The venerable Ninjette gets a re-do and earns its place in the books all over again. Photography by Ronald Ahrens.

I was headed to LA for some work training, so I started calling friends to see who wanted to hook up and hang out for a while. One thing led to another and the prospect of borrowing bikes got floated. Then, a chance meeting with the US rep from Schubert and a ride plan started to take shape. This is where it sometimes goes to hell, instead, it went closer to heaven: 2665ft closer, the notch at the top of the Ortega Highway in California.


The newest bearer of the Ninja name is a little parallel twin displacing 300ccs of volume. There is nothing about this bike that is big – from the exhaust ports that are barely an inch (25mm) in diameter, to the seat height at about 29″, to the standard riding position is almost sitting up for my 5’6″ frame. Even the graphics are small. The whole bike screams starter. And you know what? That is entirely ok. Because small means party time in Kawasaki-speak.

I admit up front that I consider myself a sort of lover of small bikes. I used to own a CBR250R that I considered illegal levels of fun, and currently turf my lawn with a beat-up old KL250G Super Sherpa. Smaller is lighter, more nimble, and easier to overpower. I am in charge of the bike, not the reverse. The little 300 is a logical step forward on the itty bitty bike path.


Kawasaki lent me the Ninja 300 through the Motorcycle Industry Council and I put 200 miles on it over the course of a day, exploring the Ortega Highway and Temecula wine country. Schubert North America lent me a C3Pro Women helmet to test out while exploring the desert on the Ninja.

The Ninja 300 is, despite its very sporty looks, a standard. The rider takes a slight lean forward, just enough to feel your core working to hold position. It’s a natural fit for my 5’6″ frame, my 32″ legs are more than enough to have both feet down and some air under my butt when standing over the bike. This means sure stops and standing while waiting for lights to turn green. The controls are sized for average to smaller hands, although my big mitts are not the best measure – I wear a men’s XL glove simply to get the length I need in the fingers. The seat is surprisingly comfortable for a stock plank, far better than the foam brick on my old CBR250R and wide/shapely enough to offer decent butt support and comfort for longer (2hr+) rides.


The transmission is a weak point – the six speed has the traditionally smooth shifting I associate with Kawi and their wonderful positive neutral finder, but first gear is completely useless and the entire range could do with a drop and new top cog to take the green machine up to modern highway speeds with a bit less buzz. Riding home, I became convinced that I’d broken something when I was unable to shift up at the behest of the upshift light – it’s apparently not locked out in sixth. I eventually had to downshift and figured out that everything was fine in the gearbox.

Schubert’s top-of-the-line ladies’ lid is an engineering marvel. Lighter than my RPHA-Max from HJC and closer-fitting, it is also quiet and cool. Several vents and a visor that will remain cracked open provide excellent air flow. The wide and tall eyeport has plenty of room for glasses. I’m stretching to find things that haven’t been said about this great helmet – even at the price, it’s as good as it gets – if it fits, of course. The inverted cheek pads modify the interior shape, bringing it closer to the female bone structure. This helps to keep the helmet in place on the rider’s head. Proper fit is best assessed by a professional, and after fitting by the Schuberth rep, I found that I wear a different size in Schubert than HJC. No surprise as head shape does more the determine helmet fit and comfort than head circumference, which is best used to size the shell.

The instrument cluster is offset and features a huge tach with a digital speedometer and assorted warning lights. The lights are clear and bright in daylight and easy to see. The information on the panel flows and is clear and legible. A multi-bar fuel gauge does require the bike to be mostly level to read properly – tilted back down a hill leads to false full readings. The bike returned roughly 60mpg in spirited riding.


The wheels are cast and painted to match the bodywork, in this case, black. Colored deco strips add some attractive and sporty highlights. The wheels are fit with IRC tyres that I was never comfortable with on my CBR, on the heavier and slightly more powerful Ninja, they performed satisfactorily and I would consider leaving them on for the wear cycle. They lent reasonable plant on the dry pavement and were generally predictable under load. I didn’t push them to breaking loose, my previous experiences with them weren’t good enough to test that out. Regardless, the interface with the road is competent and fully acceptable for the power generated by the 300cc mill.

