Monday, August 29, 2016

Editorial: California legalizing lane splitting is hugely important

The debate has been a long and boisterous one, but after all the battling, the stats finally won out and the state of California is the first in the US to officially make lane-splitting legal. Lane-splitting has always drawn a lot of controversy in America, a country dominated by car drivers who selfishly believe that the roads are theirs and theirs alone.


Even in California, the practice had previously only been allowed because it was not expressly disallowed. The California Highway Patrol (CHP) supported it because it allowed their motor officers to move more freely through the gridlock traffic that burdens the greater LA and San Francisco areas during nearly all hours of the day. Motorcyclists support it because it allows riders the ability to move through traffic and keep air flowing to prevent overheating (mostly of the rider, though some older bikes benefit from it too). Car drivers, however, have long disliked the practice because it requires that they be more attentive about lane position and lane changes. Still, most drivers who have lived in California long enough have grudgingly adapted to it, some better than others.

But by taking it from a tolerated act by virtue of lack of legislation to a totally legal act backed by legislation and with guidelines to be provided by law enforcement, California has changed the game. By making it expressly legal, California is saying that lane-splitting is not just safe enough to be a practice, it is safe enough to be a law. That has long been a major argument used by detractors of lane-splitting to fight its implementation in other states. Many opponents have argued that by allowing one kind of traffic to travel between other traffic, it increases the chances for collisions, even though this has not been backed by the statistics. If anything, it has reduced one of the most common car-motorcycle collisions, which is motorcyclists being hit from behind in slow moving or stopped traffic. When practiced with abundant and appropriate caution, lane-splitting makes motorcyclists safer with little impact on car drivers at all.

By taking the step to make lane-splitting a fully legal act, California is hopefully the first domino to fall in what will eventually be more states allowing the act. Attempts have been made to legalize lane-splitting in states such as Arizona and Oregon, but all were quashed by legislators representing car-centric constituents who are fearful of change. But now that someone else has taken a major leap, hopefully more attempts will be made to bring up lane-splitting legislation and more "trial periods" will be considered as other state legislatures begin to realize the potential safety and traffic relief benefits that lane-splitting can bring.

Friday, August 26, 2016

F-Type vs. S2000: Is the Jag Really Worth an Extra $42k?

Ever since we acquired a Jaguar F-Type in our long term garage, we have been wanting to pit West Brother's S2000 against it in a sort of "David vs. Goliath" type scenario. Seems like an apples to oranges type comparison, right? Strangely enough, not really. The 2015 Jaguar F-Type we have access to is the standard, supercharged V6 equipped model, making 340 horsepower. Its fastest recorded zero to 60 time is five seconds flat, with a 13.0 second sprint to the quarter mile. West Brother's 2007 Honda S2000, while having a 100 horsepower deficit, makes up for the power difference with a huge weight advantage. The fastest recorded zero to 60 time is 5.4 seconds, with a quarter mile sprint completed in 13.8 seconds. Just by looking at the numbers, there really is not a huge difference in performance. From just performance alone, the Jag has a hard time justifying that extra $42,000. But what about the rest of the car?

Friday, August 12, 2016

Test Ride: 2016 BMW F800R

Lately, while having the K1200S serviced, I took the opportunity to take one of the dealerships loaners out for a day. My local dealer, BMW of Long Beach, has a number of brand new F800R nakeds available as rented loaners for riders who did not originally purchase their bikes there. For $50 a day, I had essentially unlimited miles and a chance to play with a brand new motorcycle.

Designed to compete in the middle weight super-naked class that has increased in popularity in recent years, the F800R is BMW's answer to bikes like the Yamaha FZ-07 and Kawasaki Z800. However, taking a decidedly BMW spin to the idea of a middle weight super-naked, the existing F800 sport touring platform was modified with a regular chain-drive rear wheel and stripped down to the bare essentials. Using a 798cc parallel twin making 90 hp and 63 lb-ft of torque, the streetfighter comes standard with ABS and ASC to ensure safety, but provides strong torquey power low in the rev range making daily riding in city traffic as easy as lofting its front wheel at a twist of the wrist.

Wednesday, July 27, 2016

Long Term Test: 2015 Jaguar F-Type V6 post #4

Update #4
Mileage: 9,863

I finally got a chance to spend some quality time with the Jag and good lord is it a magnificent grand tourer. A car that is this wide and with visibility this poor can be nerve-wracking to drive. Thankfully, given the amazing weather here in Southern California, I am able to drop the top and alleviate the visibility issue, but even that doesn't make the big Jag feel narrower. Driving along the wide freeways of the Los Angeles area, the F-Type still seems to fill the lane and I am always wary of the other drivers around me. While this car starts to shrink down when pushed hard, at cruising speeds, there is no denying that it is a big car.

