day trip

Updates and First Ride of 2016

pc800

A lot’s gone on since I last posted five months ago. Most notably, the bike had a garage to spend the winter in – mine. Elana and I moved into a house together in early December. Thanks to unusually warm weather, I was able to ride my bike from my old apartment complex to the new house, and tuck it away in the garage for the winter. I’ll be able to take much better care of the bike now. Not that I was slacking much before, but DIY oil changes are now possible (it’ll be getting one soon), as well as a whole lot of cleaning that I haven’t had the facilities to do properly. It’s also great to put a roof over it. The cover that Elana got me last spring is already looking rather well worn after only one season of use, so it’ll live inside year round – except when I’m riding it, of course.

I’m living about half an hour west of where I used to, farther away from Boston. This means I’m much closer to the types of roads I prefer to ride. Even the road I live on now is a fun set of twisties. Western MA and NH are both pretty close, which means I’m going to have some fun riding ahead of me this summer, especially since I won’t have to spend an hour or two fighting my way out of the slow congested suburbs anymore.

It’s been a rather mild winter. We’ve gotten a little snow and a week of particularly cold weather, but we’ve also had fairly mild temperatures a lot of the time, too. Today temperatures rose well above 50*F. This has happened a few times already, but today was the first time it happened when I had no other plans. So I decided it was time to pull the PC800 out of its winter slumber and take a short shakedown cruise. I added air to the tires and oil to the engine, but the battery didn’t need a boost to crank enough to get the engine to fire. I’ve gone through a couple of batteries that died just from sitting outside for the winter, so I’m glad that’s not an issue this year. After testing the other systems in the driveway, I headed out. I filled up with gas to dilute the Sta-Bil in the tank to help it run better.

Then I set a course north, first through some of the back roads I don’t yet know through my new hometown, then out to Rt. 119 through Willard Brook State Park – one of my favorite twisty  bits. I’m pretty thrilled that I’m so close to this area now. Then I took Rt. 31 up into NH, bombed around a little bit, and came home. All in all I was only gone about 90 minutes or so, but any opportunity to ride in “winter” is a good one. Both the bike and I are a bit out of practice. I didn’t want to wear myself out, nor go too far from home just in case the bike developed new problems while resting for the winter. But it didn’t, so life is good.

As I was able to maintain higher speeds than I’m used to on clear, open roads, I realized just how much wind noise there is in my helmet. The problem is that the Clearview windshield is too short for me. I mean, it works fine, but the wind deflected over the top of the windshield into the top of my helmet. If I duck my head an inch or two, it’s extremely quiet, but riding in that position will give me cramps in a real hurry. It isn’t a problem at slower speeds, but I’m going to be riding at higher speeds where I live now. Even when I commute to work I’ll have 15-20 minutes on the highway now.

My friend Bob has a windshield extension on his ex-cop Harley that he says works rather well, so I started researching something similar for my PC800. I ended up ordering a Puig clip-on visor from RevZilla. I won’t need to  drill any holes in the windshield, and it looks like it will adjust nicely to direct air over my head instead of into it. I’m looking forward to installing and testing it. I’ll be sure to show ‘n’ tell you all about it.

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Dashing through the… No

By the time I arrived at my bike’s winter home yesterday, my mood was even worse than Grumpy Cat’s. I got there safely, and the PC800 is tucked away in my friend Brian’s garage for the winter, but getting there was interesting, to say the least.

We’d made plans for me to bring my bike up yesterday, weather permitting. Last year I didn’t get it there before it got buried in a snowbank in my parking lot, where it remained all winter, so I was quite motivated to get a roof over it this year. Naturally, the weather forecast turned lousy for the weekend – a classic New England Nor’easter, with a chance of our first sight of snow. It looked pretty grim – cold, windy, and rainy, a bad combination for riding a motorcycle. And when my Ford failed inspection, I lost my ability to tow a trailer, so I had to ride it there. Otherwise it would’ve been a no brainer and well worth the money to rent a trailer for a few hours.

But when I woke up, the roads were actually dry. It wasn’t supposed to clear off until later in the day. I asked Brian what conditions were like on his end, and they were the same. I’d still never consider riding in such conditions under normal circumstances, but my window of opportunity had arrived, and my bike could be buried in a snowbank again by the time our scheduled synched up again in two weeks. So I put on extra warm layers, geared up, jump started the bike (it had been sitting a while and didn’t quite crank enough to fire), and hit the road.

The first thing I noticed was that my Metzlers had way less grip at 40F than my usual riding temperatures. Small cracks in the pavement caused my front tire to slip to the side just a tiny bit. No thrilling heroics this trip – just slow and steady. I’d already decided to skip the interstate and take back roads to keep the speed and windchill down, as well as give me some protection from the strong winds. It started to sprinkle a little. Then I saw snowflakes. I was actually riding my motorcycle in the snow. That’s a first. But I knew the temperature at the ground was above freezing, and the roads would not be icing up on me. If conditions stayed like this, I’d make it just fine.

The rain/snow/sleet/slush/whatever you call this type of precipitation started coming down a little heavier, enough to obscure the visor on my helmet. For a while I could get away with wiping it with my gloved hand from time to time, but I hadn’t RainXed my visor lately, and I wasn’t going fast enough to get the clearing effect anyway. At an intersection I pulled into a gas station to take the helmet off and give it a thorough wipe. Sadly it didn’t last long after I hit the road.

Google Maps on my phone either changed my route partway or neglected to tell me a turn, because soon it was telling me to turn around. I had to sit through several long red lights to do this, which obscured my vision once again and cost me some time. Conditions were getting worse, but I was more than halfway there, and the fastest way out of this was to finish the trip. Slowly, I pressed on.