The motor is free-revving and buzzy, with the drama-free response typical of parallel twins. The engine suffers the transmission poorly – it’s eager to go and the gearset does it no favors with 1st gear hitting all of 20mph at 9K. The torque is more than sufficient to give up on first completely and treating the drivetrain as a five-speed rewards the rider with a very willing bike. A major plus are the brakes – I needed nearly no adjustment to my rote braking behaviour to bring the Ninja to heel. Smooth and effective, they held up well throughout the whole trip and during several runs up and down a steep section of the Ortega where my co-riders and I stopped for pictures. I place a lot of stock in braking, and it was quite a relief not to have to even think about it.


The entire experience is pure Kawasaki and that’s a very good thing. The need to differentiate in the small displacement segment is high and the CBR300R is serious competition. Honda’s absolutely drama-free entry is just as capable, but lacks some of the little quirks that make the new Ninjette more of a family member than a hired hand. BMW and KTM leverage their more exotic packages to cater to smaller segments of the small bike market and are not ready for prime time in the starter bike market. The baby Kawi is a solid entry and should be considered by all small bike buyers.

Grass grows in Detroit.

Someone asked me

what is so good about Detroit? 

I said: Grass grows in Detroit.

When bad things happen,
Grass grows in Detroit.

Between the houses.

On the ground.

Fresh green life, exuberant and ready to play.

A network to protect the stressed surface and give it time to recover.


When humans wreak destruction large,
Mother Nature renews her command
and grass grows in Detroit.

When other cities riot and loot,
When their denizens tear at the fabric of decency,
Does grass grow? 


Do empty lots turn to meadows of green and gold?
Do wildflowers reach for the sun?
Do people rise?

Only in Detroit.

Time moves ever forward.
Which way do the people go?

When fires burn and flames ravage,
The ground is prepared anew,
and grass grows in Detroit.

When spirit wanes and strength fails,
When rivers flood and trees fall,
When the very earth boils in pain,
Time passes.

And grass grows in Detroit.

I’m a moto-commuter about ten months a year, in Detroit, no less. My job requires me to work with two sites outside of the Detroit area, so sometimes, my commute involves some distance. Most recently, it found me trying to figure out how to manage a site visit that needed to happen immediately after a long weekend trip to the Dragon.


My trip to the Dragon is an annual affair that I run either with a group of other riders I know or with my old car club, most of whom I have known for fifteen-plus years. Both groups hole up in a rental lodge for a few nights and run day excursions to the various excellent roads around the area. This year, we visited Helen, GA, and ran the Dragon, the Moonshiner (to Fontana Dam and Bridal Veil Falls), and the Blue Ridge Parkway. My necessary stop at work afforded me the opportunity to ride northbound somewhat east of my usual track and I added in NC 209, the Rattler, and the Cumberland Gap tunnel on US 25E. This turned the normal 200 miles of distance into about 1200 miles.


One of the biggest challenges of extreme moto-commuting is packing. Most recreational motorcycling trips that I take involve at least some camping, so my kit needs to include a 25L dry bag full of camping gear. I take a 1pp tent from REI, an appropriate sleeping bag, a sleeping pad, and a few odds and ends depending on my eating plans. I’ve recently discovered state park campgrounds, where for $25 you can get a decently private spot that includes power and flush toilets. I added a 10′ extension cord to my kit, along with some USB LED lighting for my tent. High living! But the camping kit wasn’t the big issue – it was the fact that one of my side cases was full of laptop, work notes, and the assorted safety gear required by your average garden-variety manufacturing site. Without that side case free for extra gloves and other motorcycle-oriented PPE (personal protection equipment), I was down to one box for clothing – the usual three days of liners and undies and a pair of sneaks fits fine, but now I needed to add two days of work clothes on top. Thank goodness for mechanical latches and locks, otherwise I think my poor old Vario-box would have exploded.


One thing I didn’t expect was the food challenge brought on by the packing challenge – I have Celiac disease and usually would pack a fair amount of gluten-free snacks and bread in my now-full-of-laptop side case. Normally, this is offset by being in the Meijer-zone – Meijer is a Michigan-based market chain that is a very reliable source of all kinds of allergen-free food and have stores all over the upper midwest. Instead, I found myself hopping from convenience store to convenience store, trying to find edibles that fit with my diet. Leaving Kentucky, land of no highway rest stops, I entered Tennessee and discovered the glorious Cheesewich. Behold, the ultimate in biker lunches: the only thing missing was a Ducati-themed SP bottle. Sadly, I did not find any more Cheesewiches along my route. It tasted a lot better than it looked.


