Distracted Rider Awareness Month

Distracted Ride Awareness Month

April is national distracted driver awareness month, which you’d know if you didn’t spend so much time on your phone…  Anyway, let us counter steer away from that to think for a bit about – distracted riders.

As motorcyclists, we are all used to keeping a swiveling head and sharp eyes on the lookout for distracted drivers.  The parent dealing with kids, the careless person about the make a left turn or lane change, the ditz reading the paper or drinking coffee or shaving, and the masses ignoring the laws and statistics about texting while driving.  They’re all out there all the time.  Your eyes and alertness are your only defense, assisted by your fingers at the ready on the brake lever and, if needed, the likelihood that you can probably out-accelerate the perpetrator.

I once avoided an accident by noticing the driver’s shoulder begin to flex as he began a lane change.  I am sure you have similar stories if you’ve been riding for any length of time.

Things have become an exponentially worse in recent years as cars add more and more control options, many of which can be accessed on the fly.  Even my VW Tiguan has more choices to make than I’m happy with, and one of my reasons for purchase was that it had less than many competitors.  I can scroll through many screen options, adjust the mirrors for angle and heat, set the wipers for intermittent or full on – front and rear, move the seat in several directions, adjust the heat on each side of the car, radio or CD, or the nav system showing, and on and on.

As technology hurtles us toward the debatable benefits of autonomous vehicles, distractions will only increase. My brother in law has a company car that speeds up and slows down by itself on the freeway while maintaining a safe distance to the vehicle in front. It also can parallel park itself. He has already noticed that his driving skills are atrophying. He no longer has to be aware of what he is doing a pretty good percentage of the time, and no longer has to know how to parallel park. Skills that are not practiced evanesce, and may take related skills with them.

But what about us?

Distractions for motorcycle riders can come from two sources. One is ourselves, and these days the other is our own motorcycle. 

A few decades ago, a motorcycle was pretty simple and offered few if any distractions. My first motorcycle was a Yamaha YDS-3.  It had a 250cc engine, clutch and brake levers, and shift and brake pedals. The instrument cluster told you what speed you had attained, more or less, and the rpm of the engine.  That was it.  There were not even turn signals on a 1965 Yamaha.  I used to wear white leather handball gloves at night. Not much for protection, but more easily seen when I stuck my left hand out or up to signal a turn.

Contrast that to today.  Have you looked at the controls layout of a modern luxury tourer, for example?  The display of buttons on a recent Honda Goldwing looks like the flight panel of a jet passenger plane.  I was working at a BMW dealership when the first BMW 6 cylinder tourer came in.  We had a customer demo ride the next day. The owner told me that I could ride it, and so could the salesman going along (just to start the break-in process), but we should not let customers sample the excellence of the bike because he did not want any customer to ride it before having a 15 minute talk by a trained salesperson on how the myriad of options and controls could be understood and tailored to taste.  I always thought it was amusing that he did not seem concerned about the salesman or me riding the bike, as we knew nothing more about it than the customers.

Even a motorcycle as simple as either of my two Triumphs offers a lot of distractions. There are multiple screens on the instruments I can stroll through.  I can set the engine parameters on the Bonneville for road or rain, and on the Thruxton for road, rain, or sport.  The Bonneville also has three levels of heated grips accessed by a small button that you have to look at to locate.  I can also turn off the ABS, or access the four way flashers.  And these bikes are simple!

However, the real distractions are now to be found on the handlebars or in the rider’s head, assuming he or she is wearing a helmet. If the rider is not wearing a helmet, she or he is probably not reading this.

You can now purchase a helmet that will allow you to talk to another rider, accept and maintain a phone call, or listen to music.  And more! On the handlebars you can mount your phone or other device with GPS, or perhaps the motorcycle has that in the instrument panel.  All of these can be distractions, and all of them can and occasionally do lead to disaster.

I was working at a large multi-make dealership when GPS units that could be mounted on the handlebars became available. I recall at least three customers who crashed because they were looking at the GPS instead of where they were going.

Music systems are even worse, for a few reasons.  In this state (Washington), the use of one ear bud is legal, but two is not.  What minion of the law can check for that under the rider’s helmet?

When the first BMW S 1000RR came out, customers could take the demo bike I had broken in out for a test ride, but only with me leading them on a second bike.  I had two or three routes I could use, and in the first few miles I made the choice of route based on what I was seeing in the rear view mirror. 

One customer asked if we could stop so he could use a bathroom. No problem. In the parking lot of the gas station he pulled off his helmet and pulled the two ear buds out of his ears.  He was riding a brand new motorcycle with more power than he had ever experienced while listening to music.  I tried not to stare as he explained to me that he knew I worked for the dealership and had to be reasonable, but it would be OK with him if I picked up the speed.   He went into the bathroom as I tried to keep the smoke from venting out of my ears. To get that far we had ridden ten miles up a freeway known as a daily hunting ground for state patrol officers looking to hand out “performance riding awards.”  How much faster could I have gone?

As we resumed riding I gave myself a stern lecture to not try to run away from this guy on the R 1100 R I was riding, as crashing because this guy had gotten to my ego was too horrid to contemplate.  We got to the one twisty road I had decided to allow this clown to experience. Usually deserted, it had several nice corners, and ran steeply uphill, which reduced the chances of an incident.  To allow him some space to enjoy the S 1000RR I accelerated with gusto up the hill and arced through several corners.   At the top I looked in the mirrors and was frightened that he was not there.   No worries, he was simply about 30 seconds behind me.  On a motorcycle with over twice the power, better brakes, and etc.

Idling through suburban traffic on the way back to the freeway, we paused at a stop light. He turned to me and said “Wow, this is kind of snatchy in stop and go traffic, isn’t it?”

“What mode do you have the engine set to?”

“Race.”

Once back at the dealership, I took the time to look at the bike he’s parked in the lot. A clapped out Suzuki GSXR that had been crashed a few times and taped back together, and a rear tire that was bald except in the middle.  Where the cord was.

After that learning experience I always tried to check out the customer’s own motorcycle before the ride.

Now for the best distracted rider story ever! I knew a fellow who was riding a dirt goat track on his BMW GS.  He pulled over for a drink of water and a rest.  A friend of his slid to a stop next to him on another GS and asked if he wanted to ride together. The first guy could tell that the friend had been riding a lot faster, so he declined and urged his friend to go on ahead. He roared off into the distance.   A few miles later the guy was sitting on a rock by the side of the trail.  His BMW lay on its side, oil spewing from a hole in the crankcase. His helmet was off and the ear buds straggled down his chest.

“Highway to Hell?”

“How did you know?”

The problem with street rides is similar.  You’re bombing along a winding back road, listening to your favorite music. By golly, the road seems to be in the same rhythm as the song as you speed along. However, what you fail to realize is that the engineers who laid out the road were – not listening to the same song!  Suddenly, a tight hairpin occurs where it should not be, as it does not fit the music in your head.  Your entry is too fast because you’re distracted by that great song, and a curve should not have appeared.  But it did, and now you are going to pay for your folly.

Another way to look at this is to imagine you get the opportunity to bat against a really top-level pitcher, either baseball or fast pitch softball.  If it is baseball, the pitcher will be 90 feet away and the ball will come at you at 90mph per hour or more. If it is in the strike zone you should hit it. If not, let it go. If it is at your head, you should duck.  You have a fraction of a second to decide. If it is fast pitch, the ball will be bigger, but it is arriving from only 60 feet away.  Worse, it is released down by the pitcher’s knee, and will appear to be rising and heading right for your face.  Same drill – decide to swing, let it go, or get out of the way. In this example, or in any other sport you can think of that involves speed and reaction, would you be wearing an earbud and listening to music?

An athlete who intends to succeed wants to have every advantage to increase her or his level of performance.  That is how you win.  Riding a motorcycle is an athletic activity that may call upon your sight or hearing or muscles or reflexes or a combination of several of these.  At any moment.  Do you want to win the ride?  Why would you give away any of the human capabilities you might need?

As for all the other things that you can stream into your helmet, I have never understood why you would want them.    One of the joys of riding for me is that there are no phone calls, no e-mails, and no reminders of meetings.  Just the ride.  As for GPS, when you’re taking a break at a rest stop, go ahead and check things out.  But en route, let yourself relax and see what you can see.  I have never made a wrong turn and gotten lost on a ride that did not turn out to improve the ride at the end of the day.  Ever.

