Car Stuff

I created this blog to be about my motorcycle road tripping adventures, and I intend to keep it on topic. However, I’ve just gotten permission to post to Oppositelock, and am starting to write automotive pieces over there. If car stuff interests you, feel free to follow me over there. If not, then don’t worry about it – just keep reading about bike stuff here. It’ll be a little slow during the winter, but I’m definitely hoping for more bike adventures next year.

Categories: exhaust notes | Tags: , , , , | 1 Comment

Finished the loop – sort of

Today I spontaneously decided to finish the loop in New Hampshire that I aborted a few weeks ago when the bike acted up again. Yes, my bike is in winter storage, and temperatures were in the 30s today. No matter – I took the BRZ for a cruise, since I really hadn’t taken it for a back road romp since I got it back from the body shop. And, by now, you know how much I hate not finishing a route that I start. It was a slow drawl through slow traffic most of the way to New Hampshire on the back roads. I did get a clear run through Willard Brook State Forest, though, and I noticed the black and white SUV with blue disco lights coming the other direction in time to bring down my speed quickly and avoid trouble. From 119 I took 31 up into New Hampshire and followed it all the way to Bennington, retracing my route from the attempted bike ride.

BRZ_overlookIt was interesting to compare the same twisties in the car that I recently rode on the bike. The car was definitely more capable, and I am certainly a more capable driver than rider. But I was also far more insulated from the experience than I am on the bike, and just how much of a difference that is surprised me. And this is in a modern sports car, with far more feedback through the controls than, say, the Hyundai Elantra I rented for a day earlier this year that had less feedback and sensation through the steering than my Logitech game controller. Seriously, while playing iRacing I’ve had carefully crafted force feedback through the Logitech wheel cause reactions in my virtual driving that I learned in real cars on real tracks, and I didn’t get that through the Elantra, which is an actual car. Not to mention that I was inside a comfortable cabin, with my GPS programmed, my music playing through 10 speakers from my phone’s Bluetooth connection, and my ham radio scanning a few favorite frequencies. It’s not so much comparing apples and oranges, as apples and crankshaft pulleys. You just can’t.

I passed the point where I turned around on the bike, and soon found myself on 137 – the purpose of this whole adventure. When I lived on the MA/NH line over 10 years ago, 137 was my “test track.” After tweaking up a car or bike, I’d take it on 137 to see how it performed. It was just repaved soon after I moved to the area, and was lots of fun. In this case, though, I think I was better off in the car.  The road has deteriorated a lot since then. There are many large ruts and cracks, perfect for catching a motorcycle tire and steering the bike for you if you’re not paying attention. Not a problem in the car, of course. There was even some ice on parts of the road, but I got my winter tires put on last week, and I eased off the pace a bit in these sections and was fine. It was still a fun drive, and I realized that I couldn’t approach the car’s limits safely on these roads, even on less grippy snow tires and with stability control on its more permissive sport mode. I took 202 to 140, then superslabbed it home on 2 with the cruise control on – something else I can’t do on the bike.

It’s not the same, but at least I finished what I’d set out to do. Given the condition of 137, I didn’t really miss anything by not getting the bike out there. It would’ve been a game of avoiding the ruts and cracks instead of carving good lines through the corners. It also let me get more acquainted with the car in its current configuration. I used to call my old Miatas four wheeled motorcycles. That description doesn’t apply to the BRZ – it’s definitely a car, though still a fun one.

I admit, the thought has entered my mind in recent weeks of possibly doing my eventual cross country trip on four wheels instead of two. Today’s road trip drilled into my head the differences between the bike and the car. It would certainly be easier to tackle such a trip in the car. Packing would be easy, weather wouldn’t be an issue, and it’s easier to put down more miles if I need to. But those challenges are what makes doing it on a bike unique, and more worth doing. I’d need to get a different bike for a cross country ride – either buy one, or rent one, neither of which is a cheap proposition. But I already have a car that can do it just fine right now – with a warranty, even. That’s not a cheap proposition, either, but at least I’m already making those payments. Gas would be a little more expensive with poorer mileage than the bike, but not too bad. And doing it in a sports car would still be a lot more fun than in a regular everyday econobubble. So we’ll see.

