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

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.

Saturday, August 21, 2004

Stolen Dreams

I checked in over at The Johnstown Company blog today as I regularly do. Dylan and MotorMilt seem to lead more interesting lives than I do at the moment so it's always fun to see what adventures they are having on their new Ducati 749’s. I used to live in their general area and they ride a lot of roads I've ridden in bygone days. I had my turn at being a studly California canyon carver thirty years ago and now reading about their rides on the brilliant 749's is a chance to refresh some happy memories.

Unhappily, I read today that some person or persons worthy only of being used for dog food stole both Ducatis while the guys were out of town on business. To whomever stole the bikes, to whomever knowingly buys parts from those bikes, I wish you nothing but bad luck next time you get into a turn a little too fast.

As always, motorcycles stories good or bad get me to thinking about bikes and rides of days gone by. Motorcycles are about feeling and passion and creating memories that last a lifetime; about people and places and fear and anger, joy and exhileration. They are small machines that create huge memories that do not fade much with time.

I've never owned a Ducati although I have I've ridden a couple over the years. I wonder how many bikes of different types I've actually ridden? I've owned something over thirty machines but like most enthusiasts have snagged rides on countless machines offered by trusting friends and hopeful dealers. In the days when bike shops were still bike shops and not motorcycle lifestyle boutiques, it was always easy to wangle a demo ride on something interesting.

I was at Ambassador Motors in SoCal when they received their first Ducati 750S. As best as I can remember the bike was yellow with some black trim and looked a bit rough here and there. The bike was uncrated, set up, and taken for a test spin by the mechanic. When the mechanic came back, the shop owner turned to me and asked if I'd like to take the yellow Ducati for a ride. Oh baby, O baby, come to daddy... I hopped on the bike and resisted the temptation to head for Angeles Crest Highway and never return. My GMC van would have been a fair trade, I think. Being a decent sort and not wanting to wear out my welcome I settled for a quick spin around the neighborhood. Sweet. The Ducati was stiff, quick, and I imagined, a wondrous machine for blasting through canyon roads like Agostini. The body parts were Italian cobby and round and the v-twin engine noisy and bright... everything a motorcycle engine should be.

Some time later when I decided to plunk down some serious money for what I decided would be my ultimate bike, the choices running through my head were the Ducati 750S, Moto Guzzi V7 Sport, and BMW R90S. I was riding a Suzuki 550 triple at the time so it was definitely going to be a BIG step up. In the end I decided that the Ducati was going to be too sporty, maybe too Italian to suit my growing interest in travel by motorcycle. I was dreaming of a ride to Canada and the 750S didn't seem like the best choice.

The Moto Guzzi V7 Sport was a wonderfully beautiful machine, prettier than the Ducati but it was a Moto Guzzi and I had my doubts about traveling on one. I have my talents but I'm not much of a mechanic. I have to admit that I still semi-regret not buying the V7 Sport and I still have a soft spot for Moto Guzzi's sporting models. Maybe one day I'll make up for the Italian road not taken.

In the end, the BMW R90S was a choice fueled by both passion and logic. The bike was a wonder, a glorious piece of German design and engineering wrapped in a silver smoke paint job and hand painted gold pinstripping. The bike was fast, gorgeous, comfortable, and handled as well or better than I could ride. BMW only built a thousand of the 1974 R90S models and less than five hundred were brought to the US. Cycle Magazine had tested the bike and found it to be superior to everything around but the new Ducati 750SS. The Beemer's main drawback, as Cycle editor Cook Neilson saw it, was the formidable $3440 retail price. Was the world really ready for such a machine such high price?

Pete Joseph, the Yamaha-BMW dealer in Santa Monica got in two of the 90S's. I bought one and Tommy Smothers of the Smothers Brothers comedy team bought the other. Tommy Smothers I'm sure could afford his but I was in hock up to my eyeballs. You're only young once though and there I was: 22 years old, riding one of the best, most beautiful, and expensive motorcycles in the world home from Santa Monica, west down the Ventura Freeway, and out to my condo in Thousand Oaks. Mulholland Highway was just over the hill and Canada was waiting too. Dreams sometimes do come true if you are passionate enough, have good enough credit, and no common sense.

What does all this have to do with Dylan and MotorMilt's stolen Ducatis? Not much except that I loved the R90S like no bike I've ever owned since so I can relate to Dylan's passion for the Ducati and guess at how he and Milt feel at having their pride and joy taken by dirt bags unknown. Also, you see, my BMW was almost stolen once.

