planning

SaddleSore 1000?

Another month, another lack of any serious rides. But a recent article on LaneSplitter gave me a wacky idea – an Iron Butt SaddleSore 1000.

Such a ride – 1000 miles in 24 hours – goes completely against my usual philosophy of motorcycle trips. I like to pick fun, twisty roads to explore, take my time, make stops along the way, and generally enjoy the trip rather than be on a strict schedule. The SS1k requires the opposite approach. It’s all about putting the miles behind you and making the best progress you possibly can. The best approach for this is to stick to the superslab, which is something I usually try to avoid. Why would a ride like this interest me at all?

My main problem for the past couple of years is that I simply haven’t had the time to take the longer trips like I used to. By definition, the SS1k takes place in a single day. I can schedule it fairly easily, and change the date if I need to with no problem. I wouldn’t want to do it in the rain, for example. It’s an excuse to get me out on the bike for a long ride, and an interesting challenge to undertake. It’s not so much putting me out of my comfort zone, since I’m perfectly comfortable on superslabs, but it’s definitely something I’ve never tried before. I’ve never ridden even 500 miles in a single day, never mind 1000. So it’s worth a shot.

I certainly can’t jump from what little riding I’ve been doing straight into a SS1k. Like a marathon runner, I’ll have to work my way up to it. I’ve already had it in mind to take a day trip including the entire length of New York’s Taconic State Parkway. That would be roughly a 400 mile loop, mostly superslab, which would give me a taste of what a SS1k would be like. I also will not be doing it this year. I don’t have time to build up to it. Nights are shorter than days now, and optimally I’d tackle this sometime near the summer solstice, with the maximum available daylight for safety. (I may also add some better driving lights to the PC800 before then, especially if I attempt a SS1k since it will require some high speed night riding no matter what.) I’d have time to get used to riding again in the spring, do a Taconic loop as a warmup, and tackle a SS1k in mid to late June of next year.

There’s also the question of a route. Optimally, I’d plan a nice 1000 mile loop of superslabs to ride around. That’s pretty easy in the middle of the US, but I live in New England. Houlton, ME, on the Canadian border, is “only” 364 miles from home, and I don’t want to lose any time at border crossings. This is unfortunate, not only because Maine is a beautiful place to ride, but also because of speed limits from 70-75mph much of the way, allowing a higher legal average speed and the ability to maintain it unobstructed due to the lack of traffic. There aren’t any east-west superslabs across northern New England, so I can’t make a big loop out of it without seriously compromising my speed, negating the advantage of the higher speed limits in Maine.

The best solution may not be the most interesting route, but the most effective – straight west on I-90 for about 500 miles, turn around, and come back. West is the only direction I can go 500 miles without hitting water, the Canadian border, or the mess of traffic around New York City. Technically I-80 across Pennsylvania is another possibility, but I know from previous trips to Pennsic that it’s slow, full of traffic, has lots of construction (usually 20 miles shut down to one lane so that a single PennDOT worker can sip coffee on the side of the road), and is generally quite frustrating. But I-90 across New York is much better, despite the lower 65mph speed limit than Maine. The only real potential slowdown is in Buffalo, and Waze has gotten me around it before. There’s a Kwik Fill gas station just across the PA border that’s 519 miles from home – a good turnaround point that puts a few extra miles in the bank in case my calculations are a little bit off.

So those are my thoughts for now. I have plenty of time to plan and prepare over the winter. We’ll see if the challenge still appeals to me in the spring.

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Three Months Later…

Wow, I’ve been slacking around here. My other writing projects and sites have taken off so much I’ve neglected to keep up on the motorcycle front. So here’s what’s been going on.

A whole lot of nothing.

I’ve had the PC800 for sale, a few nibbles, and one serious bite, but nothing’s panned out. I haven’t had much chance to ride anyway, between work, vacation, other commitments, and really humid weather that would have me sweating my nuts off by the time I get to work – an unpleasant situation for everyone, I’m sure. I have gotten a few decent half day rides in, though, including one cut short by dodging a bunch of pop-up thunderstorms halfway through (I got home dry and unscathed), and I’ve rebuilt my confidence in this bike. Also, my friend with the Marauder’s life is going through some changes, and the reasons for him to sell it are falling away, which has led me to encourage him to keep it if he wants to start riding again. That would mean I’d keep the PC800, because why not – it’s a good bike in good condition, plus it’s already paid off and it has a title with my name on it. So we’ll see.

I’d really like to get a weekend or at least a full day trip in before the end of the season. I’m just not sure when, because life has this way of kind of sweeping me away.

