motorcycles. I mostly wrenched by myself, but every now and then the ol’ man would peek his head in and occasionally get his hands dirty. Father-son bonding at its best.

Suzuki SV650 Trackday

This first-generation Suzuki SV650 taught me almost everything I know about motorcycles. I tore it down and put it back together so many times I knew it inside and out. Its sheer analog simplicity made it easy to work on.

Then I entered the moto-journalism business. Suddenly, I was handed brand new motorcycles and had to learn the latest in motorcycling. I didn’t know how I’d adapt – considering my upbringing – from outdated technology. Would I be lost? Not understand the concepts at all?

Turns out the basics never change. The throttle, clutch, shifter, and brakes all do the same thing. After reading guest contributor, Chris Kalfelz’s Head Shake column, Future Shock, I was reminded of my dad and how he would likely have the same reaction as Kalfelz to modern motorcycle technology — a necessary evil. As humans, we naturally fear the unknown. Computer programming is a big one in regard to older generations of riders.

Kawasaki ZX-10R Download

The only tool I needed to tweak that ZX-10R in front of me was a laptop.

But it’s also undeniable the benefits modern bikes make available to the average rider: programmable electronic fuel injection, power modes, traction control, ABS, wheelie control, you name it. After every sportbike test we conduct at MO, there’s always the commenter who chastises these technologies as inhibiting the new rider from learning proper motorcycling “the old-fashioned way.” As someone who came up relying on only my right wrist for traction control and even won a roadracing championship on motorcycles without TC, I can confidently say that I embrace the new march of technology in today’s bikes.

Two moments stick out in my mind as signaling my personal acceptance of digital from analog. The first came in 2008. I was at the famous Jerez de la Frontera circuit in Spain at the world press launch of the brand new Ducati 1098R — the first production motorcycle with traction control. I remember following another rider into a fast left sweeper. With my knee on the deck, I see the rider inching away from me. Wanting to keep up, I gave the 1098R a generous helping of throttle. I felt the rear slide then grip, then slide and grip again, leaving a squiggly black line behind as it continued this dance until sufficient grip was reached. I didn’t realize it at the time, but the traction control had just saved me from a massive highside.

The second was a trackday at Spring Mountain Motorsports Ranch in Pahrump, Nevada. I was testing a 2010 Kawasaki ZX-10R we had fitted with simple mods like a pipe and fuel management system. After each session I simply plugged in a laptop, pressed a few buttons, hit enter, and altered the performance of the motorcycle. My hands never got dirty and I didn’t have to scramble with swapping jets and putting the carb back together before the next session. I’ve found modern motorcycle technology fascinating ever since.

From a rider’s standpoint, to me every bike has its time and place. I still enjoy hopping on analog bikes for their sheer simplicity. Still, I’m a naturally curious person, and seeing all the different buttons, options, and technologies on modern motorcycles allow me to explore is an enjoyable process for me. As I experienced in 2008, those technologies could possibly save not just my life, but yours as well. Who wouldn’t be a fan of that?

Ducati 1098R Elbow Down

Rider aids like traction control give me the confidence to twist my wrist at elbow-dragging lean angles and not highside myself into orbit. While I’m still cautious with throttle application today, it’s nice to know some bikes have systems in place to keep me in line should I slip up.

Personally, I found (and still find) the learning process with new motorcycles to be enjoyable. Confusing at times, yes, but in the back of my mind, I know these technologies will either help me ride faster, safer, or both. While I appreciate the analog motorcycles of yore, I don’t miss busted knuckles and gas spilling everywhere only to find out the mod I made didn’t help. I like wrenching just as much as the next guy, but I enjoy riding more. Replacing the wrench with a laptop in this digital age has given me more time to do that, and to do it with more confidence than ever before. I like that.

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  • Craig Hoffman

    The precise nature of fuel injection and the ease in which the rider can address it via tuning tools and laptops is fantastic. I ride street and dirt, love my fuel injected street and dirt bikes!

    • Scott Silvers

      My first FI bike is a Vstrom, and I agree – it’s simply incredible to not have to fret over the fuel mixture anymore!

  • DavidyArica Freire

    Thanks for the article, I wished I grew up with a mechanical dad and background but I’m just learning now kind of… I truly enjoy modern technogy but I would guess I would enjoy the simplicity of fixing something yourself too.

    • TroySiahaan

      Yeah, old and new both have their charms. Just enjoy the sport and you’ll learn plenty along the way.

  • Jason Evariste Cormier

    So what you are saying is that TC allowed you to let the red mist descend and then ride too hard, without consequence. You allowed the Duc to take over and the computer to replace your skill. Had you been on a non-TC equipped machine, you would have either respected the boundary or crashed – either way, the lesson would have been learned. But you relied on the bike to do the work for you. That is what we luddites keep harping on about. Stick a newer rider on an alphabet soup motorcycle and they are learning to ride based on what the computer is doing, not what the bike is doing.

    That’s fine for keeping people out of the weeds and preventing Joe and Jane Average from killing themselves on overpowered street machines (and I have no problem with those things existing and saving asses in the real world) – but real skills are built on analog motorcycles.

    • TroySiahaan

      I appreciate the feedback, Jason. You’re right, when I’m riding non-TC bikes I’m very aware of that fact and place an even greater focus on smooth inputs. While I see your point about analog motorcycles (and don’t get me wrong, they can be great learning tools), there’s still plenty to be learned on today’s digital motorcycles as well.

    • Kevin

      For the same reason real men don’t wear helmets; you have to respect the boundaries through hard learning. Put your face through a curb and you won’t make that mistake again!

    • Scott Silvers

      Don’t give me hi-tech, just give me something that works……Yes, certainly, but you cannot argue with the benefits that tech brings – and for most of us, perhaps learning ‘those lessons’ need not ever happen. Ever consider that?

  • octodad

    as a younger man rode old and home built motorcycles. lot of fun. now have 2014 w/ABS. no comparison. if you like your hands numb and your ears ringing, build a bobber. TC and ABS add to safety/confidence.like the difference between bias ply and radials. like riding fast, still enjoy older scoots, just prefer newer models

  • toomanycrayons

    “I like wrenching just as much as the next guy, but I enjoy riding more.”

    I don’t like wrenching at all, I wouldn’t even wash the damn thing if I didn’t have to. Got tires that never need pumping? I’ll buy them. I like riding, the rest is just a waste of time. There’s sex, and there’s shopping for bedroom linens with your lady. If you’re fussing with the bike, you know who you are…

    • TroySiahaan

      LOL. To each their own!

    • Scott Silvers

      I don’t think I’ve EVER really seriously washed my Vstrom…..?

      • toomanycrayons

        I hadn’t heard the ladies liked infrequently washed V-Stroms. Maybe yours is the full litre version that seriously turns so many pretty heads?

  • Scott Silvers

    Your article brings up points that riders can certainly agree on. Having discovered motorcycles in 1979, I’ve been lucky to have seen motorbikes evolve from the primordial ooze, to the futuristic robots we take for granted today. I for one, relish the awesomeness of F.I., having suffered the delirium of endless despair in trying to get that float bowl level just right – on all 4 carbs….no thanks ever again! Still, I wonder what the Craigslist ads will be like in 30 years when all these computery wonderbikes are being touted as ‘vintage’….will we still be able to fix em up with a screwdriver, vise grip, and duct tape?