On The Pipe

A single cylinder motorcycle seems to be the just about the simplest thing in world.

I mean, look at it.

One piston and cylinder. A couple of valves. One spark plug. One carb or one throttle body and one singular pipe.

My Briggs and Stratton lawn mower engine is fundamentally the same thing.

How the hell hard could it possibly be to get and keep this maddenly simple mechanism running at its best?

 

***

 

Apparently, pretty hard.

Look, when one spends $900 to acquire a 2002 model year motorcycle, and that motorcycle has less than 1800 miles on it, it’s not a surprise that one will be spinning some wrenches.

But for the simplest thing in the world, keeping The Blast on its game has proved to be a moving target, an endlessly shifting game of ‘what’s-not-right-now’?

When it was time for Finn to come home from the University of Maryland for the summer, I headed down there to bring the bike back home while Finn transported a car full of architectural models and computer gear. He’d mentioned that the bike had been stumbling off of idle, and he could ‘smell something oily’ on shut down.

For some reason, my unconscious mind instantly formed a clear mental picture of some form of big hairy exhaust leak.

I got down on one knee in front of the Buell, and pulled my cel phone from the pocket of my cargos. I flipped the flashlight app on — which just turns on the phone’s LED flash unit — and looked onto the cylinder head’s exhaust port.

Clear as day, I could see a pretty substantial crack that ran almost halfway around the circumference of the headpipe. At the worst part of the fracture, a bit of pipe about half the size of my pinky fingernail was missing in action.

Why can’t my clear mental pictures be of perfectly functioning motorcycles?

After starting the bike, I stood about two feet in front of it with my hand held in front of me, and could feel the exhaust pulses as clearly as if I was standing by the exhaust exit.

After getting the bike back to the shop, I figured I’d pull the entire exhaust system, take a good hard look at it to see if it was serviceable, and then make the fix or replace call.

 

***

 

I’ll state for the record that Buell’s design choice to place their exhaust systems under the engine makes perfect sense from a mass distribution and roll moment perspective.

Where it doesn’t make sense is if you’re the poor suffering bastard that has to work on one of them if you don’t own a motorcycle service lift.

If Finn — who is starting to demonstrate a genuine aptitude for the use of oblique strategies in problem solving — hadn’t seen a different route to access a bolt his now vision challenged Old Man could not see, I might be lying out there in the driveway still.

With his help, though, we finally got the entire system free from its three mount points — the exhaust port, a mount on the front of the engine, and a bar that ran across the bottom rear of the frame.

It didn’t take much inspection to conclude that my initial notion of a trip to my favorite welders was really ill-advised.

Can you say….Big Hairy Exhaust Leak

 

Apart from the obvious damage to the exhaust exit– which was going to be somewhat challenging to repair because of the method Harley Davison engines use to secure the headpipe — one doesn’t have much room at all to increase the effective diameter of the headpipe with a weld because of the manner in which the retaining snapring/retaining flange have to slip over it.

The rest of the exhaust – which was a typical Buell design with three separate chambers and resonating tubes contained in the muffler — didn’t look that great either. There were at least two more places where welds were visibly deteriorating right before my eyes, and the likelihood that we were going to have to be making more such repairs six months hence was unacceptably high.

That, and the thing weighted a freaking ton.

For a very little motorcycle what appeared to be a 20 pound plus exhaust didn’t make a lot of sense to me.

In the Fix or Replace Department, this was coming down a firm Replace.

 

***

 

So I spent some time trying to figure out who made the best aftermarket system for The Blast. There really weren’t a lot of choices. And maybe even less choices than that if one remembers that Finn’s motorcycle spent a lot of time in an indoor parking garage with a lot of expensive automobiles with sensitive alarm systems.

Every time I’d ever ridden The Blast up to the top floor of the parking structure, I’d gassed the little bike hard on every ramp that led up to the next floor. With the stock exhaust in a confined space, the bike sounded pretty thumpy.

Thinking about what the bike would sound like in there with a stupid loud exhaust — I’m talking to you D&D Drag Pipe — all I could see was three dozen Lexus, Jaguars and Acuras with their alarms all bleating plaintively in unison.

Such a scenario would not end well.

Anyway.

The only manufacturers that still manufacture an aftermarket exhaust for this motorcycle are Vance & Hines and Jardine.

The Vance and Hines is a ‘closed course competition’ only pipe. Aluminum headpipe and muffler. When I called the Nice Folks at V&H, they told me their system was ‘pretty loud’. When I asked them about the availability of a baffle that might make the system quasi-socially-responsible, they referred me to a third party that they thought made one “that might work.”

Call me judgemental, but this wasn’t feeling like a solution.

Which brings us to the Jardine.

The Jardine system has a pretty similar aluminum muffler body. They do, however, sell a mated low decibel exhaust exit insert for it, and their headpipe is made of stainless steel.

In a two horse race, we had an obvious winner.

In looking to buy one, I was surprised to discover that Summit Racing — from whom I was accustomed to ordering parts for my now sadly-departed 95 Dodge pickup — also carried a rather astounding range of motorcycle hard parts — brake pads, rotors…exhausts.

Where the online price for the Jardine ranged between $409 and $489, Summit had it for $365. They didn’t stock it…. after I placed my order they would order one and have it drop-shipped from Jardine straight to me. They’d never have anything to do with the deal other than deposit their margin.

I ordered up the Jardine exhaust system from Summit Racing.

 

***

 

The exhaust and carburation on a stock Buell Blast are not optimized for performance.

The intake and exhaust are tuned and restrictive. The engine — if one could call that ‘tuned’ at all — is tuned for tractability and low levels of power and noise.

Ditching the stock exhaust would absolutely require completely overhauling the carb — new pilot and main jets, and maybe a few other things besides.

There are two unvarnished good things about Buell Blast ownership. The First Thing is the Buell Riders Online Blast Forum, which knows all — sees all. One member of the forum, Dan, even got off the couch and designed and manufactured components that addressed some of the bike’s design peculiarities.

The Second Thing is that the Blast shares its carburetor — a Keihin CV40 — with gazillions of Harley Davidson Sportsters, and a couple of sub-zillion HD Big Twins as well. What this means to you is that tuning parts, including hot rodding parts, are available both directly from HD and from a cadre of aftermarket companies as well.

There’s even a company — CV Performance, Inc — that only makes tuning parts for the HD CV40 carb.

Woo-hoo.

The Blast Online brothers have tables which provide the tested jet sizes for each aftermarket exhaust that has ever been made for the bike. CV Performance had those jets as stock items. They also had two little gems that also needed to be installed to civilize living with the bike.

The first was a hand adjustment wheel to replace the stock idle adjuster, which requires a screwdriver. Every Japanese motorcycle I’ve ever seen has one of these — HDs and their ilk, at least from the factory, apparently do not. The second was a similar hand wheel to replace that factory air mixture screw, which was factory sealed under an aluminum plug. The combo would make dialing the carb in post-install childs play. Use the top thumbwheel to dial in the correct idle speed. Then use the bottom thumbwheel to dial in the air mixture so that bike took throttle evenly off idle.

Bada bing, bada boom. Done.

I ordered up the entire batch of CV40 parts, then headed to my local hardware store to pick up some #4 washers.

Then there was nothing to do but wait for the postman.

 

***

 

Unlike Godot, the Postman actually showed up.

The exhaust system hit the shop first. The Jardine pipe looked the business — all the aluminum machining on the muffler, exhaust exit and low noise insert core looked like it was MotoGP-ready. The hardware they had used was also top-notch — aircraft grade nylock insert nuts, and an aviation grade clamp for the headpipe to silencer joint.

After work that day, Finn and I headed out to the driveway and spent a few minutes mounting the system. Other than working with the monster snap-ring that Harley uses to retain every headpipe they’ve ever made — which requires its own dedicated monster snap-ring pliers, naturally — the work proceeded smoothly and without incident.

Well, without incident if one is willing to discount having to mount the snapring twice after I realized that the retaining plate needed to be passed over the headpipe first before mounting the snapring. We got better the second time after the ‘practice run’.

Finn’s ability to visualize how things fit together definitely indicates he made the correct choice of careers. It also makes him the ideal mechanic’s assistant. He was once again able to identify a route to apply torque to a fastener under the bike that might have taken me somewhat longer. It also doesn’t hurt that he can see small print on components that seem to be decreasing in size, at least from my perspective.

Once the pipe was successfully mounted, Finn’s first impulse was to start the bike up.

“Naah, let’s wait on that, Finn. Based on the jet numbers we’ve had to order the stock jets should be waaay too small. Would run like crap if it runs at all. Patience, Grasshopper. The carb parts should be here tomorrow. This carb is dog-simple — the work will not take us very long.”

 

***

 

As expected, Friday’s mail had the package from CV performance.

Saturday a.m. we put the Blast up on the swingarm stand and set about liberating the carb.

We pulled the tank cover and fuel tank, removed the air filter, and were looking at the business end of the fuel system.

One of the required ‘adjustments’ was to raise the slide needle in its holder, in order to ensure that the off idle mixture didn’t lean out, causing stumbles or backfires. The carburetors to which I am accustomed have a snapring to retain them and multiple grooves in the needle to permit said adjustment.

Not so The Blast. Its needle has no provision for adjustment — it simply sits in the bottom of the slide where it is trapped in place by the slide return spring’s plastic retainer.

Which brings us back to the aforementioned #4 washers.

The #4 washers are just large enough to fit on the carb’s needle. They’re a known thickness. Determine how high you want to raise the needle, and do the math.

Given how the carb sits when installed in the motorcycle, the easiest place to do that procedure was right where it already was.

The diaphragm cover on the CV40 is held in place by four screws. One of those four screws also holds the throttle cable pulley. I pulled that corner first, and disconnected the throttle open and close cables from the carb.

After unscrewing the other three corners, the carb’s top, diaphragm and slide assemblies were in my hand.

All things considered — 14 years of limited use and benign neglect followed by one year of really intensive use — things looked surprisingly clean and generally pretty good. No serious gook or deposits, no visible wear. The diaphragm even checked out.

I pulled the carb’s needle out of the slide, slipped my washers underneath, and put the whole thing back together. I used some carb and choke cleaner to get the slide shining, seated the diaphragm in its groove on top of the carb body and buttoned the whole thing back up.

Next, we’d need to pull the carb out of the bike to do the jet service.

In The Blast, the carb is held in place by a single screw clamp on the cylinder head end, and three allen head bolts that connect it to an intake venturi fitting and the airbox. It’s about 10 minutes from intention to workbench.

Stupid Plug, Gooped Up Flange

 

What needed to be done was very straightforward.

Larger pilot jet and main jet needed to be installed. After bathing everything — carb body, float bowl — in carb cleaner and shining things up with clean shoprags, I replaced the entire main jet, needle jet holder/emulsion tube and needle jet stack with new parts.

A few artful turns of my favorite carb screwdriver, we had a new pilot jet, too.

We, collectively, are perilously close to a point in time where using the phrase ‘favorite carb screwdriver’ will not communicate any meaning whatsoever.

I noted how many threads of the idle speed screw were showing, then removed the screw. I installed my new idle speed thumbscrew adjuster and turned it by hand until the same number of threads were showing. That setting would be a good starting point.

The mixture screw install was a little more chewy.

The Nice Folks At The Factory had decided that the mixture screw was something which You Would Never Need and Should Not Be Allowed To Touch.

Funny, that.

Accordingly, they had thoughtfully press fit a nice aluminum plug in the mixture screw bore.

And that, brothers and sisters, is why God and Bosch made lithium ion powered rechargeable drills.

I draped the entire carburetor in clean shop towels, then fitted my smallest dentist-wannabe drill bit into the chuck.

After a deep breath to steady myself — wouldn’t want to mess this hole up — I slowly spun up the drill until I was sure my hole was in the center of the bore plug. 20 seconds of spin later, the bit punched through.

I threaded a self tapping sheet metal screw into my tiny hole, and then pulled the screw and plug out with a pliers. After clearing the drill swarf, I was able to remove the mixture screw and replace it with the EZ-Just Mixture Screw. I ran the EZ-Just down until it bottomed, then backed it out the 2 3/4 turns I’d been told was the approximate setting.