Of course, that sense of heft helps to improve the overall ride and comfort. At just over 3,800 lbs, the F-Type convertible is a weighty car. That translates into a surprisingly smooth ride, despite the rather stiff suspension. Combine that with the super adjustable seats and excellent seating position to make for a car that I can easily spend all day in, cruising at highway speed. The precise steering is not so jittery that it contributes to driver fatigue and the wind management with the top open allows for relatively turbulence free cruising. Even after several hour plus stints behind the wheel, I felt refreshed and relaxed.

Most impressive of all is that, despite the performance potential, high curb weight, and aerodynamic disadvantage of being a convertible, the F-Type was returning a shockingly spot on 29 mpg on the highway. That is cruising at just a touch over the speed limit and included a number of hard acceleration runs to get up to speed. Despite all the disadvantages stacked against it, the car more than delivered on its fuel economy potential, meaning a full tank of gas could easily deliver more than 400 miles of freeway cruising when there is no traffic. I know fuel economy is not usually a big selling point for cars in this class, but it is not every day you can have 340-hp and 29 real world mpg in the same two-seat convertible.

Stunning looks, great performance, excellent comfort, great fuel economy, and the aural escapades of one of the best sounding exhaust systems on a stock vehicle. Who could possibly not like this car?

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

Editorial: Full Autonomy or Not, That is the Question...

Image courtesy of Engadget
Tesla has been in the news a lot lately, and not because the Model X is a runaway success, or the Model 3 is going to be the next best thing since sliced bread. Tesla has actually been in the news a lot lately due to the semi-autonomous driving capabilities of their cars. Dubbed "Autopilot" by Tesla, this mode will take over control of your vehicle much in the same way other manufacturers' Active Cruise Control and Lane Keep Assist works. By using a series of sensors at the front of the car, the Model S and Model X can now maintain cruising speed, distance, and lane without any driver input.

And therein lies the problem. Even though the system was designed to function without driver input, the legal mumbo jumbo you have to agree to in order to activate "Autopilot" specifically states that you should still pay attention to the road, your surroundings, and keep your hands on the steering wheel in case the system deactivates for any reasons. However, most videos you see of people using "Autopilot" show people doing reckless things, like filming vlogs, rather than keeping their eyes on the road. And so we get to a few of the high profile accidents that have occurred recently where either the driver or general public blames "Autopilot" for their accident.

Friday, July 15, 2016

Long Term Test: 2007 BMW K1200S post #7

Update #7
Mileage: 30,010

When people say BMW's are expensive to maintain, they certainly aren't kidding. This pretty much applies to both their motorcycles as well as their cars. While it has been a while since I have had to experience the bad taste of paying for repairs to a BMW, I did have to get maintenance completed on my K1200S earlier this year and the price tag was several times more than I anticipated, largely because of a few unexpected items.

First, the bike needed basic maintenance. That meant an oil change, inspection, and general check-up on electronic components. Typically, this costs around $150-$200. On top of that, I knew that the front tire was looking a little thin on tread after only 6,500 miles so I was expecting to need to replace that pretty soon. The low mileage is likely due to my tendency to ride with the preload set very high in the rear, resulting in greater wear on the front tire. It makes the bike handle better, but the trade-off is that the greater loading on the front tends to wear that tire down. Since I decided to go ahead and replace that tire, that added another $200+ to the tab for the tire plus the installation labor.

Brand new Michelin Pilot Road 4
front tire on the K1200S
However, within an hour or so of dropping my bike off at the dealer, they called and informed me that the rear brakes were worn and needed to be replaced while the battery was showing low voltage and needed to be replaced. That battery, which I had replaced just a few years ago, was apparently already out of warranty when the dealership in MA sold it to me. That dealership has a reputation for less than ethical treatment of customers so I suppose I should not be surprised when the Yelp reviews prove to be right. As for the brakes, the combination of linked brakes on this bike, where grabbing the front brake level also applies one of the rear caliper pistons, as well as my tendency to use the rear brake to stabilize the rear-end while doing low-speed lanesplitting, is the likely cause of the increased brake wear. The brake job was going to be another $300 while the battery added around $100 to the final bill.

