Posts Tagged With: ride

Updates and First Ride of 2016


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.

Categories: day trip, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , | Leave a comment

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

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.

Categories: day trip, mechanical | Tags: , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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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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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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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Playing with the Camera

The bike’s been running flawlessly all week. Last night I went for my hour long loop through a few nearby towns. On a whim I grabbed the GoPro, and rather than using my usual windshield mount I grabbed the suction cup mount and tried some interesting angles.

I covered the bike tonight, since some rain is supposed to come through tomorrow. But it’s supposed to clear for the weekend, hopefully allowing Elana and I to address some unfinished business in the Berkshires.

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Can’t make this up…

20140720-131230-47550701.jpgI arranged to work from home a week ago Wednesday so I could get yet another ride from Elana to go pick up my bike from the shop over lunch. I got there. The bike was ready. I paid a reasonable price for the work they did. I hopped on, and since I had to get back to work I made my way to Route 2 to superslab it home. But once I got up to highway speed, I heard a new sound from the back – a rubbing that increased with speed. I pulled over as soon as I could, and the center of the tread was starting to come off in chunks. They had installed a size 150/90/15 tire, when my stock size is 140/80/15. In other words, the tire they gave me was too tall. I could see where it has barely a millimeter or two of clearance with a flange on part of the exhaust system. The centrifugal force of higher speeds must have stretched the tire just enough to rub on this flange, causing the chunking.

The good news was that I had caught the problem quickly, and I could still ride safely at lower speeds – straight back to the shop. I called Elana to have her turn around and pick me up, took the next exit I could, and started making my way back to the shop. I hadn’t reinstalled my GPS (I was just going straight home, after all), and I didn’t really know the roads I was on, but my sense of direction got me back to Route 2A, the road Central Mass Powersports is on.

I made it there without further incident. Naturally the service guy was surprised to see me back so soon. I explained the problem, and showed him the tire.  I popped the trunk and showed him the sticker that listed the stock rear tire size. He apologized profusely, and explained that since they had already had my bike for such a long time he was just trying to get me back on the road as quickly as possible with a tire they already had in stock. Without hesitation he said he’d order up a tire in the correct size. I told him that the Metzler ME880 I’d rolled in with comes in the correct size, to save him the trouble of looking it up. Then I hopped in Elana’s Jeep and went home on four wheels rather than two. Again.

I was crushed. This time I didn’t even get home from the shop before it had to go back in. It was feeling like I’d never get to ride a reliable motorcycle again. This goes completely against reality. CMP did an excellent job repairing my previous mechanical issues. Installing the wrong tire size is not the end of the world, and easily repaired. And this all cascaded from the previous shop not installing the valve stem correctly, which was already fixed.

This past Wednesday, I got the call that the bike was done. Yesterday I got a ride to pick it up. They took me right to it, apologized for putting on the wrong size tire once again, showed me the correct size Metzler ME880 they had installed, and sent me on my way. No paperwork. No money. Nothing. I would have been perfectly happy to pay any price difference between the Metzler and the Dunlop they pulled off the shelf, since the Metzler was likely more expensive. That would be reasonable. But it wasn’t even an issue. And there was never any question of paying for the wrecked Dunlop, or an extra mounting and balancing. I can’t hold anything against CMP here. Their only mistake was in rushing to get me back on the road, and when it didn’t work out they did the right thing.

I took Route 2 part of the way home yesterday, just to try some superslab speeds. There was no rubbing – as expected, since the tire is the correct size. I took a few curvy roads, too, at conservative speeds since I was still breaking in the new tire. Much to my surprise, I arrived home without incident. In the afternoon, I pushed my luck and took an even longer ride – out through Bolton, down one of my favorite twisty sections in the area, around the Wachusett Reservoir (my favorite quick ride or test session when I lived in Berlin), and back home. Once again, the bike worked flawlessly.

I shouldn’t be surprised. It’s a good bike, and as of now (I hope!) the series of unfortunate events cascading down from previous work that was done incorrectly has been resolved. But my confidence is gone. It’s a completely illogical, irrational reaction, entirely emotional. Part of the reason I chose the route I did was because a tow back home or to CMP would have been entirely within my roadside assistance coverage. But it wasn’t necessary. Now I just need to put down some miles and rebuild my faith in the bike – have some good experiences with it instead of bad. I plan to start doing what I had planned to do all along – commute on the bike anytime weather permits. It’s been well over a month since I have. It’s only 13 miles each way on mostly back roads that I know quite well. That should definitely help.

I won’t have time for any trips until late August at the latest, with other non-motorcycle commitments throughout the next month or so. But I can at least try another day trip – maybe take Elana to finish our last ride at some point. Yes, I think I’d like to do that. I hate unfinished business.

Categories: anecdotes, mechanical | Tags: , , , , , , | 3 Comments

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