Wednesday, March 25, 2009

A Long Sunday Ride

Last Sunday, my wife and I decided to meet up with some of the other members of for a ride through north Georgia and a little bit of east Tennessee. Most of the group met at a gas station off of Ga-400 north of Atlanta and rode from there to our "official" starting point of Rider's Hill in Dahlonega. After warming up for a little bit (the start of the day was about 40 degrees,) we hit the rode. It became immediately apparent that I need to practice riding winding roads more. Not only was I riding well below the speed limit, the rest of the group was far enough ahead that I took a wrong turn at the first chance I got. Fortunately, I realized my mistake and turned around before too much time was lost. After that, the group split into two groups: the fast riders and my wife and me, bracketed by the ride organizer and another rider who was perfectly happy to follow us at whatever speed we chose.

After almost 90 miles of mountain roads, we stopped for gas and lunch in Tellico Plains, TN. at a place named Prospector's. Good food and good prices and a place to relax after some very technical roads.

Following lunch, we made our way back to the Ocoee Scenic Byway and made a small detour off the main road to one of the overlooks along the Ocoee River. The overlook was at the top of a steep, winding road that may have been two lanes. I couldn't tell since it wasn't painted and I didn't have enough concentration to spare from trying to negotiate the turns. While two of us hadn't wanted to go to the overlook, it was well worth the ride up for its breathtaking view.

By that time it was getting late enough in the day that we all needed to high-tail it back to Atlanta. Overall, we put another 360 miles on our bikes from 7:00 am to 9:30 pm. A few of my pictures are below.

The initial gathering started early in the morning.

All the bikes parked outside of Prospector's.

The view from the overlook.

Never leave home without your traveling Gnome.

As a point of interest, the motorcycles along for the ride were as follows: Suzuki Hyabusa, Yamaha FJR, Yamaha FZ-1, BMW R-1150GS, Kawasaki Versys, Buell Blast, and Kawasaki EX250.

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Non-Routine Maintenance

For some time now the Ninja has been having what I thought to be problems with the carburetor being dirty. What I mean is that when the throttle got opened wide, the engine would bog down and sometimes stall. Pretty clearly some sort of fueling issue.

Here is where it comes in handy to either be a good mechanic or know one. A friend of ours (the same one who fixed my fairing) came over this morning to help me take the carb off and give it a thorough cleaning. When he got the carb off of the engine (in about the same amount of time as it takes me to get the fairing off) we discovered that the vent hose that helps regulate the air flow had a kink in it.
Like so:

We cut this section off the hose and re-installed everything. Took it out for a test ride and everything was back to the way it should be. The bike should now be reliable enough for me to get back to commuting regularly on it next week.

Saturday, March 7, 2009

Suzuki GS500F

I've been meaning to post a review of my own bike for a while. I ride a 2005 Suzuki GS500F. It's one of the more commonly recommended beginner sport bikes. This doesn't mean it is slow by car standards; I used to have a C4 Corvette, and the GS500F was a bit faster up to any legal speeds. I'd say that it is still suitable for most people as a first time bike, if you've scored well on the exams at the MSF class. If you're feeling uncertain after the class, though, something like a Ninja 250 or Buell Blast might be a better choice as they are a bit easier to ride.

The GS500 has been around since the late '80s, but Suzuki gave it a major styling update in 2004 to make the GS500F. Without the decals, you'd have a difficult time telling a GS500F from a GSX-R600 unless you look at it closely enough to spot the difference in handlebars or manage to catch a glimpse of the cooling fins under the bodywork. It seems that F may stand for "fairing," but the naked (that is, no plastic bodywork) version was called the GS500E, and I'm not entirely sure what, if anything, the E stood for.

Power comes from an air cooled parallel twin, with two valves per cylinder. It slots in between the Ninja 250 and Ninja 500 for overall power, making somewhere in the vicinity of 50 hp. It redlines at 11,000 RPM and is quite happy cruising at around 5,000. Like I said earlier, the power to weight ratio is a little bit higher than an '80s era Corvette. It is enough power to get you in trouble if you don't respect it... but unlike a 600 cc supersport, you need to show it some pretty blatant disrespect. It typically gets around 50 to 60 miles to the gallon.

The one point where it can be a bit unforgiving is the rear brake. It has a single hydraulic disc at each end, and if you panic and stomp on the brake pedal, it can lock the rear wheel. You'll want to make a point of using the front brake a lot more heavily than the rear.

Handling is pretty agile without being twitchy. It's certainly a fun bike to attack twisty roads with. If pushed to the limit, it's not as sophisticated as a supersport or a more expensive sport-standard like a Buell Lightining, but it's still a lot of fun. It's also quite stable in crosswinds, even though it's not a particularly heavy bike. Heavy is relative here, though - it feels a bit heavier than a Ninja 250, Buell Blast, or most of your common MSF range bikes. It's lighter than the CX500 I used to ride, and about the same weight as a 600 cc supersport.

The one area I'd want to improve on is comfort. It's not too bad to ride about town, but ride it for an hour or more and you'll start wanting a better seat. Kawasaki arguably does a better job with their factory seats on the Ninja, and unlike Ninjas, there are few aftermarket seats available for a GS500F. I'm also 6'2" tall and my legs start feeling a little bit cramped on a very long ride, though I could probably ignore that if it wasn't for the seat. I've got to wonder why the aftermarket hasn't stepped up, as there's quite a few of these bikes out there and it's definitely an item that owners could use. The riding position itself is quite comfortable; it's fairly upright with a little bit of forward lean. I modified the handlebar mounts on mine to make it friendlier for a tall rider.

There is one weird "gotcha" about owning a GS500F. For some reason, many of the parts books list the wrong oil filter. Don't let them sell you a spin on filter like the one you'd put on a car; the correct filter is a cartridge that sits inside the engine and looks more like a miniature automotive air filter.

Here's how I would sum this bike up.

Good points:
  • Enough power to be fun without getting out of hand for the beginning rider
  • Contemporary sportbike styling
  • Sporty handling
Bad points:
  • Really needs a better seat