Enlightenment

There is very little about my BMW K1200LT motorcycle that I do not like.

The LT is unstressed and composed at elevated speeds – ergonomics and aerodynamics are both optimized. For a machine of frankly prodigious bulk, its cornering behavior is surprisingly precise.

There is this one little thing, though, that has always bothered me.

Bothered, though, really doesn’t quite cover the piquancy of my discomfort with this oddly incomprehensible defect.

Hang with me, here. I’ll try and walk you through it.

I use my motorcycles as day to day transportation – going to work, to the bank, the market, the hardware store and, critically, the beer store.

This is a German motorcycle. Germans, viewed wholly in a statistical context, like beer.

If I, in asserting this, have offended any Germans or any people who are advocates for the rights of Germans I heartily apologize and raise a beer to their health – Zum wohl!

So if Germans like motorcycles, and Germans also like beer, why, for the last 20 years been I been having this same conversation with every person that ever rang me up any beer store.

“Hey man, you want me to put these six-packs in a case for you?”

“No man – I need them in bags, because the beer case won’t fit in my top case.”

I just could not fathom how a beer-loving people that made this Starfighter of a motorcycle could have possibly built it so it would not carry a case of beer. The top case was about ¾ inch too short for a beer case to fit. It made no sense to me that it never would have been considered.

But it didn’t, and it hadn’t, so I bought my beer in bags, and went along with my life.

A life that was proceeding most unremarkably until Wednesday night.

Frederick has a brand new, pretty groovy craft beer store over on East Street. They not only have a staff that are well informed enough to serve as ‘Beer Stewards’, but a staggering inventory, as well as a small draft beer tap head that they use to provide growler and crowler fills.   Sweet Doris from Baltimore just loves the place – Daughter Wallis does as well. With this utter lack of any familial disapproval of one of my few vices, I tend to end up there about every other payday.

So after everyone got done rambling around the store grabbing packs of bottles and cans, my favorite ‘Beer Steward’ rang me out. As we had come by car, I watched as he packed our beer into a case.

For some reason, my guy was struggling – the cans just wouldn’t seem to fit. He’d try ‘em one way, and then another, and he was getting rattled.

“Oh,” he said, “let me get you an American beer case… this is a Weihenstaphaner case – these German cases are subtly smaller.”

“Wait! ‘These German cases are subtly smaller?!?!????’. Oh no no no no no no no… I’ll take that one. Its just fine. Just lob those cans in there… neatness does not count. ThanksverymuchWe’llseeyanexttime.”

I’ll admit that on the drive home I may have seemed a little overstimulated.

We were home in a flash, and I took my German beer case out to the garage, where both the beer fridge and the KLT live.

I walked to the back of my bike, slid the beer case into the bike’s top case, and it dropped right in like it was made for it. I pulled the case lid down and the latches swung shut with a resounding ‘Thaakk’.

“Brewed in Bavaria” huh?

Angels Singing.

I don’t know why I ever doubted.

It wasn’t that a BMW K1200LT will not carry a case of beer.

It’s just that I, the user, was doing it wrong.

The BMW is not designed to use American Beer and their cases. It is designed to only use good German Beer and their subtly smaller cases.

Case closed.

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Beside the Road

So you’re out on a country road – road dancing, self-contained, in the zone.

But something blurs by – in your peripheral vision – that seems to insist you give it your attention.

It’s got wheels and a seat – and the mind sees a shadow of a sign…. it says ‘For Sale’… but you need to set up for the next corner and the moment is past. I make a mental note – next time I ride this way back it off to see what’s sitting on that front lawn. Noted and the road once again requires my full attention.

A few days later, hitting the same spot I’m out of the throttle – what was it I missed?

Mostly it’s Harleys, and Japanese cruisers, and things that aren’t worth having slowed down for.

But every once in a while, it’s something…. interesting.

It might be a CB360T. Or a nicely farkeled VeeStrom 650 with expedition cases. Or an early naked GoldWing.

At least where I ride, one doesn’t see old Ducatis on the lawn, sadly.

Some of these yard sale motorcycles are even enough to have me hammering the brakes and looking for a driveway in which to turn around.

Put a modern Triumph Bonneville on your lawn, and you get to see me demo my moto-u-turn skills. Haven’t had a single adverse outcome anytime lately, if you were hoping for drama. VT500 Ascots, any kind of Buell (even though I ought to know better), or a MotoGuzzi Ambassador, and I’m executing that turnabout like a charter member of the Victor McLaglen Motor Corps.

But on this ride, I run into something entirely new.

For the sake of discussion, let’s call it The WTF.

