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Wednesday, July 09, 2014

2014 Yamaha FJR1300 detailed review

I have now completed over 10000km (updated 13000km) on a 2014 FJR1300 and feel able to give a detailed review of the bike and talk about some good and bad points the bike has that have not been explored in the other brief reviews online that seem mostly based on short rides. First a recap how I ended up with a FJR1300. (Feel free to skip down to the beginning of the review titled Drivetrain)

After a series of naked/standard bikes I had been thinking maybe I should try a motorcycle designed for the sort of riding I actually do, namely touring. Like many riders I am drawn to certain motorcycles often by a look or style but I decided to buy my next bike based purely on function or equipment I thought I would like to have.

Thinking of touring three things came to mind I would like in a new motorcycle. Electronic cruise control for one. If you have never experienced it you have no idea how good it is on long tours but but wanting this eliminated many motorcycles on sale at the time of purchase May 2014. Decent protection from cold wind to extend the riding season was on my mind as it gets cold here in Japan compared to my previous country of residence and some of the best riding here is in the cool months. This then unfortunately eliminated the adventure bikes from my list since the bikini screens do not offer much in way of protection. Lastly reasonable cornering clearance, which eliminated the touring cruiser motorcycles. So now I was left the narrow field of the BMW R1200RT, BMW K1600GT, Triumph Trophy, Yamaha FJR1300 and Honda Goldwing. 

These motorcycles are all rather large but there is no smaller bike with the combination wanted. I half had my mind made up to get a BMW R1200RT that I had previously ridden in North America being the lighter of these but the bike I rented  had some electrical faults that plagued the screen and cruise control and heated grips. Then the recent stop riding order by BMW of the new R1200RT due to rear electronic suspension failure made me examine the brands reliability. Forums seem to be full of previous owners with tales of breakdowns or obscenely expensive servicing Vs new owners defending their big purchase and a few douche bags thrown in saying you only question buying one if money is an issue. That sort of thinking is ok for poses who don’t ride but I expect reliability. It is difficult to establish if they just need regular or high maintenance or if they age well or like German cars become too expensive to keep. The elitism attached to BMW and HD and their fanatical owners goes along way to making you think maybe they are ok. The price tags certainly want to suggest these are high quality items however both these brands come in last in reliability surveys.

I chose the Japan designated FJR 1300A model without the electronic gear shift or electronic suspension. I played with electronic suspension on the R1200RT I previously toured on then after a couple days simply left it on standard for the rest of the tour. After riding dirt bikes I lost my sensitivity regarding suspension, long as it is compliant I don’t care. I would however option it in Australia where the roads can be terrible but here they are all beautiful so I thought this to be unnecessary weight on an already heavy bike. I felt same about the electronic gear shift option.

Even without those two electronic features there is still a lot of technology. You can read about specs galore elsewhere on the net as most reviews seem full of that but very short on actual ‘bike review’.

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Drive train

I have read people say you buy the FJR over other tourers for the engine. Not sure about that but I will admit I have grown to like it and it suits the bike well. The 1300cc engine is powerful and turbine smooth up to 4000rpm where it gets a mild buzz that you feel in the bars that is at times intrusive. Fortunately I rarely exceed this rev point such is the amount of torque available from 1000rpm. People react differently to vibrations on different types of engines. Some people dislike inline four buzz, some dislike v-twin thump, others never notice either but if you are someone who feels buzz then I rate the FJR’s very low and it could be shifted up the rev range further by adding oversized heavy bar ends but with so much weight up high I am reluctant to add more. (actually if Yamaha made the bars isolated like Honda does then the buzz would disappear) Anyway it is by no means bad like say the F4 engine from MV Agusta which will blur your vision but it is not silky smooth like some other large inline fours either. Passing anything on the FJR is just a twist of the throttle in any gear, even lumbering along in 4th gear 2000rpm it will surge forward. The engine only needs regular fuel not premium. Using premium Vs regular sees no noticeable power or fuel economy difference in my back to back full tank comparisons. Once run in the engine consumes an average of 5.0 litre per 100km which is pretty good considering the size and power however work the engine harder and that economy will disappear.

