To think about the new Star Stratoliner cruiser I was testing. To think Stratolounger would have been more accurate a name for this plush ride. To think about the fact motorcycles seem to be getting more carlike, with every new wave of models.Star says the Stratoliner's styling was influenced by streamlined cars and other industrial products of the 1930s. Their designers differentiate streamline styling as having "mass-forward image" like a speeding Grand Prix automobile from the pre-World War II era.
The specific style - "Streamline Moderne" - is very rococo, abounding with chrome accents connoting rushing wind and speed. Most cruiser styling, they noted, is more "Western themed" - truly a stylized "iron horse" for the modern age, with the rider sitting tall in the saddle.
The Stratoliner, made by Yamaha, features an easy-shifting five-speed transmission with carlike ratios and a fuel-injected 1,854 cubic centimeter engine that is bigger than the powerplant in many automobiles. The motor generates 101 horsepower and 124 foot-pounds of torque - both very carlike numbers.
It has a cushy new seat, a powerful radio, a catalytic emissions converter, etc. Whatever happened to kick-starters and chain drives?
The Stratoliner is the most carlike bike of any I've ridden. But it is hardly a showcase for automotive features. Other bikes have their own unique car-based attractions. Here is a list of some of the new or expanding uses of those features (this is by no means intended to be an exhaustive list):
BMW created a revolution in motorcycle braking in 1988 when it put ABS brakes on its K100RS. Since then, BMW has perfected the system and extended it to all the bikes in its lineup - even offroad bikes (ABS can be switched off when wheel slip is desired).
Honda Gold Wing touring bikes and Silver Wing scooters and some sports-touring models now offer ABS, as does Star on its sports-tourers (but not on the Stratoliner).
ABS is also available on sportbikes, including Ducati's ST4.
So far, Harley-Davidson has refused to offer ABS, although it did make the system available on its police bikes (and the systems were subsequently recalled).
The California Highway Patrol says ABS is a key reason its officers ride BMWs. "It's saved countless officers' lives," one patrolman told me.
For 2006, Harley-Davidson began offering XM Satellite Radio as an option on its bigger bikes. The XM system works well in my test of it.
A small antenna is the only visible clue that the bike is XM-equipped. The satellite band is incorporated into the existing radio system.
The external speakers mounted in the fairings may be used, either while the bike is parked or on the road. Speaker sound was surprisingly audible even over the roar of our Ultra Classic.
The system, understandably, works a lot better with helmet-routed earphones; the regular intercom system integrates it all.
Several manufacturers already offer such amenities as six-disc CD changers and navigation systems.
Honda experimented with automatic transmissions in the mid-1970s. They worked, but back then the average biker thought they were sissified, and without a lot of popular support for them, Honda soon stopped offering the automatic.
But now it has been confirmed that it has been developing an automatic that might appear in production on some sport bikes later this year or next. Details about the system are scant, but reportedly it is air-assisted.
Air-shifter systems have been developed for drag racers, in past years (they are illegal - but only if you get caught!).
A few years back, Honda started offering reverse gear on its Gold Wing tourers, but it operates within a manual shifting system.
Motorcycle lighting used to be a joke, although not a very funny one for those caught riding at night. But lighting overall has gone from flashlight-quality to as powerful as aircraft landing lights.
My favorite system is on the Honda ST1200 sport-tourer, which absolutely bathes the road ahead in pure white light; oncoming motorists must think the end is near.
Recent advances in motorcycle electrical systems have allowed the extra juice required by systems such as ABS, stereos and high-intensity lighting. HID lights, projector beams and LEDs have been appearing on more bikes, including the Stratoliner.
Yes, even air bags have come to motorcycling.
On the 2006 Gold Wing, Honda introduced the Motorcycle Airbag System, which includes the air bag and inflater; crash sensors, which monitor acceleration changes; and an ECU, which performs calculations to instantly determine when a collision is occurring.
When a severe frontal collision occurs, the four crash sensors mounted on the front fork measure the change in acceleration caused by the impact and convey this data to the ECU, which determines that a collision is occurring and whether or not it is necessary to inflate the bag.
Honda says the air bag can absorb some of the forward energy of the rider, reducing the velocity at which the rider may be thrown from the motorcycle and helping lessen the severity of injuries caused by hitting the pavement or another object.
HEATED SEATING, GRIPS
In Germany, where BMW enthusiasts ride no matter what the weather, it just made sense to offer heated seats on touring bikes.
BMW has since extended heated seating to other bikes in its lineup; most have heated hand grips as well - some offer it standard.
Honda and Yamaha, which also sell a lot of bikes in Europe, where they compete head to head with BMW, also started offering them. But only as options.
Air conditioning still comes standard on every motorcycle. Something that's worth having that's still free!
I thought of that as I rode from the 100-degree heat of California's Coachella Valley to the 60-degree summit of the nearby Anza Mountains on the Stratoliner.
No more buffing
Copley News Service
It doesn't matter how silly the term "nanotechnology" sounds, it does good things for car polish.
Eagle One's new NanoWax pump spray is as easy to use as spray furniture polish. And there also is a vinyl protectant and a wheel polish.
Nanotechnology puts extremely small particles in the polish or protectant. It is supposed to penetrate the paint and finish better than conventional, non-nano product.
Just spray it on and wipe off. The clear formula contains carnauba wax and leaves a finish as smooth as glass.
The company's Nano-Protectant works just as easily on vinyl, rubber and leather to clean and dress, leaving a satin finish with no oily residue. The wheel cleaner, Nano-Polish, also lays down a barrier to resist rust, oxidation and acid rain.
Suggested retail prices are $6 for the spray wax and protectant, $5 for the wheel polish.
For more information visit www.eagleone.com.
Jerry Garrett is a freelance motor journalist and contributing editor to Car and Driver magazine.