I still have the entire trip to plan, anyway. I’ve already started some of it, but I’m finding large sections of nothing in the middle of the US that I’m struggling to fill with something interesting. I’ll work on 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…

Categories: day trip | Tags: , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

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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Time for a change?

I’ve had the bike out for a couple of short spins. So far it’s started and ran perfectly. Yet I still don’t dare ride beyond my towing radius from home. No matter – it gets cold and dark so early these days I don’t have time to go very far anyway. I can still cruise around on the weekends for a bit longer, but those days are numbered. Soon I’ll be needing to figure out when I can put it away in my friend’s garage for the winter, really this time.

Another friend already has a bike in storage – a 2001 Suzuki Marauder. In fact it’s been in storage for three years, and she’s trying to sell it.  Since I’ve been losing faith in the PC800, I’ve been considering it. It has 12k original miles, has never been dropped, and has been in the family since new. It’s a cruiser, not a sport tourer, but it has saddlebags, so I could at least still take weekend trips on it – and these days, weekend trips are all I have time for. Elana is comfortable sitting on it, but would need a backrest of some kind for more than a short trip – an easy addition. It currently has a dead battery, and at least one carburetor stuck open when we tried to start it – both to be expected from a bike that’s been sitting for three years.

Because of that, it can continue to sit through the winter. I don’t need to decide what to do yet, but if we get it up and running without much trouble, I’m leaning toward selling the PC and buying the Marauder, both in the spring. If I play my cards right, I could come out of this deal with a working bike and some extra money in my pocket, since I’d be getting a good deal on the Marauder. That and knowing its full history are a large part of the appeal of this idea. If the PC keeps behaving, it might be a good time to sell it, with lots of recent work, new parts, and while it’s running well.

Another factor is that I’ve pondered trying a cruiser for years. When I got my Honda CB750 Custom, I’d actually gone to look at a Magna, only to find it was all smashed on the left side and had obviously been dropped hard. The Harley I rode in Florida last winter was quite comfortable, but kind of big and cumbersome for me. I’ve had the occasion to ride a few Suzuki Savages from time to time, and though I like them, they’re a bit small for me. But the Marauder feels like a good size for me. It won’t handle as well as the PC800, but I really don’t lean hard in the turns anyway. A cruiser might suit my relaxed riding style better than a sport tourer.

The Marauder likely wouldn’t be a cross country machine. It suffers from as short a range on a tank of gas as the PC800, so unless I can plan a route that would definitely have fuel available around every 100 miles or so, it wouldn’t work. But by the time I’m ready for that trip, maybe I can upgrade to a larger bike, or rent a larger one and keep this for cruising around. And I have the option to add hard bags, a trunk, a luggage rack, a windshield, or whatever I want later if I decide I want to increase its touring capabilities.

I have months to decide for sure. If nothing else, I can help get the Marauder running again so it can be easily sold in the spring if I don’t buy it. But I’m seriously pondering it.

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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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RallyMoto at Black River Stages

As many of you already know, I’m a car nut and a performance rally fan. Though I’ve done plenty of autocross and some track driving, I find the idea of taking real cars and racing them on real roads much more exciting. It’s not a perfectly manicured track, but an actual road, with all of the imperfections you expect. Nearly all performance rallies use dirt roads rather than paved, which adds to the challenge. You don’t get to practice hitting the apex of turn 3 perfectly over and over again. Often you’re racing without even seeing the road first. And even if you have, such as when repeating a stage from earlier in the day, the road conditions are different than before. There are also transits, on open roads at normal speeds, to get from one special stage to the next. Precise timing is required at each arrival and departure, and you get penalties for being early or late. Rally cars get a co-driver to handle much of this bookkeeping, the general navigation between stages, and to read notes to the driver during the special stages detailing exactly what’s coming up next.