I’d slowed waaaaay down. I’d gotten a good eyeful of the thing. It did indeed have a ‘For Sale’ sign. But in trying to identify the silhouette, my processor had pegged, I’d run the entire catalogue, and after what is probably an objectively life-threatening cognitive lockup, error code processing, coredump and reboot, I concluded I had no freaking idea what that thing was.

And even at 25 miles an hour, once active guidance had been restored, I was already about a third of a mile up the road. I go by that spot in Jefferson nearly every night. I gave a classic Loony Tunes Humminna Humminna Humminna shake of my helmet – this was going to remain a mystery for at least one more night.

The next evening, I needed to pick something up at my daughter’s, so headed past the location of the thing with my pickup. I had my phone out and came to the spot in the road opposite it, and I stopped. It became quickly obvious why I had been unable to ID the thing – this was a refugee from the chopper and dune buggy mad 70s – a completely oddball one-off created by somebody way braver than me if he’d actually ever ridden that thing.

Under the patina of rust and Cherokee read paint was a small part of the structure of a Volkswagen Beetle – the transmission shifter tunnel and the supports for the rear axle and suspension. The transmission and the VW’s aircooling fan manifold were there to see. The boxer engine, sadly, was not. The floorboards and the body had been cut away and discarded, and then someone had started welding things onto other things. There was a headstock that carried the basic dimensions of the transmission tunnel up to where a set of steering head bearings needed to be. Someone had apparently liberated and repurposed what looked to be a set of forks, front brakes and wheel from a Yamaha Venture touring bike. Some of the suspension linkages were cross connected with what looked like plumber’s steel strap. If there had once been a fuel tank, it seemed to be AWOL chasing the motor.

Lawnmower? Dirt Drag Terror? I got nothin’.

A kid in a muscle car appeared on the road behind me, so I snapped a shot or two and moved on up the road.
“Holy Shit,” I thought to myself. “What a suicidally insane monstrosity. They’ll have a hard time finding a home for that. I gotta go back tomorrow and talk to that guy.”

The next day, of course, that thing was gone.

I don’t know if I’d have bought the thing. I’m not sure there was a place in my life right now for chasing down a Beetle engine and fabricating a lot of missing stuff to see if that was as bad an idea as it appeared to be. Truck like steering swapping cyclically with hairy wheelies caused by questionable weight distribution? I certainly would have wanted to hear its caretaker tell me whatever story there was to tell of it.

But it’s another illustration of the oldest rule in the book. He who hesitates is lost. Carry cash, and get really comfortable with that two-lane road turn around. Go look at whatever it is right now because tomorrow – unless you have angels riding on your shoulder – is almost always too late.

Soooo….You’d Like to Stop, Would You?

As a general rule, motorcycles need to have at least as much stopping power as they have motor. Better still, perhaps a little more.

As a guy that hot rodded a 900cc, lightened flywheel, ported and balanced boxer in a /5 with drum brakes, I know very well that of which I speak.

Experience like that contributes to my overall sensitivity about the operating condition of everything involving friction in the systems of my motorcycles.

I have been rolling up miles lately – blasting back and forth from Jefferson to my new gig in Baltimore – many miles of which are spent on cruise and at speed. For a motorcycle that had been spending an unfortunate percentage of time sitting, piling up miles has been good for the bike, and good for me, but has rolled forward the calendar on a whole rabid pack of snarling deferred maintenance items.

Item one to go was my Avon Storm rear tire. The Storms are dual compound tires, and can, under exactly the wrong conditions, develop a little angle from wear where the two compounds come together, and that subtle change of profile is not a force for good where it comes to handling and stability. When the Storms are new, they are nothing short of magic, but when they begin to wear unevenly, their handling goes off well before they run out of tread depth. The tire certainly didn’t owe me a thing, as the logs indicated it was closing in on 12,000 miles – which on that bike and given how I ride it is an enormous accomplishment. One trip to The Internet, one visit to my buds at Fredericktown Yamaha for a mount, and things on the handling front were much improved. They’ll probably see me again two weeks from now, at the rate the front tire is currently regressing.

The last third of my trip into the city frequently involves congested traffic – the office building garage where I work is an old type with frequent and steeply banked concrete ramps. Both conditions require far more use of rear brakes than is my normal practice. One a recent trip through the garage, something about the feedback from the rear brake coming off one of the ramps set off my very reliable biker intuition. I resolved to check the condition of the pads upon my return to the shop.

The position of the caliper on the K12LT is such – positioned inside the rim as it is – that without a lift or an inspection camera there is no way one can see the condition of the pads with it in place. Two big allen bolts, though, and it’s in one’s hand.

My Biker Intuition’s batting average is off the charts good.

Oh, PLENTY of pad left, here.

So it was back to The Internets for some brake pads.

