Monday, May 11, 2015

Mother's Day Trip - Plan B works out well!

The original plan had been for us and the gang to ride Arkansas over the Mothers Day weekend. You can read about a couple of our past trips here:
Mothers Day 2012 - Mothers Day 2011 - Mothers Day 2010

This year the weather has been crazy and the forecast for this Mothers Day trip was not looking good at all. In fact the weather channel was forecasting for the entire weekend 80% chance or higher for rain and severe weather.This was not good news. I had to make a decision on the trip as we needed to make room arrangements. With a heavy heart we cancelled. Now I had to come up with Plan B. I knew the other group would not be able to attend, so I thought it would be fun to make this a true Mothers Day gift for Jamie. The weather looked to be decent south and east so I decided to plan something headed that way. As many of you all know, Jamie loves the Casinos and I thought that it would be fun to include someplace new on the agenda. Here was the trip agenda I came up with. 
Thursday we would load up and head to Nacogdoches Texas to lay over on our way to Lake Charles, Louisiana.  On Friday we would ride to Lake Charles and play some at a couple of the casinos. On Saturday we would head over to Natchitoches Louisiana for a quiet day of back roads and relaxation. Then back to the metroplex for Mothers Day. Here is the write up of the weekend. It turned out to be a great trip.

Thursday May 7th - The journey begins.

Earlier in the week I had to get a new set of tires for the Versys. The stock OEM BridgeStones were almost wore at at almost 4000 miles. I did not think that they would make it another 1000 miles. I decided to try out the Michelin Pilot Road 4's. I have always like the PR brand of tire. My local dealership, Plano Kawasaki installed the tires and even cleaned up the bike for me. They matched the internet price of the tires and went above and beyond in cleaning the bike. I am loyal to this dealer for these types of actions. 

Now that the bike had fresh rubber, all that was needed was to pack up the bike and get headed out on the journey. I took Bella to the kennel and finished packing on Wednesday. Jamie left school a little late and finished packing as well. We were ready to hit the road. 

We took off for the trip a little later than we had anticipated. We stopped at our usual meeting spot for a quick cup of coffee. Our plans had us having breakfast at The Shed in Edom. I am participating in the Texas Small Cafe Motorcycle tour and the Shed is one of the places on the list. We got to the Shed around 11:30. Lunch was as good as always. We got our needed pictures to get the points for the tour. The weather had been overcast most of the day, but now the sun was shinning. 

Jamie and I snaked our way along the East Texas back roads, enjoying the green lush trees, the wonderful smells of the outdoors and just taking our time enjoying the Texas
country side. It was a great afternoon of riding. We arrived at the hotel around 4pm. We cleaned up and jumped back on the bike. We started off with getting coffee across from Stephen F. Austin University. It was happy hour at Starbucks. Dinner was decided on earlier as we both wanted the onion rings at Clear Springs. The onion rings were calling our names and we were responding. It was a very nice dinner. We had to pick up a few items, so on our shopping trip we decided to get the game Farkle. We rode over to Java Jacks and had a nice cup of coffee with some carrot cake for desert. To top off the evening, I  got beat up by Jamie in Farkle.  It was a great way to end a relaxing day on the motorcycle. It was a great start to the journey. Tomorrow we ride to Lake Charles. A place that neither one of us had ever visited. 

Friday May 8th - Lake Charles here we come!

Jamie and I took our time getting around and on the road. We had less than 200 miles to Lake Charles. We were taking the back roads and we were not on the clock. Yes vacations
are very nice. We rode through the Louisiana back country, taking in all of the new scenery. We saw plenty of Catfish, Mudbugs and rice farms. The road conditions are not as good as we are accustomed to here in Texas. The back roads had areas that needed some work. The pace was not fast and since there are a very limited amount of corners, the pace of the day fit the mood. We took our time and stopped when we wanted. We rode around storms all day but again, did not get a chance to wear our rain gear. This was not the case for Arkansas and Dallas, as both areas was getting some very severe weather. Plan B so far seemed to be working out quite well. 

We arrived in Lake Charles around 3PM. we stayed in a hotel off the main casino drag as we did not feel a need to spend $399 a night when we could spend $70 and have just as good of a nights sleep. The people in Louisiana were very friendly. At the hotel the check in person was having issues with the computer. She just gave us a key and said to come back later to get all the information for checking in. She also said that we could park the bike under the front canopy so it would stay out of the weather. She was very nice indeed. 

