I dropped my favorite street lid the other day. A helmet is only designed to take one impact, so I used this event as an excuse to buy a new lid. In the past I always seemed to smack my helmet while crashing about once every two seasons. I was of the opinion that a cheap helmet that met Snell or ECE would do the trick since I didn't need creature comforts. I rode 20 minutes races/sessions and I wore ear plugs. Well I don't crash anymore (knock on wood) and things like wind noise, drag, and ventilation are much more important to me as a commuter and tourer. I decided to step up and finally treat myself to an Arai street helmet.
To Each His Own...Head Shape
In the past, I've always just tried on helmets and picked one that fit reasonably well. Then I'd just order the same one crash after crash. Unfortunately, I probably placed too much emphasis on the fit for the face and ignored the fit for the head. Consequently, I always ended up riding something that was too big. If I actually knew what my head shape was, then I could have at least narrowed it down to models and/or brands that had an appropriate shell shape.
The cool thing about Arai is that they actually make different shell shapes in their product line to accommodate a few different head shapes. Their two most popular street helmets are basically the same helmet feature-wise, except one's for oval heads (Signet-Q) and one's for intermediate oval heads (RX-Q).
I swore my head was rounder than it is, and so I figured that I was a intermediate oval or even a round oval. I tried on a large RX-Q at Cycle Gear and I had a pressure point on the forehead. Weird. I looked around trying to get some help from the staff, but they were leaving me alone. I looked and looked, but they didn't have a Signet-Q for me to try. Actually their shelves were pretty much packed to the gills with their brands (Bilt, Seven Zero Seven, etc.). I gave up and I ended up leaving more confused than when I walked in.
Internets to the Rescue
I decided to determine what head shape I am. Initially it seemed like a task of simple trial and error. I watched Arai's fitment video and read their information. I watched RevZilla's sizing guide too, but the videos did little to help me determine my shape. No one publishes a proper ratio, mostly because even that is imprecise. Well I wasn't going to take that for an answer, and I finally found something that started to help. Webbikeworld.com posted a few slides from a study by Dr. Jan Beringer of the Hohenstein Institute (full slides). Slide 31 finally had a distribution of the ratios for men (in Germany) that I could use as a guideline.
I used a measuring tape to measure my head circumference from a point just above the eyebrows to the thickest point on the back. Then I used a makeshift caliper to measure my front-to-back length and side-to-side width. They're basically diameters of that same "circle" that you made with the measuring tape, taking care to make sure you pick the longest and widest parts of the head. Then I calculated the ratio of the width to circumference which is what the study used.
- Circumference: 59.7 cm
- Length: 20.6 cm
- Width: 16.5 cm
- Width/Circumference: 0.273
According to their distribution, that put me just outside of full oval. I guessed that the median would actually be somewhere between Arai's intermediate oval and round oval. I opted to try and get a oval helmet and see how well it worked out.
In the past, Arai had a model called the Profile which would have probably been perfect for me. The Signet-Q is a little more towards the oval side, but they use the same comfort liner as the RX-Q. Both of these liners have layers of foam that can be pulled away to help with hotspots on the temples and top of the head.
As soon as my Large Signet-Q arrived, I hastily unpacked it on tried it on. Right away the helmet felt great. The cheek pads were a little snug, but I was just wearing the helmet too low. The cheek pads are a nice construction, consisting of styrofoam and comfort foam. The comfort foam has layers that can be pulled off to help with face fitment, or you can opt for new cheek pads if that's not enough adjustment. I did get a little pressure in the temples which had me second guessing my decision. It wasn't nearly as bad as the forehead pressure I felt with the RX-Q. I pulled out a single 5mm pad on both sides and it fits like a dream now.
I've had a few dozen helmets over the years, but nothing has ever broken the $350 price point. Now I finally know what $500+ gets you. As already discussed, the fit is amazing. The neck roll, comfort liner, and cheek pads are all comfortable and really cool. I haven't ridden in the extreme heat yet, but they look like they'll wick sweat well.
The wicking liner combined the ventilation will likely make this a phenomenal helmet for Summer riding.
I didn't feel a huge effect from the top vents, but my hair is usually pretty thick. It's not that hot here in the Southern US yet, so I simulated a Summer ride by commuting with a wet head of hair. The top vents fill the two channels along the top of the head nicely and the air is drawn back down the back of the head and out the top rear and bottom vents nicely. Closing the top vents reduced the flow to the top of the head, but amazingly the flow along the back was just as strong, indicating that it's serving as a great exit for the other vents. The mouth vent is generous and it really keeps the fresh air moving over the inside of the visor and the mount/nose. Interestingly enough, even with it closed there is still nice cool air under the nose. Likely I'll only use the mouth vent in extreme conditions. The brow vents are absolutely amazing. The air is directed straight to the temples where the fresh air really does wonders. Even with the brow vents dumping air on the forehead/temples and the mouth vent blowing on my mount and nose, my eyes never dried out. This is quite a feat considering just how much air was moving around the face.
The fit and seal of the helmet is stunning. Standing still, this helmet blocks out more of the environment with its visor up than my last helmet (Seven Zero Seven Vendetta 2) did with the visor down. Then when you close the visor on the Arai it's like shutting the door on an airplane. This led to a pretty high expectation of what it was going to be like to ride in this helmet. Given such a high expectation, I was a little disappointed initially when I took it for a ride on my (naked) Empulse. When in an attack position, there was still a significant amount of noise. However, when I sat more upright, the noise all but disappeared. I was stunned. I've never had such a quiet experience on a bike. I went back to the attack position and tried to see if I could reduce the noise. The largest source of noise was the typical under-helmet wind. It was definitely diminished compared to previous helmets of mine. The chin spoiler didn't make a difference for me, and I found that it would flap against my (2nd) chin when fully deployed. I could use the shoulder shrug to help, but overall this is not a magic bullet for naked sportbike riders.
While the chin spoiler wasn't as amazing as I'd hope for removing the under helmet noise, the visor was certainly effective for the direct wind noise. The visor makes an amazing seal; a seal that is aided by the its stiffness. It's a pinlock compatible visor, and so there's actually a large extruded portion of the front that forms a cavity. The backside of this cavity is filled by the pinlock visor insert, forming a double-paned visor that reduces interior fogging by creating a sealed air barrier that reduces the rapid temperature variability and thus reduced condensation. Science! The optical quality is good, but I did get some minor double glare from the sunlight. I was really excited about the pinlock visor, because the inserts pack flat. This means it will be much easier for me to ride with a dark smoke insert and just stash the clear one inside a bag. This is a much better option than packing an extra visor and a way better compromise than getting an optically poor and somewhat unsafe helmet with a flip-down sun visor.