I’ll admit I’d been plotting some form of additional braking performance upgrade for a while, anyway, and this was the kind of excuse for same that really isn’t negotiable – once again time to turn lemons into Delightful Lemony Cocktails.

Why an upgrade? K1200LT brakes have never been known as beasts – in fairness, 850 pounds of bike plus rider is a lot of mass to manage — they were likely the proximate cause for BMW to develop the power Evo brakes that folks either love or completely hate. My bike, as a result of an encounter with a well-intentioned BMW dealer who misunderstood what kind of rider I was, is equipped with a set of SBS Organic pads whose virtues include ‘being kind to one’s brake rotors’ and do not include generating as much friction as the bike’s brakes are capable of. More than a few times in the life of these pads I have had to deploy them in anger only to be passed by a cloud of white, acrid smoke upon slowing which was the combusted byproducts of my former ‘kind brake pads’. It was the kind of experience which reinforces my Road-grimed Astronaut view of the LT as some form of mutant Space Shuttle – making harsh sounds and toxic gasses upon reentry.

Testing and writing about new motorcycles has provided a few examples of braking systems which represent two decades or so of additional technological development. And such bikes – including ones with comparable or even more mass – like the Gold Wing  (around 20 pounds less) and The Indian Roadmaster (around 80 pounds more!) – had more apparent braking power than my LT as it was currently equipped.

On this go-around, we were going to find the most powerful friction rating brake pads that were available for this motorcycle. If we were going to be smoking on re-entry, it was going to be where the contact patches hit the pavement, not by converting pads into ineffective smoke inside the calipers.

Consensus among the Internet BMW Enthusiast types was that the best ones available came from a French outfit called Carbone Lorraine – their street cred was bolstered by being a supplier to several MotoGP teams, so they clearly know a little about generating buttloads of braking force. One quick visit to my longtime buds at Beemer Boneyard, and some new sintered goodness was almost instantly inbound.

The day after they were ordered, the afternoon USPS tracking showed them delivered to the Post Office in Jefferson, for delivery the next morning. After work that evening, I went out to the garage, pulled the caliper and removed the cotters and slide pins. One of the cotters was partially seized, and required the judicious application of and hammer and punch to free everything up. I used some compressed air and dishwashing soap to clean up the pistons before pushing them back with my fingers – Brembo calipers are somewhat infamous for the incompatibility of their critical rubber seals to any and all kinds of commercial spray brake cleaners. I cleaned the brake rotor with copious amounts of rubbing alcohol and a towel. I dressed the slide pins by taking some fine garnet sandpaper to them to remove the residue, cleaned them off with brake cleaner, and then applied a very fine coating of moly grease to them. I propped the caliper up on a work stool, and awaited the arrival of the postman the next day.

Yeah, nothing.

The next afternoon, after inspecting and appreciating my three new sets of CL brake pads, I headed back to the shop, slid the new pads into place, inserted the slide pins and cotters through the pad and dust cover, slid the caliper over the disk, and torqued the two allen bolts back into place. I checked the level of brake fluid in the reservoir – just a hair under full – perfect. Total elapsed time – about seven minutes. I wasn’t yet at endurance racing pit crew levels of performance, but more practice was inbound.

In a checkride around the neighborhood response was as soft and unresponsive as one would expect a set of not yet bedded-in brake pads to be. All I really cared about was that the system was working properly, and that the pistons were retracting after application – a proper bedding in would have to wait for tomorrow’s ride to work.

The next morning was one of those mornings where the ride is so nice one considers going right by the office – a clear blue cloudless sky, temperature in the low 70s and low to no humidity. Coming down Roundtree Road in Jefferson I was all by myself, and got the opportunity to get the bike up just under 60 three times, and brake with just the rear brakes down to just below 40. By the time I reached the stop sign at Roundtree and Lander, rear brake response was much improved – this was going to be just fine.

Normally, on the stretch of I-70 between Frederick and Baltimore, I don’t get much in the way of traffic alone time. This morning, though, I found myself running solo between two large traffic clots – one well out behind, and one way out ahead. I’ve found this can be an effect produced by maintaining one’s speed without regard to that of surrounding traffic – play your own game and you’ll often find yourself out alone.

If one is looking for the optimum place to bed in some brake pads, a nearly empty interstate and a speedo that reads a tick over 80 is pretty much exactly what you want. I got out of the gas and braked the LT hard — on only the rear brake – until road speed was under 50 and still falling. I gently got back in the throttle, and then did it again. I still had my alone spot, so I did it again.

By the time I found myself working the back brake coming off the ramps in the parking garage, the back brake was working as well as that of any bike I’ve ever had. These CL pads get two elkskin gloved thumbs up.

