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

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

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