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Dearly Departed: When Subaru left the WRC

September 27, 2010

For years, Subaru was synonymous with rally racing. Since 1989, when the distinctively-colored Subaru World Rally team was created, the Japanese car manufacturer has been a strong and important presence in the World Rally Championship (WRC). First with the Legacy, and later with the now well-known Impreza 555 and Impeza WRX, SWRT was one of the most successful teams in the series.

Subaru Impreza 555

Subaru won the WRC driver’s championship on three  occasions, in 1995, 2001, and 2003, with the Legendary Colin McRae, Richard Burns, and Petter Solberg, repectively. They also won the manufacturers title three times, in 1995, 1996, and 1997.

Petter Solberg pilots a 2007 Subaru WRX STI

The design of Subarus seems perfectly matched to rally racing, and in a future post, I’ll discuss why that is the case, but suffice it say that Subaru’s obligatory Symmetrical All Wheel Drive (AWD), horizontally-opposed (read: flat) four cylinder engine, and nearly bulletproof build quality combine to make a very quick little package on dirt, tarmac, or (gasp) snow.

Read more…


The Dirt on Rally Racing

September 20, 2010

Three frames overlayed give a sense of motion as Travis Pastrana slides through this hairpin.

Rally racing is definitely one of the coolest forms of four-wheeled racing on the planet. Huge amounts are spent by top-level teams — behind only to Formula 1 and perhaps MotoGP. Here is the lowdown, in case you are unfamiliar with the awesome motorsport that is rally racing.

From Wikipedia: “Rallying, also known as rally racing, is a form of auto racing that takes place on public or private roads with modified production or specially built road-legal cars. This motorsport is distinguished by running not on a circuit, but instead in a point-to-point format in which participants and their co-drivers drive between set control points (special stages), leaving at regular intervals from one or more start points.

“Rally is  unique in its choice of where and when to race. Rallies take place on all surfaces and in all conditions: asphalt(tarmac), gravel, or snow and ice, sometimes more than one in a single rally, depending on the course and event. Rallies are also run every month of the year, in every climate, bitter cold to monsoon rain. This contributes to the notion of top rally drivers as some of the best car control experts in the world. As a result of the drivers not knowing exactly what lies ahead, the lower traction available on dirt roads, and the driving characteristics of small cars, the drivers are much less visibly smooth than circuit racers, regularly sending the car literally flying over bumps, and sliding the cars out of corners.”

Here is a video to give you an idea of what makes rally racing is so spectacular:

If that didn’t get you excited, then check this out. An offshoot of rally racing, Gymkhana is described by Wikipedia as: “Time and/or speed events in an automobile that can feature obstacles such as cones, tires, and barrels. The driver must maneuver through a predetermined “track” performing many different driving techniques. What separates gymkhana from traditional autocross events is that the gymkhana requires drivers to perform reversals, 180 degree spins, 360 degree spins, parking boxes, figure 8s and other advanced skills. Drifting is also encouraged where helpful or necessary. Essentially, a gymkhana is any event featuring a starting point, a finish line and some sort of “obstacle” to get through, around, or by, all within a time limit.”

To give you an idea of what that is like, watch this video.  Prepare to giggle uncontrollably while clinging to your chair.

Ken Block’s Gymkhana 3 Part 2:

Blue Ridge Parkway: Trip Planning!

January 16, 2009

I am planning on riding the entirety of the Blue Ridge Parkway this summer on my 1990 FZR 600. I will be traveling lightly, with only what I can carry strapped to the bike and in my saddlebags. For example, I am not planning on bringing a tent or sleeping bag, instead I will take a tarp and a blanket. I will stay with friends sometimes, and sleep under a tree at others; grass for my pillow, a cool breeze as my lullaby.

My journey will begin on a Sunday in late June, when I will leave Morgantown, WV and travel to the northern end of Skyline Drive. I hope to ride the Skyline on that Sunday as well, and meet some friends near Charlottesville. Monday, my trip will begin in earnest as I start down the parkway proper. I will allow a week for the trip, though it may not take that long. My birthday, in the beginning of July, will happen on the road during the height of my travails.