I’ve already had to order a new front tire – after 7000 miles the front Storm is doing the same oddball wear thing the rear was doing. I’m conducting a little experiment – pairing the rear Storm with a front Michelin Pilot Road 4 GT – a heavy carcass dual compound Sport Touring tire. Both tire designs have very similar construction and the PR front is the correct service rating. I’m not the first guy to try this, and those that have report good results – better straight line stability with no scary handling side effects.

When the wheel is off we’ll upgrade the front calipers to the pair of CL sintered pads that are sitting next to my computer. I’m looking forward to having some ‘stops like stink’ to accompany my formidable go power.

More Stopping to Come

The Scoop

140 foot-pounds on a dry lake bed could be a handful

Several months ago, I was involved in an online discussion on the subject of Zero Motorcycle’s new SR/F electric motorcycle. For reasons that I had a difficult time understanding, all of the new model coverage in the media omitted the most significant technical feature of the new motorcycle.

Being me, I said exactly that.

One individual immediately agreed with that opinion.

That most significant technical feature was Bosch’s Motorcycle Stability Control (MSC) – and the implementation of it on the Zero was the first one to come to market applying this state of the art suite of electronic rider aids to an electric motorcycle.

The guy that had agreed with me turned out to be Justin Magri – A Technical Project Manager that works for Bosch, and a guy that had worked on the MSC Integration Project with Zero.

After a few traded e-mails and a phone call or two, I knew I had a story that needed to be told.

Insanely Short MSC Cycle Times are clear to see – look at the traces in the gravel

Justin engaged and got the blessing of Bosch’s PR and Marketing Departments. I made a few calls over to Zero – who’d worked with me previously on a review of their DS/R Motorcycle.

Everybody signed up, everybody wanted their story told, and so I did what writers do, which is talk to people and try to get right to the bone of the story.

Only I didn’t.

With all of the significant distractions I had going on in my life, my first cut at the story frankly missed the mark. From this point the whole tale gets as hairy as a full throttleZero with no MSC running on fine beach sand. Shopping a reworked story around, it was accepted by a prestigious motorcycle print publication. I was ecstatic for about three seconds which promptly ended when said print publication promptly ceased publication.

Good Timing has never been my thing.

A couple of earth/sky/earth/sky/earth/sky post motorcycle crash tumbles later, the story found a home at Revzilla’s Common Tread.

Click here to read the story.

I hope you enjoy and learn as much reading it as I did writing it.

Pickup Trucks

If you’re a serious, committed motorcycle rider, the odds are more than passing good you’ve also got some kind of pickup truck.

At the most basic, owning a motorcycle, at least historically, meant that sooner or later, you would need to transport one that was unable or unsafe to move under its own power.

A 10 foot length of 2×10, a 1967 Ford F-100 Camper Special, and a set of Harbor Freight ratcheting tie downs will allow you to transport any immobile motorcycle – whether barn picked, suffering from some form of Italo-English Unsolved Electromechanical Mystery, flat tired or having been subjected to a round of non-scientific random corn sampling.  Roll it up, tie it down, and Bob’s Yer Uncle.

So that simple thing is how it starts. Once you’ve got that pickup truck, though, work materializes out of thin air for it about which you’d formerly not had a single clue. There are friends that are moving, stuff which must be dumped, lawnmowers and bicycles with places to go, trailers that need trailing, and inconceivable volumes of lumber and plumbing fixtures and nearly the entire Freaking Home Depot. And that doesn’t even count a half million motorcycle swap meets, beds full of frames, wheels and motors, transmissions that require ministration, 27 crates that once were, might have been, or could again be Norton Commandos, or your buddy Chet that’s ‘decided to go racing’.

So yeah, I’ve got a pickup truck. You’ve no grounds on which to feign surprise.

I have a lot of unfashionable opinions.  One of them is that a pickup truck is a tool. Tools do not have leather interiors, Rockford Fosgate Subwoofer 12 Speaker Stereos, DVD Players, Streaming Audio, WiFi or SatNav on a 15 inch dash mounted tablet.  Tools have stamped steel interiors, and if they start when I turn the key, have a heater that works and windows that open, that’s going to be just fine by me.

My tool is a 2013 Ram 1500 2WD Extra Cab Tradesman. When the regular 1500 model was awash in silliness like a V-6 engine with autostart, fully air adjustable suspension and a raft of equipment that was unnecessarily complex and likely to be expensive and needy to maintain, Ram’s Tradesman Model came with a small block 4.7L OHC V-8, heavy duty metal springs all round, and a factory tow/haul package complete with receiver and brake controller.  It also has plastic trim on the doortops where a plusher truck has a padded place to hang your arm out the driver’s window.

