Had Quite The Adventure Monday Evening

The Big Boxer

American Honda Motor Co. has finally come through and provided a 2018 GoldWing Tour to test.

I had to pick up the bike from the previous journos at Maryland Public Television’s studios for the MotorWeek program in Owings Mills, MD. When I got there, the bike was parked in Goss’ Garage. As somebody that has watched the show and Pat Goss’ maintenance segments for years, I’ll admit I had a tiny star-struck moment firing the Wing up on the set and riding it out.

Backroaded about half the way back to Jefferson to come to terms with the bike and operation of the Dual Clutch Transmission — needless to say this is not your Grandpa’s Touring Sofa — then hit the interstate and wicked it up into the engine’s Happy Zone.

Look for a full test in the September/October Issue of Motorcycle Times, with extended coverage in RPP.

Now I just need to find some places to go!

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Gearing Up

You have probably experienced what it is like to have a favorite piece of riding gear, and for that favorite gear to seemingly exist outside of time until you suddenly realize that it doesn’t really.

One day you pick up a pair of gloves, them having been salted with your sweat just one too many times, and some piece of leather in them just crumbles and turns to dust.

Jackets whose leather cracks, whose zippers tear, whose belts no longer fit.

Helmets that have simply seen too much. Lug nut gouges on the crown, bug encrusted vent controls, scratched visors — interiors that have taken on a certain funky swampy quality.

Friends will squint at you and ask you, “How long have you had that helmet?”

And then you must admit that it is time.

 

***

 

I’ve been a Shoei man for a long time.

Sometime in the early 80’s, a riding buddy had showed me his Shoei helmet, and I remember being totally impressed about the materials, fit and finish of his gear.

At the time I had a Simpson Racing helmet. I’d come by it more or less by accident — having obtained it along with a bike. While they were cool looking helmets — with ventilated chinbars that echoed Darth Vader’s helmet — they were objectively terrible helmets compared to those of today. No real ventilation and crude visor systems. And when I retired the helmet, it was also by accident — it likely having saved my life when I got highsided off my /5 after leaving my sidestand down leaving a rest stop.

So my Simpson gave its life for mine — and while my collarbone, four ribs and punctured lung were healing, and while I was mastering the fine art of one-handed wrenching to replace my kinetically customized parts with stock ones — I bought a Navy blue RF-200.

After the better part of a decade in it, it got retired for an RF-700. Then an RF-900. And then my current Qwest. 7 or 8 years per helmet, 4 Shoeis — the math adds up to a lot of saddle time and a lot of miles.

 

***

 

The long slow decline from a shiny new helmet to a ewwy, fetid swamp is hard to notice while it’s happening. But when you find yourself swampy, you’ve got to do something about it.

I’ve got a kid in college, a mortgage, and the entire tool box of smaller but no less significant commitments. But I found myself in a position where I had a minor windfall that allowed me to allocate the coupla hunnert it would take to ensure I’d continue to have use of my brain.

Finn, too, was looking to reinvest.

When he had started riding, his initial outlay for gear had occurred very much on the cheap. It wasn’t at all clear that he was going to be a committed rider, so helmets, boots, jackets and pants had all been obtained on closeout, with the understanding that if his interest bloomed, he could always move up. Well it did and he was.

His original $69 close-out special — one of those helmet paint jobs that was an acquired taste that nobody apparently acquired — had taken a beating off his bike — leaving its visor mechanism a bit the worse for wear. His sneaker style riding boots had held up better, but were low enough that in filthy weather — and Finn had become a hell or high water rider — they were as likely to fill up with water as keep his feet dry.

We’d talked about heading to a local dealer who — in a gesture of defiance to you online buyers — actually was known to stock a decent selection of most riding gear. Finn really didn’t like the idea of boot shopping online, and since he — of summer Jr. Architect job — would be paying his own bill, it was his decision to make.

So we sat back, plotted and schemed, and waited for our opportunity.

 

***

 

Last Sunday, we got our opportunity.

You know how this works. Being responsible people, you have to take care of a million things that must be done before you get to do stuff you’d like to do.

If motorcycling is somehow supposed to be all about rebellion, I haven’t seen anywhere enough of that lately.

Our Sunday was day 6 in a sustained heatwave — unlike most Baltimore/DC region heatwaves, which are sticky high humidity messes, this one was a lost Arizona job, temperatures around 100 with low humidity. Not optimum conditions for either air-cooled motors, or guys wearing heavy boots. It was the only shot we were going to get though, so we took it.

Sitting idling at the bottom of the driveway, I went through the normal pre-ride briefing with Finn.

“Hot AF out here, bud. I’m going to take us on backroads around Frederick – I know a nice twisty route that’ll keep us in the shade until Urbana. Then we’ll take the slab down to I-370 where you normally cut off to take MD-200 back to school, but we’ll get off on Shady Grove Road just before the Tollway. Then it’s just 3 miles across Shady Grove to the dealership. I’ll lead across the 2 laner because you don’t know where you’re going. Once we hit the slab you should pass me and set your own pace and I’ll watch your six. When we get to the 370 ramp system I’ll pass again and lead you through the interchange because it’s tricky. You good?”

In response I got Finn’s thumbs up and the sound of his helmet visor slapping shut.

We toed a pair of transmissions down into gear and gassed off in search of a breeze.

 

***

 

The run across the South County really is a fun ride — it avoids about 20 miles of congested slab through Frederick and is a twisting, technical run with lots of elevation changes. Better still, the twistier sections of it are shaded, and it really doesn’t cost one any time, if you’re the sort of person who cares about such things.

It’s your classic twisting backroad shortcut.

Finn and I ran across Mountville Road — which climbs sharply up the ridge out of Jefferson in an entertaining series of switchbacks, and then crossed 15, where the road does a series of 90/90s as it cuts across farmland. By the time Finn and I got to Adamstown, the sides of the tires on my K12 and his CB500 were well warmed. We rode Adamstown Road west to Md 85, where we made a quick dogleg onto MD-80, Fingerboard Road.

Fingerboard is an absolute hoot of a road, with sharp grades and corners along the entire route. If you need more changes in direction or elevation than this, you’re going to need to go to your nearest Six Flags. It was great watching Finn cutting corners in the rearviews — he’s clearly come to a full understanding of his new CB500F, which given the saddle time I have on it, is an agile, compliant, friendly-puppy of a backroad bike. With the revs up it’s developed a lovely growl now that it’s mostly broken in, and the brakes are all one could want on a bike of such relatively little mass. The addition of some Givi hard cases — which look completely integrated and factory on the bike — has almost no perceptible effect on the bike’s handling.

Those Givis Look Factory

Where Fingerboard finally dumps into I-270, there’s a new traffic circle, and the on-ramp is one of the spokes that run off from it. The whole interchange was under construction, and our friendly engineers had lined both the edges of the ramp – front and back – with concrete Jersey Barriers.

Great visibility.

Lots of forgiving runoff space.

No pressure.

I took the K12’s revs up in second gear, got a decent look, and revved it out. I shot a look in my right mirror and Finn was right there with me, having hit the ramp in the same hole with the power on as well. After two quick upshifts the big brick’s rate of acceleration was finally slowing, and as I toed into top gear we adopted an only slightly arrestable cruise.

Amazingly, Finn and I had arrived in one of those unusual concentrations of nothingness on this road — one of the most oversubscribed, accident delayed, congested and generally hated hellscape commuter roads anywhere in the United States Interstate Highway System. Looking ahead, there was a clot of chaotic automobiles visible a few hundred yards up the road. Looking behind another auto-clot was visible, and for a brief period, Finn and I were riding alone, in the seam between the car packs.

In line with the agreed plan, I banked the LT to the right, and motioned with my left elkskin-covered paw for Finn to go by.

He didn’t need to be told twice.

Finn snapped off a smart downshift to fifth gear on his CB’s six speed box, rolled the throttle open and moved right on by.

He set himself up for the entry into the mass of cars we were catching up with, and began deftly slicing his way though the traffic stream.

