Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Long Term Test: 2007 BMW K1200S post #5

Fifth update
Current mileage: 26,833

Southern California's mild weather continues to cooperate and that means I have the chance to put more miles on the big Beemer. My only constraint, of late, has been that two-wheeled transport is not a great way to travel with four-legged companions, especially one that is rather precocious and weighs about 40 pounds. Still, whenever I can, I try to make use of the opportunities to go out and ride, having added another 1,000+ miles since the last update. Most of those miles are highway miles, traveling back and forth between various corners of LA County to run errands or attend events. In the last six months, I even had occasion to use the bike to attend a dressier event, which required a bit of pre-planning since trying to keep my shirt from looking too wrinkled and my hair from being too disastrous.

Much of the riding has been putting the Beemer to use as a workhorse, hauling our biweekly veggie haul from a local garden or gathering less common Asian frozen goods that elude me in Long Beach from grocery stores in other neighboring areas. The BMW continues to prove its versatility as it carries plenty without feeling unbalanced and without a significant impact on the handling or the fuel economy. In fact, the overall fuel economy is not significantly different from my Ninja 650R, which sported a motor that was half the size and produced less than half the power.

One thing that I admittedly enjoy is just how much attention the K1200S gets. In the tri-color pattern, it is an eye-catching combination and people seem to notice it on the street. On more than a few occasions, I have caught a passerby doing a double-take or a driver or passenger in a car staring as the bike goes by. The bike is not obnoxiously loud and does not garner the same kind of attention as our long-term Jaguar, but it has its own admirers.

Finally, there is something to be said for smart design. Access to so many basic repairs for the K1200S are designed to be extremely easy to do. A perfect example is replacing a burnt out headlight bulb. On my old bike, the Ninja 650R, it would have required dis-assembly of much of the instrument cluster to make the switch, as is the case with many of the bikes on the market. On the BMW, they smartly designed caps that twist off the back of the headlight and it is possible to replace the bulb with nothing more than your hands. This comes in handy when you blow a bulb in the early evening and need to make a fast swap. At least on this front, I appreciate that this bike was notably more expensive than many of its peers.

Monday, July 27, 2015

Editorial: Why hybrid and EV buyers defect

A recent study by sales lead generator and occasional car reviewer seems to show that buyers of hybrid and electric vehicles seem to be defecting back to gas guzzling cars and SUVs in surprisingly large numbers. One might think that this is a bit shocking, but between the drop in gas prices earlier this year and the notoriously short memories of American consumers, the real surprise is that it took this long for this trend to start to appear. There are a number of factors playing a role in this phenomenon, not the least of which are lower gas prices and record incentives. Combine that with the fact that traditional fossil fuel powered care are becoming increasingly fuel efficient, and you have the makings of a movement back towards traditional internal combustion. However, this only covers a small part of why up to as much as 22% of hybrid and EV buyers are defecting.

Friday, July 24, 2015

Product Review: Pioneer DEH-X6700BT

Car audio has never really been my thing. I think it has to do with the fact that I generally care more for how a car's engine sounds more than how a car's audio system sounds. It also probably has to do with the fact that pretty much every car I have driven to date (with the exception of my Accord and S2000) has had some sort of premium audio system, so it never really occurred to me to look at aftermarket car audio. So why am I doing a review on an aftermarket car radio? In my line of work, you get calls all the time, regardless of whether you are in the office or not. Sometimes, I do get calls while I am driving, but prior to installing this new radio, I could not safely or legally take phone calls while driving. I tried using an ear piece for a little while, but found it to be irritating and uncomfortable. Third party Bluetooth speakers generally do not have great quality which lead me to skip that option in its entirety. This lead me to the idea of finding a new radio that had built in Bluetooth hands free capability. 

Of course, my reasoning behind getting a new radio was not solely based on hands free phone use. I was also tired of having to carry an iPod for my music along with my phone. If I forgot my iPod at home, I would have to resort to listening to the actual radio, which I am not a big fan of. Besides, I have not listened to the radio regularly for over four years now. Having everything I needed on one device would make life much easier. Being a T-Mobile customer, I also wanted to take advantage of the unlimited data for music streaming services, such as Pandora. After doing about a week of research, I settled on the Pioneer DEH-X6700BT. Being a respected brand in car audio, I expected this particular unit to be quite good, especially since it has gotten some glowing reviews.