With taxes and the cost of the rental bike, the total came to just under $1,000. What I save on gas and time with this bike likely gets made up with the increased maintenance costs. Fortunately, my enjoyment of the bike outweighs all of the cost factors and a few of the costs I can reduce by simply making minor adjustments in my riding habits.

Friday, July 1, 2016

Overseas Adventures: Transporation Culture in Taiwan

My grandfather turned 90 this year and my family decided that we were all long overdue for a trip to see him at his home in Taiwan. It has been some 15 years since I visited the tiny island where my parents grew up and I was born. My last trip was a two-week stay where I mostly spent time accompanying my grandparents on their early (4:30 AM kind of early) morning walks at the local athletic complex and visiting with a few aunts, uncles, and cousins. At the time, my views on transportation were still very much car-centric and going to Taiwan always meant an opportunity to experience some interesting cars that we will never see here in the US, mostly because we will likely never see a return of Renault or Peugeot to the American market. However, as my views on transportation have evolved with time, the things that caught my attention when I visited Taiwan this time were rather different.

For a tiny island that is smaller than alpine nation of Switzerland in geographic area, Taiwan houses a population not much smaller than that of the entire continent of Australia. Packed into dense coastal cities, including the capital city of Taipei, and filled with sub-tropical forests and mountainous terrain running through its center, Taiwan has a colorful history and faced a number of unique challenges to keep up with economic development in Asia. Once a bastion of semi-conductor manufacturing and design and still home to design and manufacture of many major mobile device and bicycle makers, Taiwan has proven itself capable of borrowing the best ideas from the countries around the world to help drive its transportation renaissance, leaving quite the impression on me during my recent travels.

Friday, June 24, 2016

Long Term Test: 2012 Hyundai Sonata 2.0T Limited Wrap-up

Update #6 (wrap-up)
Mileage: 44,650

A little earlier than expected, the Hyundai Sonata makes a departure from our long-term fleet. The one feature, or lack thereof, that did it in was memory seats. This is one of my biggest pet peeves in cars with electrically adjustable seats and with as many as four different drivers who driver the car with some semblance of regularity, it is important to make it easy for drivers to quickly find and adjust the seats and mirrors to their liking. Of course, aside from this one shortcoming, the car has actually proven to be quite the solid mid-size all-purpose car for the suburban needs of the modern family. However, it was also not totally a problem-free stay in our garage.

Friday, June 17, 2016

Long Term Test: 2014 Ford Focus Electric post #4

Update #4
Mileage: 11,533

Owning an electric car may require some sacrifices in terms of planning trips around the vehicle's range, but there are a number of real world incentives that can take some of the sting out of that extra effort. When we first got our Focus Electric, the first thing I did was spend a good amount of time researching the incentives that we qualified for and applying for all of the appropriate ones that would likely benefit us.

The most important one is of course the $2,500 electric vehicle rebate that the state of California supplies to EV buyers. While this benefit has changed, it still allows a large number of EV buyers to take between a $1,500 to $4,000 rebate for the purchase of an EV. The extra funds really helps to reduce the vehicle ownership cost. In some states, the rebates are large enough that it makes the ownership cost almost nothing. When we visited friends in Georgia during our cross-country road trip, we talked to them about their Nissan Leaf, which they said that between the federal incentive of $7,500 and the state incentive of $5,000, their lease costs them only a few dollars a month and the amount they saved on gas means that the car actually was a net positive for them.

Monday, June 13, 2016

Events: LA River Ride 2016

Yesterday marked the first time that both my wife and I would participate in the LA River Ride, something we learned about early on when we returned to LA nearly two years ago. It was from a woman who happened to be wearing one of the jerseys when she stopped in the grocery store to buy some stuff for her ride. As biking events go, this is one of more interesting ones because no roads are closed to hold the ride. Hosted by the Los Angeles County Bicycle Coalition, the ride is intended to give riders a taste of the cycling infrastructure (or lack thereof in some cases) that pervades the city and surrounding areas before connecting to the LA River Bikeway. Riders are encouraged to use their urban riding skills and follow traffic rules with ride marshalls helping to make sure people are riding courteously and safely. Given the potential for chaos when hundreds of cyclists take to the streets, the organization demonstrated for the event is downright impressive.

While the full route is just over 100 miles, I was only able to convince my wife to commit to the 50-mile route. That ride would take us from the Autry Center located on the grounds of Griffith Park in north LA all the way down to Dills Park in Paramount. A good portion of the ride was through the streets, but there were also long portions along the LA River, which varies from bland and unattractive concrete channel to lush green flora with accompanying fauna, depending on where you are.