Arai did a superb job with the aerodynamics of this helmet. This, of course, helps reduce the direct wind noise, but it also makes the helmet extremely stable at high speed. Flipping your head to check a blind spot at 95 mph barely produces any torque on the neck. It also did really well to reduce buffeting when drafting and passing semi-trucks. I think I pissed off a driver behind me because I lingered too long just off the front wheel of a semi-truck. I couldn't believe it. I've got an upcoming day ride on the BMW GS soon, so I'll report back in the comments on how well the helmet reduces buffeting behind a shield. Maybe the chin spoiler will help in a more upright position.
It's a rare motorcyclist that can plunk down $500+ for a helmet. Furthermore it's hard for a rider to understand the significance of Arai's features and quality until they've experienced them. And until more people do experience them, they'll continue to be swayed by the marketing of flip-down sun visors, modular helmets, and integrated bluetooth. Well I want none of it. Heck, I don't even think I'm going to mount my bluetooth headset to this helmet. I don't want to blemish this perfect new lid. Now I sure as hell better not drop this thing.
I recently emptied a Bic pen. For a lot of people, this never happens. Disposable ballpoint pens are so ubiquitous, that we tend to lose them before we run them dry. I'm a bit particular; I almost never lose pens. Consequently, when I empty a pen I'm faced with a decision on how to dispose of it.
I've scoured the Internet, and the best course of action is to just toss them. They're so minuscule that they're just not worth recycling. On the other hand, being so minuscule makes them the perfect size to poke through a trash bag and escape over the side of a trash barge. Once free, it can makes its way down river and eventually joining the great Pacific Garbage Patch. OK, so that's just my environmental guilt speaking, but it did get me thinking. Why are all of our pens disposable to some degree or another? They haven't always been like that.
As an alternative to these common disposable pens, I considered using a fountain pen. I started researching them and found out that most inexpensive fountain pens use disposable cartridges. All is not lost though. You can often find converters for these fountain pens. A converter has the proper dimensions of an ink cartridge, but in fact its a small syringe.
I picked up a Lamy Safari pen, which came with a standard ink cartridge. I then ordered a converter for it. Sure this isn't the most inexpensive pen out there, but it's far from the expensive end of the scale.
Fountain pens write amazingly well. It's a really different experience. I've got seriously poor handwriting, but it's largely the result of being an impatient writer. A fountain pen forces you to slow down as the ink flows steadily and smoothly. If you pick up the habit of writing with fountain pens, you'll find that the extra $6 to buy the converter will really pay off. Fountain pens lay down a lot more ink than a ball point pen, and so you'll be going through cartridges pretty often. For me it's more about reducing that plastic waste, and so saving a little money is just a bonus.
If a ballpoint pen is more your style, then rollerball pens offer a nice compromise. Disposable rollerball pens have been around for a long time, but there are a few models now that actually take fountain pen cartridges. And just like their fountain pen cousins, you can get converters for them as well.
I picked up a pair of Lyra Calypso pens and converters. I order them from pensations.com, but I'm not linking to their site because it seems that their domain registration may have elapsed recently. The Calypso pen writes incredibly smooth, gliding even better than a fountain pen. The ball makes the ink delivery more even than a fountain pen while not requiring nearly the same kind of pressure as a ballpoint pen. In fact, it's a little too smooth for me. I find my handwriting is a little better with a fountain pen because the resistance slows me down a little.
What's old is new again
A while ago, I started carrying a handkerchief as a way of minimizing the napkins and paper towels that I use. Sounds kind of gross, but that's exactly what our grandparents did when they were young. A little later I started shaving with a safety razor; again just like my grandfathers. I'm not exactly sure what kind of pens they used, but I'm guessing they didn't have bics when they were kids. I'm starting to think that all of today's modern (disposable) marvels are inferior versions of their reusable predecessors. I smell the work of marketers.
When news that the Empulse R would be available before the Empulse, I was pretty excited. This news was that last justification that I needed in order to spend the extra money on the R version. The R offers up some carbon fiber bodywork, fully adjustable suspsension, and (I think) a different motor. Of that list, it's primarily the suspension that I was most excited about.
A lot of sportbikes come with fully adjustable suspension, but the Empulse belongs to that weird segment filled by street fighters and sporty standards. It sources Marzocchi forks and a Sachs shock in an OEM variety that is devoid of any kind of identifying marks. I had my concerns about the whether or not the extra adjustability would be of any consequence. Add to that some initial reports from the earlier owners that the suspension on the R was just too firm and would have to be replaced with something aftermarket. My heart definitely sunk a little as I waited for my bike to come in.
When I received my Empulse R, I didn't know what to think. I was still in the break-in period, but it did seem really harsh. Did I just get suckered? Short answer is No. The Empulse R is undersprung for my weight (180 lbs. with full gear), but is otherwise phenomenal for stock suspension. Hopefully this blog post will help owners get the most out of the suspension on their Empulse R.
Where to Start
I've been doing a lot of research into suspension setup. In the past, I've taken my racebikes to a chassis/suspension shop. Their work was superb, but I learned next to nothing. The Empulse is my first sportbike since I gave up spirited riding on the street years ago. I do still have gas street bikes, but I'm more of a touring guy now.
I had a lot to learn about motorcycle suspension. As I read more, the more that I realized that suspension tuning information is out there, but it's never in one complete place. You have to read a bunch of half truths from several different sources. Finally I found once source that really clicked with me:
Sean Onipede put together a great guide that does a few things that I found to be very important:
- Provides an order to follow when setting up your suspension.
- Details the key responsibility for each setting.
The first point is pretty critical. Just like a race track is a series of corners that must be linked together successfully, your suspension works in related stages to get you through the micro-steps of every corner. It steepens the front-end for turn in, relaxes the front end at the apex, settles the rear end for traction when rolling on the throttle, and it keeps the bike on line while powering out of the corner.
This moves right into the second point. In order to setup the suspension for each of those stages, you have to know which setting affect the bike through each of those stages. Typically people describe symptoms and then offer up one or two adjustments to correct those symptoms. The problem is, the description of these systems with "soft" terms that may have no meaning to most readers.
I can't compete with the quality of Sean's guide or even with all of the other random good information on the Internet, and so the rest of this guide is mostly just tips on how to make the adjustments to your Empulse R.
What You'll Need
Most of the measuring is for calculating static sag. It's easier with a helper, but I didn't have one so I devised a scheme to set the sag myself. The above shows the tools that you need to adjust and measure your suspension without a helper. Here's a break-down:
- Wooden Dowel
- Zip Tie
- Telescoping Magnetic Retriever or Car Antenna (or a helper)
- Metric Ruler
- Bungies (or a helper)
- Flathead Screwdriver
- Spanner for 3/8" Socket Driver
- 3/8" Socket Driver with 1" extension
- 7/8" Wrench (22mm might fit best)
Sag goes by different terms and there are different ways to measure it. I'm going to stick with the Racetech terms and methods as outlined here:
First you need to measure full extension. Then you measure free sag (bike without rider) and static sag (bike with rider). For the two sag measurements, you'll want to take two measurements for each. The first measurement is taken when the suspension is allowed to compress and settle to a stop. The second measurement is taken when the suspension is allowed to rise and settle to a stop after you've compressed it down and released. You take the average of these two measurements as a way to compensate for "stiction" (sticky friction).
