Sturgis: A low down, dirty good time

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All photos by Josh Kurpius

It was 10 a.m. and already too hot. Dust and the sound of uncorked V-Twins filled the air, and every decibel of spent combustion beat inside my head like a John Bonham drum solo. Surrounded by Harley-Davidsons covered from the grime of 1500 miles, trailers, and the empty Jack Daniels bottles of last night’s shenanigans, it finally hit me: this is what Sturgis is all about. Sturgis is a knock-down, drag out, low-down, and dirty good time. It’s as trashy, rock-and-roll, and loud as all the stereotypes suggest, but stereotypes don't matter when you’re having one helluva good time, and the experience is only heightened when you road trip out here. 4 days, 1500 miles, megatons of gasoline, and GoPro cameras recording every second; this is how you road trip on Harley-Davidsons.

Day One: Seattle as a Starting Block

Touching down in Seattle was the official start of the trip to Sturgis. Our trip began in earnest early the next morning. The fleet of new Harley-Davidsons sat in the morning fog waiting to fire up and wake up every single person that was still sleeping. Every bike was represented, from Sportsters and Softails and everything in between. I chose the Harley-Davidson Forty-Eight for the first day of riding – a 1200cc Sportster slathered in yellow and black like a pissed-off wasp. Clad with chunky tires and a bobbed rear fender, it sat like a bulldog in the early morning sunlight. The goal for the day: cover 815 miles and arrive in Lewiston, ID. All that stood between us was miles of twisting highway and Mt. Rainer National Park.

Quickly, I learned that this was going to be no doddering ride. Riding with some of the best extreme athletes in the world – people who see broken bones as a minor inconvenience – the pace would be swift regardless of the road ahead. And what lay ahead? Only miles of forest, mountain vistas, drop-offs that were comically high, and gravel in construction zones located right near those drop-offs. Every corner was a new, breathtaking view. After awhile, the sensory overload causes you to not be impressed. Oh, another mountain seemingly punching the clouds. Oh, how nice, another raging river crossing through picturesque forest landscape. And as gorgeous as it was, Mt. Rainer Park was soon behind us, the Forty-Eight taking every corner much better than I thought it could, and happily thumping along hundreds of miles.

The first day would end as we crossed into Lewiston, ID. The road in was also picturesque and gorgeous. Slowly rolling hills, the sun setting on our backs, and throttling the Harley’s through, it was a day of excellent riding. Not perfect, though, as a glaring flaw of the Forty-eight would shine through: suspension travel. On the rear, you pay for that low and lean look by sacrificing damping and travel in the suspension, and your back takes the lumps for it. It wasn’t nearly enough to dampen the spirits of the day though.

Day Two: On to Montana

Another day, another early morning rise, and miles of asphalt ahead of us. This time, though, I chose the Harley-Davidson Night Rod as my ride for the day. You may remember the Night Rod from our previous story when Bullz-Eye rode it at Indianapolis Motor Speedway, and its sibling the V-Rod Muscle on a trip in Miami. For those who don’t, the Night Rod is Harley-Davidson’s cruise missile. It’s the most powerful Harley-Davidson available, and our example was, as you can probably guess from the name, black as night. Smooth and powerful, it eats highway and miles effortlessly without any fuss. Another national park, more highway miles, and more of the absolutely most healthy road food in the world, and the day flew right by. 800 miles in, our trip to Sturgis was at the halfway point.

Day Three: Elk, Bears and Tourists

Day Three for me and the motley band of athletes would cover the least amount of miles, but lead us through Yellowstone to do it. The good was the fact that Yellowstone National Park is a mile of untamed wilderness, geysers,and bears. Mostly bears. Miles and miles of bears. It is also full of tourists, so the group’s hope to cruise right through was quickly dashed when we were stuck behind lines of tourists looking at “wilderness.” Yes, you should stop and smell the roses and take pictures of elk for your Facebook feed, but not every time.

Then, bison decided they didn’t want us to pass either. Bison, if you are not aware, do not give two shits about anything. Ambivalent to passing cars, RV’s and motorcycles. They will squat anywhere, at anytime, and sit there. At one point, the bison decided that the front of our group was a great place to take a break. Bison are also huge, and aggressive if you pass them, so with this in mind, we waited until they decided to move. Noticing that we were heating up as the bikes idled beneath our legs, the bison moved only slightly to let us pass. How polite of them.



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Thunderstruck: Bullz-Eye tests the Triumph Thunderbird

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The image is timeless, and nearly cliché at this point, but personifies cool. Marlon Brando is looking off into the distance, clad in a classic biker jacket and astride a motorcycle in the movie “The Wild One.” The bike makes the image; large and foreboding, it’s the bike of rebellion and teen spirit. That bike was a Triumph Thunderbird.

We took the latest version out for a test to see what about this bike made Brando so cool. You may think you only have one or two options for a cruiser with attitude, but overlooking a Thunderbird would be a big mistake.

