Day 13: Thursday, May 26, 2011
Route: Iowa City, IA to Ann Arbor, MI
Distance: 465 miles
The low fuel economy the previous day meant the engine was working harder, and Iâ€™m pretty sure that had something to do with what I saw when I inspected the bike in the morning:
I used to get about 6000 miles out of a set of tires (Metzeler Z-6s) on the old 1100RT. I got just 4500 out of the previous rear tire on this bike, but I figured that was due to a lot of sport riding in Wisconsin and in the Smoky Mountains; my assumption was that I would be able to get something closer to 6000 miles on this set of tires, since there would be a lot
of highway miles involved. But here I was in Iowa City, with, you guessed it, 4500 miles
on the bike since leaving home, and a rear tire that was down to the cords.
Fortunately I had picked a good city to stop in the previous night. Iowa City is home to Ginaâ€™s BMW:
Happily they were located just four miles from my hotel, and opened at 9 AM. I felt confident the rear tire would make it there, but I rode gingerly...just in case.
Happily, they had the tire I needed; all I had to do was kill some time while they serviced my bike. I checked the place out thoroughly while I waited.
Outside, both benches are completely reserved for a mysterious man named Ed Barr:
Whatâ€™s Edâ€™s story? Any of you Iowa folks know?
IIRC, this is Fritz, the shop dog:
Fritz is friendly as all heck, and over the years I imagine heâ€™s become accustomed to receiving attention from people wearing all kinds of strange clothes. Pet him once or twice, and heâ€™s your friend for life:
Eventually I came across BMWâ€™s newest offering, the K1600GTL:
Naturally I inquired about a test ride, and Gina herself was happy to oblige.
For anyone not a BMW enthusiast, this bike has two notable features. One is the engine: a transverse-mounted in-line 6-cylinder beast, 1.6 liters. Somehow despite this configuration itâ€™s still possible to comfortably straddle the engine.
The other notable feature is the throttle:
The K1600 employs an electronic throttle control (ETC).
On this bike, thereâ€™s no mechanical cable connecting the throttle grip to the throttle plate. See the red arrow? Thatâ€™s the electrical signal wire; the throttle grip puts out signals that tell the computer what youâ€™d like
the engine to do, and then the computer decides whether your request is reasonable or not. This has allowed BMW to implement all kinds of interesting control behavior. Traction control is the most obvious: the computer can close the throttle if it detects the rear wheel spinning up too rapidly. But there are also several rider-selectable operating modes, some of which limit maximum power output if the bike is leaned over beyond certain limits, and/or reduce power output if your front wheel is airborne for too long or too high.
Three extra benefits from ETC:
- You no longer need a separate cruise control module; CC becomes just a few extra lines of code in the computer thatâ€™s already running the throttle.
- The throttle grip is virtually frictionless, and can be fitted with a relatively light return spring, resulting in less wrist effort.
- no more dealing with cable stretch/adjustments, or trying to eliminate that annoying deadband (the first movement of a traditional throttle grip that just takes up cable slack, but doesnâ€™t actually move the throttle plate)
BMW first introduced this system in 2009 with their S1000RR
. If BMW bikes have always seemed high-tech to you, then you may be surprised to learn that Harley-Davidson beat BMW to the punch, installing ETC on their touring bikes in 2008 (although to my knowledge, they arenâ€™t using it to implement any of the sophisticated traction/power control schemes I described earlier)
. Moreover, Yamaha did it several years before Harley did.
Not being familiar with the area, Gina sent me out with Chris - a local rider - leading the way (he was there test-riding an F800GS)
. Chris took me on some nice country roads south of the dealership. Since we were both on unfamiliar bikes, neither of us was pushing things particularly hard, but we were able to get a taste for our respective rides. The GTL was...interesting...but I think Iâ€™ll keep my RT.
Eventually we made our way back to the dealership, where my RT was waiting for me with a brand-new tire on the rear wheel; time to knock out the last 460 miles of the trip.
In an odd instance of symmetry, I stopped for lunch at a Wendyâ€™s restaurant in Peru, Illinois â€“ not realizing, until I saw it, that it was the same Wendyâ€™s where I had eaten lunch on the first
day of the trip.
The weather cooperated â€“ mostly cloudy skies, temps in the mid 50s â€“ until I hit the south end of the Chicago metroplex, and then it all went to hell. The rain started falling steady and hard, and the temperature dropped to the mid-40s. It stayed that way for the rest of the ride home. My gear was soaked through in several spots, and with all of the electrics operating at full power, I barely managed to stay warm enough; it was one of those days where you find that youâ€™re actually warmer if you keep your helmet on and stay plugged in and sitting on the bike, so you keep your stops short, few and far between.
After slogging through three hours of cold, wet grayness, it was a nice homecoming, being greeted by a happy wife, a long, HOT shower, and a delicious meal.
Turns out Ann Arbor had a lot of rain while I was gone.
No problems at our house, but places near the Huron River were pretty soggy. All the rain and cool temps had left me with some work to do:
Thatâ€™s all I have to say about that.