Clearly, the days of being concerned that Finn couldn’t keep up on his now departed Single were long gone by. Instead of watching Finn’s six it was going to be my job to try to stick with it.

 

***

 

At that rate of cruise, we weren’t on the highway long.

For the brief time we were running south though, I did my level best not to catch bugs in my mouth in slackjawed horror looking at the Northbound lanes of I-270 which were completely filled with cars that were absolutely stopped. Whether it was an accident or a whole buncha people who all formerly thought they were smarter than the other guy trying to jump out early on the Wednesday Holiday by leaving on Sunday morning I will never really know.

All I did know was that on a Sunny, 98 degree day, we sure as heck weren’t going back that way.

After vaporizing Germantown and Gaithersburg we came into the divided 10 lane section where I-370 and MD-200 peel off for Rockville and points west. I snapped off a downshift, repassed my Boy Speedy, and lead the way into the ramp system. The 370 connector ramp is one of those elevated interchanges — two lanes that run high in the air and hold a fairly high rate of turn — in anything but an all out sportscar it would be a struggle, but the setup was just made for a bike.

After the both of us came back up off the right sides of our tires, we blended into traffic and passed a few guys. At the Shady Grove exit I lead the way off, and took us back down on to the surface streets.

For the next 2 or 3 miles Shady Grove Road is utterly suburban, four lanes each direction stoplight to stoplight, development to development, billiard table flat and featureless road. Featureless, except for maybe the cell-phone addled, driving like bottle rocket with one fin torn off, distracted suburban crazies that were inexplicably in a far greater hurry to get where they were going that we were to get to ours.

But as it gets close to the Mongomery County Airpark, where our destination lie, the road does a wonderful, inexplicable thing. I don’t know if it’s because the existing property lines forced the highway designers to perform unnatural acts, or because they were trying to align two utterly unaligned highway beds, but the last two miles before the airpark are like a tiny racebike amusement park, with a series of about six fairly tight, sweeping alternating corners, before one reached the intersection at the entrance to the airpark.

I have seen fellow enthusiast customers leaving the dealership – usually on full on sportbikes, Ducatis or R1s and such – doing unspeakable, unjustifiable things – things that looked like a heck of a lot of fun – on this little racetrack of a road.

If you wanted a racetrack to lead to the door of your motorcycle business, this is the road you’d be on.

 

***

 

Finn and I killswitched and standed the bikes, and spent a few minutes drinking from the insulated water jug and pair of plastic Square Route Rally mugs I’d had stashed on my top case.

My feet still feel hot just remembering it.

I hadn’t been aware that the owner of Battley Cycles/Rockville Harley Davidson – Devin Battley – had been considering retirement, but when you think about it, there comes a time when we all could use a break, so I completely understand why that might be. I’d only seen that the dealership had sold — now called District Cycles/Harley-Davidson — when I went to Battley’s website and saw the redirect.

I’ve done business with these guys – mostly the BMW side of the house – for many years, getting parts, service and accessories when they had what I needed. I’ve had more than a few friends there, all of whom are either gone or more gone, depending on your point of view.

From the parking lot it looked like they’d done a little redecorating and a little bit of rearranging, but except for the new signage the place looked more or less the same.

It was time to check the place out and genuinely enjoy some air conditioning.

 

***

 

Once inside the door, the old Battley sensations came flooding back. Where Buell Battletwin Serial Number 001 used to sit, there was now a receptionist’s desk. About six feet to the left of that, I’d met Lee Conn and seen the first two running Motus prototypes. Lee and his partner, Brian Case, had ridden them up to Maryland from Birmingham.

Snapping back to the present, though, Ms. Nice Receptionist-who-was-not-a-Battletwin inquired what sort of help we might require, and immediately hooked us up with two other nice ladies who might help with our hunt for boots and helmets.

I good a brief look and opportunity to try on the new Shoei RF-SR I’d come to buy. Unsurprisingly, it fit more or less the way its long line of ancestor helmets had. They didn’t have a white helmet in my size on the shelf, so I arranged to have one shipped to my house.

Finn looked at the RF and an Arai, for good measure, too.

“Pop, I can get a set of boots and a nice HJC helmet for what you’ll spend on that helmet. Too rich for my blood. Let’s look at some boots, though.”

I’d seen the HJC CL-17 helmet he had been ogling online – a nice-looking Snell certified helmet for about $130. Couldn’t argue with his reasoning, and was glad to see his value-driven thinking on full display again.

The nice ladies inquired what sort of motorcycle Finn rode. After considering for a second Finn’s Honda, they lead us past the HD-motorclothes department, and led us into the Darkest Closet of Dainese. After one or two pairs of slim racy touring boots or two – both of which were just a bit too armored and apparently, a bit to narrow for Finn’s wide feet – they produced a Gore-Tex low textile boot that took Finn’s existing Alpinestars armored ‘Basketball Shoes’ to the next level of protection with just a touch of Italian flair. And they came in ‘Wides’. They looked great, they had full protection, they were comfortable, and they’d be completely waterproof during Finn’s frequent rain rides.

Sold.

“Quanto costa?” Finn wanted to know.

The nice lady named a number. Finn sucked breath through his front teeth.

“But all apparel is 15% off today!”

Finn still looked less than enthused.

“How ’bout I throw my dad’s day cash from Granma on your tab? Would that do it for ya?”

And indeed it would.

After performing our required commercial drudgery, we spent a little time wandering the showroom admiring the manifold forms of bike flesh that were being offered. I admired a few BMWs that still had some appeal – an S1000XR, an R12RS, and a new custom variant of the R9T that amusingly seemed to have borrowed the non-stock metallic deep Goofy Grape paintjob of my R90S.

In the BMW department, Finn encountered his first Schuberth helmet, which he admired until he saw the pricetag, whereupon it returned to the rack so fast one would have thought it burnt his hand.

Finn was more impressed with a few Scrambler Ducatis and a MultiStrada or two.

I looked for a Motus, but couldn’t find one anywhere.

Thus sated with visions of motorcycles we couldn’t afford, Finn and I bid our hosts adieu, and headed back out onto the cooking surface. I consulted my phone briefly for a map, and realized that the road outside the Airpark, Maryland 124, wandered up through Montgomery County, into Carroll, until it ran back into the eastern end of Fingerboard Road – Maryland 80- which was the country shortcut we’d taken to get down here. All backroads, all likely uncongested, and at least 50% of the route in shaded forest.

I’ve been coming here for more than 20 years and had never found this route until I taken 28 seconds on Google.

We can always learn.

Stands up!

 

***

 

My memories of the ride back are a bit like a Dali painting — vivid colors but a bit melted around the edges.

When it gets this hot I try to remember to switch the ambient temperature display off on the LT’s dashboard. Nobody needs to be constantly reminded just how hot it is.

Finn and I rolled up 124 though Damascus — with the environs slowly changing from suburban to rural — and then went back once on Fingerboard to that lively dance of hills and corners. The LT is in its element here, although the CB might be just a bit more lively fun.

As we crossed back under I-270 coming out of Urbana and back into Frederick County, the big Flying Brick began to radiate heat — the entire driveline having become heat soaked. It wasn’t as bad as say a K1100 LT, but it was bad enough to have one hanging one’s feet off the edges of the pegs in futile search for some cooler air.

The run back up Fingerboard was even more fun than the ride down. We were loose, we were in the groove, and the rubber was definitely fully warm. Finally we blasted over the ridge back into Jefferson on Mountville Road, admiring the view across the valley off the side of the road and appreciating the 5 degree temperature drop one customarily encounters there.

Back in the driveway we went back and hit the water jug hard, and then got the hell back in the house as fast as we could.

 

***

 

About 90 minutes later Finn asked me, “Hey, Pop is this a burn mark on my jeans?”

I leaned in to take a really close look. There was something really familiar about it, but it took a few minutes for the bulb to come on. It’d been hot enough to get burned, but I didn’t think that was what it was.

The Mark of the (Dainese) Devil

“You been sitting with your new boot propped up on our leg? Looks like your jeans have a new little devil tattoo … ”

 

***

 

Two days later, the UPS guy dropped off two new helmet sized boxes on the front porch.

