Wednesday, July 21, 2004
Seizing the opportunity to be on the leading edge of motorcycle blog research I typed in some key words and let 'er go. As you look at the graph below you will no doubt be surprised just as I was to see that sex is more popular than motorcycles as a blog post topic. Who'd have guessed?
Look way down at the bottom of the graph to find the motorcycle line. You might need your magnifying glass.
Other trends show that Harley blog posts are more numerous than posts about compost heaps and posts about me are less numerous than posts about MotoGP World Champion, Valentino Rossi. You can't argue with science, folks.
Tuesday, July 20, 2004
The folks used to live in Fresno, a large farming town in the central valley area of California. Visiting Fresno a couple of times a year was a lot like visiting the color beige. Pismo Beach is much nicer, cooler, and more motorcycle friendly. Plus there is genuinely fresh seafood, a beach, and all the attendant scenery that goes therewith...
Pismo also sits right near the start of the fabled Highway 1. Highway 1 is called the most scenic road in America. That's true but it's not the best motorcycle road in America, too many motorhomes and gawkers to let one truly appreciate the road on a bike. If you decide to ride Highway 1 some time I suggest getting up early to beat the rush. Oddly enough, winter is often the best time to ride it because the traffic is less and the fog is less. Riding north to south is better too.
I lived the first part of my life in California and know the roads well. There might be roads elsewhere that are as great for riding as the ones in California but there a none better. If you doubt me, visit www.pashnit.com for the 200 best roads in California.
I was in Chicago on business in May when my boss called and said I was needed on a trip to support some German colleagues working in Death Valley and Las Vegas. "No, I'm sorry Heinz, my vacation is scheduled for that week." I knew it was futile to argue of course. I did extract a promise that I could schedule a week off in July with NO changes allowed. Sadly, motorcycling to and from Arizona in July is even less appealing that in June.
Between the Phoenix area and California lays 400 miles of desert, boredom, and 100°+ temperatures. Even late at night the temps in July will stay in the high 90s. I mostly convinced myself that I'd just leave about 3:00 AM and high tail it across the desert to the coast before the worst heat set in. As the day to leave approaches and the daytime temps hover around 108° I'm less enthusiastic about making the trip on the bike, a lot less enthusiastic. Living and working in Arizona I understand how insidious the heat and low humidity can be, how it lulls you into thinking you can endure it for a little while longer even as it desiccates your body and leaves you senseless but upright until the last gasp.
The trip to and from Pismo Beach is about 1400 miles there and back. If I make the trip in the car I'll be comfortable, air conditioned, music'd, bored silly, and regret when I get to PB that I didn't ride the bike. If I go on the bike I'll be at least medium roasted for 800 miles of those 1400 miles. The other 600 miles will be great. What to do? How much am I willing to suffer to get to some great roads in July?
Thinking I would ride the bike to California next week to see my mom I made assorted preparations including getting it serviced at the Kawasaki dealer. The bike has LeatherLyke hard saddlebags and a small sissy bar on it but no luggage rack. Needing a bit of extra storage space I looked through my old packs and tank bags, all of which were found to be in a sad state at this point. I shopped a bit and wound up buying a new Nelson-Rigg tank bag and seat pack on-line. I’ve got to say that I’m impressed with the quality of the N-R stuff and the price is not bad either. Both pieces cost me a total of $150 including shipping.
My leather jacket is a basic, heavy duty item with no removable liner and no zippered vents. Way too much jacket for this time of the year. In truth, I’ve never been one to wear a leather jacket at all, preferring textile jackets of one sort or another. The leather jacket I’m wearing in the picture at the top of the blog is the first and only one I’ve ever owned and I only bought it because it was on sale for $99 and I couldn’t resist a bargain. Darned nice jacket for $99. Weighs a ton but is great in the winter months.
My medium weight (textile) jacket is getting a little threadbare so I decided it was time to renew the wardrobe at least a little. I went off Saturday to visit some shops and look for a new jacket. Current motorcycle clothing for the street seems to fall into two main categories: Faux biker and Mighty Morphin’ Power Ranger. Both categories suffer from an extreme case of label-itis.
