A canyon a day…

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You hear them, on Sundays, before you see them. Stomp Grip, frame sliders, DOT race tires and open exhausts. Locked away six days a week while their riders suffer through workaday routines in ties and SUVs. Purpose built race bikes used on the roads as dedicated canyon carvers, their lifetimes often limited to a few laps of a single road, the way there and back, and maybe a cafe before or after. It is what they’re made for, these race replicas — replicating racing on the road — and it is fun, as taking risks, breaking laws and going fast always will be. But need your kicks be reserved for that one day out of seven and need your bike be capable of only a single task? Could this latest generation of naked sportsbikes, exemplified by the Honda CB1000R and 2012 Triumph Street Triple R, present a third way?

Photos: Grant Ray

It used to be, in the language of riding, that “naked” translated to “cheap.” With the fairings went the suspension control, the brakes, the rigid frames. With “tuned for torque” went the power. Aluminum gave way to steel, fully gave way to partially, or not at all, in the suspension. Big power gave way to insurability, in the engines.

And, on first glance, that’s what’s happened to the CB1000R and the Street Triple R too. Allegedly based on the sublime CBR1000RR, drop two Rs and with them the CB loses a 1,200cc Harley’s worth of horsepower — 55. The Triumph is down 19 from the Daytona. But to consider these two bikes next to their fully-faired, full-power siblings is to miss their collective point. These two motorcycles aren’t detuned sportsbikes, they’re two vastly practical, useful, versatile machines that can be ridden seriously fast just as well as they can squirt through traffic.

And what that means is that bikes like these two open up a whole new world of riding.

But, before you can understand what these two bikes are capable of in the canyons, you need to understand what they’re able to do in the city. Both have high, flat bars, low-ish pegs and comfortable seats, that’s obvious. But they’re also capable of minute control. The kind you can use to make the most of that last centimeter between two wing mirrors or to make sure that crossed up, 2nd gear power wheelie lands to the left of the pothole and to the right of that cat’s eye.

It seems like common sense that the lighter, smaller Street Triple should be the better bike in town, but it’s not. The CB1000R hides its 489lbs remarkably well, while the smooth, torquey inline-four does whatever you want, fast or slow, effortlessly and intuitively. Its big advantage, though, is turning radius. The Street is still saddled with the Daytona’s ridiculously tiny arc of lock-to-lock. It takes a paddling three-point turn to get into my driveway, while the CB1000R can do the same maneuver, feet up, in one fell swoop.

Elsewhere, in town, neither bike really puts a foot wrong. The bars that initially feel too-high contribute to complete comfort. Gearing is low enough and torque high enough that pulling away from a set of lights is fast and effort free. In black and gold, both look good parked outside our unofficial morning office, the Bourgeois Pig. The Honda’s BT015s and the Triumph’s Diablo Rossos are both capable of surprising amounts of grip, and therefor lean angle and throttle, from cold. I can do the two mile morning commute in record time on either, without waiting for the tires to warm up.

Ass down and head up makes for better vision on the highway, through traffic and especially when you turn for a lifesaver. You can see stuff in the mirrors too. Late night, high speed highway runs get a little breezy and cold sans fairings, but a tight fitting jacket is the same cure-all for naked aerodynamics that it’s always been.

In short, either or both make pretty much perfect city bikes. On rutted, pot holed streets, on rain grooved super slab, around greasy 90-degree corners and through traffic they’re comfortable, controllable and fast. Completely the opposite of too-stiff, too-extreme superbikes that, in this environment, often end up unable to keep up.

Which brings us to Little Tujunga Canyon. LA is a unique city, notable particularly for its geography. Look east or north and you see mountains. Close mountains. Roads go through those mountains, twisty, tight, fun roads that have few houses, little traffic and liberal policing. If you’re commuting in from nearby or just have some extra time of an evening, you can easily make those roads a part of your daily routine. And the CB1000R and Street Triple R make those roads easy.

Little Tujunga itself is located north of the city, sort of between the San Fernando Valley and Santa Clarita. If you were commuting from points north, down the 14, it’ll take an extra 20 minutes or so out of your day to make the detour. And that extra 20 minutes could change your life.

You see, the thing with motorcycles is that you don’t need to save them for a Sunday, if you’re on the right bike.

Enter Tujunga from the south, by way of cracked pavement through a sketchy neighborhood, beyond the 210 and you’re soon headed uphill around a series of not-quite-hairpins. 2nd gear the whole time. Over the ridge, down into a valley, past some houses and its more of the same. Up over the next hill, past the scenic overlook and the road gives way to smooth pavement and sweeping corners. You might grab 3rd between some of them. Out of the last, full throttle over the dry driver crossing, land the wheelie, then turn left at the fork to head back for the 14. How good would that be three or four days a week? Hell, maybe even twice a day every now and then. Not only would you arrive at home or work feeling better about life, but you’d quickly progress your riding skills too. This is the kind of road where knee down is a commonplace occurrence. Just watch the trucks and drifting 280Zs halfway in your lane.