With everything in place, I replaced the float bowl on the CV40 using some Allen bolts also supplied by CV Performance — the original screws were Japan Industrial Standard (JIS) — which looks a lot like a Phillips head screw but really isn’t. In practical use, JIS screws get destroyed through the use of Phillips screwdrivers, since darn near no-one even knows what a JIS Screwdriver is, much less actually owns one.

I spent a little bit of time cleaning up the exterior of the carb body. It might be another 15 years before it got cleaned again, so I wanted to be thorough. I spent a little extra time giving the hairy eyeball and extra attention to the output side of the carb, where it fitted in to the rubber intake manifold.

These motorcycles are notorious for funky tuning resulting from intake leaks at that very spot. And to my eye it appeared that someone had tried to use some form of caulk or sealant to smooth over the cast-in groove in the carb’s exit flange. This little improvisation, it should be noted, would make the carb to rubber manifold joint far more likely to leak than if the groove was there for the rubber to conform to.

I cleaned it all out and returned the exterior of the carb body to stock finish and condition.

It was time to see what we had here.

 

***

 

3 Allen Bolts, 2 screwclamps and 3 10mm bolts later, the Blast was back together on the workstand.

I turned on the fuel petcock, and waited a suitable amount of time.

I may have actually twiddled.

I walked over to the other side of the bike, looking for errant fuel. I didn’t see, smell or slip and fall over in any.

I walked back to the left side of the bike and turned the key. The Blast went through its little electromechanical dance – whizzzz! – as it energized and started up the instrument displays.

I hit the starter — “whoooof… whoooof….whoooof…whoooof…”

There were a lot of places in that carburetor that didn’t yet have fuel where fuel was supposed to be.

“Whoooof… whoooof….whoooof…WHUMP! WHUMP…. wumpwumpwumpwumpwump….”

It was immediately apparent that the Blast had undergone a personality transplant. It wasn’t like it had taken a trip to full-on racetrack honk, but there was no longer any question you were listening to A Motorcycle.

Amazingly, the initial idle speed and mixture settings appeared to be pretty close. As the bike came down off the enriched high idle, idle speed was in the ballpark — I used the adjuster to goose it upward ever so slightly. Throttle response wasn’t bad either — I opened up the mixture screw until response started to soften, then went back a 1/4 turn.

Spot on and a rock solid thumping idle. Rolling the throttle open snapped rpms upward with a healthy bark from the new muffler.

I went inside to get a helmet and some gear.

 

***

 

Trolling out of the neighborhood it was clear that everything had changed.

Small changes in the throttle now produced noticeable and proportional results. One of the reasons I appreciate carbureted vehicles is that they exhibit analog response — the systems perform and provide feedback that is sensitive to the operational gestures of the driver or rider. Whacking the grip to immediately deliver LTO feels very different from smoothly rolling the throttle progressively to the stops. A throttle opening I select on a corner entry is exactly the throttle opening I get — not a slightly different one selected by some ride by wire software.

The Blast was now all kinds of responsive at low engine speeds and small throttle openings — something it absolutely was not before.

I mean, you could solidly short shift the bike and there’d be power in the next gear.

When I got to The Pike, I gassed it. After a short shift to second, I rolled the throttle open and wound second, and then third gear all the way out.

The sound of the engine was simply marvelous — a basso profundo machine gun, with a genuine snarl on the overrun when the throttle was snapped closed between shifts.

There was no popping or burbling on deceleration… running the engine up to high RPMs demonstrated a genuine power step and well more power and acceleration than had been there before. It seemed the rejetting work had been spot on — I’ll admit being surprised at the amount of new lunge coming out of a single two valve, aircooled, pushrod Sportster refugee cylinder.

I was down to the bottom of hill at the Brookside Inn bang-bang corners far sooner than I remember Blasting there previously.

I wound the gas on and charged the short straight and the steep right that lead back up the hill. The Brookside Parking Lot’s Ultra Glide clan’s gazes were definitely drawn by the sporting report from their Big Twins’ little brother.

Two thirds of the way up the long and steep grade I deliberately gave the gear up early, and let the bike pull fourth gear from well below the engine’s torque peak. With the thump of each power pulse coming back off the rock cut, I got another demonstration of the appeal of American power — big cylinders, comparatively low RPM, and unrestrictive exhausts making power and that booming wonderful sound.

I needed to get this bike back in Finn’s hands.

 

***

 

After I got back to the shop and got my gear off, Finn was geared up and ready.

With two “Brraps” he was around the corner and gone. As he left the neighborhood I could hear The Blast’s engine revving out as it headed up the highway.

I suspected I might not see Finn for a while.

 

***

 

And as I suspected, I didn’t. An hour, an hour and a half, maybe a little more — which is as much as you have gas for with the small Buell tank — before I heard the thumping coming back up the street, up the driveway and back into the shop.

Finn revved the engine twice before shutting it down.

Previously, Finn never revved the engine.

Now, it seems, you just got to. You can’t help yourself.

 

***

 

I’ve had the bike out several times since then, and each time is a revelation. I take it whenever I have a short trip to make that keeps me off the highways. On the backroads one just wants to revel in the sound — running the revs up and then engine braking to slow down — going “VOOObaaaaa… VOOObaaaaaa” and feeling the thrum of the motor through the footpegs and bars.

The bike is silly light and agile, and I’ve finally internalized its “You-Don’ts-Gots-To-Speed-Up-Coming-Out-Of-Corners-If-In-The-First-Place-You-Never-Slow-Down” Ethos. It seems The Blast’s throttle is perpetually opening – using it to set entries — torquing up on the way out.

The look of the Jardine system really cleaned up the appearance of the bike — the stainless steel headpipe also turned a nice bronze tone after it had been run and revved for a few miles.  Finn and I both noticed that the weight reduction made the bike easier to turn in on corner entry.  15 pound weight loss on a 390 pound motorcycle is definitely noticeable.

Nice Tone, Nice Headpipe Color

I never want to get too cocky, but it feels like we’ve got this little motorcycle sorted out. It behaves like a real motorcycle and really is fun to ride in its chosen element.

I’ve got a better feeling about this bike getting him through another school year without requiring the laying on of hands (and wrenches).

There will aways be little projects, like fabbing up soft saddlebag guards out of 1/2″ electrical conduit after noticing that small hole abraded though the plastic drive belt pulley shroud. It amazing what you can do with the bike’s designed-in underseat bungee anchors, some threaded rod, some nuts and bolts, and a really large sledgehammer.

Half Inch Conduit Isn’t Just for Wires Anymore – Saddlebag Guards for $4.73

 

Then there’s the small matter of the AutoChoke. I am like Ahab in that I will carry the fight against the White Snowmobile Part until the end of my days. I’d had the Hoca Manual Choke Kit and Sportster Enrichener Valve installed, but the cable I’d procured didn’t have long enough a throw to close the enrichener 100% of the way.

8mm choke…meet 7mm choke…I’d have to buy a Sportster enrichener valve for this to work….

 

I’d sourced and modified a nice handlebar mounted control — the whole thing looked factory, but the enrichener slide was only closing about 90% and I ended up having to reinstall the AutoChoke. I’ve subsequently obtained a cable that looks like it will work but with summer nearly over I may just be out of time.

 

The Clamp (Modified)

 

Looks Factory

 

This isn’t over yet, Moby Dick.

We’ll get a ride or two together in the coming weeks, but then Finn and his motorcycle will head back to University.

With both Finn and The Blast gone, it really will be quiet around here in Jefferson.

 

 

Perfect Circles, Perfect Spheres

They say something is happening, but you don’t know what it is….

Do you, Mr. Jones?

I’d been having an extended motorcycling Mr. Jones moment.

My K1200LT had been displaying this odd symptom, which only manifested itself when the bike was being operated in stop and go traffic — at or below a walking pace.

Now normally, I make extraordinary efforts not to ever operate this motorcycle at anything short of Warp 3, but reality sometime has a way of intruding.

On a recent trip, I’d gotten stuck in an unspeakable Interstate Highway backup, which had me riding the clutch and walking the bike along for the better part of three hours. I’d noted the odd behavior previously, but it hadn’t really been intrusive and was not detectable at speed.

What the bike had been doing was sending this odd sensation through the bars at under a mile an hour — it felt, for all the world like somebody plucking the high G string on a bass guitar — a little ‘Boing’ would be sent through the bars.

I’ll freely admit being a little obsessive over the operating condition of my machinery. If you think about well more than 1000 lbs of bike and rider in an 80 mile an hour corner being managed by that wheel, you’d be obsessive too.

I mentally went through the list of things I thought it could be. The folks at Fredericktown Yamaha — that have made a cottage industry of mounting and balancing the many tires I consume — had previously called my attention to what they thought was a slight wave in the rim likely created by a DC pothole.

“Keep an eye on that”, they told me, “If you start getting abnormal wear in that spot you’ll need to repair or replace the wheel.”

Only somebody that worked in a Yamaha shop would ever suggest that one should replace an OEM BMW forged wheel.

I have purchased running motorcycles for less than the MSRP of that wheel.

Anyway.

That rim was a possible cause. The bike’s original front wheel bearings — at 92,000 miles — was also remotely possible. And there were a few possible maladies of the front brake system — transfer of pad material to a rotor, or a rotor gone subtly potato chip shaped – that might also cause this weird pulsation. The bike was rock solid under heavy braking, though, so that seemed remote.

I obsessed about it. I had the bike at least half a dozen times up on my trolley jack — front wheel hanging up in the air, spinning it by hand — looking for run out in the rims and rotors — feeeeeeling the bearings, feeling the brake drag.

I had lots of ideas.

I had no pattern I could discern.

 

***

 

So I took the bike off the road.

I ordered a new front tire, as mine was well worn. I ordered a front bearing and seal set. And set about to find a reputable wheelsmith.

 

***

 

Fortunately, the District of Columbia contains a volatile mix of really unspeakable paved driving surfaces combined with folks that have a compulsive need to spend incomprehensible amounts of money to make people look at… their cars. When a new wheel for your Lamborghini costs more than my K1200LT, people will figure out ways to fix them.

TAS Wheel and Machine appeared to be those guys. Their online reputation — Google ratings, Yelp reviews — was 5 stars all the way. They specialized in automotive exotica, but went well out of their way to make sure folks knew that they were comfortable and qualified to work on motorcycle wheels as well. They had positive feedback from both racers and Harley riders, both of whom have been known to be particular.

So I called them, and asked if they’d be willing to work on mine. They were.

I asked a few questions about their process, and what kind of levels of accuracy they were shooting for and were usually able to achieve. The numbers they provided were right in line with or slightly better than the BMW spec. They were also able to check the run-out on my disk rotors as well.

So I resolved to pull the wheel, and to set everything up front straight.

 

***

 

So of course, Finn’s Buell Blast decided, as it had several times before, that Today Was A Good Day to Die.

It seems, that in their choice of materials, the Buell Men had not blessed The Blast with the highest specifications. The steel used in its exhaust header, for example, could not deal with the thermal stress of being operated in heavy rain — which, of course Finn had done with startling regularity. Blasts abused in this unfeeling and unkind manner all protested by turning their headpipes into loosely amalgamated but unconnected steel fragments — with predictable effects on their drivability and throttle response.

I find it difficult to explain, but in motorcycles, as in human medicine, there are protocols for triage and care.

And a motorcycle that will not run is entitled to care before a motorcycle that will run, however badly. A corollary of that principle is that one should never electively start to disassemble another motorcycle for service when one is already apart. It’s probably more of an irrational superstition, but having parts of multiple disassembled motorcycles sharing the same workbench gives me the willies. This irrational fear is probably protecting me from continuing to buy more old motorcycles, so I’ve become rather fond of it.

So while Finn’s Single sat in the shop with the stock exhaust stripped off, a rag stuffed in its exhaust port, and an aftermarket exhaust system and a pile of carburetor parts headed inbound somewhere in the UPS system, my LT just sat in the Doctor’s waiting room, reading a complimentary bad magazine, and waited to be the next patient under care.