In the early '70s I lived in a nice fourplex development and the parking for each unit was a two bay, open garage downstairs. I kept the Beemer down there, locked, alarmed, and covered with an old army blanket. It worked just fine for several months. One day I came home from work and the old maintenance man for the homeowners association walked into the garage as I got out of the car. "Mr. Klassen, some fellas came for that motorcycle of yours today but I wouldn't let 'em take it." WHAT??????? He recounted how he'd come around the corner of the building and there was a pick up truck with a loading ramp out and two scruffy guys just reaching for the blanket over the BMW. "I tol' them that they couldn't take unless you was around to ok it so they hopped in their truck and left." I was stunned. I'd come within a few minutes of losing my beloved bike, my one of only a 1,000 German wonder machines. The chance arrival of an old maintenance man with the gumption to speak up had saved it.

Now maybe the bike alarm would have scared them off or maybe the locked forks and huge chain and padlock would have slowed them up until they gave up. Speculation. All I knew was that I couldn't leave the BMW in the garage anymore. There was no doubt that whomever had been there once would be back. It was too flashy to not be noticed, it was too valuable a prize to ignore.

After I'd caught my breath and thanked the old man several times I double checked the locks and alarm on the bike and hopped back in the car. Next stop was the u-store-it place up the road a couple of miles. A small space was secured at $25 a month and the Beemer transferred to it's new home before the day was done. The bike would be safe at least but I could no longer just walk downstairs, hop on the my German road missile and disappear into the canyon roads of the Santa Monica mountains. Going for a ride, returning from a ride, had lost it's spontaneity and ease. Frustration mounted along with the expenses of keeping the bike.

In time I came to the realization that I was in fact in over my head financially on the BMW. The payments were $125 a month and on top of that was the insurance and the storage costs. It was a fair chunk of change every month in 1974, especially for a guy who's employment was shaky. After about 20,000 miles including one trip to Canada, the BMW had to go.

An ad was placed in the L.A. Times and it didn't take long for someone to show up with the money. Watching my pride and joy roll down the road under it's new owner was a real low point, one of those times when you say to yourself "I screwed up, I should have found a way..." Sometimes when I've sold a bike I was glad to see it go, other times I merely regretted it, but with the 1974 BMW R90S, watching it disappear down the street was painful, like I'd sold a part of me.

I've had another R90S since then, a 1975 model I bought in the late 80s, and my brother bought a beautifully restored '74 several years ago and I got a chance to ride that one. I saw an immaculately restored R90S offered for sale a few months back on the web page for Blue Moon Cycles and I have to say I was sorely tempted. $9,000 now for the bike. Still worth every penny as far as I'm concerned.

Sunday, August 15, 2004

The best days are free

Lake Hodges road by "novermberwolf"
Many younger riders these days have a hard time understanding what it was like to go out to the country and ride any place you darn well pleased, not where Big Brother says you can. There were far fewer "No Trespassing" signs then, no OHV parks with carefully marked trails, and no official government signs with a barred circle over the picture of a dirt bike.

I remember a racer at a desert race in 1970 commenting on the first hints of land closure: "The desert is public land and it belongs to all of us! They can't kick us out!" Thirty years on it's tough, without doing a great deal of planning, to ride through the countryside and be able to head out over hill and dale with no thought of being arrested, run off, or shot at. Back in 1967, as long as you didn't chase the cows and remembered to close the gate behind you, you could ride pretty much anywhere in the countryside.

I have indelibly marked in my memory a particular day in the summer of 1967 when my friend Mike and I took off on our little Yamahas, he on an 80cc bike and me on my 60cc bike. I was a better rider than Mike but there was no substitute for engine displacement and he was usually ahead of me.  We headed southwest out of our little town of Escondido, CA and towards Del Mar, CA on the coast. It was a blue sky, warm Southern California Saturday and we had purposed between ourselves a few days earlier to do some serious riding. Our goal: Escondido to the coast entirely off-road. The distance to Del Mar was only about 25 miles though rolling hills, down cow trails and a few dirt roads but I had a sense that we were doing something special, something that only true motorcycle aficionados such as ourselves would try.