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Long Term Test: 2015 Jaguar F-Type V6 post #2

Update #2
Current mileage: 3,580

In March, I got to spend some extended time with the Jag and the more I drive it, the more I fall in love with it. Using it for day to day tasks, the big cat is extraordinarily friendly as a daily driver. Set the car in normal mode, leave the shifting to the computer, and just enjoy the ride. The suspension is suitably comfortable while retaining its sporty character, absorbing minor road aberrations with aplomb whilst being firm enough to still toss the extra-wide roadster around with ease. Those exquisite manners carry through into the steering, which remains absolutely delightful compared to most of the electronic power steering units I have tried in recent memory. The Porsche Boxster is still sharper, but for a boulevard cruiser, the Jag pretty much nails it in terms of balancing feel with comfort.

To top it off, that extraordinary sound track is available all the time. A touch of the starter button triggers a symphony of sound from the exhaust system and offers delightful accompaniment to even the most pedestrian of activities. Dip the throttle with a little extra aggression and be rewarded by the menacing howl that emanates from behind. Best of all, while just cruising, the Jag purrs along without making excess noise, allowing for a relaxing ride (are you paying attention, Maserati!) and when the noise is wanted, a quick twitch of the ankle summons the bellowing beast.

One thing that has taken some getting used to is the auto-start/stop functionality. The system should be straight forward enough, cutting the motor when the car comes to a stop and remaining off until the driver lifts his foot off the brake pedal. The system works quite well and the engagement point that triggers the engine to fire again is easy enough to locate that I have been able to watch the cross traffic's signal and lift my foot just enough at the right moment to bring the engine to life just in time for me to roar off without an hesitation. What has been interesting to experiment with, however, have been the various triggers that cause the system to not engage. For instance, if the steering wheel is off center by more than a few degrees or if the transmission is in manual mode, the engine will remain running. While I have some concerns about the impact on the longevity of certain components, the system truly works well and is a necessary evil given how thirsty the Jag can be.

Last thing of note is that I am rather unhappy with Jag's headunit used in the car. It is a touchscreen, thankfully, but can be so slow to respond at times that I simply run out of time at a stop light trying to enter a destination or set up phone call. At least Jab saw fit to separate out a number of key functions with physical buttons and knobs, so it could be worse. This is one of those times where I absolutely wish automakers would just partner with the major smartphone operating systems and integrate my mobile device into the car's infotainment system more directly. It would go a long way towards improving the user experience and probably make most owners much happier with the initial ownership experience. Android Auto cannot come soon enough.

Still, I cannot get enough time behind the wheel. This is easily my favorite car in our long-term fleet.

Monday, July 20, 2015

Editorial: A case for changing our driver licensing process

Image courtesy of
This past week, the city of Long Beach suffered one of the most severe and lengthy power outages that I have recalled in recent memory. For 54 hours, over 50 blocks of downtown Long Beach were without any kind of power. Police scrambled to bring order by shutting down certain streets near work crews, directing traffic during rush hour, and stepping up neighborhood presence to prevent people from taking advantage of the darkness to commit crimes. Public works providers assembled generators and, at key intersections, set them up to power the stop lights to try and provide some semblance of order to the chaos, but the vast majority of stoplights were totally dark.

Now, a good driver would recall from their driver education training that when approaching an intersection with controlled by non-functioning traffic lights that one should treat the intersection as an all-way stop sign. That means bringing the vehicle to a complete stop, yielding to appropriate traffic, and then proceeding when safe. Apparently, the vast majority of drivers failed that part of the driving exam because the sheer number of near collisions that I observed because drivers failed to follow the rules - failing to stop at all, failing to yield, failing to give right of way - makes me wonder how we have managed to get by without many more utter catastrophes.

And speaking of yielding, every state's vehicle code has some provision in it to the effect of "motorists shall yield to pedestrians crossing in a marked crosswalk and only proceed when the pedestrian has reached the other side or at least some physical divider such as a center island." With stoplights out, that also meant pedestrian crossing signals were not functioning and pedestrians were to be treating the intersections as all-way stops as well. Yet, regardless of the presence of pedestrians in any state of crossing the street, some motorists edged into sidewalks, using their vehicles to physically bully the pedestrians into crossing faster, while others completely ignored the presence of pedestrians and proceeded through intersections with utter abandon, sometimes coming within inches of striking a pedestrian crossing the street.