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Despite a shagged chain extended to its maximum adjustment lengthening the wheelbase on the Street Triple far past optimum, it’s the Triumph that’ll outperform the larger Honda here. The R brings with it the suspension from the Daytona, giving it something the Honda doesn’t have — feel. That means the Triumph is at home here, chasing its 10,000rpm+ powerband, as it does going to fetch tacos back on Venice and La Brea.

It’s not that the 1000cc Honda isn’t as fast as the 675cc Triumph. That’s me on the 675 up top and Sean on the 1000. Post-accident, I’m still struggling with confidence so he was a little faster everywhere. It’s that the 675 is more fun to use on tight roads like this. Feel comes into that, of course, but so does engine performance.

Honda makes great noise about how the CB is based on the CBR, but in reality, in action, that couldn’t sound further from the truth. The engines look the same, but the CB’s is all smooth torque and little top end. It’s a brutally effective tool — few bikes are as easy to wheelie and traffic is passed instantaneously — but a tool nonetheless.

The unique aluminum backbone chassis, USD forks and Showa shock are much the same. Utterly without criticism, utterly effective, but also curiously numb.

Tujunga done several time in each direction, photos snapped and CHP motor cops waved to, it’s time to head home through 5 o’clock rush hour. Thirty minutes later, it’s out of the leathers, into jeans and off to the gym, with little but shagged tires and thousand-yard stare to set us apart from the crowd. Just another afternoon of life on a bike.

Look for more on these two bikes in the coming days.

  • 10/10ths

    Nice write-up. Repli-racers are no good if you live more than 30 miles from a twisty road.

  • http://www.youtube.com/user/Adeysworld adeysworld

    I didn’t get a text or call from you for permission to setup temporary-shop in my neighborhood. Put that RSV4 Factory back in my hands and I’ll let this turf slip-up slide.

    • http://hellforleathermagazine.com Wes Siler

      Let’s meet outside starbucks and fight about it. Pumpkin chai lattes are on Grant.

    • Sean Smith

      Careful there big guy. When you were learning to ride back in NYC, I was laying down rubber on Little T in a 240hp 1600lb single-seat RX7 ;)

      • http://www.youtube.com/user/Adeysworld adeysworld

        I’m talking about Bourgeois Pig dumb smart guy *no wink


        • http://hellforleathermagazine.com Wes Siler

          Why the hell is it closed this morning? All cereal and no caffeine makes wes a something something.

          • http://www.youtube.com/user/Adeysworld adeysworld

            I heard you were coming…

  • http://mansgottado.tumblr.com/ gregorbean

    Sweet! I used to take Little Tujunga quite a bit on the way up and back from Bouquet Canyon Road (and the surrounding ORV/FS roads) on my supermoto when I lived in Los Feliz. You’re right on about it’s accessibility from LA, super quick and much less traveled than some of the more popular riding spots, especially on weekdays.

    Great write up, excited for more–especially on the Street Triple R. I was just sitting on a Daytona 675 the other day contemplating the virtues of each. Thinking I’m going to end up with a Street as I’m more road and less track oriented, but there’s something about that white Daytona that’s just so fucking awesome.

    On a side note I’ll be staying in Beachwood Canyon at a friend’s house from Saturday through Wednesday. Just up the road from the Bourgeois Pig, if I see a test fleet of HFL-stickered bikes outside I’ll stop in and say hello to you dudes.

    • http://hellforleathermagazine.com Wes Siler

      Cool, look for bikes about halfway up too, girlfriend lives up there. Email us and maybe we can get a beer.

      • http://mansgottado.tumblr.com/ gregorbean

        Will do!

      • ike6116

        HFL: because the editors will drink with you!

        • http://rider49er.blogspot.com Mark D

          Yup, pretty much.

  • Torkoid

    Why is Italy the only nation with balls ? Tuonos, Brutales, Streefighters are buck-ass- nekkid sport bikes and the public loves them. Is there some concern amongst the other factories that motorcycling’s image might be tainted by building such things ? You meet the nicer people on a Tuono. Ask my wife.

    • Tony

      Um, Speed Triple. The Original. British.

    • Sean Smith

      Streetfighter? Come on now.

    • Coreyvwc

      Because those “ballsy buck ass Nekkid bikes” are grossly overpriced for us wimpy Americans and they break down a lot. Pretty simple really…

      • Corey

        Can’t speak for the other Italians, but Aprilias and especially any with the V990 (Tuono/RSVR) are pretty damn reliable. On top of that they ain’t too bad on the wallet due to not having ‘Ducati’ stickered on them.

