Wednesday, December 21, 2016

Road trip: The Road to Paso

Sometimes, you just need a break from the drudgery of the day-to-day and do something a little different to recharge the batteries. I hit this point around the end of July this year and decided to treat myself to a couple of days away. The goal was to put in a full day of riding to clear my mind, ending in a destination where I could grab a good meal, have a drink or three, and then just relax and get a good night's sleep. With the goal of arriving at my destination by early evening, I scoured the map, trying to find a location that would provide the right mix of great riding, great food and drink, and relatively inexpensive accommodations. Thinking back to our trip to Monterey for Thanksgiving a couple of years ago, I settled on the Central California winery town of Paso Robles. And to maximize the fun riding, I plotted my ride through Ojai and up through some windy roads of the central valley before heading back west towards the Pacific Coast, saving the more direct ride along the coastal route for my return trip.

Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Editorial: What does it mean to buy American?

Following the recent election, the future of many major industries is likely to be in flux, the automotive, motorcycling, and even cycling industries in particular. Each of those industries has their distinct structures for design and manufacturing that can make the idea of "buying American" a difficult one to define. All of them are manufacturing industries that rely on "overseas" manufacturing jobs to one extent or another and with promises from the incoming administration to correct trade imbalances and place tariffs on products made overseas for sale here in the US, there is a lot of uncertainty about what potential impacts there are. And in this day and age of globalized economies, figuring out what exactly is "made in America" is not necessarily clear cut. So when it comes time to purchase that new motorcycle, bicycle, or car, what exactly does it mean to buy American?

Friday, November 11, 2016

Daydreams: Third Generation Acura TL Type-S

At some point, both East Brother and I had access to a third generation Acura TL Type-S. East Brother owned a silver 2008 TL Type-S with the six-speed manual, while I had joint custody of a white 2008 model with the five-speed automatic. We both loved these cars immensely and we both miss them quite a bit. East Brother ended up having to sell his TL when he and his wife purchased a home with only one available parking space. The TL that I shared with our folks ended up getting traded in for a 2011 Acura RL Tech after I obtained my S2000. To this day, East Brother still regrets selling his TL, and I still miss the white TL, even going as far as admitting to friends and family that I would sell my S2000 if I encountered a manual equipped Type-S for sale.

But this article isn't about how much East Brother and I miss our respective TLs. I've seen quite a few TL Type-S on the road in the last couple of weeks, and I started to think what I would do to further improve the car to reach modern standards.

Monday, November 7, 2016

Editorial: Riding the Rails

When I was a freshman in college over a decade ago, Metrolink and I became well acquainted. It was an easy way to get from the small town where my school was, which fortunately had a stop, and the Inland Empire or Downtown LA. The trains were reasonably comfortable, seeing as they were intended for commuters making the daily slog to their jobs in the city, and the ridership during the weekend tended to be largely students going home or the occasional tourist who opted not to rent a car. The trip duration could tend to be on the long side and since rail infrastructure in Southern California is not exactly well developed, once I reached the end of the line, it could take a fair amount of planning to actually reach my final destination. Being a poor college student at the time, that often meant the "last mile" portion of my trip was either another form of public transit or an awful lot of walking. However, after I got a car my sophomore year, I pretty much have never set foot on Metrolink again...until yesterday.

Friday, October 28, 2016

Long Term Test: 2014 Acura MDX Tech FWD Wrap-up

With our folks now retired, and their need for two vehicles at home completely unnecessary, it seemed prudent to part ways with our big, hulking Acura SUV. Even though it has treated us well for the last two and a half years, trading the MDX in sooner rather than returning it at the end of its lease seemed to make much more financial sense. Acura's MDX is a perennial favorite among middle-class buyers, providing a solid mix of luxury accouterments and daily driver practicality. These were largely the very reasons that the MDX was so popular with our family, this being the fifth that we have owned. During its time with us, the MDX served many purposes, having been a road trip car multiple times, including at least one trip where our pup came along for the ride, a work horse, and just a daily driven grocery-getter.

Monday, October 24, 2016

Editorial: The Trolley Problem

Image courtesy of onedio
For those of you who are unfamiliar with what the "Trolley Problem" is, it's actually quite simple. It's a simple thought experiment in ethics that asks you to imagine a trolley headed towards a track with five people tied to it. By pulling a lever, you can divert the trolley to a different track with one person tied to it. So the question here is whether or not you do nothing and let five people die, or do something and let one person die. But what does any of this have to do with cars? With the advent of autonomous cars hitting our roads within the next few years, people have begun to ask a similar question, but about autonomous cars: should the car be programmed to avoid hitting pedestrians, but possibly endangering the occupants, or to hit the pedestrians and save the occupants inside the car?