I wrote a column for a magazine article a long time ago railing against the use of GPS on a motorcycle.  There was some negative response, as you might imagine, but then I got an e-mail from an Army combat helicopter pilot who agreed with me. He explained that he had started his career in Cobra gunship helicopters, which did not have GPS.  (They are also one of the most frightening things ever created, to my mind.) He was proud of his ability to fly a complex route and arrive “on station” at the assigned time.  Now he and all the younger pilots were using Apache helicopters with full GPS and a lot more. His younger colleagues were quite used to bombing along at a high rate of speed just a few feet above the ground, as the technology would take care of the helicopter. Worse, he could feel his ability to know where he was and where he was going eroding, because there was much less reason to look around.

You have a certain innate ability to know where you are and to formulate a good idea of where you are going.  Why let that atrophy?

 If you look in Wikipedia under ‘motorcycle safety’ you’ll find a quote by me.   “When the helmet drops the bullshit stops.”   I think I did originate that, but I can’t be sure.  I used it in a book, so therefore it is mine.  Evidently.  You need to leave behind all of your daily cares, worries, petty arguments, bills, life concerns, etc. I just looked for the quote and could not find it, so perhaps it was removed for inappropriate language.  Still holds true, however.

At the end of the day you are riding along on a great road. You’re enjoying the meshed capabilities of two wondrously complex devices – a motorcycle and your own body.  Your brain and nose and ears and reflexes and sense of touch are fully engaged, and you are using both of your hands and feet separately and together in a wonderful ballet of coordination.   You can smell your surroundings while your eyes keep transitioning to new views of the road and scenery, and your brain is spinning with calculations of grip and cornering angle and speed and brakes.  Your ears are taking in the rush of wind and the melody of the engine.

That is enough.

Copyright 2018                    David Preston

 

Posted in Education, Equipment, Motorcycles | 6 Comments

How to Be Comfortable on Your Motorcycle

How to Be Comfortable on Your Motorcycle

I’ve seen a lot of discussions lately about the pros and cons of changing out the stock seat on a motorcycle and replacing it with an aftermarket item.  One thing missing in these discussions is that in most cases it is not the seat of the motorcycle that is the problem.  It is yours.

There are exceptions to any rule, and sometimes an aftermarket seat can make all the difference.  There’s a man I know in my area who has been making custom seats for decades, and he is evidently very, very, good. The product is expensive, and may take a day or more, but you end up with a saddle made to fit your own personal derriere and your usual riding style,

I digress.  Cue the usual caveats: I am not a doctor, not an expert in any of the topics that follow, your results may vary, and all that sort of thing. The following may be worth exactly what you are paying for it.

I’ve been riding for 50 years and have experienced over 500 different motorcycles. In my experience, the problem with seat discomfort can usually be traced to problems with the seat of the rider.  In other words, get thee hence to a gym. 

I have lived this. In the year 2000 I was hired to work for a large multi-make dealership as the customer relations person – a job I invented.  I did lots of e-mail (which was becoming a thing way back then); organized store events, wrote newsletters, attended lots of off-site club rides and races and so on, and led customers on rides. A lot of them.  I usually rode a used bike that matched the event, and took home a different used bike almost every day for “staff development.”   I also did the break-in mileage on a couple of dozen new Harleys destined for rental duty, at 500 miles a pop.  It was, for me, pretty much the ideal job, but then again I invented it so it should have been.

Prior to my first day, it occurred to me that if I were going to be riding lots of different bikes in all sorts of circumstances, being in better shape would be a good idea.  My here and there visits to my local YMCA ramped up to now, where I go four days a week – two “light” days that involve weights and walking, and two days where added to that is an hour long class called “Essentrics,” which leaves me exhausted.

The benefits have been obvious.  My usual ride is a 2016 Triumph Bonneville, and during a 400-500 mile day there is certainly some discomfort, but easily bearable.  The gym has also made it much easier to rotate my body into turns and keep my head on a swivel, and these things become even more important as you age.  I just turned 71.

Again, I am not a physical fitness pro, or kinesiologist, or anything of the sort.  The computer you are reading this on can lead you to all sorts of recommendations for what exercises to do, how to do them, when to do them, and so on.   Here is what must of them fail to cover:  you need to want to do it.

HOW TO WANT TO WORK OUT

Some folks invest in gym equipment in their home and do just fine.  That did not work for me.  I had a rowing machine that sat under the bed, some weights that kept the house from blowing away, and other items. I learned that I needed to go to a facility meant for exercise.

For most, that means joining a gym or club.  There are many of them to choose from if you live in a more than sparsely populated area, and you want to visit one or two.  There’s a club down the street from the YMCA I go to, for example, and one of my friends checked it out. He did not like it at all, because everyone he saw was working out with earbuds installed. Nobody made eye contact, and nobody spoke to each other. You might like that. He did not. Nor would I.

If you find a place that seems like a good fit for you, then you need to find a consistent schedule to follow.  If you go to the same place at the same time on the same days of the week, in a short time you will have “work-out” friends that you may not see anywhere else. 

There seems to be a difference between sexes here. Women will begin to talk to each other on about the 3rd occasion, whereas men take a lot longer. For men there may be a nod or two of recognition after a few times.  Eventually, conversations will start with something like “Hey.”  In time, someone will ask a question, and relationships grow.

We now have established the YMCA as a social occasion that involves physical exertion.  Names are usually first only, and the usual crew includes “original Bob” and “ski Bob” and “Dick” and “Steve.”  That sort of thing.  The women include “Mickey,”  “older Paula,”  “younger Paula,”  “Lori,” you get the idea.  Occasionally one of the women will invite everyone over for a mid-morning coffee and goodies get -together for those who do not need to be at work.

Now our YMCA efforts include friends, and I would miss them if I did not go.  More reason to go! The same will work for you.

Your schedule will dictate when you can do this, and not all times are the same.  For a while, while I was still teaching school I tried to work out after school.   My home was eight blocks past where I would turn to drive two miles to the YMCA, and often my car would not make the turn.  If I was on my motorcycle, I would need to ride home, take off my gear, and then get in the car and leave. That did not work very well.  We also tried working out in the evening, but by then you are… tired.

Working out in the morning has the bonus of getting all of your systems working and fluids flowing, and you will notice it the rest of your day.

You may need to make a sacrifice, and it will probably involve less TV.  When we were both working we needed to be at the YMCA at 5am (when it opens) to be able to have a work out before trundling off to our jobs.  I wanted to shower and eat before working out, so the alarm was set for 4am.  It is amazing how little of importance happens after 8pm at night.

HOW TO WORK OUT

Again, tons or research and good advice is available to you, but in my experience, the most important part of your work out is completed before your first exercise.   To wit: you got there.  

If you are new, and walk into a room with all sorts of machines, it does not really matter very much which machines you use, how many reps you can perform, or what weight you select.  Anything you can handle will work.  Lighter weight and more reps should be your guide.  After a few visits you will begin to learn by watching others how some of the pieces of equipment work, and you can add an exercise or two.  Once conversations have begun with some of your regulars, people will offer suggestions. Sometimes one of the personal trainers on staff will not be able to resist giving you a tip about body posture for a certain exercise, even though you are not a paying client.  Of course, if you can afford it, a few sessions with one of these trainers would be an excellent idea.

RESULTS

If you can make the first few steps the rest is easy.  You have to decide you want to do this, find a place where you feel comfortable, find a time slot that will work for you, and establish a consistent pattern.  At first, nothing will happen, but over a few weeks you will notice changes.  Perhaps bending over is easier than you remembered.  You pull on a shirt and notice that it fits differently.  You ride your motorcycle and notice that you are swiveling your head and body more, and at the end of the day you are less tired and possibly not tired at all.

Stuff I left out:

Obviously, the motorcycle you ride and how far you ride in a day are factors. On a Honda Goldwing you will probably feel better at the end of a long day than your friend on a 600cc sport bike.  My other bike is a Triumph Thruxton, and although I love it, a long tour is not really what it was made for. However, you can tour on virtually anything with some forethought and planning.  My first long trips were on a Yamaha 250 and then a Honda 450 Street Scrambler, so if you want to tour on the bike you own – go for it.

