In the Beginning

Driving a car, your relationship with the road is like that with a friend. Bumps are softened. On a motorcycle, the relationship is much more intimate, like that with a lover. You feel every small bump and dip.

Me, November 2011


This is the unfolding story of motorcycling and me. While I'd toyed with the idea of riding for several years, I'd never thrown a leg over a motorcycle until I was 51. Then the time seemed right. My youngest kid had finished high school so I considered myself expendable. I'd just spent two years with every waking moment was consumed writing a book. With it completed, I again owned my life and was looking for a new obsession.

My driving force in life has always been pushing myself, taking on new challenges and mastering new skills. I thrive on exploring new places and always prefer to be outside with the wind on me as much as possible. So I gravitated to riding.

As I contemplated this big plunge, I made several assumptions. One was that riding a motorcycle would save money given that gasoline prices had just spiked. A second was that royalties from the book would pay for a motorcycle. But most of all, I assumed that having put in thousands of miles on road racing and mountain bicycles, and manual transmission cars for years, I'd pick up motorcycle riding easily.

These assumptions all turned out to be wrong. What I spent on motorcycling far exceeded any savings from higher gas mileage. I didn't sell enough books to cover the costs. And learning to ride was much, much more difficult than I expected. But it was also much more fulfilling. In life, I've always wanted to be where I'm not. And I'm rushing to get there.

In the few years since I began riding, I've fallen passionately in love with it. The average American motorcyclist rides 1800 miles per year. I did 16,000 my first year, 18,000 the second, and over 20,000 in the third. I've continued to average 15,000 to 16,000 miles per year even when I began writing a weekly column that eats up much of my Sundays. At night I often dream of squiggly lines on a map. Seriously.

When everything is clicking--I'm alone on a winding country road, I've got my "A" game, the music is in a groove--I sometimes forget the motorcycle is there and feel like I'm simply flying. If you don't want to take my word for it, trust Alton Brown.

Luckily, I live close to some fine riding, with twisty roads over mountain ridges, large state forests, miles of farmland (which often requires dodging Amish buggies), charming little towns (each different from all the others), and lots of historic sites. There's always somewhere new to see. (Here's a map of my favorite routes and road food). I particularly like combining riding with photography--one of my other passions.

When I began this blog I was riding a 2010 BMW R1200R. In BMW jargon, this bike was a "hexhead" (named because the engine cylinder covers are hexagonal). So these are the "Hexhead Diaries." I'll update them regularly with stories and pictures. Stay tuned!

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Long Days

I've wanted to ride my motorcycle home to Myrtle Beach, South Carolina for some years.  I looked into ways of towing down during our annual Christmas visit, but none were feasible.   With cold weather coming and now owning a touring motorcycle, I decided to ride down last week.

For once I got a break on the weather,  Temperatures were already in the 50s when I left home so I didn't need electric gear.  I hit the road at 4:40 hoping to beat Washington rush hour traffic.  That was not to be.  Even though I got to Frederick, Maryland at 6 AM, route 270 into Washington was already stop and go.  Once I got to the Washington Beltway, though, things moved well.  The rest of the ride was uneventful.  I stayed on I 95 to Goldsboro, North Carolina, got off to have lunch at Wilber's, my favorite barbeque joint, then took Route 17 to Myrtle Beach.  The only hitch was unanticipated traffic due to construction in Wilmington which caused my clutch hand--which is already weak from having been broken playing softball in grad school--to become very painful and numb.

It was nice having the bike at the beach and the weather was gorgeous.

It was a little cool at the beginning of the ride back, dipping into the mid 40s for a brief period of time, but was in the 60s by the time I hit Fayetteville, North Carolina.

This time I got off I 95 at Emporia, Virginia, and took Route 15 all the way through Virginia. The weather was gorgeous as was the foliage.  I traced many Civil War campaigns and got to see some cute little towns like Orange and Culpepper.  Much of the road was two lane so I did have to do 15-20 passes around slow traffic, but the RT handled it with aplomb.  Again, though, I greatly underestimated the Washington area traffic.  It was bumper to bumper from Warrenton to Point of Rocks, Maryland--and this on a Sunday evening.

I wanted to get home before dark to avoid riding in deer alley during the fall rut but that didn't work out so the last two hours were in the dark.  Didn't see a deer, though.

The trip down and the one back are now my single longest rides ever: 570 down, 585 back with about twelve hours of seat time.  But the RT showed  how great it is for the long haul.  I put up the windshield, turned on the cruise control, and could have ridden all day and deep into the night.

