Long-Term Bikes

Star Road Star S
MSRP: $13,090
Caretaker: BARTELS
Measurements:6'0"/192 lbs/33" Inseam
Odometer: 1354
Miles Since Last Issue: 1011

MODIFICATIONS: (soon) Burly Brand 14" Apes www.burlybrand.com $201.00
FirstGear heated gear dongle (included with gear) www.firstgear-usa.com $0.00

The stated mission of my Road Star is to make it into the baddest-ass long-term bike this magazine has ever seen. However, somewhere along the way I got practical. The unstated mission of any bike I own is to be able to comfortably pound out a 400-mile day, preferably with luggage. So now, it should be fun balancing the need to pile on the miles with basic badassness. Hiding as much of the practical crap as possible will be key.

The first nod to practical needs was setting up the bike to power a set of heated liners from Firstgear. I've been using Firstgear's TPG-system jacket and pants for months now, but had yet to use the heated liners designed to go with the other gear. Well, I had used the warm waterproof gloves, they'd just never been plugged into anything.

Installation of the DC power adaptor was beyond straightforward. The Road Star's battery is accessed under the seat, like on many bikes. Unlike many bikes, the Roadie's seat pops off with a reverse twist of the ignition switch. From there I broke out the only tool I would need for the entire installation, a 10mm socket, to remove first the negative terminal bolt (usually the first thing you do in any installation to break the bike's electrical circuit), then the positive. After slipping in the battery harness' connectors it just put the bolts back in reverse order and everything worked peachy. I used a zip tie to secure most of the wire under the seat, leaving just the connector itself exposed under the left side. This turned out to be too little for my rig, as I need the extra wire to reach up to my jacket pocket where I keep the gear's Heat Troller.

On the custom side, looking to make an immediate impact, I decided to go down to Burly Brand and check out some of their Apes. Ape hangars get a bad rap for their supposed ergonomic failures, but if you get a size that makes sense for your frame, they actually do a good job correcting your posture, giving good leverage over the front end, and, well, looking like a badass. I tried everything in Burly's catalog from 20s (stupid high, even for a tall guy) all the way down to 12s (a little wimpy), before settling on the just barely legal (no higher than your shoulder in most states) 14s. When we install them next month, we're running the wiring on the outside in case I need to drop to the 12s. Burly also has 16s and 18s that we tried but were just too tall.

Coming up: a new seat, saddlebags, backrest, highway bars, wheels, and more.--Billy Bartels

Honda Shadow AERO 750
MSRP: $7299
Caretaker: Masker
Measurements: 5'5"/175 lbs/28" Inseam
Odometer: 1844
Miles Since Last Issue: 723

MODIFICATIONS: Progressive Suspension 412 Shocks $299.95
Progressive Rate Fork Springs www.progressivesuspension.com $92.95

We got some comments after the Baby Baggers article suggesting we'd lost our minds for picking on this very popular bike. Look, if we didn't like it, it wouldn't be here. It's a great little bike, it just has some shortcomings we'd like to fix on it to make it the perfect bike for the vertically challenged...or just folks who want a fun and economical ride.

We knew the suspension was lacking (especially for a bike with touring aspirations like this one), but we had no idea how bad things were until we changed the shocks and fork springs over to the Progressive Suspension setup we've got now. In stock trim, the bike was very consistent, bottoming out regularly, but with a plush ride in less challenging conditions. Although we haven't logged a ton of miles on the new setup just yet, our initial impression was favorable, to say the least.

Installation was extremely easy, requiring just a tire jack, basic hand tools, and about an hour's time.

The 412-Series shocks went on first. Their biggest advantage over the old ones is valving, and a progressively-wound spring to give a plush, yet controlled, ride. They feature a 5-position, cam-style preload adjuster built-in that lets you tailor set the shocks to your weight at the twist of a claw-shaped adjusting tool (included). Standard, heavy duty, and progressive-rate spring options are also available.