I found myself stuck in a road construction zone. In this weather?!? On a Sunday morning?!? Even worse, the pavement was gone, and the road was down to dirt – or, in this case, slippery packed mud. Once the cop had us go, I proceeded at walking pace, at best. I didn’t need the cop’s hands down “slow” signal to remind me to keep my speed down. He must’ve thought I was crazy, and he’d probably be right. Fortunately, there’s no law against that. The mud lasted a quarter mile or so, and then I found pavement again. But I had no time for a sigh of relief.

I started going through pockets of colder air. I was collecting snow and ice on my windshield – a bad sign. The roads were still just wet, but soon my visor started icing up like my windshield. I was still able to wipe it off, but this now required pulling over and stopping since a quick rub with the glove wouldn’t do it. Soon I was unable to keep it clear enough to see through. I left the visor open and tried to angle my head so that I could collect the ice on my visor before it hit my glasses. This worked for a while, until my glasses suffered the same fate as the visor and themselves started icing over frequently. I was just two miles away from my destination, but my visibility was destroyed.

So I took off my glasses, put them in my pocket, and pressed on, slowly. My vision isn’t very good, but it was actually better without my glasses than with, the way they kept icing up. I still had to stop from time to time to wipe the excess water buildup from around my eyes, but at least I could see. This also gave traffic behind me frequent opportunities to pass, which was good because I was going so slow. I relied on the blue line on Google Maps to tell me where to turn, since I couldn’t read the street signs without my glasses. But a couple of turns later, I pulled into a driveway filled with Miatas – I’d arrived.

We got me into the garage, with lots of scrap cardboard under the bike to soak up the water both my bike and my gear were dripping. I soon found myself drinking a hot coffee with a large dose of rum mixed in, perfect to warm me up in several ways. It’s not like I was riding or driving myself home. While I drank that, Brian scraped the snow and ice off the front of the bike into a bowl. He commented that bringing my bike here was supposed to keep it OUT of the snow as he dumped the bowl’s frozen contents into the sink.

After a bit of drying off, and lunch at a local brew pub, we rearranged the garage some to slide the bike in behind his dad’s Mercedes, leaving the other side of the garage available to pull another car in. I added some marine Sta-Bil to the gas tank, and backed outside to run the bike a bit to work it into the carbs. We started a brake job on the Merc, only to realize that there were some electronics and sensors involved that we didn’t have documentation for, so we left it alone rather than risk damaging it, as he already had on his Mini Cooper. So we maneuvered my bike behind the Merc – its home for the winter. Eventually Brian drove me home.

What an ordeal. Is this what high altitude passes in the Rocky Mountains are like, even in summer? I suppose one thing I can take away from this experience is that when adverse conditions hit, and I find myself in over my head, I can still manage to get through, or at least to someplace safe. So that’s something I guess. Still, it’s an experience I hope to never repeat, ever. At least I got there safely, and the bike is put away for the winter.

I guess I’ll have to find something else to write about here for a while…

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Vote of No Confidence

A miracle occurred on Sunday – I actually got out for a ride, longer than just a quick toodle through nearby towns. I had a few hours to spare, and it was a slightly cool but bright sunny day. I figured I had enough time to wander up to New Hampshire, and set the north end of Route 137 as a destination. This road, running between Bennington and Jaffrey, NH, used to be my test track when I lived in nearby Winchendon, MA. I haven’t been there in a while, so I wanted to go check it out.

To begin with, my TomTom GPS still won’t get beyond the splash screen when I turn it on. I brought it inside to see if there’s any way to breathe more life into it, or if it’s truly done for. I’ll deal with that later. I swapped Ram mounts from the TomTom to the iPhone, but couldn’t find my USB adapter for the cigarette lighter, which I’d been using in the Penalty Box (my Jeep Compass rental I had while the BRZ is in the body shop). So I figured I’d load up my route in the phone, and just refer to it from time to time. Far less convenient, especially without gloves that work with the touch screen, but good enough for a few hours of riding.

The bike was a little sluggish to start, but it had been sitting a while so the battery wasn’t 100% – to be expected. It still fired up just fine, and I was off. I knew the first chunk of the trip quite well – Route 119 for a while. I stretched my gas out to Groton where I filled up, after 131 miles on the last tank. My mileage seems to be improving for some reason. I filled up, restarted the bike – and it didn’t turn over. My battery had depleted to a point just too weak to crank the motor. Fortunately, after a few tries, a small hill, and looking like an idiot, I managed to roll it, dump the clutch, and bump start the engine to life. I thought about this, decided I had a full tank of gas, could finish the loop I’d planned on this tank, and as long as I didn’t shut the bike off, I was good to go. So I kept going. Though I did turn off my driving light to divert as much power as possible to recharging the battery.

aprsI continued through Townsend, and through that fun section through Willard Brook State Forest. Then I hopped 31 north into NH. I planned to follow 31 to 202 in Bennington, and from there pick up 137 south. From there I’d pick up 202 again, take it to 140 in Winchendon, and follow whatever route home from there I felt like – I know several. I passed Wilton, and somewhere between there and Greenfield, I accelerated out of a small town, and had significantly reduced power. It felt just like the power loss I experienced this spring when I limped home most of the way from Barre. I pulled in the clutch to check the idle, and almost stalled it – a very big problem, being unable to restart the bike if I had actually stalled. I made a snap decision to turn around immediately, and at least get back to the center of whatever town I’d just left before the bike sputtered out.

I made the turn, and accelerated hard on reduced power to get back up to speed. The motor smoothed out again, so I kept going past the center of town, experimenting a bit with the throttle to see how it reacted. It seemed to be working better, so I pulled the clutch again to let it idle, and it settled down quite nicely. At this point it seemed worth pulling over and plotting a new course – directly to home, do not pass Go, do not collect $200. If nothing else, I’d bring myself back within my 35 mile towing radius to home.