The faux biker thing is the traditional black leather but with a few embellishments to make it look more aggressive and tough. Yeah, nothing like a black leather jacket and a H.O.G. patch to tell the world how tough you are. The Power Ranger look is for the sport bike guys and to me looks silly on guys my age. Yes, I know bright colors are safer but I have to resist the idea of going down the road looking like I just crashed through a paint store.
No one in town seems to stock normal motorcycle clothes like Belstaff makes. Normal isn’t cool. In order to stand out and be individualistic everyone must dress into their category. Consequently the shops all carry the usual stuff from Fox, Joe Rocket, Alpine Stars, and someone named “Frank Thomas.” Every manufacturer feels compelled to label as garishly as possible the front, back, sleeves, collar, cuff, liner, seat, or ALL of the aforementioned areas on their product. Poor old Frank Thomas succeeded in putting his name on the sleeve, both the left and right sides of the jacket front and his indeterminate logo on the back and one sleeve of a jacket I otherwise liked and might have purchased. Frank, feeling insecure?
I liked the F.T. jacket well enough but as my name is not Frank Thomas, it seemed ludicrous to walk around labeled like I was. Even if my name was Frank Thomas I’d not label myself to that extent. I know who I am and if I want someone else to know my name I’ll introduce myself. Why riders tolerate being a rolling billboard for other companies and pay for doing so is beyond me. It looks silly. I’ll save my thoughts on Harley-Davidson branding for another day.
Mind you, I don’t mind a discreet label on a product, every company has a right to label their product in some reasonable fashion. A good craftsman always signs his work if he's proud of it. If a company’s product is of good quality and design people will know what it is without turning it into a billboard. Take Rolls-Royce for example: Rolls-Royce have never felt the need to emblazon a giant “R-R” in 3D neon letters on each door of their motor cars. To their credit, Nelson-Rigg didn’t go too overboard on my new luggage although I did subdue the bright white stitching of the logo with a laundry marker anyway.
I know the sport bike guys like the racer look on the street and the cruiser crowd finds a lot of their identity in black leather. Personally, I never could and can’t bring myself to slavishly follow fashion in any form, but especially in motorcycle clothing, functionality not withstanding. I wonder about people who, on bikes or off, find too much statement of who they are in someone else’s product logo or name. I’d rather go nekkid than wear a Tommy Hilfiger shirt.
OK, I admit I do wear a Bultaco t-shirt regularly but that’s because Bultaco is dead and gone (the new edition of the company doesn’t count) and I think they should be remembered. Besides, I raced Bultacos and it reminds me that I was once young, skinny, and had all my hair.
What I’d like before I leave for California next week is a nice Belstaff jacket but no one in town carries them and I’m sufficiently oddly shaped to make ordering one on-line a dicey proposition. Most likely my old jacket will see me through this next trip just like it has the last 17 years of riding. One thing is for sure, when I do find a new jacket it won’t make me look like a Might Morphin’ Power Ranger, Marlon Brando in "The Wild One", or get me mistaken for someone named Frank Thomas.
Sunday, July 18, 2004
Friday, July 16, 2004
I have no idea when my Dad first rode a motorcycle. He told me once that he nearly bought an Indian Four back about 1938 or so. He reckoned the coolest thing in the world would be have that Indian, some knee-high shined up motorcycle boots, and then astride that big Four, go call on his best girl. Given that the Great Depression was rolling right along back then it was a lofty dream of coolness on Dad's part. Working for $1.00 an hour in a fruit packing shed didn't buy many Indian motorcycles. Dad didn't buy the Indian but he did marry his best girl for which I and my three brothers are grateful. Had he shown up at her house on a motorcycle instead of a Model A Ford, Grandpa Brown, a serious minded Mennonite, might have chased him off straightway as too unreliable to court his daughter.
Someplace along the way Dad got a bike and he and Mom even took some trips around the Central Valley of California. At one point they each got small bikes, Mom learned how to ride, and they took a trip on both bikes. Sadly, I cannot find a single picture from those days in Mom's big box of family pictures. My son will have no such problem, he'll have more pictures of his ol' man's adventures than he'll know what to do with. I just hope he values them.
After WWII Dad managed to acquire a Harley franchise and an Indian franchise. He was ambitious and apparently couldn't be bothered with the long standing rivalry between Harley and Indian.