We had not eaten much so we took a quick shower and headed down to the Casinos. We went to Lauberge first. This is a very nice - Las Vegas style casino. It was beautiful and had some awesome motorcycle parking in the garage. We went and ate while sitting next to the lazy river. The food was very good and well priced. The Shrimp was amazing. The casino was large and well ventilated. This is important as smoke just kills me and my mood. We played some and just walked around talking in the visuals of the casino. It was a very nice place. After a couple of hours we decided to walk down the board walk to the Golden Nugget. The two casinos are connected by a nice board walk along the river. People were out playing volleyball on the beach enjoying the nice weather. People had boats parked on the beach and everyone seemed to be having fun. There were some very pretty
people walking around all tanned and fit. This was a very cool place. The only downer was the cost of a couple of margaritas at the beach bar. $15 a drink in a small cup is not cool. We learned, just felt like we were getting ripped off. It must work as the place was swamped. Not a huge issue, just caught us by surprise. Thank GOD we are light weights when it comes to drinking. The Nugget was a very nice casino as well. We did not have very good luck at either place, but it was a great evening. I love exploring new places with my beautiful wife. Doing it while riding a motorcycle makes it even better. I am a very lucky guy. It was a fabulous evening. 

Saturday May 9th - Winning Rocks - Heading to Fred's Lounge.

We had a great evening of rest. It rained a little overnight, but the forecast for the day was bright and sunny. We had been watching the weather channel and shaking our heads over the current weather activity. The Dallas area was getting beat up with severe weather, rain and tornado warnings. Arkansas was getting the same and mother nature threw in some heavy flooding to boot. It was snowing in Denver and a hurricane was rolling into the east coast. The weather gods were angry. The cool thing was this. Jamie and I had not had to put on rain gear for the trip. The sun was shining and it was actually warm in the afternoons. As many of you know, I am not one of these flexible, fly by the seat of your pants kind of guy. I like plans and being organized. This trip was thrown together with no schedule and it was a BLAST! I am going to have to rethink my approach to some of these trips. 

We decided to get up and head over to the last large casino we did not get to visit yesterday. The Isle of Capri is across the river and in the industrial part of Lake Charles. The Casino is not as nice looking as the others we had visited but the staff was really friendly. We went and had breakfast and then I told Jamie she could play a little as long as she won. Well she takes instruction well. She got back some of the money we had lost the previous evening and paid for breakfast. It was a great way to leave Lake Charles. I think we will be back again. It was a fun place. As we were riding out of town the skies got dark and cloudy, but again no rain. We were lucky in the casino and with the weather. This Saturday morning was starting off great!. 

We rode more back roads and made our way over to Fred's Lounge in Mamou La. Jamie had never had the experience of Fred's. Its an awesome place and no matter what time of day you visit, people are drinking and dancing. Smiles are abound as the patrons are all having the time of their life while listening to some pure Cajun music. It is a fantastic place to be uplifted. It makes me smile just thinking about it. 

After enjoying a couple of hours at Fred's we jumped back on the bike and took off to Natchitoches. We took our time and just took in the day. The weather cleared and it actually got warm by the end of the day. The riding was very good. The country side was green and the roads were empty. It is a great combo for a nice afternoon on the motorcycle. 

Jamie and I got to the hotel around 2:30PM. We cleaned up and headed to the historic downtown. We grabbed a quick snack and soaked in the slow pace of this great old town. I love this place. We spent the rest of the day and evening walking around and eating. haha. We walked the square and enjoyed the river. It was another awesome day. Our Plan B was still working out. It was just what the doctor ordered for the two of us. No stress, just enjoying each others company in a no stress environment.

It hit us while we were getting ready to fall asleep. Our trip was almost over. The time away was much needed. These trips make our bond so much stronger. I love the fact that my wife loves riding. I love that she enjoys my passion on the same level as I do. We love being on the bike. It would have been really easy to abort this trip. The weather forecast looked to be awful. The cards were stacked against us, but we decided to go for it and damn we were so glad we did. 

Sunday May 10th - Mother's Day, Cloudy skies, bad forecasts and tornado's warnings whoo hoo!

We awoke to a very humid morning. The weather channel was not sharing good news. It
looked like the state of Texas was under some sort of severe weather warning. We knew that Sunday could be a wet day, now it was hitting home. We decided to slab home and try to beat the storms. We ate a quick breakfast at the hotel and hit the road. We made our first stop just outside of Shreveport on I-20. The skies were ominous but we were still dry. The forecast was not looking good in the metroplex. Our friends were sending texts concerned for our safety. We started to get worried as well but at this time we were dry and the roads were flowing well. 
We were very fortunate as we got behind a group of three cars that were moving along at a good rate of speed. We made great time and when we parted ways from them we were still dry and within 100 miles of home. We jumped off for a snack around the Van Texas exit. Our timing was good as a couple of hours later they were pummeled with very high winds, rain and golfball sized hail. 