There are two engine modes Touring and Sport however the power output is rumoured to be the same either mode, the main difference is the throttle needs to be turned much more in touring mode and the initial power is softer. City mode would be a better name as it does make it easier in the lower gears in stop start traffic which can be a little snatchy in Sport mode. Once out of town on the open road the touring mode becomes fatiguing with the extended twist of the wrist needed. The throttle has a overly firm return spring, something I found annoying initially being purely electronic ride by wire throttle with no mechanical apparatus that needs to be closed/shut off by spring but you eventually get used to it. In Japan everything is about hybrid or eco driving and it would have been nice if Yamaha had made an attempt to incorporate some cylinder deactivation when in cruise control or on the electronic shift model perhaps idle stop, well stuff takes ages to migrate from cars to bikes for some odd reason so perhaps we will see this one day.

The engine in my opinion sounds pretty good. Yamaha have done a nice job with the exhaust which while meeting the required noise limits offers a good (for standard mufflers) sound feedback to the rider.

Some journalists, perhaps burdened with finding something irrelevant to criticise rather than speak about the real faults, have highlighted the gear box not having a 6th gear. But since top gear ratios rarely change in 6 speed Vs 5 speed boxes it’s food for internet trolls but actually nothing of real importance. All you are getting with another gear is a further ratio split on the way to top which is completely unnecessary and in fact unwanted on an engine with this much torque in a touring bike. Small capacity motorcycles can benefit greatly from extra gears but on the FJR I often shift from 1st to 3rd and then shortly after to 4th all in the space of a 200 metres from the lights and simply leave the bike in 4th the whole time I am not on a highway. On the highway the bike is revving at about 3500rpm and you can roll on and pass anything in a blink, seriously another gear won’t improve anything.

That aside the gearbox itself is unfortunately a bit clunky, maybe it has a very positive engagement is a nicer way to put it. Click into 1st at the lights results in a very loud ker-thud and slight jerk of the bike. Reminds me of shifting a old car with 3 speed auto from park to reverse. I was calling the gearbox agricultural initially but perhaps just old school would be better. (Update it is smoothing out a bit with use). So in that context Yes it should be updated however I would hate to lose the current ratios in the lower 4 gears which make perfect use of the engines torque. At least it finds neutral easy unlike so many other boxes, and it needs to as I will now elaborate.

Old school is a term that also applies to the clutch which is the heaviest hydraulic motorcycle clutch I have ever experienced. I have to put the bike in neutral whenever stopped in traffic as after a few hours riding I cannot hold the clutch in for any length of time. I prefer manual control but I regret not getting the electronic shift as the clutch is so heavy. By the end of the day your hand muscles are sore and you get to a stage where you groan when coming to a red light as it means having to operate the clutch. Bigger master cylinder is needed. Final drive is via shaft which is excellent. Quiet with little lash and of course no mess from lube.  

Brakes are linked with ABS. They need a strong pull on the lever to slow the bike down. They had a slightly weak initial bite but think have bedded down to be acceptable but they do not deliver the stopping power I am used to. This may simply be due to the extra weight of this bike in motion. Like the clutch I get a sore hand by days end such is the pressure needed to be applied on the lever to stop the bike and I am not talking from speed, just regular urban riding. The hydraulics are like the clutch - insufficient. I have purchased new levers that can be adjusted to sit closer to the bars thus provide better leverage than the factory levers which sat so far away I could barely reach them despite having long fingers. This has helped reduce effort and I now try shift between 3rd to 5th not using the clutch to also help.

The combination of the above described brakes, clutch and gearbox at times makes me feel I am riding a older bike rather than a 2014 model. It is not impossible to adjust to, just makes me feel I am back on something like my Triumph in the 90’s.

Ergonomics

Seating is excellent. The seat is height adjustable and this was another feature I wanted. I am 6’ and in the high position I find the distance to the pegs is very comfortable for all day riding. Much like BMW, Yamaha offer a ‘touring’ seat as an optional extra which is annoying considering you are buying their ‘touring’ motorcycle however the standard seat is quite good over bumps and I can easy do a couple hours on the bike before thinking of a rest. 

