Dec 27, 2008

Cheap Bike and Me Part IV

4:30AM came no more than an hour after I actually experienced sleep. I think I was shutting off the alarm before I realized I was standing. All my gear was prepared and I suited up before eating breakfast. My wife was coming along to hang with Tammy and Victor, at least for the morning, so she was up and a lot more perky than me. Parts of my brain were just getting used to living beside the dead cells I'd destroyed in the previous two days. Maybe the live cells were digesting the chemically destroyed dead ones and later events would be explained by that poorly considered biological activity. I got the GPS installed in my wife's car, gave her a short demo on how to follow it, and headed for the garage.

With the car battery still hooked to the charger and jumpered to the bike battery, I gave the CB a kick and got . . . nothing. Not a burp. I tried my kick-lever-starter-button routine and the starter motor spun freely without making the slightest effort to turn the motor. I went back to futilely kicking the bike's lever for a few moments until the bike began to slip off of the centerstand. I moved it off of the centerstand to the sidestand and remembered that this bike had something that I haven't had to mess with on my own bikes for 15 years; an OFF position to the fuel petcock. I turned on the fuel, pumped the throttle, full-choked the carbs, and gave it a kick. The bike roared to life, then began to stall. I turned the choke off and the bike went back to a 4,000 rpm blast. I'd set the idle to about 2k out of concern for the rough sound of the lower idle action, but 4k was a lot more than I wanted to wrestle with on the road. Thinking about getting into my tool box and resetting the idle, I started to get off of the bike.

While this crap was going on, my wife was waiting in the car, watching her husband fool with a 37-year-old pile of junk, wondering why she had drug herself out of bed at 4:30 for this "experience." I couldn't have explained it to her, if I had tried. Mostly, I'd promised Vic and Sev that I'd have a bike for this damned event and I was going to have one if it killed me or made me more stupid. Later, 290 miles later, I'd learn why the morning started off the way it did. At 5AM, in the headlight lit garage, I was only confused.

When I put my weight on my left foot, it slid out from under me and the whole mess -- bike, battery cables, and all -- came down on me. Mad as hell, I picked up the bike, rewired the battery connections, kicked it back to life, knocked off the jumper cables, slammed the seat down, and roared out into my neighborhood on my pre-EPA, pre-DOT noise-regulated little red Honda, fumbling with the light switch in the morning dark.

I'd told my wife that I wanted to start out heading east on County Road C, avoiding the freeway until I had the feel of the bike. So she took that route, ignoring the British-accented GPS voice chanting "off route, recalculating" every block or two.

The CB's headlight was pathetic. At best, it lit about 30' of road, dimly, in a pattern about as wide as the back of my wife's Taurus. If this event involved night riding, I'd be leaving the bike on the side of the road and hitchhiking back home. I avoid riding at night, with real headlights. With 1971 bike lights, there would be no question of my giving up the competition in exchange for another day of life.

After a few miles of slow speed travel, I had the feel of the CB450: slightly heavy steering with a constant right pull, a vicious headshake with any deceleration or steady throttle which slackened a bit with acceleration, reasonably predictable brakes, a motor that felt deceptively strong but ran out of steam long before redline and at about 62mph, a clunky transmission, and a seriously uncomfortable seat. While riding the CB, I was constantly reminded of the Hyosung cruiser I'd test-ridden a few months back. The same unfinished, in-the-vicinity-of-right feel of the Korean bike was there in that old Honda. I almost felt some sympathy for Hyosung engineers, knowing that in 2008 they were starting at the same point where Honda was 37 years ago.

When I thought I knew the CB's handling problems, I told my wife "follow the GPS" to MMM's office. Following driving instructions has never been one of my wife's skills. We have 41 years of her being completely unable to follow simple driving direction, no matter how they are delivered, so I immediately recognized the flaw in my plan. I hadn't been to the MMM office often or recently and it was too dark for me to be able to read the map on my tankbag. I was stuck following her, but she was making random turns, constantly looping back on herself, and turning the opposite from the direction that I knew the GPS was directing her. As I helplessly rode behind this random motion vehicle, all those years of "turn right in two blocks" followed by an instant lane-change to the left and the associated immediate left turn, began to deteriorate my sleep-deprived, chemically-damaged patience.

After an hour of thermal-noise motion, we were close to our destination but my wife kept hopping over the freeway and diving into deadend frontage roads. Finally, freaked-out, late, and driven almost nuts in frustration, I pulled in front of her and asked what the hell she was doing. "You said you didn't want to be on the freeway" was the response.

"I said, 'Follow the GPS,' didn't I?"

"Oh, yeah."

We, finally, hit the freeway for a few miles, turned off one exit past the one where I knew we should have exited, and turned . . . the wrong way. More random motion and wrong direction turns followed. I could imagine the GPS constantly repeating "off route, recalculating" and, before the recalculation was done, more random motion would set the routine off again. I managed to direct her into a mall parking lot, got into the car, pointed out the pink line telling her where the GPS wanted her to go, reminded her that she has to listen to the whole instruction before turning randomly, etc. I was still wearing my earplugs. I was frustrated and worn out. And pretty loud. My wife just blows me off,. Somebody didn't and called the police. We didn't get out of the parking lot before getting pulled over. After explaining our situation, separately, the cops gave us really bad directions to our destination. After we escaped from their interrogation, I called Victor and got more directions, which I forgot almost instantly.

And we took off, sort of following the GPS again. After correcting her from several false turns, we ended up on the right road going in the right direction. I chose that moment to give up on following her and, in the dawning light, I attempted to sort out where we were. She chose that moment to absolutely obey the GPS instructions and was on a mission to find our destination. We'd been going in circles for so long that I was lost, even when I sort of knew where we were. In the meantime, she'd found the house, spotted the other bikers, and come back for me while I was still wrestling with the map. Clearly, I wasn't operating at full capacity. I might have been there for another hour, staring at the meaningless squiggly lines on the map.

Dec 21, 2008

Cheap Bike and Me Part III

You may remember the tale of the Rat Bike from a while back. September, in fact. This is the whole, inside story of my part in that great event. MMM called this the "Cheap Bike Challenge." I agree there was a challenge.

I called Dana, the owner of the CB450, Wednesday night; three days before the event. Being a charter member of Minnesota Nice, Dana invited me over that night to look at the bike at his home in Bloomington; about 25 minutes south. It was truly in rat bike condition. The bike hadn't been ridden since Dana rode it from his parents' home to the shed in which it now resided, in 1987. On the upside, he said it mostly worked when he parked it. The tank had about an inch of stale fuel, but no rust. The engine had compression and turned over fairly normally. The forks obviously leaked and the boots were decomposing. The front brake demonstrated no signs of life. The tires were 20 years old and the rear was bald, while the front was just cracked and hard as bakelite. The odometer had logged 18,000 miles.

We settled on $200 for the bike, including Dana borrowing a trailer from a friend and towing the bike back to my house. After we got the bike unloaded and took care of the money changing and paperwork, he headed home and I started taking the bike apart. Figured out the seat latch, got the tank off, and took a walk around the bike looking for the problems I'd have to solve in the next two days. Dana had pulled the starter motor and the shaft had a fitting designed for another purpose. It took some torch work to get the fitting off. Once I removed the seat, I discovered (thankfully) the battery was gone and an electrical bit was missing. Late that evening, Dana called to say he'd forgotten to grab the starter solenoid. Later, I discovered the shift lever was missing.