 

***

 

When, after the passage of some time, The Blast brapped down the driveway, having found a few brand new operating characteristics, it was time to return to my problem at hand.

I got the bike up on the jack, pulled the front wheel, threw it my truck and headed for Laurel.

 

***

 

While halfway across the parking lot at TAS, I was greeted by Brett, one of the two brothers that run the shop, who offered to take the wheel from me with a work-gloved hand. While I normally neither expect nor receive this kind of white-glove service, I didn’t feel right rejecting the kind offer of assistance, especially given I had the new tire in my other hand.

Once inside the shop — which was well lit, open, organized and neat enough to serve as a TV cooking show’s working kitchen — Brett introduced me to his brother Brody, who immediately set about grabbing a wheel balancing stand to triage my Bavarian patient. While he was jigging the wheel into the stand, I spent a little time gawking. In the business end of the shop, on a truing stand was the largest Performance Machine chromed Torque front motorcycle wheel I have ever seen — it was at least a 23 inch rim and maybe bigger. These day’s ‘Big Wheel’ Customs are all the rage around DC, although there are apparently no rough surface benefits to running such a large tire size, despite what your dirt bike buds and physics class may have told you.

With a few turns and a dial gauge Brody confirmed the existence of the slight wave that had offended the guys at Fredericktown. But as he looked at the tire itself, he frowned.

“Look at this”, he said. “That bulge and divot? You definitely had a belt shift or fail in this tire’s carcass. Scary.”

Once again, I proved to be not half as smart as I thinked I was.

During all the consternation and obsession over hard parts, I’d completely overlooked a much simpler explanation.

The tire.

D’oh!

Anyway, after making some biker small talk — showing off two wheeled baby pictures and such — I filled out a work order which authorized the guys to straighten the wheel, and to repaint it if they thought it necessary. As they worked with a lot of BMW automobile wheels, which are nearly identical in construction and even the spoke pattern, they already knew the drill and had the proper Wurth wheel paint to perform the service.

All in all, Brett and Brody struck me as the most pleasant, professional and competent guys I’ve had the pleasure to do business with in quite some time.

It was time to get back in the pickup and head home to wait for their call.

 

***

 

Back in the shop, I had my Motion Pro bearing removal tool, my heat gun, and my hammer at the ready, while the bearing sets rested comfortably in my freezer. I considered labelling them with a Post-It Note reading “Do Not Eat”, but concluded it probably wasn’t necessary.

I did take one of my small brass calipers to check the brake pads while everything was apart. My SBS organic pads — which come out of the package with 5mm of friction material, still had a solid 3mms remaining, so they would last through another front tire and could be reused.

The TAS Men checked in about 4 days later to ask when I could swing by to pick up the wheel. I was busy at work, but Sweet Doris From Baltimore was bored that day, so was happy to take a trip in her truck to Laurel.

After work that day, I went back into the shop, and pulled the wheel’s grease seal, and used my snap ring pliers to remove the substantial snap ring that held the wider of the two bearings in place. I took a few pictures of the hub so I had clear photos of how deep the bearings sat in the hub.

Then I took collet and driver in hand, and, after having blown some heat into the wheel hub, removed both bearing sets and the spacer which sits between them. It was a little fiddly to get the collet solidly installed in the bearing’s inner races solidly enough to drive them out, but after a few tries the bearings hit the top of the steel workbench with a satisfying thud.

After cleaning up the hub’s interior, I heated the hub again and grabbed my hammer, a 1 1/4″ socket, and the larger of the two bearings out of the freezer.

If you’re wondering why I was keeping BMW wheel bearing sets in with the frozen dairy treats, it’s because the wheel bearings are an interference fit, and combining a hot (expanded) hub bore with a cold (contracted) bearing makes the process of fitting the bearing far less difficult.

I dropped the bearing into the bore, applied a little hammer, and watched as the bearing moved down towards it’s seat. I understood that when the bearing seated one would be able to hear the high pitched ringing changed to a deeper thunk when the bearing seated. Being not entirely sure my ding had thudded, I gave it one more strike just to make sure.

In retrospect, that last hit was ill advised.

As I pulled the driver our of the bore, the bearing’s seal popped loose, trailing lube.

That bearing was toast.

Some folks enjoy salty language. If you are one of these people, for whom expletives serve a stress reducing purpose, feel free to supply your favorites and I’ll enjoy their benefits by proxy.

Me, though, I just felt very small, and resigned myself to a fast recovery from my own lack of skills, and a few more days without use of my motorcycle.

 

***

 

Upon close inspection, the problem was pretty obvious. My socket — a normal 1/2 drive — was a thinwall, that was just a tad too small to make solid contact with the bearing’s outer race. An impact socket, with thicker walls, would have been perfect.

My choice was to admit defeat, and seek professional help to complete the job, or take a gut check, and prove that I was smarter than aluminum.

After a few permissible moments of depression, I began to think that maybe, just maybe, I was smarter than aluminum.

I went back to Amazon, found a single replacement bearing, and another addition to my suddenly growing collection of Motion Pro motorcycle tools — this one a motorcycle bearing driver kit.

Finn has a thing for stickers — he’s hoping to completely cover the outer surface of his electric bass case — and between All Balls and Motion Pro, this job was really working out for him.

 

***

 

The next day, the bearing driver showed up in the mailbox. My confidence rebounded — the tool was clearly well made, and allowed me to match outer face drivers to correctly sized and interchangeable inner race alignment collets. With this tool, there was no drama about the ability to correctly install these bearings.

The bearing though, was proving to be a tad trickier. The major Los Angeles-based bearing house had, despite having said the bearings were in stock, cancelled my order upon discovering they weren’t.

Having struck out getting the bearing, I swallowed more pride and called All Balls Racing, whose web site said they were not shipping orders this week because they were moving the business.

Surprisingly, a Customer Service Agent picked up their extension on the second ring. I gave here my order number and described what had occurred.

“This is NOT a warranty request. The product was fine. I am an idiot and I broke it. It is MY fault. I just want to purchase the single bearing from the kit rather than the entire kit.”

The CSR at All Balls basically thanked me for being an honest idiot, and then goodwilled me a warranty replacement over my protestations.

The bearing was in my mailbox at lunchtime the next day.

 

***

 

My second attempt — armed with the proper tools and the knowledge born of the wrong kind of experience — went far more smoothly.

Ten minutes of heat gun and hammer later, the wheel had new bearings and seals correctly installed.

 

***

 

A few hot sweaty minutes later, the wheel was back on the bike, and the brake calipers and fender reinstalled.

I rolled the bike down the driveway and rode at walking pace to both ends of the block and then headed back into the driveway. The LT was rolling smooth, with no sign of the former low speed symptoms.

I went inside to grab a jacket and helmet, and see if Finn wanted to go for a ride.

 

***

 

Trying to keep a K1200LT and a Buell Blast together on the road takes a little effort. Thinking of the LT as if it had a three speed transmission helps make that a little easier.

As we headed down MD 383 out towards Burkettsville, my motorcycle had been transformed. Any any speed between zero and sixty miles per hour, the front end of the LT was glass smooth — the vibration was utterly gone, the front end suspension seemed more settled and was clearly tracking the pavement more accurately, and as I transitioned the bike from side to side, the transition from one side of the tire to the other was dead rigid, rock solid.

A few brief blasts up to higher speeds felt dead planted and utterly stable. A few hard braking tests were rock solid with no pulsation whatsoever.

Perfectly round rims and round tires combined with perfectly spherical bearings made this bike ride like a two wheeled version of a big Mercedes Benz — feeling like it was carved from a single piece of alloy, compliant, comfortable, and like it would willingly do anything the rider asked of it, for as long as that rider might want to ask it.

For the next hour or so, Finn and I criss-crossed The Valley, trying to keep away from the pop-up thunderstorms that were coming in from the west, and enjoying our newly repaired steeds. The new authority of the Blast’s exhaust note — courtesy of the recently installed Jardine exhaust — allowed me to keep track of Finn’s position on the road behind me by ear — was something I found strangely comforting.

Keeping my eye on him in the rearview continued to demonstrate his comfort and competence in the corners — he never put a wheel out of place.

We finally came back to the shop, having never encountered any of the rain out on the road.

“Good ride, Snorky?”

Great ride, Pop.”

Perfect.

 

Yin Yang – Part Two

(Part One of this story can be found here)

 

Funny thing was, as I sat bleeding off road buzz in contemplation of a Ballast Point Unfiltered Sculpin, I realized I had managed to completely and successfully ignore just how hamburgered my throttle hand was after yesterday’s little encounter with an incensed gravity.

As I stretched my stiffening hand and fingers, I realized this was going to take more than a few days to be 100% again.

I’m not sure it’s really right yet.

After a nice ribeye and a dessert grade Imperial Chocolate Stout, I went back to my hotel and slept the sleep of the righteous.

 

***

 

The week at work was one of total focus and absorption. A team of people normally spread from Massachusetts through Maryland to the Carolinas had gathered in one place to complete the launch of a Services product, and that meant taking a range of collateral — from Service Descriptions through Statements of Work to cost models — and crawling through them basically line-by-line, word-by-word, and number-by-number to make sure everything was consistent and reflected everything we knew and had learned.

It was right up there — from a thrills perspective — with watching paint dry, but it was necessary work that would serve to keep us all gainfully employed selling and delivering our most demanded service for the next couple of years. It was hard, draining, but we’d all feel good about when it was complete.

In the evenings, I spent time studying maps, looking for a possible place to stay out in Asheville, and looking at the data coming in from weather.com. Given the location of the Top Secret MotoGiro lunch stop, I could stay in Asheville Friday night, and count on a nice hour ride out Saturday morning to meet the Tiddler Pilots. A few hours of photos, interviews and general bench racing would free me up mid afternoon to head back up the Blue Ridge towards home, a night in my own bed, and a Sunday free of the scourge of the Doghoused Mothersdayless MotoGiro jockeys. It sounded perfect.

Only it wasn’t.

By Wednesday night, it was clear that Mother Nature wasn’t cooperating, and frankly, She Looked Pissed.

Most of my life seems to have morphed into one big exercise in trend identification and analysis.

Thursday night’s Mother Nature trend line was not in the desired direction. The weekend was heading towards one of those “has anybody seen Noah?” events with Friday afternoon, overnight and into most of Saturday looking particularly dire. Deep in the forecast’s fine print was the remote possibility of rain rates that would make it possible to go surfing in the Mountains of Southern Virginia.

If I stuck with the plan, I was looking at spectating and trying to do interviews in what looked like it was going to be steady, steady rain, and then riding 400 miles home in more rain afterwards. Now I’d like to think I have as much character and perseverance as the next rider, but that doesn’t mean I seek out pain on purpose.

Picking one’s battles is one reason I’m still here, eh?

Much as I didn’t like it, the smart money was on bagging the Giro, and heading for the only possible break in the weather over the next three days.

Maybe next year, oh moto nostra.

Given the prevailing weather patterns on the Blue Ridge, we were looking at a pretty standard pattern — low pressure line coming from southwest to northeast — basically following the ridge line of the mountains from North Carolina all the way up into Pennsylvania.

If I could get out early Friday morning, I’d be out in front of the weather for 4-5 hours, and when it finally caught me I’d be most of the way home. Anything other than this gap, and I was going to get clobbered.

With a little luck, I could perhaps hit the Blue Ridge Parkway for a few miles before things turned completely dire. I’d been up there in weirder weather — one freak April snow squall up on Mount Mitchell comes readily to mind.

With work wrapped up, I got my gear repacked, and turned in early.

I wanted to get a good start on the day.

 

***

 

Standing in the parking lot the next morning, I put the contents of my seat bag inside a trash can liner, and then tightened the packing straps that keep the duffel firmly in place up against the backrest on the passenger seat.

It was a little grey out, but very temperate — low 70s. Warm enough to run my ‘Stich with no layers underneath. I pulled on my Shoei and elkskins, fired the engine and waited 10 seconds or so until it assumed a steady four cylinder drone of an idle. I kicked the bike forward off the main stand and trolled out of the parking lot and back towards the highway back through and then out of Charlotte.