My phone was down to 40% battery, and I cursed not having my charger for it. I didn’t know the roads in this area, and running the GPS drains the battery quickly – the battery I’d need to call for help if the bike broke. But I decided I could run it a while, and it took me east on 101, south on 13, east on 130, and then hopped some back roads south of the border to Pepperell, MA, where it put me on 113. This drained much of the battery but I knew my way home from here, and shut off the Google Maps app to save the rest of it. The bike was running fine now, and continued to run fine the rest of the way. I got home safely without further incident. After shutting off the bike in my parking space, I tried the starter just for the heck of it. The engine started instantly. I shut it off, turned on the driving light and even the high beam to drain maximum power, and tried it again. It fired up immediately.

I just got home from a 90 minute loop near home (within my towing coverage). The bike ran perfectly the whole time, never better. Unfortunately, my confidence in this bike is broken. Not only from Sunday’s adventure, but from the numerous issues I’ve been having with it all year. Not all of them are the bike’s fault – the leaky back tire was an installation problem, for instance. But between being out of commission for so long, and situations like Sunday making me panic like I did, I feel like I can’t trust this bike even for a full day trip anymore. Elana and I had been hoping weather would cooperate for an overnight bike trip this month, but now neither of us feel comfortable taking it that far away from home. The scarcity of parts for the Pacific Coast 800 doesn’t help, either. All in all, my lack of confidence rather defeats the purpose of a touring bike.

It’s near the end of the riding season anyway. I won’t be doing any tours or even overnights on the bike this year. I have a friend’s garage to store it in this winter. So I don’t need to rush into a more reliable bike. Another friend has a bike for sale that might work for me, but I don’t want to rush into another bike just for the sake of having one. Still, it’s worth taking a close look at. Either way, I’m afraid that the PC800 and I have taken our last tour together, and its days under my ownership are numbered.

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Unfinished Business

After our unfortunate breakdown, I was determined to finish the ride Elana and I had started a few weeks ago. Between commuting and other short local rides, I’d put about 200 miles on the bike since getting it back with its new tire, really this time, and it’s been running flawlessly. I’d built up enough confidence to venture a bit farther from home. Yesterday’s weather was great, Elana was around, so it was time to finish this thing.

With a mid-morning start, I set a course for the Whately Diner. The GPS surprised me by taking some back roads from Millers Falls to cut the corner around Greenfield, but the route worked well – it was fun and saved a little time.  The Whately Diner is down the street from where our problems began on the last ride, and is always a good lunch stop. I try to get there anytime I’m in the area around mealtime. Then we retraced our steps past Yankee Candle, made the left onto 116, and rather than bail onto 91 like last time, we kept going on 116.  I hadn’t taken this road in a while, and was soon reminded about what I was missing out on. There are lots of swerves and curves, plus the beautiful scenery of the Berkshires. We had absolutely no traffic all the way from Deerfield to Adams. It was an hour of my favorite kind of motorcycling. Finally, I was able to show Elana not only why I do this, but why I travel significant distances to favorite stretches of road to do it. She not only understands, but enjoyed it herself.

IMG_1580We made a couple of pit stops in North Adams. Though it wasn’t part of the plan for our original ride, since we had the time we decided to ride up Mt. Greylock, the highest point in Massachusetts. The road to get there is completely unmarked, yet having spent a few years going to school out here I knew exactly where to go without even programming the GPS. A few other bikes fell in behind us.  As I downshifted to make an acute uphill left turn, the transmission stuck in neutral, and the next thing I knew the bike came to a stop in the middle of the road. I let the other bikes go around me, then managed to rock it into first gear and get rolling again. I don’t think anything went wrong with the bike – it was just a bit of bad luck. After the horrible section of some of the worst pavement I’ve ever seen, it improved as we entered the park, and we were on our way up the mountain.

The ride to the summit is longer and much more technical than Mt. Wachusett, which we rode up on our last trip. There are a series of first gear hairpin turns near the bottom. It gets easier from there, but it’s still a slow ride up a narrow road. The temperature gauge definitely went up, but never beyond halfway. Eventually we got to the top, where we parked and took a break. The tower was closed, so we didn’t get to climb up it. But we did walk to the other side of the summit and enjoyed the spectacular view from there. The entire town of Adams, which we had just ridden through, was tiny. I could easily pick out the buildings we had passed not too long before, as well as the gravel pit up the road in North Adams. Beyond that, nothing but rolling green hills.

IMG_1583After enjoying some time at the top, we hopped back on the bike and made our descent. For me, this was the tricky bit. Going up is easy – lots of throttle, and if you need to slow down or stop, just let off the gas and it’ll happen. But going down I need to rely on the brakes. They work fine, but I’ve learned the hard way that too much front brake in a turn can drop the bike. I’d also never made a descent this technical with a passenger on the back. In the end, though, everything worked out fine. I got stuck behind a slow moving Camry, which forced me to keep my own speed down. I ran in a low gear to take some of the burden off the brakes. Around the hairpins, I dropped into first gear, and favored the rear brake in the middle of the turn itself. I normally don’t like braking and turning at the same time at all, but the road was so steep that I had to.  Also, unbeknownst to me at the time, Elana was shifting herself on the passenger seat toward the outside of the turns to help me balance. Between all those factors, we got through just fine.

Remember that section of the worst pavement I had ever seen? We were slowly bouncing across it, when suddenly my left mirror fell off. Thank you, Honda, for attaching a piece of safety wire to keep it attached to the bike! This mirror has never been attached completely properly since I got the bike, and it’s pretty obvious that the bike had been dropped on the left side at some point. Unfortunately, these mirrors are made of unobtainium. Even a cracked one sells for hundreds of dollars on eBay. No doubt this was why it was never replaced. Unfortunately, this crummy road was too much for it. I soon realized there was no way to reattach it on the side of the road with the tools and supplies I had with me. Fortunately there was a Walmart nearby, where I figured I could at least pick up some duct tape to get it home.