Thursday, I set out to bring the motor to life. The first task was to pull and clean the carburetors and purge the tank of its varnish-like substance. As expected, the carbs were gummed to death. I soaked the pair in toxic carb cleaner chemicals for the morning and rinsed the tank out with kerosene followed by a few pints of fresh gas. My first expense of the project was new hoses for the fuel system, $7. Before reinstalling the tank, I pulled the petcock and discovered that it was clogged with about 2" of black fuzzy weirdness and the strainer was dissolved. So, I dumped the whole mess into the carb chemical tank for the evening. The front brake master cylinder was empty, so I filled it and tried to bleed the line. No luck. The garage will stink for weeks of carb chemicals and stale gas. I made a circle around the bike, identifying missing and loose bolts and replaced a bunch, including both front engine mount bolts. The rear mount was completely missing, so I'd have to hope the engine wouldn't shake itself free from the frame on the ride. I can't do anything about that today. I did a continuity check of the alternator and the charge selenium diode. All good, although the diode has a higher than expected forward drop. That might mean insufficient current flow to keep the battery topped when the lights are running. I'd love to do a top end check, valve clearances and such, but without a replacement gasket on hand, I'm going to chicken out.

I installed the starter, more for the necessary sealing than because I expected it to be useful as a starter. When I put juice to the starter, the big gear it drove just spun disconnected from the engine. I hit the internet and found a storehouse of useless information about the history of the undoubtedly important-to-mankind CB450. Eventually, I also found an owner's manual, which listed a collection of routines for starting the bike that all seemed odd. More searching and I found that the starter gear had a clutch, located behind the gear and the alternator. That clutch was the cause of a lot of Honda owner misery and explained my starter's lack of connection to the motor. It's nearly midnight and I'm done for the day.

Tomorrow, I'll have to take the master cylinder apart and see why it appears to be pressure-less. Dana said it was working when he parked the bike. Maybe I'll luck out. So far, my luck has been mediocre.

Friday, most things went well for me. I pulled the petcock from the stinking chemicals and found it to be good; and clean. Back on the tank it went. The tank went back on the bike. The new supply hoses were all strung and I checked the tank for flow and the carburetors for the rare instance of float jet and needle similarity. Both carbs held fuel and there were no signs of flow in the clear fuel lines once the bowls were full. Amazing, probably the first occurrence of this miracle in the history of Klein carbs.

I tried kicking it over, without a battery, and had no luck. I decided either the charging system was toast or the bike needed some assistance from the battery for spark juice. I'm due in Bloomington to pick up the shift lever and the starter solenoid and a receipt for the bike during Dana's short lunch break. I thing, from exposure to the garage chemicals, I'm slightly stoned because I have never felt so unfocused on the motorcycle. Traffic is heavy and that adds to the terror. How do people ride drunk? This trip has scared the crap out of me. Two hours later, I'm back to work. Installing the solenoid gets the bike almost ready to try to fire up. Before that, I have to flush the engine, install fresh oil, and clean the centripetal filter. That's done in another hour and it's time to try the motor.

I hooked up a car battery to the system and test the starter motor. It spins, but doesn't spin the motor. I tried kick starting the bike, about two dozen kicks worth, and only get an occasional burping for my money. However, I sort of discovered the routine for the starter. If I bump the starter button while slowly turning the engine with the kick-lever, the starter clutch will catch and spin the engine. Usually, it would catch for a second and let go, but once it caught and spun the engine several revolutions and the engine fired up. Now, I know I have spark and fuel. Not enough fuel, apparently, so I applied a little starter fluid to the carbs while doing my starter button and kick-lever balancing act. After a few tries, the bike fires and stays running. I let it run for a several minutes, to let the engine get to operating temperature, before shutting it down and checking for fluid leaks. The bottom of the motor is dry, the carb floats still seal, and seriously noxious fumes are coming from the exhaust. I'm not leaking oil, but I suspect I'm burning quite a bit.

No time for analysis, I'm off to Fleet Farm for a battery (after hitting up the usual suspects on the local MC web for a used battery for a day or two). An hour burned getting and filling the battery and the charging routine burns a couple of hours while I work on other problems.

My two biggest remaining problems are title and license documentation and the lack of a front brake. The title crap is the hardest of the two, so I'm off to the DMV. Two hours later, at 5PM on the dot, I have paperwork and am out $40-some bucks for my bucket of bolts. It's really hard to remember why I wanted to do this after spending time with government employees. They were specially jacked about the fact that this bike hadn't seen a license plate or taxman since 1985. I didn't know there were so many supervisors in Roseville, until my DMV'er started asking for advice.

Back at the garage, I attach my new plates and tear off the front brake and master cylinder. All are filled with a brown goop that resembles mud soaked in fish snot. I pulled the brake mechanism apart and cleaned and greased the bits. A can of brake cleaner and the fish snot is gone, replaced by DOT3 brake fluid and sixty-zillion hand pumps later I have front brakes.

The battery is charged and installed. The bike fires on the first kick, a half-dozen times in a row. I rode it to the local gas station at 11PM, filled it up and returned it to the garage. After an hour loading the converted Sears-saw-to-faux-GIVI tailbox with tools, gear, maps, and stuff, I went inside and loaded some data into my Garmin 2620 for the next morning's trip to MMM's headquarters. Totally stoned by chemical fumes, I fell into something a little like sleep and more like a neural-hemorrhaged coma.


Dec 5, 2008

All the News that Didn't Fit (December)

A New Land Speed Record
Rocky Robinson and Mike Akatiff's Top 1 ACK Attack team reset the FIM (Federation Internationale de Motocyclisme) motorcycle land-speed record with an average speed of 360.913 mph. The deed was done at the Bonneville Salt Flats on Sept. 26. The TOP 1 ACK Attack motorcycle streamliner took back a record the team had for just two days in 2006. The same week, tthe 4,000hp Burkland Streamliner set the FIA category A, group 1, class 11 record with a 415.896mph run. Check out http://www.toponeoil.com/new-land-speed-record-sept-26-2008.html to see what 360mph looks like.

Team USA Wins Again
James Stewart, Ryan Villopoto and Tim Ferry brought home the Chamberlain Trophy at the 2008 Red Bull FIM Motocross of Nations in Donington Park, Great Britain. The US racers won the overall team championship for a record 19th time.

HD “Build It and Win It”
Starting October 15, 2008, Harley-Davidson builders can take a shot at winning a custom 2009 model Harley-Davidson motorcycle by entering the “Build It and Win It Sweepstakes.” presented by Harley-Davidson Genuine Motor Accessories.

What Happens When You Let Ike Decide
Thanks to Hurricane Ike, the American Motorcyclist Association (AMA) announced a new date for the Lone Star Rally: Dec. 11-14 in Galveston, Texas.

Buell Does 125,000
“On Wednesday, Nov.12, 2008, at 8 a.m. central time, Buell rolled out their 125,000th motorcycle, a 2009 white 1125R bound for Australia.” Way to go, Eric!

Free Scooter Parking in Cincinatti
In October, the city of Cincinatti created special downtown motorized scooter, motoped and motorcycle parking spaces. At least until spring, the scooter spaces are free. In a moment of incredible bureaucratic insight, the city realized that four bikes can fit into one cage space. In a press release, City Manager Milton Dohoney said, "Making downtown greener and more user-friendly is very exciting, and adds an important element in meeting the needs of our residents, visitors and office workers."