Up front, we swapped over to progressive-rate springs. They have the advantage of a rising rate resistance to compression. The benefit of this is that the spring can be soft enough at the start of the travel to offer a "plush" ride, yet be firm enough at the end of the travel to soak up the big bumps without bottoming. At first glance we thought the accessory windshield had to come off in order to give us enough space to make the change but that wasn't the case. All we had to do was unscrew the bolts holding the bars in place, set the bars on a cloth on the tank, remove the fork caps, and change the springs.

We hit the road immediately and the results were night-and-day. Now that we've tackled two of the biggest issues the bike had with our Saddlemen Seat replacing the squishy-soft stock seat, and the much-needed suspension upgrade. We still have a weird handling jiggle that might be solved with some fresh rubber. Stay tuned...--Mark Masker

2009 Kawasaki Vulcan 2000 Classic
MSRP: $13,899
Caretaker: cherney
Measurements:5'7"/155 lbs/30" Inseam
Odometer: 1589
Miles Since Last Issue: 1,077

I picked up the Vulcan 2000 at Cruiser's editorial compound about a week ago and have already put over 1000 miles on the clock. Why would a grown man ride the biggest-ass v-twin in production from Los Angeles to Portland in the middle of February - in 15 hours? Let's just say it was for the love of a good woman.

The good news is the cruise allowed me plenty of time to assess the big Kaw's ergonomics. Three hot showers and a bottle of Old Crow later, I've managed to thaw out enough to take stock of its lesser qualities.

First thing to be yanked is the seat--it's the right height, but a 1000-miler it's not. And since I froze my face off coming through the Siskiyou Pass along I-5, a windshield will most definitely take up a long-term residence here. I got a nice little memo from Johnny Law along the way, so there's no question about the Vulcan 2053cc engine's capabilities. Fueling was flawless and the stock pipes sound good, so no need to swap anything there, though I probably will need to upgrade suspension--the fork felt mushy on downhills.

Finally, I want to do a serious facelift on this boulevard monkey without chopping it to hell. Losing some of that 838 lb tonnage would be ideal, but I'll have to tread carefully, as Kawasaki will want this puppy back in the same shape. Stay tuned...--Andy Cherney

Honda VTX 1300T
MSRP: $11,299
Caretaker: Zimmerman
Measurements:5'10"/220 LBs/32" Inseam
Odometer: 355
Miles since last issue: 65

I've always thought the VTX1300 Honda, particularly when decked out in touring trim was one of Honda's better efforts, so taking delivery of my 2009 long term VTX 1300T was like meeting up with an old friend. Unfortunately, we've haven't been able to spend as much time together as I'd like, February in Connecticut being what it is.

During the short ride home I decided my time would be better spent in a warm garage making any necessary ergonomic adjustments and stowing away all the junk I normally carry in my saddlebags than it would be in freezing my butt off on a ride.

Last Sunday was warmer, it got up to an almost subtropical 40 degrees so I was able to put a few miles on and rediscover why I'm such a fan of the VTX 1300 in the first place. Overall the VTX is a great handling, comfortable and easy to manage bike, with good power, and decent brakes. The factory supplied windshield provides terrific protection and the leather bags, while not the most commodious, can certainly hold everything I'd need for a decent week or two on the road.

My only real complainant at this point is overly lean, EPA mandated carburetor jetting. The bike is easy to start, and runs well enough once it's warm but until the bike gets good and hot, which is always something of a problem when you're tooling around on winter day in New England.

At low speeds the throttle response is just plain flat, which makes it hard to ride the bike off turns, and at times, even away from stops. According to the manual the `09 pilot jet settings are significantly leaner than previous years. With any luck a tweak of the pilot screw maybe all I need to put things right.

I'd also like to install a set of driving lights, my eyes ain't what they use to be, ya know, and a Road House Classic Exhaust, simply because I like the way they look, sound and perform. Other items on my wish list also include a set of crash bars, and maybe a sexier seat, not so much because the VTX needs one, but just because.

Problem is the economy is sort of slow these days and the manufacturers don't seem to be as free with the swag as they previously were. If that's the case expect to see a lot of el-cheapo projects, because while I'm pretty good at spending other people's money, I'm notoriously cheap when it comes to laying out my own hard-earned cash. --Mark Zimmerman