~Since 2004~
A site about memories, thoughts, photos, and unrepentant opinions about motorcycles and motorcycling after four decades of twisting the throttle.

Friday, December 31, 2004

2004 Wrap Up

31 Dec 04: As motoryclists for 100 years have known, beware soft
ground and side stands.

I'm writing this as 2004 sputters to a stop like a 2-stroke with a fouled spark plug. It's been an interesting and challenging year on so many levels. It would have been nice to wind up the year at some wild New Years Eve party being chased around the room by a supermodel but writing a blog entry is probably the next best thing.

Looking back at 2004

My dear ol' dad passed away in January and that was surely the lowest low of the year. I do wish we'd have gotten some sort of chance to ride motorcycles together over the years but it wasn't meant to be. I am grateful that my dad and I got along well and that I at least got a few small riding stories out of him.

Former co-worker and occasional riding buddy Dennis Holsen passed away rather unexpectedly in February. I expected my dad to die; Dad was 85 and in poor health. Dennis should have had a few more years left. We had plans to ride places. I wish I could tell you the whole story about Dennis and his funeral but I couldn't possibly do it justice here. Suffice to say that Dennis was buried on the Gila Indian Reservation here in Arizona and attending his funeral was like a trip a hundred years back in time all except for his 1500cc Kawasaki with the straight pipes. Dennis had pipes at his funeral and they weren't bagpipes.

There were other lows too but they didn't amount to much compared to losing friends and loved ones.

Good stuff abounded during the year and that helps offset the crud.

I seem to have averaged buying one bike a year for 38 years now. This year I bought two although one didn't stay long. One of the big plusses this year in terms of motorcycling was discovering the True Light of Aprilia. I did a shade over 300 miles today on my Caponord including about 30 miles of winding dirt road and the bike was a delight during every mile. To be able to blast through pavement twisties, then motor down miles of desert dirt road, then hop back on the highway and ride 80 mph home is truly a wonderous thing. Doing it with Italian style is doubly so. Here's hoping that in 2005 the Aprilia company will prosper under it's new owners and the most under recognized sporting bikes in America will once again start to flourish.

Blogging turned into one of the pleasant surprises of 2004. I could ramble on here a bit about favorite blogs but Dylan at Twisting Asphalt covered all the bases for me in his New Years Eve entry. It seems that we share nearly identical tastes in our blog reading, at least as far as bike sites go. Take a peek at Dylan's favorites and then say an "amen" for me. He's done me a nice honor in recognizing my efforts here and I appreciate it greatly.

I've noodled around with personal web pages for several years including one covering motorcycles but the format of a blog didn't catch my attention until this year. Thanks to Mike Werner at Bikes in the Fast Lane and Dylan Weiss at Twisting Asphalt for the inspiration to start my own blog. Corresponding with Dylan, a bit with Dusty Davis (A Long Ride), Travis (Motorcycle-Blog), and Jeff (Goon Blog) has been great fun, insightful, and encouraging.

Like most folks who set out to write a blog, you don't really expect anyone to read it, you just feel like you have to do it. Any sort of success generally comes as a complete surprise. A bit of recognition and encouragement by fellow bloggers is a highlight of 2004. Speaking of Dusty and Jeff, they have a serious problem with their blogs: They don't write enough. Get to work, guys!

Okay, a short ramble because I think it's important. BluepoofBikes Motorcycle Adventures and Cecilie's Motorcycle Journal are easily the best of the motorcycle blogs written by women riders. That so many women are not only into riding but some are writing so accurately about the experience and enthusiastically about it is, for me, one of the highlights of 2004. The downer, of course, is that both those charming lady riders already have boyfriends.

The blog world is growing, new blogs are showing up, and soon the 'net will be awash in them. If the folks noted above keep writing, I predict they will surely become...or remain...the core of the best.

Stuff I liked a lot in 2004

None of these goodies are new to the motorcycle world or hi-tech but anything that works well deserves a plug:

Number 1 on the list...dare I say it again? Aprilia. I feel 10 years younger and 10 mph faster any time I'm on an Aprilia. I also feel noticeably poorer in the wallet any time the bike gets near a shop. No one said riding the best was cheap.

Less exciting but still useful and now a regular part of my little motorcycling world:

CrampBuster throttle assist. Man, does this little piece of plastic make long rides easier.

Vista-Cruise throttle lock. A recent addition and already well known in the bike world but a wonder goodie when you just HAVE TO take your hand off the throttle but don't want to slow down or stop. The Universal Fit model is like most universal fit stuff. It fits if you cut and tweak things a little. Looks clunky, like some sort of Rube Goldberg device but works super and is way less expensive than most of it's competition.

Draggin' Jeans. Kevlar reinforced britches. Bought a pair because I wanted something better than regular jeans but not all the way to leathers. The quality and comfort is first rate and somehow they are warmer than regular jeans. I may regret that come summer in Arizona but they will still be cooler than leathers. I bought the black Draggin Jeans and they fade kind of funny but I can live with it. I just hope I never have to test them beyond that.

Nelson-Rigg tank bag and tail pack. I've not used my new stuff much but the sewing, features, and general construction of the $60 N-R tank bag is waaay better than Aprilia's $140 unit.

Alaska Leather Sheepskin Butt Pad. Terrible name, great product. Sheepskin seat covers look dufus on a bike but the Alaska Leather Butt Pad has turned the Aprilia's saddle from a 75 mile seat to a 200 mile seat.

Battery Tender. You plug it in and it does what they say it will. What a concept. More companies should try that.

Nikon Coolpix 8700 camera. 8.0 megpixels of excellence. I don't care what anyone says, it's a better camera than the D70. I had the D70 and was happy to only loose a few hundred bucks when I sold that turkey.

A Dishonorable Mention for 2004 goes to:

Givi for their lackadaisical quality control. I replaced the stock Caponord windscreen with a Givi unit. It was cheaper by about a third than the stock Aprilia unit and cheaper in quality by half. Poorly trimmed, loads of distortion, and delivered with a large scratch on it despite all the packing. And that was the second one they sent me. There's more to the story but I won't bore you with the details. I've had some Givi luggage in the past. Their windscreen department isn't making the same effort. I finally told them I'd just live with it because I had better things to do than ship windscreens back and forth across America.

Mustang Saddles. I replaced the stock saddle on my '03 Kawasaki 1600 Classic with a Mustang part. The fit of the passenger seat and cut of the rider's seat was way off. I make my living inspecting and testing the fit and finish of vehicle trim parts and interiors. I know what I'm talking about. I sent them a nice note with pictures and their response was that those uh... design features... were as planned. OK. The Mustang went back and was replaced with a Corbin. The Corbin wasn't perfect in some respects but at least it fit on the bike correctly and is comfortable.

And finally...

I promised myself when I start this blog several months back that I would write only about motorcycles and the sport. No ramblings about politics, sex, drugs, teenagers, or about being single again at 53 years of age (soon to be 54) except as they might concern bikes. That means it's time to break my own rule:

It's not about bikes or even sex and drugs but I have to toss it in here. Part of what I do at work is thermal imaging of cars and parts. Some of my images this year were made for Skoda Germany during a German automotive press trip to Death Valley and subsequently were used in a variety of German automotive publications including magazine of the ADAC (German Auto Club) which has a readership of about 10 million people. Also here. Sadly, our company policy kept my name off the images but they are mine and it was kinda cool (not thermally speaking, of course) to see them out in the real world instead of just buried in engineering reports.

15 miles from no where on the way to Nogales, AZ

Happy New Year to my all my new found blogging friends out there and to all three of my regular readers who are not bloggers!

Thursday, December 30, 2004

Bikes In The Fast Lane...To Dakar!

Mike Werner over at the Bikes in the Fast Lane news blog is living the life that most of us only dream about. Mike and his buddy are currently playing hardcore moto-tourists and following the Dakar Rally aboard their BMW GS's. Mike is posting updates about their experiences and the rally as time an 'net connections allow. This is good stuff so if you have an interest in adventure touring or want an excellent layman's perspective on the world's greatest off road race, check in daily over at Mike's blog.

Sunday, December 26, 2004

Sounds of History

Gilera 500/4
Modern racing bikes, especially the MotoGP have and awesome sound but somehow have developed beyond grasp of the ear to sense the passion of the men who design or ride them. Exhaust tuning and unlimited dyno time have created pipes and horsepower undreamed of 30 years ago but sounds that are closer to a 500cc 2-stroke than and a classic 4-stroke wail. The sound is stupendous but a little sterile; techno-sterile might be a good way to put it.

Early Ferrari and MV Agusta engines were said to have "a sound like ripping canvas." That's a tough one to imagine today in our ripstop nylon world. I imagine that on sailing ships of old when a huge mainsail gave way and the canvas burst in a massive edge-to-edge tear it must have sounded like doom and calamity coming right at you. John Surtees on the Moto Guzzi V8, with it's skinny tires, wistful brakes, vicious handling, and dustbin fairing, must have felt and and sounded the same way as the bike and rider fought their way around the guardrail and tree lined grand prix tracks of 1957. Doom and calamity and sound aimed right at you.