Dad was out for a ride one day with some buddies and one of the guys tangled with a car and went down hard. No helmets of course in 1949 and Dad's friend suffered a severe head injury. "Poor old Ernie was never right in the head after that" I heard from Dad more than once in the years to come. As Dad had a wife and two kids at that point, he decided the risks of riding were unacceptable and all the bikes and such got sold off. I sure wish he'd have kept that Harley franchise though. I'm not a big fan of Harleys or at least the current Harley cultism but I know a gold mine when I see one.
Dad didn't like to talk much about his motorcycle days, I suspect because he felt it would only encourage me. Mom told me a couple of years ago about how Dad and his buddies would get together, pull the mufflers off their bikes and race up and down the hill behind the house where they lived and how he once road his bike all the way into San Jose "at breakneck speed with no muffler on it." As she told me this story Dad sat a few feet away in his easy chair watching the ball game and ignoring us. I asked Mom loud enough for Dad to hear "Mom, do you mean to tell me that my dear old Pop was a hell raisin' motorsickle rider sometimes? Mom thought for a moment and replied "Well...yes!" Dad glanced darkly at me, apparently not appreciating having his "wild one" days brought to light. I doubt that they were all that wild but they were not an example he was willing to share with his kids.
When I hit 16 years old I began lobbying Dad to let me buy a bike. He recounted the story of Ernie and let me know in no uncertain terms that he'd be worried sick every day if I had a bike. Since he didn't just yell "NO!" and order me to go do yard work so I took this as a hopeful sign.
In a short time I wore him down and my first bike, a Yamaha 60 was acquired. I'd had it about a week when Dad walked up and said flatly, "Give me the key to your motor." I gulped and thought sure he'd changed his mind on me. I pulled the key out my jeans expecting never to see it again and Dad went outside. I heard the bike start and off Dad went. I didn't know if he'd ever even ridden anything that didn't have hand shift and a foot clutch.
He was back in about 20 minutes, walked in the house, handed me the key with a curt "Thanks" and went off to watch the news. Every so often he'd come to me, demand the key to the bike and disappear for a while.
When Dad finally retired he and mom bought a motorhome to go off and see the world and one of the first additions for the motorhome was a Honda Trail 90. As with zillions of other motorhomers the Trail 90 provided easy, cheap transportation when stopped somewhere and the motorhome was hooked up at a campsite.
Dad begin cruising around on the Trail 90 even when he and mom were not traveling. In time as he ventured farther a field he decided that the 90cc Honda engine was being worked too hard. I showed up to visit them one day at their home in Fresno, California and Dad showed me his new Yamaha 200 out in the garage. He carefully explained that it provided him with better range and would still fit on the back of the motorhome. In time he admitted to making day trips out of Fresno, winding through the farm country and even up to the foothills of the Sierra Nevada mountains that make up the east side of the San Joaquin Valley. He remarked once that he'd covered a couple of hundred miles on the little 200 one day.
When he turned 70, persons who shall remain nameless convinced Dad that he was too old to ride safely and the Yamaha should go. He agreed. A few years ago I rolled my new Kawasaki 1500 Drifter out of the garage for Dad to look at and sit on. He was about 80 the time and told me "I should have never let them talk me out of the motor when I turned 70, I think I could have ridden safely until I was at least 75 or so."
I guess once the motorcycle bug bikes you never get entirely free of it unless something in your spirit dies. Dad may have given up riding but it wasn't because he wanted to. Lots of people own and operate motorcycles but not everyone is a rider. Riders have a certain gut feeling for the motorcycling experience that is never fully satisfied and once rider, always a rider.
Even though he let me start riding, Dad never approved of my motorcycling. I know for a fact he always regretted letting me get that first bike but maybe he just thought it was inevitable. When I'd get home late at night sometimes he'd be sitting there and tell me "I heard ambulances in the distance and wondered if they were for you." Dad did guilt pretty well but not well enough to get me off my bike.
One of the things I really wanted to do was race motocross but Dad would not hear of it. "I'll disown you if you ever race!" I didn't believe he'd really do that but it did make the impression that motorcycle racing was not considered an appropriate hobby for nice young men.
