Wheels Up

WP_20160306_21_57_51_ProI’d had the Blast inspected, been to the MVA for Title and Tags, and spoken to Amanda the Allstate Lady.

That conversation had turned out far, far better than I’d expected — all of the anxiety I’d had about my rates getting shelled had turned out to be completely misplaced.

With the new plates and registration in place, and a 63 degree sunny February day, there was nothing left to do but ride.


In Maryland, if one gets a motorcycle learner’s permit, one has to complete a minimum of 90 days riding accompanied by a licensed rider, before one can present for the licensing test.

If one takes the MSF Beginning Rider Course, though, you can present on a Thursday night, and be fully licensed by Sunday afternoon, even if you’ve never operated a motorcycle before , as Finn hadn’t.

So for the next few weeks, I’ll do what I can to provide some roadcraft instruction, to help Finn make the adjustment from the practice range to the far more challenging real road. It seems to me, anyway, that the MSF BRC doesn’t go quite far enough to ready new riders for the streets, so I’ll do what I can to make up the gap.


I spent some time talking to Finn about what his Motorcycle Safety Foundation Beginning Rider’s Course had covered.

And while it appeared to be very thorough in the areas of basic control operation and coordination, it seemed to only cover the skills involved in low speed maneuvers — the in-town stops and starts, left and right turns in intersections.

Open road skills, it seemed, had been where it left off.

So I spoke to him about roadcraft — about reading the pavement, gauging available traction and the feeling the road’s topography.

I spoke about cornering lines, and the need to leave reserves and respect the centerline.

We discussed the body english of corner entry, of the pressure on the inside bar and the countersteer.

Finn did remember someone trying to explain this during the classroom work, but it hadn’t made that much sense then.

With me demonstrating on his motorcycle, sitting in the end of our driveway, it made a great deal more sense now.

I talked about the management of the throttle — how one rolled out in the corner entry, set a speed that felt comfortable, and then rolled the grips and butterflies to power out — that you went where you looked.

The Blast has a carburetor, operated by a cable. It is very analog in that it responds very proportionally to every movement of one’s throttle hand.

The People Who Are Always Telling Me Stuff tell me that a one size larger main jet makes that quality more pronounced.

I asked if he had any questions?

It’s a universe of information to cover, and we’d hadn’t even scratched the surface.

Finn said he didn’t.

Time to gear up.


After an uncharacteristic couple of snowbound weeks sitting unridden on its main stand, the R90S fired on its third compression stroke.

Finn and I sat with our bikes idling, at the bottom of our driveway.

“Ok, Dude. We’ll roll around the neighborhood a few times to get you loose, and to get you off the auto-choke and the motor warmed up. You lead — I’ll follow. We’ll stop at every stop sign and talk if we need to. When you feel ready, tell me, and we’ll head out on the road.”


Because nature is consistent, Finn stalled it coming off the line.

Whatcha gonna do?


One of the few redeeming features of living in my small, rural subdivision is tha fact that the neighborhood has a circular road that is ideally suited to checking mechanical work done on a motorcycle.

In this case the work being checked was the rider, but the concept is the same.

Finn and I rode a few laps, stopping and exchanging “Systems: Goes” at the Stop signs.

Both Finn and the Blast were visibly warming up. Coming down the longer straight on Brockton, I could see the attitude of his right arm and upper body change as he gave the Blast some liberal gas.

In my helmet I’m thinking, “Hey, ya little hoodlum, your neighborhood’s a 25 zone. Save it for the road.”

After a few loops of the ‘hood, Finn made the right out to the Stop sign at Maryland 180 — Jefferson Pike.


“OK. I’m going to lead… you’re going to follow. Be aware of leaving enough following distance. I’m not going to go much more than about 50 miles an hour. Same protocol — we talk at every Stop. If you have any questions or something makes you uncomfortable, we talk about it while it’s fresh.


Let’s rock.”


