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"Well, as through the world I've rambled, I've seen lots of funny men. Some rob you with a sixgun, some with a fountain pen. As through this world you ramble, as through this world you roam You'll never see an outlaw drive a family from its home..." -Woody Guthrie

Monday, January 30, 2012

Billy's List Of Practical Motorcycles

For most Americans, motorcycles are considered expensive toys. But in much of the world, motorcycles have become practical everyday transportation. And with gasoline prices on the rise, some motorcycles stand a chance of finally being considered practical here in the USA.

For a motorcycle to be considered practical in 2012, it needs to meet certain criteria. We'll steer clear of racing bikes and factory customs and stick with bikes that are easy to ride, require the least maintenance, good in town and on the highway, cheaper to maintain, get good gas mileage, simple to work on, reasonably priced, still in production or only recently out of production, easy to find parts for, etc... Good, inexpensive, reliable transportation. And with the help of the gang at I've decided to put together a list.

I would love to add my XS650 Yamaha to the list but 30 year old anythings simply aren't practical. Were the XS650 still in production today it would certainly make the list.

Now granted, there are a number of not quite practical motorcycles that could be made practical with some modifications. Take the Yamaha XT660 for example. While the XT was designed as a dual-purpose on/off road motorcycle that is a little too tall for most riders to manage in city traffic, it could be lowered and tires changed to make it perform better on pavement and thus more practical. Several of the various dual-sport motorcycles could be made practical if you know enough about motorcycle mechanics or happen to be tall. Of course, if by chance you live 50 miles from the nearest paved road, then the XT660 is probably as practical a motorcycle as you can own. We'll call the dual sports as provisional and mark them as **.

The old Honda CB 350 and CB 450s were mentioned as being practical but that was then and this is now. Both bikes would be practical today were it not for the fact that both have been out of production for many years and parts are hard to come by locally. Fact is, there are probably more once practical motorcycles out of production than currently in production.

We avoided several popular 4 cylinder motorcycles because they are difficult to work on but some of the most dependable motorcycles ever built were and remain inline 4s.

The only current Harley-Davidson motorcycle that comes anywhere near being practical is the 883. And even it is pushing the edge between practical and too much motorcycle to be practical. I love Sportsters and Hogs but like so many popular motorcycles, they are both too big and too thirsty to be considered practical. A lot of bikes failed to make the list because they were simply too big or too powerful. We're talking motorcycles, not trucks.

I also steered away from what is commonly called, starter bikes as many are in the 250cc range and while great for short distance commuting, can be difficult and stressful on America's Interstate Highways. That said, several of the starter bikes are capable of more than 80 miles per hour and would have no problem with short highway runs. Just don't expect them to cruise 70 plus for hours on end.

The List of Practical Motorcycles

Suzuki Boulevard S40 and LS650 Savage.
**Kawasaki KLR650
Ninja 650R
Yamaha FZ6
Hyosung GT650
GS500 Suzuki
**Yamaha XT660
Kawasaki Versy
BMW F650 single
**BMW G650GS
**Suzuki V-Strom 650
Newer Triumph Bonnevilles
Yamaha XVS650
Suzuki SV650
Suzuki Bandit 600S
Suzuki Bandit 650

To be continued...

I was hesitant to add any electric motorcycles to this list for 1 reason. None that I know of will travel 100 miles at highway speeds (55-75 MPH.) without stopping to recharge the batteries. That said, if you're talking commuter bike and would rather drive the car on out of town trips you should certainly give electrics some thought.

If you have suggestions for this list you can add them below and I'll consider adding them to the list.

Monday, December 12, 2011

Modding The Rifle Superbike Fairing, Part 4

I've got to give it to the folks at Rifle Fairings: When it comes to motorcycles fairings, the team formerly known as Windjammer know fairings as well as anyone. Their fairings are everything I expected and more. That said, Rifle, like every other manufacturer of aftermarket universal motorcycle parts, is forced to design parts that work on lots of different kinds and styles of motorcycles ridden by lots of different kinds and styles of riders. Could Rifle have made me exactly the fairing I want? Sure. Could I afford it? No way. That's why I decided to start with their fairing and modify it to fit myself, my motorcycle and my style of riding.

When I first began Modding The Rifle Superbike Fairing I knew some of my modifications simply wouldn't work. When that happened I reverted back to stock. Others worked but not as well as I'd hoped. When that happened I tried again and again and...

Like the filling of the turn signal notches on either side of my fairing from Part 2. Gluing in pieces of ABS plastic and filling with ABS glue (a solution made from ABS solids soaked in solvents) worked quite well. But top coating and filling with a thin coat of Bondo body filler was a mistake. Apparently Bondo (Polyester) does not bond well with ABS. So it's back to filling with ABS glue. I think one last rough sanding is in order before I can switch to finer papers and start priming and painting. Did you know that some tattoo inks are made from ABS plastics?