Moto Guzzi V8 - Photo: Pietro Venturini
Japan, Inc. has given us wonderful, bullet proof, modern engines that sound very nice but lack any real soul although the Honda GP machines of the 1960s were wonderful sounding machines. The Japanese in their relentless "continuous improvement" engineering may have perfected things too far. In America, Harley's are Harley's and sound good (hey, it's a big v-twin) but when sound and a logo become the main design criteria something innate to the spirit and heart of motorcycling is lost. So it's left to the Italians as always to give us engines today that make a sound that is addictive, coming from motorcycles that are a true embodiment of a human passion for living.

The best sounds today come from v-twin engines. Our Italian friends have not forgotten how to build soul into a bike and into an engine and I have no doubt that exhaust note is an important criteria in determining the final tuning and function of an Italian v-twin. Even the modern MV Agusta four cylinder engine has a distinctly throaty Italian GP sound, no doubt tuned with every intent NOT to sound like a Japanese four.

My Aprilia Caponord has Remus pipes on it and they are much louder and authoritative than the stock Aprilia cans. They are really out of character for "a big trailie" as the Brits call adventure touring bikes. I should take the Remus cans off and return the bike to stock but every time I dive into a turn, blip the throttle for a downshift, and really hear the 60 degree v-twin I get a little farther away from actually going back to the civilized stock exhaust.

Vintagebike.co.uk has a website devoted to, you guessed it, vintage bikes. In the "Sounds" section of the website is a wonderful treasure: Sound clips from great racing bikes going all the back to the 1949 Norton ES2 and 1957 Gilera Four. There are a smattering of modern machines too like the Honda Fireblade and BMW R1150GS so it's a fine opportunity to listen to "then and now" in the racing and motorcycle world. Compare the sound of '49 Norton to the 1150GS and the GS sounds pretty darned nice. Compare the Moto Guzzi V8 or 1967 MV Agusta to almost anything since and you realize that motorcycle sounds may have reached their zenith over thirty years ago. Listen to the sound of the Harley Sportster and you are reminded that it's time to mow the lawn. Yeah, that last comment was a cheap shot but I couldn't resist.

Mike Hailwood on the 1967 MV Agusta is the best sound on the Vintagebike page, better than anything running the tracks today. Modern MotoGP bikes sound too much like modern F1 cars and who wants their bike to sound like a car? The 1957 Moto Guzzi V8 (a 500cc 4-stroke V8 for you newer guys) comes closest to sounding like a modern machine. In 1957 it must have sounded to race fans like something from another planet. 

Moto Guzzi V8 at Goodwood - Photo: James Middleton

Imagine the times the bike raced in, the black leather suits without advertising, cork lined pudding bowl helmets, split lens goggles, 19 inch racing tires on rain slick tracks. Imagine tree lined and walled streets of the Isle of Man or the long course at Nurburgring. No computer tuning, no video feeds from the bike, just a hugely talented and brave rider astride a machine designed by men using slide rules and a passion for bikes and speed as their primary tools. Put some racing castor oil in a pan on the stove and get it hot until the odor prevades the room if you want the full effect.

Friday, December 17, 2004

New Additions to the Blog Roll

I've added a few more links over on the blog roll. None of the sites are new but at least one was new to me.

In the Scene (General commentary on motorcycling)
Ed Youngblood's MotoHistory (Ed Youngblood spent 28 or so years with the AMA and knows the motorcycle world as well as anyone around)
Spacecraft (Covers a lot of areas but there's a good motorcycle section)
Alanf's blog (Motorcycling with an emphasis on racing)

Pay them all a visit and tell them "hello." Bloggers love it when they find out someone is actually reading their stuff.

Sunday, December 12, 2004

The Capo is a Keeper

Near Red Mountain

I wrote this entry back at the end of October and for some reason forgot to post it here. Given the amount of time it takes to write this stuff and the undoubted expenditure of limited brain cells you'd think I would have been "quicker on the blog" as it were.

Recent thoughts from a Saturday on the my Aprilia Caponord. For you guys not in the warmer climes, the temperature today varied between 60° and 75° during the day. Blue skies, just about as perfect of weather as you could hope for.

The day started out a bit inauspiciously when after filling up the bike was a bit hard to start and stumbled for a few seconds after starting. Rolling down the road a few minutes later I noticed the infamous "error code 1" on the display. Drat! Not wanting to have the bike go dead on me at some inopportune spot in the desert I turned around and headed home.

Nothing in the owners manual about an error code (always keep the customer in the dark, it makes ownership so much more adventuresome). Naturally, I turned here to the Aprilia forum for some sort of explanation. A quick search turned up several messages and comments, most of which led me to believe the error code was just a quirk of the moment I could ignore. Perhaps I didn't let the EFI do it's full check before hitting the start button. In fact, on restarting the bike the error code was gone. I also suspect though that the battery is weak because a couple of times during the day the engine hesitated just half a sec in initial cranking when I went to start it. Since the bike is about two years old and weak batteries are apparently a well known problem, I'll go ahead and replace it this week. The bike is due for it's 4700 mile service so maybe I'll just add it then if the dealer isn't too high on the price.

Anyway, put together a total of about 220 miles on the bike, mostly back roads, some twisty stuff, and about 10 miles of freeway. Head north out of Casa Grande on the back road to Mesa and visited a couple of dealers to see what was new. I'm also about due for a new jacket and wanted to see what was on sale. The Capo is definitely and attention getter when you stop somewhere and I'm already learning to answer the standard questions: "What is it?" "It's an Aprilia." "Never heard of them." "Made in Italy, like a Ducati, but not as common." "Why didn't you get a GS?" "GS's are like bellybuttons, everybody's got one." (In fact, I sat on a GS recently. I'll pass, thanks)

After the dealers it was out to Saguaro Lake and some winding roads, then a jaunt down a dirt road that looked interesting but wasn't. Tried just a smattering of trail riding, enough to learn that the Capo does not like soft sand. Only came close to dropping the bike once when I stopped for a pictures and the side stand didn't even think about supporting the bike, just sunk like it was in quick sand. Almost wound up with a photo for the "Capos in compromising positions" thread on the ApriliaForum. Note to self: Carry a side stand support of some sort.

After Saguaro Lake it was back into the valley for a few miles and then up Apache Trail to Tortilla Flats. Apache Trail is a nice twisty road for about 15 or 20 miles with pretty good pavement and runs up to Canyon Lake. Tortilla Flats is sort of an old west touristy bar/restaurant place and a popular spot for motorcycle people, sort of the Arizona equivalent of the Rock Store in California. Sadly, the road is also popular with SUVs and other lumbering dullards so the twisty stuff wasn't enjoyed to it's fullest. I did slow up and then take a run at enough turns to know that the Capo will corner as good as I can ride and probably better. Got into one turn a little hot and leaned the bike over pretty hard, enough to feel the back tire squirm just a little but it seemed pretty predictable.

Tortilla Flats, AZ

All in all the handling is everything I could hope for an more. I've rarely been on a bike that made me fell comfortable so quickly. The acceleration and brakes, especially the rear brake, are not in the same league as my Falco was but they are plenty good enough for how I normally ride. I'll miss the fierce acceleration of the Falco but the Capo isn't likely to land me in jail. I had sort of a need-for-speed vs. common sense issue with the Falco. I did run the Capo up to 120 mph at one point and it did it fairly easily but not with the effortlessness of the Falco. I'm thinking with the bags off and a little room the Caponord would probably do about 130 mph.

After Apache Trail it was back into town, a short hop down the freeway, and then dead straight back roads through the flat desert to Florence, Coolidge, and home.

Misc. thoughts: The bike definitely needs lower gears. A 16t countershaft will be next. The seat seems ok at first but after about 75 miles starts to bite. The angle is wrong, it's too narrow, and it's demise on my bike is assured. Not sure what to replace it with though, neither Corbin nor Sargent list a seat for the Capo although both will do it custom on the stock seat pan I think. The saddle bags are roomy but I wish they were top loaders instead of clam shells. Stuff always wants to fall out when you're rummaging around. Crash guards for the engine and bodywork seem like a good idea, From looking at it in the picture books, I'm not sure the Aprilia headlamp guard offers much protection though. Adding a center stand to the got-to-get list also. The previous owner put Remus Grand Prix pipes on the bike and they sound great but are too loud for my tastes and seem out of character for the bike. The stock pipes are going back on and the Remus cans will get Ebay'd or something.

One last item that might surprise a few folks: I ran the whole day on one tank of gas and the fuel warning light still had not come on at 218.8 miles. When I got back home I stopped, filled the bike up, and it took 4.48 gallons. 48.8 mpg! Even if I didn't fill right to the brim it would still be about 46 mpg. Amazing.

So the Caponord is a keeper. I could almost sell my '03 1600 Kawasaki and be happy with just the Caponord...but I won't. The Capo makes a great counterpart to the big Kaw. I also enjoy having a bike (theCapo) that is out of the ordinary but not too flashy; sort of a stealth exotic, I guess. Good fun.

Thought for the Day

Saturday, November 27, 2004

"I Knew A Guy..."

If you've been riding motorcycles more than about a month, by now you've encountered at least one person who, when they discover you ride, immediately says something along the lines of "I knew a guy once, he rode a big ol' Harley, only had the thing about a week when he left O'Malley's Tavern dead drunk in a snow storm and he crashed and was killed. You couldn't get me on one of those things!"