When I stupidly decided to get married at the age of 19 one of the first things Dad said to me was "You're going to have responsibilities now and it's time to give up your motorcycle." I begged to differ and allowed as how my fiancé actually liked motorcycles.
Immediately after getting married one of my first steps as a newly emancipated adult was to go into hock for a new Bultaco so I could go racing. I did pretty well at hiding my adventures from my folks until I crashed and burned the crap out my right arm on a Hodaka exhaust pipe. When I showed up for Sunday dinner at mom & dad's with my arm in bandages it was tough to pretend all was well so I confessed that I'd been racing and dad went silent. He didn't utter a single word to me for about three weeks but at least he didn't disown me.
With each new motorcycle I'd get another mini-lecture from him about how unsafe bikes were, how Ernie was "never right in his head" after his crash in '49 and how I was getting older and it was time to act responsible.
In time my marriage failed and I drowned my sorrows in another new bike...and another...and another. Some people drink, some do drugs, some consort with wild women, I just ride motorcycles. I thought any number of times about doing something else and even took up additional hobbies but somehow as interests came and went, the motorcycles were a constant.
When I decided to remarry in 1981 I took my fiancé over to California to meet the folks. They approved of her of course but dad did take me aside and tell me "You're taking on new responsibilities again, getting a chance to start over. It's time to give up the motorcycles." Considering that in his spare time he was bombing around Central California on his Yamaha 200 (which he said he didn't consider a motorcycle because of it's size) his admonitions didn't carry much weight. He was even less pleased when I told him I was teaching my fiancé to ride. The truth is, Dad liked motorcycles, he just didn't want his son risking his neck on them, something I did not fully appreciate until my own son got his first dirt bike, a Honda XR80.
Before I got married again I warned my fiancé "I spend too much money on hobbies and motorcycles and I'll never change. If you can't deal with that you shouldn't marry me." I'm not that smart but at least I'm honest. She replied "As long as you don't spend the mortgage money, it's ok with me." I was true to my word and so was she. I bought two Yamaha enduro bikes, a 175cc for her and a 250cc for me and we went trail riding on our honeymoon. Dad was not pleased.
After a time it came to pass that I bought my first and only Harley-Davidson, a brand new 1986 Softail Custom from Jerry Chosa at Chosa's H-D in Arizona. When I showed Dad a picture of the bike he pronounce it "a big brute" and asked if I was going to get a tattoo next.
Shortly after the Harley arrived my dear wife announced that she was pregnant. Sigh. I could read the handwriting on the wall: Goodbye Harley, hello baby. We called Mom and Dad to give them the happy news about the baby and Dad said "You're going to be a father now, it's a big responsibility, it's time to give up those motorcycles." I told him the Harley was for sale and he was pleased. I did manage to get 11,000 miles on the Harley before I sold it to someone I suspected was a hit man for drug dealers. Another story for another time.
The Harley was only gone a month and the baby hadn't even arrived yet when I got the shakes from being without a bike. I scrounged up what money I could and bought a 1975 BMW R90S from a fellow who'd done an excellent job restoring it. I had wheels again and another great BMW. Dad was not pleased and Jerry Chosa, who'd become a friend by that point, wasn't either. Annoyed two men with one motorcycle this time. What talent!
There were more bikes over the next 16 years or so including two after marriage number two ended. Bikes come and go based on my willingness to give into motorcycle fever. Like I said, some people drink, some do drugs, some consort with wild women, I just ride motorcycles.
Christmas 2003 found me at my folks house to spend time with Dad and mom; Dad was very ill with cancer and not expected to last much longer. I'd purchased my '03 Kawasaki 1600 Classic back in November and uploaded a picture of it via the Internet to my folks Ceiva digital picture frame. As I sat chatting with Dad who by that point was having trouble speaking, the picture of the new Kawasaki came up again on the Ceiva frame. I asked Dad if he'd seen the new bike. "Yes" he rasped weakly. "I'm not happy about that!" I chuckled and told him it was too late for me to change my ways and he said "I suppose so." Sorry Pop, you know how it is. Once a rider, always a rider. Rest in peace.