Equally obvious, the ergonomics of your motorcycle are key. I assume the bars are at a good height for you, the levers adjusted for angle and finger span, and so forth.

Last but not least: Your weight is not the end goal.  If you are quite rotund, you will lose weight for sure. But muscle weighs more than fat, so at a certain point (for me that seems to be 225 pounds) your weight will tend to remain the same or decline with glacial slowness, but each month you will feel and look better.

Summer riding is coming – get off your butt and get ready!
Copyright 2018                                                   David Preston

Posted in Education, Motorcycles | 3 Comments

What I Have In Common With the USA Women’s Olympic Hockey Team

What I Have In Common With the USA Women’s Olympic Hockey Team

 

Today is an exciting day if you watched the final game of the women’s hockey tournament at the Winter Olympics.  The USA women won the gold medal in an exciting shoot out after the game ended in a tie in regulation.   Full respect to the Canadian women.  Canada won the last four Olympic Gold Medals and could easily have won this one. 

So what do I have in common with the US women’s team?

Not much, you might say…but no!  First of all, six of the women on the team attended the University of Minnesota and played hockey there. So did I.  They won the gold medal in a shootout.  I won a game in college the same way.

After that the comparisons dim a bit, but let us review. 

In high school I played a lot of hockey on the weekends, because I was not good enough to play for the school team. No shame there, as high school hockey in Minnesota sets a high standard of excellence.

In college I played on an intramural team.  The intramural games were played on the same ice in the same arena where the Gopher varsity men played their games. I attended almost all of them, watching people with skills I could only dream of possessing.  (There were no women’s hockey games in those days)  On one occasion I turned down an invitation to be part of an exhibition of Frisbee skills at halftime of a Gopher basketball game because I would need to miss the hockey game next door at the same time.

Playing hockey on the same ice as the varsity, with goalies in full gear and real referees, was a great thrill for someone of my skill level.

I have only two memories of the games. The first is that when I started student teaching I was suddenly racking up the most penalty minutes of anyone on my team.  In truth, intramural games were not meant to be violent, so you did not have to commit much violence to earn time in the penalty box. Still, I did some things that had even my own teammates looking at me and saying “What is wrong with you?”  I did not know at the time how stressful my student teaching experience was.   Another story, but it had little to do with the students.

The other memory is the overtime shootout after one game.  In intramurals, the rules called for three players from each team to take turns going “one on none” against the other team’s goalie.  If those six attempts did not determine a winner, you did it again with three different players from each team.  If no result then, the game was simply declared a tie, because ice time was precious and the next game needed to start.

I was not one of the three best players on my team. In fact, I was adjudged to be the 6th.  When it came to me the score was still tied 1 to 1.  If I scored, we would win. If not, the game was over and it would be a tie.

As I skated to center ice to await the referee dropping the puck, I was aware that a large crowd had gathered.  The two teams and friends who were watching my game had been joined by the teams and friends awaiting the next game.   The ice surface was huge, and glowed in the powerful lights.  The referee dropped the puck and waved me forward and now I was skating toward the goalie.

If you have seen the winning shot for the USA women, it is exactly what I did not want to do.  The woman skated in, faked one way, and then the other, and then back again, moving the puck and her legs from side to side in a dizzying cadence, and then tucked puck off her stick and into the net behind the goalie.  I knew that if I tried something like that I would probably simply lose the puck during one of the maneuvers or make an ass of myself in any of a couple of dozen other ways.

Instead, I decided to skate to about 20 feet in front of the goalie and let loose with a slap shot. If it went in, fine. If the goalie stopped it I would at least not look like a total fool.

I swooped toward the goalie, and wound up for a mighty slap shot, I swung the stick in a big arc down to the sliding puck – and totally missed it.

I’d done exactly what I’d wanted to avoid. What an idiot! As feelings of shame began to crush my soul, my adrenaline-fueled brain realized I had not actually taken a shot.  You are allowed one shot, and I had not touched the puck at all. In panic, I swiped at the puck with my stick, and my actual “shot” slid toward the goal with all of the speed of a Zamboni surfacing the ice.

My whiffed shot had been so close that the goalie had reacted to it, moving his stick and body toward where he calculated the puck would go. He was still moving that way, and his stick was tipped back a bit. The puck hit his stick, popped up and over, almost in slow motion, and went in the goal.  We had won!

There was a huge pig pile on the ice, and I could hear the applause of the crowd. The goalie was smashing his stick on the ice in frustration. My teammates all thought I had done the greatest fake slap shot ever, and so did everyone else in the arena.  I kept my mouth shut. (For once!)

There were only two people who knew what had happened. Me, and I think the goalie.

Congratulations to the USA Women’s Hockey team, and thank you for reviving a cherished memory.

 

Copyright 2018                       David Preston

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Another shot at gun control

Another shot at gun control

I know, a terrible pun, but laughing is better than sobbing.  The best idea below is not mine,  but I do not remember where I read it.  In any case, since any mention of gun control seems to send gun enthusiasts into paroxysms of dismay (to put it mildly), perhaps we can do this another way.   It would take three steps.

  1. Elect representatives and senators who are not owned by the NRA. This would be the most difficult part, but perhaps the massive surge in school shootings where the perpetrator used an AR 15 assault rifle (or similar) will create voter outrage when the amounts a candidate received from the NRA are made public.  Those amounts are coming out now, and the numbers are eye-opening.

 

  1. Have the newly elected representatives come up with a new category definition: “weapons of war.”   This would no longer be considered “arms,” as in the right to keep and bear yadayadayada, but would be defined according to their original design intent – war.  Target shooters and hunters (both of which groups deserve to exist and have a long history of fine behavior in the main) do not need a weapon capable or expelling tens or hundreds of bullets at a time. 

 

It would not be enough to simply specify particular weapons by name, such as AR-15, because weapons manufacturers would simply design a new model in search of more profit.  Instead, the definition would have to include a performance standard. I would leave that to people with more gun expertise than I (which would include most) but perhaps a limit of 5 rounds per minute would be a place to start.  If you are a target shooter, is a shot every 12 seconds enough?   If you are a hunter, would the inability to hit your target in 5 shots indicate you might need a new hobby?

 

  1. Banning the sale of such weapons would not solve the problem, of course, as there are hundreds of thousands of them already in existence. But it would be a start.  Once the sale is banned, there might be a change of opinion among the mass public and such weapons might soon be seen as not the cool thing to have.

 

Back when people began talking of banning cigarettes it was thought to be impossible.  People smoked in their offices (I was one of them), in restaurants, on planes, and pretty much everywhere.   Look around you today.

It can be done. The journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.

 

Copyright 2018           David Preston

 

Posted in Education, Equipment, Rants and Raves | 1 Comment

Motorcycles and Hot Rods in Canada in late June

Motorcycles and Canadian Hot Rods in Late June – a 4 day adventure.

This will be a lovely ride starting Friday, June 22nd, and ending on Monday, June 25th.  You might note that the distances are pretty reasonable for a motorcycle ride. This is because I plan to stop frequently to soak in the beauty of Canada and the pleasant people.  In addition, there will be an indefinite amount of time spent at the Peach City hot rod show and at each of the two border crossings.  

At present, two of the friends who would go cannot make it this particular weekend, and it needs to be on this weekend because that it when the hot rod show is. I noticed last year’s version on a “My Classic Car” TV show and the quality and quantity of the cars on display impressed, as did the venue. Long rows of lustworthy vehicles of all descriptions on a winding road at the shore of Lake Penticton.  Lovely.

I can do this trip alone, of course, but having two or three people along would be even better.  I will make motel reservations in a couple of months when I have an idea of what friends are going. Could one of them be you? 