We turned off the paved road just south of town near Lake Hodges and let ourselves through a wobbly gate of a wire fence. We rode as we wished and wandered around for an hour or so through some rolling pasture land and eventual came across a spot with a little dry wash and an embankment looked just right for practicing our jumping skills. We ran up and down the embankment for a while, the Yamaha's little two stroke engines wound tight as we jumped, dodged cow pies, and imaged what it would be like to have real "scrambles" bikes one day and fly off of jumps like Gary Nixon, Bart Markel or those new European guys with the oddball names Ake and Torsten.

As the day progressed and it got warmer we got sweatier from our jumping and cow pie scrambles course racing so we stopped at a small pond, stripped down to our skivvies and jumped in to cool off. After the swim we sat in the dry summer grass by the pond and ate the few snacks we'd stuffed in our jacket pockets. It was about as good as life can get for a boy at the age of 16. There were moments more exciting to be sure, and those usually involved a girl and a drive-in movie, but none were better than riding a motorcycle.
The Southern California summer sun finally dried us enough and we got dressed, kick started the the Yamahas and went on our way west. Thinking back now, I don't believe it ever occurred to us that the Yamahas would not start or would ever let us down beyond an occasional fouled spark plug. I'm not sure we even had the stuff with us to repair a flat tire. Adventure takes a lot less preparation when you are naive.

We meandered down some farm roads and mostly smooth dirt trials made by cows, rabbits, and coyotes so the 3" travel suspension of our Yamahas only bottomed out occasionally. It wasn't difficult while zipping along a 25 mph or so to imagine we were demonstrating skills sufficient to land us on the US International Six Days Trial Team one day. We'd both read in Cycle World and Cycle Magazine of the "ISDT" and seen the pictures and there was no doubt in our minds that we had what it took, all we lacked was the proper equipment.

Mike and I never actually made it to our goal of Del Mar and the coast that day although we would another time and using another route. At some point, for reasons now forgotten, we made a big looping turn back around east and then north a bit. Along the way we found a dirt road zigzaging up a fair size hill of oh maybe 1,000 feet or so in height. The little Yamahas struggled to make it to the top. With street tires spinning there was a significant amount of pushing involved on the worst sections but we finally arrived at the top and viewed our valley and the town from a perspective we had achieved on our own.

It seemed like quite an accomplishment and a still sweeter reward to have achieved it and not have to share such a splendid view with parents insisting we be careful or siblings hollering for a bathroom. Great moments in travel rarely arrive with such exclusive joy when you are sixteen years old.

We stood there for some time trying spot our own homes, schools, familiar landmarks and places we'd just ridden through. After a time we started the bikes and wound our way back down the mountain and actually bulled our way through the head high tall grass on the bottom of then mostly dry Lake Hodges. These days when I have occasion to be in California and pass by the periodically full lake I'm always quick to tell the story of the time I rode my motorcycle "across the bottom of that lake."

We made it back to the paved road and let ourselves back out through the same gate we had passed through five or six hours earlier. I don't recall now how many miles we rode on those little Yamahas, it probably seemed farther than it was, but I do recall the day, the sunshine, the fun, and the camaraderie. Every motorcycle I have owned since then is better than that old Yamaha 60 but I've had few days since where riding was as pure and sweet as that day.

Monday, August 09, 2004

Sturgis Main Street Web Cams

Can't make it to Sturgis? Watch the fun live (sort of) from your own computer. Someone has kindly placed three web cams looking out on Main Street in Sturgis, SD. These should be great fun to check over the next couple of weeks while those motorcycle ruffians run wild and give us decent, morally upright, law abiding motorcyclists a bad reputation. You're right, I'm just disappointed that I couldn't be there too. Maybe next year.

Sunday, August 08, 2004

The spirit of Burma Shave lives on

I got up early (for me) this morning so I could get in some riding and try out the new Corbin Dual Tour seat and back rest I'd put on my Kaw 1600 last week. Getting the seat fitted was a real chore but we'll save that story for another time. Enough for now to say that this wasn't the first Corbin seat I've owned but clearly they are not trying as hard as they used to. Or maybe you only get their best engineering and workmanship when you buy their sofas made to look like the backs of cars?

The heat here in Arizona is at it's most miserable, even the overnight lows are in the high 70s and low 80s. At 9:30 the other night it was still 100° outside. When I rolled out of the driveway at 7:15 this morning it was already 85°. This time of the year the protective gear other than helmet and gloves stay in the closet. I don't care how tough you are, wearing leather when it's 100°+ outside isn't practical. I find even my Joe Rocket Phoenix mesh jacket to be uncomfortable on days like this. As with much of motorcycling, you pay your money and you take your chances.