No matter. We’ll take it.

Business travel, recently, had me spending a week down in Plano, Texas. Texas is large enough to think of as a Nation, and The Nation Of Texas is big enough to have three National Vehicles. The first is the Chevrolet Corvette. The Second is the Chevrolet/GMC Suburban. And the Third is The White Work Pickup (Brand Not Material).  Driving around the Greater Dallas Metroplex, where I was not enjoying their unavoidable network of expensive toll highways, and not enjoying even more my rented Hyundai Accent, I could not help but be struck by three things. The first thing was that said toll roads seemed to be in a perpetual and significant state of constant demolition/reconstruction.  The second thing was the army of people effecting said demolition/construction had an army’s worth of the above noted White Work Pickup (Brand Not Material). And the third thing was that these myriad White Work Trucks were all as filthy as any all-white vehicle can possibly be – so filthy, in fack, that they resembled two tone paintjobs – white from the beltline to the roof, and sand colored from the beltline to the rockers.

The never ending parade of these 50% Filthy White Pickups awakened in me an enormous sense of guilt for the mistreatment of my pickup.  My pickup, which is more frequently known as Sweet Doris From Baltimore’s pickup (long story), likely had not been washed since before the beginning of the Teardrop V 2.0 Construction Project.  My pickup, which was well on the way to joining the brotherhood of 50% Filthies. Were I to survive my sojourn in The Nation Of Texas – whose only directly observed positive qualities were The Hard Eight Pit Barbeque and Deep Ellum Brewing – I resolved to make things right by my truck.

Of course, upon my return home from TNOT, mother nature decided to tow Texas climate home to my place – on the appointed day, it was about 98 degrees f with low humidity and unbroken sunshine – perfect weather for hard exertion scrubbing about 500 square feet of sheet metal.    Perfect, anyway, so long as one has a garden hose in one’s hand and isn’t afraid to spend as much timing hosing oneself as hosing the pickup.  So I grabbed myself a liter insulated water bottle, my handy orange Homer Homeowner 5 gallon bucket, a gallon of Turtle Wax auto soap, a six foot handled car washing brush, and went to town.

After about the third full liter of drinking water, and the 8th or 9th time I’d taken the hose to my whole upper body, I’ll admit I did question my emotional decision to minister to my pickup in this way. Two more liters and 7 drenchings later, though, the good and considerate thing that I had done lifted both my truck’s spirits and my own. The Ram’s white sheet metal was blinding white in the sun – she was standing prouder, too – it seemed like she’d picked up a full 2 or 3 inches of additional ground clearance. Then again, maybe this was just heatstroke working on an overactive imagination, but no matter.   After a 15 minute drive around the block – with the A/C Blasting on Full – to air-dry the Ram, my truck-filth-induced guilt was reduced back to background levels.

No Truck Belonging to Sweet Doris From Baltimore is going to look like some Texas Work Truck

It’s a good thing that this small neurosis doesn’t seem to apply to motorcycles. Still, the LT is looking a bit grubby, now that I think on it.

Supercommuting

I hang with a lot of IT Strategy types – you know, the type that are prone to pronouncements that are intended to sound like harbingers of an inevitable future.

These types are prone to utterances like “Work is something you do, not somewhere you go.”

Strategy types are correct about as often as weathermen.

So, I’ve been putting on a lot of miles.

I’ve found a new gig, with a new outfit – one that will let me work directly with clients to solve their technical problems. And while I’m learning the ropes, and, more importantly – learning my new teammates – it is in my best interest for work to be somewhere I go.

That somewhere is in the center of Baltimore city – about 60 miles from my home in Jefferson.

It’s not like I haven’t got the perfect hammer for that nail – my K1200LT vaporizes intercity distances effortlessly. But adjusting – after several home based work years – to the time required, to the changes in circadians, and frankly, to get my best high-speed distance riding form thawed out – has sent a slight judder through the overall system.

 

***

 

It’s July in Maryland, which used to be something that produced fairly predictable weather patterns – patterns that apparently don’t hold, anymore. In the early mornings, when I leave The Shop, it’s been sunny and in the low 60s. I troll easily through the neighborhood and the new informal Jefferson Bypass through Roundtree Road, trying to get some heat in the engine before reaching for the whip.   By the time I roll onto 340 East, the thermostat is opening and I roll each gear well out to around 6500 rpm under light throttle before shifting up. I don’t get top gear until the very top of the hill, and then thonk into top around 80 and then hit the tunnel of trees on the shaded side of the ridge.