I’d be lying through my substantially worn teeth if I didn’t tell you that I was hearing my heartbeat in my head as we made that turn up the highway.

Putting my ass on the line is not the same as seeing my youngest son’s out on it.

Regardless of whether the moment involves a motorcycle or not, there’s a time in each offspring’s life when after a run down the runway, it’s his time to feel the air under his wings, feel the heart and the stomach go light, and to take leave of the ground and either fly or not fly.

Time for wheels up.


How much time can you spend looking in your rearview mirror?

Turns out, quite a lot.

Maryland 180 drops down quite a long sustained grade, heading down to Catoctin Creek. It makes a fairly technical left coming across the 1936 concrete bridge, with the bridge’s low concrete support wall marking the right edge of the lane.

There’s a short straight that passes the log sided Brookside Inn, and then a tricky decreasing radius right hander that cuts back up the hill on the other side of the creek.

It’s a not exactly cuddly first mile of road.

Coming down the long grade, Finn lagged a little, no doubt coming to terms with gears higher than 2nd. He did hit a roll, though, as we headed down to the creek.

I set a conservative entrance speed, and demonstrated a nice late apex that put me in the left wheel rut as we hit the bridge.

As we headed back up the hill — which is a pretty steep grade — Finn came out of the corner looking pretty tidy in a place where getting untidy is pretty easy.

At the top of the grade there’s a day care center with a huge pull off apron, which on a sunny Sunday afternoon isn’t doing much.

I signaled to pull over, and Finn pulled up and alongside.

“Feel OK getting the bike turned and through those corners?”

“No problem. Feels good.”

So we indicated left and pulled back into the road.


So we ran 180 west to the Brunswick Circle, and headed up 17 towards Burkittsville.

17 has a 3 miles or so straight that runs into a 90/90 left right set of Colonial Property Line Corners.

Finn was tidy coming in, and tidy coming out.

The road tightens up and does some more technical corners coming through Coatesville and into Burkettsville. On every exit that round headlight and Finn were right where they were supposed to be.

I have to assume, that aside from mountains of raw talent, that’s Finn’s fast entry into twisty road riding may have something to do with the ten or eleven years he’s spent backseating on my BMWs. I remember how my heart came into my mouth the first time I rolled a bike over into a corner — it was a completely new series of sensations. For Finn though, he’s felt how that feels when done correctly for much of his life. In the last year or so we’ve also done many two-up rides where I literally called play-by-play so he could understand the specifics of what I was doing to get my bikes around corners and down the road.

We followed 17 up towards Middletown, where the road really opens up. We gently wicked it up just under 60, putting on a few miles of open cruise.

Just before town, we turned down Old Middletown Road, a tight back road that takes you back across The Valley to Jefferson.

With a narrow roadbed shaded by many trees and lots of blind hilltops with corners apexing on them, Finn looked rock solid. With one eye always on my right side rearview mirror, the Blast’s headlight looked like it was pinned in place.

Back in the driveway, after about 12 miles of running, we killswitched the bikes and dismounted.

We’re still figuring out this unusual little motorcycle, which, in typical Buell fashion has its oil tank in the frame backbone, with a tiny dipstick just ahead of the tank right behind the steering head. We checked the level, which was still just a bit on the low side.

Knowing how this bike was used — less than 1800 miles in 14 years — I’ll hazard a guess that the engine isn’t really broken in yet, and that the rings are likely not fully seated.

We know how to fix that. A liberal application of right wrist and a few miles should set it right.

“So how was the ride, boy?”

“That was freaking great, Dad.”

“So no butt clench or scary moments in those corners? It’s all making sense?”

I cast back to some of my early riding days, before the physics of the thing was converted to muscle memory, and the internal adrenaline klaxon if finding yourself either in too hot, or on a line that needed radical adjustment.

“Nope, Pop. It’s all good.”

Looks like this bird knows how to fly.



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