Elvis and Aries

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Recently Aries, my R1100S, had a little enforced holiday while I waited for some parts to arrive from the UK. During this time I was lucky enough to be able to borrow my friend Len’s R1150RT, which I rode for two weeks, covering around 1000km.

Of course I couldn’t write about the two bikes without having a name for the RT, and the name that came to mind while I was riding it was “Elvis”. I don’t know how Len will feel about me naming his bike, but the name felt right for me. The RT is big, silver, a bit flashy, and more than a little bit Las Vegas, so for the purposes of this article, Elvis it is.

Both bikes are the same vintage, 2001 models, Aries has covered over 160k, whereas Elvis is only barely run-in with around 85k on the clock. The similarities, and also the differences between the two bikes are pretty obvious, but I have to admit, the bikes where far more different than I expected.

Mechanically the bikes look almost identical, engine, gearbox, final drive, wheels brakes and supension. The overall look, and intended use of the bikes are quite different, Aries being a half-faired sports tourer, and Elvis being a full-faired tourer, but I guess the mechanical similarities fooled me into thinking the riding experience would be similar. How wrong I was.

Elvis carries its weight up high and well forward, a bit like The King in later years. This makes low speed manoeuvering more challenging, and also gives a feeling of pushing the front end in curves. Of course gear ratios are different to allow for the different weights and intended uses, requiring me to relearn my change points, but eventually I got the hang of things and was able to get Elvis off the line and up to touring speeds without much fuss. I also found that gearchanges required more planning, and input, which did surprise me.

My assumption is that the extra 50 odd kilos is due almost entirely to the enormous fairing, and while the extra weight is not so welcome, the weather protection is an absolute treat, as is the electronic screen. I rode the bike with two different helmets and found that screen all the way up was the spot for me, greatly reducing wind noise and buffeting at highway speeds. That enormous fairing also sports a rather enormous headlight with integrated fog lights which work wonderfully well, throwing out both more light, and spreading that light far further than Aries headlight. The fog lights do a great job of lighting up the edges of the road, nice for spotting wildlife where I live.

Sitting astride Elvis…oh stop that, the riding position is very upright, possibly giving rise to the belief among non BMW riders that we all have a broom handle secreted somewhere unmentionable. I found the fairing and seat shape really held me in place, which I sometimes found a little uncomfortable and I wanted to be able to move around more to get the blood flowing again.

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When it came to engine performance Elvis felt more torquey than Aries, but less inclined to rev, less willing. Perhaps some of that can be put down to the difference between the standard RT exhaust system and the after-market Staintune system that Aries runs. The notes from the exhaust are completely different, Aries is loud and throaty with a crackle on the over-run, but Elvis is subtle and subdued. I’m sure my neighbours were sad to see Elvis go, as I regularly leave home at 5am, and while I try to leave as quietly as possible, I can’t hide Aries enthusiasm completely.

The extra weight makes a considerable difference to the handling, but the other big difference is the rake on the forks. Elvis is slower to turn in, and change directions, so planning becomes more important. You can still adjust a line mid corner, but just not as quickly. The change in rake makes Elvis more inclined to head shakes than Aries. No, I said head shakes, not hip shakes. If you hit a series of ripples in the road the bars will shake, which surprised me greatly. I expected the RT to be the more stable and predictable. I also got the bar shakes when I took my hands of the bars, whereas on Aries I can do this and happily steer it with body weight without the slightest hint of bar shake. Elvis was nice and soft and compliant when it came to the suspension which I must say was a nice change. On some of the roads that I commonly travel over it sometimes feels like Aries is trying to redistribute my internal organs, and shorten my spine by several centimetres.

Brakes! This is possibly the biggest single difference I experienced between Elvis and Aries. While Aries has no ABS and runs hydraulic only brakes, Elvis has ABS, vacuum assisted, and, linked brakes. When the rear brake is operated it also operates one of the front calipers. AHHHHHHHHHH. ABS I’m ok with, I’ve ridden enough to already have my braking technique sorted, so I don’t have to rely on ABS for my safety, but vacuum assistance and linked brakes I do not like at all. There are many things from the US that I am grateful for; rock and roll, fried food, the space program, but linked brakes are definitely not one of them. Being able to brake front and rear wheels independently is, in my mind, an absolutely essential safety feature on a motorcycle, and the person who came up with this travesty should have a collar around their neck, attached to a chain, attached to their p…. OK, maybe I’ll stop there, you get the idea that I don’t like it. As for the vacuum assist, it didn’t assist me, it hindered me. My hands are not yet so arthritic and weak that I can’t pull up a touring bike with hydraulic brakes pretty smartly when I need to, the vacuum assistance just took away any feel in the brake levers, and resulted in me often using more brake than was required. Sure I would get used to it in time, but it’s unnecessary, but I would never get used to linked brakes.

Oh and of course Elvis comes with its own sound system, radio and CD. Why?

So many similarities, yet such different bikes. I am incredibly grateful to Len for lending me Elvis, and incredibly grateful to Elvis for transporting me around the country. I really enjoyed my time getting to know another bike, but at the end of the two weeks, I was so happy to get back on Aries. I could use many similies to describe the experience, but there is really only one word required. It just felt “right”.

The Perpetual Motorcyclist

© Observations of a Perpetual Motorcyclist, 2012 – 2013. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Observations of a Perpetual Motorcyclist with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

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6 responses to “Elvis and Aries

  1. I’ve never been certain what the sound systems are for, either. I tried to ride with a mp3 player plugged in a couple times, and it just seemed wrong. I don’t need to have a ride soundtracked as if it is a movie. A ride already has a soundtrack, anyway, and there is nothing wrong with it. The whole sound system concept is a mystery to me.
    I’d much rather listen to the natural music of the bike’s engine, which tells me how the bike is running. Other sounds in the mix tell me where other vehicles are relative to me, which is a safety edge. That edge may be minor, but I’ll take any edge I can get.

  2. I think you just hit the nail on the head here as to why there are ADV bike riders and Touring riders. And why both bikes are exist.

    I think the few qualms you have about the RT are related to application. I have a Concours 14 that I use mostly for commuting but I take a few long rides (5+days) a year. For commuting the linked brakes or assisted braking (the Connie has hydraulic brakes but not assisted) are helpful in stop and go traffic. They reduce fatigue in the hands and allow for operation of the front and rear brakes via either lever or pedal. The servo and/or vacuum assisted brakes on the old RT’s are a sore point for many BMW riders. They did not follow to the new RT design.

    As for the sound systems, I’m not a big fan of open speakers on a bike (BMW or Harley or any other) but while commuting, which means I’m taking the same roads every day, I listen to PodCasts. They really help with the monotony. Since it’s like listening to talk radio it does not limit the ambient noise like music does. However, with open speakers I’d never be able to hear the podcasts. I can almost understand speakers when I’m on longer rides, but I’d still prefer it in my helmet.

    It’s still good to see how the other half lives. Even if it’s just to validate your own choice of bike.

    Ride Safe!

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