Spending roughly 1000 miles of my extreme commute having fun put me in a great mood for work – no matter what plague and misery were awaiting me, I was full of miles of sun and rain, pavement and dirt, and it all showed. I call my I’ve-been-out-riding look “homeless construction worker chic”. Throw in the unbelievable amount of bugs stuck to everything and it’s not what I would call a particularly professional look, even if it is a contagiously happy one. Thankfully, the presence of a motorcycle seems offset the ugly for most people. Several of my coworkers ride, so my arrival by bike is something of an event and gets the site ready for whatever it is that I am there to do. The bike seems to turn most of the staff into little kids, and it’s a welcome change from the serious nature of our work.


A big advantage of the extreme moto-commute is that it ends in work, which means hotel room, and usually a pretty decent one. Hotels mean two things – warm and dry. In my case, it really means “dry out the camping gear before you put it back in the closet”. Convenient, it is. If you are really with it, you book a hotel with a laundry so you can catch up on wash before getting home. The travel agency can get confused when you are hundreds of miles from home and have no transportation booked.


My trip ended up going really well, with a very uneventful final 200 mile leg of boring old I75N. The main thing I would do differently is ship my work gear to my site and take more food. I’m still hungry.


Are you ready for an extreme moto-commute?

gearchic is doing an awesome job busting the myths of seat heights of motorcycles. I want to go a step further and talk about how seat heights come to be, and why this sucks for smaller riders.

I own two of the most female-friendly bikes that exist – the enduring BMW F650GS single and the Kawasaki Super Sherpa. Both bikes came about their ladies’ bonafides in a round-about way – they were both designed for smaller men.

It sounds so simple, doesn’t it? Design for a smaller population and the smaller population will buy. It’s not quite so simple, because often, a bike has to be made for many sizes of rides, and as the US market is largely made of up large guys, we get bikes designed with large guys in mind. Tweaking a frame for various body geometries is not an easy task, what is given to the torso must come off the arms, the knees suffer at the expense of the hips, and you can see where that is going.

Think of cars for a minute – the designer of the retro Mustang was fired because a 6′ tall male did not fit in the back seat. The average car seat is adjustable to fit everything from a 4’6″ granny to a 6’6″ football player. That can’t happen on a motorcycle, because the degrees of freedom are far fewer and the hard points more numerous.

Big motorcycles happen because of the way the target rider is chosen. The average American male is around 5’10” and weighs something like 200 pounds. The average female is 5’5″ and closer to 145 pounds. Five inches and fifty pounds is a lot on a motorcycle. And if you’re on the smaller side, it’s a lot more.

Kawasaki developed the Super Sherpa for use as a delivery bike in various “second world” markets – places that are mostly first world, but have enough third world sections so as to make life difficult. It was to fit in under the KLX250 and allow Kawi to go after markets where the riders were smaller, but still needed the flexibility and durability of the KLX250. The electric starter, lower seat height, and softer suspension made the bike much more accessible, and while it was never really marketed in the US, it gained a fan base among guys who wanted to get their wives a dirt bike the ladies would be more comfortable on.

It’s a hit, and Sherpas are durable little buggers that ladies love like Cool James. Too bad they don’t really make it any more, and you are limited to finding someone who is willing to  sell one. Mine came in a box and I had to rebuild it, which was worth every cent and hour invested.

A bonus with the Sherpa that seems to go unsung is the height adjustable rear spring. Akin to adjusting preload, it’s yet another reason the Sherpa shines as a smaller person bike. No need to upgrade to get it sized properly, because making it smaller was on the drawing board from day one.

Way back when, BMW was roundly criticized for the early R65 – deemed a girl bike because the frame was smaller and the bike was targeted to smaller riders. The smaller boxer was no help there. Thankfully, the Bavarians were not completely put off the small rider thing, and tried again with the old BMW single – it was designed with a smaller rider in mind. The target rider was a 170cm male weighing about 70kg. That is by any measure a small guy. It’s also a slightly tall lady. Sprung from the get-go for lighter riders, and sized from the get-go for shorter riders, it gets even lower when you equip it with factory low suspension. I had that, and eventually swapped for normal, because I’m a 167cm lady weighing 61kg. I have the preload set to mostly extended, because as I grow as a rider, it gets easier to ride a taller bike and it also gets more fun to enjoy the suspension travel.