If wanted to see two grown men (admittedly of varying degrees of grownness) acting like kids at Christmas, then you missed your best opportunity.

I pulled the RF-SR out of its box, removed the protection films, and installed the chin curtain and breath guard. I was impressed that the helmet also included a pinlock fog shield as standard equipment. I tried it on, familiarized myself with the controls, and resolved to take it out for blast when it cooled off later that evening.

Finn, in contrast, went immediately out to his bike determined to test his new HJC.

“Pop, I need a picture with my new gear. I want to see how it looks on.”

Stylin’

Right after “Click”, Finn and the CB disappeared out of the driveway, and I could hear the exhaust note of the twin — now out of break-in and properly serviced — running up through the gears until I couldn’t hear it anymore.

I had to assume that Finn really dug his new motorcycle gear, because I didn’t hear that engine or see him again for quite some time.

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Stories You Tell

You are the stories you tell.

Or at least I am, anyway.

What one choses to relate really reflects the path one has chosen to get through this world and the direction one’s head was pointed in — to the heavens or at one’s muddy boots — while doing it.

Wheelying Sweet Doris around Mount Vernon Circle on our first date, or seeing the Biker Genie emerge from the walls of Saint Alfonso’s Canyon at sunset, I personally have a million stories, and haven’t even scratched the surface of them all yet.

Your stories describe the energy you are, and actually become you when your flesh and blood have finally left this earth.

 

***

 

The stories of groups of people — sports teams, military units, companies — are more complicated mythologies.

The legends of the Motorcycle Industry are manifold. Harley and Davidson out at work in the shed. Honda Engineer Kiyoshi Kawashima successfully using Honda’s first 4 stroke motorcycle engine to crest the Hakone pass. Burt Munro clipping 200 miles an hour at Bonneville on a 1920 Indian when the bike was over 40 years old.

If you happen to be Polaris Industries – the current owner of Indian Motorcycles – the story of Burt Munro is your most precious jewel.

Polaris — in purchasing Indian — had the unenviable task of trying to convince the marketplace that their company — and their motorcycles — were the continuance and legitimate inheritor of the Design, Performance and Competition heritage of the Springfield, Massachusetts Indians — a much beloved motorcycle that hadn’t truly existed since 1953.

That the Indian Legend still seemed to have enough heat left in it to draw buyers — to draw the faithful, the believers, after a 60 year dead — is one of the miracle stories of a brand that flat refused to die, even after having many, many chances to do just that.

But if you are Polaris — those legends of Indian — and especially that of Burt Munro — are the stories you absolutely must wrap around yourselves if people are to imbue you with the good will and dedication of a long-lost past to which — objectively — you are only most tenuously connected.

I recently had the opportunity to write about Indian and their Motorcycles, after a much-anticipated test of an Indian Roadmaster Motorcycle. Being a bit of a geek, I was doing all I could to learn about the history of the Marque — even having asked, without success, if there was a corporate archives or historian I could use to help with research. Having failed that, I resorted to Internet-based research, where Indian enthusiast clubs helped out tremendously.

While looking at the Company’s online history, I saw something that immediately struck me as odd. On the Indian Motorcycle Company’s History page “The Story of a Legend”there is a section entitled ‘Burt Munro’s Historic Ride’.

 

 

There are two pictures  — One of Burt Munro on his streamliner with the shell removed.  The other picture is of Hap Alzina’s Indian Arrow streamliner.

Burt Munro’s first visit to the US, and to Bonneville, was in 1962. He ran again there in 1966 and again in 1967. His 1967 Record Run at Bonneville is absolute legend, the subject of A Ripping Yarn and Barn Burner of a Hollywood movie – ‘The World’s Fastest Indian’ .

The ‘Indian Arrow’ only ran once, in 1938, with its rider Freddie Ludlow. The Arrow was kind of a spectacular flop, becoming aerodynamically unstable at a single mile an hour less that the Harley Davidson-set record they had come to beat. Ludlow was born in 1895, and had been a Champion Boardtracker in the 1910s, so by 1938 he was 43 years old. An uncropped version of this same photo is on the AMA website at :  http://www.motorcyclemuseum.org/halloffame/detail.aspx?RacerID=51

These two pictures were taken almost 30 years apart. It’s easy to see from just the cars in the background and Ludlow’s leather helmet. Burt Munro didn’t come to the states until 1962. The second picture isn’t – as it is credited — Burt Munro – it’s clearly Fred Ludlow.

So some web designer somewhere was given access to a set of image files, was told to whip up an Indian History page, saw two old dudes on old motorcycles sitting on the salt and figgered well eff it, that’s close enough. And no one that worked on it, or that reviewed or approved it, or anyone that has looked at it since, knew enough or cared enough to get the story right.

And if they can’t get this story right, then the claim that this is their hallowed past – that they are ‘America’s First Motorcycle Company’, rings as hollow as hollow can be.

I’ve reached out to the company every way that a resourceful man can think of.

Three weeks after that, the ‘Definitely Not Burt Munro’ photo is still posted.

That, I guess, tells a story, too.

 

***

 

On July 2nd, 2018, Indian Motorcycle updated their corporate website’s history page. Where there had been two photos of Burt Munro and Freddie Ludlow, there is now a single picture of Burt.

It’s a much better picture of Burt.

Omps, The Indian and the George Washington Heritage Trail

Some where due east of Omps – The Indian on The Trail

 

During Daytona Beach Bike Week in 2013, Polaris Industries, the owner of Indian Motorcycles, unveiled the Thunder Stroke 111 engine, a brand new design that they intended to use to power the then soon-to-be-introduced Big Twin Indians. Indian, at that point, didn’t yet have a motorcycle, but they did have that engine — an 1811 cc , air and oil cooled, electronically fuel injected, gear driven primary, six speed helical cut gear transmission unit construction motor. The Thunder Stroke looked like an old Indian PowerPlus or Chief motor, but was filled with current tech engineering — it was a stock motor whose specs threw shade at Hot Rodded Harley-Davidson CVO motors, and looked bigger, better and shinier while doing it.

I remember thinking, as Indian’s presenter rolled that throttle open a few times, that while I never much was drawn to the notion of being a Harley Davidson man, that the sound that motor was making was enough to make me at least wonder whether I might somehow be an Indian man.

It was absolutely an open question, and there was only one way to get an answer.

And now that answer was sitting right there in front of me.

 

***

 

Folks that know me well know that in Biker-stuff, my demonstrated tastes have been a sort of gumbo of Eurotrash sporty touring and Techno Geek Road Warrior. I will ride my BMWs — some old, some less old — anywhere, anytime, and in conditions that make some folks question my sanity, as if that was ever even a question.

This means I eschew excessive ornamentation, I am alergic to both excess mass and motorcycle cleaning, and that I like my motorcycles simple, smooth, revvy and good in the corners. Anything beyond that — like outright speed, or weather protection — is just a bonus. I do have a minor fetish for mileage vaporization — the ability to comfortably maintain high sustained speeds for point to point transportation, but that is such a fringe enthusiasm that I hesitate to publicly admit to it.

So when I finally arranged to test a 2018 Indian Roadmaster, it was with a frothy mixture of curiosity, enthusiasm, and just a small seasoning of chagrin.

My oldest and most loved motorcycle — after sleeving up and hotrodding the motor — displaces 900 ccs and weighs about 450 pounds.

The Roadmaster’s specs — 1811 ccs and 920 lbs — completely double that.

I’m used to revs. This wasn’t that.

All my motorcycles have — to a greater or lesser degree — balanced seating positions where one’s arms, legs and haunches equally share the load of the rider’s weight.

The Roadmaster has long floorboards and far forward controls. One morning when starting out with the bike I Charlie-horsed myself reaching forward to toe the bike into gear.

It wasn’t helping that my good, good friends were randomly texting me pictures of objects with ever increasingly comical amounts of conchos and fringe. When I told one of them I had ridden the Roadmaster in my Aerostich suit, he laughed right at me. For a long time.

He may be laughing still.