 

***

 

Back out on the Charlotte Beltway, things were congested, but moving. I picked up I-77 and headed north into town.

Just as I cleared downtown Charlotte, and when, in a morning rush, I’d expect traffic to lighten up — I mean, everybody should be heading into the city, right? — traffic, well, didn’t. Lighten up.

It got increasingly congested, it slowed, and then it stopped.

And stayed stopped.

Now a K1200LT is a marvelous motorcycle. Comfortable and assured at 80 miles an hour for days at a time.

But the truth must always rule, and the truth is that a K1200LT is just a little less marvelous in crawling, stop and go traffic. 850+ pounds of agility it is not, when working the clutch and starting and stopping over and over again.

It’s really not the way you want to start a long day in the saddle — managing that mass, working the bars, the clutch — you can work yourself tired and sore pretty quickly if the situation doesn’t quickly let up.

Which of course it didn’t.

It was kinda muggy. It was sprinkling lightly off and on. The LT’s cooling fans were cycling on and off while stopped, which wasn’t helping me any. I was starting to get a little overheated.

I kept thinking I’d come round a bend, or over a hilltop, and I’d see the accident that had many thousands of us trapped out here on this roadway.

And then I’d come round that bend to just some more of this.

Hope was created and then dashed, again and again. 5 miles, 10 miles, the interchange with the top side of the Charlotte Beltway I-485, which brought more sufferers into the fold. 15 miles, 18 … I was already considering making some form of shoulder run for it — more than a few SUV driver desperate fellow members of the traffic stream had already cracked and gone for it. It was just getting to the point of utter desperation and insanity when the State of Norf Carolina thought it would be nice to let us motorists know what the bleep was going on.

“Road construction. Single lane open. Mile marker 38. Prepare to merge.”

Mental math – Mile marker 38? That was nearly 4 more miles of this crap.

So here we were, essentially paralyzing traffic in a major American City, where somebody thought it was a good idea to reduce a major interstate to a single lane during the peak Friday daytime travel hours for some bit of optional highway maintenance.

I probably was no longer capable, after 20+ miles of walking speed LT wrestling, of completely dispassionate thought.

The bit of maintenance, it turned out, was the installation of one of those cool, cantilevered overhead interstate highway signs. If they’d been really feeling truthful, that big green sign could have said, “Warning. Doofuses Creating Backup all the way into Downtown Charlotte.”

The work crew, such as it was, was one guy working a crane with the sign rigged up to it, and about 2 dozen more guys walking around, looking at the ground and kicking rocks with their workboots.

I’m afraid I was less than charitable in my appraisal of their work.

I’m not afraid to share than most of my fellow motorists were way less charitable and way more vocal than me.

 

***

 

When I finally got around the North Carolina DOT Work Crew, the relief I experienced upon actually getting into third gear and some moving air was almost orgasmic.

The temperature gauge on the LT dropped back though nominal to cool, and I managed to stretch a lot of the tension and stress back out of my shoulders. I took a brief stop for some hydration and to pull on a light technical fleece underlayer as the temps continued to drop. There was still a fair amount of congestion that kept me in fourth gear and below full cruise through Statesville, Williamsburg and on into Hamptonville, where conditions finally permitted LT-nominal cruise and I began to fall into my customary road rhythm.

I looked down at the LT’s dashboard clock.

We were already afternoon. I’d consumed three plus hours with only 80 or so miles to show for it.

That jump on the weather that I’d been counting on had been completely squandered. I’d lost my lead on the incoming front and things were about to take a turn for the more interesting.

 

***

 

As one runs I-77 out of Charlotte, the road enters wide open rural country where — as the road comes back up the Blue Ridge — speed can rise and one climbs grade after grade towards the ridgeline.

As we climbed in altitude, it got a little greyer, a little cooler, and a little moister. It still wasn’t raining but things were starting to feel classically English outside. Looking up to the peaks, I could see some scenic mist wrapping around the mountain tops. The inner workings of the Old Hippy Brain began serving up the melody of Led Zeppelin’s ‘Misty Mountain Hop’.

As I started working my way up the last few thousand feet towards the ridgeline, the truck climbing lanes and the associated overhead lane control signage began to appear.

“Areas of Fog Ahead. Speed Limits Reduced for Safety.”

I’ll admit that years of motorcycling have made my critical thinking and analytical processes somewhat closed to outside suggestions — self-sufficiency is, at least in my way of thinking, an essential rider’s trait.

“OK,” I thought, “If I have visibility problems, I’d slow down anyway. How bad could it possibly be?”

This would prove to be another one of those karmic queries that never should have been allowed to take shape in my synapses.

The crisp sunny blast down the mountainside that had marked my ride down to Charlotte began to retreat further and further in memory the further up the mountain I went.

Three miles past the warning the first actual fog began to appear.

“OK,” I thought, ” Maybe there might be some reason for these warnings.”

Five miles further up the road the fog began to really increase. We had left 80 mile an hour visibility country and traded it for 50 mile an hour visibility.

The last 1000 feet of the climb went completely critical.

As I approached the exit for Fancy Gap, Virginia, and the exit for the Blue Ridge Parkway, visibility dropped to essentially nothing.

My personal melting pot of All-American Heredity does feature a fair bit of Irish, so I come by a pretty reasonable helping of stubborn honestly.

“Goddammit,” I thought, “First I have to skip my original reason to ride down here. I’ll be snorked if I’m going to miss a chance to do some BRP miles, too.”

Fancy Gap, if my mental map is working, is the second highest point on the BRP after Mount Mitchell. Though it might be foggy up here, three or four hundred feet of elevation drop should be enough to take us back down out of Cloud Central and back to Misty Mountain Hop.

It was a good theory, but reality had another idea.

I dropped down a few gears and took the ramp for Fancy Gap.

When I got to the end of the ramp, it was another opportunity for reassessment.

Looking around me, it was as close to absolutely zero visibility as I’ve ever not seen. Virginia 775 is a tertiary road, which the state had widened to include a median at the interstate interchange. Sitting about 15 feet from my position at the stop sign was a brand new white Chevrolet sedan. It was sitting in the middle of the state highway, stopped. Its occupants appeared to be nearly frantic — either from the utter lack of visibility or because of complete inability to make out the signage at the interchange.

This wasn’t what I’d in any way expected. I knew from my pre-ride map review that the Parkway entrance was about three and a half miles from the Interchange. I couldn’t imagine riding a mile in this stuff much less three. It was the classic ‘can’t see your hand in front of your face’ thaang.

I’d had an experience with these kind of conditions once before in my riding life, up on the Palisades Parkway outside of New York City, late at night on a visit to my mom’s place. The disorientation and fear of feeling one’s way along — knowing you were likely invisible to anyone else unlucky enough to be driving out here — was as scared as I’ve ever been on a motorcycle.

I wasn’t looking for a replay of that.

Keeping a watchful eye on the paralyzed Chevrolet, I crept across the median, got back on the onramp, and re-entered I-77, and worked my way back down the other side of the mountain.

 

***

 

I guess it pays to be flexible.

Conditions — especially on a long ride — are seldom what you want them to be. They just are what they are. Knowing when to listen to the messages from the universe and adapt accordingly keeps up my unbroken record of successful returns, under my own power, to the garage in Jefferson.

Still, heading down the mountain and out of the fog didn’t feel like a victory. Between the horrific traffic back up of this morning and this Blue Ridge abort forced by the weather the overall emotional trend was not in the ordinal direction of ascend and enlighten.

“Well, let’s gas it, and see what we can see.”

 

***

 

A short run down the mountain brings you back to I-81, and its turn to the northeast, running just west of and following the Blue Ridge. As the temperatures continued their drop from the 70s, where we’d started the day, into the high 50s, I kept the big brick on the boil and decompressed into making miles.

I came back out of the time stream to see more than 200 miles on this tank of fuel, so I landed in Christianburg for a Bad For Me Burger and a Good For Beemer Tank of High Test.

I changed into a pair of weatherproof gloves after fueling, and as I left the station the sprinkles finally turned to a light but steady rain.

I hoped I gotten my ‘Stich fastened properly, and that we had everything buttoned down. I was pretty sure that dry was not something I was going to see for quite a while.

 

 

***

 

After running a few more miles up 81, I began to see the strangest signage.

“Motorcycle Detour Ahead”

“All Motorcycles Must Exit – 10 miles”

“Motorcycle Detour — All Motorcycles Must Leave Interstate”

Now I’ve been doing this driving and riding motorcycles thing for quite some time, and I can ever recall seeing a conditional detour like this, where some users of the road – ME! – were getting selectively discriminated against.

I couldn’t really imagine a set of highway construction conditions that I, personally, couldn’t adapt to.

After my little run in with the Ontario Department of Highways where they’d elected to completely remove about 65 miles of the TransCanada Highway I needed to ride on — leaving me with packed soil and mud for use with my 1000 pounds of highway missile and gear — I was having a hard time imagining that VDOT could come remotely close to even equaling that, much less beating it.

I was confident of my skills and machine control, and whatever it was — abraded, graded, not-yet-paved surfaces, uneven lane levels, parallel seams — I was sure I could ride on it, and safely.

But the Detour signs kept getting closer and closer together, the verbiage more and more insistent, and at a certain point the “Honest, Officer, I am a duly trained and licensed professional” speech was likely to end just as badly as one of Hunter S. Thompson’s offramp soliloquys. This really wasn’t a conversation with the constable that I felt like having right about now. The Ride Luck Count was 0-2, and didn’t like my odds of breaking the streak.

 

***

 

So when the last “You There, Motorcycle! Exit Here!” sign came up, I meekly complied.

The Motorcycle Detour immediately took me onto some very rural secondary roads — filled with working farms, fields and barns that felt very much like the ones I’d left at home. Despite the light rain and the mist, I was warm, dry and comfortable, and there was no denying that the greenness and the mist I was riding through was beautiful.

Not every peak ride experience requires a perfect sunny day.

It was almost as if the designers of the Motorcycle Detour had intended to actually do their motorcyclists a kind of favor, to provide a peak rider’s experience.

And on a better weather day, they would have totally succeeded.

As I kept gaining altitude running Virginia Route 43, the fog began to creep back in. I saw a roadside sign indicating “Blue Ridge Parkway Ahead”.

Was it possible that the same universe that had been consistently taking had decided to lighten up and give one back?

 

***

 

The Universe was definitely giving one, but it sure wasn’t giving one back.

As I got close to the ridgeline, 43 tightens up … a lot. As one approaches the summit the road goes completely drunk-snake — there is switchback after switchback, and crazy banked decreasing radius stuff with big steep grade changes coming out of them. On a sunny day with Finn’s Buell Blast — with its Pirelli Diablos in scooter sizes — you could drag your earlobes out here and be laughing like a maniac all day long.

But today it looked slippery, and treacherous, and like one mistake away from chucking this beast of a roadbike down.

Don’t misunderstand me. My Avon Storms are the best wet weather tires I’ve ever seen. But on this chilly, wet misty day, up alone on that steep twisty mountain, the voice that does self preservation was yelling at the top of its lungs. I don’t scare easily but the feeling that one might have made a bad choice does a lot to induce a strong sense of restraint.

Upon cresting the summit, and entering The Parkway, the roadbed at least, takes on the more widely radiused curves that are this ride’s signature.

With some visibility and sightlines, and the ability to read a few corners ahead, the BRP can be run in the wet with a fair degree of assurance.

Only we didn’t have some visibility.

The Parkway runs just below the ridgeline on the eastern or shaded side of the Ridge. And while visibility was not as bad as it had been in Fancy Gap, it was certainly nothing to write home about.

Sections that I’d normally ride — averaging a few miles per hour above the Parkway’s recommended speed — felt downright uncomfortable at 20 to 25 miles an hour — there was limited ability to see to set up for curves ahead, and in the worst spots even the centerline was tough on which to stay oriented.

Fog is evil stuff — it takes away my entire sense of cyclist’s orientation in the environment, and leaves me wobbly and robbed of a sense of strategy in the ride.