Image courtesy of Mercedes-Benz
It's an interesting question that doesn't seem to have a truly correct answer to...unless you're Mercedes-Benz apparently. During the most recent Paris Motor Show, Car and Driver spoke with Mercedes-Benz's Manager of Driver Assistance Systems, Cristoph von Hugo. During their interview, Car and Driver brought up the "Trolley Problem" with von Hugo, knowing full well that this is a question that manufacturers do not like to address. Oddly, von Hugo did address the question, stating that Mercedes-Benz's level four and five autonomous vehicles would prioritize saving the occupants of the vehicle.

While not implicitly stated, von Hugo's answer does imply that Mercedes-Benz's autonomous vehicles will run over a group of pedestrians if it means saving the occupants inside the car, or as Jalopnik's Raphael Orlove so eloquently puts it: "My dude. Holy shit. You know what you’re saying there, right? You’re saying that a Mercedes S-Class or whatever, driving down the road, will happily if not gleefully run over a child if it guaranteed saving the caviar-guzzling millionaire inside. Not just a child. An orphan. A group of orphans. A group of sick, orphans with leprosy."

Again, this goes back to the idea that there really is no correct answer to the "Trolley Problem." For a car manufacturer, any answer given will shovel bad PR its way. Save the pedestrians? Why is your company's car killing its customers to save random people? Save the occupants? How could you let your autonomous vehicle become a rolling death machine? In the end, someone is going to be upset and someone is going to get sued.

So, readers, I pose the question to you: if you were in charge of programming the brain of a new autonomous vehicle, how would you try and solve "Trolley Problem?"

So it would seem that as I was writing this article, Mercedes-Benz has clarified that some of von Hugo's comments in the Car and Driver interview were left out. Mercedes' official stance on the problem is "...neither programmers nor automated systems are entitled to weigh the value of human lives." In short, Mercedes-Benz is now also side-stepping the question along with other auto manufacturers.

Monday, September 26, 2016

Overseas Adventures: Transportation culture in Toronto, Canada

As fans of the television series Parks and Recreation, my wife could not pass on an opportunity to tap into her inner Leslie Knope at a parks conference in Toronto. Since I had never been to Toronto before, aside from a few brief stints at Pearson airport while in transit, I felt like this was a good opportunity to explore another Canadian city. We had such a great time in Montreal back in 2014, I expected to have a similar experience this time around. So we hopped on a plane and and after a five hour flight, found ourselves sweltering in the heat of Toronto's summer heat wave.

Friday, September 23, 2016

Long Term Test: 2016 Honda Accord Touring post# 1

For a while now, East Brother and I have been talking about getting a car that we could share. One that I could use as a daily driver to work, and that East Brother could use when he needed to go somewhere outside the range of his Focus Electric. Our original plan saw us aiming towards the end of the year to make the purchase, but ongoing back pain from driving my S2000 daily to my new place of employment in West LA pushed our schedule up by a few months.

We tossed plenty of ideas around, but our decision came down to two choices: the 2016 Honda Accord Touring, and the 2016 Volvo V60 T5 Platinum. Initially, we were pushing for the Volvo as we are both fans of wagons, but there wasn't a single dealer in the area that had the car equipped the way we wanted it. Realizing that it seemed a little pointless to keep pursuing the Volvo, we started shooting emails to our local Honda dealers to get quotes on the Accord. Within a few short days, we took home a Modern Steel Metallic Accord Touring.

Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Long Term Test: 2007 Honda S2000 Post #7

Update #7
Mileage: 82,057

As much as I love my S2000, I have to admit that it is starting to wear me down a bit physically. I recently changed jobs, necessitating having to travel to West Los Angeles daily. This is only a mere nine miles north of where I used to work by LAX, however, during rush hour traffic, that nine miles easily translates to an extra 30 to 40 minutes added to my commute. Driving from the South Bay to LAX and back was not all that painful, but driving from the South Bay to West LA and back is starting to actually hurt my back. It is also probably not good for my blood pressure either, as I find myself angry at other commuters far more often than I used to be.