The position of the handle bars is very poor. Even for someone like me who is tall with long arms they are too far forward and lower than one would expect. This puts the rider into a odd semi sports bike ride position which is ridiculous on a big heavy tourer. The bars can be adjusted in 3 positions which I assumed would bring them back to a more standard position however the amount of adjustment allowed is so small to be of little benefit. The bike needs a fair bit of input to turn in and hold a line (more on this later) so after a couple of extended rides with a long stretch to the bars and lacking leverage I knew this was really a major design flaw. I installed a bar riser plate at considerable expense to bring the bars up 25mm and back 40mm which given my long arms has them almost back to a neutral position but they could still come back another 25mm. I have not seen another FJR on the roads here in Japan yet (seriously) and the bars probably are the main reason as very few Japanese guys would have the reach needed and not end up lying on the tank. If you come from a sport bike then you may think the bars are fine but if you come from a standard/naked bike then they are a long way forward.

Wind protection is spot on. The fairing strikes a good balance between protection from cold air and allowing some breeze to the rider in summer. Some reviews have commented that the riders hands are not as shielded from wind like the other bikes in this range however I think that is one of the FJRs good points. In summer the rider can get fresh air to his hands and into his jacket sleeves from the cuffs if wearing shorty gloves to keep arms cool which makes a big difference to rider comfort. In winter you can always add hand guards or simply use those large windproof bar end mitts to cover your gloves and cuff area but in the high temperatures in California my arms got heat rash on the R1200RT as so little air circulated.

The electric screen is excellent. Lowered it allows reasonably good air flow in summer and raised it stops cold wind very effectively with almost no turbulence, I can even ride with my visor up at lower speeds. The screen is perhaps the best feature of the FJR for me and one I am constantly using. During a ride it can start down in city traffic and then raised on highway returning down when slowly riding in quiet mountain back roads to feel a the cool air then raised if really up high where the air  can get cold. I don’t need so much focus on my riding gear as I can control the temperature by the screen and I get no strong buffeting turbulence unlike the short screens on adventure bikes but YMMV. Also excellent in rain providing very good protection when on the move.

The instrumentation or dash is one of the better I have encountered on a motorcycle. Made up of two LCD multi readout screens and one analogue tacho. On power up the LCD on the right displays an animation using the FJR logo and then read outs as per your selection from the multifunction trip computer. You can also see info on the heated grips, electric screen here. The main screen has fuel, speed, drive mode, gear indicator, clock and the usual warning lights. I find no need to look at the tacho with the huge torque on tap. Actually after my first couple of years riding I have never looked much at a gauges. Maybe that comes from my time riding motocross where you have no gauges. Except around cities where you must be mindful of speed I never refer to instruments at all preferring to ride by my own sense of speed and engine revs but the FJR instrumentation is well thought out and so easy to see. By Comparison I was never sure what speed I was doing on the BMW, the numbers are so small that I would need to have my reading glasses on to make them out but I only wear glasses for reading so could not ride with them on even if I wanted to. I notice the new RT has even smaller numbers, a very poor design element. The FJR has nice larger readouts.

On the road

The FJR is a heavy motorcycle which any buyer would be well aware of however the issue is the weight not positioned well and so the bike is very top heavy. For example it’s large battery is placed in the upper fairing on the right hand side next to the dash. (yes really) Possibly the worst place it and FJR’s wiring harness could be placed for mass centralization. While on this, Yamaha have made access to the battery and fuses extremely complicated requiring disassembly of the some of the dash panels which took me over 2 hours the first time a fuse blew. Terrible design.

This lack of mass centralization really shows on the road. If I compare to the BMW R1200RT you can feel the weight of the BMW in the car park or petrol station but once moving it is light to steer. The FJR never feels as light as the BMW on the road but I think that the high COG is only part of the problem. It requires more input to initiate the turn and once into the corner requires further input because it refuses to hold a line, always wanting to run wide. This is not due to brakes as they are not being touched in corners and altering suspension and tyres makes no difference. I have never ridden a bike that fights so hard when trying to corner until you slow to car corner speed or slower where it suddenly becomes unstable and wants to fall over. I have enjoyed a recent tour of Japan on the FJR but the experience was closer to driving that riding. I must point out however that when tyres are new the problem is hardly there so when I test rode I never saw this but as the tyres wear the bike becomes increasingly difficult to steer despite proper tyre pressure and an even spread of tyre wear. The profile curve of the tyre seems to have a enormous affect on how the FJR steers and as it looses that initial roundness it quickly becomes difficult to turn, something I have never experienced before.