Hazardous though it was, it was starkly beautiful. With no guardrails off the Northbound Parkway’s outer side, only the occasional mature pine treetop at the rider’ eye level punching out of the fog gave any hint to the steepness of the land as it dropped away from the road.

Were one to miss the inside of a corner, on a day like this, it would be a likely long time before anyone would find you or come to your aid.

 

***

 

So I took it as easy as I could, tried to relax, and tried to be sustained by the stark beauty of these surroundings. I knew as long as I remained upright, and kept a steady pace down the road, I’d eventually be presented with either improved conditions or options to get down off this mountain.

But 20 mph second gear touring is really not relaxing on a motorcycle this big. It really isn’t a natural thing for a K12 to do.

I really don’t know for how many miles or for how much time I rode this way. It might have been 10 and at may have been 50 — I just lost, with my spatial orientation, all sense of time.

But finally the Parkway descended some, and the roadway dipped beneath the altitude of the worst weather.

I could see two or three curves ahead, and was finally able to shift up a gear and sometime two, and to ride this road like a motorcycle again. The Storms felt planted, without a wiggle or slip under throttle or any sense of anxiety with the bike leaned up on the tire’s edge.

I started to rack up easy, gentle miles again, drinking in the greenness of the steady rain and the ribbon of macadam that split it.

It felt good to be able to breathe again, to relax and just ride, just ride.

 

***

 

A few miles up the road, I exited a corner to see two riders on matching black Road Glides beating together in my direction. They looked like men who were owning their bad, rolling leathery big slow shiny and heavy with little attention wasted on me. With shorty windshields, sunglasses and half helmets they weren’t really equipped for the weather ahead. I tried to flag them in the brief seconds I had, thinking they’d want to know about the foul conditions but they didn’t so much as turn a head to acknowledge me as they rumbled by.

I thought a lot about those guys in the next little while.

 

***

 

After rolling a solid 50 or so good twisting misting miles on the Blue Ridge Parkway in the rain, I decided to head back down the hill to the Interstate, and to set up for the blast that would take me home.

As I rode back down the ridge back to 81, the rain started to pick up in intensity. On the more modern roadway, the bike was just eating this all up, planted and stable and enhancing my confidence. It’s amazing the effect the attitude of a rider can have on his or her progress down the road.

Being out in front of events always feels better than being a half beat behind, timid and chasing one’s tail.

 

***

 

As I made miles up 81, conditions went from poor, to genuinely bad, to something way worse than that. It’s on days like this that one can really appreciate two things.

First, it’s extraordinary just how good a foul-weather motorcycle a K1200LT really is. Apart from the performance, protection and tunability of the bike’s aerodynamics, the combination of weight low in the frame, zero torque reaction and torque steer, the tractable power delivery of the engine, and a set of state of the art all weather radial tires creates a motorcycle that never sets a wheel out of place, even at elevated speeds, even with wacky rainfall rates and standing water conditions that will have four wheelers and even their 18 wheeler cousins pulling off and looking for cover.

The second thing is just how good a piece of engineered riding gear today’s one piece Aerostich Roadcrafter riding suit really is.

I’ve owned three Roadcrafters since 1985.

The first one was a gift from Sweet Doris from Baltimore, when we were still dating.

She’d decided she really dug me, in a permanent and indelible way, and if I was going to motorcycle — and she wasn’t the kind of woman who would try to talk/pressure me out of it — she figgured I’d better have the best safety gear that love and money could buy.

I never succeeded in wearing any of my Roadcrafters out. I tried. I really did. The first one was worn back in the day when having a job meant riding to it every day, and that suit was on my back no less than 220 commuting days a year, over an 11 year period, in heat, cold, rain and even limited amounts of snow. They also went sportriding on weekends, and travelling on vacations, but who’s counting? All of my suits are still in one piece and serviceable, although in various states of street credible to absolutely vile patina.

It’s just that life took a guy who was 135 1985 pounds and converted him into a guy who is 201 2017 pounds.

Whatcha gonna do?

I run into a lot of rain riding around Maryland in the summer. Heavy rain or thunderstorms are everywhere during summer afternoons and evenings, but these heavy rains are 15 minutes, or maybe 30, tops, before they’ve spent themselves and the sun reclaims its rightful place.

This storm was nothing like that. I’d already been riding in steady rain for 100 miles when I got engulfed by this front, with its embedded thunderstorms, just under 250 miles from home, and it rained heavily, steadily, for the whole four-plus more hours it took me to get there.

Oh, and for the next day and half after that.

For the next 100 plus miles of I-81, I hammered up the road at my customary dry pace at about 3950 rpm on the tach. Despite the LT’s creditable impression of a 1960s Glastron Speedboat — “Ooh, what a lovely wake and roostertail you have, my dear” — the combination of sheer mass and British tires meant I never felt so much as a squirm out of my contact patches.

I adjusted my windscreen so that I could just see over the top edge, while the water streaming off the screen was deflected over my head. My hands were dry and protected inside the envelope made by the LT’s rearview mirrors. The cockpit wind deflectors were shut, and even though I’d elected to leave my goretex lined boots at home in the closet, the lower fairing was keeping my feet dry enough so that my unlined but well oiled leather boots were not admitting any water.

We might be out here riding in the middle of The Devil’s Very Own Lawn Sprinkler, but with this suit and this bike I was dry, comfortable and in control.

 

***

 

After about three hours in the saddle, in the best of conditions, it’s usually prudent to stop if only for a stretch.

After three hours in these conditions — cool, wet, stressy, with a sprinkling of upper body workout — I’d been going through a fair amount of energy, and all metabolic systems had been working overtime.

It was time for a level two pit stop — this human race car needed both fuel and four tires.

At the appointed time, the Northbound half of the Good Old Mount Sidney Safety Rest presented itself.

I executed my customary drop out of hyperspace and engine braked into the rest area and down to walking pace.

I chose a parking spot across the street from the rest area building, rolled to a stop and standed the bike. As I dismounted I tried to plan a route to the bathroom which involved no standing water. When that proved too challenging, I just ploshed across the street like a duckie booted toddler.

The rain rates, now that I was on foot and not at speed, were obviously Nash Metropolitan Fulla Clowns, Firehose Standing in for Sprinkles Full On Slapstick Comically Ridiculous. I couldn’t help but laugh.

People in the rest area were staring at me.

When laughing me finished swimming to the porch of the rest area, I removed my gloves and helmet, and did my best to shake off the water drops from the outside of that gear.

While I was having my moment, chuckling at the deluge between me and my LT, a man walked right up to me and lay one hand on each of my shoulders.

“The Lord Be With You on this day My Brother. May I pray for you and your safe journey?”

“Ordinarily, No, but today I’ll gratefully take any help I can get.”

I bowed my head in silence while my brand new brother petitioned the Lord on my behalf.

I thanked him and then he headed back to the cab of his tractor trailer.

 

***

 

Once into the men’s room, I looked for a ‘family stall’. Using the baby changing table to keep my helmet and gloves off the wet floor, I began the ‘Stich peeling ritual so I could locate the human being underneath.

In more than 30 years of ‘Stichery, I’ve arrived after tough rides looking a tad incontinent and feeling a little squishy, but not this time – I was dry as a bone. I was now, and I would be still when I got home

The third ‘Stich is apparently the charm.

 

 

***

 

 

After swimming back to the bike, I ended up swapping my foul weather gloves back for my elkskins. The new tech gloves’ outer shell had absorbed enough moisture to make putting them back on more of a wrestling match than I had the patience for. With less than 150 miles home and knowing I’d be rolling most all the way, the elkskins would be glove enough.

I rolled the big girl back through the gears, running the revs up enthusiastically before thockking up into the next. I got back up into cruise, and went back to laughing inside the clean hole my motorcycle was punching in this unrelenting rain.

“This kinda weather,” I thought “is just rain out the Yin-Yang”.

 

 

***

 

 

After another half hour on the cruise, it was finally time to leave the Interstate, and roll the remaining 50 miles of rural highway across Clarke County, Virginia, and Jefferson County, West Virginia back to Jefferson, and my home.

The rain, the mist and the greenness were enough to keep me in good spirits, as the final familiar miles rolled away.

Sweet D had the garage door up, so I rolled into my spot, swung my leg over and ju-jitsued the LT up onto its main stand.

Looking at the LT’s dashboard clock, a ride that normally took six hours has taken more than ten.

 

 

***

 

Sweet Doris from Baltimore was glad to see me, and see me off that bike.

All was not perfect however.

“I’m cold, Greggie. I think our heat is broke.”

I should note that Sweet D wasn’t the only one that might have been cold.

When I’m on a roll, I’m really on a roll.

After reading some blinking furnace diagnostic LEDs confirmed her theory, I was at least glad I had some dry firewood stacked inside by my woodstove.

90 minutes later, I had hot iron in my den and some good spirits in my glass.

It is good to journey out. It is better to be home.

 

***

 

So my brothers and sisters enjoy, embrace and carry with you always those rides that are only sunny days.

Just know that inside that sunny day, also lives as well the cold and the darkness.

 

Yin Yang

There is no light without the darkness.

And there is no darkness without the light.

In life, wholeness only exists in balance between life’s opposing principal qualities — pleasure and pain, beauty and ugliness, good and evil, love and loneliness.

And explorations of balance come naturally to those of us that experience life from the motorcycle’s saddle.

 

***

 

I’d had this plan.

Which is unusual for me, because, well, my plans never work.

But it was a good plan, a plan in which I’d made a significant emotional investment, a plan that seemed plausible, a plan that felt like it really could work.

Which of course, is why it was doomed.

The plan was a motorcycle meet-up with a peer from the online motorcycle universe. We had been fans of each other’s work, and frequenters of each other’s web presence, but fans from a pretty prohibitive distance — he being based out of LA, and me out of Central Maryland — only about 2600 road miles separating where we parked our respective motorcycles.

Out of the blue one day my ‘buddy’ shared that he was going to be covering an East Coast-based motorcycle event, that would place him within a comfortable day’s ride of Jefferson.

I conferred briefly with Sweet Doris From Baltimore, who blessed the event and my participation in it — “You need a good bike trip” — and so the short life-cycle of the plan began.

 

***

 

The event that both of planned to cover was the Asheville, North Carolina, Moto Giro. The Moto Giro is a timed endurance and skills event modelled on the famed Moto Giro d’Italia. The Giro is a competition for motorcycles of 250ccs or less in displacement, and built in 1966 or before. Because of the event’s provenance, there are lots of beautiful and cool oddball Euro rides — tiny Ducatis, Benellis and NSUs. People with low tolerance for drama and strong competitive urges stick to Honda CB160s and 175s.

While hairy chested motorcycle racers may point out that such an event — structured for the care and feeding of tiny tiddler motorcycles — has all of the inherent drama of watching paint dry, they would be missing the point. Anybody who has the bravery and desire to finish two back to back 175 mile days, on a 50 year old small displacement Italian motorcycle, has made their dedication and enthusiasm clearly known, and is fine by me.

You will see some amazingly restored and prepared unusual motorcycles, but the Giro is clearly an event that is really about the slightly bent, moto-addled characters to whom this somehow seems like a good idea.

A nice Friday ride from Jefferson to Asheville — the opportunity to meet up with my bud, to drink a few craft beers and trade a few rounds of vintage biker lies, a Saturday based event and then a Sunday roll home, with some miles on the Blue Ridge Parkway, seemed almost too good to be true.

I had six weeks or so to make sure my bike was ready, make my arrangements, and roll out on what sounded like a grand adventure.

 

***

 

Almost immediately, parts began to fall off this ride, as soon as it began rolling.

As I searched the Internet for information on the Moto Giro, I found….. nothing.

Huh?

Maybe I’ve become over acclimated, but it seems to be a built-in assumption of the Internet Age that If Something Exists In The Real World, then It Exists On The Internet.

I mean, if you have information you intend to share, where else might you share it?

It is important to note, that although I was asking a valid question, it was not the correct question, but let me not get ahead of myself.