I, on the other hand, am not laughing at all.

 

***

 

The reason for my lack of mirth is because, despite its ever-so-slightly tacky, over the top horseback cowboys gone chrome aesthetics, the Roadmaster is a very good motorcycle. The saddle of the Roadmaster has a rear Saddle Jockey – a leather skirt at the rear of the saddle — exactly like a good Western horse saddle. Don’t get me wrong — the Roadmaster’s motor, for example, is pure moto-porn – all finning with edges milled, the shapes of the barrels and heads. It’s just some of the details — things like the ‘Indian Motorcycles – 1901’ Indian Head badge on the clutch cover, or the ‘111’ script on the air cleaner — that is just a bit too big or a tiny bit too much in one’s face. I completely understand why the designers might have gotten very worked up at the prospect of Indian’s return, but let’s just say they might have gotten just a tad overstimulated in some respects. That aside, the Roadmaster is comfortable in that skin — it isn’t intended to be anything other than what it is, which is a massive, air cooled hunka hunka burning love, throbbing American road motorcycle. Rolling through the gears on my way home from Twigg Cycles, the dealership that had facilitated my Indian test, it was immediately apparent that this was a far more functional, modern motorcycle than its visuals were designed to suggest.

With its investment cast aluminum chassis, modern cartridge forks, monoshock rear and big ABS disc brakes, the bike’s roadholding punched way above its significant weight — it changed directions briskly without being a wrestling match and didn’t get bent out of shape when it did. The bike’s overall chassis and suspension performance was tight, and in the interest of comfort, about two clicks of compression damping short of taut, but still well controlled. The 1811 cc Thunder Stroke motor was a mountain of torque — travelling up the South Mountain Grade on I-70 East there was enough power everywhere to put yourself anywhere you wanted to be in the traffic stream and go there with authority. The Roadmaster’s gearbox was bank vault solid — the helical cut gears shifted with feedback and precision — a pleasure to operate. Air control in the cockpit was good – with the adjustable screen dialed all the way up it was serene enough to run with helmet visor open.

It took me only a little while to figure out that my customary technique, which involves strong countersteering and leaning inside, needed to be modified to a more lead with one’s lower body technique – which makes sense on a machine with a 26 inch saddle height — that had me comfortable rolling the corners by the time I’d finished my run down Maryland 17 and got back to Jefferson.

I spent a fair amount of time looking at the motorcycle that evening.

There was clearly a lot more to the Indian rebirth than conchos and fringe. It was going to be fun to find out what that lot more was.

 

***

 

My life, even with a test bike in the driveway, is just like anybody else’s. Saturdays have chores and shopping and runs to the hardware store, so on Saturday I do what I always do, which is use my motorcycle for any errand for which it is feasible. Overnight Friday it continued to do what it’s been doing, which was to pour raining, so when I had to grab some tools for a project up at my local hardware store, I was starting with a soaked, completely cold motorcycle.

The starting drill on the Roadmaster, given its keyless ignition setup, is exciting — one pushes the ‘Power’ button on the right side of the dash — its one that looks like it escaped from an iPhone and then spent some spare time lifting weights — and then watches while the color LCD goes through its little rumbling motors and sweeping flames animation. Once complete, one rocks the kill switch from ‘not run’ to the ‘run’ position, and the bike’s electronics manage the motor start sequence. The Thunder Stroke motor has a starting decompression system, which slightly opens the exhaust valves until the motor catches, which it does on about the third compression stroke. The motor comes up to an immediate steady idle, although from dead cold, it does exhibit a little bit of a lean stumbly character once underway, along with a slightly sticky clutch which makes selecting first gear and shifting a bit high effort until the motor begins to warm. None of this is the least bit surprising in a mammoth air-cooled motor that has a nearly 4 inch wide cylinder bore. After a mile or so, though, with some heat in the cylinder heads and the oil, the bike returns to its hard hitting, smooth shifting self.

After getting the necessary metal cutting blades I needed for my project, I rode back (the long way) to the shop, just enjoying the Roadmaster’s mechanical personality, and looking for any excuse to roll the ride by wire throttle open and shift the gearbox up through the gears. The Thunder Stroke’s exhaust note — with factory pipes in place — is just perfect, low toned and rumbly, with no burble or backfire on the overrun.

After wrapping up in the shop for the day, I saddled up again and headed over to Brunswick, which was sponsoring a Bike Night. Sweet Doris From Baltimore and I wandered around, ate some crabcakes, and quickly came to the conclusion that most of the ‘Biker Activities’ — beer, swag sales and bad cover band — were of limited appeal to us, so we took up a seat behind the Roadmaster and engaged with the many riders who stopped to look when they walked by.

One Gazillion Harleys and Just a Single Indian – OK, a guy with a Shadow snuck in somehow

Most folks that saw the bike were clearly struck by its appearance and stopped to talk. I had a few business cards from the sales manager at Twigg’s and gave them to folks that seemed genuinely interested.

After a while, I restarted the bike, and took the scenic route home – following Maryland 17 through Burkettsville – and prepared for a big ride tomorrow. It was time to put on some miles, ride through a tank or two, and really see what we had.

 

***

 

When we got home that night Sweet D looked at the weather forecast for the next day and told me, “Well, you better be ready to go early tomorrow. You’ll have one gap in the weather early in the day and the later it gets, the worse the forecast looks.”

I am never ready to go early.

 

***

 

Early Sunday morning, I was out in the driveway, taking a towel to the saddle and controls, and looking at the low sliding clouds that were off to the North and the East. And though it might not work as A Look with Conchos, I had my trusty ‘Stich on, and knew I’d be just fine no matter what the weather threw at us.

Dried off and strapped on, I lit up the Indian’s big motor. I let it idle briefly – listening to the operation of the valve train and injectors on the top end of the engine that was sitting in my lap. Despite the presence of the sophisticated electronics, the motorcycle itself had a comforting massively mechanical quality to it — every time those valves closed and one of those pistons fired, there’d be no question as to what was going on.

By the time I hit the traffic light in town – about three quarters of a mile from home – there was enough heat in the engine and oil that all was clearly well. When the light turned I made the left up Holter Road, and headed up some of the best roads in The Valley.

Where I might have been originally, I was no longer tentative with the bike in corners. I’d completely come to grips with it, and was completely comfortable with the ‘steer with your butt’ motion the motorcycle seemed to prefer. On these few technical corners spinning the engine a little between 2000 and 4000 rpm I was smiling at the way the suspension was working – keeping all that bike in line – and the thrust coming off corner exits. Running up though the gears was like Cracker Jacks – there was a free prize inside every time.

Holter Road turns onto Maryland 17 in Middletown, which gets tighter and curvier, and then deposits one at the entrance to I-70 in Myersville. I banked left into the entrance ramp, thonked up into sixth, and headed west into the mist to find the Indian.

 

***

 

Over the course of a great many miles, I’ve become a firm believer in listening intently to what your motorcycle is telling you. On my K12, at 3900 rpm everything goes smooth, and will run at that indicated 83 miles an hour until your road turns to ocean. With two 900cc plus cylinders, the Roadmaster’s motor looms larger, and it’s presence dictates everything you do. Listening to the Thunder Stroke, it told me it was happiest around 2100 rpm, which in sixth gear was around 74. It still had tons of power — with its torque peak at 3000 — and would briskly walk away on throttle, but everything up higher seemed just a little more busy, a little more blustery — 74 seemed to be the Roadmaster’s comfortable walking shoes – the driveline harmonics’ smiley happy place. Might it smooth out a bit as it fully breaks in? Maybe. But where I’m used to attacking, the Roadmaster’s take was to be taking it easy, and looking good and feeling comfortable doing it.

The night before I’d looked for the bones of a route with a couple of alternate ideas if Mother Nature got mad. I’d sat down with my laptop running Google Maps – and figured I’d head west to just past Hancock Maryland, where I’d get off the interstate and turn towards Berkley Springs West Virgina. USS 522 runs from 70 south through Berkley Springs across Morgan County and further south to Omps.