A variation is the concerned female who will look disapprovingly and say "I have a dear, dear friend who lost her step-son on one of THOSE THINGS five years ago. Poor Jimmy was just riding home after work and he was hit by a cement truck." It's hard not so make some crack like "Yeah, I'll bet THAT left a mark!"

In some previous blog entry here I'd mentioned my own dear father's story of Ernie, who crashed and "was never right in the head after that." Odd thing, for as many years as as I've been riding, I have not collected that many stories of people I actually knew who were killed on a bike. Currently the number (and I hope it does not increase) is two. One fellow was in fact going home drunk on his Harley (but not in a snow storm) and the other was a kid way over his head into a turn on a borrowed Kawasaki 900 Ninja.

When you show up somewhere on your bike, a party, a family gathering or whatever, I have to wonder why people feel they must, MUST tell you about the death, destruction, and dismemberment of some hapless rider they knew, knew about, or heard about on the news last week. "Yeah, I heard the other day one of those guys on a crotch rocket lost control at over 150 mph on the freeway, flew into the air and went 'SPLAT" against the I-10 interchange sign. And he wasn't wearing a helmet!!" Gee, do you think speed played a factor in the accident or did the motorcycle just decide it wanted to crash and took him with it? I know motorcycling is not as safe as driving a car so stories told to me by other people, stories of mayhem and carnage are intended to do what? Stop me from riding? Shall I shout "Oh my God, I didn't know bikes were THAT dangerous, I'll walk home tonight!!"? It's really difficult not get sarcastic with some people.

Are people well meaning and genuinely concerned for my safety or is it some way they morbidly sample the excitement of riding without actually riding and taking the risk? I'll ascribe concern to my parent's motives and morbidity to everyone else. No wait, there's a third group, those who simply have to vocally disapprove of anything which falls outside their live-in-a-cocoon existence.

I guess I've heard the "I knew a guy.." story countless times over the years. Most recently was a co-worker in the lunch room at work who, after he saw my Aprilia Falco said "You're gonna kill yourself on that thing!" I replied (loud enough so everyone could hear me) "Earl, I'd rather die in a horrific, flaming crash at 150 mph next week than in an old folks home drooling on myself when I'm 85 years old." To Earl's credit, he responded, "Yeah, you probably have a point there."

I've used variations on what I call the "shock 'em" concept at different times depending how polite I wanted to be to the other person. Condemning absurdity by giving an absurd example works pretty well: "Yeah, I crash a lot too. Got hit by Buick once. Sucker drove off and left me laying there with my leg tore plum off. Had to bungee cord it to the back of the seat of the bike and ride myself to the hospital to have it re-attached. Kickstarting the bike was a real pain, I hope to tell ya."

More often than not, being the polite fellow I am, I just say "Well, I've been riding over thirty years. Life is full of risks and riding a risk I'm willing to take."

And on the subject of death, here's this week's wanderings:

The weather today was perfect: 73° and blue skies. It's the kind of day that makes enduring Arizona's blistering summers worth while. I rolled the Aprilia out of the garage to do a short ride and try out the Vista-Cruise throttle lock I installed last night. As usual I headed east toward Coolidge and Florence. I should have ridden a lot farther and in fact intended to ride down towards Tucson and Aravica but I've pranged my shoulder somehow so decided to give it a bit of a rest.

I took a different road out of Florence this time, a nice little two lane bit a couple of miles long with a few curves. As I zipped along I saw out of the corner of my eye and old cemetery. I'm a sucker for anything historic, historic markers, and the like and given that the cemetery had no sign by the road and looked unkempt, I decided to turn around and see if maybe it was the local pioneer cemetery. It's always interesting to visit those places and see what bits of history can be gleaned from the grave markers. I parked the Caponord by the small entry way, the stone posts are left but the gate is long gone. I imagine it was ornate and attractive and so long ago was swiped to decorate someone's garden.

The Adamsville Cemetery is pretty run down. There are perhaps thirty grave markers still there. I suppose it was used much more than that but time and neglect have erased any sign of many of the graves. I couldn't help hoping as I wandered around that some empty spot where I trod would not give way and send me into the nether reaches. A few of the graves retain their ornate, iron fencing but most have been swept flat and smooth over by time and only the markers, most broken or tumbled over, indicate a grave. The most recent folks were laid to rest in 1997 but they are the exception, most arrived for their big dirt nap between 1880 and the 1930's. The local ground squirrels have been busy throughout the cemetery digging their burrows though. No doubt they have found some spacious accommodations in course of their tunneling.

As I wandered around, camera in hand, reading the headstones, two markers caught my attention more that the others. The first was an obelisk, now broken and it's top setting on the ground next to the base. As often is the case, the inscriptions tell a sad tell of hard times in the old west. One side of the marker reads "Our babies Lou, age 21 days Died 1884 - Lulu, age 3 years, Died 1887" The other side of the marker lists what I took to be the father's name, a Mr. Bailey, and his departure in the year 1888 at the age of 38 years. Even over 100 years hence it's hard not to be moved by the apparent plight of some poor woman, in the harshest part of the wild west, her children and husband all gone in the space of four years.
The other marker was for a Mr. Granville H. Oury. Clearly Mr. Oury was a prominent fellow and it seems has friends to this present time. Born in 1825 he shuffled off this mortal coil in the year 1891. What made Mr. Oury's marker remarkable was the inscription. Seems he was a member of the Arizona Mounted Volunteers. That in itself isn't so surprising given the man's place in time and the wars with the Indians here in Arizona. What was remarkable was the inscription underneath: "CSA" What was the connection between the Arizona Mounted Volunteers and the Confederate States of America? I knew there had been one small skirmish of the Civil War fought here in Arizona. Was Mr. Oury a participant in that? Interesting stuff! I won't tire you with the whole story of Capt. Granville H. Oury. Suffice to say that I had no idea that Arizona had once been declared a Territory of the Confederate States of America and even had a Confederate governor. Oury had quite a life and covered many miles. Funny that in the end, after so many adventures, he should wind up in an obscure little cemetery outside Florence, Arizona. You can read about him here if you're a history buff.

After a bit I walked back out to the Aprilia, packed away the camera and started up the bike. The 990cc v-twin is more or less muffled by Remus aftermarket mufflers and they are not loud enough to wake the dead but are loud enough to make me smile. The ride back into town was very nice and not at all sad or depressing considering I'd just spent 40 minutes or so in a windswept, nearly forgotten graveyard. Each and every step in such a place tends to remind one of our own fleeting existence, our impermanence even in the history of our own families. It's tough to be sad though when your mode of transport has so much character and stirs the soul, not belabors it. The Caponord continues to impress me with the way it functions in a sporting but unassuming manner, much like a really good horse might have seemed to Capt. Oury. I've put about a 1,000 miles on the Aprilia and I like it more every time I ride it. And ride it I will if only to gather more stories and take more pictures in the most exciting way possible. Also because there are few adventures left out west, no more opportunities to belong to the Arizona Mounted Volunteers of the Confederate States of America. The Arizona Aprilia Mounted Camera Guy is as close as I can get.

Tuesday, November 16, 2004

The Wind and the Engine

Since motorcycling began riders have used hand signals to communicate with one another on the road. Pointing to the tank meant you needed to stop for gas, pantomiming a drink meant you needed to stop for a drink, standing up on the pegs briefly meant your butt was tired and you needed a rest or you just farted. A clenched fist or single extended middle digit was sufficient to let car drivers know you were not pleased. Communication -- simple, direct, without encouraging mindless chatter or distracting unnecessarily from the ride. Each rider's lane space and brain space is respected, his thoughts remain his unless it's truly necessary to interrupt.

Over at Mike Werner's "Bikes in the Fast Lane" blog ( I read it daily) Mike has posted some product news pieces over the last few weeks about new crash helmets that are coming from their manufacturers with wireless networking and/or cell phone support built into them. I love gadgets and love technology but I have doubts about the goodness of wireless network enabled helmets except perhaps for rider and passenger to communicate. Even there I suspect some couples enjoy the mutual silence of the ride as a way to be together without feeling like some minimum level of talk was necessary to be polite. How necessary is it to ask someone during a ride "What are you thinnnnking?" or encourage them to "Look at all the cows!"? Worthwhile conversation should be saved up, filtered, and then poured forth at the scenic overlook, rest stop, or at dinner, leaving the joy of the ride itself undiluted.

I've tended to look with disdain upon those folks with long CB antennas curving from the back of their Goldwings and ElectraGlides. I've heard the arguments about safety, sharing ride info, finding each other after getting separated, or whatever. Those are all valid arguments but to me go against the essential nature of motorcycling which I see as an individualistic sport if not a largely solitary sport. Motorcycling over-complicated with gadgets becomes motorhoming. Harley ran an excellent print ad years ago that said "If you think you need all the comforts of home, maybe you should just stay there." The picture was a huge, barge-like "motorcycle" with everything onboard including a fringed floor lamp and an overstuffed chair for a seat. Of course that was before H-D discovered they could but their brand on all that stuff, mark it up to ridiculous prices, and sell it to the R.U.B.s. Let me expand on that and say "If you need every techno-gadget money can by when you ride maybe you have missed the point of the ride." To me, motorcycling is about escaping the digital dialed, luminescent screened crap that clutters our daily lives, not hauling along as much of it as we can and then trying to use it while we ride.