In Internet searches, all I found was one blacklisted, compromised web server, info on prior years, and a Facebook page. The Facebook page contained no event information save one member complaining that he was in the doghouse with his wife because the event fell on Mother’s Day.

And that was it.

Because my Bud From LA had proposed the event, I concluded that surely he was read in, right?

I mean, you can’t write about what you can’t find.

So I sent him an e-mail asking him to share the event particulars, and got back……nothing.

“I won’t sweat it,” I thought.

“There’s plenty of time left. All will be revealed.”

 

***

 

Only it wasn’t.

Two or three weeks went by, and after two or three abortive attempts to get more information through Bud From LA at a certain point I began to get a little jumpy about the whole deal. It was starting to seem like one of those run-ins with Coyote, where I’d been encouraged to believe in something that did not exist, to remember something that had never happened.

I was looking over my shoulder. It was starting to mess with my head.

Then weird took the whole thing to the next level.

I got an invite through my work e-mail to schedule a trip to my company’s Charlotte, NC office, for a product development workshop the workweek before my scheduled ride to Asheville for the Giro.

Now from my house to Asheville is about 420 miles using the most direct route, which is, obviously, the route I never take.

From my house to Charlotte is about 450 highway miles.

Charlotte and Asheville are all of about 120 miles apart. 120 miles on an LT is less than half a fuel tank — it may not actually be far enough to fully warm the bike and all of its driveline fluids up to full operating temperature.

Net/net is that my employer was going to be having me make the trip to North Carolina as a business trip, essentially paying me to travel and be in the event’s back yard when work ended Friday.

To me, it felt like the Universe was mysteriously and serendipitously aligning.

Which of course it wasn’t.

 

***

 

What I knew about the Giro, though, was a constant.

Exactly Jack.

So I began to get creative.

Rolling Physics Problem has a number one fan.

#1 Fan’s name is Bud.

Unlike Bud from LA – whose actual name is not Bud – Bud’s actual name is Bud.

Hi Bud!

I have been motorcycling a long time. Bud has been motorcycling a very long time indeed.

As a result of his life well-ridden, I have this theory that Bud knows absolutely everyone that has anything interesting to do with motorcycling.

So I tested the theory.

In an e-mail conversation, I mentioned to Bud that I was having problems getting info about the event.

Turned out he’d ridden a few Giros, and knew Will, the organizer for this particular event.

24 hours later the guy called my cel phone while I was out in the shop supporting the Trikedrop build project.

It doesn’t prove the theory. It’s too small a data set.

Anyway, my conversation with Will proved enlightening in myriad ways.

The first was the gradual revelation that in all of my thoughts about the Giro, I had been asking the wrong question.

I kept approaching it from the perspective that the Giro would want people to know all about the event, and were doing a bad job sharing it. What slowly dawned on me, and Will gently confirmed it, was that the information wasn’t out there because they saw no utility in sharing it. The lack of info wasn’t a flub — it was a deliberate strategy.

I went in thinking The Moto Giro was a show — all about event marketing.

I came out thinking it was strange cross between a Secret Society and Organized Crime.

And, more interestingly, it was organized crime that had invited me in. I’d been moto made.

The organizers felt, frankly, that size was their enemy — that beyond a certain number of competitors the whole scene got too indeterministic to manage. Spectators were not really encouraged, either — anyone riding the course or parked along it was hazardous for the riders. The entire scene was for the benefit of the riders, and nothing else mattered.

I asked for the time and location of the start or finish line, and my request was politely but firmly declined.

I could, however, have the locations for the lunch stops, where parking lot Agility Special Test courses were to be deployed. If I wanted some road shots the event managers would position me after they’d met me at lunch and sized me up.

Will and I spent a fair amount of time on the phone, and came to a kind of meeting of the minds on old motorcycles and long rides. I completely embraced and internalized his protective attitude towards his ride.

Of the Giro, I knew as much as I was going to know — which represented about 98% more than I’d known an hour before. I had a date, a time, and the parking lot of an Ice Cream joint somewhere in the mountains of North Carolina.

Now all I had to do was get there.

 

***

 

About a week before my planned departure, Mother Nature got downright frosty. We had rain and overnight lows in the high twenties — I spent quality time in the evenings hoisting wood into my parlour woodstove.

The long term weather forecast showed a trendline towards a warm up right around the Monday when I was scheduled to ride to Charlotte.

 

***

 

Three days out, Bud From LA pulled out.

He’d been tapped to cover an event for a major print publication, so the bigger dog won out.

Couldn’t really blame him. It was just a shame that a trip started out as an opportunity for our meet-up had now turned into another lone wolf expedition.

Travelling light means owing nothing to no one, so I did my best to greet the development with a bright spirit.

 

***

 

The day of the ride down started with the sun out and about 45 degrees at coffee time. I spent the morning splitting time between a few conference calls and carrying saddlebag liners and seat bags out to the garage. I got my laptop backpack and a fair larder of hydration and snacks onto the top case. I secreted a paid of waterproof Keen work boots and a set of cold weather gloves in the LT’s CD-changer reduced right case. I put my business sports jacket and a light duty textile riding jacket into my seat bag. And the old Compaq swag shoulder bag — the exact form factor as the factory saddlebag liner — containing my clothes and toiletries into the left side case.

I made sure that the rear suspension’s hydraulic preload was set near the very bottom of its setting — I’ve deliberately biased spring settings for carrying passengers, so the LT rides better when it’s carrying measurably more than just my weight.

After tarrying over a long hug from Sweet Doris From Baltimore, I pulled on a light technical fleece, my one piece Aerostitch Roadcrafter — which is finally starting to appear almost broken in — and grabbed my Elkskin Gauntlets and my Shoei.

These minutes of contemplation in front of a loaded motorcycle always try and then fail to avoid what seems to me a natural anxiety. The thousand miles or so of mountain road that lie ahead — and everything that can possibly occur along them — seem to telegraph into awareness for a few vivid seconds.

But with the snap of the Shoei’s strap retainer, and the velcro on my gauntlets snugged, the starter is fingered, and the time for anxiety is gone. With the cold K12 engine making a semi-industrial symphony of as yet loose tolerance clatters, I rolled the bike out of the driveway, and headed out towards US-340.

 

***

 

US-340 essentially connects my front door to Interstate 81. After turning out of my neighborhood, the ramp onto 340 West is about 150 yards up the state highway. Frankly, its way too soon for a cold, fully loaded motorcycle that had spent an unfortunately substantial proportion of its recent life sitting around waiting for me.

I drifted the bike down the big grade on light throttle, trying to get any heat in the engine before really asking for meaningful power or revs. Fortunately, at noon on a Tuesday, the highway was for all purposes empty, letting me tarry a bit as the temp dial began to finally swing right. The big downgrade leads to Cactoctin Creek and what goes down, of course, must go up.

I gently rolled into the throttle just before the bottom and the bridge, looking to build some serious momentum for the dynamometer quality grade that is 340 leading away from The Creek. Under leading throttle continuously growing wider I spun the big mill up this steep grade — getting into the K’s trademark intake shriek as the revs cleared 6 large. With acceleration and momentum building startlingly strongly for what is a very large motorcycle, I banged off a textbook slap-two-metal-ingots-together Getrag gearbox german motorcycle shift up into fourth, and then topped the hill and headed down the long straight run through open fields that leads to Brunswick, and then on into West Virgina.

I wish there was a cloud in the sky, because it would make for a more credible story, but there wasn’t. The temp was in the high fifties, with little wind — it was bright, and crisp and perfect. I rolled the bike gently left and right to the sides of the tires — everything felt tight and grippy and round.

I might not be back, Baby, but we’d be arriving there shortly.

 

***

 

340 covers just under sixty miles through rural West Virginia and Virgina, on a mix of 2 lane and 4 lane highways, and on a good day, you can maintain a pretty good pace.

Today was looking to be a pretty good day. The ride didn’t provide any of the occasional congestion or backups that are common in Northern Virginia. Visibility, traction, temperature were just stinking perfect. I spent a lot of time in the fun part of fourth gear on this Flying Brick motor, and when I saw cars, I used LTOs and I passed them.

I-81 came up nearly before I knew it. We were sailing. It was effortless.

Pretty good.

 

***

 

Moving onto the Interstate I wound 4th gear out again and then finally got to top gear and the big meditative Ohmmmmm. I set the Blue Ridge mountains off my left shoulder, felt the sun on my face and just resolved to enjoy, to savor this day.

I came back down from meditative reverie to a stomach that wanted to register a complaint. The stomach was right of course — my trip meter showed that 130 miles had disappeared and it was way past time for lunch. Right on queue, General Eisenhower’s Interstate Highway System served up the Mount Sidney Safety Rest Area, with a nice grassy picnic area and a restroom. I dropped down to subsonic speeds and coasted into the rest area and right up to an open table.

I pulled my lunch — a wrap, an apple and some water — out of the top case, and commenced to snarfing. In my somewhat conspicuous rider’s gear, I always attract a personality type that my longtime friend Neil has termed “Thee Enthusiast”.

“Thee Enthusiast” always has a motorcycle that is bigger, faster, cooler and generally gnarlier than yours.

And since he can see by my outfit that I am a Scooter Man, “Thee Enthusiast” assumes that there is nothing I would rather do than hear all about it, all 23 chapters with pictures to illustrate and circles and arrows on the back of each one.

Which would be almost completely incorrect.

As much as I like to talk bikes — and I DO like to talk bikes — all I want to do today is roll.

Still I get to hear — while snarfing — about TE’s XJR 1200 Yamahas. Which are admittedly pretty gnarly.

If you’re into an air cooled transverse inline 4, this is about the stoutest one you can get.

I can see how, on the open road, one of those XJs might be nearly as long legged as this KBike.

Thee Enthusiast and me, we’re really one and the same.

He wishes me safe journey as I pull out of the rest area.

I give just a little extra twist of the throttle on up the ramp, just for his sonic enjoyment.

 

***

 

For a day that started cool, it seemed like every mile I went further south translated into more sun and rising temperatures.

On wheels up this a.m. my Roadcrafter had been buttoned-up against 57 degrees. Now I was running — collar open and visor up — at a temperature a full ten degrees warmer.

I’d checked the forecast for Charlotte, an it was supposed to be 81 there at the end of the day.

So it was fair skies, and rising temperatures.

 

***

 

Around 230 miles, I pitted briefly for gas and more hydration.

In a rare concession to Character, Darkside, my K12, was doing a thing it always does if it isn’t getting ridden frequently enough — which is, its fuel gauge becomes completely unreliable. My understanding is that the sensor is a mechanical, analog device — a sort of captive toilet float inside a tube, with a rheostat that gets flaky if it isn’t used.

Mine was flaky all right. Moving over a range of about 5/8s of the total, with little rhyme or reason to why it was in any given position at any given time.

If you take the bike out and blow 4 or 5 tanks of gas through it, it’s perfectly fine.

But at its flakiest, it’s the sort of thing that will drive a moto-nerd completely to distraction, and I was using all my stored up inner peace to keep it from intruding on a ride that had segued into one big endless internal combustion groove.

This is the first motorcycle I ever owned that had a fuel gauge, anyway, so I do not have to develop new skills to operate one without one.

Gauge flakiness, though, does have the net effect of calling for more conservative fuel range planning.

And although I’ve made — with working instrumentation — between 270 and 290 miles on a single tank, with no instrumentation at about 220 a certain anxiety began to squeak a bit.

And I didn’t want to harsh the groove, so I just got gas then boogied.

 

***

 

It’s hard for me to remember having a more pleasant day’s run down the highways of the Blue Ridge.

After 200 miles or so the K-Bike finally finished really warming through, and was just thrumming along like a big bass string.

After another hundred I split off onto I-77, and headed south into Carolina and up into the mountains I’d been running beside for so long.

As the bike cleared the summit, we went through Fancy Gap, Virginia. The Interstate had plentiful and clear signage that this was the proper exit for Blue Ridge Parkway — from previous rides I seem to remember Fancy Gap as one of the highest points on The Parkway, except for maybe Mount Mitchell.