It difficult to take these measurements without help, but the following descriptions illustrate a way to take the measurements by yourself for extension, free sag, and static sag.
The first thing to do is to put a zip tight on your right front lower fork leg.
To measure the extension, put the bike on the side stand with the bar turned all of the way to the left. From the right side of the bike, push up on the right handlebar until the front wheel is barely off of the ground. Then slide the zip tie up and measure from the top of the zip tie to the bottom of the silver fork leg.
To measure free sag, you'll balance the bike straight up and down allowing it to settle on the way down or on the way up depending on which of the two measurements you're taking. Once it settles, carefully reach down and slide the zip tie up. Then carefully put the bike on the side stand and take the measurement from the top of the zip tie to the bottom of the silver fork leg.
To measure the static sag, you'll balance the bike with you on top of it wearing all of your gear. This is easiest next to a wall on your left side. You'll want to hold the bars and center your weight over the bike in a natural riding position as it settles. I do this by leaning just slightly with my left elbow against the wall. Then slowly move down with your right hand and push the zip tie up. Stiction is your friend here, because it will prevent the fork from compressing as you slowly lean over the front more. Carefully get off of the bike and measure the zip tie again.
Free sag equals the full extension reading minus the free sag reading. And likewise, static sag is the full extension reading minus the static sag reading. Racetech recommends 30-35mm of static sag for street applications and 25-30mm of static sag for race applications. I run my Empulse R at 33mm of front static sag.
Now that you can measure static sag on the front, we'll discuss setting it. You set sag by changing front preload. Preload is set by using a 7/8" wrench on the red adjusters on top of each fork. I didn't have a large enough metric wrench, but I suspect a 22mm is the perfect size. The imperial wrench did just fine since it doesn't take much torque. My static sag was originally 38mm, and three full revolutions (tightening) added enough preload to bring me to 33mm of static sag.
What Does Preload Do?
Adding preload to a spring compresses it slightly, making it stiffer. Springs have a spring contant k. The force a spring exerts is determined by Hooke's law where F = kx. Force equals the spring constant times the displacement of the spring which is a distance measurement. The more you compress a spring, the more force it exerts. By adding some preload, you change that displacement making it exert more force. If it exerts more force, then it will sag less. This is because the bike has a certain amount of weight that the springs must counteract with spring force. The system is balanced when the springs exert the proper amount of force. If the springs have a low spring constant, then the springs will compress (sag) until the force is right.
Why is sag important then? Keith Code explains static sag really well in his Twist of the Wrist book. Suspension is really designed to work well in that middle third of travel. In the initial third of travel, the spring force is too low. The middle third is just right. The last third is too stiff. Sounds a little Goldilocksian at first, but it makes sense on some level. So by setting your static sag to just less than 1/3 of the shocks travel means that when you're cranked over in a corner, the cornering forces will compress the suspension right into the magical middle third of travel. Of course, if you go through corners fast, there's going to be more compression. This is when you have to ask yourself how fast you want to go through corners. If you set you bike up with less static sag, it's going to feel like crap if you pull into a parking lot through that dip in the concrete too slowly. If you pull through there going 35mph, it's going to feel like magic.
How much preload is too much then? I can't really answer that, but I do know that by adding preload you're reducing the amount of travel available to the spring. If the fork or shock is designed to utilize all of a spring's travel then this is bad news. Regardless, it's best to start with the correct spring rate and use a small amount of preload. The rationale behind this is that by adding preload to your spring, it's like placing a shorter, stiffer spring in there that will get stiffer sooner as the wheel moves through its travel. You really want a spring that changes its force more slowly.
I'm not sure about the dimensions of the fork and shock on the Empulse R, but I plan to at least pull my shock and get some detailed measurements of the spring and the shock without the spring.
Rear static sag is probably more crucial than front static sag for most riders, because you're going to feel it right in your spine. If you're the kind of rider that trailbrakes really hard into corners, then I'd say the the front end is as important or more. When I first received my Empulse R, I was astonished at how firm the rear-end was...or so I thought. I would run over bumps in the road that would chatter my teeth. This is the point where I was really doing some soul searching about my decision to get the R.
Luckily I sorted out this method for measuring sag without a helper and I got some measurements. My rear static sag was a whopping 51.5mm. I was basically riding so far down in the travel that I was getting into that nasty last third of travel.
To measure my rear extension without a helper, I devised a scheme that provided the same benefit of using the zip tie. I bungied a telescoping magnetic retriever to the swingarm right over the rear axle.
Then I bungied a wooden down under the seat just above and slightly forward of the rear axle.
Then with the bike on the side stand, I pull up until the rear wheel was just off of the ground, and with one hand I extended the magnetic retriever until it hit the wooden dowel and then I move the retriever to the side just slightly so that I could lower the rear wheel without fear of compressing the retriever. Lastly I take the measurement from the top of the retriever to the middle of the rear axle.
Measuring free sag and static sag is much the same as before with the front, with the only real difficulty coming when you are on the bike and trying to reach back to extend the retriever carefully for the static sag measurements. There's not as much stiction in the rear shock, so you'll be doing a bit of a balancing act here.
Adding rear preload is a little more complicated. It's done by loosening the lock collar and then tightening the newly released adjusting collar. The collars are two large nuts with notches. They're located on the shock body at the top/front of the spring.
To measure how much preload you're adding, people typically measure the length of threads showing above the collars. For my Empulse R, there was 8mm of threads showing from the factory. To loosen the lock collar and then to adjust the preload collar, you'll want to use the spanner with the 3/8" driver and 1" extension. They sell normal flat spanner wrenches for this, but the collars are right behind the subframe on the Empulse and so it's hard to get to.
You can also use a hammer and punch to loosen the lock collar, but I highly recommend against using it to tighten the adjusting collar since the numerous revolutions will bugger up the notches. Using the spanner to add preload can get difficult, and I found it best to attack it from the left side making sure that the spanner tooth is a notch correctly and that the spanner body is lined up and resting squarely on the collar. Lastly avoid any twisting motions when twisting the 3/8" driver. The spring and lower collar will likely rotate too. That's OK.
The whole process of adding preload will be much simpler if you can remove as much spring force as possible. I do this by keeping the bike on the side stand and then placing a scissor jack under the frame so that the rear wheel barely comes off the ground.