I scooted over to the old/new boomtown of Maricopa, formerly a wide spot in the road and now on it's way to being a suburb of Phoenix. The Corbin seat has a back rest for the rider which is a new experience for me. I've seen them countless times but somehow never got a ride on a bike equipped with one. I spent a fair amount of time adjusting and fiddling with the back rest before I left the house so I wouldn't have to mess with it by the roadside. The back rest can only be adjusted by removing the seat and that's a real pain in part thanks to Corbin's sloppy R&D on the seat mounts.

The first thing I noticed was how much of the movement of the bike was now felt in the mid back area instead of just the butt and hands. That's logicial, I know, I just hadn't considered the possibility. On rough roads the suspension suddenly seemed much more harsh and I found myself leaning forward to get away from the back rest when I crossed railroad tracks or obvious bumps in the asphalt. The trade off to this was a feeling of being much more connected to the bike, much more in tune with the leaning and turning and a cetain improvement in feeling solid on the bike.

Just bit north of Maricopa is Highway 238 which used to be dirt all the way to the town of Gila Bend. A few years back someone decided it ought to be paved so it was and now the road is two smooth lanes wandering through the desert for 50 miles or so. Highway 238 is very lightly traveled and if you enjoy desert vistas it's a pleasant and leisurely ride. There are some curves along the but nothing that would qualify as twisties unless you're on a sport bike at 140mph.

The Highway Patrol does patrol out there so beware. He looked a bit surprised when he spotted me taking his picture. Turn about's fair play.

Connecting to 238 on the edge of Gila Bend is old US80 which continues the two lane theme all the way up to the town of Buckeye. None of these places qualify as quaint or scenic but like most places have their little interesting points of you look closely. I've found that traveling is much more fun if I slow down and look closely.

The desert between Maricopa and Gila Bend is open range and that means that there are few fences and the larger critters roam free. There are lots of animals in the desert and some of them do not sting or bite. Desert burros, decendants from from the mining days, are still out there. Rare but around are desert mule deer, bobcats, some wild horses, the ubiquitous coyotes, and range cattle to name a few more. There used to be mountain lions but the settlers finished those off a few decades back. You still hear of mountain lion sightings in the area now and again but no seems to have any real evidence.

Cattle still wander free in the desert to be rounded up as needed by modern cowboys. Ranchers pay a fee to the Bureau of Land Management to let their animals graze in large areas. Some of those large areas are not fenced ("open range") and the cattle roam where they will including across roads like Highway 238. Bombing down a two lane desert road late at night it is entirely possibly, even somewhat likely, to find not a deer caught in your headlights but a 1500 pound steer. I know. I came across one outside of Coolidge, AZ just a few weeks ago. Fortunately I was cruising on the Kawasaki and not bombing so I got slowed down in plenty of time to avoid spoiling my day and his.

Half way between Maricopa and Gila Bend there are a set of signs dedicated to warning motorists that the cattle are out there and prone to crossing the road when least expected. There are cattle all over Arizona so why this set of signs is in the middle of nowhere is anybody's guess but there they are.

What makes cattle warning signs so interesting? It has to do with the Burma Shave advertising signs that were seen along America's highways from the 1920s through early 1960s. Before interstate freeways, two lane roads were the normal route of travel around the country and advertising proliferated along the roads. Without TV to saturate with banality and tastelessness, advertising had to be out where the people were. Some of the advertising became famous for it's clever message and Burma Shave, a maker of that new fangled men's shaving-cream-in-a-can, was possibly the most famous.

The Burma Shave ads were little rhymes with each line of the verse on it's own small sign. You could be read them in series as you motored down the road at 45 mph. Dad, mom, junior, and sis all had a good chuckle as the DeSoto got to the final signs. For the whole story on Burma Shave you can click here and here; not yet though, finish reading my stuff first. Here's a bit of the humor so you'll understand the pictures coming up:

sign 1: A whiskery kiss
sign 2: For the one You adore
sign 3: May not make her mad
sign 4: But her face will be sore
sign 5: Burma-Shave

I have no idea how many Burma Shave signs were out there by the roadways but the product was a big seller all over America until the advent of the interstate highway system. When the signs disappeared, so did Burma Shave.

