I gladly admit that I am a demo ride junkie (you could substitute the word whore if you like). If there's a demo truck within 100 miles, I'm there. If there's an open house with demo rides, I'm there. This spring I've been able to snag demos on a Triumph Tiger, Triumph Sprint, Triumph Bonneville T100, Ducati Multistrada 1100s, Ducati GT1000, Ducati SS800, BMW R1200R, BMW R1200GS, and a Moto Guzzi Norge.
I knew that when I went to Americade I was going to try to get a bunch of demos in. I scoured a lot of different forums to get info about how the Americade demos work, and how tough it is sometimes to score one. I thought I would write up my experience.
Since I had registered (and paid) for the whole week-long event, I got an orange wristband that gets you into the demo ride areas and TourExpo (the vendors). If you come up for just the day you can get a day pass ($20 this year), but if you're trying to ride a particular bike that may not be the best bet. I'll come back to that in a bit.
All but 2 of the manufacturers demos are at Roaring Brook Ranch, located just about a mile south on 9N off the main strip. Harley-Davidson/Buell and Yamaha have tents at the Fort William Henry conference center right on Canada Street (Route 9). Roaring Brook Ranch (RBR) had Honda, Suzuki, BMW, Triumph, Kawasaki, Victory, Can-Am, Kymco, Hummer, and 2 trike vendors.
To get a Honda demo you waited in one line and filled out a form (I filled out a lot of forms in 2 days), and then you were sent to one of 3 lines - Gold Wing only, VTX cruiser only, and all others. The Gold Wing line was 40 people deep at 8:15, but they had 8 or 10 Wings onhand. You got to the front and requested a bike. I was interested in the ST1300, but they only had 2 and they were all booked up by 8:30. They had no sport bikes other than the VFR800.
Like most of the demos, they had the following rules: don't pass the leader, ride staggered, no wheelies, no stoppies, no burnouts, no aggressive swerving, no rubber-banding (slowing down and then zooming back up), etc. You needed a helmet, eye protection, fingered gloves, long pants, and shoes with an ankle strap. You followed a ride leader, and they had another Honda guy running sweep.
Honda's route was pretty quick and boring - a right out of RBR, I-87 for 2 exits, 5 miles or so south on 9 (50mph posted, no real curves), then back on I-87 to RBR. 20 minutes tops.
The BMW line at 6:45am
If you want to get a BMW demo, you need to get there early. They start registration at 7, and by that time there's usually 50 people or more already in line. By 9am they were usually fully booked for the day. If you did the $20 daily registration I think by the time you got to RBR all the BMW's would be booked.
They had every bike in the lineup, from the F650 to the K1200LT.
The route was easily the best of the bunch - 40+ miles, a little over an hour long. All back roads up through Warrensburg at a spirited pace, then a short break to watch the staff do an ABS demo (cool). At this point you could switch bikes with other rides if you want. More twisties on the way back before a short blast down I-87 to RBR. Most excellent.
Triumph heading out
Triumph had one line for everything. You waited in line, filled out a form, and when you got to the front you requested a bike and they gave you choices of times. You then got a wristband with your bike and time on it. The line in the early morning was only maybe 20-30 people, and they had openings for people who wandered in as late as 1:30.
They had every model in the range available for demos, including the 675. One of the Tigers, Rockets, and Speed Triples had TOR performance exhausts on them. Triumph's route was pretty decent - left out of RBR, 4 or 5 miles on curvy 9N, then a left onto some twisty unlined backroad with some decent turns, then back on 9N to RBR. 16 miles I think.
Victory had the shortest lines all day. I think they had at least one of every model, and they had 2 Vision tourers for display only. Their pre-ride safety speech was a bit different than everyone else's - "OK, don't pass me. Let's go."
Their route was unfortunately basically the same as Honda's.
I didn't do any Suzuki demos, but they looked like they had tons of cruisers and some VStroms. I didn't see any sportbikes.
Didn't do any Kawasaki demos. They had all of their bikes available to ride, including the ZX-14. They also had the youngest age requirement, 18. A new Concours was on display, but no touching.
Yamaha was located next to Harley/Buell on Route 9. They had tons of cruisers, FZ1/FZ6's, and several FJRs (auto-shift and regular versions). Didn't do any Yamaha demos.
H-D ran their demos differently than everyone else. You stood in a registration line, filled out a form and got a hand-stamp and a barcoded receipt. Then you got in the line for the model range you wanted to demo (Dyna, Touring, etc), and first-come first-serve. With the exception of the VRods and Buells, all the H-D demos were self-guided.
They had a route layed out with orange arrows along the way, and you were supposed to follow that. You started out going North up Canada Street, which stunk because it was all stop-and-go because the place is packed. I suppose it's a good way to see if you like posing on that bike. 9 miles or so up Route 9, then 2 exits down I-87. The bikes had GPS locaters on them. The Buells and VRods were guided tours, because "they're so fast".
I got to RBR at 6:45 in the morning on Wednesday, and immediately got in line for BMW as they open at 7 instead of 8 like everyone else at RBR. The line at this point was maybe 50-60 people. Almost an hour later I was near the front of the line when they announced that all K1200GT and F800 demos were booked for the day. I reserved a K1200R Sport for 3:00. Headed over to Honda and waited maybe 15 minutes to book a 9:30 VFR800, then over to Triumph and a 20 minute wait to book a 12:30 Sprint (a bike I really want to like).