I remember thinking, as we crested that mountain in the warm, crisp sunshine, that with a little luck I’d be back here, in a few days, to fully enjoy The Parkway, to meditate in the presence of the Motorcycling Gods.

 

***

 

As the K-bike began the descent off the Blue Ridge, I was greeted by the view into the valley below. Though my surroundings were grey stone, everything below was brightest green. White-barned farms and green forest spread out from horizon to horizon — it was fit and fertile, almost too beautiful to be real. It was no mystery why people had gladly settled here.

With the sun just behind my right shoulder, and God’s Own Diorama spread out in front of me, I really anticipated what a lovely two hours run down the mountains and foothills into Charlotte this would be.

And a sweet run it was.

Temp was now in the low seventies, the Interstate was mostly new, and it seemed that there was almost no one with which I had to share the road. The roadway dealt with the descending topography though a series of wide left right bends, which at sufficient speed, and we did have sufficient speed, kept the ride mildly entertaining.

On a piece of alpine highway like this, these last generation Flying Brick motorcycles — with their massive beam frames — are crazy smooth and comfortable at nearly crazy speeds , with big torque, big cornering stiffness and confidence in spades.

It was more than pretty good.

 

***

 

After a meditative late afternoon and early evening roll down a very big hill, I found myself in Metro Charlotte. I’d hit town late enough that I was in behind evening congestion.

I’d had the forethought to prepare my mental mapping so that I had a very clear picture of my route that didn’t require resorting to paper maps or electronic augmentation.

After passing through Center City Charlotte, but before hitting the southern beltway, I stopped and gassed again. I was only about 15 miles from my destination but at the end of my calculated conservative fuel range.

When I pulled off the beltway into Ballantyne, where my employer’s offices are located, it was warm but not humid, and the sun was still low in the sky. It’s a rare good thing to be savored, when a journey ends with the sun still up. My hotel was easily located, and Darkside was killswitched and placed on the stand.

With the exhaust tinking its little metallic song of cooling, I pulled off my helmet and just drank in the sight of this no longer modern motorcycle. It had taken more than a few years to fully appreciate the capability of this machine – to bond with it, but bond with it I had.

I knew of a good brewpub within walking distance of my hotel — one that had some pretty good pub food chops as well.

It seemed like all this day needed at this point was a decent Hefeweisen or Pale raised to show my appreciation for my endless blessings.

On bright days like these, it was as good as good could be.

 

…to be continued…

(Part Two of this story can be found here. )

 

Gravity Is a Bitch

Just because you can think something, doesn’t mean that you should say it.

In fact, there are entire hierarchies of thoughts whose vocalizations — the giving of objective reality through the medium of breath — are highly inadvisable.

I am not a superstitious man.

But the universe craves balance, and pride seems to lead directly to and be causally linked to every fall.

Consider the following thoughts, if you will.

“I can’t remember the last time my wife and I had a fight about something.”

“This motorcycle has never run better”.

“What could possibly go wrong?”

“I can’t even remember the last time I fell off a bike.”

Each and every one of these ill-advised utterances assumes an abundance of good fortune which, frankly, based on my experience, you simply do not have.

 

***

 

Now fear not, because no motorcycles were harmed in the making of this story.

Which is good, because they were about the only thing that weren’t.

 

***

 

Sweet Doris From Baltimore and I have been more than passing busy lately, for a multitude of reasons. The most significant reason, though, has been her design and construction of an ultralight teardrop camper that is intended to be pulled behind her recumbent pedal trike. The trikedrop is engineered – through use of 1 x 2 framing and coroplast — a corrugated polyethylene product — to end up at a total mass of under 60 pounds, and to provide a sybaritic bicycle camping experience with comfortable, off the ground sleeping accommodations and some cargo and cooking capability for a cyclist seeking to cover long stretches of the C&O Canal bike path, which stretches from Cumberland, Maryland to Georgetown in the District of Columbia.

What is significant about the Trikedrop project is the spacial stress it has exerted upon Shamieh’s Shop facilities, which are now having to support three motorcycles, two campers, one bicycle and one recumbent trike, which are making things more than a tad cramped, and necessitating frequent rearrangements of things with wheels in order to get the work space and access required to move projects forward.

Two Teardrops, One S and a Nanticoke Nectar

It was on one of these projects that I found myself having to move Sweet Doris’ prized recumbent. I don’t get too much saddle time with it, so I tend to wax enthusiastic when the opportunity does arise. While moving it from the Shamieh Shop Storage Annex — ok, my shed — to the back of the pickup, I took the recumbent for a brief sprint down our suburban street.

Thee Evil TerraTrike Sportster, Which Apparently Hates Me

It bears mention that it had been my deep conviction that the TerraTrike Sportster was the most stable and good handling recumbent trike of the many I had test ridden. My mission profile for any trike was one that wasn’t going to tend to spit off Sweet Doris From Baltimore, because well, she’s my Sweet Doris. On the dead level test course available at the bike dealer, I had deliberately thrashed every single machine to see how many Gs it could pull in a corner, how easy/hard it was to pull a front wheel off the ground, and whether the bike had any tendency to stoppie or endo under hard braking. In every measure I had available, the Sportster had been dead stable and theoretically uncrashable.

Had been.

After a few strong strokes and an upshift or two the trike and I were carrying a little speed down toward the end of the block and the cul-de-sac. As I got set up for the turn, I noticed my neighbor’s dog who was beginning to evince an interest in the low red speedy thing that was running at the edge of his lawn. Dogs, for motorcyclists and traditional bicyclists, are a hazard, but that hazard changes dramatically when one is piloting a recumbent, which places the pilot’s face at the exact same level as the dog’s. If a dog decides he wants to rip a recumbent rider’s face off, that dog has a straight, unimpeded shot at it.

To her credit, my neighbor Kim was pretty perceptive in detecting that condition and getting the dog moving smartly back into the house. With maybe three and a half seconds of total distraction wrapped up, as the sound of the slamming screen door reached me, I set up for the U-turn in the gently sloped cul-de-sac.

Motorcycles that start to go bad – handling wise – or at least my motorcycles, do so in a way which telegraphs that the limits are being reached, and then do so in a way which is tractable and allows the rider to correct before certified bad things happen.

Maybe my distraction was a contributor, but it sure didn’t seem like that was what happened here.

I started my turn, began to lean in toward the inside wheel, sensed the inside wheel coming up, and then everything snaprolled putting me near instantly on my ass, sliding down the road as the Sportster cartwheeled, clanging noisily against the pavement.

Being as how trikes were clearly uncrashable, I was wearing none of the gear – no gloves, no helmet, nothing. It was a lucky accident I had some Keen work boots and canvas pants on.

I took the brunt of the impact on the heel of my outstretched right hand, although the next day it was clear that I’d hit my right hip and shoulder as well. My right workboot now has some gnarly road rash patina to it as well.

As all of the formerly kinetic elements came to rest, with me on my back on the pavement, surrounded by the former contents of the trike’s rack bag, contemplating the blueness of the spring sky, all I could think was “How the feck did this happen — these things are supposed to be uncrashable……”

I sat up slowly and did the inventory all of us unfortunately know all too well — checking for broken bits, blood and parts of myself hanging off — not wanting to jump up overconfidently only to discover that I’d have been way better off sitting down.

I passed the inspection and slowly rose to my feet — becoming slowly aware of just how pulverized my right hand was.

I had a business trip the next day that had me planning to ride my K-Bike to Charlotte, NC., over four hundred miles distant. A hand in this kind of shape was going to make that somewhat more challenging. Thank Bosch for cruise control and the Two Johnsons for Ibuprofen.

I became aware of neighbor Kim headed back down her lawn in my direction.

“Are you all riiight? Are you hurt?”

“Thanks Kim — I think most of the damage is to my pride.”

“Thass ’cause you’re a speed demon…Glad you’re Okay….”

I spent a few minutes shaking and flexing my hand, then flipped the trike back onto its wheels and gathered up the contents of the top bag and buttoned things back up.

More than somewhat chagrined, I headed back up to the street towards my garage. Because Sweet Doris was deeply engaged in Kreg jigging, gluing and screwing camper bits, he hadn’t really noticed that I was a little overdue on my return.

“Oh, hey hun…where ya been?”

“Oh, I’ve just been crashing my brains out on your bike….”

“Oh NO!…. Did you hurt……MY BIKE?”

There are a lot of reasons why Sweet Doris and I have been together thirty years. Somewhere further down the list of her virtues is that she shares my biker perspective on the universe.

How many time have you seen someone dump a motorcycle, or been that guy that dumps a motorcycle, and the following little drama plays out.

“Holy cow, man, are you all right?

“Yeah, I’m fine (dragging obviously broken leg) but …LOOK AT My BIIIIKE…”

Heck, early in my riding days, I had a left turning motorist remove my motorcycle from underneath me, forcing me to jump his car. After walking back up the road from where I completed my Superman impression, I was that guy.

“Did you hurt……MY BIKE?””

That’s my girl.

LTO

How do you quantify something that is completely and utterly subjective?

It’s admittedly a fool’s errand.

Fool? Errand?

So this seems like the perfect setup, eh?

I’ll get my helmet.

 

***

 

I’ve been working my way back from an unplanned riding layoff.

And since life’s little unpleasant surprises prefer to play tag team, that experience was superimposed on one of those character revealing all-out maximum effort sprints in my worklife that make the other parts of ones life go all blurry until it’s over.

On Wednesday, my work team of 9 mothers delivered their one month baby. On Thursday, my workplace seemed preternaturally quiet. The mental image I had was more than a few people coming to face down on a carpet somewhere, panting shallowly, and finding the silence — and unaccustomed absence of ringing phones, multiple computer inbound instant message and e-mail klaxons, and mobile phone Hmmmmmmmmnnnn Hmmmmmmmmmnnnn vibrations — strangely disconcerting.

Later in the afternoon, with a clear calendar, and a life that had been on hold for several weeks, I decided to head up to the bank to take of some urgent business. The sun was out, the temperature had finally broken into the 17 minutes of Maryland’s Spring, and my emotional batteries were showing red and in need of a charge. I Vansoned up and headed for the garage.

 

***

 

If I had a truly modern motorcycle, like a Yamaha YZF-R1, the engine control unit’s electronics would have at least a dozen ways of measuring the absolute rush of proper motorcycle operation. On a modern bike, the ECU is integrated with an Inertial Management Unit, which, through a combination of accelerometers, gyroscopes and wheel speed sensors, can model acceleration, deceleration, roll, pitch, yaw, bank angle, wheel spin and whether one or both wheels are off the ground and headed back towards or further away from the pavement. The motorcycle is essentially self aware and self-protective, and will do whatever is necessary to keep overall machine dynamics inside the envelope prescribed by the IMU’s mathematical physics dynamic model. And while the control electronics will occasionally — like a 1000 times a second or so — consult the position of the ride-by-wire throttle to monitor what the rider is requesting, that throttle position sensor is just one of many inputs, and can be considered merely a suggestion, to be ignored if required, rather than the deterministic order that it represents in the motorcycles to which I’ve grown accustomed and enamored.

Thankfully, though, I don’t own a truly modern motorcycle, so the number of operational parameters available to describe the ride is reduced, for all intents and purposes, to one.

The throttle.

If the slides on the Del’Orto PHM 38s are up, we’re accelerating. If the slides are down, we’re slowing down.

Do it right, and it’s as if you’re dancing with angels. Do it wrong, and those selfsame angels will be taking you home.

It’s the most fundamentally analog of systems, and it makes a far simpler way to represent that tightrope walk between that laws of physics and the demands of the rider’s emotion.

 

***

 

Things in my life, generally, have suddenly become a great deal more vivid.

Seems I’d been looking straight at things that I had just not been seeing.

So a sunny day, an R90S, and a ready, receptive soul was a recipe for motorcycle enlightenment.

Running up the Jefferson Pike, I found myself far more deliberate, far more aware and far more prone to use of Large Throttle Openings than my customary riding style employs.

The S, in stock form, is known for its long travel suspension. Mine, modified not for the track or for some museum, has fork gaiters which, while not pretty, do make it more likely that the fork assembly will cheerfully survive tens of thousands of bug and road filth infested miles.