The procedure for setting rear sag is to add/remove some preload and then measure again. Once you hit your target then tighten the lock collar against the adjusting collar. Racetech recommends 28-37mm of rear static sag for street use and 23-32mm for the track. I ended up adding 10mm of preload for a total of 18mm in order to get my rear sag to 35mm. It feels phenomenal! I'm really impressed with how planted it is in nearly any corner I've encountered on the street. It's a bit harsh for the low speed corners, but that was to be expected. I did end up adding a lot of preload, and so I'm in the middle of trying to determine what spring rate to choose for my new spring.
The good news is that you've now finished the most critical adjustments to your bike's suspension. The bad news is that the remaining settings are much less of a science than they are an exercise of personal preference. That preference is determined through lots of trial and error experiments as you ride through a chosen set of roads/corners the same way...again and again.
I've made several attempts to tweak my damping, but it's really hard to come up with repeatable experiments on the street. For instance, in order to set your front compression dampening correctly for a corner, you need to hit a very late brake marker. I tend to brake early on the street and so it really doesn't matter how quickly my front compresses. And as for setting up front rebound, the Empulse doesn't have the bite in the corners that a V-Twin does and so you're not likely to jack the front end up when rolling on the throttle. That leaves suspension packing as the likely only factor that you can use to judge your front damping setting and I don't really know what suspension packing feels like. The rear is just about as difficult on the street with the exception of rear rebound. That's usually easier to set up because it's easy to get the rear end to chatter in corner exits under power.
Anyhow, I'm going to leave this up to you as a very long-term project. The critical thing you you need to know is the following:
- How to adjust all four damping settings.
- The range of each setting.
- The original factory settings.
Three of the adjusters are free spinning (measured in degrees) and one has detents (measured in clicks). 0° and 0 clicks means fully open (fully counter clockwise).
Front compression damping is a flathead screw adjustment at the bottom of each fork leg. It has about 1080° of adjustment and is set from the factory at 360° or 33.3%.
Front rebound damping is a flathead screw adjustment on top of each fork leg. It has about 1260° of adjustment and it is set fromt he factory with 495° or 39.39%.
Rear compression damping is a black knob on top of the remote reservoir for the rear shock. It has 45 clicks of adjustment and is set from the factory with 28 clicks or 62.22%.
Rear rebound damping is a flathead screw adjuster on the lower clevis of the rear shock. It has 990° of adjustment and is set from the factory with 450° or 45.45%.
I still haven't dialed in my damping settings, but I don't know if I will move far from stock until I get a trackday under my belt. As for static sag, I feel like I'm there. I might add a little static sag to the front since the bike has a more upright riding position due to the standard bars. I am getting a new rear spring, but I still need to get some critical measurements of my shock and rear spring (including stock spring rate) before I can order one. Stay tuned (pun intended).
My long wait is finally over. I picked up my Empulse R this weekend. The dealer network has slowly been expanding on the East coast. My deal with my most local dealer fell through, and so I ended up buying the bike from Euro Cycles in Tampa Florida. It was a 10 hour drive each way, but its a drive I make often since I'm in Florida a few times a year. Here's a shot of the front of Euro Cycles.
I lived all over Florida for over 20 years, and I still get nostalgic when I head back. Visiting places like Euro Cycles always reminds me that there are a lot of great people in Florida. I had a great time shooting the breeze with the staff. I had to get back on the road, but I kind of wanted to ride the Empulse in their balmy 80 degree weather considering the fact that I left home in the very low 40's. I opted to load up anyhow and just get on the road. Heck, I didn't actually even take a good look at the bike until I made my first fuel stop.
I've followed the Empulse's development for years. I've seen tons of photos and videos. Nothing prepared me for how amazing it looks in person. And folks, I don't usually gush about motorcycles.
What does the R bring?
Brammo released the Empulse R before the regular Empulse. You can either look at this as a way of rewarded in the early adopters with a limited edition, or charging an few extra thousand dollars for parts that cost you much less in a way of recouping cost. I can't imagine that there's much volume for the R models, so I'm going to guess that they didn't make much extra money by selling the R models first. What exactly did I get though? IIRC the Empulse R has only these additions:
- Fully Adjustable Suspension with "Gold" Fork Valves
- Carbon Fiber Panels (Tail Light, Rear Hugger, Front Fender, Tank Panel, Headlight Cowling)
- Extra Badging
- An Early Delivery Date
Initially, I thought that the R had lighter wheels too, but I can't find any information to support this. If the wheels are a set of lighter Marchesini's then it's not a bad deal. For me, I really just wanted some level of adjustability for the dampening of the suspension. Could I have done better picking up some Ohlins Road and Track forks and a Penske Triple? No way. I'm looking at $5k-$6k there. So even if I've got basic compression and rebound control only, that's not too bad...especially if the forks have "gold" valves then I'm doing OK. Regardless, I'll try and dig up some details on the wheels and do a much more detailed writeup on adjusting the suspension in the weeks to come.
I put over fifty miles on it today. Initially, I was thinking that it is a pretty harsh ride and I might need to speed up the dampening a little. Well, what I didn't realize is that I was riding it like a sissy. This is the Empulse R after all. Once I got done with my range testing, I ripped back home along some fun roads. This bike is begging to be flogged. Sure the bike is rough at low speeds, but when cornering under acceleration, it really livens up and sucks up the irregularities. And oh my, you can get on the throttle early.
There's an interesting dynamic about this bike that actually seems to encourage aggressive cornering. Firstly, the seating position is nice and low. Secondly, the pegs are high enough that it is easy to take your weight out of the saddle when hanging off. Thirdly, it has a significant and very low center of gravity. Finally, it has amazing road feel. So how does this all work together? Let's start with a little (pseudo-)science.
Mass centralization has been the industry buzz word for the last 5-10 years and it's finally starting to come to fruition with electric vehicles like the Empulse and the Tesla Model S. It's even more critical with electric vehicles because they've got some considerable mass. Granted, we're not talking about lead acid batteries here, but the Empulse is not light-weight. Which is really fascinating, because even pushing it around the garage you actually think it's pretty light, that is until you push it up am incline.
Low ride height works together with the mass centralization to create a feeling that the bike is being sucked into the ground through the corners. It helps to prevent the rider from feeling like he's being flung off like a ride at the state fair. This is what you want as a rider, because you want to feel like you've got a strong enough normal force to maintain that coefficient of static friction between your tires and the road And when your center of gravity is nice and low, the torque arm created between those tires and the reactive centrifugal force is reduced. The mass centralization in the motorcycle is then aided by rider position. The high(-ish) foot pegs give you the ability to get your weight out of the saddle and instead engage your calves and quads as a very effective dampener complete with very accurate deflection sensors. And lastly the incredible low vibration of the Empulse means that you feel the road surface in your legs and hands so you know exactly when the backend slides a tiny bit.