Update. I have tried Bridgestone and Metzeler tyres and the problem is same on both. Speaking to a long term (honest) owner who has tried other tyres the steering does  not to alter much from one to the other in his opinion. Owners forums have been useless with one eyed owners claiming the bike steers light as a 125 – but that is forums, full of wankers justifying their choices in life. I have exhausted simple things to improve the bikes steering.

The suspension does a reasonable job soaking up bumps but the weight of the bike can sometimes overwhelm it when hitting dips mid corner. Firm things up and you end up with a touring bike that is not comfortable anymore. I am not able to find a good compromise so far . Update – I have backed the front preload off to soft setting and increased the rear spring preload to the firm setting and in conjunction with a bit of extra front rebound damping this is about the best I can get the FJR as far as making it steer better and remain comfortable.

The FJR has a huge 25 litre fuel tank and range is 400km+. It is really great to have that long range and something I enjoy when touring. It is not hard to make rest stops and refuels coincide as I have done for years with small fuel tanks but it is nice to not have so many of my rests stops at petrol stations and not to be looking at the fuel gauge and doing the maths on the next refuel all the time. The down side of this is a lot of fuel sitting up high and when you have a full tank the bike is so top heavy it is difficult at car park speed and extra extra slow and heavy to turn. 

I usually never ride at night, just too dangerous with wildlife in Australia but here the issue is less and I found myself stuck an hour from my hotel in the mountains as the last light faded. The headlights while looking big are not very powerful and I struggled to make decent pace as I could not make out the road ahead well. Look, it is really not a issue for most riders who will never be touring after sunset and I hope not to need them again either but I cannot help but recall the last time I was caught out at night on the road between Armidale and Ebor in NSW. My mates bike had one of those stupid spring clip on fuel lines that have the habit of popping off when the o-ring gets worn and he lost fuel and ran out. I went ahead and fetch fuel. So by the time we were on the road again it was pitch black but the HID lights I had installed to my bike on high were amazing, both the view distance and the clarity of vision. I think the new BMW tourers have a real advantage over the FJR if you ride after dark.

The heated grips work very well. They have three levels controlled within the multi function menus available to rider via the mode button on the left handle bar and this system makes it very easy to see what things are set to and move between the functions.

The electronic cruise control that I wanted is wonderful even if I don’t use it as much as I expected I would. End of the day I can jump onto the highway and set the screen up and the cruise control on and effortlessly cover a huge distance to get back home that I would never want to attempt on a standard bike. This is where the FJR is seriously good. Long distance riding on highways or on gentle sweeping country roads it is an amazing machine. Off those into the mountains or any road with tighter corners and frequent change of direction and the FJR struggles and fights the rider every corner to the point you have to ride it like driving a car. The FJR would suit many parts of USA where corners are all what I would call sweepers, hence why it has a fanatical group of followers there. The tour I did in the North Western states would have suited the FJR but I do still recall the BMW being so much lighter in the national park forest roads and canyons.

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Fit and finish

The paint in Dusty Grey finish as it is called here looks better in real life than in photos and while not as stylish a grey as Toyota put on their Lexus IF-S it is quite a  good finish in real life despite always looking dull in photos. Plastics and panel alignment seems tight everywhere however the heel plates became badly scuffed after just a few months and the silver finish has started to wear off. The screen had some slight marks but a few applications of plexus plastic cleaner returned it to very clear. No real issues except the heel plates.

There are two storage areas under the seats, one looks like the original battery compartment. There is also a glove box in the left hand side that central locks with the ignition off and contains a power outlet but the glove box is very small compared to say the BMW. It’s actually too small to be of much use. You cannot fit a pair of gloves in it so I should not call it a glove box. You cannot fit a drink in it which was handy on the BMW, as you can see below using the 12 volt lighter power outlet to gauge the size, it is small, and if you plug a item into that socket the box is full. I would love to put my camera in there but even my compact camera in a small case cannot fit. If there wasn’t a huge battery on the right hand side a nice sized storage area could have been added there perhaps. 