East Brother and I have been talking about jointly getting a car for quite some time now, and we decided to push our timeline up. The idea was to get a car that I could use as a daily driver, and that East Brother could use as a road trip car if he and his wife needed to go somewhere that was beyond the range of their Focus Electric. We will reveal which car we picked over the course of the next few weeks. Of course, this is a post about my S2000, and not our new car.

Back to my S2000. Since my last post, I have had to take my car in for its 90,000 mile scheduled tuneup. I always knew maintaining the S2000 was not exactly going to be cheap, but this scheduled tuneup ended up being quite a bit more than I had expected. All those years of sloughing around in 405 rush hour traffic clearly did not do my car any favors. After spending well over $1,500 to get my S2000 back into top shape, it is interesting that it will only see duty on weekends now. I definitely still love the car, and I do sometimes miss driving it daily. The plan now is to see how things work out with our new vehicle, and to possibly turn my S2000 into a project car. I suppose we will see what happens down the line.

Oh, and that infernal clutch pedal squeak is back. See what I mean? Mind of its own.

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.

Friday, May 27, 2016

Long Term Test: 2012 Orbea Orca Bronze post #3

Third update
Current mileage: 604.3

Lately, my riding has focused on a lot of speed and climbing work. I have started participating in a local criterium to try to gain some racing experience and a temporary relocation to my in-law's place to house sit for them while they were away on travel means a lot of opportunity to focus on hills.

In the criterium, it is hard not to get equipment envy. There are a lot of people sporting some serious equipment and a few sponsored teams come out to use the ride as a part of their training regimen. The actual racing is not that exciting as the same handful of riders seem to always be in or near the top of the heap. However, from an educational perspective, it is helpful to not only understand more about bunch start racing, but also better understand my body's limitations at the moment and the limitations of my equipment. On the equipment front, the Orca has proven slightly outmatched, although not necessarily because of the frame, but rather more because of the other hardware attached to the frame. Most people riding in this crit have clearly been doing it for a long while and are sporting aero wheels or, at the very least, much more expensive wheel sets than the Axioms that are on my bike. Still, since this was intended to be a learning experience for me, I do not feel the least bit concerned about where I place and am just happy to have the opportunity to take part.

As for riding the hills, the Orca has both positives and negatives compared with the K2 that it replaced. If nothing else, the carbon fiber bike makes it significantly lighter. The complete bike weighs around 18.5 pounds, which is nearly 7 lbs lighter than the aluminum frame bike that it replaced. That makes going up even steep hills feel significantly less strenuous. However, the one drawback compared to that old aluminum frame bike is the fact that the K2 had a triple crank set and the Orca has a compact double. That extra set of gears, should not make that much of a difference, but there are definitely times when a few extra ratios would be helpful to have. Still, having pushed it hard the last few weeks on the hills, I am definitely able to appreciate the greater stiffness that carbon fiber offers and the smoother shifting of the Ultegra components.

Hopefully there will be a lot more riding to be done this summer.

Friday, May 20, 2016

Long Term Test: 1984 Shogun 600 post #3

Third update

Slow roll by the beach
Now that most of my time at is spent walking around town, the Shogun sees less and less use as a means of transportation. Of course, that doesn't make me appreciate it any less. It is still easily one of the most comfortable bikes I have ridden; the steel frame providing a subtlety to the ride quality that stiffer frames simply cannot match. These old vintage steel frame bikes truly are awesome city bikes. And because the components are a bit older, they are from a less complicated era making them much easier to clean and work on. Even something like the front tire, which I recently had to remove to replace a busted tube. That had to have been the easiest tire to remove and install. It was so much more compliant and the bead so much more pliable than the more modern tires on my other bikes. It took me only a matter of minutes to go from dropping the wheel out to placing it back in with a brand new tube installed.

Unfortunately, I was not able to participate in Bike to Work week this year, in part because I work from home, but also because life has conspired to keep me rather preoccupied. Of course, if I had participated, I would have happily gone for a ride on this 30+ year old bike that has served me so well over the last dozen years I have owned it.

It is still the one bike I will likely never replace.