Sunday, October 19, 2014

October Is the Cruelist Month

...because it ends so soon.





I had to break out the electric gear in September--the earliest ever.  The fall has been eventful.  I've got 6500 on the RT despite it being grounded all summer, and finally saw wild elk and bald eagles during rides.  Winter is going to be long.  

Monday, October 6, 2014

Critter Spotting

One of the things I enjoy about riding in remote areas is the wildlife I see.  In addition to the usual deer and wild turkey, I've seen bear, fox, and otter.  But in the past two weeks, I've made interesting additions to the list.  Last weekend I left for my ride at 3:20 AM so I could arrive at Pennsylvania's wild elk area at sunrise when they're active.  It was socked in with fog so I didn't get any good pictures or see large herds, but I did see several standing beside the road.  So I can check that box.  Then yesterday I was on an isolated rural road in Virginia and came upon three bald eagles eating a road kill opossum.  I now wish I'd gotten out my camera and hung around to see if they'd come back, but at least I did get to see them.

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Return

BMW finally engineered, manufactured and began shipping replacement parts for the defective R1200RTs in August.  Mine was repaired on August 28--two months and 25 days after the "stop ride" bulletin.

It was a very difficult summer.  For about a month I hate a loaner 2010 R1200RT from my dealer.  It was clearly inferior to the totally re-designed 2014 edition but it was something.  I put over 1,000 miles on it but then dropped it in my garage when I got off with the side stand opened by not locked, breaking off the clutch assembly.  Over the ensuing weeks, my resistance to not ride the 2014 got weaker and weaker.  I started gently riding around the block in my neighborhood.  Then I'd ride around the block multiple times.  Then I'd do fairly short local rides, never pushing it.  I ended up putting about 700 miles on it before the fix.

Since then I've gotten in about another 800 miles and now I can push it.  It is an absolutely stunning motorcycle.  On twisties, it is as sharp as my old R1200R and even more forgiving if I hit a tight curve too fast, turn in too soon, or don't take a perfect line.  I haven't yet really pushed the envelope but have a good sense that it can be done.  

For interstate cruising, I put the windscreen all the way up, turn on the cruise control, and set the suspension to soft and could probably do a 500-600 mile day with ease.  The soft suspension setting is also very nice on rough roads which need resurfaced which is about 75% of the ones in Pennsylvania.  Then with a simple click, I can turn it back to normal if the road surface improves or I hit some twisties.  It is amazing how easy it is to adjust the comfort level by simply pushing the button to raise or lower the windscreen and change the air flow.  The integrated navigation system, which is made by Garmin, works much better than either of my three previous Garmin units.

I'm still waiting to find out how much of the compensation money from BMW I owe my dealer for riding and busting the loaner, but have ordered a nice pair of Italian made Sidi boots and some Motoport kevlar mesh police riding pants for the times when it's too hot to wear protective overpants.  I also added a Givi tank bag and a remote heat controller for my heated jacket and gloves.  With all of the wind protection from the faring and windscreen on the RT, the electric gear, and five stage heated hand grips and seat, I expect to be able to ride comfortably into the low 30s and maybe high 20s.



I didn't take any time off work all summer and now have seven weeks of vacation stored up so my plan is to take off every nice day through the autumn and get in a few thousand miles.  Hopefully I'll be able to work in a few multi-day trips as well.

During one of the evening rides over the summer it dawned on me that this motorcycle may be the only thing I own that I wouldn't trade for something else even if price was no consideration.  It would be great to be able to own a stable of motorcycles for different purposes but if I can only own one, this is about as close to perfect as I can get right now. Its combination of wonderful handling, comfort, and state of the art technology is unmatched.

Sunday, June 29, 2014

I'll Spare You the Full Details But...

...after a month of trying to figure out what it going on with the recall on my new motorcycle.  I am convinced that BMW's response will be studied in business schools for years on how NOT to respond to a major design problem without alienating your customer base, particularly in a time when the disgruntled customers around the world are networked via social media and thus acting sort of collectively.

To make a very long story short, the Italian made rear shock was either badly designed or produced.  BMW expects a fix some time between July and October.  It has been very disheartening to walk past the wonderful new motorcycle sitting in my garage for month.  And to make it worse, the weather has been gorgeous.

My dealer finally arranged a loaner--a 2011 R1200RT.  I picked it up and put a couple of hundred miles on it yesterday.  It's a typical BMW: two years old with 45,000 miles on the clock.

It's very nice to be back on the road again and the loaner is a perfectly nice motorcycle but it makes me realize what a complete and amazing overhaul the new 2014 model was.  Everything is different: frame, motor, controls, body, seat, dashboard, windscreen.  Everything.  Even the battery is in a different place.