Running the up through the gears was an adventure in big gestures, big movements, and big pieces of metal in motion. Roll the throttle to well open and let the bike pull the gear up through six thousand RPM. As the power comes on, one can see the fork gaiters stretching out as the fork unloads and the front wheel gets light. Preload the shift lever and finger the clutch while simultaneously snapping the throttle closed. In the seam between applications of power the gaiters settle back down as the fork compresses. A firm toe in this gearbox — freshly rebuilt with the updated shift cam — yields a uncharacteristicly solid and deterministic shift when compared with most BMWs of this vintage. After the “Thokk” of engagement reaches my ears, I feather the clutch back in while rolling the throttle open again. In every gear the cycle repeats, with the bike doing its best to keep the front tire skimming the ground.

After a ride like this, it makes perfect sense that I’m wearing out two rear tires for every front I replace. One doesn’t wear out tires that are barely ever on the ground.

 

***

 

A test of the aforementioned YZF-R1 I saw recently did analysis of the data that was provided by the bike’ s IMU and yielded the data that the bike was able to make use of more that 50% throttle application roughly 18% of the time it was in motion.

Absolute power means almost nothing if, like the nuclear deterrent, one can never use it.

Taking the S up the National Pike into Gambrill, in contrast, was an extended meditation on Large Throttle Openings. 67 horsepower might not seem like a lot, but in a world filled with hypersports that knock on the door of 200 horses, they were 67 horsepower all of which I could freely use. Gears could be run all the way out. The intake howl created by the S’s liberally ventilated airbox housing was singing out and playing against the machine gun exhaust report — echoing back off the rock cuts on either side of US 40 — of the boxer running in it’s peak power zone.

This vivid and completely engaging experience encapsulates what I most love about this 42 year old motorcycle.

Nobody, not even me, is disconnected enough to argue that an R90S is an objectively fast motorcycle in 2017’s motorcycle arms race. Forget BMW S1000RRs and Suzuki GSXR1000s. It is likely that a Kawasaki 650 Versys — hardly a manly-man expression of sporting prowess — could wipe it up in a straight line test of acceleration.

While a suspension-enhanced S can hang with or even embarrass a inexpertly piloted modern 600 class Sport bike on a tight or technical enough back road, it isn’t because the motorcycle is objectively fast.

What enamoured me to this motorcycle is not that it is fast, but that it feels fast.

Lots of modern BMWs and lots of other manufacturer’s motorcycles are so refined that they lose any sensation of personality.

The S, in contrast, makes every moment spent with throttle slides rising feel like the fastest thing in the world. One can feel every explosion in the cylinders — they ring the tubular steel frame like hammers ringing on a large bell. The frame squats, the front end rises and the bars go loose in your hands.

There is no electronic minder. The bike clearly needs you, and the overall experience is one of barely contained mechanical brutality where the rider’s skill and ability to read the road ahead is what frankly, is the margin that separates a completely immersive motorcycling life from a short and violent exit from same.

I’ve moved well past my brief look straight onto the eyes of death.

On this green sunny day, working Large Throttle Openings on this old classic motorcycle, I have never felt so alive.

The Greatest Show On Earth

its probably
good for you
to have a brush with death
every once in a while
these white hot flashes
of mortality
serve to clarify the mind

its not
why i ride motorcycles
but riders
accept
that these things happen
sliding tires
you gather up
no one the wiser
how near a thing that was

after surviving
your vision sharpened
everything shining
a new focus
on what counts
learning to ignore
anything that doesn’t propel one forward

the thing about death
is that it just doesn’t manage very well
showing up from random places
at random times
and usually not
while doing the things
conventional thinking
would accept should kill you

so you can ride the wall of death
everynight my friend
you can smoke camels
drink jack
wrangle the big cats like Gunter
or be shot out of a cannon
like The Human Cannonball

none of the things
that should kill you will kill you
there’s way more than a million ways
to be struck or missed by the lightning

i know that you want
gunpowder
explosions
lurid twisting orange fireballs
of exploding hightest gasoline
what you get though
is blue light
a dark spot on your arm
and a silent doctor
with a concerned look
on his face

 

***

 

I’ve got to tell you, I get the worst PMS.

I can tell from that look on your face that you have no freaking idea what I mean.

PMS, or Parked Motorcycle Syndrome, is a debilitating condition. PMS leaves sufferers irritable, depressed, and prone to seemingly impossible extremes of emotional volatility.

And so it is with me, too.

After two days or so, I’m nervous. Jumpy.

I make these inexplicable spasmodic rolling motions with my right hand and wrist.

After about five days, I can be observed sitting rocking in the center of the rug in my den, quietly making little motor noises with my lips and tongue.

After about 7 days, I am reduced to staring out the window, insterspersed with brief spasmodic weeping.

After about ten days, I’m queing up to be fitted for that nicely tailored snug natural canvas sportsjacket with the arms that tie together in the back.

It had been thirteen days since I had ridden a motorcycle.

 

***

 

The fact that my lay up was a result of Doctor’s orders wasn’t making it any easier.

In fact, it was making it particularly harder.

A trip to my Dermatologist to have a bad looking spot on the back of my upper right arm examined had resulted in a nearly immediate return for some outpatient surgery.

As a full-blooded American — which is to say a 50% Irish Catholic, 25% Christian Arab and 25% Polish Jew (although there could be more stuff in there for all I know) — my fair skin is prone to hocking up all sorts of bumps and oddballs. Squamous cells, Basal Cells — a Carcinoma or two.

Considering none of my outside has ever seen the sun-containing world outside an Aerostich suit, this is puzzling, but nonetheless true.

I ought to qualify for some sort of high volume scrape ’em and 4 suture club discount.

All of these things are a tad annoying, but 98.8% harmless.

This wasn’t one of those.

This was why we needed some fast lab work, and a post haste return visit.

After spending 90 minutes making surgery can-we-please-talk-about-something-else-smalltalk with my Doctor which was supposed to be 30, a much bandaged and still more sutured me was toweled off, propped up, and sent home with the instructions “not to lift anything heavy for 4 or 5 days”.

In my slightly stress-goofy state, I remember thinking “Well, I guess that rules my K1200LT right out.”

 

***

 

My first notion that something was amiss came after the local anethetic had worn mostly off, and a nice beer seemed like something that might have therapeutic uses.

I decanted a Nanticoke Nectar, leaned down to enjoy the fresh hop bouquet, and then took the glass into my right hand. Everything was preceeding swimmingly until the glass — moving delightfully in widescreen slow motion — got about 6 inches from my achingly thirsty lips. As the glass got closer and closer, it moved with increasing resistance, running into the new limits of my arm’s flexibility, which apparently contained a great deal less arm than it had this morning.

Friends I’d spoken with about the the diagnosis and precedure had warned me about this. The protocol involves being very conservative, and that translates to removing a fair amount of additional tissue.

I muttered a favorite oath — one I suspected would get a good throttle stretching run over the next three weeks or so — set the glass back on the counter, and resolved to learn to drink left handed.

 

***

 

So there I was, stuck on the couch, comtemplating my own mortality while snared in immobility.

It was pretty dark.

And I was going absolutely nuts.

For the first week or so I was too beat up to even consider escape. If we went out Sweet Doris from Baltimore was behind the wheel.

On or around day 5, I regained enough flexibility that I could split time between drinking left handed and drinking right handed.

Having discovered this, I immediately walked out to the garage, swung a leg over the Slash 5, and assumed the position.

Given that motorcycle’s almost custom fit to my body, it was heartening that I could sit astride the bike comfortably — there was no pain to rest a portion of my weight on my arms.

Then I tried the throttle.

This was going to take a while.

 

***

It wasn’t the last such trip I made to the the garage and to my Toaster Tank.

Progress was slow, but it was progress.

Day 13 after the surgery dawned sunny, cold and windy.

My arm, though, seemed like it could stand to be wound WFO without too much discomfort.

At lunchtime, I went back to the garage, and sat back on the Slash 5. I took a few tentative rolls of the throttle. No klaxons.

I walked over to the garage door, and gently raised it.

I rolled the bike forward off the stand, and then rolled it backwards into the open door, and gingerly placed it back onto the Reynolds Ride-Off stand.

It was go time.

I wandered back inside and gathered up a set of boots, my Duluth Trading Blacktop jacket — notable because of its built in fleece lining and lack of any armor — and a fresh surgical adhesive dressing and some of the prescription antibiotic ointment my doctor had provided.

I went into the studio where Sweet Doris from Baltimore was working a new painting.

“I’m going for a ride, Baby. Could you please put a dressing back on my arm?”

“I don’t think that’s….”

Folks that know me well know that I never get like that.

This one time, I got like that. Sue me.

 

***

 

Out in the driveway, I snapped the collar of my jacket shut and pulled on my gloves. I swung a leg over, opened the left fuel petcock, and pushed in the ignition pin. Having sat for a while, the boxer swung through two or three more compression strokes than was customary before the engine fired. I swing the choke off before it was smart to do so, and had to repeat the drill. Afer 15 seconds or so, the engine was taking throttle, and assumed its steady near-human heartbeat of an idle.

I pushed off down the driveway, toed the gearbox down into first, and banked left up the street.

Motion!

I took the long way around the neighborhood — gently rolling the bike left and right — a baby-step version of the racer’s tire warming manouvre — checking to make sure I could position the bike without running into the lowered limits of my flexibility and strength. Thanks to boxer balance, what little I had was enough.

At The Jefferson Pike, I made the right down towards The Brookside Inn, and deliberately thockked the old girl up through the gears until I shifted into fourth.

With temperature in the low 40s, the sun was shining bright in a clear sky, the wind blowing hard, this old school ride — no windshield, no heated grips, and just a set of elkskin gloves — was letting me experience the day with an unparalleled vividness.

It was bright. It was cold. It was great.

Never has such an old slow motorcycle made me feel so alive.

 

***

 

As much as I didn’t want to overdo it, I didn’t want to stop, either.

After a brief run up The Pike, I made the right up St. Marks Road. St. Marks leads down into The Bottoms — I just wanted to just be alone next to the creek, feeling the wheels working underneath me and being kissed by the broken sunlight coming through the trees. Where the road comes down to Catoctin Creek, it follows the streambed closely, making a series of gentle lefts and rights, with the ancient road surface providing endless contours for the suspension to follow.

After a long time as a wallflower, it felt oh so good to be dancing again.

St. Marks has a medium long straight, and feeling good, I gassed it.

I wasn’t the only one that was feeling good, apparently.

Old boxers love cold dense air, and 50 horsepower never felt so powerful. The Toaster’s sleeper motor — with its big bore kit and small valves — was right in the sweet spot, and it hit with everything it had.

I didn’t need an action cam to know about the smile in my helmet.

At the creek sits an old iron framed one lane bridge. I got up on the pegs and gassed it again — getting just a little air as I left the bridge deck.

Away from the creek St. Marks climbs steeply. The sightlines are restrictive and the road twists, snakelike, as it rises up the hill. I gassed it again and was pleasantly surprised as the front wheel lightened up and lightly skimmed the pavement over 60 or 70 feet.

Slash 5 power wheelies don’t happen very often, but today was clearly a special day.

I might hurt later, but right now that front wheel wasn’t the only thing that got lifted.

 

***

 

Back in the driveway, I remarked that my gear removal speeds had recorded better split times.

Then again, today wasn’t about speed, it was more about simple existance.

My Toaster is clearly a motorcycle that gets used. Its got dirt. And gear oil. And mud. It hasn’t got any ‘pretty’.

Today, though, it was a thing of beauty.

I grabbed my phone out of the phone holster that is built in to my favorite brand of cargo pants to check for messages. I had a voice mail.

“Hmmmmnnnnnnnnnn.”

“Mr. Shamieh? This is Jennie down at Dr. Han’s office. Just wanted you to know that the biopsies and labs came back, and they’re all clean. You have nothing to worry about. Call if you have any questions. ”

Seemed like a pretty good time to reacquaint myself with drinking beer right handed.