The short US 340 sprint downhill though Frederick and over to I-70 and 270 has become surprisingly crowded – at the interchange, the majority of those people elect for 270 towards Washington – at which point the road to Baltimore really opens up and lets one open the throttle too. A few miles east of The City of Frederick one finds that rolling, high-speed groove, and enters the state of the perfect meditative Ohmmm. Just under 4000 rpm shows what for a K1200LT is a loafing 82 mph that makes the green and rolling countryside a thing of joy.   Sometimes I carry a few more revs on cruise than that.

A K12 is in its element here – unstressed at speed, with tons of passing power available – it could do this for days and days. Unfortunately, it can only do this on this particular run for a little over 40 miles, until the US 29 interchange comes in range. US 29 is one of Greater Baltimore Washington’s Mother Roads – it was one of two primary North/South roads though the region – running through Northern Virginia, DC and Columbia, Maryland, before I 95 was built. 29 carries 3 lanes of traffic in each direction, and where it ends as it meets the Interstate, I-70 is only two lanes wide.  I may not be a certified math genius, but I’m pretty sure 2+3 is NOT 2.

29, predictably, is where the trouble starts in the morning on the way in, and where it ends in the afternoon on the way home.

As I get to the 29 interchange, brake lights come on, downshifts are blipped, and depending on my timing, we either troll along at about 30 mph in second gear – or its drop down to first to find the slowest steady speed one can manage without working the clutch. Once clear of the merge at US 29,  speeds come back up for just a little while, until get to the Baltimore beltway.  The Beltway connects 70 – that comes in from the west – with I-95 – which runs either through the Fort McHenry tunnel towards Philly and New York, or straight into downtown Baltimore.

There’s only a mere five miles of Beltway between those two routes. All five of those miles are under construction. In both directions.

So add peak rush hour insanity to some demoed paving surfaces, toss in Jersey Barrier or two, and you have all the ingredients required for a relaxing ride in the country. It only took a day or two of this for my agility and mobility skills within the traffic stream to come roaring all the way back to peak function.

After the short Adventure Ride ™, one picks up I-95 that leads straight up into the city.  95 has six lanes in each direction, and despite the volume is always moving briskly, which quickly brings the downtown Baltimore skyline into view.  With its cluster of skyscrapers, its pair of Stadiums for the Orioles and Ravens, The Bromo Seltzer tower – a sponsored copy of the Campanile of Florence — and the harbor all in view, all of the good things I’ve ever thought about Baltimore come rushing back every time I make this run. The 395 spur takes the ride right into the heart of downtown – I’ve only got 6-7 blocks to the Baltimore Street office – although those blocks can be congested. By this time of the morning the heat of the day is starting up, and being stuck in surface traffic with a half-scale formula racing engine riding in my lap does not necessarily represent that which most fun about motorcycling.

Calvert Street North dumps me right at the entrance to the office’s garage – an older ramp design inside the office tower itself, which, on a larger motorcycle is another kind of adventure ride.

One of the officers of my new company saw me on my way from the garage, still accoutered in my Roadcrafter Suit, and wanted to know if I regarded my new job as so dangerous as to require full armor.  I cheerfully responded that were that the case, I would certainly also be wearing my helmet.

The new job is engaging, and there is lots for me to learn or adapt – it demands my focus, and time has been flying by.

So most days it seems I am pulling back on my gear and velcroing stuff to other stuff with almost not being aware of any time in between.

At quitting time, with temperatures up into the 90s, and people carrying some ‘tude after a day at work, reversing those 6 or 7 blocks is a tad more hellish.

People will try to tell you that inner city Baltimore motorcyclists have a complete and utter disregard for the extent to which traffic laws apply to them. Those nameless people that are always trying to tell you things would, in this case, be largely and materially correct.

One of those stylish riders – combining shorts, a tank top, a Sportster with drag pipes and a Chromed German Military-style helmet – pulled a racetrack inside pass on the shoulder on the big SUV behind me while making the right turn into Conway Street, which leads back to 395 and the slab outta town.  He was pretty pleased with himself as he flicked back in front of that SUV, at least until the millisecond he discovered that one cannot actually see through or around massive SUVs, and that he had failed to see the fairly large object that already occupied the space – in this case, LT straddling me.

His eyes got real big. I communicated to him that I held a dim view of his intelligence. He made no significant effort to refute my assertion.

Summer in Maryland has always meant thunderstorms, but storms lately are more localized, stronger and potentially more violent. Given how well the current generation of Aerostich suits has implemented waterproofing, I really don’t ever worry about getting wet at all anymore. Hitting any storm means closing the vent zippers, closing the LT’s cockpit wind deflectors, setting the electric windshield’s height to just below my eyeline, and jamming on. The Avon Storm tires I run handle rain like you’d expect from a British tire. If there’s ever been a better foul weather motorcycle, I have no experience or even news of it.