YouTube and the Long Eyes of the Law
A Oxfordshire, England biker, 28-year-old Sandor Ferenci, discovered that advertising your hooliganism can have repercussions. Ferenci posted a YouTube video of himself stunting and riding in excess of 200mph on public roads. When a motorist contacted the police to complain about his antics, the police showed up at Ferenci's door. The genius biker asked the cops if they'd seen his video. They hadn't, but they followed up and the result was Ferenci's conviction for “two counts of dangerous driving” and a 12 week jail sentence.
Biker with a Media Cause
Christopher Coppola (Nick Cage’s brother and Francis Ford Coppola’s nephew and the self-proclaimed “family pirate”) is taking his chopper, fringe, leather, and armored bandana into the Heartland promoting Project Accessible Hollywood (PAHNation.com). “Project Accessible Hollywood (PAH) seeks to educate people and communities on using simple digital media while encouraging them to express themselves artistically.”

Track Day Truck
Toyota and Ducati ganged up to create the ultimate track day concept vehicle. The “Tundra Ducati Desmosedici” is based on a Tundra CrewMax and sports a 6.5-foot bed equipment and tool storage, flip-up bed-sides, a Rampage motorized loading ramp, “and gets a full range of TRD performance parts and a Fast Ed's Interiors treatment.” The truck also has accessory power and battery charging solar panels. The truck was highlighted at the Las Vegas 2008 SEMA show.

Nov 25, 2008

Winter Blues

The V-Strom is put away for a while. The little Kawasaki is still in front of the garage, waiting for a 30 degree day when it will start and I feel brave enough to start it. I've brought some projects into the house to work on for the winter, the Kawasaki may follow.

Every year, when I put away the bikes it feels more like the last time. Due to an excessive number of household projects I feel a lot older this season than in the past. Of course, I am 60 and that IS a lot older than I was a while back.

The magazine and contributors put the Cheap Bike Challenge to print and that period of my life is behind me. I may tell more of that story here, but my editor wants me to wait until the reaction to the article lets him know if readers want to hear more about it. The MMM winter issue is always a bigger deal than the rest of the year, since it is the last of the paper until March.

I get way ahead of the magazine with my column, so I have a lot of ideas sitting unread at the end of each year. This year, because of this blog, I have an outlet for those unaccepted rants. Beware!

Nov 3, 2008

The 15th Annual Swan Ride

I did a weird thing this weekend. A friend invited me to a group ride (thanks Michael) and I accepted. If you've followed my column or this blog, you know that I'm nortoriously uncivilized, antisocial, and a motorcycle hermit. I don't know why I decided to check out this ride, but I did.

As a backup plan, I invited a friend who planned to catch the group 20 miles or so after the start. Also, my wife decided to tag along, in our family cage, since the destination of the ride was a bird refuge in Wisconsin where Artic Swans stop on their way from Alaska to the east coast winter feeding grounds. She's a birder. I'm a rider. It seemed like a reasonable plan.

As soon as I arrived at Fury Motorcycles, I felt out of place. There were dozens of bikes parked in the lot and more arrived every minute. Many of the bikes were my "favorite" kind of vehicle, bikes with defective exhaust systems that sounded like repeated shotgun blasts or a badly maintained farm implement. Fury Motorcycles specializes in high-buck poser bikes, all sporting price tags that would amount to a good sized house downpayment.

To be fair, the majority of riders were on real motorcycles; lots of BMWs, Goldwings, and an assortment of cruisers and touring bikes with a sprinkling of sport bikers. I knew many of the folks going on the ride and I had a good time talking to folks who teach MSF classes or have read my column in MMM. Still, the idea of being in some kind of mile-long 100-mile motorcycle parade rubbed several nerves and made me want to get on the road as soon as possible. Since we didn't know where the Artic Swans were, my wife and I waited for a route sheet so we could get going. The route wasn't the thing, the destination was. I should have just asked someone who'd been on the ride before.

When the sheets finally appeared, I tried to find the destination on my GPS; "Reik's Lake Park." No luck. The best I could do was to program in Washaba, MN as a possible destination. With that target in our sights, we set out to escape before the crowd. I called my friend, gave hime a spot where we might meet up (using a borrowed cell phone). Getting my wife in motion is an exercise in frustration and, add the dog to that, I was thwarted before I even got started. She hadn't even begun to look for her keys before half of the group was on the road. Adding to the fun, my friend convinced me that the planned route would be more "scenic" than my escape route. I turned sheeple and followed the glowing tail lights the "scenic route."

It wasn't; scenic, that is. Lots of farm land, too many plodding bikes in front of me, too many pissed off cagers behind. We either missed our friend, or he wisely decided to miss the event. About 30 miles into the route, my wife's knee really started bothering her. I looked at the route sheet, decided to make a direct run for Alma, WI, and off we went on our own toward the bird sanctuary. Ten minutes later, we were there.

It was worth the trip. My wife thought it worth the pain. The sanctuary was packed with ducks, geese, egrets, coots (not just me), and we saw a half-dozen or more Artic Swans. We were there about an hour before the rest of the pack arrived, pipes blasting, engines rev-ing, and birds scattering. We snuck out as the middle of the pack arrived. The birders were already getting testy and the birds were evacuating for the far end of the park.

We crossed the Mississippi and turned north toward home, stopping in Pepin for some incredible apples. The ride home was uneventful and scenic. I gave me GPS the instrucion to get us home the shortest way, prefereably by dirt road, and it found an incredible route from Red Wing to the Cities. In all, a pretty amazing day for November in Minnesota.

Turns out, "Rieck's Lake Park" is the real name of the park. Once we found it, I made it a waypoint in my GPS and it's there for real, now. Next year, we're going to ride there alone and camp out for an evening in the park.

Oct 16, 2008

Motorcycle of the Year?

I think the whole Motorcycle of the Year concept is buggy. What does MOTY mean: the best value, the most expensive, the weirdest, the shiniest, the most innovative, the most/least popular, or the bike that the most folks will probably like/buy? The Kawasaki Versys is one of the few choices I’ve seen in this kind of competition that makes any kind of sense to me. Obviously, from the responses Motorcyclist got many agreed and many did not. The magazine summed up their rationale with "The Versys has an irrational appeal to anyone who's tired of coloring inside the same old lines."

Last year, Motorcyclist picked the KTM 990 Super Duke, which was a traditional, no-brainer kind of choice. KTM is everyone’s favorite Euro-trash manufacturer and a brand that practically no one is likely to put their own money on. The year before that, 3 BMWs got Motorcyclist’s award. A few years back, Motorcycle.com picked the Goldwing and got seriously hammered for the choice. Look through the years and you’ll find Ducati’s, MV’s, Triumphs, and lots of cruisers; all safe bets and all in-the-box choices. This year, webBikeWorld gave their MOTY award to the BMW K1200LT - R1200GS. Talk about coloring inside the same old lines. Rider picked the Kawasaki Concours C14 1400, not exactly an original thought, either. There is some talk on the web that Estonia picked the Yamaha FZ6 for their MOTY. Estonia? I thought that was a mythological country from Doonesbury or Dilbert. Do they have gasoline in Estonia?

As a creative “outside the box” choice, the Indian Motorcycle of the Year 2008 was the Bajaj Pulsar 220 DTS-Fi, according to a collection of India’s gearhead magazines. That kind of choice would have really set the US motorcycle elites into flames.

While many in the industry have given up on motorcycling as an activity of the middle class, I’m not in that group. In fact, I’m totally disinterested in anything the rich and powerful do, unless they are running for cover when the working classes decides they’ve had enough from that inbred crowd. I’d buy a front row seat to watch that, but I don’t care about the cars they drive, the houses they live in, the politicians they own, or the motorcycles they ride. Any motorcycle that only the 0.01% who own most of the world can buy and ride is an example of a product that has nothing to interest me.