Friday, June 22nd

7am Brekkie (Crystal Creek Café) and then leave at 8:15am

I-405 to I-5 to Smokey Point Rest stop                                               30 miles

I-5 to 530 to Arlington to Rockport                                                     70 miles

SR 20 to Marblemount (fuel)                                                                15 miles

SR 20 to Winthrop, Twisp, (fuel, lunch)                                        100 miles

SR 20 to Okanagon                                                                                   39 miles

To Oroville        (fuel)                                                                                54 miles     

                                                                    total:308 miles

 Motel in Oroville

Saturday, June 23rd

US 97 to border                                                                                      8 miles

97 Osoyoos to Peachland                                                                 53 miles

A few hours at a Hot Rod Show

To Kelowna on 97                                                                              10 miles

South on 33 to Hiway 3                (fuel) `                                       76 miles

East on 3 to Castlegar                                                                    100 miles

South to 26 to the US Border                                                      26 miles

South on 25 to Kettle Falls                   (fuel)                             36 miles            

total:   303 miles

          Motel in Kettle Falls                                                           

 

 

Sunday, June 24th

West to Republic on US 20  `                                                      43 miles

South on 21 from Republic for about                                       50 miles

West (right) on Cache Creek Road                                             25 miles    (fuel)

South (left) on 155 to Grand Coulee                                          20 miles

WEST on 174  (then 17) to Pateros                                             58 miles

NORTH on 153 to Twisp                                                                31 miles   

total:    226 miles

 Motel in Twisp

Monday, June 25th

To     Winthrop                      (brekkie, fuel)                              15 miles

To     Marblemount (fuel)                                                          130 miles

To home                                                                                           115 miles 

Total:  260 miles

 

Posted in Motorcycles, Travel | 7 Comments

The Retro Mod Motorcyclist

The Retro Mod Motorcyclist

This essay takes several disparate jumps, so those looking for smooth segues between paragraphs will be disappointed. However, it will all come together at the end.

I think.

I’m a motorcycle enthusiast, but also a car nut. My passions have always run far ahead of my budget, alas, but I have fun imagining what I’d purchase, if only…

One of my side interests, pursued through print media and televised car auctions, is the field of “retro-mod” cars.  The general idea here is to take a classic car (however you chose to define that nebulous term) and retain the overall body shape while updating everything underneath. For a long time I lusted after a retro-mod ’67 to ’69 Chevrolet Camaro. With a modern LS3 or other engine, new suspension and much better brakes, a 5 or 6 speed transmission, and modern semi-racing seats, you end up with the performance of a modern Corvette, or much more, and the fantastic looks of the original Camaro.

However, there’ve been so many of them in recent years that I’ve become jaded, and my wandering eyes have turned to unusual retro-mods instead.  At a recent auction there was a ’54 Nash Rambler station wagon that had been resto-modded with all the bells and whistles. It was a delight, and sold for $29,000, which had to be a pittance compared to the likely build cost.

I was attracted to it because my mother drove my two brothers and me from Buffalo, New York to our new home in Minneapolis (Dad had gone ahead). Imagine the courage of a woman driving alone for two days with three boys aged 11, 10, and 6 (me) in 1953!

I had my first ride on a motorcycle in 1962, at the age of 15. My older brother’s friend gave me a very intelligent introduction to motorcycles. He explained how they turned and told me what I was to do before we got on.  We set off on his Yamaha 250 and went for about a 15 minute ride, and my life was changed forever. Without even holding the controls sitting on the front seat, I knew that riding motorcycles was what I was supposed to do.  I announced this startling epiphany to my parents, who were notably unimpressed. In high school, copies of early Cycle World magazines were passed from one goggled-eyed friend to another, treated as if they were precious religious texts.

What first grabbed my eager eyes were pictures of café racers from England.  Triumphs, Nortons, “Norvins,” and others with lowered handlebars and loud exhausts. The riders wore black leather jackets with long socks peeking out over the top of their tall black boots. Oh my – that was what I wanted!

I lacked a few things, like a motorcycle, any experience, any gear, and the permission of my parents, but my enthusiasm burned – for several years.

Eventually salvation arrived when I was 20, in the form of a 1965 Yamaha TDS 3.

In college I came across a friend’s rental house.  Jerry had been my lab partner in high school chemistry, the starting guard on the basketball team that won the state championship (that I was cut from and deservedly so) and had married the best looking cheerleader.  There in the driveway sat a brand new yellow and white Bonneville, and I’ve never been so consumed by raw jealousy. Forty years later I learned that the bike had been stolen after two weeks of ownership and never recovered.  He had divorced the woman a few years later.  Life is odd.

I rode the Yamaha every chance I got, including a ride to Seattle and back. Remember Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance by Robert Pirsig? He did his ride in 1969, and I had taken the very same route to Seattle a year earlier, including the exact same campgrounds.  Motorcycles provided the impetus to seek a teaching job far from the snows of Minneapolis. 

I moved to the Seattle area in the spring of 1969 to begin my teaching career, and threw the Yamaha into a ditch at 60mph three days after I arrived!  That was the first and only serious crash I’ve suffered in 50 years and several hundred thousand miles.

The separated shoulder healed, and I purchased a 1969 Honda 450 Street Scrambler. That fall the TV show “Then Came Bronson” debuted, and every week all of my serious life choices were confirmed. A lone guy out on the road on his bike. I had done that, despite a lot of people telling me it was nutso, and I would do it again. And again.

By 1973 I was married and had a brand new Honda 500 4.  Susan purchased a gift for my birthday. The book was titled Café Racers (still have it), and I read it and pored over the pictures repeatedly.

In 1977 I purchased a new Yamaha 750 triple, which I rode for the next 22 years. I “café’d” it a bit, with lower and narrower bars off a Norton, a BMW R90s clone mini fairing,  K&N filters, and such.  Sort of a “gentleman’s express.”

Fast forward to today, where retro-mods are the current fashion among motorcycle manufacturers and, to a lesser degree, car manufacturers.  Cars are more restricted by ever changing safety and emissions standards, so the current offerings, such as the Camaro, Mustang, and Challenger, pay homage to the originals while not coming all that close to them. Except in performance, where they are vastly superior.

As motorcycle sales have plummeted in the past decade (insert your analysis of why here), motorcycle manufacturers have begun to turn to the past to try and mine sales from their heritage.  Harley-Davidson has been doing this for decades or course, but Triumph has probably been the most successful in recreating almost exactly “the look” from 50 or 60 years ago. The “new” Triumph Bonneville of 2001 was a good attempt and sold well for years, but an upward kink in the exhaust pipes drove the true believers to distraction.

I purchased the re-designed Triumph Bonneville T 120, now with a 1200cc engine, in 2016.  It was so similar to the Bonnevilles of the late 1960s that when I first saw one on the dealer floor I was not sure it was not a recent restoration of an original. This thought was shared by my friend standing next to me, who had actually owned a restored 1969 model for years. It was amazing.  When I parked it next to a friend’s 1973 a few weeks later we were stunned to see how closely they resembled each other.  His was an air-cooled 650cc.   The 1200 has water cooled cylinder heads, which means the cooling fins can be made much smaller, so the engine appear to be the same size, even though mine cranks out almost twice the power.

Then, as you read previously, I came into possession of a 2016 Triumph 1200 Thruxton, sold just two months after I purchased mine, from the same dealer.  Now I had two Triumphs, and life was excellent. 

One day I noticed a classic “Marlon Brando” style black leather jacket hanging on the gear rack in the garage. It had been given to me by a friend who had picked it up at a garage sale. He already had an identical jacket, and was unable to find anyone in his vintage motorcycle club who wanted or needed one.  His instructions to me were to use my contacts to try and sell it, and then donate the money to Riders for Health. I tried several times without success. On this day I took it down and noticed that if you folded the “bat wings” back it made a perfect 1960’s era café racer jacket.  I wore it last weekend for a ride on the Thruxton that turned out to be much colder than anticipated, and it worked a treat.  I’d already taken care of donating money to the charity, so I asked my friend if I could repay him for his initial cost. This morning I bought his breakfast, so we’re good!

Now I have two motorcycles that are retro-mods.  Both have much more power, better brakes, and better handling than their progenitors from the 1960’s, and vastly improved reliability.

In addition, I’m sort of a “retro-mod” myself. A scary medical situation due to an infection in my spine (! Source never identified) took 8 weeks of almost equally scary medications to cure – 4 hours a day of mysterious and almost as dangerous antibiotics drained into my arm through a port installed for the purpose. During this trauma I was tested for everything under the sun, and emerged with a clean bill of health. With renewed motivation, the frequency and rigor of gym workouts increased, and I’m now stronger and in better shape than at any point in about 40 years.  True, I no longer have the rugged good looks of youth, but I didn’t have them in my youth either.