We rolled into the garage after recording 979 miles for the trip. It started raining the last 20 minutes of the trip, but not hard enough to even put on rain gear. We were lucky as it seemed like we rolled through places right after or before they got hammered with weather. We had a fantastic trip. It was a much needed get away and we stayed dry. It was a win-win. 

I wanted to take a few minutes to wish my wife a happy Mother's day. She is such a caring, warm and compassionate person. She takes care of our children like no other. Her love for them and for me are apparent in everything that she says and does. I love her with all my heart. I hope she enjoyed this Mother's Day trip. I love you Jamie - Thanks for being the best Mother and Wife a family could ask for. 

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

The Ultimate Sport Touring Machine

I have owned my 2015 Versys since the end of January of this year, In that time I have enjoyed almost 4000 miles of pure motorcycle joy. Look - I understand that any time one is riding it is usually a good time. So let me explain my excitement for this machine. As many of you know, I came to the Versys after a great 5 year tango with my Kawasaki C-14. I loved

the big C-14 and would have no issue riding another for many miles. It is a great machine with a wonderful motor and great two up comfort. With that being said, I have to say that as of this moment the Big Versys is the best sport touring machine I have ever ridden. I have taken rides on many bikes that fit into this genre. I love the BMW RT. I love the look and feel and the ride was amazing. What I did not enjoy was the price tag and the reliability issue that comes into play with owning a BMW. I also love the GS Adventure. Again for the same reasons as listed above I decided on something else. I belong to a local BMW club. I have seen first hand how good and bad these machines can be. The piece of mind and the price tag do not give me the warm and fuzzies. 

I rode the Triumph Trophy. I really wanted to like it as I had owned a Trophy in the past. I love the triple and I really enjoy having a machine that is unique. You know.. not pulling up to your favorite riding hangout and parking your bike next to 3-4 others that look just like it.
The Triumph has character. Riding it was nice but it felt BIG. It was pricey and it just seemed to Goldwingish (is that a word?) for me. I also wanted to really like the big V-Strom. I had ridden the wee and Jamie and I had some of the best rides on that smaller bike. It was light, looked cool (as cool as a wee storm can look) it was economical and it was just fun. Jamie loved the seat and could ride for hours on it. The motor was good. You had to plan a good two up passing maneuver but it was all good. I went and looked at the Big Strom and after riding it was not very excited. It was a good a machine. It would have done everything well and I am sure it would have been a reliable, fun machine. The only thing was the fact that it stirred no emotion in me. It was plain jane and I was not looking for plain. I wanted excitement. 

You have to remember that I do a lot of two up riding. I need a machine that is reliable, comfortable, good two up, fun in the twisty stuff and has a powerful enough of a motor to make passing a reaction and not a planned affair. If it were just me doing the solo thing. I would have a Ninja 1000, Ninja ZX-14 or a Ducati Multistrada (still the sexiest bike around). I would go for more sport and more of an aggressive feel. Trust me, I am not complaining. I love the fact that my wife loves to ride. I am a lucky man indeed. So with all of that out of the way let me tell you about my ultimate sport touring machine. 

Enter the 2015 Kawasaki Versys

I had heard rumblings that the guys in Japan and at Kawasaki were contemplating bringing the Big Versys to the states. I had followed the boards on the previous versions and was very interested in the bike. Even in the older version, I loved the motor and the bike itself. The looks fit into the unique category for me so I was OK with that as well. Then I saw rumors that the front end and look would be changed to resemble the Ninja. I was now very excited. I have always loved the Ninja look and I could just imagine what it would look like on the Versys platform. I started looking at the forums and lurking around. I wanted to see what current owners thought of the Versys. I was not disappointed. The board was full of enthusiastic riders who loved their machines. I started to plant the seed with my wife. Explaining that the C-14 was rounding 65K and that I was looking for something a little more up to date. She loved the C-14 so I had to tread lightly here. I wanted her to be happy and I wanted her to continue to be excited about riding. I told her that when they came to the states I would like to test ride one. 