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I have the factory Yamaha panniers which size wise I find strike a good balance and hold plenty without making the bike too wide. They operate by the same key and look quite stylish as far as luggage goes. The panniers are another feature I really enjoy having. It’s good to have the hard cases to put my picnic lunch and drink cooler bag in when on my rides and I also can carry all my wet gear and two seasons of gloves which is handy in a place where it can rain at any time.

The headlights have a LED daytime running light bar but you simply cannot see this when the lights are on, which in most countries is all the time hardwired. An oddity is the headlights have twin height adjustment knobs in the dash. Along with the LEDs this all seems more pointless extra weight sitting up high in the bike. There are adjustable side panels in the fairing which you are lead to think offers the rider the option to deflect additional wind in winter however all these do is let more air escape the motor in summer and seem to serve no benefit to the rider whatsoever. Again it’s a shame as seems like a good ideas not implemented well. With variable screen to control air why not same at the side, I’d like to see the headlight adjustment mechanics applied to the side panels instead and the running lights actually separated from the headlights so they make you more visible to cars.

Summary

The FJR has some really great points. I think it is a superb long distance highway bike and also good for moderately curvy road riding. Lots of torque in a fuel efficient big engine, cruise control, comfortable seating with good cockpit aerodynamics. With the screen raised you can ride a very long way in comfort as long as you steer clear of mountain roads. 

A few things miss the mark such as the glove box, LED running lights and adjustable side panels, but probably these are not make or break it points.

More disappointing is the lack of any attempt at mass centralisation making the bike difficult to manage at low speed. It feels big and heavy all the time you are riding it, the weight never disappears like other large bikes and at low speed is borderline impractical as simple u turn becomes a 3 point turn with feet on the ground for fear of overbalance. The heavy clutch and brakes need updating. Ok you can learn to live with all those things as I have however the way the bike fights you in corners once the tyres start to wear is something you want to consider very carefully. If you ride twisty roads often then it gets so tiresome to constantly have to drag the FJR around corners. Also the bars have to be raised unless you want to be on a tourer with one hand propped on your leg in that ridiculous hunch that sports bike riders adopt on the highway. It is known as a super reliable bike and it sells for 1/2 the price of its rivals here in Japan. Also you are not burdened with expensive servicing like owning a BMW so there is a lot going for the bike as long as you recognise it is a regular tourer with limited sporting ability despite the branding. 

It’s a shame as if Yamaha updated it a bit the FJR could easy be a world beater. And the things mentioned are minor work for a company like Yamaha with the technology and resources at their disposal.

I guess all this sounds a bit different to online motorcycle magazines. Journalists and publishers need to tread carefully with reviews if they want to keep working with that manufacturer so you won’t find too much truth elsewhere. Actually it seems hard to find any real reviews of things these days between the all paid comments on blogs and press releases masquerading as tests or reviews on commercial sites. Honest feedback is lacking and actual riding experience gets diluted down to a few non committal lines.

8 comments:

  1. Intriguing stuff on the gearbox and Yamaha's 1990's mentality, a sentiment which I can fully subscribe to after having owned a XT660Z Tenere for three years. That bike too had a gearbox that probably has a picture in the dictionary for the term "agricultural". Terribly clunky, esp in first to second. No comparison to other dual sports I have ridden. Reliable bikes, but slick they are not. Now I own a KTM Duke, since I stay mostly on the road, and can say, the attitude in terms of innovation is an eye opener in comparison. Maybe the new MT range is a sign of change for Yamaha.
    Anyways, good review, great stuff in contrast to magazine reviews, which are rubbish most of the time.