Wednesday, July 14, 2004
Thanks to the other bloggers out there (see the blog roll leaders) who are better connected than I, some additional blogs have been added to the blog roll at right.
The majority of the blogs seem to be done by younger riders and in some cases new riders. I have to say that reading them makes me feel young and old all at the same time.
I appreciate greatly the enthusiasm the new riders show for the sport, it really has not changed since "my day" and I'm sure it was the same 100 years ago when motorcycles were a new item. A few years ago I met Jim Davis who had been a factory sponsored rider for Indian Motorcycles in 1915 or so. Jim was a character even at 103 and when he'd tell stories of riding when it really was "the old days" you could see in his eyes and hear in his voice the spirit that seems to be eternal in motorcycing.
I'm not sure what Jim Davis would have thought about the new generation of riders with fur covered sport bikes, wild tattoos, piercings, and defiant attitudes but I'd guess despite the differences in riding gear and jargon, he'd recognize the spirit of motorcycling in their eyes and words also.
As for me, I'm not old by Jim Davis' standards but I'm not really keen on riding a fur covered ZX-10 across Africa to get a tattoo or using the f-word in my ramblings here so I guess to that degree I'm old. Truly though, reading the blogs by young riders and especially the women riders is amazing and grand even for an old fahrt like me.
I think the women's blogs are the most entertaining as they seem more willing to share their outlook about riding more than the men sometimes are. "Us mens" tend to gravitate towards the technical rather than the sublime. The women's blogs can be edgy, in your face, and proud of being different while still maintaining a feminine quality. I'm glad to seem them all riding and writing about it. Having more women in motorcycling is a great thing.
I sometimes ride with a motorcycle group called the Geezers. They are mostly retired people and ride on Tuesdays so a poor working stiff like me cannot get out too often with them. They are a fun group, excellent riders, and have a great sense of what motorcycling is and isn't. It is nice to ride and hang out with folks my own age, people who have a lot of perspective on life and motorcycles and who ride at a pace I like.
Still, I have to think after reading the other blogs out there that it would be a huge amount of fun to hang out with younger riders once in awhile too and experience motorcycling from their perspective. I believe I could talk myself into buying a Hayabusa or Kawasaki's excellent 1200 sport tourer so I wouldn't be too out of place but I'd have to pass on the tattoos and piercing. No fur covered fairings either.
Monday, July 12, 2004
Over in Coolidge is this long closed but recently repainted department store. I have to wonder what the motivation was for the paint scheme. I know the building has been for sale at various times so perhaps this was a way to draw attention to it in a town that is otherwise pretty weather worn.
Wandering about in Casa Grande, about 20 miles from Coolidge, I came across a freshly painted industrial building in the heart of the town. "Came across" is sort of an understatement as there was no missing it, even for someone like me who is colorblind. It's way bigger than it looks in the picture, probably 7,000 sq ft or so.
Maybe someone is planning on opening an all Christmas store in central Arizona? Perhaps green and red paint was on sale? Whatever the reason, you sure can see the place.
Back to Coolidge for mintue. The town is frayed and decaying in a lot of ways but it is coming back. There's a big Walmart there and on the edge of town a big residential development is under construction. It seems that the Phoenix metro area is now leap frogging the Indian reservations and landing in Coolige, Casa Grande, and Maricopa, all formerly sleepy little farm towns. Progress is normally good and the new home developments will rescue some local economies but it will be sad to see the little towns homoginized and reduced to bedroom communities for the Phoenix area. I'd better take lots of pictures of old buildings while I can.
Friday, July 09, 2004
Pay 'em a visit and remember to say "hi" when you're there so they know their efforts are appreciated.
I'd been reading about bike travels for a few years in Cycle Magazine, Cycle World, and the rest. Eventually I discovered Road Rider Magazine which was completely geared to motorcycle touring. In an age where motorcycle magazines put as little as 75 miles on a bike "testing" it, Road Rider had a four five thousand mile minimum for their tests. The magazine has since changed hands and is now known as Motorcycle Consumer News. I liked the old "Road Rider" much better than I like any of the modern magazines now; it had personality and character no longer found in any mainstream bike publications. To me, RR's slightly homespun style was plus; it seemed more real and more trustworthy. I have fifteen or twenty copies of the early 1970s Road Rider snagged off of eBay and they still make good reading.