All of this is mostly just a means to build rider confidence which is the single biggest factor is getting through corners fast. Once someone has experienced a pucker moment or a get off, it works to deteriorate their confidence. The Empulse instead gives you very precise input about the surface and dynamics of the chassis that I can only liken it to an Tsunami early warning system that gives island residents 30 minutes to get to safety. Normally sportbikes give you a split second before you've pushed the front or lost the rear.
My final comments about handling will be a comparison to a buddies really well built supersport R6 racebike. I've mostly ridden twins on the street and track. The first day I rode his bike on the track, I was amazed at how user-friendly it was. It was so well set up, that I could get into any corner on any crappy line and get through it perfectly with just a little speed adjustment. It had a low level of vibrations and I had incredible surface feel. My only beef with his bike is that I had to have it above 8k on corner exits just to get it to finish corners with any kind of a bang, and getting a bike above 8k on its sidewall is a daunting thought for a v-twin guy. Well the Empulse has the handling of that inline four middleweight with the finishing torque of the smoothest lightweight twin I've ever ridden.
I can't write much here, because I'm still in my break-in period. This means I have to keep the bike under 3500 RPMs and out of Sport Mode for the first 600 miles. Consequently, I've been avoiding the brakes and getting into corners as fast as I can. From what I've felt this far of the acceleration and the brakes, I know this is going to be a hot-performing bike. Will it smoke a 600 middleweight? No, not down a straight, but who cares? All the fun is to be had in the corners. Going 170+ mph is only fun the first time. Ripping through your favorite corners is fun every time. Besides...all that high speed stuff just eats up your charge anyhow.
Speaking of range...how's the Empulse's range? Screw it. Who cares? I'm so over range anxiety. Like I just said, going 170+ mph is fun the first time. And by that same logic, running low on a charge or even running out only sucks the first time. After that, you very quickly calibrate your routes, riding style, and habits to adapt. Once you know your bike's limits you're happy. If you really like to take longer rides, get an ICE bike and ride it once a month on that long ride. Then take your Empulse out every other day. Seriously, lets stop talking about range anxiety.
My BMW R1200 GS has some serious driveline lash. Most bikes do, but it's never a big problem off of the line because you're slipping your clutch as you bring up the RPMs. You don't slip the clutch on the Empulse because you can't stall an electric motor. Furthermore, you don't need to rev match an electic motor when shifting up or down in an attempt to avoid that undesired lurching you get with an ICE bike. This is because electric motors have very low rotational mass and therefore very little inertia. It takes no effort to spin the motor up from 0 RPMs when you dump the clutch going down the road. As a matter of fact, then back torque that you get when letting the clutch out while under way is almost all regen created with the motor controller anyhow.
All of this means that you feel driveline lash more significantly when A) starting off, B) upshifting, and C) in slow on-off throttle traffic. Is it a big deal? Not for me so far. It's just a new experience. Through help from other Empulse riders, I've learned how to eliminate it when starting off and lessen it quite a bit in other scenarios.
Once I get through break-in, I'll start using sport mode. By then, the suspension should be loosened up enough to really start experimenting. I'm going to do some chassis and suspension benchmarking on a fun route home from the office and see what I can do for a setup on this bike. I'm going to set the preload, experiment with tire pressure, and then start messing with the dampening.
Ever get the feeling that with all of our "progress", we've actually lost track of many of life's more subtle innovations? A few years ago I got interested in roasting my own coffee, which is something that early Americans did all of the time. Processed green coffee beans last a really long time, but as soon as you roast them you're in a race to use them before they oxidize and go stale. Modern "marvels" such as batch roasting, advanced packaging, and efficient transport means that no one needs to roast their coffee any more. But are we better off?
I had this déjà vu moment last month as I was looking into safety razors. I wet shave because I have a soft and stubborn beard that refuses to work its way into an electric razor's guides. I've bought into all of the marketing hype and I always uses gels and the latest 12-blade cartridge razor systems out there. All the while I never realized that shaving was perfected generations ago and that all of these modern innovations are garbage.
The Safety Razor
Safety Razors were invented in the 19th century as a means to allow the common man to safely shave at home. Seems that wielding a straight razor on one's own face is a bit dangerous. Straight razors also required a considerable amount of upkeep. For generations, men used safety razors with disposable, double-edged blades. Then came the disposable razor...garbage.
My dad uses disposable razors, and so that's what I started with. I hated throwing away those plastic razors back then, and I didn't even know about the floating island of plastic in the Pacific. When the Gillette Sensor came out, I started using cartridge razors. I figured that they're a lot more environmentally friendly. I also liked the weight of them more, although I didn't realize why. When the Gillette Mach 3 came out, I switched over and I've been using it for damned near 15 years.
I've seen other razors come and go, and I've stuck to my Mach 3. I even remember reading the lore about how the little gel strip was invented in order to get people to replace their cartridges sooner than needed since the blades lasted so long. What a load of crap.
Safety razors, with their single blade, provide a far closer shave with way less irritation. It can be scary shaving with only one blade, but that's where the weight of the razor comes in. If you let the weight help drag the razor across your skin, it's far less likely to irritate. And they're way cheaper to use since the blades are so inexpensive. You can get them in bulk from Amazon for just under a dime a piece. The best price I can find on Mach 3 cartridges is about two dollars a piece. Granted, they last a little longer, but they sure as hell don't list 20x longer. The cartridge refill business is about as shady as the printer ink business.
After years, I'd finally settled on gel shaving creams. I never quite know what to do with the spent cans. Are they recyclable? Do I need to depressurize them? Now that I've picked up a safety razor, I've decided to use regular shave soap, lathered up in a mug with a badger hair brush. I was a little skeptical. How could I possibly get a lather as thick as a gel shaving cream? Because that is what works best, right?
Come to find out, the lather from a soap isn't as dry and thick as a gel shaving cream. I may be able to come closer with a different kind of soap and technique, but I'm not sure if that's the best rought. The lather from a shave soap is much smoother and more slippery. With a gel shaving cream, I felt like I had to use to use too much pressure to get through the shaving gel and then through the beard. I ended up taking multiple, irritating passes.
I'm excited to try out different soaps, but it might be a while. The stuff lasts forever.
Not only does a safety razor and shave soap give me a much better shave; it also has a much lower impact on the environment. I'm not throwing out cans, plastic cartridges, and packaging for those cartridges. I don't have to worry about what kind of propellant my can uses to foam up the gel either. My lather is built with my arm, simple as that. You might argue that I use a little more fresh water while shaving, but my counter argument is that far less water was used to make my soap and safety razor blades.