I can now go for a long ride to the past of several days duration on the Bonneville, summoning the mind set of Bronson, or a day ride on the Thruxton – and I am a “rocker” from the 1960’s.  Except for the helmet, as I am wedded to the comfort and protection of my modern Arai.

I recently learned that Michael Parkes (Bronson) had evidently asked the producers if the character could ride a Triumph Bonneville rather than the Harley Sportster used, and was denied. Perfect!

This is actually a lot better than a mental return to a youthful past. It is a functioning return to a youthful past that I yearned for that never existed!

As Bronson said, “Hang in there.”

This picture – the Retro Mod Motorcyclist

We site header picture –  the motorcyclist emulates Bronson

Copyright 2018            David Preston

Posted in Cars, Equipment, Marketing, Motorcycles | 2 Comments

Triumph Bonneville vs. Triumph Thruxton

Bonneville vs. Thruxton

If you read the last post, you know that I recently became the owner of a 2016 Triumph Thruxton that now cozies up to the 2016 Triumph T120 Bonneville in my garage.  It was a strange series of unlikely events that landed me this wonderful way to begin 2018. Since that post I have also, through the extra mile effort of the car dealer that sold me the bike, obtained the initial purchase documents, the owner’s manual, the spare ignition key, and even the nifty little fabric documents case from Triumph. This was significant because the keys are chipped and a second key would be pricey. A six pack of quality beer to the car dealer squared that favor.

When I went to pick up the bike from Triumph of Seattle last week, after an extensive warranty repair for a faulty cylinder head, I assumed the riding experience would be similar to my Bonneville. After all, both bikes have the same engine architecture and displacement, although the Thruxton is in a higher state of tune.  They have the same front forks and rear shocks, although I’d added a set of shocks from the Thruxton R to mine.  Very similar instruments and identical fuel tank capacity, and take the same fuel.  Both have ABS brakes; twin front discs and a single rear, although the rear disc on the Thruxton is smaller.

So I assumed I would find a more café’ riding posture and perhaps a bit more sound, but an essentially similar ride.  You know what they say about assuming…

I was wrong. Not just a little bit wrong. Totally and completely “what were you thinking?” wrong.  Within the first 6 city blocks it became obvious that the Thruxton was a totally different animal.

A clue came to me the night before when I was lolling through the spec catalogue for the 2018 models and noticed that a Thruxton weighs 40 pounds less than a Bonneville. On a sub-500 pound bike, 40 pounds is a lot – like 8% or so.  Had I read further, I would have noticed that the Thruxton pounds out 97 horsepower and 82.6 pound feet of torque compared to 80hp and 77 pound feet of torque for the Bonneville. Factory published statistics of all sorts can be suspect, but even if gently fudged by the sleight of hand of the marketing boffins, the differences are probably relatively accurate.  Actually, I think the numbers are accurate.

That means the Thruxton weighs 8% less and has a smidge over 20% more power!  Imagine that you enjoy a sport other than motorcycles.  (It does happen).  Doesn’t matter if you like running, tennis, basketball, ping pong, water skiing, whatever.  Imagine a day enjoying your sport. Now imagine a day if you weighed 8% less and had 20% more strength.  You would notice the difference.

So I rode along marveling at the eager nature of the Thruxton. It wanted to go go go all the time, and the shorter mufflers made themselves known with a lovely symphonic throb – I don’t think aftermarket stuff will be needed.

The handlebars ape clip-ons (note the subtle pun, sort of) but are merely lower than the Bonneville bars.  They were not that bad, even in city traffic, and could be raised with aftermarket items if needed. I think they will be fine for me.

The car dealer I purchased the bike from had asked for an additional copy of the work order from Triumph of Seattle, just to lob into the folder of paperwork for this unusual deal.  As we looked over my new bike I fiddled with the “mode” switch and found another difference.

The Bonneville T 120 has two modes – rain and road.  The Thruxton has – tada! – a third.  Sport!  This merely speeds up the throttle reaction but does not affect power.  I think it would mostly be useful for a track day, as it resets to road when the ignition is off.

Once home I dove into the spec sheets to find more differences.  The Thruxton has a one inch smaller front wheel and a more aggressive fork angle, which is why it wants to turn right now, all the time.  The painted wheels save weight over the chrome wheels of the Bonneville, and the rear chrome passenger grab rail and passenger pegs are not there.  The lack of a center stand, which cannot be fitted to a Thruxton because of a different swing arm and the placement of the catalytic converter, is a significant weight saving. Last, I am pretty sure the Thruxton has single wall exhausts  (which turn an attractive dark blue in use) whereas the Bonneville has double walled pipes that retain at least most of there chrome glory.   That is probably another couple of pounds at least. I began to sense where the 40 pounds came from. 

I rode the Bonneville a couple of days later to confirm my impressions. It felt like a cross between a Goldwing and the recliner chair in my den!  Much more comfortable, much quieter, and the handling is just fine but far more relaxed.  The Thruxton dives for a corner, while the Bonneville waits for an invitation.  The Thruxton wants to go fast all the time, while the Bonneville can go fast but sends you messages like “Really?  What a nice day!  Look at the scenery?  Why rush?  Enjoy the ride.”

My riding consists of a lot of rides of a few hours up to a day, plus several longer adventures of 4 to 9 days a year. Yes, retirement is all it is cracked up to be. So here we are – the Thruxton for short and the Bonneville for long. Perfect.

What if you combined the best features of both for a super Bonneville?  Opinions differ, but my druthers would be to keep the Bonneville frame and center stand, use both the steeper front fork and the rear shocks from the R, use painted wheels and the shorter Thruxton mufflers, and keep the Bonneville handlebars with the heated grips, etc.  I would use the Thruxton engine as well.  It could be called the “Bonneville XTR” and would be a “halo” model to get people into show rooms. Possible produce one per dealer worldwide and see what happens?

That would be an awesome motorcycle methinks, and the most expensive in the Bonneville line.  Dear Triumph – I will accept one as payment for this fantastic idea. 

Possibly only bettered by the fortunate few who can have a Bonneville AND a Thruxton. 

Like me.

Triumph Bonneville T 120 “touring mode”

 

 

 

 

 

Triumph Thruxton with R model rear shocks. 

Cheers! 

Copyright 2018                          David Preston

 

 

Posted in Equipment, Marketing, Motorcycles | 3 Comments

The Thruxton Saga – the Bike That Almost Wasn’t

The Thruxton Saga – or how I got a second bike by surprise

I purchased a new Triumph Bonneville T 120 in the spring of 2016. At the time I was also attracted to the 1200 Thruxton, but since I intended to take longer trips I passed on the Thruxton, which is more in the “café racer” mode. The Bonneville I purchased is now 2.5 years old has been everything I’d hoped for.  I added a “flyscreen” (mostly for looks), a tank bag, and some Cortech bags and top bag for longer trips.  It’s been a boon companion on several 4 to 9 day trips, as well as local rides, and now has almost 12,000 miles on the odometer.

But still… a Thruxton would be nice addition if I had unlimited funds…

So a nice fellow I knew as a customer when I worked at two motorcycle dealerships years ago e-mailed me.   He knew I was a “Triumph guy” and explained that he had a friend who worked for a car dealership.  The dealership had just taken in a 2016 Thruxton with only 617 miles on it, and wanted to sell it quickly.  After all, a motorcycle is not a quick sell at a car dealer in the winter in Washington.  The price looked very tempting, but why so low?  And which Thruxton?  The 900?  1200?  1200R?  \

I called his friend at the car dealer, and thus began a convoluted and amazing story. The first owner, who I’ll call “Bob” because I am so clever (and because I don’t know his real name), had purchased the bike at Triumph of Seattle in 2016.  Bob rode it for about 600 miles, and then performed a first oil change by himself.  Not sure why, since the factory recommendation is 10,000 miles.  Somehow, Bob managed to screw something up, and the bike began to run poorly.  He had it picked up by the dealership, and Triumph of America gave the OK for a strip down.  The result was the discovery of a damaged cylinder head. Time was spent going back and forth with T of A to see if this would be a warranty repair.  Often, when an owner does his own work it can void the warranty. Situations like this precisely the reason why warranties are written that way. What did Bob do?  A pretty good guess would be that even Bob does not know.