I hope that other manufacturers will start to follow BMW’s and Kawasaki’s leads in the use of smaller target riders. There is no denying BMW’s command of frame design for maximum suspension flexibility – they seem to be able to kick out frames that fit anyone with simple suspension swaps. It’s kind of disappointing that Kawi hasn’t put much into the small rider market on the dirt side of late, however it’s clear they can do it.

Let’s bring the smaller target rider to the forefront, and start at the drawing board, instead of trying to patch it up after the fact.

Found this oldie in a dark corner of the interwebs…


Go back to 1964. While GM is not thinking about much besides moving some people around at moderate speed, a few engineers at Pontiac have other ideas. Borrowing from Ferrari (more on that later), they designed an option package for the mild-mannered Tempest. Ignoring GM’s self-imposed displacement limit of 330 cubes, they pulled a 389 cubic inch V8, new steering, and a funky dual exhaust together for an option package they would call “GTO”. As the line grew and matured, a manual transmission, improved rear end, and stronger styling would be added. This first of the sleepers, the GTO would take America by storm, outselling even the wildest expectations of the engineers.

Gran turismo omologato

Go back to 1962. You will find a Ferrari that wasn’t just a track car. One of the first few supercars, nitro you could take out on a date and bring home without worrying about the aftermath. A car you could drive to work on weekdays and wring out on the track on weekends. True homologation (omologato) was a bit questionable, with only 42 of the required 100 cars (for GT qualification) actually being built. Somehow this was overlooked in the racing circles, and Ferrari went on to torture opponents at race time. The Scaglietti coupe remains one of the most beautiful automotive designs to ever find its way into traffic.

Grand touring, homologated

Homologation is the process of making a car street legal. The Ferrari was homologated to participate in the particular racing class it was destined for. While some may question the roadworthiness of any Italian cars, it is always a concern of the manufacturers to have the cars meet any safety or other regulatory guidelines for driving on public highways by lay drivers. Homologation can mean adjusting the power to weight ratio, adding emissions controls, even modifying the traction control components. Homologation also means proving that the car is a true production model, not a one-off. Hence the 100 car requirement in the case of the Ferrari GTO.

The Pontiac GTO bore little resemblance to the Ferrari GTO. Not a race car, not even race-bred, it was a glorified passenger coupe that could go very fast and do it without attracting attention. With a final production run of over 32 000 in its first year, the homologation requirements for GT class racing were surely met! The Pontiac GTO was also assembled in the opposite direction of the Ferrari – chassis first, drivetrain second. It is generally clear to car enthusiasts that Ferrari operates in the other direction.

I have recently become very interested in homologation, largely because I have only recently learned what it meant. I have also been thinking about the unfortunate and impending demise of the W8 engine in the Passat, so I got around to tracing its lineage.

The W-series program seems to have started with the Nardo, a W12-based GT car which will never see real production. The goal of the Nardo program (named after the track on which many world records for speed were set by the car) was to produce a compact engine that would produce a maximum horsepower to weight ratio. With such a compact and powerful drivetrain available, homologation was the next step for the engineers at Volkswagen.

Street legal road racer

With the largest production vehicle at the time being the Passat (the Phaeton was still on the drawing board), power-to-weight ratio and engine bay limitations were examined and four cylinders were lopped off the W12 leaving the W8. The Passat chassis had been proven out in track circles through the V8STAR series, although not fitted with the W8 motor. A six speed manual transmission was added (likely from the Nardo program considering the weak stock clutches in other Passats) with four wheel traction to handle the power. Big brakes suitable for stopping such power completed the new drivetrain package. With the conveniently 4Motion Passat chassis readily available, the new drivetrain was inserted and a performance beast was born in the form of the W8 Sport option package on the venerable Passat.

Like the Ferrari, the Passat W8 Sport started with a motor. Like the Pontiac, the choice of chassis was an unassuming, nearly invisible family sedan. Given the introduction of the Rabbit GTi some 25 years ago, one would think that VW would remember their past success in making street legal road racers. The irony is not lost on this writer.

I suppose I’m mostly disappointed about the impending demise of the W8 Sport Passat because it was a GTO in both senses – a homologated grand touring machine packed into an otherwise unassuming package. A sleeper of the grandest proportions. I’m particularly upset about losing the wagons. The Americans have never had the guts to produce such an extreme vehicle. The Dodge Magnum is their best effort so far, but there is no stick (or even SMG) option. I find that to be a serious flaw.

