Last Sunday was the rain date for Lansdale Bike Night, an annual event in one of the local burghs here in Southeastern PA. The motorcycle show is “ok”, heavily weighted toward Harleys and custom choppers, which do nothing for me. There’s usually a small collection of classic bikes – Triumphs Nortons and the like – and some really weird ones too (like the year there was a chopper with body molding to make it look like a fighter jet.)

This year the date was changed at the last minute due to weather, so there was a lighter than usual crowd and fewer bikes than normal. I walked around for 45 minutes and left. Not much to do.

As I was heading out of town, though, something caught my eye. A black classic bike parked along one of the side streets. I pulled over. Here are some pics.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

It’s a beautiful machine and a piece of motorcycle history, but the owner was sitting on the curb near the bike visibly distressed. To hear him tell his story, he had just ridden the bike back from Colorado where he attended a Vincent owners’ rally. He had arrived at Lansdale Bike Night too late for the judging, and the organizers wouldn’t even let him park his bike in the area where all the show bikes were. Apparently one of the people directing bikes through the Main Street area cursed at him and told him to get his bike off the &$^# street.

Whether this was truth, exaggeration, or not, it’s a real shame that The Vincent never made it into the show.

 

 

 

One of my motorcycling new years resolutions was to get additional training this year. I fulfilled this resolution a few weeks ago when my friend Pete and I took a one-day class at California Superbike School at New Jersey Motorsports Park. It wasn’t a small investment – about $500 for the day including rental of a track suit – but it was well worth it. The class changed my riding style and made me 100% more confident in the corners.

Post-session consultation with my rider coach.

The format of the class was solid: 15 minutes or so of classroom instruction; followed by track time to practice on the techniques learned during the class; followed by a brief meeting with a rider coach who spends some time watching your technique on the track. Over the course of the day, we repeated this cycle five times for five different instructions.

Right from the start, I learned something new. And I’m embarrassed to say that this was a new concept for me: cut the throttle heading into a corner, and when you hit the apex of the corner, smoothly accelerate out. (NOTE: See this post for a correction. I got this point wrong.) I either missed it when they talked about it in the Motorcycle Safety Course or just never learned it. Once I started practicing this technique, everything changed. My most common cornering mistake is coming into a corner too fast. Then I need to use the brakes, then I need to change direction. If the turn is a right-hand turn and there’s oncoming traffic, margin of error is decreased and it’s all that more difficult to get through the corner – and all that more dicey. Make it a hairpin turn on a mountain pass with a sheer drop off, and uh oh…

By controlling the throttle actively, I’m now able to modulate my speed, and rolling on the throttle as I exit the corner helps me maintain my line and get through the curve quickly. You can really see Pikes Peak Hill Climbing champion Greg Tracy using this technique in his video.

Another important learning for me was the notion of countersteering – pressing on the right side of the motorcycle handlebar and pulling on the left side of the motorcycle handlebar to turn right. This was taught in a one-on-one sidebar session and it was really, umm…counterintuitive for me. As the instructor explained the concept (which I’d heard of, but never really understood), I was still incredulous that pressing on the right side of the bars will initiate a right turn. When I’m standing still on the bike, straight up and down, and I press right, it looks like I will turn left.

By the end of the day, I was leading packs of S1000RR’s around the track. 😉

But here’s the thing – I’m on a rounded tire, and riding at a good clip, and I’m also leaning the bike over. In this case, counter steering works. Nobody really does a good job explaining counter steering:

Example 1 (Love how he waves at some other bikers at the 40 second mark and says, “Nobody waves. Assholes.”)

Example 2 (This one’s a little bit better.)

Example 3 (ummmmm……..)

It’s one of those things that I just had to accept on faith. And once I tried it, I was amazed by the results. Now when I really focus on and exaggerate countersteering in my turns, pushing harder on the left handlebar to make a left hand turn and on the right to go right, my turns get a whole lot snappier.

I paid an extra $20 to have my lap times recorded, and I’m glad I did because I could really see my progress:

Average lap times:

Session 1:              3.03

Session 2:              3.04

Session 3:             2.38

Session 4:             2.39

Session 5:             2.32


My fastest lap was 2:30.6, which was the second lap of the final session:


I did NOT pay extra to rent one of the school’s BMW S1000RR‘s, and I’m sorry I didn’t. This was an extra $250 and both Pete and I decided to bank the savings and ride our own bikes, which was an option. Pete rides a Triumph America and I was riding my V-Strom. We both felt silly. Not everyone rode the beemers, but everyone else on the track had a sport bike of some ilk. And the tech inspector had a visible smirk on his face when we checked in our bikes.