I'm counting the days until I get back on mine.

Saturday, June 7, 2014

Crushed and Incensed

A week old motorcycle I'd become one and fallen in love with.  Gorgeous weekend with plans to attend the Reading, PA World War II air show.  2,000 mile business/pleasure trip planned for next week in intricate detail.  It would have included some of the most iconic motorcycle roads in the U.S.: the North Carolina section of the Blue Ridge Parkway, Devil's Whip, Tail of the Dragon, Cherhola Parkway.  I'd finally figured out all of the electronics on the bike including the sound system. Then this.


No hard information other than that terse note.  Rumors online that it may take months--the whole summer riding season--for BMW to find and deploy a solution. Lots of people will abandon the marque over this.  Frustration is high because it applies only to people with new bikes many of whom, I'm sure, had also fallen in love with it and planned long trips.  I wish I'd looked more closely at the Triumph.

Monday, June 2, 2014

By the Third Day...

...things were beginning to click.  Even though other commitments have prevented any really long rides, I nearly have 600 miles on it.  It's beginning to feel natural.  And awesome.

The bike is a spectacular mixture of agility, speed and technology.  I'm extremely happy I decided to go with it rather than the larger K1600GT as I had planned.


The only down side at all is a very uncomfortable seat. I'm in pain after an hour.  Since this one has a heated seat, I'm certainly not buying and aftermarket one and hope I can get by with a Saddlemen gel pad that I've ordered.

The next step is to get some bluetooth earphones to figure out if they will work for me to listen to the satellite radio and MP3 player.  There's too much wind noise to use the bike's speakers unless the windshield is all the way up.  And I'll only ride that way on the interstate.

Sunday, June 1, 2014

First Ride, RT Edition

It took a few hours to get everything done to buy the new R1200RT so it was noon when it was pushed out of the dealer's door.  My previous bike had sat on the showroom floor for six months before I bought it but this is such a hot model that the dealer said they can't keep them in stock.

It was a gorgeous Saturday so for my first ride, I decided to use the same route that I did for the first long ride on my previous bike.

My initial impressions were "Wow this is huge."  I came very close to dropping it pulling out of the dealer's lot, and did so a few other times during the first hour or so while coming to stop signs.  I think it was a combination of weight, height and new brake pads which don't stop as well as they will once broken in.  That meant that I was still rolling just a tad when I put my foot down.

My first thoughts were a bit of nostalgia for my old bike.  I had so become one with it that when I was in groove, it didn't feel like I was on a machine at all, but just flying.  With this one I was very much aware that I was operating a large machine.

But when I hit the first tight curve on my route and hit it hard, the thought "This might work" flashed through my brain.  As I came down from the first mountain crossing in my route, my cheeks were literally hurting from grinning.  The bike is really amazing in the twisties and I can't wait to get to the point that I can really push it hard in curves.  This is, I'm sure, a combination of the balance and things like the electronic suspension adjustment and traction control systems.

The next thing I noticed was the speed.  When I goosed it for the first pass of the day, I thought I'd accidentally engaged the warp drive.  I did a couple of routine single vehicle passes in the afternoon and noticed by the time I'd cleared the car and was moving back into the right lane, I was going triple digits.

I'm really going to have to watch the speed.  My old bike would go fast but but a naked roadster, the wind made me very aware of it.  With the full faring on this thing I'm mostly out of the wind, particularly when the windshield is raised.  So it was harder to gauge my speed without constant checking the instruments.  Several times I looked down and was going 80 and didn't realize it.




Being so protected from the wind is also going to mean that I'll have to adjust what I wear.  With my old bike I knew the exact temperature comfort range of every jacket and pair of gloves I own.  I knew exactly when I was going to have to shift to my electric jacket and gloves.  With this one, I think I'll have to add 10 degrees to the calculation.  So, for instance, a jacket that was comfortable from 50-80 on the old one will be 40-70 on this.

There were a couple of down sides to the RT.  I didn't find the seat comfortable and was hurting by the time I made my first stop, which was only 90 miles from the start of the ride.  It's a wide, well made seat but as they say on motorcycle discussion boards, every butt is difference.  I hope my Airhawk seat cushion will fix that.  Second, my shifts weren't smooth, a result of shifting from a dry to a wet clutch, and from a conventional throttle to a very sensitive fly-by-wire system.  I'm sure that will come around, though.