I saw a small rider poll on Sport-Touring.Net recently that indicated that people rode alone and preferred to ride alone about 75% of the time. My number would be more like 99% of the time although a comely pillion passenger would be welcome more often than that and would eliminate the need for the electric back massager. I'm open minded enough to think that I might feel differently about on-bike communications if I rode more with other people. Even in the days when I was married I rarely had company on a ride but today I went out for a ride with the one and only club to which I belong, The Geezers M/C. Ten or fifteen bikes, 200+ miles of riding. No two-ways and only the rarest of hand signals. People who have ridden for a long time don't need to communicate much on the road, they seem to know what needs to be done and when.

A decade ago on a ride from Arizona over to California for the BMW 49er Rally I hooked up a small FM radio so I could listen to SOMETHING while trudging down the interstate for the 500 miles before the good roads began. The usefulness proved to be minimal as the reception of the small Sony radio was weak out away from big cities and adjusting the station with gloves on was impossible. My background music was pretty much limited to mariachi music from just across the border. Mariachi music is fine with a Mexican dinner or a fiesta but piped into your helmet, especially when you don't understand Spanish, gets a little painful. In the areas where the little Sony did function and brought in proper pre-1970 rock & roll I felt it distracted from operating the bike or at least, given the mind numbing flatness of the southwestern desert, intruded on time better spent thinking important thoughts about life, motorcycles, women, and food.

Riding takes more concentration than driving a car, perhaps that's part of the unique fun of motorcycling. Few things in our daily lives demand that we focus our mind and whole body in a coordinated effort a task that is both simple and complex at the same time. Sports like golf or bowling may do that for a moment but a bike demands that kind of focus for hours at a time. Perhaps that's why some of the more philosophical riders talk about getting into a Zen like state of mind when they do long distance rides.

My work days are spent with a phone on my desk and a cell phone on my belt so that anyone and everyone can interrupt my work at their will even when I'm not at my desk. Why, when I am doing what I like best (riding a motorcycle) would I want to set up a scenario where my thoughts and the pure concentration and joy of the ride can be jangled by a ringing phone, warning beeps from a GPS, or a radio commercial? Having a cell phone ring inside your helmet and feeling like you have to answer it via your "Official Bluetooth Voice Activated Mic With Integrated Earpiece" as you bend into a fast sweeper or some great s-curves, is nuts. No thanks. The only noise I want to hear when I ride is the wind and the engine.

Sunday, November 07, 2004

"Stunting." A Rant.

One of the hottest areas in motorcycling right now seems to be stunt riding and "stunta" videos. The stunt videos that abound on the 'net are all pretty much the same but for a couple (see below). Grab your GSXR, FZR, Ninja or whatever sport bike, your video camera, videotape your buddies doing wild wheelies, standing on the seat (Indian Larry syndrome), racing through traffic at 150 mph, then set it all to bad rock & roll music and you've got it. By the way, while I'm grouching here, there hasn't been any good rock & roll music since 1969 and even then the Rolling Stones, a.k.a, the World's Greatest Garage Band, sucked.

Generally, stunting on sport bikes seems to consist of what are in fact amazing feats of balance and coordination on sport bikes. Sadly, it's not real riding. No it's not. Sorry. Riding well, riding skillfully, consists of operating the motorcycle as a motorcycle, sometimes to it's intended limits, and not as mechanical phallic symbol in order to impress empty headed, tank-topped, 20-something girls. Riding in baggy pants or shorts with your butt hanging out, no helmet, shirtless, doing stoppies on in traffic or doing wheelies at 150 mph on a crowded highway are not riding motorcycles, it's merely showing off and helping to clean out the shallow end of the gene pool.

It does indeed take a great deal of skill at any speed to perform wheelies, do a stoppie and whatnot but then it takes skill to flip a playing card into an up turned hat. Because you can flip a playing card time after time into a hat does not mean you are a great poker player. Doing a stoppie takes skill, it doesn't mean you're a good motorcycle rider. Yes, those fellows can probably ride the winding roads well too but that doesn't excuse abusing equipment and scaring John Q. Public into calling his congressman and demanding it all be stopped.

When you get right down to it, I guess my contempt for stunting is less about the foolishness than it is scaring the public, annoying the police, and simply abusing rather than riding good motorcycles. All three are inexcusable.

For decades motorcycling has suffered from a bad image courtesy of "The Hollister Massacre" article in Life Magazine, the movie "The Wild One," and assorted dumb biker flicks in the '60s. Riders have worked for decades to overcome those images and gain some degree of respect and acceptance on the public roads. I never bought into the "Nicest people on a Honda" thing, motorcycling is about daring to be different but there's a difference between being different, being out of the mainstream, and just being an idiot on a motorcycle.

With a lot of work and the passage of time the general public has come to realize that the guy on the Honda (or an Aprilia) is on a Honda and the guy on a Harley is probably not going to beat him up and run off with his daughter. It's a tenuous acceptance and if you think it's not, look up Sen. John Danforth's foray into regulating sport bikes back in the 1980s. It could happen again and with more disasterous results the next time around.

The biker stunt boys, by virtue of being idiots on motorcycles, are undoing about four decades of positive image building. When the damage is done to the sport they'll find something else to amuse their video game addled minds and tattoo or road rash scarred bodies. Motorcycling will be left behind, worse for the wear and tear, just like the empty headed babe in the tank top.

I've noticed in watching some of the videos that the stunt guys seem as caught up in their official uniform as the R.U.B. Harley riders are. The Harley guys have to be swathed in a Brando style black jacket, black t-shirt, pre-tied official Harley bandana, Harley underwear and overpriced boots that without the motorcycle label sell for $50 at Wal-Mart. Oh yeah, don't forget your chain drive wallet.

The stunt boys' uniform consists of much less but it just as predictable. Close cropped hair or shaved head, assorted piercings, baggy pants or baggy shorts, no gloves, no helmet, no shirt, a variety of tattoos, and some sort of lace up over the ankle boot. Hey, everyone has their favorite ride gear but come on guys, you're not rebelling against anyone, you've just traded one kind of conformity for another. That goes for the R.U.B.s also.

Happily, someone with a better sense of humor than I have decided to poke some fun at the stunt guys via a home video in the same style as every blessed one of the stunt videos I've seen. The difference? They didn't use a GSXR, they used the decidely dowdy and uncool Kawasaki KLR 650. You've got to hand it to the guys over at WWW.KLR.NET, they have a keen eye for humour. If you've seen some of the "real" videos you'll appreciate the exquisite satire of "KLR 650 Fun." I actually laughed out loud at some parts.

You'll find the videos here:

KLR 650 Fun 1
KLR 650 Fun 2

And spare me the hate mail about how stunting IS real riding and I'm just a fat old grouch or worse. I know I'm a fat old grouch and stunting is not real motorcycle riding. At the least, take it off the public roads. You're harming the motorcycle sport I've loved for 40 years. Don't believe me? Click here or here .

If you're doing this stuff on public roads, you're not being cool, just stupid.

Saturday, October 30, 2004

Another Brush With Fame

The last time my presence was felt in Cycle World Magazine was 1970. I'd gotten just a tad out of shape on my Bultaco Sherpa during a motocross, a photographer captured the moment for posterity or infamy, and the photo turned up in CW's last page "Slipstream" humor page. Not the sort of recognition a rider necessarily is after but given that most of us are doomed to obscurity I was glad for my 15 seconds (not minutes) of fame.

So 34 years on once again I've appeared in the pages of Cycle World, this time in the December 2004 issue, and this time not a photo, just an e-mail in the letters to the editor column. Hey, I'm no more famous now than I was in 1970 so I'll take whatever fame and adulation having my name in the magazine brings me. You may kiss my ring next time you see me.

Thursday, October 21, 2004

Know Thyself

Aprilia Falco is gone. Hot, Italian, and fast. What was I thinking? Oh yeah, I was thinking I wanted something hot, Italian and fast.

Lordy, lordy but fast is fun. Last week I gave in to temptation and whacked the throttle full open through all but 6th gear. The pavement was mostly smooth and fairly straight and runs through nothing but cotton country and pecan orchards so I just decided to go for it. It felt like the right moment and sometimes you just gotta do it.

I figured that I'd let her rip to about 120 mph and back off. Heck, what's the harm in that? I'd done it plenty of times in days of yore. The gathering speed was like some drug I'd been hooked on once and kicked...but not quite. Once I had the taste of speed in my brain again I wanted more. The bike pulled so strong that as 120 went past I had to have more, had to have more of that acceleration feel, make the 990cc v-twin thunder last a little longer. More... More... The approaching bend in the road and a peek at the digital speedo coolly blinking past 148 mph convinced me to back off the throttle and settle down to something closer to 70. Lucky I my backpack didn't blow off, my lunch was in there.

I know, 150 mph is nothing these days for sport bikes but it's the fastest I've gone on a bike and I want to go faster. Soon. And often. No, not on the track either, the track is too limiting and Bonneville is too expensive and only once a year. I want to see the trees go by in a blur and the road turn into a tunnel while I wonder if some errant coyote will end his life and mine abruptly. I want pure, unadulterated, unregulated, no rules speed. I want to go scary fast. There, I said it. At the age of nearly 54 years the wild eyed kid that ran loose on the roads of Southern California in the early 70s still lurks inside just like I thought. Nice to see you again, lunatic.