I got some bad information when I asked someone at the BMW booth at the NYC Motorcycle Show about this. I had asked if we would be out of place on non-sportbikes, and the rep replied “Not at all. We had a guy riding an ElectraGlide last year, and we had to tell him to turn his radio off during the sessions.”

If I had it to do over again, I’d suck it up and pay the $250 to rent the beemer.

Given the quantum leaps the class made in my riding confidence, I’m planning to go back for the Level 2 class next year. I’m also planning to take the Pennsylvania Motorcycle Safety Program‘s RiderCourse 2 in October. You can never have enough training or instruction with motorcycle riding, and the fact that I didn’t know some very basic riding and cornering techniques even after four seasons of riding really emphasize this. I spend thousands every year on farkles and gear, now I’m going to make sure I set aside a bit of that cash for training on an annual basis.

A few more pics from the day…

In May 2011 I made what I consider to be one of the worst decisions of my life: I traded my beloved 2008 Triumph America for a bigger bike, a Triumph Rocket III Touring. I had gotten it in my head that I needed a big bike. Not just a big bike, the BIGGEST bike.

Almost from the moment I brought the Rocket III home from the dealership, I realized it wasn’t the right bike for me. I really missed my America. I was sorry I had traded it in. I was disappointed in myself for getting bitten by the ‘bigger is better’ bug and had been kicking myself ever since. I pined to have an America back in my stable again.

Early this season I sold the Rocket and bought a used V-Strom, which has proven to be a very good choice for me. But I had it in the back of my head that if the opportunity presented itself, I would add another America to the stable. For much of this season I had my eye out for another used one.

A recent class at a racetrack had me thinking sportbike yesterday.

Then a few weeks ago I took a riding class at a racetrack and had suddenly gotten bit by the track day bug. Now I had it in my mind to get an inexpensive track bike and do more track days – something like a mid 2000’s R6 or CBR-600. So yesterday I made the rounds of local dealerships looking for a candidate to buy.

As I pulled into Martin Motorsports, one of my usual haunts, I noticed a woman standing next to a Pacific Blue and New England White America just like the one I used to own. “Cool,” I thought. “An America like my old one.” I parked my ‘Strom and walked over to say hi.

“Hi there, I used to have a bike just like that,” I said with a smile as I approached her. Then, as I got closer, I noticed something. Not only was this America just like my old one, it WAS my old one. There was a telltale scratch on the tank that had its roots in a camping trip I had taken with some friends in 2010. We had paused to rest and take some pictures near a pretty lake, and as we were gearing up and getting ready to go,I swung my leg over the tank and a rock in the heel of my boot made an ugly scratchmark.

The telltale scratch occurred about 5 minutes after this picture was taken.

The telltale scratch on the tank.

This bike had the same scratch.

“Did you buy this bike at Hermy’s?” I asked.

“Yes, we did,” she replied.

“Last May?” I asked.

“Yes, my husband and I bought this last May,” she replied.

“This used to be my bike.”

I told her the story about how I had traded it and missed it, when she dropped this bombshell: “We just traded it in for a Thunderbird.”

I could not believe it. I had missed this bike for the past year and three months. I had thought about getting an America to replace it. And here it was, about to be placed on the showroom floor of my favorite motorcycle dealership.

Today, my beloved 2008 Triumph America is back in my garage. It was an expensive round trip, as I got trade-in value for the America in May 2011 and paid retail value to buy it back yesterday; and I bought the Rocket at retail value in May 2011 and sold it for something less than retail value this past February. I don’t want to think about how much money this bad decision cost me, really. But I am so grateful that the bike is back in my life.

When I tested it out yesterday, it was like being back with an old friend. When I drove it home, it was like it had never left. When I was signing the papers to buy the bike, the woman who handles transactions at Martin’s remarked, “You just can’t get away from this bike, huh?” I literally started to well up and replied, “No. It’s not that. I have an emotional connection to this bike. I made a mistake and it found its way back to me.”

So many strange coincidences had to happen for this bike to get reunited with me: I went out yesterday shopping for a sport bike and ended up at Martin’s at around 1PM; Frank and Holly, the couple who owned the America, were just out riding, stopped at Martin’s, and fell in love with the Thunderbird they ended up buying at around the same time. I believe that the Pacific Blue and New England White 2008 America that I started my motorcycling career with will now be in my garage forever. Perhaps one day one of my grandchildren-to-be will inherit it…

Me and the America. May 2008, the first day I bought it. August 2012, the day it came back into my life. Then and now. We’re both a little older and have a few more miles on us, but I’m also a whole lot wiser and I’m filled with gratitude.

Motorcycle accessories are expensive. In fact, I remember reading once that when you buy a motorcycle, you’re really just making a down payment on accessories. My experience bears this out.