When I finally got home, I sat down with the instruction manuals and tried to figure things out.  In typical BMW fashion, the primary manual plus the one for the audio system total 400 pages.  I was able to get the Sirius satellite radio turned on, figure out how to add a memory card to the navigation system, and to upload routes to the nav system.  I still have a few things to do in terms of the menus.  Like modern cars, the bike has so many features and technology that there's a wheel/mouse thing to operate.

On the second day with it, I have to write my weekly column but hope to get in at least a few hundred miles.  I have what BMW calls the "run in" service scheduled for Friday so need 600 miles for that.  All in all, though, I think it was an excellent purchase that should give me much pleasure for years.

Saturday, May 31, 2014

New Wheels

It was a terrible winter for riding.  The weather was the worst it has been since I first jumped on a motorcycle five years ago, with snow and ice storms one after another and periods of bitter cold in between.  Once it began to get a little better, I went through about a month where I wasn't motivated and just didn't have the energy to ride.  As the weather warmed, I was rusty, so it took a while to get back in the groove.  Between writing my weekly column and other responsibilities, I was riding less than ever.

But a strange thing happened recently.  For years I'd thought that like many motorcyclists, I would switch to a touring bike as I got older and comfort became more important than pushing the envelope or styling.  I was thinking more and more about that recently in part because I realized that I needed to slow down and my beloved R1200R roadster brought out the hooligan in me, compelling me to push the envelope in twisties and passes.  I assumed that after a few more years, I'd trade for one of BMW's "grand touring" six cylinder bikes.

Then last week I had to drop my off at my dealer for some service.  Since I hadn't been in for a while, I walked through the showroom to see what they had.  I was struck by the 2014 R1200RTs.

The RT is the touring or sport touring bike built on the same boxer engine/shaft drive as my roadster.  It's the middle sized of BMWs three touring bikes in terms of size and luxury.  My dealer used to have a 2009 one as a service loaner, and I'd put a few hundred miles on it.


I'd liked it but didn't love it, in part because the style just didn't move me and in part because I was still riding my small F800ST at the time and wasn't used to the size and power of the RT.  It seemed ponderous to me.

But the 2014 ones had a complete makeover.  I really liked the new style.  BMW also added a lot of neat electronic stuff and, after 90 years, had switched to a water cooled version of the boxer engine, pushing it up to 125 horsepower.



As I was looking at them on the showroom floor, the sales manager said, "You ought to test ride one."  I just laughed and said, "Yeah, some day I will."

The next day the service department called and said they had to order parts for mine.  This meant that I was going to be bikeless on a beautiful three day weekend.  The only way I could to get at least a little fix was to test ride some motorcycles.  So I scheduled a ride on the R1200RT and planned to do one on a Triumph Trophy which is equivalent to the RT.  I even thought about riding a Victory.

I put 18-20 miles on the RT including a few twisty little side roads and a short stint on the interstate.  It was particularly impressive and eerie on the interstate to be buffeted all around by the wind then push the button to raise the windshield and all the sudden be sitting in complete calm and quiet. I thought about how great that, the cruise control and built in sound system would be for long hauls on the interstate.

The models that my dealer had in stock included almost every available option--satellite radio, blue tooth, heated grips and seats, central locking system, electronic suspension adjustment, multiple ride modes, hill start assist, anti-theft alarm, tire pressure monitor.

By the time I got back to the dealer I was impressed enough that I asked the sales manager to run some numbers on what it would take to buy it.  But, honestly, I wasn't optimistic.  Since I ride nearly ten times as much as an average motorcyclist and still had a year of payments on my old bike, I knew I didn't have much trade in value.

I then went to the Triumph dealer.  I'd read good reviews of the Trophy, particularly the three cylinder engine.  But even though it cost less than the BMW, the quality of the materials clearly wasn't at the same level.  And the salesman wouldn't let me ride it.  So it was crossed off the list.

Tuesday the BMW sales manager called me and, to my surprise, I could buy the RT without a huge increase in my payments.  He called me the next day to go over the options on the bike and mentioned it had a low seat.  That hadn't been on the dealer's web site so it was news to me.  I drove down to see if I could live with it.  I couldn't--I was much too cramped.  The sales manager said he could order another one with the regular seat but I was worried that was going to screw up the whole deal since I'd put more mileage on mine while waiting, and that would further decrease the trade value.  But then the owner came up, said he had a another RT that hadn't been uncrated, and he'd swap me for the regular seat.  Deal done.