Reading the stories of the Roger Hull, Bob and Patti Carpenter, Cliff Boswell, and Clement Salvadori in Road Rider inspired me to give touring a try. An article about how to tour on the cheap by a fellow referring to himself as "Mr. Cheap Tour" or something like that offered all kinds of useful advice on traveling and camping without a credit card in hand. I believed every word of it which was, of course, my first mistake. I was young and young people believe easily those who appear to be wise and sage. If you are young and reading this now, you can believe every word I say. Truly. Trust me.
Preparing to tour I outfitted my Suzuki 550 triple (2-stroke air-cooled three cylinder response to Kawasaki's 500cc triple) with a "universal" mount luggage rack and sissy bar which of course both fit like crap. Made-to-fit items were hard to find for slightly odd bikes like the Suzuki and I lacked the funds to buy what was available in application specific goodies. The universal fit rack and sissy bar were cheap and with a few different bolts and some tweaking of brackets via a pair of vise grips I got them on the bike. It was my first experience in learning that "universal fit" means it universally fits nothing.
I set about following Mr. Cheap Tour's advice for camping equipment: sleeping bag (Army surplus filled with chicken feathers), tent (tarp over a picnic table), air mattress (thin piece of foam on the ground), a stove (can of sterno), and portable food (surplus Army C-rations). Lord, but I was naive. It all packed up nicely on the bike; it just worked like crap.
My first trip was a simple overnighter from the town of Vista, CA where I lived up to camp on Palomar Mountain, home of what was once the world's largest telescope. The road up there is a nice and still extremely popular with San Diego area riders. I've ridden in many times over the years and in later times flew hang gliders from Palomar Mountain. It's a great road and someone told me it was recently repaved and just as much fun as ever.
Arriving at the campground I set about making my camp. I flung the tarp over the table and then pulled it off when I realized I had not yet cooked my dinner. I lit the can of sterno and then began heating my can of Army surplus beef stew. Later on in the that National Guard I would learn that beef stew "c-rats" were actually one of the better variations on pre-fabricated Army chow circa 1970. Sadly, Mr. Cheap Tour neglected to mention that one can of sterno does a really poor job of head a medium size can of anything but water. No matter, c-rations can safely be eaten cold so I did.
About the time I was savoring my cold beef stew a guy on a BMW rolled up and asked about sharing my campsite. The Beemer was beautiful in black with white pinstripes as all true BMWs should be. It was outfitted with a Wixom handlebar mount fairing and Wixom bags. Very nice. I was delighted to have some company and knew we could sit around telling motorcycle stories into the wee hours of the morning just like Cliff Boswell wrote about in Road Rider.
In minutes the BMW guy had gotten out his light weight pop-up nylon tent, air mattress, mini-lantern, and a little gas stove. The stove was fired up and a little pan was produced into which he emptied some proper, consumer quality food. As the food cooked he set up the tent, lit the lantern, and read a book. I watched in awe. In minutes he was camping in comparative luxury. As darkness fell he bid me good night and crawled in his tent. So much for the brotherhood of the road and motorcycle stories around the campfire.
My own struggles to create a livable camp using a flashlight, a tarp, and a can of sterno, paled in comparison. It also paled in comfort. I'm a night owl, always have been, so going to bed before 11:00 PM is something that is guaranteed to bring about lots of tossing and turning on my part. As I had no clever little mini-lantern and no book, the darkness quickly closed in quickly there amongst the pines and I sat there without a blessed thing to do. I finally tossed the tarp over the picnic table, rolled the foam mattress out, fluffed up the surplus sleeping bag as best as I could and crawled in.
It would have been so much better if Mr. Cheap Tour had mentioned to test things out BEFORE leaving home. As corny as it might sound, if you've never toured by bike before, pack your bike, go for a long ride, and then spend one night camping in your backyard to test things out. You'll thank me. Really.
My own untried campsite set up left me in misery with cold, rocky of Palomar Mountain poking through the cheap-o foam pad, the chicken feather filled sleeping bag wadded around me but failed at keeping me warm, and the tarp-tent afforded little but a nice view of the stars and also the clouds as the weather moved in and the rain started. Thankfully, the surplus beef stew stayed put until morning.