Yesterday I was riding solo and stopped by Van Sant Airport in Bucks County, PA – a regular gathering place for bikers. As I was munching on a hotdog from the snack bar, I noticed a Kawasaki KLR-650 pull in. The KLR is a similar bike to my V-Strom, so my interest was already piqued, and this particular bike had what looked like a very unusual set of panniers and topbox.

When I looked more closely and chatted with the owner, it was clear that this luggage set up was so ingenious and uniquely frugal that I had to write about it. Here are some pictures. See if you can figure out who makes this luggage set (apologies for the picture quality; I didn’t have my digital camera with me so these were taken with my iPhone):

KLR-650 with unusual luggage…

Another angle.

Close-up of the pannier. The sticker is from a local motorcycle shop, not the manufacturer.

Close up of the top box.

So here’s the deal. The owner (Pete) put mounting brackets on his bike ($200 from the local dealer) and jerry-rigged plastic bins from two large containers of Kingsford Charcoal Briquettes ($14 each). The bins are completely waterproof and accessible, albeit not secure against theft. Then he found a box from a DeWalt tool set in the trash and mounted that straight to the stock KLR luggage rack (cost: $0). The box has plenty of space for gear, and like the charcoal bins, is completely waterproof. The paint and paint scheme I don’t entirely understand, but when I asked him about the color choices, Pete said, “That’s just what I had in the barn.”

Pete went on to say, “The dealer wanted $1,000 for luggage. That’s a lot of travel money to me, so I wanted to find something cheaper. This is what I came up with.”

I’ll admit it’s not as flashy as a set of Touratech luggage but, damn! I’m impressed with Pete’s resourcefulness. As they say in baseball about an ugly hit, “Not purdy but effective.” The same holds true for Pete’s home made motorcycle luggage.

A few weeks ago I was on a date with a woman. It was pretty early in the dating process – that awkward stage where there’s preliminary attraction but you just don’t know for sure. We were at a coffee shop, groping for common ground, and it was becoming increasingly clear there wasn’t enough.

Then she sealed her fate by asking, “What’s with the motorcycle thing, anyway?”

I was caught off guard by the whole way she asked the question, in a semi-accusatory way. As if I had to justify my love of motorcycles to her. I thought for a moment about how to answer. Usually, I tell my story about how watching The Last Lecture had me thinking about childhood dreams, and how this led me to inventory my childhood dreams, and #1 on the list was riding a motorcycle, and how within 60 days of that realization I had a motorcycle license and a new Triumph America.

If I want to be charming, I’ll tell that story, and continue on to how motorcycling has since become my #1 passion and hobby and has changed  my whole lifestyle. But I had no desire to be charming with this woman since it clearly just wasn’t there. Didn’t want to waste my breath.

So I simply replied, “It’s fun.”

Fun.

And it’s true. Why do I ride, really? Because it’s fun. Why do I chose to go through the process of gearing up and stowing my briefcase and ride to work instead of drive? Because it’s fun. Why did I essentially give up golf because I preferred going for a long motorcycle ride on a Saturday afternoon to hacking my way around a golf course? Because it’s fun. Why do I take 10 or so days a year off from work to go on motorcycle camping trips instead of lying on a beach? Because it’s fun.

So there you have it folks, I ride because it’s fun. And that’s now become my standard response when someone asks about riding a motorcycle and how I got into it and why I ride. It’s simple: I ride because it’s fun.

Fun.

Fun.

Fun.

Fun.

With a big assist from my 15 year old daughter, who gave me the basics on how to use Windows Movie Maker, I’ve created my first real video from all of the GoPro footage I took on my recent trip to Colorado and Utah. Enjoy!

NOTE: The music is “Thing of Beauty” by Hothouse Flowers. I don’t own the copyright. Fellas, if you stumble on this video or blog post and you’re pissed I used your music, let me know. I assure you I’m making no coin off of it, just spreading the word about your great tunes. I hope you like the video!

 

I blogged about this fantastic trip earlier this month. Here are the rest of my pictures – well, at least some of the best. Between setting up the GoPro to take stills every 30 seconds and stopping around every bend to take a photo of another jaw-dropping view with my still camera, I had over 600 pictures.

Bring me that horizon!

This past Memorial Day weekend I had nothing to do, no plans, didn’t have my kids. I decided to take an impromptu trip out West and do some riding and camping. I’m not one to do things spur of the moment but something gripped me and told me it was right. So I told my co-workers I was taking Friday off, hopped online, booked a cheap flight to Denver ($300 roundtrip on Southwest), found a motorcycle rental place and reserved the cheapest bike they had (BMW F650GS at $135 a day) and decided to do something I’ve never done before. Just take off.