Monday, May 16, 2016

Editorial: Riding bicycles across bridges designed for cars is both scary and thrilling

At the start of this National Bike Month, my wife and I participated in the American Diabetes Association's Tour de Cure Ship to Shore cycling event in the city of Long Beach. Kicking things off in the shadow of the Queen Mary, the longest route takes a circuitous path around the local area and totals up somewhere around 100 miles. As this was our first time doing the event, and the first charity event that my wife has ever ridden, we opted for a much more manageable 11 mile route. The important thing is that the route allowed us the opportunity to cross the Gerald Desmond and Vincent Thomas bridges. Ever since I had learned last year that there was a chance to do such a preposterous sounding thing, I knew I had to make it happen, even if just once. Of course, experiencing this also got me thinking about just how different, yet still the same our needs are with different modes of transportation.

Friday, April 29, 2016

Long Term Test: 2014 Acura MDX FWD Tech post #5

Update #5
Current mileage: 15,564

The MDX has become the road trip car of choice. In 2014, it was used to take the whole family to the Monterey Peninsula where we enjoyed an extended Thanksgiving holiday. Last year, we used it to hit up San Diego with our bikes in tow, taking a break from our busy lives to enjoy a weekend biking around Coronado Island. This year, the MDX was called upon to serve as transportation for my wife and me along with our rescue pup on a weekend excursion to the avocado and wine growing town of Fallbrook, CA. I will cover the details of that trip in a separate post, but for this latest update on the MDX, I want to focus on two key aspects: puppy transport and ease of cleaning.

Monday, April 18, 2016

Editorial: Expanding too quickly will damage Uber's brand

Oh where do I begin...

Lately, I have had a number of work trips and getting to the airport at the crack of dawn usually means I need to call an Uber since taxis are far less convenient in the LA area. Up until my most recent trip, I have always had pleasant experiences with my Ubers. The cars have been generally pretty clean, the drivers have always been courteous, and they are usually relatively safe drivers. However, this most recent experience shows what uncontrolled rapid growth can do for quality as it highlighted for me what I had heard about as complaints from others, but never experienced myself.

Upon arrival, the driver struggled to open the trunk of the vehicle they were driving because they could not reach the release lever. Then, they had to be prompted to slide the passenger seat up so that I would actually have enough room to get into the car. The back seat had visible crumbs and the entire vehicle reeked of body odor.

We get on the road and the driver spent the entire drive constantly looking down at his phone, which was kept on the passenger seat instead of mounted up on the dashboard within view. To make things worse, he kept having to pick it up in order to read the screen. Despite this, he still somehow managed to miss the directions guiding him to the appropriate freeway and as a result, took an unnecessary detour that drove up my final cost.

Friday, April 8, 2016

Short Term Test: 2016 Dodge Challenger SXT

I sometimes wonder if there is a target on the back of my car. In the almost six years I have owned my car, it has been rear ended a total of three times. At this rate, the insurance company might start thinking I am trying to scam them or something. The most recent accident happened while shuffling home during rush hour traffic on the southbound 405 freeway. Unfortunately, the damage was pretty bad, which meant that my car would be sitting in a body shop for a few days while I would be driving around in some sort of rental car. And so, after leaving my S2000 at the insurance approved body shop, I was shuttled off to the local Enterprise branch to find out what my $35 per day rental coverage would get me.

Friday, April 1, 2016

Long Term Test: 2014 Acura RLX Tech post #5

Update #5
Current Miles: 16,382

In the nearly two and half years that we have had the Acura RLX in our garage, it has seen its fair share of...unforeseen damages. The first time the RLX saw a body shop, the front end of our MDX somehow managed to find the rear end the RLX in an unfortunate incidence of friendly fire. That incident caused quite a significant amount of damage, with the driver's side of the rear bumper pretty much mangled to hell, the trunk lid bent in enough so it could not open, and even some minor frame damage. More recently, the RLX was yet again sent to the body shop when a less than patient driver scraped the car against a wall while backing the car out of a driveway. While not as severe as the first incident, it still caused quite a bit of damage, with giant scrape marks across the passenger side front bumper, minor scrapes on the fender and some minor denting. Both incidents have highlighted how expensive this car is to repair!

The Acura RLX is currently the only car in Acura's lineup that is still entirely assembled in Japan. From my experience with my own car, vehicles that are shipped in from foreign countries and sold in low volumes are generally going to be expensive to repair. There is a reason why the RLX and my S2000 are the most expensive vehicles on our insurance policy! The first accident cost well over $5,000, as the impact from the MDX was apparently hard enough to cause minor structural damage to the RLX, and left the car out of commission for over a week. It also left the car with a strange grinding or crunching noise from the rear of the car at low speeds that has never quite gone away. The second accident was not quite as severe on the damage front, but still ended up costing well over $2,000 to repair. Even though the RLX is essentially a Honda Accord with different skin, I guess body shops will charge a premium for repairing a car with aluminum body panels and a luxury badge.