Coming home yesterday, I intersected the path of one of these violent downbursts.  I buttoned up for rain, and didn’t even feel the need to back my road speed off – the Storms were perfectly planted, under both power and braking. I know there are people out there that already question my rationality when it comes to motorcycling, but given a choice between making this run in 95 degree heat, or cooled off by the rain and running a wet 77, I’ll pick the rain every time. In the western portion of the run, on open Interstate at speed, the LT didn’t provide even a single moment of drama, even in conditions that had the more timid automobilists pulling off the roadway.

And in the time it takes to pass a few cars, and think a few things, I found myself rolling back up my driveway at home again.  Time and distance vaporization indeed.

Sweet Doris from Baltimore and I are looking for a house somewhere substantially closer to that Baltimore street office. With Finn having moved to the City after being hired by an architecture firm there, my job there, and her parents, who increasingly need her help, there, there is a confluence of forces that should be sufficient to finally get her back home.

Until we figure it all out, though, I’m content to keep trying to wear out a K12, one hundred twenty miles at a time.  I’d be the first one, I think, to be successful in that.

The Circuit

While we live, we learn.

At least that is what I keep telling myself, and what I keep trying to demonstrate to myself and others.

And while I admit that a partial fear of the converse – If we stop learning, we’re dead meat – may be a component of my motivation, I’d like to think that stubbornly driving forward under any and all conditions is just a crucial part of my DNA.

So I embrace the new.  Or, more precisely, new knowledge and new experiences.

Everything short of bungee jumping – which strikes me as a pointless kind of sticking a pin in one’s adrenal system – if I have not yet done it, bring it on.

So, it is in this context of seeking and embracing all forms of personal growth, that I am almost embarrassed to admit that until yesterday, I had never ridden a motorcycle on a racetrack.  I’ve ridden nearly a half million miles on the street and on the dirt – crossing the continent and lapping the Great Lakes — but had never turned so much as a wheel on a closed, competition course.

Yesterday, though.  Oh, yesterday.

One of my better pieces of self-made luck has been a relationship with Royal Enfield USA – the US Importer/Agent for Royal Enfield Motorcycles of Chennai, India.  A long time back I had seen some details about new motorcycles that Enfield had in their development pipeline, and it was very clear that the company wanted to show it could do way more than build 350 and 500 cc Bullet Motorcycles. Those bikes would turn out to be the Continental GT 535, The Himalayan, and the 650 cc INT and Continental GT twins.  I wanted to write about the Himalayan, but a rash of technical problems kept the timing from working out. When the arrangements started to finally gel, most writers had already had a chance to review and write about the bike, and I felt very late to that party. So I stuck my neck out and proposed instead of being late to the Himalayan Party, I’d prefer to be early to the 650 Twins party.

If you don’t ask, you don’t get.

I got.

All of the early coverage for the Royal Enfield 650 twins had been the result of an invitation-only press junket in Carmel California. You can assume from the construction of this description that I was not invited. All those present got a presentation, a nice meal, and 50 miles or so of Northern California roads to roll under the Enfield 650’s wheels.

I don’t know about you, but 50 miles is just about enough to have me know what questions I want to ask about any motorcycle, but nowhere close to enough to have me have any answers to those questions.

It’s a tease, but it isn’t an understanding, and it certainly isn’t any kind of relationship.

So, having asked and having got, I ended up with one of the Enfield 650 demo fleet in my garage, and got to be the first guy outside of India that would be able to really live with the motorcycle for a while, and see if it was something that could be bonded with, and much to my amazement and enjoyment, it was.

When I had to return the Enfield, I’ll cop to being kinda bummed.

A bumming that came to an abrupt end when Enfield USA decided to take their collection of demo bikes to a series of Road and Racetrack locations across the country. Enfield’s stop in my neck of the woods was at West Virginia’s Summit Point Motorsports Park, a legendary collection of 3 different racetracks that is such a brief blast out US 340 West out of Jefferson that I’m not sure it’s even far enough to fully warm up a BMW airhead.

All my family and friends had arranged for something else to do that day, Nature served up a perfectly sunny 76 degree afternoon, so there was no conceivable reason to do anything else other than pull on my seldom used Vanson perfed pants and jacket, throwing a few liters of cold water and some towels into the R90S’s cases, and BOOOOOMPing towards West Virginia at enthusiastically elevated speeds.

After some lovely road dancing on the last 5-6 miles into Summit, the Racetrack was awash in the sounds of Enfield’s 270 degree crankshaft vertical twin – with a bark and a power delivery much more like a Vtwin than the British twins the Enfield 650s most resemble. One dedicated fan had even ridden in on a 1969 Royal Enfield Interceptor 750 – the only one I’ve ever seen running and on the road.