I walked into work and plopped down at my desk to answer e-mail and ponder my moment of mild insanity. Assorted thoughts chased around. How fast will the Falco go? Most say about 155 mph. That's only 5 mph faster than I just went. Maybe a Hayabusa would be the ticket. Ticket... ticket... Red lights... Hand cuffs. Shame. Debt. Jail. New jail friends named "Big Mike" or "Ramrod" who want to know me in ways I don't wish to be known. No one I know has enough money or loves me enough to bail me out. This could get ugly. Ah, congratulations my friend, you're back to being 50-something again.

Beyond not wishing to give into speed lust more than I have, there were more practical issues with the Falco. Sadly, and as might be expected of some exotic woman, Aprilia Falco required things of me I was not able to provide and amongst them was self-restraint. That, and my poor old body, wracked by years of assorted sporting crashes, misadventures, and general abuse, was not able to sustain the required position for more than about 15 minutes without critical parts like my throttle hand going to sleep. Motorcycles are like women in some respects one of which is that they get difficult when you fall asleep too soon.

I'd added a set of Helibars to get a more sustainable riding position and they helped a little but not enough. Doing a hundred miles, even with a break, was a real chore and the constant fiddling to keep my throttle hand from going numb spoiled a lot of the fun. I should mention here that some three decades back I seriously wadded up a hang glider and injured my back. Since then the strength in my hands has been a little suspect. Remember kids, a misspent youth can haunt you for years.

From a practical stand point I was never going to be able to ride the Falco the way I wanted to, as far as I wanted to, as fast as I wanted to, plus I didn't want to wind up in jail. I came to the conclusion that the biblical remonstration to "flee temptation" had some merit here. After returning from a 100 mile Saturday ride during which I only broke the speed limits a little I sat down at the computer and placed an ad for the Aprilia in Cycle Trader On-line.

My brother was surprised that the Aprilia was leaving so soon and I told him no one would buy the bike, Aprilias are enough out of the mainstream that it could take months for it to sell. Apparently not that far out of the mainstream though.

Mark called about the bike on Monday and came to see it on Tuesday. He wanted the Falco. It was exactly, specifically, down to the color, what he wanted. Darn. He'd ridden a friend's Falco a couple of years ago and couldn't get it out of his head. I think can relate. Mark said on the phone that he was certain he wanted my Falco but needed to sell his 2002 Aprilia Caponord first. Hmm... Aprilia Falco's sister, Aprilia Caponord. Interesting. Falco is the hot model, Caponord is the gourmet cook. Interesting but dumb idea, Doug. I wanted an Aprilia Futura, the Falco's more fully dressed and more sophisticated sister. Something or someone more suited to a slightly dumpy, 50ish engineer.

So Mark and his Caponord came to visit Tuesday night and confirm what he already knew. After swapping bike stories for a couple of hours we got around to really looking over the bikes. Mark was sold on the Falco but there was the issue of the Caponord. We'd mumbled on the phone about maybe just swapping bikes as they were the same approximate value and then I would not have to spend time looking for a Futura. So howz about you hop on the Falco and I'll hop on your Capo while you make sure you really like the Falco? If one of us crashes, the other guy gets to keep the bike he's on.

I have to say the Caponord, for a fairly big bike, felt at home to me immediately. Even at 500 lbs it's a ballerina compared to the 1600 Kawasaki that occupies the biggest chunk of the garage. While Mark grappled for a minute in the driveway with the Falco's clip-on bars and clunky-when-cold gear shift, I did lazy circles in the street with the Capo. Sweet. Out on the deserted city street I whacked open the throttle on the big Caponord and it's healthy 98 horses let me know that they were all there but not with the fieriness of the 118 horses of the much lighter Falco. Fast, but not too fast, tempting but not too tempting. And the handlebars were such that I knew I could live with them.

OK, you already know where this is going. Mark loved the Falco, I loved the Caponord, so we shook hands and called it a match. Mark came by today, we handled the paperwork details, and Aprilia Falco went home with her new suitor. Mark is in his late forties and in better shape than I am. Perhaps more sensible or better disciplined too. Good luck, my new friend!

The weather is supposed to be excellent this weekend. I'm going to grab the Nikon, my comfy new friend, Caponord, and go exploring.

Tuesday, October 12, 2004

That's Gotta Hurt!

A few years ago I was riding my 1999 Kawasaki Drifter to work for the first time and some bird tired of living did a half roll right into my path and clobbered me right between the eyes. Since I was wearing an open face helmet it was especially painful for me. Thank goodness for safety glasses. Still, it could be worse. Take a peek at this racer's encounter at the races at Firebird Raceway this past Sunday:

"After about 10 laps, I was going down the straight at 150+ mph (toward the end) when I felt what I thought had to be a huge nut or bolt from a bike in front of me hit me HARD in the right shoulder. " Click here for the whole story and pictures of what it really means to get nailed in a motorcycle race.

Tuesday, October 05, 2004

Motorcycle Art

Art by Jason Watt

While wiling away too much time reading messages over at Sport-Touring.Net I ran across some pictures and a link posted by artist Jason Watt. A lot of motorcycle art out there is fairly mundane so his carefully detailed and nicely balanced drawings really caught my eye. It's also great to see someone doing sport bikes rather than the usual Harley stuff.

Working in charcoal or colored pencil Jason captures the essence of speed on a racing bike without resorting to overly dramatic flourishes as some artists do. I find his work clean and classic. Jason is also doing Native American art that is very moving and will do portraits by commission. Clearly he's one very talented motorcycle guy who deserves to have his art purchased by enthusiasts. Click on over and take a look.

Monday, October 04, 2004

How To Get Your Butt Kicked, Part 2

I see that the links in my earlier entry about the Hells Angels patch/logo rip off no longer connect to anything but some cheesy anti-Kerry merchandise. Someone must have gotten a letter from an attorney or maybe a personal visit and consultation by their local chapter of the Red and White.

Sunday, October 03, 2004

Outlet Store

In my usual weekend ramble I took the Kawasaki 1600 today; I've put about 300 miles on the Aprilia to the neglect of the big Kaw. No surprise that the bikes are a huge contrast to one another, almost as opposite as two motorcycles could be. The Kaw is comfy, torquey, easy to ride, a relaxing way to motor on down the road. The Aprilia is fast, fairly uncomfortable, and demands attention. There's not much that you could call relaxing about riding the Aprilia but I didn't buy it to relax so I'm happy and satisfied to enjoy the bike for what it is.

After putting some miles on the 110+ HP, 430 lb Falco, the Kawasaki's performance is not as entertaining as it was a couple of weeks ago. Given that I could relax more on the Kaw and have a better understanding of the Aprilia now, I did scout some country roads for a good place to make a top speed run on the Falco one of these days.

So I rambled over to Florence again without really meaning to. It's gotten to be a habit of sorts. I've taken some of my best photographs over that way so it's easy to drift back and look for more. The main feature of Florence, AZ, besides it's hand full of rustic buildings and history, is the big prison there. It's a real prison, not a country club prison, you won't find Martha Stewart there although the experience might be good for her.

Down the street from the prison gate is their own little outlet store, a place where you can buy goods or arts & crafts made by the prison inmates. I love handcrafted stuff and folk art so I finally got around to stopping in there to see what they had to offer. Handmade things usually require a little extra of a person so the object winds up with more personality, and to me, more intrinsic value than factory made goods.

Usually by the time I ride by the prison store it's late in the day and they are closed but with the Arizona weather moderating I was out early today and finally had a chance to stop in and look around the place. It's nothing like the outlet stores found along the freeways these days with the fake discount prices and sterile environments.

The store is Arizona rustic on the outside and isn't fancy but it's clean and tidy. Chalk that up to available cheap labor I suppose. The goods offered are unique and most are obviously hand made. A good selection of basic and some fancy leatherwork, woodcraft, decorative license plates (big surprise there) are offered. Assorted work jeans and somewhat darkly humored t-shirts are available too. Apparently the prison has a screen printing operation run by someone with a sense of humor. My favorite item was a bumper sticker that said "My son was honor prisoner of the week in cellblock C7." I suppose that keeping a sense of humor is essential to surviving in prison and not coming out even more dysfunctional than when you went in.

I have to say it's a bit sobering looking at the merchandise knowing that some soul confined for a good portion or all of his life made the item. People are in prison for specific reasons and I doubt that very many innocent folks are behind the barbed wire but if you have any sense of humanity at all you can't help but feel a little bit of sadness when holding a leather belt or wooden model, for a life gone so very wrong that freedom to move about, freedom live pretty much as you wish, freedom ride a motorcycle, are taken away. We humans have an amazing ability to squander our enormous individual potential.

Still, it was interesting all in all to finally visit the prison store. I should have taken more pictures at the store and I didn't buy anything but Christmas is coming and there's nothing like prison made goods to bring a little flavor to an otherwise ordinary Christmas morning so I'll be stopping in there again.

Friday, October 01, 2004

How To Get Your Butt Kicked

I'm sitting here laughing at the sheer stupidity of some people.