As we've become more of a disposable nation driven by convenience, it's hard to fathom just how little our grandparents used to throw away. Back then waste equated to money. But with the rise in cheap plastics, disposable items are typically cheaper...thus encouraging use to buy cheap crap that we end up tossing. Frustrating to say the least.
Update: Here's a clever idea on how to recycle those blades safely from the Badger and Blade forum.
If you've read any of my posts on my Enertia, you know I love the bike. Of the few electric motorcycles out there, it was the absolute best bike for me. However, I knew it was far from my dream electric motorcycle. Brammo had to compromise too much in their quest to make it reasonably affordable and viable for urban transportation. To that end, it was a great success. But for the enthusiast that wants to carve some corners on their commute, there were a few shortcomings.
Specifically, the Enertia didn't meet my needs as a rider because:
- Cannot maintain highway speeds due to overheating.
- 40 mile range means I can't make extra stops on the commute.
- Non-adjustable and over-sprung suspension.
- Body position is poor for aggressive riding.
Some of those shortcomings could have been mitigated through some inspired modding, but deep down I knew I wouldn't be on the bike forever. Consequently, mine's still bone stock.
An [almost] No Compromises Electric Motorcycle
Brammo has touted the Empulse as a no-compromises electric motorcycle for the enthusiast. They're absolutely right...almost. You have to compromise somewhere, and in this case it was price. But that couldn't be avoided. Bicyclists have a truism that sums this up perfectly.
"Cheap, light, and strong. Pick two." - Wise Bicyclist
With the Empulse, Brammo went all in. They addressed all of the shortcomings with the Enertia and delivered a very serious motorcycle. Sure it's not going to out-handle or out-perform an ICE motorcycle that costs less than 50% of the Empulse, but that's not really the point of riding an electric motorcycle is it? The point is: It's an electric motorcycle that should be about as fun as an SV 650 with the brakes and suspension of a serious middleweight sportbike.
Even though there are no little explosions going off inside the motor, it still gets hot. This one surprised me when I got my Enertia, because I thought it was a low-friction, brushless motor. Well electric drivetrains are still lossy systems and that loss manifests itself through heat. The Enertia has an electric fan that helps, but it's no match for highways speeds. The Enertia goes into a thermal cutback mode well before its battery is depleted when driven at a sustained 70 mph.
The Empulse tackles this problem by water-cooling the motor. There are plenty of high-end EV motors doing this now, but I never suspected to see one on a production electric motorcycle any time soon. They put a pretty large radiator on there too.
Notice the coolant lines running into and out of the motor? I wonder if there's a separate electric water pump or if they somehow use the power from the motor?
A Proper Transmission
If you look at the motor in the picture above, you can also see another great feature: there's a shifter! When Brammo delayed the launch of the Empulse, they stated that they wanted to include some critical new technology. They were already working with a 6-speed transmission with the Engage, and so the folks over at http://brammoforum.com knew straightaway that the new IET (integrated electronic transmission) was going into the Empulse. The transmission is a multiplate transmission complete with oil just like a standard motorcycle transmission. I'm sure the similarities stop there.
I, for one, applaud Brammo on this move. Stunning. As Brian Wismann so perfectly stated in this video, Brammo has put a critical tool back into the hands of the rider. While I'm no expert on electric drivetrains, I think this will be critical for efficiency. It's common knowledge that 100% of the torque of an electric motor is available at 0 RPM and that it drops off a cliff at the top end. Going to a two or three speed transmission would have solved the top-end problem, and so I was a little perplexed. I now suspect that they went a 6-speed to help the bottom end without relying solely on battery-destroying torque. Sure that torque's available, but using it in an inefficient gear means that the motor is going to draw a tremendous amount of current. But like I said, I'm no electrical/automotive engineer.
And in a dramatic turn of events, they offer regenerative braking! Well, sort off. On a motorcycle, a huge percentage of your braking power comes from the front wheel. On a v-twin race bike, I don't even use the rear brake because the engine braking alone is about all the rear end can handle without losing traction. Realizing this, Brammo has added a sort of regen-engine braking. I can only speculate about their motor control algorithm, but conceivable it might be sophisticated enough to deliver just the proper amount of regenerative resistance based on wheel speed, gear, and throttle position.
Level 2 Charging: 3.5 hrs from Zero to Full
Craig Bramscher and Brian Wismann have both explained several times thats they abandoned the lower-capacity battery packs and decided on one single option due to overwhelming pre-order demand for the 10 kWH packs. They settled in on a 9.3 kWH pack in the final configuration of the Empulse. It's what happened next that really surprised me. They included support for level two charging, and not with some supplementary part that you keep at home. They put the Level 2 charger on the bike.
Now the only downside of this is that they don't have a Level 1 cord on the bike. If this is anything like the Volt, then a Level 1 charge will likely be done with a separate adapter. That's going to be a bit of a problem for me. I plan to steal 120 V power while at school and charge at home overnight on 120 V. Where to I keep the adapter? I'll probably be fine at work since we have five Level 2 chargers...but I have to beat three out of the seven Nissan Leafs into the office. Great. There's gonna be a geek slap fight in the parking lot.
They Added Proper Motorcycle Parts
The Empulse R comes with fully adjustable suspension via a Marzocchi fork and a Sachs shock. While I doubt that fully adjustable includes all four "knobs" for high/low-speed compression/rebound dampening, I'm sure that it's got at least preload, compression, and rebound adjustments. And that's plenty good for the most agressive street riding. Heck, most expert amateur racers and a lot of privateers can get away with a simple Penke 3-way on the rear and a re-valved stock fork.
They've also included some proper sportbike wheels on the Empulse R. The Enertia has really narrow, custom wheels with a direct mount sprocket in the rear. The Empulse R has a 17" wheelset from Marchesini with a very respectable 5.5" rear wheel. And, I'm not certain, but that rear hub looks pretty large. I suspect they've moved to a cush drive which will really help smooth out some of the drivetrain noise and vibration that you get on the Enertia.
You can really tell that they've been doing some racing too. They've included mounts for rearstand spools on the swingarm as well as perfectly placed threads for frame sliders on the frame. Even the big Japanese manufacturers tend to screw up mounting points for frame sliders. And the poor street riders end up getting kits that relocate the frame sliders awkwardly so that they fit through vents on the bodywork without cutting. There's also plenty of room around the tank to put clip-ons under the top triple clamp, which was pretty much impossible on the Enertia. They also have proper foldable footpegs that I plan to promptly replace with some rearsets. I hope I can fab something to work out easily. Maybe they have some Empulse RR parts to spare. O_o
Anyone for a Two-Up Ride?
Finally, you can offer friends the experience of riding an electric motorcycle without having to trust your bike in their grubby little hands. I've already offered a ride to a buddy at work, and he promptly rejected me. I don't know what his problem was. Two of my fastest laps around Jennings GP were on the back of Jason Pridmore's GSXR. It was definitely special...and not that way.