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Pulling the Trigger

It’s for sale. If you read this blog, you already know the details about the bike. Its inspection runs out today, and my plan to flip the PC800 profit into sending the Marauder to the shop has been approved by my friend who still owns the Marauder, so it’s happening.

It’s kind of bittersweet. I had hoped for more tours with this bike. But we had some good times, and after my first all day trip in two years last weekend, I know it’s reliable once again, which makes it a good time to find it a new home. Today is the last day it’s street legal as I’ve let the inspection run out, having anticipated getting the Marauder on the road by now and being too lazy to get two bikes inspected. So I’ll be without a legal or working bike for a while, but I can handle it. June is looking to be an insanely busy month for me anyway.

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Little Progress

Wow, there goes another month. As usual, I haven’t done much riding. I’ve been busy most weekends, and the weather hasn’t cooperated on other weekends, or in the mornings for riding to work. But it’s a beautiful day today and supposed to be the same tomorrow, so I’m thinking I’ll take a day trip to somewhere tomorrow – something I haven’t done in two years.

For what little riding I have done, the PC800 has worked flawlessly. Today I spent a little time de-modifying it so I can put it up for sale, because while it’s running like a top is the best time to sell it if I’m going to follow through with that idea. The rest of the ham radio APRS setup is out (and I might have a buyer for it), and I removed the stickers from the trunk lid. Because it’s running so reliably is why I’m considering what could be my last major romp on it tomorrow.

The Marauder is coming along, but it probably needs a carburetor cleaning after sitting for a couple of years. I can crank it and get it running smoothly on full choke for a couple of seconds, but then it dies, and no amount of cranking is improving it. I’m considering selling the PC800 now, then using the profit from the sale to send the Marauder to the shop and get whatever it needs to be put back on the road. The timing of this decision also coincides with Massachusetts motorcycle inspections running out at the end of May, and I don’t really want the hassle of getting the PC800 inspected if I’m just about to sell it anyway.

So that’s where I am in the world of bikes. I basically just need to get off my butt and make this swap happen. But not before one last cruise.

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And So It Begins…

With temperatures in the high 50s today, and the 10 day forecast showing a warming trend, it’s time. I ordered a battery for the Marauder today. When it arrives, it’s time to put it back on the road. It’s also time to work on getting the PC800 back from its winter home, and put both Hondas up for sale.

It’s also time to put my summer tires on the car instead on my snow tires. This will inevitably cause another snowstorm, but at least it’ll be out of the way.

Speaking of cars, I’ll mention that my writing on Oppositelock has been quite successful. In fact, a number of pieces I wrote have been featured on the front page of Jalopnik over the past few months, beyond all expectations. You can read my car related stuff here. I’ll keep posting bike stuff here, too, as usual.

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End of Line

Time marches on, with no time to ride on weekends and cold dark nights after work. I had plans to take a friend for a cruise yesterday. She enjoys riding on the back and misses it. But the weather changed, and it rained – not only while there was no rain in the forecast, but also while various weather apps told me it was bright and sunny while looking out the window told me it was overcast and raining. I trust my window more than an app, so we cancelled.

That was our last chance for the year. I’ve made plans this coming Sunday to bring the bike to my friend’s house for winter storage. Already there’s a chance of snow flurries in the forecast for this weekend, and I’m hoping it’s not too cold for me to ride it there. I’m not opposed to taking more time and slower roads if necessary. That’ll be my last ride of the year.

And it could be my last ride on that bike. I’m leaning toward selling it in the spring and buying the Marauder. Once I decide for sure, I’d post it up on a PC800 buy/sell page, but not actively post it on Craigslist until spring. I’ll leave it registered so I can take it home and sell it from there if I need to, or if my friend needs the garage space for spring projects.

I’ll try to think of interesting things to keep writing here during my motorcycle hibernation. I’m open to suggestions or requests…

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Long Term Planning

Although I’ve hardly ridden lately, I’m thinking ahead. Just because I haven’t done any long trips this year doesn’t mean I’m not interested. A cross country ride is still on my bucket list, and possible within the next few years. I’ve still been thinking about it, and pondering how to actually go about doing it.

One thing is clear. The PC800 is a great bike, but I don’t think it’s up for my cross country trip needs. Though it has plenty of cargo space, the gas tank is small, and that’s a concern in areas where there might be 100 miles between towns, and no guarantee that each of them will have a gas station. On top of that, parts availability is a concern. Even a Honda shop couldn’t get new replacement coils for my bike, because they don’t make them anymore. I’d hate to break down halfway across the country and not be able to finish the trip because my bike needs a part I can’t get. As much as I’d love to take my Pacific Coast 800 to the Pacific coast, I don’t think it’s going to happen.