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  2. I have a 2014 FJR The putting in gear from stop just pull leaver rev engine a little let it go to idle put in gear you want even feel it on up-shifts just slite pull of leaver and quick shift is smooth full pull and slow shift clunky on down shift make shift the instant your pulling leaver work throttle just like a car seems to work well bike corners well have no chicken strips but seems to drive in hard on downhill at low speed may be me laying on bars to heavy

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  3. You sound like you'd love a honda nc750x.. That is if you can do with the lesser horsepower, no traction control. And accessories that dont come as standard (heated grips,bigger screen, etc) lol

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  4. Mine has a slick shifting box, the clutch seems easy; the brakes don't need much of a pull to get abs activation. Bars are just slightly low and narrow, but work fine. I do not understand any issues you had with any of these. They all seem slick and on par with other modern bikes I've owned.
    The FJR is a dream on sweepers. Words can not describe how well it works between 60 and 130mph. No chicken strips and just a little scrape now and then on the pegs. Until the tires get square. Then it sucks like he said. This is how motorcycles act with square tires.
    I can fit an iPhone (with Otter box) and my wallet (fat with $ not spent on a BMW) in the dash box.
    Battery is in a stupid place, especially regarding the lack of access to it. Completely agree here.
    Vibration is minimal, but you can tell there is an engine running, I guess. You can spin up the rear tire coming off turns before the tc kicks in. Engine is so quiet and smooth you gotta look at the tack to keep if off the rev limiter.
    U turns are about normal for a big sport touring bike. Turns sharper than an r6. No big deal. Works fine.
    You can see the LEDs when the engine is running and lights are on.
    The adjustable fairing deflectors do what they are supposed to do.
    This is a tire shredding bike. But very smooth and docile when trying to act nice. I don't understand how the author had all those issues.

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  5. Excellent real-world review. FJR is one of the top picks to be my ride when I move to Japan, but I haven't ridden one yet. Your description on its "flaws" and its "strengths" are more or less what I was expecting, but the clanky gearbox, unwillingness to change position in-turn and being top-heavy all the time were things I had no idea about.

    The strength of the FJR lies in wide sweepers and highways. I am ok with the first, but I avoid highways all the time. So that probably makes it less suited to my needs.

    I have lately owned a Honda Pan-European, a Honda Crosstourer and a Yamaha Fazer 8. I do prefer touring bikes, but I love riding twisties more than anything else. I think I will have to do with a little less wind / weather protection and go with a Super Tenere or another Honda Crosstourer. I would totally like a BMW GS or RT, but I ride close to 40k kms a year on average, and doubt any boxer will live with me for a long time without any issues.

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    1. It is a good bike but could be made better if they just refreshed it a little. It still would be ideal for somewhere like Australia where I wanted one but they were twice the price. Here so many more roads are tight and twisty than I first imagined and now find the FJR is starting to limit my riding so I am looking at what else might still be good as the FJR at getting me to the riding roads as well as then be fun once there. Tough, maybe impossible to be best of both worlds.

      If money was no option perhaps the new Multistrada now that it has cruise control for the highway. Perhaps the RT1200 but evidence that a boxer can be reliable is lacking and service costs are obscene. Even smaller and lighter would work best once in the mountains here. Things like the Versys 650 and that size would be better fit.

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  6. I totally agree with the RT reliability issue, or the lack of evidence at least, and I can't put much faith in Ducati either. I think bikes with cruise controls are usually the biggest bikes available, thus not the most noteworthy when it comes to tight roads. Hence the dilemma.

    I think I will get a SuperTenere or MT-09 Tracer. The first might be marginally better than the FJR in twisties, if any at all, but it is a newer bike with excellent wind protection and cruise control. The latter is everything you (and I) ask for, minus the cruise control.

    If you consider mid-size bikes like Versys, check out the new Tracer. I know what it costs in Japan, and it's simply a steal to be honest.

    PS: I am amazed how much information you have available on your blog. Inspirational, thank you so much.

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    1. You might be right about the Tracer. Never really noticed it before but same price as a new Versys around 1 million Yen it seems a lot more bike for the money.

      I have not given up on the FJR completely yet. Being based in Nagoya there was countless good roads within reach same day. But now based near Tokyo there is limited same day riding options and long haul to get to the better riding areas. I also love the full electric screen and wind protection which extends the ride season into otherwise too cold weather.

      Lots for me to consider yet.

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