IMG_1588We continued on. Before making the turn down Route 8 to go to Walmart, Elana pointed out an auto parts store we were about to pass on Route 2, so I went there instead. I picked up some Gorilla tape, made by the same people who make Gorilla glue. Elana held the mirror in place while I taped. Fortunately, years of LARP experience have given me lots of practice applying duct tape to boffer weapons. Gorilla tape is thicker and more sticky than duct tape, and by the time I was done I think the mirror was better attached than it was before whatever caused it to come off happened. I think I’ll keep this roll of Gorilla tape in the trunk at all times for any other similar repairs. All I need now is some red tape on the mirror to cover it up. I set a course for home.

We had an excellent run down the Mohawk Trail. We didn’t get caught behind any slow traffic all the way through Charlemont, which meant I could enjoy the curves at a brisk but safe pace. I was feeling tired as we came down the hill into Greenfield, so I pulled into what I remembered being a Big Y supermarket, but was now a Home Depot, just to get off the bike for a few. It’s been so long since I’ve been on the bike this long (without a breakdown) that I’m simply not used to an all day trip anymore. Since we were at a Home Depot anyway, we went inside and picked up some screws and hooks we needed for our canvas tent, which we’re taking to Pennsic. It seems that in our final week leading up to our departure for this event (some friends of ours are already there), we can’t even squeeze in a bike ride without thinking about and preparing for it!

The rest of the ride home was tiring, but otherwise uneventful. We made more frequent rest stops than I usually do, because both of us were feeling it and needed to stretch more often. It’s better to stop and stretch than to press on regardless. You can’t control the bike adequately if you can’t feel parts of your body. Even a passenger going numb might slip and do something unexpected, which throws off the rider’s control. But this didn’t happen. We arrived home under our own power, which came as a great relief to me. There was the mirror casualty, of course, but it didn’t even budge during an hour of high speed superslab travel, so I’m not worried about it. I do plan to look up schematics to learn how it’s supposed to attach, and hopefully rig up something more than just tape to do it. I’m more concerned about next year’s inspection than it actually staying on the bike, though.

I’m glad we got to finish the ride we started. With SCA events coming up thoughout August, it’s possibly the last day trip I’ll get to take for a while. It’s kind of sad, because this is also the first successful day trip I’ve taken this year, and it’s already the end of July. I don’t know if I’ll even get an overnight trip in at all this year. Maybe toward the end of the season, particularly if I don’t camp out for the night. But at least, now, that’s an option.

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On the road again – or not

Finally, after a great deal of time and expense, I finally got my bike back last Wednesday. It’s running beautifully, which makes the sting to the savings account hurt a bit less. Naturally, as soon as I got it back, it rained for two days, including July 4. But I had other plans anyway, and it cleared up for the weekend, so I set Saturday aside for my first full day trip of the year. I think Elana was as psyched to get on the bike for a day trip as I was.

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We started with a highway cruise out Route 2 to Westminster, both to get to fun roads more quickly and because Elana wanted to see what high speed highway riding was like. Then I took us up Mt. Wachusett, which she had wanted to see since seeing my pictures from last month. (I’ll be posting some video of the ride up and down later.)

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We spent some time up there, sightseeing, taking pictures, and so on. Visibility was amazing – even better than my last time up there. The Boston skyline, over 50 miles away, was clearly visible. So was Mt. Monadnock in New Hampshire. If I knew where to look, I probably could’ve seen Mt. Greylock, too – a view spanning the full width of Massachusetts. We planned to end up out that way later.

I took us down the mountain, out to Route 62, and to the end of the road in Barre. Then we hopped on 122 – past the point where I lost power the last time I was here – to 202, around the north end of the Quabbin Reservoir. Then we had some fun back road twisties to get over to 116. I intended to follow 116 out to Adams, then hop the Mohawk Trail and Route 2 all the way home.

We stopped for gas, and ended up chatting with a guy on a Honda ST1300 – a bike I lust after. We talked a while. After Elana got on the bike behind me, he pointed out that my back tire was soft. I checked, and indeed it was – very soft. It didn’t take much investigation to discover that the valve stem had started to come out of the wheel, causing a slow leak.

I was livid. I had a leak, from the valve stem, after getting my back tire replaced late last year. I had them check and fix it when I got my new front tire. They charged me for the repair, even though they hadn’t installed it correctly in the first place, but I didn’t raise a fuss at the time since it had been several months, though not many miles. This was exactly the same problem, and still not properly repaired.

Time for what NASA called RTLS – Return To Launch Site abort. I finagled the valve to leak as little as possible, pumped the tire as full as I could, and set a course for home as quickly as we could get there. We picked up 91 (having established that Elana is fine with highway travel) and headed for Route 2, which would take us straight home. It was only one exit. But before we got there, the back of the bike started shimmying back and forth. It got worse quickly. As soon as I sensed it, I pulled over, probably avoiding a really nasty crash by reacting so quickly. The cause was obvious – the back tire was as flat as a pancake.

The next hour was spent fighting to arrange a tow. I’ve never had a problem with AMA’s roadside assistance before, but the guy I got on the phone this time had no clue. And then we realized my membership had just expired at the end of June, and he transferred me to another number to renew – a number that’s closed on weekends. Meanwhile Elana discovered that her AAA in our area won’t tow bikes, ever. Thanks to my smartphone, I managed to renew my AMA membership online. I called back and got a very clueful woman, who, upon taking some info about my renewal, put the tow through at member rates.

The tow truck guy was awesome. I’ve had bikes towed many times and never had issues, but this was the most secure I’ve ever seen it. We dropped it at Elana’s place. The first guy on the phone wasted so much of my time that it was then impossible to get it to the shop before they closed. Her place is 20 miles closer than home (I was already over my 35 mile coverage) and 2 miles from Central Mass Powersports. I’m not even dealing with the other shop anymore – just asking CMP nicely to fix it right. Right now I’m waiting for a call back from them to schedule a pickup at Elana’s place – a service I didn’t even know they offered.