The next morning I was up early and ready to head for home. I'd planned another day of riding and night of camping but some how had neglected to pack any common sense or fun with the can of sterno so home seemed more appealing than another day on the road.
As I wadded up my gear and bungeed it back on the bike the BMW guy emerged from his tent, fired up his stove, made his breakfast and took down his nice little tent that had kept him dry. I gave him wave, fired up the Suzuki and headed out. A little while later as I made my way down the mountain the BMW whooshed by me with it's rider rested and his gear neatly packed. I swore that I would NEVER go motorcycle camping ill equipped again and would also look with a jaundiced eye on all advice given in motorcycle magazines.
In time I bought better gear or at least more appropriate gear (you really don't have to spend a fortune to go touring) and made longer and more pleasant trips. A proper tent, air mattress, cook stove, and lantern can make a huge difference in actually enjoying the camping experience.
Replacing the Suzuki 550 with a new 1974 BMW R90/S was a nice step up too. I rode and camped through most of the western US and up into Canada in subsequent years on a variety of bikes and with each trip refined my packing and camping techniques a bit.
My last camping trip on a bike was about 1994 (ten years ago now! Geez...where did the time go?). I road my 1992 BMW R100RT to the 49er Rally over in Northern California and had a grand time there. The rally took place at the Quincy, Calif. fairgrounds with about 1000 people camped out on acres and acres of lawn.
After I'd set up my camp a fellow BMW rider walked over and marveled at the great digs I'd set up off a modestly packed BMW. I explained it just took a little planning and a little practice. I lit my lantern, pulled out a book, and set about reading a chapter while dinner cooked on the little stove. The fellow stopped by after dinner and we sat late into the night swapping motorcycle stories just as Roger and Cliff and Clement had 30 years earlier.
Sunday, July 04, 2004
I believe that a clean motorcycle is a happy motorcycle and happy motorcycles won't let you down. They also retain their resale value better and when you change bikes as often as I do that's an important consideration. But in the end, I just hate to be seen on a dirty motorcycle; to me it says something negative about me if my bike is unkempt, like I somehow don't respect the machine or myself. I'm always astounded when I see a beautiful bike that's been let go, allowed to become filthy and begin it's sorrowful journey to being a rat bike and then a junkyard discard. Motorcycles are unique and special machines and deserve to be maintained and kept up.
Late in the afternoon it was about 104 degrees outside which isn't terribly warm for this time of the year so I decided to hop on the bike and begin a new accumulation of bugs. The dry air blasting over your body as you motor down the road has the interesting effect of sucking the moister off of you without actually cooling you very much. When a trickle of sweat works it's way out from under the helmet and actually makes a cool spot on your neck for few seconds it is a real treat. Dehydration will sneak up on the unwary so if you ever find yourself touring through Arizona in the summer make sure you drink plenty of water even if you don't feel thirsty. By the time you feel thirsty it will be too late. Heat prostration is a killer. I always toss three or four bottles of water in the saddlebags and whenever I stop I pop open the bags and take a long drink. It doesn't matter that the water has warmed up to 80 degrees or so, it's wet and that's the important part.
Most of my stopping on these late Sunday outings is to take pictures. I love to take pictures, so much so that I went slightly off the deep end last week and bought a new digital camera to replace my Nikon Coolpix 4500. Being single and having my tax refund burning a whole in my jeans, it seemed like the thing to do although it was a close call between a new camera and something new for the bike like a Corbin seat. The stock seat on the 1600 Kawasaki is ok for about 200 - 250 miles and then begins to bite. The Nikon 4500 was doing a nice job for me, better than the Kaw's stock seat, but I wanted better resolution in my pictures and the ability to change lenses more than I wanted a comfy seat for my bum.
After pondering cameras, reading endless reviews, talking to my baby brother who shoots a Nikon D100, I found myself trying to decide between the Nikon 8700 and the new Nikon D70. The 8700 had convenience and familiarity on it's side. It is the current generation of the Coolpix series that I've been shooting for about 6 years now and the only negative I could see was the inability to use different lenses. The D70 is a full sized SLR type camera and uses Nikon's standard lenses and I had some interesting ones left over at work from the days when we only shot film (Nikon F3 for you photo guys out there). The D70 would in theory give me complete control over the photographic process, something the 4500 didn't always do.