IMG_1687What does this have to do with motorcycles? NASA Rally Sport also has a series called RallyMoto, which allows motorcycles to run stage rally as well. There is no co-driver in RallyMoto – it’s all up to the rider to do their own navigation, both on stage and on transits, and their own timing. They run separately from the cars, so there is no risk of a rally car meeting up with a bike on a stage. In addition to the usual course opening cars and sweep teams, there is a special course vehicle called the Combo Car that runs between the bikes (who run first) and the cars. This vehicle serves two purposes. Primarily it’s sweep for the motorcycles, making sure no one has crashed, is hurt, has broken down, and basically accounting for every bike that started before letting the cars run. Secondarily, it’s a final look at each stage to make sure it’s still ready for cars to run.

What does this have to do with me? Thanks to my previous car racing experience, having volunteered to work many rallies over the years, a couple of days at Team O’Neil Rally School, and an amateur radio background, I am uniquely qualified for course car duties, despite never having competed in a rally myself. I’ve mainly worked in a sweep team, either as a driver or co-driver, though in 2012 I had the opportunity to co-drive for car 0, the course opening car that does the final fast run through each stage and declares it open for competition. Elana is also a rally enthusiast, and earlier this year we volunteered as a pre-fab sweep team for the Empire State Performance Rally. When we volunteered for Black River Stages, we were assigned the job of Combo Car. This kept us close to the bikes, and gave us plenty of time to hang out with them during the final preparations to run each stage, providing me the opportunity to learn a whole lot more about RallyMoto.

IMG_1683Rally cars require extensive modifications, even for the stock classes. At minimum, all of the required safety equipment – roll cages, seats, harnesses, fire extinguishers, rally computers – must be installed before they can even run. If the car is going to survive for long, the tires, wheels, suspension, and brakes need to be beefed up as well. It’s a seemingly endless cycle of upgrading, maintaining, breaking, fixing, and upgrading the car again. For RallyMoto, the requirements are simply that the bike must be street legal, not a two-stroke, and have a safety triangle and first aid kit on board. You’ll also want a scroll reader for directions on transits. That’s maybe $50 worth of equipment above and beyond the bike itself. As far as personal safety gear, you’ll obviously need a helmet, body armor, solid motocross boots, and all that fun stuff, but you probably already have that if you’re doing any off road riding anyway, and even if you don’t, the cost to equip yourself is comparable to what you’d spend on safety equipment as a rally car driver or co-driver anyway. I used to think that a dual sport motorcycle was required, but Max BMW brought a squad of classic BMW /5s to run. They had knobby tires, better shocks, and extra lighting for the night stages, but they certainly weren’t wild Dakar machines by any means. They were my favorite bikes there.

Driving a course car is great fun. Because we were essentially the first responders, with my ham radio to call for additional help or the ambulance if needed, we booked it down each stage pretty darn quick. We’re not competitors, and we didn’t have detailed stage notes like they do, but we did have the road book, and Elana juggled that, an odometer app on her phone, and sometimes her TomTom GPS to tell me that we were approaching major turns, bridges, or jumps before I could see them so that I could slow down appropriately. I would also slow down before every crest, every berm, and anywhere there might be a bike or rider down until I could see that it was clear.

FIMG_1689ortunately, at no point during the entire event did we arrive at the scene of a crashed rider. That’s not to say there weren’t some spills – there were. We would wait a minute or two after the last rider left before setting off ourselves, and however fast we were driving, the bikes were going faster, so they had time to gather themselves, pick up their bikes, and keep going before we caught up to them. I had one brief scare on one of the night stages. In addition to the bike lighting, each rider wore a couple of LED lights on their jackets, so that if they were thrown from their bikes at night we’d see them if they were still in the road. On one stage, we came around a corner and saw one of these lights on the ground. Fortunately, it was only the light, with no rider attached – it must’ve fallen off. We saw no telltale marks in the dirt of a bike going off the road or having been dropped there, so we continued on. When we checked in at the finish line, they confirmed that all of the bikes had, in fact, made it through just fine.