What makes a bike the MOTY? I’d be willing to agree that the bike ought to provide some engineering breakthrough like a new fuel source design. But Americans are working hard to be the slowest to adapt any new technology, so the chances that an electric, hydrogen, or diesel powered bike will make a dent in the market is next-to-zero. If “weird” is the driving force for the decision, there are plenty of stupid looking custom cruisers that have about as much chance of selling enough units to count as being “manufactured” as do some of the weird multi-zillion dollar MOTY choices.

So, back to the original Kawasaki Versys MOTY choice, the $6899 price tag puts it pretty solidly in the middle class price range. 59mpg is downright modern and makes the Versys a little bit practical. The look of the bike is far from conservative, especially with the off-set rear suspension and non-symmetrical swingarm. Some bits of the design are downright ergonomically brilliant, even the console qualifies on that count. Considering the conservative nature of their readership, I’d say Motorcyclist made a pretty bold choice with the Versys. Maybe that’s the real goal of selecting a MOTY? Not the motorcycle itself, but offering some kind of food for thought to the readers/riders to wrench them out of their mental boxes and into the real world?

Oct 14, 2008

Motorcycles as Transportation?

Last month, Motorcyclist named the Kawasaki Versys the "Motorcycle of the Year." Many Versys owners agreed, but several readers flamed the rag for choosing something so "practical." One reader stated that case well, "I can only conclude that the magazine's staff has completely lost touch with the core readership to whom riding is a passion, not just a way to save fuel or commute cheaply."

I've been hammered a few dozen times, myself, for considering my motorcycles "transportation" and not toys. Personally, I don't consider riding a few times a year in poser parades or polishing a turd 10x as many hours as are spent riding the bike to be "passion," but my mileage always seems to vary from what many folks claim. I don't know what a MOTY would be, but I like the Versys a lot and would consider it a valid option to my V-Strom. I think pretty much every bike that can't be used for racing or commuting is a pointless exercise in wasted engineering skills. "Passion" is an emotion I distrust, since it burns out so quickly and leads most of us to stupid choices. However, I'd put my love of motorcycling as a transportation choice against most folks'. For example, there is not chance that I'd be willing to take a 7,000 mile trip to Nova Scotia in a cage in August, but I planned all year to do it on my V-Strom.

So, what I'd like to hear is your opinion of not the Versys but the criteria for a MOTY. Please, if you would do me the favor, post your response to this website (http://geezerwithagrudge.blogspot.com/) rather than responding to the email (if you are on the GWAG mailist). For some reason, Google's mail often ends up in my spam filter folder and I can't figure out why.

Oct 5, 2008

All the News that Didn't Fit (October)

Sally is Gone

At the Aerostich Very Boring Rally II last month, many of the company's fans received the sad news that Sally Seehus, the voice and face of Aerostich customer service, died just a few days before the event. Aerostich employees and customers shared stories of her humor, dedication to her vision of Aerostich's mission, and the personal link she provided to a company that many of us see as the Minnesota connection to the world of motorcycling. Our condolences go out to Sally's family and her many friends.

Parking in Seattle

Seattle is considering a law to fine cagers $38 for attempting to move a motorcycle or scooter from its parking place to make room for a car. This law particularly intends to protect owners of lightweight scooters who often find their rides stuffed into odd positions in parking spaces. Garrett Johnson, a scooter and motorcycle advocate asked, "Can you imagine if people got into unlocked cars, popped into neutral and rolled it away so they could take parking spots?"

Testing Airbags

Stephane Perry of Quebec gave motorcycling's newest safety equipment an extreme test this month when he ran into a Hyundai Tucson with his 2008 Gold Wing. He struck the Hyundai at about 50mph, which would normally result in a visit to a hospital; or morgue. Instead, he said the experience was like "hitting a mattress"; a very loud mattress. When the police and emergency workers arrived, Perry was busy taking pictures of the totaled Honda and heavily damaged Hyundai.

Perry said, "A motorcycle without an air bag is not an option anymore."

US Championships and World Events

John Kearney rode his 2008 Husqvarna CR 125 to a second place finish in the Woodcliff Lake, NJ Open Mag Class during in the seventh round of the AMA National Hare and Hound Series to wrap up enough points to own the 2008 AMA National Hare and Hound Championship.

Jake Zemke has won the 2008 AMA Formula Xtreme championship. Zemke, a 32 year old 12th year professional, has been in the running for 11 years straight, but this is his first championship.

Aaron Yates won the 2008 AMA Superstock Series at Road Atlanta, adding this crown to his 1996 750 Supersport title and the 2002 and 2005 Supersport championships.

Pat Smage is the 2008 AMA/NATC Trials Champion, having wrapped up the championship at Spirit Mountain in Duluth. Cody Webb won the first Duluth event, but Smage won Saturday and Sunday's rounds and the 2008 championship in front of a small crowd of dedicated fans.

Nate Kern, on a BMW, won the 2008 ASRA Pro Thunderbike championship with one race left on the schedule. Kern is the first non-Buell rider to win the Pro Thunderbike title.

Kenny Coolbeth, riding for Harley-Davidson Screamin' Eagle, wrapped up his third consecutive AMA Grand National Twins championship. He got his winning points advantage with a win on the half-mile track at Monticello Raceway.

The US ISDE (International Six Day Enduro) team finished on the podium, in third place; the best finish for the US team since 1982. The team did this well in spite of losing the team's strongest rider, Kurt Caselli, who crashed out of the event while in the battle for the overall lead with Juha Salminen. The US riders scored 10 gold, 15 silver, and two bronze medals for the event. The US women's team member, Maria Forsley, finished second in class for her first ISDE

Valentio Rossi beat the pack in a hurricane-dampened race at Indianapolis in mid-September. He fought it out with Nicky Hayden for a few laps before pulling ahead for the remainder of the race, which was red flagged seven laps early due to weather. Valentino is 85 points ahead of last years champ, Casey Stoner, and won the first US round in California earlier this summer. There are 5 races left in the MotoGP season.

AMA Sports Magic Mile Shootout Results

Stephen Vanderkuur took home $11,000 from Pickerington, Ohio on Saturday, August 23. , Michigan's Stephen Vanderkuur stood at the top of the box - and went home richer. The Honda rider controlled the competition in the 450 Modified class after winning his heat race for $500 and winning the Last Man Out race for another $500.

"I started off in the lead. Then I got passed and worked my way back out front. I don't know what happened, if he slowed or what because I'm riding the track pretty much wide open the whole way around," said Vanderkuur. "It feels good to win this race. It was good to have something different with all the fastest guys on the fastest bikes. I'm excited, and I'm looking forward to getting my expert license."

Other heat race winners included Dave Atherton winning the Pre-1982 Vintage Twins support class and $2,500 and Robert Descenna and J.D. Beach, who pocketed $500 in their races.

New Product Releases

The 2009 BMW F 800 GS should be arriving at your local BMW dealer. For a mere $10,520 you can be on (and off) road on your brand new water-cooled, chain-drive BMW. Triumph's new

 Street Triple R streetfighter will be available in November at Triumph dealers at around $8,999. The Dayton 675-based power plant produces 107hp at 11,700 rpm and is loaded with trick looking streetfighter hardware. All of Triumph's parallel twin bikes will included EFI systems for 2009.