Bob decided, during this process, to trade the bike in for a car!  At some point Triumph of America gave the okay for a new cylinder head and all associated repairs to be performed.  The car dealer was now the owner of a damaged bike they had never seen.

Time for a new twist to the story. My brother in law Richard lives in California. He’s a project manager for a very large construction company on a several hundred million dollar project in Bellevue that will take years and be followed by other projects. In short, Richard and his wife need to move here. Because they have a son who will graduate from high school in June of 2018, it was decided that he would work here about three days a week for almost a year before moving in the summer of 2018.  

He’s been staying in our spare bedroom for two to four nights a week since September.  I realize that, for many families, having the brother in law in the house for three days a week for ten months or more would be a real drag, but it has been delightful.

Richard and I were enjoying a beer one evening two weeks ago and I told him about the Thruxton.  He reminded me that he had previously told me that he wanted to have a bike to ride here while his Ducati Multistrada languished in California.  Then he said, “Let’s buy the Thruxton and share it!”

I replied that Susan would not think that was such a hot idea.

“Don’t tell her!  She never looks at your bank balance and neither does Meghan. Just tell her it’s mine and I’ll tell Meghan it’s yours!” We both laughed.  I knew he was  jesting because neither one of us is capable of that sort of deception with our wives.

Then Susan walked into the room and I repeated the story.  She also laughed and said “Actually, I don’t think that is entirely a bad idea.”

So which Thruxton was it?  In 2016 Triumph offered a 900cc air cooled version, and the 1200, which offered partial water cooling, more power, and the twin front disc brakes I prefer for esthetics if nothing else.  Given the price I assumed it was a 900, which I was really not that excited about.  I was also pretty sure it would not be a Thruxton R, the top end model with better suspension. Of course, it might be a 1200!

Fortuitously, (there’s a lot of fortuitously in this tale) Triumph of Seattle was having a dealer event that Saturday night.  Of course I went, and had the chance to chat with the owner. He told me what he had bid to the car dealer for the bike, but he did not mind if I offered more. He knew I’d be spending additional money at his store anyway.  Then the service manager told me that lo and behold, the bike was a 1200!

Now I was very interested!

The next week Richard suggested we meet at T of Seattle between a couple of meetings to check it out. This would also give him a chance to sit on a new Thruxton to make sure he liked the ergonomics, etc.

The service manager led us back to the shop and there it was.  I was impressed it was already in the shop and not stuck in a back corner of a shed outside. Gloss black, totally stock, just missing about 70% of the engine.  “The parts are in the mail.”  This could work!

So I think we’re done.  Then Richard asked “What would it cost to give it the suspension of the R?”  

Gulp.  The service manager opined that such a plan would not be economically feasible, but you could come pretty close by purchasing much better rear shocks and maybe having the front fork internals stiffened a bit. So how much would that be?

Turns out a good set of Fox shocks for a Thruxton would be about $1100, plus tax.  Ouch. 

Then the Parts Manager piped up. It’s really handy to have worked with all of these people for years.  John had a set of rear shocks for the R that a customer had ordered and then had suffered a change of mind. He’d had them for a while on the shelf and could give me a great deal – a savings of about $400 over the Fox units!

Since the weather is foul and Richard will not be riding much with his limited time in the winter months, we could buy the bike, have the shocks and a center stand added, and when it was ready it would be ready.

The time of year also worked to our advantage. Motorcycle shops want to keep all of their employees busy in the winter, and a major repair paid for by T of A would be done as soon as the parts arrived. If this were happening in May or June it would be a much different story.

My next task was to slow Richard down a bit, since he was also interested in custom paint and a slip-on exhaust, and more.  He pointed out that any changes we wanted to make would be cheaper while the bike was in pieces, which is true, but really…

Fortunately, for the moment, there does not seem to be a highly regarded custom painter in Seattle, so that can wait.  I like the gloss black, but later on we may visit that topic again.

Time for another twist. I called the car dealer the next day and did some bargaining, and then asked where the title was.  Ummm – he was not sure!  He’d have to get back to me.

It turns out that Bob had a loan against the bike. The dealer had sent a check to pay off the loan, and had not received the title yet.  No worries, as I could pay for the bike and the title would be sent to me …soon. 

As the bike is still in pieces and who knows where the cylinder head and other parts are, what the heck?  I did want to make the purchase before word of this bike got out, because I think we were still about three thousand or more under likely retail cost at this point.   So I concluded my negotiations and get ready to drive to the dealer to buy the bike he had never seen.

Another twist!   I texted Richard to say I was on my way and got an immediate response. He wanted me to hold off a bit, because in all the excitement of Christmas and him being out of town and so forth… he had never mentioned this to Meghan!   Egads!

This filled me with dread, as we were about to fly to Tahoe to spend Christmas with Richard and Meghan, their two sons, and a close family friend.  Now this could be awkward, methinks.  In the meantime I called the car dealer and both of my contacts at T of S to alert them.   The shocks would be held for me for a few days at least.

The Christmas vacation was wonderful. The problem with the bike purchase was not the money. The problem was that when a spouse is about to do something significant (in both of our houses, the expenditure of $4000 or so is significant – your situation may vary), there needs to be a marital conversation.  That is how it is done. Richard and I both know this, and he had not meant to be deceptive. There are so many balls in the air in their lives this year that things like this can happen.

Over Christmas day while Richard was out skiing with his sons and the rest of us were relaxing, Meghan brought up the topic of the bike, and I was able to give her the long version of the story and fill in some of the blanks.

Two days later I was sitting in the Reno airport waiting for our flight home and Richard texted me that we’re good to go.  I called the car dealer, flew home, and drove to the dealership to do the paperwork.  I paid for the bike with a charge card, and the F&I person did all the paperwork for a bike he didnot have and had never seen.  Weird.  Then I called T of S to order the center stand and have the R model shocks put on.

The next day I called the Service Manager and asked, in a mock angry tone, “When will MY Thruxton be ready?”

“Should be this afternoon.”

“What?”

“Yup. Parts came in yesterday.  We should have it done by this evening.”

I doubted that time frame, which was indeed optimistic.  Now they are closed for a few days for New Years, so I get to work on the character skill of patience.   Not a strong suit of mine, alas.

I’ve also learned that you cannot put a center stand on a 1200 Thruxton, because it has a different swing arm from a Bonneville and there is insufficient room. Oh well. Rich did not want one anyway.

So in a few days my Bonneville will be sharing garage space with a cousin.  Amazing.

We’re researching aftermarket exhausts – just for fun. And paint.

Pictures to come once the Thruxton has shouldered up next to the Bonneville in the garage.

Happy New Year to all!

 

Copyright 2017                      David Preston

Posted in Marketing, Motorcycles | 1 Comment

Planning A Motorcycle Ride in Cold Weather

Planning a Motorcycle Ride in Cold Weather

Two words to keep in mind when planning a ride in cold weather.  “Discretion” and “Adjustment.”

Let’s define our terms.  By “cold” I refer to temperatures at or just above 40 degrees Fahrenheit. Or about 7 for Celsius friends.  The issue here is not so much the temperature on you but the road surface on the tires.  At 40 degrees where you it is just fine, but out on the back roads where you like to ride it can be a few degrees colder, and there is shade, and wet leaves, and run-off and potential frost. Or ice.  If you hit a patch of ice on your motorcycle while turning or braking you are either going to crash or you are incredibly skilled. Or lucky.

By “ride” I mean a meander for fun, not commuting. Commuting is different, in that the distance is usually defined, may be fairly short, and is probably used by a lot of cars, which can be your friend in terms of warming drying the road surface. I commuted to teach school for a few years when we could afford two cars or one car and one nice motorcycle.  Well duh!  Easy choice. The deal was I would take the bike each day unless it was snowing.  If snowing, we would talk…  This was made easier the first two winters by two separate friends who each had a circumstance where each had a car they did not want to sell until spring, but wanted them driven once in a while. I was happy to help out. The 3rd year I was dismayed when nobody I knew had that odd problem, but even then, the ride was about two miles each way – easy to survive, and a small price to pay for having a nice motorcycle.