I ran across this little item on line: A political t-shirt and some other crap for Democrats in favor of George Bush for President. Apparently someone thought that trading on the fiery position of Democrat Senator Zell Miller of Georgia and ripping off the Hells Angels logo was humorous.

Click here to see how to get your butt kicked without even trying.

The Hells Angels have been around a long time and have all sorts of traditions not the least of which is their internationally copyrighted "winged deaths head" logo. Agree or disagree with the life and ways of "the Red and White," you'd still best not be giving them a hard time or be disrespectful of their club colors. They take their club and their patch VERY seriously.

In my much younger years I used to come into contact with some of the Hells Angels from the San Diego area and was always treated decently because I treated them with respect. Respecting them is an action that is not easy to define but they can tell when you don't. How do I know they had a degree of respect for me, a skinny little 19 year old, Yamaha-riding kid working in a gas station? I'd loan them tools and always got them back. In the years that I worked in the station, I never once was given a hard time except about the "%^#$ Jap bike" I rode. Mind you, these days when the annual Hells Angels Florence Prison Run happens about 30 miles from where I live, I wouldn't show up on my Kawasaki. No point in pushing my luck after all these years.

I can only conjecture what would happen if the Hells Angels saw a person on the street wearing one of these cheesy t-shirt knock-offs of their colors: There would be no discussion of copyright law, the right to parody or free speech. If you only wound up stripped naked in public you could count yourself lucky.

Saturday, September 25, 2004

Ein Kliene Nachtmusik

I was given the chance to ride an original Triumph engined Rickman Metisse when I was in California a few years ago. It happened like this...

I drove over to Pismo Beach from Arizona to help my parents celebrate their 60th wedding anniversary. At the appointed party time on Sunday I found myself munching mom's cookies and hobnobbing with seldom seen family and friends also in town for the anniversary bash. After a bit I wandered out onto the patio to enjoy the distant view of the ocean and eat the extra cookies I'd slipped from the buffet table. From my older brother I heard that a friend of his named Mark had "some old Italian bikes and some Bull Tacos" and that I was welcome to pay the guy a visit and take a look at them if I wanted.

Since my brother knows a lot about business but nothing about motorcycles I was interested but didn't get my hopes up for seeing anything too grand. Over the years, from one person or another, I've heard a good many stories about the guy who "has an Indian in his barn" or "a whole collection of Harley's in his den." Most of the time when I finally got to the bikes they turned out to be bones or just plain non-existent but once a guy actually had an un-restored '48 Indian Chief in his garage. Sadly, he knew exactly what it was worth so my offer of $1200 cash money didn't impress him.

Late in the pleasantly warm afternoon just before sundown, bro and I sneaked away from the party and headed off in the car, motoring down some wonderful winding back roads dotted on each side with small farms, vineyards and upscale "estate" homes. The road was great fun to drive with the car and I kept thinking that next time I came over I'd bring my bike to explore and enjoy the roads properly.

When we arrived at Mark's house I thought maybe I was actually on to something for a change. The home was very nice and situated on several acres of mostly undeveloped hills and there sitting in the driveway was a fairly nice '75 Bultaco Alpina. Things were looking up. We were welcomed cordially by Mark but he quickly apologized that his best bikes were not there just then. Seems his 1974 Moto Guzzi V7 Sport and Vincent Black Shadow were out being restored. Hmm... Normally at that point I'd have been very skeptical about ever seeing such wonderful machines in someone's garage instead of at a concours but the assemblage of interesting vehicles and goodies setting around suggested that here was a fellow that put his money where his heart was.

After a few pleasantries about the Alpina. and bikes in general we wandered into the rather crowded garage. Right off I could see that most of the garage was taken up with assorted motorcycles and other toys and the nice automobiles sat in the driveway. Obviously Mark was a man who knew what was important in life.

Two bikes caught my eye right off, an early '70s Yamaha AT 125 Enduro in nice condition and wonder of wonders a very nice 650 Triumph-engined Rickman Metisse. And not just any Metisse mind you but an enduro model with complete lighting and a current California license plate. I always loved the look of the Rickman bikes, their nickel plated frames showed a touch of class that made them stand out from their contemporaries. Even today nothing catches the eye at a vintage event quicker than a nicely done Rickman.

I was sort of slobbering all over the Metisse when Mark casually asked if I wanted to take it for a ride. Does a bear relieve himself in the old growth forest? Cool! I've ridden all kinds of bikes over the years but somehow had never gotten the opportunity to ride a Rickman of any kind. It was just about dark and I was dressed in my "good clothes" from the party (clean sneakers, clean Levi's, and a shirt that didn't have the name of a motorcycle anywhere on it) and of course didn't have a helmet with me. Not exactly ideally dressed for an early evening ride on a 30 year old motorcycle but hey, Mark found a helmet that fit my rather large cranium and I knew mom would understand if I came back to the house covered with bug guts and a grin (it wouldn't be the first time). Mark was kind enough to start the beast for me as my Brit bike starting skills are all but dried up and after giving the engine a brief warm up period I hopped on, clicked the right side shifter into first gear and took off down the winding drive and out onto the highway.

As I blasted up through the gears I was impressed with the pulling power of the Triumph. Mark told me later that the engine had been breathed on a bit but nothing too radical had been done to it. I was glad that I've ridden a lot of Bultacos so the Triumph's right side shifter posed no problems for me. The right side shifter also means that lesser men, those unable to shift on the right as proper motor-cyclists all are able to do, will shy away from the Triumphs and Bultacos and the other true motorcycles in the world thereby keeping small the numbers of us who can truly enjoy foreign pleasures. With quirky obsolescence comes a certain exclusivity.

The Rickman brakes on the other hand were just as nebulous as one expects in an old, none-too-light, British bike. Braking is best planned in advance lest ordinary stops turn into those wide eyed maneuvers that threaten to leave one sweating in soiled shorts.

Mark's bike was fitted with snaky, chrome plated, high exhaust pipes and the ends of the pipes capped with some mostly-for-show small chrome mufflers. The sound as I wound the engine up and leaned through the first curves was really wonderful and makes me think that much of the success of the modern Yamaha four-stroke motocross bikes is in the rumble as much as the performance. Doug Henry's excellent races on Yamaha's YZ400F in the AMA Supercross series and outdoor motocross series back in '99 introduced a whole new generation of riders to what motorcycles sounded like when men were men and didn't need neon colored pants to show how fast they were. I don't care how good a 2-stroke is tuned it will never sound as wonderful as an open pipe 4-stroker. The Triumph sound is timeless.

The Triumph pipes were loud and the sound ricocheted off the canyon walls playing havoc with the early evening peace of the gentrified rural area. As a serious and concerned motorcycle enthusiast it occurred to me to roll back the throttle a bit and moderate the din. On the other hand I was riding a beauty of a blue Rickman Triumph on a winding California back road on a warm summer evening. The twin pipe Triumph symphony continued unabated by prudence.

As I returned to driveway I could make out that the land in front of the Mark's house was on occasion used for dirt bike activities. Some short curving trails, a small jump and the rough outline of an oval left no doubt in my mind that the Rickman and other bikes in the garage had been exercised there so I took the liberty of blasting through the dirt rather than taking the winding drive back up to the house.

My short sprint across and around the dirt field convinced me that the Metisse was never going to flip back and forth as nicely as my old Bultaco Pursang did but I still ached for a chance to try a nice long power slide with the shiny blue beast. Sadly, the unfamiliar rough ground and my street attire made that a "maybe someday" wish. To me, one of the biggest things lacking in modern motocross racing (besides Bultacos) is the lack of a fast sweeping turn and the beautiful arcing slides that a good rider can draw with the back wheel and a careful throttle hand. Much of the style and finesse of real motocross has been replaced with hyperbole and pogo stick jumping.

The Rickman was reluctantly returned to the garage but I did toss in a small wheelie on approach remembering to leave some extra runout room for the disinterested brakes. My non-cycling brother asked with a certain "I-can-tell-you-like-it-so-it-must-be-wrong" look in his eyes, "Are those pipes legal for the street??" I responded "Nope. What's your point?"

I would have been happy just spending the next hour of that fine evening lofting the front wheel and exploring the power band of the 650 twin but manners, fear of damaging the bike, losing skin, or offending my ever-so-generous host reined me in. It's one thing to sneak away from your mom and dad's 60th wedding anniversary party to look at old bikes and quite another to risk offending a fellow old bike enthusiast.

I rolled into the garage, shut down the engine and sat there with a silly grin on my face wondering how many other things I'd have to give up to own a Rickman. I calculated quickly that as magical as the Rickman was, I was just as enamored of eating and wearing clothes as I was with blue and nickel dash of the Rickman Brother's creation.

I thanked Mark for the ride and we talked for a bit about the other bikes in the garage and the two he had out being restored. But as we talked about the Alpina and the Guzzi and the little 125 Yamaha, the din of the open Triumph pipes buzzed in my head and distracted me in a way that made it hard...in a pleasant way...to follow the conversation.

Friday, September 24, 2004

Aprilia update

I waited much too long. The Aprilia is a rush in every respect. Too many slow bikes allowed me to forget what it's like to just annihilate a section of road and scare myself witless in the process. I think even if I stop riding the Aprilia for some reason (no parts, shaky dealers) I'll just park it in the living room and look at it.