“Omps?” I thought. I rubbed my eyes, squinted a little harder, and cranked the Zoom up on the laptop.

“Omps

Omps is an unincorporated community that lies along U.S. Route 522 in Morgan County, West Virginia, USA. Omps previously had a post office that operated between 1887 to 1973.

The community was named after one Mr. Omps, an original owner of the town site.”

What would we do without Wikipedia?

Ok, so I apologize to the inhabitants of Omps, West Virginia, but I noticed your town on the map because I thought it had a funny name. I used to live in Point of Rocks, Maryland, so you can have a turnabout is fair play laugh on me just for sport.

And whether Omps is a funny name or not, what I really noticed was the Great Big Green Thing right behind it on the map — The Sleepy Creek Wildlife Management Area. The more I zoomed in, the more tiny roads appeared. Eventually, those tiny roads popped over the mountains and came out somewhere between Inwood and Martinsburg, which was more or less back in my backyard.

Plan: Go west to 522, head south to Omps, and then make a left and then just wing it.

“Wing it? But Greg,” you say, “that Roadmaster has an LCD screen, built in GPS and nav, why would you not use it?”

Pretty simple. I was out for a ride. Not a get there.

***

 

I’ll admit that in the first few minutes after I hit cruise on 70, I did spend a little bit of time looking at the info screens to see what the system could do. I set the bike on its cruise control, which works perfectly, and diverted some attention to the onboard systems. The bike could present four different displays on the bright color LCD, that one could toggle though with either the preset buttons below the screen or with a toggle on the handlebars. My personal fave was strictly a riding information screen – real time tire pressures and fuel range. There were also screens for GPS, for navigation, for the radio and for interface with a smart phone and bluetooth music. There was also a button which dimmed the screen down to a series of dark grays with a barely discernible Indian head. I think that screen is called “Off”.

I liked that screen a lot too.

If you want to know how the radio sounded, you’ll need to ask someone else. While it looks like a nice one, I never turned it on. Between being extra attentive to someone else’s motorcycle and the bike’s built-in music, it never occurred to me to blast some tunes.

And I might have had more time to, if the aforementioned Mother Nature hadn’t shown up pissed.

Plenty pissed, too, if the intensity of the rain was any indication.

I’ve ridden in rain. I’ve ridden in lots of rain.  On my own motorcycle, with tires engineered specifically for rain traction – Thank you, Avon! – it doesn’t freak me out.

On an unfamilar motorcycle and tires, I wasn’t in a position to assume anything, I just needed to be vigilant and listen to what the motorcycle was telling me. I did cop a brief stop on the shoulder — 4 way flashers on — to close the vents and vanes on the fairing lowers and then gassed it back into traffic, and raised the power windscreen to its highest position. Even with the gas on in this strangling downpour the Roadmaster seemed planted, so I managed my lane position to keep away from other traffic and kept the bike running at about 65.

Fairing Vents Full Open

Lower Vent Closed

Deflectors Up, Captain

 

I passed a group of HD riders that were under an overpass, struggling with raingear.

“Who’s laughing at my Aerostich, now, mateys? Anybody want to buy one of these?”

Overall the protection offered by the bike’s fairing was quite good — my hands and my elbows were a little wetter than I was used to, but my torso and lap were dry, and my feet were also out of the blast. In the 11/10th test conditions Moms Nature provided, Roadmaster’s weather protection gets a solid two thumbs up.

After about 25 miles of this, the Roadmaster and I finally punched out the other side of the storm. It was still a little damp and steamy, but at least one didn’t drown if one opened one’s mouth. We continued to cruise– Thunder Stroke 111 just throbbing along — the few remaining miles up the interstate, until we got to the intersection of I-70, I-68, and US-522. I exited on 522 and headed south towards Berkeley Springs.

522 is a perfect two lane secondary road. If you are the type of rider that does all of your travelling off the Interstate, and seeks out roads like this, then the Roadmaster is a perfect travelling motorcycle. On 522’s winding curves, handling was almost zero effort and felt totally planted, the feet forward ergonomics made perfect sense, and one could lower the power shield to below one’s sightline and still run with visor open and minimal wind buffeting. Running at around 60 mph in 5th gear on the 6 speed box, any sluggish traffic could be instantly dispatched with zero drama — the Roadmaster’s power was like one giant slingshot.

Heading south on 522 one passes the sand mines of US Silica, and then encounters the small town of Ridersville, WV. As a committed motorcyclist, any town called Ridersville is OK by me, and this is one doubly so because of Ridersville Cycles, a large, modern multiline dealership that sits off the west side of the highway. I’d have stopped to say ‘Hi’ but they ride on Sundays, so I continued my relaxed roll to the South.

Coming into Berkeley Springs, I got a demonstration of how well the bike dealt with in-town trolling — at just above walking speeds — and found the bike to be stable and comfortable – not requiring any effort to keep on-line. Leaving town I saw a BP Station, and since I meant to get lost it was best to do it with a full tank.

I rolled into the station and standed the bike. I had a few awkward moments as I eyeballed the dual caps on the Roadmaster’s tank — remembering that only one of them is functional and not being able to remember which one. I guessed wrong, of course, and ended up with a cap in my hand with a safety sticker under it that said “Cap is decorative. Do not loosen or remove.”

Checking carefully to ensure I had not been observed in this serious transgression, I replaced the dummy cap, and tried the other one, which proved to be much more satisfactory. The tank took about 4 and a half gallons of Ultimate – capacity is 5 and a half – and I was much more careful not to drip fuel on this pretty paintjob — Indian calls it ‘Bronze over Thunder Black’ — than I would have been with one of my own motorcycles. I noticed that the trip computer had recalculated my range to empty based on my actual observed mileage – the sort of thing I could come to love out on the road. I got back on 522 South, riding the rolling hills and curves into Omps.

There isn’t much to Omps, really.

Cacapon State Park, with its Lake, Cabins and Golf Course. A Country Market with Gas Station, and the building that looked like it might have been the Post Office, back when Omps had one. But as soon as Omps had come it was gone, and my attention turned to finding a likely left turn that looked like it would cut up into the mountains to the east.

A few rolling miles south of Omps the sign appeared — it was all in international symbols — Fishing, Hunting, Camping, Left Turn — but to me it said ‘Pay dirt!’. I lit up my left signal, dropped a few gears to second, braked firmly and rolled left. By the time I had the Roadmaster straightened up and shifted back into third, I was sure I’d made the right move.

We’ve got lots of roads like this around where I live — little wandering country goat paths — but the ones that are left are in undeveloped farm land, and frankly, they don’t actually go anywhere. Three miles is about all one gets before getting dumped back out on a modern highway. But in Motorcyclist’s West Virginia, these roads can go on seemingly forever. This one rolled on though forest field and cabins as it slowly climbed the mountain — it would occasionally open up briefly where it hit pasture but mostly it was one turn after another, and the higher we climbed, the tighter it got.

From time to time, we’d hit an intersection, and I’d take which ever way looked good to me at the time. And while the road kept getting smaller, and the surroundings mistier, except for a few 270 degree switchbacks which tested the Roadmaster’s driveline and fuel injection’s ability to provide tractable, smooth steady power as really low rpms, I felt as comfortable on the bike as I could be, which is high praise indeed for a very large bike on a very small road. Coming out of these slow corners the bike smoothly launched from low road speeds – the frame’s rigidity and the suspension and steering geometry made what could have been a wrestling match very low effort and relaxing. In the whole time I had the bike, not a single bit touched down.

DSC_0078

Leather? Check. Conchos? Check. Chrome? Check and Check. Winding Road? Perfect.

A few corners in, I was presented with another sign — George Washington Heritage Trail. It pointed in a direction, so I went that way. The Father of Our Country has never steered me wrong, and he didn’t on this day, either. The Trail kept rolling up to the summit — rocky hillsides with sparse forestation — and then broke back down the other side to the valley below. Eventually, after miles and miles of winding country roads, we came in via WV51 into the back side of Charles Town, which was frankly too close to home.

