A Test Ride: To The Bat Cave, Robin!

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Nope. Didn’t get a new bike. But it felt like one. And, yes, there really is a bat cave in the mountains of North Carolina. So, I designed my 225 mile route to test the ST’s new front end, and reassure myself that my riding skills were really not deteriorating. The real test would come in Bat Cave, North Carolina on Bat Cave Road two thirds into my ride.

I knew what the problem was. The beaST was behaving like the huge motorbike she is. Turning into curves too quick, not holding a line, and me having to fight and make micro adjustments mid-turn on these mountain roads. All contrary to the smooth riding, glued to the road responses that she had when we first met. It was getting old, and I was losing the love. She ignored all my inputs and commands from the handlebars and my body, just like a beagle on a scent.

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Adorable, but when on a scent, you don’t exist. Just how I felt on the beaST. I didn’t exist!

So, what did I do? First, I waited two riding seasons before doing anything. I had just changed the front tire, and soon thereafter is when handling started going downhill (not the tires fault). Not wanting to spend the money to fix things without shodding a new tire, I sucked it up and rode as conditions got steadily worse. Finally, this month, I checked the front tire. Ah, tread down to the wear bars. Good. I checked the mileage on the tire; 12,000 miles. Perfect. It’s time!

Into the Honda shop we went and did the following:

  • New front tire: Michelin Pilot Road 3
  • New front wheel bearings
  • Change fork oil (springs were changed last tire change).
  • THE BIGGIE! Changed the original steering head ball bearings with tapered roller bearings. This was the crux of the problem.

The next day I left home at 8 AM and headed to the mountains. The pre-test would be on the Blue Ridge Parkway with her sweeping uphill and downhill curves. The ST performed flawlessly. I did notice a difference, but I was still unconvinced. A lunch stop at          Larkins On the Lake restaurant in Lake Lure, North Carolina fueled me for the real test to come.

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Lake Lure, North Carolina

Bat Cave Road runs from Old Fort, North Carolina to the small hamlet of Bat Cave, North Carolina where Batman and Robin live in retirement. The road to Old Fort is a joy to ride: gorgeous scenery and wonderful sweeping curves. Once in Old Fort, I turn onto Bat Cave Road. Let the test begin!

Bat Cave Road

11039730816_0d46a360a5_sBat Cave Road starts out docile enough for the first mile or two. Then a sharp 180 degree right turn switchback has you twisting and turning as the elevation increases. Climb, climb, climb, the beaST leaning right and left. Crest the ridge line, then descend, twisting, turning, leaning into the town of Bat Cave. No wonder Batman & Robin chose this place to hide out from their adoring fans!  So, how did the ST perform? Was I pleased? You bet! It was like riding a new bike. The improved handling was magical. With the slightest input from me, the ST responded in the curves like she was riding on a rail. My grip on the bars was the lightest in years, almost like I didn’t have to hold on.  I wore a grin from the top of one ear to the other that would rival the Grinch’s grin on Christmas Eve.

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The only way I could put how the ST handled into words would be like this:

Holy Honda, Batman! She handles like a Dream!

Batcycle

The problem was the steering head bearings. For some reason, all motorcycle manufacturers use ball bearings in the steering heads instead of tapered roller bearings. Over time, ball bearings “pit” the race they sit in, creating a choppy feel to the steering where the bearing gets “stuck” in the pitted area of the race. Not a real problem on the straights or sweepers, but get into real serious curvature and you will find yourself constantly making micro-adjustments to the steering in mid-curve. Frustrating, unsettling, and erodes your confidence in riding the bike.

The takeaway:

Change out your steering head bearings! No matter how young your bike is, next front tire change swap out the ball bearings for tapered roller bearings. If your bike has a few years on it, do what I did and go for the whole shebang. Fork springs too, as they are a price point item (cheap). It’s a bit of money to spend if you are mechanically declined, like me, but well worth the investment. I got my baby back & I’m a happy boy!

The beaST is back!

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2 thoughts on “A Test Ride: To The Bat Cave, Robin!

  1. I hear ya, Bob. It amazes me how a simple service, such as fork oil change, can rejuvenate the spirit of a motorcycle. Besides having the fork oil changed and some other services performed, I had the chain and sprockets (long past life) swapped out on my F800GS last month… Wow!

    I don’t believe I’ve ever detected such a post-service transformation in an automobile. Do the cages even know when we care for them?

    • I don’t know, Ry. I think we motorcyclists look at our bikes as somewhat exotic, so take better care of them. Now, if I drove a Ferrari or Lamborghini, I would feel the difference. but my little Saturn? Not so much. Thanks for reading!

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