Just like in that iconic image, the Thunderbird slinks in the background. Also black, the bike we tested always intrigued people for what it wasn’t. It fires on all the classic cruiser cues, chrome, loud, big, etc., but doesn’t have a V-twin, and emits a rumble that is different.

It’s this mystery that draws people in, and is the best part of the bike. Some parts of the bike look derivative, but the details set the bike apart on its own accord instead of a copy of something else.

The Thunderbird is motivated by a liquid-cooled 1597cc parallel twin motor. The motor puts out 87hp and 108 lb feet of torque, and every pony is felt even though this is a heavy bike at 746 lb, but a cruiser isn’t about numbers, it’s about the experience.

Usually, when you liquid cool a motor, character is lost -- that communication through vibration and clatter goes away to the whir of cooling fans. The Thunderbird, though, retains old school charm with new school technology. The motor barks and spits upon throttling off, and pierces the air with a low frequency rumble upon acceleration, but doesn’t burn your legs with the heat of a thousand suns. The motor quantifies the perfect balance between the demands of today with the attitude of yesterday.

Additionally, the bike comes with adjustable rear suspension, and disk brakes all around, but this bike was made for long, empty highway patches, not carving the corners. Plus, the brakes are exceptionally strong, although I would’ve liked for more feedback from the handle.

The Thunderbird also comes equipped with a digital readout of fuel, a tachometer, and a digital display of other parameters on the bike all in a single cluster. ABS is also standard, and Triumph has a bevy of options available to build the bike to your tastes. With all this in mind, the Thunderbird is a good value compared to other cruisers at $13,499.

Where other bikes are fine with a “me too” approach to cruisers, Triumph brings a unique offering with its own history. It’s the original Wild One, and to overlook Triumph’s mid-tier cruiser offering would be a mistake.

Photos: Armando Lorenzana

Bike provided by: Motoworks Chicago


Take It to the Track: The tips and gear you need to start racing

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Every office has that cheesy motivational poster that says, “By failing to prepare, you are preparing for failure.” “Office Space” flashbacks aside, when it comes to your first track day, preparation is crucial. But more than just going fast, a track day gives you the opportunity to be a part of one of the best communities of motorcycling that will help you even if you don’t have the tools or experience. The track will also provide you with an experience you can’t replicate anywhere else on the street.

Choose a School

Whether it’s your first time at the track or your 50th, you’re going to need to find a host to go through. For my first track day, I chose Superbike Track Time (STT) after a strong recommendation from my dealer at Motoworks Chicago. Ask your dealer too – they often have the contacts and experience needed to find the perfect host for you.

For my first excursion, I rode up to Road America in Elkhart Lake, WI on a day so hot it would make the devil sweat bullets. I also came seriously unprepared to a very serious racetrack. Upon riding into pit road with nothing more than a backpack with some tools and water, I noticed that everyone else was prepared with trailers, tools, tents, and everything else needed to go throughout the day. Not a calming start to the day.

One Big Fast Family

Luckily, this is where the community aspect comes in. Upon seeing my lack of tools, knowledge, and experience, the guys from took me under their wing. With their help, I was able to quickly learn what and what not to do on a track day. And everyone there was just as friendly. Racing is a seriously dangerous hobby, but this shared threat binds this group together. So even if you don’t come completely prepared, someone will help you through so that you can pay it forward when you see someone that shows up unprepared.

The Uniform of Speed

The one thing I did come prepared with was the proper gear needed for my first track excursion. Some track schools, like STT, have leathers you can rent for the day free of charge, but for those looking to do more track days, or are even semi-experienced, Alpinestars has a range of gear that you can call your own without breaking the bank.

A race suit is necessary for the track, but can get pricey. Alpinestars offers a two-piece that compromises on price but not quality. Built with all the necessary armor and reinforcements, the Carver is a great alternative to a one-piece suit. If it’s your first time wearing leathers, prepare to regret that last Big Mac you ate. The fit is good, but if you’re not cut like a pro racer, it’s not flattering. Use it as motivation to hit the gym; I know I will.



Passenger Protection: Icon has the gear needed to keep the person on the back of the bike safe

The dream of motorcycling is an open road, a rumbling exhaust, and a supermodel on the back with flowing blonde hair. With this image in mind, you buy a bike and then go on the lookout for a companion for the back. Often times, you may be successful, but although your girl’s high heels and dress may be suitable for a night out, they aren’t for riding a bike. So, what’s a person to do? Icon has the solution. They make the gear that your girlfriend will not only want to wear, but will keep her safe too.

There is extra pressure when someone is your passenger, but that’s no excuse not to include them. Riding pillion opens your significant other to the why behind the ride. They can experience for themselves the rush of riding a bike. We don’t just buy bikes because they are good to look at, but others don’t understand how fun they can be if they don’t experience it for themselves. Plus, once your passenger is comfortable, there will be no need to take the car out. They’ll be begging for the bike. But first, make sure they’re properly geared up.