Just as important as making the car, or the bike, go fast on stage is making sure it continues to go fast, which means refueling and making any necessary repairs. Every few stages there is a service stop in the schedule to allow for this. Some are quite long – on Sunday we had a 60 minute service after just two stages, and spent most of it having lunch and staying out of a rain shower. Others are short, maybe 15 minutes – just long enough to refuel, get a drink, make a minor adjustment to the bike, and get out of there. Everyone goes to a designated service area, where they check in and out at their precisely scheduled times. Rally teams usually have a dedicated service crew of one or several people to jack up and wrench on the car. But the bikers mostly did their own work, while others had a friend or significant other there to help them. At one point we were laughing at their five Sprinter vans all parked in a line, four of them white (the other was DHL yellow, being a retired delivery van). Yet one guy’s service vehicle was simply a Toyota Yaris pulling a Harbor Freight trailer for the bike.

IMG_1697I had a really good time hanging out with the RallyMoto competitors. They’re a great bunch of people. It’s a bit different than the usual rally scene that I’m used to, since there’s more of an individual than team focus than I’m used to in rally due to the nature of their event. But they were all socializing between stages, riding together on some of the transits, and sharing beers at the end, including with me. Because I had to work today, we had to skip the after party and make the long drive home. I was sad to miss out on the trash can chicken that the Harrisville Fire Department makes us every year. It’s some of the best chicken I’ve ever had. It also would’ve been nice to catch up with my friends in the cars at the end of the event, and watch some of them receive well deserved trophies.

I’ve already pondered picking myself up a dual sport bike at some point. Would I ever consider entering a RallyMoto event? I’m not sure. Though I have all the car racing experience and training I mentioned, I consider myself to be merely an adequate rider at this point. And I’m not shy to admit that at the moment, I’m afraid of dirt. I’ve never ridden off road, and my few spills have all involved dirt somehow. I’ve said before that if I’m going to race, I’d rather have a metal cage around me. On the other hand, if I already have the bike and riding gear, and all that’s between me and competing in a stage rally is a racing license and $50 worth of equipment, it would be mighty tempting to try.  Even doing it on the cheap, it takes thousands of dollars to buy, prepare, and run a rally car, and you can’t really use it for anything else. It’s a pain to climb over your roll cage to commute to work, and you can’t reach your stereo when you’re strapped down into your racing harness. But a bike set up for RallyMoto could be used as-is, anytime, anywhere, on road or off, because so few modifications are necessary. I don’t think I’m prepared to give up having a sport touring bike of some kind at this point, but the idea will probably keep rolling around in my head for a while…

Many thanks to USUK Racing for sharing their cabin with us for the weekend! We greatly appreciate their hospitality.


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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.

Categories: planning | 3 Comments

Commuting Thoughts

I’ve been pondering motorcycle commuting. Despite perfect weather for it, I’ve had absolutely no desire to hop on the bike to go to work, opting for the car instead, despite the rental car being a penalty box. Although I’m perfectly fine and not even sore after the car accident, it’s been a wake up call to me. What if I was on the bike?

While discussing this in Facebook comments, my friend Kate made some very excellent points. I’ve quoted them here with her permission.

You’ve gotta be realistic (and you are!) about the risks of motorcycling. Every morning I plan to ride, when I put my skivvies on, it is in the back of my mind that there is a real possibility that I will not be the one taking them off that night, but instead a trauma team will be cutting them off me. That said, if motorcycling were taken away from me, I would have a tremendously difficult time adjusting. I know that my peace of mind comes on two wheels, and it’s (ZERO QUESTION) worth the risk for me. If it isn’t worth the risk for you, that’s OK — but it’s the question every halfway intelligent motorcyclist has to think long & hard about, and decide for themselves.

It’s true. And that’s why I’ll never tell anyone “I think you should get a motorcycle.” If someone chooses to, I’ll help them as much as I can, but the choice is yours, and yours alone.