This trip is not solely for the purpose of pleasure, as I plan to write a number of articles from this experience with hopes of selling them to various magazines. While on the motorcycle, my progress will (no doubt) often be rapid. However, I plan on stopping quite frequently to take pictures, videos, and journal entries with my digital voice recorder.

Although pleasure isn’t the sole purpose of the trip, it has always been a dream of mine to travel this road from one end to the other. I was raised in Floyd County, VA, which is right off of the Parkway. Ever since I could drive, a desire has been growing in me to see all that the Parkway has to offer. Up until this point, I have never been able to break away. I am going to be entering graduate studies for journalism in the fall, and this summer may be my last, best chance for a long time.

I will be purchasing gear for the next few months, and will post reviews of everything that I use at the end of the trip. I welcome suggestions or donations of light, useful gear that might aid me on my journey. In addition, I encourage anyone that lives near the parkway — and would be willing to let a weary traveler pitch a tarp in their backyard for a night — to contact me via the comments section of this blog.

In preparation for the trip, I will be outfitting my bike with a Cortech Sport Tri-bag System, new Race-Tech Fork Springs, GenMar Handlebar Risers, and possibly a Zero Gravity Double Bubble Windscreen. I will also have a full tune-up performed, including carb syncing and cleaning, new sparkplugs, and a valve clearance adjustment.

In the next few months, I will be posting on this blog about the progression of my trip plans, and the history of the Parkway. I hope to hear some thoughts about it from folks that share my interest in this beautiful, paved ribbon of american history; especially those of you that may have already done this trip, and might have suggestions. Thanks, and be well!

Gear Review! Teknic SMT gloves

January 8, 2009

After I bought my nice helmet, I began to feel like the rest of my body was totally naked when I rode my motorcycle, especially my hands. I could feel the wind flowing past them, and when I looked down, see the pavement doing the same thing. I thought, “Even If I have a little spill, I could permanently ruin my hands.” So I began the search for good gloves.

I said in a previous entry that we (motorcyclists) should wear the best gear that we can afford. However, that is easier said than done, especially when you are broke. The lure of a motorcycle is such that we save our money to buy one, but are not left with enough to purchase the correct gear. Then, once we have the bike, we must ride even if the risk to ourselves is huge. Not smart! I have been piecing together my kit since I bought my motorcycle in August, now all I need are some pants and riding boots.

I originally wanted some short gloves, supermoto-style. My reasoning was that they look better in a T-shirt. That is probably the most stupid thing I have ever heard. I have yet to actually ride while wearing only a t-shirt, and now that I have a nice jacket, I probably never will. Before I came to that realization, I purchased the Teknic SMT gloves from the Motorcycle Superstore, on sale at a very reasonable price: 19.99 plus shipping.

They are nice gloves, with a large rubbery plastic protector on the top knuckles, and smaller ones of the same material for the digits. They are very breathable because of the thin material used on the between-the-finger area, and vents in the knuckle protector. A little chilly for days colder than 45 degrees or so. The back of the hand is well padded, and the leather and other materialgrippy.

My only major gripe is that I believe that these gloves were made for someone with “meat hands.” This is my own technical term for someone with thick, wide palms like beef-steaks, and fingers like sausages (short and fat). I am on the other end of the spectrum. Being 6’1” and about 155, I have fingers that are long and thin. My hands are big but not especially thick, and until buying these glove, I always thought my palms were large. I usually wear a large glove, so I followed the recommendations of previous buyers (“get one size larger”) and bought them in XL. I returned them the next day because the fingers were used on the palm are supple and way too short, and prevented movement. It’s too bad, because the body of the glove fit great. So, I got the XXL rather than trying another brand of glove and going through the whole ordeal again.

