by Gary Charpentier
I was able to briefly sample both the Ridley Sport and Auto-Glide models a few days after the Twin City Ridley Grand Opening. PR-Man James Bono accompanied me on a perilous journey into rush-hour traffic on highway 61 near the dealership.
I’ve never sat on a motorcycle this low. Even the full-custom hard tail chopper I tested last year wasn’t this close to the ground. That makes for a certain level of uneasiness when you venture out into the bumper-to-bumper chaos of 18-wheelers and SUVs which make up our workday commute. But the funny thing about the little Ridley Sport is you don’t really have to worry about being seen. EVERYBODY was staring at me! I felt like a Shriner in search of a parade… (Where’s my Fez?) In no time at all, people were rolling down windows and yelling “Hey! What IS that thing?” Still, it was an eerie feeling to ride with my helmet at truck-bumper level.
Once we escaped onto the side streets, things calmed down considerably. It was here that I was able to test the usual parameters like acceleration and handling without the imminent threat of being squashed like a squirrel.
The Sport is a peppy little beast. Certainly not up to sport bike or even power-cruiser speed, but it won’t embarrass you in city traffic either. The seamless operation of the CVT allows the engine to rev up into its most efficient power band and stay there. This means that the motor begins making useful power immediately and the transmission converts that peak-torque to acceleration, pulling the very light chassis up to speed quite efficiently. This little bike was a real hoot on the side streets. Until it comes time to turn, that is…
The footboards on the Sport I tested were only a few inches off the pavement. Even leaning gently into a 90-degree corner caused the boards to scrape loudly, to the point where I had to run wide into the oncoming lane to avoid lifting the rigid rear end off the ground. This is too bad, because the 20-inch tires allow for some quick handling, much like a modern scooter. But, due to the lack of ground clearance, corners have to be taken with care on this little bike. Personally, I would hesitate to use it as daily transportation on busy streets. Many people have, however, and the Ridley Sport owners I’ve talked to are truly dedicated to these mini-machines.
The Auto-Glide, on the other hand, is a full-sized motorcycle. Although it didn’t garner the attention that the three-quarter scale Sport did, I felt quite a bit more comfortable on it in traffic.
Looking much like any number of modern cruisers from other brands, the Auto-Glide makes use of the same CVT as used in the Sport. The bike I tested had been subjected to demo-rides all weekend as part of the Grand Opening celebration, and the CVT belt was a bit loose. This caused acceleration to be jerky, alarmingly so. We cut my test ride short that day and decided to try again after the belt had been replaced.
When the bike was ready, Mr. Bono delivered it to the parking lot at my day job and I spent my lunch hour testing it on both the highway and busy suburban thoroughfares around Plymouth. Although much improved from my previous ride, there was still a bit of lunging during hard acceleration. I believe this is due to the extra power from the larger 740cc engine and the heavier weight of the Auto-Glides’ chassis. To be fair, the lunging only occurred when I opened the throttle to the stop. It was quite smooth under “reasonable” acceleration. These are not drag racers, after all, but stylish cruisers for the shiftless.
Ground clearance was better than on the Sport, again comparable to mass-produced cruisers currently on the market. Handling was also standard cruiser fare. The throttle action on both these bikes was heavy, and I found out that this is intended to discourage “blipping” of the throttle. It occurred to me that this might be a bit of a problem for cruiser enthusiasts for whom throttle blipping is a major part of their motorcycling experience. Whether part of the massive crowds in Daytona or Sturgis, or just sitting at a stoplight in a one-horse town, twisting the grip for that gratifying “RUMBAAAAAAHHHH…” noise is what these people live for. If they do that on the automatic Ridleys, they will lurch forward into the back of the bike ahead of them or into the cages going by in the cross traffic. Not a pretty scenario.
For 2004, Ridley is replacing the Sport with the Speedster and the Speedster RD in the three-quarter-scale slot. The Auto-Glide is back with an upgraded “Type II RVT” automatic transmission. I haven’t ridden this bike yet, but the Ridley folks tell me that the lunging problem I encountered in the road test has been alleviated.
The biggest news for 2004, however, is the introduction of the X-Glide 88M. This is a Harley Davidson Twin-Cam 88 motor with a five-speed manual transmission in a hand-built Ridley Chassis. If one likes the look and quality of the automatic bikes, but prefers the traditional manual transmission, this might be just the high-dollar ticket. (MSRP: $25,050). It is positioned to compete with other Harley or HD-clone customs out there, giving the Ridley rider a license to blip.
For someone who wants or needs an automatic motorcycle, Ridley offers a stylish ride with excellent build quality. That quality comes at a price, however, and Ridley will face some stiff competition in this crowded market sector. The RVT Type II might just be their ace in the hole. All the folks I met at the dealership share Clay Ridley’s enthusiasm for the marquee, and an almost evangelical belief in the quality of their product. I wish them well. Twin City Ridley can be reached at 651.765.9988 or see more at www.twincityridley.com.