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!

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Leaf Peekers

The foliage in Central Pennsylvania is at or near peak.  I went for a long ride Saturday to the west and northwest,.  I hit some good color but it was overcast all day so it wasn't worth taking pictures or video.  I did gain an increased appreciation for my heated gear with the dual controller for the gloves and jacket.  It was so nice to just twist a knob as the temperature changed.  I took the heated gear off after lunch and soon put it back on.  Even though it wasn't terribly cold--upper 40s/low 50s--it was clammy and damp.

I did a shorter ride Sunday afternoon east of the Susquehanna and back through Perry County.  There were splashes of color but so many leaf peekers on my favorite twisty roads that I had to spend much of the ride below mach 2.  I was only able to scrape a peg once.

I passed 29,000 miles on my bike during my Sunday ride and first began grappling with the idea that I'm going to be out of warranty and past my pre-paid maintenance plan in the next six months.  I'm also out of my tire replacement plan so will have to pay for the next set, so I'm going to have watch the mileage a bit.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Bridge Run

After work yesterday I popped over to the wonderful Academia-Pomeroy covered bridge in Juniata County, hoping there would be some color in the foliage around it and I could get pictures.  Nothing yet--it will be another week or so.  But the ride back on Route 74 was absolutely stunning, with a piercing blue sky, splashes of yellow, orange and red in the trees, and no fun thieves to keep me from dragging a peg in the tight curves.  October is grand.

Monday, October 17, 2011

A Bit of October Color

I headed north and west yesterday, looking for fall foliage.  Any motorcycle ride is better than no ride at all, but this one turned into a bit of disappointment.  First, while mounting my video camera about an hour into the ride, I pulled a muscle in my side that is a persistent problem. Despite taking three Aleve, I was in grimacing pain all day, at least until I got home and sucked down my last remaining vicodin. And as the ride went on, the clear skies and sun of the early morning gave way to a grim overcast. Finally, the foliage itself was disappointing.  Someone told me that it would be because Pennsylvania has had the wettest year on record.  It was certainly below average.  There were nice splashes of color here and there, particularly around Lock Haven, but none of the take-your-breath away displays of past years.

While there was a lot of traffic on the outstanding Route 144, mostly from slow moving leaf peekers, I was able to gallop on most of the other twisties.  Ironically on the twisty sections of Route 477, I got held up by a gaggle of slow moving Harleys just as I did the last time I was there a few weekends ago.  The guy at the back of the pack--and directly in front of me--was emblematic: he was dressed completely in black, his exhaust was so loud that it caused me discomfort even though I was wearing a full faced helmet and ear phones, yet he couldn't ride worth a darn, slowly wallowing through every curve.  There are skilled Harley riders out there but that brand sure attracts a lot of posers more interested in dressing like a pirate than learning to operate their machine.  This group turned right and I turned left on Route 192, so at least I didn't have to fight past them.

I had a bit of weird experience on the way back. My bike is relatively rare model.  I'd never seen one on the road before.  But I pulled into a gas station and there was not one, but two of them.  I talked to the riders for a while.  They were from Bloomsburg, PA.  I didn't ask what they did but it wouldn't surprise my if they were also college professors, so maybe I am in the core demographic for the R1200R.

I did make a short video.  One thing I learned from it is that there is too much vibration to mount the camera directly on my windshield brace, which I did for much of this.  So the quality isn't great.

(Mileage on the bike: 28,500)

Friday, October 14, 2011

I Sing the Body Electric

October is by far my favorite riding month, with the leaves bursting with color, the weather brisk but not uncomfortable, and none of the winter gravel on the roads.  But I do ride year around, and am looking forward to this winter more than previous ones because of a couple of new purchases.

For the past two winters, I used First Gear electric gloves (made by a company called Warm & Safe).   I found them absolutely essential when the temperatures fall below 45.  Even the beefiest insulated gloves didn't cut the mustard. But for the rest of my body, I'd just layer enough clothes to be comfortable.  That worked but by the time I got four or five layers on my torso, I could barely move my arms.  It was quite annoying.

Over the summer I finally broke down and added a 90 watt First Gear electric jacket liner as well.  Not only will this keep my torso warm with just a base layer and a top coat, but it also allows me to plug the gloves directly into the sleeves of the jacket rather than having clumsy wires running from the bike to the gloves.

It was chilly enough last weekend that I could try out the new electrics.  I did find that having a single heat controller didn't work well.  If I cranked it up enough to keep my hands warm, my torso was too hot.  So I added a dual controller.  By getting a "semi-remote" one, I was able to get a very clean installation with the knobs on my dash but the controller box under the seat.  The cables to attach the heat controller to the jacket and gloves come from under the seat, so I can stuff the wires out of the way when I'm not using the electrics.

My First Gear gloves were getting a bit worn so I've also added a pair of Gerbings.  That company  makes heated gear for the military, so it has a great reputation.  And I got them new on Ebay for an excellent price.

I haven't had a chance to try them out yet, but am very impressed with the comfort.  And they have a slightly longer gauntlet which should make it easier to put them on over the sleeve of a big winter jacket.

So let the cold come.  But let the snow and ice stay away.

Monday, October 10, 2011

Thousand Miles

Despite, as my daughter asserts, not actually working, by October I'd taken a grand total of one day of vacation in 2011.  While I had to cancel my planning Blue Ridge Parkway ride, I decided to take a couple of days of "vacation in place" and see if I could get in a thousand more miles in the few days before the BMW Motorcycle Owners of America's annual mileage contest ended.

The weather was gorgeous--a bit chilly in the morning (enough so that I tried out my new electric jacket, which is great) but warming to 60s and 70s in the afternoon.  On Thursday I went northwest looking once again for and failing to find the wild elk herd.  On Friday I went northeast and got tangled in the damage from September's massive floods in Pennsylvania.  I detoured around two sections of road still closed a month after the flood.  On Saturday, I joined a couple of buddies for a ride to the newly opened Flight 93 memorial near Shanksville, PA.  On Sunday, I ended with a medium distance ride on some of my favorite roads.  For some reason, the 25 year old future organ donors on sports bikes were out in droves that day.  I admired their skills but didn't even try to hang with them.

I did top 1,000 miles for the four days, and ended up with a bit over 13,000 miles for the six months of mileage contest.  Based on last year's results, this may put me in the top 20 in the state, but I can't match the 50K or more done by the contest winners (who must be retirees).

I didn't take a lot of pictures or video during the rides, but this was the one to the Flight 93 memorial.  As you can see, the leaves are beginning to change in western and northern Pennsylvania, but it will be a few more weeks until the color hits my area.