I’m also sad that I didn’t realize how much could have been made of the car, particularly in advertising it. The ads for the W8 Passats flat-out sucked, but a phone call to the right people with mention of ‘GTO’ could have been made. I kick myself for not seeing it sooner, not figuring out how to make the program a success in the US. Nostalgia is a powerful tool, and VW has used it wisely in the New Beetle program. Why not haul it out again for this most glorious of cars? I don’t know.

So, goodbye, Passat GTO. You never really were, but I will miss you anyway.

roll video of Nardo taking laps at Nardo.
VO: At Volkswagen, sometimes our engineers get a little creative. This time, they took two thirds of our grand touring car’s drivetrain and one third of our award winning Passat to create the Passat W8 Sport.
CG: Nardo drives through a Passat and turns into a W8 Sport variant.
VO: With eight cylinders, six gears, and our superior 4Motion all-wheel drive system, we like to think of it as the German GTO.
video: PW8S drifts to position on screen.
VO: The Passat W8 Sport. A milk run doesn’t always mean groceries.
offstage VO: Did you tell them it seats five?

Way back in the 90s, I put a Sam Katz for Mayor sign in my Philadelphia window. To my recollection, it is the only political sign I have ever put out, if you don’t count my old “don’t blame me, I voted for Perot” bumper sticker.

Sam Katz was a republican candidate running for mayor in a Democrat town. Ed Rendell had run his two terms and up next on the Democratic ticket was John Street, a bully of a City Councilman who’d decided to throw his name in the ring.  The city was still (yes) reeling from W. Wilson Goode’s two terms in office and finally getting over Frank Rizzo. Katz came out of nowhere and ran a solid campaign, convincing the city’s intelligentsia, and moreover, the editorial board of the left-leaning Philadelphia Inquirer.

The Inky endorsing a Republican candidate for mayor was the east coast equivalent of a magnitude 8 earthquake, and it left the Philadelphia Daily News editorial board in a bit of a pinch. The Inquirer had leaned left for so long that this shift caught everyone by surprise. The News pulled their endorsement editorial and sat on it for a week, during which the editorial board decided to endorse Street. Street went on to win the election, and by all measures was a good mayor for the city during his terms.

Some time after the election, the editor of the Daily News was interviewed about the endorsement of Street, and opened pointed out that endorsing Katz as they had wanted to do would not sell papers. Endorsing Street was news on many levels. First, it made a race out of the contest. Second, Street was a character – he sported a big afro with a white Bride-of-Frankenstein streak and kept a fleet of conversion vans and ATVs on his Overbrook property – and was known to lose his cool in Council meetings. Third, brother Milton Street was a multiply-convicted felon, so there was opportunity for scandal. And fourth, the flip-flop of positions by the two papers was news in and of itself. By holding their endorsement editorial, they kept the discussion of the papers’ roles in city politics at the forefront of discussion, selling a ton of papers on that news alone.  Street’s personality was good for at least one feature a week. Milton stayed out of trouble for the most part. The race was on. Three out of four bets paid off. Papers sold, both from the News and from the Inquirer, too. Subscriptions at both papers went up.

It’s arguable whether the Daily News’ endorsement and coverage actually influenced the election – Street was a popular black councilman with well-honed skills in back-room city management, and Katz was a total outsider of the Ross Perot mould who tanked with the working class. All the wishful thinking in Chestnut Hill wasn’t going to get Katz elected, and Street swept the neighborhoods. To be clear: this is about the media using the candidate, not the influence the media had over the public. Papers sold. The two papers successfully (if unplanned) co-opted the election for themselves.

This co-opting is happening again in our entire US media. The demand for clicks is so high that our newsmedia is going for anything that will sell their content, regardless of what it looks like. This is scary, because Donald Trump is no John Street. He’s no Sam Katz, either, not by a long shot.

So, dear media, please stop worrying about selling clicks. They are coming to you regardless. But I need reporting, not clickbait. I need the deep analysis more than ever. I need you to treat politics like the future of our country, not the Kardashians. I need your editors to double down on the meaning of “fit to print”. Please. Now.


You see it in car ads all over the net:

“Driven to church every Sunday by a little old lady”


“My elderly aunt had it for the last ten years and only put about 20K miles on it”

I recently took possession of a car driven by a little old lady – my mother-in-law. I have a new view on what “little old lady driven” means.