So it's now early Saturday morning and I take delivery in four hours or so.  I'm like a kid waiting for Santa.  Today's weather forecast is 78 and sunny so I think it's going to be a most excellent day.  I'm planning a six day, 2,000 mile ride week after next combining business and pleasure so I need to get 600 miles on the new one this week so I can have what BMW calls the "run in" service.  Should be doable.  More pictures to follow.

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

No More Overthinking

My riding skills seem to have taken a leap recently--I'm hitting even the tightest curves with greater speed and confidence.  The only thing I've been doing differently--and this is kind of strange--is that as I approach curves, I don't even think about entry speed, apex, and all that stuff but just clear my mind and incant "trust the Force....trust the Force."  I'm serious.  It works. 

The Saturday forecast is looking great this week and the leaves should have started changing to the north and west of me, so maybe I'll get a chance to test this out on some other roads.

Thursday, September 5, 2013

I Feel Like Navin Johnson Seeing His Name in the Phone Book






A year and half after acceptance, the "My First Bike" article I wrote for the BMW Motorcycle Owners of America Owners' News finally appeared.  You have to have a subscription to access it but, heck, here's the text.  (I would add that regular readers of this blog have seen most of this already, but I know that there's no such thing).

The Mid-life Crisis Motorcycle


I am a classic mid-life crisis motorcyclist. While I’d toyed with the idea of riding for several years, I’d never thrown a leg over a motorcycle until I was 51. Then the time seemed right. My youngest kid had finished high school, so I considered myself  expendable. I’d just spent two years with every waking moment consumed writing a book. With it completed, I again owned my life and was looking for a new obsession.

My driving force in life has always been pushing myself, taking on new challenges and mastering new skills. I thrive on exploring new places and always prefer to be outside with the wind on me as much as possible. So riding held a deep appeal.

As I contemplated this big plunge, I made several assumptions. One was riding a motorcycle would save money, given that gasoline prices had just spiked. A second was royalties from the book would pay  for a motorcycle. But most of all, I assumed, having put in thousands of miles on road racing and mountain bicycles and manual transmission cars for years, I’d pick up motorcycle riding easily.

These assumptions all turned out to be wrong. What I spent on motorcycling far exceeded any savings from higher gas mileage. I didn’t sell enough books to cover the costs, and learning to ride was much, much more difficult than I expected. But it was also much more fulfilling. In life I’ve always wanted to be where I’m not, and I’m rushing to get there.

As I first caught the motorcycle bug, I headed for the local Harley dealer. It was close to me and, like most Harley dealers, a real emporium. But it only took a few minutes of browsing before I realized I wasn’t a Harley person. I then went to the Honda dealer just down the road. All the bikes in stock were either crotch rocket sports bikes or cruisers – again, not me.

Luckily, the Honda dealer also sold BMWs, so I wandered down to that end of the showroom. I hadn’t really thought about BMWs before but was curious. I’ve always been a fan of German engineering, having driven German cars exclusively since the mid-1980s. So I was interested. Very interested. I briefly considered looking at Triumphs, but geography sealed it: the Triumph dealer was 30 miles from my house and the BMW dealer five.

Then I did something that was very unlike me. Normally when I buy anything, particularly a major purchase, I first do extensive research. This time, though, I was impulsive. I found the BMW looked cool and was in my price range. I asked the salesman and a buddy if they thought it would be okay as a starter bike. They both said, “Yes.” I later decided that was probably bad advice, but a few days after beginning to think about motorcycling, I bought a 2008 BMW F800ST.

I picked up some basic gear – a helmet, gloves and a jacket – and got a neighbor to ride it to my house. Five days after the first glimmer of an idea, I was a motorcyclist. Sort of.

I got the bike on a steaming hot Saturday morning in June and set out to ride around my neighborhood. While I’ve always been an autodidact – someone who teaches himself or herself – I now realize that was my second major stupid decision.

As I set out through the neighborhood (which, unfortunately was crowded with yard sale traffic that day), my immediate problem was stalling. Every time I stopped, I stalled multiple times before I’d get moving. I was also struck by the strangeness of motorcycle controls: the right hand controls the front brake, the right foot controls the rear brake, the left hand controls the clutch and the left foot shifts gears.

I did make it around the block a few times. Then on about the fifth circuit, I had what remains my closest encounter with a serious wreck. I had to make a left turn uphill from a stoplight and stalled several times. This frustrated me, so I vowed I wouldn’t stall the next time and gunned the throttle.

The bike took off. Of course, all I needed to do was either let go of the throttle or pull in the clutch. But in my panic, all I did was squeeze tighter. I careened toward a parked SUV and was already becoming angry with myself for wrecking the bike after owning it for an hour. As I flinched for impact, I instinctively leaned away from the SUV. This was just enough to steer me slightly away from it. I skirted the vehicle so closely I felt it brush my hand. But I made it. Barely.