I see two possible alternatives.

  1. Sell the PC800 and buy a nicer, more common bike with a bigger gas tank. I like the sport touring style, so we’re talking something like a Honda ST or Yamaha FJR or something similar. Use that for the cross country trip, and everything else I do.
  2. Keep the PC800, and rent a bike from EagleRider better suited for the cross country trip. Locally, it looks like all they have available is Harleys, but an Electra Glide would have plenty of cargo capacity, a 5 gallon gas tank would give me almost double my current range, and I know from two days on a Street Glide that it’s a comfortable bike for full days in the saddle.

The biggest downside to renting, of course, is that I’ll end up spending a whole bunch of money on a bike and have nothing tangible to show for it when I’m done. If I sell the PC and kick in another grand, maybe two, that’ll get me a nice used ST or FJR, and we’re talking about spending at least that much on the rental. The upside, though, is convenience.  If the rental bike breaks down along the way, it’s on them to fix or replace it and send me on my way at no extra charge. I don’t have to worry about prepping the bike at all – just pick it up, pack it, and go. But the most important bit of convenience would be time. If I take my own bike across the country, I have to get it back home – presumably by riding it, but possibly by shipping it as well. That costs money. But if I rent a bike, yes, I’ll have to pay a not insignificant surcharge, but I’d get to leave it there and fly home. Taking the bike only one way would double how much time I can spend getting there. This is important, because although I get three weeks of vacation time from work, it also caps at three weeks, so I can’t save up for a year and take a full month off. The quality of the trip could be much better if I can take my time doing it, rather than doing a mad dash from east to west to east in three weeks. I’d probably have to use a lot more superslab to make time and put down miles, missing out on the meandering back roads and quaint small towns that are what I think a trip like this should be all about in the first place.

I suppose a deciding factor here should be, what are my long term plans? Do I intend to do even more long distance touring aside from the cross country ride? If so, it would probably be better to buy the right bike for that job, own it, and use it for all these trips. Plus a sport touring bike is a whole lot more fun for me than the cruiser I’d end up renting. But I have a lot of interests, and already don’t have enough time to pursue all of them as much as I’d like. This year I sank a bunch of money into fixing up the PC, and barely ridden it since then. What little riding I’ve done was mostly commuting, and I’m not even doing that on a bike anymore. Would I get the use out of a bigger, better bike to justify having it? I’m really not sure.

To buy or to rent is the biggest factor for planning this trip, I think, because the answer to that determines how many miles I need to cover (one way vs. round trip), and since the trip will be time boxed into three weeks that’ll determine my pace, how many miles I need to cover each day, almost every day (I’ll rest every seventh or so) to complete the trip on time. Bamarider has done a round trip in three weeks a few times, so it’s certainly possible. I’ll reread his trip writeups for tips on how he did it to see if it’s feasible. I suppose an option 2.5 would be to rent a bike AND do a round trip, thereby saving the big surcharge by returning it to the same place I got it. That may be worth considering as well.

Regardless of what method I choose, it’s clear to me that I’m going to have to physically condition myself for such a trip before I take it. Finishing the western MA trip was all the proof I needed that I’m just not in shape for full days on the bike at this point. I’ll have to fix that before I commit myself to a schedule and find out the hard way that I can’t keep it.The earliest I could possibly do this trip is next year, and with life being complicated it’s more likely to happen the year after at this rate. So I really don’t need to be worrying about any of this right now. But it’s fun to think about, and there’s no reason why I can’t start planning it now.

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Curses! Foiled Again!

I did some more testing to see if I could figure out my lack of power issue. There’s a great web site, http://www.pc800shopmanual.org/, that has… well… the PC800 shop manual (or at least important bits of it) online for reference. I found some relevant tests for my electrical system, found my multimeter, and went out to run them. To see if one of the two coils had gone bad, I needed to unplug the spark plug wires from the plugs and measure the resistance across them. I started on the rear cylinder and ended up removing both wires – while the caps remained firmly seated on the spark plugs. I tried to put them back together, but I had infinite resistance, so I blew it with the rear cylinder. The front wires gave way more easily, and the resistance was smack dab in the middle of the expected range.

I put it back together as best I could and started the bike. It would barely idle, but any gas at all would cause it to stall. It must be running on only the front cylinder, and that’s the cylinder that has the problems – it was the rear that actually got me home that day.  At this point, I gave up and buttoned it up before I caused even more damage.