In the 14 years I worked in the motorcycle industry I was usually commuting, but hear again, my job required motorcycle gear rather than a suit and tie, so I arrived dressed for work anyway. For a couple of years I was charged with the break-in of a series of brand new Harleys destined for the rental fleet.  Harley had decreed that each one had to have 500 miles before it could be rented. I would take a brand new bike, ride it for a couple of weeks, and then turn it over to the lot techs in a muddy and sorry state, and take the keys for the next one!   Tough duty. I also did the break-in of the first BMW 1000RR that would become a demonstrator, and I was so impressed with the suspension.  The rain did put paid to the video camera on my helmet, because I forgot it was “water resistant.”  There was a lot of water.

For a fun ride in cold temps, you need some preparation, both physical and mental.   I presume the bike is in fine fettle. You amass whatever cold weather gear you have. I do not have heated gear, but I do have heated grips, some good long johns, and some serious waterproof and padded jeans  (Triumph), a warm jacket and liner (Fieldsheer), and additional liner (Vanson), motorcycle boots (Rev’It), warm socks (BMW), a throat sock, and several sets of gloves.

The mental aspect of preparation is more important. You must be ready to adjust your expectations before and during the ride.  In the Seattle suburbs, you may have heavy freezing fog in the morning, and it will get dark before 5pm, so a good day’s ride will start later and end earlier than the fondly remembered rides of the summer months just past.

Today looked promising, with highs FORECAST in the high 40’s – perhaps even 50!   That will do!  I arranged to meet some friends at Adventure Motorsports in Monroe, just 15 miles from my house and near to the roads we want to ride.  I set the time at 10:30am – time for the fog to dissipate.

First adjustment. Backing out of my garage the driveway was slippery.  Riding up the street there were patches of frost and near ice. And it was colder than forecast.   About 35 or so.  Hmmmm. The turn at the end of the block was almost iced over. Hmmmm.  Perhaps it will be better on the main highway to Monroe.

Well yes, but near Monroe I ran into freezing fog, heavy enough to form a layer of ice on my visor.  You know it will be a cold ride when you leave the sunglasses at home to better see ice in shaded corners…

I rode along, using my left glove, heated by the grip, to wipe the accumulated ice off the visor.   Second adjustment. I eliminated the first back road I had planned to use, and then the second.  Maybe just a short ride on main roads to Granite Falls?  Hmmmm…  Wait; there really are no main roads to Granite Falls…

Once at the dealership, my friends showed up and displayed varying degrees of discretion. Walt had looked at the weather and drove his van – just to say hello!  Marv lives near my house but had taken a different route. He’d already decided that this day was not going to get warm enough for safety, and planned to bail and ride back home.  Rick had ridden his Ducati from inner Seattle, and he too was having misgivings, while Tim had ridden from Renton (almost 50 miles).  Even with heated gear, grips, and seat, he also was having 2nd thoughts.   None of the electrics heat the tires or the road surface.

So we adjusted. We spent about 45 minutes in the dealership talking motorcycles.  Still too cold. So Marv rode home, Walt drove home, and the three of us remaining adjourned four blocks to a café.  The café had extremely slow service, which was just fine.  Rick ordered French toast and eggs, and when he asked why there was only one egg instead of the advertised three; the waitress brought him a complete second order.  To be polite, he ate all of both orders.

At the end our long lunch the temperature had reached all of 40 degrees, in the middle of the sun in  downtown Monroe.  What would it be on the back roads?  Still too cold.

So Tim took off back home, staying on back roads but roads that had a lot of traffic.   Rick and I headed West on a small back road that I thought would be clear (and it was) and enjoyed a few miles of what we sought. Once in Snohomish I was contemplating interesting routes for the rest of the ride, but decided I’d been fortunate enough for one day.

So we took the most obvious routes to our respective homes.  It got pleasant two miles before I reached my driveway. Coming down my street I noticed a car parked around the corner I’d been through that morning. Someone had lost it on the ice and deranged the door, front fender, and front bumper of the car.

At the end of the ride I’d covered a tad less than 40 miles. I’d also used adjustment and discretion, which is why the Triumph is sitting in the garage unscathed and awaiting the next adventure.

Riding in the cold can be great fun, and I did have fun today.  But discretion and the ability to adjust are required.

 Until next time!

Copyright 2017                                David Preston

Posted in Motorcycles | 1 Comment

Motorcycle Holiday Gifts Across 50 Years

Motorcycle Holiday Gifts Across 50 Years

I purchased my first motorcycle just over 50 years ago. I learned to ride the pristine blue and white 1965 Yamaha 250 one minute after the first owner handed me the key. After only 850 miles, he was selling it because someone had turned left in front of him. The near miss frightened him so much he chose to sell the bike.  Too bad for him, but wonderful for me.

There were no riding classes in existence at that time, and all I knew about motorcycles had been gleaned from five years of intense study of every motorcycle magazine I could get my eager little eyes on. That and two or three rides on the back of the motorcycles of friends.

I “learned” to ride it on the way home, my father in his car laughing in my rear view mirror as I killed the engine attempting to leave every stop sign.

Motorcycle “stuff” became my first choice for Christmas gifts from that day forward, and continues today.  By the way, at that time, in Minnesota, all I’d ever heard of was “Christmas.”  I chose “Holiday” for today’s title to honor all the cultures I’ve learned of in the past half a century.  I think we’re all better off to celebrate whatever fits each person.

In the beginning, there was a beginning before the beginning.  I’d been nagging my parents for permission to purchase a motorcycle for five long years, since a first back seat ride at the age of fifteen.  As engineers aware of the risks of motorcycles and the rampant and mostly undisciplined enthusiasm of their son, they wisely said “no,” …over and over again. 

However, in the fall of 1964 I hatched a plan to go go-kart racing with a friend who already had a race kart. We’d form a two car team and race the summers away.  This made sense to my parents (!), and so for Christmas of 1965 I received the best helmet available at the time.  The open face Bell 500 in gleaming white was an object of art to me. I would have worn it every day given the merest pretense of an excuse.

Alas, by spring my knowledgeable friend chose to enter water ski tournaments and retire from racing, so my plan was dashed.  The helmet sat for two years, waiting…

In 1967 my mother was dying of cancer. This altered my parents’ perception of life, so now when I wanted to purchase a motorcycle, at the ripe age of 20, the answer was “sure, why not?”  Or perhaps they reasoned this would take my mind off the looming death in the near future.

So I had a helmet.  And now a motorcycle. Time for “stuff.” 

Here is a brief compilation of the differences between stuff then and stuff today.

GLOVES:  In 1967 gloves designed for motorcycle use were rare, in the sense that I did not know of any.  Fortunately, in Minnesota everybody has ski gloves, even those intelligent enough to never venture onto a ski slope.  Because really, skiing is dangerous!   Ski gloves worked pretty well, but they all had these irritating little clips designed to hold them together when not in use.   The little clips were scissored off and away you go.  For summer use I had a pair of white handball gloves.   Why white?  Because many motorcycles, including mine, did not have turn signals, and the white showed up better at night when using arm signals for a turn.  Of course, handball gloves are about the thickness of plastic wrap, and in a crash would be nigh on useless.  My solution to this was to not crash.

Today – wow – spoiled for choice aren’t we?  You have motorcycle specific gloves designed for pavement, or dirt.  With armor or not. For rain or shine or both. With varying degrees of cold protection.  Or even heated. I think I own about ten pair of gloves now. As they age and look a little down at the heel, (get the pun?) I can’t bear to throw them away. They sit in a drawer until I find a new rider to give them to.

If purchasing a gift, make sure you know what kind of motorcycle and type of riding is enjoyed by the rider who is to receive your gift.  Size can be guessed (think larger), but keep the receipt.  Every motorcyclist wants more gloves.

HELMETS:  Again, technology has moved so far in 50 years.  My last helmet cost more than my first motorcycle.  And is worth it.  If you’re going to purchase one as a gift, it’s best to do your research and/or take the recipient with you. I recommend a known brand from a dealer with a salesperson who knows what she or he is doing.  Helmet fit is critical for long term safety and comfort, and the proper fit may be a little different from what you would think.  For lesser (or more reasonable) sums, a new face shield would go well.  Everyone wants a new tinted or clear shield, but again, know exactly what model of helmet it will be going on.