Always wanted to ride one, and Honda dealers never demo bikes. I scored an anniversary model with the red/white/blue paintjob and matched hardbags. Gorgeous. Seating position much too dedicated for me (monkey humping a football), but I wanted to see how that worked at speed. This was the first time I rode a bike with VTEC, and I found it to be very harsh during the switchover, like lighting the afterburners. No thanks.
Triumph Sprint ST
I really wanted to love this bike, as on paper it has everything I'm looking for. In reality, I found the rider position only slightly less leaned over than the VFR, which for me is too much. I loved the power of the engine, and the wide spread of that power, but the exhaust note is nothing to get too excited about. Found my hands getting numb during the ride.
BMW K1200R Sport
Power, power, power! Very fast, the most comfy of the 3 demos that day, but I still just a little more than I was looking for. Very easy to ride slow, clutch easy to modulate, unlike the very-tall-geared Multistrada. I was again having problems with my hands going numb. Great brakes, very stable through the turns.
BMW R1200GS Adventure
Switched bikes at the ABS demo stop because of the numb hands - I wanted something more upright. I had demo'd a regular GS a month ago, but had never tried the GSA. Liked it until the first turn, where it felt like the bike was squirming around underneath me. What?! Every time I leaned it over, the tires would dance around a bit, completely killing my confidence. When we (finally) got back to RBR, I walked over to the guy who had the GSA before me and asked if he noticed what I did about the handling. "First time on knobbies?" he asks. Oh. Yes, and probably the last time.
No line at all, and I was curious to try a non-HD cruiser. I have to say I was very pleasantly surprised with the Kingpin. Brakes felt strong, it banked into turns nicely, engine was powerful (but not as powerful as I had hoped), it just plain worked nicely. Even on I-87 at 80mph it felt comfy to ride. One odd thing - it felt like the bike was pulling to the right. I've never felt this on a bike before, but certainly in cars. It was like the alignment of a car was off, the bike just wanted to veer slightly right all the time. One of the guys on the demo was doing a burnout right behind the ride leader, who gave him a thumbs-up.
Harley Davidson Sportster 1200 Custom
No line, hopped right on. Not impressed. Surprised that the clutch grabs in the first millimeter of travel off pulled-in. Power was nothing special, brakes were OK, and the little windscreen caused painful buffeting on the highway.
Harley Davidson Street Bob
Waited maybe 15 minutes in the Dyna line and this was the bike that pulled in when I was in front. Very low to the ground, and had a bunch of extras installed on it, the most obvious was the "Street Performance Exhaust". Mmm, did that thing sound nice. For the first half of the ride I was loving the 'Bob. Easy to ride, waves of torque, and that wonderful H-D engine sound accompanying your every twist of the wrist. The honeymoon was over when we got on the highway though. At 80 I was hanging on for grim death against the wind. If I could afford a second bike for just cruising around, I could see doing the Harley thing.
A view on the ride
One of the bikes I was most looking forward to riding. I almost didn't get my chance, as someone in the incoming group lowsided a VRod in the parking lot. The very helpful H-D staff located another bike to use as their sweep, and I got the Uly. Two things I really didn't like - the incredible vibrations at idle, and the very loud fan. The bike was a blast to ride, sounded great, really comfortable, just about perfect for me. Then we would come to a stop and the paint mixer vibes would start. And anytime below, say, 30mph you could really hear that fan spinning. Still, a terrific bike and a contender if I didn't have the Multi.
Triumph Tiger with TOR exhaust
I've demod a Tiger before, but I was hoping the TOR exhaust would bring the sound of the triple to life for me. It did indeed make it louder, but I have to say I still don't find the sound of that engine very enjoyable. Otherwise the bike is a peach. If the Tiger (especially with ABS) was out when I was shopping, I might have gone that way instead of the Multi.
A very hard bike to fault. Incredibly powerful, super comfortable, and every feature you could ever want (electric screen, abs, esa, heated grips, heated seats, cruise, etc). I did experience my hands getting numb again, so the tingly vibes the I4 gives off could be a problem for me. I also discovered I don't like life behind a windscreen. You could lower the GT's screen enough to be out of the way, which is good. If I could get the vibes sorted out this would be a winner of a bike.
Another bike I really wanted to love. Terrific seating position, boxer motor, integrated hard bags, etc. A great bike to go cross country on, while still retaining the character of the twin. So why didn't I love it? My first ride on a boxer was the R1200R, and that motor made the bike fly. Very, very strong and smooth. Loved it. The R1200GS twins had just enough power, but certainly nothing thrilling. The boxer motor in the RT is just being asked to pull too much weight. This was the first bike I've ridden in years that really felt underpowered. I found myself muttering "come on, come on" several times during the ride. If the RT could have the power characteristic of even the GS I would have loved this one to death. Well, other than the below-the-bars mirrors - that would take some getting used to.
Well, there you have the confessions of a demo junkie set loose at Americade. I can't wait until next year!