US 340 goes home, so I didn’t take it, opting instead for WV9, a twisting local favorite that took me into Loudoun County Virginia, where I picked up Loudoun Heights Road, which since the last time I’ve ridden it, has become a driveway for wineries, which is a shame, because the road itself is a gem — threading vineyard and forests with challenging turns. The vineyard tourists introduce a new wrinkle to running The Heights. It’s a road I know well, and can be ridden with verve — I did spend some time with revs up and butterflies open — the Roadmaster’s sound was superb.

Too soon though we were back on 340 North, and on a divided highway running hard for home. For the few miles left of open road, I opened it up, and spent some time running the bike at a higher road speeds. And while it never ran out of motor, and was willing to pull, there was something that just seemed unnatural spinning that big motor at those speeds. It wanted to know what my hurry was, trying to vaporize the scenery when it was clearly worth dissolving into, embracing, and savoring for a while.

 

***

 

Everybody has a travelling style – no one is right or wrong.

When I was down at the Barber Vintage Festival, a couple of years back, I found myself in the pits of the Blue Moon Cycle Vintage Racing Team. And amongst the /5s, R90s and kneeler sidecars sat a Cherokee Red Indian Roadmaster. I’m pretty sure I was Dribble Puddleing — both that Engine and the Bike are chrome candy moto art — it’s the sort of thing that is kind of difficult to ignore.

Its owner — who was slightly older than I am — saw me looking, and wanted to know what I rode. I told him and he said he’d traded in the same bike I rode for this.

“No neck pain, no back pain, It’s amazing.” He said. “I’ve ridden every travelling BMW – R100RS, 1100 RTs, K Bikes, the works… this is the most comfortable travelling motorcycle I’ve ever owned.”

I thought a lot about what he told me, from that time to this.

Then I rode home from Alabama — 835 miles — in a single sitting, thinking about it most all the way.

And having ridden the Indian, I now understand what he meant.

Ride this motorcycle in its element as it wants to be ridden, and it is an illuminating experience.

Let that big motor do exactly what it was built to do.

The Roadmaster isn’t about getting there, it’s about being there, about being immersed in the ride for as long as it lasts.

It’s the kind of motorcycle that changes you, and can completely change your perspective.

 

 

***

 

Thanks to Indian Motorcycles and to Twigg Indian, in Hagerstown, Maryland, for providing a 2018 Indian Roadmaster motorcycle for this story.

A complete Road Test and Review appears in the July/August Edition of Motorcycle Times.

Drenched

I can’t remember a time when I’ve been in a darker, shittier mood.

I was supposed to be on an extended motorcycle trip last week — attending my employer’s annual sales kick off conference in Nashville, Tennessee. It would be great to see my colleagues that I very rarely see – all of whom work remotely – do a little socializing, and have a beer or two. Originally, the plan even included making the trip on a press pool bike — a brand spanking new 2018 Honda Gold Wing. About 1300 miles of Blue Ridge Mountain rambling in the middle of May’s gentle weather sounded like a breather my soul and body badly needed. To say I was looking forward to it was an understatement.

Things turning inexorably bad takes more than one or two inputs.

First, the availability of the Gold Wing test bike was delayed. No matter, I have my own GT bike and truthfully, in the 500th mile of a 600 mile day, the familiarity of my own motorcycle was probably preferable — 20 years of muscle memory can ride out of a lot of things that having to think about it can’t.

Then the weather turned bad.

That sounds innocuous. This wasn’t.

The night before I was supposed to leave, a massive stationary front moved into the area – at one point dumping nearly 8 inches of rainfall during a period of just over 90 minutes. The City of Frederick – about 6 miles east of Jefferson – quickly started showing up first on the regional, and then the national news. Frederick – which had made a multi million dollar investment in the Carroll Creek Flood Control Project – flooded out in a major way, with the city’s main streets going under, the main city park turning onto a brand new lake, and then the City’s water and sewer plants failing, prompting both the City and Country to declare formal Disasters.

Figuring the bike trip would have to wait, I transferred by packed bags to my pickup truck, and then checked Google maps to see what the route down I-81 into Tennessee looked like. The aforementioned stationary front was stationary over 80% of my entire route — with zero possibility of improvement until I got past Bristol, TN., with flash flood and areal flood warnings throughout. Jefferson is about 65 miles from the entry to I-81, and that morning Google Maps showed 17 secondary roads and/or bridges between here and there either closed or destroyed.

At that point, bike or truck, it was a stupid time to be on the road, and a slightly less stupid time to leave my family unattended.

I called my boss and told him I was going to withdraw from the conference. He concurred with my decision.

It continued to rain like that for the next six days. Then the sun came out for an afternoon, and then it rained like that for four more days.

Frederick County, Maryland is crisscrossed with small streams, and those streams proceeded to wreak havoc on everything they could reach. Rolling Physics Problem frequently inhabits those tiny tertiary roads and their antique iron bridges – as of this morning, many of them have been washed out or destroyed.

All that was bad, but because of the Homebuilt Teardrop Camper V2.0 project that had consumed my garage, all of my motorcycles were temporarily being parked outside in these conditions. Which was worse.

So my family and I hid inside. The roads were not safe for venturing out for anything optional in nature. So I worked days. Took and hour or two in the evening working on the camper. And worked weekends and even most of the Memorial Day holiday on the camper. We had cabin fever bad, doing work for work, and what was starting to seem like work for fun, too.

I needed a break, and I really needed a ride.

Really.

So last night, after a burger with the Fam, Sweet Doris from Baltimore took one look at me and suggested I go for a ride.

This isn’t the type of guidance with which I’m prone to argue.

I grabbed my Shoei and a jacket, and headed outside to see how the /5 had dealt with the weather.

I’ve already covered how the Toaster Tank doesn’t really appreciate these kinds of conditions. After that little misadventure I had gerry-rigged what we’ll call a ‘Bikini cover’ — using a small tarp to fabricate a sort of soft batwing fairing that at least kept the controls, handlebar switchgear and headlight housing covered and out of the weather. The tarp’s four corner eyelets could be connected with a short bunji under the steering head and it kept at least the most weather sensitive bits protected.

I yanked the mini-cover, powered the bike up, opened the petcocks, set the choke, and petitioned the Lord with Prayer.

The Lord, apparently, was taking a little PTO.

On the first compression stroke, I got a tiny pop, but the engine did not catch. For the next 50 strokes or so, I got nothing.

On this motorcycle, with its V1.0 Electric Starter — geared too high — and overbored 900 cc top end — staying in the button that long is to risk completely draining the starter battery.

I was either going to need to diagnose this issue on the fly, or we weren’t going to ride this motorcycle this evening.

Pure intuition informed my next move.

After spinning the engine for that long with the chokes set, I should be smelling gasoline in the exhaust.

I wasn’t.

Ergo, the engine wasn’t getting fuel.

And what was the most likely cause of this engine not getting fuel?

Ummm, water, perhaps?

Fortunately, Bing CV carbs are designed to be dead easy to service. I reached down, flipped the spring clip that retains the float bowl, and brought the bowl up to eye level. Sure enough, the bottom of the float bowl, and especially the depression where the jets sit, was covered in water drops, moving around like the vinegar under the oil in a salad dressing bottle. You could clearly see the water, and it was clearly gumming up the works.

I walked over to the edge of my driveway, and dumped the entire contents of the bowl off the edge. I grabbed a shoprag from the open garage door and wiped out the water residue.

At this point, I realized that in my fixation on diagnosis, I had neglected to turn off the fuel petcock, so the open Bing was gently piddling small amounts of fuel onto my driveway.

If you work for the EPA, I admit fault — I’ll go quietly.

After closing the offending petcock, I repeated the drill with the float bowl from the other side.

I did the best job of wiping the fuel from my hands that a shop rag will permit.

Just on a whim, I dialed the Lord’s extension one more time.

My call was answered.

On the second compression stroke, the /5 fired, and it slowly came up to a slightly less enthusiastic state of operation than was customary. It was operating though, and that was a significant improvement over where we’d been a few minutes ago.

I pulled my Shoei back on, fastened the strap, and cinched down my gauntlets.