The XXLs were still a hair short in the fingers, but have since loosened up. The body of the glove is definitely a little too large, and I must use the hook-and-loop wrist strap to tighten them past the point where the loops are, and stick it to the material of the glove body.

So, overall I would rate these gloves great if you have fat hands and want a short glove. However, if you have long fingers, I would suggest looking at some other brand or model. If possible try before you buy. Even if you try in a shop and buy from the internet, know the product you are purchasing. There is nothing so infuriating than buying a pair of bargain gloves instead of the ones you wanted, only to spend the money saved on return shipping to get the right size.

I think I will always be on the search for that perfect glove, and be destined to only find it when I don’t have the money to afford a pair. Also, I am definitely looking for a gauntlet style glove now. Suggestions anyone?

Gear Review! Shoei RF-1000 Joust Helmet

January 6, 2009

With the recent purchase of my motorcycle, it was only fitting that I also purchase a new helmet. In fact in was mandatory. My old helmet – the one I wear on the scooter – is a 10 year old Bieffe that was too large in the first place. While riding my FZR it would move around on my head from the wind buffeting it at any speeds over 45 mph. Not a good thing.

I searched for a long time, trying to find the best price. I honestly wanted an Arai, but the the price was just too steep even for a lower end model, and I wasn’t willing to buy used even if I had found one. Although I would still consider buying a yellow and red Colin Edwards replica from 2001, or a blue and red from 2002 if I could find one, but only for collecting.I finally realized that all of the best helmet deals come from Competition Accessories, based out of Ohio. After doing a ton of reading, I settled on a Shoei RF-1000. For the money (you can choose from a great selection of graphics for $299), I don’t think there is a better helmet on the market.

It has two brow vents with two opening positions available, one chin vent for defogging the visor and providing fresh air, and dual vents in the nifty rear spoiler that can be opened and closed with one central switch. The visor is easily removed and replaced; in fact, I have already replaced the stock, clear visor with a lightly tinted one. The liner and cheekpads are simple to remove for washing, and the cheekpads can be replaced with larger or smaller ones (not included) to custom fit the helmet to your face.

Fit and finish is impeccable: the graphics are beautiful, and everything looks great. This helmet has none of the little knit-picky issues that I tend to have with everything I buy. I love it. It even came with a removable breath-guard and air deflector for the chin. Unfortunately, I wear glasses, so the breath-guard just redirects the fog to my glasses, which is much worse. And the last road trip that I took (more on this in a future post) I forgot the air deflector, which would have helped a lot with the coldness blowing up under my chin.

I have a rather long shaped head (front to back) and that was one of the reasons I bought this helmet. It fits very well, with no movement at all. On the road, it is extremely quiet and very easy on the head. However, it should be noted that I wear ear-plugs when riding, as no helmet can eliminate the decibels of a screaming exhaust note.

I would highly recommend this helmet as an alternative to the exorbitantly expensive Arai helmets; but as of now, I have never even placed an Arai bucket on my head. My opinion may change after that experience. Maybe someone could help me out with that? Shoei is world renowned, and at the very least, on a level with Arai for quality. Consider spending a little more than you would on a top of the line KBC or the like, you will find it is well worth it. X-speed helmets seem decent as well, but again, never tried one. Hope someone finds this review helpful!

Here is what the manufacturer says about the RF-1000:

  • Aerodynamic Shell Design is maximized through extensive wind tunnel and rider testing
  • The Aero Stabilizer dramatically reduces drag and lift coefficients, thus diminishing rider fatigue and increasing performance
  • Two-layer liner offers unmatched ventilation with internal channels and exhaust ports throughout the helmet
  • Integrated Upper Air Intake minimizes air turbulence and maximizes air stream in all riding positions
  • Outlet holes in the Aero Stabilizer allow warm air to be exhausted
  • The lower air intake provides an additional source of air flow
  • The neck outlet vent allows for effective air exhaust
  • Lightweight, Advanced Integrated Matrix Plus (AIM)
  • High performance fiber materials are combined with extremely elastic organic fibers to create a shell structure that is ultra lightweight, rigid and resilient Anti-Fog System
  • The lower air intake provides air flow that helps to diminish shield fog
  • 3D Interior Liner
  • Removable interior cheek pads available in optional sizes for a custom fit
  • Chin strap cover can easily be removed to allow for cleaning or replacement
  • CX-1 V Shield and Lock System w/ Q.R.B.P. (Quick -Release Base Plate) allows tool-less shield removal
  • A wide, 3-dimensionally curved shield offers increased peripheral vision and optical clarity
  • Scratch-resistant coating
  • 100% protection from harmful UV A&B rays
  • A pre-set lever can easily lock the shield in place to prevent it from opening unexpectedlyTECHNICAL INFORMATION

  • Standards: DOT 218, Snell-M2000
  • Construction: AIM (Advanced Integrated Matrix Plus) materials
  • Weight: 3.24 lbs /1470 grams (approx.)
  • Upcoming Gear Reviews: Fieldsheer Congo Sport jacket, Cortech Sport Tailbag, Meguiars ScratchX 2.0, Battery Tender Jr.

    December 29, 2008

    Coming in the next few weeks: A full review of all the products listed above. Stay tuned!

    More FZR work…

    December 10, 2008

    Addendum to the FZR story. I followed up on what I said I would do. I have cut the rear fender by about an inch or two with my new Dremel, drilled a few holes in it for the license plate, and mounted the plate straight to the newly shortened fender. I used large rubber washers in between the plate and fender to avoid vibration and movement. The new design requires the plate to curve a little, but I like it.

    The next thing I did was kind of crafty, but I must say that the idea was not original, I found it on the FZR archives.

    I removed the rear long-stalk turn signals, and removed the stalks from the body of the blinker. Then I took the stalk to Lowe’s and found a bolt that matched the threading from the stalk, that way I could use the original nut and avoid any conflict with reinstalling the blinker-body. I took the two bolts to a machine shop down the road, and for 5$, had them lathe a hole through the center of each bolt. I attached the bolt directly to the blinker-body and the fender, thus replacing the stalk altogether and shortening each turn signal by over 1.5 inches. The combination of the fender chop and the shortened turn signals really tightened up the back end, and made the bike look a lot more sleek.

    Other things I have done recently are:

    Purchased and installed Flanders Canadian FZR flushmount turn signals. It was a super easy install, except that I discovered that as a result of a drop by the previous owner, one of my turn signals was hard wired to the harness (read: no easy disconnect). So I had to buy some connectors and rewire both the turn signal and the harness. No biggie, but it was a pain nonetheless (and as I was doing it, I kept thinking, “Shit, now I can’t return these!”). But the signals look great, and better than stock (though you wouldn’t know that they aren’t OEM, and neither will the state inspector).

    I also purchased a few sets of knock off Yamaha tuning fork decals from Hong Kong (via eBay) that actually look just like the ones that come stock on the newer R6 and R1. I put one on each side of the gas tank, and you wouldn’t know they weren’t stock. Also, I purchased a raised metallic “Yamaha” decal for placement on the front of the fairing in the stock position, it also looks like OEM or better.
    I will add pictures of these last things at some point, I just don’t have any right now, and the weather is to bad to take some.

    Lastly, I have winterized my bike by filling it up with gas, adding Sta-bil fuel stabilizer, and running it for about ten minutes. I go out and start it every time the temp gets above 40 F outside, and run it till it warms up to clear the bugs out. Surprisingly, since I added the Sta-bil, the bike starts up on the first try even when it is cold as hell! It didn’t even do that from a cold-start during the summer. I highly recommend this product!
    A Battery Tender Jr. is hopefully on the way as a Christmas present, but I haven’t had any battery problems so far.

    I did get to take a brief ride yesterday. All I can say is, “I LOVE MY MOTORCYCLE!!!”