Posts Tagged With: transportation

SaddleSore 1000?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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It’s Alive!

Elana and I went up to Brian’s yesterday and extracted the bike from behind his dad’s old Mercedes. There was an oil spot on the cardboard we had conveniently left under it – the result of my tiny leak all winter. We topped it off. The lights turned on with the ignition, and the engine cranked over when I hit the starter. It needed a boost off Brian’s charger to get through the extra cranking necessary for the first start of the year, but it fired up and ran great! It just had a little extra smoke in the exhaust, thanks to the Sta-Bil in the gas.

i geared up, set up my phone to navigate, and plotted a non-highway route home. And then I rode – first ride of the year! The bike worked perfectly. Elana watched her phone closely for a call from me in case I ran into trouble – as happened a few times last year – but not this time. I had a pleasant ride home with no excitement whatsoever – in other words, perfect. Even better, the bike had no problem restarting itself after a 90 minute ride. No new battery necessary this year!

But that’s not all. I also managed to revive my crashed TomTom GPS. I researched the problem online, and found a solution that basically involved nuking it from orbit, then letting the TomTom Home software download and rebuild it. It worked! I didn’t even lose my Canada maps.

Of course, it’s raining with temperatures in the 40s today. But I’m back on two wheels. I plan to hang into the PC800 until the Marauder is up and running, which I’ll work on some more soon, just so I can ride. I’ll also start working hard on selling the Silverwing, just to finally make it go away.

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Making plans

Scheduling with my friend Brian, who has garaged the PC800 for me over the winter, has been tricky due to his work schedule. The only weekend he’s around this month was this coming one, when Elana and I were supposed to be driving a sweep vehicle at the Empire State Performance Rally. But since the rally has been postponed until the fall, I’m suddenly around, and have made plans to retrieve my bike this Sunday. Hopefully it starts!

I say that because I also tinkered with the Marauder a bit last night. I was sick all last week, but when I returned to work the replacement battery was waiting for me, so I installed it and tried to fire it up. The previous issue of lacking electrical power is solved. It cranks and cranks and cranks, but doesn’t seem to be firing. The gas was treated with Sta-Bil before its long sleep, but the tank wasn’t full, so I added a gallon of premium to dilute it a bit. It sounds like it wants to fire, but it just doesn’t. It was getting late at this point, and I didn’t feel like pulling the gas tank to access and check the spark plugs. But that’s the next step.

With temperatures finally reaching reasonable levels, it’s time to start riding again. The only question is which bike will be ready first?

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And So It Begins…

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

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

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

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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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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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