Clearly someone in the Arizona Department of Transportation remembered the Burma Shave signs when they decided to make and post the cattle warning signs on Highway 238 and merely putting up a regular warning sign just wouldn't do:

And just to emphasize the point, in the next mile of road there on the shoulder of the road lay a not so recently departed bovine. I hope you appreciate what I had to smell to get this picture.
I named him Brahma Shave.

In the next 5 miles or so there were three more head of cattle that met their fate on 238 before McDonalds or Burger King could get their hands on them.

Farther on where the road bumps into Gila Bend I swung northward on old US80. Having fascinated you with pictures of road signs and a dead cow, and not wanting to overwhelm you, I'll only include one more picture. This one taken through the windscreen as I rolled crossed the old Paloma Ranch bridge.

By the time I got home the temps were past 100° and my little brain was fried. Happily, the ride of the new Corbin seat, if not it's fit to the bike, lived up to Corbin's reputation. All in all I put in 197 miles and the seat was still decently comfortable. I'm sure with more riding it will only get better. The back rest proved interesting but in some ways limited. I think I'll take it off for shorter rides and only use it on long trips where my old bones can use all the support they can get. So for now, a parting thought:

The new Corbin seat
It's a comfy place to sit
But to the bike
It almost didn't fit

Thursday, August 05, 2004

"A guy's idea of a Birthday Gift"

Canukkev over at Two Wheeled Rants has a fun entry about a friend's b-day gift to Kevin's young son. Very cool and orginal gift and I'll bet it's remembered fondly long after toys and other goodies are forgotten.

Sunday, August 01, 2004

Home again, home again.

Pismo Beach, CA was wonderful as always. The 68° temps were a welcome break from the 106° temps here in Arizona. It would be easy to convince myself to live somewhere on the central California coast just for the weather and the motorcycle roads but until I win the lottery it will remain only a day dream. Even having grown up in California and motorcycled extensively in the state I'm still amazed by the wonderful roads and scenery. I've become a desert rat in the 20+ years I've been in Arizona but California still holds a powerful attraction despite the outrageous expense of living there.

Got $500,000 for a beach house? This is what you get...and Pismo Beach isn't Malibu (thank goodness).

As for riding the bike to California I finally decided against it. I tried and tried to convince myself that I should do it and that some great riding would ensue once I got there. In the end though my daily review of city weather forecasts for the roads between Phoenix and the coast convinced me that I'd regret it. I saw nothing but 90-110° temps in the forecast for the entire way until Fillmore, California. I know, it was weak and cowardly of me to wimp out just because of searing heat and 1200 miles of freeway riding. I admit it, I'm getting soft in my old age. Yeah, I could have gotten up at 3:00AM and left to beat some of the heat but 3:00 AM is closer to my normal bed time than when I want to get up. Besides, the new Corbin seat for the bike didn't show up before leaving time came and the idea of broiling myself as I endured monkey butt on the stock Kawasaki seat finally sold me on taking my VW New Beetle.

I was reading Dylan's blog, Johnstown Company, and noted that he tormented himself in a similar fashion while planning a business trip to San Francisco. In truth, I didn't see that many bikes on the road while traveling to and from the Golden State or even up by Highway 1 so I guess I'm not the only one who let common sense get the better of my desire to ride. It's tough being mature and using common sense. I need to go out and do something foolish like buy a Suzuki Hayabusa before this common sense thing gets to be a habit.

On the way home this past Friday I watched the outside ambient temperature display on the NB slowly shift back and forth between 100 and 112° as I dropped into the desert and made my way back to Phoenix. If you've never ridden a motorcycle when it's 112° outside it's an interesting and painful experience. You convince yourself you can endure it but when you finally arrive at your destination you find yourself weak and slow cooked inside your own hide.

Way out in the desert between Palm Springs and Phoenix I spotted a fellow riding a Gilroy Indian (as opposed to a real Indian Motorcycle) at about 75mph on I-10. Usually when I'm in a car and see someone on a bike my first feeling is at least a twinge of envy for his freedom and sadness at my encapsulation in the auto but not this time. A peek at the thermometer on the car showed a toasty 110° outside. Nothing to envy about his ride at that particular moment.

When I got home the new Corbin Dual Tour seat was waiting for me on the front porch. Guess it was a sign of some sort.

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