When I had some time, I called AMA Roadside Assistance and arranged a tow. I expected the dude with the huge flatbed truck who wasn’t entirely sure how to secure a motorcycle on a truck intended for a car, like I usually got. Instead, I got Iron Horse Transport. I walked outside to find a good sized pickup truck towing an enclosed trailer with the nicest motorcycle transport setup I’d ever seen. Thom was great, and had my bike rolled in and strapped down in no time. He even had a Canyon Dancer to secure the handlebars. Before I knew what hit me, the bike was on its way.

Thom was so fast that I hadn’t even had a chance to call ahead to Central Mass Powersports to let them know it was coming. That’s when I got the bad news – they’re booked two weeks out. If the bike wasn’t already on its way to them, they would’ve turned me away completely. But after my last repair experience, I was looking for an alternative, and it’s not like I’ll be riding before it’s fixed whether it’s here or there. So it’s booked for a diagnosis on June 20 and we’ll go from there. Of course, I’d already set aside the weekend of June 21-22 for a weekend trip to the Lake George area with Elana, so unless a complete miracle occurs, I guess we’ll be taking the car instead.  Admittedly, a sports car on the roads out there should be a lot of fun, too, but it won’t be a bike trip.

Half the year gone, and I still haven’t gotten even a good full day trip, never mind any overnights or longer. I’m tempted to plan something July 4 weekend, but then everyone will be, so places to stay could be tough to find, and on top of that I have non-motorcycle plans for the following weekend, and then Pennsic in early August. I have too many commitments and not enough time to do any serious tripping for a while. I’m afraid that the next thing I know, the season will be over, and I’ll have nothing. If I want to do a cross country ride in the next couple of years, this doesn’t bode well.

But one disaster at a time. Let’s get the bike back, and see what I can do from there.

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Getting there

Time marches on, and it is, in fact, March. Much of the snow has gone away, and my bike has stopped doing its Han Solo in carbonite impression.

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I’m going to be a little late getting it back on the road, most likely. Due to the law and the way the dashboard lights on my Ford are wired, it unexpectedly failed inspection for inoperative antilock brakes. That alone shouldn’t fail it, by the law, but because that car also turns on the red BRAKE light on the dashboard along with the ABS light, it failed for that technicality. The diagnosis was a dead ABS module, which was going to cost a four digit figure to replace to even have a chance of passing. Being an 11 year old Ford with 160,000 miles, I decided it was time to put that money toward a replacement car instead. To make a long story slightly less long, the stars aligned, and I bought this.

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It’s a brand new Subaru BRZ. I’ve been researching and pondering replacing the Ford later this year, but the inspection fiasco forced me to move much sooner than expected. The stars aligned, and I got the exact car I wanted. The downside is it took a much higher investment than I planned on – my most expensive inspection sticker ever – and I’m out of spending money until next month. That includes getting the bike ready for spring, except the battery, which is cheap and easily replaced myself. But the front tire and any other work it needs will have to wait until April.

Early April will be a big bike time, though, not only for preparing the PC800, but for Ana to take her MSF course, and to possibly revisit the Silverwing, which I technically still own. I may find myself putting both bikes back on the road – in this case, his and hers. But one step at a time.

Meanwhile, I expect I’ll be doing a lot more bike commuting this year. My new job is a 30-40 minute commute that doesn’t have much stop and go traffic – far better than my old commute to Lexington. I have a much more fun car to drive now, but I suspect I’ll commute by bike a lot more than I have since last August.

I’ve also been so busy lately that I haven’t put much thought into potential trips for this year. Some of that depends on what happens with Ana and the Silverwing. Either way I still want to take some longer weekend trips myself, both for the higher mileage I can cover than a brand new rider, and, I admit, to simply get away from it all, alone, for a couple of days. After all, that’s how it all started.

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How to Pack

My friend Bob recently emailed me, knowing that I’ve done a few of these road trips, asking my advice on packing and loading a bike for a week (or more, in his case) on the road. I gave him some quick answers, but figured the detailed explanation would be better shared with the world, so here we are.

Packing a bike for a road trip is a bit of an art form. The exact procedure is going to be different for every bike, and for every rider, because everyone takes different stuff. Some may grab food on the road, while others may bring a full camp kitchen. Some may stay in hotels, while others sleep under the stars. Some may use a tent barely big enough for their sleeping bag, while others strap the Tent Mahal on the back of the bike. Some like to go low tech, while others bring cameras, DVD players, or in my case ham radios. There’s no single right way to pack, because every person and every bike is different. I’m going to show you what I do, and explain why I do it. You can use that as a starting point to do what I do, or use similar logic to make your own decisions, or decide that I don’t have any idea what I’m talking about. Whatever works.

