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!

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


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.


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.