All’s well that ends well, but I just can’t seem to catch a break. I briefly considered selling the bike and giving up on them completely, but I was super angry at the time and have since come to my senses. So although we were technically out with the bike all day, I don’t count the two hours on the side of 91, nor the flatbed ride as part of it. Maybe one day I’ll have just a relaxing day on the bike like I’m supposed to.

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If It’s Not One Thing, It’s Another

A pessimistic weather forecast and a tight schedule led to us taking the car to my friend’s Memorial Day shindig in western MA last weekend instead of the bike. Naturally, it didn’t rain after all.  But it did mean I got to bring my djembe to do some drumming by the fire, which was pretty popular. I can’t exactly fit that on the bike. I also brought our archery equipment with us, which meant we had just enough time for a stop by the Quabbin reservoir the following morning and going straight to the close-to-home archery practice.

We got a last minute invitation to a barbecue on Memorial Day itself from one of Elana’s friends, and decided on a whim to hop on the bike and go. Two and a half hours each way to Rochester, NH, was more than she’d ever been on a bike before, but she did quite well with it, and I got to enjoy much of the day on the bike. We did get caught in about 15 minutes of rain on the way up, but we rode out the northern end of it and stayed dry the rest of the day. The ride home was better, due to less rain and my whim to pass through Nottingham rather than simply take Rt. 125 much of the way south. We lost the overnight trip we’d hoped for, but managed to salvage at least part of a day.

It is now June, and I have yet to do a single overnight trip on the bike this year. Talk about an attack of life. I managed to head out alone for a little while yesterday.  I shot out Route 2 to 31 to 140 to 62. When I saw the turn for Mt. Wachusett, I figured I’d give it a try – it was early enough. Sure enough, it was open, alive, and kicking. When I stopped at the gate to pay my $2 parking fee (well worth it – I’ll get to that later) a woman on a BMW pulled up behind me.  The ranger assumed we were together, but I’d never seen her before. I got on my way a little ahead of her, but she soon caught up – not surprising, a BMW with no luggage against my PC800.  We enjoyed the curves, but I felt I was holding her back, so I waved her by about halfway up the mountain. She passed and pulled away very slowly, but not by as much as I expected. We enjoyed the rest of the ride up and parked. I struck up a conversation with her, and we ended up hanging out most of the time at the summit.

IMG_1355The last time I went to Mt. Wachusett, I was disappointed. Though I agree with conservation efforts, an unfortunate effect was that the view from the top of the mountain was obscured by trees that had been allowed to grow. It was a far cry from what I remember in my youth, when I also climbed this mountain on two wheels, but without the aid of a motor. There was also a large construction project going on with a fire tower at the summit. This time, the construction was done, and an observation platform was open, giving us about 20 feet of altitude over the summit itself. It made all the difference, boosting us over the trees and providing the views I remember from my youth. Visibility was amazing. To the east I could see the Wachusett Reservoir, Lake Quinsigamond near Worcester, and in the hazy distance I could even make out the Boston skyline, 50 miles away. To the north, Mt. Monadnock in New Hampshire was clearly visible. The $2 parking fee was new since I was last here, but considering the view, it was oh so worth it.

IMG_1364When I returned to the bike, I put out a few calls on the ham radio to see who I could reach with my excellent range from the top of the mountain. I didn’t reach anyone, so I cruised back down, returned to Rt. 62, and decided to follow it to its western terminus in Barre. I refueled, got a drink and an ice cream, sat on the town common and enjoyed them. Then I took 32 north, figuring that at some point I’d run into some road I know and head east toward home.

I ended up three cars behind some idiot going 25 in a 40 zone. As soon as I got a dotted line I blitzed past all three. After returning to cruising speed and getting back on the throttle, something wasn’t right. The engine was rough, I had little power, and I’d picked up a nasty backfire (great tailgater deterrent). After experimenting a little I determined that whatever had gone wrong was consistently wrong and wasn’t getting any worse. So I programmed the GPS to take me home, fastest route. Engage!

The back roads were challenging. It felt like my PC800 had turned into a PC400, like I’d lost a cylinder but was still riding a 600lb motorcycle. I was downshifting and revving high just to maintain speed on the hills, then BAM!!! with a backfire when I let off the gas. Clearly unburned fuel was leaving the engine, so it wasn’t a bad gas problem.

Before long I hit Route 2. This was the best move I could’ve made. It seems backwards to think that there’s something wrong with my bike – let’s increase speed! But this road was open, without stops or hills, and the higher speed kept the revs up, increasing power so that I could usually maintain 60mph, which was more than adequate for limping home. I might have had power problems, but the handling and brakes were as good as ever, so the higher speed than the back roads was no problem. I was determined to make it home before shutting the engine off, for fear that it wouldn’t start again.

I was successful, and managed to get home without any further reduction in performance. The bike actually does start again, but still suffers from a lack of power. I was stupid and tested the wrong cylinder after work today, and managed to ruin a spark plug wire in the process – something let go inside of it before it let go of the spark plug. It was dark by the time I realized my mistake, so I’ll have to check again some other night. I suspect I might have had a coil go bad, based on observations when I plugged and unplugged each coil individually. I have a post out to the PC800 Facebook group seeking advice. Meanwhile, my bike is dead in the water. Again.

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The Quabbin Reservoir

Over 100 years ago, Boston was running out of water. They’d built a few reservoirs and aqueducts in the suburbs, but as the population grew demand once again exceeded supply, which led to the undertaking of building what, at the time, was “the largest man-made reservoir in the world which was devoted solely to water supply.”  This involved the disincorporation, dismantling, and flooding of four towns along the Swift River in central Massachusetts, as well as building a half mile long dam plus a smaller dyke to hold back the currents of the Swift River to form the Quabbin Reservoir.