WARMTH:  Here we find a treasure trove of items that will be welcomed with glee.  In the beginning I used a bandana wrapped around my throat and chin and up over my mouth and nose. Part of this was ego. In those days, Formula One drivers and motorcycle racers covered themselves for protection with a bandana, and it looked racey. There were no full-face helmets at the time, or Nomex driving suits. When full face helmets came in toward the end of the 1970’s there was less need to cover your chin and mouth and nose.

Later I moved to a woven throat “tube” which I still have. I hardly use it these days because it’s been replaced by the same item in a light and stretchy fabric. Best accessory ever, as it keeps me warm and snug down to temps where the question is “Why am I doing this?” There are scads of them for sale and they are cheap – great gift idea.

To stay warm I originally used some sort of long johns under my jeans and a sweater, which was sort of OK. Unless it rained. Now your local REI or other outdoor store will offer all sorts of high technology tops and bottoms in fabrics of materials you’ve never heard of. They are light, easily washable, and vastly superior.  Mine top and bottom set came from REI and is magnificent.

JACKETS:  Back then the item of choice was a ski parka, which again, everyone in Minnesota owns.  Fine for warmth, a bit less so in a driving rain, and utterly useless in a crash, where you would leave behind you an exploding and expanding plume of feathers or synthetic fillers – a plume that would begin to turn red toward the end of the crash. Don’t go there.

My first “real” motorcycle jacket came from a treasured “WEBCO” catalogue, and was black Naugahyde with while leather stripes down the sleeves.  Cool? Oh my yes.  Warmth?  Not so much.  Crash padding had not been invented at that time.  Not sure how it would have done in a crash.  Not well would be a guess.

Now you have choices, and all of them are exponentially better. Leather is stylish, while textile jackets and pants have caught up and surpassed leather in most ways. Except style. As gifts, you must again be sure you’re purchasing a product designed for use on motorcycles.  A thin leather jacket with fabric cuffs will look snazzy until the first rain experience. Or crash.

Jackets are sort of like gloves. I occasionally purchase a new one, but seldom get rid of the old.  I now have the “summer” textile jacket and the “winter” textile jacket.  And a third textile jacket and two leather jackets that are waiting for me to do something.

If you are new to motorcycles and on a budget, you might check around your area for a store that sells “lightly” used gear.  If you can find the right size in a jacket you like, you will have a lot of money left over for the other things on this list!

BOOTS:  Back then; hiking boots of some sort.  Not so swell in the rain, and lacking protection from the ankles up, but much better than tennis shoes.  Gold Wing riders, you know who you are!  Wearing tennis shoes for Gold Wing riders goes along with the stuffed teddy bear on the rear rack as an attempt to appear friendly.  It doesn’t work, and it’s just silly.  Dropping an 800 pound motorcycle on your ankle is not friendly.

I moved on from that to some sort of tall black boots, and then, in 1978, I ordered custom boots from Frank Thomas in England. The exchange rare was very favorable at that time.   As directed, I sent tracings of both my right and left feet along with a check for about $85, and received in return exquisite boots that rose almost to my knees and were incredibly comfy.  I wrote a letter to the company extolling them and got a lovely note in return thanking me and telling me my letter had been posted in the tea room for “the lads to enjoy.”  Wonderful.

When I eventually replaced them I gave them to a dear friend who admired them, and they looked even better on her.

By 2000 you could get boots that actually were waterproof, although false claims to this had been made for 50 years prior. My first pair was worn to watch a road race, riding to the track in a pouring rain on a Triumph 600 sport bike.  Bone dry.  I walked around the spectator section stomping through 6 inch deep puddles, testing the boots. Still bone dry. I have not had wet feet for the past many years.

Again, if purchasing, I would go for a name brand and a good guess as to the correct size, and I would keep the receipt.

It is possible to go too far. When I owned a couple of superbikes (Muzzy Raptor and Kawasaki ZX 12R) I splurged and went all the way to a pair of top shelf racing boots. Looked the business and had protection all over for toes and ankles and shins and all.  But off the bike, total agony to walk in.  So unless you’re purchasing for a racer, stay away from pure race boots. 

SOCKS:   Well, everyone owns white athletic socks, right?  But now you can get even such a mundane item as socks in a motorcycle specific product. I have some “BMW” socks that are impregnated with charcoal and are supposed to be “odor free” for – four days!  I have never tested that claim, but they’re comfy and warm.  Same goes for underwear, although simple jockey shorts do for me.

KIDNEY BELT:  Here’s how far we have come. Back then these were common, a sort of girdle that went around your guts and lower back and held your innards in place on the motorcycles of the day, which tended to vibrate like an exercise machine.  I ordered mine out of the “WEBCO” catalogue and wore it with pride, feeling like a “real” motorcyclist.  I doubt it was necessary on a 250cc two stroke. Today I had to Google the item to make sure they are still available. I have not seen one in a dealership in 20 years, but if your person does a lot of severe off-road riding one might be a treat.

ELECTRONICS:  Here’s a product area that did not exist at all in 1967.  Electronics had all they could do to keep the motorcycle running.  Ignition was by points, and filaments in head lights and tail lights and turn signals, if you had them, failed with monotonous regularity.  In 1967 any English motorcycle owner knew all the “Electrics by Lucas” jokes, and had experienced many of them.  A Zener diode was a weird name for a weird electrical system component.

My 2016 Triumph Bonneville now has, and this just astonishes me, a charging port for your smart phone under the seat!

A word of caution applies. You can now equip your bike, or a friends, with intercom systems, radar detectors, GPS, phone connections, radio, and on and on.  But – is that a good idea?

Two cases in point. Ten years ago I wrote a piece of an on-line mag about why you should not have GPS on your motorcycle.  I had several reasons for this, including that I knew two people who had crashed while looking at the display that was showing the corner they were about to miss. I also felt that you were better off to keep your wits about you and figure out where you were.  And last, most of the great riding roads I know I found by getting lost!

I got a great response from a US Army combat helicopter pilot who was e-mailing me from somewhere far away. He agreed with me. He had begun his career with Cobra gunships, which did not have GPS. He was proud of his ability to fly a complex flight plan and arrive “on station” at the appointed time.  Now he was in Apache helicopters, with all the latest mod cons.   He said the younger pilots were in the habit of flying along at 160mph about 20 feet off the ground and never looking outside!  Worse, he felt that his inner navigational system was being eroded.

I have a friend who has worked for Google for many years, to the point that he cannot tell me exactly what he is currently working on. He carries on his person a phone with all the latest.   On a motorcycle trip – he leaves it off.

Speaking of maps – on my first long motorcycle trip I rode from Minneapolis to Seattle to see my father.   On a spare day here, I decided I should go see this Space Needle I had heard about. I wrote the address down on a piece of paper.   The third time I pulled over and stopped and pulled out the piece of paper to check the address again it occurred to me to… look up.   GPS does not provide stories like that!

When you are riding a motorcycle, do you want music, or phone calls, or e-mails or Facebook postings or Tweets or whatever?  I choose to have none of it at all.  If I want to check on things I have a good excuse to find a small park and pull over and take a break.

Caveat Emptor. Sometimes a great product is one you may not want.

CLEANING:   Back then, soap and water and whatever car wax my Dad had on the shelf.  Today, again, a wonderland of pastes, dissolvers, unguents, creams, waxes, and more.  Consulting with your local dealer parts person will help a lot. Good for gifts, as none of them are all that costly, and they are sure to be used.  Also chain lube is handy, as long as the person has a motorcycle with a drive chain and not a shaft or belt drive!

RIDER EDUCATION: As mentioned, in 1967 there was no such thing.  Now there are (in most areas) over a dozen courses on offer, from multiple providers.  A beginner rider course, or intermediate, or advanced, on up to off-road riding courses, advanced cornering clinics on race tracks, track days, and race instruction.  In fact, I think the best gift you could provide for someone  (or for yourself) would be a gift certificate from a provider.

All in all, the golden days of motorcycles AND stuff are…right now.

Happy Holiday Shopping!

 

Copyright 2017                                David Preston

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