I then began a rigorous skill development program. I rode every day, only moving on to the next level of difficulty when I felt comfortable with the previous one. First was riding around my neighborhood at 15–20 mph. Then short forays on 35 mph back roads at low traffic times. Then I took trips into town at low traffic times and trips on roads with 40–45 mph speed limits. Then it was on to rides at higher traffic times and trips over the mountain ridges on a few of the less challenging roads. Next, it was on to major roads and interstates during low traffic times. Eventually, I inched into busy interstates, rides into cities, a few rides at night, a few rides in the rain and mountain crossings on the twistier routes.

I vividly remember the first ride where the thought, “Hey! This is fun!” crept into the terror that normally accompanied each ride. I remember the first time I pulled back into my garage at the end of a ride and did not think, “I cheated the devil again!” I was getting comfortable enough on the motorcycle that I actually expected to live through a ride. I remember the first time I rode on a 65 mph divided highway – I was squeezing the grips so hard I had to pull off at every exit and rest my hands.

After about a month, I had 600 miles under my belt and was able to get into the Basic Rider safety course. To my utter amazement, I failed. According to the instructor, I went too slowly through the tests. I was shocked and angry. I jumped back on my bike, popped back on the interstate and came home.

Throughout the rest of the summer, I continued to practice, including parking lot sessions doing the exercises from the course. I also went to the Department of Motor Vehicles to take the test there for my M class license. It was a disaster. I lost my composure and stopped half way through. Another flunk.

But I was determined to both pass the safety course and get my license so I could ride to work. I expected to fail, but figured the additional coaching would help me. I dropped my bike during one of the exercises and had to have it lifted off of my foot, but I felt more and more in control as the day went on. After the coach compiled the test results, he said, “Unfortunately, not everyone passed.” Since I was expecting that, I began to walk away. Then to my surprise, I heard him call my name. I’d somehow passed.

By the summer’s end, I had a couple of thousand miles under my belt. I had my safety course card, and I had earned my M class license when I retook the test from the DMV. I’d also accumulated a mountain of gear as I searched for the perfect helmet, gloves, jacket, boots and pants. I was, sort of a rider.

I owned the F800ST for two years and put about 32,000 miles on it before trading for an R1200R. I still see the old one around town and some day will get a chance to talk to the new owner. For me, it clearly was a gateway drug – the R is my favorite possession of my entire life. I get in over 20,000 miles a year. I made it to the 2011 Bloomsburg Rally (but left because it was too cold). I’ve been able to explore nearly every twisty, isolated road in Pennsylvania, combining my passion for riding with my passion for photography (see my photos on my blog at http://hexhead.blogspot.com/). I’m certainly a different and happier person than the one who almost smeared himself on an SUV in his first hour of riding.

Motorcycling and the Introvert

I've long recognized that one reason motorcycling appears to me is because I am a very strong introvert.  I'm normally what motorcyclists call a lone wolf but even group rides are essentially solitary, with human interaction only at stops, time spent immersed in the conversations in my head.

My obsession with full safety gear reflects this.  In boots, gauntlets, an encapsulating one piece suit and a full face helmet (dark tinted face shield preferred), with earphones giving the impression that the music is coming from inside my head, I am both an integral part of the environment and isolated from it it.  I experience it but it can't see me.  I spy with my little eye--the world.  When the road is empty, it is like being in a movie.  For an introvert, that's a good thing.

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

I'm Beginning to Think About Maybe Considering New Tires



These are only about four months old and with the replacement guarantee I got when I bought them, I'll only pay for mounting the new set.  After only going through one pair last year, I hope to get back to my normal pace of two or three sets a year.

Sunday, September 1, 2013

Apparently My Superpower Is the Ability to Cause Rain in West Virginia

This weekend was the fifth time in the past two years that I've planned a multi-day Virginia/West Virginia ride, was fooled by a good weather forecast a week out, and had to cancel at the last minute as the forecast turned grim.  I may try again in October.

With hindsight, it may have been a good thing that I aborted this one--I was checking the air in my tires yesterday and noticed that cord is showing on the rear.  I went through this set in about four months. 

With almost 52,000 miles on the R1200R, the ride is starting to get uncomfortably hard.  I think that if I get an unexpected consulting gig over the winter which produces some "mad money," I'm going to get replacement shocks from Works Performance.  The service manager at my dealer gushes about them.