Used Aprilias are fairly inexpensive right now, the company has become unstable (Italian business, big surprise) and they were just bought by the Piaggio company. It's spooked the market so some fabulous bikes can be had fairly inexpensively. True, you can still get a Japanese sport bike for fewer dollars and probably have fewer issues but trust me, nothing...nothing...has the look and feel of an Italian bike. The Japanese built great machines, the Italians manage to build spirit into their motorcycles.

A few details on the bike: It's a 2001 SL1000 Falco with slightly over 8000 miles on it. Normally when you look at a bike in Cycle Trader On-line the pictures make the bike look way better than it is when you finally see. The seller always seems to forget to mention the dent in the other side of the tank, the cracked plastic and the coolant leak "that stopped by itself."

In the case of the Falco, the picture showed a gorgeous bike, so much so I rushed off to see it the next day. In person the bike proved to be even better than in the pictures. Zowie. I looked it over very carefully trying my hardest to find some reason not to buy it but couldn't. Too red, too Italian, too sexy, too clean. Moto lust fogs the mind.

Steve, the previous owner, clearly is preoccupied with keeping his bikes clean just as I am mine. A clean bike is a happy bike and a happy bike won't let you down (knock on wood). In fiddling with the bike yesterday I did finally find a dirty spot; Steve had neglected to clean the underside of the top of the chain guard. Slob. ;-)

Other good things about the bike: The stock mufflers have been replaced with Aprilia's carbon racing canisters and re-tuning chip. There is a disclaimer on "silencer" information section of Aprilia's web page that says "The silencer is intended for closed-course competition purpose only and is not to be utilized for any other purposes. This item is not to be installed upon or used on any motorcycle used for street or transportation purposes on public roads or highways." I feel so naughty.

The restrictions added to the bike's airbox and ECU to make it more acceptable to USA bureaucrats have been cleaned out so the bike makes it's full compliment of Euro spec horsepower which is said to be about 118 HP at the rear wheel. Visit here if you want more info and to see some dyno charts for a similarly equipped Falco.

For those interested, Aprilia pics from yesterday's brief wanderings can be found here.

More Aprilia ramblings to come, of that you can be sure.

Goon Blog

I got a note from Jeff who's started his own "Goon Blog" and runs the web site for the Iron Liver Goons M/C. Somewhere between 1% groups and the Gold Wing Road Riders Association is the Iron Liver Goons. Not what you expect, trust me. Be sure to read their Mission Statement.

Anyone who heads up their blog banner with "Rambling nonsense of a motorsickle nature. Disagree? Get your own damned blog" is always worth a read.

Tuesday, September 21, 2004

But Can You Take Her Home to Meet Mom?

Aprilia Falco. She's Italian and very hot. We met for the first time Sunday, spent a couple of hours together and I brought her home tonight. Mid-life crisis on my part, I guess. There was no way to sneak so much Euro flash into the neighborhood quietly. What will my conservative neighbors think? Aprilia would be better off with a younger man but seems to respond to my rusty advances so what the heck. I figure I might as well have one last fling while there's a little life left in me.

My friends, with their dowdy metal oinkers, will be shocked and think I've gone mad. They may be right but madness can be a fine form of entertainment for one used to more a more staid consort. A wise fellow (me) once said "Fast motorcycles are like fast women: fine for a weekend but would you want to live with one?" Only one way to find out!

Monday, September 20, 2004

Bike Theft Prevention

Since I've been shopping for another bike (no cure for bike fever, you know) I've also had to revisit the unhappy world of motorcycle insurance. I've also been mindful of Dylan and MotorMilt's recent experience with having their Ducatis stolen. Which reminds me, I'm not so certain that the Muslims are wrong in lopping off the hands of thieves to punish a thief and discourage future thievery. OK, maybe a whole hand is too severe, maybe just a finger for the first offence. Even the dumbest criminal would probably give up and find a new career long about the time finger no. 5 disappeared.

I've decided to be more proactive about protecting my bike(s) so I've been investigating new alarms, locks, and whatnot. Way back in '74 I had a bike alarm called a "Cycle Guard" that fit under the license plate and actually had paging function built into it in the days before such things were common. It cost me a very dear $109 back then but when I'd leave my bike parked at motel or outside a restaurant it offered good peace of mind. These days I'm think about it's modern equivalent, the Scorpio cycle alarm.

One of the interesting items I've run across in my web wanderings is call DataDots. It's a security marking system that invisibly marks items (bikes, parts, etc) with a modern version of the old "microdot" image so they can be read with an inexpensive scanner. The company I work for uses something similar to mark all portable assets (laptops, etc) to help resolve theft problems.

Since stolen motorcycles are often stripped and sold for parts, being able to mark most significant components of a bike could be a real asset in recovery or at least resolution of what became of a missing bike. Perhaps the biggest advantage is the small "Protected by DataDot" label affixed to a bike that lets potential thieves know that every blessed thing on the bike is invisibly marked and traceable. Visit the website and take a peek. Might just be the kind of thing to keep your bike your bike.

Saturday, September 11, 2004

Close But No Cigar

I got up this morning with intention of buying a new motorcycle or at least a new used motorcycle and specifically an almost unused Ducati 800 Supersport I'd looked at last week. Financial issues were arranged ahead of time so it was just a matter of walking into the dealer, working out a price on a bike I liked and writing a check. I rolled the Kaw 1600 Classic out of the garage and prepared to set off. It's bloody hot today again here in AZ but if you're going bike shopping and show up on a bike it seems to get you treated somewhat differently, in a positive way, than if you show up in a generic car of some sort. Last time I drove up to a dealership the young sales guy asked me how long I'd been riding. I replied "I have riding jackets older than you are...and I still wear them."

My intention was to revisit the Ducati dealer and sweet talk him a little on the very slightly used 800 Supersport I looked at last week and go home happy. Being the kind of person who likes to explore all the possibilities one last time I decided to visit three other dealers (Japanese brands and BMW) before finally hitting the Ducati shop last.

When I pulled into the BMW dealer, my first stop, there in the parking lot was a beautiful Ducati ST4 in bright yellow. Yum. Must be a sign of some sort that there is surely a Ducati in my future. I wandered around the BMW place just to look, drool a little, see what they had used, and warm up my buying urges. The R1100S Beemers looked sweet but were way out of my price range there was nothing there within my price range or that even much turned me on so I rolled on down the road.

Next stop was the Honda/Yamaha/Suzuki/Watercraft generic "powersports" dealer, one of several around town owned by a local car dealer. The stores are clean and well stocked but run like car dealerships, not motorcycle shops. The showroom bikes are jammed together, no price tags on them, and don't even think about a test ride. Come to think of it, don't even think about finding a sales guy that knows an Aprilia from a Zundapp. The BMW shop is owned by the same outfit but at least is run as something of an enthusiast's shop with BMW as a stand alone marque.

I've played a bit of a game for years when visiting the flakey powersports-type dealers, most dealers in fact, by asking the inevitable saleskid "What kind of bike do you ride?" I'd say nine times out of ten the answer is "I don't own a bike right now but..." A little more questioning usually reveals that the fellow likes motorcycles but doesn't know squat about them. The exception is usually found at Harley shops where riding the product, however over-rated it may be, is at least seen as an essential bit of credibility for the sales staff.

The powersports place had a very clean late model Kawasaki ZX9 that I like really well although it wasn't on my list of possibilities up to that point. The price wasn't too bad and I imagine I could have beat them down a little so I asked how many miles it had on it. "Uh, I dunno...and the battery is disconnected so I can't get the key and tell you." Brilliant sales ploy. Send out a kid who knows nothing to sell a product that doesn't run. The Ducati 800 was still fixed in my mental image of me-on-a-bike so I continued my journey.

Next came the Kawasaki shop where they know me well since I've purchased three bikes from them and also sent them four or five paying customers. It's a nice little shop, independently owned, a little sterile, but still friendly enough and they will deal on bikes and not BS you too much. Sometimes they get interesting used stuff in, I even saw a used Ducati ST2 there a year or so back. Today though it was just "Hi" to Joey and the guys, a quick swing through, lusted just a bit after the ZX10 gonzo bike that I would have to be insane to buy but still would if I could afford the bike AND the insurance. Visiting the shop once with my son I sat on the ZX10 and asked Dave if he could picture me riding it to work. "I can picture you by the side of the road with flashing lights behind you." The lad does know me, at least a little bit.

So on to the Ducati shop. Happily, the Ducati dealer is a real dealer, a small shop run by an enthusiastic but businesslike owner. The shop is crowded but clean and the staff is knowledgeable and friendly. I asked about the used 800 I'd looked at the week before and it was still there. I told the sales guy I was vaguely dismayed to find it still there as now I would have to actually make a decision.

I sat on the 800 Supersport, looked at the 800 Monster sitting by it, poked prodded, asked questions, and tried to think of all the reasons why I shouldn't buy the bike. Eventually the sales guy wandered off to talked to someone more decisive or at least less indecisive. My cellphone rang. My brother. "Hey, what are ya doing" he asked. I told him and as you might imagine his advice could be distilled down to "Buy it, do it, go for it, now or never, you're only young once!" He did show a flash of maturity and wisdom when he asked if I could actually afford it. I told him "Sort of but not really, but that never stopped me before either."