      • http://www.lgdm.fr stempere

        A few years back i would have disagreed, but meanwhile i bought a corsaro veloce that i’m now riding without a front light or dashboard.
        Italian bikes are great and tend to get more reliable, but they’re still some issues (ok moto morini is a special case, but still).

    • Tim

      FYI, Honda’s CB1000R was made in Italy.

      • Sean Smith

        Designed there too. Excepting the Honda badges, it’s a 100% italian motorcycle.

      • robotribe

        Hey! Quit squashing the stereotypes! We’ll have less to bitch about otherwise!

  • Aaron

    When can we expect the “life on a bike” T-shirts?

  • http://worldof2.com/ jpenney

    I bought a Street Triple R a few months and 7,500 miles ago largely based on the praise heaped on to it here. I’m glad to see that continue as I truly love that machine.

    Since buying the Striple I’ve attended Kawasaki, Harley, and Triumph demo fleets; borrowed an SV650; had an hour on a Monster S2R, Monster 696, GT1000, and a Tiger 800. While all nice bikes, the Triple always put the biggest smile on my face. So much so that I literally gave the tank a hug after a couple hours on the aforementioned S2R and Tiger.

    One thing to note, this bike is not discrete (at least not with the old round headlights). I’ve never seen a bike get so damned much attention, be it from other riders at bike nights or passers by as I’m parking at a cafe for lunch. It’s rare that I’m stopped and don’t have someone talking to me about the bike. It will be interesting to hear if the Spierman eyed models grab the same attention as the classic round light models.

    • Tim

      I have a 2011 standard Street Triple and love it. The Rs were sold out and I got a nice deal on the basic model. Used the savings to get a Penske rear shock and will send the forks to Dave Moss for mods. Most fun bike I have ever ridden.

    • Sean

      I currently ride a Yamaha FZ8. While it may not have the “cred” of the STR, it’s still a lot of fun. I get to ride a bike with decent handling, good power output and (to me) great looks, and I use it as my daily driver. It’s fun as well as being practical. Around town it’s well-mannered. On the highway it’s comfortable enough for hours in the saddle, but can hit 120 MPH in no time flat. And people who stop to look at it always ask what it is.

      I’d have to agree with all the praise for the Street Triple. The one time I test rode one, I had a grin on my face from the first moment I twisted the throttle. I ended up not buying one because I thought it’d get me into too much trouble, and I honestly don’t think I could appreciate everything it has to offer. Someday I’ll have the skill/stones to handle one. Until then, I still crack a grin when I’m on the FZ8. Two wheels > four, always.

  • Tommy

    I’ve lived in LA almost 5 years now, and for some reason just rose little tujunga for the first time on Monday. What a blast. Hop on Soledad canyon and it will pop you right onto Angeles forest hwy, hang a left on the newly opened section of big tujunga and cruise to Angeles crest and hit up Newcombs for a bacon burger. Ride Angeles crest back down. Damn. Monday was a good day. I’ll be back this weekend.

  • JC

    Did someone say pumpkin chai lattes? I’m in

  • http://rider49er.blogspot.com Mark D

    I’d be curious to hear your thoughts on the differences between the CB1000 and the recently review Z1000. They’re natural market rivals, but seems like you think the Z was basically a sporty-muscle bike, while the CB is a bit more of a handler.

    • http://hellforleathermagazine.com Wes Siler

      Yeah, you’ve got it. The Z1000 is all motor, the CB1000R works better at playing sportsbike. Neither is a Triumph.

    • Sean Smith

      The Z1000 is a Japanese Diavel, whereas the CB1000R is a very Italian super-UJM.

      In other words, they’re similar in some respects (motor, chassis), but wildly different in others (ergonomics, actual power delivery, character). I’d pick the CB1000R because I think my license would last longer on it. The Z1000 has the personality of the 16 year old in a riced out Civic who tries to race everything in sight and the CB1000R is more like the older professional in the Porsche.

      • robotribe

        Those are THE best descriptions I’ve read of those bikes to date.

  • wascostreet

    So this might be a good thread to ask for some advice. I grew in the Temecula/Murrieta area north of San Diego but live in Portland now. I’m heading down south for a visit with the fam around Christmastime and will need a midwinter bike fix. So I’m thinking I’ll fly into LAX, rent a bike for the week and spend a day riding some LA area canyons en route back to the ancestral homestead. So, any advice on a) places to rent and b) some canyon-maximizing routes heading east from LA then south down the 15?

    • http://hellforleathermagazine.com Wes Siler

      http://www.rentaducati.com/ are friends of ours. Not sure on routes as it’s all still a bit new to me, but Angeles Crest might kinda work.