Friday, August 16, 2013

It's Been a Beautiful August in Pennsylvania

The weather has often been stunning--70s and sunny at times.  On a few rides, the initial hours were actually cold.  Although I missed one weekend for #2 daughter's wedding, I've been getting in quite a few miles because of the good weather and the fact that I've been furloughed Mondays for the past month due to the absence of adult leadership in Washington.




On one of these, I took another stab at finding Pennsylvania's herd of wild elk.  Still no luck.  Maybe in the fall when they're most active.  I did get a lovely shot of Lurgan Mill at the start of the ride.



This was my odometer as I pulled in the driveway following an after work ride yesterday:



This was after three years and one month on the R1200R.  While I'm beginning to think about my next bike (probably a tourer), the R remains my favorite physical thing I've ever owned.

I do expect my mileage to decline soon.  Once college football season begins, my Saturdays will be centered on that.  My alma mater the University of South Carolina is expected to have the strongest team in school history.  Perhaps if they lose a couple my interest will decline.  And then having to begin working Mondays again, I'll have to devote Sundays to writing my weekly column for World Politics Review.  I'd like to take another stab at a multi-day Virginia/West Virginia ride in the fall but with the hit to my family income from the furlough, I suspect that's not in the cards. 


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Late note on riding Route 555 looking for elk:  http://cumberlink.com/news/state-and-regional/man-dies-when-motorcycle-hits-elk-in-western-pa/article_2cb86686-0a62-11e3-88df-001a4bcf887a.html  So maybe not such a good idea, at least when it's still dark.

Thinking back over the past few years, I think the biggest risk to me is not cars and critters--I haven't had a close call with either for a very long time, largely because of my hyper-vigilent riding style--but the incompetence of the Pennsylvania Highway Department.

Along this same line, I had two near wrecks in the last month.  One was when I was on a stretch of road under maintenance.    The road surface was black and it was very dark because I had just gone under a canopy of trees.  I was looking ahead at an upcoming curve and hit a huge pothole in the middle of the lane.  It almost jerked the bars out of my hands, but I kept control.

The next day I was on a road I'd ridden just a few days earlier.  I came into a blind curve and the highway department had decided to cut a rectangle out of the pavement in the middle of the lane and fill it with loose gravel. Luckily there wasn't any other traffic on the road so I was able to jerk the bike upright and slide into the other lane.  Had either of those caused a wreck, I would have explored a law suit against the state.  It might not have gone anywhere but I would have at least tried to make a case that the state has a responsibility to maintain the roads to a minimum level of safety, and PennDOT had failed in that responsibility.

Monday, July 8, 2013

Sorry, Bicyclist

Until I had knee replacement about seven years ago, I was an avid bicyclist.  I was putting in 150 miles a week for a while.  So I'm very sympathetic to them (and there are LOTS more around here than there were when I rode).

Over the weekend I was buzzing along Route 233 in the Pine Grove State Forest.  Having ridden that road hundreds of times, I know that there are only a very few, very short passing areas so if you need to get around someone, you have to jump on the opportunity.

So I was behind a meandering 300 lb. guy on an 800 lb Harley when we reached one of those 75 yard long passing areas.  I popped out hard to get around.  Of course I checked for cars first but one I started the pass, I noticed a bicyclist coming the other way.  I hadn't been able to see him because we were in the forest and it was dark.  He was wearing dark clothes and had no light.

I instantly decided that by staying on the center line, I had plenty of room to pass the Harley and leave a safe distance from the cyclist.  But I guess he didn't see me until I was rushing toward him.  He panicked and drove off the road, wobbling to stay upright.

I checked my mirrors and he didn't go down, so I kept riding.  I felt bad about it, but don't think I did anything wrong.

Since it was July 4th weekend and the 150th anniversary of the battle of Gettysburg, I'd intended to skirt the mobs there.  But I missed a turn and ended up on the west edge of the battlefield where the first morning's fight took place.  It was kind of nice because I'd never been in Reynold's woods before, but it was so crowded that it took me three turns of the traffic light to get from Reynold's Avenue onto Route 30.  And I was roasting in black leather.  It was perforated so I was fine while moving, but not while sitting.

Still, a gorgeous day.

Friday, July 5, 2013

Shame

I had a very nice but very uneventful 282 mile ride on the 4th of July, heading west on Route 30, through Blue Knob State Park, and across Raystown Lake.