Finally the shop owner came over to see if he could push me over the edge or at least stop me from poking and prodding and sitting on the red 800. I decided to go for it. The price was known and not especially flexible, the first sales guy had made that plain. So what's the price out the door? The owner grabbed a calculator, muttered something about "$180 for doc fees" and came up with a number fully $1000 higher than the base price of the bike. Erk... I don't think so.

Now sales tax and registration fees are given and are not cheap in Arizona. But the $180 of phony "doc fees" annoyed me just a bit. I was actually willing to give him the asking price for the bike plus the tax and title but I'd be darned if I was going to cough up $180 in phony fees. Your profit is in the mark up above what you paid for the bike, my friend. Don't insult my intelligence by telling me it costs you $180 worth of clerk time to complete the motor vehicle registration paperwork. I respect the right of any businessman to make a reasonable profit, that's how businesses stay open, but let's not play games with inflated "doc fees" and the like. Reminds of the Harley dealer that wanted to charge me $2600 for freight and set up on a Sportster once. He didn't sell me a bike either.

I countered with a number about $450 out the door less than what he quoted me, essentially deleting his doc fees and a little more just because I was kinda bugged. "No" said Mr. Dealer, "the bike is popular, I'll get back to you in a week or so if it doesn't sell." So be it. I was about to tell him I'd give him the price I offered plus drop a few hundred more on accessories on the spot but decided the moment was past. I thanked him for his time and headed for the door half expecting him to stop me as in reality we were only about $250 apart on the price. No dice though so out to the parking lot I went, fired up the Kaw and headed for home. I guess the moment wasn't right for a new Ducati after all. Maybe I didn't want it bad enough or maybe he didn't want to sell it bad enough. Maybe next week.

Wednesday, September 08, 2004

Girlie Men

California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger caused a small political ruckus a few weeks ago when he intimated that certain members of the California legislature "girlie men." Predictably, some politically correct people whined and were offended. I thought the comment was hysterically funny and wish more politicians would have the cajones to speak their mind instead of wilting before media and special interest group hypersensitivities.

Never the less, this blog isn't about politics, it's about motorcycles so speaking of girlie men, what is it with guys letting their girlfriend or wife tell them "the bike must go" or "it's that bike or me" or worse yet "getting married, fiancé says bike must go"? I've actually seen those ads in Cycle Trader over the years.

Here's a recent example I found while browsing bike ads: "SUZUKI..." "orig owner, 650 miles" ... "purchased 11/03, wife says must sell now." Excuse me? "Wife says must..."? I'm sorry but that's pathetic. It's best that the motorcycle be sold, that it go to a new owner who will ride it more than 650 miles in a year. Perhaps later it can be replaced by a lawnmower or new pastel bedroom furniture, things more fitting the seller's station in life. Sir, you got married, not gelded!

I'm divorced and it seems unlikely that I'll risk a trip to the alter again but if it were to come to that, should I happen by some miracle to find on my doorstep a wealthy supermodel who likes chubby middle-aged bald guys with no money, she'll only have a chance with me if she loves motorcycles. If she actually rides her own motorcycle I'll be a goner for sure. I don't care though how supermodel-rich-hot-crazy about me she happens to be, if she utters those terrible words "the bike or me" it's adios, Ms. Supermodel. [I know what you're thinking. Hey, it could happen! I'm not totally devoid of charm. Mostly.]

I understand there are reasons for selling bikes, I've sold most of the 30+ bikes I've owned for one reason or another but NEVER because someone told me I had to "or else." I did sell my nearly new '86 Harley in '87 because my son was born and I decided I needed the dough. Life happens. It's also a fact that when Dave was about two months old I took him to the bike shop, sat him on a new Harley, and told him for the first of many times that he owed me a new bike. Dave, if you're reading this, I'd prefer a Ducati now, not a Harley. A red ST4 with the matching bags would be nice but the Super Sport 800 will do fine.

Really gentlemen, if it comes down to a woman telling you that you must choose between her and the bike then she's not the woman for you. No one should ask another person to give up their mechanical passion for mere physical passion. And in that same vein, let me go on record here as saying that any guy that can't deal with his wife or girlfriend owning and riding her own bike has only one more nut than the guy selling his bike because his wife told him to.

Monday, September 06, 2004

Doing What Most Of Us Would Like To Do

Dusty Davis heads out for a month to see America on his Yamaha FJ1300. How many of us dream of doing something like this? How many actually work up the gumption to do it? I hope Dusty finds some 'net accesss along the way and can keep up his blog while he's gone. The on-the-road type entries always seem more real than the ones built on recollection. By the way, there's a great link on Dusty's page to the story of a guys 11,500 mile trip on a moped back in the late '70s. Great stuff.

Saturday, September 04, 2004

Bike Fever, Moto Lust, Whatever

Reading Dylan's blog, Johnstown Company, has gotten me thinking about Italian bikes again. I've had in mind for a while to buy some sort of sport bike or sport touring bike to go in the garage next to the 1600 Kaw. I stopped today at the nearest Ducati dealer today to swap tires and kick lies. Nice shop...a real motorcycle shop staffed by people who actually ride, not a motorcycle boutique or "cycle mall." Not many real shops left these days.

All the really nice toys were out of my price range or too impractical but they did have a used 2003 (or was it an '04?) Supersport 800 sitting there that some guy at traded in on a 749. Believe it or not, the 800 has only 87 miles on it. Apparently the guy has money to burn and wanted something a little more cutting edge than the 800. A little research beforehand would have saved him a ton of money. Very tempting bike at a moderate price. Not sure if I'll take the plunge or not but if I do it's all your fault, Dylan.

Sunday, August 29, 2004

Nothing Else

This afternoon I pruned the bushes around the front of the house. Some how it was too hot to ride but not too hot to prune bushes. I guess there's no way that yard work is going to be fun for me so if it's a little worse than normal, what's the difference? On the other hand, riding is fun and the fun can be diluted by 103° weather.

I usually like to leave for my Sunday afternoon rides about an hour or an hour and a half before sunset, this gets me out and about when the light is interesting for photography and the Arizona summer heat is a bit less intense.

As happens to people my age after a bout of yard work in 103° weather, I flopped down in my easy chair to cool down and promptly fell asleep until 6:30, just about the time I should have been standing somewhere taking pictures. Drat.

I fed the dogs before they had a fit, quickly put on some boots and hopped on the bike for some riding sans photography. The ride was nothing special, just a 40 mile loop out through farm country again with my awareness divided between watching the light change with the setting sun and listening to the rumble of the 1600cc V-twin. The most important thing was to get some riding in, to feel the bike and the wind and be recharged a little before I plunge into the coming week.

For their handling or speed there are bikes I might rather ride than the Kawasaki but none have the sweet low RPM rumble of a big v-twin. I wish someone would build a 1600cc v-twin sportbike / cruiser / standard or something. The Suzuki V-Strom has a nice v-twin but not the low down rumble and grunt of a bigger, low RPM torque motor. I probably would have been happier with the Kawasaki 1600 Meanstreak with it's inverted forks and slightly sportier handling but the dealer didn't have any when I was ready and able to buy and as every guy knows when shopping for a bike, you better grab it while you can. Of course living where I do sporty handling is largely wasted anyway and the big 1600 Classic has proven a great way to truly cruise the countryside with a minimum of fuss and lots of statifying torque if highly limited cornering clearance.

When I got back into town it was dark and I was hungry, somehow lunch got missed during the day. Taking the easy way out I pulled into the local Kentucky Fried Chicken. Now you're thinking, "Man, there must have some place better than that." No there isn't. I live in a small town in Arizona and the BEST restaurant in town is a "Chili's." They were too busy when I rode by; Sunday night dinner at Chili's is the highlight of the weekly social life here for lots of people.

So I'm sitting in the KFC munching some chicken strips and staring out the window at the bike with nothing particular on my mind except regret that I didn't get out to ride earlier. From somewhere the thought popped into my head: "What would you rather have parked out there waiting for you than a motorcycle?" Interesting thought and typical of my "What if" way of looking at things.

I work for a German car manufacturer as an engineer of sorts and my position allows me to drive a variety of nice cars periodically. They range from sporty little econoboxes to very premium luxury sedans so I have some experience with nicer vehicles than I can actually afford and what it might be like to have one as my ride. So what would I rather have out there waiting for me than a Kawasaki 1600 Classic? A Ferrari? A Lamborghini? A Porsche? My initial gut answer was "Nothing else." Yeah, it would be sooo nice to have a Lamborghini out there, the women would be all over me, right? Right... Uh huh...

I thought about the various exotic cars, how they look, perform, attract the ladies, and so on. But what would really please me more than a nice motorcycle for my evening ride? Year and in and year out, nothing does if for me more than a bike. There are bikes that it would have been exciting ride the rest of the way home on than the big Kaw. A Ducati 999 comes to mind or a Suzuki Hayabusa but nothing in the relm of cars does it like a bike does. Cars can be a thrill, cars can make some sort of prominent social statement about your wealth or your ego, but none of them really get inside your head the way motorcycles do. Bikes are visceral, real, always a little dangerous, always an extension of yourself rather than a box in which you sit. Nothing else feels like a bike, nothing else blows the debris of the day out of the mind like a bike, nothing else mechanical is as purely addictive and available as a motorcyle.

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