So here we have my PC800, loaded up and ready to go.IMG_0718 It’s a terrible picture that I’ve never posted before, but I’m not about to go dig my bike out of a snowbank and load it up for a trip I’m not going to take, so I’ll settle for it for the sake of this discussion.  As you can sort of see, the back of the PC800 opens up like a car trunk, revealing two large storage compartments on either side of the back wheel. On the left side, I have my air mattress, travel pillow, and a thermos of coffee. I snapped this as I was about to leave for Lake George. What I didn’t expect was that the following morning, the coffee I hadn’t drank in the thermos was still warm. So for an overnight, if you’re a coffee drinker, you can get your cup of joe before getting on the bike  by bringing it with you from home. Anyway. I also usually bring an pair of comfy shoes with me so I can get out of the riding boots when I get where I’m going. I usually end up sliding these wherever I can fit them in the main trunk. Often they’ll fit between stuff on the left side.

The right side of the main trunk is where I have my ham radio mounted for APRS. It’s a “permanent” installation, meaning it’s bolted in and not going anywhere. The associated wiring and TinyTrak3+ live here, too. The bike’s own toolkit plus whatever other tools I feel like bringing sit in the bottom of this side. In the photo I’ve stashed an extra fleece in there, along with my cargo net, because you never know when you might need to strap something else to the bike. I usually keep a small hand towel in here, mostly to wipe the dew off the bike in the morning. Then I used the cargo net to strap it down to the rack on top of my top trunk before I set off, letting the wind dry it off as the morning goes on. I put it all away at one of my stops along the way once it’s dry.

Though I normally leave it on the bike, my Givi top trunk is detachable, and I take full advantage of that on these trips. I bring it inside and pack it like a suitcase, with clothes, toiletries, and pretty much anything I’d pack for a few days away from home. I’ve found that packing extra clothes for a week rather than a weekend doesn’t take up nearly as much space as I thought. Also, Ana taught me a trick before my Florida trip that rolling up clothes actually takes up less space than folding them normally. I didn’t believe it at first, but I tried it, and that’s what made the difference of letting me fit four days worth of clothes plus my bulky motorcycle jacket in my suitcase. (The other trick was to wear my riding boots on the plane. They’d take up a lot of room in the suitcase, but they unzip quickly and easily to get through airport security.) A week’s worth of clothes, plus various other odds and ends, are about the most the top trunk can handle. I know from my Canada trip that I was getting a bit tired after seven days straight on the road, so on a longer trip I’d take a day off from riding, and find a way to run a load of laundry through somewhere.

In the top trunk I also pack anything additional I want quick and easy access to – cameras, printed maps or directions (you never know if the GPS is going to conk out), earplugs… When I reach my overnight destination, I simply detach the top trunk and bring it into the tent or wherever else I’m staying.

IMG_0719Once the trunks are all packed and shut, I strap my tent, sleeping bag, and the tarp I put under the tent onto the back seat. The top trunk helps hold these in place, and a series of bungees keep them from shifting around on me. I can’t quite use them as a backrest, but that’s OK. The sleeping bag and tent are each in waterproof stuff sacks instead of the bags they came in. Even if I ride through a downpour at least I’m not spending the night in a wet sleeping bag in a damp tent. I can still open the top trunk pretty easily with everything strapped on. And though it’s a bit more difficult due to all the extra weight, I can still open the main trunk if I have to.  It needs a little muscle to get it open, but once it’s open the hydraulic strut still manages to hold it there. It would work for an emergency repair on the side of the road, but when I reach my destination it’s definitely easier to unstrap the stuff on the back seat first.

And that’s how I do it.

How should you do it? However works for you. In Bob’s case, he has an ex-cop Harley, which has hard bags but no top trunk or luggage rack. In a case like that, if you don’t want to go all out and buy them (they’re not cheap, especially for a Harley), you could buy a waterproof nylon bag of the appropriate dimensions to carry what you need, and strap it to the back instead. If you attach the bag first, you can use it to help support the tent and sleeping bag like I do with my top trunk. You could also use cam-lock straps instead of bungees to attach your cargo a bit more solidly. Ratchet straps would also work but are probably overkill, and would risk bending bits of your bike. The bungees I have work just fine for what I do. In fact I brought these very same bungees to Florida with me to strap my suitcase to the back of the Street Glide for the trip from the hotel to return the bike to EagleRider.

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