      • Dan

        The only other one I’ve heard of is racyrentals.com. I dont have any personal experience with the place, but their site says that they rents daytonas and (non-R) street triples.

        • Roman

          I used racy rentals when I came out to LA. Looks like their Santa Monica location is gone, which is too bad since it was a straight shot to the canyons from there. Make sure to find out what the mileage allotment for the day is. I blew mine by about 150 miles, which basically added another day’s worth of rental to the bill. Totally worth it, just something to be aware of.

    • Sean Smith

      Another vote for rentaducati.com. Dave Johnson, the man behind the mostly one-man show over there, can probably recommend the most fun possible route between LA and San Diego. He usually handles the moving around of bikes between different locations and does his best to avoid freeways. That means he’s ridden just about every canyon road between Mexico and Santa Barbara numerous times, at speed, on all the rental bikes. He’s not the fastest rider, but I never have to wait more than a minute or so at stop signs (which is saying something).

      He rents out of Pro Italia, Santa Barbara Ducati and GP Cycles in San Diego. If you’re renting for a week, he’ll have no problem delivering a bike to you. And when you’re done with it, just drop it off in San Diego before flying home.

      • wascostreet

        Interesting, that might work. Do you know if he delivers to the airports (SD or LA)?

  • SugarCream

    If I were to (which I do) have to drive a car all week long and can’t wait that Sunday to hit the roads for a spirited ride, versatility would not be in my criteria. I do ride a naked Honda. Which is little sister of this CB1000R. But that doesn’t change my routine either. I always wish to have super-sport race bike whose ergos are tailored for the kind of riding I’m missing all week. And their grin-per-mile ratio is way up as well.

    It’s not that naked bikes are hell, but they are not for those who could hopefully find an opportunity to get out only on Sundays.

    • Myles

      919 or 599?

  • Robert

    Great job HFL – Grant and Wes. Keep bringing in the light!!

  • kidchampion

    Moving to the West Coast was obviously a good move for HFL and a good move for us readers. And I say that as a reader on the East Coast.

  • Roman

    As an East Coast rider, it blew my mind just how close these roads were to LA, when I visited. No 1 hour ride on the slab to a 5 mile stretch of twisties, just miles and miles of canyon road bliss 15 minutes outside of town and a full year riding season. I think I’m gonna throw up now…

    • http://twitter.com/metabomber Jesse

      Yeah, I try not to think about it much. I get all wristy.

    • http://hellforleathermagazine.com Grant Ray

      Yeah, my friends couldn’t understand why I scoffed at Bear Mtn. and every time I told them about how awesome the LA canyons were I got the same response. “What?! Get the fuck outta here,” while looking at me like I was a lying scumbag who just called his mother fat and smelly.

    • Aienan

      Just be thankful you don’t live in the middle of a prairie like I do… 3 hours to anything remotely twisty. 4 Hours before you hit Banff or Jasper and can actually find decent road.

      • PCPaul

        What? You’ve never heard of the “Twisties of Saskatchewan”? He, he,he.

        • Aienan

          Only in Myth. Sask is also a 4 hour (Legally) drive away.

  • Brad

    I was just ruminating about my ride last weekend on my Brutale. I did my favorite loop through Frazier Park, over Cerro Noreste, down the 33 to the 150 through Ojai. I’ve done the loop many times – mostly on Super Sports. I can honestly say I’m having WAY more fun on my bone stock Brutale than I had on my tricked out CBR1000RR.

    • Eric

      Excellent loop, my favorite.

      • Brad

        Shhh, don’t tell anyone, but South Mountain Rd. is repaved. Also, don’t tell anyone that there’s never any traffic on Cerro. Let’s just keep this between us, mmm-kay?

        • Beale

          Cerro Noreste = absolute bliss.

    • http://hellforleathermagazine.com Wes Siler

      Some of my favorite roads in the whole world.

    • contender

      This is going to make me try something other than my few Malibu loops real soon-like.

  • Campisi

    As a Northwest reader reading through a veil of fog and heavy drizzle, this gratuitous flaunting of sun-parched canyon roads makes a studio apartment and a ramen diet seem well worth the expense of a southward move.

  • http://www.brammofan.com Brammofan

    Hey Grant – is that first shot some sort time lapse montage? And is it of the two bikes? It has to be, right? Otherwise, why would anyone want to ride the canyons with their bumper to proverbial bumper? That’s my four question limit for the day, all in one comment.

    • http://hellforleathermagazine.com Wes Siler

      Grant’s up in Seattle playing with Russian motorcycles. It’s a combo image; Sean’s in the black helmet, I’m in the white.

  • http://www.muthalovin.com the_doctor

    This read like a love song to motorcycles and twisty roads. Thank you. It has been a long week, and this made up for it.

  • Santiago Andrade

    you really do meet the nicest people on a Tuono…