I’ll set one thing straight. I am NOT thinking about giving up motorcycles completely. Not happening – like Kate, and many of you, I suspect, I just love it too darn much. But I am seriously considering giving up riding my current commute. I work in the Framingham/Natick, MA area. There’s always a lot of traffic and inattentive drivers. I already avoid riding there anytime I’m not working. Sure, I won’t get a guaranteed hour of riding in each day I commute, but the riding itself isn’t even that fun. I stick to back roads anytime I can, but even they are clogged with slow drivers who back up traffic. And some of the intersections I need to turn at require a significant burst of speed between cars if you’re going to get anywhere before lunch. It’s just not enjoyable.

So why take the risk? Allstate just released a report saying that the two worst cities for accidents are Boston and Worcester, MA, and I live and work directly between them. Is it any wonder I run away from this area to ride any chance I get? I’ll just have to work on creating more chances for that in the future to make up for the time I lose by sticking to the cage for the commute. Not that it’s such a great loss in quality of the ride.

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A Whole Lot of Nothing

Wow – it’s been almost a month since I’ve written here. I try not to go so long without writing, but Pennsic kept me off the bike completely for two weeks including packing and preparation, and I’ve been too busy to even get a day trip in, aside from completing unfinished business in western MA at the end of July. I did put some red tape over the black Gorilla Tape holding my mirror on, so it blends in a lot better. I’ve been commuting on the bike a lot, but roughly the same 13 mile stretch every day gets a bit boring, and certainly boring to write about. But at least I’ve gotten on the bike and ridden. Considering how much I spent on repairing it this year, at least I’m getting some use out of it.

IMG_1627Last Friday, I took my car to work due to a decent chance of rain. It never rained, but I was glad to have the metal cage around me when I got rear ended. To make a long story short, some idiot ran a stop sign from a cross street and cut me off. I nailed the brakes to miss him, and succeeded. The BMW X5 behind me nailed his brakes and swerved to miss me, and failed. Naturally, the guy who ran the stop sign and caused the whole thing drove off.

I’m fine – no whiplash, not even any tense muscles. The car isn’t drivable due to the corner that got pushed in rubbing against the tire, though I did drive out of the intersection and pull over, which is more than the X5 could do. It weighs nearly twice as much as my car, but was far more damaged. His air bags went off, the car was immobilized, and even 911 got an automatic call from BMW’s version of On-Star.

What does this have to do with bikes? Well, I certainly have a motorcycle to ride to work while the BRZ gets fixed, but I’m having second thoughts about that. On the one hand, I could argue that if I’d been on my bike instead of the car, it’s narrow enough that the X5 could’ve easily gotten around me and stopped without hitting me. The driver and I would’ve made sympathetic gestures of disbelief at each other, and gone on to work, just like any other day.  On the other, more unpleasant hand, I could argue about what would’ve happened if the X5 had hit my bike. I walked away from the BRZ. At best, I would’ve been knocked down and taken away in an ambulance to get thoroughly checked out, while my bike would certainly have been totaled. I don’t even want to think about the other possibilities. I intentionally avoid the worst traffic on my commute, but a situation like this is a possibility anytime, anywhere, particularly in a busy area like I work in. I’m feeling a bit gun shy about putting myself in that situation on the bike now.

By Friday afternoon, I’d picked up a rental car (a Jeep Compass that I’ve named “The Penalty Box”) that my insurance will cover for the next month or until my car gets fixed. I did take the bike out for a couple of hours this afternoon, nowhere in particular, just to relax a bit. But right now, I’m more inclined to sit in the Penalty Box for my commute than take a chance on the bike. Yes, I’m a bit spooked.

September is looking busy, with Black River Stages coming up and the need to fix up Elana’s Jeep to serve as a course car once again. We’re hoping to go somewhere for a weekend in early October, and hoping to take the bike if weather permits. With two of us on the bike we won’t be camping, but after my experience last fall I’ve learned that camping in New England in October can get pretty cold. Even a few nights at Pennsic, in early August, froze me pretty badly. Anyway, we have no plan aside from “go somewhere for the weekend” yet, but we’ll be working on that. Reading some of my posts from the past two years is making me miss the road trips, even a simple overnight getaway, that I haven’t managed to take in almost a year now. That’s the kind of riding I prefer.


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