I rolled the bike down the driveway and rolled out through the neighborhood.

The Toaster’s drum brakes – also being filled with water — were largely ineffective. It was going to take a few miles of dragging them and putting some heat into the system before actual stopping was going to be a legitimate choice.

I made the right onto the Jefferson Pike and headed down the hill towards Brunswick.

 

***

 

Given the destruction following the flooding today’s ride was going to be the ‘Road Closed – Bridge Out Tour’. Less than 2 miles from home I hit my first ‘Road Closed’ sign. Having spent a few years riding these roads, I know there’s a difference between ‘Road Closed’ and ‘Road Impassable by Toaster Tank’. The county highway men always leave their site control barriers more than 32 inches apart, and 32 inches is all I need.

I knew there was a small culvert bridge just before the intersection of Maryland Rt 180 and Maryland 17 that had failed the first night of the storm, and had been closed ever since. I wanted to head down that way and see just how bad it was – worst case would be that I’d arrive at the bridge, see blue skies and open water and have to turn around. So I skirted around the first barrier and continued in the direction of the bridge.

Just after that I got this strange sensation … and it just wasn’t clicking what it was. When I looked down though, I could see that my crotch and my whole left leg were wet and getting wetter… wet with what and from where were immediate questions that I had. I pulled onto the shoulder and went into neutral. Given that this highway was technically closed my level of risk posed by other motorists was pretty low.

Looking down I could see a clear liquid streaming off the outside of the petcock’s retaining nut — it was hitting the fuel lines and dripping onto the exhaust headpipe. I stuck a gloved finger into the stream and brought it up to my nose. Thankfully, it wasn’t gasoline… so what the heck was it and where was it coming from? So I traced the flow back until I realized it was coming from the bottom of the bike’s chrome tank sides — the toaster panels had had so much water blasted at them that they were both filled up. The combination of some engine heat and vibration had them gushing the trapped liquid out … all over my privates.

I’ve had this motorcycle for more than 30 years, and this was a new one on me.

Having satisfied myself that I hadn’t encountered some new way of having a bike fuel tank go incontinent, I continued west on MD 180, past a second, and then a third ‘Road Closed’ sign. Shortly thereafter I came to the bridge with yet another conveniently spaced sign and barrier. I could see where this bridge’s deck had been torn off, and where crews had already repaired the erosion damage around the culvert and the edge of the highways. The surface of the bridge was graded gravel and some mud, but the signs of recent traverse by tracked construction vehicles was plainly evident, and I could see no sign of it being unsafe for toasters. There may have been a slight drop where the road had been peeled off, but with 8+ inches of suspension travel, I’ve ridden far worse, and cared less.

I continued through the barriers on the other side and up the hill towards 17.

As I started up 17, I hit the stagger and had to switch the bike’s petcocks to reserve. Pulling up 17 though open farm country I was able to get the bike into top gear and finally began sensing the bike was starting to dry out — things were a tad off normal, but I suspect that the combination of a wet air filter element and some slight residual moisture in the fuel were the likely culprits here — running off the bottom of the tank would help to get rid of what at this point was likely some moisture-contaminated gasoline.

With the Toaster finally punching through these little troubles and coming back to itself, my spirits finally started to lift. The bike, as always, handled the tight technical sections of 17 with the grace of a bicycle – changing directions effortlessly and setting up for and driving out of corners with verve.

It paid to be aware, though. There were frequent washouts of gravel and mud — the shoulders and edges of the road were eroded away — and there was substantial amounts of down trees, lumber and debris anywhere near any stream or body of water.

Still, the old boxer came on song, danced though sections of twisting roads that rolled towards us and slid under the forks, and generally made it so that I couldn’t remember why I’d felt so black 10 minutes before.

Which is no small accomplishment when you still look like a man that has just wet himself.

Pioneers, Trackers, Roadracers and Heros — Part Three

What is a hero?

The very idea of a hero fills the heart and makes light and heat in the mind.

I recently witnessed a ceremony where awards for extraordinary heroism were awarded, and the presenter read from the award’s charter where they attempted to define the rare quality which they intended to honor.

Heroes, in their view, were perfectly normal people who were compelled to do extraordinary things in tremendously hazardous circumstances, with no concern for their own personal safety.

We might differ on details, but that seems as good an understanding of heroes as we are likely to get.

As a kid, I had heroes – Chuck Yeager, John Glenn, Buzz and Neal, the version of Joe Leonard that smoked the STP Turbine Car around Indianapolis. They were men that went further and faster and to places where no man had gone before – all sporting Kodachrome smiles that belied the danger of the metal machines they all piloted, and that seemed utterly unaware of the not remote possibilities of their own deaths.

Anyone that lives the life of the motorcyclist understands instinctively that there is always danger.

The left brain part of me analyzes it, prepares for it, and does my level best, through focus, awareness, preparation and good decision making, to stay as far the hell away from it as possible.

Consider my application for Motorcycle Hero summarily rejected. I’m OK with that.

Calvin Rayborn, though, was entirely another matter.

San Diego born, and a motorcyclist by the age of 8, Cal Rayborn only knew one speed – and that was as fast as whatever he was riding would go. Cal worked as a Motorcycle Courier as a youth, and got in the habit of riding “as fast as I could, because that’s how you made money in that business.”

In an era when American Racing was centered on the dirt track, Cal’s lifetime of hustling a bike on pavement helped make him one of the most talented roadracers of all time. Don Vesco – another great who for a while tuned Cal’s bikes – recalled the young Cal, then known as ‘Slugger’, showing up for AFM Roadracing Events with his streetbike and basically wiping up the longtimers – even the ones with specialized racing machinery.

The Old Wise Ones at your local racetrack will always tell you that “It’s not the Bike, it’s the Rider, Son”, and there was no better illustration of that Wisdom than Cal Rayborn.

Rayburn’s record of 11 AMA National Race Victories and 3 Rounds of the 1972 TransAtlantic Match Racing Series was compiled on machinery that was by no means the best or fastest racing motorcycles available at the time. In fact, Rayburn’s entire career, both before and after he joined the Harley Davidson factory team, was characterized by winning consistently on motorcycles that conventional wisdom had identified as uncompetitive.

I’ve already had my fun at the expense of Harley Davidson’s KR racebike – a 1950s tech chassis powered by a 1930’s tech, iron barreled, side valve flathead motor. The KR was lawnmower tech gone racin’, and Cal won not one but two Daytona 200s on roadracing KRs – outriding and outlasting an ever increasing number of two stroke powered racers.

When you are a young motorcyclist, lots of folks will provide you with utterly wrong advice. A lot of that wrong advice is perfectly well intentioned, but simultaneously perfectly wrong. One of those gems of flawed wisdom is that if you break traction with the front wheel, you will certainly crash.

Rayborn was notable for being faster in the corners, and the tighter they were the bigger his margins – Vesco describes a style where Cal would carry far more speed on the corner entries than other riders, and then would drift the front wheel to scrub down to his apex speed. This is pretty common in current MotoGP racing, but in 1967 Cal might have well been from outer space. In the 1968 Daytona 200, Cal lost the front end of his KR doing that, and slid so far on the side of the bike that he wore through the knees of his leathers (way pre-pucks) and put a small hole in the KR’s belly pan before muscling the bike back onto its tires and winning the race.

Cal was faster and more consistent on slower motorcycles than riders equipped with the latest low mass 2 stroke missiles – a rider that made a mental leap past his own fear and into an unknown realm where Cal was getting everything out of it his bike could give, and everybody else was back there somewhere.

And winning with the Flathead KR wasn’t a fluke. When our British Racing Brethren organized a Series called the Trans-Atlantic Match Racing Series, they invited Cal and he knew he wanted to compete. The HD Factory Team refused to either contest the series, or to sponsor Cal. Cal eventually found and borrowed an Alloy Barreled XR roadrace bike, and in a country where he’d never been, and on tracks on which he’d never raced, and with a technologically disadvantaged, slower motorcycle he won 3 of the 6 rounds, and came home with a lot of new and dedicated British fans, who knew they’d seen a racing hero.