This area has always fascinated me, and I’ve made a few trips down here to go exploring.  Yesterday around 11am it seemed too late to start planning a day trip, but then I thought of the Quabbin, knew it was only about 90 minutes away, and decided to head out there for the rest of the day.

IMG_0936After bypassing the still torn up section of Route 2 between home and 495 (when they groove it up, then paint lines on it, it’s a bad sign that they’re going to leave it torn up for a while), I hopped on 2 west. The level of traffic made me think it was rush hour, not noon on a Saturday – wall to wall cars, and made worse by slow people clogging up the left lane.  It was like this all the way to Gardiner, where I stopped for gas. After that, the ride got more fun. I followed 2 a short distance to Route 101 in Templeton.  Once out of town this felt like a narrow back road, judging from the size, condition, and the thick canopy of trees through which little direct sunlight fell, but it is actually a state highway.  Route 101 led me to Route 32 and Petersham, but soon after I turned onto Route 32A to ride south near the east side of the reservoir.  The water isn’t visible from the road since it’s actually a fair distance away.  The state owns much of the surrounding land as a buffer between civilization and the water supply to prevent contamination.

Someday I want to hike or bicycle the two miles or so from 32A to the former center of the town of Dana.  Many of the old roads still exist but are closed to motor vehicles.  Access by non-motorized means, however, is permitted.  I can only imagine how surreal it must feel to stand on the common of a town that no longer exists.  Massachusetts isn’t the west.  Ghost towns simply don’t happen here.

Route 32A eventually merged back into 32, and soon I turned west on Route 9 through the town of Ware. (Where? I’m sure they hear that joke all the time.) A few miles beyond the center of town I turned into the first entrance into the park, kicked down my speed, and took it all in.  Suddenly there were no buildings, houses, or businesses – just woods, and the occasional side road gated off from traffic leading to a fishing spot of some kind.  A hundred years ago these roads led to towns that no longer exist.

IMG_0941I stopped at the Enfield Overlook, which provides a beautiful view of the reservoir and islands, as well as photos of the former town of Enfield from this very spot, now submerged.  I parked next to an ST1100, and noticed a number of similarities between it and my PC800 – pedals, for instance, and the mirrors are identical.  The owner noticed me checking out his bike, and we chatted a little about our Hondas.  My bike has a lot more cargo space in its current configuration, but I wouldn’t mind rocking an ST1100 or ST1300 at some point.  Bamarider speaks highly of them, and I’ve long since been a fan of Honda motorcycles as well as cars.  The ST has far better range on a tank of gas than my PC800, which itself would be a good reason to upgrade to one before a cross country trip.  On the other hand, I’m not completely convinced that the PC wouldn’t be up for the trip.  I’d just have to plan my route to not go through 300 miles of desert with no gas stations.

Moving on down the road, I decided to skip the trip up the Quabbin lookout tower (been there, done that, didn’t feel like it today) and head straight out to Winsor Dam.  I was on absolutely no schedule today, and I hadn’t taken a good walk in a while, so I parked the bike and took a walk from one side of the dam to the other.

IMG_0945IMG_0944These pictures don’t adequately demonstrate the difference in height between the water level and the dry land on the other side of the dam.  There’s probably a 150 foot or so hill on the south side of the dam. A friend once told me she had fun rolling down it, but seeing that it’s at least a 45 degree angle, I’m not sure I wouldn’t break something if I tried that. I’d hoped to walk down a trail and come back along the bottom of the dam, but the trail was closed.

I walked to the far end, where there’s a visitor center in the old police barracks (some of it is still used by the State Police), but I turned around and walked back across the dam to where I’d parked.  I hopped back on the bike, rode back to Route 9, and rode a while longer until I reached the entrance to that visitor’s center.  It was definitely more than a half a mile ride.  I followed a couple of Japanese cruisers in, parked, and went inside the visitor center to see what they had.  There was a lot of information on the area’s wildlife, and some large binders on a table all about the construction of the Quabbin Reservoir as well as the Wachusett (closer to home for me, and part of the same system), plus history and information about each of the of the towns that was disincorporated to make the reservoir.  The other riders were there, and we got talking and exchanging notes about the area.  One of them had been here a lot, while the other was visiting for the first time.  We were all fascinated by what it took to transform the Swift River Valley into a huge reservoir.

Once I’d read enough, I returned to the bike and followed 9 west to 202 north, up the west side of the Quabbin.  There are some fun hills and curves in here – nothing too technical, but fun, scenic, and not a lot of traffic.  I didn’t feel like superslabbing Route 2 back home, so before I got that far I turned east on Route 122 across the north end of the Quabbin.  I completed the loop when I crossed 32A and kept going.  I repeated a few miles of road, but followed 32 into the town of Barre, where I picked up Route 62 at its western terminus and followed it east.  I’ve ridden this many times, but I don’t as much as I used to since I live farther north and east now, and Route 2 is the fastest way for me to get around.  Route 62 is also fun, twisty, and hilly. Another sport touring bike hooked up with me for a while, and we enjoyed the twisties together for several miles until he turned south on 140.

After passing the turn for I-190, I stopped at Sterling Ice Cream for… well, ice cream.  It was a comfortable day and a perfect temperature for riding, but once I was off the bike I was a little warm, and that helped me cool off a bit.  From there I meandered back roads the rest of the way home.

Not bad for a six hour trip with almost no planning whatsoever.  Once again, APRS failed to register my route in the low lying areas with anything remotely resembling accuracy, so I don’t have a map to share of my trip.