Playboy's Leather Meets Lace Weekend Event

Head for Hollywood on October 3rd for a "no-host party at the Highlands Hollywood Loft," where you can hang out with celebrities, Playboy Bunnies, and bikers in an event that is raising money to rebuild the Hollywood sign. You can participate in the

 Saturday morning "Fun Ride through Hollywood to Malibu" and get weird at the "Leather Meets Lace Party" at the Playboy Mansion. The big biker event is "a Red-Carpet escorted Ride with celebrities and motorcycle enthusiasts joining together to support charities such as www.motorcyclecharity.org,  www.peacelovehappiness.com,  www.ridefortheheart.com,http://www.ablanketofhope.org,  http://www.accidentscene.net/." 

I'd be all about being there, but my fuzzy toilet seat cover needs brushing.

And Now for Something Really Silly

For our readers who have far more money than sense, here is the perfect motorcycle: the Gunbus 410 cubic inch V-Twin motorcycle. This strange looking Clemens Leonhardt creation is powered by a fuel injected, 45 degree 6728 cc V-Twin that makes a Boss Hoss powerplant look miniature. The giant engine hooks 523 foot pounds of torque to a 3-speed transmission, with a reverse gear. The claimed seat height is 31.5 inches and the whole freaking 1433 pound mess is more than 11 feet long. The price is still pending. 


 

All the News that Didn't Fit (September)

Every month, I do a column for Minnesota Motorcycle Monthly  called "All the News that Fits." The title is exactly what the column is about: I find a bunch of news items and the editor prints what fits on the page. Some months, there is a lot of news space and everything I find ends up in the magazine. Other months, the magazine is full of ads and local information and there is little to no room for ATNTF. So, I thought, "Why let all that work go to waste, when I can put the leftovers on this blog?" That's the sound of me "thinking," in case you were worried that I didn't have that capacity.  

 With that altruistic motive in mind, here is the stuff that didn’t make the cut in the September issue:

All the News That Didn’t Fit

Harley-Davidson Museum Open to the Public

Harley torched the chain ribbon (with acetylene) to the new Milwaukee Harley-Davidson Museum on July 12, 2008. CEO Jim Ziemer received his first tattoo as part of the ceremony and other events marked the day..

Ziemer said “Harley-Davidson has dreamed about building this Museum for a long time. It adds a whole new dimension to the Harley-Davidson experience.”

New Product Releases

Just in time for the end of the cruiser era, Triumph is releasing a 1600cc parallel twin, belt driven, cruiser called the Thunderbird. The bike won’t reach dealers until sometime in 2009. If you are still employed, you will be able to make a deposit on a Thunderbird next spring. Harley is introducing the Tri-Glide Ultra, in 2009. This $30k three-wheeler is intended for the aging, skill-challenged market that is wrestling between the purchase of an electric wheelchair or an image enhancing Harley. If you have the cash, you can have both the balance-compensating qualities of a Hoveround and the image polish of a big twin.

NHTSA Recalls

2008 BMW R1200 GS (46 units): Due to a material defect in the intermediate shaft of the transmission, the shaft could break. The transmission could seize if this occurs.

Oct 1, 2008

My Personal Economic Crash

For the last year, I've been unable to avoid hearing about the economic crisis in this country. Every aspect of the media is harping about "crash this" and "crash that" and has been almost since Bush and his crowd took over Washington. Personally, it's been a hard eight years, too. I went into this century thinking I was set for life, if I managed to hang on to a moderate income and didn't buy too many toys. A year later, I was looking to crank up my hobby home businesses into income producers. Still, the impact of living in a failing economy (again) didn't hit me until this week.

One of the "features" of being old is having that "here we go again" feeling. In the 70s, the Midwest was hammered by the first "new economy" of my life. Jobs were lost, industries failed, rural economies collapsed, and towns became populated by ghosts. I was living there, I remember it well.

As a motorcyclist, there was a depression aspect to life, also. For the first time in my life, I had to worry about someone stealing my motorcycle while I was at work, if the bike wasn't garaged at night, or almost any other time. One of the guys I raced against lived in Omaha. His garage was broken open and his bikes, tools, and other personal belongings were stolen. Not long afterwards, something tried to break into my shop, the "Dirt Shop," and the next morning I discovered that a window had been broken before the thief learned that an 18" bike wheel dangling from above the window made an effective set of window bars. He, apparently, also found it impossible to reach my tools with a stick from the broken window. I found the stick lying on the floor and a bunch of tools had been dislodged from their wall hangars. For several years, the dirt bikers I knew all had stories of theft, loss, and anger.

The 80s weren't much better. In California, the Reagan years mil-industrial welfare made life fairly good for engineers and bankers, but everyone else had it tough. The California helmet law provided incentive for the unemployed and unemployable to snag any helmet (secured or unsecured) from any unwatched bike. I lost a couple of helmets to theft and a couple more to my absentmindedness. Carrying a helmet to class, into restaurants, and everywhere else I went always resulted in my forgetting either the helmet or my gloves or, once, my backpack and . . . somebody snatched it before I could get back to recover it. My fault, I know. Sometimes being a motorcyclist is about as convenient as living out of a grocery cart. Carrying everything but the seat every time you step away from the bike gets to be a pain.

Pat Hahn is convinced I’m a total fool because I lost so many helmets in 10 years of California life. He’s probably right. I also lived on my bikes for those years, petal powered and 4-stroked. For ten years, I averaged close to 25,000 miles a year on my motorcycles and 2,500 a year on my bicycle. I almost forgot how to drive a cage, I was in one so rarely. Unless I was hauling family, a kayak, and/or diving gear, I was on two wheels. I had a busy life back then. I managed the manufacturing side of a mid-sized company, was the sole support for a family of 4, finished my college degree at night, and had a bit of a life on the side. I might have been the model of a southern California multi-tasker.

Professional bike thieves made life miserable and scary for California motorcycle adventurers. A group of friends took a trip into the Desert in the late 80s and awoke to find their bikes had been stolen right out of their campsite. I don't know if I've ever slept that soundly, but I wonder what would have happened if they had woke up to try to stop the thieves? Anyone well equipped enough to be able to snag three large motorcycles from a campsite might we well armed. I got into the habit of using a bike cover, a pair of U-bolt wheel locks (front and back brake disks), and carrying a foghorn can into my tent when I camped. Worst case, the cops would be able to look for a deafened murderer with a bike he had to drag into the pawn shop.

Then, the 90s and prosperity changed everything. All of a sudden, people had jobs and damn few of them felt the need to steal everything that wasn't tied down. It's amazing how many things analysts can find to justify reduced crime and violence when, obviously, having a roof over your head and food in your gut does wonders for "national morality."

I got used to not worrying about things being stolen off of my bike. I am stuck with the habit of carrying my riding gear everywhere, but I don't worry about losing saddlebags, mirrors, the bike seat, or the bike when I'm away from it for a few moments. I am capable of adapting bad habits in a moment. After fifteen years of theft-less life, I stopped worrying about the things I left in the parking garage/lot. I should have known that all those news reports of the next recession/depression were a warning that I needed to revert to California paranoia.

Yesterday, I got to work a little late. My class would be waiting at the door when I got there. I had a short day, according to my schedule, and I was a little distracted by the morning's nutty St. Paul detours and dumber-than-usual traffic. I haven't yet found a cover for my 250 Sherpa commuter bike, so my gear is exposed. That's a dumb thing to do, but it hadn't been a problem on the little bike or my 650 for so long I didn't think much about it as I locked the bars and ran for class, taking off my gear as I went.