Thankfully, no other damage has come to the RLX, and mechanically, everything still works perfectly fine. With body and frame damage costing this much to repair, I would hate to imagine how much mechanical or electrical repairs would cost. I have heard that repairing Acura's signature Jewel-Eye(TM) LED headlights cost quite a pretty penny. It seems that Acura may be great at packing technology into their cars for a reasonable price, but when it comes to repairing them, things can get quite pricey.

Friday, March 18, 2016

2016 Honda NC700X DCT

Let's be honest: as much as people drool over supersport bikes, only a small number of people genuinely enjoy them for daily use. They are loud, fold the rider into an uncomfortable position, totally incapable of carrying anything, and produce so much power that one always has to be super attentive to keep from getting into serious trouble. Sure they are an absolute blast to ride through the canyons or on a track, but most riders hardly ever see either of those except for the odd weekend here and there. Honda clearly had this in mind when they developed the NC700X. This is a seriously well thought out urban commuter that is aimed squarely at providing an exceedingly practical motorcycle that is accessible to the masses. In fact, Honda considered that point so clearly that they even offer this bike with what essentially amounts to an automatic transmission. 

Yes,folks, you heard that right. The automatic transmission is creeping its way into full-size motorcycles. This is, thankfully, not the terrible CVTs that you see on scooters, but is instead a computer actuated dual-clutch arrangement that I will talk more about later on in this review.

Wednesday, March 16, 2016

Overseas Adventures: Car Culture in Other Countries - Singapore

As a bit of a car nerd, I have always been interested in car culture in other countries. Unfortunately, my day job prevents me from having much opportunity to travel. The large majority of my exposure to the car culture in other countries has been exclusively through media: whether it is movies, television, or online videos. Singapore is one of those countries that I have always been interested in learning more about, especially when it comes to cars. The things I hear about the types of cars you see on the streets, and about the owners has always had me somewhat curious about what makes car culture in this Pacific Rim city-state so different from the rest of the world. Luckily for me, my best friend's 30th birthday ended up bringing me to Singapore, and I would be able to get a first hand look at the types of cars, the traffic, and the people behind the wheel.

Wednesday, March 9, 2016

Road Trip: Two-up to GMR

I often take those few days before Thanksgiving off to recharge and this past year was no different. It having been a particularly busy year so I was excited to have a few days to go out and do something I had not done in a while. Since my wife was able to take the time off this year as well, we decided to take a morning and revisit one of my old haunts. Being fall, it was still quite cool in the morning and I knew from experience that the temps would get even colder up in the mountains, so we bundled up and headed out on the Beemer.

Monday, February 29, 2016

Editorial: The problem with automated traffic enforcement

A red light camera cluster in Long Beach, CA
I have a serious hate-hate relationship with the idea of automated traffic enforcement. I hate the fact that safety is abdicated to the all mighty dollar. I hate the fact that despite just about every major independent traffic study demonstrating that automated enforcement actually results in more accidents, municipalities still use automated enforcement because they have adapted their budgets to count upon that stream of revenue. I hate the fact that the very presence of automated enforcement often contributes further to congestion as the presence of signs even hinting at the possibility of cameras makes people drive like their IQs have been cut in half. The truth is that automated enforcement does not work as a traffic calming or driving safety measure. Many municipalities are finally starting to wise up to that fact and some have even started to remove their traffic enforcement cameras when the revenue promised by the companies that install and manage the cameras never actually materializes and additional administrative costs are incurred by people fighting the tickets.

Friday, February 26, 2016

Long Term Test: 2007 Honda S2000 post# 6

Sixth update
Current Miles: 79,431

Not a lot has happened with the S2000 within the last few months. I had to replace the rear tires with a fresh set back in December in anticipation of El NiƱo, as my rear tires were nearly bald. I guess that is the price you pay for driving a rear-wheel drive sports car! Aside from a tire replacement, the S2000 has been running strong. A minor gas pedal squeak has reappeared, but it is nothing a little grease cannot fix. I have also recently discovered that my Pioneer head unit does, in fact, have native Pandora support. Coupled with T-Mobile's unlimited music streaming service, this has saved me on many a long drive.