First, lets discuss the interior. A Little Old Lady is probably pretty fastidious, that’s how she got to be so old in the first place, so the interior is probably kind of clean. It might even smell like perfume. But she’s not as strong as she used to be, and getting in and out can be a chore. Look for wear and tear on any surface that could potentially be used a hand-hold. Cubbies suffer too, because as dexterity fails, it gets more difficult to operate the opening and closing mechanisms. Good bye, $250 center stack trim….. Hello permanent creases in the upholstery from the box of stuff that never made it to Goodwill….

Now, on to the drivetrain. The mysterious “O/D Off” button was never touched, and neither was the RPM range over about 3K. You’re going to be blowing carbon out that motor for a month. Check the suspension, too, because as vision fails, so does the ability to recognize potholes. CV joints and wheel bearings can take a particular beating. I’m still sorting out what the squeak in the driver’s front wheel is.

That limited vision? The slowed reflexes? The deteriorating range of motion? Oh, man. They all add up to one thing – “I didn’t/couldn’t see it!”, and that means paint. All over the body. Usually belonging to other vehicles and stationary objects. The tears of a hundred parking bollards in this case. Plan on at least a solid eight hours of wheel work just to get the worst of it off the sheet metal. The plastic bumpers might be a lost cause, and we’re not even at the scratches yet.

If the paint is suffering, you can be sure the metal is, too. Look for misaligned panels (what? Oh, no, she/I never hit anything!), deep scratches, and other small dings that throw some serious shade on Grandma’s health condition.

Needless to say, this could have been a total cream puff, but in reality, it’s a damn mess. Because little old lady. Next time you read that in an ad, think twice. You don’t want to deal with parking bollard tears. They kind of melt into the paint and stay there.

Urgh, another rental. Wait, I have a blog, so I can tell you all about it!

I got to Enterprise yesterday and was asked if I wanted to upgrade to something roomier than the midsize I booked. Uh, no. Thank you, but no. I asked for something smaller, and the manager just sighed, wandered off, and eventually handed over the keys to a brand new (seriously – 102.3 miles on the odometer) 2017 Hyundai Elantra. I took it home, loaded up my stuff, and headed out to visit a plant in the middle of OH. Possibly the most boring road trip ever.

The stripper rental car was doomed when Volkswagen decreed in the early 90s that all cars shipped over to our shores should have at a minimum air conditioning. By the early 2000s, Honda had caught on, and by the mid-2000s, it was almost impossible to find a true stripper any more. There isn’t even a delete option for most automotive features now, so good luck with sweating. All this change has meant that your average rental car is now actually a decent place to be, like this Elantra.

The Elantra I got was a bit of a surprise to me. The 2016 was ok, but not something I would consider renting again. The 2017 has a few tricks up its sleeve that make it a particularly good choice at the counter, the first being the incredibly adjustable front seat. Yes, I am swooning about a seat that is otherwise kind of stiff, not particularly supportive, and not really pretty either. The shear range of positioning is what makes this seat so great: in fact, the entire ergos for the car are far better than I expected, and frankly, might set a standard. The vertical adjust on the driver’s seat is nearly six inches. This means that I, as a person who does not enjoy the Actros or Mack seating position, can get the seat (and my H point) down to somewhere sensible. Forward and backward are manually adjustable and also generous. The seat is missing lumbar adjust, something that would prevent me from purchasing the car. Regular notched seatback angle is also impressive in range.

Complementing the extreme seat manipulation is a very adjustable steering wheel. It pulls out about five inches and has significant up and down motion. While it might not look like an F1 car on the outside, those of us who prefer the F1 seating position can almost get there. And still see out of the greenhouse. One noteworthy feature – the seat is nearly perfectly in line with the steering column. Otherwise perfect ergonomics have been ruined by misalignment of these two critical parts, so it’s nice that Hyundai has taken care here.

The rear window has a nasty fogging effect from its internal lamination that obscured vision in the lower driver’s quadrant. At first, I thought I had the generous AC cranked too far up, but the rear defroster did not help. Some investigation and reduction in solar angle of incidence revealed the tell-tale dot pattern of optical adhesive. Otherwise, visibility was very good, even with the seat all the way down.

The stereo works pretty well, and was minimally difficult to figure out. The base stereo and button-intense control surface seems almost quaint in today’s world of full-color TFT touchpads. XM works as expected, with three bands available for presets. The preset function is super-easy to use. I would recommend this stereo for technophobes, it’s straight out of 1995, but with more words on the screen.