In all seriousness though, this is one really nice looking tail section. The subframe is so thin and minimal. Razor edge tails have been trendy with sportbikes lately, but they tend too come out looking like sectioned serrated knives. The Empulse's tail looks like a katana (the sword, not your grandma's Suzuki). The original Empulse prototype had a misplaced tail that didn't fit in too well. Plus it still had that long, flat design found in the Enertia. That seat style is perfect for the Enertia, because it helps to accommodate differently sized riders. The Empulse has a proper, low seat at an angle that is going to feel much better when the bike is slung over in a corner. I can't wait!
The only thing I'm a little apprehensive about is the swingarm. It's hard to tell from the photos, but it looks a little flimsy. Part of that is probably an optical illusion since it's tubular. However, the pivot looks a little narrow and might suffer from some twisting. It's also interesting that the shock is direct mount and doesn't use a dogbone linkage to control the rate. At least the pivot seems to be pretty close to the chainline which should help with squat coming out of corners. The lower arm in the swingarm looks like it will probably be close to flat when under power too, which is apparently critical for traction when driving out of a corner. Not sure that traction's going to be a big issues with the R though. Maybe the RR. Anyhow, the comments on the swingarm are really pretty superfluous and shouldn't affect street riding in the least.
About that Compromise
Similar to the Enertia's release, they're producing the first thousand or so Empulses as the R model only. I get the impression that it's a limited edition model, but I'm not 100% certain.
Empulse Base Model - $17k
Empulse R Model - $19k
The Empulse R has the following advantages over the regular Empulse:
- Marchessini wheels
- Fully Adjustable Suspension
- Carbon fiber bodywork parts
- And a 2012 delivery date
Personally I'm excited about all of the above R extras, save for the pretty carbon fiber parts. Hopefully the wheels are nice and light, since losing unsprung weight it critical for handling, acceleration, and braking.
Overall the R package seems like a good deal. High-end sportbikes like Aprilia, Ducati, and MV Augusta do the same thing with their racier models and often charge way more. However, you have to consider that those other manufacturers also tend to offer better brakes, exhausts, racing ECUs, etc. Personally, I like the Japanese model of just offering one version and making it as nice as possible. The Japanese can get away with that due to their economy of scale.
$19k was a bit of a shocker for me, but the way I look at it, I've been saving for this motorcycle since October 2010 when I pre-ordered mine. The only sad part is that I plan on owning it until it depreciates to near zero. I typically buy used bikes and only lose about 20% of their value to depreciation when I sell them. Who know what the secondhand market for electric motorcycles is going to look like. Anyone interested in a well-kept Brammo Enertia?
I watched Jack Dorsey's "Golden Gate Speech" today. I was seriously impressed with him, and in particular his view of software products as the output of designers.
Software is Art. I'm not just talking about designing pretty web pages either. I'm talking about code, whether it's MC68HC11 Assembly, Dylan, Java, or even C#. I've struggled my entire life with the frustration of being traditionally uncreative. While I can draw a little, I'm pretty poor at just about every other traditionally creative outlet. The cards are kind of stack against me. I'm red-green color blind. I'm tone def. I can't seem to keep a beat. I do have good balance on two wheels, but when's the last time you heard someone say, "that was an inspired way to get down that singletrack today!"
I have a huge appreciation for human creativity and a tremendous amount of respect for artists. I don't always like their art, but I'm always inspired by their bravery. Actually, envious would describe it better. I'm envious by their ability to think beyond what they observe and to find beauty beneath the obvious. Moreover, I'm envious of their ability to deeply understand that beauty and to materialize it through their pieces in a way that helps others understand it as well.
Macs Make Anyone Feel Creative
I switched to Macs about six years ago. I had a really talented and inspirational designer friend, Lea, who "showed me the way". I was the typical PC guy that loved to tinker and solve problems. I didn't realize that I wasn't really using my computers as much as I was constantly fixing them. I finally decided to rid myself of the Microsoft plaque at home; a boycott prompted by the premature release of the Xbox 360. At that point, I had not decided if I was going to go the Linux or the OS X route.
Lea and I discussed the merits of Macs several times. She couldn't really break through to me. Largely because of the language barrier. We were both geeks, but very different kinds of geeks. She ended the discussion one day with a seemingly absurd yet wonderfully insightful comment.
"Dave, sometimes you just need to be surrounded by beautiful things." - Lea
Using a Mac made me feel more traditionally creative, but in all actuality I'm still not a very good photographer or videographer. However, my Mac did open me up to the wonderful world of design. Apple products are both wonderful examples of design as well as super conductors for creativity.
Software Design as Art
Early on in my career, I started to use really abstract terms in code reviews. I sounded more like an art critic to my peers than a software engineer. I would typically describe code as elegant, balanced, structured, aesthetically pleasing, and inspired. These intangible descriptions usually fell on def ears, and often lead me to think I was another wanker with a crappy computer science vocabulary. What I didn't realize, was that I was solidifying my early intuition that software design is a highly creative pursuit, especially if you pursue software design with as much passion as I did.
Computer Science is an amazing field since it's largely a made up affair. The realm in which our minds play is rarely observable (blinky LEDs maybe) and is always built upon previously invented constructs that are themselves recondite. They're always inspired by natural occurrences, but then they're distilled in order to be made useful. I mean, has anyone ever seen a B-Tree in nature. Fractals maybe, but not a fully-balanced B-Tree. And why would a dining philosophers needs so many forks to eat? Besides, who share's forks anyhow?
Why Software Design Is Important
I mentored an intern five years ago. I really liked the guy, but I was worried for him. Our company was in the middle of a heavy period of outsourcing. All of the typical entry level engineering jobs like testing, bug fixing, and even implementation was being sent overseas. What kind of work was I going to find for this guy if he accepted a position with us?
I spent a lot of time thinking about the perils of outsourcing. It was primarily a result of our labor-intensive waterfall software development process. We had too few efficient tools, and so we spent lots of engineering hours writing and rewriting documents in Microsoft Word and even Framemaker. We couldn't get anything done, but our army of overnight elves were making quick time of everything, albeit with a reduction in quality. I was even worrying about my own job to some degree.
I quickly realized though, that my domestic colleagues and I were still vital. We were far more creative and our innovation was unmatched. America's frontier mentality and self-reliance makes us extremely good entrepreneurs and very good software designers. This intern was no exception. I took him out for coffee one day, away from the cubicles and and fluorescent lights. We sat down in comfy chairs with other presumptuously creative types around us and discussed the merits of software design. I gave him case after case of poorly designed code leading to bugs, misunderstandings, and creating maintenance nightmares. We talked about software design working hand-in-hand with wonderful ui design.