Wednesday, February 17, 2016

Editorial: Goodnight, Sweet Prince

Earlier this month, Toyota announced that it was giving the axe to its youth oriented Scion brand in August of this year. What happened? This is supposed to a brand that is marketed towards the millennial generation which, in theory, should have been a very profitable gamble. Scion also prided itself on a very straight forward pricing plan (what you see on the window sticker is what you pay), which also meant that Scion vehicles were generally very well equipped without having to spend all day negotiating with a salesperson. People hate dealing with shady salespeople, so this should have been great, right? I will tell you what happened that led to Scion's demise, or at least what I believe to be the reasoning behind Toyota's decision.

Friday, February 12, 2016

Test Ride: 2016 CanAm Spyder RS-S

To be honest, I never understood the CamAm Spyder. It has all of the negatives of the motorcycle - the lack of crash protection, exposure to the elements, limited practicality, and excessive noise - with none of the benefits - outrageously quick acceleration, thrilling sensation of leaning into corners, ability to split lanes in California. For me, the Spyder always represented a segment of motorcycling that seemed too far outside of logical for me to really pay much attention to. Whenever I saw one on the road, I would generally roll my eyes and think to myself, "There goes another guy with more money than brains." So because of this, I had never really expressed much interest in giving the CanAm Spyder a test, even though their demo days seemed to be omnipresent no matter what city I lived in. This time around, at the International Motorcycle Show, I figured it was time to get over my prejudices and see if I could make sense of why people would find this thing even remotely appealing.

Wednesday, February 10, 2016

Editorial: The lack of vision of local governments is why our roads are congested and terrible

I recently attended a meeting of my region's Council of Governments (COG), which is a body made up of the leaders of the region's cities and helps to set priorities and plans for programs in areas ranging from community development to pollution control to transportation planning. It is this last area that was of interest to me as I was there to speak on behalf of an advocacy group that was seeking discreet funding for active transportation projects. Listening to a few presentations on the already established priorities and the current state of various projects followed by debate on the recommendation to offer discreet funding for active transportation projects, it became immensely clear that this body is one of the key reasons why our roads in much of the area are often terribly congested.

Friday, February 5, 2016

Drawing Board: Lightweight RWD sedan

Imagine this but with two more doors and a fixed roof...
We haven't done one of these in a while, so lets take this opportunity in this new year and pontificate about a car that currently does not exist on the market.

From 2007 until 2012, my wife and I were proud owners of a hand-me-down 1999 Mazda Miata. It was a special edition car made in limited quantities and packed with lots of performance goodies like the then new 6-speed manual transmission and a limited slip differential between the rear wheels. The car was an absolute hoot to drive thanks to a curb weight of just 2,350 pounds. Its raw and tossable nature always made me wonder why Mazda never attempted to translate the chassis into other vehicles to add to the line-up. Just imagine what a treat it would be to have a light weight compact four-door sedan that offered all of the fun of the Miata, but significantly more practicality.

So that got me thinking, what would such a car really look like?

Friday, January 29, 2016

Long Term Test: 2015 Jaguar F-Type V6 Post #3

Update #3
Current mileage: 7,520

Our newly adopted little dog hanging out with the big Jag
Unfortunately, I have not been able to spend much time with the Jag these last few months, mostly the result of a very busy year, more time spent on two wheels, and a new addition to my family (see the photo). Still, despite the minimal time spent, there are a few noteworthy items about our experience with the Jag since our last update.

First, just the other night, I was adjusting the positioning of the Jag within its garage space, which is in the third bay of a three-car garage, meaning it has its own dedicated garage door. I must say, it is kind of insane just how wide the Jag feels from behind the wheel at parking lot speeds. Low speed maneuvers, especially in tight spaces, really highlight the terrible rear visibility when the top is up as well as how tall the front fenders feel from the driver's seat. Mix in the generally low seating position, inching the big Jag forward into its garage space from a rather steep driveway was a tad nerve wracking as I definitely did not want to accidentally bump anything. Jaguar really should consider, especially on the convertibles, including the back-up camera as standard equipment and possibly an option for dropping both driver and passenger side-view mirrors down (versus just the passenger side one) to allow for easier parking and protecting the flanks of such a pretty car.