A Royal Enfield Continental GT 650, with chrome accessory tank, flyscreen and S&S pipes

In the paddock of the Summit Point’s Shenandoah Circuit, Royal Enfield was set up large and was clearly ready to party. Their Black Tractor-trailer transporter, with artwork of the 650s served as a backdrop for the whole event, replete with DJ, Foodtruck, and a small army of photographers, videographers, and a few artists thrown in for additional color.  Running the whole show and clearly busier than a one-legged woman in an ass-kicking contest was my contact at Royal Enfield, Bree Poland.  Bree and her crew were wrangling riders through the sign up and release processes, checking gear, giving safety talks, and marshalling groups of roughly 25 riders around the Circuit.

Bree had recruited Melissa Paris – a successful professional Superbike racer – to be our lead Track Marshall.  And before I knew it, I was astride a white Continental GT 750, blipping off a few revs, fumbling a bit to adjust to pegs that were higher and more rearward than the INT 650 that I’d tested, and following an AMA Pro Roadracer out onto the Shenandoah Circuit.

And then the black and white curbing was sweeping by.

Now a Continental GT is not a modern technology track missile. The 47 horsepower of the bike’s stock configuration is probably right in line with my BMW /5’s stock output when it was new.  The GT is a perfectly responsive classic motorcycle that has the virtue, though, of doing absolutely what it is told. My experience of it had indicated that the harder it was pushed, the better it liked it.

And then the black and white curbing was sweeping by.

Feel free to go ahead and mock, but the feeling that lifted me up to another place that sunny afternoon was one I’d never want to have not experienced. Looking down Shenandoah’s long subtly kinked backstraight, with its sharp left hander at the bottom by the treeline, I could simply see my riding playing out several moves ahead… a string that got longer in terms of playing though the rhythm of multiple corners the more laps I put in.

I was able to cut harder, with confidence, than I would ever do on the street – Summit’s racing surface was perfect – clean, grippy, and even where there were patches, the edges of the repairs had no effect on the Enfield’s grip or handling. Being able to focus like this on line and on mass management, without having to factor in errant aggregates or traffic, was a soul stirring illumination of an experience. I mean, I heard Angels singing. Now my Angels sound suspiciously like a large assemblage of 250 CC Two Stroke GP bikes, but they are angels.

The Royal Enfield continued to impress. It could be wrung out through about a 4000 rpm wide powerband, and had good acceleration and engine braking on the slipper clutch entering corners. Leaned well over and taking drive out of corners, the bike felt unstressed and comfortable on the sides of its tires, with plenty of chassis performance left in reserve.

So with a compliant and trustworthy mount, it all became about the riding.

There are several sections of tighter corner combinations where going from edge to edge of the tires and the transitions were absolutely dancing – I felt like I could put the bike almost exactly where I wanted it, and like I could always do it just a little better, and just a little bit faster.

And that is perhaps the most single dangerous statement in the motorcycling universe.

It’s why every racer that ever lived does it. And why I really never wanted to stop.

I get it now why people get completely obsessed over riding CB160s. Or how someone who has better skills and bigger stones than I lay claim to can see their entire life telescoped down to that pinpoint perspective that you get at the end of the straight on a 600cc or 1000 cc four cylinder superbike.

Yeah, even with my Continental GT’s 47 horsepower, the straights are still fun. WFO is still and always WFO. At those points, the stripes on the curbing blur by… faster.

Just at the point when my racetrack virgin self was really starting to internalize the oneness of the circuit, we ran out of laps.

This too, I suspect is a universal motivator for the racetrack-addled.

“Please, Sir…just one more go?”

Fortunately, today’s party permitted getting back in queue, and, after a suitable delay, heading back out again with what turned out to be the last group of the day to hit the track.

Perhaps I’m sensitive, but the Last Group was giving off less than subtle ‘Fast Guy’ vibes. The Enduro Coats and open face helmets were gone… these guys had helmets with spoilers.

Remember guys – this is not a race.

The Ever Efficient and tidy rider Ms. Paris – who was pretty used up after lapping all day – did notice that this group seemed to be a bit more comfortable, and increased the previous pace just enough to make things a bit more interesting. I had a few places on the course now where braking was the proper tool, and my progress through the corner combinations and the verve with which the long straights were greeted took me to a place where my mind was shiny and bright, my body performed in a state of grace, and my heart sang high in my chest.

I can’t understand for the life of me why I waited so long to do this.  And I can’t wait for the next time I get to do it again.

To lean way over, roll open the throttle, and watch the black and white striped curbing go sweeping by.