Canyonlands National Park

I’m so freaking glad I did it. Colorado and Utah are stunningly gorgeous. There is no such thing as a bad motorcycle road out there. The people are just fantastic. Even though it was just four days, it was the experience of a lifetime. I love being on a motorcycle.

The low points (there were a few):

  • Work. My plan was to get the bike early in the AM and get started early-early Friday morning, but I had a client crisis blow up and had to work for a good chunk of  the morning from my hotel room at the Denver Airport. I didn’t get on the bike until later than I wanted.
  • I got a speeding ticket. There was exactly one rural stretch of Route 50 where the speed limit dropped to 55. The rest of it is 65. Guess where there were about 5 cops all up and down the road? What really galls me – I was doing 70 in a 55. Anywhere else on the planet, the cop wouldn’t look up from his donuts. Not this two-bit backwater deputy sheriff, no sireee. So there was a tax of $169.50 on my trip. Officer Turner of the Montrose County Sheriff’s Department: you should be ashamed of yourself for your part in this fraud perpetrated against unsuspecting Colorado tourists.
  • Windstorms cut my day short on Saturday. My plan was to make it to Moab by Saturday but the wind as I got closer to Grand Junction was ridiculous. When I stopped for gas someone told me that this was due to a big windstorm and there would be 75-90 mph gusts. I decided against traveling any further that day, as I was having a hard enough time keeping my light 650 upright on certain stretches of open highway. I checked into a hotel and chillaxed.

The high points (too many to list but here are a few):

  • Shortly after this picture was taken (on top of Pike’s Peak), I fell flat on my face because of disorientation from the change in altitude.

    Pike’s Peak. Climbing Pike’s Peak on the 650 was a major accomplishment. At the top I met a fellow inmate from the Advrider forum who chatted me up for a bit and gave me some great tips for future trips.

  • Gunnison, CO. What a cool town. An oasis in the middle of nowhere. Some of the nicest and friendliest girls on the planet, too. 🙂
  • Arches National Park. Every American should see this in their lifetime. Jaw dropping.
  • Moab, Utah. Sedona, but on a much grander scale. I told my daughter (who loves Sedona) to imagine Sedona, but 100 times larger.
  • Reddit. I met up with a friend from the Reddit motorcycle forum in Grand Junction. He spent an hour with me giving me lots of helpful tips. The cameraderie of motorcyclists is pervasive!

Things I learned:

  • Roads like this look inviting, especially on a GS, but it takes a very different skill set to navigate them.

    Offroading is way harder than it looks. Sand is evil.

  • Acclimatize. Don’t go from sea level to 14,000 feet in the span of 24 hours. I was really struggling at the top of Pike’s Peak.
  • The Lost Cajun. What a great little restaurant in Frisco, CO. Only 5 minutes off interstate 70. By all means, stop there and enjoy the company of the owner, Raymond Griffin. The food is wonderful but Raymond’s life wisdom and company was worth the trip all by itself.

I’ll be doing more impromtu ( and promptu ) trips like this. I’m already scheming about when I can do something like this in Ireland. Stay tuned.

Arches National Park is a must-see.

I’ll post more pictures and video in the coming days.

I saw this bike a few weeks ago in the parking lot of a local bike shop.  The owner is a 4’6″ woman in her 50s who built it from a basket case. The thing I like most about it is that sweet-looking 4 into one exhaust.  Enjoy!

 

 

One of my goals for this year was to get some experience offroading. I haven’t had a two-wheeled motorized vehicle offroad since my Rupp Scrambler circa 1975. At Saturday’s Kawasaki demo day I asked one of the guides who had offroad experience about how to get training, to which he replied, “I dunno. I’m one of those crazy guys who will just go and do it.” Mind you, this is a guy who claims he rode his KLR-650  to the Arctic circle last year. So I was inspired.

Yesterday I found some dirt roads to demo my V-strom on. Here’s some video of my first offroad experiences.

Somewhere on the mountain near Bear Creek Ski Resort:


Then when I got back to my hometown I had a realization. Lansdale is an old town with old-school back alleys behind the homes. These back alleys are all gravel. So I decided to take a few laps around town. “Urban Offroading” I called it. The trip ends with a lap around my yard. And you’ve gotta love the drunk stumbling down the back alley with a big jug of wine in his hand at the 34 second mark of the video. It was about 3:40 in the afternoon too, and he was weaving back and forth pretty good. Lansdale is also one of those towns where drunks stumble down the back alleys:


On a completely unrelated note, riding motorcycles on strange roads lets you see some strange things. Here’s a house I saw in my travels that is made to look like Noah’s arc. As a friend mentioned, Noah didn’t need a dove…he had a satellite dish.

"It's the Lord, Noah"...."Riiiiight!"