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Ride to End Alzheimer’s

This past Saturday I participated in a charity ride for the Alzheimer’s Association. But it’s not what you think it is – this was a bicycle ride, not a motorcycle ride. I was there not as an entrant, but as part of the motorcycle sweep crew. My friend Kate was looking for a couple more people to help. I ended up being available, and Kate had been kind enough to loan me her trailer to take my bike to the shop last month, so I figured, why not?

Though not on a motorcycle, I’ve worked in the sweep position at performance rallies before, so I pretty much knew what was involved with the job.  The only difference was that I wouldn’t be winching crashed race cars out of the woods or back into their proper rubber side down position.  I’d be stopping to help cyclists who had either mechanical or physical problems, and getting help when necessary. When I asked if my ham radio APRS system might come in handy, Kate put me in touch with people providing radio communications for the event – people who I already knew from my ham radio hobby.  It’s always amusing to me when worlds collide like this, and suddenly two rather different interests of mine suddenly get mashed together.  We discussed it, and yes, I’d run APRS as the tail bike for the 100 mile ride – that way, they could constantly track my progress and know where the last rider was.  I didn’t have a way to be on the radio net while riding my motorcycle, but they could send me a text message if they needed me to keep an eye open for a particular rider.  And, of course, if I happened upon an emergency of my own, I could simply plug a microphone into my radio and break into the net to call for help.

IMGP0584On Saturday I got up way too early and took an alternate route to the old Fort Devens since they’d just torn up Route 2 between here and there. I was the second bike to arrive after Kate. We decorated my bike with official vehicle markings, and since the PC800 doesn’t have 4-way flashers, I rigged up a revolving amber light I’ve used before for rallies on my top trunk for added visibility. Kate and I would be bringing up the rear for the metric century (100km, 62 miles) and full century (100 miles) respectively. A couple of other bikes would migrate up and down the groups of cyclists, stopping to help people as necessary.  My responsibility would be to make sure no one got left behind.

At precisely 6:37am, the police escort sounded his siren, and we were off.  I’ll tell you, it felt mighty strange being directly in the sights of a state trooper with all his lights on, and NOT having to pull over for him!  Three troopers escorted us off of Devens, blocked traffic through the Ayer rotary for us, and peeled off once we got to the back roads toward Harvard.

I ended up falling in with a group of cyclists at the back who clearly knew each other, and were just going their own steady but slow speed. I soon learned that my bike doesn’t like going this slow. It didn’t come anywhere near overheating, thanks to a good radiator fan, but the engine temperature was still a bit higher than normal – not anywhere near the red zone, but far above the cold end of the gauge where the needle usually sits. It’s also far more difficult to ride a motorcycle slowly than it is to ride fast. At speed, you have the gyroscopic effect of the spinning wheels to keep the bike steady – something you don’t have so much at bicycle speeds. I had to muscle the handlebars a bit to get the bike to do what I wanted to do instead of just applying a light countersteer as usual.

There were five pit stops along the route to feed and water the cyclists. I brought my own water, but I also made it a point to drink something at every pit stop, whether I thought I needed it or not, to keep hydrated. I never took an actual lunch break, but I did eat some sandwiches at pit stops along the way to keep myself fed as well. When I went to leave the third pit stop, the starter turned over a little, and then didn’t. I’d been riding so slow for so long, the engine wasn’t at high enough RPMs to keep the battery fully charged, and I didn’t have quite enough electricity left to restart the bike – plus the engine fan running very regularly probably put a bit of a drain on it as well. Rather embarrassed, I asked around among the other ride volunteers, got a jump start, and continued on my way. I made it a point to run lower gears and keep the revs up the rest of the day, and I had no further starting problems.

alzrideI did end up helping a few riders out. I caught up to two women stopped at an intersection where the 100 mile and 30 mile rides split. I stopped to check on them. One of them had hurt her wrist, and they were debating whether to continue on the 100 mile ride they’d signed up for or bail down the 30 mile route. They opted to bail, so I continued on.

Later on, the rider I was directly behind waved to me. I rode up alongside him, and he said he wasn’t able to shift gears, and was having a lot of trouble on the hills. When we caught up to another support vehicle, I stopped with him to see if we could get him a ride to the next pit stop for service (a local bicycle shop was supplying mechanics to keep the bikes running). That particular vehicle couldn’t, but the ham radio operator on board called for someone to come and get him. I continued on. I saw him at the next pit stop and checked up on him. His bike was being repaired, but his legs had started to cramp after he stopped riding, so he was out of the event.

In Hollis, NH, I noticed my gas gauge was getting low, despite only having ridden 90 miles since my last fill-up. Low speeds in first and second gear aren’t particularly fuel efficient. I consulted my GPS to find a gas station along the route. I found none directly on my route – not surprising, since it mainly stuck to quiet back roads – but I did find one about a mile up Route 111 from the turn onto 111A. I followed the last cyclists to this turn, then sprinted up the road, filled up, came back, and swept 111A until I caught up to the riders again.

One rider ended up falling way back, and it was just him and me the last several miles to the finish. We talked on and off along the way, and I gave him words of encouragement. Soon after we re-entered Devens, I noticed a state trooper approaching from the opposite direction. He turned on his blues and pulled me over – to check in with me and make sure this was the last rider. I had a split second of fear, as we all do when we see those lights turn on, but there was no problem. In fact, he gave us a police escort the rest of the way to the finish, blocking the last major road we had to cross so we could get through without stopping. The last rider’s friends, who I’d also seen a lot of throughout the day, were waiting at the finish for him. All of them thanked me for my help and shook my hand. Word got back to us through Kate that the state trooper had also spoken highly of the motorcycle crew to the event organizer, and said they should do whatever it takes to get us back next year.