Climate control controls were scattered and took me a few minutes to sort out. Seriously, though, GM-level AC in this thing.

Riding down I75 in Detroit, the car started beeping at my, with no indication in the instrument binnacle of the source. I quickly learned how to operate the steering wheel controls, the various functions on the dash, and a few other odds and ends before realizing that my purse, coat, and adapter bag were enough weight to trigger the passenger airbag/seatbelt interlock and warning. Ooops. I swished my purse and coat to the floor and the beeping stopped. The angle of the late afternoon sun had made the warning light on the center stack very difficult to see.

The car struggled with grooved pavement and winds, with very unsteady tracking. The first one hundred miles or so of the two-hundred mile trip were difficult. Once I was through the grooves in Michigan and the construction zones in OH, the car started to settle down a bit. The sensitivity may be related to the tall-sidewall tyres the car is shod with, or to air in the steering rack. I don’t know, but it was super annoying and made an otherwise pleasant ride into a more stress than it should have been.

The engine is plenty powerful for rental abuse, and the transmission is remarkably not annoying. In sport mode. In regular and eco modes, it is a dog. Way too much lag off the line. Gear-hunting was rare, downshifts were smooth, and no clunks or lurches. No shifter weirdness because the shifter is like the radio – an artifact, but a very welcome and pleasant artifact. If it ain’t broke… you know, don’t “fix” it.

The interior is not upscale, but it’s also not downscale. It’s extremely neutral. Hyundai uses a better quality hard plastic and textures it to avoid surface glare. The upholstery is smooth, but looks to be a fine knit that may pill or pull. Time will tell. No one is going to mistake this thing for a Genesis, that is for sure, but it’s noticeably better than a Corolla. The trunk includes a rear seatback release button and is roomy.

It’s a car with decent looks and controls. It’s boring, but predictable. Overall, you won’t go appreciably wrong by selecting the 2017 Elantra at the rental counter.

(pics coming soon)

Each year that I’ve returned to my bike after a winter off of it, I’ve reflected on what came back. Why stop now? I’m starting my fifth spring season and it’s a good thing.

This year’s little surprise is riding slow. Stupidly slow. Playing in traffic slow. I’m actually enjoying it. I’m finding that I am much more stable than I used to be at slower speeds. I’m staying upright and rolling ever so slowly in traffic jams, relaxing and enjoying the proverbial ride. It’s so different. I want to try a slow race, something that was not really on my radar in the past. I’m also finally using my knees to brake – clamping down on the faux tank to anchor myself when I get on the front lever. That is very cool. Somehow, my body is picking and choosing new techniques to remember and cement into my riding arsenal.

Getting my lean back last year was a big deal, and my neck and shoulder are still not really right. But they are no longer really interfering in my riding. I’m well along the learning curve for riding with whatever I’ve got for nerves now. I am self-balancing much more securely. The Leatt brace works – I have banged my helmet on it a few times now and I’m quite grateful for it. If you don’t have one yet, get one. There are a few competitors out there, choose the one that will work for you.

Another oddity is that I raised my seat 10mm. I ended up having to raise my handlebars 20mm (no 10mm risers to be found). I now sit on the bike instead of in it. When I had the low seat and the low suspension, I often felt like I was in the bike. Add my tower of tank bag, and I was really sandwiched in the frame. The ten millimeters shouldn’t make much of a difference, but somehow it does. I feel different on the bike, like I’m able to push it with my feet and legs more. This is empowering. I took off my tank bag two weeks back to get even more of this “on” feeling.

I’ve been bouncing my pre-load up regularly, which is adding the the height. I can still flatfoot the bike, but it’s sagged a bunch now to do so. Tripod-ing it is actually much easier with the seat up under my butt. I wish I would have understood this earlier – I’d have raised the bike a lot sooner. I love that I can just skim the tarmac with my boots now, instead of having to pull up my knees. There is no danger of dragging hard parts, set low, the angle was 45°, now it must be close to 60°. Balancing at stops is strangely easier. My head is solidly up over traffic and I can see for miles and miles and miles as the song goes.

I’ll be hoping for a cheap CBR250R this summer, which I will likely be looking to mod for track work. I miss that little sucker more and more every day, now that I’m living up in the clouds, up in GS Land. I get it, all over again.