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!

Saturday, April 30, 2011

April 30

After several weeks of busy weekends and bad weather, I finally got a nice sunny Saturday to ride. It was a bit cool for late April--upper 40s as I began--but it ended in the upper 60s.  My Aerostich Roadcrafter riding suit continues to perform beautifully.  I was comfortable and well protected even as the weather changed.

I did a western route, crossing the mountains on Route 30, which is one of my favorites, and eventually hitting the wonderful Route 994.

View April 30 in a larger map

The red bud trees, apples, and ragweed are all in blossom, so the Pennsylvania countryside is gorgeous.  At the higher elevations, the trees don't have all of their leaves yet, but it's coming.

I had lunch at the historic Jean Bonnet Tavern--the place where the Whiskey Rebellion plotters met.  I also passed by the station for East Broad Top Railroad for a photo op.

Most of the winter gravel is finally gone but now there is enough traffic that I got stuck behind "fun thieves" on several of the twisty mountain crossings, including a motorcyclist going 20 miles an hour under the speed limit with about 10 vehicles piled up behind him. When he eventually pulled into a store, I was very close to stopping and giving him an earful. It's fine if your comfort zone is 20 MPH under the limit, but you ought to feel some obligation to pull off every few miles to let people around.

I tried to do a video of one of one of the mountain crossings with the camera on my helmet, but had it pointed too low and got nothing but pavement. I'm going to have to work on that.

Since it was a beautiful spring Saturday, the roads were full of motorcyclists.  I paid careful attention to them both while standing around on my Red Bull stops and riding behind them.  Something dawned on me: the reason that there are so many motorcycle crashes is because the majority of riders are really bad at it.

I certainly wouldn't claim any special aptitude.  My balance and coordination are average at best.  But I have made a commitment to skill improvement.  I've taken the Motorcycle Safety Foundation's courses four times.  I've absorbed every safe riding book and video and I can lay my hands on.  I do a mental critique after every tight curve and hard acceleration.  I still practice regularly, both cone exercises in parking lots and fast stops and swerves on isolated roads.  I consider my riding very much a work in progress, and I think that pays off.

Finally, while it has nothing to do with my Saturday ride, I like this promo video from YouTube which is about the 2011 model of my bike.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

April 17, 2011: The Ride of the Bran Muffin Bandits

The winter gravel finally washed off of Pennsylvania's roads so that feared geezer motorcycle gang--the Bran Muffin Bandits--was ready to roll. They were more grizzled and cranky than lean and mean, but they still struck fear into the hearts of squirrels attempting to cross the road.

As it turned out, the route was great but the weather not so much. The sun came and went. The wind was nasty, kicking us around when we were out in the open. And the torrential rains of the previous day left water running across the road in places and had washed piles of gravel into the lanes. Still, even a lousy ride beats whatever is in second place.

The next day the mount I'd ordered for my new camcorder arrived. I was pleased with the mount: it was rock solid, easy to operate the camera while riding, easy to remove, and I can use the mount for other things like my Spot Messenger when I'm not recording. Unfortunately, the vibration makes the video unwatchable. I'm working on solutions--I've ordered some anti-vibration bushings made for industrial settings. If that doesn't work I'll try a helmet mount. More to follow.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Walk Around of the R1200R

Still not much riding but I did do a video walk around of my bike. I realize this won't be of any interest to anyone other than me, but I used the opportunity to become familiar with my new camcorder.

Friday, April 8, 2011

A Mind is a Terrible Thing to Waste

Between bad weather and commitments, I haven't had any rides worth blogging about for a few weeks, but wanted to pass along a comment I saw on one of the motorcycle discussion boards I frequent. For pure jaw dropping bizarreness, this is hard to top. The topic was the wearing of helmets. Even though I don't have to, I do. I favor riders being able to choose whether to wear one or not so long as who elect not to bear the costs of their decisions (i.e. insurance companies could reduce the death or injury payout to anyone who was in an accident without a helmet). I am, after all, a libertarian of sorts.

But, the person on the discussion board rationalized his decision to not wear a helmet by saying that he rode very fast and in a high speed crash, he was going to die whether or not he was wearing a helmet, so it really didn't matter. Some other genius added that he didn't wear a helmet because he would rather die than live with a brain injury and, according to his argument, wearing a helmet increased the chances of living but having a brain injury.

Both of these arguments were wrong on so many levels that I didn't even reply.

One thing I have found recently: after riding tentatively over the winter because of the gravel on the roads, I'm beginning to get my mojo back. Route 74 near my house has three tight hairpin curves where it crosses the mountain. Two have a recommended speed of 15 and one is 10. I normally go through at 25-35.

I can tell them I'm hitting them correctly when I lean so much that my boot rubs the ground. (Technically the foot peg should drag first but I tend to ride with my foot a bit splayed outward, which causes the side of my boot to hit first). Anyhow, That's what happened this week.

I did pass a benchmark: 50,000 lifetime miles in less than three years of riding. I'm proud that I've done that with only very minor mishaps--three low speed drops, one in my second week and one recently when I didn't see a patch of ice while pulling out of my drive.