It was too overcast for decent photos, but I skirted a few small rain storms. The GPS actually worked. Sort of. I uploaded the route from the computer but it showed up as 288 miles on the device, so Garmin had added a detour somewhere. I recalculated it and it then then showed up as 282 like it was supposed to. I turned it off, walked out to the garage, mounted it on the bike, turned it back on, opened the route and now it was 292 miles. So somewhere between my study and my garage, the Garmin had added another detour, so I had to recalculate again.

By the way, I'd emailed Garmin tech support about my ongoing problems and they offered to "fix" this for $60. Given that this is my fourth replacement of the same unit in two years, I'm certainly not betting $60 of my money that Garmin can get it right the fifth time. I'll just live with it and hope that some competent competitive product comes on the market. The only other thing I can find now is a Tom Tom Rider 2 and the reviews of it that I've seen have been terrible.

But, as to the name of this post--toward the end of the ride, I stopped for gas and while I was standing around drinking a bottle of water, a couple of Harleys pulled it. They fit the model--big roar of sound, not wearing helmets, all wearing tee shirts from various Harley dealers around the country. I knew they'd be watching so as I left, I did a perfect, tight U turn out of the parking lot that no one could do on a Harley other than maybe a motorcycle cop.

Then when I got ready to pull out of the parking lot, I stalled! I was shocked--I haven't done that since I started riding five years ago. And since I knew I had an audience, it was the worst possible time. The only thing I can figure is that I had on thick elkskin gloves, my hand was tired, and the clutch lever slipped. But I hung my head in shame and took off.

Monday, July 1, 2013

I've Done Many Stupid Things In My Life....

...many.  But I nearly topped them all this afternoon.

I added a pre-paid a service contract when I bought my bike three years ago, so hadn't done anything to it myself.  The contract is finished so I figured I'd save the $50 in labor and at least do my own oil change.  I drained it but then couldn't get the filter off so I had to run to an auto parts store to get a wrench.  I carefully reinserted the drain plug with a new crush ring and the new filter.  Then I thought I'd go for a ride and get it heated up so I could check my levels and seals.  Before I pulled off I was thinking, "That thing sounds really, really weird."  I mulled it over for a few seconds then remembered that I'd forgotten to fill it back up with the new oil.  Had I taken off, that would have been a $5,000 ride.

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To follow up on this, I'm absolutely stunned at what a difference super premium, Swiss-made, synthetic oil makes in the performance of the bike.  Much smoother shifting and quieter.  The company says I'll also get better fuel economy and less oil usage.   

Asshat Riders and Garmin's Incompetence

The past few weeks--and the coming one--have seen almost daily thunderstorms so it's been hard to get a ride in.  I did try to do a medium one--173 miles--last Saturday.  The weather was nice but storms in the preceding days had blown gravel into the road in unexpected places.  I hit a pile of it coming down off a mountain and nearly dumped the bike at high speed.  That made me a little tentative for the rest of the ride.

Then I was on Route 125 south of Shamokin.  This road, which has a couple of twisty mountain crossings, is popular with the sports bike crowd.  I was tooling around and checked the mirrors and
saw one behind me, so I stepped up the pace to my comfort level so as to not steal any more fun from the guy than I had to.  Then I was leaning hard in a curve nearly scraping a peg and one of the asshats in the group passed me on the right, in my lane.  He was inches from me.  We were both moving fast and leaning so even if our mirrors had made contact, it would have been disaster.  The other two then passed me on the left.  It was a double yellow line but I didn't care so much about that.

As I thought about it, I was angry at myself for not flipping off the first moron.  At least I can be satisfied that his single digit IQ will probably be out of the gene pool relatively soon.

Then the other annoyance.  For like the fifth time in a row, my Garmin Zumo 220 corrupted my route.  I had put in a help ticket to Garmin after the previous episode and they had me reset the unit to the factory configuration.  But this didn't resolve the problem.  So now they're telling me that they'll replace it for "only" $60.  Well, this would be the fifth replacement in three years (including one that cost me $120) so I don't think so.   I cannot believe that Garmin stays in business with such abysmal quality control.  Unfortunately though, there aren't any other motorcycle specific GPS units out there, so I don't know what to do now.

Saturday, June 22, 2013

Back in the Game

I was laid low all week with back pain.  It was so bad I took a couple of days off work and then went to the doctor's office.  The physician's assistant couldn't figure out what it was, so just gave me some muscle relaxers.

But Saturday morning was perfect--70s and sunny--so I decided to get on the bike and see how my back reacted.  I took off without a plan.  Whether from the vibration or just relaxation, I was pain free while riding (although I did get a few shots of pain lifting my feet to the pegs after a stop).

I only rode a little over 100 miles but was glad I got to get a bit of such a wonderful day.