Helmets for Her

For helmets, they have a variety of liveries and designs with females in mind. For this test, we used an Alliance helmet. You may recognize this piece from the last article we did, reason being is that it is a perfect all-around helmet for street use. It’s cheap, it’s protective and it’s light. This time around, we picked an Alliance helmet that has been slathered in Barbie pink from front to back.

The design is Chrysalis, but from my girlfriend’s reaction, they should call it OMG PINK!!! If your girlfriend is the glitter and pink type, get the helmet. It’s Disney princess approved and offers the same protection and comfort as the helmet on your head too.

Plus, the design will make her want to wear a full-face helmet. No complaints about their hair getting messed up, or how hot it may be. Get a design they like, pink or not, and they will want to wear the lid. Girlfriend’s not a pink fan? Have her pick out a design from the dozen of choices Icon has.

Suit Her Up

Icon’s jacket choices take their female options past just making it pink, however. Case in point: the One Thousand Federal Jacket. Part of the One Thousand collection, this jacket leaves off flashy graphics and logos for a subdued, vintage vibe. All leather, this jacket is more Black Widow than Disney Princess. The best part is that the jacket has D3O armor in the shoulders, elbows and back.

For those unfamiliar, D3O is a special type of foam that is soft when at rest, but upon impact, firms up. Because of the dual nature of the material, the armor can be slimmer and more comfortable – just another example of form and function combining at last.

Remember to get you girlfriend involved in the decision process, though. For as much as I loved the jacket, my girlfriend found it heavy and ungainly. Forgetting that she isn’t used to motorcycle gear, it will take her some time to adjust, but comfort is a top priority in order to keep your passengers to feel confident on the bike. That’s why she loves her Contra jacket that is lighter, made of fabric, but does not offer the D3O.

The One Thousand Federal is a premier motorcycle jacket with a cost to match, but you don’t need to spend a lot to make your girlfriend happy. She’ll be happy with the gear she chooses rather than the choice you give her.

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Like Steve McQueen: Triumph Bonneville brings 60s cool to the new millennium

The Triumph Bonneville is etched into motorcycle lore. When it was created in 1957, it was one of the world’s fastest bikes. The epitome of fast and loud, it’s the original bad boy bike from across the pond. In 2001, Triumph brought it back for a new generation, but times have changed. The superbike of yesteryear is but a mildly fast ride today; that doesn’t mean that the bike has lost any of its legendary qualities though. So, can a retro-styled bike deliver an exhilarating riding experience without the latest tech and stratospheric horsepower numbers? In short, yes it can.

The Bonneville comes in three separate trims depending on how much you have to spend and the look you are going for. The Base and SE have cast wheels, and the SE adds two-tone paint and a tachometer. The T100 adds wire wheels, a different two-tone paint scheme and more chrome for a definite ‘60s vibe. The Scrambler is styled like a vintage desert sled and the Thruxton looks like a café racer of old. For this test, I took out the base Bonneville, no frills and no extras, to see how it performs.

Classic looks revisited

The Bonneville is not just a motorcycle, but a snapshot in time. Mods vs. Rockers, café racers, swinging ‘60s, Steve McQueen, Bob Dylan; the Triumph Bonneville was around during a truly exciting period in culture and history. To bring this look back may seem like a no-brainer, but it carries a certain amount of risk in that it can’t be a carbon copy or too different than the original. The base Bonneville strikes a good balance. Its cast wheels bring the look up to around the mid-70s, but don’t age the bike too much compared to modern machinery. And like your boomer parents, the Bonneville is plumper today than it was back then both visually and on the scales.

Park anywhere, though, and you might as well be stepping out of a time machine. People continually ask not where to get the bike, but how old is it, where to get one restored, and how much it costs. Slathered in gold paint, the vintage look is played up, but people are honestly surprised when you tell them it’s brand new; and for much less than they think. You can walk out the door with a brand new base Bonneville for $7699. However, all the good looks in the world are useless if the Bonnie is not an engaging ride. All other retro bikes lean on their classic looks to not provide a modern riding experience, but does the Triumph do the same?

Do the ton, eventually

Motivated by an 865cc parallel-twin, the Bonneville has the same type of motor as it did all those years ago, but with more displacement. The powerplant boasts 67hp, 50lb. ft. of torque attached to a five-speed transmission, but those are just numbers. In real life, this means more thrust than your average cruiser, but not enough to warp you into another dimension like the Diavel we just tested.

For all the heritage and history, though, the motor doesn’t want to remind you of any of it. It’s smooth almost to a fault, and with stock exhausts, much too quiet. Fire it up and you’d think you accidently got on somebody’s scooter. Get an aftermarket pipe and she’ll sing the song of the ‘60s all day, but in stock format, the motor has too little personality for what the looks promise.

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