The windshield extension works like a charm and is still low enough I can look over the top. That's good because the whistling caused by the modifications in Part 3 were driving me insane.And the venting I did in Part 1 has eliminated fogging altogether. In case you're interested, the extension is made from the headlight cover that came with the fairing when new.

Should you ever decide to drill a hole in a motorcycle windshield be sure to do so on a warm day as to not risk cracking the windshield. Now I get to learn how to repair a crack in clear polycarbonate.

The lowers I made serve two purposes. The first is to keep my feet warm and the second is to keep the engine cooled without getting a blast of hot air in my face. I made several pairs before I got the angles right but alas I made it work and work well. They still need sanding and painting but here's the front view.

There's plenty of room between them for the huge oil cooler I'm building to change the primary engine cooling from air to oil. I'm thinking I might attach some sort of pouch to the back. Here's the view from the rear.

If you know these bikes then you'll also notice I also relocated the horn so that it would no longer block airflow to the head of the engine.

And finally, I like getting my tools out of the saddlebags and into this leather toolbag but as this was the only way I can mount it I'm not sure if it will remain. It could be I'll attach the toolbag to the trailer hitch when it is finished or perhaps I'll design flatter side-covers and attach bags to both sides.

In Part 5 we'll look at some ideas I have for warmer winter riding. After all, if you only ride in July then you're hardly a biker.

Monday, July 4, 2011

Modding The Rifle Superbike Fairing

Like most who ride, I've never seen anything motorcycle related I didn't think could be improved upon. And while the Rifle Superbike Fairing is a great motorcycle fairing there are a few mods you can do to make it an even better fairing. If you click on the pictures they will expand.

I've been using cardboard and duct tape to experiment with reshaping the airflow around my own fairing. I've since pulled the tape off as evidenced by the residue and hope to soon start making some permanent modifications to the fairing itself. Now on to my first Rifle Superbike Fairing mod.

Look at the fairings used by the most accomplished Iron Butt Riders and you'll notice a common thread when it comes to the fairings they choose-- venting. Venting reduces fogging and improves laminar airflow while reducing turbulence behind the fairing. Venting the Rifle Superbike fairing is as easy as loosing the bolts, replacing the front bolts with longer bolts and 1/2" nylon spacers. This tips the windshield back only slightly and allows an upward airflow along the back side of the glass.

From a little farther away only the white fasteners make it noticeable. Sadly, the only nylon bolts I could find at my local hardware store were all white in color.

I do wish the windshield on the Rifle Superbike Fairing measured 20" instead of 18" as I could stand a couple more inches and still manage to see over the windshield. To adjust for that I may have to lower my riding height with shorter rear shock absorbers though I am considering an attempt at making a taller windshield.

Continue reading, Modding The Rifle Superbike Fairing, Part 2.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011


The time has come,
I need a break,
no more regrets,
no more mistakes.
So saddle up, boys,
it's time to go
to mountains high
and valleys low.

So twist those throttles,
let's hear 'em roar!
Tell the world
we want no more.
Give me freedom
or give me death,
just give me wind
my every breath.

So saddle up, boys,
let's make our way
to places that
we dream today.
Tie your gear
on back your steed
for that is all
you really need.

Give me freedom,
just thin white lines,
vistas wide,
no troubled minds.
We've waited months,
it's time to go
on back your steed
your mind aglow.

The time has come,
I'll meet you there.
No more regrets,
no more dispair.
Vistas wide
and monutains high,
we'll make our mark
upon the sky.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Last Minute Breakdown

Just before the big ride
the damned thing breaks
due to worn out parts
or my mistakes?
So it's off with the tank
and out with the gas,
clean everything up,
inspect to the last.

Could be only a speck,
a bit of trash
but whatever it is
it won't let me pass
so it's off to the shed
to pick up some tools,
clean everything out,
replace all the fuel.

Get 'er all warmed up
and ready to roll
before the big weekend
and regret takes its toll.
So please wish me luck
that the problem's soon found
and we all ride away
to seek higher ground.


With only speculation
I handled bolts and tools,
studied appreciation
of torque and varied fuels
to make a slight adjustment
and button all back down
I'm off to put her to the test,
her two wheels on the ground.

And while just slightly pensive
I aimed for Interstate
hoping that my little fix
wouldn't duplicate.
the problems of the day before
that kept me through the night.
I had to get her buttoned up--
had to get her right.

I pulled back on the throttle.
The same route I would ride,
forty, fifty, sixty,
even sixty-five.
Seventy, eighty, ninety,
all was going well.
I pushed her to a hundred plus,
slowed down, cruised a spell.