Hopefully he took it to heart. I hope he's not hitting a roadblock in his current job and thinking of jumping off for an MBA with the hopes of landing a biz-dev job like so many of my other friends.
I was still on the fence about replacing my iPad with an iPad 2. I was honestly holding out for an Android tablet with a Qualcomm MSM8660 chip. When the iPad 2 was announced, I realized that the competition was once again set back by 9-12 months. At 4:15 pm I headed to the Best Buy in the Brier Creek area of North Raleigh, NC.
Best Buy Fail
This particular Best Buy is somewhat tucked away, so I figured the line wouldn't be horrible. When I walked in, there was a group of people off the the right and then a line through the center of the store. I figured the line was in two parts due to its length. I joined the line at about 15 deep, with another 20 or so in the first group ahead of us.
I guess I was mildly embarrassed to be in line for an iPad 2, so I didn't ask any blue-shirts for the status. Neither did anyone else. They just filed behind be, eventually growing in total number to around 60-70.
Blue-shirts came through the line exactly twice. The first time was to offer everyone a Best Buy credit card. The second time was at 5:15 pm. The forward line had been mulling about, but our line had not moved. The blue-shirt was letting us know that he "did not know how many iPads they had in stock", but that we could reserve one for $100 in the event that they ran out.
I decline the offer, but before he could walk away, I asked him what was taking so long. He said their procedure had some kinks, but things were moving now. They had "tickets" to pass out and... "Tickets?" I asked? We were not offered tickets. We had no idea what was going on. "So if we didn't get a ticket we are likely not getting an iPad?" I asked. He regretfully confirmed.
Apple Wouldn't Pull That
We walked out, shocked that Best Buy would keep us there in line without offering an explanation, only a credit card application. This is a dramatically different experience from my friends in the line at the Apple Store at South Point. We were exchanging tweets the whole time. When I told them that we were screwed, they took my order and picked one up for me. So yes I waited in line for an iPad 2, I just received it later that night at their place. Thank you, Jessica and Roger.
I'm a typical Gen X geek when it comes to news consumption. I get my news through online outlets only. Easily 3/4 of that news is through what I refer to as semi-pro blogs and the rest is through sites of traditional media companies. I don't read local newspapers, at all. I don't watch the news on television. I even eschew local radio for satellite radio (save for our local NPR affiliate on occasion). I subscribe to one magazine (Roadracing World)...and I'm riddled with guilt over the paper it's printed on.
Longing for the Old Days?
However, like many other Gen X'ers, I still fondly remember getting the comic section from my parents' Sunday paper and hiding away with it. I've spend many mornings sharing coffee and a doughnut with my grandmother over the morning paper. I'm pretty sure she still watches the local news too, and then promptly switches back to Fox News.
I have a morning routine myself, it just involves flying through my myriad RSS feeds and trying to consume as much as I can. I feel I have to stay on top of them to make sure I'm staying relevant amongst my geek cohorts. And even though these articles are merely byte-sized, I can't even seem to retain them. I'm constantly half quoting articles, that themselves only half cite their sources. How many times have you read an article that is effectively a layperson's weak attempt at drawing a popular conclusion from a scientific study that the scientists themselves refuse to reach conclusions about? It's sloppy, pseudo-journalism.
The Internet and mobile computing have made us more plugged-in than ever. This leads to a barrage of interruptions that has wrecked our attention spans; though you might argue that MTV started it. Or was it the remote control that allowed us to channel surf during commercials?
The constant connection and micro-attention spans ultimately mean one thing to publishers: There is no time that's more important than this very instant. They have to deliver their content quickly, and make that content just as quickly consumable.
Semi-pro blogs have mastered this. They publish numerous articles every hour of every day. They are short and often devoid of much human interpretation. A screenshot and a short quip is often all that's needed...oh and of course there's the requisite "[via JoesBlog via TechMunchismo via SomeGuysAss]".
I'm Not Saying Blogs Are Evil
In the defense of semi-pro blogs, the larger players are often staffed by journalists with traditional publishing experience. This has led to a great improvement in their practices and credibility. These blogs provide an undeniably great service too. Their light-weight style of journalism is efficient and somewhat reckless, but they're breaking stories and scooping the old guard. I think it's pretty amazing every time I see an article on a traditional news outlet that is reporting on stories that broke in blogs, and they're citing the blogs.
While I am being critical of semi-pro blogs, I'm not trying to paint them as some sort of scourge on civilization. What I am saying, is that I'm looking for deeper, slower, and slightly more responsible news reporting. I don't need to stay up-to-the-minute. Sometimes, I want a few more details, maybe some backstory. And I don't mean I want to search myself for all of the past blog posts on a topic. This is where I'm starting to miss a daily newspaper. They publish daily, and spend days, even weeks on articles. They go out and hit the streets, not just the tubes.
Enter The Daily
The Daily could be just the crutch that helps keep traditional, quality journalism alive. I read RSS feeds on my iPad every morning. I've tried a fews news apps, but none held my attention. So far, The Daily has good, deep writing, while still being a little brief to ensure that the issues holds your attention. The longer articles still hold your attention, because they mix in enough distractions such as slide-shows, in-page video, animated panoramic photos, and audio clips.
Their mixed-media approach works well to provide those said breaks, but they also enrich the experience. For instance, Friday's (Feb. 4, 2011) edition had an article on Egypt that talked about the surprising organization of the protesters. It talked about the how they maintained a central office, patrolled looking for Mubarak supporters ("thugs"), and were seemingly humanely interrogating them to gain intelligence on their movements. They even have a doctor on site to take care of their detainees. I'm sure that their interrogation practices are far from simple Q&A, but I was surprised at how well the protesters are focused on the public relations aspect of their efforts. They're quire careful to ensure that they're viewed as the good guys, not falling back on the harsh tactics that the secret police have reportedly used to subjugate suck unrest previously.
While that level of reporting was certainly deep, the thing that set this article apart was the embedded audio commentary from the reporter himself. The tone of his voice was enough to instantly discern the tone of his article and to remove any chance of misinterpreting the article. Furthermore, it provided an insight to the emotion of the situation and to the humanity of the protesters that was then reinforced through details in the article, such as their practice of protecting the detainees in the central office by using a human chain to shield against less civilized elements of the protests.
But Will I Subscribe
The first two weeks are free. I think I'll subscribe for another month or two after that, but the verdict is out whether or not I'll make the $40 yearly commitment. As much as I'm pulling for professional newspaper journalism to survive and morph into something more current, I'm a little worried about getting so much of my news from one source. I mean, Rupert's the same guy that owns Fox News after all.
What I really hope, is that The Daily's format is duplicated by other news outlets. Actually, I'd love to have a single, standards-based, newspaper reader app which can download issues from a variety of papers.