During the last six months, the Jag has also gotten its first proper service visit, the result of a need to address a few niggling issues, including a door rattle that had been present since almost day one. Jaguar, as a luxury manufacturer, does a good job getting dealers to provide a level of service befitting its customers. A Jag loaner, an XF 2.0t was provided, and the slinky convertible was taken in and they made an effort to be as timely about it as they could. But in thinking about the luxury service experience, it is hard to overlook the fact that some new players, such as Hyundai, have flipped the whole market on its head by starting to offer white-glove level service to certain customers. That includes free pick-up of the customer's car, dropping off of a loaner, and essentially making the service experience much less painful. Given the price premium that Jag's command, I cannot help think how much more enjoyable the ownership experience would be if Jag upped its service game even more.

With warmer weather on the horizon, although a potentially seriously wet rainy season due to El Nino, we should have more fun experiences to share at our next update.

Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Long Term Test: 2007 BMW K1200S Post #6

Update #6
Current mileage: 28,929

Oh the horror! After nearly 10k miles and over 3 years of ownership, I finally had my incident with the big Beemer. Of course, it would have occurred during a two-up ride with my wife, but luckily, it was a rather minor drop. What happened was that we were stopping at the intersection of Glendora Ridge Road and Glendora Mountain Road and I had ridden the bike onto a dirt embankment to try to turn it around. It was a bit steeper than I anticipated and misjudged the amount of clutch slip for the slow maneuver. Before I knew what happened, the weight of the bike had teetered dangerously far to the left and at what was basically a standstill, the Beemer tipped over onto its side like a wounded buffalo. Luckily, we both jumped off before the bike hit the ground, and the presence of the frame sliders meant there was basically zero damage, except to my ego. The only signs that something had happened was a slight bit of scuffing on the left frame slider and a bit of dirt trapped in the left side mirror housing.

Thursday, January 21, 2016

Editorial: 2016 Detroit Auto Show illustrates the future direction of American motoring

Before it happened, this year's Detroit Auto Show was thought of by many as a real dud. Many of the usual auto journo channels had largely written the show off due to a lack of major announcements and those few announcements that were anticipated were vehicles that nobody thought would actually catch anyone's attention. Yet, this year's Detroit Auto Show ended up revealing a surprising amount of technology that seems to foreshadow the future direction of the automobile in America. There were a few alternative fuel vehicle announcements, a few autonomous vehicle reveals, and a whole lot of focus on turbos and horsepower.

Key among the alternative fuel vehicle reveals was the production version of the Chevy Bolt, the first expected electric vehicle with a 200-mile range, the Bolt is a 180-degree turnaround from the company that killed off the first commercially viable EV that it itself produced. Using battery technology from LG Chem, the 60-kWh battery pack fills the floor and works in conjunction with a set of electric motors to deliver solid performance in a passenger friendly package. It is unfortunate that Chevy has chosen to design the vehicle as a tall CUV style small car. The proportions are almost Seuss-ian in nature, appearing somewhat comically tall with a shortish wheel-base and wheels that look too tiny for the height. The design is trying too hard to hide its odd proportions by using tapering side windows and lots of surfacing and character lines along its flanks. Many may see the appeal of a tallish small car, but as an EV, the increased frontal area is a serious sacrifice of aerodynamics.

Wednesday, January 13, 2016

Editorial: Does Acura Need to Fix the 2016 NSX?

Image courtesy of Road & Track
When the Acura NSX made its debut back in 1990, people were skeptical that a manufacturer like Honda could build a super car. "What is a Japanese company that builds people movers for a living doing trying to building a mid-engined super car?" But rather than some tepid, boring, wannabe sports car, the NSX stunned the automotive world. This was a car that performed as well as, or some times better than, super cars from Europe. In fact, the NSX's performance was so stunning, that it actually made manufacturers like Ferrari and Lamborghini worry. "These guys from Japan built a car that rivals the performance of our cars, costs half the price, and starts every time!" If you own a modern European super car, you can thank Honda for the fact that your car will start most of the time.

Wednesday, January 6, 2016

Goodbye 2015. Hello 2016!

2015 turned out to be a much busier year for the two of us than either of us had expected. Our day jobs ended up consuming quite a bit of time, which meant there was not quite as much time to focus on test drives and the wheeled world in general. That does not mean that there were not moments in 2015 that really stood out for us when it comes to our favorite wheeled transportation methods. Here are a few moments that we truly enjoyed from 2015, some of our most popular posts, as well as a look at what to expect in 2016.