It was during this period, when I tried to stick to my routine and take my regular walks with our dog that I fully understood just how utterly broken out driver education system truly is. It would be one thing if these kinds of close calls and near misses were uncommon and infrequent, but, alas, that is not the case. In the less than 2 full hours I spent outside walking the dog on just one single day, I crossed a grand total of 14 intersections and counted almost 100 near misses between cars and cars, cars and pedestrians, and cars and bikes. Every single incident was avoidable if the driver of the car had been paying attention, understood the laws, and took driving as a serious activity requiring focus and concentration instead of a chore to be done with the greatest degree of disdain.

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Comparison: F1 2013 vs. F1 2014

One of the biggest complaints that I have heard regarding the 2014 Formula One season is that the cars seem a lot slower than the cars from the 2013 season. This could be due to a lot of things, ranging from the aero changes to the new 1.6 liter turbocharged V6 engines that were adopted for the season. After hearing all the negative feedback regarding the new cars, I wanted to see just how much slower the 2014 cars were compared to the 2013 cars. Without access to actual Formula One cars and drivers, I had to resort to the next best thing: racing simulators. With access to both F1 2013 and F1 2014 by Codemasters, I can at least get a fairly good idea of how much slower the 2014 cars are compared to the 2013 cars.

*All game play captured on the PC versions of the games with an Xbox 360 controller

Friday, July 10, 2015

Road Trip: San Diego (sort of) by storm

San Diego skyline off in the distance
Mother Nature can be a real pain in the ass, especially if you enjoy activities that are heavily weather dependent. During the days leading up to our trip, I was checking the weather obsessively. The plan was for my wife and I to go skydiving on Saturday morning, but there was a greater than 50% chance of rain that was threatening our chances. As the week proceeded, the probability of rain seemed to drop ever so slightly and by Thursday evening, when I picked up our long-term MDX for the weekend, the forecast was looking promising, with less than 10% chance of rain in the area surrounding our jump zone. Fingers-crossed, I loaded our bikes into the back of the MDX along with our luggage and after work on Friday, we hit the road headed south.

Wednesday, July 8, 2015

News: CA revises rules for EV incentives

We hope everyone had a safe and fun 4th of July.

In the funding plan for the upcoming 2015-2016 fiscal year, the California Air Resources Board has put in place new rules that are going to make EVs bit less expensive for a lot of people, but a bit more expensive for a select few. The new rules create a tiered structure for qualifying for the state rebate program on alternative fuel vehicles. Before, what had been an across the board rebate for all income brackets now has bands delineated by a combination of federal income poverty limit and and absolute gross annual incomes.

This new rebate structure is intended to make EVs of all kinds more affordable to lower income buyers while also ensuring that more funding is available for future investments. While some may see this change as unfair, odds are that someone with the finances to purchase a $100,000+ loaded Tesla Model S is hardly going to notice the difference that the $2,500 additional rebate was going to make and those individuals are still eligible for the even larger federal rebate. Plus, the increased incentives for lower income families should hopefully make the idea of an EV more appealing for those that commute to a job that is not too far away and can charge the vehicle at home.

As EVs continue to become an increasingly viable form of alternative fuel vehicle, it is good to see the state of California recognize that the incentives have largely benefited those who need it the least and is taking measures to help increase access to EVs for those in lower income brackets.

Wednesday, July 1, 2015

Test Drive: 2015 Batmobile

Most of you who looked at the title of this test drive are probably thinking, "OK, West Brother has completely gone off the deep end. He does realize the Batmobile doesn't actually exist, right?" For the record, yes, I am very much well aware that there is no such thing as a real "Batmobile" outside of movie props and replicas people have built themselves. But, if you were given the chance to drive the Batmobile, even if it was in a virtual world, why would you pass up that chance? The Batman: Arkham series of games gives you that chance in their latest, and final entry to the series, Batman: Arkman Knight.

*Review was conducted on the PC edition of the game with an Xbox360 controller