I walked into our local dealer on a Friday and guess what? they had just gotten one in. It was beautiful, it was orange and even if I did not want to admit it, it was going to be mine. I spoke with the owner of Plano Kawasaki and she said that she would hold onto the bike for the weekend. Jamie and I could not ride it until Monday as Jamie was feeling a little under the weather. True to her word, the bike was gassed up and ready to roll on that Monday. She told us to go ride it and don't worry about being back in some allotted time frame. We took advantage of that and put a good 30 miles on the bike before returning with ear to ear smiles. Well the rest is history. 

We traded in the Big C-14 and started our new journey on the Versys. During our test ride. Jamie and I were impressed with a couple of things right off the bat. The comfort level was amazing. The seat was good and having the extra leg room due to the adventure styling was a big selling point. The rear seat and pegs had her folded up on the C-14. She is
only 5'2 but still after a long 400-500 mile day her knees would let her know that she had spent a long day on the bike. This would not be an issue on the V. We also loved the power. The V has less horsepower than the C-14 but it also had less bulk. About 150lbs less. It made passing and high speed maneuvering a breeze. The Versys was also much easier to handle in slow maneuvering areas, like parking lots. The weight loss was very apparent in parking lot maneuvering and made these tasks seem easy and flawless. Here is a breakdown of the Versys from our experience to this point. 

The Power Plant & Power Train - * * * * *
Kawasaki is known for their reliable, powerful and great sounding motors. The Versys does not disappoint in this area. 
The power plant is smooth, strong and the torque is tractor strong. It make plenty of usable power and if you get on it, the motor reminds you that it is a sportbike in adventure clothing. This motor provides more than ample excitement. It is tuned for spirited riding as well as the dreaded slabbing when needed. The motor does everything well. Nothing sounds better than this bike when you are pushing 7000-8000 RPM. The sound is truly intoxicating! You had better be prepared when pushing the rev limiter. This bike is fast and fun. Nothing else can be added. the motor is EXCELLENT!

The bike is chain driven, this was not an issue with me when considering the bike. I have ridden chain driven bikes for years. I love the shaft drive thing, but it is not a deal breaker at all. The transmission is seamless. It shifts easily and the clutch takes very little effort. In fact the shifting feels a little too good as I am used to a solid thunk when changing gears. The slipper assisted clutch makes spirited riding a lot of fun. The drive train and clutch are world class and 2nd to none. 

Suspension & Traction Control - * * * * *
You can adjust the front and rear suspension on the big Versys to many different settings
depending on your riding style, size and comfort level. I have left the front alone, but have adjusted the rear many times. The rear knob allows for easy adjustment. It allows me to alter the ride when Jamie is on board, when we have the bike fully loaded or when I am out just riding solo. The travel of the suspension allows for a spirited run without having to worry about dragging any hard parts. The center stand has hit a couple of times in very aggressive cornering two up when hitting some bumpy pavement. Other than that it is not an issue. We are taking her to Arkansas in a couple of weeks and we are excited about taking the twisty spirited riding up a notch. Stay tuned as I will report on that in the ride report. 

The traction control is very good. There are 2 power settings. Full and Limited. Full allows 100% of the power plant to be available at the twist of the wrist. Limited takes this down to 75% There are three levels of traction control 1-2-3 with 3 being very muted and used mainly for rain. You can turn off the traction control if you would like. I ride with it in Full 1 position and it is a blast. Be careful as the bike will pull the front wheel pretty easily with just an abrupt twist of the wrist. Fun indeed.. just be ready!

Comfort & Finish - * * * * *
This has to be one of the most comfortable machines I have ever ridden. The tall seat height and travel in the suspension makes for a great ride. My wife loves the seat as mentioned above. The seat has been a winner with me as well. We have done a few 400+ days with no issue. Jamie used to have to utilize an airhawk on longer trips, but no longer. The wind screen works surprisingly well. I do not get any buffeting and it seems the
pillion does not get moved around as well. In the colder months of the year a larger screen would be nice. There are already a number of after market screens available. I will be looking at one of those before next winter. At this time I am looking forward to the cooler ride of the shorter screen and less wind protection. The C-14 was very protected, but almost to a fault. For those of you that have ridden in the Texas summer heat, it can get HOT! UNBELIEVABLY HOT! Riding on the sun hot! So the fact that the Versys lets more wind find its way to the rider might be a very good thing. I know for a fact that the windscreen that is adjustable will be in the lowest position here soon. I did not get the heated grips when I bought the bike, but will be getting that option installed as well before next winter. I had bar risers on the C-14, but again I do not think I will need to make that adjustment on the Versys. I sit in a great position, my hands and arms are a good fit and just perfect for easy counter steering. I am really looking forward to being able to spend a few hours ripping up the curvy roads in Arkansas. 