When I got back to the bike, about 3 hours later than my "schedule" (as usual). My two month old MotoFizz bag was gone. Usually, I yank it and haul it with my riding gear to my office, but today I thought I'd get away without being paranoid. The asshole who stole the bag didn't bother to take the mounting straps, so he'll probably sell the bag for peanuts to someone who can't figure out how to use it. It didn't have much in it: a pair of cheap waterproof pants, a pair of bungie webs, a plastic waterbottle. The bag was expensive, but the contents were more personally valuable than practically significant.

I didn't lose as much money from the theft as I lost psychologically. It’s a reminder that things have changed, again, for the worse. One of the worries in riding a small bike is that the bike, itself, is easily stolen. St. Paul is about as insecure a city as I’ve ever lived near and there really isn’t a safe place to park anywhere near where I work. The garage is unmonitored and the motorcycle parking is not visible to the bored and braindead attendant. The school’s lot is equally invisible to responsible eyes, but we’ve had a recent rash of bicycle thefts right in front of the receptionist’s desk.

At the least, I need to find a bike cover that wraps up the little dirt bike so that the majority of thieves will pass it by for a more sure thing. At the most, I’m considering adapting an old defib unit to deliver a 700 volt “warning” shock to anyone who touches the bike. If you see anyone wandering the streets of St. Paul with a small MotoFizz tailbag. Give me a call and I’ll remove that person from the streets. I figure one good deed deserves another.

Sep 27, 2008

Cheap Bike and Me Part II

Any married guy who has taken an extended motorcycle trip knows that there is payback to be settled when you get home. I would have loved to spend all of my time on the rat bike, but the evening of my first night back my wife said, "Let's get started on the the attic, so you can get your music crap out of my office." So, now I have two major projects; the rat bike and remodeling my attic. Maybe three projects, counting the beginning of school in my headlights and two new classes to plan for. Four, I still have to clean up and reorganize the garage before winter. I left it a mess when I headed east at the beginning of August. Now, it's a catastrophe. To get to the woodworking tools I need for the attic job, I need to shovel out the garage. Not being one to allow common sense to interfere with my over-commitments, I charged into looking for a project bike as soon as I got back from my trip. The attic, of course, got first priority. I'm may be a fool, but I'm not suicidal. I simply stumbled around the crap in the garage, putting that odyssey off for later.

I had a line on an 80's 700 Nighthawk. I hung on to that, hoping that it would work out. The Nighthawk is sort of the style of bike I like to ride. The deal hung on another guy who had been promised the bike, but hadn't touched it in months. I was never clear about the ownership of the bike, but why ask until it becomes available? "[The other guy] is dug in for the long haul with the goal that it will be on the road in April. Sorry. I would have been yours if you'd done the first cast about 2 weeks earlier." I'm out of luck and back on the hunt. The beater KLR is looking better, even if still impossible.

Next, a KZ440 that had sat on Craig's List from before I left for Nova Scotia until I came back. I wrote the owner who said it was available, but the title was still in the mail from the state. No problem. I asked to see it. The next day he wrote back, "Sorry, Tom. It's sold." Oh for crap's sake! Is there a Minnesota-wide plot to defeat my rat bike hunt?

I got my wife's Yamaha scooter, last year, for $300. I went out into the garage to start it up for the first time this year. It fired up after a moment on the charger. Maybe I should enter it? Cheating, I know. Still . . .

My last hope was a 70's CB450 or an '83 550 Kawasaki Spectre. A friend tipped me to the CB and a Craig's List spam ad picked up the specter of a Spectre. Both bikes need lots of work and I'm in the last week of preparation. If these don't come through, I get to toss in my raggedy towel. "The other buyer wants to buy the bike still. If things change You will be the first to know." I didn't know there was another buyer, but there goes the Spectre.

Mike Etlicher, one of the other contestants had a momentary change of heart, "Over the next day or so I'll think about whether or not the additional obligation of cash, time and storage space is worth this particular Pursuit Of Glory. So Tom, you still wanna buy a bike?" His XS400 was close enough to the kind of motorcycle I was looking for, so I wrote back to see if he was serious. Labor Day, Sev calls to be sure that I got his latest email joke and to see if I have a bike yet. I don't. He's bummed. He reminds me that Mike seemed interested in selling his rat bike. I've already replied to that offer, but haven't heard anything since. A few days later I learned that Sev applied his persuasive talents to Mike and he decided to stay in the competition. On the positive side, I managed to get all the attic sheetrock hung and finished most of the taping. The evil parts of the attic are all but finished. Is there a state-wide conspiracy forcing me to the CB450? Only my last call will decide.

Sep 21, 2008

Cheap Bike and Me

If you know anything about me, you know I"m not a big fan of ancient technology. I'm not one of those geezer bikers who rants about the good old days when motorcycles were unreliable and only super mechanics dared to ride across the street without a following pickup. I like new stuff. My 2000 Kawasaki Super Sherpa is about as old a bike as I want to own. It's carburated and that's about as far back in engineering time as I'm interested in tolerating.

So, when my Minnesota Motorcycle Monthly editor sent an email, last July, asking for volunteers for a Cheap Bike Challenge, I expected to be riding an 80's bike, at the oldest. If anything had gone right, I would have been.

The other "competitors" got a big jump on me. I probably should have passed on being a competitor at all, since the contest deadline conflicted with my 2nd annual "big ride," this year to Nova Scotia. My ride plan put me on the road August 1 and got me back anywhere between August 20th and the 30th. Tight schedules are not my deal. July 4th, Victor announced the competitor list and, surprise, I was one. I spent most of July getting my V-Strom ready for the trip and the rest of the month finishing up my work at school, my day-gig, for the semester. My mind was on the trip, though.

I checked out a few bikes before I left, but the best prospects disappeared before I could get to them. Most of the under-$300 ratters couldn't have been restored for anything less than an additional $300 in parts. My great, green hope was a KLR250 Kawasaki with a "new" motor still in the box. I really wanted a small single for my budget entry and this sounded perfect.

When I saw the KLR, all hope died. The motor was in a box and had been stored under a picnic table for several years. It was rusted and seized. The rest of the bike had seen better days, although maybe not in my lifetime or in its current incarnation. Wiring dangled from the frame in almost every location. The tank was full of rust. Still, the KLR was still tempting, because I really like the 250 and have wanted one since they came out. If I had all summer to fix it up, maybe. But I'd have about two weeks, max, when I got back from Nova Scotia.

I left without a rat bike on line about on my trip east. Being saddled with traditional Midwestern Guilt, I thought about the Low Buck Challenge all the way around the Great Lakes and back. Having volunteered for this event, I didn't want to completely blow my side of the bargain. It would be one thing to find a bike, get it running, and have it die on the way to the contest starting line. It's another to not even have a bike to fail on. From Minnesota to the furthest eastern point on our continent, I thought about a solution to the missing rat bike.

Thinking/worrying about problems you left at home is insanely unproductive and I have to admit that it wasn't the first thing on my mind each morning as I set out to explore the east coast.

As soon as I got back, on August 20, I started looking again. The story of how I ended up owning a 1971 Honda CB450 (pictured at right) is a story of betrayal, heartbreak, torture, setbacks, mental retardation, disappointment, poor mechanical skills, inept planning, idealistic foolishness, and an example of having far too few friends in low places.

Sep 1, 2008

Very Boring Rally II and US Trials

The past weekend was the 25th anniversary of the founding of Aerostich and Mr. Goldfine and company threw a terrific party to celebrate. They coordinated the party with the 4th, 5th, and final round of the US observed trials championship. Motorcycles, great farkles and gear, famous adventure touring speakers and workshops, food, music, poetry, and usual competition, what more could you ask for?