Cal’s Trans-Atlantic Match Race Harley XR

 

The Only This Special About This Bike Was It’s Rider

 

 

***

 

I came to my motorcycle enthusiasm later in life – later than 8 year old Calvin anyway – but when I started to really pay attention to Grand Prix racing there was only Wayne Rainey.

Don’t misunderstand me, it’s not like there weren’t other talented racers on the track competing against him. There was enough talent to fill several GP grids – Freddie Spencer, Mick Doohan, Eddie Lawson, Wayne Gardiner, Kevin Schwantz. All of these men were talented, even gifted riders, but for those three years — 1990 – 91 – 92 – Wayne Rainey looked and raced like a superhuman hero. With his California Dude good looks, Hollywood smile, and Marlboro Yamaha matching leathers and motorcycle, Rainey just looked he floated a full foot above the ground, and like all he needed to achieve full SuperHero status was his own cape and a comic book. His behavior on the track was right in line.

Wayne didn’t arrive at the top shelf with no steps in between. Like many future champions, Wayne started early – riding at 6 and racing by 9. Figuring out early that his talent lay on pavement, Wayne ended up with a Superbike ride for Kawasaki, and competed successfully against racers like Mike Baldwin, and his Kawasaki teammate, Eddie Lawson. By his second Superbike season, Wayne brought home the Number One plate, and was rewarded for his troubles by having Kawasaki withdraw from racing – leaving him unemployed — as the American economy melted down.

Wayne’s Championship Superbike

Rainey bounced around in 250 GP and AMA Formula 1, looking for a bike and a team that he could take to the hole. And he found that team when he was hired in 1988 by Marlboro Team Roberts to ride in 500 GP. With Yamaha’s tire smoking YZR500 V4 2 stroke racer and Team Roberts, Wayne began winning consistently, and by 1990, Wayne started a run of consecutive Championships that was only stopped by catastrophe.

Races like the 1993 Japanese Grand Prix help to understand what an extraordinary racer Wayne Rainey was. In a 21 lap race there must have been 60-70 lead changes, with Rainey, Schwantz and Shinichi Itoh playing 3D Chess with GP bikes, taking positions and having them taken back by their opponents corner after corner. Itoh’s Honda looked to be up on raw power, taking the lead on the Suzuka circuit’s long straights, but in the curves the race quickly became a full on knife fight. Rainey stayed always within striking distance of the leader, and with two laps remaining, and showing off the tire spinning style of Team Robert’s namesake, simply put his head down, made a critical move and just walked away from the rest of the field. Like all heroes, Wayne knew when it was time to ride toward the direction of danger.

It’s a shame that masterful confidence and surety only seems to work for so long.

Rainey’s YZR500 – Missile By Marlboro

 

Mr. Rainey’s Office

 

***

 

In a place like this, there’s no shortage of heros. Like Nixon, Emde, Mig DuHamel, Malcolm Smith.

Not Nixon’s Bike, But a Pretty Convincing Replica

Don Emde – Master of Lightweights

Mig’s CBR600RR

 

Malcolm Smith Dressed For Any Sunday

A Better Look at Malcolm’s Husky

After this much stimulation, the brain oil gets overwarm, it starts losing power up top, and the next thing you know you’re on the crash truck for the day.

At least that’s how it went for me. After more heroes and quite a few heroines as well, I just couldn’t take it all in any more.

Then you come round a corner, and it all gets quiet.

Because there it is, the actual Hall of Fame.

The Hall

It comes off almost feeling like a church – a semi-circular wall focusing on a bronze of a pioneer Indian flat track racer. Around that wall are the small plaques commemorating the Hall’s Inductees. At the rear there is a video monitor that plays a collection of historical footage of the heroes behind the bars.

It’s a place of contemplation. Of reverence.

The company’s pretty good.

 

***

 

Telling this story I became acutely aware of how much more I was forced to leave out than I was able to tell.

Of things like the memorial wall, where the names of a few of my friends – who’ve gone to riding better roads — can be found.

Of stories like Dave Barr’s – who didn’t let the fact that he’d lost both is legs in combat in Viet Nam keep him from riding around the world on his Harley Davidson.

Or a million other objects – trophies, old photos, racing leathers, a flat track racer’s steel shoe.

Which is why you owe it to yourself, if you love motorcycles, to go to Pickerington and experience it all for yourself.

I’m always happy to tell you my stories, but sometimes you just need to make your own.

 

***

 

There are lots more pictures of our trip to The Hall — the entire album can be seen here.

Freeway Blasters

I know I’m lucky to be able to devote a whole garage bay to my motorcycle illness.

Three motorcycles fit in there easily. Four if pressed. Five if desperate measures demand it, and sometimes they have.

That ‘Garage of Blessings’ is probably a contributing reason why I still have a 45 year old motorcycle that is still largely dependable.

 

***

 

Sweet Doris From Baltimore and I have been well nigh consumed by the project of constructing Teardrop Camper Version 2.0. Its gone from years of planning to months of solder and sawdust. Because the cabin is being constructed currently, there is a need for tons of floor space to convert to cutting, shaping and finishing plywood, and given how completely insane the weather has been, its been temporarily necessary to relocate the three remaining motorcycles that live here outside.

My bikes have been parked outside before. It was no big deal.

Did I mention that the weather has been completely insane?

 

***

 

After Sweet D and I had finished a long day of work that resulted in the entire cabin of the Teardrop being joined and set in place, it was time for a brief Ibuprofen party, a good quality Oat Soda, and some much needed rest.

The weather report showed a line of rainstorms coming in during the late overnight — the weather radar looked like a train of red boxcars that stretched out all the way down the Appalachians and well past Nashville.

I remember thinking – having seen the radar – that it was going to be a noisy night.

 

***

 

At about 4:13 in the morning, I hit my face on the roof of my bedroom.

I’d been in deepest R.E.M. sleep, and now I definitely wasn’t.

I didn’t know who I was, who you was, where we were, what was up. You know, the whole everything. Nothing.

There was, though, this NOISE.

It was like an air raid siren, like a missile launch, like a Great Lakes Lighthouse Foghorn at a distance of three feet.

The combination of being blown out of deep sleep and this incredible, knock the wind out of your lungs, thundering noise was enough to produce at least ten seconds of total mental paralysis.

You never have a electroencephalograph handy when you need one, but to have run mine then would have shown perfectly flat lines and the soft rushing emptiness in the mind of a Zen Master.

Then my mental boot sequence wrapped up, and cognition came on line.

“SHIT! IT’S THE HORN ON THE SLASH 5!”

I pulled on some sweatpants and faux crocs, and sprinted downstairs.

The tiny bones of the plan had me turning on the outside lights, and opening up the left garage door, which would put two steps from the bike I had thoughtfully parked directly under my bedroom window, and three steps away from my tool chest.

I cleared the house door, crossed behind the new trailer, and got to the garage door.

I threw the door open.

It was absolutely, totally pouring. I found out later we’d gotten 3 inches of rain across 4 hours. The next day, doing triage, I found water inside the topcase of the LT that was sealed and latched.

It was RAINING.

Not that you could hear the rain, though.

If you’ve never stood five feet directly in front of a set of Fiamm Freeway Blaster Dual Tone horns, wired directly to a really healthy battery, and stuck on, I can’t really recommend it.

It’s three days later and my ears are still ringing.

It took more force of will than I’d anticipated to actually walk toward it.

I grabbed the bars in my hand, and bopped the horn switch a few times, and the sound of the end of the universe morphed into a sick sounding bleat, and then stopped.

I was not taking any chances, though.

I unlatched and flipped up the /5s Police Saddle. I could see the big Philips screw on the new DEKA battery’s ground terminal. I hopped to the tool chest, pulled out the big Philips, and pulled the bike’s ground bolt.

It was over. For now.

Quite a few of my neighbor’s lights were on, and I was more than a little damp.

I went upstairs, and used my bath towel to dry off.

I got back in bed, but sleep wasn’t going to come back easily.

In my head, the beating of the pouring rain sounded like Fiamm Freeway Blaster horns.