Two up comfort is huge with us. We put a lot of miles on the bike and it is essential that the two up comfort level of the Kawasaki meets or exceeds that of the C-14. to my surprise it surpasses it. My wife wrote a little post concerning her thoughts on the bike form the pillion perspective. You can read that here

Some say there is a buzz in the motor around 2000-3000 RPM. I can feel it a little but after riding the C-14 it is not even something I think about. The motor has been rubber mounted and I hear it is much better than the previous models. I have read where some people have complained about the "buzz". I don't get it but again I came off the C-14 that was a tad buzzy as well. This is a non issue to me.

The finish of the bike is very good. I love the orange color. I would have had a serious struggle had the white option been available here in the states. My wife would have battled me as I love a white motorcycle. She loves the look of the orange and I have to say that it has grown on me as well. The paint is good and the pieces look and lock together like they are supposed to. I took off the reflectors that were attached to the front forks tube protectors and the ones on the side bags as well. I took off all of the warning labels on the bike. It looks very clean with all of the distraction eliminated

Handling, Braking & Tires - * * * *  
The bike handles well. The light weight. (540lbs) is a dream to maneuver in a parking lot. I know some of you laugh when I say light weight, but coming off a bike that weighs in at 690lbs, the versys feels like a moped. On a side note. Since my weight loss surgery last July, I have also lost 150 lbs so I am 300lbs lighter than last year riding the C-14. The bike
turns into corners well and it has a good feel. The front end losses a little feel when cornering hard. I think that this will go away once I get different tires on the bike. You can lean the bike over with little effort and the bike feels solid. The Brakes do a great job of slowing down the rig. I have went and played in a big parking lot with the ABS. This is the first bike I have owned that has the option. It is awesome. I latched down hard a number of times and it stops with ease and with little violent reaction. You can trail brake when riding aggressively without worry. Two up it is amazing how well the bike handles. My wife truly understands the meaning of sport touring. She loves a spirited ride, taking corners with plenty of lean angle and begs for more. There is a reason I love that girl. The Versys handles all of that with ease. The bike is by far better than my talent level, and without sounding cocky I think I am pretty damn good at the riding thing. Thumbs up for the handling!

Now we get to the first thing that I feel is subpar with the Versys. That is the tires that come on the bike. The Bridgestone T30's are decent tires, but this bike deserves better. The feel of the tires are decent, but not great. They hold true and do not slide around until you start to really push it. The front feels light and a does not inspire a great amount of confidence when playing hard. The rear feels and sticks well but compared to the PR3's I had on the C-14 they are not even n the same league, I have 3650 miles on the bike and the rear tire will be toast with just over 4000 miles on the clock. The front is cupping a little but nothing awful. I know we ride two up and at times pretty aggressively, but I was hoping to get 6000+ out of the rear. I just ordered Michelin PR4's for the Versys and will have them on the bike for the Arkansas trip. I will do a little write up about them when we return. 

Value & Curb Appeal - * * * * * 
The bike comes standard with color matched 28 litre side bags and hand guards. I also ordered the 12V adaptor that mounts very cleanly in the upper fairing. The bike looks fantastic. It seems to draw a crowd no matter where we are at. It looks sporty and fast. It has a clean sport touring look to it. The orange is flashy, but not gaudy. I paid full retail of $12,775 and walked away with a smile on my face. a good $10K cheaper than a BMW and I do not have to worry about a final drive issue. Maintenance is cheaper than the BMW and I know I am biased, but I think it looks better than the beemer. If there is a bike that has more value than the Versys I have yet to see it, 

Final Grade & Thoughts - * * * * * 
Yes I am biased, but I am also honest. This machine is amazing and I am so glad that we made this purchase. It fits everything that we like to do when it comes to motorcycle riding. It will eat up miles, it is fun on a Sunday afternoon food run. It is ready to tackle the twisty roads without a hitch. It has the capability to take the two of us on a 5-7 day journey. It does it all and it does it all very WELL!. 

The bike is ready to go and I think we have done all of the mods that we plan to do for awhile. We added the Zumo 660, the 12V adaptor and the SHAD top case. We will add a larger wind screen and heated grips before next winter. The bike is ready to ride and we are going to do some of that in the coming months. We are headed to Arkansas for a 4 day mothers day run in a couple of weeks. We will then do some weekend rides before heading out for a 12 day journey to New Mexico and Colorado in July. Keep checking in on the blog to see the ride reports and all of the pictures we take on our trips.