One thing, a great traveling companion, I got that with my grandson, Wolfe. We left fairly early, Saturday morning and arrived (after experiencing a bit of Duluth cold and wet) in time to watch the last two laps of the trials riders and the beginning of the party. It was a little bit of old home week, running into lots of people I know in the Minnesota motorcycle community. Dinner, provided by Famous Dave’s barbeque, was their usual brand of excellent. Smores, provided by the creative folks at Aerostich, were a nice touch. Music, especially that provided by Junior Brown, was a cap on a terrific day.

Weird for me, I didn’t do an interview, write a column or review or a spiffy analysis of the event, or even think much about doing those things. I discovered that the whole Minnesota Motorcycle Monthly crew were at the event, so if they wanted an article written I figured they’d write one. Not that I had different plans if I was there solo. My whole reason for going was to hang out with my grandson, after being away for twenty days. This was his first real motorcycle trip and his mother probably kept her fingers crossed all weekend. He loved the trials, so that’s what we spent our day enjoying. Camping out is a big deal to him, so we made the most of that. Best of all, he really enjoyed riding the bike with me and we explored a bit of the Duluth area together.

I took a picture, or two, of the crazed old guys who make up most of Aerostich’s customer base and their rides and a few more of the trials. See below:


I took even more pictures of the trials guys, since Wolfe wanted that to remember the trip by, see below:

Aug 21, 2008

Getting Badgered

The vanishing summer and approaching time zone change bit me in the ass this morning. I’m used to sun and birds waking me up at 5:30, so I just let them do their work in starting my day. It’s still dark, I’m awake, and when I check my watch it’s 6:45. Crap! I have about 20 minutes to get to the ferry ticket office or I’m going back where I came from and, maybe, even around Chicago. My usual leisurely camp breakdown turns into organized chaos, but I’m pretty practiced at this and I think I made it out with everything I brought in. On the road in 15 minutes, I’m following the advice of my GPS like a robot.

Made it, with some hassle. With my ear plugs in, I get about a dozen instructions wrong and end up ping-ponging from security to the ticket office several times before they take pity on me and sell me a ticket. I’m on the boat, it’s heading west, it’s a beautiful cloudless, windless day and I’m back writing to you. The Badger has the coolest lounge chairs on the bow deck and I may fall asleep any minute.

Security has changed a lot since 1997. Then, I rode to the front of the boat, parked the bike, bought a ticket, talked to one of the ship’s owners about how cool he thought my SV’s Two Brothers pipe sounded (I thought it was an irritating racket, but he liked it), and rode on to the ship. Today, I pass by a gunpowder-sniffing dog and a collection of security questions, I screw up getting a second security check when I mistake the security guard’s weird arm waving as a direction to park with the other bikes (of which there are many), and I go through a collection of routines before finally being sold a ticket, parking the bike on the ship, getting the bike inspected, getting inspected myself, and climbing the stairs to the deck. It’s nothing like the bullshit of flying, but it’s a lot of pretend security.

We’re just not very good at managing anything complicated in this country. Like the Brits in 1920, our ruling class has inbred into total flaccid incompetence. G.W. is the best possible example of that breeding failure. I suppose there will never be a war that kills off the children of the rich and retarded ever again, but nature will probably find a way to weed their tiny brains and valueless lives out with disease or infertility. WWI and WWII did a job on Europe’s rich hillbillies, but those wars didn’t touch our richest and worst fit for survival. America has been specially good at protecting inherited wealth and its offspring since the Civil War. They have bought their way out of harm’s way so successfully that they look like the horse-faced British “royal family” or the chimps that we evolved fro. Every failed culture has been overbalanced by royalty and inherited wealth and power when forces against it tipped the scales toward defeat and obsolescence. Why would a boat ride make me think about that crap? Too much time on my hands, I suppose.

This probably isn’t the fastest way to get around Chicago, but it may be the most pleasant. You can sleep on the deck, watch a movie (when the satellite connection works, which wasn’t on this trip), sit in a comfortable interior lounge/museum/quiet room, eat, drink, or wander around enjoying all of those things.

I have decisions to make when the ship docks. The last time I landed in Manitowoc, it was hailing tennis balls, so my “plan” to explore Wisconsin turned into a roller derby/dodge ball contest between my, my sense of balance, and Mommy Nature’s worst tantrum in years. I rode past tornados, hail-decimated buildings and crops, wind-blown slick roads that were often flooded and the detours were worse than the roads they tried to avoid. I ended up riding all the way south to Iowa before I could turn west again. I was so wet and cold that for two days I could barely put in a 200 mile day without hypothermia. I quit, on the 2nd day less than 60 miles from home, finding a motel and standing in a shower to use up two charges of the hot water heater before I stopped shivering. I can’t imagine that this will be a repeat of that experience. Now that I write all of this, I can’t remember what made me thing taking the Badger across Lake Michigan would revive pleasant old memories. That was a miserable end to an otherwise fine trip.

Anyway, I have a couple of possible things to do and see on my last leg of the 2008 Crazy Old Man’s Tour. I want to visit Green Bay, home of the Minnesota nemesis. It is such a tiny town to have a pro team that it has to be interesting and a fun place to pick up an irritating sticker for my gear. After that, I have two return plans: 1) down to Milwaukee to visit the new Harley Museum and, maybe, the Buell plant or 2) across country more directly toward home. It’s a tough call. Milwaukee isn’t a place I’ve ever found to be very interesting. It’s hard to imagine anything in the museum that I haven’t seen and Harley’s marketing always pisses me off. Buell, on the other hand, is fascinating. Eric is an engineering hero and his plant is making better products every year. If the Buell Ulysses had been available when I bought my V-Strom, I’d have considered the choice a long time. It’s the first American motorcycle I’ve ever liked, except for the XL750 Harley race bike. Either way, Green Bay is on the trip. I’ll decide about the rest when I’m leaving Green Bay. I have plotted two GPS routes home, so it’s a button push to re-route when I decide.

I hope I always remember leaving the Badger in 1997. The ship mostly avoided the storm, other than some wind. When it docked, the ground was pure white with hailstones. I waited as long as I could before leaving the protection of the boat. Eventually, the crew threatened to toss me overboard if I didn’t get going. Rolling down that ramp onto balls of ice in a pouring rain storm was one of my life’s greatest acts of resignation. I traveled about 2 blocks, until I found a bank drive-through awning to hide under. The bank opened and I had to move on. The security guy acted as if I was stealing something valuable from the bank, although there were no customers yet for me to have obstructed. I vowed to never start an account with Wisconsin something-or-other Savings and Loan. Eventually, I was on my way out of town and the sky looked threatening in every direction. I couldn’t have gone to Green Bay if I’d have wanted to, the road was closed and downed trees redirected traffic for at least 100 miles in every direction. A smart guy would have found a motel that morning and gone back to sleep for a day or two. I tried to find a way home.

Apparently, there is an adventure rider event going on in Wisconsin this week, near the Apostles. Several guys from Ohio trailered their bikes to Ludington, to avoid the boredom of Ohio and Michigan roads, and are riding the ferry across before they start their week in Wisconsin. I got lots of recommendations for a trip to Kentucky and West Virginia some later date. It’s possible, although my eastern drive is seriously tuned down after this trip. I need some Rocky Mountains to reset my appreciation for real mountains. The Rockies are sort of tame after Alaska, though. It’s a tough call, glad I get to make it.