Generally I'm better off not thinking about things like this too much as I tend to over analyze and somehow lead myself down the wrong path. I've done it buying bikes and confusing what I wanted out of a camera was a piece of cake compared to that. Spontaneity seems to serve me much better than logic so using my best logic I ordered the D70, a couple of lenses, and Nikon's new SB-600 flash. It's been downhill ever since.
One of the things I came to love about the Coolpix series was the live view LCD display. I could hold the camera at odd angles and positions, compose the shot, make changes to the camera settings, and usually see before I shot what I was going to get. When shooting motorcycle pictures lower is usually better. Most bike pics suffer from being shot too high off the ground and diminishings the prensence of the motorcycle. With the Coolpix swivel and live LCD getting down and dirty was easy. It also allows you to get candid pictures candid of people since they don't realize they are being photographed and don't tense up or scowl.
Somehow in all my reading of tests and such I missed the fact that the SLR style cameras don't have a live view LCD display on them, only a post-shot display. To shoot a picture I'd be back to looking through the viewfinder as with my Nikon F3, selecting my settings, and hoping that things came out right. Right from the get go the D70 made me feel like a blind man groping for my images. I had not realized how much I'd come to depend on composing from the live LCD screen. Shooting, adjusting, shooting, adjusting, seemed like the long way to get to an image I liked.
Yes, I know, I should understand photography well enough to get the settings right to begin with but I'm not Ansel Adams. I shot film for years, took photography classes, and have a pretty decent understanding of the photographic process but "knowing" in your head what the image will look like is still an educated guess at best. Being able to compose a picture with a live screen was like being able to think out loud. The image could be composed on a truly visual basis instead of a mental one and after all, photography is a visual medium.
So I've been struggling with the D70, trying to get it to see what I see, trying to get it to not make oddball choices for the flash or force the autofocus into someplace I didn't want. The camera is wonderfully customizable but right now I feel like a guy would who's riding his first motocross: Forget about winning, just try and finish without injuring yourself.
On my ride today I shot about 150 photos which is about 125 more than I'd normally shoot. It's not that there was that much to see, I just had to shoot and adjust and shoot and adjust to try and get something acceptable. In the end I never really got a single photo that captured what my eye saw. I know the camera can do it, I'm just at a loss to tell it what it needs to know. I'll get there but I'm not enjoying the learning process.
There are some that are ok pictures from today (I'll include one here) but nothing that really turns me on. I find myself hating the fact that I can't shoot the camera from the waist anymore but have to kneel down or sit on the ground to get an angle I want. I'm getting old and I prefer not to get down on the ground as it's too difficult to get up again. I like to point, compose, adjust, shoot, and be on my way. The D70 is cramping my style and I'm not happy about it. I like living and working at about the 26" seat height of the motorcycle.
As for the image quality of the D70, it is better than the 4500 which is a 4 megapixel camera while the D70 is 6.2. The lens quality is certainly better in Nikon's discreet lenses versus the built-in ones on the Coolpix series. But is the image quality $1,000 better than the 8700 or even the 4500? Nope. It's better for sure, but not $1,000 better. That's a painful point at the moment.
Maybe in different light instead of the late afternoon stuff I like to shoot, the D70 would do better, I'll have to give it a try. But for now, when I shoot late afternoon it's going to be tough to make myself keep struggling to learn with the D70 when I could just toss the 4500 in the saddlebag and get what I want with a minimum of fuss. I like a minimum of fuss in my motorcycles, cameras, and people.
It occurs to me at the moment that I've also made a significant change in my camera world and most people hate change. Ironic, isn't it, that something like a camera can flummox me while I happily change motorcycles (which are hugely important to me) more often than some people change their underwear?
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"When my mood gets too hot and I find myself wandering beyond control I pull out my motor-bike and hurl it top-speed through these unfit roads for hour after hour." - T.E. Lawrence
An Important reminder from the past:
"I believe there are more instances of the abridgment of the freedom of the people by gradual and silent encroachments by those in power than by violent and sudden usurpations." - James Madison