Despite the generally excellent track my APRS station gave me (except around the Wachusett Reservoir, which I know is a poor coverage area), it really didn’t end up helping that much, mainly because net control didn’t put it to good use, by their own admission.  If the trooper had known they could track me this way, he wouldn’t have had to come back looking for us.  So, in the future, it would probably work better if I just keep the microphone plugged in and call into the net by voice rather than use APRS.

Scheduling permitting, I’d do this again, but both my bike and I would prefer to be one of the bikes riding up and down the group of cyclists rather than sitting at the rear all day. I was more worn out after 100 miles of slow riding than I was after 400 miles of Trans Canada Highway. But no regrets – it was a good time, and for a good cause.

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The Mohawk and Molly Stark Trails

This was a completely spur of the moment day trip. I covered no new territory here, but I’d never ridden these roads in one trip before. It was well worth doing, and a route I’d recommend to anyone who wants to escape the hustle and bustle of eastern Massachusetts for a day.

mms

I took a side trip down to a yard sale some friends were having on my way west. A brief rain shower arrived.  I checked the weather radar on my iPhone, and it looked like if I sucked it up and went west I would soon ride out of it.  So I put on the rain gear and did exactly that.  It was my first time riding this bike in a real rain, and with this particular set of rain gear.  My mesh jacket came with its own rain shell designed to go over it, and I used it for the first time.  Rain geared up, and behind the fairing, I was perfectly comfortable, especially since I was able to keep moving until the rain stopped.  I pulled over at a rest area on Route 2, took the rain gear off, and didn’t need it again the rest of the ride despite a high chance of thunderstorms in the forecast.  (I figure that as I go on more and more trips, someday I’m going to get caught in rain, so I might as well practice for that.)

Once on 2, I superslabbed it all the way out until it was no longer a superslab.  I went through the middle of Greenfield instead of taking 2 and 91 around it, which is what I should’ve done.  I needed to refuel both the bike and myself, but could’ve found both along the bypass.  From there, I had a rather traffic-free run through my favorite part of the Mohawk Trail, except for one bridge that the State Police had shut down to one lane due to construction (on a Sunday?) It was fun.

3474ftIn North Adams I decided to take a side trip up Mt. Greylock. I’d done this last year on the Silverwing, and I wanted to see how this bike compared to it. It did quite well, and made it all the way to the top with no trouble at all as this APRS report shows.  The peak of the mountain is 3,489 feet, so this must have beaconed at the highest point of the road, near the tower at the top.  The trip down went well, too.  Visibility was excellent, and only slightly hazy with the humidity in the air.  I appreciated the slightly cooler air at the higher altitude, and so did the bike, whose radiator fan cycled on and off regularly due to the low speeds I was traveling.

From there I continued into Williamstown and turned right up Route 7 to Bennington, VT. I stopped for a drink and an ice cream, then turned right again to pick up Route 9 east – the Molly Stark Trail. I rode this westbound to New York recently, so I knew I was in for a good time – and I was. It’s significantly faster and more open than the Mohawk Trail, but that’s because Vermont lets you do 50mph unless otherwise marked.  Traffic generally cooperated with me, and there were some climbing lanes I put to good use.  All too soon I was at the other end in Brattleboro.

From there I made my way to nearby Keene, NH, then took 101 east to 137 down to Jaffrey. Route 137 used to be my “test track” when I lived in Winchendon, MA, since it’s fun, hilly, and twisty. I didn’t remember which section was the most fun part, though, since it’s been several years since I’ve ridden it, and I went right toward Jaffrey instead of left through the fun bit.  But it was still good, and I didn’t feel like backtracking this time.  I took 123 out of Jaffrey, which brought me back into Massachusetts where I picked up 119 and went the rest of the way home.

Good times.  Definitely set aside the better part of a day for this loop, especially if you include Mt. Greylock.  You can add more superslab (Route 2, 91, etc.) if you want to shorten the trip further and get straight out to the fun parts and back. The scenery is beautiful, and the roads are fun. Not bad for a loop I just made up on the spur of the moment.

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Quick Quabbin Loop

I had a busy weekend, with much to do off the bike. I finally freed up around 4:30pm, too late to take any decent ride, right? Well, I have a stubborn streak, and I needed to get out for a couple of hours to process some bad news I got and clear my mind, so I looked at Google maps and whipped up a route.

A disadvantage of where I live now is that it’s farther away from the fun roads of central Massachusetts that I enjoy riding. But an advantage I discovered is that this distance can be overcome by hopping on Route 2 near my home and superslabbing it west to get to the fun roads. The slab isn’t fun, but when there isn’t much traffic it’s not bad at all, and my newly discovered throttle locker works well as cruise control. It gets me to the roads I want to ride more quickly.

So I sped halfway across the state and took Route 202 south, down the west side of the Quabbin Reservoir. It’s a fun, rolling road all the way down to Belchertown (you can’t make up some of these Massachusetts towns), where I turned east on Route 9. This took me through Ware (where?) A Jeep nearly took me out when it changed lanes without looking. My horn works. A while later I turned north on Route 32, which I followed up to Barre. I picked up Route 62 at its western end and headed east toward home.

I could’ve take 62 all the way to Maynard, the town over from where I live, but by now it was dinner time and I was hungry, so once I rode the fun section out west I followed the signs back to I-190 in Sterling and took Route 2 home.

This works. I’m very confident with this bike on the highway, both in handling it as well as having enough power. I’m going to start doing this more often, because, like yesterday, I can squeeze in a fun ride somewhere not near home in a matter of 2-3 hours.

But I hate how my TomTom GPS still thinks that 2 and 190 are not highways when I use its “avoid highways” function. How is a clearly marked Interstate not a highway? I know I’d pondered switching to my iPhone for navigation, but it has downsides, too – a smaller screen, and unlike my GPS I can’t operate it with gloves on. I should try updating my old TomTom sometime to see if that helps, but it never has before. Since I’m so reliant on GPS technology for my trips, I should consider additional options.

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