I made it off of the ferry safely and on to the highway. I discovered a really cool two-lane that parallels the four-lane to Green Bay. I satisfied my rural ruins Jones several times. Green Bay is larger than I expected and a little nicer. I snagged a Packers sticker and a load of pictures. There are a ton of fans visiting Lambeau Field, even off season. Nobody looks at the Dome when there isn’t a game there. I listened to a pair of cashiers argue about the post-Farve Packers and realized how much difference a real city team makes. Only an idiot would care about the rest of the pro team world. The Lakers, Vikings, Jets, etc. don’t belong to the community any more than a McDonald’s franchise. They are just businesses that coincidentally ended up in a particular town. They’ll follow the money anywhere it takes them, like the players also do. The Packers belong to Green Bay, not some whacked out mess like the team organization that renamed the Cav’s stadium “Quicken Loans Stadium.” (“You can’t have popcorn or a hotdog, but you can get your home refinanced/repossessed.”) Cheering for these other corporations is as silly as wearing a Harley tattoo or jumping up and down and shrieking when you see the ENRON logo. The only pro team I care about is the Packers and I don’t particularly like football. I want the Packers to beat everyone, not just the NFL but everyone in pro sports. Actually, I want Green Bay to beat everyone; I don’t care about the Packers, either.

There was a small chance that I might get to tour the Buell factory, but that appears to be vanishing. My motivation to see the Harley museum is almost non-existent. After a heart-stopping meal at a Packer fans’ bar, I may diagonal across Wisconsin toward home. I didn’t give the Buell folks enough time. In my excitement over the idea and my focus on getting from one place to another, I didn’t allow the usual 4-5 days that it takes for business to react. Maybe another time.

I’m done with lunch, still nothing from HD’s marketing department. It’s settled, I’m taking the shorter way home. I have a $300 rat bike to find and fix. The route my GPS picked for the return home was based off of the “shorter route, faster route, etc.” options. I picked faster route, since I’d decided not to stay overnight between home and anywhere. Four and a half hours later, I was home.

Aug 20, 2008

R&R Hole of Fame and Points Westward

It was a non-motorcycling weekend. I was in Cleveland for the duration, visiting two of my life’s best friends. Brett has been a motorcyclist almost as long as me, but we won’t be riding anywhere this weekend. We’re just catching up and goofing around town. I’ve been to the R&R Hole of Fame before, but since Madonna has been inducted I’m afraid I’ll contract some dorky disease if I actually spend time there. However, it is the cool place to pick up an Ohio-based sticker for my luggage.

Speaking of stickers and luggage, I am beginning to suspect the adventure touring guys like aluminum cases because they hang on to stickers better than plastic. I seem to be doing a first-in-first-out sticker replacement as my oldest stickers are blowing off of my GIVI cases making room for the new ones. I lost Idaho and Washington somewhere in Quebec. Manitoulin Island tried to escape yesterday afternoon. I forgot to see if it’s still there when I stopped for gas the next time. The trick, if you have the resources, is to clean the case with soap and water, rinsing really well, and wipe it quickly with something like lacquer thinner. The thinner softens up the surface of the plastic, so the sticker’s adhesive can find something to bond with. Every sticker I’ve attached this way is still solidly stuck in place. The others are randomly and precariously stuck in place.

Brett moved “up” to a Goldwing a few years ago. I’m waiting to hear how his golf game is progressing any year now. At least it’s not a Harley, right Brett? I’m kidding. I like Goldwings. I’d have one if I could afford it and if I had an extra airplane hangar attached to my garage.

Tuesday, I’m on the road toward Lake Michigan. My “plan” is to hook up with a ferry and avoid Chicago. The two ferry towns are Muskegon and Ludington. The Muskegon ferry is a “rapid shuttle” and costs accordingly. I’m tempted, but I’d like to take in Green Bay this trip, so Ludington makes more sense and is $40 cheaper. There are several good campsites between the two towns, so I expect I’ll keep going north and try to find a place to park close to Ludington. I am wiped out, for some reason. I didn’t sleep more than a couple of hours last night, a sign that I’m ready to hit the road again.

There isn’t much to see or photograph between Ohio and Lake Michigan. Miles and miles of small towns and farm land. The weather is perfect; overcast, slightly cool, little wind, not much traffic, and it clears up about 5PM so visibility near the lake is terrific. I stopped more than usual because I was falling asleep at the bars. When I’m “pounding out” a 400 mile day like this one, I’m particular amazed by the Iron Butters. It is just mind-numbing being on these straight country roads, passing through one carbon-copy small town after another, watching for deer and cops, trying to stay awake. I live for the three corners per county that is, apparently, the allowance in Michigan.

I bumped into a guy watching his kids play at a park in Grand Haven. He wanted to talk about motorcycles and I didn’t have the heart to tell him I was dying of boredom on his favorite roads. He owns an ’84 Virago, but (like everyone in Michigan) dreams of owning a Hardly. He received my sympathy and I got back on the road.

Eventually, I made it to the coast of Lake Michigan and headed north. I paused in Muskegon, considering the rapid shuttle. I, of course, am not man enough to even think about riding through or around Chicago. In my opinion, Illinois is nearly the perfect hell for motorcyclists. Insanely incompetent motorists, lousy roads, toll booths ever 50 feet, and a city so hostile that its own residents argue about where it’s safe to be. I worked for a Chicago-based company for a short while in 1991 and learned that the only way to travel in Chicago is by bus or train. Even then, the risk outweighs my motivation. Twice, while fumbling for change at a toll booth, the car behind me tried to hurry me along by bumping into my bike and that’s all it took for me to write this city off on two wheels. I’m impulsive, I know.

Out of nostalgia, I decide to pass on Muskegon. In 1997, when I was bringing my new-to-me SV650 home from Cleveland, I decided on the Badger Ferry at Ludington. That was a great ride and a terrific memory. I decided to redo that path on my return from this trip. I made it about 400 miles from Cleveland to a state campground a few miles south of Ludington.

Out of boredom and time to burn, I decided to test my new tent pole repair kit, after mostly making camp. When I bought the kit, I was certain that the pole sleeves would be too large, but they were slightly smaller than my pole’s outer diameter. So, instead of doing the duct tape shim I’d planned on, I needed to disassemble the pole and heat the sleeve to get it over the pole. That worked, but I ended up needing to cut one of the other poles about 1” shorter to compensate for the extra length from the sleeve. That meant that I needed to cut an aluminum pole with my knife. That worked, too, after some inaccurate attempts at scoring the pole. I used a rock for a grindstone, to smooth out the pole end, and I was ready to test the pole repair. Worked like new.

After wrestling with the poles, I discovered that in my need for a third hand in restringing the shock cord, I’d tossed the repair kit’s feeder wire somewhere on the ground. I wandered around, looking like a chicken searching for grubs, and attracted the attention of my camping neighbors. They probably thought I was looking for something important, but they joined in looking for the wire and found it about 6’ from where I’d last used it. Can’t explain that. Out of sympathy for the retarded old biker, I got an invitation to dinner. We ended talking until about 9:30, past my camping bedtime, and I fell into the hammock and went immediately unconscious. As much as I enjoy my bed at home, it will never beat a hammock as a place to sleep well. The night is windy but dry, so the rainfly remains half-installed and I have a fine view of the giant pines to which my hammock is attached and a sometimes clear sky full of stars. Being an old guy, I wake up a few times during the night, but the wind rocks me back to sleep and I am more rested in the morning than I ever am at home or in an unfamiliar bed. I’m going to hate coming off of the road when this trip ends this week.